Lake D’Arbonne’s first “hole” didn’t have fish in it. Construction on the spillway that would eventually form massive Lake D’Arbonne began back in 1958. Parky Albritton was there, working for two long summers his last years as a student at Downsville High School, in “the hole”.
“I worked in the hole. That’s what they called it,” Albritton recalled recently. “It was a big deep hole, surrounded by an earthen dam to keep the water from the bayou out. We were making forms and pouring concrete to build the bottom slab for the spillway. It seemed like an endless job.”
There wasn’t much fun in those days, and no fishing, even out of the hole.
“It was work, man. It was work,” he said. “But it isn’t like today. We had fun. The bosses would let us do some fun things. We did some things that would have gotten you fired on the first day if it happened today. We would ride the concrete bucket down from the top and there were no personnel buckets. You just hung on. We would ride steel beams. No harnesses. You couldn’t do that today.”
“One thing I do remember is that job made me rich,” he says. “I made $1.25 an hour. I was putting in 40-50 hours a week. Man, I thought I was rich.”
Things didn’t always go smoothly. One night, heavy rains caused the dam to flood (imagine that on D’Arbonne….) and it flooded the hole. When they got to work the next day, the only thing showing was the boom from the huge crane sticking up out of the water. He recalls that was quite a mess to clean up.
As the lake took shape everyone was excited about what was to come, but even in their wildest imagination, people couldn’t picture what the lake was going to look like.
“It was exciting, but we didn’t know what it would be like. When we finished the structure it was just sitting out there in the middle of a big empty space. But then the lake filled up and it was some sight. We were thrilled that we got it done,” he recalls. “It was a big deal. I’ve always felt proud that I helped do that.”
Parky is the uncle of Jennifer Vick, who wrote yesterday’s story about growing up on D’Arbonne. He still lives not far from the spillway on the Downsville side. Albritton, at 72 years old, just retired this year from pipeline work all over the country. “I’ve decided I had enough. I’m not going back,” he says. He worked alongside Jennifer’s dad, Charles Wainwright, who is now deceased. Wainwright was a mechanic and kept all the equipment maintained and running.
Any regrets? “Yes, one,” he said. “I wish I had taken some pictures of that spillway coming up and the early days of the lake. That would be interesting to look at.”