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See and learn the history of the Hoover Dam, despite the slimdown

 

If you find yourself itching to escape the neon lights during your next trip to Las Vegas, take a quick ride the Hoover Dam.

This is a great time to visit, despite the partial government shutdown that has shuttered hundreds of federal tourists sites. 

Hoover Dam’s visitors services remains open to the public because the facility is funded  by customer ticket sales rather federal funds. The cafe, parking structure and souvenir gift shop are operated by a concessionaires and they are operating as normal, confirmed Peter Soeth, public affairs office at the Bureau of Reclamation.

But it's the small town of Boulder City, Nevada, where the history and legacy of the magnificent Hoover Dam comes to life.

The charming town is a postcard for the bygone era of main street USA. Small shops and even some new chic restaurants sit along the tree-lined streets. It’s a serene escape, a perfect combination of a functioning city in what appears to be an untouched desert landscape.

The town was literally created by the thousands of workers who relocated here during the depression for a job on the Hoover Dam, which is a short ride from the center of town. If you chose to tour the dam, you can drive yourself or take a bus.

Downtown is Boulder City’s original hotel, the Boulder Dam Hotel. It’s home to the Hoover Dam Museum, which attracts tens of thousands of tourists a year. (Stay at the hotel and you get free admission to the museum.)

The museum gives tourists a look into what the daily lives was like for the families who lived through the construction of the dam.

FoxNews.com was able to interview a few of those people who can tell the tale of the life changing experience.

“It was a very bad time,” Bob Zimmer tells FoxNews.com. “They would do anything to get a job.”

Zimmer is one of the ‘31ers.’ The dwindling group of a few dozen ‘31ers’ gets the name because they were among the original group to inhabit Boulder City around 1931.

For many, the job was a chance at survival.

“They came because they were starving, a lot of them,” said Iyla Godby, whose father worked on the dam.

The fathers did the backbreaking work, often putting in 18 hours shifts. At least 100 men died during the dam’s construction between 1931 and 1935. Some went missing and were never accounted for.

The workers’ families tried to get by, living in tent cities- makeshift neighborhoods at the base of the dam.

“Often times we would wake up with sand in our beds and it was awful,” Godby said. “I hated the sand."

Godby said living in the Nevada desert with minimal resources wasn’t easy. She remembers the constant high winds that would cut at her face and cause her eyes to water.

Alice Dodge Brumage said the conditions weren’t the cleanest. “Most people didn't have indoor plumbing,” she said.

All of the 31ers’ fathers are now passed away. But, their children carry on their legacy. Many meet every year at the Boulder Dam Hotel --where the 31ers personal artifacts and pictures are on display --to share memories. This year marks their 57th annual luncheon.

Godby says her family was one of the few fortunate enough to build a home. A replica model was built and is on display in the museum.

“Welcome home Iyla,” she says to herself as she opens the gate to the replica front porch.

Also inside the museum is a picture of a young Brumage, washing clothes on an old fashioned wringer.

“I was a pretty independent young lady and wanted to be a part of the action,” she said, recalling fond memories. “My dad would bring out a harmonica and we would have songfests and roast marshmallows.” 

As the mammoth structure grew in the distance, so did the 31ers everlasting sense of community.

“They brought their families never knowing what was going to happen to them and we all felt loved,” Godby said.

If you go:  This October marks the 78th anniversary of the dedication of The Hoover Dam. The 31ers will hold their annual luncheon on October 9th at the Boulder Dam Hotel in Boulder City, NV.

The Hoover Dam Museum is open Monday-Friday, 10am-5pm. $2/adult, $1/child & student. For more information: 1-702-494-2516.

Matt Finn is part of the Junior Reporter program at Fox News. Get more information on the program here and follow them on Twitter: @FNCJrReporters