Economic Lifeline

Phoenix Cement came along at perfect time to resurrect struggling Verde Valley economy

The Salt River Materials Group-Phoenix Cement plant in 2006, after the $126.5 million modernization and many other modifications were completed. The 2006 photo was used on the cover of an industry magazine to promote the IEEE Conference in Phoenix that year, and the tour of the plant brought about 400 people into the Verde Valley. The plant has since changed again with the removal of the three original kilns and the addition of a new blending silo, part of a $35 million project that will be completed in 2008.<br>
<i>Photo courtesy Salt River Materials Group</i>

The Salt River Materials Group-Phoenix Cement plant in 2006, after the $126.5 million modernization and many other modifications were completed. The 2006 photo was used on the cover of an industry magazine to promote the IEEE Conference in Phoenix that year, and the tour of the plant brought about 400 people into the Verde Valley. The plant has since changed again with the removal of the three original kilns and the addition of a new blending silo, part of a $35 million project that will be completed in 2008.<br> <i>Photo courtesy Salt River Materials Group</i>

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It took 20 months and $16 million to construct the plant. In February 1959, there were 400 men working to construct the cement plant. That number grew by several hundred in the coming months.<br> <i>Photo courtesy Salt River Materials Group</i>

Damming waterways is no longer popular and some dams and containments are being removed today to allow waterways a free movement.

But seven years after the economic rug was pulled from beneath the Verde Valley with the closure of the Jerome copper mines, the future of a dam at Glen Canyon meant prosperity for the Verde Valley. The Valley was found to provide the ideal raw materials for manufacture of cement near a rail line.

The year of 1956 witnessed the first blast to launch construction of the massive dam, dubbed among "the largest construction projects in human history."

Three large cement companies bid and won the contract. Peerless of Michigan, Hercules of Pennsylvania and Riverside of California formed a new company American Cement Company in 1957 to build the Phoenix Cement plant in Clarkdale to supply the needed concrete.

It took 20 months and $16 million to construct the plant. In February 1959, there were 400 men working to construct the cement plant. That number grew by several hundred in the coming months. Project Manager Jack Van Meter reported that everything was on schedule: "The foundations are in, the ball mill building, silos, warehouse and administrative building are all under construction."

Van Meter would be named by Governor Paul Fanin the following month to serve on the Arizona Development Board.

By April, "All the heavy equipment had been delivered to the plant site," according to the Verde Independent. "A series of conveyors, totaling 7,100 feet is being installed."

Belyea Trucking, a Los Angeles firm, was awarded a contract to haul cement to Glen Canyon Dam. Belyea established a truck terminal in Clemenceau. A contract was awarded to a second firm to handle shipments to Phoenix Cement distributors throughout Arizona, but would not handle dam shipments.

But, the "on-schedule" program slowed when a statewide operational engineers strike also threw up a picket line at the plant construction site in Clarkdale. In June, the strike had forced the announcement that the completion of the plant would be delayed by a month.

By the Sept. 3, 1959, edition of the Independent, cement production had begun and test runs were completed the following week.

The plant was dedicated in October 1959 and, once again, Governor Fanin came to Clarkdale to celebrate.

With the completion, the first truckloads of cement were delivered to Northern Arizona towns in 1960. Then the 5½-hour trips began to Glen Canyon.

Concrete placement began at the dam and continued night and day until the final bucket was dumped three years later. A bucket held 24 tons of damp concrete and it took over 400,000 of them to build the dam. Over 5 million cubic yards of concrete make up the dam and power plant -- that's equal to enough concrete to build a four-lane highway stretching from Phoenix to Chicago. Construction began on the 3,700-foot dam with blocks of concrete 7.5 feet high.

By August 1960, Phoenix Cement had announced plans to expand the plant.

In December, the Verde Independent reported that "60-round trips each day were made by cement trucks over SR 279, "making the driving conditions even more of a 'death trap' with the opening of the final link of the Black Canyon highway from McGuireville to Flagstaff." The state provided up to $300,000 to improve the road.

The Phoenix Cement Plant was expected to become dormant after the construction of the dam was complete, but has continued to operate to serve the needs of Arizona as the Salt River Materials Group.

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