The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were scratching their heads in the spring of 1957 after a beaver, just doing what comes naturally, attempted to plug up the dam’s navigation locks.
Joe the Beaver became a celebrity with his attempts to shore up the “leaky” side of the hydroelectric dam near Umatilla on the Columbia River. But lock attendants foiled the resolute rodent’s activities with a series of hydraulic tests in the locks that destroyed his work and, after the Inland Navigation Company’s tug “Chief” cleared the downstream lock with its barge tow on April 15, 1957, Joe threw in the towel and followed the tug downstream in search of a more amenable abode.
A rather dejected beaver returned to McNary Dam on April 25 and resumed residence in his little pool, seemingly tolerant of the trickles that escaped past the guard wall as the navigation locks were put through their paces. With the spillway gates closed and the full force of the river routed through the power turbines, Joe was able to bask in the sun and contemplate another attempt at building his dream pond. But impending spring runoff and the possibility of opening of the spillway gates had Corps employees keeping a weather eye on Joe for any resurgence in lock-blocking activity.