1960s: Deadly Decade for Idaho Highway Department

The decade of the 1960s was a particularly deadly era for us, as road construction took the lives of 15 highway department workers – more than a third of all of the “on the job” deaths for the department in the last 60 years.

So, what made it so treacherous? Safety regulations were much looser – the OSHA standards of today were nowhere to be seen. Workers were also exposed to a lot more danger, as most of the roads and bridges were being built in conjunction with the interstate system.  The safety standards of equipment and passenger vehicles were also lax compared to today, and that undoubtedly affected highway department workers standing on the side of the road, working next to and operating equipment that was often less than safe, and standing mere feet from cars and trucks barreling along the highways and byways. In all, it adds up to the most dangerous era for ITD workers.

Here are the 15 folks we lost, and a brief explanation of their passing, when available.
Troy F. McCracken, May 7, 1960
McCracken,61, died in Deary at the highway department’s maintenance shed. McCracken was killed when a truck rolled forward and pinned him between the truck and the garage, crushing his chest.

Albert C. Evans, July 16, 1960
Evans died suddenly of heat stroke (it was initially thought to be a heart attack) while on the job. Evans had been with the Idaho Department of Highways since 1948, and was working in the construction area east of Coeur d’Alene when stricken. It was a 97-degree day.

Glenn Bloxham, Dec. 21, 1960
One of Pocatello’s friendliest employees met his death while operating a loader at one of the district’s stockpiles at McCammon. It was a rollover accident.

Gary Gertje, Dec. 6, 1961  
Gertje, 22, of Kendrick, a survey crew member, died en route to Grangeville General Hospital, likely of injuries he received in a fall on Whitebird Hill, while the crew was marking preliminary surveys for the proposed re-routing of U.S. Highway 95 in that area.

E. Russ Barker, Jan. 31, 1962
A Special Maintenance superintendent in Boise, Russ had been employed by the department for 25 years at the time of his death.

Carl Fleming, May 9, 1963
Fleming, 59, drowned when his vehicle was knocked 200 feet into the Lochsa River after meeting another car on a sharp turn six miles west of the Powell Ranger Station. That stretch of road between Lowell and the Montana border had been finished and dedicated the year before. Fleming had supervised much of the work on that section. In a tragic, ironic twist, he was the first victim on a road that he helped build.

B. John Van Dusen, Feb. 20, 1964
Van Dusen, 20, equipment operator for the department, died of an apparent heart attack while at work on highway construction between McCammon and Pocatello.

Unfortunately, in a few cases, there are just no details:

Jack Brown, 1966 
James Gifford, 1966
Jim Plumb, 1966
Richard Hardy, 1967
Lanny Blattner, 1969
Dave Bennett, 1960s
Jim Dunsmore, 1960s 
Earl Hamilton, 1960s

Published 05-03-19