CLARKS HILL, S.C. - Henry Lee Hunt turned the pages of a yellowed scrapbook and smiled proudly.
"See that machine? I drove it four years, starting in 1946," he said, pointing out a faded photo. "It's called a dinkey. D-I-N-K-E-Y."
The dinkey, he said, was a small locomotive that hauled wet cement onto Thurmond Dam as it took shape more than a half-century ago.
"It ran 24 hours a day, seven days a week," said Mr. Hunt, now 80 and living in Harlem. "And it was hard work, too."
Mr. Hunt and dozens of others who helped build the giant reservoir joined a host of politicians and special guests Wednesday as the Army Corps of Engineers celebrated the project's 50th birthday.
Col. Roger Gerber, the commander of the corps' Savannah District, told about 300 people who assembled at the Below Dam, S.C., park that Thurmond Lake's legacy includes hydropower, recreation, flood control and other benefits.
"There were many people in the region who helped get this project done," he said. "But it was the sweat and muscle of the construction teams and contractors who transformed the vision into the reality we have today."
Thurmond Lake, authorized by Congress in 1944 and completed in 1954, has made life better for generations of Americans, said U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga.
"It's hard to imagine that this beautiful structure behind us is 50 years old," said Mr. Norwood, who was just 3 when construction began. "Looking back, it was a very good decision."
John Paul Woodley Jr., the Army's assistant secretary for civil works, told the crowd that projects such as Thurmond Lake have helped build a strong and prosperous nation.
"Saddam Hussein preferred to build palaces for himself and his family instead of building power plants for his people," Mr. Woodley said. "Many of the hardships in that country are due to that sort of neglect."
The celebration included a dozen finely decorated cakes - including an edible replica of the dam itself - and music from Fort Gordon's Army Signal Corps Band.
Nancy Thurmond, the widow of Strom Thurmond - for whom the project was renamed in 1987 - reminisced about visiting her family's lakehouse near Modoc, S.C., as a child.
"This is a place where we had many, many wonderful family celebrations," she said. "That's what America's all about."
At the height of construction activity, more than 2,000 workers toiled to build the mile-long dam that ultimately impounded 70,000 acres of water with 1,200 miles of jagged shoreline.
On Wednesday, veterans such as Jack Kendall were delighted to remember old times.
"I was here when the first bucket of concrete was poured," said Mr. Kendall.
Mr. Kendall came to Clarks Hill as a young engineer fresh out of Georgia Tech.
He described the years of meticulous work involved with pouring concrete into huge monoliths that slowly created the dam.
"It was a busy time. We worked six days a week, rain or shine," he said.
"And it was meant to be something everybody could be proud of, which I am."
Reach Robert Pavey at (706) 868-1222, ext. 119, or email@example.com.
50 YEARS - THURMOND LAKE