Claude Young enjoyed playing with his grandchildren and going to church.
At age 62, his life was tragically cut short when he was electrocuted while helping to build Carters Dam.
Some of those who labored erecting the massive edifice — the highest earthen dam east of the Mississippi River — remember U.S. Army Corps of Engineers personnel convening a meeting when the project began that stressed safety. Seven deaths were projected to occur during construction. After Carters Dam was completed in 1977 — and to this day — many point out that only one fatality occurred.
However, a Dalton man says there were two fatalities, the second being his grandfather, Claude “Pa” Young, who was killed in the powerhouse on Nov. 13, 1975.
“He was an electrician with the IBEW (the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union out of Chattanooga), and he was killed around 10:28 a.m.,” said Jim Young Jr., Claude Young’s grandson. “The only reason I say that is I got his watch, and every morning the watch stops at 10:28 — it won’t stop at night, only in the daytime. He was around six months from retirement. It seems like I heard 400,000 volts hit him; he was on top of a transformer inside the powerhouse, fixing it.”
Jim Young Jr.’s mother (and Claude Young’s daughter-in-law), Alice Young, was married to Jim Sr., who was a Dalton city councilman at the time (1973-83) and later was elected mayor (1984-87) of the Carpet Capital.
“He would go around and work at different places (as a union employee), like New York or wherever they sent him,” she said last week, adding that as a Dalton resident her father-in-law was happy to be working closer to home as retirement neared.
“I’ll never forget that day, and, frankly, the night before,” she remarked of his death. “Mrs. Young (Doshie) had us all to dinner at their house the (Wednesday) night before it happened — Jim and the three children and I. On Thursday, a friend and I, Sue Barrett, were on the telephone. It was about 11 o’clock, and the operator broke in and said there was an emergency call for this number. and of course we got off (the line). Then I was told what had happened, but I do not remember who called.”
Barrett rushed over to her friend’s home, and they knew they had to get in touch with Jim Sr.
“He had gone out to lunch with someone, and I couldn’t find him,” Alice Young said of her husband. “After lunch, he comes home and we knew when he got out of the car he didn’t know one thing about it. He comes in and I tell him — and that’s a shocker, you know, when something that tragic happens.”
Alice Young noted her husband was an only child, and said he suddenly exclaimed, “I’ve got to tell my mom.”
“She had gone out to lunch with a friend and he was scared to death somebody in town was going to tell her,” she recalled. “Thank goodness they didn’t, and he went to this friend’s house and he was there when they pulled up, and he told her. It shocked the whole community.”
Dalton ‘much smaller’
Alice Young noted Dalton was a “much smaller community” in those days, and word about a tragic death spread fast.
“You remember things like that just like it was yesterday,” she said.
Jim Young Jr. was 15 and played football at Dalton High. It was a school day.
“Coach (Bill) Chappell called me to the field house, and Mom was in there,” he said. “I thought, ‘There’s something going on.’ Coach Chappell’s the one that told me, but Mom had told Dad. Mamaw (Doshie Young) was in town with one of her friends buying groceries. The word got out real quick, so Dad and, I think, the police department were looking for Mamaw to make sure they could find her before it came out on the radio.”
Jim Young Jr. recalls a classic display of displacement of grief from his grandmother.
“When I first saw Mamaw, when Dad brought her back to the house, she was crying when she’d brought her groceries in because Pa had asked that morning for her to get a steak — he wanted to grill a steak,” he said. “And I’ll never forget it — she came in (and said), ‘What am I going to do with this steak?’”
Jim Young Jr. said as their first grandchild and only grandson, his paternal grandparents “spoiled me rotten.”
“He was a good Christian man, he and Mamaw were at Antioch (Baptist) then,” he remembered. “He enjoyed going to church and spending time with his grandchildren. We’d go outside and play ball, and he was just a special person — he was stern, but he knew how to love. It was the first loss I’d ever experienced like that, and it was tough. It’s part of life, and we learn to go through with it.”
Jim Young Jr. still doesn’t understand why it’s said only one person died during the multi-year Carters Dam project.
“I’d heard about the other (fatality), but (the dam) wasn’t up and running yet when Pa was killed … so if you look into it truthfully, there was another one killed, too,” he said. “As far as there being one fatality in building up the rock dam itself, I’d have to agree with you. As far as building Carters Dam overall, I’d have to disagree with you.”
An online reference to fatalities during the construction of Carters Dam could not be found.