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Looking back at one of the men who built the Seneca power station

Photos submitted to the Times Observer Jeff Johnson on-site during construction of the Kinzua power station during the summer of 1967.

Jeff Johnson’s career eventually led him across the globe to more than 30 countries – but at the start, he was right here in Warren.

Johnson died in 2021, but his footprints in Warren County live on through his work as one of the men who built the Seneca Pumped Storage Generating Station near the Kinzua Dam.

His son, Kirk, recalls asking his father about a photo and finding out more than expected about the station.

“My dad, Jeff Johnson, worked as an electrical inspector on the construction of the power station during the summer of 1967. He is unfortunately no longer with us, but in 1999, I had emailed him to ask him for a little more detail as to what was going on in the photo of him. He emailed me back with a lot of detail,” he said. “I had asked about the picture of him at the Kinzua Dam because at the time I was researching and writing my thesis essay about the Allegheny National Forest for my graduate program, and was trying to research and collect as much information as possible about all aspects of the Allegheny and its history. I knew he could provide some first-hand knowledge about the Kinzua Dam.”

In the 1999 email, Johnson provided some insight into how the power station was built.

The hard hat worn by Jeff Johnson while working on construction of the power generating station at Kinzua Dam.

“I worked for Harza Engineering company, who was the general contractor in charge of building the pump-storage power station,” he told his son. “The power station consisted of many individual cement pourings. Each pouring had a frame to hold the cement, wiring which would be buried in the walls when the cement was poured, and piping. There were three inspectors: a civil inspector who made sure the walls were in the right place, a mechanical inspector who made sure the pipes were in the right place, and an electrical inspector, who made sure the wires were in the right place. The cement contractor was only allowed to pour the cement after all three inspectors had signed off that everything was done correctly.”

By the time Johnson arrived in Warren County, the Kinzua Dam was already completed. The power station came later.

“I know it looks like that is construction on the dam, but it really isn’t,” he told his son of the photo. “The intake for the pump storage station is just behind the dam, and the pump storage station itself is just in front of the dam. Huge pipes run from the intake down the front of the dam and into the station. I think what you see in the picture is the work being done to bring those pipes down the front of the dam.”

Johnson only worked in Warren for a short period, the summer of 1967 between his graduation from Drexel University and his pursuit of a master of business degree at Pitt. He would eventually go on to travel the world and become president of North American operations for Philips Display Components. But his son still has a memento from his time in Warren.

“I still have the actual hard hat that he wore on the job that summer,” he said. “It is a neat souvenir. I really value it a lot.”

Kirk Johnson said he remembers his father as “intelligent, level-headed, logical, kind and slow to anger.”

“He always had good advice if you asked him,” he said. “He greatly enjoyed boating, and travel, including international travel.”

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