1967 / 1976
With the snow gone but frost still frost in the ground it was time to mobilize Rochester and move the family. The equipment and material vans went first and were positioned north of the existing digester alongside an existing hard surfaced road. The first to come was my office trailer, a surplus mobile x-ray unit from the era of annual TB screening at public schools. Dick had bought it at a surplus sale for next to nothing and with very few modifications both functional and comfortable. I had a two desk arrangement fashioned at the back end for myself. A working space that looked out at the project and a plan table behind as convenient as rotating my chair. A sloping plan desk was installed mid way along one side with hangers and a shelf of partitioned spaces above for folded shop drawings. This unit was positioned to the east side of the grassy berm at about the mid point of the aeration tank complex. It was obvious from the ruts that the frost was rapidly disappearing. With phone service and electricity to the office it was time to go.
The family made the move with the boys all enrolled inSt. John’sgrade school.St. John’s was a very active social community where one was among a mix of Mayo physicians, IBM engineers, business people, and city employees with economic means ranging from millions to average, but at every gathering there was an observance of a social grace that precluded any mention of the benefits of affluence. This has remained as one of the hallmarks of the Rochesterexperience which has been absent elsewhere. Indeed it was such that I invariably listen with dreary boredom to who seem to have an overweening compulsion to advertise their affluence.
Dick made a trip to Rochester the same week the job was mobilized to finalize the site work sub contract with Rochester Sand & gravel who had joined with a local excavator to submit an all inclusive site contract including all asphalt work. The following day I met with Bill Fitzgerald, owner of Rochester S&G and Jim Joyce of Leon Joyce Excavation, to review the excavation sequence.
Standing in the center of the elevated berm I explained that the north end was to be cut away first to the level of the Blower Building footings in order that concrete work could begin immediately. The foundations and frame of this building would be all man handled concrete forms and Dad was to take a crew of four or five people and construct this structure separate from the major concrete operations in the basin area. This was also the only masonry work and Dad could complete the building with a crew of bricklayers. Dad and Mother had moved with us and delivery of the rebar was all that was needed for this building to be underway.
The excavators would then cut a north south trench in the berm to allow work on the common walls between the center gallery and aeration walls. By the time this excavation was ready for the concrete operations the necessary rebar should be on the site and the forms fabricated. All of the forms used in the basin area would be large panels hoisted by cranes.
Following the gallery excavation the scraper would complete the earthmoving necessary for construction of the east aeration tank construction, moving then to the west tank area and completing the basin area excavation in the primary clarifier area. This would complete the major portion of excavation operations leaving only minor road grading and leveling in the sludge drying bed areas.
Fitzgerald was at one and the same time surprised and happy with my lesson in excavation. They could go from this point to the scheduling of equipment as required to get ready for and stay ahead of succeeding construction. Both of these men were responsible, intelligent and equally important had a good sense of humor. There was never anything but harmony in our relations and the never in any way let me down.
Jim Joyce was nephew of the founder of the Leon Joyce Company and related to me the founding of his company. As a high school student Leon Joyce and a classmate led a cow to the second floor of the school as a Halloween prank where they tied the animal and fled leaving the bovine with nothing to do throughout the night but make cow pies. This turned out to be an unforgiving disturbance of the administrative types peace and sense of decorum and when the identity of the two Olmstead (County) cowboys was discovered they were promptly and permanently expelled. Left to fend for themselves in the world the classmate gravitated to theIronRangeand found work with the Hannah Mining Company. Leon bought a mule and a slip and went into the excavation business. The classmate ultimately became general manager of the Hannah Minnesota operations and the Leon Joyce Co. was awarded the excavation necessary for removal of earthen overburden to expose ore bearing rock. According to Jim this guaranteed work amounted to approximately 50,000 cubic yards each Spring. At the time the Joyce Co. worked at the Rochester site they were one of, if not the largest excavation contractors in MN.
Construction of the saw shop was already underway and I was fortunate to find a competent and experienced carpenter to put in charge of it. Easy to talk to he never hesitated to point out pitfalls in my requests or suggest a better way. The estimate of ¾” plywood needed was something over one freight car load and I assumed that one of the local lumber yards would be happy to have an order of this size. Like many another thing disappointment is where you find it. Not only was the local pricing near the sky they had conditions attached , such as unloading by our people and payment of any demurrage for car delays. The material was purchased inSt. Paulat a substantial savings and was delivered on an “as needed” basis in truckload lots.
Dick returned toRochestera short time later to be on hand for the delivery of a new American 35 ton crane purchased for this project. Fanfare of this type leaves me a bit cold as that beautiful machine walked off the truck memories of the struggles of but three years ago with an old dragline that Dick had got in trade for a used car were vivid,. When assembled with 100’ of boom and a 20’ jib it stood as a personal reminder of how far we had come from Excelsior. But pride builds nothing and I coded the delivery ticket to the “small tools’ budget and sent it along with the daily report. Actually we would have to rent a second crane of similar size to maintain the schedule that was soon outrunning the critical path assumptions.
With the excavation and form fabrication underway I began a review of coming activities with special attention to items that could be areas of “oversights” or costly omissions. Concrete can present some “hard” problems if it isn’t complete or correct the first time around. It was the “get it done fast” mentality that gave rise to the old saw heard from anybody on the field and ignored by everybody in management that stated simply “there’s never enough time to do it right but always enough time to do it over”. Thus it was that I would do my best to put my mind in the hands of those responsible for direct supervision. The instrument to accomplish this was a paper form for each concrete pour that identified everything required to be in place before concrete was ordered. Most important of all in the basin area was the myriad of Miscellaneous metals required to receive hand rails, angle iron grating bearings , anchor bolts, pipe supports and other specialized items for related trades. In addition it showed the number of cubic yards of concrete required noting any special information relative to the concrete to be used.
I made up a sheet for every concrete pour identifying each item require for each pour with a copy going to our superintendent, who would have primary responsibility for the items identified A copy also went to the Iron Worker foreman and labor foreman. It was simply a self inspection sheet which required that each item identified be physically checked off and the sheet returned to me indicating that the concrete pour was ready for me to order the concrete. Since multiple copies would be needed arrangement were made to use the office copier at Romac (Rochester Materials Co) the concrete supplier for the project.
My Superintendent for the project was hired from theSt. Pauloffice and I had to assume that they had done enough of background check to be satisfied that he would be equal to the task . He was a different fellow that I became convinced, rightly or otherwise, that authority conveyed non questionable ability .On the other hand I was also convinced that he viewed me as a cost conscious madman. I tried to keep costs uppermost in the mind of all our key personnel. My new superintendent drove from the cities each day and would shave with an electric razor powered from the cigarette lighter. One morning I leaned downed to the car window while the dewhiskering was in progress and inquired if he kept track of his shaving costs. The verbal tirade that ensued provoked almost side splitting laughter.
The first delivery of Miscellaneous Metals from ourSt Paulsupplier was preceded by a phone call advising me that he would be late arriving, but he would appreciate help in unloading and that a crane would be needed for several of the items. Accordingly I asked Gordon and the labor foreman to stay until the load arrived which was something after five PM. He was accompanied by a Minnesota Highway Patrolman who opined that the truck was overloaded and escorted it toRochester. There was no way for me to even guess the weight but the load included one of the floor beams for the Blower Building that was two feet deep and twice as long as the truck and of such weight that the front steering wheels were barely touching the ground. I walked around this demonstration of transportation ineptitude with the patrolman and with a straight face inquired what on earth made him suspect that the truck was overweight. It’s always a good day that ends with a laugh. He let us unload it an the supplier got off with a warning that it was not to happen again.
With everything needed to start work on the Blower Building on site the excavator used a back hoe to remove the last three feet+/- of earth from the excavation. It was then that we learned that this was the extreme south end of the city dump to our north. Take my word for it there is no stench worse than fermenting garbage. This area of the dump had been covered for over twenty years but the smell of the garbage when exposed to the air again is beyond words. Fortunately the total depth at this point was less than four feet so with the granular material sub cut we were on good bearing soil for the building. The construction crew had to live with the stench from around the sides of the excavation until the material was covered again with the back fill material.
Next on my agenda was the crew. As a union contractor this would simplify itself in that a labor pool was supposed to be available from the union hall. It was not all that simple. The Building Trades Unions in Minnesota are divided into those employed by Highway and Heavy construction contractors and Building construction contractors as identified by the type of project being built Municipal infrastructure construction generally was considered to be heavy construction. Further the wage scale for the two categories was not the same.
There was a method in this madness. Union contracts were negotiated every four years for both categories but the negations were offset by two years. In this scheme of things the union category that was lowest could claim that they were being treated unfairly by being paid the lower hourly wage. For the union it was like climbing two ladders with offset rungs. In the case at hand in Rochester the Heavy construction trades were twenty five cents per hour below the building trades. Concurrent with our work the O.A. Stocke company was building the Mayo building down town. We were in competition with them for both skilled and common labor.
I felt that I should have a meeting of the minds with the local carpenter union Business Agent about my hiring . I made it plain that it would be a waste of time for him to send me part timers who spent most of their time in the hall playing cards. I needed form carpenters and the lower scale was to be considered a minimum that would be adjusted upward as far as the building trades level for the right men. He understood my position and those who came from the Union Hall turned out to be good people. On his part the only concern seemed to be getting advance notice of people being laid off., which presented no problem for me.
The next major arrival was the steel frames that was the strength of the “Y” wall forms. These were fabricated from double six channel iron with the flat sides facing and 11/2” apart. A 2x12 with the necessary radius for the wall configuration was bolted in the space between the channels. The frames with the 2x12 insert were connected by 4x4’s at 1’ centers forming a 16’ long unit. The 4x4’s were sheathed with 3 layers of ¼” plywood. The size and weight of these frames and the resulting panels was such that all required lifting was by crane.
The key consideration in the use of these panels was to have them firmly bolted to the base slab to resist the upward force of the flotation that occurred when the wide bottom was filled with plastic concrete. Any vertical rise would result in an equal horizontal misalignment multiplied sixteen times.
To assure the final concrete would be free of voids and honeycomb areas the bottom 12 inches consisted of sand and cement grout with eight sacks of cement per cubic yard. Closeable openings in the side of the forms allowed the bottom six feet to be poured directly from the ready mix truck, the balance being placed by crane from the top. Consolidation of the plastic concrete was accomplished by the use of air driven vibrators bolted to the steel frames, which vibrated the entire form and standard internal concrete vibration.
The Resident Engineer for the project was Clark Wiegel a registered engineer in his mid sixties employed by the design engineers, Toltz, King, Duvall and Anderson of St. Paul MN. He set the tone for our shared responsibility in delivering the Owner what was required by the Project Plans and Specifications with one simple statement that will be with me always, “Smithy” he said quietly, “ you and I both know that the perfect project has never been built, but that’s no reason for not trying” I still have a textbook that he gave me titled Sewerage and Sewage Treatment by Metcalf & Eddy of Boston MA generally acknowledged to be both the pioneer and premier Design Engineering Firm in the field of wastewater treatment facilities. Clark is one of those special people that is resident in my memory If memory serves Metcalf and Eddy designed the first treatment facility in Rochester.
With the Blower building underway and the scrapers still working on the east basin excavation that center gallery wall and pre aeration tank construction was started .I took time to look over the work on the west pre aeration and found several miscellaneous metals items missing. Returning to the office I pulled the pour sheet for the pours on the tank. The sheets showed the missing items checked off as installed. I didn’t raise the matter with my superintendent until we were alone after work. He forthwith started to lecture me about the unnecessary paperwork that I wanted done. I tried to explain that the paper was an aid to assist him to get the work complete and correct. He followed with a comment that he didn’t need the paperwork to get the work done right and that I should get off his back and walked out the door. I followed, waived him back and told him to check with the office to see if there was any other work they had for him. Either way he was not to return to Rochester tomorrow.
The following day I took Gordon out of the crane and made him the project superintendent. I was aware that he was not perfect for the job but he would at least do what he was told. The key to making Gordon fit this slot was to never allow any concrete to be poured until I was personally satisfied the were complete in every way. He was not a small detail man and the integrity of the formwork hinged on small details. On the other hand there was never any further problems with missing embedded item. When he handed me a pour sheet it was not before he had personally checked every item.
By June the gallery walls were complete the aeration tank basin excavation was finished and work on the tank slabs had started. Then the rain came. Twenty eight days of rain in the month. A short dike had been placed around the high (west) side of the site but the last gully washer broke a hole in it and we accumulated three feet+/- of water over the entire basin area.. Nearly all of the water soaked away into the granular bottom of the excavation but left all of the in place rebar covered with silt . By lifting the steel with the crane it was possible to re grade for the basin slabs and in less than a week all construction activities were underway.
It was about this time that we had, probably the most unfortunate incident of the project. Willman was at the site and we were walking south along the road that bordered the project on the west when a loaded concrete truck passed us at such speed that we both turned to watch as it turned East at the North road along the site. As it made the turn the right hand rear dual wheels lifted from the ground elevating with each yard of forward travel. Then it seemed to come to a balance point, going forward on the left had wheels as if to be trying to decide whether to right itself or just go smash on the side. As with many another thing in life the fickle finger of fate in the form of the rotating mixer barrel intervened rotating enough additional mixing concrete weight decide the issue in favor of smash and over it went.
Turning on my hells I left Willman to start getting the iron worker crew to start rigging cables so we could try to put it back on its feet with the crane.. With the crane almost against the overturned truck and the boom at the highest possible angle we were able to right the beast. It could not be unloaded, however as the barrel could not be made to rotate. The truck was still operable and was returned to the Romac plant under its own power. Other than being a bit shaken the driver was apparently unhurt. With this unfortunate digression past the concrete pour was continued and properly completed.
With the basin work underway again I began to ask why we had nothing to start the underground work in the Primary Clarifier area. Indeed there were none of the pre construction paper work for this area and there were no answers when I asked why. The saw shop went ahead with fabrication of the form panels for the walls, but that was the only thing that could be done due to the unexpected delays in material delivery and drawing approvals.
When the underground piping did arrive the mechanical contractor installed it with no delay and work went ahead on the tank slabs and walls. The main walls of the east tank were complete in ten workdays. On the west tank by having a four man crew come early to have the forms loose and ready to move when the balance of the crew arrived we were able to make a pour a day and complete the walls in a week.
Then all hell broke loose. The day following the last tank wall pour I and Clark Wiegel were hailed into a meeting in the plant superintendents’ office. Both Dick and Willman had been summoned and a representative of the design engineers was on hand. When everybody was seated the plant superintendent stood and delivered a pontification to the effect that the work was going so fast that it had to be sub standard. My thoughts as I listened to were of complete mystification. How did this person get involved in the details of the work? To date his contacts had been to make the rounds to satisfy himself that nobody was drinking non potable water from the existing treatment tanks. I looked over at Clark Weigel and he just hunched his shoulders and shook his head. He didn’t know any more about what was happening than I did.
That was the sum and substance of the entire meeting. I didn’t know any more after the meeting than I did before and nobody went out of their way to enlighten me. The responsibility for the delays in the Primary Clarifiers was somebody else’s burden but I was determined to recover as much of the lost time as possible and we set about completing these two tanks forthwith My personal goal was to have the exterior basin concrete complete before temperatures would require heating.
With the main walls of the clarifies complete and work underway on the influent trough walls we were well on the way to enclosing the south gallery. The project almost had a momentum of its own and my days became routine . I was at the site until about ten. To town to pick up the mail and purchase any small or miscellaneous items needed back to the job for more routine
My style of supervision , I felt, was as effective as any. Authority is most effective and most respected when used the least. Save for the correction of the situation with the first superintendent, direction of the work had been on an almost casual basis with both our employees and the subcontractors.
Getting toward the end of the mass excavation operations Fitzgerald and Joyce were at the site to inquire about spaces left to dispose of the balance of the material to be excavated. I walked with them to the north side of the existing clarifiers where we could look down a gully running north towards the landfill area. I raised my arm to point to where the material should go and as I did so there was an incredible nausea the gripped by stomach. Instinctively, without another word, I turned and started walking back to my office. I made it to the office, in the door and toward my chair, passing Gordon and Dad, I had one foot on the elevated floor where my chair was and fell backwards totally unconscious. But for Dad catching me I would have fallen flat on my back on the floor. Dad said later that I was so limp he thought I was dying.
They got an ambulance and I was at St. Mary’s Hospital when I regained consciousness with two MD's standing over me. They hadn’t come to any co conclusions as to what had happened to do more testing. I asked if this could be done at the clinic on an out patient basis . This was agreeable to them and the first appointment was scheduled and Frances took me home for the balance of the day.
There was three follow up tests scheduled. Nothing definite was learned . There was a discussion about what was being accomplished with the medicine prescribed in 1954 again with nothing conclusive, save for the comment that “it didn’t seem to be hurting me”.
By this time we were far enough along that fairly accurate projections could be made as to the final profit margin. Save for a complete disaster it was now estimated that the final number would be in the neighborhood of $265,000.00 or about twice the original expectations. To say the least there were a lot of happy people.
In addition Romac, the concrete supplier for the job had offered me a job as the Rochester plant superintendent which was interesting. Taking all their facilities into account in Mankato and the Twin Cities they were close to being the largest concrete products supplier in Minnesota.
But, Frances was first in line and she was adamant that there was to be a vacation and she was allowing for no options. I don’t know if I actually looked that bad or what but there was to be nothing else first. We were going right after Christmas. Dad and Mother, who were still living with us would take care of the boys. Frances’ folks had an RV park in Brownsville TX which would be the first destination with Mexico City the next stop.
But all this was still a couple of months in the future. We had to get the lid on the south gallery yet and tie up loose ends here and there for the winter. As we wound down to Christmas the lid went on the South Gallery giving the subcontractors inside space from the Blower Building through the Center Pipe Gallery and all of the South Pipe and Pump Gallery. Our own people could work on the South Gallery floor, interior miscellaneous metals and pump and blower bases.
All the minds eye images from atop the Trickling Filter in the Spring were reality., with a makeshift superintendent arrangement, month lost to rain and the Clarifier drawing and material delays. By Christmas the place could and would do without me.
A good Christmas with the family, Dad and Mother and Jim and Frances and I were on our way south by the 27th. First to Des Moines for a brief visit with Frances’ sisters, then two long days of travel to the north side of Dallas for New Years Eve. We had intended to have a late dinner and go back to the room for the balance of the evening. There was a private party in an adjacent dining room and someone walked over to our table to say hello. Learning that we were travelers about three quarters along our journey this stranger insisted we join them for the evening. As we counted down to the new year the great lesson of our lives was renewed and reinforced. There are, in reality, no strangers in this world save the people you choose to walk away from.
By the end of the first day of 1968 we were in Brownsville TX with Frances’ folks. Two days unwinding from the trip and getting each other up to date on our lives and then the first trip to Matamoros to visit the market shops . I had made up my mind to see all the shops deciding what I wanted and returning on the third day to do my buying. There was no hurry and I was happy to engage in the give and take of haggling with the shopkeepers. They had their own network and my interests were known to the next shopkeeper before I arrived. It was the fact that I was buying nothing at all that seemed to be the most frustrating to them. By the end of the second day when I hat completed my tour they had labeled me “Minnesota, the tightest man in the world.”
Word of our return on the third day traveled even faster when Frances and I started doing our shopping. I still have a serape hanging in the closet from the trip. Our travel on the Mexico side of the border was by local taxi which required no small degree of nerve. The drivers we traveled with showed no inclination to slow or yielding at any intersection. Once underway it was one speed (fast save for turns) to your destination.
It had been our intention from the beginning to fly on to Mexico City, but when I went for tickets I was to learn that there were no scheduled flights. Airline flights were on a “when ready” basis as determined by the airline. This coupled with the fact that neither of us spoke a word of Spanish brought about a revision for the balance of the trip which turned out to be New Orleans for a tentative new destination.
The trip northeast was without any urgency as to the need to arrive at any particular place at the end of a days travel. As I recall we did spend most of a day in Galveston for no particular reason, then the last leg to New Orleans.
We arrived at about noon and checked into the 4th or 5th floor of a downtown motel. Believe it or not, the temperature there was 55 degrees and the motel room was cold. The front desk advised me that it would take a while for things to warm up but that the furnaces were going. I walked down the hall and found a maintenance man at a furnace room trying, with some difficulty, to get the furnace for our floor lit. Back to the room to relay what I had found to Frances and then another call to the desk. They made the best excuses they could explaining that this was unusual weather for them. We felt that there had to be someplace better and checked out to start looking. And, that’s what we did. Drove and looked. We connected with arrows indicating we were pointed toward the French Quarter and just kept going. Not knowing that we were actually in the Quarter I turned into a building that had a motel sign.
We had stumbled, and stumbled is the only right word, into the first and at that time, the only motel in the French Quarter. The entrance was through the original carriage entrance as the exteriors could not be changed. The room was not only beautiful, both in decoration and furnishing, it was warm. As it turned out we would not start the car again until we left two weeks later.
Our lodgings were two blocks off Bourbon Street and we walked everywhere we went. New things were everywhere everyday. An early breakfast at an all night café on Bourbon Street put us next to a man and a very large table with nothing but young ladies which we were to learn was a pimp and his ladies of the evening. The question that occurred to us is weather the 55 degree+ weather was good or bad for business but thought it best that the question go unasked.
During another afternoon excursion we came upon two men in a loud and unreserved verbal altercation quite obviously regarding the building they were standing next to.. From the subject under discussion I told Frances that one of these men had to be a contractor and the other an architect. After one had stormed away in a huff I found that I was correct. The contractor, who left, wanted to make a change in the exterior of the building which was an absolute no, no in the restoration of French Quarter structures.. We had an extended conversation with the architect who was kind enough to explain the mechanics of the restoration work and to find us a tour aft two other buildings in the immediate area that were being restored.
And thus we whiled away the entire two weeks being a small part of the twentieth century life among 17th century surroundings. The unseasonably cold weather was the only negative in two beautiful, fascinating and educational weeks.
Reality was not completely laid aside, however, and the offer of a position with Romac, back in Rochester was decided in favor of leaving Young. This was walking away from a lot of company building but the opportunity to be permanently fixed with the boys just beginning the secondary education phase of their lives was the deciding factor. I would go ahead with the change upon our return to Rochester.
The trip home was unhurried but we found that the unseasonably cold became a bitter cold the further north we went. We were to find that the number of days above zero since we left was in the low single digits. The boys were glad to see us return. I got the feeling there had been some sticky issues but nobody was specific. The feeling has never left me that mother was always of the mind that we should never have gone in the first place. The Irish mindset that I grew up with was that one should always be grateful for a good job and should do nothing to jeopardize it.. This was reinforced by the experience of the depression years. Totally discounted in her mind was the fact that Dads gainful for most of the last ten year as had been via my reference. One returns almost with a broken heart to the last ten years+ of my mothers life when her only refuge was the love and care that Frances showered on her. We never broke a promise. Spoken or otherwise.
Thus I handed Young my resignation and went on to new and different responsibilities. The first adjustment is to a fixed and repetitious work environment. Field construction is a daily, at times even hourly, changing environment that requires a flexible, agile and immediate mental responses. The manufacturing environment almost demands long lead times for any type of change . Flexibility is an unwanted virtue.
My new responsibilities were to supervise all activities of the in plant operations with emphasis on quality control. In addition to ready mix concrete there was a block machine for the production of a complete line of concrete block in both standard and special sizes and a second line operation for the machine casting of concrete pipe. This line was currently closed down for lack of a qualified pipe machine operator. In addition to the production facilities there was a large facility for the steam curing of all precast items made at the plant, thus all units produced could be cured to near design strength overnight.
Secondly there was customer service directed at close coordination of deliveries with the customers operations and available equipment.
Finally, on a long range basis there was the development of plans for construction of a new low profile ready mix batch plant. The current plant was a standard gravity unit that required all cement, sand and gravel materials to be elevated to elevated bins with batch quantities delivered to the scales and batch truck by gravity. The low profile left the materials on the ground and delivered it the weigh scales via elevating conveyor on an as needed basis. There was a desire also to design and build a new office building which would showcase the products produced at the site.
The Romac plant at Rochester was but one unit of a concrete products producing company that was headquartered in Mankato MN with ready mix, concrete block, concrete pipe and flexi core (precast concrete floor plank) operations, as far as I was aware, in Elmore MN, and the major facilities in the Twin Cities.
The operation of immediate concern upon my arrival at the plant was a sub contract from Elk River Concrete Products for the production of a set of precast bridge beams for a county bridge in Winona county Elk River had supplied us with the steel forms required for the beams . Allowing us to do the casting of these beams was little more than common sense as these units at thirty feet in length were of such weight that limited one unit per semi trailer. As I recall there were twenty of these units and the contractors would, if possible want the delivery in one day , lifting the beams from the delivering truck directly to the final in place position in one operation. Spring delivery would require scheduling four additional semi units from the Mankato plant.
In the course of getting acquainted with the various company operations, especially the plant to plant logistics the question arose in my mind as why we should have a production plant in Elmore MN. This was a town of 700+/- population on highway # 169 on the Iowa border. The normal company traffic flow was Mankato to Rochester or the Twin Cities and Elmore seemed to me to be a detour with a question mark. Finally, overcome by curiosity < asked one of the truck drivers why we had a plant in Elmore. His response was both direct and enlightening. Elmore was Walter Mondales home town. That was all the answer I needed. The Elmore plant was, in effect, an indirect investment whose expenses, and returns, were equally indirect.
The plant had a labor contract with the Teamsters and I took time to families my self with the details. This had to be the controlling conditions of my supervisory approach. The operative provision was that there had to be three prior warning letters before any employee could be discharged for cause. Prior to my arrival there had been no warning letters issued, not because there was a perfect labor force. To the contrary there was an excess of off the cuff and buddy, buddy carelessness and indifference that resulted in unsaleable products. Accordingly, each incidence of substandard and rejected product that could be attributed to the carelessness of a specific employee resulted in a warning letter. Such was the effect on discipline that only one employee received a second letter. The plant and office were separated by about forty yards with each warning letter in plain sight the entire distance. This was all silent Psychology which had the desired effect.
In addition there was a plant foreman already on had and as expected was initially defensive regarding the prerogatives which he had accumulated . He seemed both happy and disarmed when I told him I could see no reason to change his scope of authority.
Just before the onset of Spring weather I hired a person I believed to be trainable as an operator for the pipe machine which had been idle before my coming and made the arrangements necessary for him to spend a week with the operator in Mankato to learn the fine points of proper machine operation. Back at the Rochester plant I took about another week for him to turn out a days run of pipe with no rejects.
Then the day came for my trip to Mankato, with Ostien to meet the owners of the company, the Radical brothers, whose first names are forgotten, one being in his late fifties, the other mid sixties. Nothing special other than a day of general conversation about the various company operations and a tour of the Mankato low profile batch plant which they wanted duplicated in Rochester.
Our Portable batch plant was transported to a rest area site south of town and set up onsite to supply paving concrete for the site.
Then the contractor for the Winona County bridge called to schedule delivery of his beams which we had precast during the winter. The additionally needed trucks were brought over and the delivery train was started such as to provide the first beam at 8PM followed by subsequent deliveries that would provide a minimum delay in the hoisting and placement operations. Once started, this operation was presumed to be a simple repeat of the load, travel, unload sequence that our drivers were all familiar with.
However, before nine AM I received a call from the contractors’ superintendent telling me that the plank were made wrong going on to say that we had to hold the plans up to the light and look at the back of the sheet. A comment of this nature demanded a face to face appraisal of his complaint and I told him we would be down to see exactly what the problem was. Hanging up the phone I walked back to the coffee room and appraised Ostien and the salesman of the conversation an asked if anybody wanted to go with. I forget who the third passenger was but there were four of us who went to the site. An understanding of bridge engineering nomenclature is needed to appreciate what we found.
A bridge can cross a river in a straight line or can be located such the travel from one abutment to the other either to the right or left depending on conditions at the river. This is referred to as a “left skew” or “right skew”. The difference relative to the beams that we were supplying is simply that on a straight bridge the end of the beams resting on the abutment would be square, while a left or right skew would require the appropriate angle at the abutment end to seat properly.
The plans supplied to us by Elk River Concrete were for a left skew bridge. When the Winona County Engineer, or his surveyor, had concluded that the bridge design was in error. Accordingly the physical survey and layout for the bridge was right skew. Since the contractors superintendent was at the site when this was done he was advised verbally of the change and notified his office who instructed him to proceed per the revised layout. Hence the comment about holding the plans up to the light and look at the back of the sheet. In this manner the plan sheet for a 30 degree left skew bridge became useable for construction of the 30 degree right skew structure that was in place. We had no option but to return the beams to the plant and send the trucks back to Mankato.
Starting back up the contract chain we found that Elk River Concrete was unaware that there had been any modifications to anything. The Contractors’ response was that he assumed that the Winona County Engineer would notify everybody involved. Here was the weak and causative link in the chain. The County Engineer had no knowledge of who the Contractors’ subs and suppliers were and under normal circumstances would have contacted them only via written communication with the General Contractor for the bridge. Basic to anything that involves money in the construction industry is the simple fact that to proceed on verbal instructions is done at your own risk. This Contractor had built an entire bridge sub structure in an opposite hand direction on verbal direction directions to an employee who had no authority to receive any instruction from the Owner or his representative.
Tom Ostien, however, was the type who felt it was a reflection on his sales ability not to be able to leave everybody in every situation happy. The “sale” wasn’t complete until that criteria had been met. Accordingly he was in my office the following day with all manner of suggestions and questions about the beams. My own opinion, unsupported by any engineering back up was that the beams were entirely useable. Installed in the right skew configuration would mean less bearing area on the abutment but that what remained would carry any vehicle that would travel the county road four or five times over. Failing that there had to be any number of fixes that could be over designed to satisfy any body.
This was enough for Ostien to schedule an appointment with the Winona County Engineer to get his reaction. Upon arriving at his office we were ushered into his office and the door was closed behind us with a comment to the effect that he didn’t want anybody to know what the conversation was about. To me the comment indicated that he was well aware of how far out he was on the liability limb. It took but a few minutes to explain my thoughts which seemed to brighten his day. However the bridge plans were the product of a local one man consulting engineering firm would have to make the final decision.
The County engineer made the call to set up an appointment with the bridge designer before we left town. It was instructive to me, at least, that the county engineer did not volunteer to accompany us. Indeed, we were long since past the point of a letter to everybody concerned advising of the circumstances of the aborted delivery of the material along with an invoice to Elk River for the casting of the beams and then a wait to see who blinked first.
The design consultant listened to what we had to say then told us that he would settle for nothing less than new beams. He was a professional CYA person conveniently forgetting that he had produced the backward design that was the root cause of all the succeeding problems. We returned to the office and that was to be my last contact with the problem of the backward beams.
With the pipe machine operating and what I thought was a quality mind set taking root in the labor force I decided to explore the upper levels of the batch plant. At the first level above the mixer truck charging level is the batch room which contains the operating controls for filling the scale hoppers to the proper weights required for the particular mix being loaded into the ready mix truck. This room functions with only one person present with barely room enough to be seated . The batch man was not present and I seated myself in his place to get a feel, if only momentarily of this employees working environment. Almost as an after thought I picked up the batch book which contained the batching quantities of sand, rock, cement and water to be included in each particular batch of concrete. The quantities shown were for one cubic yard of concrete with the batch man increasing the quantities for multiple yards as required.
Leafing back in the book I came to the project that I had left to come here. I stared at the quantities shown, then leafed on back in the book to see if that was the only listing for the Rochester Wastewater Plant. There were no others. I knew what I was looking at was incorrect and it was only a short step to the realization that it was wrong purposely. The cement content for the only mix specified for the wastewater plant was six bags. That number was part of the project data committed to memory. The batch book that I held in my had called for only five bags of cement. In short, the in place concrete at that site was some six thousand bags of cement short of what was specified and the cost savings were in Romac’s pocket. I removed the batch sheet from the book, carefully folded and put it in my pocket. Climbing to the ground I walked directly to the office. By the time I reached my office a sequence of actions had been fixed in my mind.
There was no need to waste time and words with Ostien. He was responsible for the arbitrary change. The batch book sheet was in his hand. He was off the property somewhere so a phone call to Mankato was placed immediately to try to speak with one of the owners. Both were away with the whereabouts of the younger unknown and the older being at the Flexicore plant in the Cities. I confirmed that he would be there all afternoon and drove up to meet him. It took less than three sentences to explain why I was there and the immediate response was to the effect that I would not want to ”jeopardize my career”. I just walked away from him in mid sentence, returned to Rochester where I drafted a two or three line resignation, laid it on Ostiens’ desk along with their car keys and went home.
Thus, within three hours of finding the discrepancy in the batch book I had determined that this kind of thievery was company policy and separated myself from it. I explained to Frances, in detail what had taken place and she did not hesitate in agreement that it was the only thing I could do. To explain the reader has to understand that a change to the contract specifications can only be at the direction of the Owner (the city of Rochester) and be accepted by the contractor. This was an arbitrary change by Romac for the sole purpose of increasing company profits.
I heard of this but never knowingly encountered it before. The crippled defense of the thief involved in this type of scam is that they still provide concrete of specified strength which is true. Strength is not the only consideration in concrete mix design. In this case there was the acid resistance of the surfaces exposed to contact with the sewage and there is always the consideration of the surfaces that require trowel finishing. Whether or not they realized it these people were on the edge of committing a felony. There was both Federal and State grant funds involved and the effect of this shortage could be considered a conspiracy to defraud.
The next base I had to touch was Young Construction. They deserved to be aware of the potential liability and then I wanted to hear Dick say that he was not aware of what had taken place. I hung up the phone after this conversation convinced that Young was totally unaware of what had happened prior to my call. I believe I spent the balance of the day watching TV and reading. The boys knew, without being told, that something was amiss. I purposely did not enlighten them for the obvious reason that children talk to one another and this was not something that I wanted to become a creeping revelation. There were too many innocent people that could be damaged beyond myself.
After dinner there was a call from Romac's salesman who asked if he could come over and talk. I told him he was welcome anytime and he was at the house in less than a half hour. The hour that he stayed was a continuing repetition of the theme that “everybody does it” along with an oblique suggestion that I could come back “anytime”. I spent the hour trying to turn the conversation to unrelated topics. He finally gave up and went home.
I don’t recall if it was the next day, or two days later that Dick Young Called back to inquire if I wanted to go to Duluth. Their superintendent on a waterline lift station had bungled a concrete pour and left a station that was in Lake Superior with a hole in one side. The repairs would require underwater work by a diver. I told him thanks but no thanks and the conversation ended.
Another couple of days and another visit from Romac’s man with not much more than a repetition pf the first visit. Followed by another call from Dick wanting to know if I would come back to complete the Rochester project and they would send Gordon Maukstad to Duluth. Before the conversation we had an agreement of the details of this arrangement. Come Monday I would be employed once again. But there was to be yet another visit from Romac this time the salesman was accompanied by a stranger who struck me as being very accomplished at oblique references, some of which were a bit disturbing. I let them both know that I would be back at the Treatment Plant Monday and that I could no need for them to be concerned about me.
The strangers’ references were enough for me to call my younger brother, head of the NLRB office in San Frisco CA. He was an attorney and a federal administrative law judge. I explained the whole situation to him along with my concerns about the conversation the previous evening. He told me to put the batch record in a safe deposit box and that if anything happened to me Frances would own the concrete company.
Small people aside we began o become part of the Rochester community. The boys were all in St. John’s grade school and in the Fall Paul would move to Lourdes High. Frances became active with the Republicans and the Nixon election campaign.
She had not lost the compassionate affinity for those with less or less fortunate. Gordon Maukstad had two children, both of whom suffered from cancer. The little boy had lost an eye but the girls’ affliction could not be controlled. Gordon never talked about what it was doing to him, seemingly trying to hide from it in the intensity with which he went about his work, leaving the heartbreaking grief to his wife. Learning of this situation Frances tried to set aside time to be with Mrs. Maukstad and the girl, a truly beautiful little thing. Her final week was at St. Mary’s hospital and Frances was there every moment she could be. At the end, this child, seemingly in a coma sat up and whispered “I love you mommy” and passed away in her mother’s arms. They took her home to Wisconsin for burial.
Mary Lund seemed to take special interest in our social life insisting that we attend the social event of the Spring, the Beau Arts Ball. Neither of us had been to a dance since high school and even the prospect of a shindig of this kind was intimidating. Frances was an accomplished dancer but my expertise was limited to making it through the time on the floor without injuring my partners toes. That is until Mary Lund took me in tow and started polishing the rough edges, going on to a fine tuning to a deep appreciation of the grace and physical artistry of each partner. Frances and I lived some of our most precious moments after I became equal to her ability. But one learns to appreciate each experience. Indeed there were to be many times when, in being escorted to the floor by a Mayo type that she would turn to me and with the language of the eyes whisper “look what I’ve got.”
But, in all of this I learned early on that maintaining a social equilibrium required the ability to recognize and respond to the emotional point of no return, when a room full of people become nothing but noise and motion and there is only the person in your arms. The touch becomes magnetic and the invitation of the eyes to descend to waiting upturned lips is near the point of irresistibility. Social grace is one thing , losing touch with reality is quite another. Let the emotions go and the body will follow to the moment that will leave an unrepairable wreckage in its wake Thus at the point of no return there must be a pressure relief something, be it a dumb comment or a walk on the toes that restores reality and leaves a normal relationship for tomorrow.
In a hundred different ways we began to touch the world around us learning with each experience that there is life beyond home and job. A sizeable part of this was the Sisters of St. Francis who were a large part of the teaching staff at St. Johns Grade School and the administration and nursing staff at St. Mary’s Hospital. Contrary to the experience of many of my Catholic friends I had no contact or interaction with nuns growing up, thus my acceptance was of lovely ladies that always wore something on their head. But Sister Patricia Principal at St. Johns school would drive me to distraction with detailed complaints about her female problems with details that even Frances would avoid. I would stand and listen silently asking “why me Lord” until she would go on to a subject that could go both directions. Here was an intelligent young lady that left me walking away with a big question mark after every encounter . With an engaging smile, sandy hair slightly red a hint of freckles around the cheeks she fit comfortably in the “cute” category.
But I also had to go back to work. While I was away Gordon had poured the south gallery floor during the coldest of the past winter. He had assembled a poly film enclosure about six feet above the floor to facilitate heating the area so as to preclude frost damage to the curing concrete. The number of propane heaters used together with the extended duration of use resulted in a damaging build up of carbon monoxide at the surface of the green concrete resulting in what is anecdotally referred to as oxidizing which results in the interruption of the hydration and hardening of the concrete surface. The result was a floor surface to the depth of 1/16th inch which was nothing but dry concrete dust. This left us having in, in effect, with the need to replace the floor finish. This was accomplished with a coat of epoxy with silica sandcast over the top to provide a non slip surface.
The last major exterior work was the construction of the sludge drying beds. Underlying this area were trenches which had been filled with metal debris brought to the landfill site. This material was deposited in the trenches and covered with no consolidation or compaction. The plant operator was aware of what was under the area and insisted that the earthwork contractor compact the area with a loaded dump truck until no yielding could be detected under the truck tires. The contractor complied and compacted until the plant operator said he was satisfied. then there was some 200 creosoted 4x4 posts that had to be installed 5’ in the ground to provide support for the drying bed dividers which was also creosoted 2” dimension lumber. Drilling of the post holes proved to be impossible due to the underlying metal debris. I finally borrowed a set of pile drive leads along with a 10’ section of steel pile from a local bridge contractor. With this equipment in our crane we were able to “punch” the necessary post holes into the ground much as you would punch a hole in a block of cheese with a pencil. The posts were fixed in place with sand back fill and the dividers installed completing the beds.
This completed our work with the crane and it was dismantled for shipment to the Duluth project. Dick, however felt that we could leave the counterweight in place an save the cost of the truck that was usually needed to transport the counterweight separately and he was at the site the day it was loaded. As he watched the crane was walked onto the semi trailer boom first. Then to facilitate transportation with the counterweight in place the operator was going to rotate the crane cab to put the counterweight directly over the drive wheels of the semi truck.
When the counterweight reached the 90 degree point in the rotation nearly 5’ over the side of the trailer and without any boom weight opposite the counterweight simply tipped the crane off the trailer. This took place with absolutely no warning . One second the crane was on the trailer, the next it as on the ground with the counterweight and one track supporting the crane with the other track elevated above the trailer bed. As this took place Dick brought both arms above his head in a knee jerk reaction as if summoning the Almighty to stop everything.
The truck drove out from under the crane, an end loader was summoned to put the crane back on its feet and the crane was reloaded leaving the counterweight to the back over the trailer bed. Apparently this arrangement sufficed only as far as the Twin Cities where the truck driver said he would go no further until the counterweight was removed. He was afraid the bouncing weight was going to bend the frame of his trailer. The crane then continued to Duluth with a second truck following with the counterweight.
This left us with general site clean up, various pieces of miscellaneous metals to install and the balancing of the Walker Process Clarifier mechanism. The mechanical and electrical contractors had the finishing touches of pipe and pump installation along with completion of the site grading. There seemed to be no end, however to the change orders coming relative to the plant control systems, particularly at the automatic control valve on the 30” feed pipes to the clarifiers which were an addition to the original design. Indeed the excuses for not rerouting the sewage influent into the new plant become little more than ludicrous procrastination.
We were into Fall the boys were back in school with Paul in high school and playing football at Lourdes. Being in the Lourdes building for various school functions it was immediately apparent to me that building maintenance was, for all intents and purposes, non existent . The condition and appearance of the building was as apparent to the students as it was to me and they volunteered their time for painting if someone would buy the materials. I suggested a meeting of interested parents for an informal discussion of the conditions at the building . Five couples subsequently got tougher in the school cafeteria and it was decided to put $100.00 each in a kitty to purchase paint and other materials needed to let volunteer students go to work on the building.
Our group was nearly to the point of breaking up when a person appeared introducing himself and claiming to be the Chairman of the Housing Committee from Catholic School Board . He went on to advise that no work could take place on or in the building save that authorized by the school board. I was totally unaware that there was a Catholic School Board and asked who was the contact person for what we were proposing to do. And learned that the board were meeting in the second floor library as we spoke. With our messenger leading the way we went to the library to meet with those with the authority to keep anything from getting done. Of the fifteen people +/- around the table the only face I recognized was Sr. Patricia.
Assuming the title of spokesperson for out group I was given a seat across the table from two priests that I would later learn was Msgrs. Jantzen (my pastor at St Johns) and Manghan (pastor at St. Pious Xth parish). I summarized my impressions from being in various parts of the building, liberally sprinkling what was said with words synonymous with neglect ending with a suggestion that the school board match the $500.00 that our group had donated. This elicited a single sentence unsmiling response from Msgr. Manghan stating flatly that “we don’t have another dime to put into this school.”. Jantzen said nothing and it was clear that our invitation had expired and we left not knowing whether the students would be allowed to work in the building.
Then in the first week in October there was agreement that the city would begin routing the sewage influent into the new activated sludge system. This really isn’t a thrilling thing. It was assumed that it would take something over two days just to fill the tanks of the new system whereupon there would be a flow again into the existing tanks and effluent discharge into the Zumbro River.
The aeration, clarifier, pumping and control systems would be put into service as the tanks were filled to the appropriate levels. Since these systems were installed by the Mechanical and Electrical contractors their superintendents would be at the plant all night following the first days filling. Paul was playing in a football game in St. Charles MN and Frances and I were going to the game. I told the Mechanical Superintendent where we were going and the approximate time we would return home. Anything before that time he could leave a message with the baby sitter and I would return the call upon returning home.
Sure enough there was a message to call the plant when I returned home. The mechanical man told me that the Engineers had told him the plant would have to be shut down as there was no elevations on the plans for the Primary Clarifier overflow wiers and that when these wiers were properly set we could continue filling the system. I told him to call the engineers back and tell them to get a good nights sleep. I would show them first thing in the morning where the elevations for these wiers were. In the meantime we would go on filling the system As promised I met with them to show them where the elevations were shown advising that if they wanted to change its elevation I would have to have a written change order. That was the end of any discussion about wier elevations and we continued to fill the system.
After the plant was filled and operating we continued to get change orders relative to control of the influent flow into the clarifiers and by this time the liquid level at the upper end of the aeration system was operating at approximately six inches above design elevation at a time when the plant was operating at less than 50% of design flow capacity.
I don’t recall exactly what I was doing at the time but one of the councilmen came to the plant and began an interrogation, for the most part grounded in ignorance of what he was talking about, with one question after about when we (Young) were going to get this plant operating right. I tried to explain that the current work was a change order work being ordered by the engineers, and still he persisted with his line of questions about the plant “running right” and I lost patience with the whole conversation. Looked him in the eyes and gave him my opinion, that being that I didn’t think this plant would ever run right. Complete silence and from the look on his face I had the distinct impression that he had soiled himself. He left without saying another word.
Before the end of the day I was told there would be a meeting tomorrow morning relative to my comments about the plant and that I was expected to be there . Present was Archie Armstrong, City Engineer (who was not an engineer) about half of the city council and to my right elbow, a representative of the design engineers (Toltz, King, Duvall and Anderson of St. Paul). The meeting opened by a long monologue by the president of the council to the effect that the only thing wrong with this plant was that it was just too big and that what the city should do is just shut down one side of the system.
With that fifteen to twenty minutes out of the way and the speaker seated I was asked what prompted my remarks. I responded that they were prompted by the hassling that directed our way for doing change order work directed by the engineers on behalf of the Owner all of which was directed at retarding the flow into the clarifiers and which now had a plant operating at less than half capacity beginning nearly flooded at the influent end. I ended by saying that perhaps someone might explain to me what is being done and why. I got no response and the meeting was adjourned with no further discussion.
I don’t recall whether it was a special or a regular election but St. Johns Parish, had an election to fill an opening on the Catholic School Board and I decided to submit my name. Msgr. Jantzen, formalist that he was required that prospective candidates submit a resume for his review. Upon learning of this I presumed that my candidacy was at an end as I was running against a Mayo physician and an IBM engineer. When the church bulletin was distributed with an insert summarizing the resumes. I learned that somewhere along the line I had obtained a Masters degree. The pertinent discipline remained unspecified as did the awarding institution. Also absent was any mention of where I had done my bachelors studies.
The sisters counted the votes and I was notified ahead of the rectory that I had won, leaving me wondering to this day, if my masters degree might not have truly been an honorary degree conferred by The Sisters of St. Francis resident at the St. Johns Convent and what the real ballot count might have been. I guess I’ll just never know.
At this time the Bishop of the Winona Diocese was Bishop Fttzgerald who was rumored to be suffering from Alzheimer’s far enough advanced that he could not recognize even close relatives, let alone visiting clergy The net effect of this was the monsignor and senior priests of the diocese ran their space pretty much as they pleased. And I was convinced that Msgrs Manghan and Jantzen were determined to close Lourdes High School. This facility actually belonged to the diocese but was required to be supported by the four Rochester Parishes.
After being seated on the school board I was named chairman of the housing committee and as time allowed was continuing to inspect the building and mechanical and electrical facilities applying cost estimates of labor and material required for the work. I had a meeting with the principal and Msgrs Jantzen and Manghan in the school auditorium at a time when my numbers were at $36000.00 and still counting. I gave them a summary of the items included and ended with an off hand comment to the effect that we should at the same time try to bring the teachers salaries to within 10% of comparable public school employees. This was like poking a stick in their eye and Manghan retorted that it was “none of my damn business what they paid the teachers”.
Then there was a new bishop appointed to the Winona Diocese and none other than Loras Waters, who as a priest in the Dubuque IA Diocese was principal of Loras Academy which I attended my senior year of high school. My immediate thought was to write him requesting contracting authority for work that we proposed to do at Lourdes. I was drafting this on a Saturday afternoon when an assistant form St. Johns called asking me to do one of the readings the next day. In those days lay readers were asked to come Saturday afternoons for a practice read and I begged off explaining that I wanted to finish the letter I was working on. He told me that Bishop Waters was in the building and that if I would read he would get me an appointment tomorrow after Mass. He had a reader and my meeting went off as promised. He recognized me and after a few good old times comments I explained that the Lourdes building was a Diocesan owned facility and I was seeking his delegation of contracting authority for maintenance wok to the Rochester Catholic School Board. He asked If I had something with me that he should sign. I explained that we should have a letter on Diocesan letterhead and with his signature. He assured me that it would be forthcoming promptly and we parted.
The promised letter arrived at the Principals office Tuesday and I got a call wanting to know what to do with it. I asked that he make seventeen copies and have one at each members place along with paper work for the meeting agenda. He did as I asked placing the copy of the letter atop the other paperwork. I was seated across from Msgr Jantzen and watched as his face became increasingly flushed as he read it. When completed he looked me in the eye asking if I or the bishop new where the money was going to come from. My response was that raising the money was the responsibility of the finance committee and it would not be proper for me to intrude on their work. You just cannot believe how reasonable the clergy can become when they find themselves between the Bishop and a hard place.
We ultimately spent $67,000.00 up grading the school building and convent and nobody borrowed a dime. The teachers salaries were upgraded but there were still issues primarily growing out of a liberal administration and staff in a conservative community and catering to large donors. Never, at any time was there a need to borrow money to fund the work.
We finished up at the sewage plant an I began commuting to the office on a daily basis.. There were news stories on a frequent basis regarding certain businesses that were discharging waste that was “shocking” the treatment system . Close reading of all these reports disclosed that they all originated with the public works department. The old plant operator retired and was replaced by a much younger man recommended by the design engineers of the new plant. Buried on the inside page of the paper was a story about the Minnesota Pollution Agency notifying the city of Rochester that no further new developments could be connected to the Rochester treatment system. Connections to the system were frozen at the 1968 levels for a plant that was supposedly designed for the anticipated city growth to the year 1995.
I would periodically stop at the plant and watch the wier overflow of the clarifiers. Not only was there liquid overflow but also clouds of activated sludge that was supposed to be settled to the bottom of the tanks, collected and pump returned to the aeration tanks or digester. This sludge was instead being pumped to the downstream trickling filters filled with rock media where it clogged the media and piled up on the open top of the filter tanks. Refrigerated by the winter temperatures the sludge remained just a slimy pile undetected until in the warm temperatures of spring and summer it began to turn anaerobic. Then most of the northwest corner of Rochester learned from the putrid odors that the sewage plant was not working.
My October comments reached some one in the Twin Cities as I began to receive manila envelopes with no return address containing correspondence relative to the plant and design. Beginning after I had mobilized the project the following is the tangled web of deceit that resulted in the waste of $1.75 million of tax dollars. During the shop drawing review the Walker Process Company supplier of the Primary Clarifier Sludge Collection Equipment notified Toltz, King, Duvall and Anderson that their design was flawed and would result in flow velocities that would preclude settlement and collection of the activated sludge. The design engineers knew at this point that a functional system would require that the design flaw be corrected.
With this information in hand the engineers went To Young Construction and ask for a cost of demobilizing the project for such a length of time as would be necessary to redesign the primary clarifiers o make them functional. According to the information I obtained (which did not come from Young’s office) the demobilization costs were $90,000.00. The engineers considered this excessive and elected instead to try to jury rig the existing design by trying to slow the sewage flow by way of automatic valves and controls, a procedure that was doomed to failure simply because squeezing the area of pipe available for sewage flow only served to increase the velocity when in any clarifier design the optimum flow velocity (never achieved) is zero.. It is my understanding that in lieu of litigation by the city in an amount equal to the total plant costs plus damages the City of Rochester settled out of court for $250,000.00. In this seemingly nothing settlement I see the hand of the Mayo Clinic to whom image is everything. The last thing they would want or need is a public peeing match over a nonfunctioning sewage disposal system in their home town.
Frances took Kevin out of grade school at St; Johns and enrolled him at Fowlwell public school The issue was his grades in English. The staff at Fowlwell said he was just behind where he should be but that he should be level with his class in less than a year. Sr. Patricia, Principal at St. Johns was fit to be tied and sent a letter to the school board explaining that Kevin would never be able master English. One of the board members took time to explain that it was not necessary to read the letter aloud. My response was that there should be no secret communications and that the letter should be read along with all the other board business and it was. Sr. Patricia did not attend the meeting. One of the most common failings of the human experience is the inability to accept the emotional space of those we share this planet with.
Mother had a bad experience with her prescriptions drugs and Frances came to Lake Eunice to try to get things straightened away. The accumulated leftovers from the church in Detroit Lakes, the addition at the St. Paul sewage plant and the Rochester project had been turned into a lake shore cabin and was Dad and Mothers home. I came to the lake Friday night to collect Frances and return to Rochester Saturday morning. I recall that after dinner Friday evening we walked across the road and back toward the Berquist sand pit. At that time Dad had a fairly large vegetable garden near the road the produce from which, that survived the critters foraging, was shared with the few neighbors that were here at the time.
Nixon was elected and Frances was with the committee that met his plane when it stopped in Rochester and shook his hand before he left. What He turned out to be is beside the point. My girl was part of life in Rochester giving her best and having fun with a great group of friends. And, before the election she knew there would be still another member of the family.
Fall and winter were passed commuting to the office in St. Paul with Lourdes sports activity and social events in the evenings with a social evening with friends here and there. Evenings of the monthly school board meetings meant endless discussions with the entire board (seventeen members) from seven to eleven PM when about a half dozen of us would adjourn to the school rectory where we could complete the monthly business in an atmosphere enhanced by commodities from the liquor cabinet. This group adjourned usually between one and two AM and I would have breakfast before going home for two to three hours sleep then up and on the road to work. The commute really a comfortable time for reflection, We had bought a near new Pontiac Grand Prix that would run like a scalded dog.
We bid several things before the holidays but were out of the running on everything I carried a bid to. Dad, Mother and Jim were down for Christmas and more commute till early March when the plans arrived for the Austin Utilities Northeast Power Station and Southwest substation. This would be the first venture in power plant work. As with nearly all power plant projects this was bid with separate prime contractors for general construction, mechanical, electrical, boiler installation, generator installation, cooling tower and coal handling conveyors. The activities of the separate contractors is coordinated by the resident engineer an employee if the design engineers, Black and Veatch Power Deviation of Kansas City MO.
On the day of the bid I was in Austin and made arrangements to “borrow” an office from Wagner Masonary of Austin who had submitted the low masonry sub bid to us. We were required to submit two complete specification books which had the bid forms bound inside. The bid forms for our work required seven or eight separate numbers to be hand written in both letters and numerals, much the same as the numbers are written on a check. It is common for the final numbers to come from the office at the last minute but Dick and Willman went down to the wire on this one. I addition, John Wagner had himself worked into a complete snit. He had never been through the last minute routine and all I was hearing, over and over again was “we ain’t going to make it” There was about ten minutes left when I hung up the phone and I told John to start the car an I would be out as soon as the numbers were in the forms. Fortunately, neatness is not a bid form requirement. We had about five minutes when I got to the car but Austin is not a large place and it was enough, barely. I laid the bid on the table in front of the engineer From Black and Veactch with something over fifteen seconds remaining.
We were the low bidder for the General Construction work at something over a $million and there was a meeting scheduled for the low bidders in the afternoon. I called the office to let them know we were successful and asked if either one of them wanted to be at the afternoon meeting. The response was a negative on either of them coming for the meeting so I and John Wagner went for lunch. This meant a fairly decent masonry piece of masonry work for Wagner and he expressed his thanks with grace before lunch that could be heard all over the dining room. I was back at the Austin Utilities building for the afternoon meeting, then home to Rochester.
Back to the office the following day to start the scheduling for Austin. It appeared to me to be fairly straightforward but I wanted to get a feel for the underground conditions as soon as possible. All the information that could be gleaned from the plans indicated that the site generally soggy in the main building area with rock excavation to be expected at the coal dump building. Mobilizing the project would be simple as my office trailer was still at the Rochester.
By the contract signing was complete and in our hands the schedule had been completed and arrangements were made to have my office towed to Austin. The Owner had an excess of power available at the site which facilitated the trailer connection Add the phone and a P.O. box and I was ready for a back hoe to install two French drains from the main building area to the riverbank to the west.
Then we started stripping the topsoil The excavator that we rented the equipment this could be done with rubber tired turn pulls which were spending more time spinning tires in the slick black soil than they did excavating dirt and these two units were traded for one D8 with a cable scraper behind. Slower, but steady and continuous. I hired a foreman whose trade was actually as a bricklayer, but like Dad had supervised complete projects and was an expert with surveying equipment.
Back home Frances was getting close to delivering number five. The difference this time was that she wanted this done with enough lead time to be in shape for the Beau Arts Ball in May. Thus, she and the doctor had agreed that if there had been no delivery by April 24th he would induce labor. As it happened this turned out to be the day of the ground breaking ceremonies in Austin so Willman came to the site to stand in for me.
I was with Frances by 7 AM the 24th and there was no indication that anything was going to happen naturally . It was agreed that the shot, if necessary, would come at 11 AM. In the interim her doctor came and went and the an obstetric anesthesiologist appeared explaining that, at the time, he was only the third of his kind in the USA. I explained that she never used any anesthesia but that he could manipulate the mirrors so she could watch. His face flushed and he stormed out of the room. Nothing had happened by 11 and a nurse administered the shot to induce labor and left the room.
Things began to happen almost immediately. The only person in the room beside myself was a resident and he managed to get one glove on before the delivery. One nurse got to room before the delivery was completed. I bugged out as the nurse entered the room. After the clean up I and the flustered resident were pushing Frances’ gurney down the hall toward her room when he asked if there was anything he could get for her, to which she replied “a cup of coffee and a cigarette”. To which he responded “I’d lose my job”. I got the coffee but the room was no smoking.
With only Friday left in the work week I put in an appearance at the site in Austin, stayed past noon and left early. As I recall the only girl in the family came home with her mother on Sunday. Things would never be the same. The name would be Toni Marie after her god parents, Tony and Mary Lund. After seventeen years the family was complete.
The Beau Arts Ball of 1969 was as glamorous as ever. We bought two extra tickets and invited Joe Mayer and his wife to go with. Joe had been football coach at Lourdes for years, both were Rochester natives but neither had ever been to the Ball. I had the feeling that Joe was a bit intimidated by the formality but his wife had the time of her life. Our New girl had a building full of babysitters at the St. Johns convent and Mother and Dad had the celebration of the year, dancing the night away with light hearts and good friends The Sisters were still up and wide awake when we came to collect the little one.
Progress at Austin in areas where we were not working along side others was fine. Where the work needed to be coordination nothing got done. Our resident engineer seemed to go on the assumption that the mechanical contractor was to be given priority where two contractors needed to work in the same area and time was of no consequence to them. The net result was that our work was slowed and was behind schedule especially in the boiler area of the main building. The favoritism became so blatant that I was convinced that there was more than friendship involved.
At the first monthly progress meeting with Black and Veatch personnel from Kansas City at the site there was a review of the several contractors work the resident intimated that work in some areas had been slowed because I was not cooperative. When asked to comment I simply replied that this project was never going to get off the dime until Black and Veatch assigned a resident engineer that didn’t use his memory for fairy tales and his imagination for the facts. The person conducting the meeting nearly turned blue, told me that I had an attitude problem, that we were going to get straightened when he returned from the meeting downtown with the Austin Utilities management.
He returned about three in the afternoon and as he approached me I was mentally prepared for a confrontation that could result in my removal from the project. To my surprise, he walked up to me and apologized for what had been going on and promised that the situation would be corrected. I learned later that what was bothering me had been brought to the attention of Harold Lamon, Austin Utilities Superintendent, who had independently confirmed what I had complained about and had told the Engineers to replace their resident engineer. Coming from him this was an order, not a request.
We were without a resident engineer for a couple of weeks was like a breath of fresh air. A young, laid back, tobacco chewing Texan who was straight down the line fair with all the contractors at the site. His first name was John but at the present his last name escapes me. Ultimately we developed a very close personal relationship.
Then, out of the blue, a person walked onto the site looking for a job as a carpenter foreman. Never before, or since have I encountered a person with more down to earth self confidence. He told me simply that if there was any complaints at the end of the first week I should let him go. He never raised his voice, settled for nothing less than the best workmanship and his accuracy with everything from a ruler to the surveying instruments was uncanny. His name was also John and his last name is also lost.
It is indeed rare to find two people such as John and my bricklayer person with even temperament and demanding of quality for the same project but there was another to come in the person of my cement finisher who produced the finished floors without equal. Such was his work that the areas of floor scheduled for pouring were of the area that he determined that he could do alone.
We worked from survey points established by the Austin Utilities surveyor which were set in the south entrance road and along the north property line which were not in exact alignment with one another. The main problem arose from laying out the main building from the south and the cooling water pump house from the north. Both were laid out correctly from the points given , but the precast pre-stressed cooling water line that connected the two had to be modified to fit. This was a line supplied and installed by the mechanical contractor and we were not affected.
With Austin well underway I was wanted at the office in St. Paul office to help with a bid on the Burnsville Eagan, Bloomington (BEB) Wastewater plant. Leaving home at 6AM I was at the office working continuously through the night in the office until we left for the bid opening at 2PM the second day. Were low bidder which required that I be at the winner celebration for about another hour which put me back home about 5 PM the second day whereupon I collapsed into bed until about 8 the next morning. There had been a windstorm during the night that blew down a 4” tree that passed entirely without disturbing my sleep. My presence at Austin was no more than an abbreviated 4 hours+/- before returning to complete the make up on my sleep.
The BEB project was $10 million +/- and would give us a total of $13 million under contract, a far cry from the $250 thousand limit of five years ago. This project was bid on the assumption that the Company office would be moved to the BEB project site thus saving, in effect the company overhead, Gordon Maukstad would supervise construction of the Basin area, which was the bulk of the concrete, Bill Anderson, the Influent and grit Structures, and John form Austin would be brought up to build the Solids handling Facilities.
When the Basin work was getting underway I received a call from Willman asking how I went about fabricating the forms for the clarifier sludge box. This was something that I would normally sketch out while walking from the office to the saw shed. Starting a $ten million project with a question this fundamental left me with foreboding as to what was happening.
The Coal Dump Building was constructed over an existing rail spur which required removal and replacement through the completed building to facilitate coal delivery. This building was approximately 100’ in length, the south half set on 4’ foundation walls and the north half was over the coal dump which was approximately 35’ deep with a sloping conveyor tunnel from the bottom to ground level to facilitate installation of the elevating conveyor to the crusher building. According to the plans the pit end of this building was to set on rock. 22’ long rock anchors were on hand to anchor the building down indicating that the design anticipated water which could cause flotation.
The existing rails were removed and the 4’ foundations for the south half of the building built followed by the pit excavation for the north half. When we reached the elevation where the plans indicated we should encounter rock with no indication of a rock ledge I began to become concerned but continued for another 5’ and still no rock. With this I directed Layne Minnesota who were drilling the caissons to back a drill rig into the northeast corner of the excavation and drill a hole to a depth of at least 5’ below the elevation of the pit base slab and tell me what material he encountered. In a matter of a couple hours he reported that there was nothing below the excavated level but loon shit.
What had been found was reported to our resident engineer as it was obvious that the pit area would have to be redesigned while we completed the excavation. In addition, due to the water we encountering I called our office and ordered two 4” submersible pimps and one 6” suction pump We continued the excavation to the level of the pit base slab and was complete except for shaving enough material off the bottom of the east wall to provide room for the concrete wall that would have to be built, There was one large boulder that projected into the excavation that was removed opening a hole about 20” in diameter between the excavation and an underground aquifer. The 36’x50’ excavation filled with water at about the rate of one foot per minute Fortunately the hoe operator kept his wits about him and got the track back hoe out of the hole.
I was at the far side of the site when this took place and when the hoe operator reached me his speech was so fast as to be incoherent, but I understood that there was a lot of water in excavation. By the time we arrived back at the excavation the water had reached a level 10 ’+/- below where were standing and had stabilized indicating the top level of the aquifer from whence it had come. Standing there staring at it accomplished nothing and I started back to my office. Stopping at the resident engineers trailer I told him what had happened, suggesting he look at it himself before calling his office and continued on to my phone to do the same. Dick was nearly speechless and said he would be down first thing in the morning. I told him to get the largest submersible pump he could find , preferably 10” discharge or larger on the way with 50’ of discharge hose.
Then it was time for a mental check list of the problems which would identify the solutions needed.. To construct the redesigned pit we would have to remove the water and maintain the excavation dry throughout the construction period. In the back of my mind was a dewatering set up that Dad had when building the telephone building in Ottumwa Iowa. We had gone to visit and in the middle of the afternoon he said he had to go start the pump and I went with. He had a wash tub with holed punched in the side surrounded by ¾” to 1 ½” rock in the wet sand beneath the floor. This tub filled about twice a day and he would start a gas pump and pump it dry. His system collected about fifty gallons per day. The first numbers that I put together told me we would have ten million gallons per day but Dads model would work with a bigger tub and pump.
The pump that I just ordered should be adequate to remove the water. Keeping the water out would require installation of a temporary pump station that would operate continuously during construction of the pit. Finally, the water would have to be piped from the hole in the bank to the pump station. There was the solution in theory. Before that theory became reality there were many who thought my theory was little more than a wishful pipe dream.. The incredible cost of the alternatives was the only motivation to provide the equipment and give me time needed. Indeed, what lay ahead was to be one of the most instructive lessons of life as I watched those who thought failure inevitable distance themselves from the effort.
I took John aside first thing the following morning to tell him he would have the burden of most of the project on his shoulders while I concentrated on the water problem. Dick was at the site early and looked at what we had to deal with. Didn’t stay long and said he knew a company in the cities that would know what had to be done. He said he would contact them and call me we were back .Apparently, whoever it was had no suggestions as I never received a call. The next months concentrated thoughts and efforts began with the arrival of the submersible pump with a 12” discharge hose which gave me a size for fabricating a bucket for hoisting it. I got the work started on setting up an electrical connection and left for town.
A 36” scrap metal basket that fabricated from ½” steel and punched full of 1 ½” diameter holes and with a 1” bale for lifting was found at the local scrap yard. I was as if made to order and they said it would be delivered yet today I also found a steel box roughly 4’x6’ and had it sent to a welding shop where I had 22 4” diameter close nipples welded to the inside 1’ from the bottom with the metal cut away at each nipple. Gate valves were installed on half the nipples to facilitate shutting off the water flow when the station was abandoned. Pipe caps were used on the balance of the pipe nipples.
With the electrical connection to the pump we hoisted it into the hole with the crane and started pumping water. The rate at which the water started going down told me that the pump we had should be adequate for the temporary pump station if there wasn’t too much obstruction through the 4” nipples I had welded to the lift station box.
Having emptied the excavation we were once again able to put men and equipment to work on the bottom and the pump was moved as close to the hole in the bank as possible to confine the incoming water a back hoe began work in the excavation. With the pump in front a trench wide enough and deep enough to lay a 20” concrete pipe was excavated. . Before the hoe was out of reach and with the help of two laborers a length of pipe was centered on the hole in the bank and pushed firmly into place with the hoe bucket at a slightly downward angle so as to get the balance of the pipe into the excavated trench . Keeping the pump in front of him the hoe operator continued trenching and laying pipe to near the center of the pit where the temporary pump station would be located.
The box was lowered into the hole so the hoe operator could use it as a gauge foe the excavation needed to set it in place with a 2’ space all around for 3” rock through which the water would feed into the box. With the box in place, surrounded by rock we were ready to set the pump inside the box to see if the feed system into the box worked. The pump was lifted out of the basket and into the box and I held my breath momentarily to see if any water backed up outside the box.
It worked beautifully. By my calculation we were lifting 10 to 12 thousand gallons of water out of the building excavation every minute. The only thing that remained was to replace the hose discharge with a 12” PVC pipe that would provide a discharge system clear of all the construction activities . The construction and installation of the pump station had taken the better part of the month and the weather was bitter cold when this last operation took place. But with this done we were able to place a foot of rock over the bottom of the entire excavation providing a completely dry bottom from whence John and his crew could start the concrete work the following day.
Subsequent information would disclose that the Coal Dump and Coal Crusher Buildings had been moved 100’ north of the original design location assuming the same soil conditions to be common to the entire site, when in fact the rock ledge ended leaving the north half (pit area) of the Coal dump Building in glacial till immediately adjacent to the underground aquifer.
Concrete work on the coal dump pit continued throughout the winter and by the last week of April was complete save for the last 10’+/- of the conveyor tunnel to the west. It had become decision time for closing down the temporary pump station. The construction trades labor contracts were expiring and there was every indication that there would a strike beginning the first day of May. If at all possible I wanted to remove the pumping apparatus and seal the hole in the floor that served as the collection point of the water and I mentally scheduled the afternoon of April 30th be set aside to get it done.
The sequence of events were…1, shut off the water at the 4” influent pipes with the pipe caps and gate valves…, 2, saw cut the 12” PVC discharge pipe. This was the point of no return…3,lift the pump out of the steel can,…4, pour the floor in the steel can that was the well of the temporary station …5, set the form for the floor recess that would be the permanent building sump pit, 6...pour the concrete walls of permanent pit. Everything went like clockwork, but it was apparent before we had finished that the water around the building was above our head.
To get this structure this far we had pumped nearly 15 million gallons of water each day for about seven months. If the pump had stopped at any time during that period the building would have filled with water to a depth of 15’ in less than ten minutes.
As expected there were pickets at the gate the following morning and there would be no work until there was a new labor contract which was not expected very soon. The unions had agreed to negotiate only on area, as opposed to a community, basis. Accordingly Austin was lumped in with Faribault, Albert Lea, Rochester and Winona. In order to try to preclude a work stoppage our office had made two offers of an immediate increase with retroactive adjustment if necessary that left all the employees at the power plant site working with no loss of wages. Both offers were rejected and the project was shut down.
This left me idle for the most part for the next ten days or so when a couple of strangers came to the office trailer and asked if I would serve on the labor contract negotiating committee as the Austin representative. Given we were a St. Paul company and I was a Rochester resident this seemed rather strange until it was explained that the former Austin representative Joe Wagner, owner of Wagner Construction had tried to make a private deal with an Austin labor Business Agent resulting in his separation from the committee. With no objections from our office I accepted.
This was both a surprise and a rather welcome change of pace. As it turned out I was the only person on the committee that was not an owner of a company. The Only name familiar was Jim Stocke and this was the first time I had met him. The O. A. Stocke Co. was founded by his father and was the contractor that did all the major work for the Mayo Clinic none of which was on a bid basis. All of the Mayo work was cost plus a fixed fee for overhead and profit. Jim had succeeded his father as owner of the company. The arrangement with Mayo gave him a different outlook on a contract settlement with the Unions as Labor costs represented no risk in his company operations. Secondly, for reasons best known to himself he assumed an air of superiority in discussions within the committee, indicating that any difference of opinion from his own was little more than bad sense.. Not being a company owner, I was on the receiving end of his sarcasm more than once. At such times I ignored the comment and talked past him to other members present.
The first objective in the negotiations was to minimize the initial hourly increase due to the adverse effect on work currently under contract. Most of the contractors had included an “anticipated” increase but in some cases where the work had been underway for sometime there were no provisions for any increase which meant the settlement amount of the first increment would be a donation from profits.
The negotiating sessions were in a different location each time and as I recall the first that I was present was in Austin and I learned early on that being an Owner did not convey any special negotiating ability while the Union side had been coached in most every thing they did. Baited comments, wasted time and extremely long sessions that resulted in fatigue and frustration were all part of their pre planned strategy and a lack of understanding in this regard can be costly.. More than once I was to witness one or more of these company owners ready to accept terms, conditions or wage levels at 11PM that they wouldn’t consider the same morning.. But at the Austin session the negotiations were still in the early stages.
On the day following each session I was at the Power Plant site to meet with John, my man and John, Black & Veatchs man to fill them. In addition, the pickets at the gate were invited in for coffee and had full access to my comments. Privately I got the impression from the first of these sessions that this was the only source of first hand information for them. The pickets were equally forthcoming about what they were hearing for the first time, of greatest interest was the fact that the Union Membership had never been told of our pre strike increase offers.
Faribault was the site if the next session and followed the same format as Austin which was early Union demand, Contractor rejection, repeated in the afternoon with a Contractor and Union rejection, Union early evening demand with Contractor rejection and another rejected Contractor offer after 10 PM followed by conversation, idle threats, a lecture by Stocke about getting things settled and adjournment.
It was on the trip home from this session that I was awakened by a Highway patrol siren after driving through Dodge Center MN sound asleep. He started his lecture by telling me that somewhere in town changing her soiled panties as only her last minute exit from the side of the road had prevented me from broad siding her auto. Initially the Patrolman was demanding that I get a motel room and get some sleep before going any further. He could see, from my operators license that I was from Rochester, which was but another twenty miles and I was able to convince him that I could be home in less time than it would take to find a motel He finally relented and let me go on and without a ticket.
Another morning after session at the Austin job site but with two additional picketers for coffee. Today, however there were questions, many questions which I did my best to answer. Where I did not have an answer, I said so without hesitation. By the time they left, I was convinced that they had been told nothing of what had taken place in any of the negotiation session.
The next session was in Winona and when I arrived I was invited to a private session with the Austin business agent who asked if I would agree to settle on the basis of the last Contractors offer in Faribault. My immediate response was yes, subject only to the approval of a majority of the Contractors committee. This was a total surprise and I meant to make the most of it. The rest of the committee was equally surprised and there was 100% agreement that I should go ahead and get Austin settled . There had been general agreement that the offer accepted by any community independent of the others would end any meaningful further negotiations and the Austin Unions were the first to blink. I went back to the Austin Business Agent and confirmed that we had an agreement. The Austin settlement was as much a surprise to the other Union representatives as it had been to our side and they sent word that they wanted today’s session cancelled which it was.
What had happened to cause the sudden about face I Austin? The Business Agent negotiating for them represented both the Carpenter and Labor unions and the agreement would allow us to return to work almost immediately. I was to learn that the two additional pickets had been sent by the union membership of both unions to determine exactly what was going on in the negotiations. Following this there had been a combined meeting of both carpenters and laborers. After confirming that what I had told them was true, the Business Agent was told to settle or find another job. Thus it was all over save for the formality of ratification by both sides locally.
The State AGC provided me with copies of the final contract to carry to a meeting of the Austin chapter for ratification. Again I was the outsider present only to explain changes from the last contract and to answer any question about the negotiations. Was fine until somebody voiced an objection to the “saw sharpening “ clause that bound the Contractor to pay for sharpening for any carpenter in they employed. The conversation over this item became so heated that I could see the agreement being rejected and I waived the room quiet and began to lecture my elders, noting first that they had the same clause in all the contracts approved for the last eight years and secondly that nobody could convince me that a man working with a dull saw didn‘t cost at least five times the estimated $5.00 per week that it cost to provide him with a sharp tool . The agreement was ratified unanimously.
So back to work and the first item of business was to pump the water out of the Coal Dump building to see if we had any real problems A 1“ discharge submersible pump was used an took the better part of two days to empty the building which stayed dry. Apparently there was a surge before the water around the outside of the building receded to its static level and the water came around the end of the yet incomplete tunnel walls.
Sometime before completion of the conveyor tunnel lid from the coal pit Willman came down for a tour of the project, bringing with two surveyors that they had working on the BEB project. He explained that these two were responsible for all the layout work including measurements for placing all the anchor bolts for equipment to be installed in the process tanks. Milt and I had some things to discuss these two were asked to check the dimension between the anchor bolts for the conveyor and the centerline of the crusher building. They came to the office with numbers indicating we were nearly seven inches off. I suggested they do it over as we did not allow errors of that magnitude They did it over and reported back an error of about half the previous number explaining that their work was within third degree accuracy as allowed for survey work. Having never encountered degrees of accuracy in work where fabricated machinery was involved I had our John check the same dimension. His numbers were +/- ½” of plan dimension. When the coal conveyor was installed working upward from the coal dump pit to the to the top of the crusher building 175’ west and 50’ higher in elevation the last piece was a perfect fit on the anchor bolts on the steel frame of the crusher building
What Willman’s had really come to talk about was how soon I would be able to let John come to BEB to start work on the solids handling facilities included in that project. I didn’t have a firm date only that he would be there as soon as Austin could spare him.
Completion of the conveyor tunnel to ground level and placement of the rail beams over the pit brought us to replacement of the rails for the spur which now went through the building. I asked John to shoot elevation grades at the ends of the removed rails and on the center of the building rail beams He returned with the elevations requested and the comment “we’ve got a problem. I had only to look at the elevation numbers he handed me to see what he meant. The building was 1’+/- too low and the immediate silent mental question. What the hell had happened? To get the answer John was sent back to determine the exact elevation of the top of the building walls. His new numbers, when compared to the plans told me that we were +/- 1/8th inch of the design elevation.
Next stop was next door to our resident engineer to let him know what we had found. Since it was a foregone conclusion that he would want to shoot the grades himself, I sent our John with him to hold the level rod . He confirmed that our numbers were right which meant that Black and Veatch had a one foot bust in the design elevation of the building. Their people in Kansas city would have to tell us what to do.
Our verbal instructions were to cut the rails and slope them down onto the rail beams with the sloping section to be supported by a wood wedge between the beam and rail. A voice from somewhere told me I should learn more so I called the railroad Roadmaster that I had worked with at Pigs Eye Island in St. Paul to get his thoughts. He couldn’t believe what I was telling him and he began to lecture me on what I should never do and ending by asking why the plans for this building ha never been submitted to the railroad for approval. Plan approvals were the function of the Owner or the Engineer and I could only plead ignorance. In closing he suggested that I do nothing more until the railroad had reviewed the details of what was going on with Austin Utilities.
The jist of my conversation with the Roadmaster was relayed to our resident engineer the following morning who expressed his unconcealed displeasure at my contacting the railroad. I was to learn later that the railroad was in touch with Austin Utilities at about the same time and with a similar frame of mind inquiring why the had not been notified of track modifications at this site. The Upshot of all this was a meeting of Austin Utilities management, Black and Veatch Engineers and the railroad at the railroad offices in St. Paul. The upshot of this meeting was that Austin Utilities would complete replacement of the rails and the modifications required to correct elevation bust.
Frances and I received an invitation to the AGC convention for the Southeast Quarter of Minnesota in Winona which was both a business meeting and a celebration of the contract settlements. This was a complete, but appreciated surprise but apparently several members considered it a “thank You” for the work on the negotiating committee. The business meetings and Saturday evening banquet was at a downtown hotel. Jim Stocke chaired the business meeting setting a us and them atmosphere of relations with the Unions. I disagreed with nearly everything he said but kept my peace, keeping in mind that I was a gust, not a member. Evening brought the banquet with roast duck the only offering, and which turned out to be as tough as wet leather on a uniform basis for each one served. It was as if the business meeting had been carried over to the banquet hall.
Better things followed with a moonlight riverboat excursion up river, then back to the hotel to dance the rest of the evening away. Breakfast was hosted by the current owners of the Weyerhaeuser estate . The names are forgotten but this couple were both gracious and accomplished hosts with a an almost endless breakfast buffet that, if you wished, began with a Bloody Mary or the orange juice counterpart followed by almost continuous activity till 1PM when we departed for return to Rochester. It had been a beautiful two person weekend.
Next day it was Austin continued. There had been several instances if the our John and Black and Veatchs John getting in one another’s face over, what seemed to me, to be nothing issues and what seemed to me to be an ideal break for both of them appeared in the form of an Eddy Arnold Concert at the Rochester Auditorium and Frances got six tickets. We would see if a night out would lighten things up. The invitation was a surprise for both of my antagonists and they were not aware of each others invitation until we met at the auditorium. I presumed that the wives presence would work magic of its own and there would be nothing untoward.
Eddy Arnold was magnificent, inviting everyone to get their pictures first and put the cameras away and then three unbroken hours of music and song. There was just no way anybody in that auditorium could not go away happy. And the evening had the desired effect with our guests at work. From then till our John had to leave for his part of the BEB project both found ways to be civil even with disagreements.
Johns replacement seemed to be competent but there began to be erratic moments and mistakes that were just inexplicable until I learned he was an alcoholic who had fallen off the wagon. When I told him he would have to go we had a long talk about his personal situation. Apparently there was a daughter married to a GI stationed overseas and this past months phone bill was well over $500.00. This was just the latest misadventure with the daughter and he was at his wits end trying to deal with her problems. After his departure I worked with one of the carpenters as necessary rather than try to find another foreman.
Dick and Milt had bid and were low bidder on another wastewater treatment plant, in the $10 million range and wanted me to be at the BEB office to start at scheduling and methods for the concrete work. This presented no problem as the only remaining item at Austin was finish grading of the site for landscaping and the roads for asphalt.
This was the first contract for the newly organized Metropolitan Sanitary Sewer District which was a bureaucracy from the word go. The new administrator was from Pennsylvania and he brought eastern formality with him There were terms and conditions in the Metro Boards bid documents and contracts that if enforced would create a near impossible situation for a contractor and Dick had written exceptions to some of these on the bid form Which is a no. The Bid form and contract documents are legal papers and should be tampered with only with an attorneys advise. Dick with his exceptions acted without an attorney . In the case of most of these extreme conditions the best way to proceed is to add contingency dollars to have available if the conditions are enforced.
With no information to the contrary, however I had no option save to get ready to mobilize an develop the best forming system. There was thousands of lineal feet of 15” high walls in the basin area which would use large panel forms. Developing a method of moving them, I felt was the key to efficiency. Hoisting with a crane was the assumption used in bidding the project but I felt a better way could be found and began working on a rolling scaffold system similar to that developed for the Federal Cartridge target range tunnel that I had set up in the fifties using a motorized winch or a bobcat to move the rolling scaffold. I had about ten days invested in the project when Willman walked into my office to tell me their bid had been rejected. There was nothing more to do but roll up the plans and put it aside.
The next thing on the agenda for me was to get the details organized as required to put the BEB plant into service which meant first that I would get my first tour of the work. The offices were above the basin area adjacent to the office, laboratory and permanent parking area of the facilities. Layout of the plant as viewed from the job office was with the influent, headwork’s and grit removal facilities to the right attached to the basin complex which ran right to left to the chlorine tanks and discharge Beyond the right hand side of the basin complex was the solids processing , drying and storage facilities.
Design engineer for this plant was the Civil/Sanitary division of Black and Veatch of Kansas City MO. Who had a resident engineer at the site along with three inspectors normally based at the Pigs Eye Island plant in St. Paul. Supervising the project for Young was Bill Anderson for the influent and grit systems, Gordon Maukstad on the basin area and John from Austin on the solids handling facilities. All of these men had worked for me as either a foreman or superintendent. Dick or Milt Willman separately or together were assumed to be the Project Managers.
Thus I began my first tour to get a mental picture of the work necessary for start up. Only when actually walking on the structure walkways could one see the incredible difference in the quality of the work supervised by these three men. These were all concrete structures but the visual difference was the most outstanding contrast even to the casual eye. The basin was just plain substandard workmanship by any standard and was even more outstanding in that regard standing next to the adjacent structures.
As I stood taking all this in Dick walked up beside me and began explaining how disorganized and piece meal the work on the basin had been. I was completely unsurprised. Gordon had supervised the work on even more complex structures at Rochester and turned out work that was of the first quality. Why the difference? At Rochester I had made a superintendent out of a crane operator fully aware of his shortcomings relative to what I was asking him to do and saw to it that the gaps in his abilities were filled in either by myself or a carpenter foreman. In giving him the responsibility of supervising the basin work at BEB it was assumed that all that was accomplished at Rochester was at Gordon’s direction and Gordon did nothing to disabuse either of them of this misunderstanding and apparently nobody wanted my opinion. The phone call at the time this work started asking how to build the sludge box forms told me that in reality there was no one at the site who could provide the guidance that was needed. It would be easy but at the same time superficial to just blame Gordon for all the shortcomings of the quality of the basin concrete. In reality it was a combination of the human virtues of ignorance concealed by pride, arrogance and perhaps a touch of envy that were at work
A more complete picture of the guiding lights of the project came from my conversations with John and Bill Anderson John was very straightforward with his assessment and was disappointed that Dick didn‘t straighten things out. It just never occurred to him that Dick didn‘t know what to and bill was just as acid, but for different reasons. Apparently he had one section of wall in place when it was discovered that the point of influent to the plant was 3‘ +/- off . The layout for this work had been done by the two surveyors who Milt had brought to Austin. Instead of taking a realistic look at what this error actually affected Dick arbitrarily ordered that the work already in place be demolished and started over again. As Bill related this to me we were standing on the spot which he had reference to and nothing was more obvious than the fact that a three foot error meant nothing in either the function or appearance of the plant. It meant simply that the incoming sewer pipe would have to be moved to meet the existing structure.
This episode in my mind illustrates the complete absence of any effort a positive motivation of the labor force at this sit. Nothing is more demoralizing than to see your work purposely demolished for no other reason than to demonstrate that it can be done. People are more complex than calculators and far more important than the sum of a column of numbers.
But I was not here to change yesterday, only to try to make yesterday functional. I had worked with some of the inspectors when we remodeled the solids building at Pigs Eye Island in 1966 and established a smooth working relationship with them to accomplish what was needed here. Black and Veatch had a resident here also but seemed to operate separate from the Owners inspectors.
Fist in order of getting the process equipment functional was in removing the scum skimmer mechanism and installing new anchor bolts in one side that were square with those opposite in order that the scrapers would operate square across the tank. This was followed by leveling the Walker Process Clarifier mechanisms in the four clarifier tanks the clarifiers here were square so this amounted simply of establishing level marks in the center of each wall and rotating the arms of the rotating collector machines to the marks and adjusting the center column anchor bolts until the arms rotated 360 degrees in a level plane.
I was with the crew in the first clarifier tank when the level adjustment was made at the first marks. The machine was being rotated 90 degrees, when, at about 45 degrees there was a loud report and one of the machine arms dropped onto the tank floor. It took but a moment to see that one of the top chords of the arm had fractured. In plain language a 3”x3” x¼” angle iron had broke in half.
This was reported to the necessary need to know persons who in turn notified Walker Process who sent a four man delegation to the site . From the impression these fellows tried to leave one would think that this really was no big deal. Whether it was or not they were in a meeting with Black and Veatch and the Owners that lasted nearly a half day. The project specifications were for a clarifier arm that was completely self supporting . The machines supplied had “float tubes” at the outer ends which functioned to leave part of the arm weight supported by the buoyancy of the hollow tubes. Inasmuch as the machines had to be balanced and adjusted in a dry tank this left the question of how much should be allowed for lift when the tank was filled with liquid. Consequently the machines were balanced and the final adjustments left to Walker Process personnel.
Later I happened to be in the office going over something with Dick when Willman came in with the “punch list” or final inspection report from the Austin Power It was noted as Final save for the asphalt roads and parking areas which were not complete. It was a two page affair and when Dick finished his first perusal he turned back for a second reading ending with the comment that “there aren’t any concrete items, this is nothing” and handed it to me. He was right . Aside for a few miscellaneous items around the project it consisted of adjusting almost all of the door closures in the main building. There was less than two days work for one carpenter. The message of this inspection report was loud and clear. And that is simply There is always enough time to do it right the first time.
Back in Rochester the boys were learning about girls, Kevin was learning how to repair his bicycle. He always got it apart and well he got it apart. Frances still got out with her friends every chance she got. The Beau Arts Ball was our night of the year and there were issues developing with the school.
The work was nearly complete but for a few items in the Convent which became a cause of a visit from a couple of convent residents to our board meeting. The spokes person urged me to do nothing in the convent building. Her argument was that it would be nothing but a waste of money. We should, she argued use the money for rental of an off site apartment for two or possibly three of the convent residents. The function of the funds and the authority delegated by the bishop was explained with the summary statement that if there was no building work, then there was no money available.
It was as if the words passed in one ear and out the other and she posed the same question (proposition?) with very little change in the original and I tried to respond in kind. But we had to go through the same routine twice more before another board member picked up the conversation and I slid my chair away from the table for a breather. For reasons best known to himself Msgr Manghan had moved to my side of the table and was seated to my right. I was only a few moments by myself away from the table when Monsignor was next to me again. He leaned toward me and in a barely audible voice expressed the opinion that all the two persistent sisters wanted was their own apartment away from the school so they could cat around nights with the girls who already had their own apartments. I completely lost it and bent over to table top height and laughed till the tears came.
Old iron face had finally loosened up and he had a Irish humor that was the equal of his temper. I believe this change began when we sent a committee to him to explain the arithmetic of pre paying a 5% mortgage with 7% money.
Their was a group of us that were attending a series of adult education classes at St. Johns being presented by Fr. Bellbottoms so called because that was the only style of pants he wore, in public at least. This young man was as liberal as the came and at this time liberals were having a heyday out in their edge of the homestead. Thus it was that he opened one of the sessions with the statement that it was better to go to bed with someone you love than to just go to bed. This was about as great a shock as a batch of hide bound conservatives could stand , especially in the basement of the church. There was one person in the group who had survived Auschwitz and even he was a bit red faced, but there was not a little bit of feigning. I had been with most of these people in private settings and they were not above a loose moment or comment here and there.
So it passed and the sessions went on until one evening starting time came and went and then another fifteen minutes or so and Monsignor Jantzen appeared and red face and erratic line of speech got the message across that Fr. Bellbottoms was unavoidably detained and the class would be cancelled until further notice. It took all of two days for anyone interested to learn that Fr. Bellbottoms had eloped with a widow who was the mother of five children. Having been responsible for the same number of children I have often wondered if my bellbottomed friend was in reality just another sibling or if he actually proved to be the head of the household.
There were changes taking place as well. Archie Armstrong retired as Rochester’s City engineer. Before going the city had constructed a new interchange at one of the highway 52 exits which gave the appearance of having been designed by dropping a string on a city map and constructing an intersection that followed every turn pf the vagrant string which seemed to have tied itself in a knot before coming to rest on the map. Almost immediately it was dubbed “Archie’s interchange, the only place in Rochester that one can get in a traffic jam at two in the morning” The operator at the waste treatment also decided that this would be a good time to retire.
The Rochester Post Bulletin continued to run stories intermittently about the, one of a kind aberrations that were continuing to plague Rochester’s new wastewater plant. They printed every thing the city told them except that the city was already looking for a new Consulting engineer to design a New plant to replace the new plant There was much being said but most everything in a muffled whisper.
Back at the school there developed interest in the possibility of having some of the Lourdes classes in the unused classroom wings of the Franciscan Motherhouse on Assisi Heights and to explore this further a meeting was scheduled with Administrative personnel and a committee from the school board There was a general discussion of different scenarios but I had the feeling that the sisters had come with a negative response before the discussions began. There were a sizeable number of sisters in foreign countries that had not been contacted and as with much of the rest of the church following Vatican II there was a drive for change tempered by the uncertainty inherent in exploring a new and different future best expressed by one of the sister who stated simply that Assisi Heights was the only home they had. I could understand wanting to hang onto the only thing in life that was certain.
Simply viewed as a space enclosure this building is nothing less than magnificent piece of architecture and fine construction . The size is indicated by the fact that the structure has 1100+/- windows. During the cold was the was a 200 bed emergency hospital in the sub basement, a kitchen with more area than most houses which includes a bank of four walk in coolers and freezers that would fill a four car garage. All pf the floors above the basement level are Italian marble terrazzo.
The school activities were expanded to include an area wide dance for the Rochester student community that attracted public school and junior college students and those of that age group that just wanted to have a good time. An event of this type has to have an adult presence which meant that Frances and I were at nearly every one having as much fun in the free time as the kids.
Our usual post was standing behind the students collecting the admission at the front door. There were three requirements for admission those being the admission fee, no alcohol and no blue jeans. The third criteria was a student thing criteria that presented an ongoing challenge to those who had nothing to do but argue. I would never have believed how many variations of blue jeans that there were. Most identified themselves and the wearer was excluded usually returning in different garb a short time later. It was not uncommon for junior college students to come wearing the verboten blue jeans but with a pair of dress pants which they donned in one of the shower rooms and reversing the procedure when leaving.
Frances and I were stationed behind the admitting students one evening when a very attractive young lady wearing a genuine fur stole dropped a $50.00 bill on the table for herself and the boy she had in tow. The admitting student left the $50 laying and questioned the young ladies garb saying the slacks looked like blue jeans triggering the inevitable debate continuing until two sides of the debate turned to Frances and I for an opinion and the lovely young detainee proved to be more than a match for me at least. Lifting one hip onto the table she looked straight at me and said “just feel that and you can tell these are not blue jeans” to which I responded without skipping a beat ”young lady I’m not coming near that”. By this time everybody was smiling, the students had decided to admit her and the two of them went on their way.
At a later dance Frances and I were at the dance floor watching the participants near the end of the evening when a young lady that I have always assumed was a junior college student and asked me if she could have the next dance. Taken aback I looked toward France who said simply “go ahead“ and we did. I was completely without expectations for only about ten steps. By this time I knew that I was with a person who not only knew what she was about even to anticipating my blunders. There is, for me something about being with a partner like this on a dance floor. The surroundings just go away and there is nothing but two people and the music. Indeed on this evening that is exactly the way it was. We were alone on the floor with everybody watching. When the music stopped we exchanged smiles and parted and I never saw her again save for now and then in my fondest memories mirror In three years of these dances there were two people escorted out for abusing alcohol.
Things at Lourdes Changed suddenly and radically in a collision between Frances and Gene Wente, science teacher and track coach. Wente just wasn’t the sharpest knife in the intellectual drawer. It was commonly accepted that his job was a return for the substantial support the school received from his brother who had a substantial medical practice. Wente had scheduled a track meet at Collegeville the same day as the Senior prom. For the seniors on the track team, which included Paul this meant they missed the prom if not allowed to return by car as soon as they had competed. Apparently Wente was insistent that everybody return on the school bus and that was all Frances was going to take. Paul was gone but Joe and Frank were aboard another bus destined for the same meet. Frances boarded the bus and took the two of them off.
Next day they were enrolled in Mayo High school from whence they both graduated. Since Paul was in his senior year he remained and graduated from Lourdes. I was invited by the press to comment on the change but declined Frances and I never exchanged so much as one word about what had happened. Either one of us spoke for both of us. That would never change.
Putting the BEB plant in service left us looking for work and the only thing on the market at the time was a new wastewater plant on the shore of Lake Superior in Two Harbors MN. The project, as required was advertised for competitive bidding. As I recall the cost of this unit was in the neighborhood of a $one million but a large percentage of this cost was process equipment the price of which, under the right circumstances, can be very flexible. At Two harbors there were Roots Connersville compressors foe aeration, Walker Process Clarifier , grit removal and scum skimmers and US water filters for fourth stage treatment of effluent tat was to be discharged into Lake Superior.
Twin cities representatives for the specified equipment decided to bid the project on a combined bid basis meaning that there would be one number for all the equipment in the project. There’s nothing out of order about this arrangement as long as all the general contractors et the same number. In this case the process equipment people decide that Young Construction would be low bidder and arranged their numbers such as to guarantee the result. Sound funny? It is but that’s the way the system works with small to medium treatment facilities designed by consulting engineer who get there engineering expertise from the process equipment companies.
While Young was the low bidder the final number was above the engineer’s estimate and Two Harbors had to come up with the additional money or have the job re bid. Consequently as related to me by the consulting engineers representative after the bid opening the Council closed the meeting to the public and had a weenie roast using his weenie but agreed that the low bid should be accepted as the city was under order by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to get their facilities upgraded. At the time Two Harbors took drinking water out of the same bay that sewage effluent was discharged into. In addition Two Harbors was to have the first four stage plant in the state with water filters above the chlorine tanks.
This was not a complicated project by any means. The heart of the system was a 100’ diameter concrete tank centered inside of a 200’ diameter concrete tank both approximately 20’ deep. The thing that was out of the ordinary was that each tank had to be poured in one pour which in round numbers was a 200 and a 300 cubic yard pour. Normally the tanks would have been divided into segments with expansion joints and water stops. The design for these tanks was on the basis of restraining any expansion/contraction with the use of reinforcing steel. Accordingly each tank had two faces of rebar with vertical bars 1 3/8” diameter at 3 3/8” centers vertically and 1 5/8” bars at 3 3/8”horizontally.
All Dick could foresee with this arrangement was a mass of honeycombed concrete and gave the engineers a letter outlining his exceptions. Dick had assumed using a crane for pouring the concrete but when you saw the site use of a was impractical. These problems would have to be worked out when I got to the site. Before leaving the office there were the formalities attached to federal grants that had to be taken care of. Large in the minds of the funding people was the number of minorities available for employment Thus It was necessary to comply with their details, to contact all the Unions in the area to get a count of their minority membership. One would think this to be a matter of a single phone call to each business agent. Not so as most didn’t know how many minority members they had. One asked if he could count the Finlanders.
The excavator was a friend of Dicks who didn’t excavate anything that wasn’t sold thus the summer was frittered away waiting to get a hole in the ground to start the footings for the tanks. The need to get the excavator out of the way resulted in him setting dynamite charges for removal of some ledge rock in an electrical storm. The fellow was just bad news from beginning to end.
The footings were no problem once we could get at them and the rebar were a sub contract as were the wall forms. We had Republic Forming doing the forming. Lyzum Cota was no longer active in the business and we had his son as a foreman. While this was underway I began putting together the equipment and system for pouring the concrete. To the north was a fence that would prevent movement equipment from west to east. To the west was three rows of unused railroad tracks. And south was a railroad warehouse that prevented moving equipment that direction. Having located a trailer mounted concrete pump in Superior WI owned by a firm that happy to rent by the yard of concrete pumped and would leave the equipment at the site until we were finished.
With this I set about putting the concrete placement system in place. From the pump I had the 4” concrete pipe run east through rebar for the outside tank and on into the inside tank turning upward at the center point of the tank to a point about 18” below the top of the forms where I inserted a rotating section that had been fabricated by a local welder. Then came a long radius elbow that turned the pipe horizontal again. Enough sections were added to bring the pipe over the center of the wall forms. A roller wheel was added to the pipe with bearing on the forms so that all that was necessary to place the concrete was to push the pipe in the fixed circle while the pump delivered the concrete.
For the bottom of the wall where the rebar was almost solid I ordered 8 bag cement and sand grout for the bottom four feet of wall. In order that there would be no doubt about proper consolidation of the concrete placement was followed by three vibrators with two men so they could trade off working the vibrator in and out of the concrete. I knew it would be a long day. As it turned out there was a steady misting most of the day we poured the first tank. The pour took just over eight hours, four hours less than I had anticipated. Everybody was happy with the way things turned out, from the men who did the work to the engineers who designed it. For the outside tank we put a bearing roller on the pipe at the top of the inside tank wall, extended the pipe to the wall of the outside tank and repeated the process. The outside tank took an additional 100 cubic yards but was complete in 12 hours with equally good results.
During the course of the winter the mechanical foreman found a flaw in the tank drainage system which he brought to my attention. As designed the process tanks drained by gravity through an eight inch pipe to a series of three manholes around the yard to the plant influent with a manhole at each bend in the drain pipe. The problem was that the process tank liquid level was 12’ above the top of the manholes. Water seeks its own level and when the tank drain valve was opened it would be only a matter of seconds before the lid would be blown off the manhole with the draining liquid overflowing on the surrounding lawn.
The mechanical foreman had worked out an alternate drain system which would be on a controlled basis through the sludge pump. We presented what he had found to the resident engineer who asked that the revisions and any costs be routed through our offices to the project engineer. About a month later the resident engineer got I and the mechanical man together and told us to forget any drain revisions and install the system as designed which was done. The first time the system was drained the system not only flooded the lawn, as predicted but the adjacent field and road in front of the plant leaving nearly a half acre of ice around the property. I have no idea why the drainage system was not revised.
After the concrete was in place this job for us was not much more than odds and ends. Save for the equipment installation, The Walker Process Equipment went in the concrete tanks while the compressors and the water filters were inside of a new concrete block building . The water filter tanks ere shipped in sheets which required onsite welding by a certified welder. Since none of our people could pass the certification test an arrangement was worked out with a welding instructor from the local trade school to do the welding on week ends while I was away from the site He did the best of work and was much faster than the average tradesman When completed there were four 12’ diameter tanks with a plate about 2’ above the tank bottom with 1” diameter holes at approximately 10” centers for stainless steel nozzles with a 3” plastic pipe that projected thru the holes in the tank plate They were fastened in place with an electrical conduit nut turned “hand tight”. Then there was about 4’ of sand filter media. The operation of the filters was not unlike that of a water softener where the units are backwashed periodically to clean the filter media. All this was well and good except that pipe threads and electrical conduit threads are not the same. As a result, the retaining nuts came off, the nozzles blew out of the floor plate when the units back washed and the filter media poured through the holes in the nozzle plate and plugged the filter.
Why the manufacturer elected to provide electrical nuts to fasten a unit with pipe threads is best known to others. The engineers worked out an arrangement with the Owner and the manufacturer to clean out the plugged filters, replace the nozzles with the correct nuts and replace the filter media.
Frances and I were going for a cup of coffee on a Sunday evening and met our neighbor, Gene Bemel as we walked to the driveway. In the abbreviated visit he mentioned something about a garbage machine. For Bemel to start talking about any kind of a machine was unusual as it would be a surprise to find that he knew there was a motor under the hood of his car. A couple of questions about the machines sent him back to the house for a folded hand out on a composting digester. In some way, that he couldn’t make quite clear he was involved with the people who were trying to market this piece of equipment.
Having gone this far in the driveway we invited him and his wife to have coffee with us and he could explain this thing in more detail. It was clear early on that he couldn‘t go much further than what was printed in his piece of literature so we just enjoyed the coffee and visited.
I had hardly got in the house the following weekend when Bemel called to say he had some one he wanted me to meet. This turned out to be Don Frierichs, late of Frierichs Hardware store. The store had burned to the ground along with most of the Miracle Mile Shopping Center. The paper had reported the fire had started at some cardboard boxes piled around the furnace in the hardware store. Frierichs explained that the various insurance companies were haggling over the liability issues. But what wanted was to give me a sales pitch on the machine that apparently both he and Bemel were involved with in some way.
The Machine was an Eveson patented solid waste digester which provided an accelerated bio chemical digestion of solid waste using sewage sludge as the source of aerobic bacteria which were cultured by the process and digested, or composted the solid waste. The patents covered a three stage process with three bio chemical heat levels and produce a semi finished product in three days. The machine could be manufactured in different sizes to fit different community needs. He explained that there was an operating unit at Pleasantville IA. Frierichs was attuned to the rumors about problems at the sewage plant and wanted to know if what they were involved with would be useful in solving Rochester‘s problems. The answer was an immediate no. Disappointed, but undaunted Frierichs, a born salesman thought that Rochester needed one of these machines anyway and was insistent that I find time to go to Des Moines to see the one operating there.
I made arrangements to be absent from Two Harbors a week from the coming Monday and Tuesday and accompanied them to Des Moines going to the machine site first where there was indeed a machine working This one was 8’ in diameter and 90’ long, resting on three roller bearing piers which facilitated its rotation at the desired revolutions per hour. The machine itself was an adaptation of a cement kiln an identical but undivided vessel used in the firing of limestone used in processing Portland cement.
The most outstanding thing about the installation, aside from the machine itself which had been fabricated in the Pittsburgh Des Moines shops was the atrocious workmanship of the on site work. It was nothing other than down right sloppy.
From the machine site we went to a meeting of what were obviously financing investors in this venture. The meeting was chaired by a person by the name of Franzen who I understand was a former governor of IA, but who seemed to be guided by one Robert White sitting to one side. Just listening to the proceedings it was apparent this was the second group of investors and the second person to sit at the head of the table with a lot of money having disappeared with the first man to be in charge and a lot of bills unpaid. Franzen summarized his proposed sales policies as being the same as National Cash Register who required 100% of the purchase price of the equipment up front before anything was fabricated.
By this time I had begun to believe I was with a room full of glue sniffers. On the way home I tried to explain the required procedures for municipal design and construction, much of it required by statute. A municipality has a consulting engineer because governing bodies are just not competent to make engineering judgments. Cities are not allowed to pay anybody up front and this Franzen fellow ought to know that if he was an elected official, the taxpayers are not allowed to finance private ventures. Then I asked where the company engineering expertise was. I had no argument with the process itself but they should keep in mind that they were in reality selling nothing but a natural process in a big can. My two friends seemed to think all this could be set aside and that they could convince Rochester that they just couldn’t do without one of these machines, even though neither of them could explain to me how it functioned.
Come august of 1974 there was a call from Des Moines that Uncle James was in the hospital with leukemia which was expected to be terminal. With none of his family able take the time Frances arranged things so that she could go and be with him nights and was there when he passed away. Jim and I went down for the funeral which was the second time the church was filled to overflowing but for entirely different reasons from when his father died. James had married late in life to a widow with nine children. By the time of this funeral all had children and some grandchildren and they had all come to say goodbye. The pastor was flabbergasted and meeting Jim and I on the front walk after the services he made the comment that there must have been something about uncle Jim that he missed. He wasn’t alone. James did his own thing, his own way and was not bothered one iota that most of the world was going the other way.
Two Harbors was completed, put in service, and I was again commuting to St. Paul to the office. During this period Joe Mayer, the football coach at Lourdes, filed for an open seat on the Rochester City Council and I spent a weekend putting up yard signs and going door to door with printed hand outs. He was successful and joined the quiet crowd down town. By this time a new local consulting firm had been hired who admitted they weren’t capable of designing a new wastewater plant but promised to joint venture the project with another firm who was.
At any rate they proceeded to put together a “study” to show what was needed. Joe Mayer brought a copy by the house for me to read. Basically it concluded that the existing new plant was working properly but that it should be replaced. Some of the language in these documents would make wonderful comedy material.
However there was included in this document three years of the existing plant operating records which gave monthly totals suspended solids (SS) and biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) with influent and effluent pounds of both along with average flow rates in million gallons per day (MG/D). To this day I do not know why I started to check these numbers other than to check the function of a used Monroe calculator that I had recently bought. The formula is simple and requires only the parts per million (PPM) of either SS or BOD x flow (MGD x 8.33 (weight of water per gallon. I thought I had bought a busted machine, nothing was coming out right, so I took the study to the office the following Monday to run a tape. The tapes proved two things, first that there was nothing wrong with my calculator and that the operating records for the plant were as phony as a $3 bill. The numbers, when corrected, for some months showed more effluent pollutants than influent. Translated to plain English this meant that in peak flow periods the velocity through the plant was such that sludge was being washed out of the plant into the Zumbro River.
The effluent numbers had been changed to show levels that were within state standards. The records in the study were copies of those submitted to the MPCA and to purposely submit false records is a felony. The study and tapes, along with a verbal explanation was returned to Joe on Monday evening and he asked me to be at a meeting with the new Public Works Director the following evening By the time of the meeting the plant operator had been fired My understanding was that his replacement came from Moorhead.
What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive. I could moralize about this cover up for the rest of the page but no one can change yesterday. So let us go on.
Frierichs and Bemel persisted with their sales pitch for a Eweson Solid Waste system at one time bringing Eweson himself to Rochester to talk with me. There was no argument about what his system might do, but where was the expertise and financial responsibility to make the system a reality? They had an idea and little more and until they had the resources to become part of the industry, I wasn’t interested.
When it was thought that the Eweson Digester was a thing of the past there was a call from a person by the name of Fuerherr from the Mayo Clinic asking if I had time to visit with him for a few minutes. He was in the administrative section and I went to his office where the only thing on his mind was this solid waste system He wanted my opinion . This took but a few minutes. There was a system but the company was not much more than blue sky and hope. Rochester should have nothing to do with either. He smiled and thanked me for my time. To this day I have no idea why this person called me or who might have suggested that he should do so
With Two harbors complete it was back to the Rochester / St. Paul commute to the office and looking for more work. By this time Willman had started his own company, but both Young and Willman were in the same suite of offices and shared the same office man/accountant. By 1975 the inflationary residue from the 1973 oil embargo, when gasoline went above $1.00 per gallon for the first time had settled into a solid recession and there wasn’t much on the market to bid. Dick finally put numbers together on the New Hope Lift Station and took the bid to deliver it himself, leaving the office just afternoon.
He never returned until the following morning when the rest of us learned how much difference there was between Young, who was low and the second bidder. It was enough that Dick went golfing to give himself time to think about the potential loss that he had acquired.
We had a conversation about how he had assumed the project would be built when he put the numbers together. This was a fairly simple structure 36’x50’x50’ deep with the construction site being in the corner of a New Hope City park. There were three critical factors which combined to present a very costly situation. Of the 50’ depth there was the top 25’ of firm clay and the bottom 25’ of sand and water and finally a specification requirement that said the construction activities be so arranged that the park could remain open to the public.
At first glance these conditions would require a steel sheeted excavation with a minimum inside dimension of 40’x54’ with a dewatering system to dry up the bottom 25’. I went to Dicks office to try to find out how he planned to do this when he put the numbers together. His response was a pipe dream of a half sheeted hole with the sheeting braced to the building structure which would be built at the sand level and sunk the last 25’. I asked where the bracing was supposed to go before the building was built and what was supposed to happen when the building started to move and got no answer to either question which told me he didn’t know how he was going to build the project.
Returning to my office and began to ask myself “what if?’ and the what if that had the most potential was simply what if the clay was sand. If this were the case we could build the building on top of the ground and sink it with no sheeting and no dewatering system. But we only needed sand under the outside walls. How could we put sand only under this area? Then the light bulb turned on and I picked up an 8 1/2x 11 sheet of copy paper an scaled the 36’x50’ building on it followed by a series of scaled 13’ circles 1’apart at the wide point and there it was. Drill a series of 13’ diameter holes centered on the wall with a caisson drill and fill the holes with sand. Build the building on top of the ground and sink it.
Laying the sheet of paper on the corner of the desk I went about other items that need my attention until Dick poked his head in the door and said dinnertime. I handed him the drawing with only the comment that we need only to fill the holes with sand and start from the top. He looked at it, laid it down saying only “lets eat”. When we got to the parking lot he looked across the top of the car and asked if that was my idea, to which I responded “I drew it” and we went to lunch The only change from the original drawing was the use of 10’ diameter holes which worked better for the caisson people. With the drill, an oversize bobcat with a one cubic yard bucket and scheduled sand delivery it took four days to have the site ready to start building forms for the concrete drive shoe. With the shoe in place and eight feet of wall concrete excavation inside the building was underway and the building started to sink.
Back home life had slowed to almost a rest. I was no longer on the school board, three of the boys were out of high school with Joe and Frank at Bemidji and Paul at Duluth Our last instructions to them were go to college and pay for it yourself I thought it would be nice to take Toni to the new Rochester Shopping Center to show her at least one floor of a new department store at Christmas time and got tip of the iceberg peek of things to come. This five year old had me in every department of all five floors before letting me come home. School for her was at Fowlwell and Kevin was at Central Junior High School.
There was a late pre Christmas party at Lund’s and the following Spring we were at what would be our final Beau Arts ball with night caps and a swim with friends in South Rochester with a race with Tony Lund across # 52 south and around heading north getting into the low 90’s before exiting to go home for a couple hours sleep before getting the kids up for church.
I commuted back and forth to the lift station sit which was bottomed out in the fall with interior concrete thru the winter and the control building over the to in the spring. Dicks bungled loser was turning into a fairly good project both on site an in the books. By July we were paving the parking areas and had the diversion manhole in place an were ready to put the station in service.
Really doing nothing one July Sunday evening when I got a call from John, who had been my superintendent at Austin. After a few minutes of small talk he asked if I had any objection to him passing my name along to some people who were looking for a person to supervise a building project in Bismarck ND. He thought it was a bunch of Baptists. I told him to go ahead and in less than an hour there was another call from an Adrian Simon calling for Carlson Construction Co. of Bismarck. We visited for a time and asked me to send a resume. I told him there would be one in the mail sometime during the coming week but that it would be about ten years out of date. I rummaged around until the resume was located and put it in the mail the following morning.
And on the following Sunday there was another call from Adrian Simon this time asking if I could fly to Bismarck next Sunday to talk with them and I learned why all this activity took place on Sunday. These were not Baptists, but Seventh day Adventists. Adrian told me there would be a round trip ticket waiting for me in Minneapolis next Sunday.
Arriving in Bismarck a little afternoon I was met by Steve Cox and was taken to the coffee shop to await others. While waiting Cox, who I learned had previously been with Twin City Construction in Fargo started telling me how important it was not to get wall coverings too close to the floor as the rubber base adhesive would not adhere to this material. Listening to this monologue with the mixed emotions of amazement and frustration I was wondering where this mans common sense went after deserting him If the building that had been described to me was actually what they intended to build there would be more important problems than one could count before we ever got to wall base. Indeed if the rest of the delegation had nothing more to talk about than Cox I was ready to go home.
Two other people appeared presently introduced as Wallace (Wally) Carlson, owner of the company and Adrian Simon, company accountant and we boarded their pick up for a trip to the site some ten miles north of Bismarck on East River Road. Conversation with Carlson on the trip calmed my fears about everybody being as frazzled as Cox. Carlson impressed me with his grasp of the project and the inherent problems and both he and Simon had a sense of humor which Cox just seemed to be without. On the return to the airport Wally indicated they would like to occupy the building in one year, no small task considering the building as proposed would cover some 3 ½ acres. Further it would be a fast track design with the architect and engineer for the project would be only one to two weeks ahead of construction. All sub contracts would be on a cost plus basis with time cards audited daily and all materials would be purchased by Carlson . Finally, I would answer directly and report to Carlson. I was to learn later that he had $2million of his own money in the project and would ultimately. The salary offer was generous with a completion bonus attached. Being direct about the completion I simply stated that when I had control of the weather I would make promised about completion. Other that that they would have my answer before the end of the week. With very little time before my flight after returning to the airport I shook hands with each and was on my way home.
Arriving late in Minneapolis I stayed the night at the company RV on west river road , leaving early Monday to go on to Rochester. I reviewed the conversations with Frances and the decision was made to go to Bismarck. She would put the house on the market and I would give Young my resignation tomorrow along with a call to Carlson to tell them I would be there in two weeks This would put us there for the start of the school year for Kevin and Toni. Joe and Frank would transfer to Bismarck Junior college and live at home again while there. Young was surprised but wished me well.