Middle Fork, 1973

Sometime in about 1972, Jeanne Hemphill introduced me to Bill Hamann, a fellow civil engineer, and still a serious hard-man hiker, climber, runner and skier.   (Bill grew up in North Dakota, and it must have been tough up there, as he never complained.)  Bill got me a job at William B. McDowell and Associates (continuing in business some 40 years on as Scott, Cox & Associates, with at least one old McDowell hand still around.)  Not coincidentally, Bill McDowell was the boss there.   Bill M. was a crusty, command-and-control sort of boss, whose politics were diametric to mine, but he was a skier, hiker and river runner.

Bill Hamann and I still laugh whenever we hear the term “galvanizing”.   One project we worked on was the design of a wastewater treatment plant for the Winter Park Ski Area.  (Bill M. had made a good business of ski area engineering, including designing some lifts.)   The plant would provide additional treatment to the effluent from an existing aerated pond.  The first step was to design a process, and to test our design we build a pilot scale plant in an old house trailer that was hauled to the site.  I visited that plant frequently to take samples and adjust it.

The central part of the plant was a settling system, essentially a big steel tank with specially oriented baffles.  Bill H. and I had designed it and had it fabricated by a steel company in Denver.  Bill M. had told us to galvanize the tank, but Bill H. and I had figured out that it would be much less costly to have it painted with epoxy paint.  We brought our information to Bill, who turned us down.  Being young, and confident in our judgment, we thought that perhaps we had just not been clear enough, since using the paint would save a fair amount of money, and the thing was only going to be used for a period of months.   So, after a little discussion among ourselves, we went back and made our pitch one more time.  I have a clear recollection of standing in front of Bill M.’s desk, explaining, and realizing that he was getting tenser and tenser.  Finally, he could take no more of this and he stood up, slammed his fist down on the desk and yelled “Galvanize it, goddammit!”   Bill H. and I still provoke each other with this sentence.

(By the way, I’ll save you the need to visit a galvanizing plant–it really does remind one of those hot, vaporous, corrosive images of Hell.)

But, besides getting some good experience, and a great private joke line, I owe Bill M. for introducing me to river trips.   I had been learning to kayak for a few years.  It was a slow process, that started with building a boat, then slowly gaining some semblance of skill.  Only a semblance, at first.  I had thought of kayaking as something like skiing–a kinetic experience and nothing else.  But, that changed when sometime in the winter or spring of 1973, Bill M. invited Bill H. and I to go to the Middle Fork of the Salmon.

The catch was that Bill H. and I would need a raft.  In those days you could hardly buy a raft, much less rent one.  Bill M. used old military surplus “10-man” assault rafts.  These were heavy neoprene coated canvas, and came equipped with laced flaps to attache a light machine gun on the bow, and a pocket with tapered, circumferentially grooved wooden plugs to seal bullet holes.  But, a 10-man raft would cost a couple of hundred dollars, and Bill H. and I didn’t have that kind of money.  So,we went to Gart Brothers Sporting Goods and bought a cheap, yellow raft, not much more than a toy, for probably $39.95.  It was about ten feet long.  We built a wooden frame for it, and got nice ash Smoker oars, in which we took great pride.  The entire rig, though it was assembled neatly and with craftsmanship, was probably the subject of much laughing and joking by the parties we passed.

This trip is where a lifetime of river running started.  I’ve gotten much joy from exploring rivers around the world.  Thanks Bill.

This uses NexGen gallery (free).   The photos at full res can be found here.