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My Last Job..

"My Last Job.."

Doris Powers

I joined CH2M HILL in May of 1979 and retired from there in 2005. My first job with the company was as Word Processing Supervisor in the Redding office. I worked with a remarkable group of women there, and still keep in touch with many of them. Okay, I worked with some remarkable men also, and remain friends with many of them as well. But I didn’t supervise them. We were co-workers and friends. There was a very collegial air in the Redding office.

A month or so after I joined the firm, I discovered I was pregnant; and in early 1980, I went on maternity leave. My son, Michael Kenneth, was born in Redding in February; and shortly thereafter, I returned to work. His first babysitter was Linda, the wife of Mike Beste, one of our draftsmen. It worked out well for all of us. I would drive my Mike to their house, swap him for her Mike, and proceed to the office. Linda told me they had thought about being a two-car family, but decided to be a one-car, one-piano family, and let Mike carpool with me.

I had been used to calling my Best Little Boy, Mike, “Cupcake.” And I often used that term when addressing a co-worker (particularly when I needed something). On a few occasions, I would use that term when more than one of them was present. That would produce a whine from the other one to say, “I thought I was Cupcake.” So, I had to tell them that they were all my cupcakes; but Mike was my initial-cap Cupcake. On my last day of work, I baked several dozen chocolate cupcakes, brought them into the office, left one on each desk, and told them they were all my cupcakes; and I was going to miss them.

The Redding area was and is a nice place to live. There are many CH2M HILL retirees here, and I have kept in touch with several of them. I recently checked out my Facebook friends and discovered that 26 of them were current or former CH2M HILL employees. Some now work for Jacobs. There is much history here, as well as friendly natives, mountains, clean air (not like the smog I endured in Los Angeles for 11 years), and lots of water and scenery.

CH2M HILL (now Jacobs) was and is well respected here and has done much for the community over the years. We didn’t have “secretaries” in Redding, and Word Processing was the only hope for many of the staff to produce their documents. In the beginning, there were a few discipline assistants and project assistants; but even they were sometimes our customers. We enjoyed our dealings with all the staff. Although our policy was first in, first out, with special consideration for those who gave notice of upcoming work, there were often rush jobs, to which we adapted.

I’m reminded of the time Gary Jardine pulled up a chair next to me and said, “Okay, Doris, what’s it going to take?” After I laughed, I asked if he was going to the Sacramento office soon. I told him we could usually be had for food, and there was a place near the SAC office called “La Boulangerie,” which made delicious croissants. He said OK; we rushed his rush; and in a few days, our treats arrived.

Redding’s Clerical Services at that time included Ed Christopherson as editor; Lila Tahti (my lifelong friend and neighbor) as proofreader; Mary Coe as mail person; Ted Stavedahl in Repro; as well as Gretta Seward, Linda Broderson, Linda Lack, and others in switchboard, reception, accounting, library, filing, etc. We all worked well together and helped each other quite a bit. It was quite cordial.

Of course, we were in the original building on Court Street, which was once a two-bedroom house, and which grew to be three stories tall (not all of them level).

At that time, the firm was organized by disciplines, including a Word Processing Discipline, with its Discipline Director (then Lindy Hildebrand) stationed in Corvallis, Oregon. As a Word Processing Supervisor, I knew all of the discipline staff and many of the other supervisors. To ensure common tools and practices were used, our discipline held annual conferences at various offices with all supervisors attending. As a result, I got to travel to many other offices. I even got to fly to Corvallis once in the company plane—remember when we had them?

All the word processors at that time were using IBM System 6’s, the same equipment I had used at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, and in Los Angeles. These units were called “dedicated word processors.” We took exception to this, because we thought we were the dedicated word processors.

Then came the computer revolution. Eventually, the IBM System 6s were replaced by actual IBM computers. Because of my previous computer experience, I joined a task force along with Cyndee Pekar/CVO to evaluate hardware/software issues while introducing computers into Word Processing Centers.

The discipline had years of experience with a one-vendor system (IBM) for hardware, supplies, software, service, and training, and wanted to find a similar arrangement for computers. Cyndee, Lindy, and I evaluated vendors; and the one we selected (forgive us) was Deskworks, located in New Orleans. However, many engineers in our offices who already had personal computers wanted us to have a different software to ensure compatible document exchanges with them. To comp­ro­mise, we implemented both Deskworks and WordPerfect (then Version 4.2).

I remember one bigwig saying that he wanted his staff to be able sit down at any computer in the company, hit Alt-M, and call up a memorandum template. We accomplished that. Cyndee and I were tasked to create templates, styles, and macros that would work in either software, which was no mean feat. We developed these simultaneously while burning up phone lines between CVO and RDD, usually complaining about Deskworks. Cyndee created the templates, styles, and macros for that software in Corvallis; and I did the same for WordPerfect in Redding. Equipment was installed, operators were trained, procedures were implemented, Word Perfect and DeskWorks were implemented; and we were off and running.

It was an exciting, challenging time for me. It included visits to New Orleans for Deskworks, and to Orem, Utah, for the implementation of WordPerfect 4.2, and later for the intro­duction of WordPerfect 5.0 and 5.1. I once paid a visit to the Boise office. When I entered their conference room and saw the usual founders’ pictures on the wall, I said, “Where the hell’s Clair?” I was told that Boise was Earl Reynolds’ country.

In 1990, we left our outgrown building and moved to a new Airpark Drive facility. When the move was imminent, our Regional Manager, Stan Smith, held a pre-move meeting at the Elks Club to discuss the new office. He instituted a new policy: No jeans for all, and ties for the men. As soon as he said this, a late arrival, John Livingston, appeared. He had been at home cutting his grass, and was wearing a tee shirt, cutoff jeans, and rubber thongs. The crowd went bananas. From that point on, I made it a point to wear jeans every day and was never called on it. Another employee was fond of taking his shoes off and wandering around in his socks. Stan called him on it a few times. The guy switched from white socks to black socks, and Stan never again noticed or commented.

Clair Hill

I was happy to get to know both Clair and Alan Hill, along with several co-employees who had previously worked at Clair A. Hill and Associates, some of whom I still see periodically. By that time, Clair was retired; and he used to come in to see me to fix or replace his portable dictation machine. One time we got on the subject of drivers’ licenses. I was curious about whether DMV would revoke them at a certain age. (I still have mine.) He said, “Let me see” and got out his license. He then told me he had held a California driver’s license since before he was a teenager. His father had died, and he helped his mother service some family business or other, by driving her to clients when she didn’t know how to get to their remote homes or businesses. He was still in grade school but had been driving farm vehicles (including their truck) for some time. The local sheriff told his mother that he had noticed what Clair was doing and that if he would come into his office, he would give Clair a license. And he did.

In 1992, a Document Processing Department was formed in Redding with me as the Department Manager. Carol Hullinger became the Word Processing Supervisor. The department included 22 people--word processors, editors, all the administrative assistants, and the reprographics staff.

Re-engineering came along in 1994; with it, disciplines, divisions, and departments became obsolete as the company was reorganized into Business Groups. I soon found myself with no clear job title or work parameters. About that time, the Environmental guys began to woo me to move to their group as a project assistant. They promised I would get to work on Iron Mountain Mine, and that sealed the deal. It was a lure I couldn’t refuse—my favorite project; my favorite project manager, John Spitzley (he was preceded by Mike Smith); and my favorite client, Rick Sugarek of EPA.

I fell in love with the IMM project. There was much to like: the history of the place; the litigation aspects, which reminded me of my law firm job; being able to identify myself as part of the Good Guys fighting the Bad Guys (the polluters and potentially responsible parties, or PRPs); the clear, consistent styles, forms, and requirements of EPA documents; the contacts with other agencies; the fact that something new was always happening at the site; and the people I worked with on the project. Once I flew to EPA’s San Francisco office with Gerald Vogt. An employee told me that he had left his computer logged in for me, and I edited EPA’s final Record of Decision (ROD5) on it. At one point, an angry man came in the room and said, “What are you doing? There are not any more changes to be made to this document unless I make them.” I said, “Who are you?” He told me his name and said he was EPA’s attorney. Whoops!

It took me 10 years to get onsite at Iron Mountain. My opportunity came when CH2M HILL oversaw the retrofit of the site’s hazardous waste treatment plant from simple mix to high-density sludge. Chris Adamo was the Construction Manager in an onsite trailer by the treatment plant, and I began ferrying things back and forth between him and the office or to attend meetings. At this trailer, I once buried my car up to the axles in gravel while trying to make room for a lime truck to enter. A D-8 bulldozer was brought over to haul me out, and I was required to send beer to the subcontractor’s crew to thank them. I discovered since then that I’m no better at driving in snow than I am at driving in gravel.

In 2001, when construction began on the Slickrock Creek Retention Reser­voir, I began visiting a different onsite trailer. Jack Woo was the Resident Engineer there, and I was his link to the office and to John. I lent my small red refrigerator to use onsite in the trailer. It had previously lived in our barn where my husband and a neighbor used a kit to convert a Volkswagen to a Thunder­bird. The “reefer” was purchased because I got tired of having to ferry drinks and snacks up to the barn.

A brief story about that barn. I was in San Francisco, when I found from the TV that there was a fire in Redding. I called my house, and a man answered on the extension phone in the barn. I said who I was and asked what he was doing. He said, “putting out a fire in your barn.” I thanked him and quickly got off the phone.

Back to IMM.

Once upon a time onsite, I pulled up in my car to the trailer; nobody was there, but underneath the trailer, I could see the feet of a bear walking. I stayed in the car until I was sure the bear was gone, and some other human arrived. Bears had been known to dig through the trash on the site regularly.

I knew my way around the site somewhat by 2001. I was a known candy-ass, however, and wouldn’t drive the road between the disposal cells and the Slickrock Creek Retention Reservoir. Instead, I talked someone else into driving that part of the trip each time it was required. I went as a passenger on back roads and cliffsides with John at the wheel while I frantically pressed pretend brake pedals on my side. I never intended to drive those portions myself.

After several years, I even got to fly over the site in a helicopter, not once, but twice. The first time was with Andy Cramer and a photographer. The doors of the helicopter had been removed, and there was a lot of nausea-inducing maneuvering for camera angles. I kissed the ground when I landed, but the flight was memorable for letting me appreciate how close Whiskey­town and Shasta Dam are to Iron Mountain and how fragile the ecosystem is.

The next helicopter flight was at the topping-out ceremonies for the Slickrock Creek Debris Dam. Cast and crew ate lunch standing on the dam; and then John, Rick, and I flew over the site so the guys could take pictures of the finished project. (I have one of these pictures on my living room wall.) On the flight, the doors were again off the chopper; but we had amateur photographers (engineers), and they didn’t worry about maneuvering for proper camera angles. What I liked about that flight was looking out and seeing that I was about 10 feet from the face of the historic landslide (visible from Redding). I had seen the scar on the mountain and pictures of the slide for so long, and this time I felt like I could reach out and touch it if I dared (I didn’t). The trip ended on top of the mountain where we deplaned (de-helicoptered?), checked out the view of Redding from the mountaintop, and examined the famous Brick Flat Pit.

On the occasion of my 25th anniversary with the company, I told John that the best of those years were the ones he allowed me to share ownership in his project. John responded with roses and a long, boozy lunch.

The partnership between John and me has been memorable. One time he told me that I was like another mother to him. I responded, “John, I’m only nine years older than you.” John (who scares some people) and I hit it off because we recognized in each other that both cared equally about producing quality work and were willing to make sacrifices to do so. We were both attracted to the historical significance of the site, the long-term relationships developed with EPA and other agencies, and the variety of opportunities to involve other CH2M HILL staff members in the project, both from Redding and other offices. He and his wife, Mary Paschke, remain close friends.

In the last few years, much has changed with IMM. The cost recovery litigation has been settled, and there are no PRPs to speak of anymore. EPA has a Site Operator to run the treatment plant, there are a new dam and reservoir, and many site improvements have been made. EPA and CH2M HILL also worked on downgradient sites such as Matheson and the Spring Creek Arm of Keswick Reservoir. Changes have also come to CH2M HILL, through a merger with Jacobs Engineering; but I was retired by that time.

I retired in October 2006. Although I left Word Processing several years ago, I still process words. Isn’t that evident by this article? I have had training in editing and much practical experience in coordinating documents and applied all these skills to the EPA documents that ran through my hands. I liked to be the last one to touch the documents before they went out, and with large documents, was often found in Reprographics helping to collate and pack copies. Editing, writing, and document preparation are the parts of my job that I liked best; and being in charge of operations was one of the things I missed most after retirement. Maybe not being in charge is the biggest regret for a lot of retirees.

We celebrated my retirement at the park in Anderson, and a good time was had by all. My son joined us from UC Berkeley. He was then a junior. Before he went to Berkeley, I discussed the school with Fritz Carlson, a UCB alumnus. Several coworkers had been teasing me that Mike was going to come home from Cal with tattoos all over him, and that he would probably be streaking through the campus. (That never happened.) Fritz and I had frequent talks about Berkeley. At one time he told me that of all the events on campus, he and his friends didn’t attend unless they were having tear gas. That didn’t reassure me.

At my retirement party, my pals surprised me with a trip to Boston (home of my parents and grandparents) and then to Prince Edward Island, where many of my ancestors came from. Mike surprised me by saying he wanted to come along, but only to Boston. We went in July. I bought a ticket for him, and he was able to meet cousins he didn’t know he had. We went with a few cousins to see the Boston Pops on the 4th, and then to see the fireworks. It was wonderful. Aerosmith was the featured guest. At the concert, I was standing barefoot on the grass with my family watching the Pops play my favorite Stars and Stripes Forever, with cannons, and tears were running down my cheeks. At the fireworks, we were on the banks of the Charles; and you would think one of them was going to land on my nose. Way better than on tv.

On Prince Edward Island, I met many Deagle cousins, and saw the sheep’s pond where my grandfather and his siblings used to swim. PEI is a beautiful place, and I’m glad I got to experience it.

I had to acquire a passport for the trip. The first one I had had since I was 3 years old and went to Berlin with my parents (my dad was career Army) and brother in 1946. Of course, at that time my mother, brother, and I were on a joint passport. On PEI, my hotel was across the street from a Catholic church; and in their cemetery, I found scores of headstones with my family name on them. The return trip from PEI to SFO was interminable, and I fell into Mike’s arms, saying “Take me home. Put me to bed.”

My pal Lila had told me that on the day she could walk down her driveway and take a Social Security check out of her mailbox was the day she would retire. That sounded good to me, so that’s what I did. I had previously decided retirement was imminent when I found I could no longer race up the steps in our office. I decided if I wasn’t up to my best, it was time to retire.

I now spend interminable hours lying on my sofa and reading all the things I didn’t have time for before. My library contains over 1,500 books; and I reread several of them. My criteria to keep a book is if I ever might want to read it again. The rest get donated to the library.

CH2M HILL was my 6th and last employer, and I’ve always been proud of the company and the work we performed. I enjoyed many opportunities there and formed lasting friendships.