The story of CH2M HILL begins with individuals who possess all those attributes that are usually found in Horatio Alger characters. Four young Oregon State College graduates had their lives interrupted by military service. Now, with their discharges from the armed services in hand, they found themselves in a position where they could put into action plans that had been previously discussed and rather loosely agreed upon. They combined their talents to form a partnership aimed at providing engineering services to a country, which had been long denied the talents, and professional services of trained engineers due to the demands of military service. The elder of the group of four, Fred Merryfield, who also served in the military, returned as a professor of engineering at Oregon State College (now Oregon State University) in Corvallis, Oregon, after his military discharge. He had, in fact, served as a teacher to both Holly Cornell and Jim Howland; he knew them well and held them in high regard.

The first to be released from the military was Holly Cornell. During a brief visit with his old friend, he found Professor Merryfield doing some consulting work as well as teaching. In fact, Merryfield was involved in a number of projects, creating a workload much too large for him to handle. The Oregon State Sanitary Authority had ordered a cleanup of pollution in the Willamette River Valley and contracted with Professor Merryfield to do some river pollution studies. Holly set up a drafting table in his bedroom to “kick start” the new engineering company and help his old professor and friend.

This engineering team worked very well and, as previously decided, Jim Howland was asked to join them when he completed his military service obligations, some time in late 1945. The decision to include Burke Hayes, who Fred knew well due to family ties in Pendleton Oregon, was not finalized until later, as the personal correspondence will show. Holly immediately set about corresponding with the other two, initiating the effort to organize the partnership pending their discharge from service. The group chose to remain in Corvallis, Oregon, in close proximity to the facilities and technical expertise available at the College, and the fourth partner, Fred Merryfield.

The following excerpts are from letters exchanged between Holly Cornell, Jim Howland, Fred Merryfield and Burke Hayes during the period between August 26th, 1945 and December 20th, 1945, which turned out to be the gestation period of the firm later to become CH2M. Only the material related to the development of CH2M was extracted from the correspondence; references of a personal or unrelated nature were excised.

Letter from Holly Cornell to Jim Howland
Date: 26 August, 1945, Camp Gruber, OK.
“I have been home for thirty days and I am now down here at Camp Gruber, Okla. getting ready for movement to the Pacific.”

“I had quite a talk with Charlie Mockmore and Fred M. (Merryfield) when I was in Corvallis. They are still very enthusiastic about the idea of setting up an engineering firm in Oregon. They say there is all kinds of work on water supply and sewage and quite a bit of structural work. People are begging for engineers to do jobs for them. Fred is all wound up in a stream pollution survey in the Willamette. Oregon has a new law that Fred is very enthusiastic about. It is a big start toward cleaning up Oregon streams. It means, according to Fred, that almost every town and city will have to treat their sewage. All the cities have plenty of money now and are begging for engineers so they can get started on post war construction.”

“It sure looks like we would have a darn good chance of getting something started on small jobs for the little towns in the Willamette Valley……”

“Fred named half a dozen jobs that he could get right now that looked like enough to keep us busy for a good six months. I, for one, am frankly enthusiastic about the idea and certainly want to give it a try.”

“We talked a little about the details of how to set the thing up. Fred wants to be a member of the firm to start with, and he is certainly welcome as far as I am concerned. He is certainly well known by everybody in water supply and sewage and he knows and is now working with the people in charge of the engineering in most of the towns and cities in the Willamette Valley. Fred believes that a very valuable service can be rendered the state by some honest engineers who aren’t just always trying fill their own pockets.”

“After two or three years and things have gotten started, Fred would drop out as a very active partner, but would like to be able to work with us during summers so he could make $1500 or $2000 a year over his teaching salary. I don’t think he will ever give up teaching. He likes it too much.”

“If we did this the way he outlined it, we would probably start with an office in Corvallis. Fred would have to stay there. This has the added advantage of being near the school where we could hire students for part time work in drafting, surveying, etc. This might be a considerable advantage to begin with when we couldn’t afford to pay any full time help.”

“Fred thinks just the three of us should start it out. I mentioned that you and Burke Hayes had talked about this before and that he might want to join us. It is only a question of whether there is enough work to keep us all from starving.”

“I certainly think we will need a man like Burke on the electrical end of it before very long. Burke is about the only electrical engineer I know that I would want to work with.”

“Whoever gets out first should go ahead and get the thing started. I hope one of us can get out pretty quick before somebody else gets started ahead of us.”

Letter from Burke Hayes to Jim Howland
Date: 30 August 1945, M.I.T., Cambridge, MA.
“The end of the war brings much closer the familiar question -and my hope- of going into business together. I was pleased in hearing of the progress you made during your Stateside leave in that direction. I, too, am of the opinion that the Northwest could stand some more engineers in private practice.”

“About the time you were in Oregon, I was in Washington, sounding out Congressman Stockman (from Oregon) on the same subject. We discussed post-war plans and aims and I told him of our proposed venture. He was of the opinion that there would be considerable work of a private nature as a result of government public buildings (both directly and indirectly) and couldn’t see why we couldn’t become part of that private work. That, of course, would be a good outlet, but I am of the opinion that we could also operate in other—more extensive fields.”

“It occurs to me that there is an excellent chance of someone obtaining some work on a retainer basis with a number of the smaller cities of the Northwest. Those jobs would perhaps be on the smaller side but still interesting and steady. Besides, they would provide an excellent backlog in times of inactivity. I have never heard of anyone having done that before but it looms as a definite possibility.”

“I think our best chances would be in the Northwest for our best contacts are there. That area should also be due for considerable expansion if the government is sincere in its plans. It is commonly believed that many of the thousands of war workers who migrated there will remain and that alone will require expansion.”

“As to the fields of endeavor, I’m pretty much an opportunist and willing to shift my field in order to obtain results. I have had some excellent training in the newer electronics techniques and that, I believe, will be useful in industrial applications. (We might even engineer a television station!!) I don’t know much about soils or sewage disposal, but would enjoy learning that field.”

“Incidentally, instrumentation might offer some interesting work. They never have been able to accurately measure the Bonneville turbine discharge. I am now spending a good bit of my time . . .working on a scheme for measuring water velocities. It would be a relatively easy device to build and install and would give a continuous record of water usage. If it works as well as I think it will, it will put most of the ordinary methods in discard.”

“The time to begin is a big question. I personally feel that we should begin as soon as possible. The catch to that is when the Army and Navy demobilization will catch up with us……I am estimating some time in the spring for the end of my Navy “career.”

Letter from Fred Merryfield to Holly Cornell & Jim Howland
Date: 15 Sept, 1945, Dept of Civil Engineering, OREGON STATE COLLEGE, Corvallis, OR.
“It seems to me that the problem of taking on an Electrical Engineer such as Burke Hayes should be settled in the middle future. There is no question in my mind but that there is plenty of work for all of you in the general civil engineering field, particularly in water and sewage and city electrical engineering. There is every evidence that several cities within the next five years are going into their own power distribution, which ones I am not at liberty to divulge at the present time.”

“The following towns and cities are in urgent need now of consulting engineers and will be for the next couple of years:”

(Here follows a list of 7 cities and towns located in or near the Willamette Valley.)

“It is my reaction that water filter plants and sewage treatment plants will be in demand throughout the Pacific Northwest for the next ten or fifteen years. Many of the present gravity systems of water are on their last legs and many of the sewer systems are in a pitiful condition. It is also my understanding that the League of Oregon Cities, with headquarters at the university, is very anxious to obtain a civil engineer who can advise many of these cities as to what they should do. I would suggest that this would be one job that either of you could take up temporarily until the other one got out of the army. This would give you quite an opportunity to study the situation throughout the State of Oregon. I wouldn’t advise that you take this job on for any length of time.”

“In addition, there is considerable demand for town planning and industrial building design. I still think the idea of a retaining fee for general city planning is the best idea. Charlie and I will be only too happy to help you, but of course we shall expect to work in the summer time with you. I have at present several jobs under way for next year, and will be only too happy to turn over parts of this work to you.”

Letter from Holly Cornell to Jim Howland
Date: 23 September, 1945, Camp Gruber, OK.
(This letter primarily discusses Holly’s hopes for a timely discharge from the Army and his anxiety to get home and start forming the business enterprise.)

Letter from Holly Cornell to Jim Howland
Date: 4 October 1945, Camp Gruber, OK.
(In this letter, Holly exuberantly declares that he “is practically a civilian”, and anticipates that he will be taking the first steps to form the business on November 1.)

“I’ll set it up, if it needs any setting up in these early stages, so you can step in as an equal partner just as soon as you arrive. I don’t know now whether I will need any money or not, but will let Meisy (Jim Howland’s wife) know if I do.”

(The letter closed with a few comments regarding the planned entry of Burke Hayes into the infant organization.)

Letter from Jim Howland to Holly Cornell
Date: 11 October, 1945, APO 244, c/o Postmaster, San Francisco, CA. (Saipan)
“My last letter from Burke was written the 30th of August. At that time he did not hope to be released until sometime “in the Spring”……I will write to Burke telling him that you have gone to Corvallis, and that I plan to join you in business there when I get home……I agree with you that if he is coming in eventually (and I would like to see him in) he should come in as soon as he is able to get out of the Navy. He said in his letter that he wanted to get started as soon as he could.”

(Regarding Fred Merryfield’s letter of 15 Sept.):”I’m not interested in this League of Oregon Cities job he speaks of unless we could do it as part of our firm…..I figure the only way we can get it going is by working it as a business even tho it may be tough at first.” “….. On the side I have been reading Metcalf and Eddy “American Sewage Practice” and brushing up a little on structural design. I assume we will have to take the State exams right away and until we get them passed, Fred will sign any drawings we put out…..Unless I get “hot” all of a sudden and have to stay close to the place, I plan to do a little drafting to get the feel of it again. I have been closely associated with design work here, but have done very little actually myself.”

“I’m sorry getting things started falls entirely on you, for it will undoubtedly be difficult getting things lined up. I’ll back up any decisions you make.”

Letter from Jim Howland to Holly Cornell
Date: 15 October, 1945, APO 244, c/o Postmaster, San Francisco, CA. (Saipan)
(In this letter, Jim discusses the setting up of standard drawing sizes and correspondence files, which he stresses is an immediate necessity as he found out from his experience in the Army.)

“I have been doing a little super long range dreaming when perhaps I should have been doing beams and pipes and have laid out a mythical suburban tract that would include our office building, for which I made preliminary designs, and an individual home for each firm member.” (Photo).  (Photo).

“……It doesn’t look as though I can possibly get out for more than a week.”

Letter from Jim Howland to Holly Cornell
Date: 31 October, 1945, Honolulu I. HI.
(Initial comments regarding progress being made toward his pending return to the United States, and a reference to some plans which had accompanied this letter.)

“I picked up these plans at the USED (U.S. Army Engineers) office and thought they might be of use as a reference some time. They have built about 40 small treatment plants on the islands during the war and consider this one as an example of a rather satisfactory and workable unit using materials they could get here.”

“I have in my footlocker, which I shipped from Saipan, photostats of some of the warehouse buildings and such we designed and used at Saipan.”

“Hope everything is going well. I had a couple of job offers here but think our firm is the deal.”

Letter from Jim Howland to Holly Cornell
Date: 20 November, 1945, 1259 W. Market St., York, PA.
Jim starts out with his decision to abandon his previous plans of taking his bride to Corvallis via a leisurely route through New Orleans. “…. In view of what you had to say about being rushed, we now tentatively plan to leave here Dec. 26 and make a fast trip to Corvallis. Unless we have trouble, we should make the trip in 12 days.”

…..”In the event you have a big project, or even a small project, that has to be done right now and on the outcome of which might rest the future of our firm, I will cancel our plans and we will head west immediately.” Jim continues with initial proposed plans to spend a few days visiting friends and relatives he had not seen in years.

“I think the idea to buy some equipment through the surplus property agency is a good one. Let me know on the phone if you need money and I will send it to you. If we can get an Ozalid machine at a reasonable price I think it might be a good idea. Surely improves the efficiency of an office to be able to quickly run off check prints and the like.”

This letter closed with a discussion of proposed living arrangements once they arrived in Corvallis.

Letter from Holly Cornell to Jim Howland
Date: 25 November, 1945, 954 Tyler St. Corvallis, OR
“To more or less confirm our telephone conversation of last night, I will try to give you a little more detail of how we are getting along in the consulting business. If you can be here sometime around the first week in January, it will suit us fine……I really think delaying until the first of February would seriously injure our chances for work this year and perhaps some years to come.”

“Fred and I are now definitely committed on work that will take us alone until at least April 1st to complete. There is lots more work that we can get if we could handle it. With you coming now we plan to go ahead and take it because we can see possibilities of cleaning up our present work in a month or so after you arrive.”

“Most of the cities in the valley have money now, and are anxious to get construction started on projects they have needed for several years. This means that most of the preliminary work must be done this winter in order to start construction in the spring. That is why we feel getting started right away is important.”

“Our present jobs and my guess as to what we will get out of them stack up about as follows:”

College Heights, Eugene Design and Constr. $3,000.00
Forest Grove Preliminary Survey and Estimate. $600.00
Manning Barbur, Eugene Survey and Design $150.00
Crystal Springs, Hood R. Mapping, Survey, Estimate, Construction. $4,000.00
Cannon Beach Preliminary Survey $100.00
City of Hood River Preliminary Survey
(maybe design and construction.)


“Some of this, of course, may last over a couple of years, but we are definitely hired and at work on these jobs. We are going to Tigard Tuesday and will no doubt get another fair sized job there. We have had feelers from Redmond, Culver City, Alsea, McMinnville, and some others. This is just a start. If we could get a week off I am sure we could line up lots more.”

“All of the construction jobs still have to be surveyed, designed, and plans and specifications gotten out as soon as possible. Some of these people are already after us to hurry up. The important thing, it seems to me right now, is not so much the money we can make as the fact that we can get in at the start of expansion in many of these places, get acquainted with the people, establish a reputation and some good will and we will have work continually coming to us for some time. I believe there is work in Portland for private concerns if we get to be known a little bit.”

“As far as Burke is concerned, I believe I said that it looked like we would be able to take him in with us. If he is coming out here anyway, I think it best to wait until then and talk it over. It would probably mean that we would have to do our own drafting and inspection for the first year or two, but personally think that that would do us all good and we would certainly know what we wanted in anyone we hired later. There will no doubt be electrical work, although we haven’t run into it yet. We will have to remember, however, that three of us would have to live on the profits, if any, and it is a little hard to tell what they would be now. At any rate, we should be able to tell better what things will look like in the future by January.”

The letter closes with a discussion regarding Jim and Meisy’s planned living arrangements.

Letter from Jim Howland to Holly Cornell
Date: 2 December 1945, 1259 West Market St., York, PA.
“I greatly appreciate your letter . . .and telling of the business prospects. We will head west on the 26th of December and the lineup of jobs you listed is surely encouraging. From what you said over the phone I gather that they mainly involve water supply and perhaps subdivision layout. Your point is undoubtedly well taken that the important thing now is to get in on the expansion and to make a good reputation rather than a lot of money. I realize that the time we must watch out for is the period several years hence when depression may set in, however, from my observations a group of enterprising fellows with reasonable intelligence and some technical background can manage alright in most any situation. Particularly if they will stick together.”

Letter from Holly Cornell to Jim Howland
Date: 7 December, 1945, 954 Tyler, Corvallis, OR.
“I am sorry that Burke may not come out here before it is necessary for us to make a definite decision. It is still a question of whether or not there will be sufficient business to make it worthwhile for all of us for the next few years. As you can see, if there are three of us besides Fred in the concern, and we each take out a basic salary sufficient to live on (of say, $2500 a year), there would not be very much left to give Fred any reasonable remuneration for his part–if the figures I gave you in the last letter represent all the business we are able to get. After all it has been Fred that has gotten the business, and I am convinced that it will be his reputation and his friends that will keep us going for two or three years at the least until the rest of us can be known also.”

“At any rate, I feel we are considerably indebted to Fred and that he should be considered first if there are any profits to be distributed, as I am convinced after the six weeks I have worked here that it would probably be impossible to get started at all without him.” “We are leasing for a year an office of two rooms in the Smith Building here (about over the Sunnybrook Dairy) for $35.00 per month with heat, light, and water furnished. Telephone and janitor services will probably run another $5.00. The basic expenses to which we are committed so far are about $40.00 per month.”

“It is still a scramble to get everything done which we are already committed on and there will certainly be plenty for you to do when you arrive.”

“We still haven’t found anything definite for you and Meisy to live in, but Charlie Mockmore got a lead on a two bedroom house yesterday that looks promising. We will do our best to have someplace for you to sleep when you get here, although what you will sleep on is another question.”

“Let me know what Burke’s plans are and how he feels about this thing as I would hate to see him give up the idea and go into something else only to find in a few months there is a definite place for him.”

Western Union Telegram from Jim Howland to Holly Cornell
Date: 14 December, 1945, Cambridge, MA.


Western Union Telegram from Holly Cornell to Jim Howland
Date: 15 December, 1945, Corvallis, OR.




Western Union Telegram from Burke Hayes to Holly Cornell
Date: 17 December, 1945, Cambridge, MA.


Letter from Jim Howland to Holly Cornell
Date: 20 December, 1945, 1259 W. Market St., York, PA.
“Burke called me after he had talked to you by telephone. I’m glad to hear that he is coming out right away…..I’m convinced that the quicker we get going full blast the better.”

“The day we left Cambridge I was down at Tech talking to the people in the Soils Mechanics section and got acquainted with a chap by the name of Lamb that used to work for Dames and Moore, foundation and soils engineers in California. You probably know of them. I knew Dames when I was in Los Angeles working for Standard Oil. They were just getting going at that time.”

“Lamb reports that they now have offices in San Diego and San Francisco also and grossed over a million dollars last year. The thing that interested me most was that he said that they had quite a number of inquiries from the Northwest from outfits that wanted foundation work done. Perhaps we can pick up some of that type of business. Lamb said that when he went out on a job they got $8.00 an hour for his services, and from what I could gather Lamb left the firm with some ill feeling.”

“From what I could gather there is nothing particularly new in the soils line since we were in school, but of course there has been advancements in data available and techniques. No startling new theories.”

The rest of Jim’s letter makes reference to proposed living arrangements for themselves upon their arrival, and a new schedule of arrival in Corvallis on the 8th or 9th of January.