Austin Evanson

LaMont received several other recollections of his most “unforgettable character.” Following are excerpts from a couple that others may recall as well.

* Caricature by Bill Shrader, a colleague and good friend who, like many of us, saw Austin as our own Sherlock.

from Marvin Murray …

I especially recall Austin’s pipe smoking sessions when I was in his presence. He would get especially engaged in some problem we were trying to solve and begin to draw deeply and frequently on his trusty pipe. Pretty soon it would overheat and begin to sputter and backfire with burning tobacco and ash spewing forth on his desk top and pant legs. He had holes burned in many of his pants. I loved Austin, he was kind, gentle, and brilliant. I miss him to this day.

from Bob Pailthorp …

Many of us have warm and fuzzy memories of Austin Evanson. Austin was English and a mechanical engineer with diverse interests and great talent. Austin had even practiced engineering in India. Austin smoked a well-aged pipe when he was thinking. He thought a lot – – – eh. First person I knew who used eh – – eh at the end of a sentence.

Coffee or Pulp Liquor …

Cornell, Howland, Hayes & Merryfield, Inc. had worked for Publisher’s Paper Company at Oregon City, OR. Publisher’s had a major problem with pollution of the Willamette River caused by their discharge of spent pulping liquor. Austin had the idea of concentrating the liquor by freezing the water in the liquor and separating the ice. The resulting concentrated liquor would be easier to reuse.

Freezing tests were needed. Austin somehow secured a sizable plate freezer, which he located in the boiler/coffee room. In the 50s and 60s, the office boiler room also accommodated our coffee breaks. [It] was our social center.

My workload must have been light at the time because I was to help with the operation, testing, and analysis of the freezing process. It was immediately obvious that freezing pulp liquor is not as easy as making ice cream- – – which was the limit of my freezing experience. In addition, the freezer was difficult to clean without making a mess of our social center. It was also obvious that pulp liquor, in combination with the considerable output of Austin’s pipe, resulted in a distinct fragrance.

Even though the freezing effort did not solve the liquor problem, the resulting fragrance did get the coffee break time back down to the allotted 15 minutes.

India …

In India, he consulted with a rich man who had a lake and had bought a large barge that had to be assembled and launched down an embankment without breaking the barge in two. He got it done.

He told of when he and his wife, Catherine, moved into a home in India and found that there was a Cobra in a hole at the front gate. Austin asked a gardener to dispose of the snake. Thinking about it, the gardener said “Mr. Evanson, that snake has been there many years and has not bothered anyone. The next Cobra may not be as friendly.” Austin left the snake.

Mechanical engineering problems …

The firm was having a problem with long shaft pump settings. They looked like auto drive shafts, and had intermediate u-joints at equally spaced beam supports. Shafts would whip. Austin solved the problem.

We had a serious vibration problem with the basket centrifuges at the Hood River WWTP. Austin took his gauges and expertise (and undoubtedly his pipe). He determined that the support springs in the machines had the wrong period and that the bolts in the steel support platform had not been properly torqued. Problem solved!!!!

He had a story of how they straightened damaged auto frames. Bury the frame with a pile of dried cow manure, fire it, wait until the frame was red hot, then snatch it out and straighten it.

What a guy!! I’m thankful I got to know him.

from John Sewell …

I had the distinct pleasure and honor to work with and get to know Austin. As many have noted, he was, indeed, a very special man.

While many were able to enjoy his basic human nature .. always friendly, never a harsh word, a bit quirky, British accent, dry humor, and pipe ashes cascading around him .. my working with him provided me the special opportunity to experience the depth and breadth of his extraordinary knowledge and experience.

On the dry humor side, a story comes to mind about when he was on the witness stand as an expert witness. The defense lawyer, trying to discredit Austin as being an over-paid hired gun, asked Austin whether it was true that he was billing his client at $150/hr. Austin paused and then replied, “Yes, that’s true, roughly 1/4 of what you are billing your client.”

On the knowledge and experience side, I quite often reflect on how truly extraordinary Austin was. While many engineers graduate from college with an adequate academic background, few ever actual acquire truly fundamental, practical, root feel-for-it understanding of how things really work. You could talk to Austin about pretty much any subject at any level, and you would find him solid as a rock. A good friend used to say you could tell when you are speaking to a “true expert.” No matter your background, a real expert can explain the “concept” in a way that you can understand. That was Austin. Pick a subject! Power plant thermodynamic balance, hog-fueled boiler efficiency, hydraulics, pneumatics, mechanics, kinematics, strength of materials: No sweat. For example, Austin could do water hammer analysis by hand; and he seemed to have a fundamental, incisive, and intuitive feel for the subject. Absolutely extraordinary!

On the shake-your-head and make-you-smile side, I recall one evening, after one of the CH2M dinners, LaMont and I, and our wives, were invited over to have a drink at Austin’s home. After having a few drinks and listening to his wife’s beautiful playing of her concert quality organ, Austin asked if we wanted to see his “basement project.”

Austin took us all to the small closet of a back bedroom and opened a trap door in its floor. He said, “Be a little careful going down the ladder. I’ll go ahead with a flashlight.” We all climbed down and found that Austin had dug a rather large basement under his house. As we understood the story, Austin had hand dug the hole with pick and shovel, initially on his hands and knees and, then, from standing position when the hole got deep enough. He had apparently conveyed the excavated dirt, bucket by bucket, up the ladder, through the trapdoor and out of the house. We never heard where he disposed of the dirt.

One has to smile at the fundamental understanding, hard work, and tenacity of the project. That was Austin. Quirky? Well, people often say that Einstein was a bit quirky, too.

I often think of Austin.


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