George Dotson

Born in Eugene, Oregon, educated in surrounding cities, and raised on a farm, I attended the University of Oregon from 1951 to 1953. I enrolled at Oregon State University (OSC at that time) in the fall of 1953. Because the draft had given me a 1-A rating and I wanted an Engineering Degree, I enrolled in the ROTC (U.S. Army) program at the U of O and at OSU. I received a B.S. Degree in engineering in 1956.

Glenn Holcomb, department head for civil engineering at OSU, arranged an interview for me with Jim Howland because I did not want to go to the BIG CITY for a job. I was fortunate that Jim hired me. I started work at CH2M on June 4, 1956. There were three of us in this new-hire class: me, Harry Mejdell, and Lamont Mathews.

As Employee No. 31, I started to work; and it was exciting. My first job was to help on the sewer layout project for Pasco, WA, even though I thought of myself as a Structural Engineer. The building was the second building phase at 1600 Western Avenue, and the first small two-story wing was finished. However, this was before the famous carport, located on the west side of the building, broke loose in a windstorm and flew over the building in an eastward direction and landed in the grade school yard across 15th Street.

I was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army and reported for duty at Ft. Belvoir, VA, on January 7, 1957. I served the required 2 years prior to rejoining CH2M (leave of absence was granted because draft or service at that time was compulsory). I was very fortunate to have joined CH2M when I did because there were so many opportunities available. I was also allowed to study at OSU for a Masters Degree at one course per term while making up all time lost while attending class. My Masters Degree was achieved in June 1969.

I remember soon after, or during this time, designing the main prestressed column-beam frames for the Boise Federal Building using the slide rule. One man running through the problem using Hardy Cross Moment distribution would take approximately 6 hours using the slide rule, while today you could do it in less than 100 times that amount of time. I was proud to visit this building last year and take a picture of it with my grandson, Russell (who is now a junior in civil engineering at OSU).

The firm grew very fast in the early 1970s, and Harry Mejdell and I were the “old experienced structural engineers” at that time. We divided up the types of jobs, even though Harry was the structural department head, with my assignment being to look after the environmental type and what I would call heavy construction, power houses, etc. We soon hired more very good engineers like Bob Morrison, Sherill Pitkin, Lee Eick, Tom Cutting, John Reed, Doyle Leek, and others. These guys were trained and then sent out to other offices as we opened them: Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, Denver, etc. Corvallis was the original training ground for what was to be the best structural engineering class in the consulting engineering business!

Because the firm was growing so fast and the offices were multiplying quickly, we found that uniformity of a good structural design (plans and specifications) was a real challenge. In the early 1970s, Bob Richards, the Corvallis office Head Draftsman, and I put our heads together and started the Structural Standard Detail System. This idea had the support of the Board of Directors, especially Archie Rice, who encouraged us to expand the idea to include all disciplines. Bob and I then set up the first multiple standard detail system and the other disciplines joined us. We maintained control over and guided this system until it finally became computerized and maintained to become the system we know today. Budgets then were tight as they are today. (Nothing much changes!) With Archie Rice’s blessing, we managed to make details using the projects we were working on and then place them in notebooks and catalog them at minimal overhead costs. These were then given to all offices. Stick-On transparencies were used to eliminate the need and associated costs of redrawing them. “Stick Ons” could be made inexpensively using special paper and the Xerox machine. The system has come a long way and we are still proud of it.

Another tool that is very important today, especially because we, as a firm, were more like many countries of the world rather than like the Corvallis-Boise-Portland business complex of those days (a small business in the 1970s), is the SPECIFICATIONS SYSTEM. One of my assignments early on, when we were multiplying so fast, was to bring the Structural Specifications up to speed as a unified system so that all of our structural engineers, regardless of where they or where the job was located, could have a project with specifications that looked like they all came from the same firm. This assignment, while not that exciting, was important. All disciplines were encouraged to participate. The system was supported by the Board of Directors and especially by Sid Lasswell, who encouraged us to not only make it a uniform system that could be used by all, but also to keep it up to date. We were able to keep the system maintained primarily by using updates from each project as spin-off into the system. My role was to keep the structural specifications current, which I did up to the early 1990s when the responsibility was dispersed to a larger staff.

With regard to the technology, the establishment of CH2M as a major designer in the field of Prestressed Tank Structures became my responsibility. I was first introduced to this type of structure while a Resident Engineer on the first 5-milligram Corvallis prestressed reservoir at North Hills in the 1960s. Since that time, Fred Harem and I have served approximately 20 years on the AWWA committee D-110 for establishing the industry standard for the design and construction of these types of tanks. John Reed and I developed software that was used for designing these tanks back in the late 1960s to early 1970s. Later, Dan Van Luchene and I upgraded the software to become the tool we use today. CH2M HILL is today the leading expert in the field of Prestressed Tanks with much of the specifications and details being used by other companies and Prestressers originating from our own designs and details. We have many of our own prestressed tanks here in the U.S. as well as in Egypt and Trinidad.

Then I was given the assignment of developing the first Structural Design Guide and to keep it up to date, which I accomplished during the early 1990s. This guide contains updated information on prestressed tanks (Chapter 10). The guide also contains a very important structural design method for concrete (Chapter 3), which Wally Bennett/SEA and I wrote. This chapter contains the state-of-the-art design methods for crack control design using both the Strength Design Method and the Service Load Method. These guidelines are very important in the design of concrete environmental water holding structures that do not leak.

For many of the years during our rapid growth, we found that proper training and review of the work of our many structural engineers in the various offices would be very cost-effective and would tend to prevent contract problems and litigation. As QC/QA Director for Structural Engineering, I assigned senior reviewers for all structural work on CH2M HILL projects.

The work I was involved in during my career has been very rewarding; and I am proud to show these many structures and projects, scattered all over the country, to my grandson who is now a student of civil engineering at OSU. I also again wish to thank Jim Howland for giving me my first job opportunity back in 1956.

At this time (November 2001), I am still a part-time employee of CH2M HILL, having retired from a full-time position in 1995. I have been fortunate to be one of the past presidents and a life time member of The Structural Engineers Association of Oregon. My wife and I still live in Corvallis, own a very nice motor home, and enjoy traveling. Because we have been traveling, I have had the opportunity to stop in and help other offices with structural projects.



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