Jim Blake,Sr. - Bridges in the Western States

My father was a civil engineer.  He received a degree in Forestry and Civil Engineering at the University of Washington in 1950 and started an illustrious, international career building transcontinental railroads (southern Australia) Atomic energy plants (Hanford, WA) Cement production plants (California),  mining facilities in Peru, tunnels in the New Guinea jungle for a copper mine and Highway bridges in California (2), Washington and Montana.  I had a chance to see him in action as a construction superintendent at two of the bridge construction sites in 1964 and 1969.  He was generous enough to find me useful employment at both sites.  During the construction of the Central Ferry bridge in Washington state,  he  telephoned a state official of the Columbia River watershed and had the volume of the river reduced for a two weeks while his crews installed coffer dams in the middle of the flowing water.  This was probably the most God-like thing I saw him do.  He was a great leader of men.  On the Libby Dam Reservoir Bridge near Rexford, Montana in 1969 he was directing a few hundred men and having the time of his life.  He loved to figure out all of the steps required for a massive project and then mobilize his men to make it happen.  He was a great communicator who could stand up on a wooden crate  in front of the entire work force and firmly deliver the site policies, directives and schedule outlines.  He was like Abe Lincoln at a political rally:  good-humored, forceful and to the point. He was a great problem solver who could invent dramatic and immediate solutions to very difficult construction emergencies.  I was with him one morning at the Crystal Springs Bridge (Eugene Doran Bridge - San Mateo County) when a footing excavation had begun to fill with water after an underground spring was hit by a backhoe.  His team was worried.  He decided on the spot to fill the sixty by sixty foot excavation partially with loose dirt, soak up the water, use a backhoe to put the mud into trucks thus de-watering the big hole then we raced down to a construction supply warehouse and bought a few submersible pumps (Flygt) and some flexible hose and had it installed into the excavation.  These pumps kept the hole dry until the cage of number eleven rebar could be installed and the concrete poured.  later in his career he was a superintendent on a section of the Alaska Pipeline,  Oil production facilities in Daching, China, Radar Towers in Argentina, Earthmoving operations in Yanbu, Saudi Arabia and many, many others.  During my childhood he was in demand all over the world so I rarely saw him.   He had hearing problems from guns firing on his destroyer and deep diving mine-setting work, PTSD from World War Two heroics (bronze star)  and he had a bad temper, I consider his domestic absence a blessing.  He was a great man but in his chosen element which was the dynamic playing fields of construction sites around the world.

It is interesting to note that his work was part of the heroic age of post WW II civil engineering when the United States was financing projects all over the world to great acclaim.  Today he would be called an "Economic Hit Man" who participated in the destruction of tropical jungles, the creation of hydrogen bombs, the building of facilities that exploited indigenous populations etc etc.  I'm glad most of my memories of him are from the era of the American hero.  He was a hero to me although he thought artists were pussies and he hated my paintings (and said so!)  after 1969. the "Montana barn" ("art" this blog) is where I lost him as a fan of my painting.

Re:  The pussy thing.  We had a contest in his backyard in Mission Viejo, California one afternoon to see who could do the most one-legged deep knee bends,  one of his benchmarks for strong legs.  He could do fifty or so on each leg.  When my turn came,  I started and after fifteen minutes (a few hundred) he stopped counting and suggested we go have a bourbon.