Memoirs 1. Education And Experience

by Milo Ketchum
circa 1990

Although I do not remember it, I was born on March 8, 1910 in Denver, Colorado, during my Father's sabbatical. He was the Dean of the College of Engineering at the University of Colorado, in Boulder, and had spent that year in Denver in a partnership with Colonel H. S. Crocker, a well known civil engineer, who later, for a year, was the Secretary of the American Society of Civil Engineers. In the fall of 1910 we moved back to Boulder, where I spent the war years, with the exception of 1917, when we were in Nitro, West Virginia. Father was in charge of construction of a smokeless powder plant for the government. We left Colorado in 1920 and moved to Philadelphia, where father was Head of the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1923 he was made the Dean of Engineering at the University of Illinois in Urbana.

When I was ready to go to college, my Father said that if I had not made of my mind what I wanted to do, then he would like to have me to take civil engineering, because it is good training. I was a good son and followed his suggestion, although being the Deans Son was not always easy. My grades were very good for the first two years, but at the end of the second year, in a chemistry class, a fellow student put a test tube under my nose which foamed up and entered my eyes. Fortunately it did no permanent harm, but it did set back my grade point to a little less that I would have wanted. I graduated Cum Lauda, but not Magna.

One of my best courses in the first year was graphics, which is an absolute necessity for a structural engineer. I always did better at those courses that required visual and spatial interpretation, and less well in left brained subjects such as mathematics. I loved to browse through the engineering library, particularly reading the aeronautical journals, and I began to consider a career as an airship structural engineer. In my senior year I made a trip to Akron, Ohio and interviewed Arnheim, the Chief Engineer of the Goodyear Aircraft Company, which was building the airship Akron for the Navy. I subsequently wrote a paper for the Technograph, the student technical journal. The subsequent demise of the Akron settled the matter of a career in airship design.

I graduated in 1931, and because this was the middle of the depression and it was difficult to find a job, I continued with graduate school. Hardy Cross taught the structural analysis course, and as I was taking it, I was a little disappointed in the lack of techniques, but Cross was a thinker, and years later when I was in practice for myself, I found that I was constantly quoting him. Still being interested in airships, I wrote my masters thesis under Malcolm Westergaard, who afterward moved to Harvard and who made many of the early mathematical studies on flat slabs and who was responsible for the coefficients in use for 60 years for the design of highway bridge slabs. It was a poor choice. My lack of mathematical ability made it very difficult, and I did not do well. I continued another year taking graduate courses, and for the next fall I worked for the WPA as a surveyor.

In the spring of 1934, I obtained a job with the Bureau of Reclamation in Denver, Colorado, as an engineer on dam design at the very good salary of $2,000 per year, and the next year moved to Chicago to work for the Portland Cement Association under A. J. Boase, a student of my Father. The job was very good experience in learning to write, and consisted primarily in answering letters about concrete problems, and preparing booklets for which the PCA was well known. One of my assignments was the preparation of a booklet on bridge railings. Up to that time they were very ornate, with greco-roman ornamentation, I advocated a clean rail, offset from the posts, so the driver would have an uninterrupted surface to scan as he drove by. Subsequently this became the standard. Then I spent a year with a contractor for design-build concrete coaling stations and other railroad structures.

In the fall of 1937, I took a position as an Assistant Professor of Structural Engineering at Case School of Applied Science in Cleveland, Ohio and stayed there until 1944. Teaching is excellent experience for any engineer, and in later years, you could not fault me for not understanding the value of statics. In those days more emphasis was placed on graphic statics, for which there is a sad lack in the present cirriculum. I became interested in photoelasticity and made my own equipment from large lenses and polaroid sheets then available from supply houses. In studying the interpretation of the stress patterns, I discovered that no one had integrated straight across a structural section. I wrote a paper that was published in the Proceedings of the Eastern Photoelasticity Conference, December 9, 1939. Frocht, in his book on photoelasticity, begrudgingly gave me credit. Summers, during the war, I worked in the office of a local structural engineer on war related structures, including some interesting long span timber arches, all analyzed graphically.

In 1944 I had just become married, when the school lost all its students, I was relieved of my position, and took a job as a structural engineer in the firm of Floyd G. Browne, a sanitary engineer in Marion, Ohio. I then decided that I would set up my own practice and we selected Denver, Colorado as a possible location. We made a trip to confirm our decision, consulted with all the best authorities who claimed that it was not feasible because all the structural engineering would be performed by engineers from the Bureau of Reclamation, moonlighting in their spare time. This advice made us decide that we should indeed locate in Denver. We moved in 1945, and all this good advice proved to be totally wrong.

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