The Story of James E. Bennett, Jr.
in his own words
Naperville, IL and Jacksonville, FL - February, 1964 to October, 1977
Naperville, IL and Jacksonville, FL - February, 1964 to October, 1977
I flew back to Chicago to look for a place to live. Kathryn stayed in Charlotte with the children. First I went to Harza's office and met with Bill Bussey. Bill was in charge of the Soils, Grouting and Geology sections of Harza. I would be working for him as Staff Concrete Engineer. The position requirements were to write concrete project specifications, answer all the questions about concrete that the various engineers would ask and trouble shoot any site problems. I agreed to start to work on February 1, 1964. Bill lived in Naperville and he suggested that I take a look there for a place to live. Naperville is about 35 miles due west of Chicago and is on the main line of the Burlington Railroad.
I rented a car and drove to Naperville and was impressed with the town. North Central College, a small college, located near downtown was one of the factors that helped me in making a selection of where I wanted to live. After riding around the residential areas of Naperville, I decided to look for a house there. The population of Naperville was around 15,000. I looked at the third house being built in the Cress Creek development. This development was being built around a golf course and it was the first time that this concept was used in Illinois. The developer, Mr. Moser, came across this concept in one of his many trips to Florida and decided to try it out in Naperville. I decided it was too far away from the train station and too much in the country.
I looked at a lot of houses and finally made an offer on a split level house with three bedrooms and two baths near the Presbyterian Church. The house was located south of downtown and was about eighteen months old. Our address was 344 Tamarack Drive. Wayne and Jimmy walked to their schools while Kathy rode a school bus. I called Kathryn to tell her that I had bought a house, and she said, my mother had convinced her to go to Chicago to help in the selection of the house. I had to tell her it was too late as I just bought one.
Harza arranged for our move, and we moved in the middle of February, 1964. The home was too far from the train station to walk and Kathryn would take me to the train station and pick me up at night. I rode the train to and from work and Harza's office was about two blocks from the train station in the old Daily News Building. The Burlington Railroad was noted for the ability to maintain a schedule and the trains was seldom late. After being at work about three months, Harza's concrete engineer on the Guri Project in Venezuela resigned and I was asked to take his place. Kathryn and I talked it over and we both agreed that we wanted to stay in Naperville. I recruited a replacement.
As soon as we got moved the children started back in school. We joined Knox Presbyterian Church which was located about four blocks from our home. Wayne had the hardest time settling down in school, as he was not used to having children around his own age and he wanted to play all the time. Kathryn had to argue with the school administration people about which grades to place Kathy and Jimmy in. In some of the class room work they were behind as the class work overseas was in a different order, but overall they were ahead of their class. Kathy's school in India was an excellent school as well as the Calvert System that Jimmy and Wayne used.
I cashed in some of our travel vouchers from our return trip from Thailand and used the money to build a wooden deck on the back of the house and for landscaping. We had the back yard landscaped because the back yard was all grass with a view straight across into the neighbor's yard. The landscaper installed a shrub border around the back and planted several trees. After about fifteen months of living back in the States, Jimmy developed a severe allergy problem and the Doctor advised us to close up the house and put in an air conditioning system with an electronic dust precipitator. Since our home was build without an air conditioning system this would require installing both systems in our home at a cost of several thousand dollars. Kathryn liked the area but didn't like being on a corner lot. Our home was located close to a Catholic school and we always had students making paths across our yard. We decided it would be better to buy and move to a home that already had the central air conditioning system.
Kathryn was playing bridge one day in a home on Maple Lane when the owner of the home mentioned that they were being transferred and would be placing the house on the market. It was a raised ranch, air conditioned, with three bed rooms, two baths, two car garage and a finished basement with a half bath. On Friday of that week I returned from a trip overseas and Kathryn told me about the home. We decided to look at it. She called up the lady Saturday morning to see if we could look at their home. She told Kathryn that the house had been turned over to an real estate firm to sell, but she had no objection if we wanted to look through it.
We went right over and spent some time going through the home as well as walking around the back yard. We returned home and decided to call the real estate firm. We called and agreed to meet with the agent later in the day. We met at the house and after going through the house again we made an offer on the house. The owner accepted our offer. The house was built in an area that during World War I was one of the largest nurseries in the United States. The house was located on a cul-de-sac with 65 foot frontage on the Dupage River on one side. The house was larger than our home on Tamarack Drive and was closer to downtown Naperville and the train station. We moved in before school started in 1966. The real estate business was a little slow and we ended up making house payments on both homes. It was a little rough on our finances and it took about four months to sell our home on Tamarack. Counting the realty fee we lost money on the sale of the home, however we never regretted our decision to move. We really enjoyed the new home with the spacious backyard.
Our new address was 2 Maple Lane. At this location, Jimmy rode the school bus to Lincoln Jr. High School, Wayne walked to the Highland School and Kathy walked to Naperville High School (now Naperville Central - ed.). The house was built by Tosi Builders with wood moldings, hard wood floors, solid wooden doors and a large set of sliding wooden louvered doors that separated the kitchen and breakfast room area from the dining room. The fireplace chimney ran up from the basement level, allowing a double fire place in the basement and a double one upstairs. The fireplace upstairs was between the living room and the breakfast room. In the basement the fireplace was between a playroom and a workshop room. We bought a pool table and put it in the playroom. It had a large backyard with the river on one side and woods in the back. The yard was open so the boys could play ball. The lot was separated from the other lots by lilac bushes and was fairly private. The kitchen had a gas stove and Kathryn doesn't like the small of gas, so the first thing she did was to put in a 220 volt line for an electric stove. We ended up with an island stove with a very nice copper hood over the stove. We had additional cabinets installed.
With the boys help we built a canoe from a kit in the basement. In high water we could launch it in the Dupage river from our land. One time we took an overnight trip on the nearby Fox River, a much larger river than the Dupage River. During the winter the river would freeze over and we could ice skate from our house to the park downtown. The boys would play ice hockey on the river. When the ice broke up the boys would float downstream on a block of river ice (not if Kathryn saw them). They fell in the river several times.
Kathryn's father retired from his Church in Memphis in the fall of 1967 and they moved back to Charlotte, NC. Our vacations were spent mostly going back to North Carolina to visit our parents, with a brief sightseeing trip either going or coming.
My parents sold their home on North Tryon in November, 1968 and purchased a new four bedroom home on Providence Road (in Charlotte, NC - ed.). We took our vacation in August of 1969 and drove to Charlotte to see their new home. Kathryn's parents as well as my parents appeared to be in good health. We had a nice visit and on the way back we drove up the coast of Virginia. We had been home only a few days when my father dropped dead with a heart attack while raking the front yard. He was 83 years old. His death was very unexpected.
The train ride to Chicago usually took me around 55 minutes. In the winter time I went to and from work in the dark. Coming home from work, I usually rode in the upstairs section of the train. After a few stops the upstairs section was usually empty. One time coming home, after all the people except me had left the upper section, I noticed an object in the overhead bin in front of me. I got up and picked up the package and found that it was a jewelry roll full of someone's new line. It was on a Thursday. I checked the lost and found section at the train station Friday morning and after work, but no one reported a missing object with a fair amount of value. I noticed an ad in the Saturday morning paper under the lost and found section that appeared to be what I had. I called the number and the gentlemen was rather short with me. I told him that I found something and if he could describe it, I would give it back, if not I would hang up. He got real nice and we agreed to meet in the afternoon at our home. He and his Insurance Adjuster came out to our home and I invited my neighbor over to be a witness. The Jeweler had drawings of each piece. The roll was worth over $25,000. They were happy to get it back as the insurance company had already marked it off. The insurance company gave me $500 reward for finding it. My sister, who works for an insurance company, said that it should have been at least 10% of the value. I used the money to help in buying a new 1969 red Ford convertible.
Kathy graduated from the local high school in June, 1967 as a Merit Scholar and enrolled at the University of Illinois as a James Scholar. Wayne moved into her room as soon as she left for the university. In the middle of her sophomore year she dropped out of school, stayed in Champaign, but later moved to Northern California. Jimmy graduated in 1970 and received several scholarships offers. He, along with a large group of Merit Scholars, was invited to Michigan State to take part in a program that was composed of a series of tests competing for full paid scholarships. They were offering ten such scholarship. Based on his test results he was offered a partial scholarship, but he selected California Institute of Technology and received a two thousand dollar General Motors Scholarship. Kathryn worked in the Naperville library part time. She enrolled in Northern Illinois University and took several courses in Library Science. Wayne also worked part time in the library.
In Chicago, I wrote the concrete section of the project specifications, rough drafts of the soil section, reviewed the contractors' submittal, set up concrete trial mix designs with commercial or private materials laboratory, set field reporting procedures, issued technical reports on concrete problems, answered questions from the field or from the designers concerning concrete, reviewed and commented on field inspection reports, etc.. Our company worked very closely with the materials laboratories of the Bureau of Reclamation in Denver, Colorado and the University of California in Berkeley, California.
On projects undergoing a feasibility study, I would visit the proposed construction site to locate the sources of aggregates and cement. Once under construction, I would visit the project to aid the Resident Engineer during start up of the concrete operations, setting up field offices, instructing the local inspectors in the inspection of the concrete, setting up the field reporting procedures, etc.. I would visit the construction sites whenever requested by the Resident Engineers. I was on several technical committees of American Concrete Institute (ACI) and American Society of Testing Materials (ASTM). I would attend the annual meetings of both organizations to keep current in the field of concrete.
When I was interviewing for the position in 1964, I was introduced to Art Guess, Vice President. He said that if I came to work for Harza, one of my first duties for Harza would be to visit the ongoing concrete operations on Harza's projects in Pakistan, Philippines and Taiwan. I never visited any of those countries and the only travelling I did in my first year with Harza was to Harza's projects on the Columbia River in Washington. I spent most of December, 1964 in Washington State over looking a core drilling program on the Wamapun Dam spillway. I barely made it home for Christmas as it started snowing and my car was one of the last ones through before they closed the road. The next year I started traveling overseas and would be out of the states at least three weeks to a maximum of 10 weeks per trip.
During the next eight years I traveled about one third of the time overseas, visiting Harza's projects in Honduras, EL Salvador, Venezuela, Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay, Iceland, Ethiopia, Iran, France and Sumatra, Indonesia. One of my more interesting trips was to Paris. The French Contractor's home office for our arch dam project in Southern Iran was in Paris. I was invited to Paris by the contractor to review the proposed batch plant and crushing equipment that would be used in the construction of the dam. My mother was visiting us in Naperville for Jimmy's upcoming graduation from high school, thus preventing Kathryn from going with me to Paris. I spent five days in Paris doing the required review. I had a lot of interesting visits to many countries in traveling to the various projects. Harza at that time was working more overseas than in the states. My favorite overseas cities were Paris, Copenhagen and Athens. Several times I visited Tegucigalpa, Honduras and had drinks in an old bar that claims that O. Henry used to visit when he was in Tegucigalpa.
In the summer of 1972 I was assigned to a project in southern Utah near Price, Utah. I was filling in until Mike Engstrom, the scheduled Resident Engineer, could come to Price. He was finishing up a project in Honduras. I flew out and worked on the project. While in Price, I had to fly back to Chicago to give a talk at Illinois Institute of Technology concerning concrete. Kathryn, Wayne and Mrs. Young drove out to Price. Kathryn drove Mrs. Young to her sister's home near Salt Lake City and came on down to Price. Kathryn and Wayne were with me for about three weeks until Mike and his family arrived. We started on our vacation right after Mike arrived, driving to the west coast.
We left Price, Utah and drove to Los Angeles, meeting Jimmy's future wife and her family, then on to San Francisco to see Kathy. From San Francisco we went to Sacramento to see Kathryn's brother Don and returned to Naperville by way of Idaho Falls to show Wayne where he was born and our first home. Wayne had his learner's permit so he did some of the driving. We enjoyed the West Coast so much that we decided to look around for a position on the west coast that would allow me to spend more time at home. I was spending a large percent of my time away from home and next year (1973) appeared to be even worse as most of Harza's work was overseas. Back in Naperville, I noticed an ad in the Engineering News-Records from a professional recruiting service firm located in San Diego. They were looking for project engineers. I answered the ad and they responded by asking for a detailed resume.
Several months later when I was on the Guri project in Venezuela, I got a call from Jacksonville, Florida. The caller asked me when I was due back in the States and requested that I get in touch with him at that time. Back home I called the Jacksonville number and found out that the company, Offshore Power Company, wanted me to come down to Jacksonville for an interview. Offshore Power System (OPS) was a joint venture with Westinghouse Electric and Newport News Shipyards. I took some time off and flew to Jacksonville for an interview. Offshore Power was planning to construct 1250 MW floating nuclear power plants on 400 by 400' steel barges. They had picked my name from the names submitted to them from the California recruiting firm. After the interview they made me a very good offer, and after careful consideration Kathryn and I decided to take the job. The construction plant and the nuclear design were in the planning stage and my position would be in charge of the concrete construction operation and to review the concrete design for constructability. The plan was to precast most of the concrete that would be required.
I resigned from Harza after the first of the year, so that I would receive the bonus and profit sharing. We placed the house on the market around Thanksgiving and it sold on the first day. We should have asked for more money. We flew to Jacksonville to look for a home and found one we liked and the owner accepted our offer. I had to buy a second car as I would drive to work. I bought a 1972 Chevrolet Vega from the dealer in Naperville and drove it to Jacksonville. I flew back to Chicago several weeks later and we moved down to Jacksonville in late January, 1973. Our new home was a brick four bedroom ranch home in the San Jose area. We joined a Presbyterian Church on our side of the city. After we settled down we decided to join the San Jose Country Club which was about four blocks from our home. The beaches were about 30 or so minutes from our house and they were not loaded with people in the summer time. There were a fair number of public tennis courts and I played year around with a foursome. We enjoyed living in Jacksonville very much. Jacksonville actually gets less rain than Atlanta, GA.
At work we did a lot of day dreaming on how we were going to construct the powerplant. The Westinghouse people that transferred to the joint venture were responsible for the design of the powerplant, and the people that transferred from Newport News Shipyard were responsible for the steel barge. I was working mostly with the shipyard people. The plan was to precast as much of the concrete as we could. We did a detailed study on concrete placing methods and decided to pump all the concrete. I was responsible for working with our in-house design section and with the designers of the construction plant for all problems and layouts concerning concrete production and placing.
I set up the requirements for my section of the yard that was composed of my office building, a concrete batch plant, resteel shop, casting yard, form shop and other miscellaneous shops that would be needed. The plan was to build a standard 1250 mw plant every four years in a slow moving production line. The production site was on Blount Island, located in the middle of the St. John river on the north side of Jacksonville. The plant would be built in a slip-way and moved down the slip-way at various stages, with the last stage being the testing phase in open water. While the plant was being constructed the permanent site would be constructed and upon completion the plant would be towed to its site and anchored in an enclosed breakwater with power line connections to an on shore switchyard station.
In the fall of 1974, Kathryn wasn't feeling too good and in her checkup it was discovered that she had cancer of the colon and had to have an operation. After the operation in November the laboratory tests indicated that the Doctors did not get all of the cancer and they had to go back in for the second time within two days after the first one. She had a long recovery.
Wayne had enough hours to graduate from high school, so he decided to skip the last half of his senior year in high school and enroll in the pre med program in Erskine College. Kathryn had graduated from Erskine. He spent a year at Erskine and decided it wasn't for him and he looked around and selected the University of Wyoming where he graduated with a BS in Civil Engineering in 1979.
After about eighteen months, due to increasing government nuclear requirements and the inflation period of that time, our client canceled our only order. On December 7, 1974, Pearl Harbor Day, Offshore Power Systems reduced the employment from around 750 to around 200. I was in the group that was laid off. In general, Offshore Power Systems treated the laid off personnel very well. I was given a month notice's, allowed to use their watts telephone line, and Westinghouse sent all our names to all the professional recruiting services that had any contacts with Westinghouse. I looked around Jacksonville at several possibilities, one of which was buying out a small business. After a careful look we decided to drop that idea.
I wrote all the leading engineering firms. I had heard that Harza had just reorganized and brought in a new Head of Construction Manager (Dick Koken) and had placed the Construction Department under a new Division Head. I called them up and talked with the Division Head (Don Sandell) and he invited me to Chicago for an interview. I flew out to Chicago and after our interview I was offered the position of Assistant Department Head, and if it worked out I would take over the Construction Department when Koken retired in about five years. I received an offer from Duke Power, but the money was low so we decided to go back to Harza, where I would regain all the fringe benefits as if I had not left them.
I drove back to Naperville the first of February, 1975 and stopped by to visit our past neighbors. The next door neighbor, on Maple Lane, offer to share his house with me until Kathryn returned to Naperville, as his wife had left him and taken the children with her. Kathryn had stayed in Jacksonville to sell the house. The housing prices dropped when Offshore Power System announced the shutdown, as around 500 homes were dumped on the market at one time. The salaries of most all of the people that were laid off by OPS were fairly high. It was over four months before we sold the house. Kathryn signed all the house sale selling papers and drove to Atlanta to David's home (Kathryn's brother - ed.). I flew down to Atlanta that week end and we drove back to Naperville.
Since Wayne was at school, we decided to rent an apartment until we decided what to do. We ended up renting a two bedroom condo, with a option to buy, on North Mill Street next to the Cress Creek development which was the location of the first house that I looked at when I first came to Naperville in 1964. The condo was on the second floor with two bedrooms and two bath rooms, with a swimming pool with inside parking for one car. Seven months later we decided to buy the condo.
Kathryn still wasn't feeling too good and after an appointment with her Doctor, she was put back in the hospital for her third operation. She was in the Hinsdale Hospital for around 21 days. Shortly after moving back to Naperville we traded cars and bought a 1976 Volvo 4 door sedan (244). We had two cars and really needed only one car, so I sold the Vega to a young engineer that worked in my section.
I went back to Harza as Assistant Construction Head of the Construction Division. Dick Koken was the Division Head and I worked very closely with him. Dick was planning to retire in about five years and in various conversations prior to signing on with Harza and later I was told that I would take over after Dick left. But nothing was put in writing. In my position I did very little traveling, however I did have trips to Venezuela, Argentina - Paraguay and to Medan Indonesia. While I was working for OPS in Florida, Harza hired a Concrete Engineer so I was not involved with the concrete operation. After I had been back with Harza for about two years, I heard that Brian Anthony was returning from the Iran Project to take over the Construction Division. Dick was not in agreement with this, but he was not given a choice. At that point I decided to look around to see what was available on the outside.
Kathryn's mother died in early January, 1977. In April, 1977 I received a telephone call from a professional recruiting firm about the possibility of working for the American Arabian Oil Company (ARAMCO). The recruiting firm had received my name from Offshore Power Systems when they sent our names out to various recruiting firms when OPS started to shut down in 1975. I told them that I would be interested in working for an oil company, as I had been exposed to the oil camp living facilities in Iran which was much better than what was available to the Engineers in the construction camp. After several months I was invited to Houston, Texas for an interview.
ARAMCO was in the process of starting up a construction program for the purpose of shutting down all the flares that were burning off the gases from the oil fields. ARAMCO's home office is in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. They had a sister company called ARAMCO Overseas Company (AOC) based in Houston. I went to Houston for the interview and after the interview my conclusion was that they were not interested in me. Several months later, much to my surprised, I received an offer to work in the Gas Program. After a discussion with Kathryn I decided to take the offer since I could not see any future with Harza. There was no indication that Harza would ever offer me an associateship even though they were giving them out to other people. It took several months for ARAMCO to get the paper work in order.
I had to take a trip to a Harza project on the border between Argentina and Paraguay in the fall. Dr. Stroup did not get along very well after his wife died. He had fallen and broken his hip and was in a hospital. We both went to Charlotte and after a week I left for South American and she stayed in Charlotte for about a month visiting with her father daily. When I got back from my trip, ARAMCO finally set the hiring date the later part of October. I resigned from Harza, giving them a months notice. Two weeks after we arrived in Saudi, we received word that Dr. Stroup had died.