Building big

Politicians in America love to romanticize the local, the small, the neighborhood and even the streets they live on. 

That’s not wrong. The country’s astounding resilience over nearly 250 years is found in the ways it self-organizes at the local level: neighborhood councils, city halls, county seats, state legislatures, local and state water authorities. 

These political podiums and localized forums are notoriously frisky and self-reliant, historically resistant to commands from above, willing to wildly experiment – all while the citizens and bureaucrats of other centralized nations remain rigid, uniform, timid, and abjectly unable to meet and resolve historical problems and lingering hatreds.

That resilience and independence translates well into energy markets like mine.

Power and surge

The power plants that are a central part of my business at the moment are important assets to these small bits and parts of America that prize their autonomy, flexibility and sustainability – even when the small parts of the whole that use gas-fired engines and turbines for power and surge capability are as often found at the very core of large cities, at health care complexes, at universities or at electrical utilities right here in Texas and beyond.

Hospitals, schools and military bases get added reassurance when they know they can sustain life and operations by turning to stand-alone gas turbines or engines – onsite or in the neighborhood – to bring back and to bring up electricity to answer a major and predictable systemic power shortage during a summer brown-out, or after a tornado, earthquake or hurricane strikes. 

And not just turbines and engines on the ground. Airplanes that move people in relatively smallish bunches through the sky above your head and neighborhood streets are nothing much more than kerosene-fired gas turbines strapped onto aluminum or carbon-composite wings, pushing a few hundred seats filled with anxious humans and a few nervous pets through the air above 31,000 feet. (And yes, most jet fuels in use since the end of World War II are fairly simple, but very reliable, kerosene-based mixes.).

Era of big

I’m proud of what we are accomplishing at Navasota Energy. But I also grew up in an era of big projects: earth-moving, tunnel-cutting, road-building projects. It was actually my dad’s world – and I was just along for the dig and the ride. 

A father can be a hero to his children without any outside validation. Mine was a hero at home and at work. We were proud Army brats and saw much of the world because he spent a full career as an Army engineer and often brought us along. 

My father’s outside hero credits were earned in many places around the globe, but particularly in Vietnam where his combat engineers were daily “out on point” as the forward edge of the spear, trying to open roads, cross waterways, and lay down landing pads and runways — mostly under hostile, deadly fire. 

Clattering of the Caterpillar

When that angry war was over, Dad continued on, working as a uniformed Army officer in the Corps of Engineers, tackling grand homeland USA projects that can be very controversial to those that resent disturbances and the clattering sound of Caterpillar tractors within earshot of their green, pristine backyards.

He and his command in the Corps built last-shot Nike missiles bases outside resort towns on the Eastern seaboard, tamed killer American rivers, re-built  beaches and harbors lost to erosion, cleared navigable waterways for shipping American inland goods to foreign ships and markets, built channels to last a century so that rushing rain water didn’t take out neighborhoods and lives with each spring thaw. 

Dad’s gone. But what he and his command built remains – in the infrastructure of modernizing Vietnam and right here in contemporary America.

Sometimes what the Corps builds it stays to operate: Did you know that the Army Corps of Engineers actually controls and manages the generation of one fourth of all of America’s hydroelectric power?

Angles with slide rules

Dad knew that … and he knew lots more. He was a civil engineer and he could  figure out his ”angles of repose” and “coefficients of friction in sand” with a slide rule, long before Texas Instruments came up with electronic pocket calculators and the faux leather belt holsters they were carried in.  

Dad always thought big, working in the last years of his service on the home front on the Corps largest projects, constructs that could cross local community boundaries, even reach cross state borders.

Today we think much smaller when we speak generally of engineers, and today’s engineer heroes are often software or computer-chip designers. 

There is a wonderful poet my dad loved, Sam Alter Foss, who wrote

“…Bring me men to match my mountains

Bring me men to match my plains…”

Author Irving Stone borrowed the first line for the title of a book my Dad also admired about the opening of the West where I live now. 

My dad matched the mountains. My dad matched the plains. We think small.  He thought big. And I miss him.