In Which Pat gets the Chats


Today Pat had a case of the chats. It was quite fascinating.
He spoke of the days pre URS when they would throw a team of people at a Project, anywhere in the world, to get the job done.

One job was on an army base. “what’s behind that door?” “what door?”. I love it. Pity I missed out on the opportunity to see that world when the Korean job was stopped.

One of the women in the team, an accountant I think, is back in the states now. They refuse to let her go onto another project as she’s too good at her current job. They dropped her into Afghanistan for eight years as operations manager. There was a 100 man camp as well as the office with a revolving door. She ran that place to perfection.

Back in the day a few of them were working on a plan for upgrading a city. Of course you can’t just kick people out, do the job, and let them back in. They worked out a rolling upgrade scenario with two cruise ships docked for camps. They pitched the plan, negotiated, then signed the contract. Next day their company was gobbled up by URS and the contract was undone. The risk profile didn’t fit their ideals. Madness for a multiple million dollars profit gig.
The 275 people ready to land in and get started would not have been happy. I wouldn’t at least.  Interestingly AECOM ended up doing the job.

This all started with us talking about moving and things. I mentioned my six months in a box and it’s gone policy. Pat has a library of documents from old jobs. He keeps it so that it doesn’t magically disappear.
The old offices of Washington Group had a basement library of past jobs. In the library the full quote for building the Hoover Dam. In the moves around offices those boxes disappeared.  Poof gone. It’s horrible, all the history just gone. It would have been amazing to have months to ferret through the place, read up. If only.
Turns out a number of the old crew have similar libraries so that there will always be records. Someone needs to get in there and scan all those documents.

One day I’ll find the monthly coffee and join in. By which I mean that I’d sit there and listen and likely have to take copious notes so I could write down their stories. That would be amazing. I wonder if URS would pay for me to spend my time visiting all the company founders and write their stories? I promise to stop after two months if they hate it. 🙂

In other news. Today Mark finally sent me a job and called to explain. I am no longer contemplating walking around the office with a sign saying ‘brain for hire, slightly damp and squishy due to holidays but will whip into shape for work’. I spent the day comparing rent vs buy costs for barges, cranes, and tug boats. It’s going to take a while for me to come to grips with the imperial measures. Reminds me of West Gate Bridge, though this will be all feet not portions of inches.


Another day another story from Pat.  He’s got two youtubes to show me.  One is a mountain lion in Colorado, about 15km from Denver.  He was standing at the family room window trying to meet the family cats, the Dad is hilarious The second is a bear in Yellowstone.  This sparked the story and he forgot to show me the you tubes.  I went hunting for the above, totally fits the description and is hilarious.

To the story:  On his honeymoon with Fasuki (spelling?) they went to Yellowstone.  He took his son and their dog as well – family holiday time!  They were in the park and a couple of tour busses had stopped and everyone was getting out.  There was a bear about 10m off the road.  They stopped too and got out, Pat and son stayed right by the car with open doors. Fasuki joined the tourists as they were pushing forward to get as close as possible for the photos.  The Rangers asked everyone to step back, but they didn’t, so Pat grabbed Fasuki and carried her back to the car.  Of course she objected, strongly, but when the Ranger says “Everyone back away slowly, don’t run”, you do it as fast as ‘slowly’ can be.


I am so glad that Pat is back. I don’t get any extra work but I think he’s almost as bored as me so he gets some good chats and stories going. Steve is also back and the two of them bounce off each other.

So the feature project for today was one in Egypt. A six year series of sixty jobs done on purchase orders. The sorts of jobs they did ranged from rebuilding and fitting buildings to new facilities. It seems the last man standing is doing the project summary report and asked Pat for his input.

The Egyptians were wondering why the tyres on the planes burst every time they landed. At $30k each that’s not cheap to swap out all the time. Turns out no one had walked the runway, there were settlement cracks all over the place. I guess it was too hot to walk outside. So the next job was to rip up the runway and start again.

Another incident was retrofitting a building. They removed the plaster and found holes all through the concrete walls etc. The Russian built buildings didn’t have a decent concrete for any of the walls, it had stopped up against the rebar but otherwise no concrete. Not being allowed to rip out the building, they systematically repaired the lot.

There were stories about guns, legally procured and transported though it took twelve months to work out how; and extortion that was conceptually arranged but with no one willing to go to jail there is still a significant outstanding bill. But the best is the revolution.

At the time Egypt was a very stable place. There were no indications that the shit was about to hit the fan. When it did they weren’t really prepared. Two people permanently evacuated; the business manager left the money in the safe, twice; Pats daughter had the heeby jeebys,  but who wouldn’t when bullets are flying around your home; and a whole new list of lessons learnt were written down. Hell, even getting flights out needed a ticket and amounts of cash that most of them didn’t carry daily. All communications went down, when they came back up it was just landlines but there was no master list of landlines, they’d relied so heavily on mobiles. In a trip to the office to get various über valuables they came face to face with a tank. I couldn’t imagine the oh shit from that, but they turned at the next intersection and kept on their way. It would have been scary times but Pats point is that if there is a bullet with your name on it there’s no dodging it.

Steve’s Iraq experience was a little less eye-opening by the sound of it. They all knew the area was in turmoil so all those sorts of precautions were in place. One of their ongoing concerns was water. Each person would always have at least half a pallet of water. You never know when the supply lines may be cut. He also always had a supply of Johnny Walker on hand. Army camps were dry so it was the best currency.

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