By Ron Munden

It has been over 50 years since I moved to California and almost 20 years since I returned to Texas.  Maybe it is because I am getting older or just because I am bored but for some reason memories of those first few years in the San Francisco Bay Area keep popping into my mind with increasing frequency.

Recently I decided to capture these memories so I can at least use them as content on my websites and  I am recording them as they flash into my memory so this will not be a chronological record of that period.  I will try to provide the general timeframe when the evens occurred.

I will start by story by describing how I ended up in California.  That was never part of my master plan but I definitely had a master plan.

By 1966 I had worked for Marshall architect George Rodgers for about 5 years.  I went to work for him when I was in the 11th grade.  My first job was holding one end of a tape measure when George had to develop set as-built drawing for house so going to renovate.  Over the next couple of years, I learned a lot and was given increased responsibility.   Prior to this job I had worked in my father’s body shop for about 9 years. I hated that work, but I loved the work I did for George.  George paid me when I was doing production work — he also sent time teaching me some drafting techniques between production work.  My father never wanted me to be a bodyman. That’s the reason he put me to work in the shop when I was 9 years old.  He often told me that if I did not get an education, I was going spend my whole life working in that shop. He encouraged me to lean drafting. He helped me build a small drafting table. Most nights I worked on that drafting table improving I techniques.  The summer after my freshman year in college Mr. Rodgers hired me as a full-time draftsman for the summer.  It was a dream job for me.

After spending 3 1/2 year at Austin College playing football and studying liberal arts, I transferred to UT Austin.  George encouraged me to get my degree in Architectural Engineering.  It did not take much encouragement.  That is exactly what I wanted to do.  By 1965 George and I agreed I should graduate with an engineering degree, get my PE license and come back to Marshall and go into partnership with him.  I though my future was set.

But things were about to change …

During the first semester of my senior year at Texas I got cold feet.  By this time, I was married.  I begin to worry about my wife being too literal for Marshall and was concerned she would not fit-in in Marshall.  I was very concerned that this could impact George’s business.

It was at his point I wrote the hardest letter that I have ever written.  I wrote George a letter and told him I had decided it would be unwise for me to returning to Marshall – our plan was not feasible.  It was a difficult decision but in retrospect it was one of I best decisions I never made.  

So, going into by last semester at UT, I have no idea what I wanted to do. I did what so many students that don’t have a plan do — I decided to go to graduate school at Texas.  So, the Spring semester I dual enrolled and took my first graduate course.

Since by this point, I had been in college for 6 years I had a light load my final semester.  I had never traveled so I decided to travel this semester.  In 1967 engineers were in demand.  If you interviewed a company, there was a good chance they would offer you a plant trip.  So, I interviewed not based on what type of work the company did but where it was located.  I interviewed 14 companies and got 13 job offers.  Almost all were a potential trip.

One day a entered the placement office and noticed that San Francisco Bay Naval Shipyard was going to hold interviews.  I thought, “I don’t have a trip to San Francisco.  I going to interview that company.”

The interview started off poorly.  First, I found out that the shipyard was a government organization. I that always said I would never work for the government.   Then they said that the government did not offer plant trips.  This was almost a show stopper.  A trip was the only reason I was doing this interview.

Then the recruiters said the magic works – “There is a shortage of Naval Architects in the country.  With your grades you can get into Berkeley so if you come to work for the Navy, we will pay you to go to school to get your masters degree in Naval Architecture.”

I left the interview not knowing exactly what a naval architect was but absolutely sure that I wanted to be one.

Three months later, two days after graduation from Texas I was in my car driving to San Francisco.

Within a period for 6 months the plan I had made developed almost 5 years earlier had gone up in smoke.  I was not going to get a degree and return to Marshall as a structural engineer.  I was going the University of California, Berkley if I could find out where it was located.

Sometimes your plans just do not work out.

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