A Father and Son Journey

 Note: I wrote this in 2005 about a year before my dad passed away.  

My dad, retired civil engineer Art Brandow (82), loves to visit achievements in engineering.  Natural scenic beauty is more my thing, but I really enjoy helping dad travel, something he can no longer do on his own.  Last October we made a father-son trip that combined nature’s beauty and engineering wonders. 

Art Brandow (82) and son Clay (53) at Norris Dam, TN. 2004.

Our week-long father and son trip to Tennessee started in Nashville with a 3-day reunion of dad’s WWII outfit, the 285th Engineering Combat Battalion. 

WWII - 285th Combat Engineers reunion, Nashville, TN. 2004.

Their unit was thrown into the breach at the Battle Bulge two-days before Christmas 1944 and then fought with General George S. Patton’s Third Army into and across Germany.  Great stories. 

Naturally, many of the stories I’ve heard before. But the collective re-telling of these stories by the Vets who shared these experiences as very young men six decades ago brings them back to life. Like the story of a near fatal attraction.  Dad volunteered to swim across a river to tie-off a lead rope to begin the construction of new temporary bridge for the advancing allied armies.  Upon arriving on the far-shore, dad looked upslope and found the hillside strewn with U.S. military-issue money. But he stuck to his duties, and he and his fellow combat engineers completed the bridge.  Luckily, before anyone wandered upslope to pick up the cash, someone noticed that the paper money had been strewn across a mine field.  What a terrible initiation to the tricks of a retreating army that could have been? 

Other stories were new to me. Like the one dad told me in private one evening about being hailed by a woman, perhaps a war-widow, living on a river barge.  She asked the young soldier if he could find her a loaf of bread?  He was able to oblige, and the grateful women surprised the youth with another form of initiation.  I’ll leave it at that. 

After the reunion, we rented a car and traveled east across Tennessee, visiting friends at Tennessee Tech and touring the scenic sites, including Fall Creek Falls State Park. 

Crossing supension bridge over Fall Creek, TN. 2004

In Knoxville, we visited the University of Tennessee, where the Army had sent Dad for wartime training and where he met a girl he remembers fondly. But then his unit was formed-up and later sent to Europe.

 We took a side-trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.   At a scenic overlook at the North Carolina stateline, dad, always looking for the next place to sit down, sat down between two young women taking a lunch break from backpacking the Appalachian Trail. 

Dad joins Appalachian Trail backpakers taking a lunch, Great Smokey Mountains National Park. 2004

Dad and the ladies had a grand old conversation, and he might have wandered-off down the trail with them had he been able.  I hadn’t seen the old man so enthusiastic about hiking in some time, proving at 82 he is not yet completely immune to the virtues scenic beauty.

 But Dad really lit-up when we topped-off the trip with visits to two grand engineering achievements, the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Norris Dam completed in 1936 and the nearby Cumberland Gap Tunnel completed in 1996, which links Tennessee to Kentucky via four-lane highway.   Norris Dam put thousands of desperate people to work in 1933 during the depths of the Depression and later helped win World War II by producing abundant hydropower for Oak Ridge and other war-related facilities just downstream.

Fall Creek, TN. 2004

The Cumberland Gap Tunnel created a more scenically beautiful Cumberland Gap National Historic National Park by putting the ridge portion of the Interstate Highway underground.  Funny how love, life, engineering and scenic beauty are all connected in a way.

Posted in BEST of COLORFUL CLAY, Hydrology, Veterans, Water | Tagged , , , , , | 15 Comments

My adopted hometown Davis, CA. is doing well.

Clay with new BikeMy adopted hometown Davis, CA. (population 65,000) is doing well post-dip. The 5,000 acre UC Davis campus is officially outside the city limits, but it’s been growing fast in size (now 34,000 students) and in prestige (now an “Ivy League” public university).  UC Davis is engine of our economy:

  • Generating direct employment at many levels from janitors, to skilled trades, to professors and administrators,
  • Providing lots of young customers for the shops, bars, banks and restaurants, and
  • Spinning-off a number of new tech businesses in rapidly expanding areas like robotics and genetics.

Unfortunately we have not planned enough research/industrial space to retain all these start-ups as they grow. So when they need more space they often move to nearby towns like Vacaville, Woodland or West Sacramento. A lot of the employees stay here and commute, even though housing is more expensive, in large part because Davis public schools have a great reputation.

Me, well I’m a hydrologist who graduated UC Davis 40-years ago, back when the university was about a third its current size, much cheaper and far less prestigious. Fact is that they probably wouldn’t admit me today if I were applying just out of high school. I’m certain I could no longer work my way through college without acquiring debt. I’m about to retire from the State of California and start enjoying life as a retiree in college town. Fortunately our home in Davis is paid for, because we probably couldn’t afford to buy it today.

I’m pretty sure our local economy would look different to me if we were just starting out, again.  But then again the economic opportunities of today for young with the right education, skills and motivation are staggering compared to the mid-1970’s.DSC02593

 

Posted in Business, California, Davis, Economy, Retirement, UC Davis | 6 Comments

UC Davis / Wilderness Love Story

Note: Brooke and I met forty (40) years ago this week on 10/10/1974. 

 

Ms. Stephanie Towne, class of 2011, a writer and publications assistant with the Cal Aggie Alumni Association asked me the following three questions for a project she is working on with the working title “UC Davis Love Story.” I was surprised at how much her three simple questions got me to think about events in my life which took place 40 years ago and literally changed my life.

1) How did you and Brooke meet? Was it “love at first sight?”

Fascination at first sight, I couldn’t take my eyes off her.

For the second year running I had been attending UC Davis for six months and then working for the US Forest Service up in the mountains for six months. Back then I could pay for six months school with six months work with overtime. Only downside was that I got pretty lonely out there in the woods, so I was always happy to get back to Davis and my friends at Baggins End. A lady friend of mine, Anne, decided to invite to me dinner as a little homecoming to the Domes. But she knew I had been out in the wilds for a good long while, and she was worried about what might happen. Her solution was to invite a new friend, a very cute free-spirit, named Brooke, who had just moved into the Domes. Brooke joined us for dinner as a sort of a chaperon, unbeknownst to me.

Well, I fell for the chaperon like a ton of bricks. However, I felt a little guilty, because she was just 20 and I was nearly 23. We hesitated a bit. We kept up appearances that evening at dinner. Brooke was certainly on my mind all that night. And as silly as it sounds now, I did have these nagging second thoughts that I might be robbing the cradle. I was conflicted.

The next evening at twilight, I was sitting on a log between Dome 8 and Dome 9 enjoying a campfire. I remember thinking what a nice night it was and that the stars were about to come out. I reflected a bit on the outdoor pleasures of my summer life in the mountains and about my return to UC Davis, when out of the dusky light and into the glow of the wood fire stepped Brooke in a beautiful peasant blouse. She just stood there and smiled at me. Well to paraphrase the Doors – “The time to hesitate (was) through.”

Those of you who were around in the in late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s will know the rest of the lyrics to that song. Those who didn’t…… use your imaginations…… or more likely you’ll Google it.

2) How did your relationship progress after the initial meeting? Did you begin dating immediately, or were you friends for a while?

I guess our kids are old enough to hear this now (26 & 30), but I would say first we became lovers and then we became friends. As for dates, we were both starving students. “Dates” were pretty causal and thrifty affairs such as, walks, bike rides, gardening, picking fruit, and an occasional movie on campus or trip to town for ice cream. Four nights a week Brooke, Anne, myself and my dome-mate, Bill, had a little dinner club. Each of us cooked one night a week for the four of us. Bill was from Mississippi, so once a week we’d have greens, red beans & rice, and fried chicken. Brooke, on the other hand, cooked something new every time. This is when I learned Brooke was a great and adventurous cook.

In June, I graduated and went off to work for the Forest Service again, this time as a backcountry ranger in the Emigrant Wilderness just north of Yosemite. Brooke got a summer job with the Viticulture and Enology Departments at UC Davis. We wrote long letters to each other. (This was in days before email, Face Book and Twitter, etc.) Brooke baked me cookies and mailed them to me, so I’d get them when I got back from each of my ten-day tours of duty. Funny how quickly my co-workers figured this out. They would all gather around me like bears at picnic when I got back to the station in Pinecrest and received my mail.

Once, Brooke even backpacked out to meet me on the trail and brought me fresh grapes. (I have pictures.) When a beautiful woman will walk 15 or 20 miles into the wilderness to feed you fresh grapes, you’ve got to think this is the start of a beautiful and lasting relationship. Either that or “How did I get so damn lucky?”

3) When did you know that you wanted to marry Brooke? How did you propose to her?

Despite all, I was perhaps a reluctant groom. I loved Brooke deeply, but I was uncertain about marriage at 25. Like many young men I thought that might be something for the future, but we had all the time in world.

Brooke graduated in March of 1977. She moved up to Tuolumne County were I was working and found a job supervising a Youth Conservation Corp (YCC) crew. We found a house with some co-workers and moved in together. Later Brooke got a job with the Tuolumne County Ag Commissioner/County Weights and Measures and I got a job with Tuolumne County Planning. We found a place to live for just the two us. Life was good. We were having lots of fun. I thought life would go on like this for a long time to come. Then in December my mom had her first heart attack at age 48. Mom survived, but it was wake up call to me that life was shorter then I thought.

Brooke and I talked it over that spring and decided we’d like to get married in the summer. It was actually more romantic then it sounds. We told our mother’s on Mother’s Day that we planned to be married. We were married July 15, 1978 and have been together ever since. Forty years later we are still happy, still in love, and I’m so glad we married.

Posted in BEST of COLORFUL CLAY, Domes, UC Davis | Tagged , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Homer and the Change Can

Plink, plank, plunk … the nuts, bolts, washers and screws all made different sounds as Homer dropped an armload of stuff on the hardware store checkout counter.

“That’s quite a selection of stuff you got there, Homer,” said Jennifer the helpful hardware lady.

“Yep, got a big project going at home. You know, it pays to save energy,” Homer replied.

“That’s right,” said Jennifer as she rang up Homer’s purchases. “Now let’s see, that will be a hundred dollars even for all this stuff, plus eight and a half dollars sales tax.”

“Geez, I thought sales tax was 8 percent. Shouldn’t it be eight dollars tax?” asked Homer.

“Nah, the city’s got some extra expenses, so they tacked on an extra four-bits to every hundred dollars you spend in Davis,” Jennifer explained sympathetically.

“What kind of new expenses?” Homer frowned.

“Well, the latest is the upkeep on a new tank that the Police Department got for free from the military. It’s not really a tank. It’s got tires instead of tracks, but you probably can’t get those tires at any tire shop here in town. Not sure how they’re going to maintain it. But it’s bound to be expensive,” Jennifer volunteered, trying to be helpful.

“Why would the cops need a tank?” Homer asked.

“To quell civil unrest, I guess,” Jennifer volunteered.

“You mean like when citizens march in the streets to protest ever higher taxes and fees?”

“Yeah, I guess. No telling what the city might do next to set off a revolt. So you want a couple of bags for all this stuff, Homer?”

“Sure, I guess I’d better. I forgot my canvas bags today, and this is a lot of loose parts.”

“OK, that will be twenty cents for the bags.”

“What!?”

“Oh, don’t worry about it, Homer. See that change tray on the counter. Pick up a couple of dimes and put them in the can labeled ‘Deposit money for bags here.’ It’s next to the change tray. I can’t give you two bags, but I can give you two dimes. It’s just part of our helpful hardware service.”

“So Jennifer, what do you do when the can gets full?”

“Oh, I just empty the can back into change tray for my customers who occasionally forget their bags. It’s a little game I play with our City Council. They keep trying to make Davis a less attractive place to shop. I keep coming up with workarounds.”

“Guess you’ll be playing that game with the state Legislature next,” Homer contributed.

“Same dance, different fiddler,” Jennifer sighed wearily. “Say Homer, what are you building with all this stuff? Not an IED, I hope. You’re not going off the deep end are you, Homer?”

“Nah, you know me Jennifer. I’m a ‘go-along/get-along’ kind of guy — just another spectator enjoying the human comedy that is our fair city.

“You really wanna know? I’m building a photovoltaic array to run the beer refrigerator in my garage. I find self-medicating with a couple of cold ones in the evening helps me see the humorous side of life. Besides I hear that drinking beer may soon become cheaper than drinking Davis water. Yah know, you just have to guard against over-self-medication.”

“Just one thing Homer, you know solar doesn’t work when it’s dark. How are you going to keep your beer cold at night?”

“Oh Jennifer, that’s the best part. It’s never dark in my neighborhood. I have one of those newly installed LED street lights in front of my house. It’s now bright as day 24/7. In fact, I’m building my solar array right under the new LED street light. Should keep the beer nice cold all night long.

“Plus, get this, I’m building it to look like something I saw at Burning Man, so the city is giving me a public arts grant for ten grand.”

“You certainly are clever, Homer. See you next time. Bring your bags.”

— Clay Brandow is a hydrologist who happens to like the new LED street light in front of his home. He has promised his wife and two grown daughters that he will not become a curmudgeon in retirement.

Posted in BEST of COLORFUL CLAY, Humor, UC Davis | 4 Comments

Munn’s the One to fix Davis’ Budget Mess

John & Shelley Munn at Caspar Creek

John & Shelley Munn at Caspar Creek

If you want one steady, reliable voice for fiscal responsibility on the City Council, join me in voting for John Munn for Davis City Council. John will focus the Council’s attention on good government and living within our means. John will guard against costly studies of dubious merit and unnecessary city ordinances.

I worked with John professionally for more than a decade in the fields of environmental protection and resource conservation. John has good judgment, is hard-working, is always prepared and is incredibly honest.

John is the kind of person we need on the City Council to: 1) sustain and improve the good life we enjoy in Davis, 2) to keep life affordable in Davis, particularly for young families with children and people on fixed incomes, and 3) to navigate our way out of the financial mess we are now in.

For a sustainable and affordable Davis, join me in voting for John Munn for Davis City Council by sending in your “Vote-By-Mail” ballot (no time like the present) or by going to the polls on June 3rd. You’ll be glad you did.

Clay Brandow
Davis, California

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Winter Olympics 1960 Squaw Valley Trivia

Crow's Nest near Donner Pass in the Sierra Nevada. Snowmelt here flows to the Pacific Ocean and just to the east of here flows to the Great Basin.

Crow’s Nest near Donner Pass in the Sierra Nevada. Snowmelt here flows to the Pacific Ocean and just to the east of here flows to the Great Basin.

Hope you are enjoying the Winter Olympics from Sochi, Russia. Are you old enough to remember the 1960 Winter Olympics from Squaw Valley, USA?  I was eight years old, but thanks to my Dad I was already an avid skiing fan.  My grandpa had made me a pair of wooden skis.  In February 1960, I was glued to our black & white TV to watch the Winter Olympics coverage on CBS with Jim McKay (1921-2008) only to be replaced by Walter Cronkite (1916-2009).

A short book “Snowball’s Chance: The Story of the 1960 Olympic Winter Games, Squaw Valley and Lake Tahoe”  was authored by David C. Antonucci with photos by Briner.  Here are some 1960 Squaw Valley Winter Olympics trivia questions for your amusement:

1)      Where was the Bobsled Run located at 1960 Games? (Hint: Trick question.)

2)      Who installed more than 3 million feet of communications cables to support the games and the first Olympics with electronic timing linked to a room-sized IBM RAMAC 305 computer?  (Hint:  The same outfit took over what is now the UC Davis campus during WWII for training.)

3)      Squaw Valley was the first Winter Olympics to use ice resurfacing machines (3) built to produce Olympic ice surfaces to specifications.  What was “z” inventor’s name?

4)      What innovative design-feature of the award-winning Blyth (Ice) Arena allowed the roof to have a 300-foot roof span (with no interior posts) in region known for heavy snow-loads?  (Hint:  After 25-years this design-feature was compromised and the Blythe Arena collapsed during the exceptionally cold and heavy winter of 1982-83. Importantly, the ice- making machinery had been turned off.)

5)      Alex Cushing (1914-2006) read something in his morning paper in 1954 which inspired his bid for the 1960 Winter Olympics at his fledgling ski resort, Squaw Valley.    What he did read in the paper?   (Hint:  You may have ready something similar in your paper the last couple of years.)

6)      What other more established venue did Squaw Valley beat-out 32- to 30 when the IOC took their final vote (circa 1955) on a venue for the 1960 Winter Olympic Games?  (Hint:  The Austrians were stunned!)

Leave me a message if you’d like the answers.

Posted in Hydrology, UC Davis | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Remembering Nelson Mandela

The “Remembering Nelson Mandela” event at International House on January 24th hosted by our fellow Rotarian Natalie Minya was a huge success. I have never seen that many people packed into the big room at I-House. Brooke and I joined- in, as did Keith Wattenpaugh and family. We enjoyed African music and song, talks on Mandela and his Rainbow Nation (aka South Africa), and a ceremony honoring the elders among us, and a delicious African- themed Potluck. Keith honored me as an elder, which was nice, but just for the record I’d like to be considered a rather youngish-elder at this stage of my life.

After the kids went home or into the other room to watch children’s movie, about a third of the folks stayed to watch the movie SARAFINA with excellent South African cast and also featuring Whoopi Goldenberg in a supporting role. The movie was necessarily quite violent at times portraying the dark days of Apartheid. But the film begins and ends with an up-lifting message from the central character, Sarafina, a young, black South African women coming of age at a horrendous time in her country. Sarafina’s epiphany is “I will not let you make me hate you. I will not allow a desire for revenge to consume me.” Or in Nelson Mandela’s words “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”

I have come to understand that Mandela’s power and effectiveness in transitioning a nation came in the end not from his ability to fight, but in his ability to forgive. The ability not to forget but to forgive unspeakable transgressions and to encourage a nation of one’s countrymen do the same is what in my eyes puts Mandela on a par with the great leaders of our country such as Washington and Lincoln. I’m glad I attended this event to honor this great man, and by his own admission not a saint, Nelson Mandela.

Posted in Rotary | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

What’s in your wallet?

Did you hear about the recent bank heist in Davis where the bandit was refused service because the plastic bags he brought to carry away the loot were not the re-useable type? The frustrated robber argued that Nugget plastic grocery bags were obviously re-usable, since he was putting them to a secondary use, namely crime. Further, he pointed out that the nylon stocking (with the run in it) that he was wearing over his head to disguise his identity was recycled and re-purposed from his wife’s collection of locally-purchased and now discarded stockings. At which point, the nonplussed bank clerk told the failed-felon to go home and get some rest, and reminded him he had a late-night Natural Resources Commission meeting ahead of him that evening. As the would-be thief skulked away, the helpful clerk suggested, “Next time you have a short-term cash flow problem, please use the ‘plastic’ in your wallet.” — Happy Epiphany from yours truly, Colorful Clay.

Posted in BEST of COLORFUL CLAY, Humor | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment