Friday, September 13, 2013



By George Fitch

A civil engineer is a quiet man with a thick coat of sunburn, who spends his time revising climates, editing the landscape, and training up rivers into lives of usefulness.

In order to do this the civil engineer does not tear the earth wide open with 100-ton spades or perform other feats of strength. He is usually of ordinary size and if he only used his own hands he could not push around a small creek, let alone a river. The civil engineer does not rely on muscle. When he desires to move a mountain or wipe out a few hundred square miles of desert with a dam, he takes his logarithm book and retires to a quite spot where he fills an acre of brown paper full of figures. At the end of six months he emerges with a tired air and a carload of blueprints and motions to the steam-shovels to come on up and get busy.

The civil engineer is not generally known. This is because he cannot often be found on the street corners or in the clubs or in the act of decorating grand opera with a vast white shirt front. He usually lives in the wilderness in hip boots and a last week's shave. After the ordinary man has lived in a wilderness for a few years his mother wouldn't know him. But after an engineer has lived in a wilderness the same length of time its mother wouldn't know it. The engineer is continually editing and revising nature, rearranging mountains, and making rivers back up and go the other way. He is as restless and unsatisfied with the way things look as the woman who always rearranges the parlor furniture while her husband is away so that he may fall over it when he comes home in the dark and receive a pleasant surprise.

The civil engineer has hung railroads on mountain sides, run tunnels under city streets, made oceans shake hands, harnessed up Niagara Falls, made parks out of the western deserts, and has put a reverse gear in the Chicago River. Some day he will begin experimenting with the earth's orbit and we may yet have Christmas at the Fourth of July and a weekly comet service to Mars-who knows? Logarithms and a square jaw working harmoniously can do almost anything.

Source: Quarterly Bulletin, Bureau of Public Works Manila 1915

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