Written by Jamey Douglass
I was born in Modesto, California back in 1958. As a child up to the age of 8, we lived in Daly City, Concord, and Walnut Creek, CA. As a young boy, one of my favorite toys was what I called a “scoop diggy tractor.” The was a large Tonka toy that was a tracked tractor with a front-end loader, and a backhoe. Was I predestined to actually get to operate the real machine as an adult?
Dad worked for Aetna Life & Casualty, in 1966, he was transferred to Des Moines, Iowa. We lived in a suburb of Des Moines, known as Urbandale. In 1968, Des Moines had the worst snowstorm in 500 years. The snowplows got stuck going after other snowplows. The decision was made to move to Texas.
The family moved to Houston. I think we lived in a motel north of I45 and Loop 610 for a month before settling down in a subdivision located between Spring-Tomball-Klein. I graduated from Klein High School in 1976. Most of my friends were headed to college, and several of my close friends were headed to Texas A&M University.
I started TAMU as a Biology major, but after my first semester transferred to the Agronomy Department. At the time there were four degree plans; Business, Turfgrass, Science, and Soil and Water Conservation. I think I was in each one at some point. On campus, I was a student worker for Dr. Kirk Brown, Soil Physics. I worked in the lab, and during two summers, worked in the field. Dr. Brown had the most student workers and grad students in the Department. One of his major projects had to do with Strip Mine reclamation. My senior year, TAMU offered some courses in Strip Mine Engineering, and I took two semesters.
Graduation came and went, what was I going to do? My student Advisor, Mr. Frank Mills told me about a job south of Houston. So back to Spring where my parents lived. I called about the job, but it had been filled. So I checked the Want Ads in the Houston Chronicle newspaper, there was a position for ATEC Associates for a Lab Director. I called, and the following week went to an interview. A week later I was offered the job. Goodbye College Station, hello Spring, TX!
ATEC Associates was a geotechnical engineering firm, that employed engineers, a concrete section (called the Coneheads), and drilling section, and a soils lab. My first day on the job was at a worksite with our drilling rig. The predecessor to the US Army’s M113 APC, was the frame for our drilling rig. The driller was on his last day, and safety was out the window. My wrists were sore for a week because my job was to screw the 20-foot sections of drill pipe together. Our rig used a hollow-stem auger, and would sample the soil at specified depths using a split spoon sampler with 140 pound weight, or a Shelby tube. Samples were collected, placed into a core box, and then specific engineering tests were run in the lab. When my boss found out that I could perform particle-size analysis, he was happy. We charged the client for every test we conducted, including PSA, moisture, Atteberg limits, specific gravity, etc.
Our company had all kinds of projects including dam work at a Girl Scout camp near Conroe, building sites near downtown Houston, a home expansion in River Oaks, shopping centers near Katy, etc. Near IH10 and TX Hwy 6, north side of IH10, we did preliminary work for a water tower. The soils were wet and the muddy conditions sucked off my work boots. Nothing like muddy socks and wet boots all day. Another project was a Taco Bell site in College Station.
During my stay at ATEC, I began getting paperwork from the USDA Soil Conservation Service (SCS) on work locations, need for a physical, and background checks. Pretty soon a major decision had to be made. Start work with the USDA SCS or stay at ATEC. My salary at ATEC was close to $20K, I had my office, a company vehicle, insurance, and a relatively short commute to work. Or, I could start with the SCS, take a pay cut (GS-5 Step 1, $12584 per yr), and the first move came from my pocket. Mom and Dad did not help with this decision. So this began my Soil Scientist career, at Mt. Pleasant, TX in 1981.
So just to summarize my duty stations; Mt. Pleasant (~2.25 yrs), LaGrange (~7.5 yrs), Mason (~2.5 yrs), Columbus (~2.5 yrs), Victoria (~7.5 yrs), State Office (~16 yrs.) Mike Risinger called me about a position on the MO9 Staff for a Technical Editor. He gave me one day to give him an answer. That decision allowed me to relocate to Temple. I worked on manuscripts for about five years. I actually worked on manuscripts while in Victoria as a GS-9, my first being Guadalupe County, New Mexico. This was one of Ken Scheffe’s projects. After I worked myself out of a job, Levi Steptoe, Jr. wanted me to start as a Correlator. Welcome to NASIS and all its wonderful attributes.
During my career with SCS/NRCS, I participated in several details; Tongass National Forest in southeast Alaska, Big Stone County in western Minnesota, Hockley and Terry Counties, Carson County, Jasper-Newton Counties, Colorado County, Duval County, Zapata County, Kenedy-Kleberg Counties, western Harris County during 2001, and Presidio County. I was one of the Million-Acre mappers. I developed and later edited a bunch of Official Series Descriptions. I assisted with the development of interpretations for wildlife.
In 2019, the wheels were falling off the wagon for the MO’s. I had a chance to transfer to the State Soil Scientist section, so I put my name in the hat. I was selected to serve under Alan Stahnke. I ended up assisting Micki Yoder with Natural Resources Inventory (NRI). Micki Yoder retired in January 2020. I was bummed, now I would be doing NRI by myself. We were a team, Now I was the team. In July, I was working in Llano County. It was hot, the soil was Keese cosl (coarse sandy loam), 1-5% slopes. The ecosite was Shallow Granite. I wondered why this 62 yr old man was doing the work of a 30-40 yr old employee. This is when I decided it was time to retire.
I retired in October of 2020. I was interested in becoming an Earth Team volunteer on Alan’s staff. However, with the pandemic going on, this just fizzled away. I began developing interest in giving back my soils knowledge, it would seem to be a waste to let 39 years as a soil scientist to just stop. So this past year, I began my coursework to become a Certified Master Naturalist through the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. I volunteer at local State Parks, USACOE parks, workdays around Temple and Belton. I still get to share my soils and interpretations knowledge and assist with Web Soil Survey.
Regarding PSSAT, I am a Charter member. I have served as Treasurer, Editor, and President-Elect, and served on several committees. I have a collection of past newsletters, photos, and other info pertaining to our organization. The people make the memories, the stories, the life experiences.
Everywhere I go, I wonder about what soil was mapped, what ecological site, what plant is there. I do not think my NRI and Soil training will ever go away. As my first Supervisor Kirthell Roberts would say, “I am sought in my ways.”
Written by Jamey Douglass