Bob Bose And The Grand Coulee DamThursday, April 20, 2006
I always wanted to be an engineer until I stumbled over the difference between capacitance and inductance. But I have not lost my interest in engineering. One of my favourite authors is Henry Petroski, whose book To Engineer is Human - The Role of Failure in Successful Design led me to read anything he publishes. Another fave of mine is L. Sprague de Camp's The Ancient Engineers. It was in this book that I found out that Sennacherib (705-681 BC), the Assyrian engineer/king, set up the first no parking signs (for chariots) in Nineveh. They read: Royal Road. Let No Man Lesten It.
In the mid 30s an organization called Technocracy started in the US with the idea that engineers in governing position would make the world a better one. The folks at General Electric used to advertise, Progress is our most important product. Somewhere along the line these engineers became linked with fascism and its obsession with order. The only thing good that people ever said about Mussolini is that the trains ran on time. Later on, Alcoa, General Electric and General Motors all somehow failed to make our world a better one.
But I still had hope, and in particular in 1988, when I photographed Bob Bose for his campaign (with backing from the NDP) for mayor of Surrey, BC. He was a pragmatic and intelligent man who happened to be a chemical engineer. He was also skilled in the use of a 4x5 inch camera. When I photographed him, with his chain of office, in the Surrey City Hall I was hoping that the much vaunted order of the engineer would produce results. He was against the mall development of Surrey and that cost him his job in the end.
In 2002 I had to go to Spokane, Washington to a hosta convention. When I realized that the Grand Coulee dam was not too far out of the way I made a detour. The whole site made me think of the excitement of a past era that believed in engineering and the wonders of harnessing nature's power.
To Engineer is Human