Geotechnical Consulting Board Threadlines of Geotechnical and Engineering Geology firms in the Greater Los Angeles Metro-Southern California Area

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Caltrans Engineers and Geologists who transitioned to the private sector

Many of the State’s most prominent transportation and structural engineers, as well as engineering geologists, have come from the ranks of the Division of Highways, Bay Toll Crossings and their successor agency, Caltrans. One of the most famous personages in pavement and geotechnical engineering was O. James ‘Pappy” Porter (1901-67), profiled below. Other Division of Highways personnel who went onto stellar careers in the private sector include: Ralph A. Tudor (founder Tudor Engineering Co.), Donald R. Warren (founder Donald R. Warren Co.) and Leroy Crandall (founder of Crandall & Associates), Stanley D. Wilson (founder of Shannon & Wilson), Douglas C. Moorhouse (CEO of Woodward Clyde Consultants), Jack Rolston (founder of Foundation Engineering Co.), C. Lee Lowry (founder of Lowry & Associates), Alvin L. Franks (founder of A.L. Franks Engineering), Harry Cedergren (renown seepage expert), Ret Moore and Ray Taber (founders of Moore & Taber), Dick Frankian (founder of R.T. Frankian & Associates), Albert C. Gribaldo (founder of Gribaldo, Jacobs & Jones and Earth Systems Consultants), E. Duane Lyon (CEO of the RMA Group); Jim Kleinfelder (founder of Kleinfelder & Associates), Tom Wallace (founder of Wallace-Kuhl Associates), Ron Carducci (founder of Cal-West Consultants), Gerry Diaz (founder of Diaz-Yourman Associates), Abel Soares (founder Soares Geotechnical), Herb Volin (founder of Diablo Soils Engineers), Douglas J. Kuhl (founder of Wallace Kuhl & Associates), Alan L. Kropp (founder of Kropp & Associates), and Robbie M. Warner, GE (founder of Geo-Logic). Engineering geologists who began their careers at the Division of Highways included Bruce D. McCreary (founder of McCreary-Koretsky Engineers); Jack T. Eagen, CEG (Sr VP at Moore & Taber), Charlie Marek, CEG (pioneering work with hydraugers), James H. Gamble, CEG (Chief Geologist of PG&E), and David G. Heyes, CEG (partner at Geo-Risk Associates).

O.J. Porter & Co. (1942-55); Porter & O’Brien (1952-68); Porter, Urquhart, McCreary & O’Brien (1955-60)

O.J. Porter & Co. was founded by Omer James “Pappy” Porter (1901-67) of the California Division of Highways in Sacramento, in 1942. Porter was born in Mt. Pleasant, Utah on November 28, 1901, a third generation Mormon. He attended Alberta Agricultural College in Olds, then transferred to the University of Alberta, receiving his BSCE degree in 1924. He took a part-time position with the California Division of Highways in 1924, mixing and testing concrete specimens in Sacramento. The quality of his work and his enthusiasm for tinkering soon landed him a full-time position in the fledgling Transportation Laboratory.

Porter went onto to serve as Associate Physical Testing Engineer, then as Staff Materials and Research Engineer in the Materials & Research Department of the State Division of Highways in Sacramento, under the direction of Materials & Research Engineer Thomas E. Stanton, Jr., PE (BSCE 1904 Berkeley). Their collaboration was one of the most prolific in pavement design and geotechnical engineering.

Between 1927-30 Porter developed the California Bearing Ratio (CBR) and soil swell tests, building on his relative compaction test (see below). The CBR test measured penetration of compacted soil to evaluate the relative stiffness of pavement subgrades and base courses, by comparing the penetration resistance of these materials with that of crushed limestone. The stated intent of the CBR test was to evaluate the load bearing capacity of the pavement subgrade.

In 1928-29 Porter also developed the nation’s first compaction test procedure for the Division of Highways, a simple device and scheme that measured a soil’s wet unit density and determined the optimum moisture content, using a very similar scheme to the one made famous by Ralph Proctor in 1933. Known as the “California impact compaction test,” or the “relative compaction test,” it is still used by Caltrans as California Test Method 216 (described in T.E. Stanton, 1938, Highway Soil Studies: Calif Hwys Pub Wks, v14:6 (June), pp. 12-14; and in T.E. Stanton, 1938, Soil Stabilization, Calif Hws Pub Wks, v14:7 (July), pp.12-15).

In the early 1930s Porter also pioneered the use of sand [wick] drains, which were installed on the eastern approaches to the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in 1933-35, along with standpipe piezometers to record pore pressure induced by the fill surcharge. These are generally considered the first successful employment of wick drains in the United States (see Porter, O.J., 1936, Studies of fill construction over mud flats: Proc. Int’l Conf Soil Mech & Fdn Eng, Cambridge, v. 1:229-235).

Between 1930-47 Porter developed a series of retractable plug piston samplers in an array of sizes, between one and four inches in diameter, and between 1.5 and three feet long. They were initially known as “Porter Type Soil Samplers,” then as “Porter Tube Samplers,” or simply “Porter Samplers.” Competing drive samplers (without retractable plugs) were developed by Moran & Proctor, the Gow Division of Raymond, Sprague & Henwood, Dames & Moore, and Pitcher Drilling Company (see description under “Evolution of Porter Soil Samplers 1930-47”).

In 1942, soon after the United States entered the Second World War, Porter formed his own consulting company, O.J. Porter & Co., specializing in soils, pavement design, and foundation engineering, based in Sacramento. Pappy Porter did a lot of consulting work for the Navy’s Bureau of Yards & Docks and the Army Corps of Engineers (which continued through 1964). He also became the central figure of the Corps of Engineers Airfield Pavement Design Advisory Council, providing advice on a program of extensive pavement tests at the “Stockton Test Track” at Stockton Airfield, south of Sacramento, which led to the development of Flexible Pavement Design Manuals and the Modified Proctor Compaction Test in 1945. Porter was also dispatched by the Army to Guam, Saipan, and Tinian in 1944 to advise the Corps of Engineers on airfield construction for the B-29 Superfortress bombers. In 1946 Porter began submitting patent applications for a number of devices, including a massive 240 ton rubber tired “supercompressor,” intended to increase the insitu density of pavement subgrade for airfields.

In 1947 Porter established an east coast office in Montclair, New Jersey, moving there permanently. The lure was the plethora of settlement problems in the New Jersey Meadows area, where the government was trying to construct the New Jersey Turnpike. In the post-war period Porter employed sand drains and surcharge embankments to allow development of settlement-prone wetlands, similar to the technique he used in the early 1930s.

Around 1949-50 Porter moved the office to Newark, New Jersey, where they provided consulting services on a wide range of projects in the Eastern and Midwestern US. In addition to the original office in Sacramento, branch firms/offices were established in San Francisco and Los Angeles, as well as overseas field offices, mostly associated with defense design and construction contracts. Porter eventually maintained offices in Sacramento, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Montclair, NJ, and later, Newark, NJ, up thru his untimely death, in December 1967. Porter-Urquhart was the firm name used in the Newark-New York City area, from 1950-53. This became Porter, Urquart & Beavin, and later, Porter, Armstrong, Ripa & Associates, which operated in Newark, NJ (from 1962-68) and Sacramento (from mid-1966 to mid-1968).

A separate entity with the same Newark address, named Porter & O’Brien, was incorporated in New Jersey and California in 1952, between Porter and civil engineer Kenneth O’Brien. They offered full architectural-engineering design services for military installations, targeting work with the Army Corps of Engineers and Department of Defense, mostly on overseas airfields (e.g. Morocco). O’Brien then moved to Los Angeles to manage the Los Angeles office of Porter, Urquhart, McCreary & O’Brien in 1952, which became Porter, O’Brien & Armstrong in 1962, and continued operating through early 1968.

The firm name O.J. Porter & Co operated until 1953, when each office became a separate partnership. These sister offices continued operating in Sacramento, San Francisco, and Los Angeles for many years thereafter, using the same addresses. Porter & O’Brien was incorporated in Newark, New Jersey and California in 1952, as a partnership between Porter and civil engineer Kenneth O’Brien. They offered full architectural-engineering design services for military installations, targeting work with the Army Corps of Engineers and Department of Defense, incusing overseas airfields (e.g. Morocco).

After the federal government brought lawsuit against them for work on air forces bases in North Africa, Porter-Urquhart ceased doing business in 1955 and Porter formed a new partnership with geological engineer Bruce McCreary (Stanford ’39) and civil engineer Ken O’Brien to form Porter, Urquhart, McCreary & O’Brien, which operated from offices in Newark, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, primarily design work for transportation projects (the Los Angeles Yellow Pages listed O. J. Porter & Co. as well as Porter & O’Brien at the same address throughout the late 1950s and early 60s). Porter appears to have spent most of his time in Newark, while Ken O’Brien directed the Los Angeles office (from 1952-67), Bruce McCreary the San Francisco office, and Porter’s son James in the Sacramento office. After Bruce McCreary departed in 1960, the San Francisco and Los Angeles’ offices became Porter, O’Brien & Armstrong, while the Sacramento office reverted back to Porter & O’Brien (which had been incorporated in CA in 1952).

The Los Angeles office included engineers Ken O’Brien, PE, Fred Pratley, PE and J. R. Holderman, PE (BSCE ’56 ColoState), between 1957-67. Herbert J. Dix, PE (BSCE ’56; MS ’59 Northwestern) had graduate training in soil mechanics, so he oversaw operation of the firm’s soil mechanics labs in Newport Beach and Reno. He also became Managing Engineer of the firm’s Los Angeles office (1961-65) Their clients included the Department of Defense, the Irvine Ranch Company, the State of California, and Orange County, and their work included airport runway designs (e.g. Orange County Airport, now John Wayne Int’l). Robert E. Beckes was the senior geologist in Los Angeles (he departed to join Boeing-Seattle in 1966), assisted by Walter H. Johnson, throughout the 1960s, when their office was located at 4201 Sunset Blvd. One of the firm’s projects in 1960-61 was surveying possible sites for 150 missile silos and 15 missile control facilities around the United States, mostly at remote sites, for the Air Force Ballistic Systems Division of the Air Force Systems Command. Porter & O’Brien continued operations in Los Angeles until 1968, shortly before/after Pappy Porter died (in December 1967). In 1968 Ken O’Brien started his own firm, Ken O’Brien & Associates, which operated out of Long Beach (R. L. Miller) and Ventura (J. R. Holderman). A successor firm, O’Brien Engineering & Consulting (assumed by son Ken’s son, Dan O’Brien) operated out of Reno for many years thereafter.
Geo-Engineering (1955-56); Moore & Taber, Engineers and Geologists (1956-74); Moore & Taber Geotechnical Engineers & Geologists (1974-90); M&T Agra (1990-onward)

Firm founded by Return F. “Ret” Moore, PE, CEG (1923-2015) and Harmon Ray Taber, PE, CEG (1927-2011). Moore was born in Los Angeles in 1923, but grew up in Long Beach. He was valedictorian of David Starr Jordan High School in 1941, and attended Long Beach City College, graduating in June 1943. In July he enrolled at Caltech in the Navy’s V-12 program, majoring in civil engineering. In the summer of 1944 he was commissioned in the Navy Seabees and assigned to the 17th Naval Construction Battalion in Port Hueneme, which sailed for Sapipan in Sept-Oct 1944. On Saipan, the 17th constructed airstrips. The 17th NCB moved to Okinawa in late June 1945. Moore was discharged from the Navy in June 1946 and re-enrolled at Caltech, where he completed his BSCE in civil engineering in June 1947. He then spent another year and a half working on BS and MS degrees in geology (but never completing his MS thesis). In December 1948 he accepted the first “engineering geologist” position with the Foundation Investigation Section of the State Division of Highways Bridge Department in Sacramento.

Harmon Ray Taber, PE, CEG (1927-2011) (BS Geol ’48 Stanford) was from a pioneer family that ranched the Capay Valley near Esparto. He attended Stanford for about a year on the Navy V-12 program during the Second World War, then deployed to the Pacific. He returned to Stanford and finished his BS in geology in 1948. In 1949-50 he returned again to Stanford to do complete graduate work in civil engineering so he could secure an engineering position with the Division of Highways in Sacramento. In June 1950 he began working in the bridge department. From 1950-55 Moore and Taber developed written procedures to guide bridge engineering studies, which included a thorough engineering geologic examination of all sites, including borings on both upstream and downstream ends of any supporting bent.

In 1955 Ret Moore left the Division of Highways and founded his own firm, named Geo-Engineering. About seven months later he persuaded Ray Taber to join him as a principal. In 1956 they formed Moore & Taber, with Moore as president, and shortly thereafter, Ret Moore opened their office in southern California, while Ray Taber operated the office in Sacramento. Ray was a charter member of the California Association of Engineering Geologists in 1957 and served as AEG President in 1963-64, when the association went national.

The firm’s southern California office was located in Fullerton in 1964, where Moore lived until his death in in 2015. The firm later moved to Anaheim, with branch offices in Bakersfield, Sacramento, Santa Rosa, and San Diego. Ray Taber lived in Davis and worked out of the Sacramento office. In 1974 the company split into two separate firms, Moore & Taber Northern California and Southern California. In 1983 the northern California entity was renamed Taber Consultants.and moved to West Sacramento.

Other key players at the southern California office included Douglas R. Brown, CEG (former LA Co Geologist, who joined the firm in Dec ‘62), Carl Bock, Peter Tresselt, Thomas D. Hays, and Jerry McNey in the 1960s. In the mid-1980s some of the key personnel included Scott Kerwin, CEG, Donald Clark, CEG and Gary Lass, CEG, all out of the Anaheim office. Clark subsequently served as the supervising geologist in their San Diego office. Jack T. Eagen, CEG left the CA Division of Highways in 1962 and worked for Stone Geological Associates before joining Moore & Taber, around 1965. He became Senior Vice President at their office in Anaheim, then out of Woodland Hills in the early 70s. He became a subject matter expert on grouting in the 1970s and 80s. Bob Dickey, CEG took over the reins of the successor firm in southern California, called M&T Agra, in the early 1990s, when the firm was performing a lot of geoenvironmental work.

J. H. Kleinfelder & Associates (1966-85); Kleinfelder West (1985- present)

James H. Kleinfelder, GE received his BSCE degree from U.C. Berkeley in 1954, and worked for the California Division of Highways. He then took a position with the City of Stockton as a staff engineer, and became frustrated with soils and testing firms in Sacramento, who weren’t servicing Stockton in a timely manner. In 1961 Jim and his brother Ed started Stockton Testing & Controls to serve the growing market in San Joaquin County. In 1963 he bought out his brother’s share and established the firm’s first branch office in Merced. Jim also returned to Berkeley to secure a master’s degree in soil mechanics in 1964.

In 1966 he changed the name of the firm to J.H. Kleinfelder & Associates. In 1968 they purchased the assets of Porter, Armstrong & Ripa in Sacramento, and opened up a branch office in Sacramento. The firm was unusual in that they owned and operated their own drilling rigs longer than many other firms. In 1970 they opened a branch office in Fresno, and a fourth office in Walnut Creek in 1971. In 1975 they acquired a local firm in Reno and established another branch office. In 1979 they relocated their corporate headquarters from Stockton to Walnut Creek. Kleinfelder created and implemented strategic plans in the late 1980s that allowed it to expand dramatically over the next two decades, into the Los Angeles and San Diego areas in the 1980s.

In 1982 the firm expanded their operations into southern California, and leveraged all of the firm’s service for the first time on the Squaw Creek Project at North Lake Tahoe, beginning in 1983. During this time (1983-84) Jim Kleinfelder also served as President of ASFE. In 1985 the firm expended its services to include geoenvironmental assessments. In 1985 Kleinfelder West, Inc. assumed ownership of the operations in the western United States (Kleinfelder Central, Kleinfelder Southeast, and Kleinfelder East being established over the next 15 years, overseeing their respective regions of the country). In 1988 Kleinfelder established regional offices in Washington, Arizona, and Utah and acquired Mandeville & Associates of southern California to leverage their services in air quality and solid waste management.

In 1989 Kleinfelder established an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) to transition ownership and enable their employees to share in firm’s financial success. Kleinfelder ended the 1980s with almost 600 employees and $37 million in annual revenues. Bud McRae took over the reins as president in 1989, and became CEO in 1993 when Jim Kleinfelder retired. In 1994 the firm expanded its operations into Mexico and purchased Geospectra from J.P. Singh. By 1996 Kleinfelder had 21 offices in California.

In 1997 Gerald J. Salontai, GE (BSCE ’77 CSPU Pomona; MS ’81 CSULB) became the firm’s new CEO. He joined Kleinfelder in 1981 and witnessed its near meteoric rise to prominence. In 1998 they acquired Lincoln Devore, Inc. with offices in Colorado Springs and Pueblo, Colorado. In 1999 the firm moved its national headquarters to San Diego, with Salontai continuing as President and CEO until 2009. In 1999 they acquired Trinity Engineering and Testing, with 13 offices in Texas. Kleinfelder concluded the 1990s with 1,200 employees and about $92 million in annual revenues.

In 2002, Kleinfelder expanded its operations into the Midwest by acquiring GeoSystems, Inc. In 2004 they acquired controlling interest in Kakona Insurance Co. as a captive carrier for a variety of insurance lines. In 2005 they established an East Coast presence by acquiring Geologic Services, Inc. In January 2006 the firm expanded its operations along the Mid-Atlantic States, from Philadelphia to Florida, through the acquisition of Powell-Harpstead. In 2008 they established satellite offices in the Carolinas by purchasing Trigon Engineering. In 2010 the firm established the James H. Kleinfelder Fellowship in Geotechnical Engineering, which grants $10,000 per annum to deserving students at U.C. Berkeley.

In 2009 W.C.Bill” Siegel, PE (BSCE ’84; MS ‘86 UN-Reno) succeeded Salontai as Kleinfelder’s fourth CEO. In 2010 they expended their operations into Guam and Australia and acquired Buys & Associates and LPG Environmental & Permitting Services, expanding their operations in Florida, Utah, and Colorado. In 2011 they purchased InSite Environmental of Stockton, and in 2012 Corrigan Consulting of Houston, Texas. In 2012 Kleinfelder also opened an office in Calgary, Canada.

Before the October 2008 recession, Kleinfelder had 70 plus offices nationwide and 2000+ employees. By 2011 these figures had decreased to 54 offices and 1,850 employees, in the US, Australia, and Guam. John S. Lohman, GE (BSCE ‘82 CSPU Pomona; MS CSULB) serves as the firm’s technical discipline leader in geotechnical and geological engineering, working out of the San Diego office. Kleinfelder West’s principal engineering geologist is Bruce R. Hilton, CEG (BA Geol ’78 CSULA), working out of the firm’s Sacramento office (Hilton also served as AEG President in 2010-11). Kleinfelder West employs an aggregate staff of about 1,100 people. In Nov 2015 Siegel stepped down as CEO and Senior VP Kevin Pottmeyer, PG was named Interim CEO.
R.T. Frankian & Associates (1963-present)

Richard T. ‘Dick’ Frankian (1929-2010) founded R.T. Frankian & Associates in 1963, basing it in Burbank. Dick Frankian graduated from Burbank High in 1947 and received his civil engineering education at Berkeley in the 1950s (BSCE ’52, MS ’55 Berkeley). Upon graduation in 1952 he worked two years for the Division of Highways Bridge Department in Los Angeles, then returned to Berkeley to work on his master’s degree. He was the first consulting engineer in the LA area with an advanced degree in soil mechanics from UC Berkeley. After securing his master’s in 1955, he worked for Dames & Moore, Bechtel, and Parsons, before opening his own firm in 1963.

The firm did lots of work on hillside housing tracts. Some of Frankian’s projects included Albertson Ranch/Calabasas, Valencia/Santa Clarita and Newhall Ranch. Before that, he had conducted research on projects in several other communities including San Pedro, Glendale, Pasadena, Catalina Island, and Portuguese Bend in Rolling Hills. He also did a significant amount of consulting work for the Department of Defense on the Atlas Missile sites, the Atomic Energy Commission, and Caltrans.

Between 1955-65 Dick Frankian lectured in soil mechanics at UCLA, and was a founding member of the Soil and Foundation Engineers Association (SAFEA) of California in 1973 (now called CalGeo). He also wrote the chapter titled Analysis of Buttress Fills in Scullin’s 1983 text, Excavation and Grading Code Administration, Inspection, and Enforcement. Doug Moran, CEG served as Chief Geologist and VP from 1964-73, Tom Gray, and Alan Seward, CEG were among other geologsits who worked for Frankian in the 1960s (Seward joined LA Co in 1966); while Fred Curtis, CEG and Dave Varella worked for the firm in the late 1970s. The firm was still doing business in 2009, headed by Dick’s youngest son, James A. Frankian.
Allan E. Seward & Associates (1978-80); Allan E. Seward Engineering Geology (1980-present); AESEGI Consultants (2009-present)

Founded by Allan E. Seward, CEG (1934-2014) of the Los Angeles County of Public Works Geotechnical Section, after passage of Proposition 13 in June 1978 hastened the layoff of county staff. Seward had also previously worked for Dick Frankian in Burbank (profiled above) . The firm was formally incorporated as Allen E. Seward Engineering Geology in September 1980. In the 1980s the firm initially provided the engineering geology expertise to compliment R.T. Frankian’s geotechnical engineering for the Newhall Land Company when they were developing that portion of the Canyon Country area that presently comprises most of Santa Clarita. Alan’s son Eric J. Seward, CEG (BS Geol ’92 CSUN) now runs the firm, which is based in Valencia. Stuart K. Mayes, CEG is Senior Associate Geologist.

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