Harmer Elmer Davis.

Founder of the Institute of Transportation and Traffic Engineering : oral history transcript / 1997 online

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the funds lapsed. But it turned out later that the university
had received some educational discounts on a lot of these
items, so that some of the money lapsed anyway. Rats!

It was about at this time that the dean said that "they"
hadn't chosen a director yet. He also said that Professor
Howe, who was serving as acting director to this point, had to
get back to his deaning job, and would I mind serving as acting
director for a few months and get some staff on board, because
we had to start the teaching program and get it lined up that
fall so that courses and teaching would be in place at the time
the student enrollment and for the fall semester.

Hm-m-m, I said to myself when the dean broached my taking
an acting directorship, I wondered what the hell I might get
into now, as well as wondering where I could go after this
thing did develop.



I really wondered whether I was broadly enough informed
about the transportation field as a whole to pull this off. As
an undergraduate, I had taken Professor Foote ' s course in
railroad engineering, and Professor Jameyson's course in
highway engineering. I had a series of courses in structural
engineering, which included bridges, trestles, viaducts, and
foundations. In my research activity in construction materials
such as steel, wood, portland cement, asphaltic cement, soils,
and stress studies in bridges, I had met and become acquainted
with many professional people in the highway, railroad, transit
and airfield activity. Was this kind of experience enough?
Hm-m-m again.

But time was running short. Well, I might as well give it
a strong try and do what I could for the old alma mater, for
what it would be worth.

With respect to staffing, fortune was with us. I was able
to persuade Professor Ralph Moyer, formerly of Iowa State
University, to join us. I had been acquainted with Moyer for
some years through activities in the highway research board,
and I knew him as an outstanding teacher and researcher. He
was attracted to Berkeley to develop new highway engineering
courses and carry on research that he had not been able to do
at Iowa.

Professor Jameyson, who taught the undergraduate highway
engineering course for many years, was about to retire, and he
welcomed Moyer as his successor.

Also, I was able to persuade Donald Berry to join us. He
was a graduate of Northwestern University and was then serving
as the chief traffic engineer for the National Safety Council
in Chicago. He was asked to develop a teaching and research
program in traffic engineering (traffic engineering at that
time was a relatively young field in engineering) . We thus
were able to start a new transportation instructional program
at Berkeley in the fall of 1948.

Also, knowing a number of people involved in a variety of
phases in the transport field, and as a result of contacts made
during my trips to laboratories and organizations in many
places in the U.S., I was able to zero in on and send back
recommendations as to laboratory design, research requirements,
and the names of individuals to be interviewed for appointment
not only as director but as staff of the new Institute.



Davis: At this point, I should like to interpolate some comments on a
very important development that would greatly aid in the early
development of the institute. Earlier in the 1940s, there had
been established at UCLA a College of Engineering. Professor
L. M. K. Boelter had become the dean thereof. Prior to this,
Dean Boelter was chairman of the Department of Mechanical
Engineering at Berkeley. Boelter was a person of constructive
imagination, a deep and productive thinker, and possessed of a
broad view of the nature and function of engineering in
society. While at Berkeley, he had developed a keen interest
in the interaction between people and technological
developments, especially in the realm of mechanical devices
(nowadays we call that field of study ergonomics) .

One aspect of this was, of course, safety. It was agreed
between Deans Boelter and O'Brien that it would be pertinent
and useful to have a section of the Institute in the
engineering setup at UCLA. The special role of the ITTE at
UCLA was to be concerned with safety matters in transportation.

Thus at ITTE UCLA, the staff included a psychologist and a
physiologist as well as engineers interested in safety in the
transport environment. By the end of 1948, the staffing of the
Institute looked like the following in an excerpt from the ITTE
Quarterly Bulletin of December 1948, and it was quite
substantial .

Orcyanizincj and Staf finer the ITTE

Davis: With some staffing and some laboratory setup in view, it was
time to begin thinking about other things . As soon as
appropriate time permitted, I discussed the idea of an advisory
committee with Dean O'Brien, who gave it full support and
suggested that members of an advisory committee of this kind
should be invited and appointed by President Sproul . President
Sproul agreed with the proposal. Dean O'Brien and I then got
together a list of candidates for appointment to membership on
such a committee, which would have a well-rounded
representation of many aspects of the transport field. Those
who served on that committee at the time it was formed were
[are shown in Appendix B] .



A concomitant problem was space on campus for what was
going to be a growing staff. In 1948, new office or research
space was at a premium on campus. However, for the time being,
we were able to get some office space in one of the old
"temporary" wooden buildings in the little valley between the
engineering building and the main library.


On this particular kind of problem- -that is, space for
doing business- -along in the late spring of 1948, upon
recommendation of some trusted friends, I also engaged Lee
Rothgery to aid in the designing and the makeup of plans for a
shop and the laboratories which seemed, based on various needs
viewed in my trip around the country, would be worthwhile for
us to think seriously about.

While on the question of adequate space, I should digress
here to mention something that was to ease both office and
laboratory space. In the late 1940s, probably as part of Dean
O'Brien's efforts, the regents purchased a tract of land
comprising some 160 acres. This property had formerly belonged
to the California Cap Company, a manufacturer of explosives,
and was located on the near side of the city of Richmond.

The cap works was a manufacturer of explosives, and their
war business had subsided. Some sixty acres of the upland were
temporarily fenced off for use by various departments of the
university for research purposes. Sites were assigned for
office, machine shops, and research laboratories, and work in
open space for research.

In the early fifties, the ITTE moved to the Richmond Field
Station. A building containing staff offices and library had
been built according to our plans of the layout. Also
established for ITTE needs: a machine shop, a building for
housing, and for use as field experiments, relating to
roadways. Also established there was a laboratory for
experiments with roadway and vehicle lighting and illumination
problems, and a laboratory for experimenting with soils and
bituminous materials.



(Fortunately, lucky stars shone upon us in about late
1971, and some office space became available in McLaughlin
Hall, that made it possible for us to move the instructional
offices and our headquarters institute office into the campus.
Likewise, space was found which would accommodate the growing
library in McLaughlin Hall.)



Davis: Toward the end of the academic year 1948-49, I was somewhat
surprised when Dean O'Brien again asked me to his office to
talk about something! This time he indicated that I seemed to
have put my stamp on the developing shape of the Institute.
So, would I be willing to serve as director?

Since I had gradually found myself more and more
interested in the transportation field and its many challenging
problems, more complex than my earlier expertise with materials
and structures, this opportunity had some appeal to me. After
discussion of this whole problem with my good wife, I finally
reported back and said I was not only willing, but would enjoy
the opportunities. So, in July of 1949, I became director of
the ITTE.

ITTB Work at tha Richmond Field Station

Homburger: You mentioned about the early use of the field station to which
you went in '52, and you also mentioned that somebody, perhaps
yourself, had actually designed the first buildings that were
put up there that were new.

Davis : Let me preface that by saying that a number of other

departments also made use of the field station. Some of these
were the department of forestry and agriculture, who started a
forest materials experiment station there. Professor [Harold]
Gotaas in sanitary engineering started a sanitary lab.
Professor Folsom started work in water experiments because of
the ongoing interest in wave action on shores.

I should also mention that because of Finch's interest in
illumination as applied to transportation needs, we made use of
a long building which had been established for experiments on
illumination in foggy weather. Mist or fog could be generated
so as to provide various densities of fog while a car and
driver would make through this fog in the building.


At the same time, in connection with airfields, there was
some question about the safety of aircraft landing in the dark
and in foggy weather, and Professor Finch invented a method of
lighting which was later adopted: little low lights in the
pavement of such a nature they would not be scooped off in
paving operations in snowy weather, and along this long
building, suspended what took the place of a cabin of an
aircraft. For various conditions of [fog] density and of speed
of approach, pilots would give their reports on the utility of
these lights, which were then adjusted for various things like
spacing and density.

Homburger: I recall that he had also contract with the state to approve
all new lighting fixtures for automobiles?

Davis: Yes, and that was done in one of the laboratories that was set
up for the Institute. Also, I might say that one of Professor
Moyer's great interests in highways was the behavior of
vehicles on roads, affected on the one hand by roughness, and
on the other hand by driver visibility. Especially of interest
and of longtime importance were his experiments on measurements
of road roughness and the reports of drivers as to their
capability to maintain control under rough conditions. And
these then led, as I recall, to some of the specifications by
the state Division of Highways with respect to road roughness
as well as their means of measuring the roughness of roads.

He performed this research at the field station, and his
outdoor testing equipment was then housed in one of the
buildings there which also served as the shop which we used to
maintain various experimental equipment .

Homburger: Going back to the lighting lab, I recall that Professor Finch
got to keep the samples of new headlights, taillights, and so
on that were sent by the manufacturers for approval, and that
somebody made some very interesting Christmas trees out of them
at the right season of the year.

Davis: Well, I think there was that matter of getting rid of this

excess stuff which probably would not be used again. I don't
recall the Christmas aspect of it.

The Library

Homburger: Let's go back to the library which you mentioned became one of
the great libraries. Was a substantial part of the total
budget of the Institute devoted to building up this library?


Davis: I wouldn't say it's a substantial part. Each year, of course,
it was a part of the annual budget. I should point out that,
after the initial expenditures from the initial bill, the
Institute budget was a part of the university budget, and then
was handled by my submitting a proposed budget to the dean who
then submitted the entire College of Engineering budget to the
president .

In those years, we were very well dealt with, because I
think it was recognized that this whole thing had to get
underway and be successful. You were there in later years, and
you probably know some of the budgetary difficulties when times
got tough .

Homburger: That's where the phrase "good old days" comes from.
Davis: I call them the golden years.

Homburger: Yes, indeed. So, the library was able in those days to build
up even without too many funds?

Davis: We had donations from many people. I will later talk about

working with the big advisory committee, and they with us, and
through their interest, I think we received many donations from
the outside.

Creators of the ITTE. 1945-47##

Homburger: Let's go back to 1947, and that first postwar Act of the

legislature which became known as the Collier-Burns Act. Do
you want to talk a little bit more about how the Act defined a
new highway program for California?

Davis: I think we'll probably have to go back to mid-1945, when some
of the leaders in the Senate, notably Collier, Hatfield, and
some others, had recognized that sooner or later it would be
necessary to have some kind of a program and the legislation
necessary to put it in motion. And that involved or caused the
setting up of this joint committee so as to involve both the
Senate and the House, and therefore a better chance for passing
the bill, and taking less time than if the Senate had passed it
alone .

Through some source, Senator Hatfield had learned about
the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., and they were
beginning to do several pieces of research related to
transportation, mainly on the economic side, that is,


economics, taxation, and so on. Inasmuch as Dearing was an
economist .

Homburger: Who was this?

Davis: Dearing, Charles Dearing. He also had as a young associate

there, a young man, Wilfred Owen, who was also an economist and
had a deep interest in transportation, and before coming to
Brookings Institution, he had written some papers which
attracted the favorable attention of the authorities in the
Federal Highway Agency.

It occurred to Hatfield that it might be appropriate to
ask Dearing to come out and talk to the committee - ! think it
was the whole committee, although certainly it was to Hatfield
- in order to get an economist point of view, and some of the
pitfalls in developing an extensive highway program, which
Dearing did. Through that connection, I don't recall now
whether it was by Dearing 's suggestion or not, but Hatfield
also made contact with the Automotive Safety Foundation, which
was headquartered in Washington, and which had an excellent
staff of highway and traffic engineers to advise them on the
interrelationship of highways and vehicle travel .

After the bill was passed, which was in mid- '47, and in
the preparation years of the last half of '47 and '48, on
Hatfield 's recommendation the then-Division of Highways had a
contract with the Automotive Safety Foundation people to make a
so-called highway needs study, where they made something out of
the highway needs terminology. Later, it was rather scoffed at
because it was alleged that anybody could make up a need if
they wanted to sell something.

But at any rate, they made a very thorough study of the
condition of many of the roads, county as well as state, and
streets in California, and presented a then-pioneering report
to the Division of Highways concerning the state of the
highways and some of the measures that might be taken. This
was very useful then in the Division of Highways with their
people to prepare the details of the planning for the next
decade. All this time they had contacts with the legislative
leaders on this matter, so that there was a union of ideas

And so that period between the passage of the Collier-
Burns Act and into the year '46, the actual proposed highway
program, the technical one, was prepared. So these are some of
the additional things which went on in Sacramento.


Homburger: As I recall, that Collier-Burns Act also arranged for future
financing by raising the gasoline tax.

Davis: Yes. They also, of course, had to determine what the probable
estimated cost would be, and to find the financing for it.

Homburger: Also, there was perhaps already before that, but certainly at
that time, a jealousy (if one could call it that) between
northern California and southern California. Did this
legislation require the Institute to have a southern California

Davis: The southern branch- -or southern section of the Institute, I
think as we might better call it - establishment arose from an
entirely different set of circumstances. In the 1940s, the
University of California at Los Angeles, which had been already
established by then, decided- -

- to establish an engineering department. Llewellyn Boelter,
who was in the department of mechanical engineering at
Berkeley, was asked to be dean to develop that engineering
department, or school, College of Engineering at UCLA. Boelter
was a great thinker, and sometimes it got him into trouble.
But at any rate -

Homburger: What sort of trouble?

Davis: With some of the forward-looking ideas that people thought were
crazy. [laughs] At any rate, he thought that in engineering,
greater attention should be paid to the human factor in
whatever it is: in industry, and wherever humans contacted the
technological devices, whatever they may be. He wished to and
did develop a staff, psychologists and physiologists as well as
engineers, who were doing things that might also be useful in
transportation. So he and O'Brien talked about that, and what
they decided was to have a section of the Institute at L.A.
which would give attention to the human factors in
transportation, especially the question of safety.

And of course, that gets into the fact of some importance
of knowledge of traffic engineering, as well as general
features of traffic, and the control of traffic by police.

So a very interesting section was developed there. It was
really fortunate that that was the thrust, because that would
mean there would be no competition between two still relatively
small sections of an institute separated by 500 miles. And


they did some very fine work there, as you may know, in the
matter of safety.

Homburger: Back to the Collier-Burns Act for a moment: this was just the
first of a series of major transportation acts?

Davis: Yes, there were subsequent acts, and there were subsequent acts
that pertained to the Institute.

Homburger: But in terms of the acts that pertained to general policy, am I
correct in believing that by the time the next act came around,
there was a lot of input from Institute staff?

Davis: There were two aspects to that. In the first place, because of
problems of more and more heavy trucks getting on highways,
which involved pavement wear as well as safety, there had been
set up an Interstate Committee on Highway Policy Problems, so
that it would avoid the business of any one state setting up a
barrier to the through flow of cargo. And that was quite a
committee, and I and Dick Zettel, who was the economist on our
staff, were asked to serve as advisors to that Interstate
Policy Problems Committee, in which incidentally Collier took a
very prominent part, because he was also interested in the
trucking problem and the question of financial barriers to flow
of goods. That was one aspect where one or both of us were
called on to directly apply or give some information.

A second aspect of this was that Dick Zettel 1 , who- -or,
let me tell you something about Dick Zettel first. Dick Zettel
was an economist from the University of Washington, and his
interest was in public finance. I suppose by the way the die
is cast, he had gotten interested in the question of
transportation finance and financing, possibly because of his
knowledge of Dearing and Owen at Brookings .

At any rate, after he had graduated from Washington State
U. , I think it was, although it might have been the University
of Washington, he worked for the Pacific Gas and Electric
Company on how to compute rates, and how justifiable they were
and so on and so on. While he was still there, he made quite a
name for himself, and he was asked to come to Sacramento as a
staff member for one of the committees, I believe in the
Senate, and that's where Collier got to know him, and that's
where I got to know him.

However, the Sacramento job, of course, was up and down,
depending on what was there and so on. It was about at that

also the interviews with Richard Zettel in Appendix A.


point - ! had heard of Dick Zettel, and he was highly
recommended by Collier as a very able man- -that I talked over
with Zettel whether he would like to get into the kind of thing
the Institute was doing, and he was interested. So he joined
our staff.

Homburger: And subsequently he and you advised the legislature on these
future -

Davis: Well, informally. He or I or one or the other were asked once
in a while to come and make comments on certain kinds of policy
problems .

Building the Staff at ITTB

Homburger: While we're on the subject of the staff build-up, you've

mentioned Professor Moyer, Professor Berry, and Dick Zettel.
Who else joined the staff in those early years?

Davis: Dan Finch, whose specialty was illumination, came on in July of
'49. Bob [Burdette] Glenn I got from Oregon State College to
look after our extension program. Bob Horonjeff we got in
December of '49. He had been an engineer of pretty good grade
at the Corps of Engineers, specializing in airfields. And
let's see: [Research Engineer] Jim Kell, 1954; [Prof.]
Norm [an] Kennedy in 1950.

Homburger: They were both in Traffic Engineering?

Davis: Yes. Dolf [Prof. Adolf May] - oh, Dolf didn't come in until
'65. [Prof. Carl] Monismith in 1950. I mentioned Rothgery.
Wayne Snowden early in 1950. Harry Seed in '51. Now, I had
looked after soil mechanics and foundations, and obviously with
the way this institute was growing, I could no longer do the
direct research in that, although I taught the soil mechanics
course for a couple of more years. Meanwhile, we had gotten in
the Civil Engineering Department a lead on Harry Seed. So he
was brought out here in early '51 -

Homburger: From where?

Davis: I don't remember whether he had just finished up at MIT

[Harvard?] . I'd have to look that much up. But at any rate, I
turned over to him all of the activity in soils then, and he
later broadened it to geotechnical program. A damn good man,


Zettel came on in '51. I'm skipping a lot of the non-
academics here, although Russ Newcomb, who was an excellent
instrument -maker, came on in '49, in the shop.

Introduction to the ITTE Extension Proari

Hamburger: One of the earlier staff members was Bob Glenn, tell me a
little bit about the development of the extension program.

Davis: After we'd been in operation for about a year, Hatfield invited
me to have lunch with him over at Merced, and asked me how we
were getting along, and was highly pleased at how it had
started and so on. Apparently, he had been deeply interested
in this kind of development, or he never would have, I guess,
got the committee to pass a bill.

He told me some of his hopes and aspirations of what the
Institute might do. No pressure or anything; he was just
talking about his dream, I guess. He pointed out that in his
opinion, in the local jurisdictions, cities and counties, there
were many individuals who, while they were honest and
trustworthy and knew something about roads and bridges, had no
way of keeping up-to-date on developments that would improve
both the quality and the cost of providing facilities. And he
had hoped that we would find some way to feed information to

That was very early in the game he did that . I think it
was only after a year or so we'd been going. Incidentally, in
the memo that O'Brien wrote to President Sproul, he also
mentioned the idea of an extension program, as well as an
academic program, which I already knew also.

But anyway, that sort of emphasized this. And so the
problem was to get the kind of guy that could do the job.

Being on the West Coast and knowing a lot of the guys in
the materials side of the highways, I knew several of these
people at Oregon State, and they had a fairly good engineering

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Online LibraryHarmer Elmer DavisFounder of the Institute of Transportation and Traffic Engineering : oral history transcript / 1997 → online text (page 5 of 20)