True Stories from the 20th Century at Pacificorp
By J. Charles Cheek
© April 2005
Don Frisbee and the Lady Drafter
Marge Thompson was a drafter in the Transmission Engineering Section. She was a very nice lady and wouldn’t say you-know-what if she stepped in it. Don Frisbee was the President and CEO of Pacific Power & Light Company. I never heard him say you-know-what either even though some said he stepped in it a few times over his brilliant career. However, I have more confidence that Marge didn’t say it simply because I was around her more.
Marge’s husband was a mechanical engineer and owned a small company that was expert in the use of vibrators. No, no, he didn’t own a porn shop. I’m talking about vibration machines used for purposes few of us would ever imagine. He once told me he could shake down the Steel Bridge that crosses the Willamette River with just a 5-horsepower engine driving a vibrator at the end of the bridge. I believed him.
The reason I believed him was that he had demonstrated his mastery of vibrator technology in a gravel yard of the contract construction area near the Albina Service Center. He and an assistant hooked the vibrator mechanism to a 4-inch by 4-inch wooden post. While his assistant held the post vertical Thompson operated the controls which included the throttle of a nearby 5-horsepower gasoline engine. The post was not sharpened on the end but it began to sink into the ground slowly as if the soil was quicksand. Within a couple of minutes the post was three or four feet down into the ground. Others there that day were Ken Stevens and Carl Fishback of Transmission Engineering Design, and Bruce McMillan of the Construction Department. We were all duly impressed. After the vibration was stopped the post was as solid in the ground as if it has been set in a drilled hole and tamped. It was one of those rare “well I’ll be damned” moments. I’ll get back to Marge and Frisbee shortly, right after one more vibration story. Well, maybe two vibration stories.
Thompson did most of his vibration business with the U.S. Navy and ship repair yards. Removing the propeller drive shafts from submarines and ships was often a difficult task. He made the job easy with his knowledge for applying the correct vibration technology. Much of his technology was in the form of charts and graphs that were the results of his experiments with vibration machinery. He kept those records locked away in a large safe in his Portland office. The Navy had taken advantage of him on the first job he did for them and he made it a point to get back at them with all his future jobs with them. On his first job the Navy asked him for any hourly rate and he quoted them $100.00 per hour plus reimbursement of expenses. That was not an outlandish rate even in the 1960s for a specialist that possessed a rare skill. The submarine they wanted the shaft removed from was located at a repair facility in Hawaii. He flew to Hawaii, stayed overnight, spend the next day using his vibration knowledge to loosen the shaft for removal, then spent another day getting home. After he billed them for three workdays (24 hours) of his time the Navy contract administrator pointed out to him that the hourly rate was for “time at the job site.” Time at the job site was only about three hours so he got paid $300.00 instead of $2,400.00. “From then on I bid their jobs lump sum plus expenses and figured about 40 hours of my time.”
Thompson figured the Oregon State Highway Division could use his technology to drive the wooden posts guard rails are fastened to so he made an appointed with their Chief Engineer in his Salem office. It was drizzling rain when he arrived and checked in a few minutes early with the Secretary of the Chief Engineer. She announced his arrival by telephone then said, “He’s just finishing up on something but if you’ll wait it should only be a few minutes.”
“His door was open and I could see the SOB sitting with is feet up on his desk. He was reading a newspaper.” Thompson sat waiting for 30 minutes past his appointment time while the Chief Engineer read a newspaper. “He knew damn well I could see him in there,” said Thompson.
Finally Thompson got in and explained how he could drive guard rail post with vibration. “Sounds like a bunch of bullshit to me,” said the Chief Engineer.
Thompson held his temper down and said, “If you’ll come outside with me I can demonstrate it to you.”
“I’m not going out there and stand in the rain. My state car is being serviced today. That empty parking space right there is my private one so just back your truck in there and drive the post in the grass. I’ll watch from my window here.”
By now Thompson was furious but held his temper and said, “Okay.” Thompson went to his truck and backed it part way into the Chief’s parking space. “Me and my assistant drove a guard rail post down two feet into the middle of that asphalt parking space. Then we loaded up the equipment and went back to Portland.” Then he concluded, “I don’t need that egotistical bastards business.” Okay, okay, back to the main story.
Early each Christmas Eve morning Don Frisbee would start on the 15th Floor of the Public Service Building and personally greet and wish each employee a merry Christmas. By about ten o’clock he would reach the 7th floor where the engineering design group was located. Marge Thompson’s drafting desk was adjacent to one of the entrance doors. Frisbee came in that door and said, “Merry Christmas, Marge.” He had a remarkable talent for remembering names and hadn’t seen Marge since introducing himself the previous Christmas in the year that she was a new employee.
“Merry Christmas to you too, Mr. DeLucia,” responded Marge.
“Oh, you have me confused with the Chief Engineer, Marge. I’m Don Frisbee.”
Marge’s face turned red and she replied, “Well, if you’d come around more often I’d know who you are.”
E – N – D
 Mr. Cheek has written dozens short stories under the general headings of True Stores from the 20th Century at Pacificorp and Digressions of J. Charles. He is also the author of the novel Stay Safe, Buddy – A Story of Humor and Horror during the Korean War,300 pages, Publish America ISBN # 159286631X