Character Number Twenty-One

And then there was Al Domeshek.

My path crossed with Al’s several times but the first was about 1958 or 59 when I moved to the New York sales office of Air Liquide. I had emigrated from London in 1954 and had worked with L’Air Liquide in Montreal designing components for oxygen and nitrogen plants.  We were trying to sell an oxygen plant to the Chemico Company for them to incorporate in an ammonia plant that they were bidding on.  Their project manager was Al and he was comparing our proposal with those of our competitors.  Al and I had a good rapport, both being conscientious engineers.  I was able to use my limited budget, expense account to buy Al a lunch occasionally.  We eventually worked together on several proposal evaluations, quite a few with success.  I stayed with American Air Liquide in the Chrysler Building for six more years and then left to join the new company, American Cryogenics in 1964 in Atlanta, GA.  This was a conglomeration of cryogenic talent and companies started by Standard Oil of New Jersey, later called Exxon.  I had only been there a week or two and I realized that they had no project management skills and I immediately called Al to get him to come and join us.  He quite quickly applied and moved to Atlanta a few weeks after us and we compared notes with each other on available houses.  In fact, it was Al who found our house for us.  Technically Al was perfect for us but it took some time for many of the staff to realize that.  Al’s experience far exceeded the rest of the Engineering Department, including the manager. Since Al had an abrupt and positive way of correcting people, he was not too popular initially but gradually they came to understand and appreciate him.  After about three years, Standard Oil realized that we were not going to be the big success they had envisaged, and they sold American Cryogenics to Air Liquide.  Almost the entire office staff got fired including me and the President and only a skeleton staff remained.  Al was part of that and remained to sell off office equipment and furniture and then he was released.  (Note.  I have related the entire story of Al and I at American Cryogenics in my Memory chapters 21 to 23 in this same blog.)

I became President of a plastics plant in Atlanta and when we sold it, Doris and I moved to Jacksonville, FL where I was President of Adcom Wire Company. During this time I had no contact with Al.  In 1980, we moved to Houston where I joined Production Operators Inc. and I was surprised to find that they had just ordered a cryogenic nitrogen plant.  The nitrogen it generated was to be compressed and injected at 3,000 psi into oil wells at the top of a mountain in Evanston, Wyoming for chevron.  It was not long before I found that I was the only person in the company who knew anything about cryogenics.  I also found that they had bought the nitrogen plant from Kobe Steel in Japan because they were the low bidder.  They ignored experienced companies like Air Products, Air Liquide and Linde and bought from a company that had only built one other plant, an oxygen plant for their own steel mill.  Knowing that our plant had to be built and operated, I also knew we needed project help and I once more called for Al Domeshek.  Al was happy to come and was hired as Project Manager.  He was at home with the job but, like me was concerned.   I was in Al’s office with a question one day and Al said that he knew the best guy to call for an answer.  He punched numbers in his phone but by habit, accidentally called his home number in Atlanta and his wife answered.  Al was surprised at this but even more so when his wife said that he had not wasted the call, because she was going to call him with the news that she had just left the lawyer who was drafting divorce papers.  Al’s response was impressive but will not be part of my story.  I forgot my question and crept quietly out of the room.  Not very long after that and unknown to me, Al started dating my secretary, Lawanda and one day, Al came and told me they were getting married.

Al moved to Evanston to supervise the plant installation and operation. He was working with a Kobe Steel representative who kept bowing to Al and Al told him, “Stop the goddam bowing.  We don’t bow in this country”.  When built, it did not take long for us to realize that the plantt was never going to produce the specified quantity of nitrogen.  This angered our joint customer, Chevron and relations deteriorated.  I heard of several lectures that Al gave the Japanese start-up man so I could imagine how Al was feeling.  Another engineer, Sid Sutherland and I went to Japan for a week, having talks with Mitsui, the sales company in Tokyo and the engineers in the city of Kobe.  We learned that the plant was designed from the pictures in a book, “The Separation of Gases,” that was years old and gave no other details.  This meant a re-design of the front half of the plant that would take weeks.  No-one at Mitsui or Kobe would admit they had made an error and there were no apologies.  Problems continued for Al and they multiplied when the plant had an explosion.  This meant more meetings in Japan and this time Al and I went.  Meetings with a large group of engineers in Kobe consisted mainly of me trying to calm Al down.  He was clearly about to yell, “You idiots.  How could you be so stupid?”  My diplomacy skills were called into action several times.  Al went home at the week-end but they wanted me to stay for a Monday meeting.  I found Al waiting for the evening plane, in the park across from the hotel.  He had bought ham and bread and he was still making remarks about people who scrape the bottom of ponds and eat everything they find.  He said that he was 8,000 miles from where he wanted to be and was so pleased to be leaving this primitive country.

I must say this about Al. He is not only an excellent engineer but a philosopher and his philosophy depends on a dominant amount of common sense.  His philosophy has served him and many others, me included, well.

The epilogue to this story is that Chevron threw us and Kobe off their mountain and we got our money back from Kobe Steel. Al lives in contented retirement with Lawanda, as do Doris and I.

3 thoughts on “Character Number Twenty-One

  1. I enjoyed reading it. Good job, one correction…..I was not terminated, I resigned when Bill Dempster told me the office was being moved the San Francisco area, and he offered to move me and give me a 15% increase. Since I reported to him and couldn’t stand the man, I resigned very shortly thereafter.

    We have shared much history, and I particularly remember our trip in the south with the Yugoslavs….another story in itself. Be well and keep writing.


  2. Your famous now Al! The answer to Japanese relations is more sake! I heard the story of the Yugolavs in downtown Houston, if that is the one….one of my favorites! Stay well.

    See you in about 4 weeks, Dad “if the creeks don’t rise….anymore”.


  3. Pingback: Guest Memory One: Al Domeshek | Texas Limey

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