Tag Archives: work history

52 Ancestors #36: Paul Kaser, Hydrologist -Work for a Living or for a Career?

Paul Kaser (1909-1996)

Every man wants to have meaning and purpose to his work.  He likes to feel that he is contributing something of value, and in some way is responsible for a project well done.  If his job is meaningless to him, and if he does not see any value or use to that work, he often finds it boring and a waste of time.

By Paul Kaser. Introduction to a bulletin called The Observer, published for volunteer water instrument observers in Ohio. April, 1951.

My father, Paul Kaser, thought it was okay just to make enough money to keep a roof over his head. Then he met my mother, Harriette Anderson, who had other ideas. Get a career with some stability and chance for advancement before we get married, she said.

Last week I talked about the beginning of my mother’s teaching career. Last year, I talked about the many moves my father made, mostly because of jobs. There you’ll learn why he didn’t get to finish college despite a love of learning. Today I’m talking about how my father arrived at his life-long career, which had many twists and disappointments before its happy ending.

He was proud of the fact that although he had no parents to rely on during the Great Depression, he was supporting himself while men were standing on street corners looking for work. All he wanted was enough to live on.

It was around1934 when Paul first dated Harriette.

Here’s mother as a teacher in 1934 and Dad with the gang at the hardware where he worked in 1936 and 1937 (for $18.50 per week).[Note: I have now proven that the photo was taken around 1942–or later, but Paul did work there in 36 and 37, and visited his friends there in later years.] The hardware job was just one of many (covered in that previous article.) At one point he held three at one time–working at the Killbuck drug store, driving a milk truck and serving as a butcher relief. (That’s not milk the guys at the hardware are drinking.)

Paul tried insurance sales, clerking, and even angling for a political appointment. He says in notes about his life, he says “Aim for a political job–republican in an era of ‘Mah friends and ouah good naboahs’ [FDR] Finally dawned on me that if I was ever to amount to anything I’d have to do it myself.”

By chance, he saw an ad in a newspaper for a WPA job (federal government Works Project Administration) and that job launched a lifetime career. He kept a fat file of paperwork– correspondence and forms, drafts of his writing and speeches,  finished publications  and newspaper clips stretching over nearly 40 years –from which I can reconstruct his work career.

Paul Kaser

Stack of Paul Kaser clippings 1953-1964

I find the paperwork and photographs endlessly fascinating, for the light they throw on his state of mind as he filled in endless bureaucratic forms, received letters rejecting his job applications because of his lack of degree or glowing recommendations from the people he worked with. Higher ups in Washington fretted about whether his hernia would limit his ability to carry out his duties and his direct supervisor appealed to Washington to please send the missing paychecks.

I smile at his pride in his  being assigned his own truck to drive in his first lowly federal job, and frequently wonder how those federal offices got anything done with all those triplicate copies of letters and forms flying around.

The first job, from October 1937 through August 1943 was at the Muskingum Climatic Research Center, a part of the Department of Agriculture in New Philadelphia Ohio. He performed both desk jobs, supervising a multitude of clerks and field work installing and repairing weather reporting instruments.

He said that he told the bosses when he interviewed for that first substantive job, “You let me get my foot in the door, [and] I’ll be responsible for my progress thereafter.” He notes proudly, “have never solicited a job since.” It was true. He went from hardware clerk in 1934 to supervising 200 clerical workers a few years later. Eventually he became Paul Kaser, hydrologist.

In early 1943, despite Paul’s lack of education, the head of the project, Dr. C. W. Thornthwaite, invited him to collaborate on a scientific article and he became a co-author. When all WPA projects closed in 1943, Paul was invited by the University of Iowa at Ames to follow his mentor Dr. Thornthwaite to Iowa for one of the most fascinating sounding jobs he ever had. Here is the description:

Duties, independent investigation of climatalogical factors related to the retting of hemp.  This in conjunction with government efforts to develop a source of fibers to replace those from south-east Asia lost as a result of the Japanese invasion.  Involved measuring degree to which temperature and humidity immediately above the earth’s surface would provide a favorable environment for the microbiological process of retting hemp grown in Iowa.

It was an interesting job of scientific investigation. Unfortunately, the job lasted only a few months, since Dr. Thornthwaite never moved to Iowa. Fortunately, because of contacts he had made in the WPA job, Paul learned of  jobs with the Weather Bureau in Sacramento and Chicago. He chose to go to Chicago in February 1944.  He worked there for two years, at first spending time “in the field” driving through midwestern states from Illinois to Chicago, then in the position of Hydrologic Supervisor.  This Weather Bureau position moved him closer to the study of ground water that would be his permanent position in Ohio.

In 1946, the state of Ohio created a State Division of Water that began collecting data formerly recorded by the U. S. Geological Survey. It was a perfect time for Paul to get back to Ohio.  He was first hired as a “statistician”, according to the caption on the photograph in this article in Camerica, a Dayton Ohio newspaper supplement.

Paul Kaser

C. V. Youngquist, Ed Schaefer, Paul Kaser, Ohio Division of Water Resources, Dayton Ohio newspaper, January 1951

He was tired of being constantly on the road, and in 1947, his immediate boss, Ralph Bernhagen informed him that he would be transferred to Columbus, and could move there whenever he wished His title would fall under Instrumentation and Computation. Paul soon moved into the position of Assistant Director of Water Resources. From there he climbed  to Head of the Water Resources Division and Assistant Director of the Department of Natural Resources before his retirement in 1969.

In a 1964 resume, he states that he had written ten major and nine minor publications. During his career, he exercised his creative writing skills by starting a Ground Water Bulletin soon after he settled in Columbus. He continued to edit the monthly bulletin, which presented dry statistics framed with imaginative writing, until his retirement in 1969.

Paul Kaser

Editor of monthly water report, 1947-1961; business card from late 1960s.

He waged a one-man campaign to improve the quality of writing among state employees. Here is a sample of his writing from a letter to the United States Atomic Energy Commission, whose Personnel Officer contacted him in 1964 to recruit him for a job with the Ploughshare Program. The job would consist of “assisting in the management of a scientific program involving application of nuclear explosives in the conservation of surface and underground water supplies.” Paul Kaser writes:

…I am sure that you are interested in obtaining the best possible fit between man and job.  Let me assure you that I am too.  It is as necessary to satisfy myself on this point as it is to satisfy you.

The organization presently under my direction is one which I have constructed over the years largely on my own initiative.  It has been a mutual building program; as I built the service, personnel, and techniques, the job was building me.  As a result there are deep roots and undischarged obligations. …

It would appear that the subject position would offer opportunity for creative thinking and research.  This plus the broader service horizon and the challenge of more complex studies prompts my desire to explore the possibilities of your position.

Ultimately, he decided not to pursue the job. He gracefully bowied out :

My reputation, such as it is, is based on long and intimate experience with water occurrence and utility in Ohio.  I flatter myself that this stored knowledge is of considerable value to your program.  Granted that I might possess general knowledge which could be of use to you, it would not compensate for the disuse of the specific local experience.

This has not been an easy decision.  The possibilities in the Plowshare Program excite the imagination. I am not completely convinced that laziness and reluctance to leave an already warm bed has not unduly influenced my decision.

During his career, Paul Kaser created new instruments for measuring groundwater. He also gave talks and presented papers at professional gatherings and to community and educational groups. Whenever there was a flood or a drought in Ohio, newspapers and radio stations called on him for comment. (Google ‘Paul Kaser, Hydrologist’ to find many articles and bibliographic references.)

Paul Kaser

Paul Kaser on right. Rainfall gauge. 1953

Paul Kaser

Paul Kaser – Rain Gauge appeal 1962. His trademark crewcut from the late 50s into the 70s.

Paul Kaser

Paul Kaser at Lake Gage Huron, Lake Erie, 1960s, cigarette dangling.

Paul Kaser

Paul Kaser studies earthquake information found in ground water records. Articles from 1953, 1962.

Earning the title Paul Kaser, hydrologist by dint of hard work,* he was selected as a Fellow of the Ohio Academy of Science and appeared in “American Men of Science.”  Not bad for a guy with a high school degree.

*Although he had taken courses at Iowa State when he was there, and at Ohio State University when living in Columbus, his moves from job to job and “on the road” assignments made getting a degree impossible. Today the title hydrologist only goes to people with college degrees in engineering and geology.

All of the material in this history of Paul Kaser comes from his own files and notes.