Taming the Upper Mississippi: My Turn at Watch, 1935-1999
William H. Klingner, Janice Petterchak, signed by author
Wm H. Klingner, b.’12 in Radiant, CO: As a young child, his family returned to its S. Missouri roots. He attended the Univ. of Missouri, graduating in ’35 with a degree in agricultural and civil engineering. During the height of the Great Depression, he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps–a public works program initiated by Franklin Roosevelt. Thru the CCC, unmarried men between the ages of 18 and 25 were trained in soil conservation, reforestation and flood control. While in the CCC, he led several teams in drainage and erosion work along the upper Mississippi. His work caught the eye of Webster Bushnell, a retiring engineer of Bushnell & McCann, a Quincy surveying and engineering firm founded in ’05. He was offered a full partnership, and the firm became McCann & Klingner. One of his first projects was surveying and planning what would become Lock and Dam 21 in Quincy. Klingner and Belle Louise Shuey married in ’37. Their first home was on 36th St, just north of Broadway. At that time, 36th was a rural gravel road. As a new engineer, he dreamed of expanding the company’s services from surveying and drainage to full municipal engineering, including water and sewer systems, streets and highways, city parks and recreational facilities. In ’49, the firm became Klingner & Associates, and for many years, he was the only licensed surveyor and engineer in the area. His work for the upper Mississippi became a lifelong passion. The ’30s thru the ’60s was a prime time for national investment in infrastructure. In less than a decade, 27 locks and dams were built on the 669-mile stretch between St Louis and St Paul, MN. These locks allowed for reliable navigation, which helped farmers and provided great economic benefit to the agriculturally rich area. Flood control on the lower Mississippi officially started in 1763, when an ordinance was passed by the French colonial government, requiring landowners to complete levees by 1/1/1744, or forfeit their lands to the French crown. In Illinois, the necessary harnessing comes from both the 1818 and 1848 Illinois constitutions authorized by the General Assembly to grant charters for “internal improvements.” Such charters were available for navigation, drainage and reclamation projects. Much of the upper Mississippi land in need of drainage was included in federal legislation known as the Swamp Land Act of 1850. States were expected to reclaim “said lands by means of levees and drains” to both lessen the destruction from excessive flooding and eliminate malaria-breeding swamps to reduce mosquito populations. Precipitation records maintained by the Illinois State Water Survey show the 1850s as the highest decade in state history with annual rainfall of 45″ inches per year compared to the ’30s low of 35″ per year and the current 40″ per year. The privately built and locally financed levees north of St Louis were built between 1880 and ’20, and organized as levee and drainage districts, subdivisions of their respective states. However, most of these levees were built only to the high-water levels of 1851. The locks pooled the water higher on these levees, significantly reducing the level of flood protection, as well as the ability for natural gravity drainage. For this reason, regional farmers and communities came together to create the Upper Mississippi Flood Control Ass., successfully persuading Congress to pass the ’54 Flood Control Act, which essentially mitigated the impact of the navigation pools. Klingner, along with Chair Noah Schrock of Burlington, IA, testified numerous times about the inadequate design level in the ’54 act, and the need for increased flood control. Under Klingner’s leadership from ’73 to ’93, the Upper Mississippi Flood Control Association (aka UMIMRA), was successful in obtaining additional flood protection for south Quincy, Muscatine, Iowa and Hannibal, MO–all before the Great Flood of ’93. None of these adequately designed levees overtopped in the flood. The higher water elevations also increased seepage and reduced gravity outlets, which motivated Klingner to create economic pumping systems for agricultural areas. This project, in turn, led to a friendship with Prof. Lewis H. Kessler of Northwestern Technology Inst. in Evanston, IL. Klingner provided research for the U.S. Navy on ship impeller designs; this research was, incidentally, helpful in the efficient design of impellers for large pumping system. Using this research helped to refine pump system designs and greatly reduce energy requirements. National and international attention was given to Klingner’s designs. Indian Grave pump station, completed in 12/51, was featured in ‘Public Works Magazine’; a ’54 Quincy Herald-Whig article deemed it the “Most Modern Pumping Station on the Mississippi River.” In ’67, Klingner designed the Peafield pumping plant in New Madrid, MO, which was recognized by George Grugett, executive director of the Lower Mississippi Valley Flood Control Association, as the best designed plant on the Mississippi. Over the course of his career, Klingner designed and updated plants on both the upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers in Illinois, Missouri and Iowa. Klingner also was interested in parks and recreation. Early in his career, he became the engineer for the Boulevard and Parks Ass.–predecessor to the Quincy Park Dist. One of the first projects he completed for the Park Dist. was the first 18 holes of the Westview Golf Course–and he used his own bulldozer for the initial grading of the fairways. He also designed the ’64 Indian Mounds Pool, the ’80 Wavering Pool, Moorman Park and lake, Wavering Park, Johnson Park, Boots Bush Park and the river parks: Clat Adams, Kesler, All American, Squaw Chute and Art Keller Marina. His final project was the Triangle Lake wetland enhancement and restoration in upper Quincy Bay. Shortly before he died in ’99, this project was honored by the Consulting Engineers Council of Illinois. His contributions to Quincy endure with the Bill Klingner Trail, a plan he first proposed more than 70 years ago to connect the community and park system to the riverfront, and an ongoing project today.