The "Deprovincialization" of Mel Esrig and Laurie Kennedy

It was 1959 when Ralph Peck, D.J.L. (Laurie) Kennedy, and I travelled by train from Champaign, IL to Tulsa, OK for a meeting with Creole Oil Company on the subsidence problems resulting from oil extraction in Lake Maricaibo, Venezuela. Laurie, a structural engineer and later a professor at the University of Toronto, was doing his Ph.D. research on the collapse of oil well casings as the ground subsided. My research was on the consolidation of heavily-over consolidated shales when subjected to increases in effective stress associated with oil extraction.

A several-hour layover in St. Louis between trains was followed by dinner on the train as we rode on to Tulsa. The time in St. Louis was spent on a Ralph Peck-guided tour of the Eades Bridge and several other bridges, complete with a history of their construction and the place of the bridges and of St. Louis in the Civil War and the "opening" of the West.

As we sat down to dinner, Laurie admitted that he had never had a Manhattan cocktail and I, much to my embarrassment, admitted that I had never eaten pumpkin pie. That set Dr. Peck on a mission of deprovincialization. We all had cocktails. Laurie had his Manhattan, and I was treated to pumpkin pie for dessert.

Ralph Peck was never one to miss an opportunity to teach his students.

Melvin I. Esrig, Ph.D., P.E.

This letter is an excerpt from the Geo-Strata Feature on Professor Peck, Geo-Strata September/October 2008.