A Look Back…Way Back
By Jeff Bross, Chairman
On the occasion of Duffield Associates’ 35th anniversary, Guy Marcozzi, President, asked me to share some reminiscences of the “early days” at Duffield Associates. Duffield Associates was founded December 7, 1976 in the basement of Jim Duffield’s home. I wasn’t with the firm during the first 3 ½ years - the Mesozoic era (did I get that right geologists?) but did join the firm during its Cenozoic era. So let’s hop in the time machine and journey back…way back.
Jim Duffield, our founder, had talked a young geologist who worked with Jim at Richardson Associates (now Tetra Tech) to join him in a new venture to be called Duffield Associates. I recall being told that Jim spent the first week hoping the phone would ring and someone would hire the fledgling firm. Well the call came… it was another upstart firm called CABE Associates. They needed a geotechnical evaluation for a poultry wastewater treatment plant. And thus, it began. The early years were spent doing some landfill work (Pigeon Point for New Castle County), geotechnical evaluations and a couple of failed efforts at getting borrow pits approved.
Yours truly joined the firm in August 1980 as its sixth employee. Jim Duffield realized that the firm needed to branch out beyond just geotechnical work if it was to be successful and thought my background in civil, environmental, water resources and coastal engineering might be helpful.
By 1981 we had 10 employees and had landed a big job helping the Delaware Solid Waste Authority (DSWA) assume ownership and operational responsibility for the Pigeon Point Landfill. We were thrilled. Also, by this time, the firm had moved into an old farmhouse on Route 896 just outside Newark. The “soils lab” was in the basement. My earliest work recollection in that office was needing to reproduce 25 sets of 8 drawings each for the DSWA project. We had an old blu-ray revolving light exposure machine and “developed” the prints by rolling them up one at a time and inserting them into a metal tube that sat over a small jar of liquid ammonia. The prints took four to five minutes each to develop. Getting that bid set out took over 24 hours…and OSHA would not have approved of the workplace vapors! In short order, we bought a “real” used blueprint machine…and we all breathed easier.
As we grew, we needed a better all terrain field vehicle so Jim bought a used jeep which was well worn since its days in the Vietnam War. It was a stick shift with rag top and a fairly large hole in the floor board alongside the transmission tunnel. It wasn’t too much of a problem…except when you had to drive it in rainy weather and the road spray came up through the hole and soaked your pant leg. More progress and growth and we eventually bought new trucks.
After I joined the firm and after a few others joined the team, we thought it might be nice to have a company Christmas (now holiday) party. So, in December 1980, nine employees and their “dates” had dinner at Leoune’s at the Mansion (the original Bancroft Family Mansion which is long gone) overlooking the Brandywine River in Wilmington.
We loved new technology and were one of the first local engineering firms to have an IBM Selectwriter. It was a typewriter that would white out typos right on the typewriter (way cool!) and the next generation actually stored text on an internal tape and allowed you to move the text and words around before you final printed it. Specifications and reports suddenly got a whole lot easier. It didn’t stop there. We then got a fax machine that was a rotating drum and it would scan and send a page of text every six minutes. Information was moving at warp speed. Imagine, it only took someone over an hour to transmit a 10 page report.
As time went on, the firm recruited and hired coastal engineers, structural engineers, designers and drafters. We needed more space so we made an offer to buy the old “bank” barn and farmhouse on our present campus from Wilhelmina DuPont Ross. In early 1981 we moved into a renovated (but much smaller than the current) farm house.
The mid 80s brought more technology – we got radios in our company vehicles and the office staff could immediately speak to folks in the field, if they were in radio range. We thought we were pretty cool because only the police and a select few contractors had radios in their vehicles. Next we got phones (anyone remember bag phones?) in some of our company vehicles and we were the envy of the engineering community. Imagine being able to talk to your clients while you are on the road or in the field! By the 1990s we got the fixed mount phones with a cradle and key pad and the “statusy” external mount antennas.
While all this was going on, starting in the early mid 80s, the computer age began to pervade (improve?) our office life. At first we shared computers and by the mid-late 80s we all had a computer on our desk. In the meantime, we continued to grow in numbers and in physical plant. Many of the firms current principals joined the firm in the early to mid 1980s. By the mid 80s we were a 40 person firm and by the mid 90s we were almost at 80 people. In 1984 we outgrew the farmhouse and moved into the renovated bank barn. Site improvements were done by our long time client, Greggo and Ferrara and the masonry and concrete work associated with the barn renovation was completed by another long term client, Mario Medori.
The barn was enlarged again in 1995. The farm house underwent expansion in 2004 to its current configuration. If you are interested in what our campus looked like in the 80s and 90s click here to check out our website. And we continued to expand with five regional offices in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland.
One last note, during the last 35 years, the company weathered economic downturns in the early 90s and 2000s. While at the time these economic bumps were traumatic, we came out of these downturns stronger and better for it. And so we will again.
While I could share more stories, in the interest of time, I will leave them for “older principals” and team members to tell on another occasion.
It’s amazing to see how far we’ve come as a firm and a profession. Won’t it be fun to reflect on what we are doing today 35 years from now?