Engineer on horseback: New memoir

Indian Creek Bridge, inspected by an E,ngineer on Horseback, 1913
Indian Creek Bridge, 1913

An engineer on horseback, my grandfather rode his horse over a hundred miles home from western Montana to meet his newborn daughter. Frank J. Herlihy, civil engineer, designed and supervised construction of rail bridges for the Milwaukee Road.

In 1913 he got news several days after the fact of the birth of his fourth child back in in Lewistown. Although he was building a railroad to the west coast, no scheduled train was available on short notice to take him back home. He climbed on the steed he rode to inspect his construction projects and followed the route of the rail tracks through the Judith mountains; through the Indian country of Montana where, twenty years earlier, Custer made his last stand, to the home he had established in Lewistown once his growing family became too large to travel. The trip took him three days, but it was well worth the effort. He got to comfort his pioneer wife Mary and meet his new daughter Alice, who would one day be my mother. The story was reported to me by my sister Linda, whose knowledge of family lore was invaluable in supplementing my own as I wrote about family history.

Engineer on Horseback, Still riding in 1931

This year of enforced confinement provided an excellent excuse to write a new memoir. I still have most of my wits, and it gave me what, in a pandemic after all, could arguably be my last chance to tell this story. An architect by training, I spent a lifetime of planning and design for buildings and sites. While my projects provided me very absorbing and interesting work, the real story I have to tell is my struggle, as an outsider, to break into this exclusive fraternity. and learn the design craft: To take whatever artistic and verbal gifts I had and turn them toward a professional design career.

My engineer on horseback grandfather’s construction company inspired my career. But I wanted to be an architect, working upstream of contractors to design the projects they would build. I began to recall and record the path that led to my design career. Each day provided more recollections of challenges, dead ends and humorous embarrassments I endured along the way. The result is a book completing my family trilogy, which I’m calling How to Become an Architect Without Really Crying: An Outsider’s Crusade to Learn his Craft.

The new year has brought a new beginning. I’ve had the time to reflect on how construction inspired my career. We can see a faint glimmer of light at the at the end of the pandemic tunnel. Vaccines are ready and plans are underway to inoculate all adult Americans against the deadly Covid 19 virus.

We have been hunkering down for a full year. Our social life has been on the phone, on Zoom and on the porch. Except for virtual visits, we haven’t seen our children and grandchildren for over a year. I’ve kept up with my St. Louis Writers Guild, now celebrating its hundredth anniversary, through virtual meetings with my writer friends.

With my my new memoir nearly complete, I plan to reveal more in the months to follow about my engineer on horseback grandfather, how his construction inspired my career and my travels along a humorous path to get there. Stay tuned, and subscribe so you won’t miss my updates..

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