Harv a lifetime
Working for the 50 years at the same company until you retire, as Harvel Wingerd has done for Todd Construction, is a genuine cause for celebration.
The Todd Construction superintendent was feted recently at the Golf Club of Oregon in West Linn, although because of COVID-19 restrictions, the number of attendees was limited to 50.
Wingerd, 70, is known as a guy who always strove to bring in a project on or under budget and schedule — a huge task in a business where price and time underestimates are endemic. He was also a teacher, designing a curriculum for apprentices, and a delegator. He let people try things their way before correcting them.
Since his stroke in 2019, "Harv," as he's universally known, has difficulty speaking and doesn't do interviews. Fortunately, plenty of others are willing.
He first started working for Todd Construction in 1970. Safety was different then. One of his sons, Ted, age 50, told the Business Tribune, "Back then it was, 'If you don't walk on that beam, you're fired.' Now it's, 'If you walk on that beam, you're fired!' It used to be, if took a tumble, that was part of the job."
Before concrete pumps and the booms that allow workers to pour a slab anywhere within reach of the pump, manpower was used to push liquid concrete around in Georgia buggies, which look like oversized wheelbarrows. "Or they might use a tower cane and a bucket," said Ted. "And carpenters had the old hand drills instead of power drills. It was way more labor-intensive."
Ted Wingerd is a carpenter foreman at Todd Construction. He has heard most of his dad's stories. His father had good people skills. "Everyone looked up to him and admired him, but he was also very aggressive. He wasn't afraid to tell you if you should be pushing harder. He got more mellow as he got older."
"I had fun working with him. We had the same guys over and worked well together. The foreman was awesome, an old tough guy, Donn Crone. Dad knew if we had a hard guy like Donn, everybody worked harder."
Ted's dad Harv stressed making a profit on every job.
"He also wasn't afraid to spend money to make money. If there was a tool that would save labor, he would buy it for us."
Carpenters use hangers when framing joists, and they used to drive TICO nails in by hand. In the early 1990s, Harv invested in the TICO nail gun, which has a metal stabilizer for accuracy. "They cost $800, but it saved us a lot of man-hours in framing," said Ted.
Visitors to Multnomah Falls might know the overlook platform at the level where the water tips over the falls. They might not know that it was built by Wingerd at Todd Construction with a little quid pro quo. Because he was not allowed to use a helicopter to bring in materials so close to the freeway, he sweet-talked a farmer into letting him stage materials on the farmer's land, 1,000 feet above the roadway, in return for resurfacing the farmer's driveway.
Harvey Wingerd the classic "old guy" that the industry is losing. He liked to hunt deer and elk near Hells Canyon on the Idaho border, and he has a collectible Corvette from the 1960s, but his friends say his real hobby was work.
Also, at Multnomah Falls is another site where Harv worked his magic. What tourists know as the visitor center in the historic Multnomah Falls Lodge used to be just rock and dirt under the slab of the dining floor. The Forest Service wanted to dig out a basement, and hard bids were requested.
Brent Schafer, president of Todd Construction, worked with Harv for 35 years. As Schafer tells it, everyone had their bids worked out, and Harv's for Todd Construction was quite low. Harv figured out a shoring system for the excavation, to hold up the dining room. The day before the bids were due, a sub came in, looked at what a problematic excavation job it would be, and estimated the job at half a million dollars.
"Harv was the only one who knew the consultant only spent 15 minutes there, so he was really confident his system would work." Everyone else used the sub consultant's number and raised their bids, but Harv kept Todd's low, and the company won the job. Harv's estimate was borne out when the job went just as he planned.
Schafer summed up construction in the 1970s: "There was a huge focus on production which sacrificed congeniality and safety. "Harv was real production-oriented. He focused on getting the job done. But he's a sharp guy and didn't have trouble adapting. As the times changed, he changed. "
Stick to the schedule
Another Harv job Schafer cites is the Springs at Lake Oswego retirement center, which has a green roof, patio, six elevators, an indoor swimming pool, two floors of underground parking and a huge food service area. "That was a class job, very complicated. We needed a tower crane to excavate 70,000 tons of dirt. That's 15 trucks an hour. It was a complicated job, with the number of subs involved and the schedule, and a good one to go out on."
Harv was proactive about keeping things going. "Say it rained and they couldn't pour the slab, he'd figure out a way to do it. He'd keep erecting the steel over it and pour the slab later." While others would have waited and lost time on the schedule, "He wouldn't settle for that. He was good at figuring out things," said Schafer.
Harv's youngest son Charley, 22, learned carpentry skills from his father and became a journeyman carpenter for Todd Construction by age 19. He now works as a superintendent at Dual Force.
Back in his dad's 20s, man-hours were cheaper than materials.
"When they'd take the concrete forms down, someone would pull all the nails and straighten and reuse them. Now you just buy a new box of nails." His dad got frustrated. "One day he was doing this, and his boss walked by, and dad threw him $5 and said 'Go buy some nails, I'll pay for them.'"
"He was always careful though. If a job needed more lumber, he'd tell the super to call around five or six suppliers to get the best price. It was worth the manager's time to do that. He was always trying to get guys to think ahead."
For example, getting the excavators working as soon as possible meant all the trades could start sooner.
"Saving a week at the front end of the job could often save a moth at the end of the job. And he always liked a job to finish up on time."
Charley added, he had his Harvisms, his sayings. He liked a joke, but he was intimidating enough that you wouldn't want to walk over him."
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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