Oregon dome

A dome built in Joseph, Oregon that Gary Clark helped to build, one of the many he has memories building. (Randy South)

Out on the job site

Let me relate a few ideas of what was it like during those early years of Monolithic Dome construction. Back then we did not have “tried and tested” methods, in fact some of the methods we use today were still being tried. That was when the equipment was not specifically designed for constructing a Monolithic Dome. Let me try to give you a feel of what it was like, from my point of view.

You see, my last name is not South. I was not around during the very first inflation. But I did appear on the dome construction scene in the mid 1980’s, as some of the kids would say way back in the 1900’s. Cell phones were mostly a dream just on the horizon. It seemed that many of the Monolithic Domes sold in those days were never close to home. Some travel was almost always involved.

Now, let’s be fairly clear here. The actual construction of a Monolithic Dome was almost totally the same as now. The basic steps have not changed much, although many adjustments, advancements in equipment, and actual methods of each have been refined. That is all natural and a needed part to improve. However, the basics steps are still the same:

  • Floor / footing
  • Airform / inflation
  • Insulation applied
  • Steel reinforcing placed
  • Shotcrete applied
  • Clean up
  • Go home

There was always a certain charm about rubbing shoulders with the inventors and developers. It seemed that everyone was always a bit more on the ball and active when David B. South would show up on the job site. It was always a great treat when Dr. Arnold Wilson would drop by to see the building, or Airform Pioneer Jack Boyt. The real exciting part was spending time with them because they treated me and everyone like people. We were not just someone filling a vacancy. We were people, just like them. They told stories and joked around with us. Jack Boyt could always be counted on to share with you the joke of the day. Those days were fun, but they were also filled with hard work. Sometimes the tasks that needed to be done were monotonous and boring, but we all did our part.

Most of those early Monolithic Dome pioneers grew up either on farms or doing hard work. A solid work ethic was never lacking. In fact, there were several times when it was getting close to quitting time someone would show up with sodas, cookies, cheese, and crackers. We knew the day had just been extended and we were going to be working under the truck’s headlights. Some of those days were long. We were driven by what part of the project needed to be done, not by the time clock. I learned that those great men sweat when it got hot. They were frustrated when things did not turn out exactly right. They were happy when things fell into place as planned. They spent hours and hours thinking, pondering and discussing with everyone how to solve construction issues: How could we get a concrete truck to a remote job site? What do you do when you run out of rebar? We lack just a quarter of a yard to complete the final pass. One of the inflators shutdown. And on and on. They showed us how to not only work together, but how to go the extra mile when a problem just needed that extra effort.

There were also plenty of great times as well, many of which were only related to the Monolithic Dome construction business by sheer happenstance. For example, one project involved constructing a Monolithic Dome on the south rim of the Grand Canyon. Wow, what a fun place to work. Right next door to our job site was one of those helicopter ride businesses. We became friends with those folks, good enough friends that every now and then they would run over and invite us on a helicopter ride. That was fun and exciting to see the Grand Canyon that way.

On another occasion, we moved the crew to a small town in eastern Oregon where we were constructing a storage facility. You should know that our crew at that time was a bunch of Christian fellows, so we did not work on Sunday. In fact, we attended church. I remember one Sunday as we attended, we stood out obviously as a bunch of new-comers. They asked us to introduce ourselves. When the introductions got around to Randy South, the foreman of the project, he boldly announced, “I am Randy South, and I have $50 for anyone who would be willing to cook a home cooked meal for me and my crew.” Well, someone took up the offer and we had a very enjoyable time and a wonderful spaghetti dinner with one of the families of that church.

I must say, every project turned out to be an adventure. I love building Monolithic Domes.

The dome in Arizona near the Grand Canyon that Gary Clark helped to build.

The dome in Arizona near the Grand Canyon that Gary Clark helped to build. (Gary Clark)