Idaho Transportation

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Dave Turner sees things for what they can become;
innovative ideas lead to award

Dave Turner comes from a long line of craftsmen – it’s in his blood, in his heart and in his hands. The ability to observe something as it is and envision what it could become extends back to his great-grandfather who carved peach pits into animal forms.

Four generations later, Dave turns tungsten steel and hard acrylics into finely honed knives, rough running engines into instruments that sing and blocks of wood into furniture and cabinets for his home.

He applies the same ingenuity to his job – testing steel, concrete and cement in the structures lab at ITD’s Headquarters. Turner’s hand print is evident in virtually every lab at headquarters where he has transformed needs into practical, cost-saving creations. For his efforts, he received an Idaho employee recognition award and a $1,000 check at a recent ceremony honoring employees.

Turner followed in his father Earl’s footsteps – not only developing a unique ability to create solutions from problems, but also to do it under the ITD umbrella. His father was an assistant chief in the Right of Way section until the onset of multiple sclerosis forced a premature retirement in the mid-1970s.

“He was my best friend and one super guy,” John said of his father who recently passed away. “He was an innovator like his father and his grandfather.

“I don’t know why it comes so easy to me, not that I haven’t made my share of mistakes, which I have. There’s some truth in that it comes relatively easy, probably because I was always in my father’s hair as a toddler. It’s probably in my blood as well as the way I was raised.”

Earl taught the fine art of knife making to his son. He was very good with metals, Dave recalls. He could build or fix anything, and was considerably ahead of his time when he built “tote goats,” versatile, off-road motorcycles.

Dave began working for ITD shortly after graduating from Borah High School. He never intended to stay, but never left. Soon to be 54, he’s already closing in on the rule of 90 (age plus years of service) that would qualify him for retirement.

Don’t plan to circulate a bon voyage card and order a retirement cake anytime soon, though. Dave loves his job and can’t envision doing anything else.

“For me, building this stuff – especially the things that are really needed – is something I like to do, and it helps me keep my sanity. I’ve considered it part of the job, nothing extraordinary…

“I’m happy where I am. Even after all these years, I still look forward to coming to work every morning. I wouldn’t take another position if it means giving up something I enjoy doing and get satisfaction from.”

That’s why he hasn’t progressed beyond an associate of electronics technology degree from Boise State College (now University). He found something he enjoys doing and sees no reason to look elsewhere.

The award for innovation officially was based on a machine he crafted for colleagues in the chemical lab. They needed a way of testing metal washers – or coupons – when dipped into magnesium chloride solutions. Using an electronic timer, a rotating plastic disc, a motor and microprocessor, Turner came up with a way of dipping the coupons into solutions for 10 minutes, removing them for 50 minutes, and continuing the cycle for several days.

It beats paying an hourly employee to perform the task, he said.

An Oregon firm replicated his design and now markets what became affectionately known at ITD as the “dipity-doo” machine. Turner figures he put about $500 and several weeks of labor into his creation. The manufactured version sells for about $5,000.

In reality, the award for innovation also is linked to the host of other creations, refinements or improvements of Turner’s design that are scattered throughout the labs, the latest of which holds great commercial promise.

The devices, which use short pieces of five-inch aluminum pipe, customized cam-loc connectors and a control valve are used to harvest samples of cement as it flows from a cement truck to a processing plat. When Turner’s device is connected to the cement truck, an operator can open a valve and fill an aluminum storage tube with a representative sample of cement being delivered to the job. The sample can be taken quickly, safely and precisely without climbing onto trucks and digging through extremely fine cement dust. The samples are more representative of the material going into concrete structures.

The equipment is lightweight, easily transported and handled, and is relatively inexpensive to produce. Turner expects to distribute the 17 first-run kits that include four-inch hose adapters, to ITD districts statewide this spring. In the meantime, the same Oregon manufacturer that markets his dipping machine is considering production of a commercial cement testing kit.

Turner figures each of the kits, with adapters, cost about $700 to make.

Photos: Top, Dave Turner with his 'dipity-doo' machine; bottom, tubes that will enable safer, more efficient testing of cement quality