(Sept. 18, 1926 – March 8, 2014)
Kay Edward Eliason Sr. was a senior project engineer for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System.
Kay Edward Eliason, Sr. was born Sept. 18, 1926 in Letts, Iowa, to Roscoe and Amanda “Peg” (Hoffman) Eliason. He graduated from Iowa State University in 1951 with a BS in agricultural engineering. Kay then married Darlene Mae Philp, with whom he had seven children: Mary Kay, William, Jay, Peggy Ann, Kay, John, and Scott.
In 1974, Eliason and his family moved from Ft. Madison, Iowa, to Alaska, where he worked as the senior project engineer for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, commonly known as the Alaska Pipeline. In doing so, one of the most massive engineering and construction projects ever undertaken in Alaska was coordinated by an Iowa farm boy.
Eliason was humble about the achievement. Looking back on his career at age 78 during a 2004 interview with VISIONS, the ISU Alumni Association magazine, he said, “I didn’t do a very good job of planning my career. I just took things as they came along. I was always interested in construction.”
Eliason was the section project manager of the “haul road” that ran 360 miles from the Yukon to Prudhoe Bay – completed in just four months. He then moved to pipeline construction management for the 800-mile-long pipeline from the North Slope to Valdez. At the time it was completed in 1977, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System was the largest privately funded construction project, at a total of $8 billion.
It was difficult work, he said in the interview. The crews worked seven days a week, 10-14 hours a day. At its peak in 1975, pipeline construction employees numbered 28,000 in 30 separate construction camps. Eliason was headquartered in Fairbanks but spent much of his time in the camps, where he said he often filled the roles of mayor and counseling psychologist, despite the fact that “engineers aren’t supposed to have social skills.”
“The sociology of the camps was very interesting,” Eliason said. “There were lots of people problems. We had a number of known criminals working on the pipeline.” But, he said with pride, “we never had a capital crime.” Workers suffered through cold and snow; hazardous working conditions; equipment problems; environmental constraints; encounters with wolves, bears, and moose; and flagging morale. In all, 31 workers lost their lives during construction.
The Alaska Pipeline was completed in less than two and a half years, and Eliason moved on to other projects, including working as a computer programmer for his son’s travel company in Anchorage. But he never forgot the pipeline.
“I’ve always enjoyed being out on the edge,” he said. “That was about a far as you can get.”
Eliason received a Professional Achievement Citation in Engineering in 1983 from the Iowa State University College of Engineering. He was featured in VISIONS magazine in winter 2005 and was included on a list of 150 “visionaries” – 150 people who shaped Iowa State – during the university’s sesquicentennial in 2007.
His wife, Darlene, died just months short of their 50th wedding anniversary in 1999. The couple had 18 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren
Eliason retired as president/owner of Kalaska, Inc. and moved into Deerfield Retirement Community in Urbandale, Iowa. He died at the age of 87 on March 8, 2014.
VISIONS magazine, “Pipe dreams,” winter 2005