My father, Bernie Johnson, worked as a young engineer on the original survey of Highway 100, in the early 1930s. These writings are memories of what dad told me about Carl Graeser, his boss.
Carl Graeser, highway engineer for the Minnesota Highway Department, was a German immigrant. He was construction engineer in charge of the original Minneapolis Belt Line, Minnesota Highway 100, on the west side of Minneapolis. When completed it was one of the most advanced highway designs in the United States, built to freeway standards. The online encyclopedia Wikipedia contains a comprehensive description of the history of Highway 100.
According to my father, Mr. Graeser was a railroad engineer in Germany, before immigrating to Minnesota. He had lost his leg in a railroad accident in Germany.
Mr. Graeser was highly creative and capable of great concentration. Stories about him and some of the antics of young engineers working for him abounded. Here are some of them.
In those days, engineers used mechanical calculators for their work. The young engineers would watch Mr. Graeser until he appeared to be deep into his work, then they would give the mechanical calculator crank a quick turn, causing its bell to ring. Typically, Graeser would automatically reach for his telephone to answer it. When no one responded to his ‘Hello,’ he’d turn to the office crew and ask, “Didn’t I hear the phone ring, boys?”
Mr. Graeser was very serious-minded. He trusted his engineers, taking them literally at their word. One morning, when contractors had been pouring concrete for the highway, he told a young engineer named ‘Jimmy’ to take a drive onto the new concrete slab to “see how she rides.”
When Jimmy reported back, he told Mr. Graeser that the new slab was very smooth, but “when I got down close to the mixer it was pretty soft.”
Mr. Graeser exclaimed, “Oh, Chimmy, you didn’t do that?!”
Carl Graeser was a bachelor, and as such, did have a social life. On one occasion he was parked under one of the new overpasses over Highway 100, with a lady friend. Apparently someone saw him there. When questioned later about what he was doing under the overpass, he said, “Ve vas eating shocolates.” Mr. Graeser spoke English with a thick German accent.
He had a black Labrador dog named Blitz, to whom he was devoted. One weekend he went to have dinner at a leading Minneapolis hotel. Blitz was with him, as usual. When told that he couldn’t bring his dog into the dining room, he responded, “If this place is too good for my dog, it’s too good for me,” and left.
I was told that Mr. Graeser designed the beehive fireplaces that, with the beautiful cloverleaf interchanges, became a hallmark of the Belt Line. When he submitted his design to the Department central office for approval, he was told that they would smoke badly. His response, with a smile, was, “They say she won’t draw, boys. Never mind, we’ll build them anyvay.”
And they did.
Carl Graser never married. I was told that he had no relatives in Minnesota. He lived alone, and was devoted to his work. In whatever spare time he had, he designed sailing ships. I understand that when he died, his personal effects contained many detailed plans for such ships.
I, for one, believe that it is only fitting that a city park was named in his honor.