Career Began
Richmond - San Rafael Bridge
Feasibility Study & Construction Engineering
Larkspur Ferry Terminal
BART Bridge Construction
Chevron Richmond Refinery Long Wharf
Chevron Richmond Refinery Long Wharf
Glen Canyon Bridge
Glen Canyon Bridge, Arizona
BART Elevated Structures
Contributions to Structural Engineering History in Northern California

Austin Willmott Earl was born in Canada in 1881. In 1940, he was 59 years old and lived in San Francisco, California, with his wife, Blanche, son, and 2 daughters. Austin Earl was SEAONC President in 1939.

Earl designed and engineered many San Francisco Bay Area, United States Army and Navy port and harbor constructions from 1935 – 1950 at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard and other bay sites which accelerated during World War II. He formed a partnership with Henry Dievendorf Dewell and they provided civil and structural engineering services as Dewell and Earl Consulting Engineers from 1932 to 1940. In 1940, Earl promoted their employee, Jonathan G. “Buzz” Wright to Partner, and they formed Earl & Wright Consulting Engineers. After 1940 to his death in 1965, he worked with Jonathan G. Wright. The company was based in San Francisco and the partners advertised that their company specialized in engineering earthquake-resistant structures and engineering construction means and methods.

The Richmond-San Rafael Bridge over San Francisco Bay.

In 1949, the County of Marin and the City of Richmond commissioned a preliminary engineering report from Earl and Wright of San Francisco, which concluded that a bridge would be feasible. A follow-up 1950 study, conducted by the Division of San Francisco Bay Toll Crossings, was commissioned by Marin County and the City of Richmond using $200,000 (equivalent to $2,130,000 in 2019) in state funding. The 1950 report concluded the bridge could be built in accordance with the California Toll Bridge Authority Act. During the study period, an earth and rock-fill bridge with lift structures was considered, but the high-level bridge was chosen as the cost of a low bridge with navigation locks and lifting structures was prohibitive.
The preliminary design was approved on August 8, 1951 and California Department of Transportation approved the preliminary report on November 27, 1951. The California Toll Bridge Authority authorized the issue of $72,000,000 (equivalent to $693,200,000 in 2019) in bonds on November 7, 1952 and subsequently sold $62,000,000 (equivalent to $592,500,000 in 2019) in 1953 to construct a single-deck bridge. The remaining $10,000,000 (equivalent to $95,600,000 in 2019) was reserved for construction contingencies and to complete the lower deck of the bridge. The $62 million raised from bond sales was divided into three parts: US$50,000,000 (equivalent to $477,800,000 in 2019) for construction, $10,000,000 (equivalent to $95,600,000 in 2019) to address interest obligations on the bonds during the construction period, and $2,000,000 (equivalent to $19,100,000 in 2019) in construction contingency. In 1954, Governor Knight declared the second deck should not be delayed in the public interest, and $6,000,000 (equivalent to $57,300,000 in 2019) was loaned from the State School Land Fund in 1955 to complete the second deck. The bridge was finished $4 million under budget.

The majority of construction costs was in two contracts that opened for bidding on December 19, 1952. The first contract, for the substructure, was awarded to the low bidder, the Ben C. Gerwick, Inc. — Peter Kiewit Sons’ Co. Joint Venture for $14,234,550 (equivalent to $136,000,000 in 2019). The second contract, for the steel truss bridge superstructure, was awarded to the low bid of $21,099,319 (equivalent to $201,600,000 in 2019) by a joint venture between Peter Kiewit Sons’ Co. — A. Soda & Son — Judson Pacific Murphy Corp. The substructure construction moved rapidly, with an estimated 45% of piers completed approximately a year after the contract was awarded. At the time the bridge was completed, it was the world’s second-longest bridge, behind the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge and the longest continuous steel bridge.

Austin Earl provided bridge construction engineering, including construction means and methods for the Richmond – San Rafael Bridge built by Judson Pacific-Murphy and Peter Kiewit & Sons. Earl also provided the construction engineering for the Arizona, Glen Canyon Bridge. Earl and Wright continued Earls early bridge construction engineering to contractors throughout the firms history including: Hayward -San Mateo Bridge, 1975 Pasco – Kennewick cable stayed bridge, 1970’s Golden Gate Bridge suspender cables replacement, BART bridges.

Austin Earl provided port engineering in California including the Standard Oil Company of California Richmond refinery tanker berths, Union Oil Company port, and the Hawaiian Sugar Refining facility in Crockett. The port work continued and included the GGBTD San Francisco Ferry Terminal and the Larkspur Ferry Terminal, including the “landmark” tubular steel space frame terminal roof.

Following this port and wharves work, the firms focus shifted to shipbuilding, offshore oil production structures near Santa Barbara, semi-submersible oil exploration vessels, and structure steel towers (jackets) for oil platforms in California and Alaska. In 1968, Earl & Wright became a subsidiary of Bill Clement’s Houston Texas company, Southeastern Drilling Company (SEDCO). Following the collapse of the semi-submersible exploration vessel SEDCO 135B in 1965, Earl and Wright modified the design of Friede & Goldman’s SEDCO 135 series vessels and designed the industry prototype four vertical columns over two floatation pontoons. Bill Martinovich, at E&W, developed the SEDCO 700 series of ocean drilling vessels. The SEDCO 703 and SEDCO 706 were completed at Kaiser Steel’s, Vallejo shipyard in 1976. In addition to design for the parent company, other semi-submersibles were designed, such as the Rowan Midland and E&W improved the Penrod Drilling vessels design after a structure failure in 1977. The drilling ship SEDCO 445 was also designed by Earl and Wright in collaboration with SEDCO and Shell Oil Company. The 445 was the first offshore oil drilling vessel to use azimuthing thrusters to dynamic position the rig to stay on station over an offshore oil field drilling site. Existing drilling vessels used two anchors and lines at each corner column, winches, and mooring lines to maintain position over a drill site with winds, waves and current constantly moving the vessels.

Awards & Accomplishments
  • SEAOC President (1939)
  • SEAONC President (1939)
  • ASCE San Francisco Section President (1949)
  • Building Industry Conference Board - Man of the Year (1963)
  • Civilian Meritorious Service Award of the U. S. Navy for outstanding engineering services to the Bureau of Docks and Yards
Related Engineer(s)
Related Structure(s)
  • Posey Tube
  • Richmond-San Rafael Bridge
  • Bay Area Rapid Transit – BART
  • Chevron Richmond Refinery Wharf