Interview with Chuy Morales–EBID Engineer Tech 2

Posted by Karen Ray on April 5, 2018 5:15 PM

(Conversation with Karen Ray, EBID Media Consultant)

K: How and when did you start working here at EBID?

Morales: I’ve been here for about 19 years. I started as a ditch rider. My dad worked as a foreman on a farm with Robert Faubion (EBID board president). I knew all the local ditch riders and I knew irrigation, I grew up in agriculture. I come from an agricultural background, my grandfather had a farm in Chihuahua, so we’d go visit over there and help him with the crops and stuff like that. It’s very much a part of me. I went to school in Chihuahua as a kid, that’s where my knack for drafting came up. The school offered manual drafting courses. By middle school I was already drafting. That’s really when I discovered that I liked this.

I got offered a job here (EBID) as a ditch rider: thought about it and took the job. At the time, I was taking drafting courses also at NMSU at the branch, so during the maintenance season I’d come to the Engineering Department and worked for Henry Magallenes, he would draft me into drawing. So I would do much of their drawings and I would learn from Henry, he really taught me a lot. He was my tutor. He was my mentor, pretty much. Of course, having the hands on experience as a ditch rider, understanding check structures and the way things flow and what will work and what won’t work, that helped a lot also.

About eight years into my employment here, there was a job opening for what I’m doing right now, drafting and design and field work. So I jumped on the opportunity and I got it. EBID has been paying for my school throughout the years. I’m very appreciative of what the district has done for me and I can genuinely say I very much love my work.

Morales works with drafting, design and field inspections. For the last few years his work at EBID has been time consuming so his coursework is on hold. He says, “Sometimes I’ll work a 60 hour week.”

K: Tell me about some of the things you typically work with.

Morales: Anything we build, from a small little gate to a huge 40 some acre retention pond, like down at Diez Lagos, where it has different contours and details. If someone needs to build it or order it or fabricate it, I draw it and I’ll work with the field crews to get the information. From those numbers on paper, I’ll put it into AutoCAD and draft it up and go with a general idea of what we want to do. Then we meet and say, “This is what we’ve got so far. Where are we going with this? What are we going to do?” After that, we get input from everyone and I proceed to finish what we call ‘the deliverables,’ the finished product.”

During winter maintenance seasons Morales says there is a lot of design work involved for check structures, including concrete and metal work. The skills to do this work can be acquired in other jobs but the EBID application is often quite specific and unique.

Morales: EBID is weird; it’s one of those companies where you really can’t get experience anywhere else. Where else can you be a ditch rider, where else can you build check structures, where else can you fabricate radial gates? Each day is different, each project is different. You don’t build each check structure the same way. What works in one place won’t work in others so we’ll have to come up with new ideas. There’s a variety of reasons for this, including soil types for example, or if it’s too close to a road we’ll have to change the design to adapt to a specific situation. Sometimes we modify an existing structure which we really do not want to demolish, for example at Drop 8, where we’ve integrated a hydroelectric plant to it. We have something like that also at the tail end of the Arrey Main up in Hatch. I try to stay on top of things. Each week I get a list of things I need to hammer out and make sure everything is working out in the field and they’re not waiting on things from us. Sometimes it just happens where things get behind: but we try to avoid that as much as possible. The progress of one project shouldn’t depend on one person. We try to do a lot of inter-departmental communication.

Morales talks easily about elevations, headings and design principles he has to keep in mind on a variety of projects. He has to have knowledge of the behavior and properties of metals as he’s designing to know how much stress can be put on a particular part or structure. He’s worked extensively with Patrick Lopez and Zack Libbin to develop weather stations for use out in the field in addition to RTU units to be used as dam sensors.

Morales: I work with Maintenance where we design the checks and then within maintenance is the fabricator. We have different crews that take care of different parts of the project, including earthwork, metalwork and concrete work.

K: you have to collaborate with all of those groups depending on what stage the design work is at?

Morales: Exactly, and sometimes Hydrology will want some kind of water measuring structure, so we’ll work with them as well. We have to interact across all departments and really make one project beneficial for everybody. It’s worked so far.

Structural stress and metal properties is actually where Zack’s PE (Professional Engineer) comes into play. He’ll say, “Well this particular beam needs to be this material here.” Then based on the design and the type of metal we’re using we’ll come up with the weight; this is going to be too heavy or this is going to be fine. Then, we’ll meet with the fabricator and he’ll say, “What if we use this instead of this?” Well, that will work too. We’re trying to get a better handle on what we’re doing with the fabricators and the crews. Make sure that what we come up with on paper makes sense out in the field. It’s one thing to draw it here and say “Go build it.” They might say, “This is impossible, you can’t do this.” That’s where that preliminary design comes in– we do that and go to the crews, “Hey what do you guys think?” There’s a lot of back and forth.

K: What is one of the most interesting projects you’ve worked on?

Morales: [laughs] They’re pretty much all interesting because they’re all different. I enjoy pipelines a lot, trying to meet the farmer’s needs, knowing where they need to pump to and what works for them. I like special projects where it’s a different type of tech structure and you really have to come up with good ideas and different approaches.

When he finds a module or part that has worked well in one application he maximizes his time by starting with that design modifying as needed.

Morales: For example, the rain gauge, even though it varies in sizes, we can easily modify the design by using “blocks”, something that you use over and over. We try to keep certain things pretty standard so we can teach the new employees that we’re training for drafting that this is what we use. It’s good to have people that can do the job you do to lighten the load a little bit. Sometimes it gets a little hectic. It’s never ending, every week is a new list of priorities. There’s never really a “down season.” During the water season it’s mainly design, design, design and during the maintenance season its build, build, build. And sometimes something needs to be modified so we have to come back and redesign it.

Morales also has opportunities to take the water trailer and go talk to school kids in the area. He’s a great teacher! Speaking of teaching, he pulls up some plans on his computer and explains the design of radial gates, which are used in specific situations like canals with higher flow rates throughout the District.

Morales’ Water is going to flow and hit the front of that surface, it’s kind of like a funnel of sorts which just makes it easier for everything to go on down, it doesn’t trap sediment as much. When we draw things in two dimensions like this, it’s easier for us to explain to the fabricators this is what we’re looking for. Then we go beyond that and sometimes we actually take it apart for them, like this exploded view. We show the finished product and then the step by step, the IKEA of EBID. [laughing]. Radial gates are much easier to operate as well; you can do it with one finger. They have a different gear box, a different type of lifting operator; they’re much simpler. We have a single bay, double bay, a triple bay, and so on.

K: Your EBID work is quite creative. When you’re not here at work what do you like to do?

Morales: I’m a musician; I think they complement each other. I play different types of music, from mariachi to trio rom├íntio. I play with a local band and pretty much wherever I’m called to sit in, so that’s good for me. I play guitar, bass, vihuela, guitarron, depending on which band, if it has strings I’ll play it. Perhaps not very well but I have fun. Some of the most brilliant people I’ve met are actually accomplished musicians. [laughing]. A little photography. I’m a foster parent so we do a lot of activities. We have one daughter as well; we spend a lot of time doing family things such as hiking, fishing and road trips.