William R. Kahl, 94, partner in civil engineering firm

November 19, 2005|By FREDERICK N. RASMUSSEN | FREDERICK N. RASMUSSEN,SUN REPORTER

William Roe Kahl, a former partner in the Baltimore civil engineering firm of Rummel Klepper & Kahl, died of a heart attack Monday at a hospital in Jupiter, Fla. The former Reisterstown resident was 94.

Mr. Kahl was born in Baltimore and raised on Reisterstown Road. After graduating from Polytechnic Institute, he earned a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from the Johns Hopkins University in 1932. He later earned a master's degree in civil engineering from Brooklyn Polytechnic College in Brooklyn, N.Y.

While at Hopkins, he was manager of the lacrosse team that participated in the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles, said his son, W. Bailey Kahl of Sapulpa, Okla.

Mr. Kahl began working for local engineering firms and the old State Roads Commission while in high school. After graduating from Hopkins, he worked for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad in Staten Island, N.Y., designing railroad yards and transfer bridges.

He later was a structural engineer for the Portland Cement Association, then joined the Baltimore engineering firm of Sandlass Wieman & Associates in 1947.

When the original partners retired in the early 1950s, three early partners, Edward Rummel, Howard Klepper and Mr. Kahl, took over the engineering firm, which was located in several Victorian-era rowhouses in the 1000 block of N. Calvert St.

While Mr. Rummel did field work and Mr. Klepper kept the office organized, Mr. Kahl acquired contracts for the firm. Regarded as a born salesman, he combined an outgoing personality with his knowledge as a highway engineer.

"He loved to talk highway and bridge design with anyone who crossed his path," according to a biographical sketch provided by his firm.

By the mid-1950s, with the federal interstate highway program well under way, Mr. Kahl secured one of the biggest projects for the firm - designing the Washington-Annapolis Expressway, better known as U.S. 50.

"We'd already gotten one or two jobs in Baltimore City," Mr. Kahl said in A Tradition of Excellence, a 75-year history of the firm published in 1998. "But when we landed U.S. Route 50, ... that was the big one. That was our first big highway job, really. We were given the design of the new highway from Washington, D.C., to Annapolis. ... That was the first major job we did for the State of Maryland - and it was certainly one of the highlights of the 1950s."

He liked to boast that he "walked every foot" of the U.S. 50 right of way, followed by the survey crews who laid out the road.

Mr. Kahl's placed his stamp on other major highway projects during those years, including the Jones Falls Expressway, the John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway, the Baltimore Beltway, Interstate 70, I-795 in Maryland and Washington's Southeast Expressway.

Mr. Kahl also oversaw design work that resulted in the North Illinois Toll Highway and federal and state highway projects in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and North Carolina.

"Bill was a hard worker and regular guy who didn't have a big ego. He was an old-style engineer who kept us on the straight and narrow and didn't mind getting his hands dirty," said David W. Wallace, a civil engineer and partner in RK&K. "And he worked hard at keeping a certain family feeling between the employees and partners."

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, when Gov. Spiro T. Agnew and other state and county officials demanded and accepted kickbacks from engineering firms in order to be awarded contracts for work, Mr. Kahl stood fast, even though RK&K lost thousands of dollars in potential business.

During the 1974 corruption trial of W. Dale Anderson, then Baltimore County executive, it came out that Mr. Kahl had been joined by another engineering colleague, William F. Neale of Whitman, Requardt & Associates, in resisting the requests for kickbacks.

"We won't work that way. We don't do business that way," Mr. Kahl said.

William K. Hellman, a former state secretary of transportation who joined RK&K in 1987, said, "Bill Kahl set the tone for the firm.

"He was a gentleman's gentleman and a lovely person in every sense of the word. And he was a man of great vision, and the company is the way it is today because of him," he said.

Mr. Kahl, a registered professional in 17 states, was a founder of the Consulting Engineers Council of Maryland and served as its first president. For years, Mr. Kahl lived on a large farm in Reisterstown where he pitched hay, cared for horses and restored vintage motorcars.

"He'd come home from the office and bring his engineering with him. He designed and built dams and even built a pole barn," his son, W. Bailey Kahl, said.

When he retired in 1981, RK&K presented him with a metal lathe, which he used to fashion parts used in restoring his collection of antique autos, including three rare 4-cylinder Woods Mobillettes, manufactured between 1913 and 1917 by Francis Woods in Harvey, Ill.

Others in his collection included a 1920s-era Maxwell roadster reportedly owned by comedian Jack Benny, a 1950s lime-green Packard Caribbean and a Morris Minor, an English automobile.

He was a communicant of All Saints Episcopal Church in Reisterstown and had been a contributor and volunteer with Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland.

Mr. Kahl moved to Jupiter in 1996. His wife of 69 years, the former Elizabeth Bailey, died in 2001.

Services are scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday at Eline Funeral Home, 11824 Reisterstown Road.

Also surviving are a daughter, Penelope K. Pohlman of Jupiter; nine grandchildren; five great-grandchildren; and a great-great-grandson.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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