William Rice Kimball
Interviewed by John Sillito
5 March 2001
Oral History Program
Weber State University
William Rice Kimball
5 March 2001
Copyright © 2011 by Weber State University, Stewart Library
The Oral History Program of the Stewart Library was created to preserve the institutional history of Weber
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The Utah Construction Company/Utah International Inc. Oral History Project was created to capture the
memories of individuals associated with the company. Several of the interviewees are family and
relatives, others are personalities involved with Utah Construction Company/Utah International Inc. and
some of the company’s prominent figures.
Oral history is a method of collecting historical information through recorded interviews between a
narrator with firsthand knowledge of historically significant events and a well-informed interviewer, with
the goal of preserving substantive additions to the historical record. Because it is primary material, oral
history is not intended to present the final, verified, or complete narrative of events. It is a spoken
account. It reflects personal opinion offered by the interviewee in response to questioning, and as such it
is partisan, deeply involved, and irreplaceable.
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It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:
William Rice Kimball, an oral history by
John Sillito, 5 March 2001, WSU Stewart
Library Oral History Program, Special
Collections, Stewart Library, Weber State
University, Ogden, UT.
William Rice Kimball
Abstract: The following is an oral history interview with William Rice Kimball (born
1919). It was conducted in his office in San Francisco, California, by John Sillito
of Weber State University on March 5, 2001. Mr. Kimball was the grandson of
E.O. Wattis, one of the founders of the Utah Construction. In the interview, Mr.
Kimball discusses the history of Utah Construction/Utah International and shares
his memories of the development of the company.
JS: This is an interview with William R. Kimball in his office in San Francisco,
California. The date is March 5, 2001. Let me give a little bit of background. As
you are probably aware, we received the papers of Utah Construction/Utah
International at Weber State University. It‟s a great collection that we are really
pleased to have. As part of that collection, we are doing a series of oral
interviews focusing specifically on Utah International. Why don‟t we begin with a
couple of general questions? What are the circumstances that brought you to the
board of Utah Construction?
WK: Let me back up. My grandfather, Edmund Orson Wattis, was referred to as E.O.
and he and his brother were the founders of Utah Construction in 1900. There
were three brothers, but one brother was in insurance. They had an appraising
company before 1900 and they were doing pretty well, but they bid on a thing in
Idaho with an English company that came in on it with them because they
couldn‟t handle it alone. It went belly-up and the British declared bankruptcy. My
uncle and grandfather—by this time, they owned about a third of the public real
estate all around Ogden and on Washington Boulevard. Well, my uncle and
grandfather were not going to go into bankruptcy, so they sold all of that and
became clean booked. The people that noticed this were the money people:
Eccles, Browning, and Dee. They got together with them and said, “Why don‟t we
start a construction company and we‟ll be on the board and supply the money for
it?” We had…I think we had thirty percent at that time; that‟s a guess, but we
were running it. That went on and my cousin Ed Littlefield—he‟s five years older
than I am and he was like a big brother. We both said we weren‟t going to go to
work for Utah because we were relatives.
In the meantime, Ed was working at a big grocery company down in Los
Angeles and they needed a treasurer. Someone in my office—Mr. Mitchell—was
on the board and Marriner Eccles was chairman. We were playing golf in Los
Angeles and my uncle brought Ed Littlefield to the game. He‟s a great golfer.
Anyways, a long story short, Mr. Eccles asked him to be on the board, and it was
the best thing. Ed went on as treasurer and from then on his hand was in it.
JS: Do you recall approximately when that was? The early „50s, maybe?
WK: I guess so. I‟m not good on dates on those. I had my own business, so I wasn‟t
paying much attention to Utah. I guess it was when Mr. Dee died that Eccles
called me and said, “We would like to have you on the board.” I was very pleased
It was interesting. I kept my mouth shut the first meeting. Or, I tried to, but
I ended up in the discussion. It was something I felt I could help on. They had a
profit sharing plan. This is somewhat contradictable, you could say. They had
people that would get so much a year so long as they were in employment and
then when they left they didn‟t get anything. Some of the people on the board
wanted a raise; they wanted to take the money back out again. I said, “Not in
your life. The rest of the employees know it‟s there. Now why should you take it
away just because…” I really spoke right up. Later, I went to Marriner‟s house for
dinner and he took me aside and said, “You know, I was sure proud of you
because you spoke up.” I‟d known him for many years. He wrote a wonderful
letter for me to get into Harvard Business School, and I used to live very close to
them. He‟s a wonderful person.
JS: This is Marriner Eccles?
JS: How often did the board meet?
WK: In the beginning—the beginning for me—we had two-day meetings and they
were every quarter in Salt Lake. We weren‟t down here yet. Sometimes, they
would be in Ogden, but mostly in Salt Lake, and they just went on and on.
Marriner was a wonderful guy, but he just liked to talk, talk, talk. So we had two
and finally cut the meetings down to one and a half days. Then, a long time ago,
to just one.
JS: Did board members have particular areas of responsibility or did they utilize
board members‟ expertise in particular ways?
WK: Oh yes, sure. Every board does. Most of the input from Marriner and others was
financial. They didn‟t know much about bidding or whether we should build a dam
or a tunnel—that was all management. And the president was a member of the
board. In the meantime, Ed Littlefield was working on it. I can‟t quite remember
when he became CEO, but that was a wonderful time. We were all very proud of
JS: He strikes me as the guiding spirit of the company.
WK: Oh yes.
JS: How active was the board in the day-to-day operations of the company?
WK: We had meetings four times a year and we all had homework to do. A lot of
homework. We would meet quite often, as most boards do. They'd bring in a vice
president to present something and we‟d have a session with them and
sometimes we would make our own session after that. We didn‟t have much to
do with selecting employees or any of that. We were just a posse and making
sure there was enough money at each point.
One of the figures wrangles me…let me back up. In construction, you
make a bid and you make money or you don‟t make money, but then you have a
valley, you know, you hope you can keep getting through. So years and years
ago, long before I was on the board, they bought a ranch in Nevada. You
probably heard about that. It was a leavening of income because it was a very
successful ranch. It became very sacred to Pat Wattis, who was a son of my
granddaddy—and he was okay, but he wasn‟t dynamite like my grandfather.
Well, we had this ranch and in the meantime, during the war, we had to do a dirt-moving
job. We did very well at it; we were good at making tunnels and railroads
and things like that, so we decided maybe we should put more effort into mining.
We didn‟t have any money for it, so we decided to sell the ranch and use that
money to get into mining, which was a very critical step it turns out, but some of
the family just about went up in smoke.
JS: This is the Wattis family?
WK: Do you know Ezeke Dumke by chance?
JS: I don‟t.
WK: He‟s a doctor who‟s married to one of the Wattis girls. He didn‟t know anything
about it—he knew about surgery, he didn‟t know anything about mining—but he
was just livid. Then Pat, my granddaddy‟s son…it almost broke his heart. In his
office, he had this huge map of the ranch. Anyways, we sold it and put that
money into mining, and that‟s when it really took off. We did a great job. It was
just a wonderful thing to do. Once in awhile we‟d bomb, but mostly they were
better than we thought they were. And that‟s what really got us going.
JS: It seems like the company saw the opportunity to move a different direction. Is
that an accurate perception of the company: the ability to see down the road
WK: Well it had better be. I don‟t think there‟s anything unusual about it; Marriner
Eccles was very strong, and he kept it. There‟s a lot of family, people like Dr.
Dumke, who didn‟t have anything to do with it and just caused a lot of trouble, as
it turned out.
JS: That raises an interesting question. You have an interrelationship of several
families and an intermarriage within those several families. Was that a
complication? Beyond just selling the ranch, there was obviously a complication
WK: I suppose so, but I didn‟t notice it much. But see, I‟ve been down here ever since
I was put on the board.
JS: So you‟ve been here quite awhile?
WK: Yes, since right after the war. No, I think there were hurt feelings and things like
JS: The reason I ask is that there were a number of people on the board who were
family members or were related to the families, but there were also a number of
people who weren‟t. Was it hard for people on the board that were not related to
try to figure out what was going on?
WK: No, they were picked very carefully. One of them was a fellow who scampered.
He was a classmate of Ed‟s and he was in charge of real estate. He started a big
shopping center down here. Have you ever been to Stanford?
JS: I have.
WK: Mrs. Stanford said, “You will never sell an inch of land and lease it,” and we
never have. We had land development and we did shopping centers. We did
great big shopping centers. We teamed up with Standard Oil down in Los
Angeles—we built it and they furnished the land, that kind of thing. So Ed brought
this guy in to run it all. He was vice president in charge of land development and
on the board. He wasn‟t related even though he was a very close friend. In fact,
he was in the Navy in Ogden and he stayed in my grandmother‟s house during
the war. So that was one, and we had a couple of guys that we‟d just trained,
most of them had mining education. They were on the board, but the rest of the
board was mostly family. I think every once in a while the nonfamily may have felt
a pinch here and there, but they were very well paid and had options and stock.
They didn‟t have to worry about anything.
JS: My perception of it is that even though the company goes heavily into mining, it
was still active in construction.
WK: That‟s an interesting part because we had a real dilemma getting out of
construction. You have bids from the last four or five years and you‟ve got a lot of
people involved. I remember having lunch a couple of times with Ed Littlefield,
and asking, “How can we turn all this money into mining?” We finally sold it, the
land part, to…I can‟t think of their name now, it‟s the big construction company in
Los Angeles. They took over our things and became Smith Utah—it wasn‟t
Smith—but I can‟t remember. So that was a big thing off our back, because we
had a lot of money in land and it doesn‟t move very fast. In the meantime, we
were turning up wonderful mining. We were one of the largest copper companies
in the world. We had iron ore. We had coking coal in Australia. We had over four
big mines in Australia around the perimeter—you can‟t go in the middle there‟s
nothing there. That was very successful.
JS: The decision to change the name from Utah Construction to Utah International
and to move the headquarters here to San Francisco, were those two related?
WK: It was Utah Construction and then it was Utah Construction and Mining. Then we
went to Utah International, which we were—we were all over the place.
JS: Yes, it really was reflective of what you were doing. Do you think the decision to
come to San Francisco made the company appear to be much more substantial?
By moving, it became an international company, not a Utah company?
WK: That was very important. I think the mistake we made was we didn‟t do it soon
enough. It was a tremendously helpful thing. And it just turned around in the
larger city. A lot of our activities were in Australia and so we were a little closer to
that. We had a big coal mine down in Arizona in the Four Corners area. We had
a big copper mine up in British Columbia, and that was kind of interesting.
We had in those days…well, we‟re not mining any more, but when we
were, we would try to find what you call a prospector. We had a prospector there
and he was on the scent of copper, but he hadn‟t found it yet. So he sat down—I
guess he had a jeep instead of a mule—but when he sat down for lunch, he
leaned against a tree that had fallen over, reached down, and picked up some
copper. It was right near a stream so he went up that stream and found what
appeared to be a huge copper deposit. That was right on the edge of the water
on the Pacific Ocean. We called him Lucky Mac. We mined it out completely and
he probably got three or four million dollars. He was rather uncouth about
everything. He had money, but the more we gave him, the more he wanted.
That was one that was very successful. I forgot how we found the gold
mine down in the Indian area. That was tough to work because you don‟t have
contracts, you have treaties and they meet twice a year.
JS: The tribal government?
WK: Yes, and we‟d never get started because we‟d make a draft and then we‟d wait
six more months. But we also had—one thing that I was always proud of, I‟m not
trying to boast—but we‟d do conservation every time we did pit mining. You go
straight down and then you take the core out of there and you take the dirt from
here and put it back and in the process—when you go down higher than this
building—you see former bonfires, maybe two hundred years old. We would find
these wonderful chards and things like that. So the office there had several hauls
and we put glass cases in there and displayed them. We built museums in
Arizona and New Mexico. We were very good about that: we not only put the dirt
back in, but we seeded it and it was theoretically pretty good; when you‟d fly
over, you‟d see all the green strips. That is still one of my favorite things that we
did. It was wonderful.
JS: You mentioned the treaties with the tribes. You were also operating in the
international sphere. Were there people on the board whose expertise was
international relations and foreign policies? Obviously Marriner Eccles had some
WK: I was just going to say he would have it. We didn‟t have too much of that, we
didn‟t get involved very much with the governments we were dealing with. In
South America, we had some problems, not serious problems, just delays.
Australia was and is wonderful.
JS: Let‟s talk a little about the merger with General Electric. From your perspective
and your recollection, how and why did that merger come about?
WK: Well, Ed was on the GE board and he got very friendly with the CEO—a
wonderful guy, just super. I guess it…I‟m not sure quite how it came up. I
suppose Ed and Reg Jones, that was his name, were just chatting sometime.
Reg Jones had a tremendous interest in the oil bill and I think it probably started
from there. We weren‟t broke, but the mines were so darn expensive that you
wouldn‟t get anything out of it for three or four years. So I think Ed and Reg were
in favor of it and everybody went with it. The one thing Jones did it for—his main
thing—was because inflation was so high then, up in the high teens, and Reg
said anything in the ground is going to stay. He said that was the main reason he
bought. Also, we had a small oil company in Denver and GE had a small oil
company, too. They had a lot of land development, so it was a very natural fit that
Oh, one thing I forgot to tell you is GE put three or four of their officers on
our board and I don‟t think we dropped anybody. We might have just because of
age. I don‟t remember exactly. So we always had three or four members of GE,
including Jones, and it was fun for us to get to know those guys and how they
think and work and everything. It was going along very nicely until the present
guy got there and he‟s done a marvelous job, of course, everybody knows that.
But we hit down in South America—Chile—and found what turned out to be the
second largest copper mine in the world. To start with it, we asked GE for about
350 billion dollars and he went right through the roof. He said, “My god, I can
build an airplane for that, oh to hell with this mining!” Without telling us, he talked
to Chevron about buying us because we had the little oil thing and he was
determined to sell. He finally sold it to BHP in Australia. They were the largest
company down there and they were in mining and oil in a big way. They have
some construction, too, so that went pretty well.
They wanted to get more in the way with Europe and places like that
where they were very insular. What happened was the GE guys on the board left
and then the BHP men came in. The first couple of years were really fun
because we‟d go down and when we were there, we went around in private
planes. It took us two trips to go all the way around.
JS: This is in Australia?
WK: Yes. We had four of the biggest mines down there already and that was one
reason we went to BHP. We all got along very well. They wanted to learn about
being an international company. We had, at that time, Bill Hewett on the board;
we had the president of Ford Motor Company, a Stanford Business School dean,
and somebody else. You just can‟t buy those guys, you know. Well, we were with
BHP for a couple of years and they started rotating those guys off at seventy-two.
I called the chairman and said, “You don‟t know what you‟re doing; you can‟t hire
people like those guys.” He said, “Well, I know I can‟t accept my people.” I said, “I
thought you joined here so we could reach out and learn about the rest of the
world.” Oh no, no. And so that didn‟t work very well. They‟ve still got it, but we‟ve
sort of dropped out of the whole picture.
JS: Too often people tend to think that Utah Construction must only be Utah
Construction, and the thinking in this company all through the last hundred years
has always been “not necessarily.” Are there other things about your service on
the board that come to mind that might be valuable to us?
WK: I was the only entrepreneur; I would take a little different view on some of these
things and I‟d jump in on some of that. I wasn‟t a big bear, unlike some of those
guys, and the vice presidents felt more comfortable with me than they would with
the Ford Motor president, or something like that.
JS: So you could kind of negotiate in between.
WK: I didn‟t realize till it was all over that I really did a pretty good job of that. With
some of the vice presidents, we send Christmas cards and everything. We‟ve all
been very friendly. We had a vice president come in and put in a half hour
program. When he finished, Bill—Bill Hewett I‟d known for years, of course he‟s
gone now—well, he looked up and said, “That‟s the most goddamn Mickey
Mouse thing I‟ve ever heard of,” and the guy just crumpled. Bill didn‟t need to be
that tough. I was really shocked that he would do that. But that was one of the
reasons they bought the company was because of him. When those things
happened, I could go around and hold his hand. I have my own business and it
made a big difference to some of those people.
JS: Any other thoughts or recollections that you think would be valuable?
WK: I can tell you very specifically that going into mining put us on a whole new
terrain. And then going with GE…our stock would never have gone like GE‟s has.
Unfortunately, when GE bought out we didn‟t get the stock back, they just kept it
and that‟s been a stupid thing. They were all able to make good donations, and a
lot of my own stuff has done pretty well, but GE…it‟s just been wonderful. Like
starting the Arts Center in Park City about twenty-five years ago. It‟s been a joy
to me. I hated to have it disappear.
JS: But it‟s led to other good things hasn‟t it?
WK: Oh yes, I should say so. I think it‟s been well respected too, at least in Utah and
JS: It‟s quite fascinating to see a company starts in Ogden and become worldwide.
WK: One more thing…Grandmother and Grandfather had eight kids. My mother was
one. and the last one was Pat. She had her older brother, the first child, and he
loved the construction. He was about twenty-five years older than Pat. Then the
other son was killed—hit a cow going to North Ogden. So Grandmother made it
very clear to E.O.—she called him Grandfather—that Pat wasn‟t going out in the
boonies like that all the time and so he was coddled. He was a vice president
when he moved down here. Phil thought it was just marvelous.
They finally decided they had to fire him and they did. I didn‟t have much
to do with it, but they told him that if he learned insurance they‟d turn over
insurance to him. Well, that was a nice chunk of the business. Pat said, “We
don‟t know anything about it.” She said, “Oh yes, we do, we‟re going to go learn it
tomorrow.” And they went and started a company here. Everything was fine and
they kept his sense of something, except for the damn ranch.
JS: The sense I have is that there are some really far-sighted and insightful people in
this company all the way along.
WK: I would say that the pair of Littlefield and Marriner was excellent. Marriner has
been criticized by a lot of people because he kind of shoots his mouth off, but
he‟s so bright. He liked giving speeches when they had two-day meetings it was
driving everybody crazy. George Eccles couldn‟t hold a candle to him in
construction. He made it in banking. Pat was fired, so it really boiled down to Ed
and we had quite a few mining engineers on the board.
JS: Well I know you are on a busy schedule so I think I will stop this right here. Thank
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