Virginia Tech® home

Frank L. Gaddy

Frank L. Gaddy

Mining Engineering
Class of 1948, BS; Class of 1956, MS

When Frank Gaddy was old enough to attend junior high school, his family lived three miles away. His only option was to walk to and from his classes each day, carrying a kerosene lantern much of the darker winter days. But it gave him the opportunity to start what would become a lifelong career interest — along the hour-long walk, he would pick up interesting rocks, and often show them to his science teacher. She encouraged his interest, taking him and another student on a field trip to the Appalachian Trail on the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Some 70 years later, he would receive the Rock Mechanics Award for the groundbreaking work that he did as part of his master’s thesis at Virginia Tech, the premise of which is still taught in the mining engineering curriculum worldwide today.

Gaddy’s second love as a youngster was the military. He attended Washington and Lee High School in Arlington, Virginia, where he was a member of the junior ROTC unit. When he graduated, he was the third highest-ranking cadet in his class. Choosing Virginia Tech to continue his military training was easy, and he was one of the students to arrive in Blacksburg via the famed Huckleberry Train.

As with most students of the World War II era, he was drafted a year after his arrival at Virginia Tech. He traveled to Camp Beale, Marysville, California, where initially he kept up his interest in rocks. The problem was he was shoveling them to create walkways. Fortunately, he was soon promoted to drill sergeant, then company clerk, but ended up in the hospital in quarantine with the measles. Complications developed when his physicians discovered a cyst, causing him to stay in the hospital for 66 days and miss his company’s orders to ship out to England. “I was left behind as a supply sergeant,” Gaddy says.

He was transferred to Fort Belvoir, Virginia, and attended its engineering officer school. Gaddy was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers in November 1944, and was soon shipped to Italy where he served in a combat engineer company during the last two battles there. He remained with the Army for 29 years as a reservist, retiring as a Major.

As he was being commissioned and before he left for Italy, Gaddy literally married the girl next door, Marjory, from his hometown of Arlington, on November 22, 1943. The two of them leased an apartment, and when they returned to Blacksburg after the war was over, they brought their first-born daughter Sharon with them, and delivered their second child, Stephen, soon afterwards.

Gaddy, now the father of two, graduated in 1948 from Virginia Tech and moved his family to Mammoth, West Virginia, where he took a position with Warner Colleries Company. He performed much of the engineering work for the construction of the Emily Mine, and was named a section foreman. Five years later, he became a health and safety engineer for the U.S. Bureau of Mines, based in Norton, Virginia. Throughout the 1950s, he fought mine fires, investigated fatalities, and helped reduce the death toll to less than 1,000 a year. To put this number in perspective, the fatalities had been closer to 1,700 to 1,800 a year, according to Gaddy, and today, if the mining industry hits 100, “it is awful.”

While Gaddy worked in Norton, he spent one day a week traveling 330 miles round trip to Blacksburg to pursue his master’s degree in mining engineering (MinE). He also used two summer sessions, and was able to take his second walk across the stage for a diploma in June of 1956. His research work for his thesis was on the absolute strength of cubical blocks of coal. He used his experiences in Norton where he was asked to design a new steel roof bolt support system. So, he prepared samples of various sizes and different characterizations of coal and transported them to Blacksburg for testing. “The letter formula we came up with is still taught in mining schools throughout the world,” Gaddy emphasizes.

In 2005, some 50 years after he did his research, it was the Society of Mining Engineering that presented Gaddy with its Rock Mechanics Award, based on his pioneering work in the field.

In 1959, Gaddy joined the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway Company as a mining engineer at its Huntington, West Virginia, location. Within three years, he became the assistant engineer of coal properties, performing extensive investigations into the quality, quantity, and marketability of coal reserves of the C&O properties. When C&O merged with the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, Gaddy was reassigned to its coal development office in Fairmont, West Virginia, near Morgantown. Gaddy began driving some 1,000 miles a week rather than move his family again.

So, in 1968, he decided the time was right to start his own venture, the Gaddy Engineering Company, specializing in property management and coal consulting. The first few months were a bit frightening for the man used to getting a paycheck. The new company grossed about $300 a month for its first trimester. But then things started to click. “I did everything connected with coal mines, especially coal reserve studies, estimating the amount of coal that might be on a property. I managed some 300,000 acres of property and probably consulted on another 300,000 for banks, individuals, and land companies,” Gaddy says, by the time he retired in March of 2000.

During the peak of the company’s existence, Gaddy employed about 50 people. “During the 1970s, we grew so fast that I had difficulty in getting people who were trained to do the work. When the oil embargo ended in 1980, there was a downturn in his business.

The Virginia Tech MinE graduate enjoyed providing “good returns” to his clients over the 33 years he ran his company. “I have had the pleasure of making people happy by developing clients’ properties and giving them good returns,” Gaddy says. As he recalls, one of his customers told him: “Frank, for 25 years we’ve worked together. Anything you said was going to happen, did happen. Anything you said was not going to happen, did not happen.”

“That is the way I worked,” Gaddy says simply. “Kind thoughts are worth money to me.”

Gaddy continues to work as a consultant, devoting some 20 to 30 hours a week to his favorite clients. “I continue to thrive on my work,” says the octogenarian. “The mining industry is small and like a family. It’s not what you know, but who you know. I can pick up a phone and call a friend and have answers within minutes,” Gaddy explains.

Gaddy has always kept up his association with Virginia Tech, even to the point of insuring the school’s involvement in an annual coal trade show. When Gaddy noticed competitors of Virginia Tech’s MinE program were present at the equipment exposition, but the Hokies were missing, he persuaded Dick Lucas, the department head in the 1980s, to begin hosting a reception. During the reception, Virginia Tech would then honor its outstanding alumni in the coal industry. Today, those awards are presented at the annual mining and minerals scholarship banquet on campus.

Gaddy’s professional memberships include the following: Huntington Chapter of the West Virginia Society of Professional Engineers; West Virginia Society of Professional Engineers, including its presidency during 1972-73; National Society of Professional Engineers; Professional Engineers in Private Practice, including its vice-presidency; American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical, Petroleum Engineers, including its membership chairman and chairman and president of its central Appalachian section; American Mining Congress, including the chairmanship of its roof-control committee for eight years; West Virginia Coal Mining Institute, including its presidency in 1975; and Sigma Gamma Epsilon. Four Governors of West Virginia appointed him to the West Virginia Board of Registration for Professional Engineers. He served the board for 22 years and was its president for eight years.

Class of: 1948, 1956
Year Inducted into Academy: 2006