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Charles H. Sain

Year Inducted: 2006

To help articulate how productive Mr. Sain’s membership in our society has been, we might introduce him not as an outstanding civil engineer, but as an outstanding civic engineer. Active citizenship—service to nation, service to state—is a calling this Alabama native first answered during World War II. Charles H. “Hack” Sain, an honors graduate of the University of Florida, entered the army as a teacher of engineering skills to infantrymen. He later became an engineer officer, serving from the invasion of Europe until Germany’s surrender. An interest in leadership was forged during his military years; producing leaders in the engineering profession became a driving concern of his stateside career.

A world expert on blasting and vibration, Mr. Sain began working with dynamite at 17. Following the war, he joined the railroad industry. Early projects showcased his innovative streak. Among them was streamlining the switching of increased numbers of freight cars once steam locomotives yielded to more powerful diesels. In 1960 Southern Railway approached him, seeking a blasting method that would produce deep cuts free of rugged surfaces. His solution was “pre-splitting,” a method of cracking rock that not only smoothed slopes but improved control of blasting vibrations. Pre-splitting today is standard in U.S. transportation departments. Mr. Sain brought his method before ASCE in 1963 and later detailed it in a chapter of the Standard Handbook for Civil Engineering. Pre-splitting shaped the construction industry we know today, and itself requires Mr. Sain’s Hall of Fame induction. But there is more to his résumé.

In 1969 Charles H. Sain Associates was formed in Birmingham. The consulting engineering firm became one of Alabama’s largest by doing what no others were doing: uniting engineers, architects, and contractors in seamless communicating, planning, and executing. Mr. Sain recognized that only through a melding of work on paper and work on-site would consummate solutions result. Determined to give clients his best, he created ways to contribute from the first strategic phases of new hospitals, landfills, roads and bridges, golf courses, power plants, water systems, and schools. He completed 1,000 commercial projects alone. He was honored for service by the International Council of Shopping Centers; named Engineer of the Year by the Birmingham Engineering Council; appointed Order of the Engineer; and given Alabama ASCE’s Life Achievement Award.

Mr. Sain served as city engineer for Homewood and Vestavia Hills; was vice chairman of Jefferson County’s zoning board; and consulted for the Corps of Engineers, EPA, and China’s Three Gorges Dam. He serves on Alabama’s on-site wastewater management board and also briefs Alabama legislators on topics of his expertise. Beginning in college, Mr. Sain has served the engineering profession for years: as an officer of his campus ASCE chapter, as state ASCE program chair, as ASPE president, and in countless other roles with these and other groups. He serves on UAB’s Engineering Foundation Council and civil engineering board of visitors. At 82, Mr. Sain is in his office daily when not participating in professional gatherings. He continues overseeing a leadership development program he instituted at Sain Associates, thus ensuring his legacy of informed engineers who are inspired to lead.

Mr. Sain has three children: Randy Sain, Betsy Stockdale, and Anne Marie Hayes. He also has eight grandchildren.