Ronald Rideout, PE began his career working with wood with his first job in high school at Wickes Lumber Company. This job introduced him to the wood construction industry by selling building materials to contractors. Before he turned 18, Rideout owned his first construction company which allowed him to moonlight building decks, garages, storage sheds and other projects throughout high school and college. “I have always liked putting my thoughts on paper and then building what I drew. My curiosity was knowing how something was assembled and made to be structurally sound.” This curiosity led Rideout to the University of Maine Civil Engineering program.
Rideout’s education exposed him to the science of materials including wood. Rideout stated, “Wood is more complex than steel. The strength of the material is based on load orientation and duration. Learning how to design wood changed the way I worked as a carpenter.” Rideout’s construction work continued as he embarked on his engineering career. He owned and operated RWR Construction while working full time as a bridge engineer. Rideout stated, “I worked nights and weekends mainly building storage buildings. I wanted to stay connected to buildings.” His fascination with modular homes led to the small-scale design, fabrication and building of storage buildings. Moving these building required an understanding of weights, center of gravity, and leverage. He added, “As others in these industries know, an understanding of where to fasten components is learned after making a few mistakes requiring time-consuming rebuilds.” Additionally, panelized structures require the ability to have wood assemblies’ piece together and an awareness of how to prevent assemblies from twisting and distorting when being lifted into place and understanding how moisture effects the assembly — an understanding Rideout acquired by hands-on work.
The first property Rideout developed involved clearing a heavily forested 2.3-acre site, complete with installation of water, sewer and electricity, mobile home and a barn. Rideout purchased a 4-wheel drive truck and twitched and hauled logs that were later used for his barn. Construction of the barn started in November 1997. “I should not build the barn so late in the season but I was obsessively passionate about building a post-and-beam gambrel garage,” Rideout stated. Jobs that this don’t always go completely as planned. Rideout recalled, “My father did his best to help for a while too until he accidentally shot me in the hand with an air nailer. Not once but twice in 5 minutes. I have to laugh about it today, pulling a 16d nail out through the bridge between my two fingers.” Another unplanned event involved the pending ice storm of 1998, which required temporary protection over an entire barn roof.
The takeaway from this project? Rideout admits to having “an almost out-of-control passion” that fueled his desire to pursue design-build projects. He stated, “With design-build, I believed all parties — owner, engineer, contractor — can succeed profitably.” He left bridge engineering begin to work for a small design-build company. He also started R and B Developers to develop affordable properties for family members in need of housing. Although the results of this development company were not initially as successful as Rideout hoped, it did not deter him. He later went to work for a large architectural firm where he designed a 7-story building as his first design-build project as engineer of record. He made the time to evaluate the needs of his community and find a niche to fill. That niche was design-build services for residential projects. R and D Developers purchased a two-unit apartment building in need of a total rehab from floor joists to roofing work. Rideout drew on all his past experiences to complete earthwork, foundations, all wood framing, sheetrock and a small portion of the finish carpentry himself. He followed this with the ambitious purchase of a large parcel of property on which to create a subdivision. He would go on to purchase a tractor trailer truck, a dump truck, and two excavators. “I even had an agreement to buy an industrial building in Bomarc industrial park to make modular homes. But through a string of bad events, I ended up losing everything I owned and filed bankruptcy. That was the end of R and D Developers and the end of my desire to work over and above my primary employment responsibilities as an engineer.”
Rideout has been designing and specifying wood products since 1992. Some of his experiences include:
- A glulam arch structure that spanned over a gymnasium at Mount Ararat in Topsham. Rideout reported that at that time, finite element analysis was a welcome solution to indeterminate structures that required the grueling procedure of matrix analysis by hand.
- A 50-foot span glulam girder bridge with a fiber-reinforced plastic (FRP) laminate for the town of Dixfield. Rideout added that in this application FRP was used to increase beam strength and span, and that the bridge is part of an inspection program conducted by the University of Maine Advanced Structures and Composites Center (ASCC). Due to the controversy surrounding timber bridges at that time, Rideout had to sell the constituents on the viability of timber bridges through public hearings.
- The glulam beam roof system at the Penobscot Valley Country Club. Rideout stated the original design was for glulam trusses with concealed fasteners, but to save money and construction time, glulam beams were used instead. In this project, he back calculated the minimum notch depth to maximize headroom over the large glazing on the East wall looking out over the entire golf course.
- The student union at the University of Maine, Augusta campus. Rideout designed a ventilated, insulated roof system on tongue-and-groove timber deck supported by a field assembled timber truss roof system over the dining and lounge area. Rideout added, “This is the most aesthetically pleasing structure I’ve designed to date.”
- Two notable structures at the Advances Structures and Composites Center (ASCC) at the University of Maine in Orono. The first is an office building with conventual wood studs and joists, a main entrance has two large glulam beams with long spans extending from the entrance and leading to the lab, and an entry canopy with a set of curved beams. This project included a drafting error that resulted in Rideout being even more aware of the responsibility that stamping a design entailed. If you look closely at the glazing around the desk area, you can find a steel plate extending out and fastening to the glulam beam. This is where a steel column had to be placed in the glazing. “It’s all on me, I own any mistake on the plans,” Rideout said. The second structure is the high bay lab expansion with a conventionally framed glulam girders and 2×10 roof purlins and 2×6 wall girts.
- Reroofing of a 400-foot by 408-foot industrial facility used to manufacture plywood located in Alabama. The project was to provide a new membrane roof on tapered insulation, modify the ventilation and drainage system and refurbish or replace sub-purlins, purlins, main girders and columns. Rideout considers this recent experience to be the most challenging and rewarding project so far. Built in early 1970s, the flat-roofed structure consists of the original tar-and-gravel roof on wood sheathing on wood sub-purlins support by glulam purlins, supported by multi-span glulam girders. Over the years, the dimensional sub-purlin lumber had sagged, primarily due to moist conditions of plywood operations and failed tar and gravel roof. Purlins and girders were in need of repair as well. “I had to deal with signs of failure in several areas, leaking from water ponding, and the fact that Alabama is in a high-wind zone,” Rideout said. “My initial though was that this structure should be replaced with a pre-engineered metal building, but my opinion changed with a closer look.”
- Rideout was able to work remotely from Maine, providing engineering calculations and construction details. The Owner’s Representative had a mechanical engineering background, which Rideout found extremely valuable in coming up with construction details that could be backed up by structural calculations. “A true design-build relationship,” Rideout stated. “For a building this old, with such are poorly maintained roof, the structure is in remarkable condition.”
Throughout his career, Rideout has maintained one belief: Structural engineering is performed best in a fast-paced, deadline driven environment by structural engineers with a passion for the building of structures.