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Manson Legacy H. Roger Morris: One of the Boys in the Boat


Roger Morris and the 1936 US Crew Team posing for a picture on the dock with two oars.
The 1936 University of Washington Husky Row Crew that earned a gold medal win in Berlin. Roger Morris (far right). Source: Museum of History and Industry

Responsible for building Manson’s first hydraulic dredge and namesake of one of the Company’s current vessels, H. Roger Morris spent more than 30 years working with Manson Construction Co. In addition to his lasting impact on the business, Roger Morris led a legendary life, including an opportunity that earned him and his team an Olympic gold medal. 


Early years in the Pacific Northwest 


The son of a Welsh furniture and hardware store owner, H. Roger Morris, known as Roger, grew up in Seattle’s Fremont District. Descending from a long line of laborers—his grandfather, John Morris, was a coal miner who died during the Franklin Mine Fire Disaster in 1894—Roger’s family was one of many families who contributed to the early growth of Washington State’s economy.   


Seizing the rare opportunity to pursue an education during the post-depression era, Roger attended the University of Washington (UW) in the mid-1930s.


One for the History Books 


At UW, Roger took on a courseload of engineering classes and even found time to participate in organized sports, especially rowing. Through hard work and natural talent, Roger earned a spot on the legendary nine-man Husky Rowing Team, who went on to compete in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.  

Undeterred by the political climate and Nazi propaganda at the Berlin games, Roger and the other eight members of the Husky team overcame several challenges to compete at the highest level.  


In George Pocock’s boat, and under the direction of rowing Coach Al Ulbrickson, Roger and the Husky team won the men’s eight competition, using the Huskies’ slow start, consistent pace, and sprint-to-finish trademark. As 19,000 screaming fans cheered at the top of their lungs at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Roger stood proudly with his teammates, donning gold and celebrating their historic win for Team U.S.A. 


The team’s gold medal win secured the team’s place in history, with their story immortalized in Daniel James Brown’s non-fiction novel “The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. 


After his legendary and historic stint with the Huskies, Roger graduated from UW in 1938 with a degree in mechanical engineering. He married Reba Mott several months later.  


Black and White photo showing the construction of the hydraulic dredge HUSKY
Manson’s first hydraulic dredge, HUSKY, was built by Roger Morris and Haakon Edwards in the Seattle Yard.

Looking Towards the Future

Proud of his past but focused on the future, Roger became interested in marine dredging. He moved to San Pedro, CA, with Reba to learn more about the dredging business.  


The following year, he returned to Seattle to work as a contractor on Lake Washington’s first Floating Bridge, managing a team to receive, secure, and ship bridge cables for the project.  


In 1945, he was drafted into the U.S. Navy and worked on a dredging battalion at Naval Base Guam.  


When Roger returned from the Western Pacific in 1947, he joined Manson Construction Co.—then operating under a joint venture named Manson-Osberg—to help build a dredge that would straighten the Puyallup River for the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). 


Roger designed and choreographed the building of the first hydraulic dredge, HUSKY 1, with Equipment and Operations Manager Haakon Edwards and the Seattle Yard crew, using an old barge, saying, “HUSKY was built with more love than money.” According to many at the time, the Puyallup River project was one of the “right” jobs that Manson completed that helped the company get to where it is now.  


After completing the Puyallup River job, Roger accepted a management position with another contractor in Oregon, moving Reba and their young family to the Beaver State. 


Eight years later, Roger rejoined Manson-Osberg as a dredge superintendent on several Alaska harbor dredging jobs, including Craig, Pelican, and Kodiak. Roger would work at Manson for 30 years, witnessing several organizational changes, such as the Manson-Osberg disbandment in 1985—Manson bought out the HUSKY II and MALAMUTE.  


Theoretically, out of work and on the brink of retirement, Roger received a call from Manson President Glenn Edwards to stay on as a consultant. Roger was given the title of the Manson-Osberg car and was encouraged to work out of his home—arguably the first person in Manson’s history to work remotely.   

Roger retired in December 1986.  


Throughout his retirement, Roger kept in touch with his lifelong friends and colleagues at Manson. 

“Roger was one of the nicest people you’d ever meet,” says Manson President & CEO John Holmes. “I shared an office with him more than 40 years ago and he made it a point to check-in with me to see how I was doing and to share some wisdom about the business to a young engineer. Even after he retired, he would visit me and other people at Manson to see how things were going. I really enjoyed knowing him." 


A man pouring mud on a cutter suction dredge
Roger Morris dumping a bucket of mud to “prime” the cutter head of the H.R. MORRIS at the Seattle Yard.

The H.R. MORRIS 


To recognize and honor his contributions to Manson’s success spanning three decades from 1956 to 1986, the cutter suction dredge H.R. MORRIS was launched on February 28, 1998. Built by Gunderson Inc., the new dredge measured 220 ft. long and 52 ft. wide and was equipped with four diesel generators with 2,500 horsepower each.  


The official christening of the H.R. MORRIS took place at Manson’s Seattle Yard on September 30, 1998, with Roger, Reba, and their four children, Susan, Joan, James, and David, in attendance, along with the Morris’ grandchildren and dozens of Manson personnel. Roger stood proudly as crowds of people celebrated his professional achievement. 


Roger died in the summer of 2009 at the age of 94. He was the last surviving member of UW’s legendary 1936 crew.  


The cutter suction dredge HR MORRIS in blue water in California with a pipeline behind it.
The H.R. MORRIS on the Ventura Harbor Maintenance Dredging project in Southern California.

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