James B. Pickett, Sanford High Class of 1945, pioneered chemical roadway stabilization, forever changing road construction techniques around the world. He also revolutionized the use of calcium chloride, turning it from little more than a waste byproduct to one of the most profitable and widely used chemicals in the nation. Dozens of corporations from the United States to Australia now specialize in the techniques he developed. The now-routine recycling of roadways is a direct result of Mr. Pickett's innovations.

Mr. Pickett, a Sanford native and the son of James F. and Lillian Johnson Pickett, attended St. Ignatius grammar school and graduated from Sanford High School in 1945. He received his B.S. degree from Fordham University in 1949. Following graduation, Mr. Pickett returned to Sanford and worked for Goodall Fabrics Inc. as an industrial fabric salesman covering New England. When the Goodall-Sanford Mills closed in 1954, he went to work for Southern Fabrics Corporation covering New England and Eastern Canada. In 1960, he went to Stauffer Chemical Corporation covering New York State and Western Pennsylvania. In 1966 Mr. Pickett worked for W.R. Grace & Co. in Searsport, Maine. From 1970 to 1986 he worked for Allied Chemical Corporation. When Allied was divested in 1986 he stayed with the new company, General Chemical Corporation, until his retirement in 1993.

Mr. Pickett's tenure as marketing manager at General Chemical saw several amazing accomplishments. Recognizing his innovative abilities, General Chemical gave Mr. Pickett wide latitude to experiment. One of his assignments was to try to find a new use for calcium chloride. Calcium chloride, a byproduct in General Chemical's operations, was occasionally sold in small amounts but it was of little practical use. Mr. Pickett had an idea. He noticed that a tremendous amount of waste occurred when roads were developed. Often deteriorating roadways were torn up and thrown away, creating a great deal of environmental waste. This was necessary because roads could not be recycled. Using a special treatment involving calcium chloride, Mr. Pickett developed a way to highly stabilize roadways. His process was so successful that as a result, calcium chloride replaced liquid bituminous as the primary stabilization chemical. Further experiments showed that by using his technique, roads could actually be "recycled." This revolutionary method reduced the cost of reconstructing secondary roads by an amazing 50%. Mr. Pickett's "recycled" roads were not only less costly and environmentally-friendly, the roads were actually found to be superior to new roadways. Calcium chloride became an extremely profitable chemical. General Chemical, which occasionally sold a truckload of calcium chloride, now sells it by the barge.

Mr. Pickett is a member of the Chemical Club of New England, the Transportation Research Board, National Science Foundation, and an Honorary Member of the Asphalt Recycling and Reclamation Association. He was inducted into the General Chemical Hall of Fame in 1998.

While he is a legend in road construction, Mr. Pickett is probably best-known locally as a star athlete. Thrilling baseball fans around Maine, "Mimi" Pickett batted .618 for the Sanford High baseball team in 1945; still the all-time Telegram League record. Mr. Pickett won the prestigious Campbell Cup at Sanford High, and later played baseball at Fordham University. He was elected to the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame 1992.

Mr. Pickett married Corinne Flaherty of Portland in 1957. They have four children: Matthew, Leslie, Mary Ellen, Daniel, and thirteen grandchildren. He currently resides in Portland, Maine.

 

SHS Hall of Fame Profile: James B. Pickett
by Mike Higgins, Sanford News, p.1
May 17, 2001

SANFORD &endash; The month of June has many traditions. It is a month for weddings, picnics, summer tourists, and high school graduations.

Now in Sanford there is a new tradition. June is the month when Sanford High School inducts distinguished alumni into its Hall of Fame.

Last June, 11 SHS alumni were honored with the distinction of being the first-ever members of the SHS Hall of Fame.

At a ceremony on June 10, the SHS Hall of Fame will honor four more SHS graduates who have been chosen to be honored for their outstanding contributions in their chosen field.

While announcing the members of this year's inductees at a school committee meeting on April 2, Sanford High School teacher Paul Auger said that the reason behind the inception of the Sanford High Hall of Fame was to inspire current students. "To let them know they can do whatever they put their minds to," said Auger.

"(The Hall of Fame) is just a representative of what the Sanford community is all about," said Sanford School Committee Chairman Robert Stackpole. "It never ceases to amaze me the caliber of people who have graduated from Sanford High School."

People like road construction pioneer James B. Pickett. During his career, Pickett developed chemical roadway stabilization techniques that are still in widespread use today. Pickett also revolutionized the use of calcium chloride, turning it from a little-used waste byproduct to one of the most profitable and widely-used chemicals in the industry.

Being inducted into a hall of fame is not a new experience for Pickett. He is also a member of the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame and the Allied Chemical Hall of Fame.

Pickett was elected to the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame in 1992 for his outstanding high school baseball career. In 1945, Pickett hit .618 for the SHS baseball team, which is still a Telegram League record. "I was a pretty good native baseball player," says Pickett in an understatement.

In 1998, Pickett was elected to the Allied Chemical Hall of Fame for revolutionizing the use of calcium chloride in road construction, turning it from a little-used waste byproduct to one of the most widely used and profitable chemicals in the nation.

After being elected to two different halls of fame, one might think that it would start to be old hat for Pickett, but this is not so. Pickett says that he was taken aback when he was informed that he had been nominated to his alma mater's hall of fame.

"I was surprised and greatly honored," says Pickett. "A lot of good people graduated from Sanford High School, a lot of people I looked up to."

It is for his accomplishments in the field of road construction that James B. Pickett has been selected as a member of the Sanford High School Hall of Fame class of 2001.

While he was at Sanford High School, Pickett played both base ball and football, serving as a captain of both squads.

Besides setting the Telegram League record for highest batting average, Pickett also won the Campbell Cup, which was given to a senior who had showed the most marked improvement in athletics, sportsmanship, and character.

According to Pickett, his high school years were enjoyable ones. "It was a great time," he says.

Besides school and sports, Pickett's time was occupied with a series of part time jobs, something which Pickett says was common during World War II. "Everybody was working...trying to contribute to the war effort," he says.

According to Pickett, he worked in the spinning room at the Goodall-Sanford Mill, and he also stocked shelves at a grocery store.

After graduating from Sanford High School in 1945, Pickett went on to Fordham University in New York, where he majored in chemistry.

While Pickett continued to play baseball while at Fordham, he decided not to go out for the football team. Pickett says that he didn't feel that he had the size or skills necessary to contribute to the Fordham team, which included the legendary Vince Lombardi on its coaching staff.

After graduating from Fordham with a B.S. in chemistry in 1949, Pickett returned to his Sanford roots, working in the Boston office of the Goodall-Sanford mills. Employed as a salesman, Pickett sold furniture and industrial fabrics to customers all over New England.

When the Goodall-Sanford Mills closed in 1954, Pickett went to work for Southern Fabrics, selling their products throughout New England and eastern Canada.

In 1960, he moved to Rochester, New York, working as a salesperson for Stouffer Chemical Company.

After six years, Pickett returned to Maine to work for W.R. Grace in Searsport.

In 1970, Pickett received a call that changed his life.

R.S. McCambridge, who was his old boss at Stouffer Chemical, had become the president of Allied Chemical, and was calling to offer Pickett a new position.

Pickett says that McCambridge offered him a job with Allied Chemical marketing calcium chloride, which then was a little-utilized chemical which resulted from the production of soda ash, used in the glass industry. According to Pickett, McCambridge told him that his primary responsibility would be to find new uses for the product.

Initially, Pickett says that he refused the job, telling McCambridge that he did not want to relocate his family to New Jersey, where Allied Chemical had its home offices. It was only after McCambridge told him that he could stay in Portland and work out of his home that Pickett agreed to take the job.

Despite his degree in chemistry, Pickett says that he "didn't know anything about calcium chloride".

Pickett says that his research showed that the main use for calcium chloride was for dust control on dirt roads, and for snow and ice control.

After talking with several engineers who had experimented with the chemical, Pickett determined that calcium chloride could be extremely useful in road construction.

Pickett says that one construction engineer told him that he had used calcium chloride on several dirt roads for dust control and they were the only roads that held up during flooding.

With that information in hand, Pickett approached several of the paper companies in Maine proposing that they treat their dirt logging roads with calcium chloride.

According to Pickett, after seeing how well the calcium chloride hardened the roads, the president of the Great Northern Paper Co. ordered 40 tank cars of the liquid chemical to treat the company's extensive network of roads.

After his success with the paper mill. Pickett convinced several towns in New York to use calcium chloride to reconstruct roads.

"(We) did several...roads," says Pickett. "The results were the same."

"It set up like concrete, you would have thought it was paved," continues Pickett.

Besides improving the quality of the roads, Pickett says that calcium chloride also represented a cost savings to road builders. By recycling old, crushed road, hardened with calcium chloride, Pickett says that roads could be built at a significant savings over traditional methods. "What it was doing was keeping costs down," he says.

The widespread use of calcium chloride in road construction had a happy side effect for Allied Chemical, says Pickett. "The profits were enormous," says Pickett. "Sales just grew and grew."

Pickett says that as Allied's sales of calcium chloride started increasing, more and more companies jumped on the bandwagon. "It was a viable product," says Pickett. "It started spreading."

Pickett, says that the results of his work can be found in many road construction sites today. The use of calcium chloride is still widespread in the construction of most secondary roads.

Pickett, who retired from Allied Chemical in 1993, says that fate played a major part in his role behind the success of calcium chloride.

"Everything worked well," he says. "The timing was good, you need luck when you get something started."

Pickett, who still lives in Portland, hasn't slowed down during his retirement. He has traveled extensively, attended classes at Senior College in Portland, and he still finds time to attend his grandchildren's games.

Looking back over his career, Pickett says that his advice to young people would be "try and get as much experience as you can."

"Try things out...because you really don't know what you're good at," says Pickett. "When you're young you can do that."

Pickett says that he always remembers the advice his mother gave to him when he was younger, and he thinks that it still holds true for today's young people.

"Get some idea on how other people live," says Pickett. "You can always come home."

And chances are that you would return home on roads that were constructed with James Pickett's calcium chloride.

 

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