Mines News

Release Date Friday, November 6, 2020

Hardrockers of the Greatest Generation

Mines students in 1944 who were part of an accelerated engineering program needed for the war effort.


In World War II, the United States had a desperate need for scientists and engineers. South Dakota Mines responded with an accelerated engineering program. This article includes the stories of two alumni who graduated during this period. 

Curt Graversen (MetE 43) remembers finishing his junior year in May and starting his senior year about three days later in June. “This put our graduation in January,” Graversen recalls.

While in school, Graversen worked a number of jobs from being a janitor, bartender, ground crew worker, and fossil preparator. He has fond memories of his 1942 summer job on a National Geographic-funded fossil hunting expedition to the Badlands.

“We slept in a tent and on the ground,” he recalls. “It was hotter than the dickens with no place to get any shade.” Some of the fossils Graversen discovered are now on display in the Museum of Geology. “We made $75 per month. When I returned to school, I had three months’ pay and I felt like I was living high on the hog,” he says with a laugh.  

After he finished Mines, Graversen went to work for General Motors making the machine guns used in Allied airplanes. As an engineer, his contributions were vital to the war effort. He later received a master’s degree from the University of Utah and his career included a stint teaching engineering in Butte, Montana. He joined the company Precision Cast Parts when it was a startup. Today, it’s a global firm with over $10 billion in annual sales. He also worked for Omark Industries which made chain saw chain; this sent him all over the world, “wherever logs were being cut,” he says. 

His advice for the students of today: “It’s worth all the suffering and studying you have to do. It was a hardship, but it was a lot of fun. I’d recommend that these freshmen students stay at Mines and get a degree. That degree will leave you pretty well equipped to do almost anything."

Harlan Meyer (CE 44) worked in a local hotel as a night clerk, which helped pay his room and board. He and a fellow student shared one room and worked the front desk in shifts between studying and attending classes. “We slept in turns,” Meyer recalls. “We would go to class until 2 or 3 p.m. then we could run the front desk in shifts between studies until the next morning at 7 a.m. when we went back to class.”

In the summer of 1943, Meyer and fellow student Bill Coyle (CE 44) eagerly volunteered to search for bentonite in the North Dakota Badlands and surrounding areas. “It was a necessary occupation for the war effort,” Meyer says. “We found it all over the place and enjoyed our time that summer,” he says. “When you go to South Dakota Mines you have all kinds of different experiences.”

Meyer served in the Pacific Theater with the Navy Seabees in WWII. “I made up my mind when I got back from the service I wanted to work in South Dakota,” he says. Following his return to the state, his career included 16 years as the city engineer for Huron and 25 years as the executive director of the Associated General Contractors before retiring in 1987. 

His advice for students of today: “Be sure and be serious about your studies. What you learn at Mines is really valuable to you after you get out.”


About South Dakota Mines  

Founded in 1885, South Dakota Mines is one of the nation’s leading engineering, science and technology universities. South Dakota Mines offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees and a best-in-class education at an affordable price. The university enrolls 2,493 students with an average class size of 24. The South Dakota Mines placement rate for graduates is 98 percent, with an average starting salary of more than $70,036. For these reasons  South Dakota Mines is ranked among the best engineering schools in the country for return on investment. Find us online at www.sdsmt.edu and on FacebookTwitter, LinkedInInstagram, and Snapchat.

Contact: Mike Ray, 605-394-6082, mike.ray@sdsmt.edu

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