Jim Quinlan

From: Geary Schindel, 4 May 2002 

The recent thread regarding cavers who have gone on to the big reward in the sky (shouldn't this be underground - hum) made me think about Jim Quinlan again.  (Actually, I think of Jim every morning when I get out of bed when my knees don't quite work right).  Jim spent a number of years in the Austin area and received his Ph.D. in geology from UT.  I didn't know Jim when he lived in Texas and only know that he caved here in the late 60's.  However, I had the unfortunate pleasure of working for Jim when he was the Park Geologist at Mammoth Cave National Park.  I was working on my Master's at Western Kentucky University in the early 80's and the job filled in what little free time I had.  It was the best of times and the worst of times - caving for pay.

Jim was a caver and an nonconformist.  He didn't get along well with many of the park superintendents, refused to wear a park uniform, only worked out of his house, stored dynamite in his car port, and kept uncivil work hours (basically from 10 am to about 3 am every day).  Jim ran one of the first programs that paid cavers to explore and map caves.  The program found and mapped Whigpistle Cave (22 miles), Hicks Cave (20 miles), Parkers Cave (4 miles) and many others as part of his work to understand the hydrogeology of the Mammoth Cave area.  Some of his employees included George Huppert (recently deceased), George Wood (Texas caver now?), Don Coons, Carol Conroy, Sheri Engler, Chris Kerr, Christine Gerace, Phil O'del, Joe Ray, and many others.

Jim was basically bald (he also had no teeth but that's another story). During part of his park service career, he grew a great big beard much like Fidel's or the guy in Iran with the towel on his head.  The park superintendent hated it.  One day, Jim was out giving a lecture to one of the nearby elementary schools on geology.  As Jim completed his lecture, some bright young lad was in the back with his hand raised, begging to ask a question.  Jim, seeing a budding young scientist, was expecting some question about the formation of the earth.  The student stood up and said, "Hey mister, I think your heads on upside down."  Jim later shaved his beard, placed it in a box, and mailed it to the park superintendent.

Since Jim was a scientist, the Park Service required that his work be evaluated by a peer group of scientist outside the park service.  Jim did great work and all of his peers gave him high marks.  (Twenty years later, much of his work is still setting the standard in the field.)  Well, the park superintendent thought that Jim's friends were showing favoritism with the high marks (karst hydrology is a small field).  The park superintendent asked Jim if he knew anybody that could review his work that he didn't know. Jim said "I don't know anybody that I don't know."  Needless to say, this pissed off the park superintendent even more.

Joe Ray was Jim's field tech at the park and did most of the leg work on some 500 tracer tests.  Joe looked, and still looks, a little like John Brown with his fiery eyes and big black beard (no towel this time).  Anyway, Joe loves tracer testing but hates going in caves.  Back around 1983, Jim was just recovering from his first and last successful triple bypass and wanted to see the two monitoring wells that were installed while he was in the hospital.  The monitoring wells were drilled into the Hawkins-Logston River in Mammoth Cave.  To reach the monitoring wells, you had to rappel down a 55 foot drilled shaft that varied from 24 inches to 17 inches in diameter (yes, I used to fit down a 17 inch drill hole - and so did George Veni) This entrance is named the Doyle Valley Entrance to Mammoth Cave but should probably be renamed the Quinlan Entrance).  Jim wanted me to lead the 4-6 hour trip taking him and Joe to see the wells (neither Joe or Jim had been there).  Joe jumped right up and said that he didn't have a wet suit and; therefore, couldn't go.  Jim insisted that we needed him and found an old wetsuit left over from a CRF expedition some 10 years earlier.  Joe put on the wet suit and off we went; however, Joe was not a happy camper.

Before entering the cave, I told Jim straight out that if he vapor locked on the trip, I wasn't going to do CPR as I figured the park would promote me for getting rid of him.  Nothing like starting the trip on a happy note. Well, after a couple of hours of walking, crawling, and wading through the river, Joe's dry rotted wet suit bottom finally split from the belly button to the middle of his back by way of his you know what.  Now cave water in Kentucky is about 54 degrees and certain parts of Joe began to turn black and blue (both from the cold and from being stepped and crawled on).  Joe was really really not happy and made quite a sight with his most private parts pretty much public.  When we finally reached the wells, Joe was going to whip Jim's ass.  Now I was afraid I was going to have to renege on the CPR thing - it was getting a little intense.

At that point, I figured I should try and redirect the focus of the discussion (I learned this technique by watching the television show "Kung Fu.")  So, I asked Jim if he had received his application for "Who's who of speleology."  In a rather indigent tone, he said "no, he had never heard of it."  Well I told him that it was being put together by a group in France, that I had received an application, filled it out detailing all my work in the field, and mailed it back in with my $25.  Also, the deadline had already passed so he couldn't apply.  Jim said that he couldn't believe that he hadn't received one.  I said, "maybe they hadn't heard of you or didn't think you had made a significant contribution to the science and as a case in point, I reminded him that it was I who was leading the trip into the longest cave in the world and that he was my charge.  Now Jim had his Ph.D. and had quite a reputation and I was still working on my Master's and had quite a different reputation.  This really pissed Jim off - however, I was having great fun playing him like a big ole carp.  After I told him that you could also check a box, pay $50 instead, and get extra special consideration.  Jim thought that was scandalous.  I think he then realized I was really pulling his leg.  We all made it out alive and still talking to each other.  Joe has since gone on to do great work in karst hydrology in Kentucky.

Jim left the park service in the late 1980's and ended up working for me at ATEC consultants for about a year.  I then left that firm and Jim went out on his own.  We worked together on many projects, traveled to Australia and New Zealand to look at caves and karst, and wrote a couple of papers together.  Jim was always asking me and A. Richard Smith (along with some others) to review his writing.  I even coauthored a couple of papers with A. Richard.  When I moved to Texas, I looked for A. Richard at TCR and other events but never got a chance to actually meet him.  A. Richard was one of Jim's closest friends.  I hated to hear of his death.

Jim lived a few miles from me in Nashville, Tennessee and we developed a strong working relationship.  He was truly my friend and mentor.  Jim was having heart problems in the mid 1990's and I was trying to get him to see a doctor.  He finally decided to see a cardiologist while I was at the NSS convention in Blacksburg.  The Dr. recommended open heart surgery the next day.  Jim went into surgery for another triple bypass and they were unable to restart his heart - he died on the table.  A friend of ours called me at the hotel we were staying at that day and told me the news.  This was about an hour before the NSS convention banquet.  News spread quickly at the convention and it put a damper on the evening for many of us (I understand the park service threw a party).  When I checked my messages at work, Jim had called late the night before, said that he was going into surgery the next day, and to please call him if I received this message - I never got to make that call.

It took me a long time to erase that message.