Rixon Rafter, CA ACES Enrollee

Rixon Rafter, CA ACES Enrollee

After retiring early in 2003 as an Agricultural Engineer with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Salinas, California, Rixon Rafter continued part time as a volunteer in the same office. Late in 2007 he was contacted by Jim Howard, the district conservationist (DC) in San Mateo County about a position in the National Older Worker Career Center (NOWCC) Agriculture Conservation Experienced Services (ACES) program. This appealed to him as it consisted of the same type of work that he had enjoyed before retirement, and in the same geographical location.

Rixon grew up on a farm in the Red River Valley in eastern North Dakota. Upon graduation from North Dakota State University in 1960 as an agricultural engineer, he joined the US Forest Service in Oregon for six months. Then he served a 2 year active duty commitment in the Army. After training in Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, he was stationed in Germany in a field artillery battalion. Upon release from the army, Rixon returned to the Forest Service in Oregon. For over 4 years, he was involved in the survey, design, and construction of logging roads in the Siskiyou National Forest in southwestern Oregon. In those days they were just beginning to use computers for design. The field survey data for a job would be keypunched onto a series of cards at the computer center in Portland, then mailed back to the field for design. Design consisted of a series of steps. After each step the job would be mailed back to Portland for processing. The print out was then returned to the field for the next step. Even though this process could take several months, it was still faster than doing it manually. The road projects were usually constructed by a private logging contractor, as part of a timber sale, or a general contractor on major projects.

In June 1967, Rixon transferred to the Soil Conservation Service (SCS) in Napa California. The name was later changed to the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Over the next 35 ½ years he was stationed in six different field offices and worked on projects in 13 different counties along the coast of California. This extended from the Oregon border south to Santa Barbara County. Projects ranged from the various types of irrigation, land grading and leveling, stream bank protection, dams, ponds, reservoirs, livestock fencing and water developments (springs and wells). During this time he spent a total of over 8 ½ years on three different Interagency Detail Assignments (IPA) to Marin and Sonoma Counties, (animal waste control), Vandenberg Air Force base (livestock facilities on range land leased to local ranchers and farmers), and Fort Ord Army base (erosion control). During this time, his time and efforts were dedicated to the specific problem in each area. Rixon reported to the appropriate county or military official rather than an NRCS official.

The IPA assignment to Marin and Sonoma counties was especially challenging, but rewarding. Many of the dairies in these coastal counties were being forced to close or move to other areas due to pollution control requirements. Originally, dairies had been located on or adjacent to a creek or stream channel. The philosophy in earlier times had been to locate a dairy close to a stream so that the waste would be “Flushed Away” during storm periods and provide nutrients to aquatic wildlife downstream. Now, due to the large increase in the number of milk cows per dairy, something had to change. The problem was especially acute in Marin County due to the steep terrain, narrow canyons, and limited space for waste containment facilities. People in the county were generally sympathetic to the problem and willing to help. The help consisted of a Tax Relief Program from the county for the cost of waste control improvements. This, along with his design efforts, helped slow the loss or closure of many of the dairies.

Bobette Parson’s (Rixon’s monitor) says “Rixon is an experienced NRCS Engineer who is part of the Salinas Service Center technical team both as an Aces employee and as an Earth team volunteer. He is a committed and loyal enrollee, often the first to arrive at work and the last to leave each evening. He exudes enthusiasm and has a knowledge of the office history that pre-dates any of the other staff. This has been invaluable when searching the historic records for a farm filed under a name used prior to the computer age.

Athletic in his activities, Rixon makes field visits, conducts inventory and designs engineering practices with the other NRCS staff. Rixon provided on-the-job training to a new Pathways student intern this summer, helping the student to feel connected to our agency and the history of our work in Monterey County.

Above all, Rixon is known to tackle any job to help the team and to do it with enthusiasm. He is a true team player. This year in addition to his technical work, Rixon served as our fleet manager and helped with the building remodeling plans using auto cad to be sure everything would fit before the movers arrived. I am grateful to have this amazing and competent ACES enrollee on my staff.”

Over the years Rixon has enjoyed working on a wide variety of projects and in different areas. From logging roads to animal waste facilities. Lately, as an ACES enrollee, he has have been involved in several interesting projects. Two projects consisted of collecting or harvesting roof runoff. On one project the stored water was used to wash down the milking area on a goat dairy that produced cheese. On another project it was used to supplement well water to irrigate a small commercial plot of lavender. The use of solar powered pumps to supply livestock water in remote areas of a ranch has also become popular. The hours working for ACES were less than full time, which left him plenty of free time to enjoy retirement.

In his free time Rixon participates several times a week in an exercise program for senior citizens. Lately he has also been swimming laps at the local YMCA. Service in the army in Germany helped him develop an interest in the culture, sights, and activities of other countries. This has led to sightseeing and skiing trips throughout the USA and other countries.