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Engineering Outreach
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Joseph N. Rumble

Joseph N. RumbleB.S. Mining Engineering 1952
B.S. Metallurgical 1952

Joseph Rumble was born in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1927. His father was a small-town Iowa boy who graduated from the University of Iowa with a business degree and traveled to many cities to find work especially during the Great Depression.

Joe lived with his family in Galveston, Houston, Waco, Dallas, Fort Worth and they finally settled in Albuquerque, New Mexico where Joe attended junior high and high school.

Joe was an average student spending many hours under the hoods of junker cars but, nonetheless, scored in the top 5% of students in the state after taking the New Mexico Senior Achievement Test. The summer before his junior year of high school, Joe took a job with the U.S. Forest Service in northern Idaho.

He traveled to Coeur d’Alene as a fire crew member in 1944 and returned the following summer as a fire lookout. Joe graduated from high school in 1945.

In 1945, following in his half-brother’s steps, Joe decided to attend the University of Idaho. Within a few months of starting school he was drafted into the Navy, tested high in the Eddy Test for electronics, radio and radar and was sent to Navy Class A electronic service schools for 15 months—at Great Lakes, Illinois, Ward Island, Texas and Memphis, Tennessee.

Joe was discharged in time to restart at U of I in 1948 planning to take Forestry.

When he talked to other Forestry graduates when he learned that jobs in that field were not available, and learned from the College of Mines Dean Fahrenwald that opportunities in mining were plentiful and Dean Fahrenwald said, “If you can’t find a job, I will hire you myself!” Joe became a mining engineering student right then and there.

Bill Staley, head of Mining, and Joe Newton, head of Metallurgical Engineering, became his mentors at the U of I. Both faculty members stressed creativity, innovation, hard work, and taught not to fear failure. Joe says, “They both gave me a lifetime career standard in interpersonal training, especially in developing trust, which was one of my best tools in my working life.” When Joe graduated in d 1952, he had 52 job interviews and 50 offers. At graduation he received two degrees—BS in Mining Engineering and BS in Metallurgical Engineering.

Joe’s mining career began at U.S. Vanadium Corporation’s Pine Creek tungsten operations, the “mine in the sky,” at 13,000 feet in the Sierras out of Bishop, California. He was assigned to the chemical analysis lab that tracts the process of ore to tungsten concentrate. His next assignment was in the mine, working as a diamond drilling assistant in the long-hole stopping procedure.

Living conditions at Pine Creek left much to be desired, and in 1952 Joe secured a job in Yerington, Nevada, at Anaconda’s open pit copper mine. One of his first challenges was to improve sampling methods for the Joy Drilling Machines using Hughes Tricone Bits that drilled the 10 inch blast holes. He developed a continuous sampling system and sample splitting that provided a very representative sample.

He then had the job of analyzing and improving large Dart truck tire performance.

Their fleet of forty 30-ton off-road trucks generated an annual tire cost of over $3,000,000. After investigating how long the tires were lasting, tire inflation standards, and failure type and repair procedures, Joe worked with the supplier and improved tire performance and reduced tire costs by 30%. Joe then became a leach plant production engineer, with the opportunity to become a shift supervisor.

After two years, Joe decided that shift work while raising a growing family compromised many of his family values. It was time to move on, and he took a position with Mountain States Telephone Company in Boise, Idaho, where he was a transposition and protection engineer for the open wire systems of the mid-1950s.

He became the operator of several radio telephone experiments that showed limited use for existing equipment, but big opportunities if it could be integrated into a wide coverage area. The cell phones of today were the logical outcome of those early experiments.

The attraction of working on a three-dam hydro project on the Snake River enticed Joe to work for Morrison Knudsen Construction Company. He soon realized that shift work at Yerington was not the best choice for his family and he then accepted a position with Alcoa in Wenatchee, Washington, as a process engineer in the smelting operations. He began in the anode plant. The carbon baking furnaces had refractory flues that had been built in place, and this was the way it had always been done. Joe saw a huge advantage that by building the flues at a remote place it would be a prefabricated flue that could be dropped in place, saving labor and furnace productivity. His invention worked fine, and Alcoa is still using that concept today, fabricating their flues at a refractory company.

Joe’s next assignment was the at ingot plant, where molten aluminum was cast into ingot of various sizes. He developed the first 30/50-lb. interlocking, open-mold ingot that made a much more secure bundle (package) for shipping.

Joe also came up with the concept of direct chill continuous cast ingot that was cleaner and high quality than competitors. The plant mechanical engineer and Joe developed a submerged pour system for casting 30- and 50-lb. open mold ingots that are still in use today.

Joe worked at Wenatchee for 16 years and then transferred to Point Comfort, Texas, as ingot plant superintendent. They were casting 36,000-lb. aluminum ingot for rolling into rigid container sheets for the aluminum beverage can industry. After three years and many productivity improvements Joe was promoted to a job at Badin, North Carolina. The Badin ingot plant made a lot of products, but the biggest challenge was to get the new technology of Hunter- Douglas cast sheet productivity to be competitive with other methods of casting ingots. Joe saw an opportunity to install SPC (statistical process control) in the casting process.

His concept was to have the casting operators make their own measurements and tweak the process to make the roll cast sheet have the highest quality standards in the industry. The SPC worked very well and the operators were doing all the process adjustments with no directions from technicians or a supervisor. They became the preferred supplier to the foil rolling plant in Lebanon, Pennsylvania.

Joe’s last challenge at Badin was creating a shipping department with an autonomous work force, which made all the decisions on shipping orders, timing, crew size, etc., without any supervision.

Joe is pleased and proud to see his six sons graduate from college, with three of them pursuing engineering and one a cement contractor. The other two are also excelling, as a CPA and a PhD wildlife biologist, respectively.

His first wife passed away in 1987 and he remarried in 1989 to Susan and they have enjoyed a busy retirement with many community and church activities, biking, skiing, traveling, and hiking. They have walked the entire Appalachian Trail and live on a 17-acre apple and pear orchard seven miles west of Wenatchee.