When it comes to working in the cotton industry — and cotton ginning in particular — you either immerse yourself in it, or you just get a little wet and move on. I would be one of those “immersion” types. This industry gets in your blood. It becomes not only a job, but also a vocation. But where does that nurturing of industry passion come from?
For me and countless others, it came through Dr. Calvin B. Parnell Jr., Regents Professor in the Department of Biological & Agricultural Engineering at Texas A&M University. Dr. Parnell retired in 2016 after a career in research, Extension and education that spanned six decades. During this time, he epitomized the ideals of the land-grant college system: exploring new concepts, getting those concepts into the public sector, and teaching those concepts to future generations. Much of his focus during that time was cotton- related, which made him a natural choice to be the first and only (to date) holder of the Endowed Chair in Cotton Ginning and Mechanization.
Dr. Parnell has authored or co-authored more technical articles, made more presentations, and given more expert testimony than time and space in this article will allow. He’s won a multitude of awards from numerous technical societies and organizations. But outside of love of God and his wife, children and grandkids (don’t get him started about the grandkids), he’d be proud to tell you about his most satisfying professional accomplishment — his students and their successes.
They form an unending line that began in the 1970s with baby boomers and continues today with millennials. Although retired, he still advises some of his graduate students that have yet to finish. Dr. Parnell’s students introduced the new-fangled “module builder” to skeptical cotton farmers in on-site demonstrations in the early 1970s. They helped develop a new configuration of the cyclone dust collector in the late ’70s and early ’80s and blew up grain dust and gasified cotton gin trash in the late ’80s and early ’90s. His students worked on dust abatement from cotton gins and other agricultural facilities well into the new millennium, striving to more accurately model what happens as dust particles disperse to surrounding areas. All these projects helped make a tangible difference in the “real world.”
I first met Dr. Parnell in the fall of 1979. We were in a meeting, and he was leaning back in his chair. With a Travis Club Senator cigar in the side of his mouth (he chewed, not smoked, them), Dr. Parnell rattled off a barrage of words, sprinkled with some technical terms I didn’t know at the time. As I listened, I thought, “I hope I can get as excited about engineering as this guy does.”
The next real encounter with him was the 1982 spring semester when I took his infamous “processing class,” known as AGEN 318. So much information…so much work…and the tests were brutal. I was never so overjoyed, or should I say relieved, to get a “B” in all my life and wanted to learn more from this man. While working for him in graduate school, the research, data analysis and technical writing we did were gratifying. One of his favorite anecdotes is about my writing. Although I am flattered, I also know he can lay it on a little thick at times — so I keep it all in perspective.
My biggest regret is going to work for Lummus in March 1986 before finishing my master’s thesis. The job got in the way, and I never finished it. He was as disappointed as I was but used my example to encourage other grad students: “Don’t be a Lumpy! Get your thesis written!” Through my teaching at the NCGA Ginners’ Schools and writing research papers for the annual Beltwide Cotton Conferences, I hope I am paying it back to Dr. Parnell while also “paying it forward” to future engineers, ginners and industry personnel.
I know I speak for all his “disciples” when I say a sincere “thank you” to Dr. Calvin B. Parnell Jr. for his lifetime of devotion to our industry and to us. I am a better engineer…and a man…because of him.