Frank Cornish

FrankCornishI grew up in East New Orleans on landfill over a swamp. Our street was scheduled for paving when I was in the third grade, and my father and the rest of the cheap skates on the street decided not to pay what the city fathers allocated as their legitimate street paving costs. Our street was then filled with red sand and gravel instead of oyster shell like every other single unpaved street in the city.

It turns out that this gravel came from the Pleistocene Citronelle Formation from across Lake Ponchatrain, which was a glacial outwash fan sheet shed from sources in Indiana, Ohio & Kentucky. Growing up, I was a finder and collector. I found four leaf clovers (come see the one in my office for scientific good luck on wells). One day, after a torrential rain, the gravel and sand was washed. I looked in the gravel and found all these “bones” and round things with holes in them. Another kid, David Hill, said, “Those aren’t bones. Those are corals and the other things are crinoid stems, they’re fossils.” His Dad was a government meteorologist whose hobby was rocks and minerals. Suddenly, I was a rock hound in a state with no rocks. I checked out every book on rocks and fossils and determined to be a fossil finder, like Roy Chapman Andrews.

When I was 13 my Dad took me on the dream vacation for a fossil hunter in New Orleans — Texas!! We went to every single place the guidebook said there were fossils. Crinoids, echinoids, pelecypods, steinkerns—I collected them all and still have them to this day.

In high school the worst teacher there, was a geologist that couldn’t get a job in the 60’s, so he became a chemistry teacher. He had a wig and everyone made fun of him. That’s when I knew I could not be a geologist, because everyone would call me a Mr. Walker. Instead I majored in math, because it was conceptually easy for me (I still can’t do math— abstraction and concepts are different). Along the way I was taking all the geology courses I could without being a major. Finally, as a sophomore at LSU, sitting in a differential equation class, full of eggheads with slipsticks, I though “What the hell am I doing here with all these dingdongs?” I changed my major to geology and the department gave me a Getty Oil Scholarship. Getty Oil? Not me, I’m going to be a paleontologist and find fossils. At LSU, two professors of sedimentology, Dr. Donald Lowe (now at Stanford) and Dr. Clyde Moore got me interested in sand and limestone (after all that’s where the fossils are). Before and after field camp in Colorado, I followed Dr. Lowe to measure Cambrian sand outcrops. I fell in love with sand and with the great outdoors of Colorado. New plan—I could be a field geologist forever.

Getty Oil offered me a job, I turned it down. After graduation from LSU, I got the dream job—field asst. USGS, Gunnison, Co. The way it works is — every single day that is a good day in the summer you go out in the field unless it’s a federal holiday. So I had only the fourth of July off. Of course, I got to walk through the scrub oak, the swampy lowland valleys with the mosquitoes and biting flies where all the bears were, the full time guys got the good jobs — mountain meadows with wildflowers and hummingbirds. Also, I got exciting rides in whirlybirds with no doors with former Air America pilots. I went on horse back for 5 days on pack trips (talk about saddle sore) and nearly drowned in a kayak on Gunnison River white water. I got the field geology thing out of my system.

At UT, I studied sandstone in earnest and was awarded another Getty Oil scholarship, I began thinking something about fate and Getty Oil. UT made me want to make maps. So when the Getty job came again, I decided the oil business was where I could make maps. Who knew you could also make good money doing it? And I still collect fossils.

Frank Cornish – Geologist