Photo: Earl Sherrard at his gear-filled desk

How the Cascades Designs design engineer stumbled into his perfect career

NORWICH RECORD | Summer 2021

I found my dream job by accident. I finished my Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering at NU after an extra semester and went looking for a job in NASCAR. I would have been happy working in motorsports or even the after-market hot rodding/racing industry. After a slew of interviews, I pretty much ran out of money in North Carolina, so I headed home. The teams were off to Daytona, Florida, anyway.

I landed a temporary job doing classic car restoration at a local shop near my home in Washington State. (It was my hobby in high school.) I also continued to look for an engineering job. After about a year and a half of job hunting, I was starting to get discouraged. However, I kept getting calls from this company, Marathon Ceramics, that I had randomly sent a resume to. “Marathon Ceramics” didn’t sound like a very fun place, and I was reluctant to reply, worried that I would get stuck in whatever industry I started my engineering career in. I finally gave in and went to a job interview. Showing up, I realized that they were part of Mountain Safety Research (MSR), the Seattle-based outdoor gear manufacturer. I grew up in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains playing in the outdoors. It never occurred to me to look for a job in the outdoor industry.

I was hired on the spot and began working on ceramic water filters. Maybe a year later, the Marathon division was dissolved, and I was “hired” by MSR. I lost my job and got a new one in a single phone call that probably lasted less than five minutes.

“The bad news is that Marathon is gone,” the head of MSR’s product development at the time told me. “The good news is that I’m offering you a job.”

Not long after that, I was promoted from a lab tech/engineer to design engineer, designing outdoor hardgoods like snowshoes, water filters, backpacking and mountaineering stoves, and the like. In 2001, Cascade Designs, another outdoor manufacturer just a block down the road, bought MSR.

After over 20 years, I still love my job designing cool outdoor gear. I get to work with some really smart and talented people, who are passionate about the outdoors, our products, and care about our customers. Folks are pretty laid-back but intense about what they do. We all geek out on gear. I spend my time designing, prototyping, and testing in both lab and field settings. Not always doing the same thing makes it interesting, as does working on different product categories. Learning about new things as I go is fun. Product development is hard work and very stressful sometimes, but I love it.

Professor Don Wallace was my mechanical engineering professor at Norwich. He was into mountaineering and the outdoors when I was getting my degree. Sometimes, I wonder what he would think about my designs. I can almost hear him saying, “Did you do a free body diagram?”

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