On Jan. 28 of this year, Frank R. Cox Jr. of Owensboro passed away at the grand age of 102. While most people reading this article may not have had the pleasure of knowing Frank, he made a contribution to this community that deserves acknowledgement upon his passing. Frank served a long career as a soil scientist with the Soil Conservation Service, known today as the Natural Resource Conservation Service. His primary contribution, in my opinion, was completing the assignment of leading a group of four additional soil scientists in the effort to map the soil types of Daviess and Hancock counties. This soil survey and the information it provides are still used on a daily basis by farmers, landowners, community planners, builders, civil engineers, and even the health department as they evaluate property sites for proper septic system function.
The task was intriguing to me. Major fieldwork for the soil survey was completed by Frank and his team between 1965 and 1969. The soil names and descriptions were approved in 1971, and the paper copy soil survey was issued in November 1974. The soil survey was conducted to learn what kinds of soil were in Daviess and Hancock counties, where they were located, and how they could be used. They began their work expecting to find soils they were familiar with and some they had not seen before. Their work was to observe the steepness, shape and length of slopes; the size and speed of streams; the kinds of native plants or crops growing; the kinds of rocks and their depth beneath the surface; and, of course, to make observations about the soil. They dug countless holes to expose the soil profiles. The profile would reveal the sequence of natural soil layers, or horizons, in a soil extending from the surface down to the parent material that has not been changed much by weathering, leaching, or the action of plant roots. They retained the soil profile cores and made comparisons with soil collected from nearby counties. They classified and named the soils by nationwide, uniform references. They traversed all areas of the county many times, pausing to collect soil cores, evaluate road cuts, and determine, with incredible accuracy, the soil types across all of Daviess and Hancock counties that were not previously developed or mined. I had the pleasure of visiting Frank on several occasions. He told me their strategy was to observe and evaluate forested land in the winter because the soils were less likely to freeze. They would evaluate upland crop fields in the spring, prior to planting, because they were better drained and not subject to flooding. They evaluated pasture and hayfields during the summer growing season, and in the fall, after harvest, they worked on the lower elevation river and creek bottom crop fields while they were dry and in less risk of flooding.
The published soil survey books were part of a nationwide effort to associate similar soils, their capability, name them, and provide a slope with erosion score for all soils not developed or mined in the United States. It was an amazing feat that took decades and thousands of soil scientists to complete. Upon finishing Daviess and Hancock counties in the early 1970s, Frank worked in other counties accomplishing the same task. The soil surveys are no longer in print. They were digitized and loaded onto the internet to become what we now know as the web soil survey. Found online at https://websoilsurvey.sc.egov.usda.gov/, the web soil survey combines the information provided by Frank and his team from their work in the late 1960s with today’s GPS technology to reference total acreage for a selected area of interest and acreage of soil type within each area of interest.
People who use the land know soils vary greatly from low areas to slopes to hilltops. They vary from the Philpot creek bottoms to the hills of Habit. The work Frank and his team accomplished complements the land user’s knowledge with information about cropping capability, appropriate use, drainage, and depth. The information Frank and his team gathered has paid dividends to later generations of all who plant, graze, develop, or use land for recreation.
Clint Hardy is the agricultural extension agent for the Daviess County Extension Office. He can be reached at 270-685-8480.