College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences

Dept. of Crop and Soil Sciences

In Memory Of

President Elson S. Floyd Leaves a Legacy of Inspiration for CAHNRS









Elson S. Floyd didn’t grow up on a farm, but he recognized the value of agriculture and Washington State University’s role in supporting farmers, ranchers, and the industry as a whole. Before classes had even begun during his first academic year at WSU in 2007, he was on the road touring the state to meet with and listen to agricultural stakeholders, editorial boards, economic development committees and alumni as well as faculty and research staff.

Regardless of the venue, President Floyd’s message emphasized excellence in agriculture, economic development, and global reach for the University. Building our capacity in the agricultural sciences and serving the state’s food and agriculture sector was a theme that he shared beyond agricultural audiences. President Floyd was clear that we would build upon our strengths, and the key word was build. (Read More)


Dr. Walter Hale Gardner, 1917-2015

Dr Gardner

The Department of Crop and Soil Sciences mourns the loss of one of our most admired scientists, teachers, and mentors, Professor Walter H. Gardner on June 11, 2015. Dr. Gardner was true pioneer in the field of soil physics and his film Water Movement in Soils is still purchased from the department and the funds used to support student activities. The article below was written by family members and Dr. Gaylon Campbell, who was a PhD student of Professor Gardner before joining the CSS faculty.

Walter was born in Beaver, Utah, on February 24th, 1917, to Willard Gardner and Rebecca Viola Hale. He was fourth in a family of seven children raised in Logan Utah in a home just off the Utah State University campus. As a youth, Walter excelled at sports, particularly football and tennis, and he was a gifted mathematician (at a glance, young Walt would accurately calculate lumber loads and board feet at the mill). He also was an accomplished glass blower, providing scientific lab equipment for the science faculty at the university to make extra money. Just after college, he used that experience as a designer at Central Scientific Company in Chicago. He was active in his high school paper, serving as managing editor. He often said that he would have been delighted to pursue journalism as a career had his passion for science not eclipsed his interest in writing.

Walter held a deep respect for his father, a renowned scientist known as the Father of Modern Soil Physics (Walter’s children often called him the Son of Soil Physics), and their interests in the physical properties of soil ran parallel courses. Walter did graduate work at Cornell University and then at Utah State University where he was awarded the first Ph.D. granted at that institution.

Walter served in the Army Air Corp as a navigator on B17 Bombers. He served under his uncle, General Grandison Gardner, and was promised that he wouldn’t enjoy great promotional opportunities because of the family tie, but that he would “never lack for interesting things to do.” That proved to be the truth, and Walter had significant input as an instrumentation designer (the man could build anything!) for the state of the art Climatic Hangar at Eglin Field, and the project to develop the U2 Missile based on the German Buzz Bomb near the end of the war. Walter retired as a Lt. Colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve.

After the war, Walter met and married Barbara Brown who was a student at Utah State. The two made their family home in Pullman, Washington where he was Professor of Soil Physics at Washington State University. He was dedicated to the success of his many undergraduate and graduate students, and Barbara was a homemaker and devoted mother of five.

Walter and his family traveled extensively. They lived a year in Renkum, Holland, while Walter was a Guggenheim Fellow at Wageningen Agricultural University, and another in Vienna, Austria, where he worked at the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Walter doted on his wife until her death, after which he said his one lasting resentment was that he didn’t have one more day to care for her. He was as attentive to his children’s needs as he was to his companion’s, and his family fondly remembers his complete devotion to his wife, his faith, and his science. He was as comfortable at a chalkboard staring thoughtfully at a long equation as he was doing the dishes, or playing on the living room floor with his children. He was a peaceful and dignified man who cherished a quiet testimony of Jesus Christ.

Walter was a calm and thoughtful father. He was conscious of his health and remained active well into his nineties. Growing from his love of tennis, Walter took up racquetball at the age of fifty and eventually won a number of gold medals in the senior Olympics. His guilty pleasure was to lure unsuspecting young racquetballers into a game with an old man and then “skinnin’ ‘em” on the court– which amused his wife very much.

In 1972 Walter published (with L. D. Baver, and his cousin, Wilford Gardner) the 4th Edition of the widely used text Soil Physics. In 1992 W. A. Jury published the 5th edition, with Walter and Wilford as co-authors. Perhaps Walter’s most widely known professional accomplishment was his time-lapse movie Water Movement in Soil. It changed the way many scientists and industrialists understand the non-intuitive way water moves through soil. The movie continues to be popular and the supporting science remains valid. He was among the first to use multiple energy gamma beams to simultaneously measure water content and bulk density in soil, and the first to use attenuation of neutron beams for soil moisture measurement. He was also the first to create a one-dimensional root system by growing plants on a fine screen, letting only the root hairs through to take up water and nutrients from the soil. He was likely the first to build and use a tension infiltrometer, an instrument now widely used by soil physicists and other soil scientists. He built his first tension infiltrometer when he was an undergraduate student running the physics shop in his father’s department at Utah State.

Walter served the Society in several important capacities during his career. He was chair of the Soil Physics division in 1963, and SSSA President in 1983. He served as associate editor of SSSAJ, and was Editor-in-Chief from 1966-1969.

Walter died on June 11, 2015, of complications of old age– a malady he didn’t particularly believe in.

Dept. of Crop and Soil Sciences, PO Box 646420, Washington State University, Pullman WA 99164-6420, 509-335-3475, Contact Us
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