Getting there is all the fun

Volume 2: College, Army, first jobs 1966-1977

Volume 1: The early years 1948-1966

Volume 2: College, Army, first jobs 1966-1977

Volume 3: PC Revolutionary: Computerland, Beehive, Novell 1977-1989

Volume 4: Beginning The Great Panic: Divorce, bankruptcy, mid-life crisis 1990-1993

Volume 5: Being a Sea Cucumber 1994-1997

Volume 6: Searching for a new life, 1997-2002 (and discovering how deep the Panic Scars are)

Volume 7: Recovering from Panic Thinking 2003-2008

Volume 8: Remaking a home in the USA 2008-2010

Volume 9: Searching for positive feedback 2011-

University of Rochester

Senior year at Hawken I applied to five colleges, and I was accepted at four. I owe this huge success to falling in love for the first time over the summer before. My love for Linda Goodman inspired me to study hard, and I had a strategic up-tick in my grades fall of my senior year. This I combined with consistently good SAT scores. (One of my talents in life is I do well at tests.)

The one school I wasn't accepted at was MIT, my first choice. I made the waiting list, but not the final cut. So I went to the University of Rochester and majored in Chemical Engineering.

I can't remember all the other schools I applied to, but I remember cutting one, Leigh University, off the list when the Dean of Students told me, "We don't see how our students can support both studies and a car, so we have very little on campus parking." I didn't realize how pervasive that thinking was in the 60's, but I knew I was determined to have both. (and I can't believe how pervasive this thinking still is -- de facto -- in the 2000's. What major college campus is laid out like a shopping center with "acres and acres of parking"? They all should be!)

My roommate at U of R was Kevin Jones, a very smart farm-boy from New York's "southern tier" of counties, an hour south of Rochester. He was as tall as I was, and very good natured. He studied physics, and later became a minister with a parish in the southern tier. I visited his dairy farm a several times and became a friend of the family.

Kelvin Jones Kelvin Jones looking spooky on a Halloween Night.

I was in prime condition at the U of R. I can remember easily walking down stairs three steps at a time and up stairs two steps at time, and thinking how neat this was.

I practiced dissipation at the U of R. I tried going to sleep at 3AM and getting up at 8:30AM. It didn't work, but I tried. I got a car, but U of R had modest parking, too. They regulated it by restricting parking hours and patrolling heavily. I could park the car on the main street during the day, but not at night. I could park the car on a campus street at night, but not during the day. To keep the car parked near the dorm, I had to get up twice a day to move the car or get a ticket. I ended up getting lots of tickets.

I actually had two cars while I was at the U of R, and this is when I started getting into mechanics. They were both very old cars: the first was a small '51 Morris Minor and the second a roomy four-door '54 Mercury. I drove these cars around Rochester, and back and forth between Rochester and Cleveland. I was adding more to my geography.

The '51 Minor had a lot of potential problems, including seriously bad rings. The bad rings made it consume about a quart of oil every two hours of driving, and all that oil came out the tail pipe -- I did the James Bond Car Smoke Screen all the time. The car also had a top speed on level ground of about 40MPH, but didn't stop me from passing people going 45MPH on a downhill slope. In spite of the problems, I had the car about three months, drove it back and forth to Cleveland twice, and finally sold it to someone who was even bolder than I was. (bolder... but not as lucky. I spotted the car abandoned on the street about two months later.) The '54 Mercury was in slightly better shape, and I kept it slightly longer.

Morris Minor This was the '51 Morris Minor with Dancer on the roof. At this stage it was running slightly better than it looks in this picture. I had it another two months, or so.

I did a lot of darkroom work. I loved photography. I would go in the darkroom at 6PM Saturday or Sunday and come out at 6AM. I was getting good, but it was getting expensive.

I dated some girls, but did not get serious with any of them.

I pledged a fraternity, Sigma Chi. But I never got admitted... because the one thing I couldn't find time to do was study. My grades were abysmal the first semester and no better the second. I was invited by the college to take a break rather than return next fall.

This was pretty serious. This was 1967, Vietnam was approaching it's peak, and the lottery system was being discussed, but it was far from reality. That suggestion that I take a break from being a student converted me from C-III to A-1, and Uncle Sam would get real interested in me after fall classes started.

All-in-all, the U of R was a disappointing year. I tried a lot of things that year, but none of them worked out. It's not a year I remember well or think much about.

Church of the Holy Oil Can

"The church of the Holy Oil Can"

A famous church on Cleveland's east side, near the Art Museum.
This is a photo from my U of R year. I learned darkroom technique at the U of R, and once I did, I did a lot with black and white, and only a little with color. I did some color work in the darkroom, but I found it to be too fussy to work with regularly, so I during my U of R, Army, Dixie and MIT years, I shot just a little color, and I let commercial processors develop all my color work.
The tree in the foreground is, I believe, an Elm tree. Most of these are now gone from the Cleveland area, victims of the Dutch Elm disease. This tree plague was reminiscent of the Chestnut Blight which a few years before my time removed all the American Chestnut trees from eastern forests.
Fortunately, the Cleveland area has many, many kinds of tall trees, so while loosing the elms and chestnuts was a tragic loss, their loss didn't affect the overall verdant look of the northeast Ohio area.
This is a reprise of that shot above taken in 2002 from the Cleveland Art Museum grounds.

The Army

The summer of 67 was a hard one for me: I had to decide what to do. I didn't do well at the U of R because my chronic difficulty with homework had raised it's ugly head. If I simply attended some other school, the same problem would bite me there, too.

I decided it was time to get rid of a different obligation: my military obligation. Law of the US in those days was that a young man had to give six years of his post-high school life to Uncle Sam. Uncle Sam got to decide exactly who gave, and how much, but there was an obligation.

1967 was an era of draft classification and a conscript army. The lottery system for picking draftees came into being six months after I joined, and the "all volunteer" Army came into being a couple years after I left, and well after the peak US involvement in Vietnam. I was one of the last citizen-soldiers of the Cold War era.

I researched. I talked to recruiters for the four services, and took some aptitude tests. I did well on those, as usual. (this was when I learned that my IQ was about 145)

I was faced with a tradeoff:

As much as I wanted to be a pilot, giving Uncle Sam six years of my life wasn't worth that! Likewise, getting into the Navy or Air Force wasn't worth four, and the Marine recruiting sergeant just laughed when I asked him what the Marines had to offer. There was a war going on in Vietnam, and ending up as a "grunt" in Vietnam was too real a possibility for me to be comfortable with "giving Sam" just two years, plus, two years of weekend warriorism wasn't appealing.

I chose to join the Army for three, and I chose Helicopter Crew chief as my MOS. I scheduled to begin my Basic Training at Fort Knox, KY in September 1967.

Training

Basic Training wasn't bad for me. I treated it like a fraternity initiation writ large. There wasn't much hazing when I went through: there was a real war to be fought, and the Armed Forces needed a lot of bodies, so there was no need and no time for "horsing around."

It was a lot like what you see in the movies -- without the comedy or the drama -- except there was no "washout alley" as is seen in movies about the military today -- we weren't volunteers, we were conscripts. If we wanted out, we would have to find less obvious ways to get out. Also, the "Sir, yes, sir!" is a Marine tradition, not an Army tradition. Army Drill Sergeants would yell at recruits, "I'm no, 'sir.' I work for a living!" when recruits called them "Sir." They were sergeants, not sirs.

The program was six or eight weeks long, and my barracks was filled with a true "cross section of American society", and I remember being truly amazed at who lived in America. (Worse, this wasn't even a true cross section, this was a better-than-average cross section.)

Some of the Basic Trainees would head straight from training to the reserves; some had joined specifically to be front-line riflemen; some had joined to be cooks. Some were in on a "three for two" program. They had been accused of some crime, and, as this was their first offense, the judge had told them, "I can put you in jail for two years, or you can join the Army for three." It was a cross section, all right! The one commonality was that most came from the states north of Kentucky, not from everywhere in the country.

 
Basic Training, Fort Knox, Kentucky, fall of 1967.
I'm in the Army now.
Honda motorcycle [Singing] "Ain't no use in going back... Jody's got your Cadillac!"


This was one of the songs we would sing while marching from place to place during Basic. It was a thoroughly depressing song about all the things "Jody" was stealing at home while you were away in the Army.
In my case, Jody was stealing my Honda motorcycle. This was my first set of wheels. I drove this back and forth to Hawken my senior year, and I loved it! As winter approached I froze my butt off doing it, but I still did. I would come into my first class freezing cold and I would shiver for a full hour while my arms and legs slowly warmed up. I finally stopped, for the season, after I caught a terrible cold.
This is just before I headed off to Vietnam. Vietnam has its own picture section.
   

After Basic Training in Fort Knox, KY I went to Fort Rucker, AL to begin my training as a crew chief. We arrived a few days before our training course started, and during those days we listened to other groups "pitch" us to join their MOs instead of crew chiefing. I listened carefully. Once again I was offered pilot training. (I remember getting my eyes tested with a pupil dialant, and then having to walk back to the barracks on a bright afternoon day. Ouch! The three of us being tested literally staggered along hand-in-hand until we got under a shady bridge.) I remember considering EOD (Explosives Ordinance Disposal) because I figured those people got as little harassment as anyone could in "this man's army."

But the "perfect fit" turned out to be Air Traffic Control school. The training period was long, but it wouldn't extend my three year obligation, and I figured that the safest place to be in a combat zone involving American military forces was at the center of an air field.

I switched from Crew chief to Air Traffic Controller, and I transferred from Fort Rucker to Keesler AFB in Biloxi, MS to continue my training.

Keesler and Fort Rucker were quite different. Fort Rucker was mostly open fields and there was a lot of the usual Army routines, such as morning group calisthenics, going on there. Keesler was mostly wooded -- nice, big, beautiful pine trees -- and with more muted Air Force routine instead of Army routine. The biggest pain-in-the-ass routine I recall was weekly "police line" where we students would walk across the central field of the base and pick up litter. I was truly impressed at how many cigarette butts people would drop.

I got into the city of Biloxi a few times, and down to New Orleans for Mardi Gras while I was training at Keesler. Both were eye-openers. Biloxi was my first experience with the Deep South, and I found it fascinatingly different from Ohio and the Cleveland area, or any other of the many places I'd visited by then in the North and West. The geography and the vegetation were different, and the social styles of the people were different. I ran into pinball machines in Biloxi, honest-to-god pinball machines! They had no flippers on them; you played them to win real money; and they were much like playing Bingo -- there was a square of holes and you won by getting long lines of balls in the holes.

My first impression of New Orleans was, "What a dump!" It was a dirty city, and it still is to this day, as best I know. (I've been there about three times subsequently) I got to the French Quarter, and found it as dumpy as the rest of the city. There was jazz here, yes, but most of the quarter was filled with the cheapest, tawdriest tourist shops I had ever experienced.

I did not leave with a great impression of either New Orleans or Mardi Gras. As best I could tell, it was considered great by some people only because the Deep South surrounding it was such a pit of a place... but it sure was different.

The training ran it's course and during the last two weeks we hovered over the bulletin board to see who was getting assigned to Germany, and who was getting assigned to Vietnam. I got assigned to Vietnam.

Human Power

A picture from my stay at Keesler AFB.

Vietnam

Vietnam has it's own picture section.

Vietnam was a very hard time for me, and the main enemy was boredom.

It was while I was in Vietnam that I figured out my activities in life are constrained by three things: time, opportunity and resources. I envisioned those three as a triangle. Throughout my early life the "rate-limiting" constraint had always been time -- I had plenty of opportunities and plenty of resources to pursue those opportunities.

In Vietnam this triangle suddenly lurched around, and opportunities became the scarce resource.

While I was in Vietnam I was very careful. I wasn't over here as a tourist, so I stayed close to base and only did "touristy things" once or twice, very late in my stay. So, my opportunities to do things were very limited, and it felt very strange. I engaged in a lot of photography, built a model airplane with Phil Murosky, and watched every movie that came through the base. That was about it.

I was also scared, but I didn't realize how scared until after I left and I started to recover.

I was also not a very good controller. Learning Air Traffic Control consists of learning about lots of rules and regulations, and I did well at the training. But doing Air Traffic Control consists mostly of two things: watching the time and remembering names -- these are both things I do very poorly. For my first four months or so, I was a flight follower. This meant I worked in an air-conditioned trailer and took down the times planes departed and the times they arrived -- that was it. God it was terrible! This was the most existential work I ever did! I gained a deep and personal familiarity with every minute on my shift -- every minute!

My relief in that first half of my stay was getting assigned to Song Be, a place 70 miles north of Saigon. It was a quiet place, so there was only one flight follower on duty at a time at Song Be. I spent my shift reading, and that was tolerable. I was there one month.

Song Be was close to the Cambodian border, and on the major Viet Cong (VC) infiltration route to the Saigon area. It was an island of US and ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) military in a sea of jungle that would often fill with enough VC to wipe us out -- should they desire to do so. While I was there, there were some firefights nearby our compound and lots of artillery shells would fly high overhead, and I saw "Puff the Magic Dragon" work out once in the distance, but no one shot anything directly at me. Before I got there, and after I left, our compound saw action, but it was quiet while I was there.

One other thing I liked about Song Be was that it was hazardous enough that there was little arbitrary bullshit going on there. There were no non-coms or officers riding us to "look strack", or "police up litter", or do the hundred-and-one other petty things that the military thinks up to keep idle hands busy in places with lots of generals and no hazards.

The second six months of my stay in Vietnam I worked in the VFR tower back in Saigon, which was much better. But there my other bugaboo caught up with me: remembering names.

I remember concepts, patterns and facts. My brain snaps these up in an instant, and finds places to store them in seconds flat. My mind does not treat names as concepts or facts, and fumbles around forever trying to find a place to store them. The aircraft I talked to doing VFR duty had to be addressed by name, so I was slow. I got by, but I was slow.

But apparently, I worried some people, and one of those, I found out after the fact, was the Tower Chief, Donahue. One time, Donahue tried to get me out of the tower by having all the controllers take a review test. That, however, was a mistake. It played into my strengths, taking tests and remembering facts, and I scored first or second highest on the test.

But my relation with him continued to be stormy, and he finally did get me out of the tower.

I took my out of country R&R as late in my stay as I could. That way I could look forward to it for a long time, and I could look forward to being a "short-timer" when I got back. I went to Hong Kong for a week. I toured and shopped for photo equipment. I got a Nikon 35mm and a Mamiya 120 medium format camera.

I remember my most shocking experience there was sitting down on a cold toilet seat for the first time in nine months -- Hot Dog! I jumped right up trying to figure out what was happening! It took a few seconds to realize that the bathroom was air conditioned, and this was just a room temperature toilet seat.

When I returned, I faced a crisis. My relation with the Army as a whole was very stormy during this period. I was real unhappy, and I wanted out as fast as I could get out. I was also dreading having to continue my ATC work at Fort Rucker. If it was bad for me here in Vietnam, I feared it would be a lot worse for me stateside -- I knew that there people could afford to be a lot "nitpickier."

When I heard late in my stay that I could get out of the Army three months earlier if I signed up for a second tour in Vietnam, I jumped at the opportunity.

Fortunately for me, the CO, Lt. Col. Cox, did not let me send the application for a second tour up the line. We had a meeting between me, Cox and Donahue. I can't remember what was said, but I was talked out of requesting a second tour. Instead, I picked up photography as a secondary MOs, and went home on schedule.

Instead of Fort Rucker, I was assigned to Micheal Army Airfield at Dugway, Utah. I don't know if this was Cox's doing or just good fate, but, either way, it turned out to be just the right place for me.

My tour in Vietnam ended on schedule, one year after it began, and my year in hell ended. God I was happy!

Dugway, UT

I did not want to spend another year in the Army after Vietnam, but in retrospect it was a good idea -- there was a lot I had to unwind. I hadn't realized it consciously, but I had been really scared while I was in Vietnam -- I was in a Panic while I was over there, and now I needed time to heal up from it.

I knew little about Utah or Dugway before I came. Utah was a place on the map that always attracted my attention because of the Great Salt Lake, and I knew Mormons lived there... whatever they were. That was about it, so a whole new adventure was in store for me.

I remember flying into Salt Lake City and seeing clear air, big mountains, and Sam Peckinpaw's movie The Wild Bunch. That was quite a movie in its day!

Then came the long drive to Dugway. This was my first experience with High Desert and Mountain country, and I was entranced! The place was so.... Graphic!

Dugway itself was hardly more than a village located inside the gates of Dugway Proving Ground. It was part civilian and part military -- all four branches of the military. So, it was quite an eclectic place. Dugway's most famous resident -- although she was a resident for only a year or so as a school girl -- was the movie star Faye Dunway. Ms. Dunway describes herself as growing up an "Army brat who lived from base-to-base", but Dugway residents take pride in the fact that it was one of those bases.

West of the town was the "business end" of Dugway: miles and miles of naturally sterile mud flats with an occasional mountain popping up through the mud. Here the military forces conducted chemical and biological weapons testing. The people who lived in the town were there to set up and conduct the tests. My job: be an air traffic controller at Micheal Army Airfield.

Micheal was poles apart from Hotel 3 in Vietnam. There at Hotel 3 about three hundred planes landed in a day, here at Micheal three planes landed in a day. There I was living in a crowded, cramped foreign land with sneaky enemies and primitive facilities. Here I was living in the wide open spaces of Western Utah... in America!

It worked out much better.

I was well-adapted to Dugway. I loved the open spaces and the spontaneously friendly people. I healed.

I wandered Utah; I learned to play the banjo and the recorder by practicing up in the Control Tower while I was on duty; I worked some more on cars, and I fell in love again.

It was while I was at Dugway that I saw Neil Armstrong land on the moon. I remember the media slightly misquoting what he said when he first stepped on the lunar surface.

I became a short-timer at Dugway, and I remember two "short-timer incidents".

The first happened at one of the morning formations. Our unit sergeant was late, so one of us peons would have to take his place. There were five of us in the formation who were E-5's -- sergeant equivalents -- but all five of us were also within two weeks of leaving the Army, and we just didn't feel like "leading the parade" so we had an E-4 go up instead.

Later that day the CO of the barracks, a captain, had us E-5's in front of this desk for that, but there wasn't much he could do. He told us, "You aren't out of the Army, yet. Don't let this happen again." And we agreed, and that was it.

The second was our going away party. It was a good party: beer and food flowed and we were all feeling very relaxed. I was standing with a couple of other guys and girls in a circle, and we were feeling so relaxed that when one of the men said, "I gotta pee." He didn't bother to move off. He just whipped it out right there and started peeing, and we other men joined him. The girls watched quietly, not looking too amazed or at all flustered. When we finished we put things away, and carried on our conversation. We weren't particularly drunk at the time, we were just all feeling very relaxed, indeed!

Ford Comet This was my Ford Comet while I was at Dugway.
I shot this picture to help sell it. Linda (pictured) and her husband were good friends while I was at Dugway.

Living in Utah

While staying at Dugway, I found living in Utah much more enjoyable than living in Ohio. I loved the long vistas, I loved the long, open roads with little-to-no traffic and I liked the people. They were very friendly.

During the week I lived in a cinderblock barracks and commuted ten miles to Micheal AAF. On the weekend I traveled -- first on a new motorcycle I bought, then later in a car. The most common destinations were Salt Lake City and Provo -- both an hour-and-a half drive east across two rugged mountain ranges and barely inhabited sage-covered valleys. There I shopped and looked for cute college girls. Provo, in particular, had a high concentration of women worth staring at. I got to know some as well.

I traveled far and wide while I was at Dugway. I traveled as far south as Las Vegas at the southern end of Nevada and as far north as Yellowstone National Park at the north end of Wyoming. I loved driving those Mountain States roads! I also kept up on my photography.

I also liked the fact that grocery stores stayed open late. When I left Ohio, retailers were still closing grocery stores early -- I was told this was dictated by union work rules. Whatever the reason, being able to shop at odd hours certainly added to my quality of life, and that was another reason to enjoy Utah.

Some of my motorcycle riding was in the winter, and, like back in high school in Ohio, I got really stinking cold. But this older body of mine adapted better. It would pool the cold blood in my limbs and I could ride a lot longer with barely tolerable discomfort. After riding around like that for a season, I became fairly cold-resistant, and remain so to this day.

The motorcycle accident

I had my worst vehicle accident at this time.

The Interstate I-80 was being built at this time between Salt Lake City and Wendover, but it wasn't completed. In fact, construction had been halted for months for lack of money. I could see that the dirt was laid out, but there was no concrete on the dirt. I decided to give it a try...

The dirt part wasn't bad, but what was also missing were the bridges! I found that every few miles the dirt would end, and I was manhandling my motorcycle over a fifty yards or so of mud flats. I could do this, but it was very tiring and the sun was getting low in the west.

I was on the final leg, moving along at a pretty good clip (probably 30mph) when I ran over some deep diagonal ruts cut by a truck that had driven across the road bed during a heavy rain long, long before. I lost control and flipped the bike in an uncontrolled way....

When I could figure out where I was, I found my face plate had been smashed, the handle bars on my bike twisted ninety degrees, I was in a lot of pain, and the sun was on the western horizon.

This was seriously scary: no one was going to come driving by me on an interstate that wasn't open and wasn't even being worked on! I checked: I could get the bike started. I drove on the mile-or-so to where the interstate joined up with the state highway again. This is with the handle bars facing essentially fore-and-aft instead of sideways. Then, for lack of anything better to do, I kept driving -- even though my headlight was broken. As I was headed for Dugway, a car pulling a trailer passed me by -- this was the first traffic I had seen going either way since I got back to the highway. (Utah roads can be very lonely) Once they passed I followed them closely the rest of the way to the Dugway gate, and when I got there, I called for help. (other than the accident, it was my lucky day: the bike ran out of gas just as I got to the gate.)

It was a motorcycle accident: I had deep cuts on my lip and just under one eye. The skin on one knee had been ripped loose from the underlying flesh, but not ripped off, and there were other not-so-serious cuts and bruises elsewhere. More luck: the worst damage was the scaring, no physical impairment, but it took weeks for my knee to heal.

An Army Bullshit story

Life at Dugway was heads and shoulders above life in Saigon, but it was still the Army, so I will leave you with one last tale of "human condition" in the Army.

The staff at Micheal AAF consisted of only a dozen people, or so. One, and only one of those, was a clerk typist. One day the CO decided it was time to write an Operations Manual for the airfield. He wrote and wrote and wrote (as in, hand writing), and had other people write, until he had a thick pile of paper.

He handed this thick pile of paper to the clerk typist and said, "Type this up. And don't make any mistakes."

Now this particular clerk typist was an average Army clerk typist: he didn't type well. But he was game. For a couple weeks he typed and typed and typed, and he finally, proudly, handed a one hundred page document back to the CO.

The CO quickly looked at the first page or two and, "I see a mistake. Do it over."

The clerk typist's jaw dropped. He collected his hundred page document, and typed and typed and typed again -- being as careful as he could this time.

Now -- Oh, Young Ones who read this -- this is the days before word processors, memory typewriters, correcting typewriters or any such aids. What you typed was what came out on the page -- one mistake in two thousand keystrokes, and ... it was start that page all over again.

For another couple weeks the clerk typist agonized over typing this report. It was hell for him, and I could sympathize. I did just enough typing in those days to know I could never do what he was being called upon to do.

Finally, he got it done, and once again he handed it in to the CO.

Once again the CO looked quickly through the first couple pages and said, "I see a mistake. Do it over."

The clerk typist was at the end of his rope: he couldn't do any better! He was caught in a typing hell. He started again, and this time word of his plight had spread around. (remember, Dugway is a small place, a couple hundred working people and a thousand or so, total population.) He got some help from the civilian secretarial pool that did most of the report writing for the base. Dugway produced a lot of reports about it's testing, and these ladies were professional typists. A couple of the ladies in the pool pitched in to help him out, and showed him some tricks to produce "flawless" pages, even when a couple errors had been made.

Finally, he had a flawless document.

With the pride that comes with superhuman effort, he handed the CO his one hundred pages of flawless document.

The CO looked through a few pages; found no errors; said, "Well done." And then... only then, proceeded to edit the document!

The clerk typist's heart fell out of his chest and rolled around on the floor.

That weekend he and a buddy went AWOL. They intended to drive to San Francisco and drown their sorrows there in some drug-induced haze. But, good fortune smiled on them, I guess. They got stopped for speeding in Winnemucca, NV, and turned back instead. They were AWOL for only a few hours, and nothing came of it.

The story has something of a happy ending. A couple weeks later the CO finally agreed that the clerk typist wasn't much of a clerk typist, and he got transferred to work in the base hospital. He was much happier there.

psychadelic poster This is the clerk typist. He lived down the hall from me in the barracks.

Dixie College

As my Army tour ended I was really excited to return to college, and, more than ever, I wanted to go to MIT. "But," I was told by MIT Admissions Office, "you don't have the grades. Get us some good grades, from anywhere, and we'll let you in."

I don't think I even considered going back to the U of R. What I did consider was going to somewhere in Utah. There were several choices, but I finally decided on Dixie College in southern Utah because I wanted to extend my experiences to living in a small college town. I had now lived in many places: Cleveland, Rochester, Fort Knox, Fort Rucker, Saigon and Dugway, and I found each fascinating. I didn't know when I would get another chance to experience small town life in the Mountain States, so I chose Dixie College in Saint George, Utah.

I went there for a year, and had a ball. The courses were easy. The physics course was a literal repeat of my high school physics course -- same book, same experimental tools.

I came up with a new phenomenon as I was doing the same old experiments. One of the experiments involved rolling a big ball bearing down a track and on to a spinning disk that was much like a record player. The formal experiment had something to do with momentum transfer -- the ball ran into something, and the spinning of the turntable recorded the post impact speed. Having done that experiment, I remember wondering, "What will happen if I roll the ball bearing down on the spinning disk when it is spinning in the direction opposite that of the landing ball?"

In theory, if the speed is just right, the ball should roll, but be standing still. I tried it....

The result was fascinating! In turned out there was a negative feedback loop, and the ball rolled on the disk in a very stable fashion. If the speed was off a bit, the feedback loop would damp quickly the difference. It wasn't completely stable, but even the decay from stability was orderly and fascinating to watch... the ball bearing started moving in a circle on the disk, and the circle got bigger and bigger until the ball started sliding instead of rolling, and it flew off.

At Dixie I got the good grades I needed, enjoyed being with beautiful western women, and photographed wonderful western scenery... and women, too. I got on the yearbook staff, and that year's yearbook, 1970, became my "photo album" of Dixie. It was a fine, relaxing time, and it was here that I met Sue.

The Apartment Fire

It was at Dixie that I had my first chance to analyze panic. I lived on the second floor of a rambling two story apartment building dead-center in St. George. One day, someone on the first floor dropped a burning cigarette butt in their sofa, then went off traveling.

The smoke in the corridor outside his room built up very slowly throughout the day. I was in and out several times that day, walking down the corridor in front of his room. I remember, in retrospect, thinking how dingy this apartment building was becoming, but the thought of fire didn't even cross my mind.

I was in my room that evening when the odor of smoke suddenly hit hard. Internally, I went to Yellow Alert. I opened my door to the hall, and there was do doubt: I was staring into a smoke-filled hallway! FIRE! I closed the door, and internally went to RED ALERT!

What to save?

I decided that myself and my cat, Mort, were all that needed saving. (my two room mates were out at the time.) I quickly found the cat, and headed for the fire exit.

The fire exit was the next door to the left. It was easy to find: the smoke was thick, but not blinding. I opened the fire exit door easily, but the screen door beyond it was sticking.

And this is when I knew I was in a panic. It was like I was Superman. I shoved the door just a bit harder -- not even with close to my full strength -- and it came off at the hinges! I had pushed just a bit harder, and now I had a screen door in my hand! I put it down carefully beside the door, and, cat still in hand, walked out on the porch roof to find out what the situation was. (I was kind of worried about the cat. After experiencing the screen door, I was being extra careful that I didn't squeeze Mort too hard.)

The Fire Department and the owner were both there in the parking lot below me. I didn't feel threatened by the fire, but I was looking around for the best place to jump down should I get threatened.

The owner below was busy yelling at me, "Everything is OK. Don't jump. Everything is OK. Don't jump...."

Well, clearly everything wasn't OK, but I didn't jump. Instead I went back and checked out the hallway to my room. It was smoky, but a firefighter came walking down it. I asked him what had happened, and found out about that the fire was contained to just a burning sofa, and it was out now.

Now I started shaking -- I had been really scared! Now the adrenaline rush ended and my body was compensating, and I had the mild shakes. Psychologically I compensated by getting my camera out and started shooting pictures of the event, including the burned-out room. It gave me a sense of closure on the incident. Mort, by the way, did just fine -- he carried no "squish marks" from the incident.

The analysis of panic was that not only did my strength increase, I became very single-minded. It didn't take long to decide on an action, but once the choice was made, it was difficult to accept new data that would change what action to take. Once I had decided that the cat and I needed to leave, we were going to that, come hell or high water. It was only after we got on to the porch, and I looked around, that I was ready to absorb more about what was happening around me, and plan another action.

Another Shade, the Wonder Dog, story

My Datsun 2000 roadster was a two-seater. Sometimes I let Shade ride in the right seat, but other times I made him ride in "the back" -- the space between the rear of the seats and the rear of the passenger compartment. But Shade didn't like the back, especially when the top was down -- it was a bit narrow for him. When I put him in the back, and the top was down, he would sneak out further back, and lie down on the trunk! The first time I caught him doing this was rather funny. I was driving down South Park Boulevard, and I noticed the people I passed were pointing at me and my car.

"Neat!" I thought, "They are very impressed with me, my beautiful car, and my beautiful white dog." Then I looked back, and I saw Shade lying down on the trunk. One bump, and he would slide off and become hamburger! I slowed down and scolded Shade and told him to get back in -- which he did reluctantly. He wasn't cured, he kept sneaking out on the trunk.

One day, in Utah, Elwin Taylor and I decided to go hunt Jackrabbits with a .22. It was a hot day, so we had the top down, and we had Shade along riding in the back. Shade loved to chase cats, and we figured we'd give him a chance to chase some Jackrabbits. (Jackrabbits are the desert-adapted, distant cousins of cottontail rabbits, and considered a nuisance animal throughout much of the west.) Well, as we were riding on a long, dusty dirt road to get to a good jackrabbit hunting spot, I hit a big bump.

"I hope Shade hadn't snuck on the trunk." I thought as we hit the bump, and I looked back through the rear-view mirror. In the mirror I saw <gasp> Shade sliding off the trunk and dissappearing into the dust being kicked up by the car! He had a very forlorn look on his face.

I stopped the car as quickly as I could. There was thick dust behind us, Elwin and I couldn't see ten feet through it.

"Shade!" I called.... no answer... nothing.

"Shade!" I called again... thinking this was rather futile. He was likely dead beside the road.

Elwin and I were about to start walking back on the road to look for his body, when he came trotting out of the dust cloud, looking more sheepish than I thought it was possible for a dog to look! -- He knew he'd been caught doing something he wasn't supposed to.

"Shade!" I was so happy to see him! We looked him over, and hugged and patted and consoled him. The only visible damage we found was a one inch shallow cut on his chin. What a tough dog!

But, he was shaken up on the inside. He showed no interest in chasing rabbits, and when we started home, he didn't sneak out on the trunk!

In fact, he did just the opposite. He started "sneaking" into the right seat. First he stuck his nose forward between the seats, then his head... and after about a half hour, he was sitting in Elwin's lap in the front seat! Given his recent experience, we let him do it, but we were both laughing about this perfect example of "letting the camel get his nose under the tent."

 

Dixie College Graduation With my dad, graduating from Dixie College, St. George, Utah. (1971)
Dixie's "Big D" that you got to walk through on graduation.
With my girlfriend at Dixie, Sue.
(This is 1971. It wasn't until 1977 that we married.)
Shade the Wonder Dog This is Shade, the Wonder Dog, in Cleveland, in 1971. He also spent a lot of time in Utah.
Another place to see a lot of my photos is the Dixie Yearbook of 1970. I was the photo editor of the yearbook that year.  
   

 

MIT

In 1971 I finally made it: I finally walked up the stairs of 77 Mass Ave., as a student. I was so proud!

I had a good time at MIT. The studies were very challenging, that wasn't so good, but the people were fascinating.

Many people accuse MIT people of being standoffish. I don't think that's so. What they are is in a hurry to do something, so they don't feel they have the time for socializing. During my first year at MIT, I found people standoffish, but once I found the people with whom I shared common interests, those people were very warm.

Finding people with common interests isn't that easy at MIT because there are so many interests. That was one of the things that made MIT different from any other college I attended -- and I loved it! Everyone had a project, and few people had the same projects.

For example: when I lived in Baker House (one of MIT's dorms) I walked by one student's room, and out in front of his room there grew a stack of balsa wood airfoils. I deduced he was making a model plane early on. But as the stack of airfoils grew larger -- about four feet high -- I got curious -- this model plane was getting huge! Finally, I stopped in and asked him about it.

"I'm building a man-powered airplane." he said, "It's for the Kramer Competition."

(The competition was won a couple years later by a group out of Cal Tech or Stanford, but this effort I saw in the making was a serious competitor.)

Another student had a computer terminal in his room, and a modem. (This was two years before the first personal computer was assembled.) In that day and age, terminals and modems were known, but mostly in business. Having one in a dorm room was exotic.

Another example: MIT supports more NCAA-recognized varsity teams than any other college -- like at Hawken, almost everyone participates in some sport. Competitions with MIT teams are distinctive because the team members often out number the spectators. While I was at MIT I didn't play on any varsity teams, but I was an active intramural player. My weight had finally caught up to my height, so I found myself enjoying touch football, and hockey as well as tennis.

Getting knocked silly

The first time I had the wind knocked out of me was playing Tarzan in elementary school days. The second time was at MIT, and it was much more informative.

I was practicing hockey... skating backwards in particular. There were only two other people on the ice, and one of those was another fellow also practicing skating backwards, going the opposite way I was. Well, it wouldn't be a story if we hadn't hit, but the hit was a total surprise at the time.

At once every part of my body was sending a, "Mayday! Mayday!", and my sensory nervous system was simply overloaded with messages: it started to shut down, to reset. As the reset was kicking in, I had just enough conscious control over my motor nervous system to tell my body, "Fall to your knees, NOW!" Had I not ordered that, I would have fallen, but in some random direction.

I succeed in getting to my knees, and there I waited for a minute or so while the nervous system sorted itself out. After that minute my body reported minimal, if any, damage -- nothing hurt, and I could breathe normally again. I got up, and went over to the fellow I ran into. He was a bit worse off, he had hurt his back, but he was recovering quickly, too. We apologized and went on about our practice.

The lesson learned was that I got knocked silly because the impact came as a total surprise. Had my body anticipated the hit at all, it would have prioritized the sensory reporting, and my conscious self would have perceived nothing more than a good jar. Part of what your body learns in contact sports is how to prioritize the sensory reporting as you make contact during play.

 

My Contributions to MIT lifestyle

My three biggest contributions to MIT quality of life were quite unexpected by me.

The first of these was introducing a card came to MIT called Bou Rai. It was a game I played one time while I was in the Army, and I didn't remember it very well.

But one night the Baker House students happened to be looking for a novel, but easy, entertainment form. Bridge was commonly played, but it was so well known by a few aficionados that others had no fun playing with them. Common forms of poker where, likewise, well known and it was well-known who could play them well.

But when I proposed Bou Rai, it was something novel: no one knew how to play it well, so everyone had fun with it! Bou Rai took Baker House by storm, and for a year or so it was the most popular card game in the dorm.

The second contribution was making a movie about MIT.

It was a 20 minute takeoff on the original Star Trek. In it Kirk and Spock beam down to MIT and experience some of MIT's quirkiness. There is an evil "Director" running MIT, and a beautiful assistant, and Kirk and Spock get to rescue MIT from the clutches of the evil Director... with a twist. In fact, the movie is called "Twist of the Tool" ("tool" is also a slang term within the MIT community meaning an MIT student.) The movie also featured one of the first computer video games -- Space War -- played on a DEC PDP-9. This was a true exotic of the time, and I used the game as a backdrop for the movie credits.

The movie was polished enough that it showed on late-night Boston TV, and for several years as an occasional short in front of the weekend movies shown at MIT.

The third contribution was promoting Dungeons and Dragons.

Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) was invented in Wisconsin by TSR while I was studying at MIT. (It was 1973, if I remember correctly.) They sent a prototype to MIT's gaming group, the Strategic Gaming Society, and the effect was electric -- about half the SGS members gave up the dozen-or-so other games they were playing to give D&D a try. It spread quickly from there to the dorms, and I was one of the spreaders. (This makes me was one of the first hundred people to play D&D.)

The D&D game of the 2000's has evolved a lot from those early days. In those 1970's days there were only three thin books of rules. (although, that was a huge set of rules for games of that era -- Monopoly had three pages and Avalon Hill games only ten.) As a result character building was much simpler, and the Dungeon Master (DM) and the players made up a lot of rules as they went along. There were no pre-made scenarios in those days, either, that was a DM responsibility. The result was a game that ranged much more widely over the imaginable possibilities than current implementations do. It was, in my humble opinion, a lot more fun to play.

Strange Events: The Charles River Bridge and the Beeping Horn

Lots of strange things happened around me in Cambridge, and many of those centered on the Charles River Bridge -- linking Cambridge with Boston's Back Bay neighborhood.

My very first visit to Boston was to visit MIT, and I traveled alone. I stayed in a hotel in Back Bay, and early in the morning walked across the Charles River Bridge to my appointment with the Admissions people at 77 Mass. Ave. As I was crossing the bridge, an old black lady jumped off -- she was committing suicide. Now, the Charles River Bridge is no Golden Gate Bridge: it's only about three stories high, so the lady was not dead, she was floating in the water, thrashing a bit.

I was seriously considering doffing my clothes and jumping in to save her, when I saw a boat speeding over towards us from the MIT boat house. The boat arrived, and pulled the lady out -- what happened to her after that, I don't know.

Years later, when I was a student, two cars were racing across the bridge on a freezing winter's night and spun out of control. Both managed to jump over the sidewalk and the guard rail and fall into the river. The good news for the drivers was that the river ice was thick enough to hold both cars up for a while until the occupants could get clear. I wasn't on the bridge when it happened, thank goodness, but I saw the huge collection of flashing lights from emergency vehicles on the bridge afterwards, and when I investigated I saw one car lying on the ice. I think both cars ended up falling through the ice while the emergency crews were trying to figure out what to do with them.

The final such strange incident happened in Boston's China town, not on the bridge.

It happened was my first year as a student and I was on a "hot date" that night -- my first date with an attractive divorcee who lived in my apartment building. (My first year at MIT I lived off-campus) I think... it was my first date in Boston, and I was feeling very good.

We were coming out of a movie when we noticed a car horn was blowing continuously. The traffic around the theater was gridlocked, which is common in Boston, and why we were going to take the subway back to Cambridge. We walked, and the car horn blew, and we found we were walking right by the car that was blowing it's horn. The car was standing still -- stopped by the gridlock -- and I thought for sure that something was wrong with the horn.

As we passed by the car, I could see no sign that the driver was trying to do anything about stopping the horn, so I knocked on his window and yelled over the horn blast, "Hey! Is there anything I can do to help?"

The horn blast stopped; the person inside was not talkative; but I was happy. I walked away from the car and back to my date.

As I was walking back, I felt a grab on my arm, and someone was turning me around: the driver of the car had gotten out and was accosting me!

Getting accosted was strange, but now... here's where it gets really strange. This guy was acting like a real tough guy: He grabbed me by the lapels to lift me up and threaten me... like something right out of a forties gangster movie... but there was a problem with the scene!

The problem was: he was a graying, balding, medium-build middle-age man who stood about five feet tall. I'm six feet three, in my mid-twenties, a year out of the Army, in prime condition and wearing a loose-fitting suede greatcoat. When he went to lift me by the lapels, nothing happened! He was lifting as hard and high as he could, but he was lifting coat, not me! And his voice was kind of weak and squeaky, and not clear.

Viscerally, I knew I was being threatened. My adrenaline kicked in, I braced, and I found myself holding his upper arms fairly tightly because I had no idea what was coming next.

Intellectually, I was laughing! This was such a comic scene... I couldn't believe it was really happening to me in real life!

And... I didn't know what to do! I wanted to laugh, but this person was so crazy... was I supposed to take a swing at him in self defense, talk to him... or what???? Was I really being threatened by this crazy old coot??? He couldn't even lift me up by the lapels... what was the threat?? But, on the other hand, he was taking this deadly seriously. He was really trying to threaten me... he really was! It was so STRANGE!

This standoff lasted all of about fifteen seconds, then people in the crowd pulled us apart. (Which I found a bit surprising -- I'd read so many stories about people in the big city ignoring each other.) I remember muttering to those holding me, "I'm all right. I'm all right." What they thought I meant, I'm not sure. What I was saying to myself was I have enough presence of mind, in spite of the panic I was experiencing, that I wasn't going to do anything rash. Yes, this was so bizarre that I have to call my reaction a panic one... but it was so funny!

The man got back in his car, and I continued walking on with my date, and that was the end of that incident. His wife was with him in the car, and I sure hope she helped him get some help after that -- if he had a habit of threatening strangers as formidable me, he was being suicidal.

My date and I talked about that incident for quite a while, and decided it was just part of "strange city life". (Quick epilog: She did not become a major part of my life.)

The Gas Crisis of 1973

The Gas Crisis of 1973 -- the gas lines -- impacted me a bit while I was at MIT. I had a car, but I didn't use it often, so I didn't spend much time in gas lines. I could pick odd hours to fuel up my car, and so avoid the lines. What the gas lines did was add uncertainty when I traveled cross-country. Still, they were a pain in the arse, and I remember that being the first time I thought politicians had really bungled things so badly that I was affected. (I'm still undecided as to whether intervening in Vietnam was a bungle, or not, but I know for sure the process of intervening was badly handled, and that's Johnson's fault.)

The MIT Riot of 1974?

The Vietnam War is remembered as a 60's thing, but it reached it's climax in the seventies. In the late spring of 1974? Nixon was bombing North Vietnam once more to bring the Communists to the negotiating table, and the mood around Boston area universities was super-charged. There had been demonstrations with some violence at Harvard and other Boston area universities already, but MIT had remained calm.

This particular day I spent the morning arranging to rent a trailer so I could haul my stuff away for summer break. The U-Haul garage where I was making the arrangements had a police-band radio channel scanner running in the background, and from what I was overhearing, the demonstrations and some vandalism had started already.

As I bicycled back to my dorm, I saw a police paddy wagon stop on Mass Ave. just across the tracks from MIT, and policemen in riot gear start climbing out. (Specially trained and outfitted riot police, and SWAT teams, were new to the US that year; seeing them added to the novelty of this event.) When I got to 77 Mass Ave., I found someone had rolled a Dipsy Dumpster into the middle of the street. I pedaled as fast as I could to Baker house and excitedly announced, "Pigs on Campus!" Those in the dorm, and the adjoining dorms, filed out on to the big field across from 77 Mass. Ave. to find out what was happening... the MIT Riot had begun.

The riot could have ended quickly and quietly. If someone had just pushed the Dipsy Dumpster off the road, and the police had not decided to march in and station themselves on the steps of 77 Mass. Ave., there would be nothing to tell.

But they did, and for the next few hours the police stood on the steps of 77 Mass. Ave., and a huge crowd of dorm students watched them from across the street -- wondering what was going to happen?

I got out my camera, and I shot pictures all over. First I shot the student side, then, as I sized up the situation, I decided I didn't want to be on the student side when the police decided to act, so I walked in a side entrance to the building, and walked out behind the police at the main entrance and shot more pictures, then I waited.

The police acted twice: the first time they put on a good show. There was a guy with a bull horn, and then a barrage of tear gas. After the tear gas the police marched in stately formation across the street into the field where the students were watching from, and the students scattered away in front of them. There were some guard dogs, who got caught in the tear gas and were worthless thereafter. Then the police turned around and marched back to the steps. It was a good show!

But the students didn't disperse for more than five minutes. Some students got hot pads from their rooms; rounded up the tear gas canisters and tossed them into the chapel pond where the water pretty quickly nullified them. And everyone waited to see what would come next.

The second action came at sunset: The weather had turned to drizzle -- a storm was closing in on the city -- and the students would have been long gone if the police hadn't been there.

Whoever was in charge of the police decided they had to "knock some heads" before they left. So the police conducted another charge, only this time instead of marching across to the field in a stately fashion behind the tear gas barrage, they chased after people, and ran them down, and beat some up. They also shot tear gas into the women's dorm and the auditorium.

Then they left.

That evening, after the riot police left, there was a security vacuum. The normal security people weren't about to show up and face small groups of angry students, so there were no police in the area, and this is when most of the vandalism on campus happened. Actually, about half the vandalism -- the police in their final charge did about half. I remember walking the street that evening and seeing two guys pulling parking meters out of the rain-softened earth. I told them, "Hey stop it! I have to live here after all this settles down." They stopped and moved on.

That final charge was stupid. It may have felt good to the police commander and the policemen conducting it at the time, but it was stupid. The effect as to transform the curious students of the crowd into anti-police activists -- the rioters hadn't hurt MIT, it was the policemen who had. If the police had come back the next day, the students' reaction to them would have been much harsher.

But, they didn't. And they didn't come back the day after, or ever again that season. Some MIT students launched a Strike after that in sympathy with the anti-war protesters, but there were no more demonstrations that required police presence.

But experiencing that riot left me a veteran of both foreign and domestic conflicts.

My First Racist Panic

I remember this incident because it was so curious, and it became a learning experience. The early seventies were also a time for "Black Power", and MIT offered a Black Studies program. Being the curious sort, and looking for an easy grade. I signed up.

The class was taught by a black teacher and was mostly black students... nothing surprising there. And it was going to be an American history class taught from the black perspective. History! I love it! I was in the right place!

The surprising thing was that as I attended the second day of class, I suddenly got a strong and growing feeling that I wasn't supposed to be here! This was a strong, visceral feeling, and by the end of class I couldn't get out the door fast enough!

I had experienced a panic... and the question was, what to do about it. No one had said anything or done anything to bring this on. It was inspired totally by my own brain.

I was raised to be tolerant of all people, including blacks. Blacks were the "minority of concern" where I grew up in Ohio. (Later, I found out that all communities have a minority of concern, but which minority that is changes from community to community.) But I had been taught long and hard to treat people equally, and I had been around blacks, treating them equally, in high school, college and the Army.

What I had experienced in that classroom was a sharp, fast unfolding of the "don't trust strangers" - instinct, in it's racial form. For some reason, my brain, at twenty four years of age, had unfolded a new layer of that "don't trust strangers" instinct.

It was then that I learned that our "instincts" don't stop unfolding at puberty, they will unfold all through our lives.

What did I do about that Black Studies class? I decided I wasn't going to give in to that instinct. An instinct is a suggestion that your body gives to you. For instance, it suggests it may be time for you to fall in love, and it suggests that you have found the right girl. These instinctual suggestions can be very powerful, but they are just that, suggestions, and they don't have to be followed.

I went back for the third day of class, and felt just a little uncomfortable, and by the fourth class session the panic was just a memory. I was comfortable in the class. The instinct had made it's suggestion, and when I chose to ignore it -- didn't let it become a habit -- it disappeared quietly.

My Studies

The desire I felt when I left the Army to study hard tapered off with time. I studied really hard at Dixie, not quite so hard my first year at MIT, and by the second year MIT I was struggling.

The course work was tough, and almost every class was not just math-oriented, it was calculus-oriented -- every professor slapped up differential equations on the board without a second thought.

As in high school, my grades were spotty, but in a different way this time. Here, there were some courses that I found just too tough, even if they were relevant, and that was a real change. The worst, I remember, was Physical Chemistry. I took it twice, and both times my eyes were glazing over by the second week. This presented me with a real problem because this Physical Chemistry was a core course for Chemical Engineering.

At the end of 1973, as at the end of my first year at the U of R, I was invited by MIT to "take a break" for a semester and see if that would help me get back on track. I took that break in Utah, and worked as an assembler for an outfit making furnaces that tempered eyeglasses.

I returned to MIT and found studies were still hard, but I managed to struggle through. I thank this in part to the generous help of two of my best high school friends, Richard Fields and Steve Humans, who were studying in the Boston area at the time, too. Steve was studying at MIT, and became a regular fixture there in the Power Generation department. Richard went on to work for the National Institute of Standards in the Washington area.

Beth and Sue: the Utah Interlude

While I was at MIT, I met the most romantic woman of my life, Beth. When I met her she had just turned eighteen and she was attending Katherine Gibbs secretarial school in Back Bay, Boston. We met at some party being held at the Baker House dorm to which "Katy Gibbs" girls had been invited. We had been playing cards, and I invited her to have a quick tour of the campus, then a quick tour of my room.

She didn't mind at all when I started kissing her and I lay her down on the water bed. As I started caressing intimate places she said, "There's something you should know."

"Yes?" I said.

"I'm a virgin."

"Do you want to be one?" I asked.

"Yes."

I paused for a moment. Then said, "I can live with that... if you can." And continued my caressing. I took her shirt and bra off that night, but no more, and got her home at a reasonable hour.

I saw her again next week, and on the weekends for many weeks thereafter. It turned out that she held to a strict definition of virgin, and not only was everything else OK, she was really enthusiastic about sensual foreplay. She was eating up my everyday touches and caresses, and my once-in-a-while exotic moves.

Two quick notes on technology:

  • This was the beginning of the Sexual Revolution. The historic deadly venereal diseases, such as Syphilis, were controllable by antibiotics developed twenty years earlier, and reliable, inexpensive birth control had been developed five years earlier, and it was still a hot topic in the media. The AIDS Crisis was still fifteen years in the future. Ours was the first generation to grow up experimenting with what these changes meant.
  • A water bed was another new technology of the 1970's, and I had one of the first in Baker House. Mine was unusual in that it had an air frame holding the water in, not a wood frame. It was much easier to get in and out of bed with an airframe, but they were not rugged and tended to spring leaks between the air and water part after a year or so. They are, by the way, outstanding for making love on.

Beth was also a good conversationalist and fun to be around. So much so that after about six weeks of this one of my other instincts unfolded strongly and it was suggesting I should marry her. From her actions -- she was getting lovier and touchier on each date -- it was pretty clear that same instinct was unfolding for her, too. She wasn't going to want to be a virgin much longer! Just then Summer Break came, but our romance wasn't quite over.

That summer I chose to bicycle home from MIT to Cleveland. This turned out to be a ten day bicycle trip, and when I got to Cleveland, I found Beth was there! She had arranged to visit her Katy Gibbs roommate, Valery, who lived on Cleveland's west side. We visited for another three days. I showed her "Stately White Manor" (a name given to the family house by Wayne Koury), and I introduced her to my family. She got real excited about that. I thought she had been responsive at MIT, but it was nothing compared to those last three days. She was still a virgin, but she wouldn't want to be the next time we got together, I was sure of that!

Then it ended.

Beth Hoemke Beth Hoemke

My Birthday Party in 1973.
As Baker House tradition called for, I'd been tossed in the showers. That's a "Green Fish" award I"m being handed for being a loser at Bou Rai. I introduced Bou Rai to Baker House, but I was soon not the best player of it.
From left to right we have:
Beth Hoemke, Art Court, Valery Felgenhauer, myself, Andy Celentano, Phil Mandel, and Jim Rutt.
Dan Swanson Beth, Dan Swanson, and Val at the Boston Logan airport. We were seeing someone off.
Enjoying "quiet time" in a Baker House lounge area.

Our romance was broken up by two things: the Utah Interlude and the Wait Test. The Utah interlude was when I had to take a break from studies. The Wait Test was when I chose not to talk with Beth during the Utah Interlude.

I knew I was dealing with an instinct when my body was telling me, "Marry her, and do it now!" It was the same thing I had experienced with the Black Studies class. And I knew that the only way to find out what I really felt for her -- underneath that instinctual haze -- was to give the instinct a chance to subside.

After six months of abstinence, what I found was: I still really liked her!

Alas! Six months is a long time in the life of a pretty eighteen-year-old, and she had moved on to other friends. I tried to respark the romance, but did not succeed. In retrospect, I should have tried harder.

But, that brings up the big difference between Beth and Sue. Sue passed the Wait Test.

Still, my most romantic memories are of that spring with Beth. Unlike the Black Studies incident, I had allowed the Beth Instinct to grow and flower, and so those memories remain strong to this day, and I'm happy to have them.

During the Utah Interlude, I was living with Sue and her friend. The three of us rented a house. I had met Sue in 1970 at Dixie College when I needed an assistant to help me shoot pictures at a school dance. She didn't fire my imagination at first sight, but she liked me a lot; and I didn't mind being liked at all! I did not intend to keep up with any friends from there when I departed Dixie -- that's not my habit. But Sue decided to keep in touch with me. Our contact was low key while I was at MIT, but she saw a golden opportunity when I had to take a break, and she took it.

For six months we lived together, and I found Sue enjoyable. When I went back to MIT I left her behind. When I found that I wasn't going to be able to rekindle the Beth relationship, I had a void to fill, and Sue stepped in. She moved to the Boston area for a few months and worked there while I studied, and we spent our nights together. She then moved back to Utah.

When I left MIT, I moved to West LA, and I met other interesting women. But when I had an opportunity to move back to Utah, I took it, and when I did, Sue was waiting for me in Utah.

Sue passed the Wait Test with flying colors.

 

Another Shade, the Wonder Dog, story

Shade came with me for the Utah Interlude.

Shade was a very smart and devoted dog, but he had one "hobby" that bordered on obsession: he loved to play "go fetch." As he got older, when he got bored, he would hunt around and find a rock, and bring it back and drop it on your foot. He wanted to fetch!

Well, this rock dropping was a good signal, but rocks would break his teeth, so, I'd have to go find a tennis ball or a stick to actually play with him.

He was so obsessive, I could tease him a lot about this, and I did. When I didn't want to play go fetch, I would find a big branch or a thick log and throw it, or I'd throw a normal stick into the densest clump of bushes nearby. If we were at the beach, I'd throw his favorite, a rock, but I would throw it into shallow water. Whatever I did, he'd try to retrieve it for quite a while, he would even fish the rocks out of water. I found this surprising because I'd never seen a German Shepherd who would willingly dunk his head under water. Shade was very dedicated to his fetching.

But that's not my story for this time.

Shade had another "dedication": he didn't like strangers who came up to the house and left something. Seeing someone do this would drive him up the wall, and newspaper boys and mailmen were at the top of his, "I'll get them one day."-list.

Well, this story concerns the first day we were in the house we were renting for the Utah Interlude. Shade was out in the yard, and the newspaper boy drove up. (I was watching all this from the front window.) This was a new house to Shade, so he wasn't quite sure of the routine, but that newspaper boy that drove up looked suspiciously like a Cleveland newspaper boy did.... and Shade was doing his best imitation of JAWS as he came to investigate.

Then... the paperboy threw a paper into the neighbor's yard. Shade switched instantly into "go fetch"-mode and bounded three steps to go get the paper.

Then Shade remembered, "That paper was thrown by a newspaper boy!" and he whipped around... back in JAWS mode.

The newspaper boy... oblivious to the danger bearing down on him... threw a paper into the other neighbor's yard.

Shade once again slipped into go fetch mode; bounded off three steps, and then returned to JAWS mode.

The newspaper boy threw a third paper into our yard, then hustled back into his car and drove off.

Shade had switched modes so quickly, so often that he was left standing in the yard looking quite bewildered, and I was rolling on the floor with laughter.

Epilog:

When the newspaper boy came back the next day, Shade was neither confused or amused. He gave the boy some very effective warning barks, and we had to make sure we had him in the house at delivery time after that.

Traveling around Cambridge and Boston

Cambridge and Boston are old cities. They predate automobiles by more than a hundred years, and so, are really poorly set up for automobiles. For example: when I came to live there in the in early seventies there were no street signs where minor roads intersected major roads. If you had been driving down a small side road, and came to a major highway... you had to guess what highway it was, or drive down the highway until it reached a city center. There you would find a street sign. The thinking, apparently, was that if you were on that small road in the first place, you must know where you were, so why bother to post what the big road was?

So, to drive in the Boston area a good map was essential, and getting lost many times just to see how things were connected was also essential. As a college-age youth, this was frustrating, but tolerable... barely... and it made me yearn for Utah every time I got in my car.

It also made me learn how to use public transportation. I became a great fan of subways, and a great walker. I wouldn't think twice about a 30 minute walk, and walking three to five miles to get somewhere was common, just to avoid fighting traffic. I would sometimes walk from MIT campus to Harvard campus rather than drive, take the bus or the subway. I also used a bicycle a lot, but the narrow roads were only modestly bicycle friendly. It was in this era that ten-speed, derailer-equipped, light-weight, expensive bicycles were showing up in the marketplace. Prior to the mid-seventies the bike market was dominated by brick-heavy Schwinns, and it was primarily a children's market.

My car during the MIT years was one of my all-time favorites: a Datsun 2000 roadster. It was a two-seater sports car with a convertible top and a five speed transmission. I had first picked this out as "my favorite car" while studying cars in high school -- I liked the specs. But... at first I couldn't afford it, and then as years went by it was replaced by the Datsun 240Z (which evolved into the Nissan 2xx Z's), and I couldn't find one to buy. It was four or six years after deciding I wanted one that I finally found one to buy.

I was happy as a clam with it, even though it wasn't particularly reliable. It's worst problem was it had a tendency to loose one gear. I could drive it around, and did for months, with only four of the five forward gears working. I got the problem fixed several times, but it would never stay fixed. And, many times I did much of the fixing myself. I pulled the engine on that car about three times.

Driving Records: Longest Drive, Longest Pass, visiting 49 states

It was in this car that I set three of my lifetime records in car driving: the longest drive in 24 hours, the most cars passed in a single passing maneuver, and driving through 49 of 50 US states.

First, the longest drive started out about 6AM at MIT on the beginning of a school break. I was headed for Cleveland, but I wanted to see Quebec City. So, I drove north out of Boston, through Maine (got stopped by a cop in Moosejaw, ME, but he gave me only a warning.) And got to Quebec City. I visited the historic battle sites there, then took the expressway to Montreal. There was no speed limit on that expressway so I took about half of it at 100MPH, but slowed down to 90 when I saw how much gas I was using up!

From Montreal I continued on the expressway to Toronto. I remember that it was late night as I cruised through Toronto, and it had a huge number of lanes... probably about twenty, but there were only three or so cars on the road with me. After Toronto I curled around Lake Ontario to Niagara Falls and Buffalo, then took the straight shot into Cleveland arriving about 4AM in the morning. I did about 1000 miles (1600KM) in 22 hours. (I was a bit shaky the next day.)

Second, the longest pass took place in Utah. This took place heading north out of the small town of Nephi. Elwin Taylor, a friend of mine from Dixie, and I were headed for Salt Lake City. This was just before I-15 was completed in this section, so the road was a heavily trafficked two-lane, and famed as "The Nephi Death Strip" for the number of auto accidents on it.

Death Strip or no... Elwin and I found ourselves at the back of a long line of slow moving traffic. We had been held up in this slow traffic for a couple miles south of Nephi, and to this day I have no patience for being stuck in a line of traffic.

So... As we cleared the north end of town, I was ready to start passing my way up the line. I looked... and saw no oncoming traffic. I told Elwin, "Start counting cars, Elwin, we may be in for a record here." I put "pedal to the metal" and pulled out... Elwin started counting, "One... Two.. Three..." I was going pretty fast now... and still no oncoming cars. My biggest threat was that some other driver in the line would try to pass and pull out ahead of me. "Seven... Eight ... Nine..." Still no oncoming cars... how unusual for the Death Strip. "Twelve... Thirteen... Fourteen..." The front of the line was coming in sight: an eighteen wheeler, "Eighteen... NINETEEN..." Whoops, there's the problem! Some "slowbo, old geezer" and his wife in a brand new Ford -- one of those old farts who feels unsafe going over forty. He's in front of the semi, and holding up the whole parade.... finally some oncoming cars, but I'm safely in front of the old geezer. "TWENTY CARS" announces Elwin.

We had passed twenty cars in one shot.

Third, I had made a hobby, ever since high school, of exploring the world around me in my cars or motorcycles. And one of the things I was diligent about was driving into new states whenever I had the opportunity. When I was driving back and forth between Utah and Massachusetts, I drove a different route each time, and in doing this was able to drive through every state in the central part of the US. During family vacations I had visited most states on the eastern and western seaboards, and Hawaii, so when I finally drove through the central states, I had completed this goal: I had driven in every state in the Continental United States.

(It would take another 20 years before I would get to drive in Alaska.) (The state I have driven in the least in is Delaware. I had to make a special detour on a Philadelphia-to-Washington, DC trip to get there, and I found the road into Delaware a crowded, traffic-lights-at-every-intersection nightmare. I got a mile into Delaware and I had had enough! I turned back into Pennsylvania to take another, faster road to Washington, and I never returned.)

Yes, that little Datsun was a fine car! But I finally got tired of fixing it all the time and I sold it and replaced it with a big, roomy, brand new Ford van.

 
In addition to car riding, I did a lot of bicycling while I was at MIT.
This was taken on the first of three long journeys that started summer vacations.
This was a ten day trip from Boston to Cleveland. The next year I went from Boston to New York City, and the final year I went from Boston to New Ulm, Minnesota in 30 days.
This first trip got a write up in a Western Massachusetts newspaper. That's where the picture comes from, too.
Roger, Sue, and Shade This is a picture from the "Utah Interlude", with Sue and Shade. (1976)
   

Parker Seal Co.

Finding work

About mid-way through my senior year, it was time to find post-college work. I was going to have a squeaky-fresh Chemical Engineering degree from MIT; I'd finished my Army experience, and I'd done some interesting work-study projects concerning rubber O-ring manufacture working for Parker Hannifin in Lexington, KY during my summer vacations. Employment should be a snap!

The Lexington Interlude, early seventies

The Lexington Interlude was a fascinating one. I spent two months there one summer, working for Parker Seal company in the research lab. Parker Seal makes rubber O-Rings, and I was studying how uneven heating of the molds affected the curing process. I devised a couple of experiments to document how heat moved through both the rubber, and the massive steel molds that were used to cure the rubber. In my off-time, I finished getting my private pilot's license, and I explored Kentucky.

The state had beautiful vegetation -- it was thick and green and everywhere. The north side of Lexington was famous for horse breeding farms, and they were very picturesque. South of Lexington, I found some abandoned limestone quarries that were cave-like and partly flooded. The light coming into the quarry came up from the water in a pond that was both inside and outside the cave, and produced an ethereal blue glow throughout the cave. It was so beautiful!

I though seriously of trying to build a house in that quarry/cave. It would have been a fantastic place: you would come through a bush shrouded entrance to get into the cave, and then row a small boat across ethereal blue waters to get to the house itself. 

When I was growing up in Ohio I heard many stories about how backwater and provincial Kentucky people were. "Anyone born in Kentucky who's worth anything, leaves as soon as they can." I was told... mostly by former Kentuckians.

Sad to say, I have to agree with those people. There are islands of cosmopolitaness in Kentucky, but they float over a sea of profound provincialness and ignorance... and those islands don't poke up very high. It was in Lexington that I had the front wheel on my bicycle stolen while I was reading in the library. It could have happened anywhere... but it did happen in Lexington.

A couple of other examples of the strangeness of Kentucky:

The first was my neighbor: the lady who lived in the apartment next to mine had a fairly attractive figure and face, but teeth so twisted that Ozzy Osbourne would have been envious. She struck up a conversation with me one day as I was on the porch playing my banjo. She introduced herself as a prostitute and started telling me about her main boyfriend who was a cop....

The second happened as I was walking to the shopping center near my apartment. This was my second or third walk to the shopping center that day, and on my previous walks I had noticed that a car racing back and forth across the shopping center parking lot. That I didn't mind much... until, as I was walking back to my apartment, he raced by me doing forty or fifty... and hit and bounced off the concrete embankment not thirty feet in front of me... and then fifty feet further on ran smack into one of those sturdy iron guard posts that was guarding a fire hydrant!

The impact was so hard it crumpled the front of the car into a steaming mess, and ripped off one of the front wheels. <gasp> I was about to walk by that embankment! Had I been just a half minute faster in my walking, I would have been a blood-smear on that embankment!

I ran up to the car. The man inside was stunned, and had vomited all over, and he was drunk. I pointed at someone in the crowd and said, "You! Have someone call the cops."

He said, "It's been done."

With that, I did what I could to comfort the man, and waited for the cops to show up. When the cop came, and I testified to what I saw.

The driver's jaw dropped when he heard what I said, "You... You're trying to get me in jail!" (He was telling the cop some fabricated story about a white Chevy pulling in front of him.)

"Of course I am, bozo, you would have killed me!" I didn't say that, I just said what I saw.

I don't know what happened to the man; I was never called for further testifying.

(The "White Chevy" was reputed to be the most common car in America at that time, and therefore virtually untraceable, the man was saying this so the cop would have no way of checking out that part of his story.)

It was at the end of this stay that I had my one experience with white water kayaking. My father had invested in another plastics manufacturing company -- Phoenix Products -- and they made sport kayaks. The president, and founder, took us on a three day tour of whitewater kayaking places near his plant in the mountains of eastern Kentucky.

I remember two experiences on that trip.

The first was another NDE (near death experience). On our second day out we went to the Tennessee River and used a different set of kayaks than those we had practiced on the first day. This new kayak had tabs on the gunwale designed to help a person brace their legs. The problem, I discovered, was that with my long legs, I couldn't get them unbraced!

I discovered this after I had rolled over in the Tennessee River. I was upside down, and trying to abandon ship, but I couldn't get my legs out! Tug, twist, tug... they weren't moving! On day one of my kayak training (just the day before) I'd been told two things to do when my kayak rolled over: 1) not to panic. 2) not to try and bend around the side of the kayak to get my head out of the water -- it was a futile gesture. Well, when my legs wouldn't come undone, I decided to try bending around the side. I tried, and I could see above water, but I couldn't get air. But in the process, I had twisted around enough that one of my legs came free, and I got out.

I had reached the point of "serious worry" in that incident, but I hadn't gotten terrified, so I didn't give up on kayaking. But did I tell our host what I had experienced, and the next day I found the tabs had been cut off.

The third day was on the Nantahala River, famous for its white water. My father and I had an exciting time, and by the end of the trip we were both exhausted. I couldn't row another stroke.

Then our lady guide said, "All we have left is the waterfall."

The waterfall! My dad backed out, and so did I, my arms were just too beat. But the guide insisted, "Oh... You can do it!"

So, I tried.

She said, "OK, just keep paddling and follow me. You'll do fine."

Well, as we headed for that waterfall I got scared, and the adrenaline and panic kicked in: and instead of being unable to paddle another stroke, I found myself single-minded about paddling, and I found I could paddle at only one speed: hard! My guide looked back and found me cruising flank speed right up her tail!

With an "Eeep!", she hurried up her own paddling, and stayed ahead, and we both went through successfully. It was a fun time.

I tackled getting a job as a major project, and, like getting into college, I wanted to have some good choices to choose from -- my goal was five offers. So, I bought a big book on companies that were hiring and sent out about 150 or so resumes to everyone that listed openings for Chemical Engineers, and others that just looked interesting. My feeling was: I would go anywhere in the US, and do just about anything that involved chemical engineering or computers. So my letters went across the United States. (Keep in mind, Oh young reader, this is still before the personal computer era. (but we did have copiers) So sending out that many resumes was hours and hours of hand addressing, stuffing and mailing.)

I started getting letters back. They were very nice letters. The stationary was very nice. The logos were stunning and the phrasing was always a very nice way of saying, "No Thanks." I found the letters so pretty, that I started taping them to the wall outside my room in the dorm so others could admire their beauty.

Then it got scary... there was no more room on the wall! In the end I got about 95% quick rejects, and two or three first interviews... and that was it! By graduation I didn't have the five offers I was going to choose from, I had none!

In the end I got a job because friend-of-the-family Bob Cornell put in a good word for me at Parker Seal in Culver City, CA.

I was shaken by that experience. I had impeccable qualifications, but I could not land a job based on my qualifications. It was only through a personal reference that I got work.

Well... regardless of how I got it, I had a job, and it was now time to prove my mettle.

Living in West LA, 1975

Parker Seal had a factory in Culver City, California. Culver City is just east of West Los Angeles, so I rented half a duplex in West LA and bicycled to work.

I was now going to experience the Los Angeles lifestyle.

Culver City is also the home of movie studios, and as I bicycled to work I rode past one. Over the fence towered a huge, unpainted gorilla statue. It was for an upcoming big-budget King Kong movie -- the one with Jessica Lange as the screaming lady and the World Trade Center taking the place of the Empire State Building.

Work at Parker involved more research of the same sort that I did in Lexington. The company was just buying some new injection molding machines to replace the older technology compression molding machines, and they needed to work the bugs out of the process.

One bug I was introduced to in particular was a problem called "blowby". Blowby would cause an unsightly seam around an O-ring where the mold parts matched together. The problem was well described to me by my supervisor, Jim Rogers.

"The rubber starts heating up as it cures, and as it heats it expands. It expands so hard that it actually forces the mold open a for a fraction and some of the rubber forces itself out. That leaves the seam, which can be very deep."

A week or two later, as Jim Rogers passed, I told him, "I've solved the blowby problem."

His eyes bugged out, and he set up a meeting. I told him and the two other engineers the experimental results I had come up with.

I said, "The solution is to progressively clamp the mold down tighter. Clamp down with a light pressure, then every minute or so, up the pressure.

"If you do the reverse, clamp down hard and then lighten up, you get huge blowby." (I had done the experiment both ways.)

The engineers where duly impressed, and it was the highlight of my stay at Parker.

I explored LA, as I have explored everywhere I've lived: I walked, I rode my bicycle, I drove my new Ford van.

I got a second job: I wanted a job that would keep me physically fit, and let me take advantage of my investment in my van. I found the perfect job: delivering weekend editions of the LA Times to retailers in the West LA area. It gave me a chance to work out, and drive around the local LA area early Saturday and Sunday mornings when the traffic was light.

I bicycled from West LA to Venice, then up and down the Venice beach. Venice was famous as a bohemian area of LA, and the beach was famous for babes, so it was always a fun day trip to bicycle there.

Drove my van all over the LA basin and up and down Mullholland Drive along the crest of the Santa Barbara Mountains.

I also got to know people.

Suzanne, the lady who had the other half of the duplex I lived in was a tall, athletic and really good looking redhead. She was going to UCLA and after not too long, we got along very well. We got along so well, we talked about being boyfriend and girlfriend. She liked the idea, but she said she'd have to drop her current boyfriend first, and she was planning on doing that.

I also found a D&D playing group. I didn't have to research too hard, they were the same kinds of people who liked playing at MIT -- they were engineers and computer guys at UCLA. It was while I was playing at UCLA that I did my first dungeon mastering, and developed my Orthanc dungeon. Orthanc was to be a precursor to a Moria dungeon, but in the end it became the main dungeon.

The Orthanc dungeon became legendary. I had laid it out well, and I did meticulous record keeping on who went where in it. Because of this, it became a rich place, full of real corpses, real battle scars and real legends. It was also a very tough dungeon -- most groups that entered came out with half their members left behind, and one or two were lost to a man.

In those days resurrection was uncommon, so a lost character meant a reroll to make a new character. On the other hand, few characters ever survived to fifth level, so new characters were just a standard part of the game.

But I was still surprised... in spite of the heavy casualty rate, people kept wanting to come back for more!

The report card

The work at Parker Seal was interesting, and I was doing well, but I had this nagging feeling that I was missing something... I didn't know what is was... but it kept bugging me.

After a few months there I had my first review. Personally, I thought my work had been outstanding -- 90th percentile. In the few months I'd been there I had:

In short, I was having a good old time doing some very significant things to help the company, and I expected to be rewarded for it.

What I got was high verbal praise from Jim Rogers, but an average compensation increase. About the same time, another member of the research lab was let go. He was a nice guy, but apparently had not been performing. This combination of not much of a raise and watching a fellow worker get laid off made me very antsy. My nagging feeling magnified.

And... I found I missed Utah. As much as things were going well for me in LA, I missed the vistas and lonely roads of Utah.

I wrote to Bob Cornell, the man who had helped me get the position at Parker in the first place. Explaining what I had done over the past few months and my unhappiness with the review. I was seeking advice, but I didn't know what to ask for.

What I got back was a nice letter from Bob saying he didn't think I'd accomplished as much as I thought I had. He gave me a B+ report, not the A+ I thought I'd earned. Emotionally I found that letter to be devastating. If I was that off-base in my personal assessment of how well I was doing, how could I tell whether I was doing the best I could be doing or not? I cried as the implications of what I was reading hit me.

And, it changed my career. I decided to move back to Utah. If I was doing mediocre work in spite of my best efforts, not only my best efforts, but inspired best efforts... I knew what was needed by that company and that lab! ... Why was I hanging around LA? (Well ... there was Suzanne, but it wasn't clear where that was going to lead.)

So, I started looking for good reasons to pack up and move to Utah. When Sue heard this, she started helping me look.

 
Alpine Loop, Utah This is what I like about Utah. These are pictures from the "Alpine Loop" road in the mountains east of Provo, Utah. This is fall.
 

Wanting to get back to Utah

The excuse didn't take too long in coming up. Someone needed a person to run a video parlor in Salt Lake City. I jumped at the chance; quit my work at Parker, but that opportunity fell through when I got to Salt Lake. (Video parlors were brand new in 1976. There had been pinball parlors earlier, but the video parlor was brand new... another way microchip technology was changing our lives in that era.)

I could have gone back to Parker in LA, but instead I looked for other work in the Salt Lake area and found work at Thiokol in Brigham City, Utah.

Thiokol, 1976

Thiokol is the name of a rubber-like compound composed of polymerized sulfur. It is also the name of a company, and that company has a huge facility north of the Great Salt Lake for making huge rocket engines. Salt Lake City is south of the Great Salt Lake, so it takes about two hours to get from one to the other.

It was at Thiokol that I became a rocket scientist.

My job was to analyze the interaction between the chemicals in the rubber liner that coats the solid fuel propellant, and the chemicals in the propellant itself. Let me explain a bit more...

The fuel in a solid fuel rocket is a mixture of oxidizer and fuel. The oxidizer is usually a salt -- a salt that wants to release oxygen when it gets heated. Nitrate, chlorate and perchlorate salts are the most commonly used. (sometimes nitroglycerine or HMX are added to give the fuel some "kick".) The fuel is usually a organic polymer acting as binder as well as a fuel. The plastic is a "glue" that holds the finely powdered salt in place. The polymer and the salt (in very finely powdered form) are mixed and cured in a shape proper to be fuel for a rocket. Rocket fuel for these big rockets feels a lot like common pencil eraser, and it is cast into a big solid block that is put inside the rocket casing.

When the fuel is burning it should burn from the inside out. If it starts burning on the outside, too, then it's burning too fast, and the rocket will usually blow up. To keep the outside of the fuel "core" from burning, it is covered with a non-burning rubber "liner", which is also a cured polymer.

Now, with two different polymers being used in the fuel and the liner, and two different mixes of catalyst being used to cure these two polymers, there's plenty of opportunity for cross reactions between the two systems. The cross reactions could result in either the fuel or the liner developing a gooey region where they touch each other, or a too hard brittle region. Either result is not good.

So, our lab tested various liner and fuel combinations and reported the results.

The Thiokol experience was a wonderful learning experience, but the job itself was extremely dull. It was dull job because the main substance of the job -- rocket fuel -- is so exciting.

Rocket fuel is very dangerous: it can start to burn very easily, and when it does burn it burns very quickly, and at much higher temperatures than fires that are fed by atmospheric oxygen. Add to this the fact that it takes tons of fuel to make the core of something like an ICBM or a space shuttle, and you have the makings for a first-class disaster when things go wrong.

As a result, the whole Thiokol facility was designed to minimize the damage done if a fire happened, and the whole Thiokol procedure was designed to minimize the chances of something going wrong.

For instance, all the manufacturing buildings were built with three sturdy walls and a sturdy roof. But the fourth wall was always made very flimsy. If there was an explosion, it would blow out the fourth wall, and in so doing, do less damage to the other walls. There were few steel tools used around the fuel making areas, most were plastic to avoid the chance of making sparks caused by metal-to-metal scraping, and even the plastic ones were carefully chosen to minimize their static electricity potential.

The manufacturing procedures were just as carefully thought out. For instance, nothing was done by just one person: every step had a "doer" and a "checker", and every step taken was documented on paper. Doers and checkers both had a checklist of procedure to follow, and both had to initial each step as they did it, or watched it being done.

I found I was once again in an environment where exciting things were happening around my core activity, but the core activity itself was deadly dull. It only took me a few weeks to realize I wasn't going to be at Thiokol long, and I started preparing intensively for my next position.

But... before I talk about that, let me tell you about some of the fascinating things that were going on around my work....

The commute was long. Sometimes I drove the two hours to the facility, but often I would drive just a half hour to a shopping center on Ogden's south side, and then take a company-supplied bus the rest of the way. It was riding on these buses that I learned to sleep sitting up. After a few days of bus riding, I would fall asleep within five minutes of leaving the shopping center, and wake up three minutes ahead of arriving at the facility. I loved learning that trick! And it's served me well ever since. It's still a mystery to me how my body knew when to wake me up, but it did. I was fully asleep, but there was enough brain power still conscious that my body knew where I was on the trip, and how to stay upright in the seat. I didn't even do much "drooping".

I also flew an airplane to Thiokol. I had my private pilot's license, and I wanted to get a commercial pilot's license and an IFR rating. The private pilot's license takes 40 hours of flying and the commercial 300 hours, so I had to put a lot of hours in, and, what better way than flying and hour and a half to work and back? Thiokol had a nice runway so that "top brass" could land there for demonstrations. I got permission to use that.

The trip took me over the Great Salt Lake. I joined a flying club in Salt Lake and flew either a Grumman trainer, Cheetah or Tiger -- those Grummans were lovely planes, they had much better views than comparable Cessna's. Most of this took place in the winter and early spring, so weather and frost were both issues. I would depart in the dark before dawn, and count on the sunrise coming before I arrived. Once I nearly got caught in a spring storm. I got to within a half mile of the airport but it was snowing and fogging so badly I had to turn back. I raced ahead of the storm, and landed at an airport ten miles east in Brigham City, and hitchhiked my way into work. It snowed and stormed heavily most of that day, but cleared up an hour before quitting time, and I flew home just fine.

Watching the Space Shuttle Booster First Firing

I used that plane to watch the first firing of a Space Shuttle Booster. Those were being built at Thiokol while I was there, and I had just a tiny weeny part in helping it along -- one of my liner projects was for the booster. While I was there, they had the first static firing of a booster: they lay the huge engine on it's side and pointed it at a mountain. Late in the afternoon, after some formalities and in front of a lot of brass (who had used "my" runway to fly in) someone lit the fuse and... What a sight! The exhaust blasted into the hillside and bounced off heading straight up. A huge cloud developed, and I was watching and shooting pictures as I circled in my airplane a mile or two away. It was neat!

 

So... you want to see that first firing, do you?

Thanks to Google video / You Tube and the Internet, it's now possible! Try this site. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0oDRsydQ730

If that doesn't work, try going to You Tube and doing a keyword search on either of the following:

[Solid Rocket Booster Promontory UT 11-01]
or
[Space Shuttle Booster (Static Test)]

(Please note that things on You Tube change all the time, these may no longer work.)

The biggest problem with flying was the expense: it cost me half a day's gross pay to make the round trip. So I couldn't do it more than once or twice a week. But, I finally did get enough hours, and I got my commercial license and IFR rating.

During this time I also made one trip flying to El Paso, Texas. I was hungry for hours so I advertised on the U of U trip board that I would fly people for the cost of the trip. Three ladies took me up on the offer, and they wanted to go to El Paso. We flew on a workday, so I took half a day off, and planned on being to work the next day. The trip didn't go as smoothly as planned. One of the ladies got airsick mid-route so we had an unscheduled stop. We approached El Paso after dark, and there were big thunderstorms building over the mountains as we flew south. When we got to Deming, New Mexico, about fifty miles west of El Paso, the storms got so bad I told the ladies we would have to land, and we did. They had to find their way the rest of the way to El Paso, and I had to fly home in the dead of night. (that was planned). As I flew back the thunderstorms abated, but I got really tired, so there was one more unscheduled stop in Grand Junction while I napped, then I got back. I tried to drive to work after all that flying, but I was dead on my feet. I turned back for home and called in sick. That was my longest, hardest flying experience.

 
In addition to flying around clouds, I love to shoot pictures of them.
These are some cloud pictures from Utah. Utah has photogenic clouds.

Innovation at Thiokol

I was able to do one innovative thing in my work at Thiokol. One day, my supervisor called me in about a project: one of the tests being run by the lab was heat-stressing Atlas missile engines. They wanted to heat-stress the fuel, but not moisture-stress it, so they needed a plug that would fit in the core. Now once the core is installed in the engine, it's hard to reach, and even harder to plug because it's ribbed.

I went up to the storage shed and looked at the missiles, and felt around the inside of the core... devilishly difficult! The hole to put the seal down was smaller than the rib section to be sealed, so the seal would have to be jointed in some hexagonal fashion, or flexible. And this was at the top of the missile. If the seal didn't fit tightly, it would drop twenty feet to the bottom of the core. And... how to get it out again when the test was finished?

It happened that some of the things that the lab had in abundance were tongue depressors, string and foam rubber. And I'd been whiling away some hours making weird things with the tongue depressors and string. What I had noticed was if you strung the tongue depressors together in a certain way, they would be floppy until you tightened the string, and then they would line up stiff and flat... It turned out that was exactly what I needed to happen to seal that core!

I would stuff the depressors into the core in their floppy state, and then pull the string tight, and they would stiffen up and fill the ribs in the core! I ripped up some foam rubber into a circular shape with nubs that would fit the ribs in the core, let the tongue depressors snug up the foam... and viola! a seal! It would cost ... maybe ... fifty cents.

The research lab team looked at my work, and was impressed. Then came the "yes buts".

"OK, Roger. Now write a spec for that." And some military geek didn't think the seal fit well enough.

Write a spec? You just ... do it! Didn't seal well enough! Hrrumph! Let that military geek seal it himself if he wants better! By then I was close enough to leaving Thiokol that I did no more on that project. But that was another neat innovation that I feel proud I came up with.

Another interesting thing I remember about Thiokol was leaving work each day. Thiokol was a government sub-contractor, and the facility was a long, long way from civilization, so lots of people car-pooled. The combination lead to a fascinating end-of-day ritual. The work day ended at 4:30PM, and there was a clock to punch out on at the main gate. At about 4:20 one or two people would show up at the main gate, and stand there. At 4:25 the one or two people would grow to a large crowd, but no one left. As soon as that clock ticked 4:30 a frenzy of punching out happened, and by 4:35 it was over -- the plant was empty. Walk out to the gate at 4:40, it was not only deserted, but the parking lot was empty, and the security guard would eye you suspiciously -- no one left early; no one left late!

The Carter Era: double digit inflation and the energy crisis

Poor Jimmy, a nice enough guy and a hard worker, but the events that happened during his Presidency ground him up and spit him out. I thought his handling of the Iran Hostage Crisis was miserable (Ohh, I feel your pain, and I'm going to stay in the White House until this is resolved.), and I thought his handling of the inflation/energy crisis was just as bad. In the winter of 76/77 he declared that public buildings should be kept at 65 F degrees to reduce the country's need for imported oil. 65 F degrees is bareable but chilly, and had I supported Carter's rational, I could have lived with it. But I didn't. The solution to the energy crisis was to let market forces determine the proper price and the proper allocation of energy, not some presidential fiat..

Since I didn't agree with Carter, and we worked in a government building, I was pretty sure someone would come by and check our thermostat before too long. Just in case they did, I got the thermostat ready. First I got our building up to a comfortable temperature, then I adjusted the calibration on the thermometer part in the thermostat so that it read 65 F degrees. We were now ready to do what our President asked of us!

Preparing for Computerland, 1977

I knew within a couple of weeks of starting work at Thiokol that I wasn't going to last, so a couple of hours of every work day I devoted to researching what would come next. I would sit at my desk and read prolifically. (When I need to take a break from reading, I would get a rubber band out and "zing" flies and wasps that were flying around my window. I got really good at it, and discovered that the kinetic energy of the rubber band flailing around as it flew was what hurt the fly -- a partial hit was as good as a direct hit because the fly was being ripped by the flexing rubber, not squashed by the impact.)

What I read most about was the up-and-coming microchip technology. I knew from previous research that the computer industry grew at about 40% a year, as compared with 10% a year for most other industries. And from what I was reading, microchips were going to upheave the industry once again.

I liked computers. I had programmed an IBM 360 as a special project in high school, and I was in a sea of computer geeks at MIT. And, unlike work at Thiokol, computer work was low risk, so there was lots of opportunity for exciting innovation.

What was just coming on the scene were retail computer stores selling what there then called microcomputers (the name changed in the mid-eighties to personal computers)

I wanted in: but my retailing experience was real limited, so I decided to hedge my bet: and I would get into this computer retailing by becoming part of a franchise. There were two active at the time Byte Shops and Computerland. I wrote to both for information. I got nothing back from Byte Shop, and some exciting material from Computerland. I started planning....

But, this was not the only opportunity I was looking at. Another opportunity that showed up was going to Mexico and flying a plane to spot fish for fishing trawlers in the Gulf of Baja (Sea of Cortez). The company was based out of Guymas, Mexico. I loved flying as much as I loved computers, so I flew down to Guymas and talked with the owner there.

Two possibilities... both good ones... how wonderful!

It was a hard choice, but in the end, I chose to take... the flying job!

Sue was very much a part of my life now. So we flew down to Guymas to finalize the deal. But when we got there, we found that the owner wasn't ready to follow through on this project! Fortunately, I hadn't burned any bridges when I made my choice, so Sue and I vacationed a couple days in Guymas, and returned the US, and I went full-steam on the Computerland project.

And the Computerland project will be covered in the next chapter.

Volume 1: The early years 1948-1966

Volume 2: College, Army, first jobs 1966-1977

Volume 3: PC Revolutionary: Computerland, Beehive, Novell 1977-1989

Volume 4: Beginning The Great Panic: Divorce, bankruptcy, mid-life crisis 1990-1993

Volume 5: Being a Sea Cucumber 1994-1997

Volume 6: Searching for a new life, 1997-2002 (and discovering how deep the Panic Scars are)

Volume 7: Recovering from Panic Thinking 2003-2008

Volume 8: Remaking a home in the USA 2008-2010

Volume 9: Searching for positive feedback 2011-