Oral History Transcript — Dr. John and Betty Ewing
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John and Betty Ewing; May 21, 1996
ABSTRACT: John Ewing, born July 5, 1924 in Lockney, Texas; discusses family background and childhood in Texas. Recalls his early exposure to books, junior high, and high school; recalls his impressions of his older brother, Maurice Ewing. Graduated from high school in 1941 and was called by his brother to Woods Hole. Entered Harvard in 1942 for one year and then entered the military; discharged from military service after war, late 1945. Discusses his marriage to Betty Ewing; describes his continuing coursework at Harvard after the war. Comments on the tension between L. Don Leet and Maurice Ewing; recalls working with Gordon Hamilton, Frank Press, Russell Raitt, and Fred Shepard. Comments on Mauriceís second marriage; explains his decision to move to Lamont.
Doel:This is Ron Doel and this is an interview with John Ewing. I should note that your wife Betty [Ellen Elizabeth] Ewing is present here at the interview. Todayís date is May 21st, 1996, and weíre making this recording in Falmouth, Massachusetts. I know that you were born on July 5th, 1924 in Lockney, Texas. There has been, of course, some biography written about your brother, Maurice [W.] Ewing, thatís spoken about your family. But I would like to know more about your family, your impressions of the family, and particularly your parents.
Ewing:Well, I donít know how much you have known from other sources. My brother Floyd [Ewing] wrote a very good paper on their efforts to go out and homestead in New Mexico. Are you aware of that?
Doel:Where was that published? I havenít seen that particular item.
Ewing:Well, we probably have — [Crosstalk]
Betty Ewing:Is it upstairs? Let me see if I can find it.
Doel:We can add those kinds of details to the tape later on, but itís very good to know Ė-
Betty Ewing:Iíll make a point of seeing if I can find a copy of that for you.
Ewing:Essentially, they went out to New Mexico, and they set up a small ranch. It was not a big ranch at all. They had a lot of grief there. First of all, my mother had two twins stillborn, and my dad was riding hell-bent-for-leather to the nearest doctor, which was about 50 miles away or something like that. It was too late by the time anything happened in that sense. But he did get back, and Mom survived it and so forth. About a year later or two years later — I donít know for sure — another young man was born to them, and [overcome by emotion] — excuse me. He lived to be about two years old. My mother was busy gardening or doing something in the house, and during this time Jack managed to get himself in the horse tank and drowned himself. On top of all of that, some of the big ranchers started burning people out. They burned out a lot of my dadís.
Doel:How big was your fatherís ranch?
Ewing:Oh, it was just a homestead. I donít remember what a homestead is now. It was a small start.
Doel:Part of what had been offered in the regular — that 160 acres or so that was part of the Homesteading Act.
Ewing:Something like that. He was not a rich man, by any means. He had grown up mainly being a cowboy. So anyhow, they had plenty of discouragement in that effort, so they went back to Lockney.
Doel:Had they been in Lockney prior to that time?
Ewing:Yes, they had been in Lockney before that.
Doel:And this is, of course, prior to the time that you were born.
Mrs. Ewing:It was before Maurice was born, either.
Ewing:Yes, it was. [Crosstalk]
Doel:This was right around the turn of the century that weíre talking about here?
Ewing:Right around the turn of the century, yes. My parents were extremely good for us and to us. Dad had a great appetite for reading. He read all sorts of books, and whenever he could get some extra money, he would buy books with it. Mom was not such a reader. She read quite a lot, but not like Dad. Mom was really the power in that family, because Dad liked to read too much! He liked to play his violin too much. He was just not as pushed as much as Mom was. When they got back to Lockney, they got another start there, and my Dad started working, to get some money, in a hardware store. Later on, he worked in a John Deere implement store, and by the time they left Lockney, the Dust Bowl was in full tilt and there wasnít much of anything worth anything. He managed to get one of the weird tractors that John Deere produced, and that was his payout after many years of — he got a few other things, too, but — then they moved up to Tulia [Texas].
Doel:This is around the mid-1930ís that youíre thinking about.
Doel:Before we get any further, I was curious if you remember what kinds of books your father would buy. Were there any titles that you particularly remember?
Ewing:Oh, yes. [Charles] Dickens, particularly.
Mrs. Ewing:Sir Walter Scott?
Mrs. Ewing:Damon Runyon.
Mrs. Ewing:He liked everything.
Ewing:He had all of the sets that were coming out in print in those days — Robert Louis Stevenson, which was not a heavy book, of course, but it was a nice one. I read most of it.
Doel:How did he find out what books were becoming available that he could purchase?
Ewing:Newspaper. He was a devourer of newspapers as well as books, so he knew all the way what was going on.
Doel:Do you remember magazines that were coming into the house, too?
Ewing:Yes, some magazines were coming in. I donít remember. Collierís, I remember, was one of the ones. I forget what others were. Yes, he subscribed to some magazines, also. I think Mom was very much into — Mom was more likely to pick a magazine than a book, but she did pick up a lot of books, too. There were plenty of books around our house. [Laughter]
Doel:I was curious a moment ago, when you had said that your mother was the force in the family. I do recall that being mentioned in some of the biographies of your brother and the family. What comes to mind for you, when you say that?
Ewing:Well, she was a strong-minded woman. You know. She didnít take things for granted. She could see, both in Lockney and in Tulia, that if she didnít get out and make large gardens — she was a great gardener. She raised flowers as much as she could. She planted trees. She did just all of the things that really needed to be done, and she was more likely to be doing them than Dad was. Now it was partly because Dad was working. I remember in Tulia particularly, every year, Mom would ask Dad to move the fences a little farther out. She needed more gardening room. And about every year that happened. [Laughter] And she planted everything that would grow, and canned and preserved food. We didnít buy very much groceries; Mom raised it all. One of the first things we did — actually, brother Floyd and I dug a root cellar; and it was a pretty good sized one. It was stocked full of everything. [Laughter]
Doel:What sort of house was it that you had first in Lockney?
Ewing:We had a very nice house in Lockney, although we didnít have electricity. We didnít have electricity in Tulia, either.
Doel:That was fairly common, wasnít it, at the time?
Ewing:Yes, I think it probably was. [Crosstalk]
Doel:Electrification hadnít yet extended.
Ewing:I just donít know how many people in Lockney had electricity and how many didnít. I just know that it was a fairly small area right in Lockney, which is not a very big town — about 1,200 people lived there, I think. I donít know. We just didnít. Either we didnít have enough money to get to extend to line or the line was not extendible — because we were on the outskirts of the town. That was so Mom could have a good, big garden. That was more important to her than whether or not there was electricity in the house. So we used lamps, and they worked quite well. Outside of that, the house was very good. We had a nice piano, so that there could be music in the house, to go with Dad.
Doel:Who was playing in the house? You mentioned your father was playing the violin.
Ewing:He could play either violin — he could also play ďfiddling.Ē When he was a younger man, he rode on a horse all over the place — wherever there was a get-together going on, and he would perform. You know, they didnít get any money for it. He just liked it, so he did it.
Doel:Was he still doing that when you were growing up?
Doel:Did you ever get to go with him?
Ewing:Well, no. No. I donít know whether any of the other children did or not. I just donít know. I didnít, but it gradually weeded down to me. I had to learn to do something on the piano, because Dad insisted on it. I was mainly just doing chords and so forth. He really liked to have some kind of music. In those days also, there was a curious gentleman, who was sort of a gypsy in a way, I suppose. He landed in our house once every year, as long as I can remember, and he was called Fiddler Smith. When that word got around Lockney, for about a week we would have a jamboree. Everybody that liked music or liked to play music would come to our house. Every year he would send a letter to Dad and say, ďIím going to come to Lockney at such and such a date and hope this is all right.Ē So it was a week of music. It was great. Fiddler Smith was really a good violinist.
Doel:It sounds like a really memorable occasion.
Ewing:It really was.
Doel:Did you have hobbies when you were growing up in Lockney?
Ewing:We sort of made our own things. I had a lot of hobbies, I guess. [Laughs] Nothing that really stirs me. We had a cow pasture next to our house, and we put together a crude golf course out there. The neighbor that owned it didnít mind. We did that. We did a lot of horseshoe pitching, which was a good thing to do in those days. For awhile, we had a tennis court. I donít know. We did a lot of picnicking down below the cap rock. Thatís what it was called there. We were living up in the High Plains, and it was not very far to the drop-off down into the lower ground. It was very different down there, because up on the Plains it was pretty barren. But when you go off below the cap rock, there are lots of interesting things to be looked at — swimming pools and things like that.
Doel:A lot of exploring to do, it sounds like.
Ewing:A lot of exploring. We would have really good picnics down there.
Doel:Was your father running the hardware store at the time you were young and growing up, or had he already been in the John Deere store?
Ewing:I think he was already in the John Deere business by the time I came along.
Doel:Do you remember going in with him to get to know —
Ewing:Oh, yes. I would spend a lot of time, when I could, lurking around the John Deere place. He didnít pay too much attention to me, but if I asked him something, he would [respond]. The highlight of our career — Bob and me — Bob was about two-and-a-half years older than I am. Every Saturday, we would go to the John Deere store, and Dad would give us each a nickel. [Laughter] That was gold to us. You know, the Depression was starting to come down on him and everything else was getting tight.
Doel:So what would a nickel buy you in Lockney at that time?
Ewing:Oh, it would buy — depending on what we wanted. It would buy BBs for our B.B. guns. [Laughs] It would buy candies or something sometimes, if that was what was eating us the most.
Doel:Did you have a particular interest in the kind of mechanical devices and machines that were in your fatherís place?
Ewing:Yes, I did. I was — oh, about a half a mile up north from where our house was in Lockney was — I think it was 640 acres, a square mile. The people that owned that usually hired people to go and do the plowing and planting the wheat and so forth. I could go up and just sit on the tractor and ride with them. [Laughs] All day. It was a lot of fun, and I got into driving the tractors at a very young age.
Doel:Did you also learn how to take things apart and put them back together again?
Ewing:Oh, yes; you had to do that. You had to know that. Really, farming implements are quite interesting things, particularly when you get into combines and hay-making machines and things like that. During that time, they were just starting to pump a lot of water out of the Ogallala [Aquifer], and right now theyíve just about done it all. You probably know that, if you know anything about the Ogallala.
Ewing:Well, when we were there, you could set up a windmill, and about 15 to 20 feet down you could get all the water you wanted. By the time I left there, they were pulling water up with diesel engines. Big diesel engines.
Doel:And from considerably deeper depths.
Ewing:Oh, yes. They had to get way down. I donít know the exact contours of the basin of the Ogallala — Iím not sure that anybody knows it very well — but I think they pretty much figured out thatís thereís not much left there.
Doel:Thereís certainly a great deal of concern for future water rights policy throughout the entire region that that aquifer serves, without a doubt.
Ewing:That was a huge aquifer, very big, and it had an awful lot of water in it, because it had been sitting there forever. But it didnít take them long to ruin it.
Doel:Did your father have a tool-working area in the home, or did he do most of the work of that sort, actually, back at the John Deere store?
Ewing:He had a lot of tools at home. You just about had to have [them] in a household like that. Because, you know, something was always coming apart, or Mom would always be wanting something else done with something. Or whatever. Well, as a matter of fact, when we got up to Tulia, we didnít have as good a house there as we did at Lockney, but it sufficed.
Doel:You say it was the Dust Bowl in particular or just the worsening of the Great Depression that led your parents to move? [Crosstalk]
Ewing:It was both. The ďdust bowlĒ conditions were already beginning before we left Lockney, and we moved up there to Tulia and it just blew and blew and blew, and piled up the dirt everywhere. It was awful.
Doel:This is in Tulia that youíre thinking of.
Doel:What was it that attracted your parents to Tulia?
Ewing:He just had to find someplace that he thought he could make a living [by] farming. And he almost did it, pretty close to it, with Momís help. With a lot of help from Mom. By the time we moved up to Tulia, it was just Bob and me; but the other children were great at coming to visit, [laughs] so there was no shortage. And that was one of the reasons. You know, Mom felt a very strong urge to have plenty to eat when the kids came, and it was always there.
Doel:I was curious how well you knew your brother Maurice when you were growing up. What did he call himself? Or what was he called in the family?
Ewing:We called him ďbrother.Ē You know, I saw very little of Doc, as we came to call him. I donít think I saw him more than two or three times before he reached down, took me off the tractor and put me on the Atlantis [laughter].
Doel:Did you hear much of what he was doing? Was that the sort of story that the family would tell?
Ewing:No, I really wasnít that much into it. I knew he was doing something in colleges, and I thought, ďThat must be pretty good.Ē I was a pretty good student, in the high schools there.
Doel:I was going to ask — did you stay in the Tulia area then for your junior high and high school?
Ewing:Right after I graduated from high school, he grabbed me. [Laughter]
Doel:Before we get to that point, though, Iíd — you say the house was smaller that you had in Tulia. Did it still have a separate library? Where did your father keep the books?
Ewing:We did have a pretty-good-sized library shelf. When it filled up, that was about all we had. Well, not all. We had a pretty good library in both places. You can get a lot of good stuff in libraries, as you know.
Doel:How big was the townís library? Did you get to that often?
Ewing:I didnít get there often in Lockney. When I got to Tulia, I really took advantage of the library there. It was just a few rooms in the courthouse, but it was official — and there was a very nice lady who was the librarian. I canít remember her name, but she ran a good store there. So we always read, and when Mom felt we had read enough for one night, she would go and turn the lamp down. [Laughter]
Doel:What time of night would that tend to be?
Doel:I suspect she may have been up reading too late as well. [Crosstalk]
Ewing:And if it was winter, she would also turn the stove down — which was the heater for the whole house.
Doel:What were you particularly reading? Were your interests more towards literature or other fields, when you would go to the library in Tulia?
Ewing:I think I just read whatever I thought would be good. But it was mostly adventure stuff.
Doel:Do you remember reading Popular Mechanics during that time?
Ewing:No. I donít think I ever saw a Popular Mechanics book until I got up north.
Doel:I was curious. Were any teachers particularly memorable for you in junior high and high school? How big were the schools?
Ewing:Well, they were not big schools; but they were not real small schools, either — because they fed from the farms. I donít know. I donít remember as much in that respect about Lockney as I do about Tulia. I guess it just was the —
Mrs. Ewing:I thought it was a pretty impressive school. Thatís not so little, right?
Doel:Betty has just brought here a copy of the 1941 Hornet, and this is the yearbook of Tulia?
Doel:The photograph here is very interesting, on the cover. It shows itís a two-story high school that you attended, and — Iím opening it up right now, just to see some of the photographs that are right on the inside. What clubs were you involved in? Were you involved in school activities and clubs that you recall?
Ewing:Not very much. I was a social tennis player at Tulia; not in Lockney. We had our own tennis court in Lockney, but when the girls, I think mostly, got tired of it, or something like that, it went into garden.
Doel:But you kept up practicing in tennis.
Ewing:Yes, pretty much. I still enjoy tennis, but I havenít played it now for a long time.
Doel:Were you involved in any varsity sports in Tulia?
Ewing:Oh, I was in the senior play that was put on. I canít even remember now what it was about. It was not a very important thing. At Tulia — you asked me about teachers. I remember two with great respect. First, was Miss Lurline Bowman, who was an English schoolteacher; and, boy, we got a good lesson on that out of her. When I went up to Harvard, Harvard excused me after the first half of English. They said, ďYouíve had a very good teacher; you donít need to do any more of this.Ē
Doel:Thatís quite a credit to both you and her.
Ewing:The other was the band director. I was also in the band. I tried to make it on the football team, but I just didnít have enough beef. [Laughter] They were killing me, and I was not going to put up with that forever. So I decided that football was not my — so I did tennis and band. I enjoyed the band very much.
Doel:What were you playing in band?
Doel:Did you go on the road with the school, or was it mostly playing for local events?
Ewing:We went with the football team to wherever the games were. And, you know, when they came to our place, it was home games and so forth. That was the same as it is everywhere.
Doel:Did you have much chance to travel before high school?
Ewing:I guess the biggest trip I ever made before high school was when I was in the third grade and went down to the Rio Grande Valley, where my sister and her husband had set up. We drove down in a Whippet. Do you remember the Whippet?
Doel:Well, I remember seeing photographs of them. I donít think Iíve actually seen one.
Ewing:Well, theyíre curious little cars. They were very economical. But this one was pretty well worn out, and we just barely made it down there. [Laughter] And in order to get back to Lockney, Dad had to go out and find work to get a down payment on a car, to get us back up to Lockney.
Doel:That sounds like quite an adventure you had there.
Ewing:So we were down there for about three months or something like that. We went to school there, and it was, I suppose, about 70% Mexican and the others white. We got along reasonably well together with them, though. I did. I had no trouble. I sort of enjoyed them.
Doel:Of course, you were rather young at that point that you were down there. Do you have any lasting impressions of what was different in being in the Rio Grande, as compared to —
Ewing:Well, it was very different from — you know, the atmosphere was totally different from the Plains down into the Rio Grande Valley. So it was quite an experience, really.
Doel:Had you hoped to get to see your brother Maurice when he was in school or in any of his early appointments?
Ewing:Oh, I always enjoyed it when he came — because he always brought me a nice present.
Doel:What sort of things did he bring you?
Ewing:I donít remember what he brought, but he always brought something. I couldnít tell you what it was. He usually arrived in the middle of the night, so when I woke up in the morning, there was some present there on my pillow.
Doel:He would come in the night and leave it right there.
Doel:What were your first impressions of your brother?
Ewing:Well, I donít know. He was just ďBrother,Ē and he called a lot of the plays when he was around.
Doel:You mean within the family.
Ewing:Even at home, yes.
Doel:Iím curious what comes to mind when you say that. I probably should just point out for the record, he was roughly 18 years older than you were.
Ewing:About 17 or 18; I forget which it is. Something like that. Yes, we were the two ends of the string. But he brought presents for the other people, too. He was a nice guy in a lot of ways; but he was a driven guy, in a very distinct way.
Doel:When you said a moment ago that he ďcalled the shotsĒ when he came back home — what sort of things happened?
Ewing:Well, Mom didnít really think that Doc was all there. Not in a way of intelligence or anything like that. He was more demanding than almost anybody, I guess, Iíve ever seen, ever run into. And this went on wherever he was.
Doel:At home as well as elsewhere.
Ewing:At home as well as — donít you think thatís true?
Ewing:She knows him as well as I do almost.
Mrs. Ewing:I remember his sistersí telling me that when he came home, partly they loved to see him, but probably it was all going to be, ďHow did you do on your math tests?Ē You know. ďWhat are you studying?Ē They were going to go shopping — ďWell, isnít that a silly waste of time.Ē It was that sort of thing. I mean, he was determined that everybody was going to use all of their time in a constructive way — what he called constructive.
Doel:This is very interesting. This is what your mother found troubling in some sense? Or a little disconcerting?
Ewing:Well, I just donít know for sure.
Mrs. Ewing:She worried about him.
Ewing:She worried about him all the time. [Crosstalk]
Mrs. Ewing:She thought he pushed himself too hard. Always. And thatís really what it —
Doel:And back from the get-go, in some sense. Both Ewings: Yes.
Ewing:I remember on several occasions I would find Mom crying, and it was always about him. He could be an extremely kind person. He could also be really tough, on everybody. He was an unusual guy. I just donít know —
Mrs. Ewing:He was not always happy with himself.
Mrs. Ewing:I remember he told me once that he wished that he was more like his father than he was.
Doel:Is that right! Do you remember roughly when he said that?
Mrs. Ewing:Yes. We were talking about John once. This was many, many years ago.
Doel:Was this prior to the time that you and John were married?
Mrs. Ewing:No, after we were married; but that was still quite a long while ago. He just didnít mince any words. He said he was closer to John than anyone else in the family, though he loved them all dearly. He said John was ďfortunate to get some of Dadís attributes that I never had.Ē He envied him that.
Ewing:He could relax every once in awhile, but it was not very much.
Mrs. Ewing:And some people could make him relax more than others. — which in this was good. [Laughter]
Doel:Do you have a feeling, in looking back, what helps to explain why Doc was as driven as he was?
Ewing:Well, I donít know.
Mrs. Ewing:He took after your mother in that respect.
Mrs. Ewing:She always needed to can a few more cans — ďyou never know.Ē But she was very generous with her food. If there was a poor family, bring the food over to them. But she was more anxious to succeed somehow than your father was, in that respect, and Maurice definitely.
Ewing:You know, Dad didnít really care if he ever made a big splash on anything. He just didnít aspire to that. He enjoyed life far more than Mom did, I think, and certainly more than Doc did.
Doel:How did your father react to Docís attitudes and what he wanted to do, coming home? [Crosstalk]
Ewing:I remember one particular thing, where — but this was later on, when Doc showed up somewhere where we were there. I think maybe after my dad had his stroke. But Doc was wearing a seersucker jacket, and [laughs] Dad could make a lot of meat of seersucker. He knew how to do it. He would unload when he needed to, and when I kicked over the traces, or Bob did, we got a lickiní. Mom would save it up, and Dad would have to administer it. [Doel laughs] She never hit us.
Doel:Your father did, though.
Ewing:Dad did. He believed in ďspare the rod and spoil the child.Ē
Mrs. Ewing:Heíd be in court now. [Laughs)
Doel:Of course, attitudes have shifted, but at the time it was indeed — one thing I wanted to ask here is when you, [Betty], first came to know John and came to know the family. As I understand, you were married in 1948, during the time that John was at Harvard. When had you first met?
Mrs. Ewing:Well, we met at Woods Hole [Oceanographic Institute, Massachusetts]. I came down to Woods Hole to work, and thatís when I met John. That was in 1947.
Doel:So you hadnít actually known the family during the time that weíre talking about here. These are still very valuable recollections, but I wanted to make sure —
Mrs. Ewing:But Johnís mother — Iíve just always been interested in families, in backgrounds — because mineís quite different. Over the years, when Johnís mother would stay with me, she would tell me a lot of stories of things that happened. I think I was more interested than her own children were at that point. Thatís why I think I was — I met Maurice then. I was, frankly, scared to death of him.
Doel:From what you had already heard about him?
Mrs. Ewing:No, it was just that he was big and scowling and abrupt. But I became very, very fond of him. I think we ended up very close, donít you John?
Doel:Very much so.
Mrs. Ewing:We thought a great deal of each other. I would do anything for him; he would do anything for me. But he told me that right in the beginning. He said, ďNow that youíre Johnís wife, if you need anything, let me know.Ē It was as simple as that. That didnít necessarily mean that he always approved of everything I did or said, but there was no question that he — all he wanted to be sure of is that I didnít prevent John from doing what he wanted to do as far as work went. That was very important to him. He felt that too many wives had kept too many husbands back. Well, those were the days when people would come to Lamont [Geological Observatory] and say, ďWell, I like the work, but, gee, going to sea for three months — Iíve got a wife and two kids and —Ē He would just sigh and roll his eyes and think, ďWell, what is wrong with these people?Ē [Laughter]
Doel:I want to follow that thread a little bit later, when we get to Lamont, but thatís very interesting — his reaction. Let me ask you one question right at the moment. Is there anything that, say, up to the time when John was in high school in Tulia that we havenít covered, that Johnís mom had spoken to you about as something particularly significant in the family?
Mrs. Ewing:I donít think so. She counted on John and Bob a lot for help. They did most of the plowing, right?
Ewing:Well, after Dadís —
Mrs. Ewing:Didnít you do plowing in Tulia?
Ewing:Oh, yes, sure. By then, things were starting to pick up a little bit, and Dad got work at the Tulia John Deere establishment.
Doel:When was that that he picked up there?
Ewing:Right almost when I was about graduated. The old tractor finally gave up, and Dad made a deal with one of the neighbors that had an Allis-Chalmer — a fairly new tractor. The deal was that if I planted his fields, I could use his tractor to plant Dadís field. [Laughter]
Doel:And you took the deal.
Ewing:Oh, I had no choice in it. At the same time, I was also employed quite a lot by my sisterís husband, Herschel Clawson. He was a very interesting man. His father and his uncle and his mother had just got too old to run the plant they had been running for many years, and he took it over for awhile, to see if he could make —
Doel:What kind of plant was it?
Mrs. Ewing:A ranch.
Ewing:It was about four sections of territory quite a way out from Tulia. They were good farmers. They were Dutch, with maybe some German along with them; but they were good, solid-stock people. They believed only in work. [Laughter]
Doel:Were there any science clubs that you recall, at the high school at Tulia? Did you find that you were particularly interested in science back then?
Ewing:Not particularly. Actually, we didnít have a very good course there. The best one we had was chemistry. I enjoyed the chemistry course, but nobody taught me any physics or any — my best teacher for mathematics was the band director, and he was good. [Raymond] Ferguson.
Doel:Did you have biology as well?
Doel:I would imagine other subjects like geology and astronomy werenít covered at all — in the background.
Ewing:No, these were just basic teachings. [Crosstalk]
Mrs. Ewing:Nobody had that in those days.
Doel:Itís good just to get a general idea of what sort of things you were exposed to.
Ewing:I had a good math background, for high school, from Ferguson; and I had an excellent English teacher.
Doel:How far did the training go? Did you have algebra?
Ewing:Oh, yes, we had algebra. We didnít get quite to calculus.
Doel:That was fairly common in those years — that students didnít get to the calculus.
Ewing:I dipped into that at Harvard.
Ewing:Yes. Ferguson had a good math background.
Doel:Where had he gotten his training? Did he ever talk about that with you?
Ewing:It was somewhere in Texas, but I canít remember where.
Doel:Were either of your parents particularly religious as you were growing up?
Ewing:Not very. They were when I first was growing up in Lockney, but I think there was a reason for that, too. The Baptist Church there had only a piano for music; they were not rich enough to have an organ. So guess who provided the music? [Mrs. E. laughs] Dad with the violin, and one of the girls.
Doel:Did you also play at some point? This was, of course, when you were very young.
Ewing:I hated the whole Baptist world, and I only went to Sunday school [until] I could outrun Dad. So I quit. I am not a religious person. Donít believe in it.
Doel:Was Maurice the only sibling at the time, in the family, who had been divorced?
Mrs. Ewing:Yes. And ended up the only one. That bothered Johnís mother a great deal.
Mrs. Ewing:Johnís father, too.
Doel:When Maurice came visiting, was he already married to — and if Iím pronouncing it right — Averilla [Ewing], his first wife?
Doel:Would they both come together, or did Maurice tend to come alone back then? [Crosstalk]
Ewing:Usually, she came separately. Oh, yes. At one time, there was a thing to go to — the Texas Centennial. I think that was about when I was a junior or something like that in high school, and Bob was about ready to graduate — when we went down to that, we went on a train. You donít see many of them any more. And the Hildenbrand people put us up, because we were very sorely stretched to get the money to go that long a train and back. We would have had no way at all to pay for lodging. We were there for three or four days. It was a lot of fun. We had a good time, and the Hildenbrands behaved very nicely to us. Iím sure that Averilla had paved the way for us.
Doel:What were your impressions of her? Did you come to know her well?
Ewing:I liked her. She was a little high-strung, and she loved that kid — Bill. There was no question about that. When they came the last time, we were in Tulia — had just moved there, I think. I entertained Bill most of the time they were there, and we had a lot of fun together. He was pretty young, but I enjoyed him. I enjoyed him very much. I did all sorts of things for him. Anything we could do. You know, go down to the swimming pool, with Averillaísí very [laughs] — she didnít like it very much, but she let me take him down to the swimming pool. It was on the creek, down there. This was before the big sellout of junk to the Japanese, and the people that had had this farm before we moved in there — they never had thrown anything away. [Laughs] And the big thing was, there was a really torn-down pickup truck, and Bill and I sort of got — the parts had been scattered all over the place. Bill and I together sort of put it into something you could recognize as a pickup truck, and we played in that together [laughter] for a long time. I think somewhere in our archives we have a picture of it.
Doel:Of the two of you playing. When you were getting near the end of high school — did you graduate in 1942?
Ewing:It was 1941.
Doel:What did you expect might be your future? Of course, the war was beginning. If you graduated in 1941, Pearl Harbor, then, was yet to happen. What did you see for your future at that point? What sort of things were you thinking about?
Ewing:I was still thinking about farming, and it was somewhat of a shock to me to realize that I was supposed to go up with Doc.
Doel:How did that come about? I just wanted to follow up with what you had said that it was a shock to hear that you were going up. It sounds as if that had been arranged before you knew of that occurring.
Ewing:It had been arranged very soon — you know, I think Doc came by on a quick run and he talked it over with me and with Dad and Mom. I was old enough to get concerned about me. Bob had already gone up to Lehigh [University], so there was only going to be Mom and Dad and me left there; and I didnít really think they could hack it. Because thereís a lot of work to do on a farm, as you may know, if youíve ever been associated with a farm. So I wasnít really sure of it. I sort of went up there, thinking, ďWell, Iíll try it out; and if it doesnít make sense, Iím going to go back to Tulia.Ē But I found things so exciting up here that I didnít. And Iíve been ashamed of myself ever since for running off and leaving Mom. And not long after that, Doc and I were off on a cruise on the Atlantis, and we got word that Dad had had a stroke. They didnít think he was going to live, so we got on a plane, and Doc made plans for what the ship would do until we got back. While I was — I spent more time there — by that time — I am terribly screwed up here. They had recently moved from Tulia to Ozark, to Oldfield, Missouri.
Mrs. Ewing:That was after we were married?
Doel:When was your fatherís stroke? When did that happen?
Doel:So this is considerably after the time that you left to come East.
Mrs. Ewing:Thatís right. You hadnít gone in the service yet.
Ewing:Thatís right. I was forgetting that.
Doel:But I think itís important what youíre saying — that this was a very difficult issue for you at the time, to make the decision to stay at home with the family or come out to join Doc at Woods Hole, then, as the war effort was beginning to take form. What did your parents say to you? How did they react to what Doc was proposing that you do?
Ewing:They just said, ďWell, if Doc wants him to go out there and he wants to go, he can go.Ē Curiously enough, Bob had come back on a furlough, and he was about to go and start his thing at Annapolis. That was another reason that I probably felt, ďWell, why not go with Bob; and we will go up there.Ē So we did. We both got on a bus together. [Laughs] It took us about three days to get out there. We split in Pittsburgh or some place, and he went off to Annapolis and I went on up to Woods Hole. And sure enough, Doc was not there; he was out on a cruise.
Doel:So this is 1941.
Ewing:The summer of 1941, yes.
Doel:Itís literally within weeks or months after youíve graduated that Doc has come home and made that arrangement.
Ewing:Thatís right. An old friend of mine wanted to come up, too, and I brought that up to Doc. He said, ďBy all means. If he knows how to do anything, bring him up.Ē This was a high school friend. He stayed with Doc for a long time, but he then branched off to some commercial field. But he still lives here in North Falmouth.
Doel:When Doc said ďhas something to contribute,Ē did he mean technical ability, or familiarity with —
Ewing:Willingness to work. He said, ďI can teach him what to do, if heís willing to work.Ē And thatís a good way to look at things. Most people can be taught to do a lot of things they didnít know they could be taught. Not that he was a dumb guy; he was a good student, too — in the neighboring town of Happy, Texas. [Laughs]
Doel:What were your impressions of Woods Hole, when you arrived in this area?
Ewing:Oh, I was just sort of amazed at how different it was.
Doel:What sort of things come to mind now when you think back to what seemed so different here from Texas?
Ewing:Well, just everything was different. You know, the people talked different. I donít know. Everything was getting ready for the war. I think everybody knew that. We didnít know it would happen as quickly as it did — some of us didnít — but I remember very well [that] Doc and several other people, including Rusty [George Tirey] and me, lived at the rectory of the Church of the Messiah at that time. I remember very well, I was having a little nap and Rusty came up and woke me up and said, ďThe Japs have bombed Pearl Harbor.Ē You know, from that time on everything went screwy, and you didnít know what was going to happen. But we just got put to work right off the bat. Within a couple of weeks, I was on my first trip on the Atlantis. Then a little bit later Rusty came up, and we both sort of got established as ďpermanent partyĒ for the Anton Dohrn, which was — youíve run into that one before, I suppose. We were out at sea, doing something or other for [laughs] almost all the time.
Doel:Now did this start before Pearl Harbor? Did this begin very soon after you arrived at Woods Hole?
Ewing:Yes. The big thing going on at that time at WHOI [Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution], in Docís work, was the bathythermograph [BT]. One group of people worried about finding submarines, and Allyn Vine was on the other side, working with the submarines, to try to see how they could avert the — you know, it just went on and on. We did what we were told to do and what was obviously needed to be done. Rusty and I worked up in the machine shop there, which was a very small shop at that time. We worked days and nights to get things done. We built the winches that dunked the BTís. Ray Deysher, a Pennsylvania Dutchman — a very nice guy — was the guy who took the initial calibration. That was Rayís principal thing. He passed that on to me, and I converted it into grids. We put them together. A bunch of naval officers descended on us, and we were to take them out and show them how to do it and not to do it [laughs] with the BT winches and the BTís and so forth.
Doel:Were you there when the challenge with the BTís was to develop them so that they could be launched from a moving ship and made reliable enough that —
Ewing:This was the thing. The best thing we had was this — we had a winch that we had built on a fantail; a bunch of BT wire around it. We would throw this BT over, and it would go down to a certain level, and when the wire ran out, you hauled it back in. You tried not to wrap the wire around the boom and all those things. [Doel laughs]
Doel:Those were the big challenges, I expect.
Ewing:They were, because it was very easy to do. The naval officers were particularly good at it. [Laughter]
Doel:How much of your time ended up in demonstrating how to use these new instruments that you were developing, compared to actually doing the development?
Ewing:Quite a lot. You know, they had to — it was a simple enough thing to do. I have a BT down here in the cellar, if youíd like to see it. Would you like to see one?
Doel:At some point, when we take a break, I would enjoy seeing it. Iíve seen a few others, but Iíd like to see this one.
Ewing:Well, if youíve seen one, youíve seen them all. And one of those naval officers that came to be trained by this was Butler King Couper, who eventually was the pusher that made the electronic, expendable BTís. You probably know about that. But he came and got his training at the same time a lot of others did. Then he became chief of Bu Ships [Bureau of Ships] or something.
Doel:You had arrived prior to the attack [on] Pearl Harbor. Was the laboratory already building up for the war effort, such that the lab was already focused on some of these military — or did you notice a real change after Pearl Harbor?
Ewing:Certainly the effort was already going on in the anti-sub surface —
Doel:Given the submarine problems that had already become severe.
Ewing:That was already going on, but it had not been going on very long when I got there — because we really started at the bottom and worked our way up.
Doel:Did you meet the director, Columbus Iselin, at that point?
Doel:What were your impressions of him?
Ewing:Oh, he was a great guy. He was a very level man, much like Doc. He was a well-spoken, intelligent man.
Doel:When would you have interactions with him? Would you see him in the daytime, and over at Woods Hole?
Ewing:He was a very shy man, and he would blush if you met him in the hall sometimes. [Laughs] Yes, we went over for Thanksgiving dinner with him that same year. Maurice and I, I think.
Mrs. Ewing:He and Maurice were really quite good friends. They were of different natures, but they enjoyed each other.
Ewing:Yes. They worked together very well.
Mrs. Ewing:They complemented each other in many ways.
Doel:Maurice and Columbus.
Mrs. Ewing:Yes. I think he had never met anyone like Maurice before, and Maurice really hadnít run into anyone like Columbus before; and they respected each other.
Doel:How often was Maurice actually at Woods Hole during this period? How much would you get to see him?
Ewing:It wasnít too regular. He was always down to Washington [DC] or out at sea or something like that. He wasnít there all around, but he was there long enough to really know what was going on and put in his five centsí worth. He just worked all the time.
Mrs. Ewing:But he did always know what was going on.
Ewing:At the same time, we started — well, I didnít start — Doc had already started this, too, back in Lehigh with underwater cameras. We set up an effort in that line.
Doel:Yes, I was curious about that, because you mentioned one of the big projects, of course, involving the BT and the ocean conditions. And Maurice also got involved at Woods Hole with the surface/wind interactions, the wind-driven currents, during the war. How many projects did you come to be involved in during the time that you were at Woods Hole? How long were you actually at Woods Hole before your military service started?
Ewing:About a year and three months or something like that. And then I came down to Woods Hole as frequently as I could possibly —
Mrs. Ewing:This is when he was at Harvard. Because he went to Harvard then, before he went in the service. He started at Harvard.
Ewing:Yes, I got in one year and part of the next one at —
Doel:I simply want to make sure that Iíve got the chronology straight. Were you at Woods Hole during the entire period of the war, or did you enter Harvard then prior?
Ewing:No, I went to Harvard for one year.
Doel:And what year was that you started?
Doel:So you, as you say, it was a year and some time and then started — was it a fall term start, given the war calendar that developed?
Doel:Let me just make sure we cover all things that we ought for that first period at Woods Hole. Were you involved then in other projects besides the BT? Did you get involved in the camera work very early on, as well?
Doel:What role were you playing in the underwater photography? Was it more the camera development or actually using it?
Ewing:When I first got here, there was a young man, Hagelberger — I canít remember his first name.
Doel:— he had put together the first —
Ewing:The first camera. It was called the Hagelberger camera, and it was a crude device; but it worked. For awhile, that was our camera, and one of the chores I got put on somewhere during that year — [laughs] I canít remember when it was — I was stationed on the Anton Dohrn and my boss for that period was Henry Stetson, who was a peach of a guy. I was to go out on this ship, and he had laid out track lines for us to go. At every station, we would stop and I would take a picture and a core sample and turn it over to Henry when I got back home.
Doel:What kind of core were you using to make the sample?
Ewing:As I recall, it was just a punch core. Henry was interested mainly in the surficial sea floor, and he just wanted me to be sure and get a handful of something. I think it was just a punch core of some sort. I donít remember exactly. Then later on that summer, we got word that a Nazi submarine — no, that was the next year. That was into 1942. But I was still — my God, I canít figure this out.
Mrs. Ewing:You probably came down in the summer of 1942.
Ewing:I must have. I canít remember.
Mrs. Ewing:Yes, because they hadnít gone to the full schooling yet.
Ewing:All I know is I got on that ship with Doc and Joe [J. Lamar Worzel] and the crew, and we went down there with — youíre asking a lot of a dumb head here. [Mrs. E. laughs]
Doel:Take your time. Iím putting it together.
Ewing:Well, anyhow, we got word that a submarine had been sunk down there, and the Navy was very eager for us to get some pictures of it. About this same time, Harold Edgerton had put together his first strobe light, and at WHOI we encapsulated it so it could go under water. Thatís what we used to photograph that submarine. It was still not a very clever thing, because I think we just got — I canít remember now — I still think thatís right. Iím sure we had the strobe camera for that cruise.
Doel:But it was one of the first times that you had used it.
Ewing:It was a very early model, yes. The only way we could operate it — we had a towed echo sounder, which is what the Anton Dohrn had, and we could just drive around the target area until we saw something rise up above the bottom. We would stop as quickly as possible and lower the camera down to the bottom, and sometimes weíd hit it and sometimes we missed it. Usually, we missed it. Weíd get a lot of pictures of the mud around there. But eventually we got enough pictures of that submarine to know that it was a German submarine, and that was all the Navy wanted. This was certainly in 1942, because I remember on the way down, we saw four or five wrecked ships out there. And by the time we got back, going up, there were about fifteen or twenty ships, sticking out there. They were really picking them off in those days. [Crosstalk]
Doel:1942 was certainly an intense period in the U-boat campaign. Did you develop the film on board the Anton Dohrn or did you bring it all back?
Ewing:We developed it on board. And I screwed up on one picture, because I let either the developer or the fixer get too warm. [Laughter] We got sort of a patchy thing on that picture. But Joe [Worzel] never let me get over that.
Doel:Was Joe one of the people who taught you things like instrumentation, how to use it? Had you developed film when you were in high school, or was all of this a new experience for you?
Ewing:It was totally new to me.
Doel:I was just curious, in a general way, how you came to know your way through these kinds of operations.
Ewing:Well, somebody like Joe told me how to do it, and I remembered.
Doel:It wasnít Maurice as much, because of his being away from WHOI? [Crosstalk]
Ewing:No, you couldnít count on him to do it.
Doel:You had mentioned that you were also involved in the BT. Was the work primarily involved in building the winch and its deployment, or were you actually working on the structure of the BT itself?
Ewing:Both. All of the same. We usually made the parts of the BT itself at night, because the shop was busy doing other things in the daytime. You know, it was spread out. Everything was in a rush. We even made the shivs that hung off the boom. The only thing we really could buy was the BT wire itself. Everything else was manufactured in that little cubbyhole down there in WHOI. Then right across the way in the boiler room was where we built the winches.
Doel:Those were also, of course, hand-crafted.
Ewing:Yes, they were all hand-crafted.
Doel:Certainly commercialization in many of these areas of geophysics comes much later than during this time.
Ewing:Oh, yes. You know, things fifty years — you didnít have these things you wanted, in those days.
Doel:Who did you feel closest to during the early period at Woods Hole?
Ewing:Well — to a lot of people. [Laughs] I interacted with a lot of people, and they were all nice people. I was particularly keen on the crew of the Anton Dohrn. They were a nice bunch of guys. Absolutely.
Doel:How many people were on the crew?
Ewing:There was Nelson [Bryant] in the engine room. Stan [Stanley] Poole and Eddie [Edwin Athern] were the skippers. Sammy [?] was the cook. And there was a guy who was sort of a crew man — I donít remember his name. Iíve got a picture of him somewhere. That was the regular crew.
Doel:Did you have concerns for your safety, in traveling out, given the submarine attacks? Or did you not go out as often into the exposed parts of the ocean? [Crosstalk]
Ewing:We assured ourselves that we were small enough that nobody would shoot at us or would expend anything on us. Oh, Lambert Knight was one of the guys. [Mrs. E. laughs] I forgot Lambert. Lambert and I were watch buddies. We also did these stints of — if Lambert hadnít been so itchy, I wouldnít have given it a second thought. But as time went on, Lambert got itchier and itchier. You know, he was worried, exactly about that. Thereís a guy [Mrs. E. laughs] that was — had nothing to do with this. Before he came onto the Anton Dohrn he had been a crewman on German grain ships coming up from South America to Germany. So Lambert was a little bit screwed up about all this. Thatís probably so, because he had made several runs on those grain ships and had got very palsy with the crew. He was sort of mixed up about it.
Doel:Divided loyalties a bit?
Ewing:Yes. I mean, there was no question where his loyalty lay at that time, but it hurt him.
Doel:Emotionally, itís still difficult for people who have been in both worlds. Iím curious too, again in this early period of time, what seemed to be the greatest frustrations in taking on the challenges — building the instruments and becoming fully involved in Woods Hole activities, and what, at the same time, seemed to be the greatest interests that you had — what the greatest satisfaction that you got from being there. In the earlier — as you started doing all of this work in the various scientific projects, what did you find to be the greatest challenge that you had to overcome? Were there any particular difficulties in completing any of these tasks that you had?
Ewing:I donít really think so. You know, everybody was doing —
Doel:A better way to put it — what did you find particularly interesting about what you came to be doing there? Was there any one area or challenge that you particularly liked?
Ewing:Well, in the pre-war period we were already getting ready for the war, so we did these various things weíve talked about. You donít have very much time to think, really, when youíre doing these things, because it really monopolized your whole world. These things were desperate in the Navy, both the BTís and the submarine BTís. Al Vine, as you probably know, went out and taught a lot of submariners how to use that kind of a BT. But, you know, you did what had to be done. Thatís all I can say. And when you do that, youíre usually content. [Laughter]
Doel:Did you feel that you had a particular aptitude towards instrument work and that kind of instrument development that you were doing?
Ewing:I think so — because I like to play with my hands and do things with them. I loved — I used to, both here in WHOI and particularly when we went to Lamont, spend all kinds of nights — Bet can vouch to that — I loved that machine shop. Because thatís where you could make things. If you knew what you wanted [and] Angelo [Ludas] had the stock and he had the advice to give you, it was terrific.
Doel:This is, of course, Angelo Ludas that youíre talking about.
Doel:I really want to get back to that. I think itís a really interesting point. How well did you get to know Al Vine during that early time at Woods Hole?
Ewing:Oh, he was here when I got here. I had known about him, because I think he had been a little bit sweet on my sister Rowena at one time. [Laughs] Maybe this is not supposed to be —
Mrs. Ewing:As a matter of fact, Alís brother mentioned that at Alís service. Yes. The brother I had never met before. He said, ďAl came home to visit and just said, ĎOh, boy! That Rowena — is she really something.Ē Alís mother said, ďHeís gone!Ē [Laughter]
Doel:Did he visit Texas? Had you known him there?
Mrs. Ewing:Iím talking about when he went to visit his mother. His brother told me this story.
Doel:Okay. What sort of man was Al Vine back then?
Mrs. Ewing:He never changed!
Doel:I didnít mean to imply he did. But just what you thought of him.
Ewing:He was a very unique person. He also had a buzz saw going, up in head, all the time. He never stopped thinking about, ďWhat next?Ē He was an incredible guy.
Doel:Projects and ideas and scientific programs.
Ewing and Mrs. Ewing:Ideas!
Ewing:Ideas came spewing out.
Mrs. Ewing:Just wore you out — he had so many all the time. [I took] a bus trip to Boston with him one day, and I thought, ďIf this bus doesnít stop pretty soonĒ — I mean, he went from when he was going to tow icebergs down to melt them — you know, he was just incredible! This was just a few years ago. Getting on with — his whole world was — [Crosstalk]
Ewing:He just was an amazing man.
Mrs. Ewing:One of my best stories — Iíll be very brief about this, but I always thought it was interesting. John and I were married, and we were down in Bermuda, working at the station down there. Maurice came down, and I said, ďHowís everyone in Woods Hole?Ē He said, ďFine.Ē I said, ďHowís Al Vine.Ē He said, ďOh, fine. Heís still mad that man hasnít got gills, so that he canít go down to the bottom of the ocean and see for himself.Ē Al was thinking about that Alvin, you know, from Day One. But that was in 1949, when Maurice — thatís one of my favorite stories. [Laughter] You know, heís so mad because we havenít got gills yet.
Doel:When you mentioned a moment ago the idea of towing the icebergs for a water supply, was that recently or was that earlier?
Mrs. Ewing:A few years ago. He was going up to — I mean, heís had this idea before, but he was going up to talk to somebody at M.I.T. [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] about it. He always had another thing going.
Doel:I realize this is a very hard thing to do, but when you were first coming to know him, back in the early days, do you remember any of the grand plans and ideas that he was particularly keen on at that point?
Mrs. Ewing:Excuse me. I probably am interrupting, but it was the war time, and he was so busy with the submarines that maybe in the middle of the night he had thoughts, but on a day-to-day basis there was not the opportunity of the conversations that we could have later on. Right?
Mrs. Ewing:I mean, everybody was just straight out.
Doel:How much interaction did he have with Maurice at that time? Were they particularly close?
Ewing:A lot. They worked very closely together in lots of things. I think thereís no question.
Doel:One of the other very interesting developments that I want to make sure we cover is your going to Harvard. I realize weíve been talking now for almost two hours, and we may want to take a break at some point soon. But Iím curious how the decision became made that you would be going to Harvard. You say your first year began in the fall term of 1942. How did that come about?
Ewing:Oh, it was a conspiracy between Doc and Columbus. [Laughter] Doc wanted me to go to Harvard, and Columbus knew how to get me there. I think itís as simple as that.
Doel:What were you feeling at the time? Was college something that you particularly wanted to do?
Ewing:Oh, I always figured I would go to college, but I was thinking more like U.T. [University of Texas] or something like that. I never dreamed — I was shocked right out of my pants to think about going to Harvard.
Doel:Do you remember how you first heard about that?
Ewing:I got told. [Laughter] Listen. When youíre the bottom of the puddle in the family, you donít get many votes.
Mrs. Ewing:Excuse me. Would it be easier if I just made us some sandwiches? Iíve got either ham and cheese or tuna. Which would you prefer?
Doel:Ham and cheese sounds fine. Maybe this is a good point to pause. [Tape recorder turned off] Weíre resuming after a brief lunch break. Just before lunch you had started to tell about being informed of the decision that you would be going on to Harvard to study.
Doel:Had you visited Harvard at all prior to the time that you learned that youíd be going up there?
Doel:It was really a brand-new experience. How was the funding arranged for you at Harvard?
Ewing:I think that Doc and my brother Floyd came up with the first year. Isnít that right?
Mrs. Ewing:Whatís that?
Ewing:Doc and Floyd contributed to my Harvard.
Mrs. Ewing:I think so.
Doel:Iím really curious what your first impressions were of Harvard, when you arrived there? Did you get up just around the time that school started in the fall of 1942?
Ewing:Yes, I went on schedule to get into Harvard. You know, there was the usual stuff — signing things and all that. And, you know, I found it to be a fairly good mixture of people — some New Englanders and quite a few people from lots of other parts of the world. Harvard put a lot of thought, I think, into their acceptances. Iím sure that some of the rich Eastern people that had been Harvardís all their lives probably got pretty good — [Crosstalk]
Mrs. Ewing:If your nameís Widener, youíre going to get in. [Laughter]
Ewing:Actually, two of my roommates, [Guy] Tjorvested and Knobby, Bob [Robert] Knox — Knox was from St. Paul, Minnesota, and Tjorvested was, as I mentioned to you, from North Dakota.
Doel:That was something you mentioned off tape at lunch time. Did you know what course of study you would follow? Did it seem clear to you that you were going to study geophysics and the earth sciences?
Ewing:Oh, yes. I had no problem with that. I thought physics and mathematics would be great.
Doel:I was curious if you knew of any of the people who were there at the time. Reginald Daly was, of course, rather elderly, but he was considerably interested in geophysical work. And Francis Birch was.
Ewing:Well, Francis Birch was a very good teacher, and at the end of my four years there he invited me to take a Ph.D. under him. It was a difficult thing to turn down, but because I knew that Doc was waiting for me down in —
Doel:Did you feel tempted at that point?
Ewing:Well, it was tempting, no question about it. But I think Lamont really took it out.
Doel:Had you gotten interested in the high pressure work that people like Birch were pursuing at Harvard?
Ewing:No. I think that was pretty much reserved for Ph.D.ís.
Doel:This wasnít part of the undergraduate curriculum.
Doel:It wasnít something you got exposed to. Iím curious how the curriculum worked during the time that you went to Harvard. Was it interrupted, or did you continue on from freshman to senior year in sequential years?
Mrs. Ewing:No, because of the Army. He went into service.
Doel:When did that come?
Ewing:Iím trying to remember. I canít remember what happened.
Doel:You got the bachelorís in 1950.
Ewing:No. You see, I had only one full year at Harvard, and it was quite clear to me that I didnít want to continue in an academic world, when all hell was breaking loose. So I volunteered to — well, I sort of volunteered. I said I would like to go ahead and get into the service, but I would like to get inducted in Texas. They agreed to do that. Whatever that group of people —
Mrs. Ewing:Selective Service.
Doel:The selection boards and — [Crosstalk]
Mrs. Ewing:That was so he could go and see his parents.
Ewing:At the same time, I had been given letters from Doc and I believe from Columbus, saying, ďThis guy shouldnít just be a normal enlisted man. We need him in the Navy.Ē I got down to Texas, and I had about two weeks. Then they called me over — down to Lubbock, and they paid absolutely no attention to this letter.
Doel:There were later complaints among the scientists that the local boards are ignoring the pleas for keeping scientists involved in research during the war. So what happened then, as a result?
Ewing:Well, I just got told to show myself at Lawton, Oklahoma and get inducted there. Which I did. And, you know, I have another deficiency — Iím color-blind. [Laughs] It took them a couple of weeks to determine what they could do with a color-blind guy and finally said, ďWell, you canĒ — I had taken a lot of examinations and so forth, and I knew I had passed them all, because they were cinches. They said, ďWell, with these grades, youíve got to be a fighter pilot!Ē I said, ďI canít. Iím color-blind.Ē They said, ďThatís not for you to decide. Weíre sending you over to the fly-boys.Ē And they did. It didnít take them long to kick me out. They said, ďBut you could get along very nicely as a gunner.Ē Well, by then I didnít care. It sounded fine. So I went through a lot of schools on B-17ís. I also made good grades on those, so I was also made crew chief. I was sent to Seattle to work in the Boeing factory, to find out how these birds were made. When that was over, they sent me down to Las Vegas — not to gamble, but they had an air base down there. Gunnery training. I loved that. I always did like to shoot.
Doel:Had you done a lot of shooting when you were growing up?
Ewing:Quite a lot. We all did down there. I thought those ď50ísĒ were something really great. [Laughs] Anyhow, I got, oh, about two-thirds of the way through gunnery training, and I came down with scarlet fever. A whole bunch of people got infected by that, some way or another. It took me quite awhile to get over the scarlet fever, and then there was another wait for the next group to go to the gunnery. So I started all over again, shooting, wasting more ammunition. I got through that one all right, and they said, ďNow, youíre a corporal.Ē They had originally been sergeants in that post, but they had downsized everything. They said, ďYou now report, with a week to stop by your family — and go on over to Plant Park.Ē Somewhere on the other side of Miami.
Doel:But it was in Florida and in the southern part.
Ewing:It was in Florida. I went through the line for about the thirty-fifth time and flunked the test, as usual. And they said, ďWhy, you canít be a gunner. Youíre color-blind!Ē [Laughter] So they said, ďWhat are we going to do with you?Ē They finally decided to go through the officersí files and be sure they were all complete and in order. That took me about two or three months. In the meantime, another guy, who had come with me through gunnery school — he got kicked out, too, by some — I donít know; a kidney or something. Some problem with a kidney. So we worked together on that. Then we both got sent off to Wright Field, and there we studied electronics. When that got enough, they said, ďWell, youíre probably going toĒ — the war was almost over then. [Laughter]
Doel:Weíre already into 1944, 1945, I gather, at this point.
Ewing:Yes. You know, it was that ridiculous thing all the way. I finally got loose and went home. [Laughter]
Doel:So you saw no action and no long duty.
Ewing:I saw no action. I didnít hurt anybody, and nobody hurt me.
Doel:Was the electronics study that you did helpful, once you were getting back into —
Ewing:Iím sure it did. Yes. Iím not sure — yes, I learned a lot of electronics, both in the factory school and in that electronics school. Yes, sure it helped. Everything was still analog there, of course, but I learned how to do analog stuff quite well.
Doel:As you say, that was critical as a technique in that period. I was curious when you were discharged.
Ewing:It was just before Christmas. I donít remember when it was.
Doel:The war in Japan, of course, had ended in August 1945.
Ewing:I think I must have got out just before —
Mrs. Ewing:Right after that probably. December 1945 or something like that. Thatís right, because then you went back up to Harvard.
Doel:Were you out in time that you could get back into Harvard at the beginning of that next term? Or did you wait until the following fall before you —
Ewing:I think I waited till the following fall.
Doel:Then you were back at Woods Hole during the interim period, or were you elsewhere?
Ewing:I did various things. I did quite a lot of farming on Dadís farm in Missouri, and I went over to Tulia and did some more farming. I canít remember.
Doel:Thatís interesting. You were back in the Midwest then with your parents, for a time.
Doel:Did you have any doubt that you would be returning to Harvard?
Ewing:Now I know what happened. I went up to WHOI, and I did some scallop-fishing, which was a rather interesting thing. One day, on the streets of Woods Hole I bumped into Doc, and he said, ďYouíve been fooling around long enough now. Iíve got a job for you.Ē And he sent me down to Grand Island, Louisiana. Letís see. There I got in touch with the chief of the station that was working there, Gilman Mackin, who was a professor at the University of Oklahoma. He had been tasked with the job of finding out why the oysters were doing so badly down there. It was a big thing. It was a big operation. The thing is that they got all set up there, and they wanted then to be able to see the oyster bed. But the Louisiana rules did not permit them to touch the bottom of the bay where these things were growing. So they asked, ďCan you do something with photography?Ē I called up to Doc, and they said, ďWe can lend you one, because weíre not doing very much in it.Ē They lent me an underwater system. But then I had to put that in the apex of a big — fairly good-sized sort of a great big water glass. I had a glass window in the bottom of it, and that would displace the muddy water and get down to just above the beds, and I could shoot. As far as I know, they were quite happy with what I got. They found out that the problem was several things. One was that by this time the [Army] Corps of Engineers had pretty well got the levee system under control. Every year the floods would come down there and deposit new, rich soils on these bodies, and that ceased when the levees got so good. Things started coming apart. The mangroves were eroding and all sorts of bad things were going. The mud from the erosion was going out and covering all of the scallops. The mudworms arrived, and they ate around the edge of the —
Mrs. Ewing:Oyster shells.
Ewing:And ruined the seals of the clams and oysters. You know, also this was fairly soon after the war. The State of Louisiana had decided to go into a big road building flurry, and —
Doel:You were saying Louisiana had gone into a road-building — almost frenzy during the war.
Ewing:Yes. So the oysterman were not too stupid, and instead of hauling their shell out and putting it on the beds, they sold it to the Highway Department. They sold a lot of shells to those roads. That was just too much, for the system to operate anymore. I donít know what they did, but obviously, they needed more shell back on there. Thatís probably the biggest thing.
Mrs. Ewing:Excuse me, but I think what you left out is this all started because the oystermen decided to sue the oil companies.
Doel:Is that right?
Mrs. Ewing:They had decided that the oil was killing the oysters. That was how it all got started. But it wasnít that at all. It was all these other factors.
Ewing:And the oil industry furnished the money for the study.
Doel:And that, I assume, was [Maurice] Ewingís connection to it.
Ewing:It was. It was through Dick Geyer.
Doel:Was it after that assignment, then, that you were back out at your familyís farm? [Crosstalk]
Ewing:Yes, I eventually got back to Harvard.
Doel:With a few other detours, as youíve already mentioned.
Ewing:This was one of them. As a matter of fact, it was her — Bet really told me it was time to go back to Harvard.
Doel:That leads me into the next question, which is how did the two of you first meet?
Mrs. Ewing:At Woods Hole.
Doel:And when was that?
Mrs. Ewing:The summer of 1947.
Ewing:Yes. We fell in love before I went down to Louisiana.
Mrs. Ewing:Right. And you were scalloping.
Ewing:I had been scalloping, yes.
Mrs. Ewing:Everybody knew everybody in Woods Hole. It was just a small enough place. So we decided to get married, and we went back to Woods Hole. I never had a honeymoon. Thatís the reason Iíve never left him. [Laughter]
Ewing:She means I still owe it.
Mrs. Ewing:A week after we got married, he went out on the Atlantis. We were going to have a honeymoon before we went back up to Harvard, but it was delayed. There was a hurricane somewhere. You know, this was not uncommon; so we were late getting back in. So we really didnít have much time. We went apartment hunting, and we didnít have much luck. So then John decided to commute from Woods Hole.
Mrs. Ewing:Yes. By train. I was still working at Woods Hole. I enjoyed my job.
Doel:What were you doing at Woods Hole?
Ewing:She was working on another project.
Mrs. Ewing:Originally, the project I started out was — it was a Bu Ships project. This was sort of after the war. It was trying to figure out if you could get some kind of correlation between the bottom-pressure ratios, like five miles out or ten miles out, as to what kind of surf you were going to have. These were for landing. I donít know that we ever really solved the problem. Then I went from that right with Art, into making those stainless steel mirrors, the eighty-seven — [Crosstalk].
Ewing:Oh, yes. That was a great thing.
Mrs. Ewing:The stainless steel mirrors were to photograph these implosions.
Mrs. Ewing:Explosions. Right. So thatís what I was doing. I enjoyed my work, and I enjoyed the man, Art [Arthur] Klebba, that I worked with.
Ewing:He was a clever guy, and he made a really neat camera. Very gutsy thing. No glass at all in it.
Mrs. Ewing:No. Stainless steel mirrors.
Ewing:The stainless steel mirror. Bet ground and huffed and polished that damn camera until — and sheíd get it down to where everything was tickety-too and weíd take another grind, and another god-damned thing —
Mrs. Ewing:What they called ďorange peelĒ would show up. [Laughter] You learn an awful lot about metals. But anyway, John decided — and we had friends that had a house in Falmouth Heights.
Mrs. Ewing:They didnít know what to do with it. They didnít really want to rent it, and they didnít want to sell it. So we lived there in the winter, and John took the train at Falmouth station. Or Woods Hole sometimes. One or the other. It was a two-and-a-half hour trip in the morning and a two-and-a-half hour trip at night.
Doel:Was that a daily trip for you, for the most part?
Mrs. Ewing:But it was great, because he did all his math in the morning and all his physics — I mean, in other words he was home 7:30 at night, but no books to crack.
Ewing:I made very good marks. [Laughter]
Mrs. Ewing:Itís a wonderful way to study.
Doel:That as a reinforced study period that one has.
Mrs. Ewing:Then he commuted with a man from North Falmouth, who was going to law school. It was great.
Ewing:And all of this was no longer financed by my two brothers. It was financed by Bettyís salary and the G.I. Bill.
Mrs. Ewing:And then you worked some, part-time.
Ewing:So it worked quite well.
Doel:How important was the G.I. Bill in terms of the amount that it provided towards the total that you needed?
Ewing:Bet would know better.
Mrs. Ewing:It was great, because — well, we lived simply. You know, I was a Depression child, too, though my father always had a pretty good job. We werenít bad, but there was always some big family for Sunday dinner, who was out of work — just plain out of work. Iím talking decent, hard-working, educated folk. No work! So we knew how to live simply. I had fairly decent-paying jobs; but the main thing was it paid for the tuition and the books. That was the big thing. And we didnít travel. I cut Johnís hair; and I still cut his hair. He doesnít go to the barber shop. We managed. We managed quite well, didnít you think?
Doel:Had you already gone to college yourself?
Doel:And had you finished by the time you were doing the work after the war?
Mrs. Ewing:Yes, I was all through school.
Doel:Where had you gone to?
Mrs. Ewing:Actually, I just went to a business school.
Doel:So thatís the avenue you took into the post-war work. [Crosstalk]
Mrs. Ewing:Yes. A little bit the way John did. I mean, just ďGo and do it!Ē That kind of thing. I was handy with my fingers. I could put things together and do a little soldering and wiring, if somebody would give me a general idea of which way to go. So I did that. But then we moved up to Boston, because — well, they were cutting out the trains. They cut down the trains.
Doel:When was that? How many years before the end?
Mrs. Ewing:That was just about his last year.
Ewing:Well, actually, it didnít go through the first whole year.
Mrs. Ewing:No, because I had to pick you up at Middleboro.
Mrs. Ewing:It started off great, but — so then we moved up to Boston and got an apartment in Dorchester — It was a pleasant old house. I got a job at the Pipe Founders Sales Corporation. This was a little office, about the size of this room.
Doel:Weíre talking maybe thirty feet by thirty feet. [Crosstalk]
Mrs. Ewing:There were two offices. Maybe the whole thing was the size of the hall and the kitchen and this room. We furnished all the pipe for the Hanford Works, out in Washington. The place was run by a little old lady, and I was the assistant; and in the back room there was a leather couch, so you could lay down after lunch for half an hour, because she thought it was important to settle your stomach.
Ewing:Itís much better than downsizing. [Crosstalk]
Mrs. Ewing:Of course, these were booming times. You know, there again, Iíve been very fortunate. She just said, ďWell, you look like an intelligent girl. This is how you figure outĒ — she taught me how to — she said, ďYou go up to the State House and get the plans for this new big thing.Ē I went up there and got the plans. She said, ďNow you can read. Now you just take off the pipe and how much they need and figure it out.Ē And the first one I did — she wasnít going to be in that day, and this man came in — Campanelli & Carth, that big construction company. They wanted to get the price right away of what we were going to charge for the pipe. So I called her and I said, ďWell, Miss Gratto — but you havenít checked it over.Ē She said well, I just better be right. So I gave this big company this, you know, four million dollar — [laughs] and I thought, ďWhat if I missed two whole pages of plans?Ē But she was great. ďUse your head.Ē I learned a lot about pipes and flanges and how to take off plans and so on. I enjoyed that thoroughly — and that was another reason why I was a little glad that we were there for a year for John to go to Columbia, because she wanted to start paying me stock in the business. She wanted me to take over the business in five years.
Doel:So this is going on from, say, 1949 now and through 1950.
Mrs. Ewing:Yes. So then we moved to Shankís Village [New York], right? To student housing that Columbia had just five miles from Lamont — which was very handy.
Doel:Before we get to that point of the transfer, what I wanted to ask John, particularly, is what kind of contact did you then have, when you got back to Harvard? Did you pick up work then with — had you already been working with people like or taking courses from Daly or Birch?
Ewing:At that stage, I was still an undergraduate. [Crosstalk]
Doel:You were, of course, an undergraduate, but had you taken — I was just curious if in those first years you were already taking the survey classes that were being offered in geology and the earth sciences. Birch probably was not teaching undergraduates at that point, was he?
Ewing:I donít think so.
Mrs. Ewing:You had Birch.
Ewing:Yes, I had the geophysics — he had one semester of geophysics.
Doel:What kind of course was that that he taught? Do you remember what it was about, what it stressed?
Ewing:Oh, if I hadnít thrown them out just about a month ago. [Crosstalk]
Mrs. Ewing:A year ago. I just decided to do some housecleaning. All his notes.
Ewing:Well, I donít know. He introduced us to magnetics and gravity. He was particularly keen on gravity. And some seismic, but not very much, I would say.
Doel:Do you remember what texts you were reading or what you were learning?
Mrs. Ewing:[L.L.] Nettleton. [Geophysical Prospecting for Oil]
Ewing:Nettleton was probably one of them.
Doel:The famous Nettleton on geophysical exploration.
Ewing:Yes. No, I donít remember particularly. [Laughs]
Doel:There were very few textbooks, of course, at the time.
Ewing:I know. Iím trying to think.
Mrs. Ewing:This is what upsets you. You look at a textbook, and you think, ďGee, I remember when we were a student. Where are all the old textbooks? There werenít any.Ē
Ewing:I still have a copy of Nettleton there in my office. And I use it! [Laughs]
Doel:How many people were in that — was it a class or a seminar? How many people?
Ewing:It was a fairly small group. Not a very large one at all.
Doel:Was it a mixture of undergraduates and graduates, or was this really an undergraduate course?
Ewing:It was strictly undergraduate.
Mrs. Ewing:They didnít mix, those days. Undergraduate was undergraduate. John was one of the last classes to get a Bachelor of Science degree at Harvard, right?
Mrs. Ewing:After that, they didnít give bachelor of sciences any more.
Doel:I know that was coming up on the transition at Harvard. What sort of teacher was Birch?
Ewing:Oh, very low key. But he was a good teacher.
Doel:Did he talk about his own research?
Ewing:Not very much, I think. He was mainly involved in his research, which was mostly gravity. And, actually, gravity is one of the least exciting of all geophysical concepts in my book. But in those days it was one of the major ways of prospecting. You know, the oil companies were just really getting up into real serious exploration in those days. It was all on land; nothing marine. It was a large — but, you know, they were starting to bang away; but I donít know how good their tools were back then.
Doel:Did Birch also talk about the interface between experiments and theory? Did he get at all into issues regarding the practice of science? [Crosstalk]
Ewing:I think he made it clear to us that what we were studying is not going to last much longer. Itís probably going to go into seismic more than anything else. But he himself, I donít think, was very interested in seismics.
Doel:So you would learn about seismic reflection and refraction as part of appropriate tools in —
Mrs. Ewing:In those days they didnít talk about their research. It was sort of ďNone of your business!Ē I mean, this is what youíre supposed to learn right now.
Doel:Right. Some people still were exceptions to that rule, although youíre raising a good point — that this was indeed often the case. Iím curious who else you recall in the geology side. Did you take courses from others?
Ewing:Yes, I did.
Mrs. Ewing:Kirtley Mather.
Doel:Mather was certainly in the geology department.
Mrs. Ewing:Yes, he was freshman geology, wasnít he, for years?
Ewing:Itís not the one Iím thinking about. My God, I canít remember. I donít even know whether I still have my textbooks.
Mrs. Ewing:I donít, either. I think we gave them all to students. But that first-year geology was Kirtley Mather.
Doel:I was wondering if Reginald Daly was teaching at that point.
Ewing:I really donít know.
Mrs. Ewing:If he was, John didnít have it. We can put it that way.
Doel:I believe Daly at some point had also been offering some of those broader survey courses, as well as his —
Ewing:My mind in this area is just blank.
Mrs. Ewing:That physics professor you kind of liked, though you had trouble understanding his English. Who was he?
Mrs. Ewing:Heíd been a student of [Albert] Einsteinís, and he had a foreign-sounding name — Czechoslovakian or something. Iíve forgotten.
Ewing:He was exciting.
Doel:What was exciting about the course that he taught? We can always add in the names of people that weíre not recalling right now, into the transcript.
Ewing:Well, if somebody would give me my brain back, I could tell you.
Mrs. Ewing:Well, you know, I think itís hard to remember what you found exciting. You just remember it was a time of excitement.
Ewing:I just remember this as a course I really enjoyed. It wasnít even one of the hardcore courses. He covered a lot of ground in a —
Doel:I can think of a few possibilities, but why donít we think to add this in later. It will undoubtedly come up, when we finally see the transcript. I realize this is a long time ago.
Ewing:I know. Itís been awhile.
Doel:I understand you also had a course with L. Don Leet, who was in the department.
Ewing:Well, I had a couple of lectures from him.
Mrs. Ewing:He just lectured. He wasnít the professor. He lectured a couple of times.
Mrs. Ewing:I think in Matherís course he lectured, too.
Doel:What do you recall about Leet? [Mrs. E. laughs]
Ewing:Well, he devastated me in that lecture he gave, because he came down on Doc very hard. I didnít know what to do, and — you know those nice people from Australia?
Mrs. Ewing:Oh, Frank and Janet Wood.
Ewing:Frank Wood, yes. [He] came over and said, ďJohn, forget about that. Donít let it get to you.Ē
Mrs. Ewing:He was so bombastic it was unreal.
Ewing:Leet was a much older person than most of them.
Mrs. Ewing:Whether he knew John was in the class — but anyway, he just lectured all about the trip that Maurice was taking and how it was ill-conceived and it was false. You know, the whole lecture was — he didnít say — [Crosstalk]
Ewing:He spent the whole lecture on —
Mrs. Ewing:Tearing apart Maurice. The class was kind of dumbfounded.
Doel:Was this a guest lecture in one of the other courses that was being offered?
Mrs. Ewing:Yes, because you only had two lectures. [Crosstalk]
Ewing:I suspect that he was probably in Birchís level of professorial —
Mrs. Ewing:I know, but he was lecturing to a geology class.
Ewing:I know, I know.
Doel:What Iím curious about, particularly, is whether Maurice had spoken to you about the earlier conflict that he had had with Leet.
Ewing:Yes, I was aware; and I was very nervous when the guy showed up. I just didnít feel I was up to going and challenging him, because [laughs] a student doesnít normally do that. I got a feeling he knew I was there. I donít know.
Mrs. Ewing:I do, too, because there was another gentleman in Johnís class that we didnít know well, but we met them at some social occasion at some point later. He came over to me, and he said after the lecture, he apparently went up to John and said, ďBoy, arenít you glad youíre not this Maurice Ewing?Ē Not knowing that John was Mauriceís brother. ďAnd,Ē he said, ďI could tell by the look on his face that he was.Ē But I mean, it must have been that bad a lecture, you see. So I think he had to know John was there, and somehow he was getting rid of his venom for whatever reason.
Doel:What is your feeling for the cause of the rift between your brother and Leet? Clearly, they had been doing some cooperative work up until the very early 1930ís when the break came.
Ewing:I was never really clear on that — on what happened. It could have been from some conflict about Leetís marriage. Iím not sure, but I always wondered if that was not the case — that Doc might have tampered a little bit. I just donít know.
Doel:You mean, Leetís marriage came apart some time after that —
Ewing:Many years later. And Mrs. Leet wrote to Maurice and just said that she had had no idea of what had gone on and that she was terribly sorry and that she had had a lot of differences with her husband and didnít know how deep his venom had gone in other areas. He showed me the letter once. Thatís all I know. I donít think there was any romance there — I think they just got along. Mrs. Leet, I mean. This was twenty years later when they got divorced, the Leets. I just think that — I donít know — but anyway, she just said she had finally realized that some of things he had done — and she sort of intimated that he had taken joint work and made it his own. Thatís what she intimated, but she didnít spell it out, so who knows? Itís water over the dam, and it just seems kind of too bad to spend your life — though, itís usually somebody like that, who is so on the defensive, that has probably pushed things a little far. Maurice could be a very naive man in many ways.
Mrs. Ewing:Donít you think, John — trusting people?
Ewing:Yes, I think so.
Doel:I sense what you mean, but Iím just curious if thereís something particular in mind that youíre thinking about.
Mrs. Ewing:I remember once his mother telling me — when he was in the seventh grade [laughs] and she had done a laundry and he came home from school and he said, ďWhat happened to my pants?Ē She said, ďI washed them.Ē He said, ďThere was a letter in that pocket and you have ruined my life forever.Ē Some girl had written him a note at school. [Laughter]
Doel:Had he not read it yet?
Mrs. Ewing:No, he was saving it! ďYou have ruined my life forever.Ē And she said he went to bed in tears. He could be very sensitive. And as I say, I always had the feeling that he got shafted a couple of times, because he always kept saying to John, ďDonít trust people too far. Donít trust people too far. Watch who you share your work with.Ē Even though he encouraged work-sharing, didnít he?
Mrs. Ewing:He didnít like this business about ďeverybody working alone.Ē He liked that ďwe are all working together,Ē and ďwe all need each otherĒ and so on and so forth. I just remember him saying that to John in my presence. ďWell, donít trust that crowd too far. You donít know.Ē So I think he — I donít really know what it was about.
Doel:Now itís significant, too, because not only was it a scientific collaboration that came apart, but it became such a well-known conflict and affected, one thinks, developments in other quarters.
Mrs. Ewing:He did come to Lamont once, to a meeting, didnít he?
Mrs. Ewing:I had never seen the man, of course, but Lord knows Iíd heard about him.
Ewing:Didnít say a word to anybody I saw.
Mrs. Ewing:He didnít speak to anyone. He stayed through the three days of lectures, and went on his way.
Doel:This would have been in the 1950ís then?
Ewing:Or even later perhaps. [Crosstalk]
Doel:Given what you were saying a moment ago about your schedule, did you have much time for out-of-class interaction with any of the professors when you were at Harvard?
Ewing:We went to rehearsals to [William S.] Gilbert & [Arthur S.] Sullivan.
Mrs. Ewing:We were in a Gilbert & Sullivan group here in Woods Hole. John would get off the train, and weíd go to rehearsal. [Laughter]
Ewing:I was the second tenor! And now I canít even get half-way there.
Doel:When you were at Harvard — and particularly given the experience that you had already had at Woods Hole — did you feel that you were getting exposed to the most up-to-date theories and techniques, or did you feel that in the earth sciences at Harvard there were gaps in the education you did get?
Ewing:I think there were gaps. I donít believe Harvard had — outside of Birch I donít know anybody that even came close.
Doel:[Percy] Bridgman wasnít teaching any of the courses that you took, was he?
Ewing:I sort of doubt it. No, I think Harvard was slow to pick up on —
Mrs. Ewing:They were still in their pre-war mode.
Ewing:Thatís certainly not so now. Theyíve got some really good people there now. But not very much in the marine, still. Itís mostly — but theyíve got some good people up there now.
Mrs. Ewing:And you understand Columbia would have been in the same mode, except for Maurice. Iím not trying to denigrate Harvard — Iím just saying that this is the way it was, and Columbia would have been in the same mode, if it hadnít been for Maurice pushing it.
Doel:Right. The important point is simply to get a feeling for somebody who was a student at the time of just what this was like. Were there colloquia that you were able to attend as an undergraduate in the geology department, earth sciences?
Ewing:Not that I remember.
Doel:And in any departments, which teachers did you find particularly memorable? You mentioned the one person in the physics department who was inspiring. Were there others?
Ewing:Yes. The one Iím trying to think of I liked very much.
Doel:This wasnít Infeld [?] by chance, was it?
Mrs. Ewing:Iíd know the name.
Doel:Again, weíll make sure we get that added.
Ewing:It may be the name you gave, but I donít remember.
Mrs. Ewing:Well, Kirtley Mather? No, he was just freshman geology. Heíd been teaching that course for years and years. He knew the book. He could tell you on what page you learned what.
Ewing:This guy was more mathematical than anything else. I just canít remember who in the hell he was. [Doel laughs] Why canít he stand forth and be recognized? [Crosstalk]
Mrs. Ewing:You can understand, too, World War II had come into the act. Then youíre back at school. Youíre married. Your whole reference isnít on your undergraduate career, as it was before or later. It was a whole different attitude. There was this couple that we knew quite well that were older than we, who came from Australia. We saw a good bit of them. They were very pleasant people. They made life interesting for us. We knew Boston, and they didnít. Then there were some kids fresh out of high school. Well, what have we got in common with them?
Doel:There was a real mix that was different from the university in the pre-war phase.
Mrs. Ewing:Then the colleges were not making much of an effort with colloquia at that point, and of course John was not living in a dorm any more.
Doel:Did you have to write a senior thesis at that time?
Ewing:No. I think I might have had, if it had been the classics or something like that.
Doel:But not with geology as a major.
Mrs. Ewing:No, physics was the major.
Doel:What were you doing during the summers when you were in Harvard?
Mrs. Ewing:The summer of 1949 we went to Bermuda to lay that cable for the SOFAR [Sound Fixing and Ranging] station.
Doel:You mentioned that briefly at lunch time, and I was curious how that came about. I donít want to skip over any other significant bits of work that you were doing, either with [Maurice] Ewing or with others here at Woods Hole in earlier years, but how did you get involved in — how did the SOFAR work, the summer in Bermuda.
Mrs. Ewing:Well, that was Mauriceís project, wasnít it, for the Navy?
Mrs. Ewing:And he needed bodies. [Laughs] Preferably bodies who knew how to get their hands dirty.
Ewing:We were given a buoy boat that would hold one string of cable about that big around.
Doel:Youíre holding your fingers about two inches —
Ewing:Maybe an inch and a half. It was big cable, and it was hard, and it was hot on that dock.
Doel:And it was tiring.
Ewing:Our goal was to get out to 600 fathoms, I believe, of water. I canít remember how many lengths of that cable we spliced together and — lowered it one thing at a time. It took all summer.
Doel:What kind of cable was this? What was it intended to do?
Ewing:It was probably some kind of a telephone cable.
Doel:There were leads in the middle.
Ewing:Yes, there were a lot of leads in it.
Doel:Given that this was, obviously, a classified project at that time, did you need a clearance to do this work on the project?
Ewing:I donít remember whether we did or not.
Mrs. Ewing:I donít think so. See, this was okay. I think the results were going to be classified.
Ewing:This was a precursor to what came next — to the SOSUS system.
Doel:But SOFAR was also classified during the time that it was developing, even before the SOSUS [Sound Surveillance System]. [Crosstalk]
Ewing:It was for awhile. Parts of it got unclassified, I think. I donít know.
Doel:Itís been, of course, declassified since.
Mrs. Ewing:You said that cable ran for a long while.
Ewing:Yes, it did. It ran for about ten years.
Doel:Was Gordon Hamilton already there, running the —
Mrs. Ewing:Well, we all sort of came down together. He was there, I think, a month before we were there or something like that.
Doel:What were your impressions of Gordon Hamilton?
Ewing:A good guy.
Mrs. Ewing:A good guy. We had known him before, because he had worked summers. He came with Maurice in the summers to Woods Hole. Yes, he stayed down there in Bermuda a long time.
Doel:He did indeed. That was the facility that he came to.
Ewing:Yes, he ran that station for quite a long time. I canít remember how — they also had the seismic station, up there on the hill.
Doel:Was that an earlier start? Or did that come about roughly the same time as the SOFAR station.
Ewing:Roughly the same time.
Mrs. Ewing:But hadnít there been a seismometer up there for years — an old one? That one that Maurice took me to see?
Ewing:Was there one?
Ewing:He didnít take me to see it.
Mrs. Ewing:No, because you were out, busy laying the cable. He was being nice to me. [Laughs]
Doel:Again, this was something you had mentioned to me at lunch, and I wanted to get that on —
Mrs. Ewing:Yes, he was saying, ďYou know, the thing is, Betty, this doesnít cost much. This guy goes up and changes the record once a week and the rent is cheap.Ē And so on. Then he said, ďAnd when we run out of money, Iíve got all this data! These data.Ē
Ewing:He was all the time stashing away something — [Crosstalk]
Mrs. Ewing:You never just went, did your work and came home. There was always a little — ďSince youíre going that way, you can swing off and do this.Ē Thatís the only way you got it done. There wasnít enough money.
Doel:That was certainly part of Mauriceís operating philosophy.
Ewing:Oh, we put up the Press-Ewing — whatever they were — of what was then the best world-wide system that existed.
Doel:I wanted to ask some about some of these principal people. I remember — again, this was unrecorded during lunch time — you had mentioned that Frank Press was also on board the ship, when you heard of your fatherís stroke. And as I understand, you had borrowed a pair of shoes from him. They were the one set of shoes that fit, when you were going back to visit your father.
Doel:I recall your also saying that the sole of the shoe had separated from the leather at one point and at one point and that you were sitting somewhere in a station when the —
Ewing:In the Kansas City Airport, I think it was. I had my thing up like this.
Doel:Youíre just crossing your legs right now. [Crosstalk]
Ewing:Iíd got used to it by then, [laughs] and this guy just came along and looked at it, pulled the flap back and let it flap back. And as Bet said, ďThings have been tough, havenít they?Ē [Laughter]
Doel:Iím curious what impressions you had of Frank Press when you first met him. When was it that you first came to know Press?
Ewing:I got to know him when we went to Lamont.
Mrs. Ewing:Well, you knew him before that. You went to sea with him that summer, but didnít know him all that well.
Ewing:Did I go to sea with him before —
Mrs. Ewing:Yes, because that was the year your dad had his stroke.
Ewing:Oh, of course. That was the first time I met Frank — that same trip.
Doel:Iím just curious what your impressions were — how much familiarity he had with the work on board the ship at that point.
Ewing:Well, Bet and I will remember this forever, I guess. You knew about Bruce Heezen?
Ewing:Well, Bruce was on this trip, too, and I think it was while we were down to administer to Dad, something went wrong with the echo sounder. Frank had decided to go and see what he could do to fix it. It was full of all kinds of vacuum tubes, you know, so he got a waste basket and put all of the tubes in it. Then he went to lunch or something like that, and Bruce, who was about the most untidy person that you will ever meet, on this occasion decided to empty the waste basket. All of the tubes went over the side! [Laughter]
Doel:That was the end of the tubes!
Ewing:Yes, I donít think we got the right tubes until Doc, or whoever, was able to get back on the ship.
Ewing:No, but Bruce didnít perform very — [Crosstalk]
Mrs. Ewing:Frank never really enjoyed it. I think Frank decided right then and there he was going into straight seismology. He didnít really care for this sea-going business — which is perfectly all right. Heíd go if he had to, but that was about as far as he — [laughs] heíd had enough.
Doel:How did you find your time at sea, when you were — it sounds as if you were making cruises fairly regularly, during the summer months when you were at Harvard, through Woods Hole.
Mrs. Ewing:Well, as much as he did, we had the one year in Bermuda.
Doel:Was it a full year?
Mrs. Ewing:No, it was a summer.
Doel:Just a summer.
Mrs. Ewing:It was back to school. The year we got married, you went out on the Atlantis, and then the year before, and before that it was the war and then before the war. So there were no four consecutive summers — Letís put it that way. Would anybody like a Coke? [Tape recorder turned off]
Doel:Weíre resuming again after another brief break. You were describing a bit, before we broke, the shipboard work that you were doing from Woods Hole during the time that you were still attending school full time at Harvard. We may want to get back to some of those details a little later in the interview, as we reflect on it, but Iím wondering what you found to be the principal instrumental work that you were doing during that time? Youíve mentioned that in Bermuda you were involved with the SOFAR work. Did you find, in looking back on it, that there were particular sets of techniques or problems that occupied most of your time?
Ewing:Well, I suppose in this particular time period, aside from the Navyís interest in things, we were very much interested in getting better precision echo sounders. I personally didnít have —
Doel:You were saying you hadnít actually gotten your hands on that.
Ewing:No — because by that time we had accumulated electronic people that were better able to do it. We went with certain systems at Lamont. We went with similar systems, but not the same.
Doel:Say in the late 1940ís, what were the limitations of the existing sounding systems — the echo sounders that you had?
Ewing:Well, they were pretty good, you know. The systems — as long as nobody threw the tubes over the side — [laughter] you know, I couldnít put a real measure on it, but it was — I guess itís not that terribly important, because fairly soon we got much better echo sounders and got it put on a lot more ships, so that it sort of makes some sense to talk about gridding and so forth.
Doel:You also had greater continuity come in, in terms of the numbers of soundings that you were making over any track.
Ewing:Right. Even those fairly old echo sounders — they gave you some pretty good information, usually. It depended an awful lot on the mounting of the transducers, because if you get into a fairly rough sea or something like that, youíre wiped out with bubbles.
Doel:Was that mostly a matter of just tacit knowledge of experimenting with the best locations to mount them, to figure that out.
Ewing:Yes. I think it took awhile to realize the importance of these various features. You donít just put an echo sounder flush with the hull and let the bubbles by. You get your transducer down deeper into the water. Ship designs have improved in that sense, too. Well, we did a lot of work with using explosives as a source. Maybe youíve run into that somewhere or other. And probably thatís premature to this period. I just donít know. I donít know how to put it, because Iím not even sure who was building their own echo sounders any more or whether they were just buying them. But that doesnít necessarily come out with a good system — because the people that built them just built the systems and probably [laughs] had never been to sea. The whole thing had to go through a pretty serious convolution of how you do get good echo sounding.
Doel:Yes, and I want to cover in our next interview a bit more a bit more of the development of the PDR, the Precision Depth Recorder. In this period, as your brother first got his appointment at Columbia and then once he had discovered that it was going to work for him — to get the Lamont estate and build what became Lamont Geological Observatory — were you tempted to stay, was there a possibility for you to stay at Woods Hole, rather than going down to Lamont? Or did you feel that what you wanted to do was to come in and join the new group at Lamont?
Ewing:I think it was the latter. I felt that it was the best option. That was partly true and partly not true. The WHOI people —
Mrs. Ewing:But at that time, Woods Hole was not doing too much.
Doel:In that period after — of course, Iselin had already left as director in 1950.
Mrs. Ewing:Somewhere in there. But more than that, Maurice had really been the main force of geophysics. Of course [J.] Brackett [Hersey] was here, but he hadnít really got going yet.
Ewing:Yes, he hadnít really —
Mrs. Ewing:So that the point is that there was sort of really no comparison, for the moment. I want to make it clear there was nothing against Woods Hole; it was partly a matter of timing.
Doel:But it was also a matter of individuals and the programs they had. Thatís a key point. Do you remember Maurice talking to you about the offer that M.I.T. [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] had made in 1948 for him to get the Heddy Green estate, to come up.
Ewing:Yes, I remember that.
Doel:Do you remember his feelings about it — what he was saying to you about it?
Ewing:I think he was already too far into Lamont and didnít want to start new again. Iím not sure. Thatís how I think I would have reacted, probably.
Doel:Had you known, when you were going to Harvard, any of the people who were at M.I.T. and involved in the earth sciences? Was there much contact at all between Harvard and M.I.T.?
Ewing:Not very much.
Mrs. Ewing:There wasnít too much earth science there, either.
Doel:Not much, but there were some who were beginning to become interested.
Ewing:I know and thereís a couple of people that are still there for quite awhile — unless theyíve carelessly died. I donít know his name. [Laughs]
Mrs. Ewing:They werenít doing all that much. As I said, the truth of the matter is that — you know, I make it sound familial and I donít mean to — but Maurice was the force in the United States, any way you want to slice it, at that time in marine geophysics — partly because of his nature, partly because of his determination. So wherever he went, something was going to happen! Everybody else kind of got into the act, but he was really the forerunner, the way I see it. I mean, Iíve thought about this. I have no loyalties, but —
Ewing:Iím not even sure I know now what the Scripps [Oceanographic Institute] people were doing during this time period. They had some pretty good — Russ [Russell] Raitt. And Roger Revelle was there. They were not totally out of it, by any means.
Mrs. Ewing:No, but they were at Scripps.
Mrs. Ewing:Particularly Russ, right. Roger was more of a figurehead at that point. I donít question that, but on the East Coast, particularly, if youíre talking M.I.T., Columbia and Woods Hole, it was really Maurice that was stirring the puddle and nobody else had really got going yet.
Ewing:Russ did good work — thereís no question about it. He was a real competitor.
Doel:Had you met him by this point?
Ewing:Oh, yes. Not for a long time, but —
Doel:How did you meet him? Were you going to conferences already by the time you left Harvard?
Ewing:Yes, I started going pretty early.
Doel:Do you remember particularly any of the meetings that you went to? Was it mostly AGU [American Geophysical Union?], or did it involve other societies?
Ewing:It was probably mostly AGU, but I also made some trips out to Scripps. But Iím not sure that that was later than weíre talking about. [Crosstalk]
Mrs. Ewing:Did you first meet Russ when you were working with Fran [Francis P.] Shepard that time? Was Russ there then?
Ewing:I donít remember, Bet! All I know is that Russ was a solid competitor —
Mrs. Ewing:Oh, yes.
Ewing:— to WHOI and Lamont, in terms of marine geophysics.
Mrs. Ewing:Well-liked and well-respected by everybody.
Doel:Do you recall when it was that you went to work with Fran Shepard at Scripps?
Ewing:Well, that was just sort of a —
Mrs. Ewing:A fluke.
Ewing:Another ship problem. A Japanese submarine had sunk a ship off course of [William Randolph] Hearstís house. A careless placing of it, wasnít it? There was a big lawsuit about it, because the ship had been found and it was very close to being about three miles off shore. So there was a big deal about where, really, that thing was. [Crosstalk]
Mrs. Ewing:In terms of war damage.
Ewing:Fran Shepard, as you probably know, was a marine geologist of high repute. We went out there with — Iím trying to think what I was doing there now.
Mrs. Ewing:You were trying to take pictures, to make sure it was the right ship.
Ewing:Thatís right. [Crosstalk]
Mrs. Ewing:You and an oil company.
Ewing:Another ship identification. In the early days of the war, both here at WHOI and at Lamont, there was a fair amount of ship hunting jobs. Anyhow, we got pictures of the ship, and we got it accurately located. It was a little bit off three miles. The complainers said, ďWell, okay, itís there now; but it slid down [laughter] and came to rest where it was.Ē Fran and I manned echo sounders and stitched the thing in pretty well and for that to have happened, the ship would have had to go down to the bottom and then come up over quite a nice ridge and then go down the other side. [Laughter]
Doel:Makes for a pretty definitive argument, I think.
Ewing:So we won that one. We had to go to court in San Francisco and all that.
Doel:So you were actually in the court.
Doel:What was that experience like — hearing the arguments and how your work got integrated into the courtroom? [Crosstalk]
Ewing:Well, the geophysics was sort of slathered over. It was all ďlawyer talk.Ē But it was pretty clear that it was a — I forget which company it was.
Ewing:I think it was Union.
Mrs. Ewing:Weíve still got that picture somewhere, havenít we?
Ewing:I think so.
Mrs. Ewing:It was on the Shipping News or something, and Fran sent John a copy of the Shipping News, talking about this case.
Doel:Was that the only time you ended up actually testifying in court with the results that you had?
Ewing:Yes, thatís the only time I ever remember going to — unless there was something else. The Germans didnít sue us for finding their submarine.
Doel:One other matter that weíve passed over a little bit, at least chronologically, is your brotherís second marriage, which we did mention in the earlier interview. That was in 1944, as I remember it. The marriage took place a little bit before the end of the war.
Mrs. Ewing:It was about 1944.
Ewing:Thatís about right.
Doel:How did that affect his relations in Woods Hole and in the broader community? Did it hinder his effectiveness in any way, given that the social — [Crosstalk]
Mrs. Ewing:His first wife [Averilla Hildenbrand Ewing] never lived here. They had been separated for some time before they divorced, so he was pretty much just considered a bachelor. As I understand it.
Mrs. Ewing:Averilla hadnít been around for years.
Ewing:I think they were very attached to each other for quite awhile, but —
Mrs. Ewing:And she is from an old Woods Hole summer family. Her grandfather had been Secretary of, what, the Interior?
Ewing:Something like that.
Mrs. Ewing:During Teddy [Theodore] Rooseveltís term of office, and the fisheries came under the Interior. So they had a house where one of those big buildings is now. Her grandfather built a house.
Doel:Down in Woods Hole.
Mrs. Ewing:Yes. So she was a Woods Hole summer person who lived in New York. They met and married. She was a very interesting woman, a very intellectual woman. I thought they were quite devoted to each other.
Ewing:Yes. She worked together with him.
Mrs. Ewing:And she enjoyed working with him. She was a very, very intellectual woman. Very talented — could read Greek. For some years she did Greek translations into French of novels, and things like that.
Ewing:Yes, we miss her a lot. She was a nice gal.
Doel:How often would you see her, when you were living at Lamont?
Mrs. Ewing:When they were at Lamont, and we were in the village. A lot.
Ewing:Yes, we saw a lot of her.
Doel:This might be a good place to call this phase of the interview to a close. When we pick up, weíre going to be particularly on your experiences at Lamont, during the decade that you were there.
Mrs. Ewing:Itís easier to keep them in sequence there, right? [Laughs]
We will do that, and then tie up later with your own later work up here. Let me thank you very much for this long session that weíve already had so far, today.Session I | Session II | Session III