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In footnotes or endnotes please cite AIP interviews like this:
Interview of Charles Drake by Ronald Doel on 1995 November 28,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
Recollections of his childhood, early introduction to geology, his education at Princeton, and Columbia, the development of geophysics and seismology as a field of research, his work at Lamont, the development of the geochemical lab at Lamont, the offshoot companies that grew out of Lamont, the politics and processes of gaining federal funding in the 1960s, the political ramifications of earth science, geochemistry, global warming and environmental concerns, working on the research vessels (Verma), his work in velocities, the development of plate tectonics. Among those prominently mentioned include: V. V. Belousov, Wallace Broecker, Walter Bucher, E. C. Bullard, Maurice Ewing, Burce Heezen, Harry Hess, Laurence Kulp, Angelo Ludas, John Nave, Jack Oliver, George Wollard, J. Lamar Worzel.
This is Ron Doel and this is an interview with Charles Drake. Today’s date is November 28, 1995 and we are recording this at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.
Now I know that you were born in Ridgewood, New Jersey on July 13, 1924. But I don’t know much about your parents. Who were they and what were their backgrounds?
Well, let’s see. My father was from New Hampshire, Rutland, New Hampshire. My mother was from New Jersey and both lived in towns where their families had been forever.
What were their names?
His was Ervin Thayer Drake, Jr. His father was a doctor up there and her name was Elizabeth Kirkpatrick Lum. Her father was a lawyer. And they met through my cousin Dotty [Dorothy Drake] who was my grandmother’s niece who was at Wellesley [College] with my mother. And she knew my father of course from up there. So that’s how they got introduced. And he went to Harvard [University], Class of 16, but World War I broke out and naturally he accelerated and finished early and went over and joined the Morgan Arjay Ambulance Group, which was with the French army. He was overseas for three years in World War I which was a long time. And when the US came over he shifted over to the US troops. And when he got back out was when they got married. It was in 1920, I guess. They got married in Christmas of her senior year at Wellesley and because she was married they threw her out of the dormitories at Wellesley because they didn’t want her to corrupt the other young ladies.
What kind of a house did you grow up in?
Well, let’s see. We lived in — we lived around. My father started out — he was an engineer — started out working with my Uncle Charlie [Charles Drake] and they were inventors and machinery designers and the company used to be in New Hampshire but they moved it down to Brooklyn, because that’s where the action was, and that’s when father moved to Ridgewood. So we lived there for a little while and then Lever Brothers bought the company because one of the things they designed was machinery for making soap and Lever Brothers at that time had its headquarters in Cambridge and so we moved up to Massachusetts to Winchester and lived in a couple of houses there and had lots of relatives in Winchester too. And my Uncle Charlie and my father became what they called plant engineers for Lever Brothers and when they were building a new plant somewhere they would go and be in charge of the thing from the time the ground was broken until the thing was in operation.
When you say plant engineers, they were involved in the design of the operation?
Design and construction of the whole thing. And they would take it up to the point where it was ready to produce and then come back. They had been all around. Uncle Charlie built one in Sidney, Australia years ago. I’ve still got some artifacts he sent back to me in the early 30s. But Lever Brothers built one out in Chicago, so we moved out to Indiana for a year.
This lasted about a year or so, the initial phase that your father was involved in?
Well, he died in an industrial accident which is why we came back. So we moved back to my mother’s home town in New Jersey which is where I spent most of the rest of my youth.
How old were you when your father died?
I was six. There were three of us. My older brother was eight and my younger brother was two and I was six. And my mom was pretty tough and she raised us as both a father and a mother. Remained a widow for thirty odd years I guess. And finally got married again and lived out her life happily. She died at the age of ninety four, just a few years ago.
I’m curious about — I gather your mother was working after — was she when you relocated back to New Jersey, after your father died?
Well, not regular jobs but a lot of things. We basically took in boarders. We had another family living with us paid the taxes and the rent. And she used to do various things to pick up a little bit of change. Her father was pretty well off but she was too proud to accept anything from him. Except one thing, what he did was send us all to summer camp and the reason was to give her a rest. And that’s what she accepted.
Did you stay close to your Uncle Charlie?
Yes he was, you know he’s my great uncle, really?
But, oh yes. He came from a family, my grandmother’s family, who were inventors and machinery makers and they invented a circular knitting machine that would knit stockings. Made a lot of money on that, particularly the needle; the latch type needle that they could automate and knit great swaths of fabric in a short period of time. They made a lot of money at that. They built the engines for the Mt. Washington Railroad.
The train that goes up the —
Yes. Actually my great-grandfather had had the idea for the cog railroad and he rode his horse to the top of Mt. Washington to try to find a good track and then he built a model. Then he forgot about it and a guy named Silvester Marsh heard about this and he thought it was a great idea and he promoted it. He went to the Boston and Maine Railroad, persuaded them to build a spur up to Crawford Notch. Well then he had business because people would come up on the train and stay at the big hotel there and take the cog railroad to the top. And they built a hotel at the top. And they say my great grandfather and his brother Walter built the engines for the thing. And Uncle Walter, he was a sharp businessman. He ended up owning the whole thing — the railroad, the hotel at the top and what have you. He squeezed Silvester Marsh out. When he died in a duck hunting accident down in Maryland, it was bought by a guy who was an old government man. He got a mortgage from Dartmouth to pay for what he didn’t have. He ran it for a while and then he died, and he left the whole thing to Dartmouth. So Dartmouth owned the hotel at the top of Mt. Washington.
And they owned it up until the 60s and then the state wanted it for a park, state park and Dartmouth didn’t really want to sell it. A peculiar thing happened. Dartmouth wanted to build this building that we’re in.
Fairchild. So they had plans drawn up and figured out how it was going to be and so forth and when they got all done they found they didn’t own the land it was on, which they thought they did. The reason for that is that when the Land Grant College Act first went through, the only college in New Hampshire was Dartmouth. So the state asked Dartmouth whether it would be the New Hampshire A&M and Dartmouth said why not. So the State built a building and hired a few people but mostly they took Dartmouth courses. And then that went on for about ten years and a wealthy land owner down in Durham died and left his estate which consisted of a thousand acres of land and about $750,000, a lot of money a hundred years ago to the State if they would move the State University down to the Durham area. So the State looked at what it had invested up here which was about 150,000 bucks and looked at what they had down there and said goodbye. But the title to that piece of land never changed. So the State said well you want that piece of land, tell you what we’ll do. You sell us the Mt. Washington Railroad and we’ll sell you that piece of land. [Laughs] So the state got it. And almost immediately after the state took it over the state sued the state; that is, the air quality people in the state sued the parks department for the smoke that the engine was putting out.
I’m curious when you were growing up, did you talk to your great uncle about inventions and technology? Was that an interest? Was that something that you both talked about?
Well a little bit. I talked with my grandmother. He was my grandmother’s brother probably a lot more to her than I talked to the men. But he had a place over on Webster Lake in New Hampshire. It was a great place to visit because we could swim in the lake and it they had a bowling alley in the place, a lot of fun. And yes, he was interesting.
Did you have an interest in science when you were growing up that you recall?
Yes, I was always interested in rocks and actually when I started college I started in engineering but I think that was mainly because my father had been an engineer. I didn’t start out in geology, mainly because being from the east it never occurred to me that you could work in geology and eat. I thought that was something that you did for fun, that you had to have a paying job to survive and it wasn’t until I went in the army — I started out as chemical engineer at Princeton [University] — In the army I was with a combat engineer battalion, and we had guys in our battalion who were from Texas, New Mexico in real life, and in geology, and who ate. So I figured well, the best of all worlds.
Yes. So when I came back, I had finished two years at Princeton before the War. When I came back, I switched to a program they had down there called Geological Engineering. And the first two years were the same so there wasn’t any loss of time.
When you were first learning about geology, do you remember was it primarily through reading books in the local library or the school library? How did you come to your interest in rocks?
I don’t know. It just seems like I always had it. I used to have a collection, and picked things up and looked at them, and it was always interesting. You know in those days the whole environment, the way I grew up — it was a very small town, maybe twenty-five hundred people and I was related to about three-quarters of the people in town distantly or remotely. But you know you could hike everywhere and do a lot of just walking and looking at things, enjoying nature and things like that. You can’t do it anymore. It’s all developed now.
Were there any books that you particularly remember from your childhood or high school years in geology?
That had to do with geology? You know that’s funny, I can’t. No, I draw a blank there, that’s curious.
Were there any museums nearby that had mineralogical collections? Or similar geology exhibits that you remember?
Well, we were not that far from New York. And in those days the DL&W Railroad took 29 minutes to get to Hoboken and then you get on a beautiful ferry ride and you could go up the Museum of Natural History in New York and it was an easy trip. It didn’t cost much and that museum was so much better than anything that was possible locally, that that’s where you wanted to go.
And I gather you went over there?
How young were you when you first started going over there?
Oh let’s see, we came back to my mother’s home town, I was in third grade. Let’s see, I was too young to be six years old —
Six to eight years.
Six to eight. Well I started school early.
So first grade was in Winchester, kindergarten and first grade were in Winchester, Massachusetts. Second grade was out in Indiana, and third grade on was in Chatham.
And you say that you had entered school young?
Yes, my mother was trying to get rid of me I guess. [Laughs] You can’t do it any more you know, the age limit, your birthday has to be on a certain date and you’ve got to be five years old by then.
Right but I know you graduated from high school when you were only seventeen.
Sixteen? Do you remember anything in particular from the museum when you would visit Natural History?
All those beautiful minerals. And then of course they always had dinosaurs, turns out with the wrong head on it, but all kinds of interesting stuff. And I like nature. I like to mingle with it. Good stuff.
You said you talked with your grandmother a lot when you were growing up. Was there something, an interest that she was cultivating?
Well, she was a remarkable woman. This is my grandmother on the Drake side. And she’s big for a woman, six feet tall which was unusual for that period. And she was real gutsy. When her kids, there were four of them, two boys, two girls, and when they got to the age where they’re between about six and fourteen, she decided we’re going to go out west. So she packed all the kids up and my grandfather stayed and doctored. So she went out to the end of the railroad line and got on the wagons and horses and traveled all through the west; went to all these places that are now national parks and they weren’t back then.
You’re thinking of Utah now?
Oh Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico. One year they went out to California. They went up to Yosemite. All over but that’s pretty gutsy with four kids.
To do back in 1906. But they learned a lot, saw a lot of nature. Saw what the west was like before it got changed and developed and what have you. Met a lot of interesting people out there. She took photographs and was very careful because she wrote on the back of each one where it was and the date. I took a trip out there years ago and tried to retrace their steps, go where they had gone where she had taken pictures. So I had a picture of Durango [Colorado] and the old copper smelter there.
Right and we’re looking at a picture of Durango right now.
And the copper smelter.
And indeed, a MacDonald’s restaurant right alongside.
The cultural things have all changed. The rocks are the same. You know this is right outside the window. That’s what it looks like today but she got a picture of the same thing and it looks exactly like that. And Mesa Verde, you know I took pictures of all the little places that she took pictures too. And it’s fascinating because as I say the cultural things are all different, the geological things are all the same. But I would stop at the rangers with the Park Service and show them these pictures and they were fascinated. In fact, at Hubbell’s Trading Post which is out in Arizona, Grenada — which used to be called Pueblo Colorado and it was on the Pueblo, Colorado River — the guy that ran the trading post, Mr. Hubell, got so mad because mail which was sent would go to Pueblo, Colorado instead of Pueblo Colorado, Arizona that he changed the name to Grenada. But when they were refurbishing that as a national monument, they used her pictures to restore it.
Is that right?
Yes in the early days.
So you must have seen those photographs and looked through them when you were growing up?
Yes. My mother was a real strong saver and she’d save all these things. I even had the camera for a while. I don’t know what happened to it. An old square Kodak about that size. But it disappeared. I don’t know where it went. I’ve only got a fraction of the pictures that she took and they’re wonderful. I don’t know what happened to the rest of them.
Did you have brothers and sisters when you were growing up?
Oh yes, I had two brothers. One older brother, Erwin Thayer Drake III, and he went to Harvard [University] too and became a lawyer, worked out his career at CBS. And a younger brother, Rick [Aiken D. Herrick] Drake, named after my late great grandfather. And he started out a year at Cornell [University], was going to become a vet, he got out and started over and transferred to Harvard and finished at Harvard and went to Harvard Law School, practiced law for a little while and then decided he really didn’t like the practice of law so he went into the insurance business and became president of little Aetna — there’s little Aetna and big Aetna — Aetna Fire and Casualty had the fire and casualty. And when that merged with Sigmund, and he didn’t like what they were doing to his people so he resigned. And Bill Bailey, who was president of Aetna, Big Aetna, persuaded Rick to come over and work for Big Aetna. Then he died. Went to bed one night and didn’t wake up. Very peaceful, but tragic. And when my older brother’s wife died, my older brother married Rick’s wife so they didn’t have to change the monograms on the towels. [Laughs]. They then moved down to Connecticut.
Did you all have an interest in science too when you were all growing up together?
I thought maybe Rick would. When he got out of the paratroops, I was working with George Woolard. I picked him up at Ft. Benning and we did gravity and magnetic work up into Quebec and back to Woods Hole [Oceanographic Institute] and then I got on him a trip on the old Atlantis.
Operated out of Woods Hole.
We made a trip on that. But it didn’t take so he decided he’d be a lawyer instead.
Was there anyone else you remember from Chatham, a boyhood friend who shared your interest in science? Was there anyone that you particularly talked to?
Oh well you know, Bell Labs was then at Murray Hill which was very close to Chatham. And a lot of the people who lived in town worked at Bell Labs. My brother-in-law’s father for example, he’s married to Martha’s sister, his father was at Bell Labs and he had a great interest in science as did his brother. So you got introduced to all sorts of good
Well you know it was different. We went over on a ship, of course, but that was different. That was just a passenger ship, as you would expect ships to be: staterooms for passengers and cargo holds for cargo. But here’s something that was an actual working ship that went out there and didn’t just go from one place to the other but did things while it was out there. And I think the thing that fascinated me the most was when you had a cable break in deep water, you’d have to go out and snare the end and bring it up to the surface and then you buoy it off. Then you snare the other end and bring that to the surface . Then you snare the other end and go back to the buoy and splice the two together. You actually splice a piece and then go back to the buoy and splice it again. What fascinated me was you just couldn’t pick up the very end of the cable, you couldn’t find it. So you have to move down a mile or two and then pick up the cable and it would cut off the loose end and keep the other end and bring it up the surface. It always bothered me, how did it know which end was the loose end? What if they cut the wrong piece off? But it turned out it was very simple. It depended on which way you were going. If you steamed across the cable this way it was going to save this piece. If you steamed across it this way, the other piece. Simple, but I didn’t even think about it.
It’s a good question to be asking at that age. You were in your very early teens I would imagine.
I was thirteen.
You actually got to go on the ship then?
Oh yes. We got to see the plow, big thing, about as wide as this room and about half again as long, big and heavy. It had to sit on the bottom while it was being towed and dig this furrow without popping out. Set the cable down in it. Very clever gadget.
Do you talk with Chester Lawton about —
Oh yes, fascinated by that.
Were there others on that ship that you got to talk to about?
About that sort of thing? Not really, you know, it was mostly a tourist trip. We went to all the old abbeys and Stonehenge. We went and climbed Snowden because it was the highest mountain in England and mother said you got to climb it because it’s the highest mountain in England and you already climbed the highest mountain in New England, so it will make it even — And I picked up a bunch of rocks and brought them back.
So you were collecting actively whenever you traveled?
Oh yes. You know, we got back on the ship into New York and they asked if we had anything to declare, anything we got abroad. My mother said “No, not really.” And I said “What about my stones.” Oh they thought, “They’re smuggling jewels” and he looked at it and said, “Oh pebbles”.
How did you learn to identify the different kinds of rocks and minerals? Do you remember perhaps any kind of guide book?
There was a book I had. That was a long time ago now you know. There was a book. I can’t remember the name of it but it did tell you something about identifying rocks.
I know that you mentioned that books didn’t come particularly to mind, but do you remember when you took that trip for instance, did you read anything about English geology? Did you come across any literature of that part?
Not really. I wasn’t into it that much.
Was there much interest in science in the high school?
It was a very good high school. Every year the graduating class, I guess 90% of them went on to college and there was always somebody going to Harvard or Yale, you know Ivy League schools. And there was a good preparation there. The chemistry professor was kind of getting on, Mr. Spicer. And he had this experiment he tried to do every year and it was always a failure. He was going to put hydrogen and put a spark in it and turn it into water. It always blew up. There were these elaborate barricades that he put around it to keep the kids from getting cut by flying glass or what have you. You’d all hunker down behind your desk and he’d fire it up, and PWOW! Failed again but exciting.
How about the other courses? Do you remember were there geology courses?
No, they didn’t teach earth sciences in schools then. In fact that’s a very recent thing. There was a general science course, but we had physics and chemistry and lots of math and biology but very good. It was basically a liberal arts background. Very good English professors, excellent Latin teacher. My brother’s class tended to be more scholarly than mine. My classes were more party types. They took four years of Latin and then if they wanted to learn Greek they taught them Greek too. In those days you were very close to your teachers. Like for example, I used to go skiing in the winter — my brother-in-law too — up in New Hampshire and Vermont with our music teacher. He was a big skier, and he knew we liked to ski, so we’d all pile into his Ford and drive up here and ski during Christmas vacation. But a good school. Different world back then. In those days the principal of the school had a lot of clout. And if the principal wrote to Harvard or Princeton to say this is a real good kid and I recommend that you take him, they’d do it. Then of course you took your College Boards, SATs. But in any event if you had a good letter of recommendation from your principal, you were in.
How big was the school? I gather you knew the principal.
Oh yes, everybody knew everybody. There were sixty in my graduating class. And you know relationships were very deep. Of course, I used to spend my summers as a little kid up here just north of where I live now. My aunt had a place. And my first grade teacher used to come up every summer and spend time with us and the superintendent of our school was in a place over in Center Harbor. We would visit him. We used to go skiing with the music teacher. The Latin teacher used to take — mostly my brother’s class — into New York and go to various cultural things. There were good tight close relationships. But you know small towns, there’s no place to hide. And people are not instinctively any better than they are in the city, but they’re much more visible. So you couldn’t get away with anything, particularly when you were related to three quarters of the people in town. So it meant you were probably better behaved, not because you we inherently were any better but because you knew you were going to get in trouble if you were badly behaved.
Like Halloweens. Every Halloween we’d do the same thing. We’d go up to the township, which surrounded the borough, and we’d defile somebody’s property and immediately we’d get picked up by Rustum Bey who was the chief of police. And so what would Rustum do, he’d take us up to his house because all our girl friends would be there. They knew we were going to get picked up, we knew we were going to get picked up, and he knew we were going to get picked up so we’d go up to his house and spend the rest of the evening there. Delightful time, but you know that kind of a community. Not one where the cops would grab you and take you down to the police station and all that sort of stuff.
Sounds like it was also motivational, not quite pressure perhaps. But did you feel that the environment of the time pushed you towards more academic work?
Push is the wrong word. I think you grew up expecting that that’s what you were supposed to do. Which is not quite the same as being pushed. I do remember when it came time to select a college to go to, I was kind of interested in Antioch because they had that work study program and my cousin Alan Swinnerton taught out there — taught geology as a matter of fact.
Theology you said?
Yes. He was a speleologist, a cave man. And I kind of thought I’d like that. But I was instructed I could go to any college I wanted — any Ivy League college I wanted.
Who told you that was it, the principal, your other teachers?
Oh no, that was my mother.
And she was very good. You know I said I was interested in engineering and she arranged interviews with the president of Monsanto, for example.
Oh is that right?
He was an engineer. Talked about what engineers did. So I decided I wanted to go into engineering. Well let’s see. I didn’t want to go to Harvard because my older brother was there. So we looked around and I went up and looked at Cornell but it was too big. And I went down and looked at Princeton and I liked it down there.
Had you been on the Princeton campus before?
Before I visited?
Before you visited?
No. Funny there weren’t very many people in our family that went to Princeton. A lot went to Harvard, a couple to Dartmouth and some to Yale. I had one remote cousin who went to Princeton.
I meant to ask you a moment earlier, were there any science clubs in the high school? Were there any organized activities that you can remember?
No, we didn’t have that kind of thing back then. You could do things in the school. But there was no club or anything like that to focus activities. There was a lot of fooling around and making things and what have you. Like again my brother-in-law, they had a shop down in their basement. Wow that’s great. Turn medal or turn wood or do whatever you wanted.
I want to talk to you about your marriage which comes up in 1950, a little bit later. But it sounds as if you already knew the family fairly well.
Well that’s really curious. Martha’s family lived there forever too, her mother’s family. But they lived in the township and we lived in the borough.
Which is in the center and the township surrounds it?
Right. And so Martha went to a school called Kent Place School which is where my mother went which is a private school in Summit, New Jersey, principally because the township school was not considered to be very good. And her sister went there too and her brother went to Pingrey. And I didn’t really know them when I was growing up because she’s four years younger than I. My younger brother had a date with her actually once, because one of his classmates was her cousin. But then my best friend when I was growing up Phil [Philip Wood]; he went to Princeton too and he married Martha’s sister. And I really got to know Martha through Phil.
Two more questions I wanted to ask you about your high school period before we talk about Princeton. How far did you get in mathematics? Did you have classes in calculus?
No, they didn’t have that much. You went through, let’s see, plane geometry, solid geometry circle, trigonometry and then we had a special course that actually the principal taught.
Was that right?
Yes. He said we needed more math and so he gave us a course in probability. But in those days when you started in college, the first thing you took was analytical geometry which they don’t teach any more, which is a shame because analytical geometry is what teaches you what the shape of a formula is. You know, you have a sine wave like that and it’s nice to be able to know that that’s what that means. But now they sort of skip that and put kids right into calculus and I think that’s a mistake.
Visualizations is an important element of science.
Were there any teachers that were particularly memorable?
All of them. No, they were all first class. Wonderful people. You know Miss Partridge my English teacher was outstanding. Dickie [Richard E.] Lynch the Latin teacher he’d come and would lean over you when you were translating, put his hands on your shoulders, and every time you made a boo-boo, he’d squeeze tight. And he threw erasers and chalk and he was great. And Mr. Doughtie, the music teacher, of course. And Miss Miles who was another English teacher who also handled the drama and plays and things like that. And Bennie [Benjamin] Eschelman, history teacher, great guy. And Madame Souydam, the French teacher. And of course Dr. Geeter who was the principal who also taught. Ralph Bates who was the superintendent. I mean they were all your friends, your neighbors.
It is remarkable in the current climate to know everyone to the superintendent of schools.
When you took that math class with the principal, Dr. Geeter, how many were in that class?
There were about four of us, that’s all. There was Bob Trimpe. He was going to go onto Cornell. And there was me and there was Leach. He became an aeronautical engineer. Len and he went into engineering too. Who was the fourth one? I’ve forgotten. Maybe Bill Otto.
It’s the sort of thing that if it comes to mind later and you want to add it to the transcript, that’s fine.
Well, he figured you were going down there and it was a good school, and you needed that much more background. And he did it. He didn’t have to do it.
And as you say you did go on to Princeton. Let me just pause for a minute. Is there anything else from high school that as you think back was particularly memorable or?
Well you know our high school didn’t play football. And it didn’t play football because back in an earlier time before I was there they had had eleven boys out for football. They were the team. And in the first play of the first game, one of them broke his neck. So that was the end of football. So they started playing soccer instead and every year we were the state champs in our division. And most years we were state champs in divisions that were even higher up. But we’d always get clobbered by Kearney. Kearney had all these European types you know who grew up on football, on soccer. And they were really good and they were a lot bigger school than we were. So we were state champs in hockey. As a matter of fact, the guy that runs our dump in Norwich, he went to Columbia High School in Springfield, New Jersey. I said, “Did you ever play soccer?” He said, “Oh yes.” I said, “Did you ever play against Chatham?” “Oh geez,” he said, “They just clobbered us.” There was one year when the captains of the Harvard, Dartmouth and Cornell soccer teams were all from this little bitty high school.
Did you play yourself?
Yes, I played. I have my state championship buckle home somewhere. Both my brothers played.
Did you play all through the entire time that you were at Chatham?
Pretty much, Yes.
Did you take part in any other extracurricu1ar activities? Theater, for instance?
Yes. I used to be in the dramatics club and be in plays. When I wasn’t in them, I’d be handling the lights. What else? We used to play hockey. And the Passaic River ran through town and my uncle Merrit had a farm which was down by the river. And it used to flood and then freeze, so you had a huge expanse of ice down there. I don’t know whether it was colder then or what — it seemed like the ice was there all winter. So we’d go down and play ice hockey down there. One kid I grew up with, his father played for Toronto and he had been retired a long time but once in a while he’d come down — that is retired from hockey — once in a while he’d come down and he’d have this beat up pair of skates, you know. And he’d be wearing his overcoat. And he’d get a hockey stick. All the kids would attack him. We got nowhere. He’d use his shoulder and his hip, what have you. He’d knock them aside. He was tremendous.
I’m curious when you started thinking about going to colleges and you began assembling the list of possible places, you mentioned Cornell and Princeton, you had decided against Harvard. How did you start to get information about these different places and what they offered?
Well, I have to say that if I expressed an interest in a place my mother would get that information. Really would do a job you know. Find people I could talk to and did the paper work and she was outstanding that way.
You said already that she arranged the interview with the Monsanto president.
What did you come to know about what Princeton was offering? How much did you know about the school before you arrived on campus?
Not a whole lot. I knew they had an engineering school, which is what I wanted. I visited and knew it was an attractive place.
Was it the community, the way the campus was organized?
Princeton then was pretty rural, sort of like Dartmouth [College]. The town had been built up the way it is and the township was just a bunch of farms and forest. But there in the middle of this was this group of gothic buildings that housed the university. Pretty impressive place. I liked it.
You graduated high school in 1941. Of course the US was just about getting into the war then. Pearl Harbor hadn’t happened?
No, that would be June so we hadn’t been through that then.
What were your impressions of the campus and any other impressions when you began school?
Well, Princeton changed markedly in the war time period. I got there right at the end of the gentleman country club era. And as I told you before one of my roommates show up with five polo ponies and we had a polo team then. And the Armory was built for horse drawn artillery so that there was a place to keep his ponies. So he did — he played polo. His name was Igelhart and the Igelharts, his uncle Stuart was about a five goaler I think. And Ed [Edward] was a two or three goaler.
Ed was your roommate?
That’s right. And then when the war came, why Ed’s father called him up and said, “Ed there’s a war on.” Ed said, “I know dad.” He said, “We’re going to have to tighten our belts.” Ed said, “I know dad.” He said, “You’re going to have to get along with only two polo ponies.” But then I wasn’t there during the war so I don’t know much about what was going on then, till I got back in February of ‘46 and ran into old roommates who were coming back from France at the same time, so we hooked up again together.
Where were you living when you first went to campus?
At Princeton? Off campus. They had a housing shortage, so a lot of the freshmen had to live in houses that were near the campus. And I lived on a street called Vandevanter Street which is just across Nassau Street from the campus.
How many people were in the house altogether?
Let’s see, there’s Ed, Mike [Michael] Whitley. Mike really got shot up badly in Okinawa. He lost an eye. He was in terrible shape. And then there’s a guy who was a graduate student. And his father was in Bakelite. But there are only the four of us there. But on the street itself most of the guys who subsequently became my roommates, living were living in one or the other houses there.
Then in sophomore year we moved onto the campus.
Did you finish your sophomore year before you went into the army Corps of Engineers.
Yes. I went the summer after my freshman year, and then most of my sophomore year. I had enough credits for a sophomore.
Princeton was then operating on the full year.
Well, we started an accelerated program, started summer school, so we could finish up pretty quickly. You know, John Kemeny was in the class of ‘46 at Princeton and we never overlapped. Because he arrived — he was very young too. He arrived after I left to go into service and he finished before I got back. Accelerated.
I’m curious how you actually found yourself in the Corps of Engineers? How did that decision get made?
Oh, it wasn’t really a decision. Joined the Army, got sent down to Fort Bragg to be in the field artillery and while I was down there I thought, “Gee I’d rather fly airplanes.” So I applied for the Air Corps and got accepted and got sent down to Miami for all these tests and things you’re supposed to do. And when we were supposed to get sent to Maxwell Field for preflight, but Maxwell Field was full. So they said, “Well, we’ll send you up to this college training detachment at Slippery Rock Pennsylvania, Slippery Rock State Teachers College. You don’t need to go there but you can act as a T.A. for the ones who do need to go there, and then when Maxwell Field opens up why we’ll send you back there.” So I went to Slippery Rock and then they decided, “Well, we’ve got too many people going in the Air Force” so they sent us out to a camp in Illinois called Camp Ellis and they were going to turn us into medics. Well, I didn’t want to be a medic so with a couple of my buddies we decided to volunteer for the paratroopers and they wouldn’t let us. They said the only thing you can volunteer for in this camp is something else that’s in this camp. So we poked around and found there was an engineer battalion that was there.
You had already had the two years of engineering training? What had you already studied by that point?
Oh, the first two years of engineering were all basically the same. You take a certain amount of math, physics and chemistry, English, economics, history, engineering, drawing, strength of materials, mathematics. In fact, I think some of the books are here still.
You’re looking on your shelf right now. That was pretty much the standard curriculum, wasn’t it, for all the engineering programs at Princeton?
The first two years were all the same and then after that you specialized in your own branch of engineering. And as I said before, when I shifted after getting out of the service from chemical engineering to geological engineering there was no loss of time because the first two years were the same anyway.
Were any teachers particularly memorable to you in those first, accelerated, first two years?
Well, I guess the people I remember the best were a chemistry teacher we had, his name was [Alan] Menzies. But I don’t remember him for intellectual reasons.
He was noted as a particularly good teacher at Princeton.
He had a real — he’d give these big lectures in beginning chemistry. And there’s always somebody sitting up in the back reading the Daily Princetonian during his lectures and so he would bring in this box, a box like this with a round hole in the front this thing. And he’d set it down on the podium there and with a couple of little screens he could elevate it, carefully train it like this. And when he got it all set, he would punch the back of it and this ammonia smoke ring would go flying out of it. And it would envelop the guy who was reading his newspaper.
Hubert [N.] Alyea was teaching chemistry at Princeton. Hubert Alyea?
Yes, oh yes, sure.
Did you take any courses from him?
I don’t think I did. No.
Didn’t he become a dean later?
Yes. And a guy named Rogers who taught beginning physics, he had all these tremendous experiments he participated in. This enormous geyser stood as high as this room and every once in a while during the lecture you’d hear this great rumble and clouds of water and steam would go up in the air.
And I should say this room has a high ceiling.
Oh it was about thirty feet high down at his end.
Down at his end, at the lecture demonstration.
And there was a very remarkable man in the geology department. His name was Richard [Dicky] Montgomery Field. And Dicky Field is not going to be remembered for his great contributions to research. But Dicky Field was a guy who knew what problems were important, knew who should work on those problems, and knew how to find the resources for them so they could get it done. And if you talk to people like Brackett Hersey, Tuzo [J. Tuzo] Wilson, George Willard, Maurice [W.] Ewing, Harry [H.] Hess, Kelly [K.C.] Skeels or Dick [Richard] Geyer and inquired who inspired you on this business, they all say the same thing, Dicky Field. Dicky used to teach the elementary geology course, this great course.
What do you remember particularly from that? I gather you took that in the first term.
One or two things. Yes, if you didn’t pay attention he’d throw erasers at you. It was a good introduction to physical geology. A good introduction; he’d tell little stories. You know, back in the thirties he used to run a field camp, a Princeton field.
The one that was on the Pullman car.
Yes, he got the Pullman Company to put the Princeton seals on those cars. He had two cars, one for sleeping and one for — And they were the only two Pullman cars ever built that had the Princeton geology seal on them. And they took him all through the west. Pull off the sideways to look at rocks. Great trip. Anyway Dicky back in the thirties heard about this pendulum apparatus for measuring gravity at sea and he thought that we ought to get that over here and do some measurements off our coast. And we tried to figure, well who should do it and we figured well there’s two people who ought to be involved in this. One is Maurice Ewing and the other is Harry Hess. And then he needed a submarine. So he went down and badgered the Navy until they gave him the S-48. And I think they gave him the S48 because it was a funny boat. It was an S boat but it had been cut in two and they added about a forty foot section in the middle and welded it up again, so it never quite surfaced properly after that. Anyway, so he put that together and that was the first research cruise by American university people. And guess who the engineering officer was on that boat?
I don’t know to be honest.
Hyman [G.] Rickover.
Is that right?
That’s interesting. I should have guessed.
This was the early 30s. Rickover had gone to the Academy and he didn’t have a very distinguished academic career. But then he was sent down to Panama with the guy who was port captain of Lamont [Doherty Earth Observatory], Valvin [R.] Sinclair and they both became officers on submarines down there.
What are your impressions of Field as a person?
Wonderful guy. Full of enthusiasm. It was an infectious enthusiasm. If you were around him you had to get excited about something because he wouldn’t permit you not to get excited about. He was a good geologist. He knew his geology well. Always gave you straight stuff. Never did a whole lot of research himself but when the AGU [American Geophysical Union] set up a committee to worry about the geophysics of the continents and oceans, who did they put in charge of it? Dicky Field because they knew something would happen.
And those were critically important commissions. They were very active in the 1950s.
These were the groups which would come out with the recommendations that would be picked up by the funding agencies be they public or private, and get things done, make things happen. He became President of AGH. He was always interested in the relationships between geology and society and he started a thing called the Institute of Geonomy and Earth Resources.
Right. That was in the post war period wasn’t it?
That’s in the post war period. But the kind of people he had in that were all these people he influenced, Teddy [Edward C.] Bullard, Tuzo Wilson, Brackett, Harry Hess. He was the kind of person who could have — they’re going to disappear and they disappear — because he had an enormous influence on what happened during the period of time when they were around.
I gather you’re thinking in terms of both the organization and the international aspects?
Well, picking the right people to do the right thing and to get them to move on their careers. People would tell you, I owe my career to Dicky Field.
Did you have much interaction with Field after hours, outside of the classroom?
Not too much. I’m trying to think how old Dicky was by that time. He was getting on and then he had a terrible automobile accident. He almost got killed.
That was in the late thirties wasn’t it?
Yes. And I noticed that after that accident I used to run into Dicky at AGU receptions and I’d say, “Hi there.” He always did the same thing. Grabbed you by the arm and he’d look around for the prettiest girl in the room and he’d go and introduce himself. He didn’t know her. And then usually her husband came up.
One of the reasons I asked you that was that when I spoke to Tuzo Wilson about his Princeton years he had recalled some evening meetings.
That I’m not too sure about.
Tuzo you see was —
Was an older?
Oh five, six or seven years before me.
Exactly, that’s why I was curious whether at that time you were in position to have done that.
Well, of course Tuzo was a graduate student. I was a lowly undergraduate, and that probably made a difference.
Right. Did you have contact with anyone else in the geology department particularly the early years?
Before the war?
Not much. After the war, a lot but before the war, not much.
Let me ask you about that when we get to that period right after the war, but you had mentioned a moment ago before we spoke about those early years that after various developments you recognized that you had the option of going into the Corps of Engineers. What were you anticipating doing actually? How did that actually work?
It was building.
Yes, whatever. You know, engineers are supposed to make roads and bridges and air strips, and docks, anything that’s necessary to function.
I should have put that more clearly. Did you have any choices? Was it simply a large pool of people or given your background did you move in a particular direction in the Corps?
No. I flowed. Sort of got separated from everybody. When I was in Camp Ellis the Mississippi overflowed and so they hauled all of us down to Cape Giradeau Missouri to pile sand bags on the levees. And so we went down there and piled sand bags on the levees and we were very successful with our piece of levy and it held. But unfortunately the people upstream from us were not as successful, so it broke through up there. And then it got to be higher behind the levee than it was on the river side because of the water pressure so we had to blow our piece out. But I caught pneumonia while I was out there. That was sort of amusing. I woke up one morning and I was so weak I couldn’t stand up. The doctor looked me over and said, “It looks like you’ve got pneumonia.” So they put me in an ambulance to take me up to Jefferson barracks. I was dying in the back of this ambulance and he was driving along, and it was snowing a little bit, slippery and as we were going around the corner a car coming the other way was coming a little wide, so he cut out. It was a concrete road with a steep edge on it like that. And he tried to cut back on and just spun and rolled over. And so I rattled around in the back there and I ended up on the side. So, they came back and tried to open the door, and it caught on fire. And they couldn’t open the door and the fire extinguisher was in the back where I was. And as I say, when I got in that thing I was so weak I couldn’t stand up. I got up you know and went whamo and got the door open, but before I was so weak I couldn’t stand up.
But you just got enough energy to save yourself.
So then we got the fire extinguisher out and put out the fire. Got another ambulance. So while I was in there, my outfit got shipped. I don’t know where to — Europe I guess. So when I came back I was put in a replacement pool and eventually sent out to California and then and over to New Guinea where I joined the outfit I spent the rest of the war with.
Was most of your time then in the Pacific then?
Oh yes, all of it; starting in New Guinea and then working up to the Philippines.
Given the nature of the Army Corps, I imagine you were getting a lot of practical experience in applied geology?
Well, you know I started out as a sort of a grunt but we built a Bailey bridge. I don’t know if you’re familiar with a Bailey bridge?
I’ve heard of it. I haven’t seen the bridge.
The Bridge is a prefabricated bridge. And you pin it together. There’s a launching nose which is a lighter weight thing that you build on the front and then it’s on rollers and you keep adding to the end and you push it out until the launching nose reaches the other side. And then you push it across. And so I was on panel detail where there were six of you and you had these bars and you pick the thing up. The panel up. It weighs 600 pounds and then you move it around to a position where it can be — in. It’s okay for the first level. Then the second level you’ve got to get it up like this. That’s a lot of work. I’m slaving away on this and I notice this guy on the bulldozer and he’s asleep. Every once in a while somebody would go wake him up and push the bridge out another 20 feet or so and then he’d back off and go back to sleep. So I went into heavy equipment — bulldozers and scrapers and graders, power shovels and rock crushers and all that sort of stuff. Good fun. That was good too because you got to move a lot of dirt around and exposed the rocks. I found a few specimens, which Harry Hess liked when I got back.
That’s interesting and you were able to get your samples back with your personal —
Yes. They were only small lumps. I found some pyrite that usually comes in cubes like this. But sometimes it forms things called diploidals and diploids are more like — you know what a garnet looks like?
It’s more like that and we diploidal pyrite in the mountains of Luzon. Harry liked that.
Had you known Harry before?
No. Not till after.
Not till after.
It’s funny though I was talking with him — swapping war stories — and I mentioned this convoy that went from Sansipur, New Guinea to Luzon. “Oh” he said, “I was in that convoy.” I said, “It was a rough trip. Wasn’t it?” He said it was a pretty easy trip except for some poor LST that was just behind us that got hit by a kamikaze. That was us. As a matter of fact I had another classmate who was on an AK on that same trip and he got wounded in a very curious way. A kamikaze plane came down and hit the ship and as the pilot flew out of the cockpit and across he splashed up against across a mast and the pistol in his pocket flew out of his pocket when he hit the mast and went over and hit my classmate.
Hit him in the back?
Yes, and wounded him. So he got a Purple Heart for that yet.
Perspective does have a lot to do with where one is at particular times. So that was principally what you stayed in during the years until ‘46 when you were in the Corps? The bulldozing and the heavy equipment?
Right. That’s a hard area to work in because it rains so much. You know you’re in the tropics and there are a lot of places where the roads were just abandoned during the rainy season because you couldn’t get through. In the Philippines in particular we had two problems. One was getting off the beach in the first place because it was all rice paddies and the only solid route you had through there was an old rail line. So we sealed the tracks of the rail line and created a road. And then the other problem was up in the mountains. The main plain in Luzon is separated from the Cagayan Valley in the north by a pass called Malagi Pass and the road had never been opened during the rainy season before. But we had to keep it open because these groups had to do their thing. So we moved a lot of mud. Got it open.
It was continuous and difficult tasks for everyone in the Corps in that kind of situation?
Yes. Basically you’re making bridges. The Japanese blew all the bridges as they retreated. They were good at it. You know when you blow a bridge, you usually don’t just blow it down, you blow this corner and this corner and then the whole structure twists and goes down. Then you’ve got to get rid of the thing before you can put up another one.
Right. So you have that impediment plus the building.
And they were very clever about doing that.
You mentioned to me earlier in the interview that one of the things that happened during your time in the Army Corps was that you began to learn a lot about the field of geology — that you met practicing, working geologists.
Oh, engrossing. As I said, our outfit was an interesting one. About half the people were from the New York area and about half of them were from Texas, New Mexico. They were National Guard types. And the ones who were from Texas and New Mexico had worked in the oil fields, had been in mining, some of them. Some of them had been geologists working on various prospects of various kinds. So you discovered that, gee, you could do geology and eat at the same time. You didn’t have to have a job and do geology just for fun. So that really changed my life. The best thing that ever happened to me was going into the army. [Laughs]
Do any of those folks stand out in your mind; those that you met who were geologists?
I can picture them but I can’t put names on them. The only thing that I can really remember is my serial number 12109338. You never forget that.
Yes, I imagine. When in ‘46 were you finally released to go back to Princeton?
I got back in early February. I left the Philippines in January. It was a long sail. And then we got to — came into L.A. [Los Angeles] and then they flew us from there back to Fort Dix [New Jersey] and in those days that was about a thirty hour flight from L.A. to Fort Dix. You had to go from LA to Phoenix, from Phoenix to Albuquerque, from Albuquerque to both Dallas and Fort Worth, you had to land in both of them. That’s before they had the one airport. And then from there to Louisville, about twenty stops across the country.
What happened then in February? Did you return directly to Princeton at that point?
Well, they had a term beginning with this accelerated program so if I hurried I could go right down there and enroll for the spring term. It would be like a quarter like we have here. So I dashed down there and enrolled, and immediately went down to the rocks department and talked about going into the geological engineering program.
I’m curious about who was there in geology engineering? Taylor Thom was there wasn’t he?
Taylor, yes. A prince among men; a wonderful man. He was running the geological engineering program. Harry [Hess] was in the geology department.
What were your impressions of Taylor Thom? What sort of person was he?
He was a really splendid human being. Wonderful man. He took a great personal interest in you. I’ll give you an example. When I decided that I wasn’t going — I was originally going to go on for a master’s degree in geological engineering at Princeton, and then go work in the oil patch. But I got interested in geophysics — and we’ll come back to that — and I decided to go to Columbia [University]. So I went to see Taylor and Taylor had arranged for me to get a fellowship for my masters. So I said, “Taylor you know I certainly appreciate your doing this but I think I’m going to go to Columbia and study geophysics.” He said, “Oh, I’ll see if I can get the fellowship transferred.” Now you don’t do that. If you have a fellowship you’ve got to place it at your institute.
Another recollection of Taylor. He took us out to a Princeton field camp and the place at Red Lodge wasn’t open so we all slept in the loft at the Buffalo Bill Museum at Cody [Wyoming] which he arranged for.
So you went out on the train?
No, we drove out in a bunch of cars. We drove all the way out from Princeton stopping periodically at places like Titusville to look at the oil patch, the Dells in Wisconsin, and so forth. Then we worked in Elk Basin, the Oregon Basin and went around and looked at a lot of geology in the area.
Did you drive out with Taylor Thom?
No, I drove out with a graduate student. Bill — there were two or three of us.
Again, those names we can put on the transcript later.
But Taylor was a mark of probity all summer long. At the end of the summer one of the other guys and I decided we wouldn’t drive back with the rest. One of the other guys Dan [Daniel] McClain, and I decided that we wouldn’t drive back with the rest; we’d hang around for a day or so and then hitchhike back. So we were there when everybody else was gone and we decided we’d go in and have a beer at the bar at the Yuma Hotel. So we go in there and who’s sitting at the bar, having himself a little nip, but Taylor. And he’s so embarrassed. He was just trying to set a good example and here we caught him. So anyway we hitchhiked back. I hitchhiked to Glencoe, Illinois, where my roommate was and we were going to go climbing in the mountains, and Dan hitchhiked all the way back to Washington. It was easy to hitchhike in those days. I had old Army fatigues and Dan had old Navy clothes so you’d see these two veterans out there hitchhiking, everybody would pick you up.
There might have been competition for whom would get picked up first?
People were very nice.
On that trip then you also got to see applied geophysics or at least petroleum geology?
Oh yes. In fact, I was going around with a girl out there, Patsie Pauline Poppert. And her father was a spudder and a spudder is the guy who when they’re going to drill a well — they used to use cable tools to start the hole and when they had it started they put in some surface casing and they’d bring in a rotary drifi and this would stabilize the thing for the rotary drill. So, he was the spudder. He used to loan me his daughter, loan me his car. Tell me to go down and fill it up with kitchen head gas at the rig so I didn’t have to buy gas. But I had to pay a price. I had to listen to a half hour lecture on how smart drillers were and how stupid geologists were.
What did you think of it at that time?
It was worth it.
Do you have any other recollections of what sparked your interest in geology in that period of time?
Well, I had the interest when I got back from the service.
Right. I should say did anything on that trip turn you in a particular direction?
Well, I learned a whole lot about what you actually did in geology and what the oil patch was like and I liked it. I thought it was good fun. And I think that influenced my original decision — which many of my classmates agreed to — to go into the oil patch. I changed mostly because of George [Prior] Woolard. It’s also the first time I ever ran into [W. Maurice] Ewing when I was at Princeton.
Is that right?
Yes. Harry Hess invited Ewing to come down and give a lecture. And he came down and gave a lecture on the normal mode propagations of sound in the ocean, which is what he had been working on in the war.
That was his war work.
Memoir 27 of the PSI. Anyway it was almost incomprehensible to many of the people there. But it was a good lecture. And I think that was when Harry — you know Harry and Ewing didn’t get along too well. And one of the major reasons for that was that Harry was interested in getting Ewing to Princeton. After all, many of the graduate students at Princeton had gone to Lehigh [University] to study with Ewing because there wasn’t any geophysics at Princeton. So he asked Maurice whether he was interested in coming to Princeton and Maurice wasn’t interested. This was before he went to Columbia.
This is even the beginning parts of the middle of the war, prior to ‘44 when he actually accepted the Columbia offer?
It was just during the war. So he went to [Arthur F.] Buddington. He said, “Hey, we ought to try to get Ewing here to bring some geophysics into the department.” Well to Buddington geophysics meant what they do at the geophysical lab down in Washington, mass spectrometry and petrology and that sort of thing. What Ewing was doing wasn’t geophysics, but was exploration and he didn’t think Princeton needed exploration. And Harry didn’t have the guts to buck Buddington.
Buddington was chair of the department.
For a long time — and a strong man.
Of course Hess was fairly junior at that time. He had only been hired in ‘33, if I remember.
So Harry didn’t have the guts to buck Buddington and so he wouldn’t push it. Ewing never forgave him for that. I think he wanted to come to Princeton. So it was always a tense relationship.
Was it noticeable when he came to give that talk or was that prior to the time?
Well I didn’t know enough about Ewing then to notice. So I couldn’t say.
This raises a lot of questions and I don’t want to break your train of thought in the moment, but one of the things in petroleum physics or geological engineering, what did you see to be the particular advantage of having an MA over the bachelor’s in your initial thought?
Sort of the professional degree in the geology business. If you’re going into mining or into petroleum, most people would get masters before they did that. You did two things. One, you had to write more so you demonstrated you could write a report, because literacy is important. And secondly, you did a piece of independent research which gave you an opportunity to show that you were capable of doing things independently. And both those things are significant to the people in the industry who were doing the hiring so most people who were going to go into petroleum would get a master’s.
I’m curious how the industry regarded people with Ph.D.’s in the field. How accepted were they back then?
Well, if you were — it depended on the company for one thing. But in most cases Ph.D.’s were considered people who didn’t want to get their hands dirty.
They were too academic or too tied into —
If you were in something like Gulf research. Gulf research actually used to do most of the geophysics work for Gulf Oil Company. They were the contractors. They had a lot of Ph.D.’s but that’s because they were inventing the techniques as fast they were using them. So in the research side a Ph.D. was considered to be okay.
But for those who wanted to work in the patch the MA was the desirable degree. I’m curious what courses you started to take in the last two years in your bachelor’s at Princeton?
Well, I had some catch up to do because I hadn’t taken much geology before that.
I should just note you got your BSE [Bachelor of Science in Engineering] in 1948.
That’s right. Actually, I turned in my thesis at the end of ‘47 and then went off to Columbia but it was actually awarded, the degree, in June of ‘48.
You were saying about courses you were taking?
Oh, I took everything; paleontology, sedimentology, mineralogy, petrology and couple of field courses. They didn’t have any geochemistry then. Geomorphology. And then they brought George Woolard down to teach engineering geology and geophysics and he’s the one that introduced me to geophysics. And that was good stuff and I started working with Woolard.
Had Woolard been at Wisconsin before he came?
This was after he had gone?
He was at Woods Hole and he had taken over the SOFAR [Sound-Fixing and Ranging] program that Ewing had been running, when Ewing left.
The undersea acoustics program?
That’s right. So he was still at Woods Hole then. He went to Wisconsin after that.
Was it clear that he was brought there for an interim appointment or was this an attempt to build the geophysics program?
Oh yes. He used to commute from Woods Hole basically. He would come for two or three days a week and then go back to Woods Hole for the rest. And Buddington was still a force in the department. There was no way you were going to get somebody like George Woolard on the faculty there. Because he was in exploration, not geophysics [Laughs]. But he did teach geophysics. And as I say I started working with him and in the summer of ‘47 a graduate student and I — DeWitt Clinton Van Sticklen. He and I had George’s ‘36 Ford van with a big Humboldt gravity meter in the back and a magnetometer and we went all through Virginia and all the way down to Florida and from the coast across the Appalachians, measuring gravity and making a gravity map. And it was after that when my kid brother and I, after I picked him up, we did the same thing, we did the northern part of the country. But George got me interested in geophysics. He said “If you’re interested in this field you ought to go up to Columbia and see what Ewing is doing up there”. So I went to Columbia and arranged for an interview with Ewing and it looked real interesting. So I decided, “Well, let me do that instead of going to the oil patch.”
This is around ‘47 or so? Did it come later?
This would be in ‘47, yes because I finished at the end of ‘47. So in January of ‘48 I went up to Columbia. Everything then was in the basement of Schermerhorn Hall and a handful of people there at the time, Joe [J. Lamar] Worzel, Frank Press, Nelson Steenland, Milt Dobler, Jack [E.] Oliver had just been sent over from physics. Bruce [C.] Heezen had just showed up, Paul [C.] Wuenschel.
Before we turn to that Columbia period, there were a number of very interesting issues that you were raising about Princeton and your work with Woolard. What was it that he was actually teaching?
George Woolard when he was at Princeton.
Oh Woolard. He taught two things. He taught the geophysics course and he taught an engineering geology course. I took both.
How big were the classes?
I don’t know, fifteen or twenty, somewhere in there. There were a fair number of veterans back then busily preparing for the real world. And that would be the right scale.
And when you got to know Woolard, were you meeting him outside of the classroom on a pretty regular basis?
Oh yes, when I started working with him we used to meet all the time. He and Helen, his wife, and me — See his wife’s family was from Princeton.
I didn’t know that.
She was a McClintock, and Professor McClintock had been a professor in the geology department. So Eleanor had grown up there and when they came down you know George would stay at the McClintock’s house and he and Eleanor had this god awful number of kids, not all by themselves but a bunch of adopted ones too. Eleanor is still going strong. She’s out in Hawaii still. We get a Christmas card from her every year. But she must be, oh, mid- eighties I guess.
Indeed Woolard later, after Wisconsin, went to out to University of Hawaii. Another interesting point that you’re raising particularly with Buddington is the way the department’s members were reacting to the introduction of geophysics at Princeton.
That’s not unique.
It clearly wasn’t at that period.
If you look at the history of geology — I wrote a little thing I should give you a copy of, “Fables for our Time,” which talks about how geology worked and how it still works. In the beginning the geologists had control. When geophysics came in, they basically tried to stuff it under the rug and then geophysics worked its way in and got a foothold and then pushed hard and expanded and tried to shove geology under the rug. And then, in more recent times, the geochemists have come into their own and are busy trying to stuff all of them under the rug. There is always this tension between the various aspects of the earth sciences and so it wasn’t unique to Princeton to have the feeling as well, “That’s exploration.”
Right and that’s absolutely so. I was curious what kinds of arguments were being raised about — you mentioned that there seemed to be a little too much applied for certain people or was it in part the technique?
It was a question of vision, I think. You know too Harry — you know Harry had worked with Maurice on the Barracuda and the S-48 and on these fundamental problems of earth structure. So Harry’s vision of geophysics was that — you know global. And Buddington’s vision of geophysics was something you used to prospect for minerals.
You mention the Carnegie Institution of Washington. Of course Hess had to have contact in those years to work cooperatively with the Carnegie.
But they didn’t do any real geophysics there.
Not, it was more geochemistry.
Well, it could all be classified as geochemistry or mineral physics.
So geophysics had a hard time getting itself established. The first area where it really got going strong was seismology. And that developed in two ways. One in California, the insurance companies actually were among those who financed the Seismological Society of America [SSA]. And so a lot of the western schools built up some seismology activities. And the other was the Jesuit schools because the Jesuits had always been strong in seismology because they’re located in remote places all over the world. So they’d send them a seismograph and say, “Record.” They’re smart and put in seismographs. So at St. Louis, Father –
Father [James B.] Macelwane.
At Boston College Father Lenahan. Were places with real strength in the field?
Was there much contact between Buddington, say, and the people at CalTech [California Institute of Technology] where seismology was being developed during those years?
I very much doubt it because Buddington was a petrologist and a very good one. But I don’t think he had any interest in active processes. He was interested in sorting out processes that occurred.
So in the larger sense then there really weren’t contacts between members of the Princeton Department of Geology and areas of geophysics?
No. But again, I think you’d find that was more typical of departments in those days than unusual.
No indeed. Columbia had a similar situation, and others.
Columbia was a pretty advanced group there. You know they had King [Marion King] there for a while.
I was going to ask what you recall.
King was an impossible person to deal with. You know he’s very smart but extremely difficult to get along with and he didn’t last there very long.
He was only there from about ‘30 through ‘37, ‘38.
Yes, he left to go with Shell. But they still had the feeling that there was something in geophysics that they wanted to have in the department. And you know they did the same thing in geochemistry by bringing [J. Laurence] Kulp in. And Kulp barely knew any geology at all when he first came there. He used to take courses in it.
Is that right?
Yes. And then you know he took over mineralogy from [Paul Francis] Kerr and just changed it enormously. Because he taught a course called Atomic Structure of Minerals which for the first time to me made sense out of mineralogy. You could see why these things took the forms that they did because of their atomic structures.
That was something you weren’t exposed to at all at Princeton?
Well, I was an undergraduate there and so it was a different level. But secondly the focus was more on what crystal form they take. You know what are the major crystal classes? How do you identify the various minerals? What are the various minerals? All that sort of stuff. It wasn’t a very advanced course.
How were teaching responsibilities split between geological engineering, Taylor Thom, and the geology department? I’m curious, for instance, in what kind of relationship there was between Thom and members of the geology department?
Oh, that’s been a struggle for years. The program now is over in civil engineering. But in those days it was located in the geology department. Taylor Thom was in both just like Bill [William] Binini is today. He’s both in geology and in geological physics. John Maxwell was the same way. So relationships were just fine because you’re all located in the same place. Basically I think Buddington considered geological engineering a subset of geology for people who wanted to know how to add and subtract as well as look at rocks.
But he was happier. It was in a separate area and a separate branch of the campus?
Yes. It was a good program. You got all the geology that the geologists got plus you got the physics and chemistry and math background that many of them didn’t.
Looking back on it now were there areas that you’re surprised you weren’t exposed to when you were at Princeton?
No. They were wise enough to bring Woolard in to cover the big gap. But there was no geochemistry teacher. But geochemistry was a young field at that time and so maybe that’s not all that surprising.
Particularly by ‘47 by the time that you left that Chicago- styled revolution in geochemistry really hadn’t spread that far.
Yes, oh yes. [Harold C.] Urey had been at Columbia and then left for Chicago. But when he was at Columbia I don’t think he devoted much time to geology. I think he was in the chemistry department. And from that group you produced guys like Willie Weeks and Cesare Emiliani and Lester King and that whole crowd who spread out and spread the gospel throughout the country. Like Kulp did. Kulp populated a good piece of the country with people like Wally [Wallace S.] Broecker, Carl Terikian, Paul Damon and others who have spread out.
As you mentioned, although off tape, that indeed these became leaders in many of the universities, leaders of geochemistry programs, geology-geochemistry programs.
And that says something right there. It’s like if you look at the crowd that were at Lamont, Columbia-Lamont, in the early days and what happened to them. They went out and became leaders all over the place.
Why was that?
Well, it was about the only place you were training people like that.
Indeed, how well did you come to know Harry [FL] Hess during this time?
Pretty well, pretty well. As I say, Harry and I were both in the service. He had a big influence on me. I took optical mineralogy from Harry. Harry smoked like a fiend, all the time. And I’d get stuck on something and Harry would come over and we’d look through the microscope and he’d puff like this.
You were demonstrating on how his smoking while looking through the —
My eyes would water and I’d just about cry and I couldn’t see what I was looking at. He was something. But he taught a great course, a course that they ought to teach more everywhere. He taught a course called Advanced General Geology. And basically it was a course where we were trying to figure out what made the world tick. So you’d go through things like the dectadyne, Alpine Peridites, opealites and what was working. And debate on what seemed to be happening. It was a good course.
Did he raise Continental Drift in that course? Is that something that came up during your Princeton years?
Yes, that was covered in general geology course but not covered with enthusiasm, I would have to say. It’s sort of like when I got up to Columbia, the faculty at Columbia would invite people to come and talk about Continental Drift.
Is this sometime in the late ‘40s do you mean or during the 1950s?
This would be late ‘40s, early ‘50s. They would invite people like Lester King to come up from South Africa to talk about drift despite the fact that nobody in the department believed him. But they brought him which was great. That’s the way it ought to be. You need to get these other opinions and see what they’re based on and how are you going to explain the things that they explain in terms of continental drift — usually not very well, usually ad hoc ideas. In fact, there was a symposium at the American Museum of Natural History back in early 50s — somewhere around here is the publication from it — in which Ewing demolished the idea of land bridges. Ewing said “No. You can’t do that.” Land bridges were what they needed for the little critters to scamper across from one place to another. The geophysics of the ocean areas doesn’t permit you to have these land bridges. Now does that mean he’s pro-drift or does it mean he’s shooting down an ad hoc theory that won’t work in order to get people thinking about what might work?
There’s a lot of theoretical pluralism in geology. That’s one of its distinguishing characteristics.
When you mentioned that Hess did raise and taught Continental Drift, what do you recall about what he raised? How he treated the subject? Do you remember?
Well let’s say I was very familiar with [Alexander L.] du Toit and the [Alfred L.] Wegener book.
Had you known of those before discussion?
Probably not. And [Johannes H.F.] Umbgrove’s book, The Faults of the Earth. Umbgrove came dangerously close to identifying subduction. Actually in [Walter H.] Bucher’s course at Columbia — we’re still at Princeton.
It doesn’t matter.
In Bucher’s course — Bert [Albert] Bally was there at Lamont at the time and Bucher got Burt to lecture about Alpine geology at which he was very good. And the Alpine geologists had been enthusiasts for drift. If you go back to Argonne’s paper in the 1928 International Geological Congress, he effectively attributed the Alpine Himalayan chain to continental drift. So in Burt’s course — a good first part of the course you got a strong impression that the earth was very mobile. Where, in Bucher’s course, it was more philosovian —vertical movements were great, but horizontal movements were limited.
I want to talk to you particularly about Walter a little bit later and your continued interactions with him. Were there discussions at all of Reginald Daly’s work?
Daly wrote a bunch of books.
Our Mobile Earth being perhaps the one —
Those titles of Daly’s work —
Igneous Rocks and the Depth of the Earth. That’s it.
And Igneous Rocks and Their Origins, another old Daly. Not so much the mobility one.
Daly wasn’t a visitor at Princeton during your years there was he?
Not to my knowledge. Just keep in mind I’m an undergraduate there.
I understand. At the same time I’m keeping in mind that, coming back as a veteran, you were also, as you noted, more mature than some of the other undergraduates and were taking this rather seriously.
Well, we used to have some courses that the undergraduates could take with the graduate students.
Which ones were you involved in there?
Well, there was one in sedimentology in particular. [G.N.] Van Houten had recently joined the faculty and I took that.
Who were, in looking back, the mentors?
Well, the three people that immediately come to mind are Woolard, who went to Columbia, Taylor Thom, and Harry Hess.
Just wondering if any of the other faculty when you think back on it?
Well, I had interactions with them all and they were all good guys. But these are the ones that made a difference.
Well undoubtedly touch more on the Princeton period as we move forward, but I’m wondering if there’s anything else that we haven’t touched on in thinking back that you find particularly memorable or influential?
From the Princeton period.
I used to play rugby. You want a funny story. When George Schultz was the Secretary of State, there was a rumor going around that he had a tiger tattooed on his ass. I heard about that and I thought we played the rugby games against a British destroyer back in ‘41 and we played them in New York at Baker’s Field. And they’d been out at sea for a long time and we beat them rather badly. And after the game they invited us to go drinking with them down in the Bowery. I had a date so I didn’t go. And some of my fellow rugby players did. Well, they got them drunk and they took them into tattoo parlors and they had these big tigers tattooed on their chests. When they showed up at school on Monday a mass of scabs, I got to thinking, “I wonder if George played rugby.” I tried to find some old clippings but I couldn’t find them anywhere. So I wrote him a letter and said something to the effect I just wondered whether he had gone down to the Bowery after playing rugby. He was getting ready to go over to the Middle East somewhere and I figured I wouldn’t hear from him for a while. I got an immediate letter back. Not guilty of rugby or the Bowery and beyond that I’m not saying.
A good response.
But he was in the Marines, and I suspect he got it then.
Was there an active colloquia series as Princeton that you as an undergraduate would go to?
Yes. They’d bring people in. Well, that’s what Ewing came in on, for example. We used to get people from the lab, I’ve forgotten whom.
Those last years that you were at Princeton did you have much contact with any of the other science departments?
At Princeton. Physics for instance.
The engineering school, mostly; engineering and earth sciences, geology.
I meant in addition to those two centers. Was there much interaction?
Not too much because I had finished all my basic stuff and so I was focused on the advanced engineering courses I needed plus the geology courses I needed. I finished in three terms. So I had to pack it all into a very small time.
There wasn’t much free time obviously?
No, and not as many electives as I would have hoped to be able to get because I had to get all this other stuff. Nominally, I should have had one more term there but I finished all the requirements, so.
You were ready to move on. Did you have any conversations with Ewing when he was at Princeton? Had you already been thinking about geophysics?
No, I had been introduced to it by Woolard. But Woolard was focusing mostly on the gravity and magnetics and there’s Ewing coming in talking about sound propagations in the underworld.
We’re about to start talking more in depth about the Columbia period. We’ve also been talking for over two hours. This might be a good point for a break if you want to take one.
Goodness. It’s probably lunch time.
[Interruption for a break]
Here we go again.
We are sated, indeed, and we’re beginning again after a lunch break. You had mentioned just before we did break for lunch your decision to go to Columbia was influenced by George Woolard’s conversations about what was going on at Columbia. Had you considered any other university program for your Ph.D.?
I wasn’t even thinking about Ph.D. I was thinking in terms of getting a master’s.
A master’s also at Columbia?
No, at Princeton.
Then going in the oil patch. And I went up to Columbia because George said if I was interested in geophysics, I should. And I went up there and when I looked at what they were developing it looked really interesting. So I had never even thought about a Ph.D. until that point.
So it was very much a follow-on from the conversations and very much directed at that point at Columbia.
You were mentioning some of your first impressions. What was it like when you first went up to Schermerhorn?
Well, as I said everything was down in the basement of Schermerhorn.
This was where Ewing had set up the operation.
So there was his office and there was a big sort of common room and a shop. He always had to have a shop. He had that right off, and few other little rooms. But mostly it seemed like they were engaged in exciting things and if these exciting things were going on, why not be part of them.
What particularly do you remember of the research programs that you first became aware of?
Well, keep in mind that back then we didn’t have a ship and the research programs used the Woods Hole Ships. The Caryn. But we also used Navy submarines because we were using them to measure gravity using the [inaudible] apparatus. And that’s what I started in, measuring gravity. That seemed like a lot of fun. Cruise around in the submarine, visit different parts of the world and make some good measurements, get some good data. Hard to beat. Hard to beat.
Who were the first people that you came into contact with?
Well, Ewing of course and Joe Worzel. And Joe Worzel is a very interesting guy. On the one hand, Joe is the kind of person that if I need somebody’s right arm tomorrow and I go to Joe, he gives it to me without question. I don’t know anybody who would do that more freely than Joe. Joe is a terrific individual. On the other hand, he can be the biggest pain-in-the-ass that you ever met in your life. And within two or three days of going to work there, I had my coat off and said, “Okay Joe, let’s go.” [Laughs]
Is that right?
Yes. But Joe was just putting me to the test.
Do you remember what it was that caused you to get so irritated with him?
No, he can just be annoying. He pokes at you and does this to –-
You are gesturing with your arms, physically prodding.
Oh yes, I was ready to fight him. As soon as he discovered that, never again. We got along just fine. I really liked Joe and Joe decided when he was a sophomore in college that he would devote his life to Maurice Ewing. And he did. And he did a lot of Maurice’s dirty work for him which gave Joe a bad rap but which didn’t give Maurice a bad rap.
Did he talk to you much about his early years with Ewing?
At Lehigh? Joe?
Yes, some. He and Alan Vine — and Alan’s not around anymore, so you’d better get Joe — latched onto Ewing early in the game and they were involved in some of the first refraction work he did on the coastal plain and on the off shore. You should get Joe to tell you about the hairy way they operated — lugging dynamite around and blowing holes in people’s pastures. Things that would get you arrested these days very easily. But he decided that’s what he wanted to do and he did it.
And he was just a sophomore at the time he had taken Ewing’s course?
Right. And he worked with Ewing for the rest of his undergraduate career. He went out to Woods Hole and Ewing during the war, came down with Ewing to Columbia after the war and got his Ph.D. A good experimentalist and a guy who is absolutely doggish, like a bulldog when it comes to making something happen and refuses to allow pieces of equipment to break down. He would stay at it until he gets the damn thing going again. So he gets a lot done because of that. But again, he can be a pain because he likes to be involved in everything and people, who think they are doing just fine, don’t need help, find they get help when they don’t want it.
He is going to be interviewed.
His wife was Burt [Albert] Crary’s sister. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Burt Crary. But Burt did a lot of work both in the Arctic and Antarctic.
Yes, yes. Albert Crary.
As a matter of fact, if you talk to Jack Oliver, Jack’s first experience at Lamont was working with Burt Crary and you should ask Jack about the flying saucer thing out in New Mexico — this thing in Roswell, New Mexico.
Is that right? The Roswell Incident it’s called.
You see, they had an experiment. Ewing had been working at Woods Hole getting long range transmission of sound through the sound channel in the ocean. And the idea came up — well, you know, you have the same kind of velocity inversions in the atmosphere. Can you use —
Can you use the atmosphere as a channel.
That’s right. So Burt had a project that Jack worked on to test this effect and that gadget that came down in Roswell, New Mexico was actually one of their — which was floating up there. [Laughs]
That’s right. That was all part of classified research at the time which was in part —
Recently, it was in the papers.
And Burt Crary was also involved in Antarctic research as well. The name is familiar.
Yes. Yes, there’s a mountain down there named after him.
But Burt died, oh, four or five years ago. He once had the great pleasure of falling off the Ross Ice Shelf into the water. But they fished him out in time before he froze to death.
Still a severe test. Who else did you come to meet early on when you came up to Schermerhorn?
Well, there was Angelo Ludas. Angelo Ludas ran the machine shop.
And he was running the machine shop at Columbia?
Yes, at Columbia, Schermerhorn, and subsequently at Lamont. But Angelo was a wonderful individual.
What sort of man was he?
Well, he was Greek by heritage and he had done a proper apprenticeship in the machine tool business. So he was a real machinist rather than a machine operator.
Do you know where his apprenticeship had taken place? Was it in New York?
No, but I do know that he — I have one of the knitting machines my great grandfather made — a hand cranked one that has these circular needles. I brought it in once to clean it up in the shop. Angelo looked at it and said, “You know, my first job was working on the knitting machines with these same needles.” But I don’t know where he did his apprenticeship. I do know he said that for the first year he wasn’t allowed to touch anything but a file. He had to learn to file something square before he could move on to anything else. But he was a wonderful man.
He taught all of us how to use the tools and insisted that you learn that for good reasons. If you had to make something yourself, you’d find out when you designed it, it was possible to build because there was no way you could achieve the holes that you wanted to achieve. He designed the equipment, took it to seed, and made sure it worked. So he taught everybody to do this and got them all toolboxes so they could do it. Terrific individual.
He died too. He has some kids around though; a son, Harry, up in the Catskills, two sons, Nicky and Michael, somewhere in New York, and a daughter, Mia. Let’s see — I met Angelo, met Jack Oliver, met [Richard] Dick Edwards. Dick’s up at Woods Hole now. Dick was a wrestler there at Columbia. Dick — when the conflagration in Europe broke out, Dick decided that he wanted to see some action so he looked around to see what we were involved in and he found out that we had PBYs [Patrol Bomber] that were going out on antisubmarine patrols though we were not yet in the war. So he signed up for that and did that for a while. And then that got dull so he looked around to see what he could volunteer for. Found out that he could volunteer for deep sea diving. So he went to the deep sea diving school and deep sea diving school was on the old Normandy, the ship which sank in the mid-Atlantic. So he went through that and he did deep sea diving for a while and then looked for something more exciting to do. And found he could volunteer for UDT [Underwater Demolition Team (Navy)] work, underwater demolition work. So he volunteered for that and that was real fun for a while. So then he decided he wasn’t getting anywhere so he put in for OCS [Obstacle Clearance Surface (Aviation)] and got his commission. His first job was the skipper of a mine sweeper. He liked that, nice and dangerous. Then he finally discovered his real find which was taking apart mines and torpedoes when they would come ashore. Crazy.
It takes a particular person.
He did that for the rest of the war and then when Korea came they called him back in. They had him as a staff officer for a while but he couldn’t stand that. Finally, he got out to where he was taking mines apart again and he was happy once more. Dick — he went up to Woods Hole in the sixties and he was port captain up there until he retired. He’s still there. He’d be a good guy to talk to. He was there early in the game. I don’t know whether I gave you his name.
Dick Edwards, Jack Oliver. Well Frank Press was there at the time. And Paul Wuenschel and Milt (Dogram) [?] and Nelson Steenland. Bruce had come by that time, Bruce Heezen.
What were your impressions — I want to turn to Ewing in a moment, but of those who were around? Did you come to know Frank Press fairly well?
Oh yes. We were good friends. We lived next to each other for some years.
In the city of New York?
No, out at Lamont.
Yes. Not in the city. But we were all good friends. We’d gather up at Angelo’s house, Angelo Ludas’s house. He lived up at Lamont too, at a house up in the back, on Saturday nights.
Prior to the time that Lamont was created in 1949, how close in a social way were those of you who were part of Ewing’s emerging operations?
I guess, until Lamont got going, probably not all that much. But bear in mind that some of us were single and some of us were married. And the married folks tended to mix with each other and the single folks tended to mix with each other. So at Columbia I guess Jack Oliver was the guy I spent more time with than anybody else because we were both single, both living in the dorms, both there. And Frank was married and Joe was married and I guess Paul Wuenschel was married. Oh Gordon Hamilton was there too. Forgot about him.
Hamilton was actually there right at Columbia through the —
Yes. He was a class ahead of me at Princeton and then he came up to Columbia I guess about the same time I did. See, I have some gaps because in the first eighteen months I was “at Columbia” I spent the bulk of the time out on submarines measuring gravity. So things were happening back at Schermerhorn that I wasn’t aware of because I was off in Guam or somewhere.
How long were those cruises that you were on, or the legs of the cruises you participated in? How long would you be away?
Yes. How long would that take?
Oh, they’d run three to six months. A long time. You wouldn’t be at sea all that time. You’d go from — like we had one cruise that went from San Diego to Hawaii to Brisbane, Australia to Guam to Okinawa to Tsingtao, China to Tokyo, Yokahama to Midway back to Pearl Harbor. But then, I shifted my gear to another one and went back to Australia so it would be a long time before you got back to the barn. But any particular cruise would run anywhere from one to three months. And the unit of time away would run anywhere from one to six months.
How many people from Columbia would be on board with you on those?
It was just you on those cruises?
What was that like for you?
Fun. My first cruise I went out with — Joe went off because I hadn’t done it before.
So he was a mentor of some sort.
Yes. So he came for the first — let’s see from New London down to Nassau. Then he got off and Ewing got on and the deal was we were doing these profiles across the deep water tongues in the Bahamas. And so you’d be running continuously for twenty-four hours or so as you cruised the long [inaudible]. And so we got there and we were supposed to do one across the tongue of the ocean. Ewing looked so exhausted when he arrived and I was supposed to do the first part and then at four in the morning call him and allow him to take over. And he looked so tired I let him sleep and, geez, it was about five o’clock he came down and he was really mad. And I said, “Well, I thought you looked tired. “No, no, no.” Any sign of weakness he didn’t want to admit to. So he was really ticked about that.
Anyway we had a pretty good cruise and then, after that, I went on my own. So let’s see — we made that cruise there and I guess the next one was the big loop around the Pacific and then another half loop around the Pacific. And we made one up into the Arctic. This was back when they were thinking of taking nuclear submarines into the Arctic Ocean so we were up poking around in the ice and seeing what it was like under the ice and stuff like that. You couldn’t go very far under with a battery-operated boat. That was kind of interesting.
On that Arctic cruise we made a lot of dives because you have to dive to make the measurement. So we’re coming back and I picked up Lynn [D.H.] Shurbet who was Doc’s nephew and he was going to take the next cruise. So we got down. We were going to make our last dive before we got to San Diego, the captain called me in and he says, “Look, we made all these dives for you and now you’re going to make one for us.” I said okay and I went up to the bridge told the deck officer that the captain said I was supposed to make this dive. He looked kind of funny but he went down and the captain called up and said, “Okay anytime.” So I pushed the dive alarm and it said dive, and the lookouts go down and I go down and pull the hatch behind me and then you keep going down to the control room. So I get down to the control room and the first thing was that the guy on the bow plane said that the bow planes wouldn’t rig out. They’re folded in against the hull like this. They’re supposed to rig out hydraulically. Well, I knew how to do that. You can crank them up by hand by, using the wheel that you use to adjust them beforehand. And then we got down to two thirds depth and we had a tank flow negative which gives you negative buoyancy so you go down fast and then when you get down to two thirds of the depth you want to end up at you blow negative and that slows you down. And then you’re basically neutrally buoyant.
So we get down to two thirds depth and I said blow negative. And the chief on the manifold says negative won’t blow sir. So I knew how to deal with that too. I told the auxiliary man the line would have to be blown out from there. So he blew negative and there we were. We were at the right depth, the bow planes were out and we were cruising beautifully. The captain had screwed everything up hoping —
Hoping to test you all the way through.
Right. And everything worked. So he rounded up two or three guys and told them to go all the way back to the aft torpedo room. Well that makes you heavy by the stern you know. Ordinarily you use a trim pump and you pump a hundred gallons of water from aft to forward to trim it out. And I said, “Pump a hundred gallons from aft to forward.” “The trim pump won’t work sir.” So I said, “Use the bilge pump.” “The bilge pump won’t work sir. The submarine was going more and more from bow to stern.” I said, “Well blow it up.” Well he said that wouldn’t work either.
[Interruption for phone call]
You’re saying the captain wasn’t happy about that.
The captain wasn’t happy about that because it was settling by the stern and I wasn’t able to do anything about it. So he says “What are you going to do now?” And I said “I think I’ll blow everything and go back to the surface.” He says, “Not a bad choice.”
So you got to know operations on board the submarine very well during that very first cruise.
Well, I’d been there and I’d been riding them long enough. You know everybody who’s a submariner has to qualify. You have to know what every valve and what every switch on the boat does —
You have to learn all of that prior to your first cruise?
— Before you get your little dolphin pin, you’re supposed to know all that stuff. So I said, “Well you know you got a lot of time steaming between stations. So I spent a lot of time learning where everything was and how it worked. They were putting me to the test to see whether I qualified. [Laughs]
It sounds like there was a lot of friendly rivalry, camaraderie of that kind.
Oh yes. They were good people on that boat. You have to be because you live —
You live so close to one another.
And you have to hot bunk it. At least you did in those days. Hot bunking is where you don’t own a bunk; you own time in a bunk. And when you’re off watch somebody else is sleeping in that same bunk because there aren’t enough bunks for everyone at once. So that’s that. You got to be friendly.
How many people were on the submarine when you served?
A full cruise is about 80.
Were there other missions that the sub you were on for the —
Well their purpose — let’s see, every submarine was supposed to do a simulated war patrol once every eighteen months or two years. So they would have these boats all scheduled while the COMSUBSPAC [Commander, Submarine Force, Pacific Fleet] would send us the schedules and we would look at the schedules and see where they were planning to go and they would allow us to shift the routes so we could go across deep sea trenches and things like that we were after. And the Navy had an interest in this too because they were getting into the missile business and the gravitational variations caused by these things will cause a missile to deviate a little bit. So it was a symbiotic relationship. So they had their simulated war patrol activities. They weren’t supposed to be seen by anybody. So if a ship looked like it was going to come into sight we’d dive and sometimes they’d track them for exercises. On one cruise I had an ambient noise meter that Alan Vine gave me to use just to measure the noise levels in the oceans. We’re down there going slow ahead, we could shut everything down and just listen and find out what the noise levels were. And we used that for an experiment out in Guam. I was telling the captain about the sound channel and its 35- mile skip distance. He thought it would be fun to run an experiment. So we lined up a destroyer out there and we went down and submerged and the destroyer was supposed to make a series of passes at different screw rotation rates, then we could count the screw beats to see if they matched with the plan. And they all did except the last one which was much too fast and we finally figured out they were rushing home for the cocktail hour. So they thought that was pretty neat and I wrote it up and made a little report out of it. Took it in to show the captain and the captain thought it was great, takes out his secret stamp and stamped secret all over it. And he looks at me and he says what’s your clearance? I said, “Well, I’m waiting for my secret. I’m just confidential right now”. He took it all away from me and I never saw it again. [Laughter] So much for classification.
Actually I wanted to ask you about that. You did get secret clearance?
That was pretty much standard, wasn’t it, for those of you that had to interact within the broader community?
Well, we were supported by ONR [Office of Naval Reserve] and we did a lot of experiments which involved working with submarines. We had our station in Bermuda which was a forerunner for the SOFUS system that was used to listen to submarines. The first hydrophone that was put out there to do this was the one at our SOFAR station in Bermuda. And then the big system was developed of course and was used to listen to submarines. And all these things required — and plus the fact that Eisenhower had gotten rid of the restrictive classification. You know restricted just means that you can’t buy it on a bookshelf but you can get it in surplus army stores and all these things that said “restricted” on them. So it’s useless. So he wiped it out. Well it used to be that the topographic charts that we used which were made by the Navy were restricted and that meant that you had to keep them in a file cabinet. And so the Navy instead of just turning them loose made them confidential. Well, then you had to put them in a safe. We didn’t have enough safe space. We had to burn a lot of them because there wasn’t any safe space.
Literally burn things.
Literally burn because otherwise you were violating the laws. It was stupid, but that’s the way things — See all soundings over 500 fathoms were classified by the Navy. [Laughs]
Well, that became a perpetually troublesome issue in the community during the 1950s, 1960s.
Oh yes. That’s why Bruce Heezen made physiographic maps rather than topographic maps. Because you couldn’t make a topographic map because then you’d have to be showing the soundings that were classified. And you argued with the Navy, “Well shoot, all the Russians have to do is make out their soundings.” And they said, “Well we’ll make them pay for it. Why should we pay for their soundings?” And Bruce used to — if he had a new feature he wanted to put on his physiographic maps usually leak it to the National Geographic and then quote them as the source. [Laughs]
Is that right?
To get back to what you said just a moment before? Were those duplicate copies of maps that you had burned? Did you ever lose originals?
Yes, they were printed by the Navy. They weren’t very good but they were the best that we were around at the moment. They were contour maps but not based on an awful lot of data and some of the data was really poor, but it was the best we had. So we used to use them and had more than one set because you had a lot of people who wanted to look at them. So we had to burn all but one set and lock the others up. Not very clever.
Clearly it was a hindrance to research but did it go beyond that? Did it actually interfere with research programs?
No. You mean?
The classification of the soundings.
Well, that was a pain. It was a pain because as I said Bruce couldn’t make a contour map, he had to make a physiographic map. Bob [Robert] Deitz made one. But Bob went to Japan. Took a year off, went to Japan and used the Japanese data to make a topographic map of the western Pacific. Couldn’t use the US data, but he could use the Japanese data even though he was an employee of the Naval War College. [Laughs] No sense in it. These things have bureaucratic inertia. Somebody makes a decision and usually the decision is made which will cover your ass the best and once you’ve made that it gets caught up in the inertia and it takes all kinds of effort to get out of it. You know, they just released the GEOSAT data. It’s wonderful.
The New York Tunes, in fact, had a — the North Atlantic if I remember was featured.
Yes, yes it was. It’s just spectacular what you could do with that much more data. Bill [William] Hackstein made earlier maps which showed the same thing but he didn’t have enough data to get down to the fine details that you can get down to now. Wonderful stuff.
In your view, was there a threshold for these kinds of data below which, or at a certain resolution, the national security might have been threatened?
Well. That’s one of those things that in retrospect I can say it probably wouldn’t have threatened national security. In retrospect. But you really have to think of these things in terms of the times. And this was the time when the Russians were really building up there navy, their oceanographic fleet, their fishing fleets; they were getting into the oceans in a big way. And the Navy was concerned about this so they didn’t want to make things any easier for them than they had to. And they were particularly concerned with the advent of missiles because what you needed then, if you wanted to fire a missile with some confidence that it was going to land somewhere near where you wanted it to, was that you had to know exactly where you were when you launched the thing. Well, if you got a sea mount that’s out there in the oceans and you know the exact position of that sea mount, then you got a reference point from which you can program your missile so it will end up where you want it to go. And so you don’t want to give them that, basically. And in shallow water, they didn’t figure that they’d come in that close to fire their missiles off. They figured they’d stay further away. So they just classified everything over 500 fathoms. And it’s not entirely unreasonable.
And of course the geodetic became very sensitive because of a similar set of issues, deviation caused by gravity.
Oh yes. The GPS [Global Positioning System] data. You can get the degraded code from a hardware store, basically, buy yourself a GPS receiver but if you want centimeter accuracy you have got to have the Navy code and centimeter accuracy on the front end is very important if you want meter or kilometer accuracy on the back end. So they don’t give it away.
I want to return to developments at Columbia again in a moment. I’m simply curious. Had you met [Felix A.] Vening-Meinesz at the time that you were beginning the gravity program? Had you actually had any kind of?
When I first came there?
No. I met him later on but I hadn’t met him at that time. Big guy. When I was out to Kolkuk in Hawaii the guy who was COMSUBPAC at the time, an Admiral. He had been an ensign up there when Vening-Meinesz came through on a Dutch submarine. And the COMSUBPAC at that time was, oh what’s the guy’s name, real tall admiral, Munson, Munson no, I’ll think of it.
We’ll make sure it gets in the transcript.
Anyway, he prided himself on his height and so did Vening-Meinesz and so the two of them spent the whole cocktail party with their elbows on the mantel piece jacking themselves up to be a little higher than the other. But, you look at the head room in submarines and Vening-Meinesz’ head was a mass of knots from banging on things.
I can imagine. Did he talk to you about his own submarine experiences?
Oh a little bit but I couldn’t remember much.
Was it in the fifties?
It was in the fifties when I was doing it.
Forties when you were doing it. I was curious when you met him.
Yes, ‘48, ‘49 that was the period when I was out there measuring gravity.
And you met Vening-Meinesz later on?
Yes, he came through New York and came up to Columbia and we all met him at that time. And he gave a talk. He was getting interested in convection in the earth’s interior. He gave a talk on it.
He’s certainly known for that work in the 1950s. That was certainly one of the major topics of conversation. A major community issue.
Oh yes. He felt that was more important than his gravity work which surprised me. Being able to measure gravity at sea was a tremendous accomplishment.
Did he speak of that in terms of technical achievement versus fundamental geological questions?
I think he thought of that as being the more fundamental contribution to geophysics in the global sense than the measuring of gravity.
Given its links to orogeny and the other major issues. What kind of equipment did you have to measure gravity at sea? Presumably a modified Vening-Meinesz gravity —
We had the Vening-Meinesz three pendulum apparatus which is the basic gear that he worked out and then coupled with that were a set of things called Brown pendulums. B.C. Brown at Cambridge had shown that there were second order effects due to the velocity of the vessel itself that could not be ignored and these could be measured with some very long period pendulums which sat right on top of the three pendulum apparatus and make a record on the same piece of paper. And then we had a quartz-crystal clock which was built by Bell Labs and nowadays it would be about this big
Holding your hands about an inch apart but at the time it was about three foot by three or four.
Oh, it was about this long and about that high.
About a foot high and two foot wide.
It was a big thing. But it kept good time and that’s what you needed of course to measure. When Vening-Meinesz was doing it earlier and he didn’t have such good chronometers so he had to swing for longer periods of time to get enough counts to be able to work that out.
How reliable did you find the equipment that you used?
Oh, very much so. I never had any trouble with it. Jack [J.G., Sr.] Heacock who followed me — let’s see, I rode down to Australia with him. It’s sort of funny. We were supposed to pick him up in Okinawa and we got to Okinawa and there was a message from COMSUBPAC, saying we were supposed to go up to Tsingtao [China] and anchor in the harbor and look mean because Chang Kai Shek’s troops were getting driven out of China and the last place they had was the peninsula on which Tsingtao is so we were up there to give him moral support. So we left Okinawa and went up there. Well, meanwhile Jack flew out to Okinawa and went out to the beach to look for a submarine and there wasn’t any submarine there. He was smart. He went to the Naval Post Office and said where are you sending the mail for the Capitree? They looked it up and said, “Oh we’re sending that up to Tsingtao.” So, Jack says, “Holy Christmas, how am I supposed to get to Tsingtao?” The guy behind him tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Well, I’m flying up this afternoon on a private tear.” So he hitched a ride to Tsingtao and got to the ship about an hour before we sailed. Then he was seasick for thirty days.
Do you have any problem with seasickness?
No. That’s not all Jack’s fault. First of all he had never been to sea except on the Chester Ferry in Pennsylvania. But secondly we’d been out for months and we all smelled arid the boat smelled and there were some rotten potatoes in the forward torpedo room that smelled. We didn’t notice it so much because we lived with it gradually but when Jack came aboard his nose wrinkled right up. But then we headed out into the China Sea and it was rough. They’re not good on the surface, submarines, they’re good submerged. So he got seasick all the way to Midway. And he couldn’t get it going again. I never had any problems with it but something burned out on it. But then he had trouble with the quartz clock. It quit on him. So we lost some data.
And it was earlier that you shared the leg with Maurice Ewing?
That was the first leg in the Atlantic.
How well how had you known Ewing by then?
Well, not too much. I’d known him from being around the lab there, before we left, talking to him. In those days we’d brown bag it. Everybody would gather in the big room there in the basement and talk about things over lunch. So, a very informal atmosphere.
Do you recall any of those lunch conversations in particular over the years?
No. Mostly we talked about who was doing what experiment and how they were coming. Jack Oliver would talk about his thing that he was making for balloons.
This was for the atmospheric channel?
Yes. And then Jack would start to get involved in ice sound work. They were trying to figure out how to figure out whether the ice was thick enough to land on. And the way they’d been doing it up to that point was they’d find a smooth piece of ice and get a DC3 with skis and they’d come down and go boom like that [hits palms] and look back and see whether you broke a hole. If you didn’t break a hole, then he’d go back and land. It seemed sort of a hard way to do it. So we were sitting there trying to figure out could you drop a geophone onto the ice and then drop a small explosive charge and look at the frequency of the flexural waves that you set up on the ice. And that frequency would be a function of the thickness. So, in principal, you ought to be able to measure without having to go down and bang on it with your airplane.
Did that actually work?
Yes. But then they found these ice islands and the ice islands are essentially pieces of glacial ice that have broken off Ellesmere [Glacier] and where the sea ice, multi -year sea ice, is maybe ten feet thick, the ice island ice is maybe two hundred feet thick. So it has a permanence that the other lacked and you could land on them without problems.
Geophones by then were sturdy enough that you didn’t have to worry about dropping them.
Oh yes. If you are in the oil business and you got a bunch of jug handlers that are going to slap these geophones around and throw them on a truck and so forth, they’ve got to be pretty sturdy to take that kind of abuse. And they’d gotten to be fairly small and built with stops so that they couldn’t move beyond a certain amount.
You mentioned a moment ago Jack Oliver’s work with the atmospheric channel. As you say, many of you needed secret clearance in order to work within the environment, where the funding and some of the work overlapped with the military. Was there anyone who could not get clearance? Who could not continue on in the program?
You know almost everybody who was involved — Almost everybody who was there was either a veteran or had worked in classified work during the war. I guess the only one who hadn’t was Bruce Heezen and he was deferred because he was a farmer.
Oh right. That was his background before he came to — When one thinks of the contrast between that community and say the physics community where there was continual difficulty with access to security clearance.
They had to get a different level of clearance to work in nuclear physics as was the case with the Navy staff. They had to get clearance mostly.
Was there anyone who had Q clearance?
I have had it at times but we really didn’t need it then because it wasn’t unless you were involved. Maybe Larry did.
Larry [J. Laurence] Kulp?
Yes. See Larry, he’d get involved in assaying the fallout from atmospheric nuclear tests.
Project Sunshine business?
Yes. And they worked with a lot of natural materials. Wine was especially good because it’s dated and you could look at different vintages. And the one sad part about that was that these people were all Fundamentalists and didn’t drink so they’d throw the wine away after they tested it. But then Larry got into the business of sawing up bodies and cremating them and testing for Strontium mostly.
That was the work out at Lamont?
Angelo who ran the machine shop. He bought Larry his own band saw because he didn’t want him cutting up bodies on his band saw in the shop. Don’t hear too much about that one. They established the base levels of a lot of these, a worthy program. But he may have needed Q clearance for some of the stuff that he was involved in. Ewing, I don’t know why he’d need it, but he may have had it just because he was deeply involved in lots of things involving national security back then. But for most of us, the only time I had Q clearance was when I was doing some work with Los Alamos, but most of the time just secret clearance, before it became unfashionable to do things that were classified.
You’re raising a lot of issues that we’re going to need to retouch as we move particularly into the 1960s.
Well I tell you, for my money, the best science support agency we ever had in this country was the Office of Naval Research. They interfered less and there was less paper work. Basically, once a year we’d go down to ONR and take along about four sheets of paper. One sheet would say what we’d guess we might do the next year and the other three sheets were a list of the publications that had come out the previous year and they’d look at it and say that’s pretty good and write us out a check for a million dollars and we’d go home. Well, we’ll get into that later.
You’re thinking particularly of the early post World War II years prior to the start-up of the National Science Foundation?
The Science Foundation is what changed everything.
That’s a real interesting and important topic and I do want to get back to that a little bit later on, probably in the next session.
And not necessarily for the better or for the worse.
No, we’re not making a presumption. These are simply important issues because there are a lot of major historical changes and policy issues that are interwoven with the question of patronage in science. I’m curious and I’m thinking right now particularly of the time prior to the foundation of Lamont. How much contact, when you were actually at Columbia, did you have with the members of the geology department, those on the first floor?
Who particularly did you come to know?
[Walter H.] Bucher the best. I took courses from Charlie [Charles H. Sr.] Behre, economic geologist, Art [Arthur N.] Strahier, the geomorphologist, Marshall Kay in stratigraphy, Bucher in structures, Ewing in geophysics and Kulp geochemistry. I never took a course from Kerr or Ralph Holmes or Ned [Rhodes] Fairbridge. I didn’t take any paleontology there either so I didn’t get any Colbert or Malcolm McKenna.
Oh, I took courses from Sydney Paige. I shared an office with Sydney. He taught engineering geology too. Sydney was an interesting guy. Here he is a professor at Columbia, didn’t have a Ph.D., didn’t have a bachelor’s degree, didn’t have a high school diploma but he was born and raised in Washington and his father was an international lawyer down there. His father died when he was a kid and they had lived up to their income so he had to get out and scratch. So he started out as a Senate page and then through friends he got a job with the Geological Survey. He was smart and a quick learner and so forth and he worked his way very rapidly up the ladder into a position of some seniority. And Columbia, in its wisdom, took him on as a professor.
That’s the sort of thing that doesn’t happen so much anymore.
Oh no. There are a lot of people. You know guys, like Bryan [L.] Isacks, out at Scripps [Oceanographic Institute], he has a bachelor’s degree but no Ph.D. or Henry Stommel. These are outstanding people. He didn’t have a Ph.D. either. He was good.
Also among geophysicists, Lloyd [V.] Berkner didn’t formally have a Ph.D.
How were the relations between those of you who were in the basement connected with Ewing and the rest of the department in those years?
Oh, I thought they were excellent. The first sign of friction that I saw came when Lamont was given to Columbia. Paul Kerr had done a lot of work in nurturing the gift and raising money to support the match that we were supposed to match and so forth. And he wanted to call it Lamont Geological Observatory and Ewing wanted to call it Lamont Geophysical Observatory. And so there was a hassle about that and a power struggle, and the power struggle ended up that Lamont was the research arm of the Department of Geology, it was not an independent institution. And it festered that way for a long time and eventually it became an independent institution within the framework of the University and reported directly to the president and that created a new class of problems. But anyway, there was some friction over that. But otherwise they were fun times. You go out on a cruise, come back from the cruise and immediately set up a meeting with Walter and Walter Bucher had written this book, The Deformation of the Earth’s Crust.
His famous 1938 book was it?
That’s right. So you’d find out things — things that were encountered but didn’t fit his laws. Bucher was great. He really had to scrap. He wouldn’t give in without a fight. But if you convinced him that the data showed that he was in error, he’d accept it right on.
He was quick to modify his views at that point.
Quick is the wrong term. He was quick to accept if you had data to support your arguments that his arguments were mistaken — his previous arguments. He was good though.
That certainly is not a term one could use to describe all geologists or scientists like —
Oh no, a lot of people will defend their outmoded ideas to the death. But Bucher was good. Now Bucher did not want to reprint that volume when Dooer [?] reprinted it. He didn’t want to do it because he thought it was outdated which it was. By 1949 or ‘50 we had learned a hell of a lot that we didn’t know about in the thirties so he wanted to modify it. Actually, he asked me to work with him to put out a new edition of this, which we had started work on before he died.
This was in the late 1950s as I remember. He had asked you to be part of it. How did that offer feel to you at the time?
Great. I thought it was great. You know I like to think on the scale that Bucher thought.
Look at the global tectonics.
My thesis is on that scale, you know, the whole eastern seaboard of North America. And I spent a lot of time arguing back and forth about the various concepts when we’d find out different things from the ocean than what was in his book. And it was fun working with him. So we got started but we didn’t — We got about four chapters done, I guess. I don’t know what ever happened to it. Maybe they are in Bucher’s files wherever they are.
Unfortunately his papers weren’t preserved, I’m told.
Well, neither are mine. When I left Lamont, I left everything there. So they probably all got chucked out. So anything that might have been there disappeared.
I’ll see. It certainly is something that a lot of attention should be paid to, if that’s where they’ve ended up. We’ll see what can be done. We can talk about this part off tape.
Well, I suspect they got just tossed. A lot of the early deep drilling history — I was involved with that right from the beginning. In fact I was involved with George [H.W.} Bush.
Is that right?
Yes. This is with project MOHOLE. Is this the time for that or —
Let me make a note of that if we can. I don’t want to cut you off on it because this is certainly something we should be featuring. Why don’t we go ahead and cover this right now but I do want to get back to the —
It’s kind of funny. After the first MOHOLE experiment that they did off the west coast —
Right, in the early 1960s.
NSF [National Science Foundation] entertained bids for building a platform to actually drill the MOHOLE and invited people as institutions or consortia to come in and bid on this. So George at that time was the head of the Zapata Offshore Drilling Co. which he started up, and which was one of the pioneering offshore drilling companies. And he thought that looked very interesting. So he put together a consortium that consisted of himself and Gene [Eugene] Shiel from Dresner Industries and Vince [John Vincent] Harrington from Electric Boat Company who made submarines and that sort of thing, and me. I was supposed to tell them what it was like down there. And so we met periodically in various nice places and came up with a plan for building the platform.
You met with George Bush directly? Was he a part of the discussions?
Oh yes. We’d meet with him in his office down in Houston, or we’d be at Electric Boat or wherever. He’d come up. In fact, I have funny pictures. So anyway we made a bid and we made the short list but —
What I see in front of me is a manila envelope whose return address in the upper left hand corner is the White House, Washington with your name on it.
Where is it? Anyway it’s a funny picture. Oh yes, there it is.
It’s an 8 X 1O that we’re looking at right now that says to Charles Drake with best wishes, George Bush.
Who’s running the country?
It’s an interesting picture indeed. And George Bush certainly has a slightly bemused expression on his face.
We were talking about MOHOLE.
Were you really?
Yes, I was down at Camp David.
That’s really interesting. We ought to see if we can’t get a copy of that picture into an appropriate archive. That’s worth preserving. I’m curious particularly about Bucher and the deformation book. When that book was first published in the late thirties there were a number of critics within the geological community who argued that it was inappropriate to use the word law in the sense that Bucher did in attempting to describe in geology the sorts of phenomenological explanations or equations or other descriptions that people used in other sciences.
Well, what he was trying to do was to separate things which he called opinions from things that he thought were generally accepted, and he called one law and he called the other opinion. And law might have been a bad term for that but the purpose of it was to try to separate the arm waving from what we thought we knew. And to be sure, laws aren’t perfect either, you know. They keep changing. And I think he thought of the law in that sense rather than being something rigorous, cast in concrete that was going to last forever.
So perhaps in the way of an expanded review article covering the broad field to narrow down to what one seemed to be on very firm ground in the field of geology. Did many people in your recollection, dispute what Bucher had included within the near certainty category as opposed to that which he treated largely as opinion?
Probably. You know geology was a contentious business for a long time and the extent of the contentiousness is a measure of the lack of firm knowledge about what was going on, and everybody was fooling around trying to find a universal model. The Pulse of the Earth. Umbgrove did his book. And Burell had done his work earlier where he spoke specifically about the problem of cycles and that we had to find cycicity and he said it makes it useful — so good to find cycles that we find them where they don’t exist. He said we had to be very cautious when we think we found some cycles and they aren’t there but we want them to be there. And Umbgrove, who else? If you look at marine geology books then, there were practically none. There was [P.] Kuenen’s book but didn’t really deal with these problems because they were being dealt with by his colleague, Umbgrove. What else was there? du Toit, Wegener, and then you know the Yale crowd with their paleogeographic maps and land bridges and like that. And Bailey Willis who was so militantly against continental drift that he came up with all sorts of ad hoc answers to things.
But Bucher was good because Bucher knew that laws were the creation of people and that they were there to be overturned if the evidence were available. That’s why he really wanted to rewrite his book. He didn’t want to be remembered for the ‘38 book republished in the fifties. The ‘38 book published in the thirties was fine but republishing in the fifties always gnawed at him and was against his better judgment.
Did Bucher stay on top of the details of the research programs that Ewing and the rest of you were getting involved in?
Oh yes. There was a lot of interchange. Ewing basically didn’t know any geology so he relied very heavily upon his colleagues to help him out there. And Bucher in particu1ar had the kind of vision, global vision, that was most appropriate when you started talking about the exploratory work that Ewing was doing in the oceans, or the seismological work they were doing up there, too. And that has always been a gnawing problem between geology and geophysics. It’s only in recent years that the one which began on a global scale and worked its way down met the other which began on a local scale and worked its way up. When they finally meshed, that’s when plate tectonics pulled it all together. That’s what related the local to the global.
Indeed as you say most of the geologists or the nature of geology, in the early twentieth century was very much connected to the local.
Yes, very parochial. There were a few. The Alpine geologists were probably the best in this regard.
And that was because of the particular local geology which propelled them to think about that.
But they would go afield, Argonne with his geology of Asia. He basically took the Alps and extended them all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Which is not all bad — there are some differences. But then, by doing that, he put what was a local geology on a global scale.
But that can be a problem. [Vladimir V.] Belousov did that too, but he did that based on what he’d learned about the Caucasus [Mountains] of the Ural and east Siberia and they’re not quite the same. If you look at the geology there, it’s more difficult just too ad hoc say “Yes, this is all plate tectonics”. So he had a different picture and the people in this country were grossly influenced by the Appalachia system because that was the big thing that everybody saw before they ever saw everything else. And it had certain features like being on the margin of the continent and like being parallel to the modular and all that influenced what people thought. And as is true most everywhere the voices that spoke the loudest were those who controlled the publications. Who’s that? Well there’s [J.D.] Dana at Yale who controlled the American Journal of Science and T. C. Chamberlin at Harvard who controlled the Journal of Geology. And all the other voices that were faintly heard were the geological survey that had their own publications.
And many of them were influenced from the Yale community which supplied so many of their leadership in the early twentieth century.
That’s right. The influence of Dana and Chamberlin went far beyond — I shouldn’t really say that. I mean they’re certainly important figures, but they’re made more important by the fact that they controlled the outlets of propaganda.
And the perceived success of the geosyncine idea. It’s development.
That’s a problem. You know we get into all the [unclear]. That’s still the American Journal of Science business that still goes on at Yale. Land bridges and all these little kraytons that were spread around and Sugarhead.
Of course there were some folks like [Francis P.] Shepard out at Scripps who were also quite influential.
Shepard wasn’t out at Scripps then. He was in Illinois then.
That’s right. On a related matter, I want to get back to some of the theoretical work in a moment. But what was very important for the development eventually of Lamont was the offer that Ewing had from MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology], I believe in 1948. Would he consider relocating with his graduate students?
MIT offered him an estate on the water up in Massachusetts to bring his crew up there, become part of MIT. And he considered that seriously. He did not have a high opinion of MIT as a scientific institution. He had a high regard for it as an engineering institution but he didn’t have a high regard for it as a scientific institution. I think he would have preferred to stay at Columbia because he viewed the science at Columbia as being a leg up on the science per se at MIT. Rightly or wrongly.
When you say that and relating Ewing’s thinking, meaning all the science departments and not particularly in geology or physics?
He looks over the physics department and it’s got [Isador I.] Rabi and [Polykarp] Kusch and people like that with Nobel prizes and he looks up at MIT, and in those days you didn’t see as much of that as you do now. But now it’s different. So you know, when
Columbia came through he was ready to stay rather than ready to go.
How much discussion was there about the MIT bid among all of you who were there as graduate students?
Well, we talked about it some. And I can’t say there was a whole lot of enthusiasm for moving to MIT. It was sort of like when he went to Texas. Texas said bring anybody down you want. He thought everybody would want to go. It turned out that almost nobody wanted to go which was a terrible blow to Ewing — a terrible blow. I don’t think he ever understood that. But anyway we talked about it some and my recollection is that there was not much enthusiasm for going there. But hell, there was a lot of inertia in anybody. You know you where you are, you know what you’re up to, you know where you’re going, who you have to deal with. And somebody says, “Well, we’re going to start over somewhere else”. It takes a lot of effort you might better spend doing other things.
Do you remember whether it ever came to a formal vote among those of you? Or were these more informal discussions?
I don’t think we had a franchise. We were suffragettes so to speak.
It was clear to you that Ewing would make the decision?
Oh yes, yes. There wasn’t any question about that. He might seek the acquiescence of some of the more senior people who — I don’t know what year we’re talking about — but who became part of the faculty like Frank [Press] and Joe [Worzel]. But being on the faculty is a different position that being a graduate student.
I think particularly of that critical period of the late forties that led to the establishment of Lamont.
They weren’t on faculty by then. They were still graduate students. It, I had to guess — I guess Frank would not be all for it, because Frank’s a New Yorker and so is his wife Billie and Billie was going to the New School down in New York going to get a degree in social work and it would have been a major inconvenience for them. Joe, Joe would do whatever Doc wanted. That’s the kind of guy he was. And the rest of us, well —
I’m curious about how you recall feeling about it. Did you share Ewing’s concern about the kind of faculty and the depth of experience?
I was really too junior to appreciate the nuances of all that at that time. Also I was also thinking about going into industry. Not necessarily the petroleum industry, but being an engineer it had always bothered me that the civil engineering profession had not taken advantage of the geophysical techniques they could have if they weren’t so damned conservative. And we actually started a company in the late fifties.
This was Alpine?
Alpine [Geophysical Associates], yes. And our first job was just that. It was the Chesapeake Bay Bridge across from Cape Henry to Cape Troub. There was good reason for that. The engineering firm that did that was Sverdrup and Parcel. And Sverdrup’s brother was a director of Scripps and he would know more about the techniques that were being developed in oceanography than other engineers would be likely to know.
That’s very interesting. I didn’t know that Sverdrup’s brother had been involved there. That’s interesting. That’s certainly something we have to treat in depth when we get a little bit further into the late fifties and early sixties. Bucher was the one who clearly had a great deal of interest in what Ewing wanted to bring. Were there any others who came close, if that’s a fair way to put it, to having that kind of ecumenical vision of the earth sciences in the department at Columbia?
Well, look — you had a bunch of strong and distinguished people in that department. There’s no way that one single individual could carry the day and sell the idea of bringing Ewing up there on his own. It had to be a department decision. And you know Marshall Kay had a global appreciation for things. Art [Arthur N.) Strahler had a global appreciation. Rhodes Fairbridge in his field of work had a global appreciation of things. So you had a group of people there who wanted the best for Columbia and saw this as something that Columbia ought to be in. It was the same with Kulp. There was no geochemistry until Kulp came in. They brought Kulp in, just like we brought Anse McDonavanovich into that business. Same idea.
I should add on tape that we were talking about mass spectrometers when we were walking to lunch because there was a new one delivered that was in the hallway as we left to go to lunch. I didn’t mean to be unfair in that question — that’s why I was phrasing it in that way. Clearly it was a departmental decision to bring Ewing in. I’m curious more about how people in the department interacted and about how well they became familiar with the research programs as they began to emerge and how much cross discussions occurred in the faculty?
Well, different people reacted with different people. Ewing interacted extremely well with Bucher. He reacted extremely well with Marshall Kay. Kay was a stratigrapher but he was sort of a structural stratigrapher. He worried about the way the earth was shaped to produce the kind of stratigraphy he saw. So he had the same kind of vision. They interacted quite a bit. But the others were more spotty. Art Strahier, we had a pretty good association because we dealt with geomorphology basically when we were dealing with the ocean, and that was Art’s bag. If your primary piece of data is soundings, you’re a geomorphologist. Paul Kerr, Paul was a strong supporter. He interacted very strongly with Larry Kulp. He was the one who made a push to get Larry Kulp there. But his interactions with Ewing were rather less because he’s a mineralogist after all and the connection was sort of strained. And the paleontologists, they got involved in various aspects of the work — fossils in the sediments, neopalina, that new ancient creature. And the paleontologists also got involved because of the issues of land bridges versus continental drift and what have you.
The larger climate and sea level issues?
Yes. And people like [George Gaylord] Simpson who was in biology who were right next door.
George Gaylord Simpson?
George Gaylord Simpson and Ed Colbert who had a joint appointment in both departments and Norman [D.] Newall. They all had interests in what was going on. But I think the one who was the tightest interest was Bucher. You know, he started out as a botanist. Then he got a master’s degree in paleontology. And you know how he got into structure. I’ll show you. He was working in the Alps and he came across some dolomites.
We’re looking at a sample right here, yes.
You see it’s not round. It’s squashed. Ordinarily they’re supposed to round.
They’re supposed to be fairly round.
They’re supposed to be round like that. And he looked at that and said, “Looks like a Moore circle, a stress-strain diagram when plotted out on an axis.” And that got him real interested. Then he started to wonder how the Alps got built, skipped out of paleontology and went into structural.
Went directly into structural. That’s interesting. That’s the first time I’ve actually held a dolomite in my hand too.
Is it really? That was one of Bucher’s dolomites.
Did he talk to you much about his Cincinnati years?
Not very much, no. I knew he was there. I once knew how he got from there to Columbia, but not too much.
With other members of the department did you meet often or much at all outside of Schermerhorn, or were most of your interactions right on the Columbia campus?
You know, Columbia is not like here [Dartmouth]. Because up here people tend to live in Hanover or Norwich or pretty close by. Columbia — almost nobody lived in the city. Rhodes Fairbridge did but everybody else, most of them, lived over in New Jersey; in Fort Lee or Englewood or Leonia or places across the river and that makes for a different kind of social scene than where everybody is living in the same town. So in those early days I don’t remember a whole lot of social interaction with the rest of the faculty.
Among those fellow graduate students at Columbia, who did you feel particularly close to in those years?
In those years? Well Jack Oliver and I did a lot together. I was very close to him. Who else? Are we still at Columbia? Well I think the best friend in that period was Jack. But there were old friends. I worked a lot with Walter Beckmann; he was a graduate student for a while. His father was a professor of chemistry at Columbia.
And Beckmann of course and you were later involved in Alpine.
And the same with George [H.] Sutton he was involved in Alpine too. Johnny [John I.] Ewing who I just loved and other people.
Did you see much of John Ewing in those early days? He was enrolled at Harvard at that time, wasn’t he?
That’s correct, yes. And as you are, no doubt, aware there was a lot of friction between Ewing and L. [Lewis] Don Leet and a good deal of speculation about the cause of this friction. And it was an interesting rumor in that regard but I don’t know exactly what the cause of it. I laid that on Ewing once. John had taken Leet’s course at Harvard and Leet had spent a whole lecture in a diatribe about Ewing, how dishonest he was — all this stuff. And John was sitting in the back of the room and he wrote it all down.
There’s actually a copy of that letter out in the Ewing papers.
Oh it still exists? Well anyway, he at one of our lunch meetings, he read it to us. He said, “What did we think.” I said, “Well the biggest thing that comes to mind is what happened that made him so virulent against you.” And I got an answer that I never really believed and the answer was, “Well — Leet had gone out and found the money and then Ewing had done the work and then Leet took the senior authorship for the work that Ewing had done”. Well, I thought that would make Ewing unhappy rather than Leet. But I guess he was implying that Leet was, because of his inadequacies, was jealous of Ewing because Ewing was smarter than he was. It never really made a whole lot of sense to me.
But it didn’t quite explain the depth of the animosity that clearly existed between them.
But I heard a rumor some years later that it had to do with Leet’s wife fooling around with Ewing with some tragic consequences. I don’t know. That’s pure hearsay as far as I’m concerned. Joe may know better. But, boy it was deep and strong, and it did Leet more harm than good actually. Anyway, John was at Harvard. He was finishing up at Harvard then. John really wanted to go to the University of Texas but Ewing insisted that he go to Harvard. And I think Ewing and his brother, Frank, paid his tuition up there. And then John went to graduate school for a little while but he gave it up. Plenty smart and very knowledgeable. He’s sort of the Henry Stommel type. He has all of the abilities but just never worked through with —.
Ritual, yes. A good guy. I liked John. He’s still down at Woods Hole. You probably ought to talk to him too.
That’s part of the plan. Was that something, the conflict between him and Leet that would come up other than following the impetus of the letter, the one that John wrote to him? Was this something that somehow continually affected?
We knew about the friction between Leet and Ewing. That was pretty general knowledge. Leet made no bones about hiding it. But it wasn’t until that letter from John came down and Ewing read it to us that we fully appreciated the virulence of the hatred there. It was pretty strong.
Had you known Leet at all?
I’ve met him. But that’s all. He was a very pleasant, distinguished-looking fellow. He sort of fell into that thing by accident. He graduated from college I think during the Depression. There weren’t any jobs and somebody said why don’t you look after the Seismological Observatory and all of a sudden he found himself a seismologist. About that bad.
He clearly was not the seismologist in residence at Harvard, the Harvard experiment on geophysics project. One issue that I wanted to raise. Let me retract that and ask one other question on this particular period. When you mentioned earlier geophysics at Columbia, prior to the time of Ewing’s hire, and King Hubbert who was then employed there, you mentioned Hubbert’s personality. Were there other issues that you remember that came up when people would talk about what Hubbert was trying to do in teaching geophysics at Columbia?
Well, I think Hubbert was a little bit frustrated at Columbia because the division between geology and physics was pretty strong then. And Hubbert was a very demanding individual and I suspect that he found that the students were barely able to meet the standards that he considered minimum. And so that frustrated him. He might have been better off if he’d been teaching in the physics department than the geology department but the physicists had their own agenda and were young in another direction. We never did have much collaboration between the physics and the other earth sciences, despite the fact that we were involved in — It got to the point where we taught our own courses in mathematical physics in our department. Initially, when I was first there, I took Shirley Quimby’s course in mathematical physics and that was a good course but it was aimed toward quantum mechanics classical physics and then it became more and more quantum mechanics and less and less and less the kind of physics that you needed for geophysics. So eventually we set up two courses. One was called — we couldn’t call it physics because then you’d get in trouble with the physics department — so we called one earth dynamics and the other earth fields or something like that. And basically they were just classical physics for geophysicists. It worked out quite successfully. There was very little interest in the physics department per se for that kind of physics. The only important physics was high- energy particle physics. Like John [Walsh], classical physics, oh no. You would think that would be pretty close but he had to do his thesis in the engineering school.
We’re talking of the dean here, who we met before.
And nuclear physics clearly was a predominant interest in the Columbia department at that point. Given that it was New York City were there contacts with physicists in any of the other universities that seemed particularly important?
In New York? About the only contacts that I recall — from geophysics, in geology there were contacts. In geophysics — in physics the group down at NYU, [Richard] Courant and the crowd that were working in atmospheric physics.
In that joint department of oceanography and meteorology? Spilhause had —
That’s right. So there was a connection there but that was about it.
One last question right on this period. You mention that you were out at sea quite often during the first eighteen months you were at Columbia. Did most of the courses that you took to satisfy your Ph.D. degree come after the time that Lamont had actually been set up? Or, had you already begun doing much of that course work before that?
Well, when you say Lamont had actually been set up — That would have been ‘49.
‘49 was when people first started moving out to Lamont.
There weren’t very many people out there in ‘49. In ‘50 there began to be a drift out there and that first year ‘49, spring, summer, ‘49 fall, ‘50 spring I took a lot of courses right in there. In fact I took the bulk of the courses that I was going to need later on. After that it was sort of part time, working part time and researching part-time, taking courses part-time to fill out what I needed for the Ph.D. And I got all the courses — my last course was in — by ‘54 I had all the courses. Finished them on a part-time basis and I had taken my comprehensives, but my thesis wasn’t done till ‘58. Ewing liked that. He figured if they’re post docs you have to pay them more.
So he didn’t rush anyone through.
No, no. He was delighted to let it drag on. And actually, I started teaching there in ‘56. I was teaching. That wasn’t part of my game plan, either, but it was just worked out that way. They needed somebody to teach the geology for engineers and since I was an engineer, the only one in the department — not quite.
But you clearly had the background that was particularly required?
You mentioned some of the courses that you had taken in your graduate career there already. I’m just wondering if any stand out that you can look back on.
Oh Bucher’s structure. That was a great course. Marshall Kay’s stratigraphy, hell of a lot of work but, boy, you really learned. That was important to me when doing my own thesis. To a large extent it was based on a comparison between the off shore, now, and the Appalachians when they were like that. So to do that you had to know the stratigraphy pretty well. I was in Ewing’s geophysics course. Ewing could be a great teacher if he put in the time. When I took it, he was a great teacher still because he spent the time. Later on, not quite so good not because he didn’t have the ability but he didn’t have the time.
He wasn’t prepared.
Yes. He was doing things. He was trying to run the lab, and do his own work, go into the city, go down to Washington and all that. There comes a time that that kind of thing just doesn’t allow you enough time to prepare for your class. So it fell off somewhat which is too bad because he was a terrific teacher.
What do you remember particularly about his teaching style?
He was able to take the most complicated thing and explain it to you in the most simple way. And to do that you really have to understand. I still struggle with that. I used to teach a big oceanography course here. And you try to think of ways to get across to them the complicated idea in a simple way, and sometimes you can do it and sometimes it’s tough. But to do it you have to think about it and you have to understand it to make it go. His exams were great because what he’d do is give you the ten questions which were bugging him the most and said you can do these, any one of them.
How much relationship did they have to what was the core issues of the course?
I think it was Ewing’s course that Jack Oliver took. One of the things that Ewing was interested into getting to was model seismology — where you have a source and a receiver and you look at the propagation of sound between the two. I believe he asked Jack Oliver — you can ask Jack about this — when Jack was taking the course — “How did you get into model seismology?” Jack thought about it and came up with this two dimensional model seismology as opposed to three dimensional. And it was terrific, instead of having gigantic pools of stuff you could do it all with this. It was good stuff.
That was work that Frank Press particularly carried — the model seismology.
That’s right. But Jack started it.
That’s interesting. One last question on King Hubbert. He got very active in the technocracy movement in New York in the late 1930s.
I was wondering if that had come up in the discussions and whether that might have had influence that you perceive.
No, he was gone and had been gone.
There was a long gap between the time you arrived there.
It’s sort of asking about [?] Grabaud when they turned him in for being a Nazi and Kaiser-lover. Are you familiar with that one?
I heard a little bit about it.
Grabaud was a stratigrapher at Columbia just prior to and during the early part of the First World War. He was a real Kaiser-lover; militant so much that his wife, who was Austrian, left him.
Is that right?
And somebody in the department turned him into the Feds as a security risk and so he was harassed and got mad and he went to China and he founded geology in China. And he started the department at the University of Peking. He started the Chinese Geological Society. He taught T.C. Lee who is the great God of geology in China. All of the old guys who became the leaders in Chinese geology were Grabaud’s students.
That’s very interesting. How was it that he chose China as the place to go? Do you know what connection he might have had before then?
Well I don’t know the answer to that. But he stayed out there. He was worried about some of the same problems that we all worry about. You know tectonic cycles, stratigraphic cycles, and how they relate and so forth. He would have been a good member of the department had he been younger and there during the period when I was there. When Bucher was there, when Ewing was there. There is a reason why he went to China but I can’t remember what it was. Tell you who would know and that would be Peter Misch in the University of Washington. Misch spent a lot of time out there.
One other question I promised I’d ask you in this period which was how you finally met Martha Ann Churchill and got together. You were married in 1950.
1950, yes. Well, I didn’t know her. Her sister is married to my best friend with whom I grew up. We went to Princeton together. Phil got married in 1946. I guess that’s the first time I ever noticed Martha.
You knew of her before but she was four years younger?
Yes. That’s a lot younger at that age. Her uncle threw a party for us at the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center there. So we went to a party and she was there. Anyway, because of the family connection, I would see her every once in a while and my kid brother had a date with her once. One Christmas I was home and it was really snowing and we got a call from Emily and Phil and they were over at the Churchill’s house, which is about a mile and a half away, and they said they needed a fourth on bridge. Martha was there, and Phil and Emily. So I put on my boots and trudged over there through the snow and started playing bridge. And Emily says, “Well, you and Martha ought to get married. I said to Martha, “Well, will you marry me?” And she said sure. And we played bridge some more. So her folks came home, they’d been out somewhere. And she made them aware that I’d asked Martha to marry me and her father said, “Well you can support her in the manner that she’s accustomed to?” “No.” And then — what happened?
I gather this is all somewhat tongue in cheek at the time or did you really feel that strong rush?
Yes, somewhat. But then I went to sea. I went on a cruise for six months and while I was gone Martha went to Paris for a year, her junior year at Smith. And then when she got back I went on a cruise up in the Arctic so I didn’t see her again for at least a year and a half.
Were you in touch?
Yes, we wrote to each other. So finally, after a year and a half, I brought her over my grandmother’s engagement ring. That was that. Relatively simple.
Bridge playing ability was a significant role in —
I guess. Probably the relationship to good friends, as much as anything.
How much scientific background — did she study any science?
History of art was her field. I think she had one scientific course in her whole career, a biology course. She’s interested. She reads stuff on popularized science. Can talk about things. She’s up in the field of art, appreciates art. Easier than being a nuclear physicist. You can see the things that you’re talking about.
Materials are much more tangible.
We’ve been going for a long time. We probably ought to think about drawing some of this up to a close sometime soon. I would like to ask a number of questions if it’s all right about the actual founding of Lamont, and your general impressions of that set of the elements. How early on did you become aware of the negotiations that led to the Lamont estate going to the department and to Ewing?
I’m not sure I can answer that. I was in and out at sea. I knew things were going on and I knew the circumstance of Mrs. Lamont’s lawyer. She wanted to give the place to Harvard and Harvard wasn’t particularly interested. So Mrs. Lamont’s lawyer was an old Columbia alumnus and he said, “Why don’t you give it to Columbia?” And it was very fortuitous because it came at a time when MIT was offering Ewing an estate. We had problems down in the city; in particular setting up a seismograph down there was practically impossible. And we needed some good place to set up a seismograph.
That was particularly because of the vibrations from the —
Yes, vibrations and you need a foundation that is isolated from the building around it. We have one out in the Observatory building here.
You’re pointing out the window to the Observatory building which is a ways over there.
Yes and there’s an isolated pier there which actually we don’t look after anymore but it’s part of the Weston network. They look after it and its remote recorded down there. But it is on an isolated pier, isolated from the rest of the building. So, if the wind blows or something like that it won’t shake the whole thing. So at Lamont they had this marvelous root cellar. Huge thing. Perfect for it. So we put a foundation in and it was isolated from the walls of the things. It’s sitting right on top of the Palisades, which are good firm rock, so it’s been a very good station over the years. We do have one problem. That was one problem. So sometime during that period this was going on and we’d hear rumors about this and so forth. But I wasn’t involved as much in the negotiations or what have you — just observing with interest what was taking place.
Do you remember the first time that you actually went out to Lamont?
Oh yes. It was going way out in the boonies. It was 9W then. There was no Palisades Interstate Parkway. No Thruway. And so you’d drive out 9W, and you’d get further and further out in the country. It was all — Rockland County was really rural then. Little towns, and orchards and farms and stuff between them. So we drove out there. It was beautiful. I’m a small town boy anyway. I loved it out there, it was terrific. The property itself was really impressive, formal gardens and things like that. The paintings were amazing because Torrey had — you familiar with Torrey?
The botanist. Who had been a previous owner?
And his botanical garden was where Rockefeller Center is, which is why Columbia ended up with that property. Anyway, that would have been sometime in ‘49 I think when I first went up there. You should talk to Trixie [Officer] about that. Dave was one of the first to go.
Dave [David B.] Ericson.
And Trixie Officer went out there shortly after that. The only people who were really out there at Lamont were Dave Ericson and Sam and Emily who were working with Joe on the reducing of gravity and Doc. That was pretty much it.
When did Larry Kulp move his operations out there?
Well, fairly soon. The kitchen was the geochemistry lab, the old kitchen. They sent up their gear in there and operated there for a while and they built the geochemistry lab. When I say they built, with their own hands they built it. It’s not an expensive building, cinder block and the interior is benches and stuff they nailed together themselves. They built their own mass spectrometers.
That’s really interesting. I hadn’t known that they had quite literally with their own sweat —
You should talk to Larry. Wally too, but Larry even more.
I do want to talk to both of them about that. Why was it that Larry Kulp moved from the Columbia campus out to Lamont? Do you recall discussions what benefits he perceived in doing that?
Well, space for one thing. Schermerhorn was always crowded. Larry had aspirations of extending the geochemical department and very difficult to see how you’d find enough room on the campus to do that and it was logical adjunct to the oceanography and geophysics center which were out there. And bear in mind that it was being considered then as a research arm of the Department of Geology so it was very logical thing to do. It was not called a Geophysical Observatory. It was a Geological Observatory. He and Ewing never got on. I hope you appreciate that. [Laughs]
Was that enmity there from the start as you think back?
There was probably always a little friction because Ewing liked to be in charge of things and Larry also liked to be in charge of things so there was potential for friction. But I think it came to a head when the first carbon 14 work was done in the ocean when they collected large samples of sea water and measured the carbon 14 in things, thereby dating the sea water. I think Ewing felt he should have been the senior author on that and Larry also felt he should have been the senior author on that, and that can cause all kinds of friction. I remember one time — this can be difficult — one time Mark Langseth came in to see me, and he looked glum. I said, “What’s the problem?” Well, he said he and Sam [Robert D.] Gerard had written a paper on thermoprobe, measuring the temperature grading of the sun. They had a three-author paper, Mark and Sam and with Maurice Ewing.
We’re resuming after a brief interruption. You were talking about Marcus Langseth.
Yes. Mark came up to me with this problem because he and Sam Gerard had prepared this paper on the new heat flow measuring device and there were going to be three authors. Ewing liked that for Gerard and Langseth. The question was who was going to be the first author. And Ewing felt that he should and Mark felt that it ought to be either Sam or Mark. And should he, could he do? Well I said, “What you should do is you and Sam should first decide what order your names are going to be in. And when you set your minds on that you go in and you see Ewing and you say we think the order should be Gerard, Langseth and Ewing and then sit there and don’t say a word.” And so about an hour later Mark came back. I said, “What happened? He said, “Well, we went in and we said the order should be Gerard, Langseth and Ewing and Ewing spoke to the fact that he thought it was Ewing’s idea and Ewing ought to be first and we didn’t say anything and that went on for about fifteen minutes. And then we sat there looking at each other for forty-five minutes and then he said okay, “Okay Gerard, Langseth and Ewing.”
So Ewing blinked.
He blinked. If they had said a word they never would have gotten anywhere.
How was Ewing as far as joint authorship on papers?
Oh joint authorship he was all for. But he did like to have his name in front, if it was significant. It was really over authorship that he and Bruce Heezen fell out. Basically they were a lot alike. They were both from small towns in farm country and I think they both initially felt socially insecure maybe in New York. And both were very ambitious. And they worked closely together early in the game — a lot of the classical papers came out of Lamont with their names, or their names and Dave Ericson’s name. But somewhere along the line Bruce began to worry that, because Ewing’s name was on all his papers that people would think that he didn’t have much to offer unless Ewing was participating. So he thought that he should publish some papers without Ewing’s name on them. But he didn’t quite dare approach Ewing about this, which he should have in retrospect.
And been forthright about it.
He should have told him, “Look I’m a former student and I can’t be a former student forever. I’ve got to make my mark too. Shouldn’t I be publishing some papers on my own name without your name on top?” I think, if they had talked it out, they probably would have come to an agreement. But he didn’t dare do that. And so what he did he did it sneakily. He published a paper and sent it in and it didn’t have Ewing’s name on it. Well, Ewing took real offense at that because he thought he was being badly used. And it’s always difficult in the ocean business to reward everybody who’s contributed to the thing anyway, because there’s the whole ship and its crew and people working on the computers and everybody else. And so he took offense to that. It just festered and got worse and worse and worse. It was a tragedy that that sort of thing discolored the whole atmosphere at Lamont.
Particularly by the late 1960s.
Oh yes. It was bad. And you know he didn’t — Ewing — when Bruce was up for tenure, he didn’t want Bruce to get tenure. I was chairman by then and I told him he couldn’t do that; that we had to look at it on the merits of the individual and the individual’s work. You can’t call upon a personal enmity to deny somebody tenure. Heezen, on the other hand, made no bones about the fact by that time he wanted tenure so he could tell Ewing to go shove it. So it was pretty difficult. Bruce got his tenure, which he deserved, but later than he should have. But he deserved it. But it was a festering wound at Lamont for quite a period of time.
That was an issue that reverberated all the way to the highest councils at Columbia.
Oh yes, yes indeed.
Do you think that in some ways the problem occurred because of Lamont’s status as a quasi-independent facility? Was it the isolation, the separate existence? Or would that have happened even within the department?
Well, there were problems because of that. Its’ status initially was one where it was the research arm of the Department of Geology. Well, you could get what that meant was that, if you were the department chairman, you could get this enormous budget and 90% of that budget had nothing to do with you as department chairman because it was all Lamont. Just because Lamont was under the department it was all put in there, and it was frustrating, frankly.
Frustrating particularly for the Morningside Campus.
For the chairman. So they shifted it and they made the director — Lamont an institute within the framework of Columbia. And Ewing then reported to the president. He didn’t report to George [K.] Fraenkel who was the dean then. The department chairman reported to the dean. Well, that created a new class of problems. I was chairman by then, and we were trying to recruit some faculty for some positions we were in trouble with. So I would go to see George Fraenkel and say “George, I would like to fill this position in the paleontology department and we have a superb candidate who would be was just great for it, and I understand he has some interest.” And he said, “Oh you don’t have a position.” And I would say “What do you mean I don’t have a position?” And he would say, “Oh, Ewing has filled that.” I said, “Wow, can Ewing fill it? It’s a department position.” And he said “Well, Ewing talks to the president.” So that was a hassle, because Ewing for good reason and for the future of his institution, which was what he wanted to push and promote and I as department chairman had a different set of priorities to do what I wanted to do. It was a mismatch. If we both reported to the dean which is what happens now, we could have resolved that. But where he goes to the president and I go to the dean, you don’t have a chance.
It’s very uneven.
Oh yes, it was a loser. That’s one of the reasons I left.
Probably it’s something we should discuss in greater length when we get back. But Grayson Kirk had already left? Hadn’t he or was he just retiring at the time?
Yes, Andy [Andrew W.} Cordier was acting president.
When you became department chairman.
Oh no. Grayson was president when I became chairman.
He still was president.
But when Grayson stepped down Andy took over. Andy was great. Andy — he’d get these students out on the Sundial, you know SDS types, they’d be standing up there ranting and raving about the vicious administration and so forth. And the guy would be screaming up there and he would look down and there’s Andy standing there looking up at him beaming, you know. [Laughter] He’d falter.
That’s interesting. There’s a lot we’ve got to cover before we turn particularly to the late 1960s. It is getting late and we probably ought to try to wrap up some part of this fairly soon. I’m wondering — in part, we do need to go through the list of names. How much interaction was there between Ewing and the Swedish Deep Sea Expedition? Clearly both were more interested in coring work.
Oh, everybody knew everybody.
It was a small community.
Literally, everybody knew everybody, and the two people that Ewing had the closest connection with in the Swedish expedition were [Hans] Pettersson and [Borje] Kullenberg. And Kullenberg invented the piston core and then Ewing improved on the invention and that became the Ewing piston core.
Is that also the one that’s referred to as the Stetson Ewing system?
No, Stetson had a gravity core.
It was a different operation?
Yes. Different kind of thing. But Ewing’s was much easier to work with than the Kullenberg thing.
What kind of improvements did Ewing make?
It was mostly in the way it was hung from the wire and how you triggered it and things like that. It was easy to launch over the side and bring back over the side. You didn’t have to haul it way up in the air and things like it. So it was a real improvement. Good rig. But basically the piston idea was what made the core work and that was Kullenberg’s idea. Pettersson, he sort of petered out. He led the expedition and published a few papers, and a couple of little books which are around here somewhere. But then he sort of disappeared. Even Kullenberg. I can’t remember hearing of Kullenberg again after that expedition.
But that used to be the pattern. You’d have a long, one-shot cruise and then everybody would go home and experts from all over the world would work on the data from this cruise. You know the Challenger, and the Meteor, and Gataeta and the whole batch of them. And it wasn’t until the post-World War — well the first different mode of operation was the Discovery Group of vessels down in the Antarctic. And that was a continuing operation. They’d do two years in the Antarctic and come home. Then go down two years more in the Antarctic and come home. But it was ongoing. And in the US the first ongoing research was the fisheries vessel, Albatross. Mostly for fisheries but they did a lot of oceanographic work and geology too. And then Atlantis in Woods Hole nominally was that way but it never went very far. They didn’t have any money. And Scripps had the K W. Scripps — the same deal. But in the post-war period that’s when they started to become more — particularly with the IGY [International Geophysical Year]. The IGY brought in enough funds that you could start thinking in terms of the global ocean.
And prior to that one had to deal with what were some of piecemeal contracts to finance the different parts of expeditions?
Yes, you never had, even in the IGY — we got the ship down to South Africa and ran out of money. And we weren’t sure that we’d be able to get the ship home or would literally have to sell it to buy the crew tickets to get them home.
It really became a worry?
Oh yes. We scrounged around.
Was this the Veina?
Yes. We found enough to finish out the cruise.
Do you recall what the exploration for the Swedish expedition? Of course it came very soon after World War II.
Well, I suspect there was a certain international pride in doing that sort of thing. The Germans had had one and the British had had one and the Danes had had one. The French never had one. Well they had the Pourquoi Pas (?) but that was a little bit different. And I think the Swedes felt “Gee, we’re a major maritime country and we ought to have an expedition too.” They had a ship that was available, a fair master, the Albatross, so off they went. Randolph F. Yost wrote a little thing about their expeditions, I forget the name.
That’s right; The short history of that through 1960. How much contact did you have with the broad international community in submarine geophysics or geology in the early years at Columbia or Lamont? Did you get to go to many of the international meetings?
Well, first, how many people are you talking about?
It’s a small community?
It’s a handful. You know you got Scripps. You’re talking about Russ [Russell] Raitt, Bill [William] Minard, and Bob [Robert] Dietz. Then it peters out. Internationally there was a group at Cambridge, Teddy [Edward] Bullard and Marcel and their students. In Moscow there was [G.B.] Udintsev and Uditsyn and a few others. In France there was nothing. Zero. The Danes had a little bit.
The few you just mentioned.
The Dutch had some but outside of submarine gravity, they didn’t have much surface vessel stuff. The Danes ran one expedition. There weren’t many people and you knew them all personally. And, being that you’re in the international business anyway, because you’re always going across oceans, you’d meet them all and you’d see them at international meetings. You’d go to that meeting in New York, the first International Oceanographic Conference at the UN. Everybody in the field was there. Or you look at the Oceans, the Svigereid etc., basically that was everything that was known about the oceans at that time, all in one book.
It made it real easy. You knew everybody and you knew what they were all up to and knew everything that had gone on because it was all called into one book. That’s a fine time.
I take your point. But when I was saying submarine geophysics, I was thinking more broadly of the international community. But the point is well taken. When did you first meet Teddy [Edward] Bullard?
I think the first time I met Teddy was when he came over here and it would be some time in the fifties. I spent a year over at his place on sabbatical in the mid-sixties.
But that was later.
Yes, mid-sixties — but I knew Teddy pretty well by then. Sometime in the fifties. Maurice Hill, [Anthony] Tony Laughton, well Tony spent a year with us. He’s Sir Tony now. He spent a year with us back in ‘53, ‘54. Who else? Maurice Hill, I met him back in the fifties, early fifties, [Felix A.] Vening-Meinesz, about the same time. Kuenen, about the same time. And the people within the US, you know, it’s a relatively small community if you’re on any kind of a committee.
Which you very quickly became —
Oh yes. We met everybody. And Canadians, gee I got them started. I was a consultant to the Canadian government on establishing their oceanographic institute. I learned about power up there. The guy who was the director of the Canadian survey, Jim —
Harrison, yes. Anyway Jim invited me to come up and talk about how to get going in the ocean business. So I went up to Ottawa and the day I was supposed to come back it began to snow. And I said, “Gee, I wonder when my plane is going to fly? I have to teach a class tomorrow.” And he asked somebody to go check and they said, “No, the plane’s not flying.” So Jim says, “Fix it.” It turns out there was a train that was going down to New York. And, if we got in the car right away, we should almost be able to catch it. And Jim said, “You’ll catch it.” and Jim held up that train for half an hour.
So that you could get on?
That’s a real interesting story. Was that in the early 1960s that Canada started to get in the oceanographic business?
Yes. They had two fisheries research institutes; one in New Brunswick and one on the west coast. And they moved the one that was in New Brunswick up to Halifax and then they decided they were going to go into oceanography in a bigger way. And I organized a couple of cruises with the Canadians. We were up in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Labrador Sea and across to Greenland, and what have you. And then we got together and talked about what we could put together as a real effort for Canada. And they decided on these three labs, one in Nanaimeo, in British Columbia, one at Dartmouth, Nova Scotia and one on the Great Lakes. Part of that grew out of the joint cruises that we’d done earlier.
What sort of person was Jim Harrison?
Wonderful man — wonderful man. He was the director of the Canadian survey when he was quite young. And went on to become the minister of whatever it is in the government. He was head of IASU in UNESCO for a while. Just a terrific guy. We had him down here as a Montgomery Fellow for a little while. He died — you know? Tragic accident.
I knew he had died.
Riding his bike. I got mixed messages about that. Somebody said he had a heart attack while riding the bike and somebody said he got hit. I think it’s probably the heart attack while riding the bike. Terrific guy. A real politician in the best sense of the word. Somebody who was political, who knew how to deal with people and knew how to focus on an objective and then find a way to bring people to that same focus. Wonderful man.
From your experience on that committee, how did the geological survey in Canada differ from the US Geological Survey?
The provinces owned the resources. That’s a big difference.
Is it a big difference?
That means the provincial surveys are much stronger than the state surveys are in this country. And the national survey has to be real careful not to upset sensibilities because they can be really costly. So they worked together quite well and it’s a good outfit. I think they’re suffering now because the present director is the first non-geologist they have as director. And I think that concerns them a little bit, that its focus will not be as sharp as [unclear], or Jim Harrison’s was. But they’re doing okay.
Was Tuzo Wilson also on that committee?
On which committee?
The one that helped set up oceanography?
No, no this was a personal consulting. It wasn’t a committee. And I think they asked me because I’d organized these cruises for them and we’d swap people on each boat so they had a feeling how things worked.
One matter that we haven’t covered yet is the undergraduate classes that came to be offered at Columbia. Did any of the other people who were active in the emerging geophysics programs offer undergraduate courses that you recall? Or were those courses that did come about mostly —
It was very hard to be an undergraduate rock major at Columbia. You had to fight your way into it. A few people did it. People like Neil [D.] Opdyke and Jim [James} Hays I think. [Robert] Metzger but not very many.
Why was it so hard?
Well the department really didn’t have much of a commitment to undergraduates. Another reason why I came up to Dartmouth. And when I got to be chairman I had a lot of difficulty persuading people that teaching undergraduates was a good thing to do. What the department basically decided about 1946 was that, well, you’re never going to get very many undergraduate majors here so we’ll hire a few people to look after the undergraduates and we’ll worry about the important things like graduate students. So they hired Ralph [J.] Holmes and Rhodes Fairbridge and they were supposed to look after the undergraduates with a little help from others in the department and, if a student was really persistent, well he could then take graduate courses. And I tried to persuade people to teach undergraduate courses without too much luck. Except for Wally [Wallace S.] Broecker. It’s not as easy — it’s more complicated than it sounds. When I became chairman, I found out that Columbia was paying about 40% on average of the salaries of the professorial staff. Well, if they’re paying 40% of their salaries, are they giving you 40% of their time? The answer was probably yes. They’d teach probably a course or two and that’s all you could ask. Some people were teaching courses while they were being supported by grants. And I talked to George Fraenkel about it and he agreed it wasn’t correct and by the time I left I got it up to 60% which is closer. Because you figure all the people who are out at sea and things like that, they probably shouldn’t be paid full time by Columbia. I don’t know what it is now, probably not much better than that. They can’t afford it. So as I say if you’re Neil Opdyke and you want to major in geology at Columbia, you’ve got to go up and bang on desks and make people listen to you and then you end up the bulk of the courses you take will be graduate courses which isn’t that bad at Columbia because you had such a mixed bag of people coming in terms of background. They could be chemists or physicists or engineers or biologists or what have you studying geology — you couldn’t assume that they had some base of knowledge in geology that you’d start from. You had to assume that basically they don’t know anything and you can move them fast. But you didn’t have to presume that they knew a lot. Well, same is true of undergraduates. If you have a smart undergraduate, you assume they’re ignorant not stupid and take them as fast as they’ll go, so it wasn’t too bad. But the department certainly didn’t encourage people to major in geology. John Imbrie used to be very good but he left and went to Brown. Art Strahler used to be good but he left and went to California.
How did the department compare to the other science departments at Columbia in that regard as far as undergraduate policy?
Oh, quite different. You know in chemistry or physics or biology they have a built-in clientele.
If you’re going to go to medical school or go into any kind of research you’ve got to take courses in those departments. Nobody has to take courses in geology unless they’re going into geology so there’s really no captive clientele. So I think that in that period there and in that place, in the middle of New York City after all, there are a lot more people who felt that biology or chemistry or physics was the science they wanted to go for than there were people who felt they wanted to be geologists.
Given Columbia’s position within New York that would make sense. One other issue, I’m curious what you recall of colloquia that occurred at Columbia when you were beginning your graduate career there. Was there any tension between the more traditional geologists and Ewing and his group over whom to invite for the colloquia series?
No. The colloquia actually were very ecumenical at Columbia before Lamont got started and even at Lamont. We had a Friday afternoon colloquia and initially they were very ecumenical; and then one day something changed and I think it’s a size factor. But one day the geochemists decided that they would have their own colloquia.
This is out at Lamont?
Yes, at Lamont. Well when that happened, then you stopped getting geochemists at the regular colloquium and the geochemists didn’t come. And then the seismologists decided, well we want our own colloquium, and pretty soon it split itself up. And it was a shame.
It all fractured?
A real shame. I hated to see that happen. But that’s the way things seemed to go.
When do you recall geochemistry starting its own?
Oh, about the mid-60s, sometime like that.
Until then they remained unified through the 1950s. And I can remember people like [Wenceslas S.] Jardetsky — Jardetsky was a theoretical physicists, mathematician. And he got up and he talked about normal mode of propagation of earthquake waves and he’d write this long equation on the blackboard and you’d have these biologists or other people who could barely add just staring at it. He was wonderful. Then he’d go through it. He’d say, “Well, this term means you’re going to hit it a little bit this way and this one means hit it this way. And this one here means we’re going to twist it and that one there means gravity’s working on it.” He’d explain to you what all the terms mean, “And now we’ll manipulate this”. He’d manipulate it and get it into a nicer form and then he’d finally lead you to find an easy way to draw a solution. You might not understand all the mathematics but you trusted him.
Could be important.
He was so good about it. And then you said okay if he says that’s right, it’s got to be right because he has explained to me everything he’s done and I just can’t think of anything else that ought to be in there. And it used to be that way. And that’s great. You ought to be able to explain things to people who aren’t specialists in the field. But that’s been a trend. We’re so specialized now that people who are in one branch of earth sciences don’t speak the language of the person who is in another branch and that makes life hard for everybody. It means you may lose sight of the question you’re asking anyway. The question is probably not just a geochemical question, it’s a broader question. And if you only look at the geochemical side or the geophysical side or the geological side you’re missing a good deal of what’s there. But that’s the trend now.
It sounds like from what you’re saying that the colloquia itself was an important way to reinforce the community at Lamont and also to make sure that people did understand the earth sciences as a broad integrated field.
Oh yes. Right, absolutely.
How often were biological presentations done?
We didn’t have any biology up there at the start.
Certainly that was the later fifties development.
Yes, and even though we got biology into it, it was a sort of a strange kind of biology. We got [Paul R.] Burkholder up there. Burkholder is a very smart man but basically he’s interested in looking for drugs and marine organisms and so it wasn’t — What would have been nice would have been somebody who was a real biological oceanographer, not a marine biologist. Somebody who was looking at the ocean and saying how does this behave in the system and what’s the ecology of it. And mostly we got into biology through people like Allan [W.H.] Be who was a biologist disguised as a geologist. He was interested in how things grow and how they reproduce and how rapidly they reproduce and what their shells look like as they reproduce. All that sort of thing. It was interesting, but we didn’t get into anything that had backbones or roots — [Laughs] just stuff that floated around.
Higher up on the phylum tree. Let me ask just a few final questions with the recognition — we have lots of things that we’re going to need cover in subsequent talks. When did you actually relocate out to Lamont?
Lamont, when did I?
When did your shift from the department to Lamont occur?
I think I went out there in 1950. And it was probably just after I got married. I got married in June and then we lived in Ewing’s — Ewing was at Woods Hole, we lived in his place at Lamont for that summer. So that was when I first moved out there.
Was the house already built; the director’s house?
No, no, no. One of small houses. You know by the garage there. There are two houses there. Joe lived in one. Ewing lived in the second one. And then Frank Press lived in the white one that was behind it there. So Ewing was up in Woods Hole for the summer and so he said we could live in his house. So we lived there and poked around until we found a place in Alpine just down the road, and so I guess, from that time on, I was up there.
I’m going to refer to this when we continue the interview. Let me end just by asking, how much time did you spend? Did you spend much time at Woods Hole during those early years?
Oh some, not a whole lot. We’d use the Woods Hole ships.
You got the Atlantis and the Caryn.
Yes. And we’d go in and out of Woods Hole with them. We had a couple of small boats that we did refraction work in near shore areas and we’d work in and out of Woods Hole on that. And I used to go up and visit there a lot. Actually, I first went up there when Willard was up there when I was working with him before I came to Columbia. Small town there.
How did the two centers compare?
They had different foci. When we started we had no physical oceanography, no biology and it was mostly marine geology and geophysics and underwater sound. And Woods Hole was in the underwater sound and a little bit in marine geology and geophysics business through Bracket Hersey, but the bulk of their effort was physical oceanography and biology. So they sort of complimented each other rather than directly competed with each other although there was some competition. When you talk to Chuck, ask him who did the first seismic refraction experiment in deep water. First good one. See what he says.
I shall do that.
You’re going to talk to him tomorrow, right?
That’s correct. Chuck Officer. Well, let me thank you very much for this first session. We will and this should go on the tape, not release the tape or its transcriptions until you receive the official forms from Columbia University that will be done regarding its use.