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Interview of John and Betty Ewing by Ronald Doel on 1997 June 14,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
Topics include a discussion about the Ewing family and John's brother, Maurice Ewing; the development of underwater photography; his education at Harvard and Maurice's influence on his studies; the research vessels at Lamont and his experiences aboard them; trips to the Soviet Union and the Soviet earth scientists who came to Lamont, the development of the air gun, the Mohole drilling project; the Industrial Associates program at Lamont and its impact on funding; the relationships between Woods Hole, Scripps Institute and Lamont; Maurice Ewing's arguments against plate tectonics; Maurice's departure from Lamont to the University of Texas; deep sea drilling. Prominently mentioned are: Vladimir Belousov, Francis Birch, Bruce Heezen, Karl Hinz, Columbus Iselin, Xavier LePichon, Angelo Ludas, Frank Press, Manik Talwani, Gleb Udintsev, Joe Worzel.
This is Ron Doel and this is a continuing interview with John and Betty Ewing. Today is the fourteenth of June, 1997 and we’re making this recording in Falmouth, Massachusetts. We had covered much of your Harvard career in the first interview that we did last year. I’m curious whether you had already, well what your first impressions were of Lamont? How often were you able to get down just during the time of the transition as Maurice moved from Columbia out to Lamont?
Well, excuse me. Let me just say something. He was asking what were your first impressions of Lamont? It’s kind of hard because we knew most of the people anyway.
Through the connections here?
Yes, from Woods Hole.
One thing I was curious about that I don’t believe we discussed on the previous interview. Did Maurice talk to you about his accepting the offer at Columbia? What his impressions of Columbia were at the time?
I don’t know.
I don’t think he told me very much, or he told me what to do.
Do you remember the first time you actually saw Lamont? When was it that you had gone down to see it?
Oh it must have been about, ‘48. No, that was the year that we got married. ‘49. ‘49. I’d seen pictures of it, and I guess Maurice, as I recall, his first impressions at Columbia, that he was quite satisfied. But then he very much wanted to have his own ship. That was very important. And coming up for the summer was fine, but there was already — Literally, the oceanographic just had the Atlantis, and it was very hard to tie up that ship. Which he wanted up from the day his last class stopped until the first one started in the fall. And so he was having troubles thinking about — And then [Dwight D.] Eisenhower was president at the time, wasn’t he?
And Eisenhower convinced him to stay. He said, “One way or another we’ll get you what you want.” And then they got the Verna and that’s how.
Of course, the Vema didn’t come until 1953.
We worked on the Atlantis for quite a few times before the ship was laid up.
But it was in the works.
Got it and the whole ship that he wanted. I can’t remember when the Vema actually came on line.
What did you say, ‘53?
‘53 was the first time.
Back when Captain [Louis] Kennedy was still —
Yes. That was, took a lot of putting together.
What sort of things were you doing, once the Vema was acquired, to make her worthy for sea floor studies?
Well, we equipped it as soon as we could get her all the things that we thought we’d need to work. And we put cameras on. We took seismic gear on. We took echo sounders — echo sounding was a new, fairly new operation then. And if you look from there to nowadays, you’ll see a lot more tracks across the ocean. And it really got started with that. And along with, oh the guy we were talking about.
Was Kennedy? Maybe Kennedy
That was Kennedy.
Oh I thought it was [Frederick S.] MacMurray. Maybe. We don’t seem to know.
And we got in a huge blow out there. That seems like Vema when we were caught in a huge blow and the skipper was probably on board and was probably Kennedy.
Of course that’s a very pivotal event, the one that Maurice.
You probably know that four of us made it out and three came back. So it was not very happy.
And you were in the water for over an hour yourself as I recall.
Yes. Something like that. Thank God it wasn’t really cold water. That’s what saved us.
John said if they had been giving medals that day, he would have won a gold.
But that must have been extraordinary. Of course, Maurice wrote the letter that was eventually published in, or very quickly in Reader’s Digest — Betty and
— at that point. Had you known that he had written that right after the time? Or was that something that Maurice didn’t talk about?
What do you mean, I’m not sure?
The letter that he had written.
Oh, to the kids.
To the kids.
I knew that pretty soon. Yes.
Well, actually as I recall, he wrote two letters. And one was in detail of sort of what happened, and then he wrote the letters to the kids. And this was a very emotional time for him, naturally. And was it, Jack Ratcliffe or Bill Walden. Jo Walden’s husband. Remember him from Palisades?
Yes. I remember him.
They both worked for Reader’s Digest and they were neighbors. And I think it was Jack Ratcliffe who read the letter about it in detail, and said, this, you know, makes very interesting reading. And somehow they got both letters and published the very personal one, which hadn’t really been Maurice’s idea.
But at the time, you know, it just happened so that’s that. But I remember that very well.
How did you first find out that John was all right?
I heard the eleven o’clock news.
Is that right?
They had promised that they would not put anything on the news. You know, newsmen. Joe [J. Lamar] Worzel was home. And so Joe said, just please don’t put anything on the news, you know, until we can notify families. And it was late, and he thought, “Well, I’m not going to wake Betty up.” I wasn’t in bed. I was watching the news. We had a nice snowstorm in New York at the time. I remember because we were living at Shank’s Village where Columbia students lived. And one of my friends came over to visit me. Her husband was teaching a late course in the English department. And she said, “Gee, where’s John in all this weather?” And I said, “They must be in Bermuda by now.” They weren’t. And so I heard on the news that three people had washed overboard, and they had rescued three, and one was lost and one was in a state of shock. So I knew that John and his brother were both on board. And I figured, “Well, one of the brothers went and the other one’s in a state of shock.” I mean what else could I think? So I called Joe Worzel and he was obviously awake. And Joe swore for a few minutes about god damn CBS or something like that. But don’t quote me cause I don’t remember. But I think it was CBS that promised they wouldn’t and they did. And he said, as far as he knew, both John and his brother were okay. But he didn’t know that for sure. And then John sent me a cable the next morning that just said safe, sound, and undismayed. And then, of course, then there was the worry could they get into Bermuda cause it was still a very bad storm. And they sent a Coast Guard cutter out.
They sent a Coast Guard cutter out.
But they were having trouble too. And three tankers went down in that storm. So it was not good, it was a long night.
I’m sure that it was.
Let’s put it that way. It was a long night. And then, let’s see.
Mike [Michael] Brown was, do you have him on your —? He was one of the four that went overboard.
He’s up in Maine.
And he was the other crewman who was rescued?
And I still get a card from Mike every once in a while.
That must have been extraordinary feeling for you two, being out of the?
An awful lot of water out there. Huge waves. You wondered what was going to happen.
Were you able to see that the Vema was turning around to come, to make the pass?
I could see a shot every once in awhile when I tipped off on one of the — I went over the stern. The ship had actually dived under the water, but thank God all the battens were secure. And we were towing the magnetometer. And I happened to come up to see this, this magnetometer tootling along. But I just grabbed a hold of it. Why not? I knew it was attached to the ship. But I shouldn’t have done that because they towed me quite a way out of the sphere of activity.
Because the length of the cable separated you from the?
They were still unloading the ship in a lot of water. And it took the ship a while to get turned around and get back on station. In the meantime, the magnetometer slipped through my hands and I was no longer attached to it. But towed quite a long way away from — So I did a lot of paddling. And I could see, every once in a while, the ship. So I just went in that direction. When they had made a pass on Mike and Doc —
Could you see that?
No, I couldn’t see it until then. The ship, they tried for a pass for three times before they really got a hold of it. But on one of those passes, the radio man, which was a young Nova Scotian, happened to come around. Everybody else was on the other side of the ship. And this guy came around and looked me right in the eyes. And he threw me a rope, and I told him don’t you ever get rid of that rope. And a little while later they hauled me in. So I was the first one to get back.
How long were you in the water?
Oh, I don’t remember. I don’t know how long a time it was. About an hour or so, I suppose. But, you know, I don’t remember. I didn’t have a watch. I had dropped my clothes and my watch to lighten the load.
You have a good way of putting it.
You took it off and put it in your pocket when you went on deck so it wouldn’t get wet.
I guess it made the trip down to the deep.
When were you first reunited then with John after that?
Well, let’s see. You stayed in Bermuda for a while. Maurice came home. Actually, John was just riding down because he was going to pick up another ship. But you missed out on that.
Well, I picked it up a little later.
That was the San Pablo. Happened to be the San Pablo.
I guess you were in Bermuda about a week to ten days working on the ship. Trying to get the equipment back in order. And Maurice came home. I think partly for business reasons and partly they were worried about his neck.
Down to Puerto Rico and I joined up with the Pablo. And we made another pretty long trip, I don’t remember how long.
Usually they were three months.
Who were you closest to socially at Lamont, once Lamont became the base of operations? Who did you come to know best?
Oh, Angelo [Ludas] I suppose.
Angelo Ludas, the? Yes.
Angelo was a great guy. In some ways. In some ways, he was not so great. He tended to get everybody drunk every Saturday evening.
The parties were famous.
Actually we all sort of did everything together.
Yes, that’s right.
Maurice, and Joe Worzel, and Angelo, and Chuck [Charles L.] Drake and —
Frank Press was out there at the time with Billie, wasn’t he?
Frank was out there, yes, with Billie. Yes, we just kind of all, you know, picnicked together and it was pretty much a — And I suppose socially it was different. Maybe we clung together because we were sort of like a Navy family, but we didn’t have the — what’s the word I want to say? — we didn’t have the coterie around us that the Navy people did. And so the other people you met, they’d say well, come for a dinner party. My husband’s at sea. Oh, well, we really didn’t want a spare. We had trouble fitting in socially in some ways. Some ways we didn’t, but in some ways we did. So that was always. So I think that’s why we all pretty much clung together cause we knew what the deals were. Everybody took care of everybody else’s wife, and if you had a car problem, you called somebody who was home. Their wives called your husband. You know, don’t you think that’s pretty much the way it was?
Yes. Pretty much.
Was this when you were living actually out in Palisades? Or?
Yes. Yes. Pretty much did things as a group, didn’t we? And then the [John and Sally] Nafes came and they joined in. And then the Presses, of course, went to California so that changed things.
We had a lot of people coming to our house. Betty was a real great one for putting up people and feeding them and things like that.
These were other researchers, people coming?
From all of the world. And most of them usually didn’t have any money to spend. You know, they could get the trip, but where would they stay, so. Everybody took care of everybody.
I’m curious who you remember coming through in those early days.
You name it. They came through.
Who was the? What is the man that, the German, the German man. Came to our place quite a lot.
And he had a, when he first came there, he had another man.
Karl Hinz, Karl Hinz.
Karl used to come, remember, with the other, the man that died. I can’t think of his name.
Yes, the man that died.
And they were staying at Lamont, but no place to eat. So they’d come down and have breakfast. And they’d sit in the den with our son Tom and watch the cartoons and had a swell time. [Laughter]
They were fascinated with the cartoons. And then Hans Cloos came later.
Hans Cloos was a nice old gentleman. I don’t know if you have ever seen him.
Then we had a lot of Japanese visitors. And then the Russians started coming.
When do you first remember the Russians staying with you?
I guess that was the Geophysical Year.
Around the time of the IGY [International Geophysical Year].
I guess Gleb [Udintsev] was the first visitor, wasn’t he?
Yes. He was the first visitor.
And he visited us many times.
What sort of a person is Gleb?
He’s a wild Russian. [Laughter]
Wild in what ways?
Well, he was a very gregarious man. He wanted to get into the act of everything. He did a pretty good job of it. Because, you know, he was always around. And coming back and forth from Russia.
We never quite knew how he managed all the trips.
It was unusual you felt, the number of trips he was making?
And who’s the top guy in Russia at that time?
Vinogradov. And he never came over to us. Vinogradov didn’t as far as I know, but we went over to see him.
That’s interesting. When did you travel to the Soviet Union? When was that?
Well, the first trip I made over there, I went on my own. Do you remember what time it was?
Oh, let me think. Nineteen, Tom was pretty young. Mid-sixties maybe. Was it that early?
Something like that.
Or late sixties. It wasn’t in the seventies. It was pretty early on. And Gleb had been over two or three times and wanted to come. So he went and had an interesting time. Then Gleb came and stayed for six months, remember? And he stayed in the old Press house.
And his wife.
This is still back in the 1950s or was it 1960s?
No. It was the sixties. But the first time I met a group of Russians was that IGY year, now what was that?
That was ‘57-‘58.
Okay. Okay. Yes. Yes. And that was a time, the ship was in New York. Went down to see the ship. And John went down to see somebody, and one man wanted to come up to the house. Alex?
He was at Hawaii at the time.
No. No. No. I’m talking about the Russian. Who was the Russian that gave the kids the dolls? Malankoff. No. No. Oh god, you know the one I mean.
I think I may know too. We can always make sure that this is —
Anyway, they, and so John went down to the ship. And he said I think I’ll bring a couple of the men home for lunch. These were men he had met in Russia. And the car drove up and there were arms sticking out of everywhere. And I had set the table for luncheon for three people. And so I quickly moved all the plates around to look like I — And that’s right, Tom was a baby, an infant, a month old. So that had to be ‘59. Right? I think Tom was born in ‘59. And John fortunately realized that I probably wasn’t prepared for lunch for this crowd. So he went to the grocery store first. They all went in with him. They all took pictures of the grocery store. You know, just marveled at it. And he bought, you know, salads and cold meats and whatever. Brought it home. And I remember, they all — My son was an infant and I just had one of these small cribs that I moved around the house into the living room. And they all felt his blanket. They all had new shirts on. You could see the pin marks on them. The poor guys. And that was just the first of many visits. And then [Vladimir M.] Belousov came over. Remember we took him up to West Point, and he wanted to go. Where’s the lake, saw the map. Loved, was fascinated that we could get into West Point.
So that was the place he wanted to visit?
He thought it was, had to be out of bounds.
Out of bounds, you know. Where’s the security? They would let me in this, this citadel.
What sort of person was he?
Fascinating I thought. Fascinating because he had a Jewish wife, which was most unusual.
And she was a very interesting woman, very charming.
Yes. She was a very nice woman.
I always thought that man for a dyed-in-the-wool, quote red, unquote — That was very brave of him to marry a Jewish woman, wasn’t it? When you think about —
But he was a very powerful man, an unusual man. He made things happen.
When you say unusual, do you mean in the sense of what he was able to do or the strength of his character?
I think it was the strength of his character was mainly what made him what he was. It was not easy for somebody to do something like what he did.
What are you thinking of in particular? Clearly he was very influential and a main contact within the American and the Soviet communities in the earth sciences. But what sort of things particularly are you thinking of when you say that?
Well, I don’t think anything specifically, but none of these other people could do anything unless he approved. Right John?
And he was the top gun. If he decided that this isn’t going to fly, it wouldn’t fly. And so, of course, because of that we all wanted very much to be pleasant and nice to him. You know, the joint work was — everybody considered it important. So the last thing we wanted to do was make the man feel uncomfortable and unwelcome. And actually I found him quite an easy going man, didn’t you?
Yes he was.
Yes, he was that too. Though he was kind and gentle.
I remember his wife. I took his wife shopping. These people, you always had to take them shopping. They all had a list of things to bring home. So, you know, your whole time was spent, Korvettes [discount store], wherever, that kind of thing. They didn’t have much money. And I remember his wife marveling that I wore black stockings. She said, “Did you grow up in a ghetto?” That to her was what ghetto people wore. Black stockings, black silk stockings.
Did either of them talk to you much about the politics in the Soviet Union in the time or their own situations?
Not very much. Not in depth, certainly.
Some would, but they didn’t. They were very careful. Some of the younger ones.
Gleb was really the most loose to talk about it.
What sort of things do you remember him saying?
I remember him, like it was yesterday. We were at the, oh that big hoop-to-do that they had in New York, when the ships came in.
No, Gleb wasn’t there. Symposium.
At the United Nations?
Okay, the UN. Okay. Takes us a while.
That’s okay. And you’re remembering something particularly with Gleb at the United Nations.
And at one of the symposium things, Gleb was on. He was a rather tall guy. And he went up the podium about three steps at a time. And he gave his toast in a very, very good way. Very nice. He gave a good, good talk. I don’t remember what he said, but I just remember him doing that.
The visual image of him leaping up the stairs.
That’s exactly what he did. He was a very volatile guy.
How did he impress you as a scientist?
I don’t think he was a great scientist. I think he was more of a politician than a scientist. And he was probably best at that. He spoke English pretty well, and he was able to maneuver around a lot. And he did it.
Belousov also had excellent English, didn’t he?
Yes he had good. Maybe not as good as Gleb.
Not as good. Interesting. And you remember Gleb, you say, also talking about the political situation. He was more forthcoming about what conditions were in his facilities and at home?
Well I thought that Gleb divulged a lot of things to me. I don’t know whether he divulged them to everybody or not. But Gleb gave me a lot of talk. And he thought they were pretty good, but he thought we were better.
You’re talking about his own institution?
Yes. And the way of life. And the way things were run by the government. He had a pretty good life as far as most Russian scientists.
Yes. I think he did.
He had a boss that liked him. That made a difference.
He had a home of his own. Whereas most people had an apartment somewhere. And he got that because of Vinogradov. Vinogradov helped him with a lot of things. And when he died, then —
— Then Gleb kind of fell on hard times.
Yes. He did. He lost a lot of his spunk.
Well, he lost a lot of his stature in Russia. But he bounced back.
Yes, that’s right.
When did we see him? Three years ago down in Houston. It was about three years ago.
Yes. Something like that. He came. We had a dinner for them. Betty did, as usual.
Some traditions have kept up. I’m curious what your impressions were of Soviet geophysical work at the time? When you would speak with Gleb and others.
Yes. I made a trip with Val, Valerie [?] and with Manik’s [Talwani] son.
We made about a month’s trip over to Iceland. And they were doing some work in which they sort of had — a telephone booth. They lowered it down to the bottom. They didn’t like us to be hanging around when they played with that.
Interesting. Why do you feel they were sensitive about that?
Well, I don’t know because nobody would tell me.
And this is the 1960s?
No, this was later.
They said, while we’re doing this, play Ping-Pong.
Was that on the Kurchatov?
Yes. But things had loosened up quite a lot by that time too.
Interesting. That’s the late 1960s that we’re talking about, or even later?
We’re talking maybe even early seventies. A big difference. I don’t remember because they came from the ship. The captain and Nik Nik [Colonel Nikolai?], the colonel there, and the other guy who I thought was a peach. Who died. Remember the one who died under mysterious circumstances in Moscow — I can’t. He was the one who told me his mother smoked cigars and she was in her nineties.
He either was pushed in front of a, of a —
Or fell on it.
There was always a little illness about it. What was the —?
We were never certain, sure what caused him to.
Charming man. Charming. Then we had once, when they, some of the big shots from the Russian Academy came over. Remember? We had them for a dinner one night. They had aides that helped them. But they were, the aides were very valuable in discussing things, and poking around and looking at the books. You know, not really nosy, but just relaxed.
You really could see the difference from the late 1950s?
Oh yes. A man would just sit there with a set smile on his face. Good day. Thank you. You know, that.
And you’re holding yourself very stiff as you say that.
Yes. But the others, were, later on they were just pretty free. Pretty free wheeling.
Do you remember them talking about comparisons between Lamont and their home institutions? The things that they seemed to find particularly interesting about how things were done at Lamont?
Most foreigners, including the Russians, all marveled that things were so open at Lamont those days. As they said, when you go into somebody’s office, they don’t put a hand over what they’re working on.
Interesting. Just in terms of holding the data to oneself.
And this includes people from France, people from England, many people told us that in the early years there.
That’s very interesting.
Very different attitude. Well, whether they felt that was the same all over the country or whether at Lamont, and if we weren’t careful at Lamont, I guess it was that everybody was so busy, you didn’t have time to worry about things like that.
That’s very interesting that’s one of the things that you remember people commenting on.
Yes. You know, you’d talk to somebody, and he’d say well, go and talk to so and so. You know, he’d be interested in what you’re doing there. Or, he’ll tell you about what he’s done there. And it was just. And a lot of visitors we had didn’t even come to see John. They came to see somebody else, but they were away or whatever, and, you know, it was — They would make the tour of the building, right, and talk to everybody.
What do you remember, you mentioned Karl Hinz coming in from Germany, and who was coming in from France? Which other international visitors are particularly in your mind?
Who was the man I liked so much who died? That’s the trouble — everybody’s dead anymore. Of course, we had Xavier LePichon at Lamont.
He had come in the 1960s of course.
Yes. He came in very early.
What sort of person is he or was he at the time?
Well, he was, you know, he’s a Frenchman to start. [Laughter] They’re different.
Last time I saw him, he’d loosened up considerably.
But at the time he?
At the time, I found the poor kid very up tight and tense. And all I can say is defensive. And he was a very bright man. I mean, there was nothing he needed to be defensive about, did he? But he was very —
Maurice was very good, very good at letting people come into Lamont, putting them up some way or another.
Letting them work at whatever.
That’s interesting. When you look back, was the IGY a pivotal point in Lamont’s history and for these kinds of contacts, or do you recall them actually having begun at an earlier period than ‘57 -‘58?
I don’t really think that it was very pivotal. It had been going on for quite a while, and we were busy. We were doing things. We didn’t take much notice of that. Maurice might have taken more of the thing, because, you know, he was more in that slot.
But that IGY dinner with all these representatives, they were people we had all known before. There may have been a couple new additions, but, you know, the Argentines were there and the Chileans. It was just old homeweek kind of. So, I think maybe for the country and all the other laboratories it may have made a difference, but wherever they went, they always picked up somebody who came to work at Lamont for a while.
Lamont for a long time was the pivotal thing. It was the pivotal thing of science in the world. I think they were —
That’s what I was going to ask. You felt that you were out ahead of Scripps [Institution of Oceanography] and WHOI [Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution]?
I don’t think there’s any question about it.
Any discussions with the Soviets about seismic profiling and their own work on sedimentation?
Well, I don’t remember any great amount of — I don’t know. I couldn’t tell you much. I don’t have a good answer for that.
That’s okay. I was just curious. You were mentioning some of your impressions about the organization of research in the Soviet Union at the time. I was curious what, what impressed you, the sorts of differences and similarities between what Lamont was trying to do?
Well, they — Gleb and the other people from Russia — would always come to Lamont sometime when they could. And they saw that we had tools that were a lot better than theirs. And that’s about as far as I can take it.
Yes. It was across the different fields? The seismographs as well as the —
— as the depth recording systems.
We had a really, an excellent system there for the earthquakes. Lynn Sykes.
Jack Oliver was also involved.
Jack Oliver is what I was trying to remember.
Lynn Sykes of course would be trained in the 1960s at Lamont.
And were the Russians able to borrow instruments, or did that not happen as you recall in the fifties and sixties?
No. They copied some of our work, quite a lot. As did the Japanese. As did the French and others. And almost everybody else.
Which instruments in particular?
Well, the seismic profiling was a very big effort. And still is in fact.
Of course that was the area that you were leading in, in your own work. And you mention the Japanese who were coming over too, and I didn’t want to neglect that, that part of the story. Who was coming over in particular?
Well, Sandanori Murauchi came over a lot. A lot of seismologists. They were heavy into seismology.
They were good in seismology. They had a good reason for it too.
Sitting on the islands.
John didn’t work as closely with them, but somehow we got to know them all, didn’t we? [Laughter]
Yes. We made several joint cruises with them.
Cruises, yes, yes. We worked together with them. And they were, they were very pleasant people to deal with. And Sandanori came over for about six months one year with his wife, didn’t he?
You mentioned the French. Were there others in addition to Xavier LePichon?
Yes, and I can’t remember the names.
Well, Yves Lancelot almost became a citizen.
But he came over, he started in with the drilling ship. That’s how he happened to come.
Is this, again, late 1960s, 1970s that we’re talking about?
Yes. Thinking about the earlier years, and trying to remember that man’s name that used to come.
We can always add.
They didn’t come as often as others. English — Tony [Sir Anthony] Laughton used to come over. My gosh, you lose track. And then of course we have Miss [Inge] Lehman from Copenhagen. She spent a lot of time, and Maurice and Miss Lehman were very, very close friends. And sort of considered a member of the family.
She was a nice lady. She was a great lady.
She would stay for long periods?
Oh yes. Yes. John always said the only woman he visited out of the country was Miss Lehman, once when he was in Copenhagen, and she invited him to their country house for the weekend. And so John went with Miss Lehman to the country house. Lovely lady. And bright. And she, what, when was it, it was in the EOS [Earth Observing System] wasn’t it? She died just about a year ago at a hundred one or hundred two, or something like that. Fantastic lady.
Think back on that period of time. Were there any, were there people from any country who seemed to be developing similar programs to what you were doing at Lamont, or did Lamont at that time seem very far ahead of?
If I may, it seems to me that what with the war over, more countries were more interested in promoting science. Wouldn’t you say, John? And experimenting.
That’s what I was trying to get at. Everything got to be international.
When did that start — in your thinking back — to happen? That push towards internationality?
For us at Lamont, the fifties.
I’m sort of thinking about the cooperative programs that emerged in Latin America, with the Argentineans and others. How active a role did you play in —?
Quite a lot. Every time I went down there, I had to set up another seismograph station.
Where were you working in particular, in which countries?
All over the god damn place. Both sides. We got on one of their ships or one of our ships, or both, and we worked a lot of years with people down there.
Do you recall working with Alberto Lonardi?
What sort of person was he?
Oh, he was a nice guy. He was a pleasant, pleasant guy to be with.
How was he as a scientist?
I think he was pretty good, but I think he was more of a politician. I think he had more of that in his traits. His father had been very important in Argentine politics.
That’s very interesting. Did you get a chance when you were visiting to see many of the research facilities in Latin America? The centers for geophysical work?
They didn’t have very many facilities but they were trying.
There wasn’t much. That’s certain. But I’m just curious what sort of things you do remember from?
Do you remember visiting a lab in Buenos Aires?
No. We gave them copies of everything we did, when we did it, but that was about all we could muster up.
The data themselves. Did it at any point seem frustrating to be working in cooperation?
Well, somewhat it was. But, you know, it was something to do. Maurice, as usual, tied these things together. Sent me down there with some of the guys and we would be down there two, three month’s period of time. One trip, they came up as far as the Caribbean with their ship, and we joined with one of our ships, and we worked for quite a while in the Caribbean. And then we all went up, back up to New York, and had another party.
There was a Captain Granelli — Nestor.
Oh no, he wasn’t a captain. Nestor Granelli. No, Nestor was a political, all the way, right John?
Oh yes, [Cecilio] Robles. Robles. He was a high order — because he was Spanish. But he was a very nice guy to work with.
This is a scientist or someone else?
He was the kingpin of their part of the work that was going to be done. But it was just getting things done really. Cecilio Robles.
Was most of the work, the cooperative work being done, seismic profiling, or did it include gravity and other measurements as well?
Most all of it.
What did Maurice see as the particular advantage of linking with the Latin Americans?
Oh, I don’t know. I just think he wanted to see the whole world. And that was a good way of doing it.
Also some of the trenches were attracting his interest as I believe in the sediment basins with Bill [William] Donn and the —
You know, I think that’s really what he thought. Well, gee, if they’ve got a ship and they’re willing to go out and we can put some men on it, you know, we’ll get some tracks.
It’s very much part of the same philosophy that was used on the Vema. That one could then use these vessels to make measurements. You mentioned something earlier that was interesting. That things changed once Frank Press accepted the offer from CalTech [California Institute of Technology]. I’m wondering in what ways Lamont was different after he left?
Well, there was no question that Frank was big, big in the work. You know, I think Frank just decided that it was time to step up.
Do you think he felt under Maurice’s shadow?
No. I think they were working quite well until he bugged off to the West Coast. And Doc didn’t like that at all.
Well, it made a change. I mean, we were all just kind of one big, happy family. And what do you mean you’re going to California? What for? Can’t you do the work here? Well, you know, Frank wanted to spread his wings a little I think.
Yes, I think he did. And he succeeded. And not long after that, oh, the guy that went to Cornell.
Jack Oliver, in the 1960s, Chuck Drake also left.
Oh yes. Yes. You know, these things were bound to happen.
They’re bound to. See, cause, those are all really top notch people, and they could do things on their own and not be told by Doc to do everything.
However, he was pretty good about letting them do things on their own.
That’s right. He did. Yes. I don’t think it could have been handled any better, really. Cause good, solid people are going to want to do their own things.
Yes. I’m sure that Frank Press, was the first of the people who had really been close to Maurice who left. And that must have been, as you say, a particularly difficult experience for Maurice.
But it was inevitable.
Did the Presses seem comfortable in the social environment at Lamont?
Yes. I think so.
Lee DuBridge was still president of CalTech then I believe. It’s interesting. You stayed in close contact then with Billie and Frank after —
How often would you see them back at Lamont after they left for CalTech?
We plan. We make a lot of plans, just they don’t always get off the ground.
We do try to see each other, Billie and I, at least for an afternoon. And the last time we tried to get together for dinner something happened and Frank couldn’t get out of Washington. We care about each other. That’s the main thing.
Of course you did keep up sailing quite, quite a bit. Throughout the 1950s and 60s.
Yes, I was at sea a lot.
Yes. How often, in general, did you serve as chief scientist?
Oh, I was, I was almost always chief scientist when I went out. Unless Doc was there.
What did it take to be a good chief scientist?
I don’t know. You just try to keep the show running. That’s the main thing. Keep your eye on what you’re trying to do. It was just natural.
What were the biggest challenges in serving as a chief scientist?
Well, keeping the people happy and being part of it. Treat them gently when they need to be treated gently, and treat them a little bit rough when they seem to start [cross talk]
I don’t know. You have to be both tough and tender.
A diplomat and a task master and —
Yes. And the thing you do is to be sure you work harder than anybody else does on ship —
And you were — I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to step on your words.
I was thinking that many of those voyages you had sailed then with Henry Kohler.
Yes. A lot. But I also sailed a lot on the other ship too.
Are you thinking of the Conrad or other ships from other institutions?
A lot on the Conrad, of course and a lot on the —
The navy ships. Some of my — the first breaking in of my work was — and I’d done a lot soon after Betty and I got married I guess. We went on. They started what was the — God, I can’t even remember the name of the thing. San Pablo and Rehobeth were two major ships. And we went on with seismic gear and with water bottles of various kinds. And echo sounding. There were three groups of people on those two ships when we went out. One was Lamont, the other was the group down in —
The navy group wasn’t it?
Yes, the navy group.
New London. Underwater sound people. And then.
And then the others were geologists. And what did you ask? [Laughter]
I was curious in general about being a chief scientist and where you had had much of the sailing experience on that. And we just started talking a little bit about —
But we started the SOSUS [Sound Surveillance System] system in that, during that time. And we didn’t continue it all the way because it got sort of navy.
The Navy took over, you mean, in actually installing some of the cabling in the systems?
That’s right. And, you know, as far as I know the SOSTJS system is still working.
Indeed. And much about it is being declassified in the moment. The Cold War has ended. How active were you in the early days of installing the SOFAR [Sound Fixing and Ranging], the initial SOFAR systems around Bermuda and then SOSUS?
Well, quite a lot. SOFAR was a main thing in the world of the Navy. It was a Navy program all the way. We worked with them. And did a lot of things that they needed doing. They didn’t know how to do it. Well, SOSUS system made a lot of trouble for the Russian fleet.
What are you thinking of in particular when you say that? Let me just —
Toward the end of SOSUS, when they quit building more SOSUS set ups, they hadn’t, they just knew where Russian submarines and U.S. submarines and everybody else’s submarines. They knew exactly where they were.
Well there simply was nothing comparable for —
No. Nobody else had anything close to that.
Did all that come under Bureau of Ships?
Yes. Started under —
Started under Bureau of Ships.
King Couper. Did you ever hear of King Couper?
I sure have.
I think we’ve covered a bit of SOFAR I think in the earlier interview, but how often were you down with Gordon Hamilton in Bermuda itself?
Well Betty and I both went down there for the whole summer, summer months.
First set up.
And helping them get set up. And we had a, we got a, I forgot, Sir Horace Lamb.
That was the ship being operated out of the station.
And we used to go down there when they were not doing SOSUS things or SOFAR things, and we used their ship a lot. We, during that time, we set out a couple of seismometers, ocean-bottom seismometers.
This is the 1950s that we began? How much had you been involved in developing that instrumentation?
Quite a lot.
What were the biggest problems in adapting the instruments that had been used on land, for ocean bottom work in seismology?
You got to build the gear that will stand deep water for starters. You got to put it down a rope and tether it. And get the data you want to get from it.
And that was data coming back along an electric, electronic cable?
We had a big thing that was a little better than that. But you know we started to get recordings, putting recorders down, when we put them down. And we could get about a month’s worth of data on something like that. And we were just trying to see what works and what doesn’t work, a lot of it. And this was. It was something tied in with the SOFAR system. But then the very first thing we did down there was we had about five or six, great big reels of cable. And we had enough of that cable which was all on decayed reels which made it very difficult to unreel those things. And we started from the shore, and we would run out one reel of the stuff, and bring it up. And go back and laboriously get another reel and go out and tie it on to the first one, and go out another step. It took the whole winter, the whole summer, to get it down there.
Sure. To do iterations like that all the way.
By the time, when it finally got operational, our submarines went in great hordes to play with it. That lasted for a long time. This was tied into the SOSUS business. But their cables too went out from shore. In a lot of, in most places. So, we were always looking, looking ahead, trying to look ahead and see what we had was going well and what was not going well. I don’t know. You know, we undoubtedly made a lot of mistakes, and probably so did the SOSUS people.
Did you have much contact with the SOSUS folks during this time?
Any, after they were, after the SOSUS system was?
As it was being developed through the 1950s. Or was that more or less a separate operation?
Well that, it was mostly we were putting down cables. And with censors on the bottom. And they ran them off to somewhere in some place. We were not told. But there’s a lot of cable on the bottom of the ocean from that.
And some of it was hooked on to and made into the long tapes all the way across the oceans. Before we had the better systems of aerial.
But when you still needed to have the hydrophone system set up, cross-oceanic cabling was necessary to maintain the grid.
What were the biggest instrumental challenges at the time, either with the seismographs, the bottom recording seismographs or the seismic profiling work? You were pursuing both simultaneously during this time weren’t you?
Yes. Pretty much. Well, I was a lot more interested in the seismic work, because that’s my real, real nice thing. The other was just some sort of an add on to bottom seismographs. And some of our people at Lamont used them. Some never, never even took a look at them.
Were you disappointed that there wasn’t more interest in these data?
No. No. I wasn’t disappointed. We had — This was another thing that we worked out on the Sir Horace with. Was a cheap, cheap thing to do and why not do it.
See what you can get.
Who was particularly interested in these data that you were getting from the bottom recording seismographs? Was Jack Oliver? This was after the time that Frank Press had already left?
Yes. That was developed after Frank had gone. Well, I don’t know, the Navy was interested, wasn’t it?
They were always. The Navy was interested in anything that. You can’t hardly do anything that they don’t have some interest to.
And Jack Oliver had never personally been too interested in marine seismology.
No. No. He was primarily a land seismologist. [Side talk]
Oh he was interested. But, you know, personal interests were elsewhere.
I’m curious too in general how much contact you had with other centers at Lamont? The geochemical lab for instance, or the biology programs that Maurice was trying to set up?
I didn’t have very much contact with those people.
The only contact that you had with geochemistry was that Carbon 14 sampling, remember?
That’s right. They were all —
Just getting into.
We had a huge Nansen bottle that we took on the San Pablo. And we took lowerings of that for Wally [Wallace S.] Broecker.
Actually it was Larry [J. Laurence] Kulp.
Larry Kulp at the time.
And I, I don’t know exactly what he got out of it, but I think he developed a lot of effort in taking these big water bottles, and cooking them off. And he found a lot of variation in various places. And I think that’s what has put Wally on the scoreboard.
Indeed Broecker became very interested in ocean circulation using Carbon 14 as an important tracer.
That’s how it started.
Yes. Larry Kulp had, of course, had also been involved in Project Sunshine, in attempting to understand the distribution of bomb-produced radioactive materials and how quickly they were — Were you aware of that work going on at the geochemical lab?
Well, a lot of it. Particularly when Wally was interested in it. And I built that big bottle that we —
You built the sampler that —
I built that, nights. And took it on all the ships, all the ships, all of the times we took it on the San Pablo.
That’s interesting. And this is the 1960s that we’re talking about now, or later?
Earlier. Very early. It was very early.
When that Nansen bottle.
You had to have a large amount of water to decipher what the —
To get a sufficient sample, in other words, for the measurements.
Well, we brought a lot of samples up for Wally. He showed me how to cook it out. And we’d haul them back to him when we got them.
So you would actually do the reduction, the —
— or you needed to do that in order to use the bottle again repeatedly on the. Yes?
Every trip was multi-purpose. They never got into biology samples though.
I was curious how much contact you remember with Bob [Robert] Menzies who was there? There were also a few other people who were initially interested in working with Maurice on microbiology related problems. Gifford Pinchot, Jr. Do you remember him?
I don’t remember him, but I remember the name. Yes.
And I believe Fred Sisler was also involved for a time.
Fred Sisler. Boy that name sounds familiar.
Sisler. I can’t remember.
You weren’t around enough to know anybody anyway.
You were away from Lamont then much more often.
More out and away than there. Who was the? Well, let’s see. Ostwald Roels had his department going there.
And then Paul Burkholder in the sixties.
Yes. The main thrust was geophysical. No question about it. In those early days. And I don’t know what they’ve got there now. And the geochemistry department started out in the old dining room, didn’t it, at Lamont? The big dining room. And then they got their building.
And took over part of the kitchen as I remember. [Cross talk]
Yes. Yes. Oh yes. Well it took off. Then, of course, then the core lab became a big feature.
That was the other chore, taking the cores. Well, actually a lot of good stuff has come up from those cores. Very good things.
The other more painful memory from the 1950s, though, was the accident in which John Hennion lost his life. How well did you know John Hennion before the cruise?
I knew him very well.
Very well. We knew them all very well.
What sort of person was he?
Oh he was a very nice guy.
Quiet, unassuming. Kind. Never had too much to say, did he? Oh, you could have good conversations with him, but he never took over, you know, an audience, per se.
You don’t mean in a sense that he held his cards close, but that he didn’t want to dominate?
No. He just didn’t feel it was necessary I think.
No, not a bit.
Is that right?
Before this, he had gone through World War II.
In the Marines.
The Korean War. And then he comes up here, and, we never can figure out how in the hell he blew himself up.
You were on that cruise when he died, weren’t you?
No. John Hennion took over from John.
Took over? I see.
John took over from me in the Caribbean and went on down the coast, the west coast. On the way down, he blew something. I don’t know. We shot an awful lot of [?] in my life. Nobody ever had a problem with it.
You know, I just, every time we’d see Henry Kohler they would go over it. Again and again and again. He had had a good night’s sleep. He had got up, he had had a good breakfast. You know, he hadn’t had a harried night or anything like that. Everything was going well. Terrible thing.
In that sense, it was inexplicable. It didn’t — despite the danger of — the operation had become so routine that you knew the safety margins? Interesting.
We didn’t stop doing it. We had to keep going.
Still a number of years before the air gun.
Well you started right in on the air gun.
Yes. Started in on the air gun right after.
The next day. Started right in on that.
That’s very interesting. Had you already had a concept for the air gun before that time?
Yes. We had already had some ideas of —
John had I know. I don’t know about others. Because he used to talk about, but never had any time to —
To pursue it.
To pursue it. Yes.
Yes. That makes sense.
It was always one of these days.
But it took, didn’t it, until the early 1960s before the air gun became reliable enough that it was — that it replaced using the shot charges?
It was about then. Yes. I don’t remember exactly when, but I can look it up.
Perhaps it was a little bit later then before the air gun had really become in operation.
Well it was no more than a year or so until we got an operating air gun.
A working? Interesting.
It was on a ship with Bill Ludwig. Ludwig was the chief scientist on that, and that got broken in on that time. Roger went out with the air gun —
Which Roger is this?
Z A U N E R E.
Interesting. And one of the other things I wanted to make sure we covered was the other technological developments that you were helping to pioneer in terms of making the recording. One of the challenges involved simply, once the shots were becoming more and more frequent, being able to get the recording instrument to come into operation just as the shot was being made. And was this an effort that you were particularly leading? When you were working on the — when you were modifying the time specsimile drum recorders for that work?
This was an effort that you were particularly leading, wasn’t it?
Oh yes. Oh yes. That was hand in glove with the air gun.
With the air gun development?
What was the biggest challenge that you faced? What did you most want to see modified within the?
We wanted something that would run without shooting.
In terms of the recorder, you mean?
No, the air gun.
The air gun.
Well, the recorder was an old facsimile system that we converted with on a drum recorder. And it would, we’d get a bang every ten seconds.
Ten second intervals, right.
Yes. Ten. And it was still, oh, three or four, five more years before the big long streamers came along.
Was that something that you were working on with Harry Van Santford in the electronics shop?
What sort of person was he?
I don’t know. He was, you know, he was an ordinary guy, that I can tell you. I don’t know what you would say about him. I don’t know. I can’t tell you.
He was a quiet man.
Yes, he was very quiet.
Where was his facility located at Lamont? Was it within the machine shop at the time?
It was in the swimming pool, wasn’t it?
Yes. He was in the swimming pool.
Swimming pool building, shall we say.
And we had, we had a big tank full of water out to play with the air gun. Put it in the water and bang it forever just to be sure that it worked that well.
I’m sure you remember the building of the new machine shop. Betty and
Did that become difficult to maintain once the funding for contracts began to shift in the late 1960s?
Fortunately Angelo had dropped off enough material that you could work on it for quite a while.
Too bad you have not had the opportunity to talk with Angelo.
I wish I could have. I’m curious if you remember when things started to get difficult. Clearly there’s a perception that the money began to evaporate for the machine shop and other areas. And the problem was in the nature of the block, of losing the block grant funding that allowed flexibility in terms of instrument development?
Well, I think what happened there was that we came to a point where you could buy a lot of things, rather than build them yourself.
They were becoming commercially available.
They were, that’s right. I think that’s what happened. I think that was the demise of the shop.
But you know, there was still a — the last time I was there — there was still a lot of stock, really good stock that Angelo had squirreled away.
Did Angelo talk about that change? About the difficulties that he was running into at that time?
Oh yes. He was.
Not at all keen on. He was miserable about it.
One of the other developments. We may want to take a break or even bring this particular session to a close, but how active did you become involved in the ideas that lead up to Project Mohole? Did you talk much with Maurice about the idea of extending the drilling to?
Oh we all talked and discussed that. He was all for it. You know, the drilling. You know, there’s not much else you can do if you can’t drill. You can drill hard rock in the long and deep wells. No, you had to have — There had to be deep sea drilling for us to learn our stuff. No question about it.
Did he talk to you about the difficulties in setting up the early contracts with the Mohole project?
Well, yes, there were some problems. I know some of the, some of the people that drill for oil — oil companies. I think there was quite a lot of question about whether to just hire one of those people or build another, or have another special thing drilling. And it sort of came out the same way. The first few programs — I forget how they went — I don’t remember which companies did them. Do you?
Brown and Root.
Brown and Root. But I think there was a push to get a well drilling thing that was different from the oil companies’ thing. Not as, I don’t know. I forgot.
One thing I was also very curious about was how early the discussions were that you remember for Industrial Associates?
John started it.
Yes. We, Doc and I, wrote a paper on that very thing to try to get a long hole drilling started. And I think it did probably have a —Somewhere in my pile of trash there’s a paper in there that I’m trying to think what it was.
But one thing I’m very curious about is how important did Industrial Associates become in terms of Lamont’s development and its broader relations? I’m just curious in terms of fund raising and in the kinds of contacts that you were developing.
Well, I think this stirred up enough interest in the whole community.
Yes. There was a lot of work back and forth. The oil companies were very helpful in their way. And they got out of Lamont what they wanted. And then Woods Hole started an Industrial Associates and I think the others.
Interesting. So that became a template for other institutions. That’s very interesting. Certainly there are developments I want to make sure that we cover for the late 1960s and 1970s, including the time that you come back here to Woods Hole. But we’ve been talking now for two hours and I think this might be a good time for us to bring this segment of the interview to a close.
I think so.
So let me thank you both very, very much again.