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Interview of Kenneth Hunkins by Ronald Doel on 1996 March 12, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/22591-1
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Born March 3, 1928 in Lake Placid, NY; discusses childhood and family life. Describes his undergraduate education at Yale, 1946-1950; comments on being drafted and serving in the Korean War, 1950-1953. Began graduate school at Stanford in geophysics, January 1954; describes the coursework and instructors in his program. Discusses the International Geophysical Year at length; describes his research and experience in the arctic at Alpha Station. Comments on his Ph.D. thesis and his employment with Lamont afterwards and since. Describes the transition from Alpha research to the T-3 station; discusses the discovery of the Alpha rise mountain range. Describes the transition from Alpha to the T-3 station; comments on his research there and the social atmosphere on the ice island. Discusses his work in Baltimore Canyon, 1970 and submarine research on NR1; discusses the Fram project in Greenland in the 1970s and how it compared to his work there in the 1990s. Comments on the technological developments throughout his career, especially the satellite navigational systems.
This is Ron Doel and this is an interview with Kenneth L. Hunkins. Today’s date is March 12, 1996 and we’re making this recording at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York. I know that you were born on March 3, 1928 in Lake Placid, New York.
But I don’t know much about your family or your early life. Who were your parents and what did they do?
Well my father was Harlan Kenneth Hunkins and my mother is Florence Olsen Hunkins. My father was an independent business man. He had a company which distributed gasoline and petroleum products. He had what amounts to a franchise for ESSO, which are now Exxon products. He distributed to gasoline stations and he owned some gasoline stations through a fairly big area but it’s very low density population there in the Adirondack Mountains. But that was the family business which he had started. He had originally gone there [to Lake Placid] because he worked for a big private hotel club called the Lake Placid Club and eventually left that to form his own business. And which was the business my brother continued with, but obviously I didn’t feel I had any particular business ability so I was the one that left. And that’s how I started. And of course Lake Placid is a winter resort as well as a summer resort town.
In fact I still go back there, have a place there, actually two places — one summer and one winter. So I did love that kind of environment. Somebody the other day was saying to me probably that influenced you. And I said, oh yes, I’m sure it did. When it came to the International Geophysical Year time, 1957-58 when I was an advanced graduate student by that time.
And you began to read a lot in the papers about Antarctica and how the U.S. was going to send scientists to Antarctica. I became interested because I felt, well, this is something I know how to do, the Polar Regions and all.
You felt comfortable with the kind of environment.
I want to make sure that we cover that in detail a little bit later on. I’m curious; did the Great Depression affect your father’s business?
I would say not so much. In other words I was just thinking the other day that the depression you know was a major factor in a lot of people’s lives, but I would say not so much because at that time the automobile usage was increasing. This was say 1930s, late twenties and into the thirties, all the way of course to World War II and since then. But it was increasing so that the business did fairly well. I mean I’m sure he worked very hard to increase it, and, so we didn’t feel the depression probably as much as many people did. I would call it middle class life.
What sort of house did you live in as you were growing up?
When I was born, my father still worked for the Lake Placid Club and we lived in some housing which they provided which was a multi-family, like three families in a rather big framed building. Then we moved to another house which was also owned by the Club. They owned enormous amounts of property, that club did. When I think of it sometimes, it was a world unto itself. They had their own farms; they had a couple of farms to furnish fresh eggs for the guests. They had as well as all the sports facilities; they had their own dairies. They had stores, everything. For a kid it was kind of interesting because I could visualize everything there. They had their own fire department and all these things in addition to the village facilities. They were on the other side of the lake. They had two and a half golf courses. They had — one day I was out there and I said I’m going to count the tennis courts — and they had twenty-two tennis courts and all this kind of thing. Their sports directors and instructors were often European. Like they would have an Austrian ski coach or the tennis coach was often this woman who had been the women’s champion of France, things like that. It was a cosmopolitan flavor for such a small town for a young boy growing up. Plus they had very wealthy people as guests. So you would hear about those people or see them sometimes, who would be heads of big corporations or a wealthy family of sorts. So it was interesting. It was a very small town but an interesting one. In other words you felt you were a little in touch with the world.
Yes. Did you also hear foreign languages spoken on the streets or in the buildings that you were in?
No, I would say not.
No I would say not. Cause the guests were primarily of course people from America. So they didn’t have too many guests from abroad. I can remember like Prince Peter of Yugoslavia which was a long time ago. Wartime in his country and him being a guest. There’d be a few people like that but not, mostly they were solid American from big companies. During the war, there were many refugees from Nazi Germany who spoke German among themselves as they strolled. Also, there were often winter sports competitors who spoke Norwegian, German and French among themselves.
How many generations did your family been in the United States?
My father’s name is English. We had some good genealogy done by a family member so we can trace it back to the Revolutionary War. Captain Robert Hunkins. So that’s many generations. I can count them on a hand though but, about five or six generations.
And then maybe earlier than that. But they probably — the name came over in the sixteen hundreds. But my mother was the daughter of immigrants from Norway. She was born in this country but her parents were both born in Norway. So I’m a mix of long and short family histories in this country.
Right, right. Did your mother speak Norwegian?
No she didn’t. In fact she told me that. She never really learned it but they only used it around the house when she was a little girl — she was born in 1899 — so this is right before the First World War. They used it around the house when they wanted to keep something from the children. But she was able to pick up enough so that one day her parents saw her listening very attentively. And they said, “Do you understand what we’re saying?” And she was very proud of herself and she said yes. And of course after that they didn’t share their secrets like that anymore; they went out of the room I guess. So she had really no Norwegian.
So I didn’t hear any other languages, mostly just English.
Did either of your parents attend college?
No. No. Neither of them was in college. My father had not even gone to high school. He was a remarkable kind of self-made man. He grew up on farm because the Hunkins family had been farmers up until his generation. In fact he’d had a farm early in his life.
So he felt comfortable around a farm.
Yes. His farm was north of the Adirondacks near the Canadian border, St. Lawrence Valley. In fact he had a farm all at the time we were young with a tenant on it. So we used to make trips periodically — which would be about seventy miles from Lake Placid — out of the mountains and into the flat plains of the St. Lawrence Valley. You know to visit, we had relatives. We’d stay a little bit. I suppose I didn’t enjoy that as much as my brother did. I was more of a town boy. But he really reveled in that.
Was your brother older?
Younger. Younger than I.
And that was the family — you and your brother.
Just two boys. And we didn’t have any relatives in that village of Lake Placid. My mother’s relatives were mostly down in the area from where they had come. Norwegian immigrants came to Brooklyn and so I had a lot of relatives in this area. My father’s relatives were all pretty much up in the St. Lawrence valley.
Did you travel much when you were growing up?
Yes, well to some extent. I wouldn’t say a lot but my father did take us on trips. He particularly was interested in American history so he would like to go to places like Philadelphia or Boston and see the American historical buildings and monuments and things like that. Yes, we got a little history that way.
So primarily on the east coast.
Oh yes, yes right. No, we never went west or further afield or abroad or anything like that. No. Mostly New England was the real interest.
Did you have hobbies when you were growing up?
Well I was interested in science as I grew up. I built model airplanes as a kid. I guess that was one. And I had a home chemistry lab in the basement. That sort of thing.
How early did you start doing —?
That sort of thing.
That sort of — yes. Was that high school for the chemistry kit or earlier?
More high school I would think. Yes. I don’t think I was into science much earlier than that. At least junior high school, like eighth grade and maybe later.
Do you remember reading much as a child?
Oh yes. I was a great reader. Yes an extensive reader and still am. You know, very bookish.
When you think back on it were any books particularly memorable?
You know one thing about myself which is different probably from many people in science is that I would say I was always a little bit of a literary type in that I liked to read a lot of other kinds of things, other than science. I mean I read a lot of classics and was always interested in that. And I still am. So that took up a lot of my time. Reading. And the types of reading. Yes, I was omnivorous so I had all classics and we also had — my parents always were trying to do the middle class thing. We had encyclopedias and that sort of thing. And good book sets when we were kids, of the classics and that kind of thing.
Interesting. Do you remember any books particularly in the sciences?
In the sciences. I mean I can just think of my bedroom as a kid. And I’m trying to think. I always used to have a stack and this is more up to the minute — Popular Science magazine. That was a good one.
Your family subscribed or you did?
Oh, I subscribed. Sure, yes. And you know I used to write for books. I don’t know where I got the money but books were cheaper in that day anyway. So I wrote away for quite a few books. This was probably high school. And I would just you know, send them a check and get the book back in the mail. So this probably seems like an expensive way to do it, but those were books you couldn’t get in the library. And oh I can remember books like Growth and Form. I still have that someplace by [D’Arcy Wentworth] Thompson. This was a famous book. I see they have reprinted it in late years. I had chemistry books in high school, organic chemistry books. So you know I just, to this day I think I know a little organic chemistry which the average person doesn’t know unless they took a course. They were not high school; they were college texts for organic chemistry. Two books which were of significant influence were Paul de Kruif’s Microbe Hunters and Sinclair Lewis’ Arrowsmith. Both portrayed scientific research as a dramatic, almost religious calling.
Things like that. Although today, of course — I never went into chemistry.
Were you reading things like Creative Chemistry, the [Edwin E.] Siosson?
Oh that’s the high school, was that a high school book or?
Broad, semi-popular work at the time that introduced chemistry to.
I tell you, no, now that you mention that I can tell you something that all links up and has cross links in it. I had two books by a man named George Gray and one was called The Advancing Front of Medicine and one was The Advancing Front of Science. George Gray was a popular science writer of that day and in fact I think he was the science editor for The New York Times. And those were nice books. And the interesting thing is that connects up to the present day, he lived in this area. In fact my wife knows where he lived. And his daughter, who is a very old lady now, lives in this area and I saw her not too long ago. So I mean things kind of come around. And I told her, I had read your father’s books when I was a young boy. And she said oh yes, he wrote those books. So I did have some of those and I remember we used to send away for them. And it was always interesting, McGraw Hill published, the really big serious science books at that time and you know you can see them on the shelves here today.
Right. You’re pointing to your shelves here.
My shelves still have a lot of McGraw-Hill books. But you know they’re not the big publishers that they were. There’s a McGraw Hill.
We’re looking at the Morse and Feshbach, Methods of Theoretical Physics.
Right. But the academic presses and others have taken over a lot of that publishing today.
Right. Were you working part-time jobs when you were growing up, do you remember?
I did. I worked not too much but I did work sometimes. You know we had a magazine route, that sort of thing. And also I worked for my father’s business. So when I got older in high school and summers I would work for that business. And the work went in this form; it was outdoor work with the maintenance crews. For example, in the summertime we would go around to the gasoline stations and refurbish them, paint the pumps or put up new signs, when they had these big oval signs. And maybe put up a new island, concrete pump island. It was construction, general handy work and some. But I’d go with a crew. Of course I didn’t know how to do any of those things. And with one or two other fellows. And it was good for me because it was really getting in touch with what’s going on in those little towns because we’d be around at one of those stations for a number of days, a week or so maybe, to get the jobs done that needed to be done there. And maybe we’d have to drive out there because some of those stations — the furthest that my father’s stations went were maybe as much as sixty or seventy miles away. So we had to drive long distances to go to those stations and very low density populations, as I said. And they’re scattered and they’d be these little crossroad stations out in the country. And that way you came into contact with the people, and it was kind of interesting which I wouldn’t have seen otherwise.
And when you’re there for a few days you get the layout.
You get to know, who hangs around there and who comes out of the woodwork, down from the hills or something. So that was a good kind of thing for me. Plus I was, as I said, bookish and everything. So it was good for me to do that kind of work like that. Shoveling and mixing cement and things like that; painting.
Did your parents share you interest, your emerging interest in science?
Not really. Not so much. No. I mean they were proud if I won some prizes in high school or something like that, and they would always support me as far as I bought books or something. They never would criticize that or anything. They were supportive, sure. But they didn’t really. They didn’t have a higher education and they weren’t so knowledgeable about such things, but they were proud of those kinds of things that I did.
Was your brother interested in the sciences?
No, he was not interested in that. He continued with my father’s business as I said. And he still lives there and he has a very nice way of life. He has built a house and he has other houses nearby where his daughter and her family live. And another house where his son, who’s not married, lives in an enclave there in a beautiful part of the country. He has a very nice family arrangement. I think it’s almost unique in this day and age. And I do see him quite a bit. In a couple of weeks we’re going up there — I still like to ski a lot, and, retired, I do more. I just was in Utah about two weeks ago for a week. And he and I are going to Colorado in another ten days. So we ski a lot and we get together. So yes right, he’s three years younger than I am. But he doesn’t have science interest. I mean he’s interested in everything but that’s not his field. He’s in business. He’s really, a good businessman. I would say an influence was the high school. We had very good high school science teachers.
I was going to ask you in fact about which teachers were particularly memorable for you.
The high school science teacher was very memorable. We had a man named Gerald Uvanni. And he was very interested in science. I would say probably more interested in biology than in physics, but he covered everything. And he taught most of the, in fact, probably all of the high school science courses. He was very encouraging so that you could go into the lab room and play with things. And sometimes he had a little extra budget and he would ask me or others what he ought to do; you know what you would be interested in. And I remember this.
What did you recommend?
Oh I remember. This is what I was interested in. I recommended that we get a vacuum pump and also I was interested in high voltage and making something like fluorescent tubes today but with high voltage discharge through a vacuum and you get at these low vacuums you get colors. And there were exciting things, great big sparks. And I recommended that and he did get a good high voltage induction coil and a vacuum pump by which we could draw down air pressure in a Bell jar and things like that. So he was very encouraging. Very interesting fellow. What he liked was Fabre, Jean Fabre, the French naturalist. They were very popular books at one time. And I remember he had a shelf of the Fabre books above his desk.
It sounds like you interacted with him quite a bit.
On yes, right.
Even outside of the —
He was good. At that time I’m sure I was an awkward adolescent and he had a little more interest than that in the science. He was a very good jazz pianist. He always played in the local restaurant, maybe it’s turned into a bar; whatever you want call it at night. So they would sometimes have a trio there. And he’d play piano.
Interesting. Very interesting. And how often would you — would you see him outside of class in the evening or was it mostly or entirely at the school?
Mostly at the school. But we did have a science club and of course there we would meet, I don’t remember, probably evenings. And there were a few others who were interested in science. It was a small group but there were a few others, maybe at the most half a dozen or so because it was a very small school.
How big was the school?
Our graduating class was something like thirty to thirty-five. I don’t remember the exact number. It was very small.
What sort of things did you do in the science club?
As I recall, we got together for discussion and some people might have some kind of a demonstration. One fellow was really interested in volcanoes so he had researched that a lot. I mean library research. And he wrote some kind of a paper on it. That’s one I remember. And others were interested — one woman was interested in biology so she might talk about something. Oh we got people to speak. One time we got the funeral director to speak and so we asked him about embalming. And he explained it to us. I have never seen anybody else explain that anywhere. You know, it’s kind of a morbid subject to most people. So that must have been what really struck me. You know, he would explain how they replaced the blood and all the details, with embalming fluid. That’s the only one that stands out in my mind, but we must have gotten some speakers at times to talk about. Practical things in a small town like that. We might have gotten somebody from a dairy to explain how they separated cream and made ice cream and things like that. That type of applied technology really.
Very interesting. Let me ask this. Did you feel that there was a particular science that you were particularly interested in or throughout high school did you feel attracted to the broad range of science?
I must have been attracted to; I think to biology a lot. You know I was thinking about it. We would read, this was the war time, read about penicillin, and things like that. So I remember growing a lot of molds. I was attracted to biology — oh and you know mechanical parts of biology — like [Charles] Lindbergh and a man named [Alexis] Carrel were creating an artificial heart or something, so I was interested in a mechanical heart. And they were keeping animals alive that way and with a mechanical pump. So I was interested in that sort of a thing. I suppose it was the more abstract part of biology. You know how a single cell works and things like that rather than the more animal veterinary type of biology.
So that was my interest. But I was also interested in physics. We had model airplanes. I remember building little testing devices to test the pull of a propeller so that you could design more efficient propellers. So it’s really kind of engineering. We had an apparatus at which you could wind it up with rubber band and then it had a device like a scale so that you could tell how much pull it had. And then you could take a new propeller and try it again. And so that was engineering type of sciences, you might call it.
Were there students interested in astronomy? Was there anything like an astronomy class?
Well no, that doesn’t strike me as something that we were really into. I mean I don’t remember a good telescope or anything like that. That never surfaced.
I don’t remember. Although it would have been a good area because you know the sky is pretty clear.
That is one of the reasons that prompted me to ask.
The village is about two thousand feet and of course it’s far from any urban centers so the skies are very good there.
Right. You mentioned Uvanni; were there any other high school teachers that were memorable for you given that your interests were fairly broad across the —
Yes. I think we had a remarkably good set of high school teachers. I should say that class was ‘46 and so this year we’re going to have a fiftieth anniversary. And you know to that reunion will come a fair percentage of those who graduated. I mean they didn’t lose contact over the years. Of course a certain number of them still live in Lake Placid. And we’ll have this reunion. And actually we had our forty-fifth in ‘91 and some of the teachers came. It was fun. There was Mr. [David] Alpert; he was social sciences teacher. He was very good and he was always provocative. He always had those questions to get you going. Like you know you have your conventional thinking from your very business parents or something you know about Republicans and so on and he’d always provoke you and you know practically take the side of Communism or something and just disturb everybody. So he was good. And oh yes we had a number of good teachers. The social sciences were good. I was always interested in English but I can hardly remember my English teachers right now. It was an interest that was beyond just the teachers; it was just a general interest in literature.
When you were seventeen, thinking about it, you and everyone had the word of the dropping of the atomic bomb. Did that, what do you recall — did that influence your interest in science?
Not too much. You know I guess it was just probably not comprehensible. But I was interested in those things I suppose because I recall me having a picture of a rocket ship which was a big thing from way back in the twenties or thirties; Buck Rogers and all that. Which would have probably appeared in an ad which I had cut out and pasted it up somewhere in my bedroom of a rocket ship which was supposed to be propelled by uranium and atomic power? I guess we still don’t really have that yet. But that was kind of in the air. But the bomb itself I don’t recall making a — well it must have made an influence, people, everybody was talking about it. Couldn’t really understand it you know at that point. More, almost a bigger thing I can remember was the end of the war, VJ Day, was the final end of the war, came, well let’s see VE, VJ Day came in the spring, late spring.
VE was in late spring.
VE and then VJ day was more in the summer, wasn’t it in August?
Yes, that’s right.
So I remember VE Day. Also I worked in the post office. I forgot to say that. I worked in the post office at Lake Placid Club which had its own post office. In addition to fire department, dairies and farms, it had its own post office. I worked in the post office there for summers. I remember leaving the post office, going around the lake towards the village, and a friend of mine, my closest friend — his family ran a big hotel there, not a club — called the Mirror Lake Inn. And you know somehow I got over there and he said did you know the war is over? You know that was like almost hit me more than probably the atom bomb. It was the war in Europe because that’s the one I think that most probably people from our home town went. And I just missed being in World War II because I was eighteen in 1946. I just missed the war. But of course up until then I probably thought I might get in it. I missed that but I graduated from college in 1950 which was the beginning of the Korean War and I made that one.
We’ll be sure to cover that when we get up to that point. Were any of your friends from high school interested in science in the way that you were?
No, I didn’t have any close buddies I would say that were like people that I worked with in science. I was more of a loner I would say. But I had good friend in other things. I can remember this one good friend, the same one at the hotel, the Mirror Lake Inn. And he was a very close friend and sometime in the fall — of course there are beautiful autumns there with the colors of the trees — and he said well — It must be that I was always interested in science. He said you only see this as a breakdown of chlorophyll into the anthocyanins and everything right. We’re walking up the road one beautiful fall day. So you know, so right, I had to take a little flak that way. [Laughter] That’s all the scientist sees, the chemical processes.
How did you make your decision about college? Was it clear to you from high school forward that you would be going to college?
Yes, I think it was pretty clear that I would. And I mean I would think that I would feel my parents were probably able to do that and I was good at science. They had prizes in those days for —
You mentioned that and I was curious about which ones you had won.
So they had a physics prize, they had a chemistry prize and so on. And I did win the physics prize, the math prize at the senior year and the Bausch and Lomb Science Award. I don’t think I won the chemistry prize. I didn’t win that. So you know I was really planning that I would go to college. I didn’t know anything. The local people went to local colleges around there. I would say St. Lawrence University would be one or, if you’re really into science, maybe RPI [Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute] in Troy, New York.
It would have been about sixty miles or so, or a little more?
To go to Albany, yes, it would be more like over a hundred. Because Lake Placid from here is about two seventy almost three hundred and Albany’s about half way. So I thought about those but somehow, I would say my interest, at that point you know somehow I got interested in — literature was always a motivating factor too — and I suppose Yale, I read about it in books. I would hate to admit this now but I’m sure it came more from reading stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald or somebody like that. You know from like the days of twenties or something. I mean that wasn’t a very good reason for picking out a college, but I didn’t have any other way to pick it out. I didn’t have any relatives that went to college. And my teachers didn’t recommend any particular ones. So it would have been natural probably for me to go to RPI but then I thought I don’t really want to be that specialized, you know, only in an engineering college. And I wanted a little more social life and stuff like that. That was my idea; I’m sure, at that time.
So that’s how I came to go. I think I applied to MIT but I don’t think I got in. I didn’t apply anywhere else. No. I think I applied to Brown and I might not have gotten accepted. Though probably I tend to reject those — reject the rejection memories. But I did get accepted to Yale and that’s where I went for four years. And I was undecided even at that point on what I was going to major in so I took a broad freshman year where I could have continued on either into their engineering curriculum, their science curriculum or their liberal arts curriculum. I was really hedging everything. And you didn’t have to make up your mind about a major until the end of the sophomore year. And up to that point I could have majored in English even. I took Chaucer courses at the same time I was taking calculus. So I wasn’t sure I was committed to being, you know, a super scientist.
Do you remember what field your adviser at that time up to your sophomore year was in?
You know I don’t have much recollection of an adviser. No.
They must have given us some advice but it wasn’t anybody that was memorable.
Clearly it wasn’t memorable. That’s important by itself.
Yes, so it was kind of a lone decision on my part on just how I went with the courses. And at that point I could see English wasn’t probably right for me. I wasn’t a fluent writer. I mean I wasn’t like some of these people that could just take a theme and go with it. I was much too factual and tight about my writing. You know I had to be objective and everything had to be documented and everything. So I wasn’t one of those that just could let their imagination go and then write something interesting. And those others became magazine writers or book writers or whatever, at least the really good ones.
But you perceived that in the courses that you were taking in the English?
That I was better at the sciences. I was better at the sciences than at English.
How did you feel about in the mathematics courses? Had you had good preparation did you feel at Lake Placid in that?
I think I had pretty good preparation. You know, for a little high school they taught a lot. I had elementary algebra, intermediate algebra, advanced algebra, plain geometry and solid geometry. That was a good background. But actually when I started at Yale I took the first year of calculus and there I was lost for the fall semester. That was really hard and I had other fellows on the same dorm floor — I went to high school — who had gone to boarding schools, prep schools, where they had given them a little pre-calculus. And so they were a little more comfortable with this. So I felt that I had to really struggle and those people had enough background. But I remember — that in a way I did have a good solid background, but I was really dumped into this calculus.
Indeed at all but a few of those schools calculus wasn’t taught at the high school level.
No, no. Only those people that had some special boarding school background had that.
How did you find the engineering courses that you were taking?
I took the engineering drawing; they called it, which was mechanical drawing and that sort of thing. That appealed to me but I felt somehow I wasn’t really an engineer. Probably wasn’t that practical or something. So at the end of that year, — well the calculus courses, of course, were required for engineering. And I took a physics course. Physics was two years and you took it along with the calculus. So you had two years of calculus, two years of physics by the time you were at the end of the sophomore year.
Did you have biology by this point?
And I never took any biology in college.
No. I didn’t try that. In college, I was really interested in the skiing and mountaineering and all these things. And we had a good bunch of people from the west coast, from Seattle, because Yale tried to get a geographical distribution in its student population. And they were really into the mountaineering and formed a mountaineering club and so we were really involved. And to this day I keep in touch with some of them.
And would you go west at that point during break periods or did you ski in New England?
Right, only in New England — the east.
Of course I would have had ambitions to go west and mountaineer and so but I never really did that. I never got into it to that level. The junior year, I did go with a friend of mine, Art Jubin, who I’d grown up with and was my age, and he had a sister who was a dog sled driver. She was really a fanatic for dogs. They had so many dogs. And she eventually went to Alaska and married, met someone else who was going up there from Idaho, also a dog team driver and fanatic. So Art and I went up there after our junior year. We took a truck up for his sister. Went together and bought the truck, a pickup truck. And we drove it up with a lot of things they needed; they were building a new house; bathroom fixtures and things like that for them. And we drove it and of course we had to go west. So that was my first experience to go west. So we went up through western Canada, Calgary, and Edmonton and up and over the Alcan Highway.
Right; which was of course newly?
Just open; couldn’t have been more than two or three years old. So that was an adventurous trip.
I’m sure that was. How long did that take?
Well, I would say we might have been on the road a couple of weeks. Yes, it was slow going. And it’s just a gravel road, like I don’t know; it’s fifteen hundred miles of gravel road. You know so you couldn’t maintain a really high speed. So it took a while.
I can imagine.
One thing I’m still curious about is how — you made clear that selecting the sciences was in essence a winnowing down from other opportunities. What was it do you feel that particularly interested you about this that inclined you in that direction.
You know I would say — of course I had the basic chemistry course too. Somehow physics appealed to me more. I felt that’s basically what I am, a physicist, for some reason. I mean it seemed clean — not that I was good at it; in fact I don’t think I had a very good record. I was kind of Bs and Cs in physics. And I attribute that at least partly to the fact that I wasn’t a great student in the sense that I did a lot skiing and these mountaineering things and so on which would take a lot of time. So I wasn’t —
A lot of weekends.
A lot of weekends, right. So you know I was a middle student kind of, not exceptional or anything like that. But, I did like it. It seemed like something I could connect with. They did have the labs; I liked them. Particle physics I was interested in, but I suppose I liked the nineteenth century classical physics where there was light, heat or mechanics, those kinds of things I could connect with. And of course we couldn’t do too many experiments in particle physics anyway in a basic physics lab. So they were mostly light, heat and sound experiments, mechanical experiments.
Were any of the instructors or professors there particularly memorable?
Oh yes I remember some of those physics professors. But at that time they were, you know, they had been there since long before the war and they seemed — it was kind of old, and in some ways the department itself wasn’t exciting. I know I was, as I said, looking for something a little more and eventually talked to one of the newer professors who had come from Cal Tech and asked him about geophysics which I don’t even know how I found out there was such a thing. Somehow, maybe in my father’s literature or something.
I was going to ask if maybe he played a role.
Maybe. That’s probably it. Because he of course would get things like — and I still get it — The Lamp which is a publication that the Standard Oil has always put out for shareholders. And of course they would tell in popular terms how oil exploration was conducted. I’m sure I got some of that idea from that end of the oil industry, which was completely the opposite end from his. His was down to the wholesaling and retailing and the other end was how it came out of the ground and then the middle was more the chemist’s part: the oil refining. But I was interested in the exploration. Because also just the name exploration meant you’re looking for the unknown but in a very practical way of course in that case.
Who was it that you recall that you had asked had that conversation about at Yale?
To this day I cannot remember his name. I mean on this day I cannot remember his name.
That’s all right; things to be added to the transcript later.
Okay. But he taught a course in sound and he taught it at a very high level for an undergraduate like me. And you know I probably still have that book Vibration and Sound. It was a difficult course for me. And I remember going to his rooms — he was a bachelor, a young fellow. And he lived in one of the colleges, he was a fellow of Berkeley College as I recall. And so I remember going over there. I lived in a different college, Pierson. And you know I made an appointment to see him some evenings and ask him some questions. But I asked him about geophysics. What was that? You know is this something you’d been doing? Of course he didn’t know too much about it because he was more in academic physics, but he had come from California so he had heard about such things. And actually as I said, [Herbert] Hoover [Jr.], the younger Hoover was the head of a company out there and that’s about what he knew.
Right. And you had mentioned that of course off tape when we were first discussing matters and he had remembered the son of President Hoover who had been involved in —
And who was the head of one of the big geophysical exploration companies. I believe the name was United Geophysical. So that’s the first that I really began to think about that. But the whole thing was interrupted because just about that time the Korean War began, which was in the spring of my senior year. So it became obvious — the draft was still in existence — that we would be in service which I was by that fall of ‘50.
What I’m really curious about; did you have any contact when you were still at Yale with the geology department which was at the time one of the premier?
Oh yes, oh that’s a strange thing, right. I had no contact with the geology department. I was not a geologist at all, and it’s a strange thing that I didn’t go into that. I must have liked things to be a little more precise or something. And there’s nobody ever — no one ever suggested maybe you should take a geology course. I never even had the elementary geology courses and that all came to a head when I decided I wanted to go into geophysics. I didn’t have the geo part of it as a background to go into graduate school. So when I went to Stanford after I got out of the service.
I’m curious what did you do when you were in the service?
Okay, so I went; I was drafted into the Army. I decided for some reason, and I don’t know what it was, something in my personality, that I was going to be a lieutenant. Now most of the people, with my background, with a physics bachelor’s degree, they could get a job with some technical part of the Army; like go to Aberdeen Proving Ground and work on ballistics tests or something like that. But I just decided no, I was going to be in the regular army and get a commission so I eventually went to OCS, Officers Candidate School, and got a commission in the infantry. And from there I eventually went to Korea which was the whole purpose of it. And I was a second lieutenant of infantry in Korea from fall of 1952 until summer of 1953. So I was there about nine months; with a few trips back to Japan, back and forth, but mostly in Korea. I was a second lieutenant. I had the standard kind of group. I was in a platoon, rifle platoon in the beginning. By the time we were there — I was there — it was pretty much a stagnant line and the action was patrol action for our types of units. So the Chinese and North Koreans were on one side and we were on the other with a no man’s land in between, you know holding the high ground. So these were stable, pretty much stabilized lines along the 38th parallel, but deviating depending on the strategic value of the different topography. So it was all patrol action to go into that no man’s land which would generally be a valley between the two lines. And it was all night patrol so that was what I did. And you know of course it was very risky. You didn’t know whether you were going to survive or not. But eventually I did. And if you survived a certain number of the rifle platoon scouting reconnaissance patrols, you generally would get moved back. So I eventually became the weapons platoon leader which meant you were in charge of the weapons for that infantry company: the heavier weaponry — the mortars and machine guns — which of course would be deployed back a little. And then eventually one frosty morning when we were trying to get the mortars seated and the men were out there and the rice paddies were all frozen so they wouldn’t seat, they bounce, and that means they can’t really zero in. They shoot once and then you typically realign but if the base plate bounced on the frozen, really solid ice, not in soft ground, then you’re off again. So it was a very frustrating morning and then the colonel [Lt. Colonel Harry Clark] who I really liked, being a great commander of our battalion, came up one morning and he said, seeing me standing up there in the snow. “Hunkins, would you like to come back to battalion headquarters with me?” And I said, “Yes sir.” And so then I became an S-4 which was a supply officer. So that was further back and also it was a staff position so I had no troop responsibilities. I held that for a long time and then by the next spring after Col. Clark was wounded out the new commander chose a new staff and somebody else was given that job and I was sent to a heavy weapons company in that battalion as a recon officer until I rotated. So those were the different jobs I had in the service in Korea.
And during that time you remained interested in geophysics as what you would want to do.
Yes. I didn’t have any chance to pursue it or anything like that. But when I got out I was still interested. So as I said they signed the peace treaty on my trip home while I was crossing the Pacific on a troop ship. They signed the peace treaty which was in August of ‘53. As I got home I knew I was going to get discharged which I did rapidly. And then I began to think about going to college or back to graduate school and it was the only thing that I had in my mind. So I applied to Harvard and then I was talking about this earlier I guess — to Harvard and to Colorado School of Mines and to Stanford. Those are the only three I recall.
How did you find out about those three?
How did I even know that? I’m really curious myself. You know how did I know the Harvard one? ‘Cause Francis Birch was the fairly well known professor there. I really didn’t even have contact. When I think back about it, I was very naive. Most people will go and really try to research it and get in touch with the major professor and at least get an interview with him. But I suppose I was a very shy, not very outgoing kind of a young fellow, and also assumed always — probably I still do that — that somebody else — that everything’s okay. And you know without a lot of talk or anything. So I didn’t really interview him. And somehow they lost some of my papers.
Yes, the admissions. So then I had to go back and then I had to do everything all over again and then I got discouraged. Colorado School of Mines accepted me immediately and so did Stanford. And then I just opted for Stanford; seemed like a bigger, broader environment since I’d always been interested in things like literature and everything, it seemed nicer for me to be at a really big university rather than a school of mines.
With the broader environment. So that’s how I came to go. And also California had a certain glamour to it.
What were your impressions of the program in Stanford when you arrived there?
It was primarily directed to oil exploration. They had gotten a certain amount of money from a man named Henry Salvatori who was the head of Western Geophysical Company, another oil exploration company, an independent exploration company. And he had given them a certain amount of money and they built a very simple building, which I understand now is gone, they tore it down. But it was a fairly inexpensive building, cement block, but very small, one story, probably about a half a dozen offices down one side and down the other side was a couple more offices and a lab and a bathroom and at the very end was a bigger room across the end which was the library. And that was it. But it was separate from the main quadrangle which at Stanford is mission style, sandstone — I don’t know if you’ve ever been there.
I have and indeed it’s a very beautiful area of the campus.
So we were outside the quadrangle but nearby. It was the Mineral Sciences corner of the quadrangle but we were outside of it. And the professor was [Joshua L.] Soske, a man named Soske. He had been an oil exploration man all his life, or I mean most of his life. And his Ph.D. was from Cal Tech. He didn’t have any book himself; he had written a part of a book called Exploration Geophysics. He wrote the seismic part of it.
What was your training like there? What kinds of courses did you cover in geophysics?
Well I had to start from scratch because as I said I had no geology at Yale.
So the deal was — and of course I felt mature and older because I was then twenty five years old, and I felt a little older than most of the students. And I had to more or less devise a program and again with my way of thinking, I didn’t try for any easy way out. I just assumed that — and the counselors or whoever would agree with that. Okay, I’ll just take the whole curriculum of undergraduate geology and get that out of my way. Little questions. Could I take like structural geology at the same time I’m taking elementary geology? Or things like that. But I doubled up on some of those and went through the whole thing in about a year and half I would say. But of course — see I don’t think here today they would force anybody to do anything like that. You know they would say okay. They allow you to specialize much more, much earlier. But then they said, oh no, you have to get that behind you. And so I did. And I think at the end of the first year, that next summer, I took the geology field camp which was a requisite for the undergraduates. So I took that of course with the undergraduates who were then only about twenty-one years old and I was getting to be about twenty-six, so a little bit older. We had a very good field camp.
Where was the field camp held?
They had two areas: they had one for soft rock and one for hard rock. The soft rock was in the Coast Ranges but I think they later moved it. But at that time it was in a place called Priest Valley which was down the Coast Ranges a way. And they would set up a big camp with wall tents and folding cots, you know mostly army style. And they had a mess tent and it was really army style and somebody to cook and somebody else hired to drive trucks and vans around and take people out to their site every morning and collect them at night along the road when you came back. And the other one was in the Sierra Nevada. You did about three or four weeks in each one. The other one, hard rock, was in Tuolumne Pass up above Mono Lake [California]. I loved that one because it included some big mountains. You were assigned a quadrangle on the map. And in the Sierra Nevada that was heaven.
I’m sure that was. And that would have occupied then much of that summer.
So that took you know took us the whole summer pretty much. I didn’t do anything else I don’t recall. Maybe I went back to Lake Placid to visit my parents.
How were you supporting yourself during those early years?
Okay. At Yale I really depended on my parents for support. I didn’t get a scholarship or anything like that. At Stanford, by that time, I had three years in the army and I had been a lieutenant which wasn’t a big amount of pay, but I didn’t have anything to spend it on much. And so I did have some amount of money saved and they gave you a G.I. bill which was minuscule but —
Yes, I was going to ask how — clearly helpful but what percentage did that pay?
They gave you a hundred and ten dollars a month. After World War II I think it was a different system, maybe they gave you a percentage of what your university cost. But the G.I. bill in the Korean War time was a straight a hundred and ten a month, which of course is a little better than it would be today. But it still wasn’t a lot. But it did buy your books and a little extra. And as I said I had some savings. So that’s what I did. I didn’t really work hard outside. I’m trying to think if I got some jobs. I did do some things with my professor Soske. Not in those first years but the next couple of years. He would take jobs from oil companies and it would go this way. An oil company had a prospect shot seismically. People had gone in there and they’d hired a company. And maybe it wasn’t a big one like United or Western Geophysical, a smaller one. And they weren’t quite satisfied with the job and they wanted to do a better job of looking at the records and so on. So Soske didn’t reshoot it or anything like that, nothing in the field. He would just take the records and rework them. I also earned a little cash by tutoring and saved on rooming as a resident assistant in dormitories. I helped him do that sometimes. And it was a part time job. He had a wonderful command of the seismogram interpretation. So he would look at these records and maybe the exploration company had interpreted it in a very simple way. For example, they have all the shot points on a map, and they have the geophones at them. And they just made a direct time plot, and that told how deep the stratum was that they were looking at. But he did it in a much more sophisticated way. We would take into account the fact that the ray paths were actually curved; they weren’t straight lines. And we worked a lot on that. And he would say look at the original way they’re interpreting this. “Oh, can you imagine they did that? That’s Elizabethan geophysics.” [Laughter] He was a great character.
What sort of person was he?
Very heavy man; always very solid, overweight probably by today’s standards. And he enjoyed the good life style. Later we had a project — I’m getting a little ahead — But later he was trying to find a good project to involve the students in something that wasn’t purely oil. Something that would be a little more academic. So they decided that we would try to explore down in Southern California using quarry blasts. And in other words it was something that you could do without much money because somebody else was setting up explosives and you know. They were big ones.
Maybe we could even see the Mohorovicic discontinuity — the Mohole, at that time, was of great interest. And of course it’s better if you have an explosion at each end and record the wave going this way and the wave going that way.
So we had the quarry blasts from a place called Riverside, California, and just north of Santa Barbara there was an oil field out in the surf practically which had been depleted. A place called Carpentaria, which had been depleted and now the oil company had to fulfill their original promise to remove all the derricks and clean it all up. And Soske evidently had some kind of certification as an explosives expert so he was hired as a consultant to help cut those steel towers with explosives. So he was there. I mean he didn’t do the actual work but he was the one that told them how to do it. So we used those explosions because he was very much involved you know when they would go off and all that kind of thing. So we had two-way explosion sites and they were looking in the Ventura Basis there at the deep structure. So that was another project we had.
You really were getting hands-on experience?
Very good. It was real. And we had a truck. The Western Geophysical had given an outdated truck to the lab, to the university. And so we used that, a recording truck.
When you say outdated, was it post war or pre-war?
It was post war, but I would say it was outdated in the sense that I’m sure it was right about that time that they were getting into magnetic recordings, tape recording. And this was still photographic recording on paper.
Yes. The electronics were coming in.
Just beginning to come in. It was mid-50s.
When you look back on it, how did you find the instruction in geophysics at Stanford? Were there areas that you felt where you were not getting sufficient training?
Yes, I think they educated us pretty well. You know we were a tight little group because there weren’t a lot of geophysics students, maybe half a dozen, something like that. So we were a tight little group with our own little building and two professors there. So it made a nice little team. We all worked together. So we learned from each other. People would have their own enthusiasms about different parts of geophysics and we would learn. And one of the good features was a seminar. The other professor was George Thompson.
I was going to ask, yes. He was the junior professor then?
He was the junior professor then, yes. Of course now he’s emeritus, just recently. Actually, after Allan Cox died he ran the mineral sciences for a while. But he was, you’re right, he was very new then. And he ran the seminar. Both professors took part in that. That was one of the valuable things. We would study — what I recall especially, was magnetic reversals were just coming in then. So are they possible? Are they real? And there was a lot of controversy.
That’s very interesting. Did you know Cox at that point? That he would be coming in from the Survey?
You began to hear his name but I really didn’t know him because he was at the Survey in Menlo Park. Yes, Cox, [Richard R.] Doell and those people. So I didn’t really know them. But there was a lot of excitement around there with different things like that. I can remember at that time that Varian had come out with the proton precession magnetometer. So instead of these old fashioned magnetometers which depended on some kind of a magnetic balance, and which you set up on a tripod and looked like a surveying instrument, you now had the proton precession magnetometer which would give you a continuous record. And I can remember the various people talking about that in the physics department. And Felix Bloch, the man who had discovered proton precession, was in the audience to ask them some questions. And that was always interesting. Varian had a little jeep with one of those magnetometers trailing off the back on a fish pole or something, running around to see what they could do with it you know. They didn’t know anything about geophysics so they were wondering what they were going to see. And they were running one right on the campus. Felix Bloch said how come you aren’t sensing all the cars out on El Camino Real going up and down. There were also times you couldn’t understand what they were talking about. But it was an exciting time.
Yes. I can imagine. When you say seminar speakers, were outside speakers coming in?
No, that was just a classroom seminar that I’m recalling. We would have a topic like magnetic reversals. And assign some papers. You know, and each person would report on one of them or discuss them.
Papers coming right out of the current literature on that?
Exactly. They would be just as new as we could get. And there was a lot of controversies about how real these reversals were because remember that it had been discovered that there could be such a thing as self reversal.
And some rocks could reverse themselves as they cooled. And so that threw a big question mark on the whole thing. And it took a long time for all that to get ironed out.
Certainly in the 1950s, it was very controversial topic. How did Soske and Thompson treat that? Do you remember their views on reversals?
Oh yes. I think probably Thompson was the most interested because he had a little more of the academic viewpoint than Soske did. So he was interested in this kind of a thing. Maybe Soske probably didn’t see that this was going to end up something practical for finding oil. But I’m just, I shouldn’t say that, but I would say Thompson was interested. He would present it to you like let’s go at it and try to make up our own minds here and look at it. Oh yes, he was very good at that sort of thing. And he would dig out the papers originally, I think, to get the whole thing started and to pick the topic. So that was one of them. And other ones were dealing with, well even plate tectonics was — it was too early really for plate tectonics, but some of it beginning to come in a little bit. Beginning to. It was “continental drift” then.
Barry Testa’s paper was later, it was around the time of your Ph.D. itself.
But I was curious if you remember debates or assignments on some of the other big issues in the mid-1950s. Convection, David Griggs’ idea.
Yes, oh yes. I do remember. Of course that was dramatic. He had that experiment where had the two rollers and he was saying this was something like a — actually like a deep sea trench. And you know that appeals when you have a simple model like that. Even though you don’t see it, the pictures are enough to give you an idea of what happens. So yes we did discuss that. We were into convection. Oh yes, we also had a very good lecturer that Soske found. His name escapes me at the moment — Dr. C. H. Becker. He was trained in Germany and he was more or less a physicist and I think he was a refugee from Germany during the Second World War. And he was looking for something in the academic world and I think he just had a probably some tenuous appointment or something at the physics department. And Soske had discovered him. So Soske got him to give us a series of lectures — oh kind of advanced physics — and I remember — and you know that was very good for us. He covered lots of topics, covered them pretty seriously. He was really interested in teaching the course and it became a — oh I would say more like theoretical physics.
As opposed to physics of the earth, this was really deep physics.
Yes, it was really just basic physics but solution of boundary value problems and that sort of thing. [C. H.] Becker that was his name, B-E-C-K-E-R. We said how are we going to — we can’t take all the math courses. And he said, no, of course you can’t. He said get yourself a good book and I still have one there. [C. Ray] Wylie, Advanced Engineering Mathematics. And I just noticed a new edition came out the other day. I saw it in one of the journals. So that’s a book that lasted with a second author, probably the first author is gone and so somebody else revised it. So it was good advice. He said you can’t take all those courses in the math department, you get yourself — or he recommended one or two others; mostly on the mathematics part of it.
Another big issue in the 1950s was the age of the earth, the termination of the modern dating system and of course [Walter] Elsasser’s work with magnetic generation of the magnetic.
Okay. We did read about Elsasser.
Yup. Oh yes, we heard about Elsasser and the idea of the torroidal generator and so on. We did look into that. Age of the earth also came up. Yes we had a pretty good broad idea of what was going on. That was exciting. Because Lord Kelvin had actually come up with a boundary value problem (speaking of value boundary problems) to explain the whole idea that the earth was only — whatever number he came up with but it was far short of —
Indeed. Only tens of millions of years.
Yes, it was very short.
Do you remember visitors coming through? Were there lectures either from the other California folks at Cal Tech or Berkeley or —?
Yes. Well, the whole School of Mineral Sciences had a colloquium once a week which everyone went to in the big lecture hall. And of course the whole Earth Science school had a pretty big population. I don’t know what it was, I couldn’t even guess. But you know it was big compared to geophysics. So we always went to those, the lectures, I mean that was required or at least assumed that you would go. So we always went to those. But of course they weren’t necessarily geophysical topics. They were often geology topics and of course we learned a lot of western geology. I would say very few of them were ever in geophysics.
I’m wondering how much contact you had with the folks in the School of Mineral Sciences? Charles Park for instance and Ben [Benjamin] Page.
Oh yes. Ben Page was the structural geologist. I had his courses and he sat in on my oral exam and on my dissertation defense. And Charles Park was the dean and, you know he was a mineral exploration person. And I always remember — this is just a recollection of something that didn’t quite come off. He asked me to come to his office one day and he said, I have a job here if you’re interested. He didn’t mean permanent, just over Christmas vacation. And he said there is a group that thinks they have a good prospect — they were looking for nickel but it was associated with iron, in Baja, California, way down at the tip. And he said you know they need a magnetic survey, but there’s another fellow here who was more senior. He was almost through. He was going to do a geology survey, but they needed magnetics too. And so he said, if you’re interested in that, here’s the name of the man and so on. So I said oh yes that’s really exciting. I can go on an adventure here. So I went to meet the man who was going to finance it. I went to his home, and this was up at Atherton, the wealthiest part of the peninsula. And he was there — whoever — he had a desk in his house, an office. And there were a couple of other men there. And what I suspect now was this: That the Mexican government didn’t want any foreign ownership or investment and they wanted to do it themselves. And so I suspect that the money was actually coming from the States people and this man, who was Mexican actually, who hired me and everything. He also had his investors who really were behind it as far as the finances went there. So it was kind of a complicated deal. But anyway it didn’t matter to me. He was hiring me. And he said well what does it take to do that? And can you do it? And what will we find out and all this and so I explained it to him. And he said well whatever I said I’ll have to get some samples from there if you have any. And the geologists sent back some — so I can analyze them. I had them analyzed by another friend who worked in the mineralogy. And I established I could borrow a magnetometer, the old fashioned type, from the department. They’d loan it to me. And take it down there. You know those people didn’t worry too much about whether I was going to make money with this or something. And so I was all ready to go. It took me maybe a month to get ready. I was doing other things in the meanwhile. And then they called me in and said well now the geologists have found that the whole deposit is very superficial and it’s not going to be worth their while. So they’re not even going to bother with a magnetic survey. But he said you let us know any cost. And it worked out, at least, you know you could bill for library research and all the mineral analyses and any hours I put in getting the magnetometer ready. So anyway they paid me. But that’s my memory of Charles Park. He was trying to find you jobs like that. Although that one didn’t work out, I’m sure he found many for other students.
[M.] King Hubbert wasn’t on the campus I don’t think by that time, was he? I think he came in later.
No. He may have come back to Columbia by that time or did he come from Columbia?
He had been at Columbia but that was back in the 1930s.
Okay, okay. But he wasn’t — he definitely wasn’t at Stanford at that time. But you used to hear a lot about him. It was a well-known name. Yes. And he was always interesting to us, to me, because he did these small scale experiments. There was a paper by, I think it was by King Hubbert, and it may have been Ruben I believe.
Bill [William W.] Rubey?
Rubey, that’s it. Rubey. On gravitational tectonics. They thought — The question was, how did some of these rocks get pushed so far over other rocks? And they had an idea maybe they could slide if there was enough hydrostatic pressure at those depths in the rocks; that they would slide on a fluid reduced pressure surface. And he had this experiment with a beer can. I don’t know if you ever heard about that?
I heard about it but I’m curious what you recall.
Well it was a very simple thing. You would have a little ramp; it had to be very smooth, maybe out of Plexiglas. But a very low angle, I mean just a few degrees. And if you put a normal beer can down on that, it won’t slide. But if you take a cold empty beer can and put it down, the beer can is a little bit concave on the bottom, this was the old fashioned type, and the — yes right, the cold, it chilled the air in that little concave cavity underneath the beer can and as it warmed up just generated enough pressure to push the beer can up a little bit. It would reduce the weight of the beer can and then it would slide. And this was the demonstration of how the hydrostatic pressure could reduce the friction and let these formations slide. So they had a very interesting little — This was just tacked on to the back of the paper kind of thing, beer can experiments.
So you didn’t see that say at a GSA meeting or otherwise you remember reading it?
We read it and maybe studied the paper.
You were mentioning about Hubbert and Rubey, the over thrust faulting paper. Of course that was a big issue in understanding the geology of the Alps?
Yes, the Alps.
You entered in the — to have the chronology straight, in the fall of 1953? Correct?
No, I entered. Let me see, got out of the service. Actually it was in January 1954 I came in on the second quarter, I mean halfway through the year. They had, at Stanford. So I must have come in with a quarter, I only had the last two quarters, three quarters were a normal academic year. So I missed the fall quarter in ‘53 — came in January ‘54.
When was the first time that — I know that by about 1957 you were already connected with Lamont Geological Observatory, as it was then known.
But I’m curious in a general way about what kind of interactions you did have up to that point with other centers of geophysical work. Had you already started going to the professional meetings soon after?
I think we went to them if they were pretty local. I remember going to as far as Los Angeles to the SEG meetings, Society of Exploration Geophysicists. And I think we went over to Berkeley to a meeting one time, maybe GSA [Geological Society of America], I don’t even remember the exact society. I remember going to visit, oh gosh, my memory’s going to fail me, but the seismologist at Berkeley who wrote the book on earthquakes.
[Perry] Byerly was at Berkeley.
Byerly, Byerly, right. I never knew [?] Richter, but Byerly, right. I at least met him with another student. We went over there just to talk to him about some things about plate tectonics and the early earthquakes of the Coast Ranges.
Were you aware of the rivalry between the Berkeley and the Cal Tech centers?
Yes, yes. I was. Of course. I remember being impressed with Byerly and his way of doing things because he was obviously purely an academic geophysicist as opposed to Soske my professor who was an applied geophysicist. They were into earthquake geophysics whereas in our department we were into explosion seismology. So, although we studied earthquake seismology, the research there wasn’t in that at all. So that was very interesting to me. He had, for example, a recorder running in his office, in the corner of his office, so that he could see if a quake came in right away.
So, yes, that was interesting to me. I mean really sitting right on top of it. And of course in the California area you’re going to get a lot of quakes, because you’re going to get all the small ones as well as the big ones. So that was pretty — pretty nice. So I always probably had a little more pull toward the academic side of it than the oil exploration side. But I fully thought that my whole career would be in the oil exploration because that’s the only way I could see that I would ever have a career. I mean yes there’s somebody like Perry Byerly at Berkeley and someone similar at Cal Tech, and maybe Francis Birch at Harvard. But I mean unless you’re of that stature or something, there were maybe a half a dozen jobs like that in the country. So I fully expected I was going to go work in the oil industry.
And that’s clearly what many of your fellow students were intending to do and did do?
Yes. In fact I would say almost all of them intended to. And most of them did I’m sure.
Did you have much contact with other graduate students, say with those at Berkeley, or did the schools keep pretty much?
Oh no, right. I never really knew anybody from there. It just seemed far enough away that we never had any real contact. So we never got together for seminars or anything like that. Of course we could have but looking back no we did not. I’m trying to think, Cal Tech. You hear a lot about Cal Tech; of course they were also very big in earthquake seismology.
As you say Richter is there, was there at the time, and I suppose quite a few others. How did you first come to hear of Lamont and Columbia’s work in geophysics?
That I can tell you. My professor, George Thompson, had come back here on a sabbatical and I had begun to read about the Antarctic program for the IGY [International Geophysical Year] and I thought, you know, as I told you earlier, I thought this was a natural for me. I certainly grew up around snow and things like that. And I liked the idea of distant lands and exploration. And so I thought this was a natural. And I heard that Lamont had that program. So I wrote to them.
And that was through George Thompson?
Through George Thompson. So I wrote back here to him from California and asked him who should I contact, how can I get involved in that program? Because I was nearing, — I was far enough along then that I could expect that they would take me as a practicing geophysicist. So he said unfortunately the Antarctic program left Lamont and there was a fellow named Charlie [Charles R.} Bentley who went to the University of Wisconsin and when he did that, he took the program with him apparently, which of course he still has there today. So he said but there is some program in the Arctic which Jack [E.] Oliver is going to manage. And so I said, well I’d be interested in that. So then I must have written to Jack Oliver and then it went from there. Jack had worked when he was a student on some projects in Alaska and — he always told me they didn’t accomplish too much. I think they were exploding bombs in the air from balloons in order to study, not the terrestrial earth, but the atmosphere. Sound waves through the layers in the atmosphere.
Right, right. Wave propagation.
The sound channels.
Sound channels, yes. He had done that for a summer or two I guess with the Air Force. And so when it came to the IGY and they wanted a program in the Arctic, they thought of his name, and of course he wasn’t interested in that any more. He was doing earthquake seismology from Lamont and organizing the whole group doing their own things here. So he wanted to turn it over to somebody and he had a fellow named Maury Davidson in charge of it at that moment. So that’s how I came to travel back here.
I’m curious how much you knew of either Lamont or of [W. Maurice] Ewing or some of the other people here prior to the time that you arrived. How well-known was that work out there at Stanford?
I didn’t know much. And what I knew was always through a kind of popular idea. One thing and I realize now that it was written by George Gray, the same George Gray who was involved in all these other contacts. He wrote an article in Scientific America about Lamont about that time, must have been late’ SOs. And I’d seen that. And it showed a picture of Lamont Hall, the big house here. And that I vaguely recall. That’s pretty neat, that place up there to work in, this old estate. And it’s very basic kind of geophysics. So that I heard about. The other thing I heard about was Doc Ewing had written a story for Reader’s Digest about being washed overboard.
After the 1954 accident.
Yes. And that appeared in Reader’s Digest. I don’t think I ever read it but my professor, Soske, was a bit of a skeptic and he didn’t think too much of that article. He said can you imagine that guy writing that article. In other words he thought it was too. The last thing he’d remembered was his children. And Soske was very much a cynical realist. Why would you write an article like that or something like that? But certainly we’d heard of Ewing but only in those very vague ways. Nothing too much. I didn’t know or understand the science they were doing. I would say Soske didn’t have a great amount of respect for anybody. He would not think that anybody was so great or anything. There was always something that they’re not doing quite right. But the other one though that we did know more about, we heard more about was probably [Beno] Gutenberg cause he was out there at Cal Tech.
At Cal Tech. And it’s in the neighborhood.
You would see him at the meetings. ‘Cause in those days I don’t think people had money to fly back and forth. They’d go to the Washington, D.C. meetings of AGU or you had your meetings in California, either in Los Angeles or San Francisco. You could drive back and forth. So that was the only thing you could go to. And Soske had this — well he had a depression background so that’s the way he thought. You didn’t do anything. In fact, that’s why I couldn’t see any future in the academic geophysics. At that point we didn’t know that the contract work was coming in, whereas Doc Ewing already had jumped right into that. He’d been in it at the end of the wartime and came right out of the war still doing that. Whereas Soske came from the 1930s when you just didn’t have any extra money and he didn’t see that the contract work was the way to do it. The government, he wouldn’t trust them. And maybe a lot of other people right today doesn’t trust them so much as they used to.
Right. But at the time, you’re quite right, the environment was very different. Was that generally the case that the geologists, the earth scientists were not getting many federal grants?
Already this was middle fifties. Well I think it varied a great deal from university to university as to how tolerant they were about getting government grants. I always heard that Yale, for example, was always mistrustful of that and never, never got into the contract work very much. They were always careful not to do that because they felt they were — I’m sure if you’re a purist — you know lose a certain amount of independence and so on. But of course it’s a two edged thing. If you don’t, you won’t get enough money for all this special equipment and things you need these days for big geophysics. So anyway Soske was from the older generation. The one story I can tell you that indicates that and I’ve often thought of it, told people about it recently. He told me, he said now when I was getting nearly to the end of my graduate education. He said now I have a friend who worked for a big oil company, I remember one in the west, you know Montana, Wyoming area. And he said he has been in the magnetics department, head of it for them, for his career and he’s retiring now. He said there’s a good job for you. You know the important thing was to get a job that’s secure and it lasted him his career and it’ll probably last you your career. Whether it would have I don’t know. But he was really trying to find a spot for his students. I think people have forgotten that. In the heyday of government expanding so fast there was always going to be a job. There were more jobs than you could fill almost for a while in the 70s. So you know looking back, times have changed and they will change again I’m sure, but he had conservative notions from the 30s and even earlier.
I think that’s very interesting. And in fact I recall Ebbie [Frederick E.] Terman, the provost, who was trying to encourage those in geophysics to do more with government grants.
Okay, okay. Soske was too conservative to do that.
No, I understand that. That’s very interesting. And when did you first come out to Lamont after your contact with Jack Oliver?
I came out in the spring of 1957, because, Jack had been looking hard for people and I think he was pleased to find somebody with as much background as I had. He was assuming that Maury Davidson would run the project and he would need one assistant who could be very untrained, perhaps, you know just a bachelor’s degree or whatever. And so when I came I already had quite a good background so he was pleased with that. And I came out here, oh probably in April or May, which is early spring. Maury had set up the program pretty much. We were going to do seismics, gravity, and magnetics. He had gotten the equipment together and I spent the next weeks just packing things to be we shipped to Alaska. And that was the beginning. That’s when I came here. And within a few weeks I left and went up to the Arctic.
Right. Few things I’m real curious about at this point. How much had you known about the IGY’s programs. You mentioned clearly you were cognizant. When did you first come to know what the IGY was about?
Well I would say very soon after I got here I was reading the different pieces of literature I could find about the IGY. And you know I said to Jack Oliver I remember, I said you know the IGY was really set up by these people, oh I can remember French names and so on.
Nicolet, right and —
Lloyd [V.] Berkener
Lloyd Berkener. Set up to study the atmosphere and the upper atmosphere especially. All these phenomena in which they needed a global network to sample and see what the magnetosphere was doing and the upper layers. That’s the way they saw it. But it just became kind of a gold rush. Then other people who were involved in geophysics, in almost any way, got into it. They, meaning Nicolet and that group, had seen it as their upper atmosphere project, but soon people from all over were attaching themselves to it. For example, earthquake seismology and some objected, well we don’t even want to talk about that. Just do it because there was enough momentum and publicity and everything else it just snowballed.
Stanford wasn’t really involved in the IGY programs?
Nothing that I know of. Unless it was — they may have been in some upper atmosphere projects. I don’t know. But of course I wouldn’t have even known that.
Yes I should have said at least in the earth sciences area that it wasn’t. And realizing that you were only at Lamont for a few weeks, what was it like to be on the Lamont campus? What were your impressions; how did it compare particularly to the places you’d already been?
Well it seemed very free, of course, compared to being in an academic environment or like Stanford, because there was a lot of money available. I mean it took money to run these projects and the Air Force in our case was the funding agency and of course they came up with a budget big enough. Jack must have written the original contract proposals and well you know it seemed like it was great. You know you’ve got a regular salary and whenever you needed something, you could order it. It was pretty open. And everything was changing here. Our offices were in what we called the swimming pool which is where the cafeteria is now, which just involved having some dividers which did not go to the ceiling. So a little noisy, but pretty simple.
Who was there in the seismology group in principal, were there other divisions located over in that building?
Oh in that building. Yes, magnetics was in that building. And there were some biologists in that building. Bob [Robert S.] Menzies had an office there for a while. There was a woman who worked downstairs. I was just mentioning this the other day to someone, Carol [?], I can’t think of her last name. She worked on gribbles. Of course we called her the “gribble girl.” Gribbles are some kind of boring animal, I don’t know if they’re mollusks or not, but anyway. I guess they had some grant from the Navy to work on those because it would be of interest to the Navy as far as their wooden docks went I guess. But those were the main people in the swimming pool. And of course the fact that it wasn’t that long ago that it had been a great estate was of course interesting. More of the flavor of that was left behind than there is now. Things hadn’t been so modified. They had boarded over the swimming pool. The floor over there was actually the floor put in over the swimming pool so you didn’t get the flavor of the swimming pool. But you could see at the end where there was a bunch of French doors with curtains so that the older people could, there behind the doors, have their tea and watch the swimming without all the humidity and noise and yet see all the children and grandchildren there swimming. Kind of a luxury type of environment although we were of course not really involved in that. But you could see the remnants of the different life in the past.
This probably wasn’t the first year, the second year I worked in the Arctic. I had a friend well he was the station leader, scientific leader, Norbert Untersteiner and his wife came to visit. He was in Seattle actually; he was at the University of Washington where he still is. And his wife came from Austria. And so he had told her when you arrive in New York, look up Ken Hunkins. So she called me from wherever, the airport in the city, and she didn’t actually come out. But she got the telephone operator who was over at Lamont Hall and she said she wanted to speak to Ken Hunkins. The operator said, oh he’s in the swimming pool; we still called it the swimming pool. And so Norbert’s wife who was this young Austrian woman but she had seen many American movies, and she instantly thought oh it’s some think tank where the scientists can kind of just float in the pool and think some really big thoughts. So she said, oh don’t disturb him, please don’t. Like I had to be called to the edge of the pool or something like that. [Laughter] It wasn’t quite that luxurious.
Things do get lost in translation.
Yes, you know, she had a kind of glorified idea of America from Hollywood. Although she was a very intelligent lady, still you can see how perceptions can be different.
You say then very quickly you had the instruments and you were on route to Alaska.
Yes. We were.
Where was the main station? Where was the time spent?
Okay, well we had to go to Alaska and so we went to Fairbanks because they were flying — those early flights were from the Ladd Air Force Base. And we had to wait for the flight so we could go in. I remember we took a week or two, we had to wait around. And in fact we had to wait a long time and finally we went to the recreation people at the Air Force and borrowed some boats and fishing gear and drifted down the Chena, I guess. On your home territory right now and stayed overnight. We borrowed camping gear and everything. Oh yes, checked out sleeping bags and the whole works.
You got to see part of the interior?
During that time. I’m curious did you have any contact with the Geophysical Institute at the university while you were there?
No. Although I was always really interested I would say no. I was always really interested in it and the man who was very interesting to talk to and to see was Vic [Victor] Hessler. He was always very talkative but of course he was in the Aurora end of it, but I liked his approach; very simple. He was already retired from an engineering or science professorship somewhere in the States but he was very active. And he had his simple pieces of gear. He had electrical gear hooked up so that it could ring a bell when there was a big magnetic storm, in his house so he could go out and take Aurora pictures and things like that. I liked that because he was like on the old natural science end of it and yet he was of course highly trained on the electrical end.
When was this that you’re recalling right now?
Well it wouldn’t have been that first time. It was other trips through there cause then we made several trips through Fairbanks and did get to the Geophysical Institute. In fact their building wasn’t very big then. I saw it not too long ago in ‘92 or ‘91 when I was up there and like it’s still there. And they have somebody still in it but you know it’s almost like an historical building now. Lost on the campus.
That’s right because the main center now is at a different part of the campus.
They built that new big building.
Right, named after Chris [Christian T.] Elvey who of course was the director I believe at the time you were first up there.
I think he was. But I didn’t really know those people because you know it was a difference. Their research was in a completely different area —
Indeed it was.
— different area than ours.
And how long was the research planned to be? I’m curious about both what you knew as you were going up to take part in the work and what your expectations were as you began?
Well they said it would be, — you know the IGY was officially supposed to be eighteen months. That was as much as we knew and at that age we didn’t really ask for much more. We didn’t ask is this a secure position for life or something. Of course we were going to have to work up the data afterwards and that’s about as far as we were thinking ahead. I was always very interested in everything so I was back here after that first summer.
But in that first summer you were actually on the first drift station?
I was on the Drift Station. Yes. The one they called Alpha.
Drifting Station Alpha.
Originally they called it sometimes Drifting Station A or Drifting Station Alpha.
And it took you say a week before you were able to get —
We had a week in Fairbanks and then the airplanes would go out. And the planes were mostly a lot of DC3s, and also later we used C124s. The C124s have a delicate landing gear so you had to be really careful with them. But the DC3s could take it and we used those a lot. So once we got out there, there was a — Maury and I ran this program — and of course the other big program was Norbert Untersteiner from the University of Washington and he had come to take part in this because — Robert [F.] Sharp at Cal Tech had known of Norbert because of some work they did on glaciers. Sharp was always interested in glaciers. So he got Norbert to come from Austria, and it was a great opportunity. And so he came and he studied sea ice and also the micrometeorology.
Taking samples from the —
Taking samples of sea ice and studied its regime, the growth and decay over the season. And also, of course, then that involved the radiation, the heat exchange, sensible heat exchange. So they had anemometer systems and everything. So that was very productive because he was a good scientist. And we interacted a lot. He was the station leader; he was a little older, not too much older than I am, a little bit though. And it was interesting to me the whole thing. I mean he came from Austria. He’s the head of the atmospheric sciences department at Washington today. As I say, he’s older than me; he’s in his seventies already I think. But he has a very young child so I think he has to keep going as long as he can. That’s what he tells me.
That’s interesting. Do you recall any particular conversations that you had with him during this time?
Well one thing, — oh yes we had many good conversations and you know he was very interested in what we’re doing and I was very interested in what he’s doing. So it was a wonderful opportunity to really enlarge your science and all of your background. The one thing that happened at this point was that Maury just didn’t seem psychologically fitted for that camp in a way. And he got into a regime of working at night and then not — you didn’t see him and then in the morning something would be done, but you didn’t quite know what he did. And in a way it wasn’t the kind of personality that was going to really work. And so I didn’t complain about it too much but Norbert was really concerned about it. He wanted the whole camp to work. He felt it was like the eyes of the world were focused on us, well they weren’t exactly but still it did get publicity and everything. So I mean he wanted the best camp he could. So he felt Maury was not going to work out over the long range because we would be isolated after the last plane went out and then it was too late to do anything.
This would be in June.
Right. I was curious to know how big the ice island was at that time.
Actually it’s an ice floe. Because the sea ice is about ten feet thick, three meters thick, on the average in the Arctic Ocean, that old sea ice. We’re on a floe. It’s all fractured, broken up and we’re on an individual floe which they picked out earlier. They had surveys and reconnaissance flights and finally and — this is always the story of Arctic Drifting Stations. Somebody has to say is this a good piece of ice? Will it last? Well, sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. And if it cracks then you know you may lose a runway and all kinds of things. So somebody has to decide if it’s a good piece of ice to tell you exactly the size.
Even a rough.
Yes, you know half a mile by half a mile, or something like that. Yes. Oh yes, more than that. Oh yes might be more than that; might be five thousand feet. Yes, maybe a mile by a half a mile or something like that.
Were you restricted to walking around the area that was populated so to speak where the instruments were clustered or did you actually get to explore?
Pretty much. Well sometimes we could explore, but you wouldn’t want to go too far because there were gaps sometimes between the floes that might be hard to get — They might be filed with brash and so one that you didn’t want to go through. Plus you were always worried about polar bears; we always carried rifles when we’re traveling any distance from camp. So we didn’t take long walks. The longest we went was a seismic experiment we did the second summer and we went out about twelve kilometers. That’s the longest we ever walked from camp.
Because you want to be sure to be able to get back again you know. Today, of course, you read about these people that are doing this for record purposes: Go to the North Pole you know solo and so on, with or without dogs, And you know, they’re all set up to do that, and they don’t think about doing any science or anything like that. And you know I mean that’s fine but we weren’t set up to do anything like that. And so you didn’t want to get too far away and get cut off or something, and be in trouble. So no, we didn’t go too far from camp. But we did take walks around.
How long were you actually in on these intervals? How long were you on the island before you could leave?
Well the longest I think I ever was almost six months on a station. The Air Force was not only the funding agency for our research but they were the logistical support for the whole station. In fact that station had an air force commander so we had a major out there.
Is that right?
And the help, you know, the general help were all airmen. They all volunteered. They had to volunteer for that. And so they were all airmen; enlisted men and the major.
How many people were on the island? Did it vary or were there fairly?
Yes, I would say. It was pretty big. You know, it might be twenty-five people or something like that. In huts, buildings mess hall. Of course they had a cook, and a radio man and a general outdoor mechanics. So they had heavy equipment operators because they had bulldozers; even had bulldozers on the ice to clear the runways.
Yes, it was quite a camp.
You had mentioned that Norbert Untersteiner was concerned about Maury Davidson.
Oh yes I didn’t finish that. So they finally — he had a lot of discussions with the camp commander. He was the scientific leader, Norbert was and the camp commander was Major [?] Balata. Discussion that Maury’s personality wasn’t stable enough for this kind of isolated existence. So he did eventually — or they decided I don’t know how — that Maury would not be able to stay the summer. So he left on the last plane. So then I ran the program which had been supposed to be for two people. Norbert had a helper named Arnie Hanson who he said would help me some which he did from time to time. We were a very tight little group. But we worked together and really worked quite well.
How did this scientific work that you wanted to achieve go? Did the instruments give you the kind of results you had hoped for or did it turn difficult?
I would say that the instruments that we had were good. They were commercial instruments. We had a portable seismic system made by Texas Instruments.
Was Geophysical Services part of it?
Yes. Texas Instruments was the main — and probably Geophysical Services, right.
Yes, GSI. It was a good system which worked well. I had a set of geophones on the ice in an army and I would shoot a dynamite charge every day, or twice a day, to get reflections off the ocean floor. And we were drifting of course like a mile a day or something like that. So that way you got the profile, very slowly of course. Quite a bit of detail because we had an array. We could get a three dimensional picture of the ocean floor and what’s below us. That was probably one of the main parts of our experiment. We also ran a magnetometer and a gravity meter.
How well surveyed had that part of the ocean floor been? Clearly, the Navy had been interested in it, in a channel for submarines and topography. Was this fairly new mapping?
Yes, oh yes because the Navy hadn’t even been in there at that time. They didn’t come in until ‘58. So there was very little knowledge, yes. And in fact the Russians had been in there and everything that was known there practically was from the Russians. And of course it was Cold War time and there was a question about how much we got from them. But they had run these drifting stations too. It was somewhat new for the U.S. Well they had one before and that was an ice island. Okay go back to the ice island that you asked me what’s an ice island.
Drifting Station Alpha was on a piece of floe ice; in other words, sea ice frozen from sea water. There were also such things as ice islands. And one of them was called T-3 and that means it was a piece of shelf, in other words glacial ice shelf. So that was fresh water ice which had broken off and was floating among the ice floes, the sea ice floes. And there was one and that was called T-3. And the Air Force had had people on there earlier, from the early ‘50s. So we weren’t really pioneers but this was on a bigger scale than T-3 had ever been. So let’s see you’re asking me about the programs and different instruments and things like that? Magnetics, gravity and the seismology were going to be the main part of my program I could see. And I used it also not only to study the ocean floor but I could also study the sea ice with it.
Yes, clearly. Had you spoken at length with the limited time that you had with Jack Oliver about the kinds of work and the kinds of data that could be collected?
Oh yes we talked some about that. And then when I came back that fall, of course, we talked even more all that winter. And then I went up again the next summer. But, oh yes, we had many talks about that. We were located in the seismology building. So I was then in charge of that Arctic program and then continued on that for most of my career. He had a lot of ideas. You see one of the early things that Doc Ewing had done he was a professor at Lehigh, but with his students he had studied some lake ice with seismic gear. He had known seismic gear growing up in Texas and I think he worked in Louisiana or something with oil company exploration. So he was knowledgeable about that. But they’re going to study lake ice which makes a very nice layered study, almost a pure physics problem, no complications. So they did that and they wrote a paper about it and so Jack knew about that. Had they done anything else? Not too much but a little bit so seismic studies of sea ice were new. They’d done fresh water ice but not sea ice.
How much contact did you have with Ewing himself during that winter and spring?
Some you know. I mean we would tell him what we’re doing. He always wanted to know everything that was going on. Of course he was the great man so you tried to impress him. But of course he was easy going too. So it was easy to talk to him; he always wanted to know the details. But he was, on the other hand, very busy so they were probably short interviews with him, but we did have contact.
Do you remember talking to him particularly about the early work that he had done on lake ice?
I didn’t. I only talked to Jack Oliver about it, because Jack probably had the paper which even by that time was quite old.
Who else did you come to know among the scientists here when you were at that point extended out?
Oh I would say Bruce [C.] Heezen was the biggest influence. When I came back we — I mean a bunch of graduate students, and I was not a graduate student by that time, oh yes, no I still was.
Actually, for the record, you had your Ph.D. officially in 1960.
That’s right. And my thesis was the Arctic work. So I was still a graduate student at Stanford.
In fact there’s a few pages of it that I brought with me right now.
In which you mention right at the beginning that this is condensed from the thesis for Stanford. In fact one of the things it shows is the track of the station. We’re looking at it right now. This is “Seismic Studies of the Arctic Ocean Floor” which was published in Geology of the Arctic in 1961.
And that is a map of the drift of the ice station. And you see here is the initial location. We’d fly out from Fairbanks, and you’d have to land at point Barrow, refuel, then go out here’s July, ‘57 so that was close to the beginning. It was actually found in May or June. And you can see it takes this rather convoluted torturous track but in general it follows a gyre in this part of the Arctic Ocean. A clockwise motion so by ‘58 it’s up here.
Oh one of them is the Fletcher Ice Island, T-3 which is the difference.
So by ‘58 we were up here. And meanwhile Fletcher’s ice island was coming down here.
Part of the gyre.
Part of the whole clockwise movement.
I should say we’re looking at the map on page 646 showing the actual chart and flow. Let me just pause to turn over the tape.
You mentioned that Bruce Heezen was one of your influential —
What were your impressions of Heezen?
Well he was very knowledgeable and I mean he was really interested. This was a wonderful thing to have the opportunity to you know really share a lot of things with him because he was already getting to be very well known. He was still climbing in his career rapidly. He liked to really talk about the science continually. And you learned so much from him. Attitudes, he was interested in the basic science. He had the idea to be at the research edge and to always do something new all the time. So for us you know it was revealing that you could really do that. He had his own stories which probably he’d done in other situations about how he got started in it. But he saw the opportunities and really of taking advantage of them. And of course he was in the ship work. And I got so many ideas from him which we could then use to explore the Arctic. You know he was exploring the other oceans. But the Arctic was an ocean which was unique in a sense that I felt this was an ocean which I had this personal opportunity to explore because I had now some of the data and the knowledge to go back and to do things. It had its own problems which were connected to all the other problems; like where did the global mid ocean ridge go through the Arctic and all these questions. And actually we discovered new terrain there just the Alpha Cordillera. We named that. A new giant underwater mountain system which maybe the Russians had some idea; they didn’t really pinpoint it like we did.
It had really come out of your survey?
The extent and the features of it?
But then to interpret all these things, it was really valuable to have Bruce and I talked things over with him.
I’m curious. When you say that, what things are you thinking of in particular?
Just all the newest ideas about sea floor spreading and that kind of thing, which eventually led to plate tectonics essentially. He was interested in all sorts of things. We used the deep sea camera which Doc Ewing had originally invented and it was perfected by [Edward M.] Thorndike.
So we had a lot of pictures. We wrote a paper on that. But you know, I needed advice on who to go to pull it altogether.
Right. And this is particularly in the period after the Ph.D., you’re turning.
That’s a bit later.
It comes a little, not by much, but a little bit.
We weren’t quite there yet in ‘57.
But we’re really pretty much talking about that whole period, ‘57 through 1960 at the moment. And in addition to Bruce Heezen, were there others that you regarded as influential?
Well, as roommates in that shared apartment there, we had Jules Hirshman. He was in charge of the magnetics. And he’d had many cruises on the ships. So you learned from all of these people. And it changed. Different people came and went as they went on the ships. It was just like a rotating group there. Marc [Marcus] Langseth was there at one time. There were others that came and went. But it was, it was very good because you talked to people and to find out what was going on and to get their experience. I gained a lot of depth and background.
Right, right. I’m curious when you returned to Stanford to defend your thesis — which I presume you’d written up primarily at Lamont.
Yes. In a way you might say, well, I’d really done it under Jack Oliver’s advisor-ship or tutelage. But Josh Soske and George Thompson were tolerant enough. They didn’t seem to have any objections to that. And so essentially, yes right, I’d done a lot of the work here. But I went back in either late ‘58 or early ’59 and I stayed out there about a year.
Oh writing. I didn’t know that.
I went out there for about a year and finished up and did the actual writing. And then at the defense I was really surprised and gratified, Jack Oliver came out. So he came out for the defense.
That’s interesting. Who else that, Soske of course.
Of course Soske and George Thompson, and they always have to have one person from outside their department so there was a professor from the physics department. And, I remember he was amazed that I had done all this in all the snow and cold weather and everything. It wasn’t anything he had any contact with.
Particularly if he was an experimentalist or a theorist.
I’m sure. Either way. He only commuted from his house to Stanford every day.
Given how different what it was you had taken on was from the major research programs going on at Stanford, how receptive were people like Soske and Thompson to what you were actually working on?
That kind of thing. Oh, I think George Thompson was always of course looking ahead and so he was gratified. It seemed like it was really something in the forefront of what was going on so he was very gratified. And I think Soske was certainly happy enough with it. It was not something that anybody had dreamed up at Stanford, but I’d managed to get the data and interpretation was all something we could agree with. It was much more ambitious project than I could have ever hoped to do at Stanford because they didn’t have any big money like that. I had gotten started on a thesis project at Stanford before this IGY project came up. I was going to make a certain gravity survey, of a certain area in the coast range of California. Not too far from campus actually. So it would have been something I could have done. And I could do it with my own car, and use benchmarks for altitude. They had the gravity meter which had been given to them by some oil company. You really had to think of something you could do with almost no money. There just were not any funds. I thought this Arctic work will be much more extensive, much more ambitious if I could get this, into a thesis which I did.
Were you thinking to go to any other place besides Lamont after your defense?
No. It just seemed I naturally worked into that and stayed here after that. So that was 1960 and there had been one other ice station in ‘59 called Station Charlie. That one I didn’t participate in although I was a nominal leader of that. I remember Jack Oliver kept saying you’ve got to come back here. He was finally getting desperate because just the routine things had to get done like a new proposal.
Yes, right. And you were of course back at Stanford at this point.
Yes, still hanging out there. So he was really trying to get me back here. So I didn’t really think any more of going anywhere else at that point. I was just going to stay here. We just didn’t know how long that was going to last. But here’s what happened. The Air Force about 1960-61, somewhere in there, decided at a very high level, probably Secretary of the Air Force kind of level, that the Air Force no longer need Arctic data — The whole strategy of defense of the United States or offense no longer depended on manned bombers. That had been the motivation for most of the research, although we didn’t have to get involved with anything like applications. The idea for the Air Force was if the main strategy was to fly manned bombers over to Russia in case of a war then they ought to know something about what was underneath the manned bombers in case they came down or something. So ultimately the practical thing would be to write manuals for the pilots about how to survive and things. But they took a very broad idea that, well they just needed to know as much as possible about the Arctic. So that’s how we could do our basic research up there. But they got out of that strategy about 1960-61, when the high level people decided that that was no longer the strategy. Missiles were the only thing that was viable in defense and offense now. So they lost interest rapidly in studying the Arctic. We worked through the Air Force. Cambridge Research Lab it was called then up in Boston at L. G. Hanscom Field. They tapered down I’m sure, slowly we lost contracts from there. But it was just fortuitous that at that very time the Navy had put submarines in the Arctic. ‘58 they were just starting. So they were developing a very serious interest in the Arctic. I thought that was going to be the end of it and I was probably thinking seriously about something else. But it was a fairly seamless transition because no sooner than I had a brief thought that maybe I would have to do something else now — I was thinking to go work for an oil company or something — than the Navy came in. They had a serious interest in the Arctic but I don’t remember exactly how we made our first proposals to ONR and got funded. They were interested in the drifting station program. Actually, we went back to T-3 which the Air Force had used as a base. And we ran that through the ‘60s and into ‘70s.
Did the change from one patron to another influence any of the research directions or the types of instruments that you were able to utilize?
Probably. No it didn’t have too much influence on the types of instruments. But it probably felt more comfortable working for the Navy rather than the Air Force as far as a funding agency because our work was in the ocean itself and the Navy could really relate to that. Whereas the Air Force of course primarily is interested in the earth from the ground up. I didn’t feel like we had a very solid rapport with the Air Force, compared to the Navy. The Navy really understood what we’re talking about and they were really interested in the details of water, masses, and ice details and all that, and the ocean floor. Mostly for sonar purposes. Although we’d always do non-classified research in fact we were forced to by Columbia regulations.
That was after 1968 though, wasn’t it?
Yes, right. Now, I’m really getting way ahead. Right, that’s later for acoustics work.
Was any of that classified prior to ‘68? Did that force the transition or change?
No. In fact, you know this is an incident that reminds me how we were just doing basic research. On the second ice station in 1958, we had some people from the Navy Underwater Sound Lab from New London. They were all nice, but it was all kind of hush hush but it’s hard to keep anything secret on a little ice station with only a few dozen people. So we knew that something was pretty big, but we weren’t too aware. The secret was that the submarine was going to come up, you know, the submarine skate surfaced at that station in the summer. And they had their underwater sound gear to listen for it and so on. So that was interesting to me; I learned something about that.
Right, right. Something you actually witnessed.
Yes, right. And so being in acoustics any way, I mean seismology is a branch of acoustics, if you want to call it that, I could understand most of what they were doing.
Indeed. We’re probably nearing the point where we ought to wrap up for today. Let me end on at least one question. Did you find the Navy easier to deal with also in terms of the contracts and the personal dealings with the ONR representatives than you had with the Air Force in addition to the other differences you’ve mentioned.
Yes, I would say so. I would say it was, at one point there in this was probably the ‘60s, dealing with the Navy was almost like a family. I remember going — Max Britton was the head of the Arctic Division at ONR, and we were on a personal friendship basis with him, and Norbert and others in the ONR. We would go to visit his house when we were down there. Always going out to eat and so, it was a close group. And he was a very strong leader and he was very salty in his talk and everything. I remember to this day, he’d say something like, “They send these directives from high up to the executive officers, about what we’re going to do and where we’re headed.” He said “That doesn’t bother me a bit.” You know, he said, I’m in here for life. When I got an idea for a project and we’re pushing it, we’ll go with it, he said. I don’t care what they’re saying up there. And he was really a character. So yes, we did have I would say a much more personal relationship with the ONR people.
Although I knew the Air Force people well too. But it wasn’t as long a relationship of course. It was two or three years as compared to a couple of decades with ONR.
Two or three years. Did you mention Gordon Lill when you mention ONR?
No, I really didn’t know him. Now I’ve got to think who the person was. Gordon, well I didn’t have a lot of contact with him. Max Britton was the leader of the group we went with. And a great leader. You know they established the Arctic Research Lab. It had been around there for a little bit but it was a leftover from the Navy exploring the Navy Petroleum Reserve up there during or just after the war. And they built it into a bigger lab, Naval Arctic Research Lab. So that became the base all through the ‘60s, ‘70s. Finally it went to the Eskimos eventually, in the settlement with the Eskimos on the land. But that was a center of activity for a long time and Max Britton should get credit because he pushed it. Other really good people were Ron [Ronald] MacGregor. Very active. He personally came up there several times.
Let me just ask as a final question. Thinking back from that early part of your career, are there any questions or any issues that we haven’t covered that you did wish to raise?
Oh well, it’s quite a lot of span. We’ve hit the high points. I would say that this chance to work in the Arctic was a great opportunity for me personally because it gave bent to my tendency to do a little of everything. If I worked on the ship I early realized you had to pretty much specialize. Jules Hirshman was the magnetics man and Marc Langseth became the heat flow man. And you know your career went in one particular field of geophysics. Whereas this was like exploring new territory and like the old days of an explorer in a new country when, — well we didn’t count the birds or anything, but we almost did a little of everything. So anything I thought wasn’t getting handled, I could just say well let’s try that. So we did a little bit of all geophysics; anything that nobody else was into we could study. So actually what I did was slowly change my emphasis. I started out as a solid earth geophysicist on training way back, of course, what I did with Soske was exploration geophysics, explosion seismology. But once I got in there and I took on all different kinds of earth science. Okay I’ll tell this one last little story. I took the measurements for the Air Force. There was a man named Bert [Albert P.] Crary who had worked on the T-3 station and he had started the measurements. He was very imaginative and innovative on what he did up there. And I continued at the urging of the people in Air Force Cambridge — Irene Cottel mainly — I continued some current meter measurements they wanted to do. And they were very simple, you just had a vane, you lowered it into the water on a tether, a string, and you measured the angle. That told you how fast the ice was going. Eventually, as it came out, there’s quite a bit of theory behind that. So I got interested in that although I was presumably just doing it routinely for them. I did that and worked up the data — This was nothing in my contract that I was supposed to do that, except to take data and give it to them and forget it. But I got interested in it and that was physical oceanography which I had never studied but I got interested in the results from the measurements. The results showed this spiral and that was the Ekman spiral, named for the Norwegian oceanographer, Ekman. And nobody had really seen that in the ocean although he had done the theory fifty years before. For various reasons it’s very hard to take a measurement like that in the open ocean with all the turbulence, and waves. So that experience really steered me into physical oceanography and then now — I consider myself more a physical oceanographer than anything else. You know, so it was a wonderful thing. I could just steer my career by myself.
I think that’s a very interesting point that the early voyages from the nineteenth century forward were considered the graduate schools for many scientists who were then exposed to work on those across many fields.
Oh yes. Oh when you think of it that way, sure. I wouldn’t compare myself to Charles Darwin or somebody like that, but I mean that’s how they worked. One voyage was enough to set him up for life.
Still the formative experience is I think quite important.
Maybe it had something — there was something like that.
I think this is a very good point to end this first interview. And you will be receiving the transcript of the interview from the Columbia University Oral History Research Office along with forms.
Oh I’d like to show it to my wife and everything. Probably never told her all that to this extent.