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Interview of Dennis Hayes by Ronald Doel on 1995 December 22,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
Discusses his youth and education in the mid-west and Colorado; his undergraduate education at the University of Kansas and his graduate work at Columbia University; his decision to go into geophysics; his work as chief scientists aboard the research vessels and his relationship with Capt. Henry Kohler; international cooperation in researach projects; the effect on Lamont of Maurice Ewing's move to Texas; his committee work for the National Science Foundation; teaching graduate students at Columbia; plate tectonics; and marine geology. Also prominently mentioned are Wally Broecker, Charles Drake, Gordon Eaton, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Arnold Gordon, Bruce Heezen, Marcus Langseth, Jack Nafe, Jack Oliver, Neil Opdyke, Walter Pitman, Baring Raleigh, Mark Talwani, J. Lamar Worzel.
This is Ron Doel and this is an interview with Dennis E. Hayes. We are making this recording on December 22, 1995 at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York. And I know that you were born on October 3, 1938 in St. Joseph, Missouri, but I don’t know much about your early background or your parents. Who were your parents and what did they do?
My parents were mid-westerners whose families settled in the heartland of Kansas, in Chapman, Kansas, primarily and in surrounding farm communities. My father’s parents really began as farmers and my father was one of four children of which two became farmers. And then my grandfather on my father’s side quit farming and established a small — whatever was the forerunner of the motel. I don’t think it was called a motel at that time.
Was it in a town or along a highway?
In a town called Chapman, Kansas. It was associated with a service station and an automobile repair shop. So that’s where my father got his early work training.
Doing, I imagine a lot of different tasks.
Doing a lot of tasks, learning a little bit about the business of running a motel and learning about repairing cars and things of that nature. As it turns out, this town of Chapman, Kansas, which couldn’t be more than twelve hundred people or fifteen hundred people is also the town where my mother was born and grew up. And her father owned the local hardware store and farm implement and ultimately General Motors dealership in the town. She was one of eight children, surviving children. It was a big family and she was the third youngest. And my parents married fairly young.
Which was fairly common of course back in that time.
Yes. My mother was eighteen, almost nineteen and my father was three years older. And then shortly after they were married, my father began driving a bus for what at the time I think was called Transcontinental and became Continental Trailways.
What were your parents’ names, just so we have it on record?
Yes. My father’s name was William Franklin and my mother’s name was Gertrude Margaret. And I was named after my two grandfathers, Dennis on my father’s side and Edward on my mother’s side.
And how long after your parents married were you born? Where are you in the family?
I’m one of two children. I’m the baby of the family. I have a sister who’s three years older who lives in the Florida area now with a grown family. And so she was born about two years after my parents were married and I was born three years after that. And the family situation was a bit unusual in the sense that my father drove a bus and being young at this stage and not having much service time, much seniority, essentially you got moved around — It was a little bit like being in the military. From time to time you would get “bumped.” The best runs would be taken by the drivers with the greatest seniority and you would get what was left over. So we moved quite a bit in the years from the time I was a baby until I was in grade school. And then we moved less frequently.
Is that how then that you moved from Kansas into Missouri?
When I started out, we were in Missouri and before that the family was in Dodge City and various other towns in Kansas. I’m not even sure I can recall them all. We lived in Sauna, Kansas. We also lived out in western Kansas in a town called Atwood and another one called Oberlin, Kansas. These are tiny farm communities and they generally were towns that were on the bus run that my father was driving. And so he would go out, and be gone for a couple of days; driving, say from central Kansas to Denver and then back the next day and then he’d have a day or a day and a half off. A little bit like the pilots do now. Most don’t “drive” daily most of them. It wasn’t like starting out here, go out and drive eight hours, and come back home. It was typically gone a couple days, back a day or two, gone a couple days, and back a day or two. And then when I was in the third grade, my parents leased a small hotel in one of these little towns (Atwood, Kansas) thinking that either in addition to or in lieu of that would be a business that they would move into with some experience on my father’s side. We did that for a couple of years.
This would have been right at the start of World War II at this point?
Let’s see, well it was. It was into it because I think I was in the third grade at the time.
That might even put it a little bit after or just around the time of World War II.
I think just after, just at the end of the war.
That makes sense.
My father tried to enlist in the Navy and was told at the time that he was a little on the old side and they thought that he would be better off continuing to drive his bus through the country. Which at the time when I was small, the impact of him not going into the service was not fully appreciated. Anyway we ran this hotel business for a couple of years and then we moved to Denver. We’d been in Denver before for just a year or so and after we moved back to Denver and I spent about five years there; this was from grade 4 through grade 7. 1 don’t know if you’re familiar with Denver or not, but we lived just a couple of blocks from the capitol and the civic center, an area which was at the time largely residential.
Still very close to the heart of the community.
Yes. It was like having a house in the city. But Denver was not then what it is now.
No, the growth was remarkable but much later than —
In fact near the capitol — we would walk what would be the equivalent of a dozen blocks or so to school most of the time or sometimes take the city bus. My sister and I went to parochial school.
What was your father doing during the time in Denver? Was he still driving for Continental?
He was continuing to drive at that time. And that was really all that we were doing.
You didn’t have a hotel when you were in Denver?
No, nothing like that at that time. And as I say I was there until through the seventh grade so my sister had begun high school. I think it became clear to my parents who very much wanted my sister and I to go on to college that it was going to be difficult to make that happen on a bus driver’s income at that time. I remember when we bought our house there in Denver and I think it cost about five thousand dollars.
What kind of house was it that you lived in?
That we lived in in Denver?
Yes. Hayes. It was what in some places now you’d call a townhouse such as in Washington, D.C. or elsewhere. It was a two story brick house with a little porch on the front, a narrow house and situated very close, maybe a few feet, from the neighbors on each side, but not attached. And the houses were similar but didn’t look alike, and they weren’t alike. It was a three bedroom, one bath; two story brick house with a little fenced in front yard and a modestly sized long, narrow backyard. Enough room for a little garden and to play catch. My sister and I both went to a Catholic parochial school there. Right near the capitol is a rather large Catholic church called the Cathedral which was affiliated with our school. I mention this because my wife and I went back there a few years ago and to my shock my old house is a parking lot and the area where I was an altar boy and sang in the choir and went to grade school had turned into something akin to the worst part of 42nd Street in New York. It was really peep shows and porn shops, and that was quite a shock to my system.
I can imagine. I want to talk about the schooling in a moment but I’m curious when you were growing up in Denver, did you get back to Kansas? Back to Atwood and other places where your relatives were?
We didn’t go back to the places that we’d lived before. But when we did go back we went back to see relatives. Most of my grandparents’ children, my uncles, my aunts and all my cousins continued for quite a while to live in this little town of Chapman or in surrounding towns. So it was possible to have a Christmas family reunion, have these kinds of things. There were fairly big families on both sides. I had a zillion cousins that were within a year or two of my age and lots of these cousins lived fairly close. So we would get together occasionally. You know once or twice a year I would go out and spend a couple of weeks with my grandparents in the summertime or something like that.
You mentioned a bit earlier that on your mother’s family was in the farm implement business. Did you have an interest in farming tools when you were growing up?
Not in particular — not a fascination or anything like that. I had a fascination with this hardware store which was a huge hardware store. It was like a general store but focused on hardware and really was the only one of its kind in this small farm community. So it was the center of activity. And once you moved deeper into it, you got into machinery parts and then on back were the implements, and then ultimately there was a General Motors dealership. It eventually moved to another site. My grandfather there was about as well known and personally involved with the people in the farm community as anyone. And everyone depended upon him and he was truly beloved in the town. He was very generous. He was from a French-German background, Alsatian. I have lots of stories about him, wonderful stories. As I say he had all these grandchildren around him in this little town. Friday nights in that town the stores would stay open late and the farmers came in and the kids went to the movies and the adults would shoot the breeze and take care of some business. There must have been fifteen or twenty of us, cousins you know, ranging in age from five or six years old to eight or nine. He’d dole out the money to go to the movies, and then he’d dole out the money to each child to go to the soda shop and he loved doing this sort of thing. He was a good businessman and really quite a nice grandfather — ideal!
It sounds like he was a particular influence on you growing up.
He was in many ways. He had many interests — he liked to fool around doing art, drawing and sketching and making things. He made a set of power tools for himself, like saws and lathes and drills and things like that before they were commonplace, he put them together. He liked to build things as a hobby and he liked to draw. And I used to be fascinated by that and I picked up on it — I still like to sketch and draw and build things.
That’s interesting. When did you first start doing that?
Oh it was probably when I was in grade school. Certainly by the time I was in high school. I haven’t done it very much lately but it’s something that I enjoy and I keep thinking it would be nice to go get a little training, something to do when I have some free time. Anyway he was a strong influence on me and was very generous although he went through a lot of hard times. I have been talking to my mother recently (my father died though four years ago) and she has wonderful stories to tell about farmers coming in to my grandfather’s store and saying they can’t make the payments on farm their implements. Sorry. And he’d say “just keep it. It’s not going to do me any good sitting here and you pay me when you can.” Through hard times.
That would have been just prior to the time that you were born, many of those experiences?
That’s right. He was one of the first people to have a car in Kansas. I have pictures of the family all loaded up, all the kids and all, in the car and I don’t know what year it must have been. I guess the early twenties or even earlier. I don’t know exactly.
You mentioned that you found the hardware store fascinating. What particularly do you remember being attracted to?
Well there were shelves and shelves and bins and drawers and I mean just everything imaginable. And there was a counter full of pocketknives and bins full of different nails and screws and just anything that you wanted. You could wander around the store and my grandfather had also made this very unique horse. It wasn’t a rocking horse. It was a horse that was articulated in some way. Big enough for a good size child to sit on and if you learned the knack of this thing you could actually make this wooden horse move around.
It was like pulling up the head and this thing would swing out and you’d pick up the back end. Like this and then you’d repeat the action.
You could inch it either further along the —
Yes, you could move it along pretty good. And then upstairs in the hardware store was like someone’s fabulous attic or basement. Just a fascinating thing, models of windmills and such, old pool tables, and just all sorts of things. I used to go up with my cousin and we would go up and explore the upstairs. They gave us pretty much free run of the store, and it was just a nice thing. I didn’t spend any time living in Chapman. I did spend time living in a town called Salina, Kansas which is only about twenty miles away. We had wonderful holiday memories from Chapman. My grandfather would arrange, for instance, to have a horse drawn sled at Christmastime to take all the kids and ride them all over town. He was a very good man. And my grandmother on my mother’s side was also a real grandma who loved having children around. My grandmother on the other side was plain. There was nothing wrong with her. She was fine. It was just by contrast she wasn’t as warm and personable as my other grandparents. My grandfather on my father’s side was very nice and liked the grandchildren a lot but he still didn’t have this warmth that my other grandfather did. They both served at various times as mayor of the little town of Chapman.
Did you have hobbies when you were growing up — either in Kansas or later in Denver?
Let’s see. I’m trying to recall. I don’t really recall collecting things or doing stuff like that. You know when I lived in Denver we used to go into the mountains fairly often. My family and another family would go and camp for long weekends. My father liked to fish and used to take me out fishing. But we used to do that when I was little. It was nice being with my father but I was never an avid fisherman. But I don’t recall any particular hobbies. I got involved in sports very early in grade school. Not early by today’s standards. I mean they start them off when they’re in kindergarten or first grade now but that wasn’t the case back in the mid to late 40s. It was unusual then, but being in this parochial school there was league and they started kids off in about fourth or fifth grade. And I was very active in sports in school.
Which sports particularly?
Primarily football. In high school I pursued sports and I went to a very small high school. Even so it was unusual that I got eleven varsity letters and would have had twelve but I got the mumps when I was just into my freshman track season on the team. So it was football, basketball and track during the school year. And then we played American Legion baseball in the summertime. So even though, as I say, it was a small high school and there were less than a hundred boys out there, it was unusual for someone to do all these things when they were a freshman. That’s the value of a small town; everyone did everything. You played in the band, you sang in the choir, you did this, you did that, you played football. Everyone did everything and everyone knew everyone.
Do you recall reading much? Or what do you particularly recall reading?
Oh I do recall — interesting. I would not say I read an unusual amount. I wasn’t one of these avid readers at the time. But I do recall one thing that I think is very significant in my education. My sister is a teacher now in the Miami area and since I can remember, my sister has wanted to be a teacher and was a teacher. Even when she was in high school she was teaching as an assistant in the grade school. So the significance of the story is, with her being three years older than I, when she started to school, I started school. When she would come home, she would sit her brother down and she would teach me what she learned. So I started going to school at about age of two or two and a half.
How did you feel about that back then?
Well. I don’t think I minded it that much. I mean I’m sure there were times when I would have preferred to do other things. But I really think I got incredible pre-school training — an early shot at all sorts of things. So, I really look back and think of going to school and it extended from about age 2 to age 28 without a break.
That’s a good way to put it. What sort of things was she particularly interested in or did she have a very broad interest across the curriculum?
My sister? She was interested in teaching. It was less important what it was, she was teaching. She was teaching me or trying to teach me whatever it was of what she was learning that she could. So it wasn’t the content so much as the process for her. The process and she had a captive student. So that was probably fairly significant. She went to a large state teachers college in Emporia, Kansas, and she was very smart. Graduated, I think, second in her class.
That’s very interesting. How much education had your parents received?
They both graduated high school but they didn’t have any college beyond that. And there was no college for the siblings on my father’s side. My father was the youngest actually. There were four or three boys and a girl. And my mother was next to the youngest of a family of eight and several of the boys did some college, or got college degrees on my mother’s side but my mother didn’t. Her younger sister went on to college and got a degree. But my parents both just had high school educations.
Were either of them particularly interested in science or technology when you were growing up?
No, no they weren’t. But my father was very capable. We moved to Washington, Kansas, from Denver and bought a hotel which was not so dissimilar from the hotel that we had leased a few years before. And when you’re a small business whether it was my grandfather and my father helping him or whatever, essentially you’re a one man or a two person show. You learn how to do everything. Not technology in the sense that we know it today, but being very practical and capable and essentially able to do everything. It’s like the super master tradesman who could lay bricks, wire a house, do the plumbing, lay tile, fix the roof, wallpaper, anything that needed to be done. And my father was also very good with mechanical things, cars. So in that sense he was interested and good at those kinds of things. No strong interest that I recall in science.
Do you remember having an interest in science in your early years?
Not a focus. I was interested in everything; I really was but, nothing especially.
Ranged across the boards from English and other subjects.
I always did very well in school; and liked school. I liked the process of going to school and I liked the whole thing. But I don’t recall focusing on any particular thing. As I said, we spent a fair amount of time out camping. I went up to camp in the mountains north of Boulder up around Estes Park at a camp run by our school, and so spent time up there for two or three weeks in the summer. It’s interesting that I never really thought at what point I got turned on to science. I always liked science.
So it was part of the broad screening that you were getting at the time?
Yes. And as I say, if you look at my high school yearbook, you’ll find lots of comments in my high school yearbook saying you’ll make a great lawyer, all that sort of stuff — you know kids talk about what they think you may want to do.
I should mention that we mentioned this off tape before we began this session that you had thought through your high school that you might end up going into law rather than in another field.
Yes. I liked to debate. I liked to talk and try to persuade.
Were you a member of any debating club? But were there —?
No. There was no debate team. There were just various English things and what — they set up informal debates. But there was no competitive thing. In one regard, that’s one thing you miss out in a little school. There’s a limited curriculum. The curriculum that they had and implemented may have been as competitive and as good as any place but there is a limited offering. I ran out of things to take. So my buddy and I took typing which was perfectly legitimate and then took shorthand because we ran out of things to do, and in fact it was populated with all these girls, so —
This was wise thinking at the time.
We got pretty good at it too. So that is the one disadvantage of a small school. The only place I really felt I had a little catching up to do was when I first went to college. We’re jumping ahead but it’s relevant to the high school experience. I won — after my freshman year at college — a very prestigious scholarship at the University of Kansas called a Summerfield Scholarship, there may be about twenty of them given for the whole university. And that’s essentially a free ticket. They look at what resources you have and they give you whatever you need to make up the difference. But it’s as much of an honor as anything. So what they do is they award these Summerfield Scholarships on the basis of state-wide competition where you go through about four stages of competing for these scholarships. Twenty out of I don’t how many thousands of kids competing. And I got through to the semifinals and then I didn’t get to the finals. I think it’s a simple matter in part, I don’t know if I would have or I wouldn’t have, but there were definite holes in my education having to do with art and art history and things like that which I just didn’t have any exposure to whatsoever.
Did you sense that those who were moving into the finalist’s camp were coming from the bigger cities?
Oh they definitely were. You could look at it and you could see that it was a rare case that they weren’t from the larger places and the larger high schools.
But, you did get the award?
I got the award because they would give two or three of them each year to people who were in residence and they looked at your accumulated college record. And on the basis of your record (I also won a special award in chemistry the first year) and got straight 4.0 grade average and then I was awarded the Summerfield scholarship, a big deal back then.
And that was from ‘58 to ‘61 that you had the scholarship.
I was curious when you mention going to the parochial high school in Denver.
My sister went to the high school. I went to the grade school.
You went to the grade school, that’s right. My apology. I’m just curious when you were there what you remember from the school? Do you remember any of the science classes that you had?
I don’t remember really anything that much about in detail about what we were learning or studying at that time. You know I don’t remember any particulars. I remember a couple of things I was taught. There were no lay teachers at the time. Everything was taught to us by nuns. I remember a couple of teachers.
Were any of them particularly memorable for you?
Well a couple of them that I liked a lot. They were very strict. Some tended to take a special interest. Like Sister Roberta, I can’t remember her full name, but I remember the faces very clearly. And then I had a number of high school teachers, science and math teachers, who were wonderful to me.
Of course this is now back when you were in Kansas again?
We moved back to Kansas. But nothing really stands out academically at that early time, you know.
What was the high school like in Kansas that you went to?
The high school was — you mean physically what was it like?
What was the experience like? How large was it? What kind of classes did you actually have that you remember from the sciences?
Oh yes. Well you know I had a standard Kansas board certified that they had to have certain elements of the curriculum. It was a three story brick building and it had roughly about two hundred students in it, maybe a little less. It was definitely populated by about 60 or 70% of these kids that were from farm communities, or farms around the community. And we had a big study hall on the first floor and then we had various classrooms. So you had your lockers and everything just like any other school. It was just that the things were separated out on these three floors and I’m trying to remember how many teachers we had that taught in the high school. I don’t know. I would guess it was about a dozen. So I had one teacher that taught, a woman teacher, that I remember very well that liked and taught all the math classes and also the chemistry. The principal taught physics. So that was the science that we got — at that time we didn’t really didn’t get any calculus.
Did they go up to trigonometry?
Oh yes. So I was a little behind there at the university since many of the entering kids had had some calculus. I had to do some catching up there.
What was it that particularly attracted you to the law and the legal profession when you were in high school?
I don’t know. It was just a concept then. The idea. I was fascinated with the process; with the idea really of debate and arguing and fencing and that sort of thing. It was something I found fun and I found I was fairly good at. And when I ended up president of this and the president of that, so I was always in a position of speaking and representing.
What sort of activities were you president of?
Classes. I think I was president of our class every year except one. And we’d have fundraising class campaigns like all the high schools did around those days. Our class would have a big campaign to raise money. There were different ways they used to go about doing that. I remember in particular we’d go out and sell magazines to people in the community for which our class would give a small take off on what was sold. And I’m just inventing some numbers I don’t remember what they were. Everyone would go out in the class and it was a big deal to do it. So everyone would come in and they’d sell twenty dollars worth and sixty dollars worth and maybe even someone would have a hundred dollars worth. I’d have four or five hundred dollars worth. I was a real hustler, I really was. I mean it used to shock me and I couldn’t figure what these other people were doing.
What made you so good at that do you think?
Persistence. And sort of I guess fearlessness. Where the other people wouldn’t think of approaching the teachers in high school, those were the first ones I went after.
You created an entire new market. At least recognized it.
But I think I sold most of them.
And I remember a similar situation even when I was in grade school. The church would have students go out and sell raffle tickets for this or that. I used to always sell two or three times more than anyone else. I was a salesman and I thought that being a lawyer was kind of like being a salesman.
Were your parents particularly active in religion when you grew up?
Yes. Well my mother was especially. And my father wasn’t and then was drawn back to the church I think about the time his parents died. But my mother continues to remain very active. Her parents and all her family were very active in the Catholic Church.
How big was the Catholic community back in Kansas?
Well if you went to one of these farm communities, I would say it probably would range from anywhere from 15% on the low side to maybe 30% on the high side. The town that I grew up in Washington, I would guess it would be 20%. Significant. And then the rest were various denominations of Protestants: Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Friends.
You mentioned the math teacher. Were any other teachers at the high school particularly influential for you?
Well I had a couple of coaches that were also teachers that I had a lot of contact with, a lot of contact hours in the day. So I remember a couple of them as being good teachers, and good influences. But I would say this one teacher, this one woman teacher, stands out as probably the person I enjoyed going to class with. She was — I think back on it — She was fairly young at the time and an attractive person. You know a young high school boy always trying to tease her and get her going. She had a good sense of humor. She was a tough teacher and good but she was also pleasant. And we used to have a lot of fun.
Was this also a parochial school in Kansas?
This was the public high school.
There weren’t any in Kansas unless you got in the big cities. There were no parochial schools. So I remember about the time — actually the best thing that happened to me. Like every wannabe high school athlete, I didn’t want athletics to end for me. Yet I wasn’t good enough to play — big enough or good enough — to play for Kansas University or someplace like that. So I had a number of offers to play at smaller schools around Kansas, junior colleges or small colleges in different places. To play football in particular. And I was seriously thinking about doing that. Even though I didn’t get the big fancy Summerfield scholarship, I did get another academic scholarship to go to the University of Kansas.
What was it that you had gotten for the University of Kansas?
It was called a scholarship Hall award. It was actually very influential. And it was the opportunity to go to the university to live in a special hall that housed about fifty guys, all of whom had to have academic credentials to get in there. It was about the same size and run very much the same way as a fraternity was only it was in a prime campus location. There were five of these such houses and they were run as co-ops. Essentially you lived there in return for working for an hour a day doing something in the house. You virtually paid no room or board. But in order to live in the houses you had to have the grades and then you had to maintain a B+ average in order to stay in the house. So that was something that made it financially feasible for many to go to K. U. By the time I was a sophomore in college I was for all intents and purposes not dependent upon my parents because I had the Summerfield scholarship and I worked my butt off in the summertime to save money.
What sort of jobs did you have?
I did everything. I worked in garages doing simple things there. I worked in the furniture store. I delivered milk. I worked for the local veterinarian. For several summers after I was in college I worked on the natural gas pipeline. I look back on it and it was dangerous as hell. I worked one summer in the structural steel down in Topeka, Kansas, putting up buildings, lugging things around, walking around “up in the air.” I put farm implements together one summer for my grandfather. I mean I literally took any job you could have. I had an uncle who had a farm not far away. I spent a couple of summers on the farm at harvest time for a few weeks driving trucks into town, and driving the combine and that sort of stuff. I spent one summer while I was in college down in the Texas Gulf coast doing doodle bugging (seismic exploration with explosive charges).
Which company were you with?
It was with GSI [Geophysical Services Inc.] and they had a program where they would bring about twenty kids from all over the country in and give them a couple weeks in Dallas where they’d train them. Then they’d send them up to a field program and field crew, and they just physically worked your butt off and then you came back and went to the office for a couple of weeks and wrote up some project. It had nothing to do with what you’d been doing before. There are actually at least three or four people here at Lamont [Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory] who went through that program. I can’t remember them now.
Oh is that right? Isn’t that interesting?
Somewhere I’ve got the information. There are some names that you would recognize of people who went this through this program.
What summer was it that you had done the training for GSI?
That was the summer between my junior and senior year.
What do you recall particularly about the training that you got from GSI and then the work out in the field?
I liked to work out in the field. We went to Dallas. I mean we sat down and they gave us general lectures. It wasn’t all that memorable the training there in Dallas. The thing I remember most is that at the end of the training, just before we all disbursed about, we were all standing out front at the motel, someone there, one of our ranks, knew a young lady over at the American Airlines stewardess college. And they coincidentally were just completing a month or six week long program of training over there in total isolation. And so we arranged for like a twenty-five person blind date thing. All these guys from all over the place. All these girls from all over the place. Both groups pretty anxious for a little social interaction. And we went out and had a fantastic time. It was unbelievable. I don’t think there was all that much hanky panky going on but it was a wonderful time. We only had about four or five cars and we jammed into the cars and the girls came to the motel and we all went swimming and then out on the town. It was a strange phenomenon. No one had ever seen anyone before except for the initial contact. And we met up at the motel and people just kind of paired up. It was a strange sociological phenomenon.
Sounds like it was a lot of fun.
It was a lot of fun. And then I went off — on my own down to Raymondville which is just north of Brownsville, Texas. I spent the time working in the Laguna Madre down on the southeast Texas coast. I worked off a crew boat. We slept on the crew boat. We’d be up at four o’clock in the morning. Go out so we’d be at our field type by the time the sun rose and work until sunset which was about 9:30. We’d get about fourteen hours or so of work in a day. We were shooting seismic lines. And it was primarily physical labor in planting jugs and drilling holes by hand for explosives and putting explosive charges together. And then one of the fellows in the program was working in another field crew but not that far away, three or four miles away. They didn’t pay any overtime so at fourteen hours a day it didn’t take long to build up your maximum time. So what they’d do is work us two weeks’ worth of time and then you’d have about a week off. And so what we wanted to do is then go down to Mexico. We’d go down to Monterrey and fortunately this other guy happened to have a car. So off we went.
That must have been an interesting time there too.
Yes, it was fun. I think it was a lot more adventuresome, a lot more fun, a lot less dangerous than it is in these times. I mean I would never let my nineteen year old son go off and do some of the things that I did — if I had a nineteen year old son. I certainly wouldn’t let my nineteen year old daughter.
Speaking now as a parent. I’m curious. When you were on the field crews, did you talk geology at all or was that something that you really didn’t get much exposure to?
Not really. There were technical personnel there — There was a party chief who was running the instruments and supervising. And we really didn’t. I knew basically what was going on but most of the people on the field party that were doing the same things that I was were uneducated laborers. And also by the time that you spent a fourteen or fifteen hour day working out in the blazing sun, I had blond hair all over my body. Even my arm hair was bleached blond literally.
I should say on tape that you hair is not blond right now.
No, it’s not blonde. Somewhere I’ve got — I’ll have to dig it out and show it to you — somewhere I’ve got a little book that does a retrospective on the GSI program and there will be some names that you recognize.
It would be interesting.
Big names in the geophysics field who went through that. I’ll tell you one thing the program taught me was I didn’t want to be a doodle bugger. It was valuable in that regard even though it was a great summer job and it was a lot of fun. It was not something that I would want to go repeat. So I knew that I didn’t want to work for some exploration company when I was out of college. I knew that right away. And I think that’s one of the things that did have an influence on my decision that I wanted to go on to graduate school immediately.
I’m curious. When you are were in Dallas at GSI, did you ever meet any of the principals in the company? Would they come down to take part in any of the discussions?
Yes, there was a couple. We met them and we had a social — big barbecue at one of the principals’ homes. But I don’t know if I was somewhere else or what. It was just — the emphasis wasn’t on the learning process. I don’t just have that much recollection other than the experience of working hard and the adventure of meeting some new friends, and of the collegiality. But I don’t remember being strongly influenced by them. I gather having read this book — that some people were definitely influenced by the program, by the educational training and other, but I wasn’t.
Certain of the GSI programs were of longer duration and different scope and emphases too. And there were certainly those training programs of the sort that you went through.
Yes, they didn’t last too much longer because GSI then was the parent company of Texas Instruments, became a subsidiary. And I think the program continued maybe a year or two, the summer program that I’m talking about, a year or two after I participated. And then that particular program ceased to exist. But there may have been other programs that were operating simultaneously.
When during your undergraduate years, did you sense that you were becoming more interested in science than law?
I started off — I guess I went out of high school thinking there were opportunities to get out and make a good living in engineering. That was a hot area. And I began my training at the University of Kansas in chemical engineering. And I did very well, as I said, in chemistry. I won a couple of awards. A thousand students taking chemistry 101 and I won a couple of awards in there. So I was doing well in chemistry but then early in my sophomore year I found that I didn’t like the lab work very much. I wasn’t interested. Too tedious for me. I could do it but then I didn’t find it challenging. It seemed boring.
Did it seem like cookbook experiments?
Yes, exactly. And I didn’t find it stimulating at all. And so I took a couple of geology courses and I found them much more interesting. And we had a variety of field trips that I found quite interesting and I changed my major to geological engineering and then took geophysics as well which was a new parallel track that they had. So what happened was that I ended up taking at least as much geology as the straight geology majors did. I took all the engineering courses which were the applied math and physics courses. And I ended up graduating with about a hundred and fifty or so semester hours of credits. So I had a lot of background. I had a lot of physics and a lot of applied physics and a lot of math when I ended up coming here. It turned out to be good training.
It sounds like it was quite thorough.
I took at least half of my classes here at Columbia, which at that time still required sixty credits more; they were in departments other than geology, because I had a lot more geology than a lot of people. A lot of specialty courses. I mean I had courses in oceanography and geochemistry and geophysics. All these sort of things as an undergraduate.
That’s very interesting. Oceanography was offered in Kansas.
Oh yes. In fact my oceanography teacher in college was a fellow by the name of [Richard Benson].
That can always be added to the transcript later.
Yes, I’ll remember it then. I had a lot of good teachers in the geology department at the University of Kansas.
What was it that attracted you to geology as you look back?
It wasn’t geology so much per se. It wasn’t the classical field geology that I was attracted to. I liked the application of the opportunity to apply my math and physics skills to solving problems that involved natural sciences and geology. That was of interest to me. I guess I found it adventurous.
But it was another field in which you could apply the engineering interests that you had?
Yes. I had courses — it was about the time of the International Geophysical Year [IGY].
I was just going to ask because did you enter college in 1957?
I entered in the fall of ‘56.
And as I say because I switched majors and because I took this geophysics/geological engineering I took four and a half years and ended up graduating as I said with about a hundred and fifty-five credits.
What do you recall about the IGY?
I recall that my advisor, whose name was James Peoples. I don’t know if you’d come across that name.
There’s a Joe [Joseph] Peoples and a Jim Peoples. Jim Peoples’ wife Roe, was Roe Ewing, [W.] Maurice Ewing’s sister. And Jim Peoples at the time happened either at that time or just about the time I was graduating — was the editor of the Journal of Geophysical Research. And we had people there at the University of Kansas that were involved in geochemical studies in Antarctica as part of the early phases of the IGY. [Edward J.] Zeller who is still active — in introducing concepts of thermo luminescence. I was just aware that there was a huge purge of activity at that time and it seemed like it was the predictor of exciting new opportunities in geophysics. When I came back here [to Columbia University] I didn’t know I was going to be a marine geophysicist. I knew I was going to be a geophysicist of some sort. When I came back here I thought I might have been a seismologist, an earthquake seismologist, or different kind of solid earth geophysicist. But I had a lot more exposure to the sub-disciplines of geology and the special things than most kids did coming out of college. As I said, geochemistry, two courses in geophysics and oceanography.
Who taught the oceanography course?
That’s what I’m trying to recall. It was primarily focused on coastal processes. Why can’t I remember his name? Ah, it was Richard Benson.
Again, that’s something that we can add.
Benson was around and taught oceanography for a long time and eventually left Kansas. He’s not someone who would be recognized as a leading practitioner of oceanography but someone whose name would probably be known to coastal oceanographers.
You’re doing quite well.
I know most of the professors’ names. They had a fairly substantial graduate program there at the time too.
Did you come to know the graduate students when you were an undergraduate?
Not very well. They were teaching assistants in a few classes. There was some but there wasn’t much interaction between the undergraduates and the graduates. They had an award there that they give to — in the geology department — to the outstanding undergraduate and the outstanding graduate student and the outstanding alum in geology. So I got that award.
I have a note that this was 1960, the Haworth Senior Honors Award in geology.
In fact I won the alumni award a few years later. It was just primarily an honorary award with some recognition and they put up a plaque in the University of Kansas geology building.
What can you remember taking from Jim Peoples?
I took a sort of general principles of geophysics class that taught you about gravity magnetics and seismology.
Did it cover structural geology as well or was it more focused on instrumentation and methods?
Not so much instrumentation as on principles in geophysics. In fact, it’s funny. I teach a course like that now for advanced seniors and beginning graduate students. Somewhat different. But it basically talks about the earth’s gravity field and the principles involved and what affects its variations and what you can do with it and what you can’t. Same with the earth’s magnetic field. And it talks about seismology and how it was used to deduce the properties of the interior of the earth. And they can apply it in a different scale to exploration techniques, and things having to do with the tides and planetary systems. Not very much having to do with structural geology. I took a couple of courses. I had at least two classes in structural geology. They were taught by Ken [Kenneth] Hamblin who I believe is at Utah now and has a structural geology laboratory manual that I think is used by a lot of undergraduate structural geology teachers, particularly out west. The Kansas Geological Survey was housed at K U. too. And there were a couple of people involved that taught there. And then I had a course in gravity. A whole course taught by Jim Peoples who talked about — basically dealing with what it was, how you could measure it with instruments, all that sort of stuff
Do you remember things in the course like [Felix A.] Vening-Meinesz? And submarines?
Oh yes, absolutely. And so I mean there was almost no one for instance working in gravity when I came here. Marine gravity was in its infancy and something that Joe [J. Lamar] Worzel had been promoting. And Worzel and people that worked with him including [Manik] Talwani and others had been involved with the measurement of gravity in submarines. Vening-Meinesz had a little apparatus and actually built that apparatus here but they were then getting involved in surface ship measurements and did the earliest surface ship measurements. And so Lamont was making continuous gravity measurements at sea routinely long before others.
And you were aware of these developments from undergraduate studies?
I wasn’t aware of what was happening on the surface ship stuff because it wasn’t really happening yet.
It was just happening at the time.
At the time when I came here. I mean it really started, I think the first cruise that they collected gravity data on successfully may have been a cruise in ‘59, ‘60, something like that. So you know it really hadn’t hit the presses and they were still trying to evaluate what the problems were in collecting the measurements and getting more precise measurements. And they found that gravity measurements at sea, they were still faced with relatively large cross over errors of the order of twenty or twenty-five or thirty milligals when they were really trying to measure gravity accurately to a few milligals to allow them to use the data to infer things about coastal structure. So the instrumental technique was not adequately developed and it wasn’t known originally the physical source of the error was second order coupling of acceleration effects into the systems. It was known by Vening-Meinesz and his pendulum apparatus, so called Brown corrections, but it wasn’t realized that on a stabilized platform, a gyro stabilized platform, that were similar effects that came into play.
As I recall that becomes one of your first published papers, dealing with this. We probably ought not to get too deeply into that right now.
That had to do with evaluating the errors that could creep into the gravity measurement. By the inability of the stabilized platform to remain perfectly stable.
Do you remember getting much exposure to meteorology and other areas of geophysics besides the solid area at Kansas?
I took a course in meteorology but it was primarily weather forecasting 101. I remember in particular that I sort of tolerated it and didn’t find that it was a very good course.
Did it strike you that it wasn’t as fundamentally grounded as the other courses in physics or applied mathematics?
Oh yes, definitely not. It was much more qualitative and irreproducible and the pieces, you know the process was a very mechanical kind of recipe interpretation. It was totally descriptive — then inference from the description of certain pressure systems and then what was going to happen. Nothing involved to any extent understanding the processes.
As opposed to, say, the structure of the atmosphere or climate or global circulation or stuff of that sort.
Zero. Very local weather like. And then I took a course in applied meteorology here which turned out to be nothing but a course in applied math. We learned how to solve the various standard equations of fluid motion, whether it be the atmosphere or the ocean or whatever in about ten different coordinate systems. But there was very, very little application. So it was the other extreme. It was really saying here’s all these terms that you need to consider and here’s how you start to evaluate the importance of each term and you take this monstrous unsolvable non-linear partial differential equation and one by one you eliminate terms until you get something that you can actually solve. And then you start plugging back the little pieces that you took away to evaluate how they affect the result. It was a course strictly in applied math.
When you took that though, did you learn about the Bergman School and [Carl G.] Rossby and some of the other influences or was it really the properties of doing the computations?
It was the properties of doing the computations.
Had you had any exposure in Kansas, or that simply didn’t come up either there?
Was magnetics a topic that came up at all in Kansas?
Yes. Magnetics definitely came up and certainly the whole controversy about — at that time, which as an undergraduate, was very much alive and well — The controversy about, still about polar wandering, continental drift, magnetic reversals. This was not at all gospel at that stage of the game. It was in some small communities but it was not widely accepted at that point.
But this is very interesting that this was coming up already in your undergraduate training at Kansas.
It was coming up as issues that were — areas that were being studied, observations that were being made, questions that were being posed for which there weren’t general consensuses to what these things meant.
Who seemed to be the leaders among the faculty in talking about these questions?
You mean at Kansas?
It would have been Jim Peoples. He was the faculty member who was involved in geophysics. This is pretty much a classical geology department. Well, I guess if you take what I say it wasn’t a classical department at that time. But the emphasis was certainly on structural geology and stratigraphy and sedimentation and paleontology and rock mechanics. But then they had these other people who were out teaching these other areas to undergraduates. I think it’s very unusual now when I look back — There are not that many kids who come in, even now, who are getting exposed to a lot of the stuff that I got exposed to.
Indeed it’s not common for that many people to discover geophysics until the very end of their undergraduate years. Sometimes not even then.
Well, I guess most of my exposure to that really did come in the junior and senior years there. But that was getting the exposure — I found these problems fascinating. And even though I had officially was a major in geological engineering when I was a senior they formally established a geophysics major for which I had all the requirements.
You had already done it.
I had already done it. That’s right. And I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to be a geological engineer. It turns out geological engineering is now undergoing a major revival. Not necessary what geological engineering was then. It was kind of a fine line between that and civil engineering and that and petroleum engineering.
Did you have much exposure to the traditional seismic work, seismic reflection principles in geophysical prospecting?
Well, it came as part of a course. It came as part of a general geophysics course that I took. And we certainly did sit down and go through the basic classical seismic reflection, seismic refraction and those processes going on. What could you measure, what could you deduce from it, what were the assumptions involved? Presented as a tool. We used [Benjamin] Howell’s book — Ben Howell from Penn State.
You’re pointing to it right now on your shelf, Howell. Do you recall any other textbooks from any of the geophysics courses that you were taking because they were only beginning to be textbooks at that point?
Yes. I don’t believe that we had any textbooks for gravity. We were reading some papers out of some of the journals of the JGR. And I did have a textbook for geochemistry.
I’m very curious too what you remember from the geochemistry courses? That was certainly a very exciting period in the development of American geochemistry.
I would say that in geochemistry and in oceanography even though we got the exposure, it wasn’t the broad brush thing. It was what the individual there happened to know about. So there was a focus on those kinds of things. Though we did start off in geochemistry and we learned about general age dating techniques.
Were you learning — I’m just curious in particular — if you learned about what was going on in Chicago? The mass spectrometer work and the newer methods.
No. These are the books, Mason’s book, The Principles of Geochemistry.
So it would have been just after the time that you had entered, or right around the time that you were at Kansas, that Claire Patterson had done his work on determining the age of the earth, his geochemical studies. I was just curious if that was something that was emphasized or brought up?
It was certainly not emphasized. There was a lot happening then. And you know some of these problems — and I think probably that the questions that were raised with regard to magnetics were the most easily comprehended in terms of the potential significance of those things. And they were just starting to really get into the business of free oscillations of the earth and what that meant about the general overall structure and composition of the earth’s interior. But, you know, I suspect that some of the professors and certainly the students didn’t understand the significance of what some of these discoveries, this research, really meant.
When you think back to discussions about magnetic work and the polarity issues and polar wandering and what not, what do you recall of your own feelings with regard to these new ideas? Was continental drift explicitly raised as an issue? Did you know about [Alfred] Wegeners ideas?
Yes, very definitely. And I don’t think anyone can sit and look at a map and stare at Africa and South America for very long and not think that at least it’s plausible. The whole idea was how could you possibly plow these continents through in the rigid ocean crust. No one viewed it being formed in the wake of this continental motion. It was just at that time that they were still characterizing what the properties — even the rudimentary properties — of the difference between the oceans and the continents were in terms of structure. And talking about the sial and the sima and very fundamental things about the contrasting ocean crust and ocean structure and people were just then starting to put into books and into the literature things about analyzing the dispersion of surface waves; looking at the integrated properties of the deeper and contrasting oceanic pathways, or terrestrial pathways in terms of surface waves dispersion curves.
It sounds like work that you particularly became acquainted with when you came here to Columbia. Was it actually something that came up in —?
We were certainly aware of that. But it was in its earliest stages. You know that’s stuff Frank Press and [W. Maurice] Ewing and various people did when they were here in the early stages of Lamont.
Was Sputnik a particular memory for you when that went up? You would have been a sophomore I think.
Yes, but I don’t think I really fully appreciated it the way I probably should have at the time. It was a marvel but I remember the U.S. effort much more — vividly the efforts here. I practically got killed in the big parade down in New York City. I’m trying to think if it was following [John] Glenn, the first orbiting. I can’t remember. They had a huge ticker tape parade. It must have been the fall of ‘61, or early ‘62.
It was probably Glenn’s orbital rather than [Alan] Shepherd’s sub-orbital.
Yes, it was. Anyway I went down to Rockefeller Center with a couple of friends and I remember literally being in the crowd and physically being moved around without propelling my feet.
That was tight. What sort of personality was Jim Peoples?
He was very mild mannered. Not so different from a Mr. Peepers. Very, very mild mannered and soft spoken. He seemed to be genuinely interested in his students and his teaching, and I think put a lot of himself into this effort. But he was not an aggressive type at all; not a type A person at all.
I’ve heard that from others. Did he talk to you about his own research efforts?
He didn’t. And in fact one got the impression that he really was not, by the standards that we know, doing very much research. In lieu of the research he was teaching and he was editing the JGR and he was sort of keeping abreast of what was happening in large part by his editorial activities, which was a major effort, even though they don’t publish anything like the number of pages they do now. Everything was under one cover. You know all of it.
The whole gamut. Did visitors come through Kansas? Do you remember any lecturers that were offered?
Yes, Chuck [Charles L.] Drake came through. Made quite a positive impression on me in the spring that I was graduating or maybe it was the spring before. I knew very little about Columbia [University] and what was going on. It wasn’t certainly the only factor but it was a positive factor I think. Chuck used to kid me about me asking something about if I would like the big city. And he would tease me about it a few times over the years, I don’t know if he recalls that. He was on a AAPG [American Association of Petroleum Geologists] lecture tour and he came through Kansas. He was talking about his work in Appalachia, the Appalachian Syncline, when he came through. But I don’t remember too many other people coming through Kansas to give lectures.
There wasn’t a regular —? Was there a colloquia series at Kansas?
I was curious when you were mentioning a moment ago about Jim Peoples. Were your interactions mostly on the campus or did he have people come over to the house?
He had people come over to the house but it wasn’t everyone. He had a few students that he liked, I think, that he sort of decided that he would mentor and I was among them. It wasn’t like a weekly thing or anything like that. It was, you know, a few times a year. He would make an effort to have students over. Occasionally, it would be, come over for a dinner and talk. And occasionally it would be two or three students.
Who were the others who —? Were there any that you were particularly close to?
There was a close friend of mine by the name of Dave [David] May who actually came back here to go to graduate school as well. He went here for one year and left rather abruptly. He didn’t do particularly well in a physics class and I think that was very discouraging to him. It certainly was not a fatal thing in his graduate program, or needn’t have been. But he decided he didn’t like the area, didn’t like the program and he just kind of left rather quickly. Just disappeared. I mean — quite surprising. We were very close friends. I didn’t know anything about it. Everyone was asking me, where the hell is Dave?
And suddenly he wasn’t —?
And he went back to Kansas and got a master’s degree in business. He had one year of graduate training here and a degree in business there. And he works for, I think, Amoco out of Chicago or something like that: Distribution or management of their service stations. He’s in a management role but I don’t know exactly what he does. I kind of lost touch with him. I’ve talked to him a couple of times over the years. He was the other principal person there interacting with Peoples. There was another fellow who was in the same scholarship hall that I was, a year or so older than I was. His name was [Douglas] Lutz. And he was in a fairly high management position with Chevron. I know this because one of my students was out there in Chevron in San Francisco and came across him and had a common, small world discussion.
Did most of the graduating seniors in geology or geological engineering think of themselves going into geophysical firms? Petroleum and seismology, the applied ones?
I think probably a large fraction of them did, yes. Whether they were geologists or geophysicists, I think most of them. Geophysics as a major was just coming on but they were really training people in geological engineering and what you called that could have been anything, And there were several other people, but I look at the alumni in geology in the directory, and the information that comes back, and rarely do I find someone there. I had another friend actually who was in geological engineering. This is a friend that goes back to high school, who also went to the University of Kansas. He was a good friend, a very close friend because he was a very good athlete and he actually did go to the University of Kansas on athletic scholarship.
You were mentioning and we probably should just cover this and then we will then bring this part of the interview to a close. That people who had gone through with you included Dave May and Doug Lutz.
Uh huh. Lutz was a year or so ahead of me.
One thing I meant to ask you about your Kansas years, you mention a number of the sciences that you were taking courses in. Did it include astronomy? Did you have any exposure to that?
No. There were courses given in astronomy, but from what I’d heard about them they didn’t interest me and I didn’t partake.
As I say, we should wrap this up fairly soon to stay in our time frame, but one question or a few questions I just wanted to ask. As you began to think about your graduate career, of course you did come to Columbia, but what other choices were you looking at? Did you look at any other schools?
Yes. I originally made inquiries at Colorado Mines, Penn State, MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology], Cal Tech [California Institute of Technology] and Columbia.
How did you work to try to narrow the field down?
I eliminated Penn State and Colorado Mines fairly early on just by inquiring and talking to people and deciding that these were not in the caliber of program that were at Columbia and MIT and Cal Tech. As, I mentioned before, I graduated in the middle part of the year and I really needed financial aid in order to go on. And it was a bit unusual. It was unusual at Columbia to admit new students in the middle of the year because all the financial aid business was done together in the spring. But I think the combination of a very strong recommendation from Jim Peoples, coupled with my record, that Ewing said just give him what he needs. And so I got a full and complete ride here at Columbia starting in the middle of the year. At both MIT and Cal Tech — Cal Tech said they’d love to have me come out and they could do such and such and then they were sure everything would fall in place for a complete ride after that. But their attempts at recruiting were far less personal than at MIT. At MIT I got a hard sell from [Robert P.] Shrock at the time. In fact he actually — how was it that I met him? I met him and I got several letters from him and I don’t remember if he came through Kansas or what happened. I did have occasion to meet him and I remember he was impressive, big meat hook of a hand on this guy. It was like shaking hands with a ten pound ham. I remember that very clearly. But he was doing the hard sell. But even doing the hard sell, he was saying something to the effect, much like Cal Tech was, we can do this which is — because we don’t have the resources, we can’t go the whole thing here until the fall term at which time we’ll get you along track. And it’s just the circumstances of the way we do things. So I think the combination of the personal interaction that came in part by Peoples’ familiarity with Ewing and the Columbia program influenced me quite a bit. I mean I eliminated Mines and Penn State very, very early on.
Well those were of course more on applied geophysics. Hayes. Yes, they were but, as I say, at that stage I hadn’t decided what branch of geophysics I wanted. I hadn’t eliminated anything. But I decided that I could get, if I decided I wanted to get an emphasis on the applied part, I could do that as these other places as well or better. And so it was just my process of kind of initially thinking of safe schools. That concept. You do that at graduate school. Well, anyway, when it became apparent that Cal Tech and MIT and Columbia were available to me, I very quickly just put Penn State and Colorado Mines apart. And then Cal Tech, you know they had an incredible reputation and in fact probably from a reputational point of view at that point in my life, either Cal Tech or MIT had a superior reputation than Lamont. I don’t think they were superior programs but I think they did a lot more at selling themselves. But the combination of — I had a couple of nice personal letters from Ewing, a phone call and that sort of stuff — And the combination of being pushed a little in that direction by Jim Peoples and the financial package is what decided where I was going. I think my choices were probably Columbia and MIT.
In that order. One last thing that I wanted to ask you regarding Kansas was that on your CV you mention a few other awards and honors that you had received that we haven’t covered yet, particularly the Omega Delta Kappa Society. What was that and what was your role in that?
Yes, that society was an actual national society that honors seniors in universities across the country for a combination of their scholarship and leadership qualities. And it’s a group that’s limited to some relatively small fraction of the graduating class. So at the University of Kansas at that time - I don’t know how many they had, maybe twelve to fifteen thousand students at that time, there were twenty people who would be inducted into the Omega Delta Kappa [ODK] Society. And it was strictly an honorary society. Tau Beta Pi was another international engineering fraternity and that’s primarily recognition for scholarship. I was officially in the engineering school, not in the college of arts and sciences and I graduated number one in the engineering school.
And both of those awards came in 1959 when you were I would assume that you were then at the end of the sophomore and the beginning of the junior year.
Well, let’s see, ‘56, ‘57 was my normal freshman year. So, ‘57-‘58. So ‘58-‘59.
Between junior and senior.
It was in my junior year that they came and that was the normal time for the Tau Beta Pi to kick in and that was the time, spring before you became a senior, is when you elected people into Omega.
Did you feel that getting those awards had any particular effect on your later career?
Probably not. I don’t think so. I think they probably had some influence while you were there on campus. It’s just like a Summerfield Scholarship; it was a very big deal at the University of Kansas. I’m sure other universities have their comparable scholarships but if someone told me they got a Miller Scholarship at the University of Wisconsin, I wouldn’t necessarily know what the significance of that was; how competitive that was. But interestingly enough, the other night, Columbia College had their Hamilton Dinner and this year they chose to award the Columbia College graduates that received Nobel Prizes since 1961 and there were six of them. Among them was a fellow by the name of [Norman] Ramsey, a particle physicist. Anyhow it turns out in accepting his award, and making his little speech, he identified that he had grown up in Leavenworth, Kansas and afterwards we were having cordials I went up and talked to him and introduced myself as a fellow Jayhawker. And he said that he had planned to go the University of Kansas. His father was in the military and they got transferred to New York just about the time he was supposed to go off to school. And he came back and ended up going to Columbia College instead of going to the University of Kansas. But he was going there as a Summerfield Scholar and he mentioned that himself. And that’s interesting, I said, I was a Summerfield Scholar myself. It’s only the people who know about the University of Kansas or about similar kinds of awards for whom that would have some significance. ODK, that’s widespread. That’s on a lot of campuses. And that is for good citizenship, leadership associated with high academic ranking. I was the president of the engineering student body also at Kansas.
You were in quite a few high offices.
I was also president of student council.
How much time did that take?
Engineering took a fair amount because we put on a big engineering fair late each fall so that took a fair amount of time organizing. I was busy and it wasn’t uncommon to take twenty, twenty-two hours of classes each semester.
That’s quite a few.
It’s viewed as quite a few now but we didn’t think too much about it. If you had an eighteen credit semester that was a light load and fifteen was an absolute goof-off.
Times have changed.
So I found time to do other things. I took a lot of physical education courses just for fun which were mostly occupied by the jocks who were into that. I took boxing and I took gymnastics, advanced swimming. I used to have a lot of fun, because we were there because we wanted to be. We were gung ho. So we were always making the jocks look bad who didn’t want to be there. I mean looking bad in the sense that we had a lot of enthusiasm for what we were doing and they just didn’t want to be there.
Did you play team sports regularly in college?
In college? No, not at the collegiate level. I told you that I didn’t take these scholarships because I injured my knee badly.
No, I didn’t know that.
Yes. I don’t know if I would have done it anyway but it pre-empted the opportunity to even consider it. I injured my knee, tore my cartilage, right in the spring and summer that I would have been making a decision to go off. I’ve had six knee operations on both knees, combination. So that pre-empted that. Kansas has a huge intramural program. We had excellent intramural teams. We’d end up, some sub-set of us and we who — they had an all star team that played down in the stadium. So I did a lot of that. Played a lot of tennis which I hadn’t played formally in high school. I think I probably could have played tennis for the University of Kansas tennis team. I say this only because my old high school football coach ended up being a tennis coach at the University of Kansas, one of them. And we used to play down around where the tennis team would practice on adjacent courts. He approached me one time and tried to encourage me to come out and try out to make the team. By that stage I was a junior or something like that and I had other fish to fry.
You certainly did by then.
I still play a lot of tennis.
How did you find the library out at Kansas? Were there any points at which you felt frustrated by inability to get things that you wanted to read?
No, not really. But I wouldn’t say that I was a real library worm. We had a good — I would say a relatively good library, within the geology department for geological materials. There was not much general reading. That’s one of the things that I regret about having gone into a program in engineering. We didn’t have to have any language; minimum course requirements in the humanities or other things. I felt there were real holes in my education. I’ve tried to fill them in. I did take courses in philosophy, psychology and American history and other things that were not anything that had to do with my degree but I took them because of seeing that there were huge gaps. I didn’t take any course in western civilization nor did I read all the great books. None of this stuff. I had enough math to be a math major. I had enough geology to be geology major. I had enough engineering. So the library was primarily a place we went to study. It was very close to the house that I was living in — about a block away. That was one of the good things about living in a scholarship hall. They all had primo locations on campus. I remember taking physics and because I did very well, I got put into an honors section which gave me the chance to do some research and laboratory work. And I remember we duplicated the classical experiment in superconductivity in the laboratory. It was just taking something that had been reported in the literature that demonstrated superconductivity, kind of a floating magnet above a superconductor, an impermeable lead dish at superconducting temperatures. And that was very good. That was a good research experience. At the same time it kind of left you — I felt that it left me without getting some of the fundamentals. They just put that aside.
It was scattered in some sense.
So I felt I had to work a little bit on that when I came back here to pick up a few of the fundamentals that I normally would have had but got pre-empted by going into this honors thing.
Did you have much exposure to quantum mechanics in Kansas?
Very little. We did back here. Again, it was an extremely rigorous 4 point class and two semesters called Mathematical Methods in Physics. And it was a weeding-out class for the incoming physics majors. And it was a mathematical course but with all the applications to quantum physics. And it was tough. I mean, we had to work hard in that class. There were other friends, Arnold Gordon — I can’t remember if Walter [C. Pitman, III] was in there or not. But you know they were purposely making it tough for the physics majors so it was especially tough for the people who weren’t physics majors who were trying to get in there and get caught up and up to speed. And they were trying to get you out. Or get people out. They didn’t care or didn’t even know whether you were geology major or physics major. This is one of the courses that I told you Dave May didn’t do so well in.
How many people would be in your shoes and how big was that class?
The weeding-out, the mathematical.
Oh, it was a big class. Let’s see, forty, fifty, something like that.
And there would be a few of you, maybe two or three, at each —
No, a little more than that coming from other departments. But I would guess there might have been thirty physics majors and another ten, fifteen or so from a combination of other departments — maybe chemistry — maybe geology.
So quite a few of you went through that experience.
Yes, we all have the scars.
Let me conclude this session by just asking you generally, were there areas or topics that we haven’t covered either about your early childhood or your university training that you wanted to mention?
Well, you know each of these experiences that I had was definitely moving — not just advancing in where you were in terms of your education, but moving from a different league and level of competition to another level. So the level of competition in my little high school was one thing but it wouldn’t have been the same as the level of competition in an urban school — So the jump from a big urban high school to the University of Kansas would not be nearly as big as the jump from a little farm community to the University of Kansas. So there was some catching up to do. Then I think the analogy works equally well. If you had gone from the University of Kansas to any number of graduate schools that weren’t rarified or elite as the Cal Tech, MIT, Columbia; research university. And so each of those was a major jump for me. I came to New York having never visited here. Rode out on a bus from Kansas City, Missouri. On a bus for twenty-four hours, arrived in one of the worst snow storms that had ever hit New York City. Got the last bus out of the Port Authority to the suburbs of New Jersey where I had a cousin who put me up. I literally don’t know what the hell would have happened if I had arrived an hour later. I might have been dead on the streets of New York, I was pretty naive. Anyway I arrived to begin school and I guess it was late January of 61. One other student arrived at that time and that was Charlie [Charles] Hollister who was coming from Oregon State [University]. He was a good friend through all the time we went to school and we still remain friends and have some contact, though not nearly as much as we used to. Do you know Hollister?
I know of Hollister.
He’s got a brother down at Princeton, Lincoln. And Hollister Ranch, there is a Hollister, California. That’s his family.
What you said made me curious. You hadn’t visited the East coast then at all prior to the time you came out to go to Columbia?
Had you been out to the West coast?
Yes. I had been to the West coast but I hadn’t been to Los Angeles and I hadn’t been to southern California. I’d been up only into Washington, Oregon. Some of that passage to the northwest had been as a child. But I hadn’t had very much traveling experience. Just south Texas and around the adjacent states.
That’s very interesting because that means that all the places that you had considered going for graduate school with the exception, perhaps, of Colorado School of Mines, you had not seen in a personal way.
Had you actually been to the campus at Boulder, School of Mines?
The School of Mines is in Golden!
In Golden, rather. Hayes. Yes, I’d been out there but not to really look it over from the point of view of considering going to school there. I knew of Colorado Mines and I had been to Golden. I had driven around there. I knew the lay of the land but I didn’t know the particulars of the university there. And then I went to Columbia. No, it was totally blind. And in fact to me at the time I decided to go, it was going to a place that was a quality place where once you had your credentials that those would be recognized as accepted credentials. I did express some concern about going from Lawrence, Kansas, which is a college town of about 30,000 people or something like that, to going to New York. And really having no real visual concept of what Lamont was like not knowing about it. Essentially I put the emphasis on what I thought the educational program was and whatever the environment is I’ll deal with. I’m going to school. You know, how bad can it be?
And you’ve been in this area more or less ever since?
Yes, I have. I like the city. My wife was born in New York. We go into the city quite frequently. I have two daughters who live in the city now. I like the situation here and the sense of being in this kind of rural setting and still being so close to the city. I let my dog out at night in the woods and have the suburban life and I am two minutes from work and at the same time still able to get in the city in a half hour. I think I would like living in the city if — I like the excitement of the city, but you really need a lot of bread to live in the city and to take advantage of its many cultural opportunities. Or you need an incredible energy level or both.
When you’re younger you can do a lot of things and would do a lot of things that are there that are essentially freebies and you don’t have to have zillions of dollars to take advantage of them. But to be reasonably comfortable and take advantage of the cultural activities that are there, a lot of them, and can buy yourself out of the hassle of the city, you really do need to have considerably more money than a university professor makes to make it pleasant. That’s as far as I’m concerned. My wife would like to move back in, I think. But I think this is the best of both worlds. Anyway they were big jumps, each one of those jumps.
You made that point clear and entirely so that others moved in some sense laterally from larger schools and larger communities.
Transitionally is a good word for it. You had to move sequentially into a very different roles from what you had had experience with previously.
These were big steps. I mean from my little high school which wasn’t too far from the “Last Picture Show” to the University of Kansas was a big step. And it was only a hundred and fifty — a hundred and eighty miles away. And then moving from Lawrence, even though it was proximal to Kansas City. Kansas City is no New York and we weren’t in Kansas City. It was a huge step.
What do you recall doing from getting on the bus when you came out here?
I knew reputationally about the place. I was excited about continuing. I was very driven to get on with it. I didn’t want to — like some kids want to travel around the world and bum around or work a little while and find themselves. I knew that I wanted to go on. I knew I wanted to get a graduate degree. I knew I wanted to be in earth science and geophysics and beyond that I didn’t know. And this is the place that I knew I could find out and I could get it whatever it was. And I just wanted to get on with it. So it was a matter as I say you do what you have to do and you deal with whatever pops up along the way. And there wasn’t anything horrible that popped up along the way. It was a little tough the first year. I didn’t have any transportation back here and they didn’t have the kind of shuttle services. So we used to take the late night subways, buses and that sort of stuff to get back out here.
You were living here the first year?
Yes. A boarding house which I’m sure Mark [?], and a lot of other people lived in at various times. And then after the first year I brought my old car back to give me a little more mobility. Drove back. I drove from Kansas to New York many times when I was a graduate student. I’d drive straight through by myself.
Again something that one could do when one was younger.
I’m sure it was not a very smart thing to do. I did it in the name of expediency. But it took about three days to recover. I’m not sure how expedient it was.
Well that kind of judgment comes later in one’s life. Most of your time I would imagine that first semester, the spring semester that you were here, was on the Morningside Campus, wasn’t it? Rather than at Lamont proper?
It was. I spent a lot of time on the campus that’s true. And a number of us commuted in together typically Arnold Gordon, Charlie Hollister, Bob [Robert A.] Page, and Jim [James D.] Hays sometimes. Everyone lived out here and we kind of carpooled. Not all of us had cars but we tended go back and forth together when we could unless we had a late physics or chemistry lab or something like that. But as I recall it we were taking a lot of classes. Again, four courses were sort of the bare minimum that we were taking as graduates, four or five classes. At that time we had a sixty point, sixty graduate credits requirement and your research didn’t count as any of those. Now it’s forty-five and up to six and maybe more than that can count from your research. But, back to your question. I don’t really recall exactly how we did it but I remember spending a lot of time in Ewing’s office that first semester I was here. And we’ll pick it up at another time but it reminds me I was there working with him in his office the night the phone call came in from South America saying that John Hennion had been blown up on the ship. I was there in his office on that night. And we called up John Ewing and Rusty [Tirey] and other friends of John. I was there and I still don’t understand to this day why I should have gone with them en masse to tell John Hennion’s wife. I knew that it was a tragedy but I didn’t know the person. And it was a strange thing reflecting back on it why they included me in the group that went to visit to tell — not to just to visit, but to tell her the news. And then a few months later I was out on the ship firing explosives.
And I’m sure quite carefully.
Quite carefully is right.
This is indeed something that we will return to in our subsequent interviews. Let me thank you very much for this first session that we’ve had.
And it seems like I’ve been rambling on, really rambling, but I guess that’s your job to sort through that.