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Interview of J. Lamar Worzel by Ronald Doel on 1996 January 2, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/6914-1
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Extensive, comprehensive interview on Worzel’s scientific and professional career. Recollections of extended family and childhood in New York; father’s interest in science and literature; early interest in mechanical things; recollection of upbringing during the Great Depression; impressions of high school science courses and interests. Attends Lehigh University as undergraduate; impressions of W. Maurice Ewing as physics professor at Lehigh, early l930s, including his working style; emerging interest in photography and experience in drafting; impressions of Alvyn Vine. Detailed recollections of work as student assistant with Ewing and Vine on refraction seismology, and impressions of George P. Woollard, Richard M. Field, William Bowie, and Ewing; election to Newtonian Society [mathematics] at Lehigh; impressions of science teaching at Lehigh. Recollections of research on undersea acoustics at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Ewing’s mathematical abilities; impressions of Felix A. Vening-Meinesz and of field research. Extended recollections of summer research as undergraduate assistant for Ewing, especially involving seismic profiling and underwater photography; relation between Ewing and L. Don Leet; recollections of Hurricane of 1938 at Woods Hole and of Woods Hole machining equipment; involvement in wartime research, including acoustics studies and experience with bathythermographs; experience in equipment design and modification, including award of patents. Extended recollections of involvement in undersea photography in the early 1940s, including reaction of biologists and war-time acquisition of German cameras; impressions of Ewing’s appointment at Columbia University, and transfer of research program to Columbia, 1946; recollections of post-war research programs at Woods Hole; meets wife [Dorothy Crary]. Impressions of graduate courses in geology and geophysics at Columbia, including seminars taught by Walter Bucher, Marshall Kay, and Ewing; extended recollections of instructors and experiences with fellow graduate students; reflections on instrument-building in geophysics, including maintenance of ship-based winches; impressions of Ewing as researcher and director, including relations with governmental and private patrons; becomes temporary consultant to ONR. Recollections of Angelo Ludas and his role in fashioning geophysical instruments; experience with deep-sea coring; impressions of relations between geophysicists and geologists at Columbia. Impressions of the founding and initial research programs of Lamont Geological Observatory [LGO], including geochemical and radiocarbon studies by J. Laurence Kulp and reactions of local townspeople to Lamont; development of biology programs at Lamont, and social life at LGO; relations between Ewing and Harry H. Hess; recollections of interactions with Maurice Ewing and John Ewing, and difficulties of position determination at sea. Begins gravity research of ocean floor, and impressions of isostacy debate in 1930s. Growth of LGO in the 1950s and changing relations between research groups; comparison of LGO with competing research centers in the U.S. and Great Britain; development of SOFAR and SOSUS programs; recollections of efforts to secure and finance R/V Vema ddd details from subsequent sessions; offers of positions from other universities; Recollections of gravity research program at Texas, mid-1970s. Also mentioned are: Henry Moe Aldrich, American Geophysical Union, RJV Atlantis, Austin Bailey, Walter Beckmann, Charles C. Bidwell, Henry Bigelow, Francis Birch, Rene Brilliant, Percy Bridgman, Sir Edward C. Bullard, Paul R. Burckholder, California Institute of Technology, Carnegie Institution of Washington, Albert Crary, Merrill D. Cunningham, Reginald A. Daly, William Donn, Dwight D. Eisenhower, David B. Ericson, Margaret Ewing [née Kidder], W. Arnold Finck, Geological Society of America, Gordon Hamilton, Hamilton watches, Carl A. Heiland, Weikko Aleksanteri Heiskanen, Maurice Hill, Columbus Iselin, Paul Kerr, Borje Kullenberg, Thomas W. Lamont, Gordon Lill, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Arthur Maxwell, Benjamin L. Miller, Robert Moses, Walter H. Munk, National Science Foundation, Louis L. Nettleton, Office of Naval Research, Chaim Pekeris, Beauregard Perkins, Hans Pettersson, Charles S. Piggot, Lawrence I. Radway, Ostwald Roels, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Robert R. Shrock, Lynn Shurbet, Louis B. Slichter, Staten Island Academy [High School], Harlan True Stetson, Henry Stetson, Nelson Steenland, Swedish Deep Sea Expedition, Howard A. Tate, Merle Tuve, J. Tuzo Wilson, Goesta Wollin.
This is Ron Doel and this is an interview with J. Lamar Worzel. We are recording this in Wilmington, North Carolina, and today’s date is January 2, 1996.
I wanted to make sure that I didn’t say 1995 which is a temptation. And I know that you were born in West Brighton on Staten Island.
West New Brighton.
West New Brighton precisely. In New York. And that was on February 21, 1919. But I don’t know much about your parents or what they did. Who were your parents?
Did you say something, Dorothy?
No, I’m just listening.
Oh, okay. My father had a private law practice in Staten Island at the time, when I was born. And my mother, he had met in the local church that they both went to.
Which church was it?
It was St. Paul’s Evangelical. Church on, gee I don’t remember the name of the street now. But anyhow they had met there in the church and they became interested in each other and got married. I guess he was thirty-two or so, well up in age for someone getting married in those days. And this was because his father and mother had come over from Germany and had settled in Shohola, Pennsylvania. His father had worked on the Erie Railroad, that went through Shohola, as an engineer on one of the trains for a while. Apparently he didn’t like it or he wasn’t successful or something, but anyhow he bought a small farm there and started farming. Well he didn’t like farming. And so they sold the farm and they moved to Brooklyn, New York, and he ran a candy store in Brooklyn, New York. That’s the total knowledge that I have of my grandparents on that side.
Were they alive when you were growing up?
They were alive when I was born but not by the time I was aware of anything. But they exerted enough authority on my father that, although he earned his way completely through Columbia University all by himself, he had graduated in the Class of 1906, they ensured that he would either become a doctor, a lawyer, a preacher, or a teacher. Well he decided that the doctor didn’t suit him at all, and preachers didn’t suit him at all, so he would become a teacher. He went through and got the credentials for teaching and he got a job in a high school in Brooklyn.
What subject was he teaching?
He was teaching English, I believe. He was very knowledgeable in Shakespeare and the classics. All through his life he quoted them to the extent that I’m able to quote some now, which I wouldn’t have been able to on my own. But at any rate he didn’t like that so he went back and put himself through law school, the only thing left. He went, I guess it was New York Law School, they called it at the time. And he got a job in the east side of New York as a representative for poor people, Legal Aid I think they called it at the time. And he worked there apparently a year or so and then he set up his own practice. He got one case to try in court and he tried it and he said that isn’t for me. He had no interest in trying cases. So he switched into real estate law and the law relative to dying and arranging for all the things –-
For estates and so.
The whole estates game. And that was what he spent all his life doing. He had always been interested in science. He would read copiously on it and he’d tell me things like you know that glass of water there can run a ship across the ocean and back.
Is that right?
Years, before anybody was talking about that kind of stuff because he had read in the scientific literature that there was that much energy in the atom.
I believe H. G. Wells had been writing about that in the 1920s, the 1930s even before atomic scientists.
At any rate that was his love but he wasn’t allowed to do that by his parents even though he earned his way all through college and law school. He wasn’t allowed to do what he wanted.
What sort of things did he talk to you about in science? You mentioned the one example.
Well they would just be little snippets like that; that he had read a long article and he would just say you know they’re going to make photography so that you can take color pictures. I’m going to get you a camera that you can take your own color pictures one of these days. And things just like that. We had an unusual arrangement as a father and son in the years when I was growing up. He worked Saturday morning at his work. And Saturday afternoons he worked around the house doing odd jobs and little things that needed to be done. We always burned waste paper. We collected it all week and we’d burn it on Saturday. We washed the cars and any small jobs we thought he needed to be done. And I got involved in doing this with him Saturdays to the extent that I was a nut about it I guess. My mother always told the story about one time when I was about, I guess about ten or eleven, that there was a circus in town and she wanted to take me to the circus. I would have to go on Saturday afternoon. And I wouldn’t go because that was my afternoon to work with my father. Quite often on those afternoons he would sneak off listen to a football game on the radio. He liked to listen to Columbia University’s football games as a Columbia alumnus and so he would listen to the football games and he would sneak off to listen while I was working. But we did a lot of little things. We poured a little cement in the one place. Built a rack because we had a dog that would knock over the garbage cans so we built a rack so he couldn’t knock over the cans and things like that.
You learned how to build a lot of things around the house and do repairs, carpentry and?
Repairs. He didn’t know much about most of those things. He owned a building down on Forest Avenue as part of his business. He got involved in real estate, as a byproduct of his business. And so he put up a building on the corner of Forest Avenue and Broadway with four stores in it. Well early in the game he moved his office into one. He had a partner that I called Uncle Teddy. He wasn’t related but he had lived with my father and mother for a couple of years after they were married. And so I was always told to call him Uncle Ted so I always did. At any rate they had an office and they moved into one of the stores with the office. There was a hardware store that was in another and he would go in and talk to the hardware man and learn about how to do this or that sort of thing and usually come home with a new tool on a Friday afternoon.
What sort of house did you live in when you were growing up?
My father built the house. Colonel [?] Hardin, do you know him? Do you know anything about him?
He had been a colonel in the Army early on. And he owned a big piece of land on Staten Island. I say a big piece, it was for Staten Island, probably about ten acres, which was nearly the largest piece there.
Was this still on the south part of the island or?
It was in West New Brighton. It was towards the south side but interior. Probably two or three miles from the Kill Van Kull. So at any rate he owned that ten acres and he was involved in the savings and loan that my father and Uncle Ted had formed to take advantage of their location I guess, or because he thought they were doing some good for the community too I think. But anyhow they had formed this savings and loan association and it was headquartered in my father’s and Uncle Ted’s office. Uncle Ted really managed the thing. My father was on the board. Well Colonel Hardin was on the board of directors also. And his name is H A R D I N. And my father when he wanted to build a house, the house I was born in was down on Delafield Avenue and my father didn’t think this was satisfactory so he wanted to build a house. He somehow or other I don’t know, I think it was through my father’s offices, that Colonel Hardin had cut off a corner of his estate to sell for lots for construction and he sold the biggest one to my father. And my father built our house there. And this was a fairly big house or at least I thought it was big until I went back, many years later.
Then it looked awful small to me. But it had a living room and a dining room, and a fairly big kitchen, and an office on the ground floor. And then it had one, two, three, four bedrooms up on the top floor. One bathroom on the top floor and one bathroom on the ground floor. And it was kind of a funny house in a way because the master bedroom, well, the bedroom that I lived in most of the time when I was at home was a fairly big bedroom, but to get to it I had to go through my father’s and mother’s room. And there was no hallway. Strange way to build a house. You wouldn’t even think of doing it today. But that’s the way it was, and nobody seemed to get upset about it.
Were there lots of books in your house? Did your father buy books?
He had lots of books. He had two big bookcases in the living room that were all full of books. He had the complete works of Shakespeare for instance. Several times when I had a book report for school and needed one in a hurry these Shakespeare books were little things. I’d quick read one of those and write the book report. Strangely enough that impressed the teacher; that I’d done a good job when I’d really done it at the last minute. But yes but there were lots of books. But quite a few of them he had bought a bookshelf like this of World War I.
Right, you’re holding your hands at about three foot apart.
Yes, about three feet apart. A bookshelf of books of World War I included some of the atrocities the Germans had committed on people and so forth which probably never happened but there were pictures and all that sort of thing. I don’t know how they made the books. I never really looked at them except —
Were you particularly interested in that?
You were aware of them.
I was aware they were there. He had four books on the peoples who had founded Staten Island and he was one of the biographies in there. And I suppose that’s why he bought it. Like I bought copies of Who’s Who in America because I was listed. I still am as a matter of fact. And also American Men of Science. And but that’s neither here nor there. But he bought that shelf of books but most of the books were regular works. Well known authors. As an English teacher I guess he had to.
I’m curious how many science books were there that you recall?
None. All of the science he read apparently — I never read science at home at all with him. Or saw any of the things he read. But he would read these things I guess in newspaper articles or magazines or something. I never saw them.
You weren’t getting like Popular Mechanics at home or something like that?
No, we never got anything like that. But I was always interested in mechanical things in my youth. And when the clock would quit, I’d take it apart and I’d try to figure out what was wrong with it. Sometimes I would be able to fix it and put it back together. And we bought a few minor tools, electrical tools, and he had collected some tools in the wood shop, mostly wood tools. And so we had collected a few tools there and I got involved with that. And then I did such things as — we decided at one time in our neighborhood that we’d have soap box things. You know a roller skate underneath a two by four with a box with a couple of handles on it. We’d have those to run on. And another time we decided that we’d get into hockey but there wasn’t enough ice to do ice hockey. Our little street was a dead end street. There were three houses on our side of the street and four on the other side of the street but it was a dead end street so practically no traffic. So we’d play hockey in the street out there and none of us had any money to buy hockey pucks so I made hockey pucks out of wood. I’d saw them out of wood and paint them black and we’d get a hockey puck and it would get tapered down until nothing on both sides would have the grain.
Wear down. And when it got down far enough I’d make another one. And we played that. All these things when I was growing up. When I took up ice skating, I learned how to grind the runners on the skates to keep them sharp. And I got racing skates which you put up on a rack and then you go across with a flat stone to make them flat. A racing skate you want a flat side and a hockey skate you want a hollow blade.
It sounds like you were very comfortable with mechanical things.
It was what I wanted to do.
I wanted to make sure that we have for the record, what is your father’s name?
Howard Henry Worzel.
And your mother’s name?
Mary Alma Wilson Worzel.
I am curious if your mother had the same kind of interest in science that your father did?
No, none at all. She was probably the world’s best cook at least in my book. Not fancy stuff but good solid edible food. She didn’t go in for a lot of sauces and that kind of thing but she knew how to cook things great. And she made wonderful cakes and pies and so forth. You can tell.
You’re pointing to your stomach.
Actually I was very skinny and lean all my youth. I was very sickly in my youth.
I didn’t know that.
I had rheumatic fever before I was five and it left me with a damaged heart valve. And then when I was nine I had appendicitis which burst and peritonitis set in, and it was before the days of antibiotics and nobody knows how I survived. Theoretically at that time if that kind of thing happened to you you were gone. But I was too mean to die. My father all his life used to tell me only the good die young so you’re going to live a long time. That was just part of our joshing between one another.
Did you have brothers and sisters when you were growing up?
Was she younger?
She was older. She was two years older. And I followed her. She and her husband moved to Boiling Spring Lakes where I lived just before here. And I followed them there when I retired. I didn’t know where to go and they had been happy at Boiling Springs Lakes so I said I might as well try it. I liked it. And then they moved here when she got pretty ill and so I came here when my wife got pretty ill. She’s recovered now but I thought she was a goner for a while there. At any rate we moved here as a result of that, where my sister had lived. She had died in between but her husband still lives there. He’s ninety now and going strong, in good shape. But at any rate we followed them here and we like it here. This is a total care establishment and you know about it?
Only a little bit.
Well, at any rate you pay for essentially the house you’re living in, the apartment you’re living in. You don’t buy it. It’s a payment that you get ninety percent back when you leave whether you go out on a slab or any other way. But it has as part of it, you pay a maintenance cost which takes care of the grounds and you get one meal a day for both of us down in the dining hall, a community dining hall, which is a first-class kind of place for any large group. I’ve been involved with several large groups. I know of the problems. But at any rate, it has a nursing home you passed when you came down here, the Cornelia Nixon Davis Nursing Home, and associated complex. And they maintain two empty beds in the Cornelia Nixon Davis at all times. Right now they have five people over in Cornelia Nixon Davis that belong here and two extra beds so that any one that gets sick and has an immediate need gets into the nursing home. There’s none of this business of well you’re sixth in line. If you get in somebody will die first.
And it’s also close and convenient which is good.
It’s close and convenient. You can go over there if you need that kind of service and come back here if you get well enough. If not, well whatever.
It sounds like a good community.
It’s great. You have no worries except to pay the monthly fee and your telephone and I guess, well, all your automobile expenses. You don’t have to have an automobile. They have a bus that takes you twice a week if you want to go shopping or need to go to the doctor or something like that.
I was thinking a moment ago when you had mentioned your father and his interest in science, did you ever go to the museums together in New York? Natural history or?
I did go the museums but never with him.
Never with him?
Never with him. As far as I know, he strictly read about these things and he would retell them to me. That was the extent of his involvement and my involvement with them.
Did you feel particularly interested in science when you think back?
Not at that time. I was interested in mechanical things. I liked to take things apart, put them together, and so on. But not electrical. I wasn’t a radio buff or anything like that. It was just mechanical things with the result that when I went to college I signed on as a mechanical engineer. That was obviously what I was going to be.
You were age ten, of course, when the Great Depression started to begin, the stock market crashed. Did that affect your family particularly hard?
I guess it was a harder time on my father than I ever knew. We had just become a two car family. The only two car family in the neighborhood I might add. I never paid any attention to this kind of thing but in retrospect I realize it. But we had become a two car family and we’d been a two car family by about 1932 about four or five years I guess. And so the depression got bad and my father owned a lot of real estate on Staten Island at the time. He had to let most of it go for taxes. He couldn’t pay the taxes on it. I didn’t know any of this. This was all done in his office. And he would have been a multi-millionaire if he had been able to keep those lots. I know one piece of property that he owned sold for a million dollars in about 1960. But anyhow he had to let most of it go and he maintained our house. And just at that time he had bought a place at Lake Mohawk in New Jersey. And just built the house in 1929 when the depression hit. And he managed to hang onto that. And the family would move up there during the summer and he would come up weekends, and go home to Staten Island all week and make his own food and take care of himself and he’d come up weekends. He’d usually leave about noon Friday and he’d get up there and we’d play golf or something like that, nine holes of golf after he got there. And then he and I would work around there and about Sunday noon he’d start back for Staten Island again.
You spent part of your summers then growing up out there.
All my summers except one week, with the exception of one week. He was in the Kiwanis Club in fact I guess he was one of the founders of that club in Staten Island. I’m not sure of that. I know he was at Lake Mohawk later in his life. But the Kiwanis Club would hold one meeting a year at Miller Beach I guess it was called. It was an amusement park on Staten Island. And as part of the meeting, apparently, the man who ran Miller Beach was a member of the Kiwanis so he’d give free tickets to all the Kiwanians. Well I’d go with my father to that one so I’d go spend that week in Staten Island to go with him to that Kiwanis meeting. The ideal thing was that I would be one of the few kids who went to this and the Kiwanians who weren’t going to use their tickets would give them to me. So I got thousands of tickets. Everybody would hand me tickets. So I’d spend one wonderful day. And that made it worthwhile to stay.
I’m sure it did. Did you have any particular hobbies when you were growing up, junior high or?
Well, I took up, not in junior high, no. Other than — well, I was doing mechanical things and taking things apart and putting them together. And in school I made a clock, a Roman type clock. It has a water tank and the hole in the bottom of the water tank that fell into another and that floated a disk up and that moved the hands on the clock. Well I made one just from looking at the picture.
Is that right? You would see a picture of it and then design it.
And then I’d make one. It didn’t work quite that well. It didn’t keep time because I couldn’t make the hole small enough. I didn’t know how. And my father didn’t know how. He knew how to bore a hole with a hand drill and so forth but you know a small hole like that takes some skill. And he didn’t have it and he didn’t know how you found it. And I didn’t know for years. But anyhow it did work except that it didn’t keep time. But it served to illustrate. So I made a number of things like that in the course of my schooling and so forth but no real hobbies until I took up tennis. As a part of living at Lake Mohawk, we moved there in 1929, just the year after I had my appendix. And in that appendix operation I had a recurrence of heart problems from the rheumatic fever and the doctor at the time told my parents that I would never live past the age of eighteen. And that I would never walk again or what have you. Well I was put in a wheelchair for four months and not allowed to stand up even for a second. In that four months, my mother carried me around. I was a nine, ten year old kid. She carried me everywhere. It must have been a terrible burden for her. At the time I didn’t think anything of it. But in retrospect she must have had a hard time out of it.
Surely it must have been difficult for you too.
Well it was because I was alone, no kids to play with. I did have soldiers, toy soldiers, and I’d line them up in parades and things like this and things I could do myself. And I suppose that molded my character to some extent because I’ve been pretty much of a loner in my whole life. I was able to do things within myself and not be concerned that I’m not with groups. I have no objection to groups but I’m quite content.
You feel self-sufficient.
Self-sufficient, yes. But anyway they would bundle me up in lots of blankets and things and they’d put me in a wheelchair. And they’d put me out on the front porch which was outside and lean the chair back and I’d have to stay there an hour. Of course most times I’d fall asleep there after a bit. But a lot of times I’d look and just watch the clouds go by and wish the damn hour would go. I couldn’t — Of course, most of the other kids were often out playing. At any rate, to make a long story short, I decided this wasn’t the way I wanted to live. And so as soon as they let me stand up by myself and so forth, I told them that. They were quite advanced for parents at that time because they agreed I should do things, physical things, but a little bit at a time. Work into it.
Work in increments.
Incrementally, exactly. And by the time I was thirteen or fourteen, they had tennis courts at Lake Mohawk and I had taken tennis lessons and was good at playing tennis. And the tennis pro was also a guy who had worked at Lake Placid in his earlier life and he got me involved in racing skates. And he showed me how to sharpen them and so forth. And so I got involved in that kind of thing. And all the sporting things I got involved in, I immediately got involved in making my own equipment. When I was playing tennis, I’d string tennis rackets.
That’s interesting. Did many other students at that age do that?
Nobody that I knew of did it but me. And I’d read up on how to do it and learn about it and where you get the parts. And I got to the point where I would do it for several other people too. Usually just for basically the cost of the equipment; no labor costs. And so they found it rather handy. They’d get a pretty good string job. They had fancy equipment that you could roll on the racket and it had a tension gauge on it. Well I didn’t have anything like that. I just pulled on it with my hand and tried to judge whether it was taut enough. But I was able to string my own rackets for years. And when we were in high school, we had a tennis team in the high school and I was the number three man on the tennis team from the sophomore year on. And a man named Phelps put up a trophy on Staten Island for the high school team that would win the trophy three times in succession could keep it. Well in the fourth year we retired it at our school. I was playing number three man and in one match I was the crucial match. In the last year that we won it I was the crucial match that had to be won and I did win by hook or by crook. My mother thought I was terrible the way I played.
You mean that you were playing competitively?
Yes. I was playing against a guy and he just dawdled around, took his time, and he wouldn’t get ready. And I’d stand there and fume and fuss.
You were impatient and ready to go.
Impatient and ready to go. Obviously this was part of his game to try to make me lose my cool. And so after a little while I started to do likewise and make him wait. [laughs] So my mother never forgave me. She said that was the wrong thing. But I did win the match and then it turned out to be the crucial one. But I guess that’s pretty much the story of my youth up until I got to college.
Were there any high school or junior high school teachers that were particularly memorable for you?
One high school teacher was memorable. He was the science teacher. He taught chemistry and biology. He didn’t teach physics and probably I would have gone to M.I.T. [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] if I had had physics in high school. I was a good enough student that I probably would have made it. But they required a physics course to get into M.I.T. and they didn’t have physics in my high school and I was damned if I was going to go to summer school.
What was this person like, this teacher? I didn’t mean to interrupt you.
His name was [Merrill D.] Cunningham and he had planned to become an M.D. and apparently he ran out of money before he got his M.D. and so he took a job as a science teacher in a private high school, Staten Island Academy, which is where I went. And he was — well I guess I took to him because he was the science teacher and I got interested in science through him to a large extent. The first course I took with him was — you were required to take two biology courses, a beginning course and an advanced course. Well I took the beginning course with him and took notes and so forth. And then in the second year I was taking the advanced course with him and some part of the year he got laryngitis and he couldn’t talk. And he had a biology course, an undergraduate biology course, coming up and I said to him well look I’ve got all my notes from last year, I can give the course for you. And he said all right, let’s see what you can do.
That’s interesting. You taught it?
So as a sophomore. Well, anyhow, I gave this one class. So I guess it was the forerunner of my future.
How did you like teaching then?
Well, I didn’t think anything of it at that time. I was just basically parroting from my notes that I had before. And he told me I did a good job of it.
One could imagine other people, students that age, feeling very nervous about teaching that subject.
I didn’t feel that way at all. I was just helping my friend out. It was the only time that I did it. Just the one class and so on. But when I look back on it, I think I was really crazy to even think I could do it. And he must have been crazy to think I could. It was interesting because I lost track of him when I left high school and he eventually did get his M.D. degree and he practiced in some small town in Pennsylvania. And one time my name appeared in the New York Times and one of the other teachers in our high school saw my name and he wrote to me and told me that Dr. Cunningham was living in such and such a place. And I wrote him a long letter telling him, you know, going through my career saying that he had been an important aspect of my career and that I thought he might be interested and please let me know about him. I never got an answer. I never understood how come. I couldn’t visualize a teacher getting a letter from a student of this kind and not answer him. So I don’t know why. The only thing I can think of is his wife died about that time or something. He was very devoted to his wife and she nurtured us kids. They would have us for Halloween parties at their place rather than have us get into trouble with the police.
So you would see him and his wife after hours?
Once in a while. In the senior year at our high school you took one teacher and made him your class favorite teacher, whatever you want to call it. And he was our favorite teacher in our class. And we had a thing that was called hooky. In your senior year after, essentially after all the exams and so forth, there were a few more days of classes and the seniors were allowed to take one day off and do whatever they wanted. They had to take a teacher with them to keep it honest.
That’s a novel way to play hooky.
And so we went up to my folk’s place at Lake Mohawk. I had a motor boat and we put the motor boat in the water and I took all the kids in the class for rides in the motor boat. And we went for a swim. This is in May and the water was still pretty chilly.
I’m sure it was.
We also used our canoe. And in those days it was quite common for high school students to drink. Nothing else just drinking. Well a lot of them smoked. But I never smoked at any time in my life. I smoked a few cigars. My father would offer me a cigar and I’d say sure and I’d smoke it. But never inhaled.
Did he smoke regularly, your father?
Yes. I never smoked regularly. Well I did. I guess my final two years in college and for about two years after college, I smoked a pipe quite a lot. But when I started going to sea, I put the pipe in my pocket and I’d lean against the rail and I’d break the stem. And I was spending more for pipes than for anything else. I said to myse1f this isn’t worth it. So I gave it up and so I never smoked. Again, an occasional cigar. When my father would offer me one, I would always say sure. He always smoked two or three cigars a day all his life. He had cancer of his large intestine I guess. He had a colostomy and he had a side bag and so forth which is a terrible nuisance the way they had to do it in those days. It’s not big thing any more. But he had a terrible time. He had to irrigate that colostomy and it took him two or three hours every other day all the rest of his life. He did it for about twenty-five years.
How old was he when he had that operation?
He was in his sixties when he had the operation. He died at ninety-two.
Is that right. Let me just pause. I’m curious if you remember conversations with Mr. Cunningham about other aspects of science? Did be talk to you about contemporary developments in science?
Not really. We had a science magazine that came into the school that he organized for the students and the student would look at it and so forth. But that was the extent. We would discuss the science we were doing at the time. In our junior year we didn’t take any science course. They only had the two biology courses and then the chemistry course. And chemistry was the senior year course. I took that in the senior year and I guess I was the best student in the class. Thirteen students which is not big.
Did you find that the sciences came very easily to you?
Sciences and math always came easily to me. I was interested in — it didn’t matter what science it was. They had a regents exam in the chemistry for example.
New York State Regents Exam.
New York State Regents. And we went to the Regents exam and you had three hours to complete it. Well I finished it in an hour. And I went in to hand my paper to Mr. Cunningham and he said oh, look, you have two more hours. Go back and go back over your paper and make sure your answers are correct — I went back and I refused to. I just sat around. And finally after about twenty minutes of that he came and said you might as well go, you’re just wasting time. Well anyhow even that way I got 89 on the exam. Which was pretty good. It was hard to get into the 90s in the Regents. The other exam I remember was — I had another teacher who taught mathematics and we took trigonometry. And in the Regents final in trigonometry, I did everything right except one answer I copied and I transferred two of the digits in the answer. And so he had to take off two points for that. He was so mad cause he had had a student that made a hundred percent on the exam except that he copied the answer wrong and he had to take off two points so he only got a 98. But geometry and trigonometry, algebra, they were like duck soup to me. Most of my classmates just hated them and couldn’t do anything with them. They were so obvious to me. It was the thing to do. So anyhow that’s pretty much my high school years.
I’m curious you mentioned M.I.T. a moment ago as a possible school. Clearly you were thinking about a number of different schools that you might go to.
I was planning to go to an engineering school and I looked at the list of engineering schools and M.I.T. was first and I think Cal Tech was second and Lehigh was third at that time. And Cal Tech and M.I.T. you had to have physics to qualify. I never applied.
Is that right?
If I had applied and said I just don’t have physics, they might have said, you know — this is depression time and my father paid my way through college. I didn’t get any scholarships or anything of that sort. And he managed to make enough money in the depression to do that. But at any rate I never applied to them because they required physics and I didn’t have physics. We apparently didn’t have good mentors in the school for us helping us with applications. We just made our own applications.
Did most of your fellow students plan to go on to college?
About two-thirds of them did. About a third of them never would go to college. Never could go to college.
Did you know anybody who had gone to either Cal Tech or M.I.T.?
No. And I didn’t know anyone who went to Lehigh. Well anyhow I was accepted by Lehigh and I went to Lehigh. And two of my friends from Lake Mohawk that I had palled around with at Lake Mohawk — well one of them, the younger one wasn’t able at that time, but he went at the same year I did to Lehigh. And he lived in Teaneck, New Jersey, and he was acquainted with people who were in Lambda Chi Alpha. So he was going to Lambda Chi Alpha when he went to Lehigh originally and so he said why don’t you come with me. Well they allowed me to come. But they never offered to pledge me. Several other Greek societies at Lehigh invited me in. Two of them offered me pledges. But I was only interested in going to Lambda Chi Alpha because my friend was there. And when they didn’t make an offer, I just said the hell with it. And went and rented a room in town which is probably a very important step in my development.
I want to get back to that in just a minute. But you mentioned the friends that you had in New Jersey. I meant to ask you, did you have friends who shared in your interest in science or engineering in high school?
No. No, I was alone. And in my senior year in high school, a fellow named Larry [Lawrence I.] Radway came. I think his folks thought he was too young, to go to college. He had finished a high school somewhere else and he came and did a senior year with us. And he was extremely sharp. He was interested in history and government. And he later became a professor at Dartmouth in I think it was in history. No, I guess it was in economics. But at any rate at the time we thought he was going to be in the foreign office and represent us in different countries and I was going to be the great scientist and we got to be awful good friends. And he would kid me about being such a stupid guy interested in science and math and things like that. And I would kid him about his interest. But we got to be awful close together. So close together that one of us would start a sentence and the other immediately knew what he was going to say and finish the sentence. Everybody had to take sports in our high school if they were capable. If there were no physical reasons not to. From basketball we used to ride on the bus for I guess a half an hour to get to the bus stop nearest our home. And he got off just a little, oh two or three stops before I got off, on the bus. And we’d ride on that bus and it was usually full so we’d be standing up. And we’d talk back and forth. We’d delight in watching the people listen to us because neither of us would ever finish a sentence because the other would know. And the people would almost shake their heads. We used to delight in doing that. The bus at that time cost ten cents half way and ten cents for the other half.
When you were joking with him and he would identify you as going on to becoming a scientist, did you feel that science might be a career or were thinking in engineering?
Oh yes. It was my intention. Well I thought science meant mechanical engineering.
Okay, that’s what I was curious about. How you thought about science.
I thought all engineering was science at that time.
Did you know anybody growing up who was an engineer, someone you that you were emulating?
No, nobody. Didn’t know anybody. Just knew that I was interested in mechanical things.
How was the library at school? Did that help you at all?
No, not a bit. They had a good library but it was mostly social sciences and history and things like that. I guess that some art, but nothing in science.
You had mentioned earlier too about in your family on your father’s side the pressure to stay within certain careers. How did you father feel about the choice of your career?
I guess because he had been pressured like that, he made no effort whatever. In fact, I guess he must have made an effort not to influence me at all. And I would do what I wanted to do. No influence at all. He wouldn’t even discuss it with me.
Is that right?
You know, he’d say you do whatever you want to do and you apply to whatever schools you want and we’ll find a way to pay for it. And of course colleges weren’t that expensive in those days.
But still it was in the midst of the Great Depression.
It was in the depression and he was having somewhat of a hard time of it. But he managed to make enough money to put — well my sister went to Katherine Gibbs for two years and so he had two of us in advanced education for one year we overlapped. And then I had three more years. So he made out reasonably well apparently but we made out better than any other people in our neighborhood except one who was a banker. And he was an interesting case. I got his son to work for us when we were doing war work at Woods Hole for a while. And so I learned a little bit about his family. And as a banker he would be given bottles of liquor by various people. He didn’t drink. So he’d take the bottle of liquor and he’d put it in the cellar and when he died his cellar was full of bottles of liquor that the son had inherited. He said what do you do with a cellar full of liquor? I said I guess you drink it. Well he never hardly ever drank I suppose because his father didn’t. He wasn’t against it but he wasn’t interested really. And so I suppose he eventually sold it or something like that. I don’t know what happened to it.
How much did you know about Lehigh when you first went there?
Only what I read in the catalogue. We never even visited the school beforehand. There was nothing that would prevent you but nobody thought it was the thing to do in those days. You just read the catalogue and if it did what you thought you wanted to do, you applied. And as a matter of fact, Lehigh was the only school I did apply to and they accepted me and that was that.
When you had mentioned that you knew of M.I.T. and Cal Tech and that you felt that Lehigh was third on the preferred list, what was it that gave the list?
It was an engineering society or something like that that listed the universities and their skill in general engineering.
And that was available in the high school?
That was available in the high school. And also Lehigh would send it out with their literature. When I wrote to them about possibly going there, they sent me the literature, you know the catalogue of the courses and so forth. And I said that’s what I want to do and that’s what I did.
What were your impressions of Lehigh when you arrived?
Well, my first impression was that I unhappy because Lambda Chi Alpha didn’t want me. My second impression was let’s get on with it, let’s go. And so I was signed up as a mechanical engineer at Lehigh. And at Lehigh at the time, I don’t know whether they do it now or not, but at that time if you went to Lehigh as a freshman you had one course which was given on a Friday for one hour in which you went to every department in the university and they told you what they did in the department and what kind of jobs you would get if you would successfully pass their qualifications. And there was civil engineering, mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, engineering physics, mostly it was an engineering college. And then there was an arts program. There was one session in arts and one in music, I think, and one in foreign languages and so forth. And I went to all of these. I think I had plenty of time besides my studies in my freshman year. I wasn’t fully occupied. And so I went to my advisor in mechanical engineering and said I’m not fully occupied, I’d like to do something that would help me in my career in mechanical engineering do you have any ides? And he said yes, we’ll get you in the machine shop and you can help them in the machine shop. He made arrangements with the head of the machine shop and so my first day I went to the machine shop and he said here we’ve got some gauges and the glass is broken in the gauges. Make new glasses and put them in. And he walked away. I hadn’t a clue how you cut a round piece out of a piece of glass. And I fussed and fumed around and I got nowhere and finally I just left and I never came back. So with that bad experience — I guess that was part of it. But anyhow in the course of these courses, they said in physics they told us what they did and what kind of jobs people did and that sounded kind of interesting to me.
Did they mention graduate school or?
Or was it post bachelor’s.
It was just post bachelor jobs. In fact, you’d get a bachelor’s degree and then you’d get a job. It was a contest. And so in the physical engineering physics they said this is the hardest course that’s given in the university. It’s difficult and don’t come into it unless you’re willing to really work and so forth. [Interruption]
So what do you recall, you were saying about engineering physics and the presentation, I wonder what you recall particularly about what they said?
Well they said you did experiments and you wrote up the results of the experiments and that all sounded like fun to me. And then they said now this is very hard. It’s the hardest course in the university and that appealed to me to do the best I could in the hardest course in the university. And so I transferred to engineering physics.
And this was in your first year?
In my first year. And I had [W.] Maurice Ewing as my physics teacher in the first year. But that was it. It didn’t mean much other than I had him as my physics teacher.
This was the big introductory lecture?
Yes, the introductions to physics.
How many people were in that class would you say roughly?
Oh, there was probably hundred and twenty to a hundred and fifty in the class. And they broke you up. They’d have one lecture a week that everybody attended in the lecture hail and then they had sections that you went to three times a week with a professor and about twenty students. The professor in the section that I went to was Professor Ewing. But it didn’t mean any particular connection with him at that time.
How was he as a teacher?
He was great.
What do you remember about his teaching style?
Well, I’ve been with him so long and so much that I don’t really realize what he was like at that time. It was just another professor giving you the material in your book and then explaining things. He always explained things, to me at least, very well.
Did you try to talk from first principles when he taught?
Well this is the first physics course so you’re in the low level of physics and he was giving first principles and I remember in our physics book they told about the arcultation of one of the stars as a means of measuring, I’ve completely forgot what you measured now. But anyhow this —
Usually time or location.
Well at any rate this impressed me greatly that this was a kind of experiment that you would do, and so forth. And this was right down my alley. I liked it. We also had a laboratory which Ewing was in our laboratory group. They had set experiments that everybody did. And in the course of that I decided that I was going to make an astronomical telescope but I didn’t know anything about how to make it. So I went to Dr. Ewing who was head of my section and said I’d like to make a telescope and he said well here is a book that you should get out of the library and you should study it and so forth. Well I never got around to building a telescope but I did get the book and I read all about how you do it.
Do you remember which book that was?
But Ewing knew which particular book that you might use.
He knew a book that would describe this and he told me how to find it. And I did. And that’s pretty much the freshman year.
What other courses were you taking that year?
Oh I had to take an English course. I had to take a course in economics. I figured those were nasty courses. I took a course in calculus, a course in physics, well two courses in physics. One was general physics and one was optics. I think that’s pretty much it.
And Ewing was your instructor only in the general?
In the general physics course. And the only thing that was remarkable about that was I had been in a private school where for a long time and up until my eighth grade where you called all the professors sir, or the teachers sir. It was very formal and it was basically an English run school. An Englishman was in charge of it initially and then he was retired or something and somebody else took over. But it kept up in that vein. And so we were very formal and we always called all the teachers sir. We were very polite and we had a uniform and a cap and all this sort of thing. Then in high school they more or less carried on that same tradition, not quite as much, but some. So when I got into college there was no formality at all in the college and so I got into the habit of putting my feet up on the back of the seat in front of me. And I always sat up in the front of the class because I liked to be sure I heard every word that the teacher was saying. So my feet were up. Ewing was looking at this all. Well he put up with it two or three classes and then he took me aside and he said now look you better not put those feet up in my face again or I’m going to throw you down the stairwell.
He said that?
He said that. And I didn’t have any doubt that he would. And I never propped my feet up again on the chair.
Were you were the only one with the habit of putting up your feet?
I was the only one. The strictures were so relaxed that I was completely relaxed, ahhhh. And that was the only real contact I had with him. And when I moved into a boarding house I just happened to get into a boarding house that had Allyn Vine and a fellow named Norman [?] Webster and Ted Brown. I don’t remember Ted’s last name now, but he.
Well we can add that to the transcript later.
Well I don’t know as I’ll ever remember it. Well anyways he was a senior. Allyn Vine was a graduate student. He had gone to Hiram College in Ohio and being the depression and so forth he couldn’t get a job and so he signed up as an assistant, a graduate student assistant. He got some money for supervising laboratories and things like that in physics. And another guy had been signed up and had not showed up and so they had an opening Vine knew this fellow Webster and knew he had no job and had been unable to get a job, and so he called up and said hey you want to be a graduate assistant, they’ll pay you, enough for your cookies. And so he jumped at it and he came and they were in this boarding house. And this senior, Ted [Theodore] Brown, that was his name.
They were in this boarding house and then I was in the boarding house. Well later towards the end of my first year, I guess after I dropped out of the mechanical engineering I joined the photography club.
This is in your sophomore year?
No, freshman. Still my freshman year, but later on in the year. I didn’t join early in the semester but after I’d tried the shop and hadn’t done very well in that. I joined the photography club and I got interested. I bought an Argus camera. You bought an Argus camera at that time for about fifteen dollars and it had two settings on the lens, far and near. [laughs] But it was a 35mm camera and it took pretty good pictures and we developed our own film and mixed our own chemicals and all that sort of thing. And I bought the equipment to do this and I got involved in photography and I took a lot of pictures around on the campus. And some of them were fairly good pictures. Most of them weren’t. And I didn’t do a real professional job of printing them though I did print them. They had a rig with this Argus camera that you could use the camera as an enlarger and enlarge your own photographs and so forth.
Right. When you were printing.
What were your subjects mostly when you went out to photograph?
Just things around the campus. Buildings, the library, the chapel, pictures with trees, branches in them.
Landscapes and stuff like that. Mostly college buildings and so on. And I got interested in that and I was doing that. Well at any rate towards the, oh I guess it would be, November or December, somewhere toward the end of the first term, Ewing had been on the Barracuda doing gravity observations, and he had brought the equipment back to Lehigh, And he wanted to do something that required photographing something in the apparatus. I don’t know what. And Vine got involved with Ewing and Vine was an idea man. Do you know who Al Vine is?
I sure do.
Yes, okay. He was an idea man. He had ideas spilling out of him all the time. And he was a capable machinist.
When you say ideas, you mean particularly theoretical or practical?
Oh, just ideas so fast you couldn’t possibly do all of them. All his life he was like this. But at any rate he got involved with Ewing because Ewing was doing this interesting work with gravity in the submarines and he got interested. And they wanted a camera for this purpose and they thought an Argus camera would be great. And they went to all the photographic stores in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and they couldn’t find one. So he knew I had bought an Argus and he came up my room and said look we need an Argus camera to do this research project. You have one and we can’t buy one at the store. We need it and we need it now. The stores say they’ll have one in about two weeks. Will you let us have your camera and we’ll pay you or we’ll buy you another one when the stores have one. And I thought about it and said well I guess it’s all right. Might as well. So I said sure go ahead. So he took my camera and I never saw it again. I guess they used it and what they did with it I don’t know.
Did you and Vine talk about the project at the time?
Just enough that I knew he was going to take pictures of a pendulum and time it somehow by the picture; only enough to know why he wanted the camera. It wasn’t just that he was going to take pictures. And I decided I could wait a couple of weeks and so I let him have my camera. Well that was my second contact with Ewing indirect. The next contact I guess it was the following spring. Oh, incidentally I had, in high school I had become the editor of the high school magazine called The Quill.
Oh that’s interesting.
Not because I was very good at English but I was better than any of the other students, other seniors anyhow. It wasn’t my kind of a subject. And Radway, Laurence Radway, didn’t qualify because the editor was chosen before he became a student. He would have been obviously a better choice because he was interested in writing and presenting things.
It clearly suggests that you had enough literary interest that others were aware of.
I wrote several stories that the English teacher thought were outstanding and things like this.
Essays and short stories.
Essays for class assignments. One of the things that I remember particularly was we had read what’s his name now, I can’t think of it. Oh dear, isn’t that awful. Well anyhow he wrote these stories about the terribly poor people in English society and how tough a time they had and so forth. And we were assigned to write a story in that vein. And I remember some of the wording of the story I wrote. Such and such a street, I just pulled the name out of a hat. And it was just like every other street, but different. And then it had people on it who were just the same as every other people, but different. And this was a kind of a thing that the original author we were trying to copy might have done. He didn’t do it exactly like that.
You mean nineteenth century Britain? Or twentieth. It sounds Dickensian.
Dickens, yes that was the one, Dickens. It was to be like Dickens. And I went on and made a little story up about some guy who managed to prosper despite all the odds against him. Which is Dickensian and she thought that was a great story. And apparently head and shoulders above anybody that wrote about that stuff at the time. But at any rate I had become editor of The Quill and in my freshman year at Lehigh I flunked freshman English. And the way I think that happened was that I was having a little trouble with getting punctuation right and so forth. Not enough to flunk a course. But we also had to do some reading in the course and one of the reading assignments was about an English teacher who went crazy and the teacher got up and asked some questions about the story amongst all the students and he said well he went crazy, does anyone have any idea why. I piped up quick — because he was an English teacher. Well I never had a chance to pass the course after that. [laughs]
Still that is the sort of thing a freshman might be tempted to say.
He flunked me and then I got a letter from the headmaster of my high school saying that he heard that our editor in chief of The Quill flunked a course. Don’t let it worry you. Get on with it. We have confidence you’ll do great and I had no more trouble once I got out of his section. Since then I passed with flying colors. The only course I ever flunked in my life. But probably for good cause.
You were mentioning about Ewing’s teaching a moment ago. I realize this was in your freshman year the very introductory physics class. Did he ever use any of his work in physical studies, the oceanography as an example?
He wasn’t in the oceanography.
I realize that I was reaching for the wrong word. Did he use any of his own research as an example of any —
He almost had no research. At that time there was almost no money to get for research. And the only reason he had gotten — [Interruption] The only reason that he had been the observer for the pendulum apparatus was that he was a geophysicist and this was a geophysical tool and he was asked if he could run it and he grabbed at the opportunity to do something because you couldn’t get any money to do research in those days. And he wanted to do research but there were no opportunities.
We’ll continue on those themes after lunch. [Interruption] We’re resuming right now after a lunch break. And the one thing that we didn’t cover so far is your experiences in the second year at Lehigh. Did you have other classes with Ewing in that year?
Well actually in the end of the first year, Ewing and Vine and Webster, I’m not quite sure of the timing, but I think it was in the spring (that would be of ‘37) they had a project to do refraction measurements across the state of New Jersey from near Princeton down to Barnegat Bay. And they had Webster and Vine and Ewing and George [P.] Woollard who was a graduate student at Princeton at the time. He and [J.] Tuzo Wilson had come up and asked Ewing to supervise their work cause they had no geophysics at Princeton and he had said they would. So George Woollard was involved and they had one other former student of Ewing’s who was supposed to join them to help drill shot holes and he didn’t show up. And so Vine appeared at our boarding house, this is on a Friday at, like, eight o’clock at night, something like that.
This is in the second term of your freshman year?
And he said this guy — I think it was then. It was then or the early part of the sophomore year. I’m not sure which. But anyhow he said this guy didn’t show up and we need somebody. Would you be interested in coming digging shot holes? You’ll take a hand augur and you drill up until you fill up the thing and then you dump it and you do it again. And sometimes we have to drill these holes down twenty, thirty feet. We need some manpower to twist the augur and dump it. And he said would you be interested in going? Well I had quite a lot of soul searching about this because I had a class on Saturday morning for one hour, and so I would have to cut the one hour class to go do this.
This was for a week.
A weekend. And Ewing was in charge of this whole thing. And at any rate after some hard soul searching and talking with Vine for a while, I said all right, I’ll do it.
Do you remember what course that was? The Saturday course.
No, I don’t remember. It wasn’t a terribly important one. It was sort of one of the required courses that you had to take but you didn’t really give a damn about it. I still had to pass an exam in it and so forth but it turned out that was no big problem. Well having done it once I was in for a penny, in for a pound. I got involved because I liked it. You’re drilling holes, you’re putting explosives in the ground, you’re hooking up the explosives, you’re firing them, you’re using radios to communicate with the other end of the line. And the whole schmear was a young man’s delight and I did.
Did you become familiar with what the theory in general terms and what the work was all about during that trip?
Well in due course. First I just drilled shot holes.
And you’re pulling out an older brown photograph collection.
I want to show you something here. You can look at all of them but —
I would like to see them. How far back does this go to?
1936, ‘37. Let’s see, ‘37.
We’re looking through a photographic album, black pages with numerous small photographs.
This was a photo album I put together to give my mother as a Christmas present. Here’s one of the explosions going off.
Very interesting. A photograph of an explosion in —
Above the trees. There’s the one that I was trying to show you. I showed that to the machinist in the physics shop at Lehigh and said, I’ll bet you’ll never guess what this is. And he said you can’t fool me, that’s you standing in a quarry. But it isn’t. It’s one of our shot holes.
It’s the shot hole. You’re standing in a hole at least from this photograph looks to be probably twenty feet in diameter.
Oh more than that. It was probably forty feet in diameter and twenty feet deep.
Very interesting. Okay, we’re only seeing a small portion of it in that photograph.
The terrible part about that is that we just walked away and left those in the countryside. That’s it.
I gather this was partly private property?
Yes, private property. One of them that I remember we shot in somebody’s orchard and it made a hole perfectly round about six feet in diameter and twenty feet deep and no debris or anything. It had just pushed the debris aside and it made a sort or a little rise just on the edge of the hole. But there was this well in the middle of this orchard. We walked off and left it. In that era we tried to work right on the edge of the right-of-way of the road so that when the owner of the property came, we said we’re not on your property, we’re on the state property, the road property. And if the state came along, we said we’re not on your property, we’re on private property.
Did that happen often?
Not very often but probably half a dozen times. And then we would sometimes have to stop traffic because the traffic noise would bother our instruments in part and in part we didn’t want any debris to wreck the cars. One time I remember George Woollard —
We’re looking at a photograph of him that’s on the same page. Quite a distant shot of him.
Yes, that’s George Woollard there. He was an older fellow. I was at that time twenty. He was probably thirty. But he was going back and studying geophysics at Princeton but Ewing was his supervising professor. And he had only one eye. He had lost an eye. He got his degree as a civil engineer at Georgia Tech. And one of his early jobs when he got his degree was to work in the sewers. Well in the course of this he splashed some water up in his eye and he just rubbed it out and went on with his work. Well the result was that his eye got infected and he lost his eye. So he had a glass eye. But when things were sweaty and difficult and so forth, he’d take his glass eye out and put it in a case and he’d have this red orb. And this one Saturday about noon time we were about ready to shoot and a car comes along and he holds up his hand to stop the car. And George, I don’t know if you know him or not, but he was about six foot two or so and he was a big husky guy and this red orb, one eye. He was very polite, typical southerner. Sorry sir, we’re about to do some work down here. You’ll have to wait for a few minutes. And the guy said oh no, I’m going home. This is noon Saturday, I’m going home. George reached in and took the keys out and held them in his hand and said you’re not going anywhere. The guy sat there until we got our shot off and George gave him the keys and said thank you sir.
That’s interesting. That takes some self-confidence.
But that’s the way we did that work. And we had no licenses for our radios. And the FCC tried to close in on us a few times and when we felt they were getting close, we’d close up and go somewhere else and start working. And we had no legal way to transport the dynamite we were using but we just carried it with us anyway. We never had any trouble. We were careful about it. And used it with moderation and good sense.
What quantity would you use on a typical day?
It would be anywhere from a stick, which is a half a pound of dynamite, up to about I guess fifty to sixty pounds would be our biggest shot. But they had to fit in a six inch diameter hole you see.
Which you would drill with the augur.
Which we’d drill and we’d make a pod of six and then another pod of six and another pod of six, make a string like that. And drop it in the hole and usually you’d have two detonators in this dynamite to make sure that it went off. We never had any misfires on the land work there. We had a lot of misfires at sea later.
That was a few years down the road.
Yes, considerably later. When we started using surplus explosives from World War II. Some of them had gotten pretty old and sometimes they wouldn’t fire.
Were the recording instruments pretty reliable in those days, what you were using?
No. We made all of them. From A to Z. Everything was made.
I notice too — we’re looking through other pages here, but you entitled that photograph “Men from Mars”. I was wondering what you were thinking?
Remember that Orson Welles program about the Martians landing?
That was just after we had done this work and all these craters were down there in that part of New Jersey where he said the Martians landed.
Indeed. Do you remember hearing that broadcast?
You had heard it?
Well we didn’t hear the broadcast, but we were aware of it the next day.
It had become very big news at that stage.
It became very big news. And we always thought gee it would have been great to have been down in the Princeton area and taken people out to see some of these craters and say here’s where they landed. But we were surprised that nobody came forward and said, on our land are these craters. They must be those men from Mars. Well anyhow that’s where the name came from. This is the oscillograph we used. It was the same one we used in the deep sea later. And these are the amplifiers and this is the camera and the batteries were up here and there was a light source and so forth. And we just had photo paper that carried on. And on the far side was the tuning fork so that the light would show up on the film of the camera and so forth. And we built that whole thing. This is one of the geophones we built for going down the deep sea. When you do that, you have to overfill it with oil. It was filled with oil so that it could stand the pressure, but you’d have to overfill it with oil for two reasons. One is the temperature down there is zero at the bottom, sometimes minus 2, plus two Centigrade in that vicinity and so the oil shrinks. And also the pressure shrinks the case a little bit but not near as much as the oil. And so we put a Sylphon Bellows on, this is a thing that’s built like this. And overfilled with it oil so that the Sylphon Bellows could contract and put more oil in rather than the case crack. These are the galvanometers that we built.
Looking at another page now of photographs.
And you see there are two, four, six, eight, I guess eight galvanometers. Those are the smallest in the world at the time that had ever been built. And these were quarter of an inch square. The suspension here is a gold ribbon and there’s a gold ribbon under. This is the coil. It’s a d’arson val galvanometer so it has a coil in the magnetic field. This is the magnet over here. The two poles of the magnet come in like this, sort of a horseshoe. And so that the coil is then in the magnetic field and the field pole pieces are about a half an inch tall. And then there was more gold ribbon down to the bottom and at the top we had a wire under spring which kept the tension in the galvanometer element. And with the wire across the pin at the top to hold the string on and also that you could center the spot where you wanted it. And these are where the electrical connections were made to this part of the galvanometer. The bottom was grounded.
Now were you involved in the fabrication of these?
I was personally not. This was done almost altogether by Dr. Ewing. And the reason for it was that it had to be done inside the very fancy shop that belonged to the department of physics at Lehigh, and they had a professional machinist who ran the shop. And he wouldn’t let anyone use any of his machines but he made an exception in Ewing’s case and would allow him. So he would have to mill these frames out so that they were two vertical bars with an end on them. Drill holes in them for the axis to go through. And then he’d have to solder these ribbons onto the coils. Make the coils. The coils were about an eighth of an inch square and they were made out of model toys I guess you’d say. You could buy model toy units and this was an I beam structure for models which was about an eighth of an inch square and he just cut off a piece of that about a half inch long and smoothed the end over and then we would hand wind a coil on it. And we used some duco or cement to fasten the ends and one end went up and was soldered to the gold ribbon at the top and one end was soldered to the gold ribbon at the bottom and then that was in turn was grounded at the bottom and went to an insulated connection at the top. And what we had was to put two galvanometers on each trace, one at low gain and one at high gain because we had no idea what gain to use. So we tried to overlap the gains so that no matter what gain you needed, we had it. And see that unit would be in about the middle of the structure of this thing. And we took this in Doe’s truck which we called Floosey Belle.
Floosey Belle. Because it was kind of a decrepit truck when we first got it and it was much more decrepit when we — You have to get me to tell you the story about when Doc got a replacement for Floosey Belle after we got to Woods Hole.
This is in the 1940s, early ‘40s.
Yes. But this instrument was designed to fit in a gun barrel which we had gotten from the Bethlehem Steel Company. They had a reject from some of the guns that they were making for battle ships and they cut off a section of it and gave it to us. It was about five feet long and they fitted ends to it for us. They did it to help Lehigh out. A lot of Lehigh grads had gone there of course.
Was that one of Ewing’s stronger connections in terms of finding industry or facilities willing to help him?
Almost no help from industry at all. The only reason that he got this help from Bethlehem was somebody else in the university interceded for him. If he went and asked, nothing.
It wouldn’t have happened. Who was it who had interceded?
I don’t know. I wasn’t privy to that. I was low man on the totem pole. I wasn’t asked for much.
What did you call Doc Ewing at that time when you were first getting to meet him? Was he Doc?
Doc. He was always Doc.
Is that also what Allyn Vine and others would call him?
Yes, everybody called him Doc. My nickname was Joe which isn’t my name at all.
I was going to ask you about how he had bestowed that on you.
He didn’t. In about, I guess it was 1937 or ‘38, there was a song, “What do you know Joe, we don’t know nothing”. And so on. And the refrain was What do you know Joe. Well in a period there for a while everybody at Lehigh called everybody else Joe because of that song. And because my name is Lamar and difficult all the others reverted back to normal names like Jack or Mike and so forth, but Lamar was difficult, so I kept Joe. So they kept calling me Joe. And I was called Joe all my working life. My mother named me John Lamar Worzel. John was for my uncle who stood with me in the confirmation. And she never liked John so she always called me Lamar. And when I came to Boiling Spring Lakes, my sister always called me Lamar. So she introduced me to everybody as Lamar and so I’ve been Lamar ever since I came to North Carolina. And it’s thoroughly confusing to a lot of people. I just got a letter from Marc Langseth the other day saying I find it impossible to call you Lamar. I still have to call you Joe. You might like to look through that book.
These are all from — We’re looking again at the photo album. These are all from?
These are from ‘37, ‘38 in that period. This is Ewing and this is Vine and they’re setting up the oscillograph. This is the gun barrel I was telling you about. And they were making last minute adjustments before they — they were covering it to get a light test type field, so they could see the traces on the galvanometers and so forth. And they were checking everything out before closing the gun barrel case.
This is actually, we’ve moved further into the back of the album, this is at sea?
Yes. This is one of the TNT bombs we made. When we first wanted to set off bombs on the ocean floor in the deep sea, Ewing made inquiries in the library, read all he could, and then he contacted explosives companies. And they told us that we could never fire TNT when it was wet. We could not fire it at low temperatures like zero degrees and we could never fire it under pressure like this. Well they were wrong on all counts. So initially we built the bombs to go on the sea floor out of small shell cases about, oh they were about five inches in diameter and maybe a foot long and we’d pour half TNT into them and a booster charge and an electric detonator into them. And then they’d had to bring a couple of electric leads out through the bomb case and so forth. Well these were expensive and time consuming and difficult for us to get. And so we made experiments. First we put powdered TNT in a balloon like this and the detonator in there. And we found they’d go off fine at the low temperature of the ocean which of course they took up very quickly through the balloon. And they were kept dry by the balloon. So we kept them dry. But the temperature and the pressure were there. But they’d still go off fine. And later we found that the TNT would go off fine when it was wet too. So that was no problem.
So that seemed to reflect the —
All through World War II we used this knowledge and we fired, we’d fire — an awful lot of bombs of just what they called a demolition charge which was a half pound of TNT which had been pressed into a block. And we used a lot of those as signaling devices throughout World War II. Wide open fields and all we did was put the detonator in them and put a tape around the whole thing to hold it together and connect up our electric lead to the firing circuit and we had a bomb that would work fine in under water. But that’s some of the serendipity this work we were doing previous to World War II was very valuable for us in World War II for the things we had to do then.
Right. No, indeed that’s a very important chapter in the development of the work that Lamont later came to specialize in. Did you get down to Princeton during those years?
What were your impressions of the people that you were meeting down there?
Well I only got there at Sunday night or Saturday night or Saturday mornings when the university was closed. So the only people I met were the people that were participating in our efforts.
Right. We’re talking about [Richard M.] Field.
Dick Field, yes, in particular.
Were there others that you dealt with at Princeton?
Major [William] Bowie was from the USGS. He and Dick Fields and one other man whose name escapes me were the ones who approached the Geological Society of America to make seismic measurements in the ocean.
John [H.] Fleming I think had been urging something about the oceans.
It wasn’t Fleming?
No, it was long before Fleming’s time, This is, we’re talking about 1937. And anyhow that group of three approached the Geological Society about making seismic measurements at sea. And the Geological Society of America looked around to see what geophysicists were there in the area and the only one they could find was Ewing and they approached him and said would you be interested in this. And he said oh boy would I ever. If I could get some money. So they gave him, I think it was three thousand dollars, for a year’s study of seismic measurements at sea.
This was the grant from the GSA [Geological Society of America].
The first grant from GSA was I think three thousand dollars and then they repeated it four years until World War II broke out. Let’s see, it would be ‘37, ‘38, ‘39 and ‘40. Yes, those four years they gave him like three thousand dollars a year. For which he hired Vine and I at fifteen dollars a week a piece — large part of the grant and then a little bit of money for — we got the TNT was donated by the DuPont Company and I think the detonators were too. And well all the rest of the gear we built. So we only had to buy wires and resisters and condensers and a few things like which were in those days pretty cheap. So and we got essentially two weeks at sea free on the Atlantis at Woods Hole. The way Woods Hole was operating in those days was similar to the MBL [Marine Biological Laboratory], the way the MBL operates today. And that is professors from the universities in the summertime come to Woods Hole and operate a research program during the summer months, bring their graduate students and so forth and have the responsibility of their own funding and what have you. The only thing they were essentially given by the oceanographic was a room to work in and some ship time. Well our ship time always involved, of two weeks, was always involved in somebody else’s cruise and we were on the cruise on a not to interfere basis which usually meant that we got three or four days of operations at sea a year — was our allotment. Well we were building all this equipment. We didn’t really know if it was working or so forth. And we did everything that we could to make sure it would work. But then you’d have four days at sea.
And it would have to work in that period.
And then you’d have to go back and think about it for the next year and rebuild whatever you thought wasn’t right, and try the next year again for another two weeks.
I’m wondering what your first impressions or later impressions were of Dick Field? What sort of a person was he?
He was the ultimate politician. I guess you’d call him a scientific politician. He was one of the founders of the American Geophysical Union. Probably the most important one of the founders. He was the one that kept pushing and pushing and trying to get people together and so forth. But he delighted in writing letters to various scientists and so forth and getting them primed to say the things that he wanted them to say at some other time or write him a letter that would give him justification for doing something or other. He was just the greatest politician. He didn’t want to be involved in the work himself. He just wanted to be the power behind the throne who organized it. A Machiavelli I guess you’d call him. Was typically my impression of him. One incident with Dick Field that happened was we’d been out in the field. Usually the way it worked we’d get all our gear loaded on this truck and so forth on Friday evening and then about four o’clock in the morning, Saturday morning, we’d take off for Princeton, pick up George Woollard about six o’clock and get out in the field. We’d try to arrive where we were going to work for the day at daylight and we’d work until dusk usually having picked up some peanut butter and jelly and some bread or something to eat a snack at lunch. After dark we would go into town and find a boarding house. There were lots of, tourists homes they were called in those days. Which is like a bed and breakfast now except they didn’t have breakfast. And get a place to stay and then we’d go out and have dinner somewhere, usually a diner. And then come back and work on the records. Always the records were photographic and so we’d have them inadequately washed in the field so we’d run the bathtub full and wash the records in the bathtub again and then hang them all over the bathroom to dry.
This is to make sure the records were preserved.
To preserve the records for what we’d do. Well anyhow after a weekend of this, the result was you’d get to bed maybe twelve, one o’clock and then you’d have to get up again about five o’clock so you could have breakfast and be in the field again by daylight. And so after a weekend of this, we’d probably had five, six hours of sleep from Friday night until Sunday night. We got back, we’d stop at Dick Field’s on the way back from the field through Princeton, on the way back to Lehigh. And this one time we stopped there and Dr. Ewing was talking to Dick Field and he gave us a seat on a house over there and he had a lamp like this.
You mean a green shade lamp to read by.
Something like that. And it was turned up so that as we sat on the couch, the light was in my eyes. Well I thought I asked him if he would mind turning the shade down because the light was in my eyes. And afterwards Ewing claimed that I, in a very ugly voice said, turn that light out of my eyes. Well I can’t imagine that I would have said anything like that but anyway that’s what he always said happened. He gave me hell for talking to my betters in that way. And that’s the most outstanding thing about Dick Field I can remember.
Being a younger undergraduate student involved in this, was Dick Field easy to get along with or did he seem to be a more reserved professor?
Well he didn’t have anything to do with us. I mean we were just along.
You were just along.
Just along with Ewing. He’d say hello and shake our hands and sit over there and then that would be the extent of his contact with us. And Vine too as a graduate student.
That’s what I’m curious about too because Vine was most advanced already by that point.
But still he didn’t have any — He would just talk to Ewing. And Ewing was just going to talk to him.
Do you remember any of those conversations particularly?
They were always things about, well we’ll write to so and so and we’ll get him to write to so and so who will talk to the GSA so we’ll get you some money for next year. That kind of thing.
More the pragmatic end about how to keep the program going.
Going and at the same time getting Ewing to present papers at the American Geophysical Union that would bring it to the attention of the community so that there would be support in the community for carrying on this kind of research.
Right. The AGU [American Geophysical Union] was also sponsoring two interdisciplinary committees, the broad ones, in the 1930s. Did you hear much about them during those early years?
No, I didn’t.
How important did the AGU seem to be in the operation?
It was a very marginal operation all through the ‘30s until after World War II. It was very marginal. It was just hanging on by its fingernails. And they were having difficulty getting people to come to the meetings, and that sort of thing. Trying to get people interested in supporting it by giving papers and going to papers. Having an audience. It was a very marginal operation as far as I could tell.
When did you first get to an AGU meetings?
Well I was still at Lehigh at the time. So as an undergraduate I went to at least one but I think two.
Do you remember which ones? Do you remember anything particularly about what it was like to see the meeting in action?
Well it was again a neophyte coming and seeing all these men you’ve read about and heard about and talked about. People from M.I.T. and Harvard and Yale and Princeton and University of Michigan and Minnesota, you know, people all over. And you get to see these important people and of course they didn’t have anything to do with you.
Difficult when you’re an undergraduate coming in.
An undergraduate. You don’t know any of these guys so you hang out with the other undergraduates. Well there weren’t very many undergraduates. I was about the only one.
I would imagine you probably were.
I was probably the only undergraduate there. But there were graduate students who were there and who were almost as young as I was and I’d hang around with them. When I went always Vine went to the same meetings so we’d hang out as a pair.
When you mention M.I.T.’s faculty members who would come and Harvard’s, were you thinking of people in particular? Would Reginald [A.] Daly for instance.
Oh he would be there. And let’s see there was a guy from Yale who had a big white mane of hair, a tall guy.
[Richard F.] Flint was from Yale, wasn’t he?
Well Flint was but he was before this time.
Again that can be added if it comes to mind to the transcript later.
It will have to I guess. I can’t come up with it.
I realize you’re talking from the perspective of someone who’s very young and going to meetings, but how did people react to Ewing’s work? Was it different from most geophysicists.
Well they would often flock to hear it because they were all interested in what he would find out in the area. And it was so new. Well, for instance, most of the talks he gave when I was an undergraduate were on the work on shore in New Jersey. And this was the first time that anyone had talked about a big column of sediment ten thousand feet or more thick coming in as a wedge starting back at the fall line and going out to sea. And what the velocities of these things were and so on. And this was all terra incognito to these people and especially the senior guys would all flock to hear his papers to learn about this new information and have it as part of their arsenal. Probably they figured that they would work it into what they’re finding on land themselves and so forth. I don’t know that any of them did, but maybe they did. But again I wouldn’t know. I wasn’t reading that much at that time.
Let me ask another question first because in a practical sense if you spent that much time on the weekend doing the work with Ewing, did it begin to affect your school work? Was it hard to?
Yes. My sophomore year in college was my poorest year in college grade wise and it probably cost me making Phi Beta Kappa because I missed Phi Beta Kappa by hundredths of a point. And my two roommates in my senior year, Pohlmar and Uhi, made Phi Beta Kappa and I didn’t. And they were the ones who told me I missed it by hundredths of a point. But my average in my sophomore year was about 2.5 as I remember out of 4. And in the other years it was more like almost 3 and it averaged out. I think you had to have an average of 3 to make Phi Bet and I made a 2.99. But I often thought back at it and thought it was well worth it in my opinion.
What else were you taking in the sophomore year?
Oh they had us taking electrical engineering, dynamos and motors. Some mechanical engineering, the engines. I had I think two or three courses of physics. I don’t remember which specific physics courses but there was thermodynamics and then there was optics. Optics was a long course, like three semesters or something like that. And mechanics. By and large sophomore type physics courses but more detailed than the average engineer got. They got the sort of overall course and we got into the details of each of these things.
How satisfying did those courses seem to you at the time?
Well they were very satisfying to me then. Well, in my whole career, in retrospect they did not introduce vector analysis into our courses at the time. Although they were, I think they were, in some of the other universities. But they didn’t at Lehigh at that time. And I always thought that was something that I missed out on because I never got comfortable with vector analysis. It became very important to become comfortable with but I never did.
Who else besides Ewing was teaching physics at Lehigh?
Oh there was [Charles C.] Bidwell, [Austin] Bailey. Let’s see, Bidwell, Bailey, Berger, the guy in the optics, oh he was our good friend too. Oh, I can’t think of his name. There were about I guess five other people besides Ewing teaching in the physics department at the time.
Generally how supportive were they? How interested were they in the sort of work that Ewing was doing?
Not at all. They always kind of thought that geophysics was a kind of a bastard science that it didn’t really have anything much to do with physics and these people were kind of grubby characters who weren’t really very important. The head of the physics department called me in, for instance, about the end of my sophomore year and said are you planning that you’re going into geophysics? “Yes.” He said you know the oil is running out and there isn’t going to be jobs for geophysicists probably by the time you graduate. Maybe you better think about something else. I think he was trying, this was Bidwell, I think he was trying to be helpful really but he was awful wrong.
What were the fields that Bidwell and others were focusing on?
Bidwell was focusing on heat flow in various objects.
What we would now call solid state?
Well, no. See people didn’t know how heat flow worked very much at that time or period. So any kind of new material, a piece of rock or a brick, how the heat flow worked in it was the subject of inquiry and so on.
When you look back, did you find that more of the physics courses had cookbook type laboratories and procedures, or did you find that outside of Ewing gradually getting other exposures?
Well almost all the physics labs were pretty much cookbook until your senior year and then in your senior year each student picked a subject that he thought he’d like to do research in and decided what he wanted to do and worked up a project and wrote up a report. And because my interest was geophysics I chose the reversible pendulum, the Repsold Reversible Pendulum, which is an absolute measurement of gravity. And at the time Ewing had the crystal chronometer there in the basement at Lehigh and so I could pipe it to the lab. The time signals from it which were good until part of a million which is an order of magnitude better than anybody had every been able to find for anything before at Lehigh. And it worked out pretty well and I got pretty nice results from it. And I got a good mark on it.
How much exposure were you getting to quantum mechanics, the newer fields of physics at the time?
There was none at that time. Quantum mechanics was just really beginning to get into the physics world. And none of it was reaching Lehigh as far as I know. Certainly none of it reached the students.
What other science courses did you take?
Well everybody had to take qualitative analysis. I took a course, a graduate course, in hydrodynamics in my senior year. It was the second half of the hydrodynamics course that you had to have the first semester for. I had to get special permission to take it. But it was 1940 and the war was looming up and I went in and talked to the dean and he wasn’t very interested and so I talked to the president of the university and he really wasn’t very interested. But I finally persuaded them that I could take the course. Since the war was imminent and I might not ever have a chance to take hydrodynamics again and it was important in my field of study and so forth. And so I had to study the first semester on my own at the same time I was talking the second semester of hydrodynamics. And it’s been very useful to me all these years. The concepts and things in it have been useful to me.
It’s rather unusual to imagine even a determined senior undergraduate going directly to the president’s office to make that kind of demand.
Well I went up the chain gradually. I wouldn’t accept no from the guy. I’d go to his boss. And say how about it and so on.
How supportive would Ewing be in circumstances like that?
He didn’t have anything to do with it. I did it strictly as a student separate from him. He might have helped me if I’d asked him, but I never asked him.
Right. But you found that it worked just as well in your relationship was to do it on your own.
Probably never occurred to me to ask him.
How well did you get to know Ewing during your undergraduate years?
Oh I got to know him very well because I was —
We’re looking right here again at the photographic scrapbook.
Pictures like this, I was drafting for him.
That’s a schematic of the oscillograph that we put on the ocean bottom. And that’s a schematic of the geophone that we built.
Quite well done. Had you taken drafting?
Yes, as a freshman everybody took drafting. This is another one. This is a picture of the scheme that we were using at the time. That’s my drafting. So I was drafting things like that for Ewing and Dorothy’s [Worzel] twin brother was drafting similar things across the table from me. And as I said we said hello and goodbye.
This is what you mentioned briefly at lunchtime; And Dorothy’s twin brother was working under Ewing?
No, he was a mining engineer and they had a WPA [Works Project Administration] for students. He didn’t have any money at all to go to school. So he had to earn his way through college. And he was a waiter in the fraternity he was at. He sold stuff at the football games and baseball games and all sorts of sports events. And he worked for Ewing in the thing, the WPA had a thing to help support students. It wasn’t called WPA but it was thing like WPA for students. And it gave him some money for doing work for various professors. Ewing applied for help and Don Crary, Dorothy’s brother, had applied for a job and they got together and persuaded them to assign Don to him. And he assigned him to do some drafting of some of the figures that were used in some of our papers. I shouldn’t say our papers. They were Ewing’s and Vine’s and Woollard’s papers. They never invited me to be an author as an undergraduate. I always hoped they would but they never did.
Did you discuss drafts with them as those papers were written?
Not in the words. I did all the calculations in all the papers that were done then.
On a Monroe.
The old Monroe hand calculator.
Hand calculator. Well it was electric, the electric motor turned the mechanism but you had to turn the carriage over by hand and so on.
Were you acknowledged in the —
Yes. I have some of those early papers, I think. [pause] I know I have them somewhere. Oh here’s the Barnegat Bay paper for instance. See I did the drafting of those figures.
And I did the calculations on which all these numbers are based.
How long would that take to finish the calculations for any one publication?
Oh, probably two weeks of steady calculation. Ewing did the theoretical stuff for the sloping layers which was a great advance in geophysics at the time. And I had to draw the figures. He told me what to draw of course.
Would he sketch out a rough?
He’d sketch what it should look like and I’d draw it and he’d have me correct them and these were the actual observations; time and distance graphs. This is one of the things that when we talked about the men from Mars we actually published maps of where our shots were. These maps. So that in today’s litigious society we’d probably get sued by the land owners.
We wouldn’t be —
We and the American Geophysical Union and the Geological Society of America — and see we produced today tables like this of the velocities and the layer thicknesses and so forth.
And it mentions there of course New Jersey towns: Plainsboro, Hightstown, Charleston Springs, Jackson’s Mills, Lakewood, Cedar Ridge and so on.
And then this diagram here was done by — George Woollard knew a lot of geology by that time. He had taken his degree in geology and this diagram of the geology of the area he drew.
He had done —
He drew it. But all these calculations and so forth are here and the acknowledgements are on page 260. The assistance and field working writers acknowledge the help of Worzel, [?] McCurdy and Webster. Webster was a graduate student, McCurdy was an undergraduate. He was kind of unstable but he was an electronics type. They’re all peculiar anyhow.
But his personality you’re referring to.
Yes, he ended up put in a home by his wife many years later.
Had you known him well or only?
Oh yes, I knew him well and he was kind of peculiar even in those days. See the Barnegat Bay line was there. That was the first one we did and then later on we did — oh they had done Cape Henry and Woods Hole previously. And then later on we did the Cape May line here. And then later I told you about the grant from GSA after the end of the war.
Again this was something that was mentioned at luncheon and not on tape. And that’s the one that was for thirty thousand as I recall you mentioned.
Well let’s see what it was.
One point you were making was that after the war the grant was about an order of magnitude higher than the grants had been prior to World War II.
Just for the record let me read in the title. We’ve been referring a 1939 publication, “Geophysical Investigations in the Emerged and Submerged Atlantic Coastal Plain”. And as you say the authors listed in order are Maurice Ewing, George P. Woollard, and A. C. Vine.
Here’s the next in the series.
1940, Part 4, Cape May, New Jersey section. Indeed the one you just mentioned that you were involved in. Maurice Ewing never used his first initial in publications.
He did but not by his choice. He never so far as I worked with him for thirty-five years and I never once heard him refer to the W., the William, as anything other than W and only because scientific publications demanded it. And sometimes they demanded William M. Ewing as being used as the name. And he did it when he had to but he never once personally ever referred to himself as anything other than Maurice. Here’s the grant proposal.
Okay. I’m holding, you just pulled out an original carbon copy dated March 12, 1946 addressed from William Maurice Ewing, George P. Woollard, Allyn E. Vine and J. Lamar Worzel to Mr. Henry Aldrich Seely, Geol. Soc. of America, “Study Structural Geology in the Continental Margin Off the East Coast of the United States by Means of Seismic and Gravitational Measurements”. And this is the actual application.
That’s the actual application.
Did you draft part of the application do you recall?
We got together and drafted it as a group.
As a group?
The four of us.
How did that work in practice when you had a grant proposal?
Well Ewing always considered himself as the ultimate in English composition and so he would always write or make the last correction before anything went out with his name on it. And sometimes I thought he was wrong.
I was wondering how often that became contentious.
It never became contentious at all. But he would make a fuss about it and it was easier to go along with it than it was to argue about it. And lots of times I thought to myself what difference does it make, let him have his way. This is the letter that made the grant.
Okay. And I’m looking right now at Appendix B which is the budget for the project and indeed the grand total was listed as $47,700.
But that was never granted as you will see.
As is so often the case. And this is we’re reading now a carbon of a letter from Henry R. Aldridge, the secretary of the Geological Society of America, August 16, ‘46. And copy of the fully executed agreement covering the grant awarded to you by the Council of the GSA. The first one does not list the award but budget summary for the grant is listed as very close to the figure that you said, $32,500, is actually the —
And that’s to Ewing, Woollard, Vine and yourself.
And it turned out Ewing and I did all the work.
What happened to Vine and Woollard?
Vine was busy on work left over from World War II and Woollard was busy moving to University of Wisconsin at the time. Although he had a residence still in Woods Hole for a number of years afterwards.
Of course this is a period we’re going to be covering in much more detail in short order. Were there any other science course or any other courses in general at Lehigh that when you think back were particularly memorable for you, or other instructors at Lehigh?
Well, there was an instructor in electrical engineering. Incidentally on this Geological Society grant. We were told afterward that this is the largest grant that had ever been made by the Geological Society of America up to that time. Before then five to ten thousand was a big grant. But they hadn’t given any grants all during World War II so they had a lot of money and so they were willing to make the bigger grant.
That’s interesting. Did that money come out of the Penrose bequest or do you know?
I don’t know. Didn’t they say in here?
They may have. I may have glanced over it. I was more concerned whether that was something that would come up in conversation with you. There’s no need to trouble ourselves about it.
I don’t know.
You simply knew that it was coming from GSA.
We just got the money and we went to work.
Right. I do want to ask you a few more questions about that particular work but I was still curious if any other instructors made a strong impression on you during your Lehigh years.
Well one professor in electrical engineering did. I don’t remember his name now, but he was teaching us about dynamos and motors and he was probably the laziest professor I ever ran into.
He would lean up against the wall in the hall outside the room he was going to conduct his class in and just slowly work around leaning against the wall until he was inside the room. And his usual first remark was you all had an assignment last night or for today, do you have any questions? And like most students in most things, nobody had any questions. And he’d say all right go to the board and you work the problem at the end of the chapter of number one and you do number two and you do number three throughout the class and so we all spent all the class working problems, different problems, and then he would call on us to explain how we did our problem and why we did it that way. Well this went on for a couple of weeks and I got disgusted. I thought he should tell us something, give us some lecture on the class. So I made sure that every class I had a question. So when he’d say are there any questions, I would say yes I have one. And I’d ask my question and he’d have to give a discussion. And so pretty soon after a couple of weeks of this, he’d come in and he’d say does anyone but Worzel have any questions? And then he’d say all right Worzel, what’s your question? And as usual, very seldom does anyone have a question but I would. And this went on for well almost all the whole semester. This was in the fall semester, and it came up Thanksgiving and I was going to go home for Thanksgiving with my folks who lived in New York and so I wore a suit to class. My usual equipment to go to class was a pair of corduroys and a jacket, you know, a felt jacket, and some shoes and a shirt open at the neck. And me appearing in class in a suit kind of made him open his eyes. He didn’t say anything. But in the middle of the class it started to pour rain outdoors and so loud and so much that the whole class stopped and everybody looked. And without even thinking about it or anything, I was thinking of going home and I was going to have to drive home in the rain and I just said, “Stop”, and just like that the rain quit. And he looked at me and he didn’t say anything and the class went on for a little while and it started to rain again. And he turned to me and he said let’s see you do that again. Well I said no I don’t push my luck. Later on they had a thing called the Newtonian Society which was an honorary math society and I was one of the people elected to the Newtonian Society that year. I guess this was the sophomore year. And Newtonian Society was for achievement in the freshman year. At any rate I was elected to the society and I went to the meeting of course to be received and lauded and it happened that that same instructor was a member of the Newtonian Society and it just happened that we sat by each other. Well we chit chatted about this and that and the other thing. Major Bowie incidentally happened to sit on the other side of me. But at any rate towards the end of the meal he turned to me he said you know Worzel he said I’ve been handing out the kind of crap in our class that I’ve been handing your class. You know you’re the first one who ever fought back. And he said I got to approve of you for that.
That must have been welcome to hear.
That was welcome news. I had thought it was just the other way that he hated my guts. But I’ve never forgotten that.
I think you do find later that most teachers do enjoy when students challenge them but that’s not obviously apparent to many.
Another teacher I had that I remember was in calculus. And his name was Lazy Jack Ogdon. And he would come in and sit down at the desk and give his lecture and if he wanted to, say, take a point on the board, he’d take a piece of chalk and flip it over his shoulder and say take a point. And the chalk would break up, leave a little bit of chalk on the board. Take another point and go on like that and never get up out of his chair. He was usually chewing tobacco and he had a drawer full of sawdust on the bottom drawer on the right side of his desk. Every once in a while he’d pull out his drawer (spitting noise) and close the drawer again. That course again was a course that had like a hundred and fifty students in it but they broke it down into twenty or twenty-five students in a section and in that section, in our twenty-five students, most of the students said they just can’t learn anything from his discourse and his way of doing it. And I just didn’t understand that because it was as clear as crystal to me what he was saying and what he was doing. It was just so obvious that he was a great teacher. But most of the students said they just couldn’t learn anything from him.
Did you have much personal interaction with any of these people, again outside of Ewing, outside of class or was it mostly within?
Mostly in class. In things like the Newtonian Society or things of that nature you might run into some of them. But otherwise there’s no reason you’d ever run into them.
There weren’t dinners for instance at professors homes that you were and things of that sort?
No. This was depression times. They were having trouble feeding themselves. [laughs]
I’m well aware of that.
Professors weren’t paid very much. In fact when I made the choice that I would want to become a professor, I thought I was making the choice that the professors I knew at that time, even very senior professors, had threadbare carpets and worn furniture in their living rooms. I had been in the living rooms of several of them and they were obviously living close to the edge of poverty, all of them, and I thought that’s what I was choosing for my lifetime. It turned out I was wrong. That is things worked out much better than I had ever hoped they could.
Indeed. I’m curious what you were reading in geophysics in your undergraduate years. Did Ewing give you books that he would recommend for you to look at?
No. He had one course. And he had a textbook for that course and he worked from that textbook.
Do you recall which one that was?
I think it was Heiland’s book called Geophysics just called Geophysics. Carl Heiland was the one who wrote it, Carl A. Heiland.
Right. Of course he was a scholar at the Colorado School of Mines.
Colorado school of mines. Doc often gave lectures that showed things different than they were in the Heiland but you had Heiland to fall back on if you didn’t understand Ewing’s way of saying it. And you’d get to the same result but in a different way.
Can you think of anything in particular when you say this?
Well I was thinking in particular of the refraction equations and the especially the sloping layer solutions that he —
Had done a paper on.
See in the first paper he showed how to solve for sloping layers and in the second paper he showed how to least square the results so that you got the best fit to all the data and still solve for the sloping layers. Ewing probably had thought he was going to become a mathematician originally and he was terrifically good in mathematics, way, way ahead of me ever.
And you felt that when you were working with him?
Even years after I got my Ph.D. and was working with him. He was head and shoulders above me in math. And he could do all kinds of math and derivations and things like that, and did them beautifully. And for instance —
You’re reaching for a book on your shelf.
This is a book we published called Sound in the Ocean.
Yes, Ewing, Worzel and
And [Chaim] Pekeris. Our part was the experimental part. This was work we did during World War II. The explosion sounds in shallow water part of it we always called our fine print clause at Woods Hole. And the second part was about the deep sound channel in the ocean. And Pekeris did the theoretical work for the explosion sounds in shallow water. That’s an interesting case. What happened there was we did the explosion sounds in shallow water and we found that the water wave in the ocean was dispersive with the high frequencies traveling fastest and the low frequencies traveling slowest. So you got a wave pattern like that in the water wave — Well we got together some data like that and we sent it to Pekeris and said that this looks like an important thing and we had no theory for it. Do you know of any theory that you have? And he wrote back and said funny you should ask because I wrote a theory out for that kind of situation about a year ago only we couldn’t find any data to fit it and so we filed it and I’ve never had any data until you sent me this. Can you send me more?
And so we sent him more. I had the responsibility of getting the records together to send him more and he wrote this theoretical business which I still have difficulty understanding but Ewing understood it as soon as he saw graphs. The data, all these graphs about what’s going on he understood immediately.
Where was Pekeris at that time in?
At that time he was employed at the Columbia University group which was in the Empire State Building. This was part of the NDRC [National Defense Research Committee during World War II. They had a Columbia University group. That’s what they called them. And they were just people working on theoretical problems for underwater sound but seemed like they were important to somebody. Vannevar Busch was the head of NDRC.
This was the assignment that he had before he went to Israel?
Oh yes. He was an American citizen at that time and intended to stay an American citizen. He was living an ordinary American citizen’s life. And when Israel was formed as a country he decided he would move to Israel to seed them with knowledge that would be helpful to the Israel government to survive. An interesting footnote to that was I met him at an international meeting some three or four years after he’d gone to Israel and he came up to me and he said, “Worzel I wish I had your ability to do field work.” He said, “That’s what we need in Israel and I just can’t do it.” And I always had viewed that the way he did curly dees was the way I would like to do curly dees. And this taught me something. That and another incident. I knew [Felix A.] Vening-Meinesz pretty well because he invented the pendulum apparatus that I used. During the IGY [International Geophysical Year], I went over there to talk him into getting me the construction diagrams and brought them back and we constructed several more pendulum apparatus which never got used, as it turned out. At any rate I got to know him pretty well in this year and he never thought that his development of the pendulum apparatus for measuring gravity on submarines was a very important piece of work. He had written several papers on fracture patterns of the earth’s crust which has never been acclaimed or thought about much or nobody’s thought that it was much of a contribution. And yet he thought that was his great contribution in his life and the pendulums were not.
That’s very interesting.
The things that I learned from Pekeris and Vening-Meinesz is what you can do well you don’t think is very important. What you find difficulty doing you think is very important.
When you mention Vening-Meinesz and the fracture patterns, was he a supporter of the expanding earth idea?
No, he just assumed that the earth was jostling itself around and causing fracture patterns in the crust of the earth and he visualized the ocean as a crust, and continental crust as a good solid crust that was just fracturing from —
Different kinds of buckling pressures.
Little movements in the earth.
But principally horizontal movements and not vertical movements.
He didn’t, as far as I know, he never specified. Just movements. See he would chart all the fracture patterns he could find in the world and he’d try to make sense out of it. And as far as he was concerned, it didn’t matter how they arose from what source they rose, just that they were there.
His concern was principally to lay out the patterns as he perceived them.
Yes. And that this would lead him to the Holy Grail of once you had all the pattern laid out right you would have to come to a conclusion about how it was formed.
That’s very interesting. What did people at that time think of that branch of Vening-Meinesz’s work?
As far as I know, nobody thought much of it at all. He was the only one who did as far as I know. He’d published his paper, there were no papers following it about anything refuting it or supporting it or —
I certainly don’t remember seeing anything in the record addressing that branch of his work.
But that still was what he thought was his important contribution.
You mentioned a moment ago that you were reading the one text that was available in geophysics.
No, there were two or three texts but that was supposed to be the leading one.
The leading one, right. Do you remember reading other works in geophysics? I’m just curious in general how you came to know the literature on the major problems of the day.
No. That had all that we needed to know. Plus Ewing had obtained instruments for all the types of geophysical investigations that existed. Schmidt magnetometer balance for instance and he had built a electrical prospecting type unit and so forth. And he would take us out in the field and show us how to use these and then we’d come in and with the Heiland text we’d work out the results and the equations, and the information you needed was all in the Heiland text so there was no need for going to anything else. So at that point, no we didn’t. That was all we used was our textbook, and the field experience with Ewing. Later on Ewing received mimeographed copies of the text which became Nettleton’s book on Geophysical prospecting. We used it in class, noting errors, misprints, spelling and any other flaws. Ewings transmitted these to Louis Nettleton.
Right. I’m curious whether during that time you had much exposure to the broad questions of the earth sciences community.
Had begun to address or whether you were learning more about the techniques and the methods that were being used by geophysicists principally?
We were developing the methods that were being used.
Indeed you were.
They didn’t exist. See if you go back and you look at the days when Vening-Meinesz started the pendulum gravity measurements, 1924, you find a number of things. One of them is you find nobody made reference to anybody else’s paper. If you were talking about something or other, you derived the equations as if nobody had ever tried them before. All of the guys that were publishing at that time did it. Shortly after that, there were maybe five or six references to papers. By and large nobody paid much attention to what anybody else did except the top guys who would correspond by mail about their work. And that was pretty much the way science got done when I came into the field. And most of the techniques had never been worked out. The Vening-Meinesz pendulum apparatus was standard. Nobody knew about refraction seismic or reflection seismic other than the oil companies and they didn’t tell anybody what they knew. Magnetics, the Schmidt balance had been shown to measure the magnetic field but nobody much knew what to do with it. Sometimes you could do a little prospecting for minerals that had magnetic things in them but that’s about what you used it for. Gravity meters just came into being in the post-war year, well they started in the ‘30s, but they were gross instruments in the ‘30s and they never got used much until the ‘40s when they became smaller and more portable. Well essentially the techniques of geophysics just nobody knew how to do it. So you either worked them out or went to somebody who was doing that particular measurement.
You’re exactly right. What I was thinking about when I asked you that was more the oil companies’ way of developing that given that Heiland was in a school that emphasized that kind of program, petroleum geophysics and the particular applications.
Well I tried to get summer jobs in the petroleum industry while I was an undergraduate.
That’s what I was going to ask about next.
And not a chance. This is the height of the depression. They weren’t about to pay the travel for anyone to come. If they had said that, I would have gladly said I would make my way to Texas some way or Oklahoma or wherever. But their standard answer was we’re not hiring people at this time. Basically they just didn’t have the money I guess.
No, those were still the hard days.
Hard times for everybody.
What did you do during the summers?
Well I was working with Ewing.
That became full time during the.
Full time. I just worked full time in the summers with Ewing.
Was Ewing encouraging you to consider working one summer or two with the oil companies or was that your own initiative.
That was my idea that it would be a good idea. I would learn something that I wouldn’t learn otherwise. And he made no effort to help me. I never asked him to help me. Whether he would have if I had asked, I don’t know.
Did you have much contact with the geology department at Lehigh?
Not too much. Ewing’s contact with the geology department at Lehigh was with Benjie [Benjamin L.] Miller who was — what do you call them — the director of the geology department or the?
The chairman of the department of geology I guess it’s called. And he did the first seismic refraction measurements which were south of Woods Hole, very sketchy kind of observations. And off Cape Henry and the Chesapeake. And they were pretty sketchy kind of observations too. But you have to remember these were the first observations ever made at sea. And he had figured he would get the observations and show the layers and the velocities and so forth and he would turn it over to Benjie Miller — this was supposed to be a cooperative thing — and Benjie Miller would write a geological interpretation. Well he turned the information over to Benjie and Benjie just wrote a flowery thing about how interesting this work was and so forth and never made an attempt —
Made no attempt to correlate the layers and the velocities to any geological features.
Not to anything geological. And so that soured Ewing on working with the geologists. From then on he would try to interpret it in terms of getting any well logs that existed about things that they learned from well logs and so forth. And that’s when George Woollard showed up and he was a pretty good geologist and he would get into the interpretation part of the seismic information. And gradually we all of us got involved in learning about the geology of it as time went on.
Were there any others in the geology department that had interest in Ewing’s work besides?
A number of professors had an interest in it but not an active interest. They would just come and quiz him about what he’d found lately and then they’d go off.
Casual interest that they knew something important was going on but they didn’t seem to know what to do with it.
Were there any kind of colloquia series either geophysics or geology?
No, there was never anything like that.
So no visitors either that you particularly.
No visitors. I guess nobody could afford them.
Most schools could not. I was simply curious if anything like that?
No, nothing like that went on. We had no internal research programs that we talked about or anything. None of that until I got in graduate school and we started it up at Lamont.
Did you take any geology classes at all when you were at Lehigh?
Yes. Yes, I took petroleum geology, I took structural geology, I took field geology. I guess that’s it. That’s all I had time with to get my Ph.D. — I mean my bachelor’s degree in engineering physics.
Sounds like you were squeezing an awful lot in even at that time.
I was squeezing quite a lot in especially when I got into that hydrodynamics course at the end of my senior year. But I made out pretty well, I got a B+ in it even though I had never taken the first half of the course which I was taking simultaneously by myself. And understanding what he was saying.
You were clearly doing quite a bit of independent work during the time you were.
I guess so. I didn’t look at it that way.
Do you remember anything particularly that interested you from those geology classes that you took?
No, not especially. Well I was interested in the field work. I loved to do the field work and to go out and measure dip and strike and try to figure out the structure from it. That always pleased me a lot. And even in my graduate work when we did some of the field work, I enjoyed that very much. I took Marshall Kay’s field geology at Columbia. And I’ve always counted that as a very important part of my education because I learned a lot about rocks from it and I learned a lot about structure from it and I learned the techniques of doing it. And I guess [Walter H.] Bucher had a big influence on me in the unit, this is in graduate school, in teaching me how to read geologic maps. By just looking at the geology that you see on the map in front of you you can learn a lot about what’s going on on the ground.
And that always stood me in good stead. Of course we usually didn’t have that kind of information in the ocean which was where I mostly worked.
But it’s still interesting that that was something that you first got exposed to when you were in graduate school at Columbia.
Well and even in undergraduate school I did a structural geology map of a quadrangle in Pennsylvania as an undergraduate.
Did that involve you to actually going out long distance.
Going out in the field. We’d go out by ourselves and map and then we’d make the map and write a geological report that was modeled on the USGS [United States Geological Survey] reports but of course were much sketchier because we just didn’t have time to do all of it.
And how much did you learn from the critiques of that? Was it a dialectic process? I’m just curious what happened after you turned in that assignment? Did you learn?
Usually the professor would write comments on it and give you a mark and that was it.
That was it. Okay.
You never had any chance to rebut what he said or anything like that. If you felt strongly about it — Well, for instance, in the petroleum geology course, there were only four of us in it.
This is at Lehigh?
This is at Lehigh. There were only four of us taking it. One was a graduate student in the geology department and the other two were undergraduate students and myself, a geophysicist, taking this. The professor in that course was renowned for giving an exam that nobody could pass. Probably he couldn’t. But anyhow you would get marks anywhere from a 30 to 60 would be the normal mark range in the exam. And then he would take the exam and he would mark you up to a grade. Well he marked me up to an A- I think and he marked these two geology students who got twenty points less on the exam than I did up to an A. The graduate geology student I don’t remember about him but these two I remember about. And I went to him and I said what gives here or how come these students who did poorer on the exam than I did, get a better mark? And he didn’t bat an eye, he just looked at me and said do you want the mark I gave you or the one you earned? End of the conversation. What can you say?
Well it did suggest something?
He did make one other statement later. He said you’re a geophysicist you should do better than a geologist on the exam. Now I don’t know why I should but he said I should. The concept was that anybody studying physics was a bigger intellect than anybody studying geology. And how he could make such a statement as a geologist kind of left me flabbergasted.
That’s very characteristic of those tensions that have long existed between those in traditional field geology and those entering geophysics or physics.
And usually most of them — see Ewing never had any geology course at all ever in his whole life. And still he became a very good interpreter of geology from his geophysics. But he did it by himself. He didn’t do it by taking courses or anything.
Indeed. Do you remember any discussions with him particularly during your undergraduate years about interpretation of the base line results of the outer coastal survey?
I was just wondering if that was something that came up when you all would talk.
There is something that I remember on the subject. We never talked about it. He made his interpretations in his paper. I read them. I didn’t disagree with them.
You didn’t have much basis of course at that point.
I didn’t have much basis to disagree with him and they made reasonable sense to me and that was it. There was no point in quibbling. But in more recent years the oil company people drilled in the off shore Atlantic area and they drilled down to the depth of what we called basement. And they found out that it was a limestone layer. And they complained that this was a misinterpretation that Ewing had made in his previous work. Well that is not true. If you look at the interpretations, he said that this velocity could be a limestone or it could be basement. In view of the depth we will call it basement for the papers and leave it at that realizing that it could be a limestone layer. They never paid any attention to that statement because always after that we called anything around 20K as basement.
And clearly folks were not reading back to the original.
Nobody had bothered to read the original and see why it was called basement.
Of course terms sometimes become cemented with particular meanings later in time that they don’t necessarily have earlier.
I want to turn at some point soon to the decision to go up to Woods Hole to stay with Ewing. I’m curious if at any time during your approach to graduation in 1940 had you thought of alternatives to continuing in the work with. [Interruption]
Well there are things about our work in the summers while I was an undergraduate. [Telephone Interruption]
You were mentioning before a quick interruption that there were a few things that you wanted to talk about concerning your summers. The work that you had done as an undergraduate.
Well actually a fairly extensive discussion of what we did in the summer that ought to be said sometime. In the first place we started out by putting this gun barrel instrument case at the head of the line. And then we’d let some room, like fifty feet to a geophone which was connected electrically to the instrument case. Another fifty feet to another geophone and a third fifty feet to a third geophone that came to the instrument case. And each of these geophones as I told you earlier had two channels of gain, different gains, to try to cover the ranged of the returns. Then there would usually be a hundred and fifty feet to a small bomb like maybe five pounds of TNT initially in those bomb cases that I mentioned to you, the small bomb cases. Then another hundred and fifty feet to a second bomb case and another hundred and fifty feet to a third bomb case. Going back toward the ship from the instrument case now, there would be a wire rope of about a hundred and fifty feet to a big weight like a half a ton, that we hoped we would leave on the bottom so it would not pull on the instruments while they were working. Then we had a wire rope from that up to surface connected to the winch on the ship. We’re talking three thousand fathoms or that order, twenty-five hundred to three thousand fathoms deep. Sometimes those bombs didn’t fire. The first two years we, as I told you, had about four days a year to test this equipment, we had one record that worked out of that and it was an iffy kind of record so we virtually got no information. We gave that equipment up. On the last time we brought it up, one of the bombs, — well there was a knot tied in the cable, the bombs had to come up and be connected around the cable. So it was obvious before long we were going to blow the instrument case right off the line. These are the instrument clamps for the geophones. They were connected on the cable going on to the bombs so that they laid off on the side and also to make sure that they would lay with the active region vertical.
I see. We’re looking at photos again in the album.
A photo of an almost rectangular bend in the steel bar that was connected to the cable so that the instrument had to lay one side or the other.
Had to lay one side or the other, right. And that’s about three foot or so just to get the scale?
From where it’s coming into the cable. How big is the casing?
Well this would be about a foot from the cable, the geophone would be. And the geophone would be about six inches tall. This is the bomb case. That’s Ewing and that’s Vine and Vine is almost six feet and you see the instrument case.
Instrument case is just about up to —
Just about to the top of his head.
Is this taken at Lehigh?
This is taken in the back door of the physics department at Lehigh. This is time clock that told — This equipment was basically a robot that operated on the bottom of the ocean and this was the time clock that set the whole mechanism off. It set a mechanism off that went through a sequence of events firing first one bomb then another bomb and another bomb and turning on the oscillograph and turning it off, turning on the amplifiers getting them warmed up. Do all the steps that a person would do in a recording truck. And this was all done set off by a Kodak timer, a dark room timer, that we put in there.
Had it been your idea to use a dark room timer?
Not mine, no. This is Floosey Belle. It had two doors on the side and a door on the back and the seat in the back could be removed so it could act as a truck during the week for a business. This is a ‘32 Ford. [Telephone Interruption] This is the truck we would have in New Jersey. We’d have the insides of the bomb case mounted thwartships in the truck. And the operator in the back here would be Ewing. And then the wire cables coming out to the geophones. Six geophones, three forward and three back away from it. And then the radio signal would get the time break from the shot. This is the still that Vine used to melt TNT to put in those bombs that I told you on board ship. We’d have flake TNT and they’d put it in these things and bring steam up from the engine room and the steam would melt the TNT so that it would flow like a liquid and we’d pour it into the bombs and then let it cool.
Into the casings.
Into the casings and let it cool and then put in the triggering device and so forth. This is a picture of Ewing looking for the bomb case to comeback to the surface.
Over on a beam over on the side of the ship.
Well we call that a hero board.
A hero board.
You’d have to be a hero to go out there. But one of the big problems is pulling it in the ship because the counters that tell you how much cable out never work the same going out and coming in. So until it comes through the surface.
These are all your photographs I assume?
Well mine or Vine’s. And this is Vine and Ewing with this bomb case on the surface when we came back. And that’s the view of the Atlantis from up on the mast. I’m looking for a particular picture. This is the Hudson Valley at night when we’re coming back from Woods Hole. Let’s see, they have a dollar ten between them and Floosey Belle uses oil.
You were very conscious of funds in those days.
Absolutely. Well, we’d start on a trip for Woods Hole with just enough money to make it and if anything goes wrong what are you going to do? Not this one. I told you about those phones and putting the TNT in rubber balloons. And this was just — well, we’ll get to that. This is the thousand pound weight that we used. This is a Norwegian steam trying to get the bombs and the geophone back. All the crew pulling on the cable there. There’s one of the bombs that we didn’t blow the cable apart. The cable would go around there and this would be just rope across here and when the bomb went off it would blow off the rope and this would spring out.
Allow the cable to be taut again.
There’s what I was looking for. The ship on one end, a half a mile of cable on the other with the bombs on it. Inevitably, sooner or later, we were going to blow our instrument case or geophones or what have you up. So this is what convinced us that this was not a good way to proceed.
What ideas were you thinking about at the time to remedy it?
Well what we decided to do — I guess I should say Ewing decided to do. Oh there’s the picture I’ve been looking for. That’s what I looked like when I was young.
How old were you? We’re looking at a photograph of you in —
And that’s taken at?
That’s on the Atlantis.
On the Atlantis.
In the lower lab of the Atlantis.
Very interesting. What are you working on in that picture?
That’s one of the new instruments that I’m just about to tell you about. And what this instrument was we built groups of three galvanometers and put in one case and a tuning fork and amplifier and so forth which was one channel of an oscillograph. Well one channel with two gains of an oscillograph. We built four of these when normally we’d use three and instead of having them all interconnected we’d put one down, steam what we thought was the right distance, set the second one down, steam the right distance, the third one down. These would go down, were started in operations by a Hamilton watch and I’ll show you one of them.
Very interesting. You’re bringing in what is currently in a Bell jar hanging from a hook.
To protect it a little from degradation.
We’re holding this right now.
We took the hands off the, I say we, Ewing.
Right. You’re holding a two inch pocket vest type watch that’s been monitored.
A Hamilton watch. It was called their railroad watch because it kept the best time of a small watch of that era. He took off the two hands and put it on commutators that has one place on the commutator which makes the contact electrically and the rest of it is covered with bakelite that does not make contact. So there’s one place on the hour hand and one place on the minute hand that makes contact. And then he put a block on the face which had a brush one that feels the hour hand and one that feels the minute hand. When the two are in contact simultaneously you get a signal out of these two contact points.
You have two little nodes coming out.
In the frame of the watch. These watches kept good enough time. We had a dozen of them and they were given to us by the Hamilton Watch Company. We wouldn’t have been able to buy them. They were a hundred dollars a piece. We didn’t buy them. But anyhow we had a dozen of these and we had them set so that the first ones would go off say at eight o’clock even and the next one would go off at 8:05 the next one 8:10. And we had a box that would light up the lights and we could check these just before we sent them down into the ocean. So we picked the watches, that were set for the right times. Put them in the instruments and that picture that showed me shows me holding one of those watches.
Yes, now I can see that. Okay.
The picture’s a little out of focus. This is the amplifier to the vacuum tube.
Okay this is the casing that will go.
This is the guts for one of the cases. We had three of those that went down and then we had bomb shooters. Which was one of these watches connected to a battery which would fire the electric detonator which would fire the bomb. And so we’d have the bomb and a bomb shooter that we would then put out after we laid all the oscillographs out we laid the bomb shooters out. Normal routine for doing this is we decided that laying them out in a line like this it would be easier to find them. But they had to stay on the bottom for something like an hour in order to do all of the operations. So we wanted one instrument, one buoy. These were connected, supported by, a gasoline buoy to provide flotation and they were sunk by weights, cast iron weights, that were about eight inches in diameter and about an inch and a half thick and we took one, two, or three depending on how many we needed for the weights. These would take the oscillographs to the bottom, wait until they’d gone through their paces, and then the mechanism that was started by the watch would as the last thing drop the weights and the oscillograph would float to the surface. The bomb shooters were supposed to float to the surface after the bomb went off which would reduce their weight enough that they could float. On several occasions the bomb didn’t go off and it floated but it came back up much later. So that we had three or four bombs and three oscillographs that we normally laid down. Because these were going to stay on bottom for some time, we made another float that we put down first that went just to the bottom and then came immediately back to the surface, so that it would mark where they were put down as near as we could with any currents in between measured. The bomb shooters and the oscillographs would come up about an hour later and hopefully in a line and then we would have another one that would go down and back that would go down just after we finished laying the line. So we’d have one that went down just as we laid the line and one just before the thing started to operate. Presumably that would give us two points about a mile and a half apart that would mark where the stuff was laid and then it should be in a line parallel to that line one side or the other when it came back. We put that equipment down in the bottom I guess five or six times. And we never got any records except once and that was by mistake. [laughs]
What was happening?
What was happening — we finally figured it out when this one worked. The one that worked was the one that had the test batteries in it. We would test all this equipment with batteries and then we’d put new batteries in all of them. The one that worked was the one that I neglected, I forgot, to change the test batteries into new batteries. The test batteries were Eveready batteries and the new batteries were Burgess batteries. We didn’t think it made any difference. It did. The Eveready batteries would work at those low temperatures and the Burgess batteries had the central post just in physical contact and at the cold temperature they would separate and you would have no connection. We discovered after this one worked. So that the test batteries that had worked a couple of hours in testing worked on the bottom of the ocean. Well we got one record from that. And it gave us the minimum depth of the sediments of the order of half a mile if I remember. Somewhere here.
You’re referring to another reprint.
This is called “Recent Results in Submarine Geophysics” which we published in 1946.
And over what period of time are the results coming in from that?
From ‘40 to ‘46.
This is the whole.
This is the whole war time things. All the things we could publish immediately after the war before the war declassification. [Telephone Interruption]
We’re resuming after another brief telephone interruption.
Oh that was how we did the shallow water work. We put detectors on bottom from a ship that was anchored.
Up to the recording ship, the anchored ship.
And then fired shots by another vessels moving away sending shot instants back by radio. No, here we are.
We’re looking at a separate set of diagrams.
Oh this is how the first system worked. You had a weight and the oscillograph, geophones, bombs. And you depended on laying these out that they would stay straight when you lowered them down through the ocean and you laid them on the bottom when you were underway a little bit. And in fact they didn’t. They didn’t lay out straight and so it got to be hazardous.
It was obviously complicated interpretation of the records.
And inevitably one day you would come down with a bomb that’s supposed to been fired sitting on top of everything in your hand and it might fire delayed.
Indeed. How did you find out that the procedure was not working as you had expected?
Well because we found that square knot that I showed you the picture of —
The photograph showing —
In the cable. And the only way you can make a knot like that is put one end through a loop of cable. So what we did here is we sent down marker buoys for quick down and back and then the oscillographs and then bomb shooters and then another marker buoy. And these we would figure would lay out in a pretty straight line but in any event they could not harm anyone if they weren’t in a straight line. And we would be able to tell the separation by the travel of the sound waves through the water, direct sound waves through the water. We could actually measure the distance and by the multiple sounds going here you could work out the system about when it went off and what that distance was. There was enough information in the whole thing. We worked that out while we were at sea, how to calculate it.
How many hours would it take to reduce the calculations from a single shot?
Well it didn’t take long since we only had one record. [laughter]
You only had one.
There it is.
We’re looking at it right now. It’s opposite page 926 in that volume. Is this your writing here?
I probably did the — yes that’s from a template of course. This writing is free hand. That’s probably Ewing’s. The writing on the records themselves, see that’s the direct water wave and that’s the ground wave. This is the second water, the first reflection, wave and this is the third water wave the second reflection. So between the first the direct, the second and the third you could work out the time and from the knowing the depth you could work out the time of the original shot. And that would give you the distance from the bomb shooter to the oscillographs. Only one instrument worked once.
And that was in one season’s worth of work?
Well this was in the second season of work. Then that was 1940 and we went to work on the war work in September of 1940 and this was put on the shelf and we didn’t go back to it until after World War II.
Just to be sure. This work that you’ve just been describing, was completed in the summer of 1940 or the previous summer?
4th of July 1940.
There it is. Okay. Were you already looking at what those results were telling you and I grant that you had just one set of data that emerged from these trials.
Well this gives us a minimum depth to a layer, a deeper layer.
Right. What I’m curious about is the kind of resolution and the kind of interpretation that Ewing felt willing to make from those data.
Well we could read our times to a thousandths of a second.
As a result of the Hamilton watch experiment being?
No, as a result of the tuning fork. See these are the tuning fork results on the record. The tuning forks keep time better than the Hamilton watches.
Certainly they do.
And we took an arbitrary zero and measured all the time intervals and then by just going through all the geometry and so forth you can work out the shot instant. The time of the first water wave and that gives you time from the shot to the receiver, and how much earlier the ground wave arrived at the receiver. And that you could work out to a minimum depth of records which was something of a quarter of a mile I think. Let’s see what it said here? Yes the thickness of the sediments is calculated to be greater than twelve hundred feet. That’s what the time interval represents. See from the time incidents and the ground wave arrival you could see the velocity of the sound in the sediment which was fifty-three hundred feet per second. That was the only success we had in those two years of work.
Did you get particularly frustrated at that time?
No, we knew it was a hard problem. And we were having very few opportunities to test and we were working hard. We didn’t expect miracles that everything would work right the first time we tried it.
How did Ewing handle a failure when say for instance the batteries had failed so often and the results were —
Well we didn’t know what was failing. We would all try to figure out what was failing. The motors we used for puffing the oscillograph paper were little electric train motors which was all we could get at the time. And we all figured that those motors weren’t really strong enough to pull the paper when everything had cooled down to zero degrees. Those instruments would be at zero degrees when they’d come back on the ship after being in the bottom for so long. They would be essentially almost at freezing temperature and all the stuff inside would be almost at freezing temperature. The oils would be stiffened up and that. We figured that it was those train motors which were just marginal about puffing the paper in room temperature, and at ocean bottom temperature it didn’t cut it. We were wrong. It was the batteries that were wrong. We never thought to argue whether Burgess batteries were better than Eveready or vice a versa. Shows you the kind of little things that trip you up.
Oh indeed. Did you have a chance to test any of that equipment in freezing temperatures?
No. We had no refrigerator, no access to a refrigerator. There was no way we could test it except at room temperature. And they would work fine at room temperature.
Did Ewing play a very active role in trying to diagnose it or did he delegate that out to you?
No. We all worked as hard as we could at it. He would give his opinion, Vine would give his opinion, I’d give my opinion. Of course his weighed larger. But by and large we were pretty much of a mind about these things. Which is probably too bad. If we hadn’t — If some of us would say maybe it’s the battery instead of the motors maybe we would have gotten ahead faster. Who knows?
Did you feel free to raise your point of view with Ewing in those days or was it?
Oh absolutely. We could say anything we wanted. He was more logical in his thinking than all the rest of us so he’d usually be able to shoot us down by his logic being better than ours usually. So normally he would win the argument. But he would perfectly well listen to anybody. And he would try to analyze it along with his own.
Of those early efforts, these were by and large day trips out into the —
No, these were two week trips out when they would give us a day to do our.
This was when you were on the Woods Hole ship. Okay so you were on the leg of the —
It would be on somebody else’s leg and they would give us a day and then later on they’d give us another day.
Who else would be? Do you recall particularly who else was sailing with you?
There were various projects that were going on at Woods Hole and they would pile on as many as they thought they could get into a leg. And Bill, oh he was later the treasurer of the Woods Oceanographic. I can’t think, his first name is Bill [?]. Anyway he was an expert in sharks and he would be doing various experiments with sharks including catching them and measuring them and doing things. Another guy was a specialist in plankton. He would pull plankton net and see what plankton he got at different locations. Others would be specialists in a particular kind of fish and he would see if there were any larvae of that particular kind of fish in a trewl that they made. And various things like that. One of the standard measurements that were made in those times were temperature versus depth. They would stop the ship and put down water bottles that would reverse and that would record the temperature and the pressure and you’d read those and make temperature/depth measurements.
Did you have enough time free time on the ships to begin to learn directly about these other styles?
Well you inevitably learned a lot about them because you were just shipmates with them and you’d see what people were doing and you’d talk to them. Why are you doing this, why are you doing that? But since most of them were biological or chemical they weren’t of too much interest to us so it wasn’t a very active thing. It was just sort of a passive thing since you were shipmates with them you’d talk to them.
You would talk to them. It would be what you learned over dinner out on the ships. How long did those legs last?
Two weeks usually. And that means two days getting out to deep water from Woods Hole and two days getting back in from deep water so four days are gone of fourteen. You got ten days for the whole cruise for whatever you’re going to do in the cruise and frequently one of the temperature things needed to get to a particular station which they called station C which was halfway between the continental shelf south of Woods Hole and Bermuda. And that would take another day of travel. So that would be three to six days of travel in a two week trip, when those measurements were going to be made. And there were things like that that were going on.
Given how careful Ewing was with his time, how did he handle the time that he wasn’t actively experimenting on those days?
Well, on crossing the shelf he had us build an underwater camera and start taking underwater pictures like that.
That was already of course in play by 1940. Right.
Since we didn’t have too much to do while we were going out and coming back when across the shelf we took pictures. And the way we’d take those pictures, we had a camera like a pogo stick. You’d hit bottom and take a picture.
And it would come up just a little ways and then go back down.
But in those days, twice was all. And so we’d bring — the ship would come to a halt, we’d lower the instruments down. So that it would be quick we’d have it just on a very light line and it had flotation so that it would float back to the surface after it completed its operation. It would go down and touch bottom and come up and touch bottom again, drop it ballast and come back to the surface and we’d pull it in by puffing in the fish line. Actually it was on a reel that worked like this.
Okay, you’re moving your arms on both sides.
Yes. It was a reel like a foot long on a side and so that one complete revolution you brought in two feet of line.
So you’d have handles on both sides.
And there was very little drag on it because the instrument was coming back to the surface and you only had to pull the line, which we called cod line, this is a line about an eighth of an inch in diameter, of like string. You would call it string on land. At sea they call it cod line. It’s what they used to catch cod.
You say the camera, was it actually built before you came on board the ship or did you design and built it through during the —
On the first cruise we used the camera, we built parts of it on the ship. The camera we used at that time we called the Pyrex Penis. It was a Pyrex tube that was about eight inches in diameter and probably four feet long and we put the camera in it. And that provided flotation and pressure casing for the camera. We put a piece of thick plate glass on the front cover of the Pyrex Penis. That’s so the camera could look out pointing down. And two electrical leads coming out of the camera would go to the flash bulbs. Four leads, well three leads, one to each flash bulb and a ground lead would go down to the two flash bulbs. One would flash and then there would be a sequencing switch that would switch to the other one after the first one had fired. And they’d take their two pictures and then they’d come back to the surface, dropping the ballast. Again, it was one of these cast iron pieces that we had made for the other floats. We used the same ones for this. This reflector you see in here.
Looking at the photo album.
Was made from a Maxwell House coffee can just cutting out a good part of the coffee can so that it acted as a reflector behind the light bulb.
Very interesting. That appears on opposite page 928 in “Recent Results of Submarine Geophysics” by Ewing, Woollard, Vine and yourself. Was this one of the first times that you had your own name on a publication or had you been publishing?
Your first actually appears in ‘43.
Well in ‘43 I published a manual for the Navy just on how to use an underwater camera. This is a different one than this one. One we had built for the Navy which we’ll get to later. But there was one previous publication on photography of the ocean bottom and this paper was the second one I’d been an author on.
Okay. I’m curious do you remember discussions with Ewing and others about undersea photography? Clearly there had been many in the community that have been reported who didn’t think it was worth the effort. I’m curious what you recall of discussions initially about this.
Nobody thought it was worth the effort. There would be no life on the bottom. There would be nothing to photograph since the ocean was a placid place that nothing happened to. So much for that. There’s marks in some deep water. We had pictures of fish caught on fishing lines that happened to get into our field of view. We had pictures of all kinds of critters on the bottom. In fact one of the early results of the underwater photography work was that you practically couldn’t take a picture of the bottom that didn’t have life or evidence of life in it. So they had to completely revise their notion about life in the ocean because of the underwater photography we were doing.
That must have been very interesting the first time you saw the photographs coming back from the bottom.
Well we didn’t know what to think about them. At the time we just wanted to get good pictures.
What were the most difficult aspects of doing underwater photography?
The most difficult aspect was to make an electrical switch that would work when it hit bottom.
That was the weak link.
That was the weak link. And that was not solved until about two or three years after we moved to Columbia — we finally solved that problem.
So it remained difficult then through the into the late 1940s.
Yes. The way we tried to do it in these days was to have a toggle switch connected to a weight that had a spring in the toggle switch so that when the weight was released the toggle switch would turn up. The toggle switch wouldn’t work exposed to the ocean and wouldn’t work if it were just in a rubber sleeve because the rubber sleeve would just fill in all the pieces around the toggle switch under pressure and jam it up. So you had to put oil in around the switch so that the rubber wouldn’t get in amongst the switch. And to seal it so that the oil didn’t get out in the air was — we found it very difficult.
That’s putting it mildly I suspect.
And so that you could also put something connected to the toggle switch that would hold. All these things made very difficult problems. We didn’t solve this until we were at Columbia and Dr. Ewing said one day we’ve got to find a better switch for the underwater camera. And he said it’s your job and pointed to me.
Did you get a lot of those jobs?
I got a lot of those jobs.
More than Vine? How did that tend to work among those of you who were in Ewing’s circle?
During the war years Vine got involved in the submarine bathythermograph equipment and Ewing and I worked together on various things. So I was working more closely with Ewing than Vine was in those years. When Ewing left Woods Hole in February of 1946 and left me to tidy up all the last minute details of the SOFAR work and he came back in the summer of ‘46 and we did work at sea. Again I worked closely with him but Vine was working on his submarine bathythermograph stuff so he had more or less separated from the group, so I was getting the problems and Vine not.
Let me go back to 1940 for a moment. Did you have any other considerations for graduate school at that time that because of the war or other factors you couldn’t pursue?
Well I had obtained a scholarship I guess you could call it at Lehigh. I got my bachelor’s degree in June of 1940 and I received a —
And that was the B.S. in Engineering Physics?
Right. And I received a scholarship for tuition for Lehigh for that fall. I didn’t take it up for the reason that we got involved in war work at Woods Hole.
This would have been though intended for a master’s at —?
Well, graduate work. Well as far as I was concerned it was for a Ph.D. but maybe I couldn’t make it who knows?
No I didn’t mean to — I wasn’t sure of what was being offered in the graduate programs at Lehigh at that time. I didn’t mean to be limiting.
Well no they were offering a master’s degree or doctor’s degree. Take what you wanted and it was my intention to go on to a doctor’s degree because I liked the work I was doing and to be somebody in the field you had to have a doctor’s degree.
No absolutely. I didn’t mean to cast any aspersions. I just had thought that Lehigh wasn’t giving a Ph.D. at the time and I stand corrected. So you were thinking then to stay at, before the war interfered, to stay at Lehigh to work under Ewing and pursue the Ph.D. there? That’s clear. Okay. Had you thought though about going anywhere else or did the challenge of working with Ewing seem paramount.
I just wanted to continue working. We had worked on this ocean bottom seismograph work and we looked like we were close to the answer and now was the time to stay with it, not jump to something else.
How well by the time you got your bachelor’s did you know about the other centers where work dealing with the oceans was being done particularly?
You had certainly a bit of contact with them.
There was no geophysics being done at Woods Hole. To my knowledge there was none going on at Scripps and there wasn’t any place else but Woods Hole and Scripps at the time.
Did you have any contact with any of the people at Harvard which had been one of the centers that at least looked at solid earth geophysics in the 1930s?
No really. Ewing had worked with [Lewis D.] Leet.
Don Leet up there. And they had had a bad falling out over something. I don’t know what. And Ewing never had a good word to give for Leet and Leet never had a good word to give for Ewing. In fact he tried to ruin Ewing’s career several times. So he must have felt he was wronged more than Ewing thought he was. Whatever it was. But at any rate for that reason we had no essentially no contact with Harvard.
Leet’s issue poisoned the relationship in essence with others like [Percy] Bridgman of course doing the high pressure work. [Francis] Birch was coming on as his graduate student and mentor.
Well we would meet Birch at the meetings and discuss various problems because Birch was working in high pressure and we were working in pressures of the order of ten thousand pounds per square inch which was small potatoes to what they were working in. [Interruption]
The reason I was asking was just simply to see if Ewing had built any bridges that you felt were significant to any other academic centers besides obviously his main connection into Woods Hole.
Not really, no. He had a contact from Yale about moving from Lehigh to Yale just before World War II. If he had it would have posed me a problem about what to do. I would have wanted to move to Yale to be with him but I would be nearly finished at Lehigh. Well at anyhow apparently Leet poisoned the contact and it never matured.
He always blamed Leet whether he had any reason to or not I don’t know.
Do you remember who it was at Yale who was trying to make the transaction?
No. I was not involved in it. Just them contacting Ewing. Do you want to come and bring some students with you and start up a — that kind of a deal. He had all the contacts and so on.
So in 1940 you did see as you said the bottom seismograph work progressing?
It worked one time but at least you felt that it was moving in the right direction.
We felt we were on the verge of it working. Now that we knew the problem was in the batteries, we would solve it. And we could be in business and we never had the opportunity.
When did you begin to sense that you were going to be on hiatus because of the pressure of war work? How quickly did that begin to affect you?
Well that gets to be a very complicated story. Next door to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution was a garage that had been set up by a rich man for his chauffeur when the rich man died. And part of the setting up of the garage involved buying him a large Leblonde Lathe which had about a fourteen inch swing which means the radius of fourteen inches could be turned and was about eight feet probably ten feet long. So this is a big lathe. Also a drill press that had a table that was about three feet in diameter and stood about ten feet tall and a milling machine, the Milwaukee Number Two Milling Machine, which is a machine that has a table this long and this wide and this tall and the whole machine is six feet tall and it’s a big machine. These three machines were part of the shop that a garage would need according to this rich man and he left it in his will.
Actually the machines had never been used by the garage, not even once. Never even been turned on even once while they were over there. The 1938 hurricane which incidentally we had been at sea in. We rode into Woods Hole on the forefront of that hurricane in 1938 and we docked at Woods Hole at eight o’clock in the morning and the hurricane hit there at two o’clock in the afternoon. And we sailed with the Atlantis sails fourteen knots in front of that hurricane with no engines just sails. We were going lickety split. It was great. It was real fun.
Had you any idea of the magnitude of storm coming at you?
No. We were just making great time. The wind was taking us home. We were getting home quickly. Everything was copasetic.
That was one of the major storms of that decade.
We were late to get to our classes at Lehigh and so Webster and I loaded up my car. I had a coupe, a Ford coupe at the time. We loaded up my car and we started for Bethlehem immediately. Doc and Vine were taking Floosey Belle and bringing the rest of the equipment that we used, and they were going to start later in the afternoon cause Ewing had to talk to the director who was Dr. Bigelow. Doc had had to talk to him. So he didn’t get to leave until the hurricane was hitting Woods Hole and so he had to go to Boston to meet somebody up in Boston about something and so he drove to Boston in the hurricane. We were driving down to New York through the hurricane. We got down somewhere near New London with a minimum of trouble. There were trees down and we’d have to drive around the trees. Or signs would blow across the road just before we’d get to them and we’d have to slow down to let them — One of the problems was that Webster who was with me had stepped on his glasses. He left them sitting by his bunk in the ship that morning and he’d stepped on his glasses, breaking them so he couldn’t see. He couldn’t do any driving. I had to do all the driving.
Anyhow we got down to about New London and then things got bad because the water was getting up over U.S. 1. U.S. 1 was the only route then. Well we’d come to some water and everybody’d be stopped and we’d go by and we’d cross the water and it would be up to about our axles and pretty soon everybody else would come and then they’d go gunning past us and come the next water and didn’t know what to do. Or sometimes it was a tree there across the road. Well the tree was small enough we’d just bounce over it and keep going. Or sometimes it was power lines lying in the road. Well we knew that the power lines couldn’t hurt us if they were under our rubber wheels so we’d go across the power line and all these other people were scared to death to do it until they saw we survived. And then they’d do it.
Well anyhow we kept going in this way and we got down to a town called Madison in Connecticut. And there the water had risen to such an extent that there was no hope of getting across. And that caused a real mess because Route 1 at that time was a lane in each direction. The lane we were in, we were about a mile from where the water had blocked the road, we stayed in line but then some wise guys behind started to pass going to the other lane. And they got up to the water and they stopped. The same thing happened on the other side of the water going the other way. So when the water went down they could only move about three cars into where the water had been and three cars from our side would move and then three from the other. It was like that. It took hours to break the jam up because they’d done this. If they’d stayed in line everybody could have gone through in an hour probably. But by this time it was — we had left at eight o’clock in the morning, by this time it was getting along towards suppertime. We hadn’t stopped for lunch because the weather was bad and we thought we ought to get on with it.
We were young then and we were getting awful hungry. When we got stopped we got stopped behind a Dugan truck. So we went to the Dugan truck and we knocked on the door and we bought a coffee cake and I don’t know two or three things like that. When people saw us walking off with this, pretty soon Dugan was sold out. But we had enough food to survive and we finally got past the water there about four o’clock the next morning. Stopped about eight at night and got by at four. And once we got passed that we quickly got out of any storm damage and went on our way without any problem. If we’d made it through that one spot, we could have gone right on in. We didn’t. Well at any rate that storm raised the water level in Woods Hole so that the water was up about this high on those machines.
You’re pointing to your waist as you’re standing there.
Yes, I’m pointing to my waist. Right. This meant that it was up to the table of the Milwaukee Miller and it was over the table on the drill press. It was up to a lot of the mechanism of the lathe and they had done nothing about it. So in 1940 we were aware that these machines existed and we needed machine tools to carry on with our work. And these were the best machine tools we could think of. So Vine went over and talked to the people in the garage and said, look here those tools are rusting away. They’re going to be valueless very shortly. Suppose we give you a hundred dollars for them. Well to make a long story short, they thought a hundred dollars was a windfall. We thought it was a windfall. So we paid them a hundred dollars for machines, had them loaded in a dump truck, and taken down to Lehigh.
This was in 1940. Before we sent them off we took off all the pieces that we thought might get damaged because they were sticking out in dangerous places. And we loaded all those pieces into Floosey Belle. Well Floosey Belle would probably handle a thousand pounds or something like this. We must have put three thousand pounds in her. It was sitting down, they had rubber bumpers that were supposed to hit the axle so that you didn’t hit a real solid thud. These were sitting solidly on the axle. And one of the things we took off was the lead screw on the lathe and we got this all packed up and there was just room for Ewing to get in and drive Floosey Belle back to Bethlehem. The rest of us were going in my car. And Vine said well there we got it packed and slammed that back door and the lead screw stuck out of a hole in the back window, about an inch in diameter by about an inch. No I’m totally wrong. Vince and I were going in Floosey Belle and Ewing was coming down in my car. And we left Woods Hole and he had business to do with the director. Well at that time Columbus Iselin had just been made director and we didn’t know it but he and Columbus were talking about World War II which was underway and it was pretty clear to those of us in the research business that we were going to get into the World War, and that there would be research programs going on and we wanted to be part of them. So they were discussing this. But at the time Vine and I didn’t know it.
We went to Lehigh and the truck with all of the equipment came and it was unloaded into our lab at Lehigh and we took them all apart, cleaned all the rust off, put oil or grease on everything and put them in good shape and put them back together again. And we were trying to decide how we could put them in the room and still have any room left to work when Vine got a telephone call from Ewing. He was still at Woods Hole. He said, there’s going to be research work going on relative to the war in the U.S. and Woods Hole is going to be a part of it and I’m going to take a leave of absence from Lehigh and be a part of it here at Woods Hole and there is room for you guys down there if you want to come. So Vine brought this message down and we discussed it, probably half an hour. Called him back and said we’re coming.
Was there any doubt on your part?
There wasn’t any doubt, really. So we hired a dump truck, put all these machines back in the dump truck, brought them back to Woods Hole. But not only them but we put in all of the equipment that was geophysical equipment that we had at Lehigh. And while we were loading it, we got a messenger from the president of the university asking Vine to come to him and talk to him and Vine did. And he came back and he said, the president says that we cannot take any of the equipment that belongs to Lehigh with us to Woods Hole because Lehigh is not in the business of loaning equipment to eleemosynary institutions like the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts or the U.S. Government. Well this soured me on Lehigh for a long, long time. They got no contributions from this alumnus for many, many years.
It also soured Vine. Vine at that point had essentially finished all his course work for a Ph.D. and was scheduled in the early fall to come up for his orals and then he’d only have the research project to do to finish. Well at any rate, apparently Ewing called up at Lehigh and made arrangements to take a leave of absence without pay and they seemed quite glad to do that. And I guess they figured they were going to have fewer and fewer students and they were going to have trouble making out so they were glad that somebody was leaving. And I gave up my fellowship and Vine just dropped what he was doing.
There wasn’t much equipment. I told you the president said we couldn’t take any of Lehigh’s the with us. There wasn’t much equipment that belonged to Lehigh that we had. Just a few things. Most of the things we had we had bought on our Geological Society grant. But there were a few things that belonged to Lehigh. So we took them off and we left them in our laboratory.
What things were left at Lehigh?
Just a few geophysical tools that we had made or purchased like the Schmidt magnetic balance. None of the stuff that we left at Lehigh has ever been seen since as far as we could ever find out. Nobody knew what happened to it, where it went or anything. Which is just what we forecast would happen. If we had taken it, we’d have kept track of it up at Woods Hole and it would have been available to go back to Lehigh, if they wanted it, at the end of the war. So he didn’t accomplish what he wanted anyhow. But anyhow we drove back to Woods Hole. Meanwhile this dump truck with the machine tools came back to Woods Hole and they were unloaded and put in the basement of Woods Hole in a small room that was just big enough to carry the three machine tools; and that was the basis of the first machine shop that the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution ever had. Those three machines. And they built all the early equipment that we built during the war on those three machines and they were very crucial tools in what we did. We went to work, this was in September now, we’re talking.
Of 1940. And Ewing and Iselin and I went to work on sound in sea water.
You’re pulling out a Xerox in this case “Sound Transmission and Sea Water: The Preliminary Report”, dated February 1, ‘41. It took a hundred and fifty copies, a little bit hard to read. Clearly the military was very interested in the sound transmission work in that period.
The military had made some sound transmission runs and they couldn’t understand what happened. They had the data. They couldn’t understand it. Columbus Iselin had been a part of that operation. So when we came to Woods Hole he set Ewing and I and himself to work on that data. Well pretty soon Ewing wrote about the physics of transmission of sound in the water which we had largely learned about because of the seismic refraction work that we’d been doing and the sound paths that had traveled between that we needed to solve for learning about the distance between the shot and the receiver and the time instant. We’d learned all a large part about the physics of the sound transmission for our own purposes and we translated it into a form which would be useful to ships that were sending sound out nearly horizontally. The usual physics that you deal with sound everything works relative to the vertical.
But you’re talking about the horizontal.
Horizontal. So everything that was sine in the regular physics becomes cosine in our work. So we had to change it and change all the physics to read for nearly horizontal sounds so that it would be understandable to people who didn’t know physics but did know good —
You needed to make it operational.
Essentially operational, you got it. That’s right. And again I drew most of the diagrams that appear in this report and I did most of the calculations that were done. For instance this one diagram here which is the sound velocity, these lines of equal sound velocity versus the salinity of the sea water and temperature of the sea water are plotted. This one is on top of that one actually. We had to split it in half to get it on a page comfortably. But in order to plot those we had to plot ten thousand points.
This was empirically determined?
No it’s determined from the physics of the chemistry of the water. But it’s not a simple equation that you could just write the equation and draw the line.
This is what requires the complicated plotting.
You had to do the ten thousand calculations. Well this diagram as it was plotted was probably four feet long and about four feet high. And I started plotting, I had calculated all the points and I started plotting the points. We went out to supper and came back to Woods Hole, to the institution, about six-thirty or seven I started plotting the points. Well Ewing came in and saw what I was doing and you know it was tedious to find the position on the data, get the values, come over to the graph, find the position on the graph, mark the point, go back and — Well this was obviously tedious and so he sat down and started helping me and we finally finished plotting it at six o’clock the next morning and he turned around to me and he looked at me and he said, you know Worzel if you hadn’t finished this by yourself by midnight I would have given you hell.
This says something about Ewing’s style.
That’s it exactly. He meant it too and he would have. Well at any rate Columbus wrote about the oceanography that was going on in the situation and we wrote about the sound transmission. See I had to calculate these curves that was the theoretical transmission and this was what actually happened and the difference was due to the sound structure of the water that caused these to be actually shadow zones where there was thirty db loss in the shadow zone you see.
But there were also other factors including the nature of the sea floor, did it not?
No. Normally this would be being done in deep water so the sea floor didn’t get involved in it. But it showed that there were shadow zones, there were layers that a submarine could hide under or if it was above that layer, it could be detected. And that was the key that got Vine working on the submarine side of it to guide the submarines and where they could hide from the enemy or where they could go up and detect the enemy.
I’m just curious as you say this story, was it primarily that Ewing and Columbus Iselin and others including yourself recognized the military implications and helped persuade the military that this was worth funding or was it the military’s own scientific personnel who also recognized this as an issue?
No. Columbus had participated in the measurements that were here and they couldn’t explain and he brought it up to Ewing. And Ewing said, well we can explain this that it was just simple physics. I can write out the physics and we can go demonstrate it. Then it’s important to use the information to write down the kind of oceanography that leads to sound channels, back shadow zones so forth and that’s the kind of thing that Columbus knew about. So he wrote the oceanography of it. Ewing wrote the physics of it. And I did most of the calculations and the drafting in the thing.
How much of a connection did Ewing have to military authorities at that period of time?
I meant in terms of navy scientists. It really was not developed at all.
None. This is when we started.
I’m just curious if there had been anything —
Columbus had had contact with them because he had helped make the rapper range runs and the intensity measurements. And he posed the problems. He realized that we’d been dealing with the physics of sound in the sea and that maybe we could explain these things and we showed we could. Well anyhow this manual we wrote by December — typed the first copies up by December. And I said we didn’t have a contract with the NDRC.
You had mentioned this at first at lunch. And you were up there from September until December without a contract?
Without a contract. We wrote this manual and in that period, also, Vine and Ewing had redesigned the bathythermograph. Now the bathythermograph was a machine that would measure continuously temperature versus depth. And as it was originally built by [Athelstan] Spilhaus it had some sample bottles so you could take like ten samples of water to measure the salinity.
But its response time was fairly slow.
But its response time was infinitely slow. You would have to set it down there and wait five minutes for it to come to temperature and then go to the next stage and wait five minutes and so on. This was totally unacceptable to use this information. So Vine and Ewing redesigned the instrument. A, so that it would sink quickly into the water by just slacking cable it would sink rapidly into the water. And that it would have a response time that was quick enough to measure the temperature as it sank. It turns out that the salinity doesn’t vary much in the deep ocean not enough to make much difference to the sound at any rate. So that temperature and depth were the crucial quantities that needed to be known, so they redesigned the instrument to have ninety percent of its response in a tenth of a second instead of ninety percent of its response in five minutes which is quite a change. And made it as a diving instrument. You’ve see a picture of it.
Indeed I’ve seen models of it.
Maybe seen the models. Well anyhow they redesigned this and part of my other part of my duty in this period was to build these the way they redesigned them. They designed the parts and Vine would help me set up the lathe and whatever we needed to do the work so that they would turn out mass produced so that everything fit everything else and so forth. And I turned out the first ten bathythermographs by the first of January, still in this period when we didn’t get paid.
How did you survive without having been paid for that long?
We each had some money in our pockets when we got to Woods Hole. We made an arrangement with Al [Alfred?] Woodcock, who was an employee of Woods Hole at the time, to live in his house and to pay him rent for our living in his house — He was a bachelor living alone. He had a five room house. Actually he couldn’t wait until he got us out of his house when we finally did get some money because we were an awful lot of nuisance to him. We would be using the kitchen when he might want to have used the kitchen. We drank and he didn’t drink. Well Vine didn’t drink but Ewing and I did. And you know generally we were a nuisance to him. Probably we left the house messier than he wanted it. Who knows.
But at any rate, he let us live rent free for that time so all we needed was money for food. We had enough clothes to last us for three months. So all we needed was a little money for food. Well we passed the money back and forth amongst us. Mostly we had breakfast and lunch, sandwiches or something, over at Woodcock’s place. We’d pick up some things at the store and eat over there, and then for dinner we’d go over to Falmouth and have a meal over there in the evening. And so we’d pass the money back and forth until we ran out of money.
Well, Columbus Iselin was by then the director the Institution and he managed to scrounge around and find a thousand dollars for the three of us as a grant that could help us out in this period. With that thousand dollars and what we had in our pocket we survived until there was a contract to pay us which meant the end of January of course before we could get paid.
One other question I think deserves to be brought up at this time. Did you meet your wife Dorothy around this period of time?
Or was that later?
I do want to bring that up at a later point. Go ahead.
The next thing that happened was early in January, I believe it was, I was sent out on the Atlantis with some B/Ts [bathythermographs] to test them out and see if they would work. And this was a cruise out to Georges Bank that Dean Bumpus who was a biologist at the institution wanted to make the measurements about the reproduction of cod. Cod apparently laid eggs on Georges Banks and these eggs float back and forth on the banks and if they fall off the banks they go into deep water and never mature. Well he was studying what was going on in that situation. But because the bathythermograph was considered to be the prime problem, I was made chief scientist. I was twenty-one at the time. I was the youngest chief scientist they’d ever had on the Atlantis and Bumpus who was considerably older than I was, his work was secondary so he was junior to me. But he knew more about going to sea and everything like that but that’s neither here nor there. I was chief scientist. Vine and I also had, Jimmie cracked up a winch to lower the bathythermograph on.
I’m sorry, which Jimmie.
Just — I meant, Vine designed it and I made it. To take what we could get and make it. What we did was we took a DC motor which we could run from the Atlantis electric power and we put a V-pulley on the end of the shaft. We made the V-pulley, parts of the V-pulley, to separate so that when it separated the V-belt ran on the shaft of the motor. Well the shaft of the motor was coming in but we figured with no strain on the V-belt it would pay out nicely.
Turned out it was wrong. The V-belt could then turn the drum that had wire rope on it that was about a sixteenth inch in diameter, And we put that on the Atlantis and went to work. Well as I say, we found out soon — or I found out soon — that when we tried to pay it out it didn’t pay out very well because the motor moving in and the V belt having some rubber in it, rubbing on the shaft, would pay out but was reduced in speed by a lot and it made a long, long time to get the instrument to go down. And so I thought about this a while. There’s a bearing that they use on ships that’s called a cutlass bearing and what this is is if you have steel and a rubber and you keep it wet, it’s as good, almost as good a bearing as a ball bearing.
So realizing this, every time I’d go to lower the bathythermograph I would dip up a bucket of sea water from the ocean and dash it onto the winch. Well the captain of the ship thought this was hilarious; that the first thing you did to our instrument was to wet down your winch with sea water when all his life he had been trying to keep sea water off of winches. But it worked. And later what we did was we didn’t let it run on the shaft, we put a ball bearing on the shaft. And the belt ran on the ball bearing so it would pay out just as free as could be — in later winches not on that winch. That winch was scratched after this cruise.
But I lost my first instrument, the only bathythermograph I ever lost in that whole epic — well ever — was the first one I ever lowered. And that was because we didn’t understand the dynamics of how the boom worked on the ship. And we had the winch located forward of the pivot point of the boom that the bathythermograph was lowered from. And we paid the wire out to the sheave on the end of the boom and we could lower it. And we’d get it up to the surface and we’d bring it up to where the bathythermograph would hang maybe three feet under the sheave. Well at that point I would, in order to recover — the bathythermograph was six feet off the side of the ship so obviously I couldn’t reach it. So I would release the after gay and let the boom swing forward. When swinging forward with the winch forward and so forth, it would pay out more cable so the bathythermograph would be just hanging just above the top of the water. So I couldn’t reach it because it was too deep. So I’d go back to the winch and I’d pick up some cable and this went fine. I got the instrument back. I made the measurement and everything looked like it was great and then I put another slide in and swung the boom out and I had forgotten about the extra slack cable and this pulled the bathythermograph up solid into the block so that it was going like this. Wiggling from the wave motion and it fatigued the wire before I could get back to the winch and do anything and the B/T dropped off in the sea and was lost. First lost B/T and the only one I ever lost in my life.
That’s an educational experience.
Well I sat down and analyzed the situation, realized what the problem was and after that we always placed the winch in the line of the boom, and the gooseneck on the boom just above the wire and we always brought the boom — well we also fastened the guides at the same level as the gooseneck so that we could lift the boom up without loosening the guides and we could then lift it up and the B/T would swing in and we’d grab it and let the boom down again. And when we put the instrument over the side, we’d just get it all ready, hang it over the side as far out as we could reach and let it go and it would swing back and forth a little bit and we’d go back to the winch and lower it into the water.
And we learned about some of these things.
I wonder when you think back over the Woods Hole period, clearly you were involved in a great many activities during the war, continuing with the seismometer, the photography work which you documented quite well in a number of publications that were already out, the sound wave dispersion work that you continued to do with Ewing and Pekeris, the SOFAR work. What seemed to you to have the greatest influence, perhaps, when you then came to Columbia? What lines of research seemed to be the most promising, perhaps, in terms of the geophysical work that you wanted to pursue?
Well I guess what we called our tall “small print clause.” In one of the later contracts, this is several projects down from what I was just talking about. One of the contracts that was written probably it would be in ‘42 or ‘43 they had what we called the “fine print clause” which was a statement that Woods Hole will find out all there is to know about underwater sound and tell the navy. Well that still hasn’t been done by thousands of researchers. And Ewing and I were put on the project and we tried to find out what the problem was. What they were trying to solve. And they wouldn’t tell us. It was too classified to tell the people who were going to do the work.
Did you have a classification at security?
At that time I was cleared for confidential and Ewing was cleared for secret. But they claimed it was too classified even for that.
This would have been top secret.
I guess. We never knew. But anyhow we talked to them about what it was they wanted us to measure. After all you got to know what in heck you’re trying to do. And they wanted us to find four grossly different geological situations and to see what the sound did in those grossly different situations. And we kind of guessed what the problem was from little things, little bits of things we heard here and there and one thing and another.
What were you thinking it was at that time?
We were thinking that the Germans were blowing up our mine fields, our acoustic mine fields, using explosive sounds and our people couldn’t figure out how they were doing it. And this was in fact what was happening. And so we said we would go to Solomons, Maryland, which was a thick layer of mud, soft sediment. We’d go down and we’d do these measurements in ten fathoms and twenty fathoms, that was the range of depths that we were supposed to understand for them. So we would make a station in ten fathoms and another in twenty fathoms of the sound transmission in Solomons, Maryland, which was a muddy situation; Jacksonville, Florida, which was a sandy situation; the Virgin Islands, which was a hard rock with a slight covering of coral on top; Barbados, which was a lot of coral over sediment; and down off the mouth of the Orinoco River, which was very, very deep like fifteen thousand feet of sediment — Or we guessed it was like fifteen thousand feet of sediment, thick sediment situation which it turned out it was.
We went off and we started making these measurements and we found what they wanted to know. What these acoustic mines did is they had a device on the mine so that a water wave from an explosion wouldn’t set it off. And so we figured immediately well that was obvious the low frequency acoustic waves that traveled through the bottom traveled faster, they’d get there before the water could shut the mine off and boom it goes. And they would set off a whole mine field by setting off one explosion. The whole mine field would go up that our people spent days laying. But at any rate we made these measurements and we found the dispersion in the water wave and we turned that over to Pekeris for his analysis, his theoretical reasoning for, which he as I told you had already figured out. And we gave them the answer that they wanted and they adjusted their acoustic mines accordingly and the problem was solved.
But it took us four months to go down and make stations at ten and twenty fathoms at the various locations but we got out of it some refraction stations in a lot of places that we later published, well published in that memoir. So we got some research that we could publish at the end of the war. Probably that was the most important thing because it was right in line with the kind of things we were doing before the war and would be doing after the war. So that was probably the most important thing for us to do. I think the most important thing we did for the sound community was the sound channel. I guess you know that the Scripps people are laying on an experiment for about fifteen million dollars a year and it’s supposed to last for five years to measure the temperature of the ocean using the sound channel.
Indeed the one that Walter Munk has been promoting?
Right. Well that’s just using the technique we —
You had developed.
We explained. In fact we had made an attempt to do that, that kind of a thing, with our station in Bermuda at one time.
When Gordon [R.] Hamilton was running the station?
When Gordon Hamilton was at Bermuda. Gordon was having shots fired down off near the Bahamas at a location repeatedly month after month after month for more than a year. More than monthly like every two weeks for a whole year, something like that. And we didn’t have the ability to do what Walter’s got the ability to do now. There was no precise navigation so we couldn’t set off the bomb at a precise position. And while our hydrophone was at a precise position our shot wasn’t and so we couldn’t determine how accurate our distance was.
You had a macro version of the uncertainty principle in operation.
Yes you could say that.
I’m curious when you look back over the Woods Hole period, what taught you the most? What was the most helpful for you as part of an education, the experiments?
Well, I guess the whole experience of here’s a problem come up with a solution.
Working in an applied environment that the military sponsorship —
Here’s a problem the military wants an answer to, go find an answer. How to handle a thing like that. So I have basically become a problem solver ever since. And probably that hindered my career on the whole more than helped because I was good as a problem solver so I got to solve all the problems but other people got to use the technique and make the publication. I got to make sure the ships would work and all the equipment on them would work and then others would get to use it. And then I’d be already on the next problem of how do we get this to do and that to do. Well I still got the surface ship gravity meter work. But then that was basically stolen away by Lucian LaCoste.
That’s something I want to talk to you about in our next session. And of course you were very involved in administration.
Well not in Woods Hole.
Not in Woods Hole but in —
But in later years at Lamont I was.
But you were thinking particularly of the Woods Hole period and saying that about problem solving.
Yes. That’s what I learned the most out of the Woods Hole years was how to solve problems. One of the first problems in the post-war years for instance that I worked on was that Ewing was going out to the mid-Atlantic ridge on a cruise supported by the National Geographic Society. This was the first cruise he made after, —well, we had a year of doing that seismic work for the Geological Society of America. But the next year he went out to the mid-Atlantic ridge on the National Geographic cruise.
That was in 1947 as I recall?
Yes that would be right. And at that time we had learned that there had probably been turbidity currents in the ocean and that they traveled at remarkable speeds down the slopes, the continental slopes, which is still somewhat hard to believe. I mean you’re talking, when you’re talking about continental slopes everybody thinks of a precipice and in reality there like five to six degrees in slope. Which is slopes like about the steepest hills you expect your car to manage.
Pretty common along the interstate to see a sign five or six percent grade.
We’re talking about grades like that or what the slope. Well the sediment sliding down this still got up to speeds like a hundred knots. Awful damn fast. But it’s still a little hard to believe but we’ve got evidence that it’s true. It does. So we knew the abyssal plains existed out there but the question was how flat were they and how level were they? And all the sounders that existed stopped making records at two thousand fathoms. You could read them visually and make a record on the data but you can’t do that for very long in a row no matter how many people you get on it, you just can’t do that for long. We did it once. We made an attempt at it once when we crossed the Hudson submarine canyon mouth out at about two thousand fathoms. We started recording about an hour before we got to the canyon and across the canyon. And it was not a very satisfactory record. You got so many side echoes coming in and you couldn’t tell which was side echo and which was fundamental and so forth. You had to make decisions quickly and so you picked something and so you got all kinds of mess going on.
Not to mention personal equation factors going in.
Personal equations and all that sort of thing. And people getting tired doing this or paying attention to that little red spot going around in a circle. All these things were kind of tedious. Well anyhow Ewing got the electronic people at Woods Hole to go to work and see if they could change the sounder so it would make a record deeper than two thousand fathoms, say two to four thousand fathoms. And they went and spent a day looking at the machine and they came back and said there’s no way to do it. So Ewing turned to me and he said go do it.
By now this is the pattern.
This was the pattern. So I went out and I looked at the machine and I found that the thing that sends the ping was a micro-switch that operated on a swinging arm that went around the machine. Let’s say the micro-switch was here. This would be zero fathoms and it would record down to two thousand fathoms and then it would turn off so it wouldn’t make a mess of the electrical equipment inside the machine. So all you had to do was have a micro-switch, similar micro-switch at a position equivalent to two thousand pounds earlier and a system for turning the electronics on when it got to the second micro-switch and then turn it off. Well it actually wasn’t hard to do at all. All you had to do was mount a micro-switch up there and it had to have a little adjustment so you could move it back and forth a little. And so in about two hours I came back and said it’s fixed. And he looked at me, what? I said it’s ready. You can record now from two to four thousand fathoms or from zero to two thousand fathoms. And he went off to the mid-Atlantic ridge and it worked fine. Except, it then turns out that there’s a lot of ocean that’s a little bit lower than two thousand and drops deeper and then it gets shallower and deeper.
You have a discontinuous record.
You’d have a discontinuous record at around two thousand fathoms because you want it — it would jump from one scale to the other. But anyhow they used it for that trip. And there isn’t very much water about two thousand fathoms anyway so that wasn’t such a bad thing. The other bad feature of the machine was that it was a rotating arm and so the record was a portion of a circle. So all of the structure was curved like that, a peak would look like that.
You’re holding your hands like a steeple straight up. You’re leaning to the side.
And curved and bending.
That was not very nice. So as a result of that later Ewing wanted to put on the requirements to one of the other fellows to build a rectilinear recording instrument so it would be straight. And then there was another problem that turned up from that instrument and what we called 60-cycle peaks. The speed of the arm that rotates was controlled by the 60-cycle current on the ship and the 60-cycle current on the ship fluctuated from what was being turned on and off on the ship and also what the engineer was doing to the generator down in the engine room. So you’d have a flat area and then there’d be a peak which was just the 60 cycles varying. And so you had no way to say how flat or how level a surface was even after we had it recording at those depths. So the other requirement that he put on it was to build a machine that was not only rectilinear but that it would be controlled by some kind of a timing circuit that was not a function of the frequency of the generator. And he set Bernie [Bernard] Luskin to work on that. And the first one Bernie made was a system — Well he also wanted to expand the scale because its Original scale that was two thousand fathoms, about eight inches was two thousand fathoms, and that didn’t give you much precision. So he wanted something like that for two hundred fathoms.
You’re pointing at about maybe sixteen inches.
About sixteen inches or eighteen inches for two hundred fathoms and with overlapping scales so that you didn’t jump back and forth from one scale to another. Well Bernie built a machine that worked with an array of relays. And you can probably see where this is heading because relays become computers. But he built one and was working on these relays and to work the relays properly he had to have amplifiers and for amplifiers he had to have, let’s see, I guess it was two hundred seventy volts for the plate voltage on the amplifiers. So this meant he had a bunch of these forty-five volt batteries that were about eight inches, ten inches long and maybe four inches wide and six inches tall. So he had to have a bank of those to have his four hundred and fifty volts. And he needed two banks of these because he had two amplifiers in the system somehow. I don’t know. So we took this out on the Vema shortly after we had the Vema.
So we’re now talking about 1953 or thereabouts?
Yes. And we put it in the chart room on the Vema. The chart room was such that when we hit a stormy area down somewhere near Bermuda and the waves would come over the rail and hit the door of the room and the water would come sneak around the door and put a couple of inches of water on the floor of the chart room. The drain didn’t work very fast. Later we found out it was partly clogged. But it didn’t work very fast so the water wouldn’t drain fast and here were these forty-five volt batteries sitting in sea water and we couldn’t have that. So Bernie would kind of pick up one bunch of the batteries and I would pick up the other bunch of batteries and hold them in our hands to keep them out of the sea water and hold them like this and we had a dust pan that we push the water out the door because it wouldn’t go down the drain. [laughs] So we spent a whole night doing that which was not a way that you’d like to spend the night.
No, to put it mildly.
This is typical of the problems we had in the early days. You know we didn’t have money to build a rack to put the batteries up off the floor. Probably at that time we weren’t smart enough that we knew we had to put them up off the deck.
Well as you say a lot of this was a learning experience because you couldn’t look at other laboratories or other facilities and ask them how have you done these things.
And we had limited experience at sea ourselves. And a lot of our experience had been over the side not in board with delicate equipment and equipment that can’t stand salt water.
We’re getting near the point where — and I think we better save discussion of Ewing’s call to and acceptance of the call to Columbia until when we begin tomorrow. But let me ask one final question. During the war as you were working increasingly with the military, particularly navy folks, on problems that were clearly of military interest, how well trained did you find those who needed to understand acoustic problems or physical problems concerning the sea? Did you find that they were on the whole fairly well trained?
Well, none of them knew anything about the sea basically; to start with. They became naval officers by going to boot camp and that sort of thing. All of those people had very little training. Now because it was a draft situation there were lots of intelligent people involved both as GIs and as officers. So you could usually find somebody who could understand what you’re doing and most of them wanted to understand, wanted help, weren’t at all sure that a scientist could help them but they wanted help and so they would do their best to try to help. The officers would often assign people who they thought could understand what you were trying to tell them. They tried hard and we tried to simplify everything — they didn’t know how the physics worked and so forth. We didn’t worry about whether they knew that. We just wanted them to know what operations they needed to do and why they needed to do it.
We tried to simplify everything as much as we could to the point that the general people could understand it that were reasonably intelligent people but not specially trained. And it was amazing how much you could get through to those people. They wanted help. And after they got over the feeling that well they used to call us wamps and various derogatory names much as they do today. When you read these books, these pocket books, they always talk about the computer weenies and names like that, you know, are sort of derogatory but they really are names that are saying that these guys are awful damn smart and I can’t keep up with them. That’s really what they’re saying but they don’t realize it.
That’s a good way to put it.
But they had a lot of names like that for us but once they realized that we could help them to do something they would do anything in the world to help us. And trust built both ways.
Are you thinking of any one person or group of people in particular?
No. We were consistently, throughout the war, being thrown with new people. People we’d never seen before. A lot of old people we would recycle through. See somebody that we’d dealt with on some other problem earlier and that sort of thing. But mostly it was new people you were running into all the time.
And, as I say, tomorrow we will continue particularly on your early training at Columbia, the development at Lamont and the early years at Lamont.
There are some things about underwater photography during the war that might be of interest.
Fine. We’ll make sure that we cover that as well. But first let me thank you very much for this long session that we’ve had today.