Notice: We are in the process of migrating Oral History Interview metadata to this new version of our website.
During this migration, the following fields associated with interviews may be incomplete: Institutions, Additional Persons, and Subjects. Our Browse Subjects feature is also affected by this migration.
Please contact [email protected] with any feedback.
This transcript may not be quoted, reproduced or redistributed in whole or in part by any means except with the written permission of the American Institute of Physics.
This transcript is based on a tape-recorded interview deposited at the Center for History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics. The AIP's interviews have generally been transcribed from tape, edited by the interviewer for clarity, and then further edited by the interviewee. If this interview is important to you, you should consult earlier versions of the transcript or listen to the original tape. For many interviews, the AIP retains substantial files with further information about the interviewee and the interview itself. Please contact us for information about accessing these materials.
Please bear in mind that: 1) This material is a transcript of the spoken word rather than a literary product; 2) An interview must be read with the awareness that different people's memories about an event will often differ, and that memories can change with time for many reasons including subsequent experiences, interactions with others, and one's feelings about an event. Disclaimer: This transcript was scanned from a typescript, introducing occasional spelling errors. The original typescript is available.
In footnotes or endnotes please cite AIP interviews like this:
Interview of J. Lamar Worzel by Ronald Doel on 1996 January 3, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/6914-2
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
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.
You had mentioned at the end of the tape yesterday there were two developments that you wanted to make sure that we covered that we haven’t spoken about yet.
One was about underwater photography, the first one. And early on we were contracted to see if we could use underwater photography to help discover mines in mine fields in the ocean. One of the kinds of mines were magnetic mines so we built a camera which was powered by elastic bands instead of things that had any magnetic materials in them. [Interruption] And so we got it working and took some pictures with it. It was long like this.
You’re holding your hands at about three and a half foot.
Yes. It was long because of the elastic bands to provide power it was supposed to take a series of pictures in a sequence. And so we were sent to the Solomons Islands, Maryland where they had some dummy mine fields to make an effort to see what we could see in the mine fields. Well the night before we were supposed to meet the navy people for the demonstration, the group of us on the ship didn’t have much to do so we were playing a little penny ante poker on the ship. And about nine o’clock I said well I guess I ought to go up and make a final check on the camera. And I tripped the camera and the whole thing flew into pieces. It was all soldered together and apparently one soldering joint gave way and
And all the bands.
Well that overloaded all the other soldered joints and all the soldered joints went flying out and there I was nine o’clock at night with a mess of parts and we were supposed to start at six the next morning and my camera was disintegrated.
What did you do?
Well I sat down with a soldering iron. Soldered it all back together and got it working again about one o’clock is what I did. And we made our attempt the next day which in my view was a futile attempt because the visibility in the water was so poor that we just couldn’t see enough to do them much good. And I figured it was a total loss but we got one of the highest letters of commendation from the Navy from that experiment although they never adopted anything about trying to do a camera survey of the mine fields.
At that time how serious was the mine problem? Was it a potential problem or had it become an actual problem.
No it had become a problem and they were seeking ways to detect particularly magnetic mines at that time. But later on it was lots of other kinds. But the magnetic mines were the big bugaboo of World War II as far as I know. They hadn’t learned to degauss ships and so they were trying to detect magnetic mines and as I say basically it was a failed effort because the visibility in the water was like nine or ten feet. And so you’d cover about ten feet square of the bottom and that just isn’t much to look at when you’re looking at a mine field several miles on a side. So as I say we got a good commendation but no results.
Did you repeat that later?
No this was never repeated. They just let it drop and we let it drop. But we got a request from them a few days later, a few weeks later. I’m not sure of the time. But they sent us a device they called a hydrofoil. This was a section like an airplane wing that was supposed to be towed by a ship and since it had the basic structure of an airplane wing it had a downward force that was to give you a small wire angle. And they wanted us to put a camera in it and photograph the bottom from a ship underway with the hydrofoil under tow. We were told that they knew all about how to tow it and so forth. It arrived with no instructions whatever. We waited a week or ten days and we got nothing. We called them up and said where instructions were. They said oh nobody knows how to tow it.
You’re left to your own devices.
So we were left to our own devices. And we had to cut a hole. It had framework in it and we had to cut a hole in one of the frameworks and put a plexiglass lid over it and we put a dozen photo flash bulbs in there so that we could take a dozen pictures. And then another bay we opened up so that we could take the camera out facing the bottom. So that was all the photographic deals. Then we had to run an electrical cable up the towing cable — or separate from the towing cable I guess we did it — towing back and so forth to operate the camera and down in the hydrofoil we had put a selector switch with light bulbs for it. We spent about a week and we built a bridle that we could adjust the cable length in fractions of an inch if we wanted to or feet if we needed to, back and forth. And we finally found a way to tow it as economically as we could and that was with about forty-five degree towing angle in the water which was pretty good. Then there was a problem of how far is it off the bottom. In those waters up there in Woods Hole we could get no more than about ten feet off bottom and photograph the bottom.
Because of the illumination.
Because of the clarity of the water. There’s enough life in the water that the water has a lot of scatterers in it. And so you can’t get too far away or you’d just get scattered light. Like you’re photographing a fog. So then we had some Rochelle salts which are — what are they called now? Anyhow, they’re crystals that when the acoustic pressure hits them they converted it into electrical signals. Anyhow I took four Rochelle salts crystals and mounted them in a little round brass tube and put some oil around them and then rubber diaphragms on the two ends. A little cylinder it was. And mounted that in the hydrofoil. Brought a couple of leads up to the ship from that. So we had leads from the camera, and leads from the hydrophone. We took an oscillograph and put it on the ship and used the ship’s sounder which was 20 kilohertz at that time to be sounding all the time that we were towing the hydrofoil and the down going signal would record on the hydrophone and then the signal that had hit bottom and returned to the hydrofoil. Allowing for the forty-five degree angle and would do a little jig figure. We were able to organize it so a tenth of an inch of space between the down going sound and the echo on the oscillograph was one foot off bottom. So we could just move the hydrofoil up or down as we needed. And so while we were towing the hydrofoil we had one man on the winch and I was looking at the oscilloscope and I would tell them up a foot, down two feet and whatever as the bottom varied.
And the response time was sufficient for you to do this?
Yes the bottom, in the areas where we towed it doesn’t change that rapidly. And in fact we didn’t find any place where it changed that rapidly even on slopes. The slopes in the ocean are very small in general. The biggest one I ever found in all the work that I’d done was off the Bahamas we found a forty-five degree slope. That was the greatest slope we ever ran into. Most of them were five degrees or less. Well this gave you plenty of time to adjust. It was sort of a continuous thing every five minutes you’d make a change. And we took a series of photographs of the bottom and sometimes — they weren’t particularly significant photographs except they did find accumulations of shell fish that the biologists felt were unbelievable. There were so many shell fish. One was on top of another. And another time we were photographing a bed of star fish where the star fish were so numerous there were three levels of star fish one on top of the other.
Just everywhere in the picture were these starfish piled up one on top of the other. I don’t know whether they were mating or whether they just found a hell of a good food supply or what. But they had congregated for some reason.
Right. And you would share these photographs with other than Woods Hole — biologists?
No. This was an era of classification.
I was going to ask you about that. I’m curious how the biologists came to become aware of what you were doing.
Well some of the pictures we could show but how we took them we couldn’t tell them anything about. We could show them the results but couldn’t tell them how, we took them. That was an interesting part of the Woods Hole years. The people on the third floor were studying explosives and we were using explosives and we never were able to work back and forth about what they were discovering and what we were discovering and actually there was some duplication. We found out after the war that we had done some things and they had done the same things in a slightly different way but got the same results. So there was duplication going on right even there locally. And the biologists were by and large in the second floor of the building called Bigelow Labs. That was the name of the –-
I had asked if that might be Bigelow, yes.
Yes: That was the original director. Well at any rate we wrote a report about the hydrofoil, about how to tow it and how to take pictures and how to organize to keep it off the bottom. We sent it to the Bureau of Ordinance. We never heard a word from them. And so we guessed, well, maybe they lost their interest in it or something. About eight months later the head of the division of the Bureau of Ordinance who was interested called us up and said, “Hey when are you ever going to send us a report on that hydrofoil?” We said we sent it to you eight months ago. We have a receipt for classified documents. And they had gotten it, filed it and nobody read it.
When was that when you got the call? Was that already in 1945? Or was it before then?
No, no. This would be about 1942.
Yes. At any rate they got out the report and they read it and about few days later they called up and said, we want someone to come down to Ft. Lauderdale and show our people how to do this. How to run it. Well we had made this special device that we could tow with that made it easy to adjust and we asked them if they had one. They didn’t. They didn’t even know what we were talking about and so we made another one. We kept the one we had for ourselves. And we made another one and I packed it up in my baggage and went to Ft. Lauderdale and went out on their ship and showed them how to adjust everything and how to tow it and how to take the pictures. They knew all about how to develop them and print them. And so that worked out pretty well and we never heard about it again. We don’t know whether they ever used it for anything or what happened. So it just disappeared from our ken. Again in those days the need to know was the requirement and we didn’t need to know what they were doing so they didn’t tell us so we don’t know what happened.
The important point is that after your development you were out of contact with whatever happened.
With the results, yes. And once you turned it over to them we didn’t have any I guess tasks any more to use our hydrofoil, and so far as I know it’s still at Woods Hole. I imagine it’s been chopped up since. But as far as I know it’s still sitting there.
That’s interesting. Was that technique that you developed later of use when you were at Lamont? Or did you not find it something that you could use?
Well just that in the sense that it was training for me to learn how to do things in the ocean. But that particular thing wasn’t. But much later in the drilling they used the same technique for stabbing the drill back into the drill hole. Of putting a hydrophone on the drill strings, or actually they put a transmitter of the drill string, and got reflections from corner reflectors on a big funnel that they placed in the original hole, and that would tell them relative to the funnel where the end of the drill string was. And they’d get it down near the funnel and then they’d move the ship around until it indicated it was over the funnel. The funnel was oh probably twenty to thirty feet in diameter at the top and of course it went down to an eight inch hole but in deep water the string will bend enough so that it would just slide down the funnel into the hole. So they used the same technique.
Was it JOIDES [Joint Oceanographic Institutions for Deep Earth Sampling] program that you’re referring to?
Yes. The next thing that happened in the photography business was that they asked us for a camera that divers could use. Well, what does that mean? The only camera we could find was a German camera that had a wind up mechanism on it like a clock spring and you could wind it up and it would take twenty-four pictures in a row. So we got that camera and built it in a case and made two distinct heads for the case, the pressure case. And this was to be used in less than a hundred fathoms of water so the pressure case didn’t have to be too sturdy. And so we built one pressure case and two different heads. One head was built so that the camera could be electrically triggered. So you’d have a wire or rope going into connect the electrical connectors that went through the head. The other was built with a mechanical system for triggering where you could fiddle with the mechanical system from the outside. And we actually put a trigger on it with the concept that a diver would be holding this camera in his hands and press the trigger with his thumb every time he wanted to take a picture. Then we decided well he’s got a lot to do with holding the camera and set up flash bulb so we better hang it around his neck. So we made a face plate that sat at his chest and was strapped to his body that would hold the camera and he could still have a couple of handles on it and he could aim it with his two hands if he wanted to or one hand as the case may be and he could flick the trigger with the other hand. And then we had another way where you could operate it as a pogo stick. You could drop it down and take picture and bring it back and reload the trigger and then send it down again. And we put this all together and described it and wrote a manual about how to do everything. We used it in all modes and how the camera fitted in and how you keep the pressure water tight and all that sort of thing. Well anything you put in the ocean inevitably gets wet. There is nobody that can make something that is universally dry in the ocean. It leaks sooner or later, one way or another. So we got our cameras wet a couple of times. So these cameras, German cameras, were hard to get during the war. We weren’t corresponding with Germany very well then. And they were actually bought in Switzerland and sent over and the Germans were furnishing them to Switzerland because they needed money.
Switzerland was neutral of course.
So by virtue of the neutral country we obtained about twelve or fourteen of the cameras and we built ten sets of equipment for the navy with diving, and I also put together a portable case, Kodak had a portable enlarger that had a little lens for enlarging that would take thirty-five millimeter film and the case was about, oh I guess, eighteen inches square by about eight inches thick. And this held everything you needed for the enlarger and I outfitted it with three trays and chemicals enough for one mix at a time and I put, I guess, a dozen mixes for each chemical that was needed and an instruction manual about how to use it and the underwater camera. And I managed to get it all in the same case so that they could just carry this case and they had a portable enlarging laboratory with them. All they needed was a dark closet. And we turned those over to the navy and inevitably the navy got some of theirs wet too. Well these cameras were oh two or three hundred dollars a piece, as I remember it, which was a fair amount of money in those days. So we couldn’t just throw the cameras away and start over again or we thought we couldn’t. And so I decided that I’d figure out how to clean the camera up. I took the old camera apart and it was easy to clean everything. Take it apart enough so you could clean everything, the shutter and the diaphragm and so forth. And you had to wash it out in fresh water and then you had to dry everything carefully and you couldn’t leave any oil on parts or the shutters wouldn’t — the surface tension would prevent the shutters from operating. All that could be done pretty easily. It took some time and care but it wasn’t that difficult. But the problem was the spring, the wind up spring. Having once gotten it wet with salt water it was inevitably going to break very shortly from rusting and it did. Well it was made millimeter width and all the springs material in our country is made is inch units. Well it was about quarter inch wide but not quite. Just enough to jam everything up while you’re trying to use quarter inch spring material. So we contacted the spring people that made springs and they, said well they could slit it, what they called slitting it, to make it any width that we wanted but the edge would be not finished like it was in the regular springs. And we said that’s all right. And the other problem was that some machining had to be done to each end of the spring to adapt it to fit the various fittings in the camera. And so what I had to do was cut the spring to the right length and wind it into the coil feature and then I had to anneal both ends of the spring, do the machining on the ends of the spring so that it would fit on to the various part of the camera and it had to be so that as the springiness of the thing would make it catch on the parts because sometimes it would back off from contact and if the spring wasn’t pressed against the part it wouldn’t catch again. So I had to taper the ends so that they would catch in case they ever slacked off. And I was able to repair — I guess our cameras got wet two or three times in the course of our work. And I was able to repair them and we got a call from the navy that they had something like five cameras that they’d gotten wet, what can they do about it. They’re too expensive to throw away. And so the long and short of it was that the director said well our guy can fix these. Send them up and we’ll have them fixed and send them back to you. So I got in the repair business for a while. I finally, I guess, repaired about a dozen cameras that had gotten wet.
This was around ‘43 to ‘44.
This would be the end of ‘42 to the beginning of ‘43. It was before that work that I told you about Solomons Islands and so forth. That was the next job.
I was curious about one thing when you were describing a moment ago mounting the camera on the diver with a little bit of movement possible. It reminded me of the difficulties of figuring out how to mount the cameras on the astronaut suits some twenty-five years later. I’m wondering did you have any involvement at all with the space agency?
No. It’s the same old thing. They reinvented the wheel.
Evidently some of those problems were quite similar.
Yes, I’m sure they were. We had done considerable work in the shallow water and when the oil companies went into the shallow water areas to do their work, we expected they would contact us to find out. But they didn’t. They just went and made the same mistakes we’d made. And finally corrected them and went on with their work.
You’d hear about this from your contact in the industry?
Yes, you’d hear about them doing it. Reinventing the wheel is a common feature of technology. [laughs]
And not only technology.
And when I talk to you about the gas hydrates, the same thing. We reinvented it, the gas hydrates that they had already done all the research on.
Some of that might be off tape. We’ll make sure of it later on. One thing I’m curious about too was the offer that came in 1944 from Columbia to Ewing to come and essentially the join the department and become a member.
I don’t really know much about that. The first I knew about it was that he had accepted the offer from Columbia, had resigned from Lehigh; had accepted the offer from Columbia and was on permanent leave of absence until the end of the war.
How did you find out about that? Was it from Ewing or?
Yes. He mentioned it after it was all signed, sealed and delivered, that he had accepted. I guess he had been an assistant professor at Lehigh and he had accepted an associate professor at Columbia.
How did you? I’m sorry go ahead.
I guess they made it associate professor to make it lucrative enough to make him jump.
You mentioned the Yale possibility in the first interview yesterday. Do you know of any others that Ewing had received?
Nothing that had gotten anywhere close to the offer stage. There were several inquiries about him and his work that never lead anywhere. We never really knew whether somebody spoiled it or whether they just changed their mind or whether what they learned didn’t suit them or what. But it just fizzled. The Yale one was close to an offer and we expected an offer any day and then it was just dropped suddenly and we never heard from them again. And we heard later that Leet had talked to them at Yale and influenced them.
How did you feel about Columbia once the news did reach you?
I didn’t know anything much about it. My father had gone to Columbia as an undergraduate and graduated there. And I had gone with him to a number of football games. But it was just another university that Ewing was going to work at and if I wanted to work with Ewing, I’d have to go there to do my graduate work. I was determined I was going to do my graduate work as soon as the war was over.
How soon were you able to get down to the Columbia campus? Did you precede Ewing there?
No. In 1946, in February, Ewing moved down to Columbia. The war was over in late 1945 as you know and then we carried on the triangulation experiment and the SOFAR work after the — well we were on the way out to do the experiments when V-J Day occurred and our ship anchored for a day while we got word that we were supposed to go ahead and finish our trip. The captain thought maybe that meant we’d turn around and go back home right away. But anyhow we had finished and done that experiment and did a lot of work on analyzing. In February Ewing moved down to Columbia to take over the — I guess it was the new semester. He got there in time for the semester. And I stayed on at Woods Hole to finish up all the details of the SOFAR work that hadn’t been finished before he left. In other words he left me to tidy up all these bits and pieces. And he came back in June and I got a leave from Woods Hole Oceanographic to work with him in June and we went to work on that GSA grant with [N.C.] Steenland and [Frank] Press. The four of us did the shallow seismic on the continental shelf. At any rate, at the end of the summer I went down and became a graduate student at Columbia.
When did you first meet Steenland and Press?
Well Steenland had come to Woods Hole and had been trained as a bathythermograph operator as one of the navy trainees. And he had lived in Woods Hole for a while. You know, these guys were in the programs that you would have something to do with and so forth so you could talk to them. And so we got acquainted. I wouldn’t say we were close buddies at the time but we were well acquainted.
What kind of a person was he?
Well, he’s very big. He’s about six foot four, something like that. And he kind of stooped over, almost has a widow’s peak, apparently getting through doors it had become a habit. A stooping habit. But a very nice guy but very outspoken. There was no simulation in him whatsoever. He just said what thought was on his mind, period. And so he was going to become a graduate student with Dr. Ewing in September as I was. And since we were acquainted and that summer we worked together. He actually it turned he was assigned to work on the same ship I was. I was in charge of the ship and he worked as a helper. And Press worked with Ewing on the other ship. It was a two ship operation. And we were together a lot when we were on shore working on data and so forth, all of us. But at sea we would be separated into our two little worlds out there. So I got very well acquainted with Steenland.
Where had he gotten his own bachelor’s degree?
At I guess it’s William and Mary is the name of the college down in Virginia.
Had he been a physics major, engineering?
No. I think they called it a science major. They didn’t — not specifically in physics. But he was interested in physics. And this is jumping ahead a little. In the fall we went down to go to the university and Steenland had a wife and two kids and had no place to stay. Well my father had bought a house, another house. He had a house in Lake Mohawk, and he had bought another house which he was renting out and it turned out that he could make as much renting it out for just the summer as he could make by renting it out all year. So he’d rent it out in the summer and make money on the house and then he’d let my family live it in the winter. So I had a wife and two kids at the time too. And with Steenland having no place to live, I said well why don’t you come live with us at Lake Mohawk and so the two families lived together for the first year as graduate students in that house. And then he and I would drive in to Columbia and spend all week at Columbia and then drive out for the weekend at Lake Mohawk.
Where would you stay in New York?
Well we had got rooms in the dormitory. So we had a dormitory room where we could study.
And you would share that during the week?
No, they were single rooms. We were in the same building but you know. And we’d associate. We usually ate together and were taking mostly the same classes. So we were together most of the time. And we did this shuttle back and forth. He had a car and I had a car. And he left his car at Lake Mohawk for the families and I took mine back and forth to shuttle us back to New York. But that’s an aside.
That’s very interesting. I did want to ask you about how you met your wife.
Well, I guess we talked about it at lunch time a little bit.
That was off tape.
Yes. I had in the early days of Lamont — this would be 1941 — her brother Albert Crary who later became a renowned Arctic explorer. He was the first Arctic explorer that worked in the Arctic and the Antarctic in one lifetime into both poles and so forth. Not that he was a record seeker. It just happened. He was a guy that wouldn’t seek anything but it just happened that his work took him there. And so he got quite renowned and he became the chief scientist in the Antarctic for the IGY [International Geophysical Year]. And later he worked at the National Science Foundation to establish their Antarctic research program. But anyhow, he had been a former student of Ewing’s. He had taken his master’s degree and left and went to work for one of the oil companies; actually Independent Exploration Company. He was doing very well with them and they wanted to keep him, but Ewing talked to him and persuaded him that the war work was important and that he’d better come and go to work with us at Woods Hole on the war work. So he got involved in the work. A man from Bell Labs had had an idea that explosions were very wide band frequencies that could be used as low frequency sound sources. Which you couldn’t do with electronic devices. And that would have enough energy from a small charge that you could get reflections from ships at longer ranges, and several ships at different locations. It didn’t work out. But Crary was put in charge of Woods Hole’s program that was guided by this fellow from Bell Labs.
Do you recall who that was?
His name was [?] King. I don’t remember his first name. I always called him Mr. King. He had the unfortunate habit that — first of all he got very seasick in rather calm times. And second of all he wouldn’t finish an experiment, he’d have a great idea of something else that he’d jump to and start another experiment before the last one was finished. So we never finished anything. We’d start something and he’d switch us over to doing something else. Well this got — Ewing was involved in this off and on too, going to sea with us, but he didn’t work on the data once back at the lab. But he would go to sea and work with us. And he got fed up with this and so one trip he said, now we’re going to put Dr. King on your ship, my ship. And we must make sure that he stays sea sick, so sea sick that he can’t interfere with the work going on. And so I thought about this and I went over and bought a box of cigars because cigar smoke was an anathema to him. And so he came out on the ship with us. And it was the Blue Dolphin, that was the name of the ship we were on. And every time he’d come up on deck, I’d go get a cigar and smoke the cigar and make sure that I was up wind from him so that the cigar smoke would go around and inside a minute he’d go back down to the cabin. Well even that didn’t work very well because about half way through the experiment he decided he had work that had to be done back in New York and he’d have to go ashore. Well the concept would have been everybody’d have to go ashore. Well this was a three ship operation. One ship for target, one to record and one to shoot. And so we got together and discussed this and so forth and finally we made an agreement that we would still do some work by the shooting ship also recording the results and the other ship acting as a target, and Dr. King would take one of the ships back to Woods Hole. So we did finish that experiment and he went back to Woods Hole. That was pretty near the end of the time with him. We had never had good enough results that was worth pursuing and so the whole idea was dropped about that time. Or didn’t even help pay for the cigars. An interesting side-light of that was we were out there in the Asterias which is about a sixty foot motor launch and it carried enough fuel but this is a long ways out for a boat of that size, about twice as far as any fisherman would go with that kind of rig. And nobody had ever gone that far off. Well I thought it was all safe enough because we were along with two bigger vessels. And of course then one of the bigger vessels left so we were left with one bigger. But anyway when we finished the experiment we decided that they’d go in and we’d go in independently. And the guy that was acting as the captain was a fellow named Stan [Stanley] Pool. And Stan had been a fisherman for years. He was the guy who trained most of the scientists at Woods Hole in seafaring techniques: how to grapple a line off the bottom or how to do anything off a ship. He knew how and he’d teach most of us how. I learned most of what I know about seafaring from him as most of the other people did at the institute. Well anyhow we were coming back on the Asterias. There was two other guys whose names I don’t remember any more and Stan and I on the Asterias and we just happened to be on there when the experiment finished and we were going independently back to Woods Hole. Well that was a hundred miles to Gay Head on Martha’s Vineyard and then another thirty miles up the Vineyard Sound to Woods Hole and this vessel made about 7 knots so this was going to be twenty hours of steaming. At any rate, Stan — this happened in swordfish season and Stan had brought along a spearing device that they used for spearing the swordfish and he hoped he’d get a chance to do some swordfishing on the way home. He decided we’d swordfish on the way in. So he would run — mostly we would steer the boat and on the way, back to the shore, and while we were steaming, the other three of us would look around and see if we could find a swordfish. Well, as luck would have it eventually we did find one. So Stan turned the wheel over to one of the other guys. It might have been me, I don’t know. But any rate he turned the wheel over to one of us and he climbed up in the cross trees and he got us coming in on the swordfish the proper way. And when we were I would guess fifty feet from the swordfish he jumped quickly, down from the mast and went up on the bow of the ship now most swordfisherman have what they call a pulpit which is a board about ten feet long that they can use to hang off the bow ahead of the ship. That gives them an opportunity. Well we had no pulpit. So he just stood on the bow of the ship and he would indicate go that way, go that way, come ahead this way, slow down and so forth.
You’re motioning with your hands, so hand signals.
Motioning with his hands and got us to come on the swordfish and eventually he was able to spear the swordfish. Well once you spear a swordfish like that it becomes a — Once you spear a swordfish like that it becomes a dangerous operation because they have been known to charge the vessel that has them speared and stick their spear right through a wooden vessel, even though on the Asterias the planks were three quarters of an inch thick. That would be nothing for a swordfish to penetrate and sometimes they sunk the ship that way. So at any rate to avoid that immediately the line was transferred to a dory we had and the dory was put over in the water and the Asterias moved away so they wouldn’t become a target for the Swordfish and Stan Pool and I got out in the dory and he was tending the lines. You know he put as much brake on as he thought he could stand and the idea was to tire the swordfish out. And he made sure that he and I kneeled on the twarts in the boat because the swordfish could stick his sword up and do you quite a lot of harm if you were standing in the bottom. On the twart he might just touch you but very likely not hurt you. So anyhow we kneeled on the twart and he tended the swordfish until he tired it out and then we got the Asterias back and we brought the dory alongside and transferred the line back to the Asterias and eventually brought the swordfish up by the Asterias and the darn thing weighed — what a hundred and fifty pounds or something like that. And he got a line on its tail and we had a boom and tackle on the Asterias and we lifted it up and brought it on board the Asterias and continued on our way into Woods Hole. When we got into Woods Hole there was a fish station at Woods Hole that bought fish from the fisherman that they had caught. It was called Cahoons’s. And Cahoon bought the swordfish from us for a hundred and fifty dollars which looked like magnificent money to us. Well Stan insisted on dividing it four ways, that all four of us had caught the fish. Of course it wasn’t true. He had managed the vessel up until it was time to approach the swordfish and then he’d gone up and made sure we approached it right and then he got down, he stabbed it and he tended the lines. He did everything. And the rest of us didn’t. Well we insisted that he keep all the money. No, no he wouldn’t have that. He divided it. So anyway in the long run there was no point in pursuing it and so the three of us got together afterwards and said now look we don’t deserve any of this money and Stan does. He won’t take the money so let’s buy him an entertainment center, such as it was in those days, which was a stand up big console radio with lots of lights on it and so forth and a good amplifier and a radio and a phonograph with attachments; and we bought that and gave it to Stan. Well he was very pleased to have it but he objected that we spent our money. At that point there was nothing he could do about it. He had to accept it. That was the end of that.
You mentioned Albert Crary a moment ago and your wife’s relation. But how precisely did you come to meet your wife?
Well I was working with Crary and he had to go to sea for something. I’ve forgotten what now. And so he was at sea and a telegram came from his two sisters saying — this was in either June or July, summer, it was summer right now — saying they were coming to spend a week with him. Well he was at sea and I read this telegram and trying to figure out what the hell I’m going to do about a telegram to him as to the sisters and the only thing that I could think of was — the sisters were already en route, so there was no way of communicating with them saying hey he’s not here, do you still want to come or something. So they came in on the steamboat from New Bedford into Woods Hole and I met the steamboat and figured out which were the two girls that were related. Not because they looked alike but the only two girls that seemed to be looking for someone and I introduced myself and said that Bert was out. We called him Bert mostly. Bert was out at sea and would be back in a couple of days, what did they want to do? Well they said we want to stay and have a good vacation. Well nobody had much money in those days including me. I didn’t know what to do with them and I didn’t know whether they had much money, probably they didn’t. And so a group of us had rented the rectory which was a building that one of the churches owned on the main drag of Woods Hole. And the rector didn’t want to use the building because he was single and this was a fifteen room mansion for a big family kind of thing and he didn’t want to be saddled with this big monster. So he hadn’t used it so the church didn’t know what to do with it and there was no place for people to live in Woods Hole at that time. There were no boarding houses, no hotels, no motels, anything like that. And so the four of us got together and went to the church and said we’d like to rent the rectory and use it as a kind of a dormitory and they thought that was all right and since we’d pay some rent and they’d get the money, they rented us the rectory. It got to be known as a place, the only place in Woods Hole, where you could get a drink any time of the day or night. We always had some liquor in the kitchen and anyone who would come around we’d offer them a drink. There was a liquor store in Woods Hole but it was only open nine to five or something like that. And there were no drinking establishments then. Later on when we had more people at the Oceanographic, a place called the Captain Kidd opened up which served drinks and sandwiches and things like that. And it got to be notorious because with all the secrecy going on in World War II, we people who worked in the Oceanographic and never could find out when the ships were leaving or where they were going or anything like that, but if you’d go over to Captain Kidd you’d find instantly just when the ship was sailing. What time the ship was sailing, who was going on it. You weren’t supposed to be able to but you could. And it probably was because the sailors from the ship didn’t feel very strongly about this secrecy stuff and they were drinking a lot and so they would let it out, what was happening on the ship.
You would find our directly from them or from the?
Well it would be sometimes you’d ask the bartender when’s the ship leaving? And he’d say oh that’s next Thursday at four o’clock he’d point out.
Bartenders can occupy critical roles.
And by that time there was a guardhouse and there was a chain link fence around all the property of the Oceanographic and there was a guardhouse and you had to pass the guard. He had to know you before he’d let you in or a visitor would have to — he’d call up the director and the director would have to authorize the visitor to come in to see say if somebody is coming to see me or something, he’d authorize them to come in and so on. So they got pretty good protection of all the information and what was going on at Woods Hole, except for the Captain Kidd across the street. And about all you could learn from them was when the ship was leaving and who was going on it. You couldn’t learn anything else about it. What they were going to do was a mystery.
And clearly your wife was one of the two sisters.
She was one of the two sisters. And I put them in Crary’s room in the rectory since I didn’t know about financing. And he came back about two days later and, as far as I can discern, he was horrified that they were living in a mansion with fourteen fellows in individual rooms around them.
And I recall your wife Dorothy having said at lunch yesterday she didn’t think he was that shocked.
I think he was. She thinks that I’m exaggerating. [laughs] We’d gotten friends with the people next door and he persuaded them to rent him a room and started them in business actually. They started to rent rooms out to people visiting Woods Hole and, as many other people started soon. But this was early on so they were sort of the first ones having a rooming house in Woods Hole. Well I would see a lot of the girls when they lived in the rectory and then I got interested in Dorothy and so we spent a lot of time together for the rest of the week. And finally of course they left. And about, I guess it was August sometime, Bert and I got into a car and drove up to Albany where both the girls were. Dorothy was going to school in Albany and Marion [Flagg] was working in Albany and they and a couple of other girls had rented a cottage on a small lake just outside of Albany and so we went and visited them at the cottage and the other girls had a couple of boyfriends that they came over and we all had a great ball of a weekend there. We got there late. We drove all night Friday, we got there early Saturday morning and then we left about eight o’clock Sunday night. We got back to Woods Hole about time to go to work that morning. But it was that kind of a weekend. Right after that I wrote a letter, a short time after that, and asked her to marry me. And she answered me, I thought that was already settled; all we have to decide is when. Well we settled on a date near Thanksgiving so that we would always have Thanksgiving as a time we could celebrate. We’d have a holiday one way or another. And we could always celebrate using Thanksgiving as a celebration day if it didn’t fit right in our — So it was the 22nd of November we got married.
What year was that?
This would be ‘41. And we got married on the 22nd of November. Of course Pearl Harbor happened December, 7th. I’ve forgotten now but at any rate if Pearl Harbor had happened a couple of weeks earlier I probably wouldn’t have gotten married figuring that I’d be involved in the war somehow. But I did. I did get married. And I visited her once before we got married. She got a job as a medical technician in a hospital at Louville, New York which is up near Waterton. I got another fellow at Woods Hole to help me drive up there overnight and we spent from Saturday noon until Sunday noon. I was visiting Dorothy and she managed a date for him to go out that night. And of course we drove all night Friday and drove all night Sunday and Saturday night I guess must have been pretty funny because we went to sort of a night club where they had some music and dancing and drinks and so forth. And apparently I fell asleep a couple of times sitting at the table. I was so pooped because the fellow that had come with me when we got there Saturday morning he went to sleep and got into bed but I went to see Dorothy, to be with Dorothy all day. Then we went out that evening and so I hadn’t had much sleep. And apparently I fell asleep two or three times.
That can happen.
But at any rate we were engaged and we arranged our wedding for the twenty-second of November and we got married at her family’s farm.
You had already been married then for about five years by the time that you went down to Columbia?
Yes and had two children. One of the interesting things that happened on the way up to get married, I was driving alone to get there and I was going to get there a day or so before the wedding. And driving along through the Adirondacks I was hitting about seventy miles an hour with the car and the brakes just quit. Came over the top of a hill, hitting seventy miles an hour, a long down grade, no brakes. Well what do you do? Well I just the best job of steering I could and managed with the full width — it was a one way road each way — and with the full width of both ways. There was no traffic on the road. It was during war time there was almost nobody on the road. And with no traffic on the road I was able to use both sides of the road. I managed to make the bottom of the hill and finally got the car stopped when I got down to the bottom. But I guess it was a pretty narrow — I almost didn’t get married.
That was the excitement before the event. I’m wondering when you came back to the first year of graduate school what your impressions were? What class seemed to be the most memorable for you?
The one that was most memorable for me would be Walter Bucher’s structural geology class. And one of the interesting things that happened I had Walter Bucher’s class and right after it was Ewing’s class in geophysics. And one of the things that happened is in Walter Bucher’s class he talked about the Rift Valley in Africa and that it was the result of a tension in the crust that caused the Rift Valley. I went across the hall and Ewing managed to be talking about the Rift Valley also in terms of geophysics and from the geophysics it looked like it was from compression. Well what do you do as a graduate student? One professor says it’s tension; one says — Well I tried to figure out and I figured a solution that works. That it was a tension affair and how it could show the things that the geophysics had indicated even though it was in tension and that had been interpreted as compression by the geophysics community and I presented it to both professors and nothing came of it.
What were their reaction?
They listened to me and said that’s interesting and went on with their ways. They didn’t pay attention essentially. You know why are you going to pay attention to a graduate student?
Was that do you think typical of their attitude in response to ideas being raised by the graduate students?
Well I guess they didn’t evaluate it as a very important idea. So that they didn’t pay much attention to it. They did pay a lot of attention to some other things that we graduate students did but not that one.
What are you thinking of when you say that? What you found that they did pay attention to?
Well we did a study one time, an assignment for Ewing, of the flow of water into the Gulf of Maine which results in the Bay of Fundy tides. And we got all the tide records from all of the ports around the Gulf of Maine and plotted the times of high tide and so forth and taking that together we were able to establish that the tide came in in a wave that swept around the Gulf of Maine and eventually ended up at the Bay of Fundy and all of the water went up into the Bay of Fundy.
Which is V shaped bay.
Which is a fairly V shaped bay. And this created the big tides in the Bay of Fundy. Well that was new information. It resulted from the research we did as graduate students. We put together our maps and showed it. They paid attention to that kind of thing. So there were a number of things. Steenland got interested in magnetics and he had some ideas about magnetics and Ewing paid attention to that because it was a new concept of how to interpret magnetics and it worked out and things like that go on.
How did Ewing’s geophysics class at Columbia compare to the ones you had taken with him at Lehigh?
Well the ones at Lehigh were very formal. It was a formal situation. The professor met the class at a certain time and had certain assignments. At Columbia he would meet with us. There were actually four graduate students taking this course at the time. The three of us, that’s myself and Steenland and Press. Oh I guess there were two others. There was a fellow named Bill [William L.] Donn and a girl named Rene Brilliant. Later Bill Donn and Rene Brilliant got married and Rene Brilliant dropped out of geophysics and became an M.D. and had a practice as a medical doctor and made a great success out of it.
And this is the same Bill Donn who later became interested in, focused on meteorology?
Yes. Well during World War II he had been a weather forecaster for, I don’t know the navy, army, somebody in the services anyhow. And that had gotten him interested in the weather and he got involved in that whole thing and he joined us as part of Lamont but he was still part of the Brooklyn University. And he carried on that research as partly Lamont, partly Brooklyn and so forth. But we would meet, the five of us would meet, and the class might go on an hour and a half. It was scheduled for an hour but none of us had anything in the following hour and so it would go on, and I guess Ewing would hold forth maybe about a third of the time and the other two-thirds of the time various graduate students would be making comments or had studied something and brought it up for discussion. Ewing guided it but it was a discussion of the group with him guiding and supervising.
What kind of issues came up that you recall?
Well I don’t know. We were just following a general area of geophysics and I don’t remember any particular ones.
How broadly conceived was this course that Ewing offered? The one that you took in the first year?
Well I don’t know. It was so casually run and so forth. I mean Ewing was busy. He was involved in a lot of projects. And right after the war, they formed a lot of committees and he was on a number of committees. He’d have to go to Washington for a meeting or somewhere for a meeting and so forth. And so sometimes he wouldn’t get to the class. He’d expect us to hold the class and discuss the subject of the matter that was at hand. And he would give an assignment for the next class and then when he could get there and the next time why he’d ask us to summarize what we’d done by ourselves and so it worked out as a pretty good graduate class because it made you very self-reliant. And at the same time he guided you through the geophysics he wanted you to study.
Did there seem to be leaders among the five students of you in the discussions or did everyone more or less take part?
Well I guess I was more of a leader than anybody else at the time because I had worked with Ewing so much I knew his workings of his mind better. And so in that sense they would listen to me a little bit more than anybody else. Frank Press became more of the theoretical leader of the group. He handled the theory better than most of the rest of us and so he emerged fairly soon as the leader of doing the mathematics and so forth on whatever we were studying at the time. And we were studying seismology and earthquake seismology, the geophysics in the oil industry, magnetics, gravity. We went through all the various subjects and the various topics in the various subjects from time to time, and as I said, one or the other of us might be assigned as the leading director of the discussion for a particular subject on a particular day. But everybody was expected to study the same things and join in on the discussion. Ewing would every once in a while put in a question and direct it at an individual if he thought that individual was lagging or what have you, or if he thought that individual had a better slant on things or whatever. He gave us a lot of guidance. Later on he became busier and busier and for a while there he was president of the Geological Society of America [GSA] and that kept him pretty busy.
Roughly when was that?
That would have been I guess it would be about 1948, sometime like that. Just as a guess. I don’t remember exactly. But that kept him pretty busy. He’d have reams of material that would be that thick [10 inches] that was business of the Geological Society.
Did he talk to you about that business?
No, he wouldn’t discuss it at all with any of us. He just worked on it. He’d go into his office and here’d be half of that pile one side of the desk and half the other side of the desk and so on. But he would never discuss it with us, except they had a Geological Society meeting. At that time all the Geological Society of America meetings were held at Christmas time. And it was a somewhat of a hardship on the geologists because nearly all geologists from all over the country would come to the Geological Society of America meetings, and they’d often have to leave home on Christmas day to get some place. But at any rate one of the meetings was held at Atlantic City and because we were near Atlantic City we graduate students did all of the leg work for the meeting. We were assigned to the leg work and so forth. And so they kept us busy. And in that sense he got us all involved in the GSA but just for that meeting. Of course, when I say just for that meeting, for about two weeks before the meeting we were involved in getting things ready.
That’s certainly an enormous amount of work when one takes on and organizes a —
Well the meeting weren’t as big then as they are now of course. Probably there were three hundred attendees at that time where now there are what, five thousand or something, ten thousand.
Being on the local organizing committee still takes considerable time.
Well now it takes much more than it did then because a lot more things are going on. At that time there weren’t a lot of field trips and other activities related to the meetings going on. People just didn’t have the money to do that sort of thing. For instance I remember going — while I was at Woods Hole just before I became a graduate student, there was a meeting out at Pittsburgh; Geological Society meeting at Pittsburgh. So I drove out. Steenland drove out with me, came with me and we picked Ewing and Bucher up at Columbia. They were at Columbia at the time. And drove on out to Pittsburgh and attended the meeting and then we turned around and drove back. And there was snow all the way and so forth. But this was the kind of thing that went on because nobody had enough money to go out on an airplane or train or what have you. You tried to have somebody drive and share the expenses of the oil and gas and that was it. Four of us could attend the meeting for the cost of the oil and gas for one to get there. Nowadays there would be four different guys got there four different ways.
You’re quite right things have changed in that dimension quite a bit. When Ewing taught that course, did he include meteorology as part of geophysics or was that?
No. Geophysics at that time was magnetics and gravity and seismology and heat flow. Those were the four main subjects. You know, you might have one lecture about some other phase of geophysics, astronomy, or one time we studied the probable evolution of the world, for instance, or of the earth. And went through all the literature which was probably about four papers existed at that time and had reports on the four papers. And we as a class made a decision of what was probably the most probable correct situation which now would look kind of silly.
Do you remember what ideas were being discussed?
Oh, gee. Well it was still — at that time it was thought that this was an accumulation of matter from space but it’s not gaseous matter. It was all thought at that time as being solid matter. That it accumulated because of gravity.
T.C. Chamberlin had proposed the [planetesimal theory].
That kind of thing. And that the heat in the earth was formed by the gravitational crashing of all this matter together and so forth. And we made some computations that showed that the heat from all these matters collecting together would not have reached the surface of the earth yet. That the heat wave approaching the surface would still be well down in the mantle at this time and that there was still a future when all this heat would reach the surface.
So the earth was still gradually heating rather than cooling?
Well it was hot in the center and the heat was —
Was radiating out.
Was radiating out outward but had not reached the surface yet. And radioactivity had a negligible amount and was thought to be all together in the crust rocks. There was presumably no radioactivity. And so some of the crustal rocks were heating up a little bit from the radioactivity but it was a negligible extra source not a prime generator of heat and so forth.
That’s very interesting. Louie [Louis B.] Slichter had written a paper at that point on the question of heat flow. I was wondering if that was one that you recall coming up in class?
Yes we talked about that. And looked at his computations and so forth and evaluated it. I don’t remember how we evaluated it but we did.
Did you have contact with others outside of the geology department that you recall being particularly influential?
Well we met other geologists at GSA meetings. We always went to the GSA meetings. And sometimes we went to the AGU [American Geophysical Union] meetings. Those were the only meetings we ever, as students, went to. The AGU meetings were good because they were in Washington and it was easy to get to Washington. We could take a whole car load of graduate students down. And Ewing had found a place, a hotel in Washington, which was known as The Gordon. And it had been Dolly Madison’s house in the early days and it had fallen on bad days and so it had been turned into a hotel. I don’t know, there must have been seventy rooms in the place. Each of these rooms had been turned over into a hotel room. Well some of the rooms would be four times the size of this room for instance.
Okay, and this room is maybe eight by eight the area at least that we’re in.
Well I’m talking about the whole room here.
Oh is that right?
We’re talking about thirty feet by twenty feet is this room and you’re talking about a room eight times the size of this. And so what would often happen is a couple of us would rent a room like that and eight of us would come in and sleep in it. We’d have our sleeping bags and there’d be people sleeping all over the floor. And this got to be known that the Columbia group did this and so when George Woollard formed a group out at Wisconsin they would join in and we got to be pretty close buddies and they would come in. One time was particularly funny. I had been doing some work down at Bermuda and just as I came back from Bermuda the meeting was being held at Washington. So I went directly to Washington and rented a room in the Gordon Hotel. Well before I knew it there were eight people who all came into the Gordon and said where was Worzel? And I had eight people in the room with me. Although I had been away and I hadn’t made any arrangements and so forth. And there were people sleeping on the floor here, the floor there. And some would come in at one o’clock and some would come in at eight o’clock. And it almost got pretty funny. The advantage of the Gordon Hotel was the rooms were almost unlockable. The latches had all gotten tired and just barely would hold the doors closed. And so but none of us had anything to steal so we mostly had the stuff on our backs so we didn’t care about that. And the nice part about it is they’d charge us about three dollars a piece to spend the night there. Well in Washington at that time fifteen dollars a night was the norm. So finding a place for graduate students to stay for three bucks was beautiful. And later on it got to the point where we might have five or six rooms loaded up like that in the Gordon Hotel and various other universities would have their graduate students. It was a nice way to mix graduate students from all over the country together. You got to know other people and discuss — you know you talked business about your graduate studies with them and so forth. So you got to know a lot of graduate students. That doesn’t happen any more.
How did you find that graduate training compared as you were going on in your training at Columbia with people coming in from other schools, how did it differ from place to place? Do you recall for instance meeting any graduate students coming out of M.I.T. or Harvard at that time?
Well we had essentially — some of us had had undergraduate training at these other schools and came in as graduate students. Well usually by the time that they were coming in from other schools, I was a fairly advanced graduate student or approaching my Ph.D. degree. As far as I was concerned I couldn’t tell that there was any difference from one school to another. But of course I wasn’t in classes with them or anything like that so I didn’t have much.
What geology classes were you taking, did you take during your graduate years at Columbia?
Well we took structural geology with Bucher for two years. We took stratigraphy with Marshall Kay. I think that was only one year. We had a field course with Marshall Kay for a month at the end of one year. Immediately after the end of classes we went up to Vermont and did a structural stratigraphy study of an area in Vermont. Let’s see. Those were the ones that I remember most. Oh we also took Precambrian geology from Marshall Kay. He did some Precambrian geology. That was about the extent of our geological training because we were taking lots of physics courses in the physics department.
Which courses did you take in the physics?
In the physics department?
In the physics department.
Theoretical physics was the title of one of them. And nuclear physics was the title of another. Newtonian physics was another title we took. Those were the ones I remember.
Who taught those classes?
Well they were all, they all became renowned physicists afterwards but I’m not sure I can remember their names. [?] Townsend was one of them.
Is that right?
That gave one of the courses. Gee I remember the guy and I know he used to come to class in his Cadillac. And we thought that was marvelous that a professor bought a Cadillac. While I was a graduate student I had decided that I was going to try to become a professor and be like Ewing, I’d guess you’d say. And at the time occasionally we would go to the home with one of the professors and Bucher particularly. He lived in just across the George Washington Bridge. And after we moved up to Lamont, while I was still a graduate student, or just at the end of my graduate work, I was going to Lamont. We would stop and leave off Bucher and he’d say c’mon in and we’d have a drink. Well Bucher was a pretty renowned geologist at the time but we’d go into his house and he’d have threadbare furniture. His carpets would be pretty well worn and so forth. And I figured this was what a professor’s life was like. It was a very satisfying life but he never got much and could just about live. And that’s what I thought I was signing up for. Well it didn’t turn out that way. We made out pretty well in our generation. And I guess a lot better than the present generation will make out too. So that we lived in the golden generation I guess.
There are a few things that you mentioned a moment ago that I wanted to follow up on. You mentioned that in that initial class that you took with Ewing, there was a woman, Rene Brilliant, who I recall later married Bill Donn. How often were women involved in geophysics in your experience?
Very, very seldom. There was one other girl that was involved in geology that we ran into in various geology classes. I don’t even remember her name. But she later married Milton Dobrin and then they got divorced after a few years. They didn’t hit it off too well. But she’s the only other woman that was involved. Well there was another woman who was involved but I had only just casual acquaintance with at all. I was never in a class with her or anything. See the reason I remember her is they had a meeting every Friday of all the geologists and somebody would give a paper and other people would ask questions and so forth. And occasionally somebody from outside would come in and give a discussion. And at one of these meetings there was a discussion of something going on in the Antarctic. And she got her directions all cockeyed. She asked a question and asked about a directions of what was north, meaning towards the South Pole. But she was completely disoriented. And most of us laughed at her and she got all red and very embarrassed and that’s why I remember her. But those three were the only women that were involved at the time.
When you have women like Rene Brilliant in the geophysics class, did Ewing seem comfortable with having a woman take a course like that or?
As far as you could tell, he treated her exactly the same as any of the other people in the course.
And the others in the class?
And the others in the class likewise. At that time there was nothing about romance or anything like that going on. At least to our knowledge. Now maybe Bill Donn was meeting her outside and we didn’t know it. But as far as the class was concerned, you couldn’t tell that there was anything other than business going on in the class.
I’m curious what you recall both of Frank Press and Bill Donn. What were their personalities like?
Well Frank was an extremely naive character when he first joined. He was essentially Ewing’s first graduate student. When Ewing had gone down in February, Frank had somehow learned about him and got involved with him. And he was working with Ewing as a graduate student although there was no course that he had taken or anything but he was just doing research with Ewing. And he went then the following summer, Steenland and I and Frank and Ewing did the seismic on the continental shelf along the east coast together. Steenland, as I told you, had been a trainee in the bathythermograph program and somehow or other he and Ewing had got discussing graduate school and Steenland wanted to go to graduate school and Ewing persuaded him to go to graduate school with him. And so he had joined up and intended to go in the fall and I was planning to go in the fall. And so we were the first three, and Gordon Hamilton at that time was at Woods Hole too. I don’t remember how Gordon Hamilton got involved except that he started being one of us during the summer months. And I don’t remember where he came from, or he may have been in one of the last classes on bathythermograph. See when we wrote that sound and sea water then it was incumbent on us to run classes to train people for the navy. And there would be twenty ensigns that would show up about every two or three months and would take a course for about a month and Vine would teach and Ewing would teach. I never did any teaching of them but several times they would go out on cruises that I was in charge of and I would oversee their work with the bathythermograph. I remember particularly one time they came, a bunch of them had come along, and they had put a bathythermograph out. And just as they started to bring it back the power failed on the ship and there was no power to bring it up. And the group came down to me, what do we do? The bathythermograph’s out. There’s no power. I said well we must put a hand crank in the winch. You open the cover, you take the hand crank and you pull it out, attach it to the winch, and you pull it in. So they went away and pretty soon they were back, “You can’t pull that in by a hand crank. I said, “Ah c’mon, don’t be such lily livered bastards, anyone can pull it in. They said come on show us.” So I went up and I pulled the god damned thing in all the way and I just damn near killed myself. Because it was more than one person should do. It should have been. But I was going to show them that anyone could do it. So I brought it all the way in, hand cranked. I said, see there’s no problem to it. Anyone can bring it in. Then I went to my cabin, ah! ah! But that way I would run into them but it would be on the ships getting some training while I was doing some other work.
You mention your initial impression of Frank Press as having been fairly naive.
He was very naive. In that first summer for instance, he was assigned with Ewing to be on the receiving vessel. And the receiving vessel was the P446. This was the air-sea rescue vessel. And it would make about twenty-five knots and so it would go along banging on the top of the waves pretty hard. And Steenland and I were on the Balanus and it would make about ten knots. And so we’d head out to sea and we’d be gone a day before they’d even leave the dock and they’d be out there before us. And when we’d get done some of our work, they would head in and they’d be home a couple of days by the time we got there and so forth. But anyhow in the course of this, Nelson and I had become good friends in the interim, and we got together and said this guy Press, we’ve got to have some fun with him. So we said you know Frank when you go out on that P446, that thing’s bouncing around so bad it will shake your guts right out. People get hurt pretty badly. You better get — you know those motorcycle belts they have that the motorcyclists wear around. You better get one of those to hold your guts in. And we kept up, kept the discussion up for him, this was before he had ever gone out. Finally one day we came into the lab there and he had the Sears Roebuck catalogue out and he was looking to see what a motorcycle belt cost. Well we just couldn’t let him spend his money foolishly like that when money was so hard to get. So we had to tell him we were just pulling his leg. But he would fall for things like that all the time. On our first effort to do the seismic work with the P446 and the Balanus, Ewing couldn’t go out and so we went out for the day just to essentially try out the equipment. And we fired about ten shots and Frank was running the recording gear all alone on the P446, which is no big deal, because in the shallow water — we were only in about ten fathoms of water — you could put the instruments on the bottom and they could be quiet. Later on when we got into deeper water they would be floating instruments and we’d have to slack them to keep them quiet and so it’d take two guys. At that time it was only one guy. At any rate we spent the whole day firing charges and so forth and we got nice water waves coming in but no ground waves coming in. We got together with the data as soon as we landed on the pier and we looked at it. And here are these nice high frequency water waves but no low frequency ground waves coming in. And Press and Steeland were horrified. Here we were about to go off and do a long term experiment and we couldn’t record the ground waves the whole experiment was depending on. And I looked at it pretty hard and with my experience through the war. Well, there’s only one problem here. This geophone has too stiff springs. It just needs softer springs. We’ll have to take it apart and put softer springs on it. And it won’t pass the low frequencies; it will only pass the high frequencies. And so we took the instrument apart and put in the softer springs and got nice ground waves. Well they both of them were kind of amazed that you would know this kind of thing. Well look it was routine kind of sound work that I’d been doing all through the war, you see, and they were neophytes in the game and it was no wonder they didn’t know and I would.
But it’s also tacit knowledge. [Interruption] One thing that seems clear to me when you mention the relative inexperience of Press and Steenland is that they didn’t have the kind of tacit knowledge in instrument building that you did.
Yes. See I had just spent six years doing war work where I was building all kinds of instruments. And well, for example, we went on one cruse and Al Woodcock was trying to measure the temperature structure of the air overhead and he had a kind of a balloon that would lift this instrument up, and something happened the line part of the boom went away and he lost his instrument. Well we were on a two-week cruise and this had happened in one of the first days and he was lamenting that he was wasting his time on the cruise. And I said well we can put another instrument together for you, Al. “Oh how are you going to do that,” and so forth? And I said well we take the thermal element out of a bathythermograph and we’ll take a box from the Quaker Oats can and some wooden framework to make a frame and we’ve got more balloons and more hydrogen and so forth. Well anyhow I just rigged a system up for him and he was able to take data for the rest of the cruise and that worked out fine. And that was just a routine kind of operation as far as I was concerned. You didn’t give up on these things. You just made do with what you had there. For instance another time we went out and it was important to get a little bit of a surface sediment in the ocean because the reflection coefficient from sound would vary with whatever was on the surface and it was crucial, considered crucial at least at that time, that we should have maps of the surface sediment all over the continental shelf. We went out, this was a subsidiary program going in the same ship that I was on. And to get a sample we’d have to stop the ship and we’d lower an instrument and grab a sample and we’d get the ship underway. Well this was taking an infinite amount of time and I said, well gee can’t we do it while the ship’s underway. Oh how the hell would you do that? I said well we can just take a bathythermograph and we’ll turn it around and we’ll plug the holes in it and don’t worry about the bathythermograph measuring temperature versus depth but we’ll just let the bathythermograph drop and we’ll take the body tube that would behind the nose weight and put it in front of the nose weight, use the same tail fins and so forth. And I took a bathythermograph and turned it around and put an empty cylinder in front and we let it down it would dig into the bottom and we’d bring back a handful of sediment.
Right. It wasn’t a core but you simply grabbed a handful.
Just a grabbed handful of sediment. Well it worked great. And we’d work at full speed of the vessel and so you know you could take fifty samples in the time that he had taken to take one by the time they slowed the ship down, got underway again, and he operated his gear. “Oh well this is a great improvement.” Well it wasn’t a very handy rig because the bathythermograph nose had been tapered in several steps to make it sort of rounded but it was just rounded by several angles. And so the sediment would get caught where the tube went on the front of the nose piece; the sediment would get lodged in there so it wasn’t very handy in that way. So once we got back in, we made a sampler that was made like that. But there was a vertical wall on the back of the tube so you could clean the tubes. There was arguments about whether or not sediment had left over from a previous sample or not. With all these little corners, the sediment could get lodged in and so forth. It was a great innovation but it wasn’t completely satisfactory in the first one made at sea. But the ones we started making in the lab were great because you could clean them, and we made also made the tubes so it could be easily removed and you could wash the tube out and wash all that and then put it back together. You were ready to go for the next time. And we got little ice cream containers and you could take five hundred samples a day just in the course of doing something else. While you were traveling and doing something else, you could take these samples and plot them out on a map. Eventually they made maps of this whole east coast I guess at least down to Cape Hatteras showing what surface sediments existed. You know little areas of this kind of sediment with using that kind of an instrument.
I’m wondering either in that early Columbia period or the early years of Lamont, did anyone else seem to have your skills in instrument development and improvising or did you feel that you were particularly well suited for it?
I was unique in that sense because in building the instruments we used before the war I had done a lot of machine shop work. And in all of that we had innovated, Vine and Ewing and I had innovated, in a lot of different ways. For instance, one of the covers we had. We found a little can of fruit salad that was the right size for a cover for something. And so we bought a half a dozen cans of fruit salad and we all ate fruit salad until we got the cans empty and then we sent the cans off to be nickel plated so they wouldn’t rust. And then we used them for covers in the instrument and just like that we’d been doing over and over again to build our instruments because we had to find ways that were cheap enough to do it. The flashbulbs for the cameras were good enough for ten fathoms but deeper than that they would collapse. So we had to find a way to prevent them from collapsing. Well we found that the old automobiles used to have a carburetor bulb that was made out of heavy glass. We found that those would fit over the flashbulbs and we made a rig to hold them over the flashbulbs and we had a flashbulb pressure vessel for — well you bought those filter glasses I guess for less than a buck. And later on we had a little bigger flashbulb. They called it a number twenty-two flashbulb. It was like about a forty watt bulb that you’d use in a lamp now. And this was bigger and it wouldn’t withstand even ten fathoms so we had to get a pressure vessel for it. We found that the best pressure vessel we could get are these heavy thinking glasses you’d get in a diner then. They had walls about a quarter inch thick and so forth. And the crummier, lousier the glass the better pressure vessel it made. And we’d grind the surface of that flat so that it would seal with just a little grease. And the pressure would hold it together. We just had to give it a little initial grip. So we built all these kind of things and we’d innovate to find something cheap that would do the job and we’d do whatever needed to be done to it to make it effective. Like nickel plating tin cans. Who would have heard of such things. Well I had been involved in all that kind of thing. Vine was great at that kind of stuff but he was involved with a submarine B/T and that was keeping him pretty occupied so he didn’t get in the ships going out here, there and the other place.
Of course he stayed at Woods Hole when you came to —
He was staying at Woods Hole but also traveling to various submarine bases and giving classes to the submariners, going out on the subs with them, and showing them how to do this and how to do that. And later he was able to show them that they could use the bathythermograph to tell them how to dive the boat. When we started the war, diving a submarine was strictly an art. Nobody knew how you should dive the submarine. Just by experience you would learn. One of the things about a submarine that most people don’t realize is that when you submerge you pump water out and when you surface you pump water in. This is because the boat collapses from the pressure more, it’s more compressible than the water is. So it displaces less. So anyhow, he found out that if you put lines on the bathythermograph like this one —
You’re looking at a piece of paper that you pulled from your desk that is temperature versus depth.
This is a submarine bathythermograph card. It was smoked that the stylus would make a line on it and it was used for getting the information needed for the sound and sea water. Well Vine by adding the isoballast lines on here was able to show that when the bathythermograph showed such and such a thing, you had to pump in or flood in a few thousand gallons of water or you had to pump out some and you could see if you were going to a shallower depth what kind of adjustments in ballast you’d have to make just by reading the card, So that was added to the submarine bit. There were three of them that got involved in going to various sub bases and riding with the submariners and giving classes to the submariners to show them how to ballast their vessels or how to use it for sound. That was a whole sub series program that essentially Vine was running and it was keeping him pretty busy so he didn’t get out on the ships. And I was the legs and arms of Ewing to go out basically to go out at sea and use these things, and use my skills and imagination. You know, we used to call a file for instance a portable miller. Because you could use the file and make a groove in something or size something. Takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of effort but you can do it if you’re just determined you will do it. There are just all kinds of things you can do like that you would normally think just can’t be done. You wouldn’t even attempt to do it in a regular shop. But when you don’t have it and you’re not going to see one for a month and you have to have something, you do it. Well I had been trained in this school, finding ways to do things, and when I didn’t have all the equipment or all of the supplies. And nobody else had really been in that school. Vine was occupied with the submarine program, Ewing was mostly kept at his desk to do theoretical things and so forth, and I was the one out on the ships most of the time, the legs and arms.
How quickly did you come to meet Angelo Ludas? He was at Columbia when you arrived, wasn’t he?
He had been involved in the Manhattan Project. Finally after we came there Ewing had two rooms in Schermerhorn Extension, while they were fitting an array of rooms up in the — this was in the Schermerhorn Extension, the first rooms. The latter rooms were rooms that the Manhattan Project had used and they had completely cleaned out everything that was in there and were refurbishing it as rooms for Ewing. And that was going to be one great huge room which would be four or five times the size of this room, and a small room that would be like half the size of this room that became our shop, and then a room off of that became sort of for soldering and the ugly things that made fumes and dirty stuff would be done in there. And then there was Ewing’s office next to the big room and then another room about the same size as Ewing’s office. Ewing’s office was divided with a partition for a place he could close off and have privacy if needed it when people came to see him. And outside he had his secretary and of course you went through his secretary to get to see him. And then the next room was the room — we called it the bullpen, where all the graduate students had a desk. And we were packed in just as tight as we could get into that room ultimately.
How many were you then in the early Columbia days?
Oh we were about — well initially the first year we were four. And then pretty soon we got to be six before the year was over. Donn and Brilliant had joined and so there were six of us in this room. And soon we were adding other people and we couldn’t give them any more, there was no more room to put any more desks in there. And so they would get pushed around into any place. We also, across the hall, had a few small rooms. One had been made into a dark room and one was a storage area for the paper and so forth, letterhead and all that kind of supplies and some of the other science supplies. And so we pretty quickly outgrew the new rooms that had been organized for Ewing. And we graduate students would get together on Friday afternoons and clean up the big lab. All week people would do things in the lab and it would just get cluttered and worse and worse all through the week and Friday afternoon we’d all get together and clean it up. Put everything away, just clean it up. [Interruption]
You were mentioning the clean up just before we were interrupted by the telephone. Was that something that you had organized or was that something that you were asked?
No, we as graduate students organized it. We just realized after a while you just can’t let it get worse and worse and worse and you can’t find anything. And so we just organized amongst ourselves. We would take Friday afternoon and everybody would heave to as a group and we’d clean up the place.
How long did that take?
Well, how many hours you mean?
Oh usually two or three, maybe four hours. Most of the afternoon it would take.
It was a considerable job.
It was a considerable job. Well you had six people using the laboratory doing various experiments. [Interruption]
A moment ago I meant to ask you too, what sort of a person was Bill Donn?
Well, he was the kind of a senior person that had functioned by himself as a weather forecaster, and so he was kind of off by himself; more kind of a senior person in the sense that he had functioned by himself and he had learned to function on his own. He wasn’t one of us quite as much as the rest. And the rest of us functioned more as a group working together but his work was always in meteorology. And none of the rest of us were working in meteorology and so he was doing his research in a different area and he was a more separate kind of guy. We welcomed him in the group. He was well in the group but just the situation was that he was not involved with us as much as the rest of us. So he was part of the group but he wasn’t I guess you’d say.
How did Ewing feel about meteorology? Did he see that as critical at that time for the work you wanted to do?
No. But he was of the mind that anything pertaining to geophysics was interesting and should be followed up and so he tried to encourage Bill Donn and help him. He understood a lot of things in the areas that the rest of us didn’t even though he hadn’t any training in. Well he had understanding. I’ve seen him, for example, I’ve seen him at a dinner sit down with a guy who was a biologist. He knows nothing about biology. And the guy would say, oh, I’m having a hard time. I’ve run up against a stumbling block. I just simply can’t figure any way out. And Ewing would quiz him about what the problem was. And he’d tell him. And Ewing might think about it for a while and he’d turn to them and say, have you ever thought of trying so and so? And the guy said, “Oh my God, that’s the solution” or frequently, “No but I’ll give it a try,” And a few days later he’d come back. “It was the right way to go.” He just had an ability to get to the kernel of the problem quickly and he had that kind of a mind I guess you’d say; that he’d get to the problem quickly and solve it even though it wasn’t in his specialty. And throughout all his life, in Columbia and Lamont, he welcomed anybody in any area of geophysics, come let’s work together and add to our abilities. There was nothing that was too esoteric to bother with. “Sure, come join us. The more of us the merrier. The more things we can talk about. The more interaction there will be. The more we can help each other out. Let’s go.”
Who did Bill Donn train with particularly outside of his classes with Ewing? I’m wondering if you recall that?
Well he took most of the same kind of courses we did but he was, especially applied it to meteorology rather than to those kind of things. I applied mine mostly to gravity and Steenland to magnetics and Press to seismology. It just worked out that way.
You mentioned, too, meeting Angelo Ludas and his role in the Manhattan Project. How quickly — what were your impressions of him?
Well Angelo was a one of a kind. The way that happened is we knew we had to have a machine shop because instruments didn’t exist. You couldn’t buy an instrument. Nowadays you’d say I want to measure salinity, you’d go buy a salinity measurer from somebody.
It would be a commercial firm.
A commercial firm that has such a device and you’d go buy it. In those days anything we wanted to do, then there was nothing. So we would have to conceive of an instrument to measure whatever it is we wanted to know about, and how to operate it. And you had to build it. Eventually after you thought it through, you had to build something or other. Sometimes it was an electronic piece of gear and another time it was a mechanical piece of gear. Or sometimes it was a combination. But you had to build it. And so we realized we had to have a machine shop and all of our work before the war and all during the war we used machine shops to build our equipment. So, at the end of the war we realized we had to have a machine shop. We got surplus machines, through the navy. We would go through lists of the surplus material and say oh there’s a great lathe, we’ll have that. And there’s a nice drill press, we’ll get that. That’s a big one, we can do all kinds of jobs. Oh there’s a nice little jeweler’s type of drill press, we’ll get that because if we have some real fine work to do and so on. And we were getting these machines and it was obvious pretty soon that Ewing knew how to use them but he was too busy to ever bother. I knew something about using them but I was mostly a student so they sat idle most of the time. Most of the other students didn’t even know that much about them, so they couldn’t really use them. So obviously we had to have a machinist who was working full time building the various things we wanted. And so Ewing interviewed people and signed on Ludas. Well Ludas was a great hit. He was a “can do” kind of guy. He was of Greek extraction and he didn’t have much education but he was probably the most natural knowledgeable guy I ever met in my life. Even though he hadn’t the education, he knew how to do things.
Did he talk to you much about what he had done in the Manhattan Project or before this?
No. We never got to talk much about that. Before we got to know each other very well, we were building instruments together and we had plenty to talk about. Something we’d take them out on the ship with us and he’d help us do our projects. But frequently there’d be construction. Well, we’d have generators on the ship that would quit on us because the bearings had burned out and we would build bearing out at sea out of a piece of bronze or a piece of oil lite material we had, we’d construct it. I remember once on the Atlantis, we turned out a bearing for the Caryn that was working with us for one of their generators because it had burned out. They didn’t have any equipment or stock so we made a bearing passed it over to them, and they put it in their generator and they were back in business in a couple of days instead of having to go ashore and spend a week going and coming. Things like that would go on and Angelo would be helpful in that kind of thing. Well at any rate, he got knowledgeable about the kind of equipment we were using and he would find problems that he didn’t know quite how to solve and he would go around and talk to us, to the graduate students. We need to do so and so and I don’t quite know how to do it. What do you think you’d do. Well in the coring rig for instance, Ewing gave him the problem. In the early days of coring they had this coring device and it had its own cable and then you had to shackle it to another cable and the other cable would go back up to the ship. Well here you had a hundred and fifty feet of cable and a thousand pound coring device on it and you’ve got to unshackle it from this other cable in order to bring it. It was —
Cumbersome and heavy and a dangerous kind of operation to do. So Ewing set the problem for Angelo. Can’t we made it the same piece of cable going all the way to the coring gear. But all of the kinds of devices that you’d clamp to the cable would crimp the cable and this would make it lose some of its strength for one thing, and frequently things that would have to pass the crimp would get stuck on it. So he said, Angelo we’ve got to have a thing to clamp onto there that will operate the core gear but [something] we can loosen and then run the cable right through it. And Angelo thought about it for a while and he came to me and he said, Joe have you got any ideas? We’ve got to get a device like this. Oh sure, Angelo, that’s no real problem at all, I said.
You’re sifting through the left drawer of your desk now.
Just take a pair of parallel rulers like this, and you run the cable. You put another piece on this side the cable is forced to go between the parallel rulers. And when this is held, the more cable pulls down on the one side, the harder it clamps against the cable and you can make it as long as you want and distribute the load on the cable and it won’t crimp the cable. And I said that’s all you do. And so he made what we later called the “come along.” He’d put actually a third arm on it because — well I don’t remember why but he put what we called an initial clamp on here which would hold this piece fixed to the cable so that the more weight you put on this one, the harder it would clamp it with the cable. And there was a long arm that would release the core so that it would drop. Anyhow that solved the problem. Again, Angelo’s know how and my know how put together solved the problem and we used it for all the rest of the years we worked together. But that’s the kind of thing that would go on. When Angelo needed help. One student or another would suggest some way to go at it, and Angelo would try it.
But you were particularly a point person for?
I was frequently it because I had more experience in that kind of thing. I earlier told you about the problem of the electrical switch on the camera and the difficulty. Ewing had been out on a cruise and he had one of these, toggle switches, with castor oil around it. He had had nothing but trouble with the darn thing. And he came back and he talked to Angelo and he said Angelo we’ve got to change this somehow. We’ve got to get a switch that’s reliable and so forth. And Angelo posed the problem to me and I thought about it and I thought about it and I was trying to think of a way that you would use the toggle switch. And I finally went back to my room and I couldn’t get it out of my mind all night. I stayed awake all night thinking about a way that we could solve this. And finally I decided to myself, oh, the way we got to do this is we’ve got to use the micro-switch. You’re acquainted with micro-switches?
Just needs a little
A little pressure.
The least little pressure on it to make the switch switch. But all we need is a micro-switch and some way to put a little pressure on it. Well the micro-switch is about that long and we needed some batteries to operate the camera — well the regular flashlight batteries about that size.
Reaching in your drawer and pulling out.
Puffing out a D battery, just a regular flashlight battery. We need six bulbs to operate things on the camera. So we need four of those batteries. Why not just make it one battery bigger and make the switch in the place of that one battery. A micro-switch was smaller than a battery so you could make one that size all right. So how are you going to make the micro-switch work? Well if you have a weight on there that’s a piece of iron. Then a magnet will pull it and it’ll toggle it enough to move the micro-switch. Well that will work but then the piece of iron would be so heavy that just a little jostle and you’d turn the micro-switch and that wouldn’t work. Well if you put a fulcrum on it so that you had a steel weight on the bottom and a brass weight up at the top that wouldn’t be magnetic, the inertia would be equal on both sides so that jostling it wouldn’t do any harm and it would work. And so then all you needed was a horseshoe magnet that would move up and down outside a stainless steel case because stainless steel isn’t magnetic so the magnetic field goes through the stainless steel but it doesn’t become magnetized. And so if you move this magnet up and down when it comes down near the piece of steel in the micro-switch it will tilt the — Well the next morning I went to Angelo and said, Ang, you take a micro-switch and you make it the size of a battery like this and you just increase the battery case, that we already had on the thing, a little bit longer and you put a horseshoe magnet on it and it’ll work. He built the thing that day and by that night we had a switch that worked and I don’t know for ten years we built a thousand of those I guess. And an interesting sidelight to that is that one of the sounders uses the same kind of a switch. I should have obtained a patent on it and I probably could’ve made some money if I had thought about it. We just used it and lots of people saw it.
Did you later make patents on particular innovations?
At the end of World War II, I had to file seventeen patents of things that I had developed during the war that were patentable as a part of the completion of the government programs.
Part of the wrap up work.
And the ownership of the patents went automatically to the Federal government. That was the arrangement. But I had to do all the work of writing the information up. So there were seventeen patents issued to me at the end of the war and I got nothing out of. You know patenting wasn’t an important thing to me because I had to do all that work and I got nothing out of it. If the government had been wiser and said you’ll get ten percent or some number, or you got fifty dollars a patent or something, and you had made something out of it, that you would have considered patenting other things with government funds in later years that most of us just — We did the research and published the results and other people —
Did the patents.
Got any patents. Because it didn’t matter to us. Didn’t gain us anything. This magnetic switch kind of a deal is now used by one of the sounders, the electronic sounders that are used. They have a little magnet that’s probably about this size, about a half an inch big, that’s a horseshoe magnet. And it’s brought near a glass device with two strips of metal in it. One strip is magnetic and when that magnet comes down outside the glass near one, the two pieces connect and then it makes the switch. And they use that for switches to send the signal out of a sounder. It’s the same deal, just a different way to do it.
I was interested a moment ago when you were also talking about the core. Because the coring was being done at the same time, virtually at the same time, by the Swedish deep sea expedition.
Well they started it. They did the first, well, Piggot did the first coring before World War II.
Charles [S.] Piggot.
Yes. And he took about twenty deep sea cores. And they took so long, they spent so much time studying those cores and so many kinds of studies were made of the cores that it cost thousands of dollars to study the results of one core. And the cores Piggot got were about ten feet long maximum.
And these were done at the Carnegie?
Carnegie Institution, yes. And so Piggot’s cores — well when Ewing went out on the National Geographic cruise out to the mid-Atlantic ridge, he wanted to take cores of the ocean bottom, And Columbus Iselin, the director at the institution, said now don’t take too many cores; it costs too much to work them up. And Ewing said no I’m going to take cores daily, he said, and when I take so many cores that two of them look alike, then I will say we have enough cores and we won’t worry about taking more cores. Well we never got that. Never found two cores alike. And we took thousands and thousands of cores. And we didn’t try to exhaustively study each core like they had done with the Piggot cores. The Piggot cores, there were only ten of them in the world for anybody, and so everybody who was studying cores or sediments did everything they could think of to each of those cores you see.
And those were all on the continental shelf?
No, they were in deep water.
They were in deep water.
His corer was what we call an infernal device. It was an explosive rig and when it came to the bottom, it had a device that would set off an explosive charge and it would shoot the core barrel away from the weight as a gun and drive it into the bottom. Well it turns out that you can’t get more than ten feet of core by any means of trying to push a tube into the bottom. The friction builds up enough that by the time you got ten feet of core and often less, in sand it’ll be like two, three feet, you can’t push a tube in just that way. The Swedish expedition was the next group who tried to take cores and again worked them up exhaustively like Piggot did before the war. They overcame the function this by putting a piston inside the corer that was connected to the ship and so when the corer was released it passed by the piston taking core of the bottom and if the friction builds up in the core tube to the bottom then the sediment would separate from the piston and that would give you a vacuum up above the core and with all that sea pressure it would push the sediment in. They’d overcome the friction in the tube and so you could take more core. Well they were able to take twenty foot cores that way.
This is the [Bone] Kullenberg device?
Yes, this is the Kullenberg device. But it was a monstrous machine. It was the kind of a machine that it took you four or five hours to set up and it took you four hours to get to the bottom and four hours to get back and about four or five hours to take it apart after you got it back to the ship. You know it was a twenty hour operation to take one core so you didn’t take many. And it was an expensive operation to work up a core so you didn’t take many. So Kullenberg, I guess, took about twenty cores on a worldwide expedition that lasted for a year because it was such a monstrous job. Ewing’s idea was we ought to take a lot of cores and study lots of different things and we’ll just take the cream off the top of each core and then we’ll make a library of them and then we’ll come back to them and study them again and again and again. Well, actually the library of cores we took in the times we were at Lamont are still being studied. The last news release that we got from Lamont was about some cores, one of the cores involved was one of the cores we took in the early days. The guy that was studying something had gone back and found a core there that had the information he wanted. So these cores have been used over and over again. And so Ewing had used — Stetson, took cores at Woods Hole. He was taking cores and he had built a coring device that was somewhat similar to Kullenbeng’s, but again had this separate cable deal on it. Instead of having one weight you handle from the ship, he had weights that were about eighty pounds a piece and so you build up the weight by putting eighty pound pieces together on the coring rig. Well again this takes time. And the winches weren’t very good and so they took a long time to get to the bottom. You’d have to actually operate the winch to drive the core out when gravity was trying to take it away from you. In fact what you were doing with the winch was you were holding it back while gravity was puffing it down. And you were trying to overcome most of the gravity so it wouldn’t get out of hand. Tear you apart. But that was the kind of organization they had. And that was what Ewing had to use on the first cruise out into the mid-Atlantic ridge. When he came back was when he posed this problem to Angelo and Angelo posed the problem to me and we came up with a device that with a little bit of massaging became the standard rig. And I guess they still use it at Lamont. I don’t know.
Did you have any direct contact with any of the people on the Swedish expedition in those years?
No but they came over and gave a lecture at our seminar about their taking the cores the rest of their work.
Was that Hans Pettersson who had given the talk?
Yes. He gave a talk about how they took then and the studies they were making on the cores. They hadn’t made them yet at that time. And that was when Ewing thought well that’s a good way to learn about something. We better do that.
What was their interest, the Swedish group in making the cores? Did they have a particular research agenda that they wanted to pursue?
I really don’t know that. I think that they had a biologist who wanted to study whether — with all the photographs we’d taken showing living things on the bottom he wanted to sift from the bottom and look at the biology. Is the only the guess I can make.
I was just wondering if you mentioned climate as one possible means of study or anything.
Not that I remember.
What sort of person was Pettersson?
I don’t really know. You know he got up and gave a talk. I never really —
That was the only interaction.
And the only action was that we heard him. You know Ewing would take him out to dinner or something like that but graduate students wouldn’t get a chance to talk other than ask questions.
So when speakers came in, was this by the way at one of those meetings at Columbia before you already went out to Lamont?
No this would be early at Lamont, the early days at Lamont.
Was this a weekly symposium series?
No, it must have been at Columbia because we built the come-along that I was describing while we were still at Columbia.
It seems like that would have been back at Columbia.
We had a seminar once a week at the geology department that would go around all various areas of geology and all the geologist would come to the seminar and hear about the geology of the such and such mountains, or the sedimentation in the such and such valley.
How often would you attend those?
Well the graduate students were expected to attend all of them and most of us did. All of us figured, it was part of our education to get this information about other ways of studying these things even if we weren’t perhaps involved in it. It was educational and we should learn about it.
How did you feel as graduate students in the department that at that time still was mainly oriented towards the more traditional ways of geology? How welcome did you feel?
A mix. I guess you’d say it’s a mixed feeling. We had enough people of our own so that we could hob nob together. And so on. And there were enough geologists, well more than enough, like there’d be thirty geologists and five of us or something like that. So there were enough of them that they got along together and we took a number of courses together so we were acquainted. But by and large we didn’t mix much with these other guys initially. Later on things got a — well we kind of figured we were the elite people. We never, never felt like orphans in the department or anything like that. We felt we were the elite cause they were the poor guys: they didn’t know any mathematics, they didn’t know any physics. They didn’t measure anything. They just got their prescribed sediments accumulation or that rock formation and while that’s interesting, that isn’t very sexy to do. What we do was sexy. You see. So we kind of felt we were the elite. And, in those days we had a Christmas party every year. This same group that met for a seminar, we’d have a Christmas party and each of the groups of students, would give a Christmas present to their professor that would be significant about — It was a non-entity kind of thing but it would be significant.
Symbolism and so forth.
Of something related to their science that their professor would appreciate. Well I remember the stratigraphers made a tie for Marshall Kay in which they had a whole stratigraphic sequence represented on the tie, for instance. At one of these Christmas parties a paper about this fellow at Harvard who had been studying pigeons and how they managed to return to home.
B. F. Skinner’s work?
Yes. And so he indicated that he felt pretty strongly that they could do some magnetic detection and might be able to note the direction of the sum and that kind of thing. That they somehow managed to combine time with the sun’s position to navigate. Well anyhow that had just come out and it was very prominent in everybody’s mind. There were lots of pigeons out on the campus at Columbia. So we caught a pigeon and we put it in a shoebox and we tied a ribbon to its leg and the other end of the ribbon to the shoebox, long enough so that when the pigeon got out he could be recovered. I’ve often wondered about what the guards on the grounds thought of us catching a pigeon. But anyhow we got this pigeon and put it in a shoebox and then we wrote, all the geophysics graduate students got together, and wrote a research paper. This program was organized so that each group would give a supposed research paper, which would try to be funny or some way be interesting to the group, and to the professor it was being aimed at of course. And so we had written a paper that we were going to take pigeons and train them for certain magnetic anomalies, and the pigeons would find that anomaly; like a salt dome in the Gulf coast and it would fly round and round and then there it would be marked out in white, a white circle around the anomaly and all you did was bring an oil rig in and drill a hole in the middle of the anomaly. Well this was the gist of the paper. Well part of the funny part of it, was that Gordon Hamilton was chosen from our group of students to read the paper. And somehow or other he really was worried about this, how well it would be taken and so forth. And so he got drunk, not stumbling drunk but just drunk enough so that he was kind of funny and he would stumble around the podium and get tangled up in the cord. And this added to the humor of the whole situation and he would stumble on some of the words and so on. But he eventually read this whole thing and then we gave the pigeon to Doc as his present from our group. And Doc opened it and the pigeon flies out, perches on some of the overhead structure and it brought the house down. [laughs]
I’m sure it did.
But that was sort of typical of why we thought that we were better than the other graduate students because we could think of more elaborate hoaxes to play than they could. [laughs]
That’s terrific. What sort of a person was Gordon Hamilton when you first met him back in those days?
He was the same sort of person he is today. He was brash, he was outspoken. I’ve been in lots of meetings that are presumably very serious and so forth and somebody would speak and Gordon Hamilton would say, that’s horse shit now. I mean this is typical Hamilton. [Interruption]
I’m curious too. How much contact did you have with any of the petroleum firms during your early years at Columbia. Was there much?
Not very much. Once in a while one of them would be in New York for some reason and Ewing knew most of the people in the petroleum business. As a graduate student he had worked with the Independent Exploration Company. In that time he went to Rice University and that was in the petroleum patch and so he was acquainted with most of the people in the petroleum business so if one of them was in New York he would often get em to come up and give a seminar about the latest thing going on in the oil business. So, maybe two or three times a year there would be somebody like that. But that was the only contact.
Was that at Lamont or was that already happening at Columbia?
That was already happening at Columbia.
Were there any seminars of that sort that were particularly memorable for you? I’m curious when you were mentioning the people coming by. Were those seminars at Columbia mostly in house Columbia faculty and students or were outsiders?
I would say sixty or seventy percent were in house. But being in New York, and at that time the Geological Society of America headquarters was a block away, the geologists would come and the Geological Society of America had two guest rooms that were available to any geologist who was in New York at that time, foreigner or member. And so they would frequently have a guest in one of their guest rooms. And if he was, Ewing was very friendly with Henry [Moe] Aldrich. Aldrich was the one who got us was involved in getting that grant for us. [Interruption]
So being in New York there were a lot of geologists going through New York spending a day who would stop at the Geological Society of America, or people who were coming to the Geological Society to ask for some help or something or about a paper that was being published or one thing or another. And Ewing was especially familiar with Henry Aldrich and after I got onto the faculty, I would usually have lunch with Henry one or twice a week regularly. He ate at the Faculty Club as we did. And we’d call him up and say, hey we’re going over to the faculty club, you want to join us or something? And he’d say yes. Or frequently he’d call up and say, hey I don’t have anyone to eat with. Well anyhow we got very friendly with Henry Aldrich in the course of this and he felt that he owned us in part because he had given us the early grants that made us be a successful unit. So nearly anytime there was anybody that might give a paper about something or other was over there, he would call us up and say, hey so and so is going to be here, you want him for a seminar or something? And nearly every geologist who travels around like that has a lecture in his briefcase anyway.
So you’d call him up and say, hey, we’re having a seminar on Thursday. Can you be? Well I’m going to leave Thursday morning. I can’t. Or yes I’m going to be here. Yes I guess I could give you a little talk over there.
Do you remember any discussions particularly between Aldrich and Ewing? Did Aldrich try to persuade Ewing to take up certain research problems?
Did they discuss things like that?
No. No. Aldrich just tried to facilitate grants to Ewing because he thought Ewing was an upcoming scientist and he thought geophysics was important for geology and so geophysics ought to get into Geological Society. But the group that I told you about of Dick Field and the Col. Bowie and the third guy. Bowie and whoever that third guy was I can’t remember now. But anyhow they were the driving force that started Ewing off. And once Ewing got started and knew the ropes and so forth he didn’t need their help. At the end of the war, after this one geological grant, we didn’t need the grants from the GSA. They were too small, too small potatoes for our kind of research any more. Not that we were denigrating them or anything. It was just their grants couldn’t be very much bigger than that and they weren’t much use to us and besides we were beginning to get a little antagonism from the geology community because our grants were so big for doing these things. Our expenses are high with ships going to sea and so forth. Well, even our own geology department used to come around and say, you guys got a lot of money. We need to go a meeting out at such and such. Can’t you let us have enough money? Well that isn’t what the money was given to you for. You can’t say yes. But they thought we were just antagonistic to the geology department but we would be misappropriating the funding if we did it. And they didn’t realize it. Either they didn’t realize or they figured there was a way to hide it or something. But we just played it straight all the way. If we got money for something, we used it for that. That was all we used it for.
When did you first notice the antagonism beginning?
I would say fairly soon after we moved to Lamont when there got to be a little bit of a separation. When we met day by day in the department and took the same classes we still took a lot of the same classes, but you didn’t run into one of them in the library and say, hey, on that course in stratigraphy, I didn’t understand this. You know we did that in the early days when we lived next to those guys, but when we lived out at Lamont, we did it amongst ourselves. We didn’t have the geologists there. And so that’s when it started to get a little bit of an antagonism. After a while when we got so renowned, important whatever you want to call us, the geology department got very proud that they had this organization with them and that broke down again and they got reintegrated with us in good order.
Right. But that was considerably later. That was still tension over uses of funds. We’ll cover that in later periods but the Doherty Fund comes to mind as one example of tension between the department and Lamont. I wonder when you think back to that period, were there any other courses that you haven’t mentioned in your graduate training at Columbia that were particularly memorable or important for you?
Not really. Well, as I said, a lot of the courses we took were physics courses and we only took about four geology courses that were particularly pertinent. Four or five of them. And with our geophysics and physics courses we only had to take thirty, as I remember it, thirty points of graduate work and you took three at a time in any one of the courses, most of the courses. Occasionally there would be a two point course. The precambrian geology was a two point course because there wasn’t that much precambrian geology known in those days. So we only met once a week. And we covered all the material in one semester that was known. But most of the courses were three point courses so you’re talking about ten courses and three of them were in geophysics and five of them were in physics and two would be in geology or something like that. So the answer to your question is, nothing that I can remember. Every one of the students took stratigraphy and structural geology. Now some of them took mineralogy. I never could see why mineralogy was important. Well I’ve since been interested in some minerals and I wish I had taken mineralogy. Not that it would be pertinent for geophysics studies I mentioned but because of my own interests. Basically stratigraphy and structure were the main things that were related to geophysics. And we could take, with the knowledge we had without having any previous geology with us, field geology which was essentially structural and stratigraphy applied.
I’m curious as to those early years before you went out to Lamont, whether you recall much discussion about new methods of dating that were being applied to geology? Of course, Alfred [A.O.C.] Nier was beginning to work with the advanced mass spectrometers. It was only beginning, certainly, by the late 1940s but I’m just wondering if that was a topic that came up in discussion much in the Columbia department?
Didn’t come up much in discussion but — oh God what was his name? The guy who started geochemistry at Lamont.
Kulp, Larry [J. Laurence] Kulp. Larry Kulp was a student at the same time that Steenland, Press and I were students. He took the Precambrian geology course at the same time that I did for instance. And he was always talking about dating, that he was going to do carbon-14 dating which was very new at that time, and it looked like it took a huge lab to do. Well that was his goal. He was going to do that. But the rest of us didn’t pay much attention although I wrote a paper for something or other I forget what now one of the courses I took about dating ocean cores. And I looked up all the information I could find on anybody that had done any dating about ocean cores and referenced their papers and said what they did and so forth. And it didn’t add up to very much information in total but there were about ten papers that you could reference. And I wrote that for some course as my study on the course. But that was the kind of — that was all it was on. But Larry Kulp was always focused on he was going to do carbon- 14 dating and later on other kinds of dating.
What do you recall of Larry Kulp as a person and as a scientist?
As far as I know he was a real good scientist. He had every qualification in his area of study that any of us had in our area. And he was as good a student as any of us were. But he had the single-minded determination that he going to do carbon-14 dating. And it then brought him into other kinds of dating but that was the motivating force at first. More single-minded in his case than any of the rest of us that we were going to do anything in particular. We were going to study geophysics, we all knew that. But Steenland wasn’t especially interested in magnetics in the early days until he started worrying about a thesis and then he decided to do a magnetic thesis. And Press was involved in some seismic work but he wasn’t single-mindedly interested in seismology in those days until he wrote his thesis on seismology. Me with gravity, the same way. But Larry, right from the first time I met him was going to do carbon-14 if it killed him.
Did he take the geophysics course with you?
No, he took no geophysics. But he was in some structure courses and the stratigraphy course and so forth that we were in.
You overlapped in the geology courses but not the geophysics courses?
But not in geophysics course, no. As far as I know, he never took a geophysics course at all. He went and took a lot of courses in the chemistry while we were taking courses in physics. Because that would be pertinent to his kind of measurement more than the physics courses were and the physics would be more pertinent to us.
Sure. Did you come to know him fairly well?
Yes. And when we moved to Lamont, he was having, trying to develop a laboratory at Schermerhorn Hall and he had no room, nothing to do. He was only — I don’t know, a post doc I guess you’d say in the department. He didn’t have any clout. He didn’t have any space or anything. He wanted some space to do carbon-14. So when we moved to Lamont, Ewing welcomed him to go and use the kitchen, the former kitchen at Lamont to build that would be the equivalent of a hood, what do you call it, over the kitchen stove they had a —
The ventilation shaft of whatever.
Ventilation. That would be the equivalent of a hood that he could use and so forth. And then he needed water and there was water there, and drains for discarding things. We welcomed him into the fold at Lamont to get into his chemistry. I remember we showed his work to visitors and we were proud of him as a member of Lamont as we developed and he was publishing papers that were well received. But fairly early in the game, he decided to make money at it. And he set up the Isotopes, Incorporated I guess it was called down in, oh that town near the near the end of the George Washington Bridge. Well any rate he set up a commercial company for carbon-14 dating initially which now advertises to all kinds of dating. And I don’t think he has as much to do with it any more if anything. I think early on, fairly early on, he got out of it and others took over.
How quickly did that emerge, his interest in the commercial outlet?
I would say about two or three years after he set up his lab at Lamont.
So by about ‘53, ‘54 or so. Almost around the same time the geochemistry building was built.
Well he was the force to build the chemistry building. I guess it was just a couple years after that. Cause he used his nice new building. That was the first new building on the Lamont campus. And he raised the money. I don’t know how he raised the money or anything. He raised all the money for that. I don’t think Ewing had anything to do with it other than say yes we’ll accept your money. Yes, we’ll build a building and so forth. But essentially Kulp raised the money and got an architect to design a building and so forth.
At a certain time relations became strained between him and Ewing.
Or so it seemed at least to others.
I didn’t think so. But most of the other people would be directly involved with Ewing in something but Kulp’s work being so different he wouldn’t have much contact with Ewing.
The two areas worked independently.
Basically worked independently while they were on the same campus and we were proud that they were there and we would show visitors around in the geochemistry and get one of the geochemists to explain it. And after doing it five or six times, why I could pretty well go through the routine until they changed something and so on. But we’d show visitors around there and we’d be proud and we’d introduce them to people that were important and so forth.
When you say visitors, do you mean visiting scientists mostly?
Yes, mostly. Nearly all the others would be in science.
I was just wondering if in the early days there were any potential patrons who you had to bring.
No, no, nothing like that. A few oil company people would come through and we would try to impress them with the kind of research we were doing. Although at that time most it wasn’t very pertinent to the oil business. So we’d take them around and show it to them. They were interested in the geology, geophysics, geochemistry sort of things so that they would find it an interesting trip to take. Look around a bit. And some of them would tell others in the company when you’re up in the New York area you better go and visit these guys and see what they’re doing. And ultimately it got to the point where the oil industry was using a lot of information that we were developing.
That’s certainly something that we’re going to cover as we get a little bit closer to that period. When you were still a graduate student and living at the Columbia campus, would you see people like Press and Gordon Hamilton and others, off hours outside of the classroom pretty often or was it mostly over at the end of the day?
Essentially we hung together all the time. We were going mostly the same classes. We all get involved in playing hand ball. We’d play hand ball in doubles and singles with whoever was available. We were all working in that big laboratory at Columbia that I was talking about. Even though we were working on different projects, we were working in the same room. And you know we’d kid each other about this and that that we were doing and it was good buddies kind of operation.
That included Bill Donn and Rene Brilliant?
Less of them because they were off on other things. And they didn’t have a project going in the big lab or anything. See, Bill mostly was doing his work over at Brooklyn at that time. Rene, I don’t remember her getting involved in any research project really. I think she was already starting to wander into the medical area. I don’t believe she ever got a degree at Columbia in geophysics. She dropped it before she got her — [Interruption]
We’re resuming after a brief lunch break. One of the questions I wanted to ask you a moment ago was how quickly you found gravity work to be an area that you wanted to concentrate in? Of course much of your work at Lamont, you career thereafter did focus on gravity.
Well I sort of fell into gravity by default initially. With that first grant, we got the gravity pendulum equipment and started making gravity measurements on the submarines. And right after that we got a contract with the Office of Naval Research [ONR] for gravity measurements. And later on we got three or four contracts: one for gravity, one for seismic and one for magnetics. And then later than that even they reintegrated them, first they separated them.
This is ONR?
ONR. And at any rate, in that early day the next contract we got was gravity. And I needed money to go to graduate school. That too was somewhat of a story. In the years when I had worked at Woods Hole they had often hired new people with no experience to come to work and had to pay them more than they were paying me. Instead of raising my salary Columbus Iselin would say to me, “Just don’t worry Joe. We’re going to take care of you after the war and help you get through your graduate degree. You can rely on us.” And I settled for that which was my mistake. The support he actually gave me was he paid my salary for the summer of 1946 when we did the research work on the Geological Society of America program. But that was it. That was my support. I was paid through the war years. So I always felt that Columbus hadn’t played fair with me but I never said anything to him about it.
Did you raise that to Ewing?
No. He knew what my financial situation was and how I was supported and he never raised the point. I never raised the point. So at any rate when we got the grant from ONR for gravity. Doc said to me, “Well here’s a way you can support yourself. You want to take up the responsibility of the gravity measurement?” And I said, “Yes if it’ll support me, yes.” So I got into gravity that way and of course studying deep into gravity like that why I never really got out of it.
Had you been particularly interested in gravity work earlier in your career?
More interested in the seismic refraction measurements at sea because that’s what I worked on mostly before World War II. And a lot of the work in World War II was similar work.
You had a lot of experience.
I had a lot of experience in the seismic refraction measurements; manmade seismic refraction measurements as contrasted to earthquake measurements. And that was my true love, initial true love. But I virtually got into the gravity as a way to support myself to get through graduate school and by the time I got that deep in it, it was too late I guess. I always did some seismic refraction work but I got my name on a very few papers at the time, because I always had the ongoing gravity work that I had to work on and these other guys that were working with me on the refraction work worked a couple of days while I was still pretty preoccupied.
You mentioned that you had already contact, or you were very familiar with, Vening-Meinesz’s work and had had some contact with him. Did you also have contact in the early post-war years with [Weikko Aleksanteri] Heiskanen? I was curious if you were aware of any of the plans that seem to have been discussed about bringing Heiskanen’s institute over to the United States?
No. That was all done in Ohio State. Woollard as you may know had concentrated on making gravity measurements all over the U.S. and also in making base station measurements all over the world, And in the early days when Heiskanen first came to Ohio State he had seminars and when we were at those seminars Woollard would get me aside and he’d say, you know they wouldn’t have anything at all to offer if it weren’t for you and I. You with your gravity measurements on submarines and me with my gravity measurements there wouldn’t be any program. But they outgrew that and I didn’t know of any of their plans. You know we were invites to the seminars but we aren’t a part of organizing them or anything. We were just presenting our data, our information.
Did you come to know Heiskanen well?
Fairly well, yes.
What sort of person was he?
Well, first of all he was about half the size of a normal person.
You’re waving your hand only about four foot.
He probably was five feet tall. But he was very short compared to all the rest of us. And he spoke in very broken English.
He was from Norway as I recall?
No. No, Finland.
He was from Finland. He was a very nice guy. He went out of his way when he was chairman of the seminar to make everybody welcome and to make sure they were taken well care of. And he was knowledgeable about gravity but both he and Vening-Meinesz I guess were too far taken with isostasy. And their whole idea of interpreting gravity was to talk about isostasy. That was the whole purpose of measuring gravity. And I think I put geology into the gravitational interpretation as well as — I talked about isostasy too but my principal interpretations were in terms of geology. What geology was meant by it. And I don’t think that anybody has recognized that that’s how geology got into gravity in the rest of the world at all. Until I was giving my interpretations and getting my students to give their interpretations in terms of what it meant geologically, or combining it with seismic information so that the two could be interpreted together in terms of geology, and then talk about the isostatic situation.
Rather than having that as the primary question to which?
As far as I was concerned Heiskanen and Vening-Meinesz once they talked about isostasy they were no more interested in gravity, didn’t care what the geology was.
Did they have much training in geology that you know of?
None. None that I know of. And that’s probably why they were that way. But I think they also grew up at the time when isostasy was question of the community as a whole.
Certainly in the beginning of the century, it was a major issue over way of interpretation.
No. About the thirties was when it was major.
You feel it was the ‘30s.
‘20s to ‘30s in that period. It was the thing to talk about. The geologists talked about it. The geophysicists talked about it. Everybody talked about isostasy. It was the big thing. Like plate tectonics is now. Isostasy was then. And they never outgrew it. They always thought isostasy was the question. Long after anybody else wasn’t much interested. And they didn’t make the big correlations which they should have made. Which was that the crust of the ocean could only be a thin crust and the mantle had to be only a few, like five, kilometers beneath the ocean floor where it was thirty kilometers under the continent. I had to point that out when I talked about the standard ocean and continental crust. And I published three different papers on that subject at different levels. My first one was with awful skimpy data and then it got more and more. But at any rate, they missed that point which was inherent in the thought of isostasy. But they never talked about it. Never mentioned it. Nobody did.
Did you have any discussions with them directly about this?
No, not really because I felt I would be being super critical of them and they were senior people that I respected highly and I didn’t want to antagonize them in any way: Both of them were considerably more senior than I. And I had a huge respect for Vening-Meinesz. From almost the first day I started working with Ewing I heard about Vening-Meinesz and the pendulums and gravity measurements.
I think that’s a very interesting observation that you’re making. Including yourself, who seemed to be the ones most interested in making the connection between gravity and geological features?
There wasn’t anybody until I had done it for five to six, seven years, something like that. And then everybody studying gravity on land started to do the same thing, talk about the geology it represented. And none of them made the connection or even mentioned that they did this because they read my papers and maybe they didn’t, I don’t know. But nobody had done it until I did it and then the next thing I knew everybody who was studying gravity was talking about the geology that they could interpret from the gravity.
Do you think that came in part because of the use of gravity for determining oceanics, the floor of the ocean structure? Was it something inherent in the new kinds of data interpretations that persuaded others to begin to look at the land data again or do you think it was the success of your advocacy of the —
I don’t really know whether they did it independently or because they had been reading my papers and said hey we ought to do that on land. I have no way of knowing. I was never close to any of the people doing gravity on land because I was always doing gravity at sea, except for George Woollard. And of course I’d worked with him at Woods Hole during World War II considerably, so we were thorough friends. His family used to come and have dinner with ours every Sunday or we’d go with his place every Sunday at Woods Hole for years. It was that kind of a relationship. So we were thoroughly acquainted and so on and we talked about everything under the sun. I helped him put linoleum down in his kitchen in Woods Hole. He helped me do things in my place. But he was never worried about interpreting. Well he always interpreted his gravity in terms of geology but it was always like that section I showed you that he did in the seismic work in New Jersey where he drew these very complicated surface geologic maps and so on. And the same with his gravity. He never looked at it in terms of what this meant about the thickness of the layers or what structures might be under, hidden underneath. He just talked about the surface geology and how the gravity related to the surface geology. He never seemed to get into the third dimension and all of my thoughts were in terms of third dimension. What could it tell me about what’s underneath?
I’m curious, as you think back on it, what factors did incline you towards that broader third dimensional level? Clearly that wasn’t being stressed in many traditional geology departments or other programs.
Well I think it was the happenstance that I had been involved in seismic refraction measurements, knew thoroughly about the seismic refraction measurements in the ocean and what they were showing, and trying to relate them to what I was learning about gravity.
And very uniquely you were involved in both areas.
And that’s indeed something that most others involved in gravity certainly did not do.
The real turning point on the thing was the paper that Chuck [Charles L.] Drake and Jack [John E.] Nafe wrote about relating the velocity of sound in rock to density in the rock. And that produced a curve that I could use to turn the seismic information that I had into densities and then do the calculation. Strip that stuff off and the rest is what’s underneath which was the rest that my gravity explains and say what kind of layers would be down there. And later on in Texas we actually did that in that way. We would strip a layer off and take its gravity off and strip another layer off and take its gravity off and say now the rest is what’s down underneath. And that paper took hold. Other people never paid much attention to it. But I always thought it was a very important paper as a way to take what was known away and look at what’s unknown.
Why do you suppose it didn’t catch on more than it did?
I don’t know. I think it’s probably because I’m not very flamboyant. I present the data and I walk away and leave it. I don’t get it published in the local public journals and so forth. I don’t hold a press conference and so on like so many people do.
Although that wasn’t perhaps quite as common by this would have been in the mid, early 1970s, you’re saying down in Texas.
Yes, it would be 1975 that I did it.
That you did that. Okay.
Well part of it was probably because it was in a fairly obscure place where I published the papers.
It’s published by LSU, I think it is and it’s published about the Gulf Coast sedimentary section. But I figured all of the oil people would be reading it and all the people in the universities around, certainly around the Gulf Coast, would read it and would pick up on it but never did. And I used it in several other locations, too, afterwards but again nobody paid much attention and nobody looked at it. Much later somebody did a similar thing up on the coast of Alaska and didn’t make any reference to my paper so whether they ever knew my paper existed or not, I don’t know. I suspect he didn’t. He just decided it was a good way to go too.
And used the same theoretical structure of?
Used the same kind of a system. He didn’t use the Nafe/Drake curve, but he had other relations between the seismic information and density that he was able to use. And basically they add up to the same thing.
How interested was Ewing in your efforts to link gravity and geology at the time that you began to do this?
Well he was very interested. In fact we published a volume in the early days of Lamont, gosh I’m trying to think of the name of it now. It was green, it was about that thick and we got people from Princeton and M.I.T., everybody joined. And I was a very young professor at the time and they got too much of a program and so I never got to present my paper orally, because they had too much of a program and they asked me if I would mind being dropped from the program.
As you said asked, you were demonstrating with your hand that this was perhaps was more involuntary than one might suppose.
But anyway, so my paper was never presented at the conference but it was in the volume. And whether anybody ever read the volume I don’t know. But I thought it was a very important paper at the time it was presented.
And this was published you say in the early days of Lamont.
This was like three or four years after Lamont was formed. It was a seminar we held at Columbia. And I remember I was worried that when I published the paper that Harry Hess would get up and be very critical about it because my data was kind of skimpy. And at that time he was going around the country and criticizing everybody for doing too much work in the field and not thinking enough about their data. And I was worried about having him criticizing me because I didn’t have enough data.
Why were you thinking particularly of Harry Hess at that period of time?
We had had a kind of run in with Harry. See he was on the Barracuda cruise with Ewing in the early days and so when we got the pendulums and started to make gravity measurements around the world. Harry wanted to make plans about where we would make gravity measurements. Well we thought we were doing the measurements, we ought to make our plans, or at least have a major say in it. And as it turned out, the way we got a lot of gravity measurements on the submarines was to go and find out what submarines were going where and then asking permission to ride on one that was going to some interesting place. And most of the time it was the submarines which were going to have a liberty in Japan to show the flag in Japan, or having a liberty in Peru so that the U.S. Navy visible in Peru and so on. Well almost always it was a thing like that that I got on a cruise that went to some new place. And so it wasn’t your ability to say I want a gravity observation right across that yard there. It was yes I want a gravity observations on that cruise that’s going down through the middle of Wilmington you see because that’s where the boat’s going. And really you were piggy backing on the existing cruises and all you were doing was asking to have four or five gravity observations per day along the course. Now later on when I got better known in the submarine ports, and knew some of the submarine people, I was able to persuade them that if you take a boat going from here to Australia, and you aim it out fifteen degrees to the right and halfway to Australia and fifteen degrees to the left from the halfway point on, that you could get out a thousand miles off the base course and you’d still make ninety-seven percent of the course good as if you’d gone the great circle route. I was able to demonstrate it so that they’d believe it. They should have known it from their own plotting board work of their own ships and so forth. You know intercepting freighters that they were going to try to aim torpedoes at. They should have known this. But any rate I had to point it out to them. And I finally convinced them, yes we can we do it sensibly so that it doesn’t take us much more time. You know when it’s a trip to Australia that’s going to take you a month on a submarine one more day isn’t that much. So later on I was able to modify their course, somewhat, but in the early days I just had to go where they were going.
You mentioned there was particular friction that you felt had emerged?
Well Harry Hess then got kind of piqued that we didn’t send the cruises to the kind of places he thought they ought to go. We couldn’t. And you couldn’t explain this to Harry. He’d say you don’t care what I have to say. It was no use talking to you kind of thing. And so we got kind of at cross purposes and we still talked to each other and were civil to each other and so forth but we never worked close together again.
Do you remember whether Princeton had been one of those schools potentially interested in hiring Ewing? Do you remember if there were any points of contact between Hess and Ewing on that matter prior to Columbia?
I don’t know. I wouldn’t be surprised that what’s his name, the guy who organized the first cruise? He was —
You mean Field.
Field, Dick Field. He was a senior member of the geology department at Princeton. I was always surprised that he never got Ewing to come to Princeton and maybe he tried and couldn’t make it, or maybe Leet got in there and did some sour stuff or something. I don’t know. But I was just not privy to that kind of information at that time. I do know that at least one time after Lamont was really all established that Leet approached the authorities at Columbia University and tried to get Ewing thrown out at Columbia.
How did he try to do that?
Well he talked to them and tried to persuade them that Ewing had no morals about stealing data and so forth and so on. Now this is a part of Ewing I never saw, if it existed. He was very competent and careful to see that everybody got the appropriate credit except to the extent that he was often almost always the lead author on a paper even though many times the actual words were set down by somebody else.
Did that build up resentment among?
Not most of the people at Lamont, at least not that I was aware of. I resented one situation that Ewing was at sea and his brother John [I. Ewing] was at sea. And some work that I had done with John and that Ewing had planned and so forth — the paper about the salt zones in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. The second paper where we did the extensive survey.
The latter part of the 1950s?
Yes it would be the latter part of 1950s or very early ‘60s. In that period. Well anyhow we did all that work and they both were at sea and I was left to write the paper. The data was there and I was left to write. I worked like a dog to write that paper and it took like three or four months to get it written and I finally got it written, the figures drafted and so forth and I sent it off the Journal of Geophysical Research to get it published. And this was the day before John Ewing got back from his cruise. And it never occurred to me that they would worry about it at all, either of the Ewings, But apparently John got upset that he hadn’t had a chance to read it and perhaps modify it some. And when Doc came back, he protested to Doc and Doc asked for the paper back from the Journal of Geophysical Research and he called us in and he said, this paper isn’t in good shape. This wasn’t done and that wasn’t done and something else wasn’t done. Well to make a long story short, he and John rewrote the paper. I would have nothing to do with it at that point. I said if you want to rewrite it go ahead. And they rewrote the paper extensively in the interpretation section, and so far as I was concerned it was a much lesser interpretation than the one I had originally made.
Did they feel you had gone too far?
It was done I figured to change the interpretation rather than because they were convinced that it was true. So at any rate they sent the paper in and my name was on the paper as a co-author and so forth which I never objected to and the paper was published. But right there and then I said I will never work again on a joint paper with either one of them, and I never did. But I still worked with them and I helped get the ship ready when they were going to sea and I didn’t make a stink about it or was nasty about it or anything. I just said I didn’t think they had done it right and that they had rewritten it just to rewrite it, not because it was better. And maybe I’m wrong, I don’t know. But that was the only resentment I ever knew of and it was basically over John Ewing and his attitude of things.
And Maurice just backed him up because he’s his brother is the way I looked at it. Maybe it wasn’t that way but that’s the way it seemed to me.
Did that become difficult at all later? Certainly Ewing did want his name on quite a few papers, so it seemed, that were published from Lamont. Did you say that his name didn’t appear on your publications after that?
No. No. And he wasn’t on most of my publications on gravity even before that. But when we got into seismology or something, he would often be co-author and frequently he had a lot to do with it; planning or reduction of the data or something. And he had his hands in everything that was going on at Lamont, and so it was hard ever to say he didn’t contribute a lot to each of the papers that came out of Lamont. A lot of people are more critical of him for it but I never really was because lots of times a paper would be adjusted because he talked to the guys and instilled an idea in their mind and they followed up on it. And after they had spent so much time on it, they thought it was their idea when it had really been planted by Ewing. And a lot of people didn’t see that or realize that that was the case. So I never felt that he asked to have his name on things that he didn’t contribute strongly to.
That’s an important point.
Now other people have a different view I suppose and I’m sure there must be some that did.
I’m curious how your relationship developed with John Ewing? I realize we’re somewhat out of sequence here but you had mentioned a particular —
Well early in Woods Hole days, John had just got out of high school and he didn’t quite know whether he wanted to go to college or what he wanted to do. And he was going to be drafted probably because the draft was going into effect. And Ewing persuaded him to come up to Woods Hole and participate in the work there. Well he knew nothing special. He was just a pair of hands at the time. And he was assigned to work with me on the underwater photography which was an area I was working in at the time. And he was a very hard worker. He knew how to do a lot of things. He’d grown up on a farm and he’d been the kind of a guy who fixed the tractor with a piece of bailing wire and some chewing gum and that kind of thing. And so he fitted in closely with my kind of way of doing things and so he participated that. Then he went off and was at college for a while. And he finally got his degree at Harvard and by that time World War II was over, virtually over. He wasn’t going to be drafted any more. And he came back to work with us in our Columbia group. And we got along fine. He worked, I got him involved in the seismic work. A lot of seismic work was done and in those early days navigation was a terrible problem. Lots of times in World War II we would have two ships that were going to meet at sea and both ships would swear they were on the spot and neither could see the other and one would have a hundred and twenty foot tall mast that you couldn’t help but see for ten miles away. And they both swear they were on the spot and they weren’t. And we would have to get them together by shooting a shot and getting the travel time of sound and that would give us a circle of the distance from one ship to the other, leave that one ship fixed and the other ship move for an hour and take another shot and get another circle and that would give us two positions that could be — and usually you could make a rational guess as to which is the likely one. After an hour if you didn’t get the sight, you’d shoot another shot and you’d have a third position and then you’d know where it was. Well that kind of a procedure would often take a good part of a working day to get the two ships together after they both thought they were on the spot. Well this is the kind of navigation we were dealing with at that time. Everybody on the ships thought celestial navigation with a hambone sextant — Hambone was a common, snide name for it — was good to one to three miles. Well in actuality on a good many times it probably wasn’t good until eight or ten miles.
Was this measuring difficulties or inexperience on the part of those participating?
I have no idea why. And a lot of the seismic work we would have celestial sights and we’d do dead reckoning position for five or six shots and then there’d be some more celestial sights and they’d differ by three or four miles from what the dead reckoning would say we were at. And you had to make an adjustment. The celestial observations were the best you had and you had four miles you had to apportion some way to get those shots. And I had worked out — I had enough experience navigating by then, that I had worked out a system by which you could apportion it in proportion to the time that it involved so that they made sense as what the ship could travel and where the thing was and still kept the celestial navigation. Even though I realized that celestial navigation wasn’t probably that accurate. When John first came to us in the Columbia group, he was assigned to redo all the navigation of all the seismic stations that had been done up to then which was fifty, seventy-five or something. And so he didn’t quite know how to go about it, so I went to work and showed him how I was doing it and so forth, and essentially trained him in how to do it and he started doing it and he did a good job of it. That got him into the seismic work and pretty soon he was head over heels in all the seismic work and he didn’t have any side interest at all like I had in gravity and so he’d spend more and more time doing seismic and pretty soon he was the guy who was knew most about the seismic at sea operations. He was involved in everything that was going on in seismic at sea. We never had any difficulties between us up until that paper. And we used to grow a garden there at Lamont. He had a tractor and he and I would plow the garden together.
Where was the garden?
It was between the first machine shop and the director’s house. That big field there on the road to the director’s house, just to the right of the road to the director’s house. All garden. And I had a garden, Doc had a garden, and John had a garden there. I guess the three of us were the principal ones. A couple of other people had small gardens for a time. But you know I’d have a garden I guess half again as big of these two rooms together. Doc would have a garden similar size and I would grow corn, tomatoes, cabbage, whatever. Ewing grew more different things than the rest of us because he was the southerner and he’d grow those southern crops.
What sort of things did he have?
Well a lot of the — I can’t even think of the names now. But the root crops that the southerners use and greens. He liked a lot of greens and so forth. Well I couldn’t stand that. So he grew a lot more different things but we grew much more extensive corn fields and more extensive tomatoes and so forth and so on. And at any rate we each had our garden and I often would till his garden because he’d never get around to it and they would get more and more overgrown with weeds and that wouldn’t help our garden basically. And so sometimes I would say, Doc I’m going to do my garden today. Would it be all right if I do your garden. Oh yes, please, please do, I appreciate it. So I’d do his garden as well as mine and several times I did John’s. I had a roto-tiller and I’d run it down between the rows and so I could run a lot. It was harder with Ewing’s garden, Doc’s garden. John’s was all right but Doc didn’t pay any attention to the size of the roto-tiller and so his rows would sometimes be too close to get the roto-tiller through it and I’d have to take off one set of tines on the roto-tiller to do his and so forth, which is a nuisance. But that’s neither here nor there. I’m wasting time so I can have a nonsequitor. But I mean we had good relations there and we partied together a lot and so forth. And I always had good relations with John except that one incident.
What kind of relation did John have with Maurice given that it was the one filial relationship that would have been significant?
Well most people thought that it looked like Doc could not find anything wrong with anything John did. Because he was his brother, he did everything right. And there was a lot of feeling like that in the observatory. But John did do most of the things right so it would be hard to say whether that was true or not. And I never felt particularly like that. I thought John did a bang up job once he learned about seismic refraction. He one time decided he would go and get a Ph.D. degree and he studied most of a year and he decided he just couldn’t stand the studying and after having worked in the field.
Where had he gone?
He was going to Harvard for graduate school. And he gave up about two-thirds of the way. I think he nearly had a nervous breakdown because it was bothering him so much that he was doing this when he thought he ought to be doing something else. Well anyhow he dropped the graduate work and he never really missed it. He was in good repute in the scientific community. His work was first class. He was invited to all kinds of seminars. And he was on an equal keel with everybody that had degrees.
No it’s clear that his work was widely respected. I’m just curious if the lack of a Ph.D. did come to matter in a community like Lamont or outside that community?
No, I don’t think it did. It may have mattered to John. I think he may have always felt that he was some junior. But he never acted like it in the meetings and so forth. He always had good solid comments to make and always able to back it up with good solid data. And he did a first class job of everything he did. I never felt that way and I don’t know of anybody else that did. I don’t think it really, harmed him at all.
Okay, getting back to the very formative period just before Lamont. As I recall from something that you had written up which you let me see last night, you were actually part of the group that went with Ewing up to M.I.T. at the time that M.I.T. was trying to persuade Ewing to come?
Yes. The way that came about and this will be repetitious with some of the things you read but it will get it on tape. We were desperate for space as I was talking to you earlier. Even after we got the new rooms, in three years we were desperate for space. We got to the point where we designed a laboratory to be built just behind Schermerhorn Hall between there and the road that went to the power house which is an awful narrow strip of road that couldn’t have been more than twice as wide as this room is. And we had designed a three story building that would bring it up. There was an upper campus, and a lower campus level. And a building that would go up to the top of the — well one story above the upper campus level and down to the lower campus level and so forth. And so it would have been about a four story building.
But a very narrow one.
A narrow building. And we had designed it and this wasn’t very satisfactory but it was the only way we could think of to get some more room and we were so desperate for more room. And at the same time we had had them build a vault in this big research room in Schermerhorn Hall that had been dug out of the basalt rock of the basalt flow there. So it was a good solid rock foundation for our seismograph instruments. But it wasn’t satisfactory.
Well you still had a lot traffic on Amsterdam Avenue.
There was a lot of traffic on Amsterdam Avenue. There was a subway out on Broadway made a lot of ground noise. Just the sway of the buildings that swayed in the wind would make a lot of noise in it. And so it was a noisy location. We couldn’t do much about seismic observations in that vault. And so we needed a place out of the city away from these sources of noise. So we were desperate for space. We were desperate for a place to put some real sensitive seismic instruments in. You could put big insensitive ones but that doesn’t help you much. And about at that time, M.I.T. approached Ewing about coming up to there and move his whole operation up there, lock, stock and barrel. Graduate students and all.
Do you recall who made the offer? Who at M.I.T. was the one who approached Ewing?
No, I don’t know.
I was curious if you knew who Ewing’s contact in general were with M.I.T.
Well, he would have known all the physicists in the physics department up there. Partly from the work in World War II and partly from his work before. And he would have known the chairman of the department which would be, oh you mentioned his name before. He worked with Bridgman.
Under Bridgman was Birch.
But Birch was still at Harvard at that time.
I thought, no, I thought he was at M.I.T. then. You’re probably right. Well at any rate whoever was chairman of the department at that time. He knew him well from the GSA meetings and so forth. And of course Ewing had a terrific reputation already. He was pioneering all kinds of studies. Officially made the approach. Now whether it was he that initiated it I don’t know.
Okay, we were just saying as we flipped the tape that it Robert Shrock who made the offer from M.I.T.
A number of years later, [Patrick] Hurley made an approach to me to come to M.I.T. which I rebuffed. Which probably didn’t do my career as much good as going would have. But be that as it may.
In retrospect you can think of things you might have done. But at any rate he said he would come and look at the M.I.T. offer but that he wanted to bring some of his senior graduate students. So he brought Hamilton, Steenland, Press and I, the five of us went up to M.I.T. and we visited and they showed us around the physics department and showed us all the fancy physics equipment they had. And they showed us the geology department which wasn’t much because, you know, geology’s mostly done out in the field. So here you just need papers and maps sitting around in a geology department. And they talked to us about taking the Hetty Green estate which they had just received which was down just south of New Bedford on the shore of Buzzards Bay. And that sounded very attractive. The whole estate was there and the only thing that M.I.T. was using it for was the Van der Graff generators. They were doing experiments with electrical transmission from one ball to another. Lightning, man made lightning or whatever you want to call it. And that was the only thing going on at the Hetty Green estate and it was a fairly sizeable estate. It was on Buzzards Bay so a pier could be built out in the Buzzards Bay if you were to have ship operations. The problem with it was that it was sixty to seventy miles from M.I.T. and it was almost as bad as working at Woods Hole which we did the first three years when we were in Columbia while we had our offices and all our work was at Columbia University which was a little better than the two hundred and fifty miles to Woods Hole but not much. So at any rate it looked like a nice offer. And when we came back [Dwight D.] Eisenhower was president of Columbia at the time.
I wonder if I could just ask you a quick questions about that when you were up there. Did you have any question contact with Harlen True Stetson? Was he part of that discussion at all?
Oh Stetson. No he was not part of the discussion, not at all. But he was the guy who had the coring device at Woods Hole that I was telling you that Ewing borrowed to go out to the mid-Atlantic ridge.
I wanted to be sure is that the same. There’s a Henry Stetson I believe and a Harlen True who had worked in magnetics and gravity.
I’m talking about Henry then.
Henry. Okay. Thanks for clarifying.
Then we had no contact with Harlen Stetson.
He had been part of informally at least the Harvard experimental geology and geophysics community working on isostasy and a few other geophysical fields. I was curious too though if in those discussions, was Harvard’s facilities explicitly mentioned? In other words if you came up was Harvard intended to be part of the deal?
No. Harvard was not mentioned or talked about or anything.
And no one, you never saw anybody from Harvard?
No. Never saw anyone from Harvard. And Leet was still at Harvard so chances are good it wouldn’t have worked.
Which I fully understand and appreciate although by that time he was getting near his own retirement and others were younger and more active.
I think he didn’t have as much say so about the things in the department any more but —
But he still would be.
It still would have been a very difficult situation on his. And that may have had some influence on Ewing but he never mentioned it at all. Well when we got back to Columbia from our visit at M.I.T., the chairman of the department of geology at Columbia, who was Paul [F.] Kerr at that time, got Ewing to go over and see President Eisenhower and tell him about the offer at M.I.T. And President Eisenhower said well we have been offered the Lamont estate on the Hudson and we could let you have the Lamont estate at the Hudson where you could do your seismic work in comfort and peace and it was a hundred or so, I guess it was a hundred and twenty-five acres, of land. So there’d be plenty of room to do things and there’s a big house. And we could let you have that. We could take it for Columbia University and make it available to you as long as it doesn’t cost us any money. They were already starting to feel the pinch of money. And Paul Kerr came through and said I think I can raise a hundred thousand dollars from the various mining interests that I have contacts with to get Lamont started and that would give us five years of operation at twenty thousand dollars a year. This would give us a start and by that time we ought to be able to raise more money so that it would be — And so we went up, the same group that had gone to M.I.T., went up and looked at the Lamont estate.
What were your impressions of Lamont’s estate when you first saw it?
Well it was monstrously lavish, I guess would be the best way to describe it. It still had all their furniture in. Each one of the fireplaces had been individually built with marble from Carara or some special stone from somewhere. And every major room had a fireplace in it. And so all these fireplaces were magnificent. The dining room had a huge chandelier of cut glass material in it which, I guess, in the days of candles were necessary to give you enough light but it was just a lavish display in this case. And you know everything was spotless and well taken care of and it had a great big Persian carpet in the main living room which was a room that. You’ve been there haven’t you?
They call it their seminar room now I think.
Incidentally the lights in that room, have you noticed they had sort of shelves that came out a little and the lights were on those shelves. I had those lights put in.
This the hidden, the recessed lights?
Yes, the recessed — that’s what I did. They had only floor lights when the Lamonts were there. And they had lamps, lots of them. There was plenty of light in the room but only with floor lamps. And when we got there and hold seminars, there was not enough light in that room and so I had those fluorescent lights put up there. At the time everybody poo poohed it as a kind of a crackpot idea to do it but afterwards everybody thought it was the greatest lighting that they’d ever seen. You got enough light to keep notes or something and it didn’t block off the view from the projectors or anything like that. So it worked out very well. But that’s a minor issue on the side. But at any rate, it was a lavish place. And there was a statue of Tom [Thomas W.] Lamont who was killed in World War II in the rose garden which had a little pool with fish in it which didn’t last long after we got there. A crack formed in it and it started leaking. It would cost a monstrous amount of money to fix it so we filled it in with dirt and planted rose bushes in it and then later my wife took over the gardens and she planted annuals all through that garden. They’ve now all been taken out. And they’re back to rose bushes. Now they’re talking about putting the fountain back. The statue was of Tom Lamont when he was five or six or something like that, a little boy. And as I remember it, the statue had him peeing, the water came out his penis into the pond and so forth. That wasn’t going to be part of the estate. She was going to keep the Tom Lamont statue. Ostensibly because she was affectionate for her son but I think it was because he was peeing and she thought a bunch of college students would make something out of it. Would be derogatory to the Lamonts. The swimming pool was a big building but it was not usable because the swimming pool had developed a crack and it wouldn’t hold water and to fix it would mean a monumental task. Several of the people, after we took over the Lamont estate, wanted us to fix it but after looking into what it cost, there was no way we could do it. And the swimming pool had two rooms which could be used as sort of an apartment for someone to live in with a kitchen or two people could live in it just as bedrooms. And there was a chauffeur’s cottage and the gardener’s cottage and the gardener’s helper’s cottage there. And up on the hill was a cottage for the man who took care of the cows. They had a couple of cows. And they had a barn and it by and large was a lavish estate.
Were there any reservations on the part of any of you who visited that Lamont might not work for what you wanted to do? Or did most people feel that it was?
Well there were only five of us that mattered.
Yes, that’s what I meant.
And basically it was a choice between that and the Hetty Green estate and a move to M.I.T. Well we discussed it at length amongst the five of us and then Ewing did something that I never would believe that anyone of his position would ever do. He said, we’ll take a vote on it. It’ll be a private vote. Each one will write down his decision on a piece of paper and we’ll see what the majority decision was. And then we’ll discuss the results. After we thoroughly discussed all this. And part of the discussion involved well it’s so damn far down to the Hetty Green estate from M.I.T. We won’t get there very often. And it’ll be just about as bad as moving to Woods Hole from Columbia. Where Columbia is only seventeen miles and we can drive it in twenty minutes or so and be in Columbia or out to Lamont. And well to make a long story short, we took this vote. Excuse me.
I’m sorry. I just was going to ask did any consideration come to the kind of faculty members present at Columbia compared to those at M.I.T.?
That didn’t come up at all?
That didn’t come up at all. We had so little contact really with the geologists. The only one of importance to us in the faculty at Columbia was Walter Bucher. A little bit Marshall Kay but mostly Bucher. And we could count that Walter Bucher would still be a good friend and cohort and so forth no matter where we were.
You weren’t going to lose on that.
We weren’t going to lose him as a friend and ally. And so none of that came into discussion at all. It was all a question of where we could do our work best and where the inconvenience of the separation of the campus — the one campus from the other campus — would make the least problem. And so every one of us wrote Lamont on that secret ballot. Much to my surprise.
You thought a few folks would go with M.I.T.?
I thought it might well be a pretty close vote, three to two or something like that. And I think it was to Ewing’s surprise too. So Ewing just said, okay we’ll do it. If the vote’s like that, that’s what we’ll do and wrote his letters or made his telephone calls or what we never knew and to settle it like that. And Paul Kerr raised his hundred thousand. Incidentally, we had a tough time getting along with Paul Kerr when he was chairman of the department. He wanted to be in charge of Lamont and Ewing wasn’t about to have him in charge of Lamont. And this caused considerable friction between the two that extended two or three years beyond until Paul gave up the chairmanship of the department.
That’s into the 1950s.
Yes. See, as it turned out, after we got our degrees all of us, Steenland and Press and I, essentially passed our orals within an hour of each other. And we all of us were going to get our degrees in June of ‘50. But we had passed our orals — no, it would have been June of ‘49 I guess.
Because it’s 1949 when you have your Ph.D. and 1948 you had qualified, had your master’s.
That’s right. So it was ‘49 we were going to get our degree but in January of ‘49 we had all passed. You know we had done everything we were going to do. It was just waiting until they had a ceremony to get the degree. And so now I’ve forgotten what I was going to say.
You were talking about, of course generally, about the decision to move out to Lamont and those were all involved in making that decision.
Oh, okay. And so we had agreed that we would move out to Lamont. Well it was agreed that we would take in the Lamont estate by about September of that year.
September of ‘49.
‘49. But the transfer of the property hadn’t been made. But for all intents and purposes we took over the property. And Dave [David B.] Ericson moved his, he was really hurting for places for cores and to study cores, and so he moved his operation out immediately to Lamont.
He had been for a while already at Columbia?
Yes. He had been Stetson’s assistant up at Woods Hole. And Stetson hadn’t enough money to keep him on and so he was going to have to be let go. And this was at a time when Ewing thought that cores were important. He personally couldn’t spend the time studying them in detail and didn’t really know how anyhow. And so he persuaded Dave to come down to and join us at Columbia. Well Dave was trying to operate in that big room where all the rest of us were operating and he didn’t have a place to store cores conveniently. They’d have to be piled together in a group and he’d have to sort through and Dave had some physical problems so he wasn’t one that could very easily sort through the things. So he had to get one or another of us graduate students to help him and this grated on him that he had to ask for help or wait until someone was available to do something that he wanted to do and so forth.
What sort of difficulties did Dave Ericson have?
Well he had a colostomy for one thing. And I don’t know what his difficulties other than that were. But he always moved in a way that he had bone trouble or joint problems or something. And he sort of had a funny limp in his movements and so forth. And he wasn’t a strong fellow. He wasn’t very big fellow anyhow and he was kind of a funny fellow in a way. He picked up on this, what was this language that was going to take over the world.
Esperanto. He took up with Esperanto and he tried to persuade everybody to take up Esperanto and stuff like that you know. And most of us didn’t give a hoot in hell about Esperanto, didn’t even want to listen to what he had to say about it. So at any rate, he moved up and then moved into the dining room because it was the biggest room in the building, in the Lamont building, other than the seminar room which he wasn’t allowed to have. And he could store his cores in there and a wooden rack was built that he could move his cores in and out in the dining room. And he stayed in the dining room there I guess a couple of years. And he outgrew that with all the cores we were taking. And then we gave him all the garage space between the Nafe’s house and the Worzel house out there.
Okay. How was Dave Ericson supported in those years? Was it a specific contract that was written for him or was it included as part of —
It was included in part with all the things going on with Ewing. Essentially Ewing hired him to study the sediments from the cores.
Was this covered as part of the sound work for determining the structure of the sound?
Yes. Initially it was and it soon — Dick’s interest in plankton and what do you call the little carbonate animals, made it change considerably. And he started getting money. And he was turning up interesting things. And he published a couple interesting papers. And so he then started getting money on his own to study the sedimentary properties of the.
How soon did Goesta Wollin come?
He was oh about five years after Dave had been there. And Dave took up with Goesta who just happened to live nearby at the time.
Oh I didn’t know that.
He lived down at the foot of the hill there in one of the houses down there. And I guess they met in social events and so forth. And Goesta was a quintessential European. To anybody that was his senior he was absolutely fawning and to anybody that he was senior to he was absolutely the most arrogant bastard you ever saw. And he kind of persuaded Dave that he was good for Dave, that Dave had a retiring personality and he wouldn’t get the help Goesta could. That Goesta could take his information and get the help he deserved. And he convinced Dave that that was the case I guess. At any rate they formed a team and he was the front man and Dave was the worker.
How effective did the team seem to be to you?
Well it was very effective because Wollin also got Dave to publish a lot more papers than he had published before. Dave was always one that wanted every i dotted and every t crossed and go back and relook at this fact and that fact and so forth. And time was passing him by by and large. And Goesta persuaded him that this was nice but postpone that for the next paper. Let’s get this one out. So he was good for Dave in the way of getting him publish a lot more information than he would have published otherwise. But he was bad in that he pretty soon took the kind of attitude that he knew as much about it as Dave did and it was not true at all. But he would purport to know to people who didn’t know better. And he would get away with it some of the time. Most of the time when you’re dealing with knowledgeable people in science he didn’t get away with it at all. And he would sense that pretty early and he’d back off and say, “And Dave thinks this and Dave thinks that.” “We” think so and so rather than the way he would have put if he thought he could get away with it. But I think on the whole you have to say Goesta was a good thing for Dave because it got him to publish a lot more information than he would have ever gotten published. And he was bad for Dave in the way that he made a lot of people resent that group that wouldn’t have resented Dave by himself.
Just moving ahead a little bit again to the 1950s. But as the controversy began to grow over interpreting the evidence of possible climate change that was emerging from the sediments with [Cesari] Emiliani and so on, how did those relationships develop? As this became a controversy, how did you perceive that developing?
I wasn’t really very aware of that. You’ll have to talk to other people really about that. I knew it existed but I didn’t know any of the arguments.
That’s interesting. I was curious how widely these arguments were around Lamont campus? That’s interesting.
A lot of us just took the attitude well Ericson’s our guy. We believe Ericson’s position. That’s without looking at the other side. And I guess, I’m sure that was my opinion.
When did you first, when did you consider yourself to actually be working out of Lamont as compared to working out of the Schermerhorn Extension?
I guess after we won the battle with the town.
This being the battle over the taxes.
Well it was a battle of them wanting a payment in lieu of taxes because they said we would be sending a lot of kids down to the local school. Which we were. We would have been. And in the long run we agreed that we were going to do this and we agreed to make a payment of twenty thousand dollars a year to the school board in lieu of taxes because the local school had about sixty students total in it and we were going to add about ten more students and so it was a significant fraction. Without more taxes they would have had a little problem there. So anyhow in the long run, although we knew we could have taken it to court and could get away without paying any tax, we thought it was a fair thing to do and so we paid the tax. And later the town got hoisted on their own petard. They decided to up the fee after we had left when Manik [Talwani] was running the place. They decided to up the fee and then by that time they had closed all those schools and made a county wide kind of school and they were talking about two or three hundred students and there were no students going from Lamont at the time. So they were in a very weak position and Columbia decided to fight the issue. They were having financial troubles anyhow and it went to court and they won and they didn’t pay anything then. And as far as I know they still don’t.
That’s interesting. Was it also resentment did you feel on the part of the people in the town to having the former Lamont estate become a research center?
No. The whole, the only resentment was about the schooling. As far as I could tell.
Really limited to that one issue.
It was limited to that issue. We were flooding the school with students and not paying any of the way was their attitude. And most of the people — there were only two or three very loud mouthed people. I remember one guy. He was not a very educated guy and so forth. And he got up and said, you know this is an educational institution and so forth and so on and he went on at length about education and so on and so forth and how we should support education in this country and so forth. And after he sat down one of the other guys got up, you know they could say that about Columbia too. He, our defender, was against us. He was one of the ones against us. He said that’s no argument. Let’s get off that subject. Later on we had some trouble with the natives, native people there because we used the driveway, the front driveway that the Lamonts had used through all the years. And we had I guess three, four times as much traffic as the rest of the community did down those roads. And the roads started to show it and they weren’t town maintained roads and they wanted us to repair the roads completely and we thought it was only fair that the people, all the people who used them, should contribute and so nothing was ever done to the roads. And that tended to become a bone of contention and as usual with young people, some of our people drove too fast through the area and the people who lived along the road resented the speeding on the road. You know someone could argue it wasn’t speeding. But anyway some of them perceived it as speeding and resented it. And then sometime later when we got using air guns for the seismic thing, we used to test air guns around the shop. Well it would make enough of noise in the neighborhood that it bothered some of the neighbors and they objected some to that. I tried to counter that by having a day, open house day, for all the community to come in and see what we were doing. And that has prospered and become bigger and bigger. And now the whole of Rockland County comes to those days which is good to see that it prospered so.
But that really was a response to?
This was a response to trying to counteract the antagonism of the neighbors because they didn’t know anything about us. No wonder they would be antagonistic, you see. And when they would start to see that some of these things were interesting things that were going on and these guys were serious people studying it and most of them good, responsible — Of course they had some young people that didn’t take their responsibilities too well and so forth. They began to be a little more rational about what kind of neighbors we were. So it worked out as a good thing. But I don’t think Ewing would have ever done anything about it if I hadn’t started it.
How did he react to it when you brought up the idea?
He said, well it’s going to waste a lot of our time. I said, I know it will Doc but we’ve got to do something to improve our community relations. Oh our community relations are pretty good. Well, maybe so, but I’m hearing lots of bad things about our people and I think if they know a little about what we’re doing. Well, all right, go ahead and do it. But you’re responsible. You have to take care of it. And so I had to go around and invite everybody — each discipline to make some kind of a display. It was all indoors at that time. And the people would come and look in the buildings and see the maps and the things in the rooms and then they’d have some display in the buildings. So it was worth doing and it grew each year. Each year we’d get more people that would come and the word would get around and then they’d come from farther and farther. And I gather from what I read and that they’re probably even getting a lot of people outside around the county now.
It seems to be the case.
Now they have to put up tents in the yard so they can handle the crowd.
And a shuttle bus service from —
Maybe they’re cussing me out for starting it. For all I know. [laughs]
That I haven’t heard. I’m curious too when you felt, when you first began to feel, that there was a real community out at Lamont? When did the transition seem to be coming to at least its initial close?
I don’t really feel it at all because it worked so gradually. One person would move out and then another person would move out. And the only chafing that came in the thing was in the assignment of rooms. Several people would want the same room and so Ewing would have to make a decision about who would get the room and of course the one who was decided against was a little put out, and the guy who won the toss would feel that he was vindicated in every way since Doc gave him the nod and so forth. But that didn’t last long. That was just when we first moved out. We had no chafing of any sort like that, until the Lamont Hall began to get too small.
When did that first start to happen?
I would guess it would be like the middle of the ‘50s. We started to thrash around to try to decide how we could get some more space. We were already using all the garages. We were using the barn for central storage area where, you know, where the supplies of this and that. We had the machine shop which had a lot of supplies in it as well as the machine shop. But the science programs were getting awfully crowded in those rooms in Lamont Hall. And so we started looking for new ways. And we thought at one point we had a fairy godmother who was going to give us some money and we were going to build a building right along that walkway out to the rose garden from the main building there, from Lamont Hall. It probably would have meant taking down one of those beautiful big trees. But we weren’t worried about that at that point. We probably would have had a few headaches over it before we were done if it had come to fruition. But it fell through before we could do it.
Do you recall who that benefactor was?
No, I don’t. I don’t remember. Then things got a little bit worse and a little bit worse and we finally got to the point we had to have some room. And I couldn’t think of any way to get any room and about that time in some one of the news magazines, the Tisch empire became known to build buildings on other people’s land and rent them back to the people that they built them for and after a certain number of years the property, the building would revert to the people. And so I contacted the Tisch people and said would you build a building for us? Sure, we’ll be glad to do it. Well, when we started to get into the detail of it, they had to have the deed of the property so that if we didn’t continue paying the rent on the building, they would have the ability to rent the building to somebody else.
That would not have worked very well.
And Columbia didn’t look on that as a favorable role although they had acceded to the blackmail of, oh God, what was the name. The guy that did all the parks in New York and all the thruways and bridges and the airports.
I know who you mean and I can’t think of his name. His name is on one of the expressways. We’ll make sure.
At any rate, we can get his name. But he blackmailed us out of the property we owned in New Jersey.
You mention here as one of the times you wanted to discuss the Thruway bridge. Was that in connection with this or is that a separate matter?
No. That’s a separate matter. Robert Moses, that’s his name.
Columbia University wanted to close 116th Street from Broadway to Amsterdam Avenue because it was right through the middle of their campus. And Robert Moses somehow had control and he said you can’t close it unless you give us the property in New Jersey that belongs to Lamont. And well that wasn’t rational. And he said well that’s it. You can’t close 116th Street. Well then they started back down and the University had started to think this over some more. And they said well why don’t we, it’s nothing off our nose, why don’t we let them have the property in New Jersey? Well in the long run they put a lot of pressure on us and we finally had to accede — it was about ten acres that we owned across the New Jersey state line, in New Jersey, just along side the Palisades Interstate Park. And so we had to give that up to the Palisades Interstate Park for Robert Moses and in return they got to close 116th Street off.
That’s interesting. Ewing had opposed that? I assume that was a pretty unanimous feeling?
Yes. Well unanimous because Ewing and I were the only ones involved. We didn’t want to give up, our idea was we didn’t want to give up any property. We wanted more property. We tried to get Columbia to buy the estate next door when it was put for sale. [W.] Arnold Finck’s wife was an adopted daughter of the family and she was one of the heirs of that place. And her cousin, that is, he was an actual family member not an adopted one, but he was her cousin in the family. He didn’t want to sell it to us and we tried hard to get Columbia to make an offer for it. In the first place, it was land that was more adaptable to building on than most of the land at Lamont. Lamont has a lot of ups and downs and hard rock.
Very hilly property.
And hills like that. And so it’d have been easier to build buildings on it but Columbia would never consider making an offer for it and they finally sold it off in pieces to various private individuals. And they probably got a lot more money out of it than if Columbia had made the offer. But I think if Columbia made any kind of a reasonable offer, they would have gotten it. And it would have made sense. In a lot of ways it would have made sense for Columbia to sell their property in New York and move out there lock, stock and barrel. But they couldn’t do it with the property that’s there. They’d have to get some more property to do that.
Yes, yes. That’s an interesting point.
But I didn’t ever offer that point of view to anybody cause I was afraid they might do it.
That would have been a big juggernaut to try to steer.
You know, then pretty soon it would be the tail wagging the dog. Or the camel’s nose under the tent. Whatever analogy you want to use.
When you think back to those early first few years, how quickly did the weekly seminar series begin at Lamont?
I would say as soon as we got the nucleus of most of the people out there. They were kind of sketchy in the first bit and a lot of people would skip coming to them initially, but they soon became important enough that everyone wanted to go instead of wanting to stay away. And I had to stay away from a number of them because my administrative duties were so bad that I just had to have the time. And I missed a number of them that way but Ewing practically never missed one at all. He used to sit there and take notes continuously no matter what the seminar was about and so forth. He’d take copious notes. Everybody would sit there and watch him taking all these notes and say, gee he sure lot more interested in all the things going on than we are if he’s taking notes about this. One of the students one time asked him, well you take notes in these seminars, what do you with them? He said I throw ‘em away. He said well why do you take notes? He said that’s the only way I can keep awake.
I heard that from Denny [Dennis E.] Hayes in fact. Do you feel that was true?
Yes. He worked longer hours than anybody else in the place. He would work many more hours than anybody else in the Observatory place and I don’t think he probably averaged more than six hours of sleep a night, hardy ever. And he was almost all the time tired. And if he didn’t keep moving one way or another, he probably would have fallen asleep. In fact I think it probably hindered some of his work to some extent that he was so tired when he was trying to do it. But he had such a brilliant mind that his mind was still better than most of the rest of us when we were alert and he was almost asleep.
If he had an idea or an issue that was troubling him, would he call you late at night or very early in the morning?
No. No. However, he would talk to you as soon as a proper time came during the day or something. Or more likely what would happen is he would call the man, or person I guess I should say, who was most likely to be involved in whatever he thought and he would discuss it with him and say don’t you think we ought to do something about this and almost inevitably the person involved would say, yes we’ve got to do something. And he became the guy that authored the investigation and he’d report back to Ewing, we found this and we found that and we’re doing this and we’re doing that. And Ewing would make suggestions about wouldn’t it be good to do so and so and so on. And he would have a — essentially guide the investigation. But frequently it became, whatever the subject was, became more important than what the guy had been working on, the person had been working on, and they’d by and large drop their original scheme and move on to this other. But that didn’t happen too often because what would happen most often would be, well like Bill Donn would come to Dr. Ewing and say, Doc I think the water moving into the Arctic had something to do with the Ice Ages and here’s how I think it might work. And Doc’d say, well how about looking at this and this and this? And he’d go back and look at it and he’d come yes that helps and it makes things look better. And he’d say well how about so and so and so and so. And pretty soon they’d get to the point where they’d say, well let’s publish a paper about our thoughts on this. It was more likely to be that kind of a thing where some fellow would have some kind of an idea and didn’t know whether it would fly or not or whether it was a very good idea and he’d ask Ewing about it and Ewing would think about it a little and either endorse it or squash it, depending on what he thought about it. But most times it was endorsed and the guy would have a new direction to be operating in either at the same time he was operating on his original things or even he dropped his original study. Which probably happened once or twice. And he was always, in all his talks in other places and so forth, he was always looking for people who would like to come to Lamont and study something, preferably something that wasn’t already going on at Lamont, he thought. His goal was — he said this in the very earliest stage, that his goal was to make Lamont authoritative in all of the fields of geophysics. Well, what did he mean by authoritative? Well it means that they are doing world class research and was respected as the top institution in that field is what I mean. Another time he was asked what is a geological observatory. It was originally called Lamont Geological Observatory you know.
And he said, it’s what we make it. You don’t know what an observatory, I don’t worry about whether you know what it is. It’s what studies we’re carrying on that’s what an observatory is, a geological observatory.
That’s an interesting stress in the word observe which one might take to imply data gathering and collection as being one of the clear mandates that Ewing saw for the work at Lamont?
Well he just couldn’t stomach inefficiency. What was going on had to be efficient. And when he had a ship out there it had to make every measurement that could conceivably be measured while the ship is on that spot. And he had the opinion that you were never, ever going to have the opportunity to take that observation again in that spot in your whole life. So while you were there, you should take it, and worry about later about what you’re going to do with it and so forth. Many times he was proved right. Well take the magnetic data, nobody knew what the magnetic data were being taken for in the early days of it. We were just taking magnetic data everywhere we went. And when they needed the results of the magnetic data, there it was right available. The cores are another example. Nobody wanted him to take many cores and yet he insisted all through his career that at least one core a day would be made on every ship that was at sea. And hopefully more. And they weren’t going to be used for every last bit of information they had instantly the minute they were obtained, they were going to be in the core library and then anybody that wanted to study anything, there was the library to go to to study whatever it was you wanted. If you want to know about the tropical regions, you had tropical cores. If you wanted to compare the tropicals to the — and so on.
This is getting slightly ahead of where we’re at in the general chronology but I was reflecting when you mentioned a moment ago about Ewing’s desire to be comprehensive in geophysics. Certain documents in the Ewing papers in the early 1960s suggest that he was getting very interested in expanding the biology programs at Lamont to bring them up comparable to the geophysical programs, feeling that that was required in order to really round out Lamont. How did people at Lamont feel about that? And was that really a major direction that he saw? Or was it one idea that came up of many ideas?
Well I don’t think any of the other people even thought about it. Even me, and I was probably the closest one to him in all those years. But I think he felt that what we were learning about the cores was indicating more and more that biology was involved and that we needed to get somebody that was an authority in biology and that understood biology well; to get people like that on the staff so that we could make sense out of what was being found in the cores and apply it to the biology and apply the biology to the cores. And I think it was his vision altogether. Now he was one of the few people who was aware of what all was being found in the cores by all of the various investigations going in the cores. So he would be in a better position to make that kind of a decision than anybody else anyway.
Did he raise that? Did he reflect on that to you about whether that was an appropriate direction to go?
No. He went out and tried to get some biologists there. He got one biologist, Paul.
Paul [R.] Burkholder came in.
Burkholder. And Burkholder turned out to be kind of a funny character that never followed through on things.
Even in terms of his research programs?
Well essentially everything he touched. He’d get it started and then would get into something else. And just sort of languish and he’d start something else and he never quite seemed to get anything done. And then they got [Ostwald] Roels and Roels was a funny character. And I think Roels was a damn good biologist but he was a terrible money manager and administrator. And I got the University of Texas to get Roels to come down there eventually when Lamont was probably glad to get rid of him because I thought he was a good guy. And he caused problems there again because of administrative and money problems. And he eventually left. I think it was a mutual agreement kind of thing. And he had found a Mr. Moneybags who would support his research and I never heard whatever happened after he left the university. This was after I had left the university and he was still in the Texas area.
This would have been in the early 1980s.
You had left in ‘79.
I left in ‘79. It was soon after.
Right after that time.
I guess it would be early ‘80s.
Do you recall any interaction between Ewing and Gifford Pinchot? The son of the forester?
No, I don’t.
He was at Yale and had also been interested in aspects of biology and a few letters were preserved that hinted that there were discussions going on between him and Ewing.
Well both of them would have been in the National Academy of Sciences and I have no difficulty at all in believing that if they happened to sit at each other at a dinner or something at the National and they got talking.
This seemed to be particularly about, as you were saying, about developing biology at Lamont and whether Pinchot.
He would have been trying to get ideas about who would be a good man to do this. Who we ought to get? From people who were knowledgeable in the field and certainly Gifford would have been one of the people whose opinion he would value. But I don’t know anything first hand about it.
When you look back on those early colloquia, the seminars that began to develop, were any of them particularly memorable for you either in terms of what they did for Lamont or your own research?
Well I don’t think anything about my own research other than what my own students were reporting what we were doing. Or I was on occasion. But I remember people coming back from the ships and reporting what they’d learned on the ship and how jealous I was that they had learned such great important things in a short time on the ship when I didn’t seem to do quite as well. But only in that sense in that I was admiring the people that came back from the ship and would have a long string of successes on their short cruise. We normally changed the chief scientist every two months on the ships. So they had two months aboard the ships. And then another chief scientist would come on. And the other people on the ship mostly stayed most of the cruise. Most of the other scientists were graduate students or hired hands and they mostly stayed on the ship. And so it was the senior scientists were using those people to do the kind of surveys that ought to be done from the ship. And any chief scientist who went out to the ship would have a list of things that this department wanted that done on this leg and this department wanted that and so forth. He’d have a list whether it was written down or in his mind of the things that ought to be accomplished on his leg. And I was always admiring the other chief scientists about how much they seemed to accomplish and how little I seemed to accomplish. So that’s the main thing that I remember about it. I remember there were lots of important seminars and quite a lot of them that I didn’t understand much about. I sat through the seminar but I didn’t understand much about what was going on. And lots of times personally I resented having wasted the time when I couldn’t understand what was going on. Having so much to do already.
Was it a particular frustration that you had the administrative responsibilities? Clearly those were growing from the first moment that you were at Lamont.
Well essentially I got them by default. Ewing wouldn’t do any, really any significant amount of administrative things. They had to be done or you were going to be in trouble. And I was close to him so I mostly picked them up to do. And I guess you would call it my conscience or what have you that I felt it had to be done and I did it. And I knew that it was better for me to waste my time than Ewing to waste his time on administration although it was probably was more detrimental to my career than other things I might have done. But that’s basically the way it worked. I wasn’t particularly frustrated except — well toward the end when I would have to write a proposal for ONR and another one for NSF, and they were always proposals that thick [2 inches] and it had to cover everything that was going on in that contract. And usually that would be fifteen to twenty different investigations. And I’d have to get each one of the people in each area to write me a statement of what they had accomplished and what they expected to accomplish with their work and what budget they would want. Well as you can well imagine it was hard to get that out of some people. I had to get after them and keep getting after them to get it. And then lots of times it was written poorly and so I’d have to rewrite it and I’d have to organize it into a form so that it wasn’t too chopped up that you didn’t jump from one kind of study to a totally different kind of study and then back to the first kind and so on. I’d have to reorganize it. And by and large each one of those reports took me a month, a month of my time to get it done. And I did resent at that time that I had to spend that kind of time but I also realized that if I didn’t spend that kind of time, we wouldn’t get the grants. And without them we couldn’t run the ships. They were crucial.
When you say near the end, you mean by the late 1960s this was particularly frustrating.
Yes, towards the late ‘60s to ‘70s. And it also then was when they were starting to get accountability involved discussed in ONR and NSF and so forth. And the competition was increasing. It was a hard time.
In drawing this the line of when it became more difficult to deal with these main patrons of Lamont’s research, did it occur by the mid-1960s? When did you first really begin?
I guess it began in the ‘60s. It began full — it sort of grew loike topsy — at first you didn’t realize that anything was bad. It really started I guess when the, what’s the budget office in the president’s office?
There’s the Office of Management and Budget which is —
That’s in Congress. The equivalent of that in the president’s office.
I know precisely.
Well you know who I mean anyhow. But the problem started to rise when he came around to find out how we wrote out proposals for NSF and ONR.
One of the inspectors who came out to Lamont?
He came and quizzed me as the basically the operating man about how this happened. Well at that time we had problems because fortunately our ONR and our NSF grant ran out at a different time than our ONR contract ran out. So they never both ran out at the same time. And what would often happen is the ONR contract wouldn’t actually be written until a month, six weeks after the contract had run out and so we had basically six weeks of no funding in the ONR contract. Well the ship was being out at Australia and those ONR people on board, what were you going to do throw them overboard because we couldn’t pay them. Were you going to stop their work because you couldn’t pay for any of the supplies they were using. And so on. And the same thing would happen to a lesser extent with NSF. It would often take two to three weeks beyond the expiration date before they’d get the contract written so you could spend any money on it. So this guy asked me, well what do you do when that situation happens? I said, it’s very easy what you do. There’s nothing else you can do. When the ONR contract has run out, you pay everybody on the NSF contract for six weeks until the ONR contract is renewed. When the ONR contract is renewed then you pay everything on the ONR contract for six weeks instead of the NSF contract. Well he went down to Washington and raised all kinds of hell. And he raised all kinds of hell, misspending money and all sort of things like this and finally the ONR representative and the NSF representative got him aside and said, look, you’ve got to shut up. This is the only way it can work. But from then on we started having more and more trouble about everything about money in the contracts.
This was coming around the same time as the Mansfield Amendment too which would have affected the ONR contract.
Right. So all of that started to culminate in more supervision of the contracts and so on and less trust in what we were doing even though they had made great, great things in the navy from some of the things we had done, and turned into useful navy products. And they were things that the navy would never have thought would ever be valuable to the navy at all. And so on. And similarly NSF made great — got a lot of credit for some of the studies we had done that at the time we were doing them they wondered whether it was worthwhile doing them. So.
We’re going to return to some of those issues in the 1960s when we talk about a lot of Lamont in that context. I’m interested in how quickly you actually moved out to Lamont? You lived on the property.
I lived on the property, just as a bedroom.
Did you ever have one of the houses at Lamont?
In due course of time, I moved up into the house that Ludas had up on the hill near the machine shop. Well, first I lived alone as a bedroom in the main house on the third floor. And I just slept there.
And your wife Dorothy was still down at the —
Dorothy was still at Lake Mohawk. Then I moved Dorothy and I guess it was in June after the kids had finished school.
That’s June of 1950.
This would be June of 1950, yes. I moved Dorothy and the kids into the guest rooms in the swimming pool. It was kind of tight. There were four of us at the time. It was kind of tight but we managed all right. And we lived there for I guess five or six months. And the house up on the hill that had been the one that the cowboy, the man who took care of the cows, had lived in. We moved up into that house and about two years after we moved into that house the man who came to us with the Lamont property who was the supervisor of the estate was a drunk. And we cautioned him about drinking three or four times and it didn’t make any difference. So we finally let him go. He was kind of an interesting case. It was just around the fall that we let him go. And we were going to have to turn off the water in all the pipes that were in the gardens. And he was the only one who knew where the shutoffs were for these pipes. So he hung around figuring that when we found out we didn’t know where the shutoffs were —
He’d be rehired.
That we’d have to rehire and he could thumb his nose at us and tell us to go to hell about everything. He’d keep that as his secret. Well he didn’t know that I had found the plans that had been used to build the estate in one of the dressers that they had or one of the places they had left. And I studied those plans when we had to turn the water off and I found where all the water shutoffs were. And so I instructed the guy in our grounds crew to where they were and to go shut the water off and he did and the former superintendent of ground. He was living in the house that they now call the Worzel House. And when he moved out, it was a mess. He had had a kerosene stove. Previous to that he’d had a wood stove in the kitchen. And I guess the wood stove provided a lot of heat and I guess he didn’t have a wife when we were there but I think he had a wife that died before but I’m not sure of that. But anyway, there was oil all over the walls in all the downstairs rooms from the kerosene heater. There was soot from the wood thing in there. One of the guys that was working with me and I spent I think two days in there washing the walls and trying to get all that oil and soot off the walls. Again at that time, we didn’t have the money to pay the buildings and grounds crew, to do it. You did it yourself or it didn’t get done. And after we got the walls cleaned up, I painted the whole thing inside and then our family moved down there and we moved Ludas. Ludas had been living over in the government’s barracks kind of thing over in Camp Shanks. They had made those available to people who had been involved in the war work and somehow he qualified for that since he worked for the Manhattan Project. So at any rate it was kind of small and those places were deteriorating badly. There were leaks all over the place. So he wanted to get out of there and he had three kids at the time. So we gave him the house that I’d had and I moved into the house.
What’s now called Worzel House.
That’s now called the Worzel House. Ewing was living at the time in the house that’s now called the Nafe House. And it was in the late ‘60s I guess that the Vetlesen Foundation thought it was improper for the director at Lamont to be living in such a modest establishment when he was director of such an important institution. And so they decided to build the house that’s now the director’s house. When they built that and he moved in there, I persuaded everybody to let Nafe have what is now called the Nafe house. Originally when Doc lived in the Nafe House, Frank Press lived in the house across the street while I had moved down into the house there. And when Frank left to go out to Cal, yes to Cal Tech.
Cal Tech in ‘54.
‘54. He left because — well that’s not the sole reason, but that’s one of the reasons he left is that he and I were terrible problems for Ewing because we both got our degrees together, we were both senior people in the establishment and when he had to get me an associate professor he had to get Frank an associate professor. Well getting two appointments, professorial appointments, at a time was just difficult as hell. And Frank felt that this was holding him back in part. I never felt particularly bad about it. I didn’t think it was particularly holding us back. But I knew it was causing a lot of problems for Ewing. But at the same time Frank got some offers from Cal Tech I guess he couldn’t ignore. And so he moved to Cal Tech and that eliminated the problem. And I guess he felt I was the senior man anyhow since I’d been with Ewing for so many more years that it would be better for him to move off than for me to move off. So, in part, that was why he moved I think because it was creating such problems to get us both raises.
Up in rank at the same time.
Going uphill at the same time, at the same rate. And that neither would get pissed off because he’d been left behind for a while.
What was it like socially for all of you in those early years at Lamont? Would you all of you living on campus, would you see one another in the evenings very frequently?
No. Most of us were working in the evening. We normally went back to work after we had our dinner at home and would work until eleven, twelve at night. Ewing would often work until one. But nearly all of us went back to work and certainly those of us that lived on the property went back to work. I remember when we lived up in the what I call the Ludas house, the house up on the hill near the shop, frequently I would — there was just a dirt road up there at that time, which is now the road where most people come in and out of the Observatory. That was just a dirt road. And I remember walking up there in the dark frequently and one night I was walking up there, I heard a noise beside me and I had a flashlight with me. I turned on the flashlight and there was a mother skunk with four little skunks walking in the parallel path, two wheel paths, right along side of me.
You had company.
I had company. And you know if they’d been in my path I would have walked right into them I guess.
Lucky they weren’t.
And they didn’t get excited or anything when I flashed the light on them. They just walked on their way and I didn’t bother them and they didn’t bother me. But I was more careful about my paths after that.
I can imagine.
A sea story. This is kind of an aside. I guess it would be in the ‘50s when Lynn [R.] Shurbet was working with us. I belonged to an insurance company called Amica which is the Mutual Insurance Company and all of the people who get insurance have been introduced by people that are already insured by them. And they’re a preferred risk kind of group. They try not to get anybody that is a poor risk into it at all, mostly because they’re recommended by people whose premiums would go up if they recommended a bad person. Well anyhow I recommended Lynn Shurbet to the company to get insurance and they wrote me a letter. I wrote recommending him and so forth so that they’d contact him. They wrote me a letter back saying well we don’t write any more insurance in the areas near New York City. The traffic is too difficult and too unpleasant and too many accidents happen and so we just don’t, we don’t add any more people in that area. I wrote a letter back to them which I’m sure was circulated thoroughly through the company but I never had an answer from them. But I wrote them a letter. You don’t think anybody that lives there goes out on the main highways like 9W to go around the community on weekends and holidays or anything. We all know where the back roads are and we take the back roads when we go anywhere. We don’t ride where all the tourists are and so forth. And I said besides we have copper heads we have rattlesnakes, we have coons, we have possums, we have woodchucks and I don’t know I named, oh foxes on our property here. What do you have on 10 Weybosset Street — this is in the middle Providence — for your wild life? No answer. But I’m sure that letter was circulated. [laughs] I hate myself when I do things like that.
Did you enjoy it?
As a matter of fact I did. It didn’t do any good but I enjoyed it.
You didn’t get Lynn Shurbet in?
No, I never got Lynn Shurbet in.
Did you see one another though on the weekends? Did it slow down a piece at Lamont or —?
Only those of us who worked in the gardens, we might run into each other while we were working in our gardens. And then you’d just say hello because you had work in your garden and they had work in their garden, your separated. Sometimes when you’d have excess crop, you’d say hey Doc you have any use for some asparagus we got extra asparagus. Or say I got a few turnips left, Dexter do you want any turnips and so on. But that kind of thing.
It wasn’t even a barter.
I got some extra do you want it? And we supplied a lot of vegetables to all of the staff at Lamont over the years. Whenever we had extra vegetables in our garden, the kids would set up a card table out by the road and offer the vegetables for sale, like ten cents for three tomatoes, that kind of thing, when tomatoes were selling for a quarter of a piece. So a lot of produce ended up with other staff members at a ridiculously low price. In some cases given away. One time we went and picked peaches in an orchard and we got carried away and we picked about two bushels of peaches and we didn’t have any possible use for more than about half of them. So our kids took them up and sold em for a while and then when they weren’t getting all gone by selling them then they gave em away for a while. We finally got rid of all the extra peaches that we picked. [laughs]
It sounds like then when ideas needed to be discussed or when you needed a venue to talk amongst yourselves about scientific problems or administrative matters, it sounds like it’s pretty much done outside the home setting. It was largely done in the office.
Largely done in the office. An office was the biggest part of our day. We were spending twelve to fourteen hours in the office so when else were you going to?
Give you the opportunity.
It was the time to do it.
How often would Ewing have all of you over to his place?
Maybe once or twice a year.
I was thinking that it was 1944 that he had married his second wife, Margaret Kidder. Did you come to know her fairly well?
Very well, yes. She was his secretary up at Woods Hole and after he first moved to Columbia she was his secretary there for two years.
I didn’t know that. That’s interesting.
Two or three years. I knew his first wife too.
That was Avarilla.
Avarilla. And he had a boy named Bill by his first wife and I was only acquainted with her while I was at Lehigh. And they separated about my senior year in Lehigh and I don’t know what went on between them. But it must have been acrimonious because she would never let him get near Bill, the kid. And Bill, as far as I could make out, adored his father up until that time and she just never would let him get near. And I guess fed him a lot of verbiage about how bad he was and so forth. And he was bad to her. He would go to Washington, wouldn’t tell her where he was going. He’d just go. And wouldn’t tell her when he’d get back, and she was the kind that worried about things like that. And if he was in Washington and was going to stay an extra day, he wouldn’t call her up and say I’m going to be here another day. He’d just stay the extra day and he figured it was none of her business, that she didn’t need to know. And so he treated her rather shabbily in that way and he was home very little. He was at the lab almost all the time. She didn’t get to see him much. And she was a worrier. She wanted to know what was happening Tuesday, she wanted to know what was going to happen on Wednesday, and then Thursday. You know she wanted to plan things out and have it all work that way. Well nothing ever worked that way with Ewing. He might at three o’clock in the afternoon say I better go to Washington and go.
He would make the decisions that quickly and just go?
Yes. And so it never worked out very well with them so far as in all my experiences. It reminds me of an interesting, another story. At one time we were going to, — this was when I was at Lehigh as an undergraduate student, — we were going out in the Pacific on the Alexander Hamilton which was a Coast Guard cutter. And another group from the University of Virginia were going out on it too and they were going to do biological oceanography work and we were going to do geophysics, geophysical oceanography. And this was laid on by President Roosevelt and in later years we always said it was the year before Pearl Harbor. No, I guess it was two years before Pearl Harbor. Anyhow, we always said that Roosevelt wanted us to be out there so the Japanese would have someone to commit atrocities on. [laughs] But I guess more realistically that what happened — they canceled the cruise at the eleventh hour, just before we were about to take off. We had not left Lehigh to go join the ship. It was in the month of August and we were within twenty-four hours of getting on the train to go to the West Coast to join the ship. We’d already sent the equipment out on a box car for all the Virginia people and all our people, all were going to put all their things in a box car in Washington and it was already on its way to the West Coast and the trip was canceled. But it must have been that they needed the ship for convoy duty or to relieve some other ship for convoy duty cause it was just at the time that Roosevelt was setting up convoys for British ships that he wasn’t supposed to do but he was doing it. So they probably needed the ship for something else which is probably why it was canceled. It was also right after Amelia Earhart had been lost and we thought that they might have been interested. We were supposed to stop at quite a lot of islands in the Pacific for various observations and so forth and we thought that they thought maybe we’d find some traces of Amelia Earhart in our perambulating. But anyhow we don’t know what really happened, but it was canceled at the eleventh hour.
That’s interesting. I didn’t mean to cut you off like that.
No, that’s the end of that story.
That was an interesting period of time just before the war. But one of the things that I wanted to ask you about was how well, as Lamont became more specialized, as the different groups, the geochemistry, the seismology group and so on, became larger how well did they interact with one another. How much would people know of what was going on in the other research centers at Lamont?
By and large only by the seminars. We didn’t have much contact between disciplines. The disciplines were in the same building. Like John Ewing was one end of the hail and I was the other end of the hall. We knew what was going on between us in the magnetics people, magnetics at sea people were up on the next floor and I wanted to know what they were doing and they wanted know and so there was a lot of interaction within a building.
Within a building but when you started to have the separate buildings. When geochemistry had its building in ‘54 for instance that cut you off.
That cut a lot of contact out and the only contact we had basically was the seminars. We would all go the seminar and find out what the people in that other building were doing. One of the interesting stories of the time was that when we built the oceanography building, I had a lot to say with how the building was being built.
When was that actually launched?
Oh God. It would be mid-sixties some time.
It’s that late? Okay.
About that time anyhow. And this was after the time I told you that we had thought we had a fairy godfather and I also told you that I had contact Tisch and so forth. Well ONR learned that I was going around trying to find a way to build a building because we were so desperate for space. And we had bought the Vema and they had arranged for a ten percent of the cost of the Vema to be charged against our contract for each year for ten years. And so that in the end they paid for the Vema.
This was because there had been no other way found of having a benefactor come in to pay for the Vema outright? It was depreciated over.
Over ten years.
Over ten years.
In fact, when I made the contract for the Vema I had them put in a clause that the amount of the charter for the first cruise which would last from about March I guess into June so it was about three months cruise.
In the contract for that.
When we made the charter for the ship, I got a clause put in that the charter price for the first cruise would be deducted from the price of the ship if we bought the ship. At the time there was no concept that there was any possibility of our buying the ship and why I had the clause put in I have no idea. Never did have an idea. But I did have it put in. And we did buy the ship in the eleventh hour and we need to go and talk about that, getting the ship. But at any rate we got the ship in the eleventh hour and the twenty thousand — [Interruption] So we had that twenty thousand out of the hundred thousand that the ship cost and still ONR gave us the ten years, ten thousand dollars a year for ten years. And people thought that I had pulled a fast one on them but they knew all along about that. We had put at least twenty thousand into things that had to be done to the ship to make it useful. So they weren’t horn swaggled.
This is probably a good time to talk about Lamont’s acquisition of the Vema although there’s one question I did want to ask you before we get into it. At that stage even in the early 1950s, how did you compare Lamont to any of the other existing centers? Woods Hole of course had been established earlier on and naturally more physical, geophysical studies were occurring at that point out at Scripps. But as you think back, how would you compare Lamont even in its early days with the other facilities?
We were just a pimple and they were a boil.
That’s a good way to put it.
They were big institutions with their own ships able to go where they wanted and do what they wanted to do and had a lot of things. We had nothing practically. Very little in the way of equipment. We had no ships. And we were just struggling to exist at that time. And the way the ship came about was that ONR realized that we had to have a ship. We had been using the Woods Hole ship in the summers for about three years. And Woods Hole finally said, hey this isn’t any good. You’re using our ship in all the good weather and we have to use it in the bad weather. This doesn’t make any sense to us. You can only have it for a couple of weeks in the summer and otherwise you’re going to have to take your time throughout the year like we have to take our time. Well this just didn’t work out very well. We had everybody taking classes. That wasn’t the viable way to operate. So at any rate ONR was aware that this had happened and so they made a navy tug, at the time they had just set up the Hudson Labs across the river, which they set up because of a research project I had done at Lamont, or actually at the Bermuda Station of the SOFAR station. They had set up the Hudson Labs. And the Hudson Labs needed a ship. They were a small lab at the time and we were a small lab at the time so the navy figured they could give us a navy tug which was surplus and they could make some modifications to it and it would make a good oceanographic ship that we could use and Hudson Labs could use and we could share it.
And Hudson Labs were set up at just about the same time as Lamont?
Or was this?
They were set up in about 1950 and we —
A little after.
And we were set up in 1949.
Okay. I just wanted to be clear on that. Indeed we have to talk about Hudson and SOFAR and Bermuda as well but please go ahead.
So anyhow they had said we could have a navy tug and they set the navy tug up in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and Hudson Labs people had never had a ship, didn’t know what a ship looked like hardly. So we were given the chore to organize the ship so it would be useful to do oceanographic type work and acoustic type work in the ocean. Well we knew about acoustics just as well as Hudson Labs or better actually at the time. And so Chuck Drake and I would go down to the Brooklyn Navy Yard every week. Well first of all, we worked over the plans with planning people in the navy yard about changes that needed to be done on the ship so that there would be a deep sea winch. They were going to adapt a towing winch that a tug has to being a deep sea winch which a poor substitute but the best that we could expect. And the labs had to be made in the tug and so forth, And Chuck and I went down and helped them lay out the plans for how they would modify the ship, and then they started modifying the ship and we went down every week, once a week, and spent an afternoon at the ship. And would see what they were doing and complain about things that were being done wrong and suggest improvements that could be done. Any rate, they eventually after about five months of this, the ship finally got ready or was approaching getting ready. And so this was probably in the middle of May and all of our people were taking exams. So we said well, all right Hudson Labs might as well get the first use of the ship. They have the first month. And we’ll get the next, no they had the first two months that’d be May and June and we had July and August. We’d get the next two months and then they could have the next two months and so forth. That sounded great to them and they took the ship on the first two months and when it got, approached the date that they would have to turn the ship over to us they went to ONR and said, look we’re doing highly classified work. It’s very important work, in fact it was top secret at the time.
This is the sound ranging work?
That lead to the SOSUS [Sound and Surveillance System] program.
So, we just can’t give up the ship for July and August. We’ve got to have it. And ONR said, okay. You’re right. You’re a classified project. You have to have it. These are unclassified people. They’ll have to give way. And they told us that we’d have to give way. They told us this, I guess they told us this about January. My story doesn’t quite hold together because I said they were using the ship and wouldn’t give it up but it still adds up. We learned about it in January that we wouldn’t get the ship after Hudson Labs. That they had to have it for a longer period. And at any rate, Doe and I were scheduled to go over to the University of Cambridge in England and Doc was to give a talk and we were to discuss our research at sea with the people at Cambridge. [Edward Crisp] Sir Edward Bullard and his crew.
Teddy Bullard and.
Maurice Hill. And so we went over there and we
This is 1950?
This would be 1950. We agonized all the time we were over there. And finally I said, Doe we put a lot of work and we got a lot of equipment in here. We’ve hired people for the summer just to help us on the cruise. We have to have a cruise. This is nothing. He said, well, all right I’ll go down to ONR and talk to them. So when we got back to this country, he went down to ONR and he said, look you took the ship away from us. We already spent money, your money, to hire people and get equipment and so forth and we can’t, just can’t lay fallow in the lab in New York.
When he talked to ONR who was he speaking with? Was it Gordon Lill or with Roger [R.] Revelle?
No. Well Roger Revelle wasn’t there by then.
That’s right, he was not. That’s quite right.
And he wouldn’t, I don’t think he could have talked to Gordon Lill. He was probably talking to James W. Smith who was the special projects officer at ONR. And he would be talking to him because Jim Smith was in charge of the Hudson Labs group and he had had a lot to do with getting us the tug, getting the tug for the two of us. And he knew that I was the instigator of all the work that the Hudson Labs was doing. And he had also helped us set the SOFAR station up in Bermuda so he was acquainted with all of the work that we had done. He was acquainted with all the work we’d done in World War II in acoustics. So he knew us well. And he said yes. Ewing said, it just isn’t fair. You’ve got to give us some money to get a ship of our, that we can use. And he said, yes, that’s right. You’re right. We’ll pay the money if you find a ship that you can use. So he came back to Lamont. This was the end of February. He said, Joe, find us a ship. At that time, I had gone to sea for a long time on the Woods Hole ships and I knew how to arrange with Woods Hole for a ship but I had no idea how to find one.
How would you find? How did you try to teach yourself how to do this?
Well what I did is I went down and bought a yachting magazine that had advertisements for ships for sale, and ship brokers that would want to sell and so forth. And I went through all that and I found one that was this ship, two hundred and two feet long and it was had a diesel engine and it had three masts. It sounded like a pretty good ship. It was owned by a man named Kennedy in Nova Scotia, Lunenberg. He had the ship in Lunenberg. So I called him up and said what about the ship? Yes I would love to have a charter for it. He had found the ship, it had been sold for scrap and it was on the mud flats on Staten Island and he saw it there and he thought that’s a better ship than ought to be scrapped. And he bought it at a cheap price. I don’t know but my guess was twenty to thirty thousand dollars was what he paid for it. But I don’t know. And at any rate, he got it, he sailed it with canvas because the engines weren’t running. He sailed it up to Lunenberg. He turned out to be a first class sailor. He knew everything there was to know about sailing. Morally he was a derelict and so forth. And financially he was a cheat and everything else but he did know how to sail. But anyhow, he had brought the ship up to Nova Scotia and I made a trip to Nova Scotia and went there. And he showed me the ship and it was a cold, cold day and there was no heat on the ship and I damn near froze to death down in that ship. All that big engine radiating all that cold.
Actually, of course, it doesn’t radiate cold, it sucks up the heat. But anyway, it was an old Burmeister-Wayne engine, the original engine is in the ship. The ship was forty years old at the time. This was a Burmeister-Wayne engine in it. And it had cylinder heads that were — one cylinder head would be three feet square and two feet tall. It ran at about four hundred rpms, real slow running, big power, big diesel engine anyhow. But it had never run. But he had a good chief engineer. And he said, yes I can get it running in about two weeks and so forth. And then we said well can we, we wanted to go to sea in early June. Yes, we can make early June.
Of course you needed to make some fairly significant additions putting on a winch for instance in the front.
How did he feel about those kind of modifications?
Well, we had no choice. We had gotten the Piggot winch. The Carnegie Institution had owned the Piggot winch and on Piggot’s last core, the flanges on the winch spread and locked. Everybody that ever built a deep sea winch made the flanges too weak and the flanges always extended out and these just extended out and jammed up the reel so it couldn’t turn. So he cut the cable and came home and that was the last time he ever took a core with a winch. But he had two men that were assigned with the winch and for ten years they had worked at the Carnegie Institution which their job I guess was to maintain this winch. And it was well maintained. It wasn’t rusty at all. And the only thing is the winch drum wouldn’t turn because of the flanges were too wide. So they had called up Ewing after Ewing was beginning to get known in oceanography. And said, you want the winch? We’re tired of taking care of it. We moved it down in the yard about once a year for ten years. We got two guys on the payroll who keep the winch functioning and they don’t do anything else and we’re sick and tired of this. Do you want the winch? And Ewing said to me, what do you think? And I said well we better grab it. A winch in the hand is worth two in the bush, even if it doesn’t run. We can find a way to make it run. And he said okay. So he said, yes we’ll have it. And he sent me down. Well, he said we’d like to look at it. He sent me down to look at it and I looked at it. And they had a whole bunch of other gear that went with it. A great huge boom that you could put on a ship that we could lift this winch which weighed twelve tons. The boom was strong enough that you could lift the winch on it and put it on the deck and not only that you could use the winch to drive the lift fork because they had a gypsy head on the winch and you could run the winch and use the gypsy head to lift itself. And move it onto the ship and so forth. Because Piggot’s operation was he’d move onto a ship, take some cores, move off and then he’d move to another ship and so on.
What had lead, of course by that point Piggot was involved in the RDB [Research and Development Board] and very active in that. Had the Carnegie simply made a decision that that was a line of research it didn’t want to investigate further?
Well I don’t know what their decision was. I suspect that Piggot said, I’m never going to sea again. I’ve had enough and I’m beyond that and they had nobody interested and so.
Did you know any of the folks well at the Carnegie?
No. No. Not until much later when [Merle] Tuve and [Howard A.] Tate were there. I got to know them pretty well. But up until then I didn’t know anybody there. Well they had made the winch available. We hired a truck and had it trucked up to Lamont, off loaded it onto the back yard by the machine shop and let it sit. Well when we were getting the Vema from Lunenberg and it had no winch, we said, well we have to get the winch in operation. We have got to make it operate. So we lifted the drum off the winch. We could lift it straight up although it would not rotate. The frame weighed enough that when we lifted the drum, we lifted the drum right off the winch. But then we figured we had to save the wire rope that was on it which they had saved and it was in good shape. And a wire rope twenty-five thousand feet long cost five thousand dollars. We didn’t have five thousand dollars for a wire rope. So we figured we had to save the wire rope but as soon as you put any slack in that wire, the rope twists. What we used to call assholes would form in the wire rope. And you’d just twist a loop up and when you tried to pull the loop out it would make a bit kink in the wire and then you’d really have a mess. So you’d have to undo — well at any rate, we figured we had to take the wire rope off it but we had to save it. And so we got a big reel and we’d roll up what wire rope we could until we’d come to one of these ass holes and then what was the problem? Ewing suggested well you just pick up the reel and then you drive the fork lift around in circles like this until you got it untwisted and then you run off some more wire until your next one and then you do the same thing. Well we tried that for about two of those loops and it was going to take about the next two months to get the wire rope off that way. So we figured we had to figure another way so we found a way that we put an axle on it and a strong back up above that would be supporting the axle and then lifted the strong back on the tynes of the fork lift on a beam tied to a piece of rope. So we would lift the drum up off the ground and then we could rotate by hand the drum on the piece of rope, twisting up the piece of rope and untwisting the wire. And then we’d set the drum down and take the strain off the fork lift and untwist the rope and do it again. And this turned out to be considerably faster and we got the wire rope off, in about one afternoon this way. Then we had to straighten the flanges. Well that wasn’t too much of a problem. We had the hydraulic rams that were twenty tons strength and we’d just put them on the flanges at different places and take up you know straighten an inch here and an inch there and you’d go around the drum and do it again until you had the flanges pretty straight. And so we got them straightened. And then we had to say, well now what are we going to do to make them stronger so that this doesn’t
Doesn’t happen again.
Happen again. And so what we decided to do was put — they had gussets that were supposed to prevent this from happening on the flange. And the gussets were maybe two inches at the bottom, triangular in shape and about eighteen inches tall. They didn’t provide much support really at all. But we figured a way that we could make the gussets about six inches on the base and two feet tall and we could double the number of them around each of the flanges and we put all those. And that’s when I learned how to weld and Chuck Drake learned how to weld and [Walter] Walt Beckmann learned how to weld. Angelo knew how to weld. We all took turns welding these gussets in. Well some of us had more trouble than the others learning.
How was it for you?
How was it for you?
I had the worse trouble because I was too impatient and was making the bead too fast and when it would cool off the bead would just peel itself off and make a circle. I wasn’t making it thick enough and so I had to finally learn to make it thicker and not be so fast about finishing the weld on that piece. And we all got pretty good at welding by the time we got done putting those gussets on the winch. Put the winch back together, put the wire rope back on the winch and then we had to locate it on the Vema. Well there was only one place to locate it and there was a house that was the navigations house and the radio room and so forth up forward and then the back was presumably the owner’s house which is now is going to be our laboratory. Just in front of that laboratory was the only space you could put the winch and it would have to be about on the mid-line of the ship because it weighed twelve tons and if it were off center the ship.
You’re leaning over one deck.
Lean over to one side or the other. So it had to be on the center line and so that’s where we put it and that’s where the winch lived all the time we owned the Vema in that spot where we put it at that time, although we modified the winch considerably over the years. And then we ran the wire rope so it cleared the cabin, angled the winch a little bit so that the wire rope would lead off so that it would just clear the forward cabin getting to a sheave. These sheaves are now are twelve inches in diameter and about three inches wide and each one of them weighs about a hundred and fifty pounds. We put an anchor on the deck near the rail and then it would go up to the A-frame. We had an A-frame that had been scrapped off of some vessel in Woods Hole and so we had acquired it. And we put that A-frame on and ran the wire rope over the side and we were able to use the equipment. And another one of these big sheaves were at the end of the A-frame of course to feed the wire rope over the side. And we were able to take many cores with that operation. It had a lot of things that were wrong with it. It had a truck transmission in it that had to be driven out and driven in and diesel engines don’t work very well when they’re driven with very low loads on them and especially at high speeds. It’s called lugging them. And so obviously the diesel wasn’t going to last long in this. Now this had never bothered Piggot because he had never taken more than ten cores in the whole life of his caring. But we were going to take ten cores in ten days. At least we thought so. And so as soon as we could we got rid of that truck transmission and changed to an Allison torque converter and we also put a oh — the town up in, what do they call that town in West Virginia, the northern part of West Virginia before you get to Pennsylvania?
Morgantown is up that way.
No, yes. The next town above Morgantown. It’s right on the border. Well anyhow, there’s a plant there that makes a thing that they use for brakes for big trucks that go down the Rocky Mountain front. It’s a long downhill and the brakes would burn out — their regular brakes — in short order if they used them. And so what it amounts to it’s a hydraulic pump and you throttle back the pump to the point where the pump has to work harder and harder depending on how much you throttle it back. And you generate heat of course and what you do is you heat up this water and then you put a heat exchanger connecting to the motor of the truck to cool it down. Well we put one of those on the winch on the same shaft that the torque converter was on and then we had a dog clutch so that we could declutch from the torque converter so that we’d just have this pump on it so we could free fall the wire rope off the winch and use this brake to control the speed so it didn’t get out of hand.
I want to interrupt just to ask you at this point how did you come to that kind of knowledge about what would be appropriate?
Just knew it. Walter Beckmann knew quite a bit of that. Chuck Drake had learned about, had been in the army and handed big equipment. I had worked with trucks and things over the years. And so I learned. That was the period when torque converters were starting to appear on automobiles. In fact when we first set up the torque converter on the winch, I took the guy who was going to run the winch up on the hills by Piermont. There’s a steep hill right there at Piermont in my Chrysler that had a torque converter and I showed him that if I eased off on the throttle the thing would run back down the hill. If I gave it a little more throttle we could just hold it or if I gave it more throttle it’d go up the hill with the torque converter. You couldn’t run it too long in a position where you were just holding it or going backwards but it could be operated that way. So that you could pull in the cable at a slow rate but it wasn’t a good rig for paying out cable. So we had this, Parkersburg, that’s what I’m talking.
A Parkersburg brake it’s called. There’s a company in Parkersburg that makes them. They just use the imaginative name of Parkersburg brake. But the Parkersburg brake — we would use to lower it and would control it with by controlling the flow of the water. We had a big tank so that the water didn’t get too hot. And then we’d throw the dog clutch in and use the Allison torque converter to pull the wire in and we could pull it in at a slow rate. Usually when you take a core, it’s hard to get it out of the bottom and you’d have to pull pretty hard. And finally when it breaks the suction down there, it’s likely to come gallywomping up. And so the torque converter was especially good for puffing the core out and you could control it well enough to arrange the speed. At any rate, we changed the operation of the winch by these modifications which we made over a couple of years. We didn’t make it all at once. But over a couple of years we made it so that it took us about an hour and a half to lower to the bottom what had previously taken any winch we’d ever seen four hours to do and it took us about an hour and a half to recover from twenty-five, twenty-eight hundred fathoms, which again, previously had taken four hours to do. So we could take a core in about three to three and a half hours that previously had taken eight to ten hours. Which made a big difference.
We’ll need to bring this to a close unfortunately within a few minutes because I need to catch a flight. But there are a number and clearly there are many topics we will need to visit in a subsequent interview or more.
Also when you go through all your notes, you’ll probably think of questions about what we talked about.
One thing that I do want to talk to you about now, we have in the remaining minutes. In 1949 as I recall you were down with ONR briefly for service with —
How did that come about and what particularly did you do when you were there?
I was blackmailed. Oh God, what was his name. Anyway the guy in charge of the geophysics desk in the Office of Naval Research under Gordon Lull. I can’t think of his name now. I’ll think of it one of these days. Anyway, [Beauregard] Beau Perkins, that’s it.
Beau Perkins was the head of the geophysics desk. And I had been getting these submarines to go on submarine gravity cruises for about three years. And I adopted the habit early on that I would get these letters from the navy which would say reference so and so, reference so and so. And you know all the navy lingo and I adopted the habit of writing my letters the same way as the navy had figuring adopting to their system would be favorable to their response to my letter when I would ask for a cruise when I would write to the chief of naval operations about getting authorization for the cruise, or the chief of naval research about his part in it. So at anyway because I had adopted to the lingo of the navy, Beau thought I had knowledge about how to deal with the navy. So he got in touch with me and said, look why don’t you come to work here in the Office of Naval Research with me? I need an assistant. I said, oh Beau I want to do research work. I don’t want to do this kind of thing. He said, well you know you got a contract but if there’s nobody here to work out a contract you won’t have much of a contract up there. And all those other things that go on at Lamont, somebody’s got to be here to write those things you know. And I said well that makes it, basically this is blackmail saying you’re not going to have any contract if you don’t say yes. So I went back and talked to Ewing about it and Ewing said look, why don’t you talk to him about spending a week in ONR and come back here a week in between and alternating weeks between ONR. So I went down to Beau and said how about that? And he said oh I guess that would work. Yes, let’s try it. So I signed on and I was made, quote, consultant to the office of naval research.
When did you first start going down?
This would be in, I guess it would be January of ‘49 thereabouts. I think that’s right.
You hadn’t gotten the Ph.D. then?
I had passed all the requirements but I had not gotten the —
Not formally picked it up. Okay that makes it clear.
I had to wait until June for the paperwork. So at any rate I said well I could come down alternate weeks if that would help out. And Beau said yes that would be great. So I signed on and so forth and the first week I went down there Beau was there and everything went fine and I went back to Lamont. The next time I came down I found out that Beau Perkins had resigned and I was now the geophysics representative of the Office of Naval Research.
Had you any idea?
I had no idea that he was going to resign. He had resigned because he had taken a job at the Ordnance Laboratory in Maryland.
In Maryland? Aberdeen?
Aberdeen, yes. He had taken a job up at Aberdeen Proving Grounds.
Had he recruited you with that anticipation do you think?
I think he did. He must have known he was about to go to Aberdeen Proving Grounds. And he had, I guess, been told that if he didn’t find somebody to take his desk he couldn’t leave. So anyhow I found myself doing his job on alternate weeks that he couldn’t do, had trouble doing, full time.
So what did your job then entail for that, was it six months then that you were?
It was six months that I was there. Meanwhile they recruited somebody on a full time basis to take over the job. Which I think was [Arthur] Art Maxwell if I remember right. It might have been Feenan Jennings. I guess it must have been Art Maxwell but I’m not sure of that.
What were the responsibilities?
Well we were writing all the contracts with all of the institutions in geophysics. Woods Hole, Scripps, Lamont, Miami, I guess Texas A&M wasn’t in the picture then. I guess that was the lot. And whenever there would be surplus equipment that was — at that time lots of surplus equipment from the navy was being offered and everybody would get a list of this and each lab would come up with a list they wanted. And somebody had to do the paperwork of arranging that they could get the equipment they wanted and that would go through ONR so that would be my job for each of the institutions that would come up for some surplus property. Frequently they required, ONR required, reports about what was going on in each of the branches and so forth. One of the things that happened while I was there was that they wanted a report of all projects, a one paragraph statement about all the projects and why it was important for the navy. And, oh, what was his name, Atkens, John Atkens was the overall head of three branches. No, there were four branches in our office and there were three branches in two other offices. He was the head of the whole shebang. And he said well that’s easy. We send a letter to all of the institutions and tell them to write us a paragraph like that and we bundle them all up and send them up. And I got up and said, you can’t do that. That’s what you’re hired to do or we’re hired to do down here. Those guys are supposed to do research. They’re not supposed to write. We all have the progress reports that we require those guys to write. We have to sit down and go through these and write. And so anyhow in the long run I prevailed and we all sat down and went through the progress reports and wrote these things. Well a sequel to that is a number of years later the Air Force Cambridge Research Lab was looking for a director and I didn’t know it at the time but my name came up as one of the possibilities. I was never approached or anything. And John Atkens was part of the search committee to find the new director. And so when my name came up, he said, he’s no good, he’s not administratively housebroken yet. Of course what he meant was that I had interfered with the simple way to get it done that they didn’t have to do any work.
But your moral compass had steered you in a different way.
When I heard that, I said nobody has ever said a nicer thing about me. [laughter]
I’m tempted to leave it right there but I do want to ask you one more question based on that. This was a time when clearly you had a chance to see what all other major geophysical institutes were doing. Did you find any of that review surprising?
We were ahead of all of them. We had more things going in more different directions than any of the other institutions at the time.
So it reaffirmed your faith then having been in that position for this period.
Even though we were the smallest institution, we didn’t have our own ships, we were doing more and better work than any of the other institutions that were doing geophysics at the time. You have to realize that at that time almost no geophysics was being done. And by and large the geophysics we were doing was the first time any of that had been done.
Certainly for the ocean going research.
The ocean going part of research.
And even other fields of geophysics were certainly not well developed by even the end of World War II. Well let me thank you very much again for this session of the interview. We will be continuing both with the points you have asked to discuss as well as further questions I’ll be asking. Many thanks.