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 May 14, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/6914-3
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.
This is Ron Doel and this is a continuing interview with J. Lamar Worzel. We’re recording this in North Carolina and today’s date is the fourteenth of May.
1996. And I do have a list of a number of developments and events that we will be discussing in this interview. One of the things you just brought here is a photo album which you were able to recover two months ago that dates back to your days at Lehigh and it might be a good idea to continue going through that.
And bring to the tape some of the things that we didn’t talk about directly about Lehigh. One of the photographs that you showed me a moment ago was when Allen Vine was as your caption here — these are your captions on the photographs. Done at the time?
Yes, well I fixed this album up as a Christmas present for my mother while I was in college.
Oh that’s interesting.
As you know a college student without any money has to think of innovative ways to give Christmas presents. [Laughter]
And the one image that you were talking about off tape for a few moments, Allen Vine brews a potent mix. And it was melting the TNT and this was on board the —
Right. When we started our explosive work with the seismic at sea, we went to all the explosive people and inquired about firing explosives under pressures like ten thousand PSI and at temperatures at close to zero Centigrade, or Celsius as they call it today and they convinced us that it would neither fire under those pressures or temperatures exposed to the water. So we got — obtained some army shells that were not up to par but had good satisfactory cases for our purposes and used them as bomb cases. They were difficult to handle of course because of their shape and melting TNT on a ship at sea isn’t considered the safest practice in the world so we wanted to get rid of that. So we decided that we would see if there were other ways to do this. But in the original experiments in 1937 and 1938 Vine melted TNT with steam piped from the engine room and filled those bomb cases on the deck of the Atlantis. And they were used on the explosive work on the bottom. Later on we put the TNT, powdered TNT, in a rubber balloon, a heavy weather balloon, and would protected it from the water but it didn’t protect from the pressure or the temperatures and we found that those would fire most of the time. Now occasionally we’d have a misfire and we finally got so perturbed about the misfires that one day we got one back. We broke it apart in the laboratory of the Atlantis using my sheath knife to chop off the TNT which had solidified from the pressure. And we got down to the detonator and found that the top of the detonator had collapsed and in collapsing had probably damaged the bridge that would become hot and would fire the initial charge. So that we decided that the detonator had to be protected, but otherwise it would fire fine as indicated by the ones that had collapsed, and hadn’t damaged the bridges, that did fire.
This was the sole repeating failure that you needed to address.
Yes. And we, as I told you, we attempted this by putting the detonator in a brass tube and in our pressure vessel which had its humorous side. We don’t want to go in that now, do we?
You might want to recap the one incident that you recalled in practice in the laboratory at Lehigh.
Well at any rate we had a fourteen inch naval shell that we had inserted into the ground — so that the back end of it stood up about a foot above the ground which we used as a pressure vessel. You could pump up with a hydraulic jack, which fed oil from the hydraulic jack into the shell, and we could raise the pressure up to ten thousand PSI, pounds per square inch, to test things for the pressure at the bottom of the ocean. We could test things up to about six inches in diameter and about three feet long in that pressure vessel. And we tested many, many things. We took some powdered TNT in a rubber balloon and inserted a detonator into a tube, a brass tube. And inserted that in the explosives with the idea that there would be a grading of pressure in the brass tube so that there wouldn’t be full pressure on the detonator but that the detonator would still cause the explosive to go. Well the brass tube collapsed at four thousand PSI while we were testing it.
And this was an evening in the lab?
And this was about ten o’clock at night in the laboratory, nine or ten o’clock. And when it collapsed it made a big thump and Dr. Ewing, rushed down from his office where he was working.
How far away was it?
One floor up. You know a couple of offices down the hall.
Right. That clearly was a loud thump. I mean to hear that.
Yes. Well when any — when we would collapse any kind of pressure vessel it would make a loud thud like that. And, knowing what we were testing, he wouldn’t come down. This time he knew we were testing explosives. So he came rushing in and he said, what happened? I said, gee I don’t know but the pump doesn’t seem to work any more. And he said, well what’s the pressure? I said, eight thousand PSI. He said, what was it the last time you read it? Four thousand PSI. Let’s get out of here, he said. So we did and we got up the far end of the hail and stopped and thought and we realized that the campus policeman would be coming by pretty soon and that he would look in the window, because normally he’d pass the time of day with us and sometimes chat with us a while. Our laboratory was a ground floor laboratory. We decided it would not be good procedure since we had opened the valve on the pressure vessel to let the pressure out before we departed quickly and hoping that the pressure wouldn’t rise so much as to collapse the pressure vessel. It was creating a fountain, of burnt oil and burnt TNT too I guess, and a lot of ashes and so forth came out.
All coming out.
All coming out of the pressure vessel and hitting the ceiling overhead. Well any anyhow it wouldn’t be good policy to let the police see that. So I rushed back into the laboratory and pulled down the shade so he couldn’t see into the lab. And jumped out the window and we waited for about an hour for things to calm down. When we went back in, we saw the pressure was down to zero. We opened the pressure vessel and we found that the brass tube that had collapsed had apparently pinched some of the TNT in it and it had caused this — what is called a secondary explosion, which is a fire in the TNT. It didn’t explode; it burned. But the whole quantity of TNT which we had probably a pound of TNT in there because we had to have enough to cover the tube see if the idea would work. And the whole pound of TNT had burned up in the pressure vessel. And the tube had obviously collapsed and ignited it. We utilized the principle in the Woods Hole detonator during World War II about 1944 from this failed experiment — it gave us the technique for solving another problem later.
We cleaned up the laboratory, the visible part so that it didn’t look much worse than normal before all the people came in. Vine and I spent all night on it and when people came in about eight o’clock, we figured it was clean enough then that people wouldn’t think it’s any worse than it normally was. Then we went out to breakfast.
Right. Now the other people were others in the physics department?
Yes. It would be the other professors in the department, students coming to classes and things like that.
Did you tend to be the ones who worked longest and latest in the physics laboratory or were there others?
By all odds, we worked until midnight every night at least, sometimes later.
Were there any others who did this [cross talk]?
Professor Berger would often work — oh maybe until ten or eleven o’clock at night. But he was the only other one. Everybody else cleared out at five o’clock. And we often sneaked into the big machine shop of the physics department. They had better machines in there for doing a lot of the work that we were doing that needed to build our equipment. And the machinist, whose name; the only name I remember is Luke.
He got the idea we were sneaking in at night and using his machines. We never heard from him in any fashion. When he was there, he would usually let us use them unless he was on them, working on them himself. So it was not a really bad thing. But he got to be suspicious that we were coming in at night. We weren’t supposed to do that and so he would leave a little few chips around on the machines each night. So that if we came in and used the machines and cleaned up, he’d know it. So we quickly learned the technique that we’d brush all the chips into a dustpan and put it aside when we used the machine and when we were done, we would clean it and then put those chips back. [Laughter] The exact same size and shape. They weren’t in the same position, but he wouldn’t have known that. And he never got wise. And the way we got in was that they had a lock and we just had a little piece of metal that we’d go in and slide the latch bolt by pulling the piece of metal out. It was a little L shaped piece of metal. It worked fine. It was, you know, a snap lock.
Yes. Who normally used that laboratory, the one you’re describing?
Well it was a professional machinist who was building equipment for the various physicists in the department. And they had to stand in line to get their stuff built. And we couldn’t, didn’t believe that we could stand in line so long and so we worked on our equipment mostly in the staff shop, but on some of the finer things we went into Duke’s shop and worked them although we weren’t supposed to do that. But nobody ever found out so it didn’t matter.
You’re looking at yet another photograph that you found in the album.
That’s a picture of me with the first floating instruments. Those are the insides of the instruments. That would be about 1938 or ‘39. I would be about twenty at that time.
Right. And this is over in the lab at Lehigh.
That’s what is called the lower lab — was called the lower lab of the Atlantis.
In the Atlantis?
Okay. How many labs did Atlantis have?
Just two. The upper lab, and just underneath it down a stairway was another space. Both of them were very small spaces for a ship. But they were considered adequate for ships of those days.
And you were saying this is the floating?
That’s the interior — the guts of the — well there are two of them, one there and one there — of the two instruments. And that’s the watch that we used for starting it.
Did I show you the watch I had at the time from that equipment?
No, I don’t think I saw it. [Interruption to look for watch.] Okay, you’ve got it now in a protective glass casing.
Yes. This is another story. Because of the work Dr. Ewing had done in the Barracuda with the gravity measurement — the pendulum making gravity measurements on a submarine, he had persuaded Bell Laboratories to let him have a — or actually build for him a crystal chronometer which is a quartz crystal that would keep time to about a part in a million. And we were invited down to Hamilton Watch Company and we brought along our crystal chronometer — this would have been about 1938 I guess — and we compared the time from our crystal chronometer to their fancy Shortt pendulum clock. It was a pendulum clock that they used to rate all their watches when they built them. And we changed the voltages within all conceivable ranges, and things like that, and we couldn’t make any change in the difference between the Shortt clock and our clock until four-thirty. Four-thirty there was suddenly a big difference of time — between the two clocks. And about five-thirty it recovered and it was back into sync again, everything was good. Well, what had happened is everybody shut down to go home from work and in shutting all the equipment down that was using the Shortt clock information to rate clocks throughout the whole plant, they had disturbed the electronics in — that pass the signal around and had disturbed it so much that the rates were way off. Which meant that a bunch of clocks, watches that were being rated by that clock were rated improperly at that time.
Well at any rate, they were, the Hamilton Watch Company was shocked about this and immediately went to work on it. And they made a repair and then they had no trouble any more. But they would never, they hadn’t known it for years and would never have know it if we hadn’t come. Well anyway in appreciation for that, they gave us twelve of these pocket watches.
You’re holding one right now.
I’m holding one right now. And they were what was called a railroad time piece. The conductors always carried them as precise time. And it was a very good time piece at the time. The crystal chronometer as a side issue to that story of course is — my watch up there is a quartz crystal watch and it keeps fabulous time, probably as good as our crystal chronometer. That fits on my wrist. The crystal chronometer that we had at this time was about fifteen inches wide and about nine inches tall and about three feet deep.
It was a bulky apparatus. And Marrison at Bell Labs had built them and he built crystal chronometers at Bell Labs initially. And it kept such good time he had nothing to compare it to. So he built another crystal chronometer that, so he’d have something of comparable accuracy to compare it to and then if there is a discrepancy between them, how could he tell which was right? So he built a third one to see which one was right and then he had to build a fourth one in case one of them broke down that he still had three to work with. Well at that point Bell Labs — well we got Bell Labs to build a smaller version, a smaller, improved version of them at that time. Or I shouldn’t say we, Dr. Ewing got them to do it for his gravity measuring cruise on the Barracuda. In the gravity work they had used regular marine chronometers up until that time. And marine chronometers were not of appropriate accuracy. I mean the crystal chronometer gave about an order of magnitude of greater accuracy of the timing of a gravity pendulum which increased the accuracy of the pendulum operations to probably a couple of miligals from the order of ten miligals. So it was a great innovation, that crystal chronometer. But anyway these Hamilton watches that they gave us, we took the hands off and made — Dr. Ewing did most of this — this is a splined rod that he got.
This is in the center now, a modified watch.
A modified watch. There is actually two of those wheels, two of those if you can see down the side there. They’re about twenty thousandths thick. There are two of those wheels and only one spline was left out that would make a contact point on the edge and the rest of them they got Bakelite around them and you had to turn this down so that the Bakelite was around the whole circumference of the wheel except for one point. And he made two of those — one to replace the hour hand and one to replace the minute hand. And then put little insulating blocks on the face of the watch which held long feeler, points, to feel the contacts.
And with that system then you could — and by going through in the two contacts.
Then when it actually makes or connections.
He brought those out to two connectors on the edge of the case so that it would clamp into a holder. With that system you can set the time to go off at any time of the day you want. At least within twelve hours.
And we had, we fitted all twelve of the watches for this. And Vine made a box which would hold all twelve watches and had two contacts on it and batteries in it and a strip on the one side there which each had a lucite pin that a light would shine when the contact was made. And whenever the light would come on for one of the watches, we’d write the second off one watch we used as a master.
Was the calibrator of the master.
As a calibrator of the master. And we’d write the actual second on it. So we set the watches as near as we could and then we’d mark them down and they would shift a little back and forth because they didn’t all keep exactly the same rate. And any time we used our oscillographs and bomb shooters — normally we’d use three oscillographs and three bomb shooters — so we’d need six of the ten watches for the operation. We’d take the six that had operated as nearly the same time on all of them. Or actually the bomb shooters had to be ten seconds later. So we’d have the three oscillographs that would operate on time and then bombs that would fire ten seconds, twenty seconds, thirty seconds or very close to those numbers so that the oscillograph would be running. So these were the master time pieces. And these were put in mu-metal canisters to protect them from magnetic fields from — we had big magnets in there for the galvanometers and there were all kinds of stray currents floating around that had magnetic fields. So we put these in the mu-metal cases to keep them shielded from the magnetic fields in the oscillographs.
And that was fairly effective?
It was very effective.
You were able to —
We never had any trouble with the system at all. The watches would float, vary back and forth a little bit but we just picked the six for the day that were the best for that day’s program. That’s a nice little piece of work. It all fitted under the glass easel of the watch too.
Yes. I’m holding it right now, in fact. Looking down on it. The sweep second hand is still moving on it.
Yes. How long did it take? It was Ewing personally who did the work on this?
How long did it take him, do you recall, for each watch? How long this operation took him?
Well, he built them all at one time, of course.
So to talk about the ten watches — it took him about a month to do the ten watches — to make all the parts and put them together. See these little blocks are riveted to the face with little brass rivets.
Two rivets on each one.
And those feeler things are inserted in that hard rubber block. In little slots that have been milled into it with a miller. That’s the kind of work we did in Duke’s shop.
But we couldn’t do that in the staff shop. The equipment just wasn’t up to snuff. Not then.
Did you assist in constructing these or?
I didn’t have any part to do with that but I made some of the mu-metal cases that they were in. And some of the contacts that would contact the watches, things like that. You know we all participated. And who built what was rather casual. It was what we thought needed to be built next when somebody finished one job.
This really is quite a bit of workmanship here, craftsmanship.
An interesting sort of side light story about this is in — it would have been in about in 1948 — Ewing and I were invited to Cambridge, England to a scientific meeting, and during that scientific meeting we were talking to Ben Brown who was a staff member of the Department of Geodesy and Geophysics at Cambridge. And he said well of course you people in the States are getting remarkable results from the seismic work and things like that because of all the money you have to work with. We don’t get much money over here so we can’t do these things. And Doc looked at him and he said, have you ever built any of your galvanometers? And he said no. Have you built any geophones? No. He said we did. And all the work he was talking about we had built all the equipment.
And we had done it partly because we couldn’t afford to do otherwise.
Sure. That certainly was a perceptions after World War II.
We had lots of money and they had nothing. But we had lots of lack of money before World War II when we were building this stuff.
And we built our own instruments for about twenty, twenty-five years after World War II for the plain and simple reason there weren’t any to be had anywhere else. Until oceanography got to be fashionable and a lot of companies started building oceanographic equipment, you built your own or you did without.
Yes. So you would place it about 1965-1970 where the commercial developments began to?
Started in about then, yes.
That’s certainly something we’re going to cover as we get a little bit closer to then.
Let me ask you before we turn to anything else. Were there any other recollections that come particularly to mind now that you’re looking at the —?
Well, see the picture that’s one of the watches that I have in my hand there.
You’re holding it in your hand. Do you remember what you were doing when you were holding it?
I was putting, I was pretending to put it in the new metal, in its carrier in a mu-metal case. That way we would use it. These are the covers for the oscillographs units — the photographic units which are on that end of the instrument. This end was the end that held the plugs and things that were needed — connected these. This is, the vacuum tube we used in the amplifier. Those days all amplifiers used vacuum tubes of course.
And then you say you had two units there.
There are two units on the desk. We actually used three at a time but we only had a rack for two.
No, I guess we did have a rack for three but one was away at the time somewhere.
Do you recall why the photo was taken?
Just because Vine was kind of a photo nut. He took most of the photos that are in here. And he just thought it would be nice to have a photograph of the equipment and I happened to be there working on it so I got in the picture.
As you can see, a lot of our work was rather dirty work.
Yes. You’re pointing to your trousers at that point.
My pants. My pants were full of grease and dirt.
I wonder if any of the other photographs invoke any?
Oh there are lots of memories in here. We were up to Vine’s still here. This is the rigged — what we called the hero board — where someone would get out on the end that to look for the instrument coming up. The winch was operated by controls back here on the ship.
You’re pointing to a photo where the beam is extended out over the water, the ship is —
There’s an arm out which holds those the sheave that the cable is played over that lowers the equipment into the ocean. And you had to stand out on the hero board out over the side of the ship to make sure you didn’t pull that instrument through the sheave here and part the cable with all kinds of ugly consequences such as losing the equipment and killing a few people.
Yes. And killing a few people?
Well, you break that cable. When you break a cable that’s under that strain. That cable breaks at twenty thousand pounds of strain. And when you break it it unwinds. It’s a three wire construction. And then each of those wires is made up of ten wires. And those three wires will unwind and then the ten wires will unwind and this whole thing is whipping around through the air. And shoving itself around. And on — we never had any experience with any problem. But on cable ships and things that had similar equipment, people have been cut in half by those things flailing around.
This is on a commercial cable?
Commercial cable operation. So we didn’t want any of that kind of thing going on. So we were very careful to make sure that we saw the instrument coming up in the water and stopped the winch in time. See there it is coming out of the water.
Right. Just breaking the water at that point.
And here’s the instrument on deck where we’re taking the insides out of it to get at the photographic paper to see what we had from our day’s operation. That’s the ship’s cat on the hydrographic winch of the Atlantis. That’s the after cabin where the navigation part of the ship was.
Do you recall what the cat’s name was?
And later on when we used the floating instruments.
This is still in the late to 1930s.
Late 1930s, right. We had to — they would come up and they would have a flag about ten feet high and the flag would be about a foot square and we’d have to go up and try to find those. And so one of the ways was to go up on the spreaders on the Atlantis which is a hundred feet off the deck. This is the view of the deck from there
The spreader at a hundred feet looking aft. This is the after mast here. And this is the scientific cabin just behind the mast.
And what’s in the scientific cabin?
No, I’m sorry. This is the scientific cabin just before the mast. Well mostly it had a rack with Nansen bottles in it. Because that was the principal business of the oceanographic institution. We were just riding with them. And they had their instruments principally in the lab. But it had a big work bench that we used. Just a big flat bench with a big shelf underneath it that we could put instruments on and work with it. And then there was a lower lab which had a bench, a long bench but narrow, about two feet wide and about ten feet long, for when we had more stuff than we could handle up in the upper lab.
Were there any kinds of equipment that you really wanted on board that didn’t have, any?
Well not then because we didn’t have much wants in those days. We had all the equipment we wanted.
With the exception I guess of the sounder. We used the sounder on the Atlantis. Which at that time was a submarine signal instrument which made a sound by having a hammer that would strike the hull of the ship, actually the keel of the ship, from a spring that was tripped. And it would wind the spring back up of spring and then trip it again at about a ten second cycle. And that sound would go down and then be reflected from the bottom and then come up. And they had a dial with a rotating arm on it and it would trip the hammer to go off at where the dial said zero and when the arm got to various depths which was figured at forty-eight hundred feet per second sound which is nominal depth — that’s nominal speed of sound. Wherever the echo would come back, a neon tube would flash and the operator had to read the number that was opposite the neon tube when it flashed.
Did that introduce errors? The way that one needed.
Well it introduced a lot of errors. In the first place, the operator had to view where that neon light flashed. It just flashed for one quick flash and he had to remember where it flashed and read the number there and record it. And all of those kind of reflections are usually in any kind of rough topography you have multiple reflections. Well you had to decide which was the main one that you counted. And you had to make a record of this and you had to do this every ten seconds if you wanted any kind of a profile. Normally they didn’t bother with profiles at that time. They would just say we’re looking for water depths like twenty-seven hundred fathoms and we’d go until we got to twenty-seven hundred fathoms. We’d look at it every half hour — something like that. And one time on our return from a trip, we came across the Hudson submarine canyon. Out at sea, probably around the two thousand fathom curve. The Coast and Geodetic survey had charted the submarine canyon out to a depth of about fifteen hundred fathoms, as I remember. It may be less than that. But anyhow they had stopped before the distance. And nobody knew how much farther the canyons went. So we were coming over about two thousand fathoms where we expected it would be. And so we spent one whole night, Vine and I, charting. I would read the number off the dial, Vine would record it on a data sheet, and then he would plot it on a graph. And we did that every ten seconds through the night. Well through the three, four hours that we crossed the area of the submarine canyon and got a profile that the canyon did in fact extend beyond the two thousand fathom curve. Because we had a record of it, where it was at the two thousand fathom curve. But that was just a side issue of where we happened to be at the time.
Yes. Was that significant enough to merit a publication?
No, we never published that profile. But that was the thing that lead us to the idea that we wanted recording sounders. Because that was such a terrific man hour eater-upper.
A good way to put it.
It wasn’t a very efficient way to record data. There’s a picture of the main mast of the Atlantis. And there’s the spreader that I used to stand on when we were looking for our instruments.
Yes. Did that feel secure enough when you were up there?
Well the first day I claimed that I put finger marks in the steel cable that would take about eight thousand pounds to bend in the slightest.
It felt that way.
I hung on for dear life. After we’d been up there a couple of days, I’d hang on with one hand like this. The spreader is a flat area. It wasn’t a round one. It was a flat space. So your feet had a — but there were holes in the spreader so your feet could go into the holes.
And so forth. You had to stand on the flat part. And hold on with one hand on a stay, and use binoculars looking for the instrument. And we got kind of casual about it after we got experience — used to it, shall we say.
How long would you be up at any one time?
Oh, three of four hours probably. The hardest part was climbing the rungs on the mast to get there. [Laughter.] That’s Minnie again. There’s a water spout that was forming. See the water spout right there?
I do. It’s a photograph out into the horizon, clouds.
Cloud overhead and a water spout forming on the bottom of the cloud. And this is a picture at night of the Hudson Valley when we crossed at the Bear Mountain Bridge getting back to Lehigh from one of our trips. At that time there was a dollar ten between Ewing and Vine and Webster.
Only a dollar ten was what they had between them.
Between them and they were a hundred miles still away from Bethlehem.
And I notice that you’ve written there and the car.
Floosey Belle eats oil.
Floosey Belle eats oil.
And you had to pay a whole quarter to get a quart of oil those days. Gasoline was thirteen cents a gallon. And this picture is down in New Jersey when we were doing the refraction work and there’s one of the explosions showing up over the tree tops. Dirt was blasted out of the hole. There’s a picture of me in one of those holes. We showed it to Duke in his shop and said we bet you won’t guess what that is Duke. He said well that’s easy. That’s Joe Worzel standing in a quarry. It was one of our shot holes. There’s George Woollard standing on another one.
I think I might have actually seen that set of photographs before. I recall that you had put the caption, Men from Mars at that point on the –-
I told you about that. What’s his name, made the radio program about men landing from Mars.
Indeed that was right at the time of the Orson Welles.
Broadcast at that time.
And this was just before Orson Welles’ broadcast and we thought that they might, that somebody might find these craters and try to connect them with Orson Welles’ broadcast afterwards. This is a model of the pressure cases that we used for the floating seismographs. It was about eight inches long and about two inches in diameter. And it was to check out the calculations about when they collapsed. And you see that this one collapsed at the equivalent of four and a half miles down, which was supposed to be our safety factor. We weren’t expecting to go deeper than three miles. And it collapsed. As you can see it went oval and then it cracked in the parts it was in and it also cracked in the part that was bent around that was extended. So this part came out, that part went in. These are the nine galvanometers, bank of galvanometers that we built. Again, Ewing built most of this part. He was claimed to — to be clumsy by most people. And in later years, he had very little to do with building any of the instruments.
Did you think that was a fair assessment?
No. He was really quite capable with his hands. Although he had big hands, he could control them. And he could do precision work like this contrary to what most people thought by seeing these big hands. This is the oscillograph unit that was in the big — what I call the robot, original robot. This box at the one end is the camera. You can see the controls for the amplifiers here for adjusting the gain on the amplifiers that we used. And the clock would be up at this end. These are the vacuum tubes in the amplifier circuits and so forth.
And this is built in a fairly long, narrow.
In a cylindrical tube, it would be about eight inches in outside diameter and they all had to be built into a long tube about five feet long. And we just mounted this on our truck on a rack and used it as our recording apparatus when we did the work in New Jersey as a test that everything worked on this. This is the geophone. That’s a regular flashlight battery. There’s a sylphon bellows and that’s the electric lead.
Right. Looks like a D cell in the battery so it’s maybe about four inches maybe a little bit larger in diameter.
Yes. About the size of a golf ball.
A golfer would tell it.
The lead-ins for these were tricky little things to make.
Did you make those?
We had to make them. There weren’t any, there wasn’t anything.
Yes. I meant did you play a hand in?
Yes. I did a lot of the work on the geophones, if not all of it. I’m not sure now whether I did all of it. But yes I turned out the cases and drilled the holes and did all that.
What was particularly challenging about this?
The electrical lead-ins to it. We took a little brass rod, about a quarter inch in diameter and turned most of it down to the diameter of a ten thirty-two screw. And put ten thirty-two threads on the one end. The end that was going outside of the case we tapered. Made a conical shape. So that the pressure pressing on the head would tighten it against a Bakelite washer that we put around the conical head. And it was a conical shaped receptacle in the head of the geophone. So that that pressure would make it tighter and tighter. And then we put a piece of Bakelite inside as a washer so that when you tightened the nut on this to make it initially tight, it would be insulated from the case. And then we also put a soldering log on that so that you had something to solder to inside. So you brought a wire in and soldered it to the inside. On the outside you soldered to the brass plugs the cable that was going back to the oscillograph. Actually there would be two lead-ins. And we put that in a little well on the head here and then filled that well with tar as a means to insulate it from the sea water. And that worked fine, but it was an awful mess. We’d have to pour tar while we were on the deck of the Atlantis. We always had a coffee pot full of hot tar around because we’d frequently have to check a connection or something and pull the tar out. Then we’d have to pour in more tar.
It would be the coffee pot that would be.
The coffee pot full of tar there. And you always dripped some tar around when you quit pouring. And we used to have house shingles that we put on the deck of the Atlantis to catch —
Oh, that’s interesting.
— the tar that we missed with the coffee pot and so forth, Because the deck gang didn’t favor us dropping tar on their deck. Especially after they had been holy-stoning them in the morning before we got up.
And you were the only group on board Atlantis that —
That used tar?
Well we were the only ones using tar so we were the known culprits. We were not the only scientists on board. We were always hitchhiking on the Atlantis on somebody else’s cruise. We were extras on their cruise.
And the scheme was that from time to time they would let us have a little ship time for our work in between their work. And so there were almost always people measuring things about the temperature and the salinity of the water on board when we were on board. And occasionally there’d be biologists that would be towing nuts or collecting siphonophores, things like that. And also Bill [William] Schroder was often on board and he was collecting sharks. He would have them catch sharks and then he’d make measurements about them and then they’d discard them over the side. And we managed to find a way to help him a lot. We’d feed em a piece of meat with a detonator in it and when he got it down well inside him why we’d set the detonator off. We had pictures. I don’t have any of them left now. But we had pictures of sharks standing up on their tail on top of the water with a mouth wide open and so forth. It was good fun then but now a days it would be looked askance at.
Yes. Indeed it would.
But everybody that went to sea hated sharks. And they were glad. We saw some of the sailors catch sharks with a shark hook and just mutilate them something fierce. They just hated them so much that they wanted to mutilate them. It was their way to get even with them.
Have you had any bad experience with sharks at any time?
No, no. We never had any bad experiences. Except well frequently they would throw garbage over the side and the sharks would come around and get that garbage. And you didn’t have to have a more explicit lesson on what would happen if you fell overboard. [Laughter] See sharks feeding on that garbage.
Yes. I’m sure that left a pretty vivid memory.
Yes. And all of the seafaring people would just, just felt like that. They wanted to get rid of every shark on earth. And we soon collected — but we never got ferocious. But they would sometimes get a shark and put a slit on his nose so that the front of his nose would flop up and that would make it impossible for him to dive. And then sometimes they would cut open their bellies and let their entrails drag out and other sharks would attack them and eat them. And all sorts of things. We saw lots of unpleasant sights that we didn’t get involved in. We just shot the dynamite cups. We first started shooting small dynamite charges, but that wasn’t any fun because they just disintegrated more. When you shot a detonator they would do all kinds of crazy things. Which was fun to watch. Well, anyhow. Here’s a picture of me holding one ten pound TNT bomb in one of the meteorological balloons that I was telling you.
Yes, indeed. And that was on board the Atlantis?
This is on board the Atlantis, yes. And this is one of the units, There’s the oscillograph. This is the float, here.
Right. And the oscillograph is hanging from the —
From the float and then down under the oscillograph is a framework. There’s a picture later that shows a way to put a geophone on a side that wouldn’t be disturbed by the weights that cause this to sink. This had a weights on it, cast iron weights.
Which would take it to the bottom and then the clock work when it finished its operations would drop the weights and it would float back to the surface. We would try to lay a series of these floats out in a line with our instruments on them. Now these instruments were to go the bottom and it would take them about two hours to get there. And you had to allow some time to make sure that they had time enough to get to the bottom so you’d fire them about a half hour after you thought they got to the bottom to make sure they were on bottom. And then they would take fifteen minutes to go through their paces and then they would drop the ballast and it’d take two to three hours to surface. So they’d be gone five or six hours from the surface, and meanwhile the ship had been drifting in the wind and currents, and what have you, and you would be five six miles from where they came up frequently. Well in order to improve our odds a little bit on that, we took a couple of five gallon cans which had conical tops, butted them tail to tail, and sent them down with a weight with a release device which — I think there’s a picture of it here.
Going to another item that’s on the shelf.
This is called deep sea photography.
The cameras were used —
Which appeared rather later as I recall.
Yes. This was put out about 1950 about I guess. Let’s see what it was. But we were — we wrote the historical part of this because we were the first — ‘67 this was published by Johns Hopkins. But this is one of the devices that we would use to drop ballast. This’d be a tin can here with a lid that would cover the front end which had a little rubber diaphragm at the bottom so that when it was sinking that lid would be held up against the can and it would prevent a rush of water by the bag full of salt that we wanted to melt to release it. And if the water rushed passed it, it would melt very quickly of course. And when it sat on the bottom, it would melt slowly. So you couldn’t time it at that. So we put this on to prevent that. But that lid would fall down once it got on bottom and stopped. This is the ballast down here. Usually we had two ten pound cast iron weights, cylindrical weights, cast iron, about ten inches in diameter. And this was a bail just up to our instrument. A bag inside of salt, a piece of compressed salt in a bag of fabric and we got the fabric and had to test them in a tank in the laboratory to find out how big a block of salt we need. Well those also had some timing or so it sometimes cost us a little time waiting for that. That was the second camera we built. We called it the Pyrex penis.
You had mentioned that in the first interview.
The camera’s down there. And there’s the Pyrex penis on the pole we used. There’s me taking it easy — Vine and Doc Ewing working.
The photograph on page nineteen on the lower bottom left.
I guess this is the only view of the lead ins. If you can see it. See this. The taper is there and the nut is on the inside. And this is filled in with tar to keep it insulated.
This was a carburetor bowl which was a glass container that would — the crumbier the glass the better it was for pressure for some reason. For bigger flashbulbs we used to use diner glasses. You know those big thick glasses that they could throw around. They worked great.
Very interesting, yes.
I don’t think we have any other pictures that are significant here. For the direct photographs we took. [Sound of leafing through photographs.] There’s what one of those connectors looks like on the outside. This was later on we changed our design and we put a promontory on there so we would wrap rubber tape around the promontory and then on up to the cable. And several layers of rubber tape and we — that way we would get rid of the.
We’re looking at page 33 at bottom right for this.
And this is the camera rig we had built so that divers could use it. The first diver’s camera. Well I thought there was a better picture in there, but there isn’t. Well anyhow we made a quickie float that would just go down, drop its weight and come back. And that would take the four hours, just the four hours transit time. So that was usually close to the ship compared to the others. And it would give you a direction that the ship had drifted so that if you went back that line, you would probably find the others. And we only lost one instrument out of a, I guess about ten times we used the whole set of instruments, we only lost one instrument. Which is I think rather remarkable for those times.
Indeed that is. Back in that time, did your losses of instruments of this sort tend to be less than that of Woods Hole? Do you remember comparisons?
Nobody else was doing anything like it.
It’s true. Woods Hole was focusing on a different set of issues.
They were mostly dealing with the water column. In the upper part of the water column.
Indeed. And it’s a different kind of problem. I was just wondering if in general you felt that your practices had.
There was nobody in the world who was doing anything comparable to this at the time. We were the only ones. So there were no, no one to compare with.
I see your point.
But it was a terrible disaster to us to lose anything. At this time we were operating with two thousand dollars a year as our total budget. And out of that, Ewing would have to pay Vine and I about fifteen dollars a week so we could live. You know, you’ve got to eat. When we were at Lehigh, Vine and I had a tarpaulin which was about twelve feet by — I guess it was twelve by nine tarpaulin. And we had about eight blankets between us that we brought from our home. And we put all eight blankets in the tarpaulin and folded it back over the top and then roll it up and we’d keep it in the back of my car. And we’d — I told you we worked until usually about midnight. We’d get in the car and we’d drive out in the country, outside of Bethlehem, find a farmer’s field, and unroll the tarpaulin there, and get under whatever level of blankets we felt we needed for that night, and during the night if we needed more, we’d just go deeper, use the other blankets as our mattress, and if it rained, we’d just pull that tarp cover over us, if it didn’t rain we’d throw it down, out of the way. And we were always getting up about seven o’clock before anybody else was around so the only way the farmer ever knew we had been there would be there’d be a six by nine foot area that was, that all the grass was laid flat. One night on the campus at Lehigh, we were so tired that we just didn’t want to got out and look for a field to lay out in. And so we laid it on the campus at Lehigh with the intention that we’d be up before everybody else was. Well, we overslept. We woke up; it was about eight-thirty and all the students were walking by. Vine and I in our underwear in this thing. And there was one of the campus policemen — they knew us pretty well by then — standing there laughing at us because we were having to get into our clothes and — [Laughter]
You just felt so tired you couldn’t go back into the lab.
Just couldn’t visualize taking the time to go out and find a field to go in which would have been a ten or fifteen minute operation. Well, it indicates how tired we were that we overslept cause we never slept that late. This is how we used, the bombs. The bomb is here and that’s just a rope that connects. This is a springy piece of metal or actually it was a piece of wood we used. And we ran the electric cable around that way to the next bomb farther out.
Right. And this is another photograph that we’re looking at and the wire that you’re describing forms a half circle with the bomb in the middle of that.
And when the bomb would go off, of course it would break the rope that held the spring, but the wire would not be damaged by the explosion. And there’s the bomb laying on deck. This is, the bomb was put in just a canvas bag as a way to handle it. This is the — this is a picture of the cable that we used on the first instrument and you see it’s got a square knot tied in the cable right near the oscillograph. And the bomb was right, just out of the picture there. So that this is the thing that convinced us that we’d better go to free floating instruments and quit this. And those instruments we tried like mad to lay the instruments in a straight line as we laid them on bottom, but it was obvious to us from the times of arrival of the sounds that they were laid in all kinds of crazy ways you know — in an arc or something erratic. They were not in a line. This is the ‘38 hurricane in which we drove back to Lehigh.
Right. You had described that rather incredible scene of going back.
These are some of the damage that Vine photographed on his trip to Boston back through that hurricane. There’s Billy Butcher’s backyard. They had, what was it, ten poplar trees I think that his grandfather had planted — all of them down.
All knocked down in the ‘38 hurricane.
Yes. This is Ewing and Vine with the small instruments. And this is the way this instrument went into the water, hanging there just to show it.
And these again were photographs Vine was taking because he was interested in photography and documenting.
Yes. Well I probably took these since Vine’s mostly in them, but it’s his camera. There, that’s me. So Vine took those. That’s Ewing. There’s when I got my Ph.D.
1950, yes. And that’s your family?
That’s my daughter and son. He’s now fifty-two.
She’s fifty-four. Hard to believe. And this is.
This is a much later photograph.
This was taken down in Galveston after Dr. Ewing died. He died in 1972.
No, in 1974.
‘74. And Creighton Burke’s wife was an artist and she made this portrait of him from a photograph. And she just gave it to the laboratory and we hung it up there. I was the director then. And this was a mural that was painted by a artist that represented the work of our group.
Oh that’s very interesting.
Up until 1974 about.
And who’s pictured in that?
Well, several of the people in the lab. That’s Dr. Ewing. That’s me standing in front of it.
Right and you are clearly there.
My picture was in there somewhere too, in one of — these were two murals that were eight feet wide and thirty-six feet tall that showed pictures of space things because of Ewing’s involvement in the lunar seismographs.
The Apollo work, right.
And other work. And all the representative scenes from our oceanographic work. The artist came around and got pictures or viewed pictures and incorporated them in his murals.
So this went back well before obviously the Galveston time? In fact this is done during Ewing’s.
Well this is the whole — Ewing’s whole career. And those murals were taken out of the building when they abandoned the building to another part of the university about — I guess it would be — let’s see, I left in ‘79 — it would be probably be ‘82 or ‘83. And they’re stored. They’re on eight, four by eight plywood sheets. And two sheets laterally and three sheets vertically make up one mural, and there’s two murals. And they’re saving them. They’re in rented quarters now at the university and they’re saving those so that when they build a building for them, which is likely to be done in this year, and then they will have a place for those murals to go up.
And it’s a building that will house other things or it?
Well, no it’ll be just a geophysics building on the campus at the University of Texas at Austin.
I see. Right.
At least that’s what’s anticipated. You know how building is. Sometimes it changes plans in the middle.
Well, not that things change in the middle, but I do want to talk to you a little bit about buildings at Lamont as we get into the 1960s as well. Before I get to that point, I’m curious if there’s anything else from the, from say the pre-war period, that you felt that we haven’t covered in the interview which you didn’t happen to raise.
My problem is I’m confused between my autobiography and our interview.
What you did and the interview.
So that I can hardly answer that.
Okay. Let me. There are a few things that I had written down from our last interview that you had wanted to get back to and this is what we had discussed right at that time. You had said you wanted to add some recollections of development of the SOFAR system. You’d spoken a little bit about Bermuda and development of the Bermuda station.
Well, that’s well post-war.
During the war.
The only, the items that you mentioned that you wanted to cover in starting this round of interviews were all post-war period.
Well not, well the SOFAR was during the war.
And during the war in this case and following.
Well I don’t remember what I told you about SOFAR.
You mentioned its broad development and the start of the Bermuda station and general emergence of the program.
Well, I don’t think I told you about the development of the Woods Hole detonator. We built what we called infernal machines to fire bombs. The bombs had to fire at eight hundred fathoms for this SOFAR work which was the axis of the sound channel. You remember what the sound channel is?
Okay. So we had built infernal machines ourselves for the earliest experiments which was a bourdon tube that was connected to the water outside and the bourdon tube would unreel when the pressure got inside the bourdon tube. And we designed it so that it would close the contact when it got to eight hundred fathoms and that contact would connect batteries to an electric detonator and fire the charge. Well, as you can see, such a machine is kind of an infernal machine, a short circuit can easily fire the bomb, or a big jar might cause the bourdon tube with the arm on it to make the connection. There were ways that it’s conceivable it would fire. Then after the earliest experiments, we turned the problem over to the Bureau of Ordinance to build us some bombs that would be safe. The way we handled safety, in the days of the infernal machines, was that we would have the batteries in a little separate pack outside of the bomb shooting mechanism. And we’d have a long lead of electrical wire from the bomb shooter, and we didn’t hook up the batteries to it. There were no batteries that could fire it until it was a hundred feet away from us. So that we didn’t blow ourselves up. And that’s all right kind of thing to use for an experimental operation and so forth, but it’s not something to use on a day by day operation, going on, on, on. So we turned the problem over to the Bureau of Ordinance. And the Bureau of Ordinance was supposed to develop a bomb firing — a bomb that would fire at eight hundred fathoms and was safe by the time we got our installation made down on Eleuthera during World War II. We got our installation ready and we’re all ready to make tests, and we went to the Bureau of Ordinance said, all right where are our bombs? And they hadn’t even started on them. Well I had been sent to the Bureau of Ordinance and I was really incensed. They hadn’t even started — even thought about it. And I said well what’s so damn difficult? You could design a thing like that would do the job in a couple of hours. And you could make out test machines in a — certainly in a week. And what’s so difficult? And they said well if you can do it so well, why don’t you do it? So I came back to Woods Hole on the train and on the back of an envelope I designed one on the way back. But before that, we wanted some bombs that we could fire on experimental work and we remembered this failure we had in the pressure vessel. And well.
The one that you had described earlier.
Well before we get to that, I should start earlier. Ewing and I sat down. We had built these infernal machines and we had some more infernal machines built by a private contractor. And his infernal machines failed to operate a couple of times. Had a big failure rate. So they weren’t very useful to us. And we were desperate. This was before I went to the Bureau of Ordinance. We were desperate for something to fire while we got something. We knew when we went to the Bureau of Ordinance it’d be weeks or so before we would get anything, and we needed to get going. So Ewing and I sat down, and he said, now let’s design a firing mechanism, and let’s take as our goal that we’ll take something about the size of the pencil like that and that will be the whole firing mechanism and then we’ll build it up with increasing charges or explosives to whatever size we want. And so we sat down and chatted, the two of us, for a couple of hours, and we recalled the failure of this tube in the pressure vessel, and said, well, why can’t we make a brass detonator that would one end would collapse and then in collapsing would start a fire and the fire would fire a non-electric detonator and then that non-electric detonator would fire a demolition block. Demolition blocks were devices that the Navy had built for all kinds of demolition work. Used to blow bridges up and mines and other things. And they were half pound charges that were about, I guess, an inch and a half square and about three and a half inches tall. And had a well in it and a little booster charge in the middle of it, but that most of the charge had been just TNT had been pressed down into a cake around it, and so there was a well that you could put a detonator in it then. It was all covered in a wax paper case. They thought you couldn’t fire them in wet, but we’d been firing everything wet for years by that time. But anyway, they thought they couldn’t so it was all covered in a wax paper or a wax cardboard I guess you’d call it — heavier than paper. And it had a little piece of tissue paper across the well to keep any moisture out of the well until you pierced it with a detonator. Well, the object was to make a detonator that would fit into that same well. The well was rather large compared to the detonators of the day. And so we took that diameter of that well which was about a quarter of an inch approximately as our diameter for our firing mechanism, and we decided we would take a piece of brass tubing that was the right thickness and cut it to about that length, and we’d put a non-electric detonator which could be fired by a flame. That was called a number ten detonator which was a size that was supposed to fire the demolition block. All we’d have to do is put something in the upper end of that tube that when the tube collapsed it would start a fire. Well the first thing we could think of that would start fire was match heads. And so the first ones we made, I’d cut the heads off of matches, not the kind that have to have a striker on the box, but the kind you could strike with your fingernail or your shoe or whatever. I’d cut the heads off them and attach them to a piece of cellophane tape, like I have on my desk. Just a piece of cellophane tape. And I’d stick that down in a tube, above the non-electric detonator, and then we’d press a cap in the end. For the safety reasons — it was always possible when you pushed the cap in that you would set it off somehow — we had a block, oh probably three inch block of brass with a hole just the size of detonator, and just the top of the tube sticking out where we could reach it. And the little cap was chamfered so that it would start in neatly and then we had a lever that was metal but connected to a wooden handle and by pushing down the wooden handle we pushed the cap into the plug that plugged the tube. If it exploded most of the energy would go up and it might break the handle but it wouldn’t hurt your hand or anything. You might get a bruise or something. It was a pretty safe operation but it was kind of a dangerous thing to do anyway. At any rate, we built some of those and we fired them in the pressure vessel and it worked great. So we had our firing mechanism except it was kind of unpleasant to cut off match heads. So, what’s up? [Interruption to speak to Mrs. Worzel.] Oh, the match heads, yes. I called up the people that made these matches and said we want to buy some of these slurry. They made the match heads out of a slurry. They dipped em and then they would dry and be hard. So we told em we wanted to buy some slurry from them so we could paint it on the inside of our tube. We thought that would be a lot safer than if something with cellophane tape that could slide back and forth.
And is that what happened?
No. They wouldn’t sell us any. They said that it’s just too dangerous. We won’t have any part of selling it to anybody. That’s the most dangerous part of our whole business is those match heads. We won’t sell you any of that material. It’s made in god awful things. It’s got red phosphorous, white phosphorous, potassium permagenate, carborundum, all mixed together. And I think there’s even a little fulminate of mercury in it. I’m not sure. I know there’s fulminate in the detonators. But at any rate, they wouldn’t sell it to us. So because of our work in New Jersey, we had used a lot of dynamite which we purchased from DuPont and we’d gotten to know some of the people at DuPont pretty well. Dr. Ewing called his friends at DuPont and said, can you make us something that will fire when the tube collapses? And they said, oh I suppose we can. Send one of your guys down and we’ll go over it. So I went down and explained what we wanted. And they said, well we’ll give it a go, but meanwhile we were still using our match head technique. On the way down to DuPont’s, I was walking to the railroad station at Woods Hole and a little kid put his cap pistol in my belly and said, “bang, bang, you’re dead mister.” I grabbed the kid by his shoulders. I said, where did you get the cap pistol ammunition. He told me the store in Falmouth where he got it. When I got the railroad station, I called my assistant, Harry Robinson, and said go and buy some cap pistol ammunition and try it in our detonators. It sounds like just what we want.
And that was the first time you’d seen one of these toy guns that used caps?
Well no, it wasn’t the first. I had had them myself when I was kid, but I had never thought of them. If this kid hadn’t used his pistol, I probably still wouldn’t have thought of them. That solved our problem readily. We could take the cap pistol ammunition, and trim off the excess paper. You had to be careful because the scissors would set the cap off and you can burn your hands.
Did that happen sometimes?
No, we were very careful not to do that. And then we’d crimp them so that we could slide em in the tube and they would stay where you put them and with tweezers you could move em up and down. And we would take a strip with five caps in it and put it in the top of our tube and then we’d tested that in the pressure vessel and that worked fine. The only problem we had was with the extra brass tube around the detonator, it was now a little bit marginal about firing the demolition charges. The charge wasn’t big enough. So we got — I don’t remember who we got — but we got somebody to make us a little pellet of PETN which was an explosive that they had developed in World War II that they could easily mold and so forth. And they made a pellet about a quarter inch long and about the size of our detonator that we could stick down under our detonator and then just raise our detonator a quarter of an inch in the tube. And this gave us enough pizzazz to fire demolition blocks and we never had any failure after that.
How long did you use that technique?
They were still using it well after we left Woods Hole. They had thousands of them made at Woods Hole and were using them for all kinds of tests that they were making at Woods Hole. After the war.
Right. So well through the 1940s.
But to get back to it — I had gone to DuPont, continued to DuPont, although I figured that we’d solved our major problem. And I told them what we wanted. After some time they made a little cylindrical thing like a little extended spring. And they coated it with something that would make a flame when it collapsed. Well they made a couple of dozen of them and sent them up to us and we tested them in a pressure vessel and some would go off and some wouldn’t. And so we called them up and discussed it with them, and they said, well your cap pistol ammunition’s working great, why don’t you use that? And we said well, that’s a good idea, that’s fine, we’re happy with that, but we would like to have the explosive charge put right in our tubes and not have to bother with the PETN and the regular Navy detonators. So we wanted them to put it directly in the tube. And they said, all right, we’ll do that if you, you build the tubes and send them to us, we’ll load the charge, and we’ll put the cap in the end and then we’ll paint the end that is not active so that you know which end has got the detonator it. And we’ll send them back to you for your use. Well that was the ultimate final design of the Woods Hole detonator. That’s what we named it. And it was a very successful venture I’d say. One of the things that happened is we had all our tests of SOFAR had to be approved by Naval authorities. And the Naval authority was the Underwater Sound Lab at New London for us. And so I wrote a memo to them and told them that we had built these original infernal machines and they’d cost us like a hundred and twenty-five dollars a piece to make. That we’d bought some and they’d cost about a hundred and fifty dollars to get a contractor to make them, and that we had now built the Woods Hole detonator and it cost us seventy-five cents to make it. But in writing the memo, I’m not a very good typist, I was typing my own memo, and I struck two zeros, period, seventy-five to indicate the cost. And these others were a hundred dollars, a hundred and some dollars. And this got down to the underwater sound lab and the man who was in charge just got furious because I put the two zeros down. It was actually a mis-strike. There was no use trying to tell him that. He was just furious about it. At any rate, he decided I guess or whatever that, he would approve them for our use because otherwise everything was going to sit dead still without any action and especially with the Bureau of Ordinance failing to operate. And the Bureau of Ordinance never did turn out anything although they were still theoretically going to. But then these were used for all of our SOFAR work afterwards.
Right. You had covered the development of SOFAR and the Bermuda station in the first interview that we did. One that we didn’t cover though was the offer that you had received to become director of Hudson Laboratories once Hudson was set up.
Well, that was a later thing. We set up the Bermuda laboratory and —
This is of course when Gordon.
When Gordon Hamilton was running the station. And we set it up in, well it was in in the — February of ‘49 we went out on the Atlantis and with the Caryn and we made the first deep sea seismic refraction measurements that were ever made from the surface on that cruise. I was the chief scientist on the Atlantis, Brackett [John Brackett] Hersey was on the Caryn and we made an observation, halfway to Bermuda. And then we landed in Bermuda and we looked for a location of a SOFAR station and we picked the spot and set up the SOFAR station there. In February of the next year, I was invited to a meeting by Submarine Development Group Two. This is an outfit, a part of the submarines that just after the war they had decided that the best way to fight submarines was with submarines. And so they had set up the Sub Dev Group One in the Pacific and Sub Dev Group Two in the Atlantic to work on that problem. Sub Group Dev Two had decided that first they had to get a weapon that they could use to fire at a submarine successfully and so they had spent their first year or so, or maybe it was several years for all I know, working on the weapons that they would use. And they finally had decided they had a weapon they could shoot at another submarine with a reasonable chance of killing him if they knew where he was. At that time two miles was a large distance for sonar to acquire another ship. And Sub Dev Group Two decided that was hopeless for a submarine hunting another submarine to not be able to find the enemy unless he was within two miles of him. A classified meeting was called at the submarine base at New London and invited all the people that had been in the underwater sound business in the war from all the laboratories along the whole east coast. There were I guess fifty of us there. And they explained what their idea was and that they needed help, that they needed some way to get, acquire submarines at a greater range and do something about it. At the time I was a graduate student. All these other guys were people working for big laboratories. A lot of them had degrees and so forth and I was representing Ewing because he couldn’t get there. And so I didn’t say anything and all these other guys talked and they were talking about well we might gain maybe three percent if we did this and we could add two percent if we did that. And the net result from the whole conference at that point — this took two days for all these, I’d guess there were twenty-five laboratories and fifty people there.
Which laboratories particularly do you remember being represented?
Well, Woods Hole was there. We were there. We had been at Woods Hole during the war. [Interruption for phone call.]
You mentioned those who were attending the Sub Dev Group Two, the laboratories.
Well they had all gotten off. Oh you want to know labs.
I’m just curious which places.
Underwater Sound Lab had representatives.
Was it particularly the military’s laboratories or was it?
No, they were all the people that had spread out to universities like we had. And people that had gone to, well there’s Naval Research Lab there. And I don’t know, there’s a lab at the air field in Pennsylvania that had dealt with ocean stuff and so forth. Anybody that dealt with underwater sound that was known to them, I guess. And they asked everyone to send representatives, and most of them sent them. Well they had all got up and spoken and I hadn’t said anything and Captain, I can’t think of his name now, but anyway, he was the commander of the Sub Dev Group Two, knew me because I had been doing gravity measurements on submarines and so he was acquainted with me. I wouldn’t say knew me but acquainted. And he said well we’ve heard from everybody here but we haven’t heard from you Joe. What do you think about what’s been said. And I got up and said, as far as I can see what has been said here doesn’t even touch your problem at all. I think you have do something totally, radically different. And I said what is radically different is low frequency sound. That low frequency sound travels better in the ocean. It has a much lower absorption and it has been totally ignored. The kind of sound you’ve been using are twelve kilohertz, that kind of thing. So I think you should get down to low frequency sound. And I said we have just established our station at Bermuda that has a hydrophone at the sound channel axis and it has — can observe frequencies down as low as twenty hertz. And I think frequencies of that size can do you some good. Much greater ranges than anything that has been done yet. And I said that Dr. Ewing and I wrote a report in World War II which was never disseminated because the Bureau of Ships thought it contradicted their doctrine, at the moment and they were trying to get their doctrine adopted and they wouldn’t transmit it. But listening ships in the Navy during the war had heard convoys at ranges like a hundred miles. Nobody believed them. We believed them. We knew that this is possible. And our SOFAR signals which have been listening to small bombs at thousands of miles shows what you can do with some of the low frequency. We have such an instrument at Bermuda and I think you ought to go in that direction. Well this was met with a thud of silence at the meeting and everybody went back home. About at that time I was in a tough time in my life because the guy who had run the desk for geophysics in ONR had called me up and asked me if I would come down to ONR and assist them.
This was when you were commuting to Washington.
I ended up commuting alternate weeks to Washington. So the next week after this meeting, I was in Washington and as soon as I got back to Lamont, I got a telephone call what the hell was his name?
We can add that to the transcript later.
Well, I’ve got it in some of these things. All I have to do is look it up. But anyhow he called me up and he said, we want to give your idea a trial. What kind of an experiment do you think we ought to do? And I said well I think what I would recommend is that we first set up a buoy on the surface at Bermuda above our hydrophone and that you take a submarine and circle it at about a mile range and we get a signature of the submarine at low frequency and find out what frequencies are specially favorable to listen to. And I said those are the frequencies, that frequency or those frequencies, are what we ought to concentrate on. And then after we found out what is a good frequency, then drive them off at a distance and see how far we can hear em. And he said, all right. Write up a proposal, experimental proposal like this, and send it to me. So I wrote it up and said we’d set up a buoy in Bermuda and this is now in March. The original meeting was in February; this is in March. And I said we’d set up the buoy and we’d make the measurements like I’ve described them and so on. And that we ought it with a snorkeling sub because that was the submarine at that time that was thought to be the submarine you would have to detect. Well he called me. I was in Washington the following week. I got it off to him the week I was at Lamont. And the following week I was in Washington. When I came back, he called me up and he said, all right, let’s go. We’ll come to Bermuda in May, he gave the date, let’s say it’s the fifteenth so it’s something handy. We’ll come to Bermuda on the fifteenth of May. We’ll have a submarine equipped with a snorkel and a regular fleet size submarine. We’ll have two of them and we’ll spend two weeks in Bermuda, making whatever measurements you want to make. Make your plans. Well I had a General Radio Company, it was a company up in Cambridge that made equipment for underwater, not for underwater, for all sound work. And they had a device that you could read one percent of the frequency band. In other words, it had filters that would narrow you down to one percent of the frequency. At a hundred cycles, it’d be one cycle wide. It just had a dial and a sound level meter. You had to set the dial and read the meter. And I thought well I can do it with this, but that’s not really the best way. I had seen an advertisement of a piece of equipment that used a cathode ray oscilloscope and plotted frequency versus amplitude of a signal on this.
What kind of magazine did you see this?
It was one of the acoustic magazines. I don’t remember which one.
Were these classified?
No. This was just a machine to look at underwater, not underwater sound, but any sound.
You know, you’re in an auditorium you want to see what sounds you need to manage.
General acoustics problems.
And I had seen this and so I ordered one. The problem with it was that it was just on an oscilloscope thing and there was no record. You had to look at the oscilloscope.
So I bought one of these and I equipped it with a camera and I built the buoy with — that was tethered by music wire which is strong and so forth. Because I wanted it to have no wander or very little wander at the surface. So I knew exactly the depths where the hydrophone was and we knew right where the hydrophone was and so I organized it with a big weight to go down there. Anyhow I had to go to Bermuda a week before the submarines got there to set the buoy and have time to do it. And I contacted Ham and told Ham that we were coming and what we were going to do. And being a graduate student and I’m not sure I may have just got my degree, but anyhow I was.
Just right around that time.
Right around that time. But anyhow I was unsure of myself and so I asked Ewing if he would come down during the time and if I was in trouble help bail me out. And he agreed he’d do that.
What did you see to be your particular concerns? What could go wrong? Was it more in your personnel or was it really that the equipment?
Well, maybe we wouldn’t find any frequency that was good. Maybe some of our equipment didn’t work right. Or who knows? Somebody who was experienced may be able to pull your iron out of the fire. So at any rate, I went down to Bermuda. I had just come back from Washington and I had all the gear ready and had shipped it to Bermuda. And then I went down to Bermuda a week before the submarines came and with Ham’s buoy boat and staff we organized and set up a buoy and got it all arranged so that when the submarines came in, we were ready to operate. So they arrived, the two submarines arrived, and the captain, whatever his name is — sounds something like Clinton, but that isn’t right — came in and his executive officer came in and his experimental officer who was Commander [Harmon] Sherry, the commanding officer was a captain and the executive officer was a full commander and Sherry was a Lieutenant Commander. And Sherry was the research director. First of all, we’d have the submarine going around the one mile track. And I’d make the readings off the general radio meter. Sherry would record them and plot them on a graph as we went. Well the data was coming in so fast that he couldn’t keep up so he’d plot what he could and by the end of the day we would work three or four hours after supper until midnight plotting the day’s —
Just to reduce the —
To finish the day’s plots. And go on the next day. Well the first couple of days we came back to the Bermuda Biological Station to get lunch. Well the end result of that is that it took two hours to get lunch for the group. To get there and have them bring the lunch out and —
I recall you saying that you didn’t do that after —
And after that they said no, we won’t do that. They’ll send in what they called a horse cock which was a bologna about this long.
Say about two foot, two foot long.
And some bread and we had coffee on the station there and of course water. And we would just make sandwiches of that and we’d keep working through the whole thing. And what they’d do is they’d send a fleet type submarine out one day. The next day the fleet type submarine would have liberty and the snorkeling boat would come out and operate with us the next day and then they would have liberty and the fleet submarine the next day and so on. It went that way for the first week when we were doing all the measurements. And we made measurements with the snorkel extended just on battery operation, operating on the surface with diesel engines and at full power, three quarters power and half power. In other words, the gamut of things that a submarine might do. And we found that there was a peak, a good sized peak, at a hundred hertz, or very close to a hundred hertz. And for the snorkel submarine when the snorkel was up that was the best. We got the biggest signal from that and we got a pretty good signal from the surface submarine. And at any rate, we got all that in like a week or ten days or so. And we said all right, now we’re ready to do the range test. Well first before that happened, after being operating two or three days the buoy broke off and disappeared during the night. And I said, oh my God we’ll have to stop and reset the buoy, and we told the submarine skippers and they said, oh we got enough information from our circling the previous days that we don’t need the buoy, we can do it without the buoy. Fine, let’s go. So we finished all our observations. And you know we had fifty graphs I guess by the time we got done all this for each kind of a situation. And so I said all right, let’s send the fleet submarine out first. No I guess it, yes I guess it was the fleet submarine. Let’s send the fleet submarine off on a range run and let them go on and they were to then go home if we were satisfied with the range run. And it would take most of a day to do a range run. So they set off and we recorded at a hundred hertz which means recording this level of the signal and they would shut off their engines on a schedule that the captain knew and I guess his executive knew but we didn’t know so that we couldn’t cheat. And we’d say there he shuts his engines down. There he starts up again and so forth. And we were right on the button every time. And we followed the fleet size submarine out to about sixty miles without any strain. And it was getting kind of weak and so we said release him and send him home. The next day we sent the snorkel submarine, and we followed him out to eighty miles without any strain. Well I should, that was about the limit. And so we had him come back and then, some of the officers and myself got on the submarine and we returned to New London as a way to get back. And on the way back to New London, Commander Sherry and I finished plotting all the graphs when we got to New London they were very happy. They had — they could see a way that they could detect submarines at ranges like a eighty miles from two miles — in good conditions two miles. So they were happy with that.
It’s an extraordinary development. I’m curious about that point or later you heard of what the Soviets themselves could do in terms of detecting western submarines. Was that something that ever came up in discussions? Did you understand any of the counterintelligence?
No I was out of it when the time that any of that kind of information came up.
One thing I was curious about, in Bermuda itself where were you far enough out from the island that you didn’t have to worry about the pleasure craft or other commercial?
There were no pleasure craft out in that part of the —
It was that far?
Yes they were way out beyond any of those?
So you were pretty much operating in isolation in that part of Bermuda?
It was just off our own operation that we were going to listen to. Well at any rate, the following week we got back there and I had been away from Washington two weeks. So the following week I went to Washington and with the agreement that I would work on the data as much as I could. And the week after I was in Washington I would come to New London and we would get the report out. And so I did go to Washington and instead of doing what I was supposed to do at Washington I worked on the data about half the time. I kept things operating in Washington that needed to be. Incidentally the guy who hired me, I came there for one week with him, the next time I came he is gone, he had quit. And I was left with the whole bag.
You had mentioned that in the first interview. Yes, that that.
Beau Perkins was the man’s name.
Yes. And when Beauregard Perkins was gone it devolved to you to manage things.
I was the geophysics desk. In ONR. Well it wasn’t that onerous that I couldn’t spend half my time on the data. And I showed the data to the commander of ONR and to Manny Pierce. He was ONR chief scientist, and later worked at IBM. Left ONR and went to IBM.
We can add that.
Well it doesn’t matter. Anyway I showed them the data and they seemed suitably impressed. And then I went back to New London the following week after I’d been to Washington. I wasn’t getting much time at home these days. And the captain organized his whole group, Sub Dev Group Two, to help me get out a report on this. And we had all these hand plotted graphs but they needed to be plotted in ink so that they could be reproduced. And he had a couple of the swabbeys there who plotted them up and they were good plotters. Did ordinarily navigation for the Navy I guess. And they plotted up these graphs and I wrote out descriptions enough for the graphs to make it sensible to somebody what it was about. And they would print that on the graph and then they would duplicate the graphs. And I wrote out a text about what we did and how we did it and what equipment and so forth. The whole smear. Incidentally the cathode ray tube equipment that, I had set up so we could photograph it was not used. We never, never got around to printing the photographs because it would take too much time and we already had the results that we needed that worked out fine. Incidentally Ewing came down about halfway through the operation, ostensibly to look at some seismographs at St. Georges, but he was really there in case I needed help. I didn’t need any help at all. Things were going fine. And he got me aside and he said, you can’t talk to the captain the way you’re talking to him. You’re not being polite. You’ve got to be reasonable with these people. I said, Doc, he asked me to do it. He told me let’s knock off all the crap and you tell me what you want and I’ll get it done. And he was operating the radio. That was an order. When he told them to do so and so, they did it. I said he wants to do it that way and I was doing just what you told me to. Well, at any rate.
How did Ewing react to that?
Well, he said, okay if that’s the way it is. And he closed up shop and went back to New York. He didn’t stay on there.
One thing I’m curious in general, how important did Ewing see both this operation, the Bermuda station, to his plans for developing geophysics at that point? Clearly Lamont was just coming into being.
Well I don’t think he thought anything of this. This is just a service we were providing for the Navy if we could provide it. As far as Bermuda was concerned, again, this largely was a service to the Navy that the special projects office had come to us and said, you guys have developed SOFAR during the war and we think there should be more work done on it and we’d like to set up a station. And we made an investigation and decided Bermuda was the logical place now. We had left the hydrophone down at Eleuthera. But that was a long ways off and a hard place to get to. It wasn’t too hard during the war when we had adequate authority, but —
Another matter in peace time.
Another matter in peace time. And so we had chosen Bermuda as the place and had gotten Ham set up there.
So it wasn’t, it really didn’t play a role in broader data collection or other things? It really fit within the service role or functions as you see it?
Okay. That’s interesting. And then the Hudson Labs — we’re moving a bit ahead — was the one part of the story that you hadn’t mentioned.
Well, I’m getting to that.
Okay, let me.
Let me just quite finish this.
Well, anyhow we got out the report and they duplicated it, the whole report, and we got it out. And it was distributed to all the appropriate branches of the Navy within a month of the time we took the data which I’m sure.
That’s fast, isn’t it?
No experiment has ever been done that fast before or since. [Laughter.] A meeting was called at Columbia University of all the sound community and the results were presented at the meeting. All of the people that were there had received a copy of the report a few weeks before they arrived so most of them had perused it already.
And of course this must have been a classified report.
This was classified as confidential, yes. And that’s when I made the worse mistake of my career, I guess. I insisted that Sherry get up and give the report.
Why did you do that? How did you feel about this?
I felt that it would be bragging if I got up and said I did this, I did that, I did the other kind of thing, you know. I felt like I would be bragging. And Sherry got up and gave a very good report and he did a good job, but he didn’t ever say that ideas and so forth came from me. And I think a lot of the people there didn’t really know that. And of course –-
But you were just a young Ph.D. at the time, yes.
Yes. And I hadn’t put my name on the report when it came out as a Sub Dev Group Two report and it’s a classified report anyhow so it’s not disseminated to the public. But such things happened as I went to Chief of Naval Operations, the Submarine Desk, and talked to the guy in charge of it who’s, I guess, an admiral. And I said what do you think of this low frequency work we’ve done with the submarines? He said that was a great operation that the Woods Hole people did, isn’t it? I said it wasn’t the Woods Hole people that did it. We did it at Columbia University. Well, but that was the kind of thing they don’t know. Well, anyhow.
It was misperceived within the sound community?
Nobody decided anybody did anything about it except Sub Dev Group Two. No individual, no person, nor anything was involved. Just this was the way that things were going to go and it was a great innovation and let’s go. Well, part of the decision of that was to set up Hudson Laboratories as a — they got Bell Laboratories to come in to design equipment that would look at narrow brands of frequency on a real time basis and make records of it. We had no record. We had to read the dial on the instrument and plot it.
And make quick plots, yes.
And make a system that would record the data. So that you had a solid record of it to look at if you wanted to. And they decided that they would set up a laboratory, namely Hudson Laboratory, to investigate the ramifications of all this. You know, where do we go from here? How can we improve the sound system better? How can we make — is there a better way to apply the information? What kind of detector should we have on submarines and so on? And in those early days they were talking about putting geophones on the submarine. Well it was kind of silly to talk about putting geophones on the submarine because a hydrophone would recover those frequencies just as well and it was much more convenient for a submarine. They didn’t have all the vibration problems. So at any rate, Hudson Labs was to do investigation into this. Well, Hudson Labs was being set up and I went over with the group that was planning where Hudson Labs was and helped pick the site for Hudson Labs. It was going to be operated by Columbia University. And then they turned around and said to me, we want you to be director. I said, that’s crazy. You don’t want me to be a director of this lab. This is more routine kind of work that thousands of people can do besides me. You want to keep people like me that are coming up with new, bright ideas in different areas working on those kind of problems. Well, again it probably didn’t do my career the greatest amount of good. The people who were directors of Hudson Labs became prominent people in lots of different ways. On the other hand, I view my own career as having been just what I wanted. I stayed in the academic world and worked on the things that I thought were important and let them worry about — Well, very soon I was out of the circuit. I did for six months operate as a consultant to Hudson Labs because Gene Booth [sp?] became the director and Jack [John E.] Nafe became the director of research over there. They had never fired a charge, explosive charge, in their lives, and so some of the work they were going to do was involved with explosives, I went over and made the first couple of cruises with them. Showed them how to handle explosives safely and properly.
They had a Navy vessel?
Well, they were borrowing yachts. The particular one I thought of, remember is the Blue Dolphin. And they were going out on yachts at that point.
One thing that, there are a number of things that you’re raising I think are very significant. Did you think at all about actually accepting that offer to be director?
Or you felt very strongly that this was not the right thing?
I felt strongly that I should be coming up with new ideas about other things and that lots of people could follow up on a good idea and make it better and better and better by improving this or that.
It is a powerful thing to say that it feels in retrospect to be the worst decision in your career to have let Sherry in this instance give the talk Do you feel that it had implications later for Lamont that both you and Lamont didn’t have the credit at the time for developing the —?
Yes. We quickly got out of the loop altogether. Nobody knew that we had anything to do with it.
Yes. What would the advantages had been do you feel if you had been able to stay more closely in?
Well, as I say all the directors of Hudson Labs went on to — Bob Frosy became —
A big wheel in CNO [Commander of Naval Operations] and so forth. All those guys went on to bigger and better things. And I guess I might have if I’d gone that direction too.
Of course there’s no way to tell that at the time of a new —?
No. And I say it was the worse decision for my career as far as being noteworthy or well paid or whatever, that’s true. But as far as what I wanted out of my career, I can’t say that. I have to say I took what I wanted.
Right, right. No, the decision and the way in which the credit was apportioned seem to be two different matters.
And I was curious about both. How long did you know Jack Nafe at that point?
I didn’t know him at all. And I didn’t know Gene Booth at all until they moved into Hudson Labs and I was up visiting at Hudson Labs. One day a week I would go over to Hudson Labs and they would tell me whatever problems they had or what they were doing and I would comment on them and they would pay attention or not as they saw fit. You know, the consultant is that son of a bitch from out of town with a briefcase. [Laughter.]
How well did you get to know them at that point?
I got to know Jack pretty well. Booth was kind of stand offish. And I didn’t get to know him very well. I saw him a lot but I never got — we just didn’t have a great friendship like I hit off with the Jack. And after he was over there a couple of years, I persuaded him to come on over to Lamont. And I persuaded Doc that we had to have him for whatever that’s worth.
Yes. I’m real interested in that. What did you see in Jack Nafe that you felt belonged at Lamont? I’m curious your impressions of him as a person.
Well, he was my kind of guy I guess you’d say. He liked to get out and do things himself. Not just say you do this, you do that like so many scientists do. And he was a very thoughtful guy and he really analyzed things very well. And I also found out that he had been a fossil hunter for years so I knew he had an interest in earth sciences. He did that as a hobby for many years before and during and after I left Lamont.
I gather he had a big collection then, a personal collection.
Yes he had a, well I wouldn’t say it was big, but he had a very good collection. He didn’t save everything. He was very selective just because of room considerations.
And he had just earned his Ph.D. around that time too, hadn’t he?
No, he had earned his Ph.D. and had gone out to, I guess it was Minnesota, somewhere in that area. And he was a professor out there for a couple of years and Gene Booth was the one who had gotten him to come to Hudson Labs when they formed up Hudson Labs. And that’s when I met them.
So we’re a bit closer to the time of World War II?
Well this experiment was in 1949 down at Bermuda so this would be around 1950. Just about the time we were, well we had formed Lamont before this. And I guess I hadn’t told you about how we happened to form Lamont.
You did mention some of the details that you recalled of that. One thing I’m curious about in particular is how Columbia reacted to forming another laboratory?
Well, they were very glad to have the government contracts and so forth. And you know they were getting the overhead on it. They were happy with that. And they were getting their share of the pie. And they didn’t react in any way of saying well Lamont’s gotten us a good thing here. We were struggling for existence at that time at Lamont.
Indeed. Indeed you were. You had recalled on the earlier tape the very early formation of Lamont and the excursions to visit the Hetty Green estate and the way in which that influenced developments. You had mentioned, I’ll just say this to make sure it’s on the tape. Larry [J. Laurence] Kulp development of the geochem lab. I wonder did you know by the mid, early mid-1950s of Kulp’s involvement in what became known as Project Sunshine, the Atomic Energy Commission’s support?
No. I didn’t. Maybe Doc did. Very likely he did.
Yes. Yes. I would imagine that’s so. And I was curious just to get a feeling for how widespread in the Lamont community the knowledge was of the sort of things that had been taken on.
No, no. I had not known other than Kulp and maybe one of his lieutenants like [Wallace] Broecker perhaps who I didn’t know.
Indeed, Broecker was supported by some of the funds that came in under that project.
But I didn’t know about it. Maybe Doc did. But again, it’s that kind of thing of need to know. And I didn’t need to know so I didn’t.
Yes. That’s interesting to know how even outside of official restrictions things get said or don’t get said.
We were very scrupulous about classified material that we kept it where it belonged. And we never got into any trouble as a result of it. Other people did sometimes.
Right. You mean other laboratories?
Yes. Other laboratories, other scientists. I don’t know if you ever heard of the incident, but during World War II someone like the Navy authorities that dealt with classified material made a raid on the Cosmos Club.
In Washington. And the Cosmos Club at that time was right near the White House. And you came in the front door of the Cosmos Club and there was a cloak room and everybody would leave their coats and hats and so forth. And it turned out also their briefcases. And lots of those briefcases had classified material. And then they’d go up and have their dinner, lunch or what have you, and they’d come down and collect it all and leave. Well there was no guard on the door of the Cosmos Club. There’s nothing to prevent anybody from walking off the street into the cloakroom, pick up all kinds of classified documents and walking out. Well they made a raid and found some of these documents and they raised all kinds of hell. All kinds of people in the Cosmos Club that had relation to classified material. [Laughter]
That’s an interesting story and I had not heard that.
I can’t document any of this but I heard of it at the time. And I was very glad I hadn’t been one. Well if I had been there I would have my briefcase with me because I wouldn’t leave a briefcase anywhere in that day if I had any classified material.
This was after the war?
Yes, well no this was during the war that incident happened. After the war the Cosmos Club had moved up to where it is now at Mass Avenue.
Mass Avenue, yes.
And the cloak room there is well guarded. People couldn’t just walk in. But that one the cloak room was no more than fifty feet from the street and no guard at the door. Nobody to even see anyone go in and out, nevertheless guard it.
There are a number of issues I want to make sure that we don’t overlook today. One of the ones that we may be able to begin at least before lunch time was your role in discovering and interpreting what became known as the Worzel Ash.
Well that’s quite a long time. There’s a number of things earlier than that that should be in the record.
Let us. Go ahead and tell me what things you want to make sure are in there and I can tell you if we’ve already covered that in the interview so far.
Well, one was how we acquired the Vema.
You had spoken about that.
Did I go in detail about it?
Oh I forgot that. Okay.
And it included the wonderful stories of people being pulled off the golf clubs.
Yes, right. Let’s see. The Vema purchase. They did the development of the precision depth recorder.
You had covered that. In fact let me get out. I believe I’ve got here with me a copy of, a Xerox copy, of the same list that I’ve been using in checking off a number of. Let me just put this on pause.
The most exciting thing — when we started with the PDR. Are you recording this?
Yes, we’re recording.
When we started with the PDR (Precision Depth Recorder), of course the cone of sound extends approximately laterally about as much as the depth of the water. So you’re in three miles of water, you’re looking at an area about three miles in diameter. And there are a number of things that would give you echoes in that kind of a space. In places where the topography is fairly rough. And so you get a number of echoes. And some of the time, if you’re on a slope like the continental slope, the echo that comes in the first to you is likely to be one coming from the side. It’s what we call a side echo.
And in the course of the work for the long range listening stations for SOSUS [Sound and Surveillance System], they wanted to establish a station down at the Bahamas. And they sent a ship down and took a profile of the bottom and established how much cable they needed to get out to the eight hundred fathom depth where they wanted to establish the hydrophone. They went out to lay the cable and they found that they didn’t get anywhere near the eight hundred fathoms depth. That they didn’t have enough cable. They had to quit and throw it over at the wrong depth. And they couldn’t figure out why they had got the wrong information. Well the reason was that they were getting side echoes and they were treating them as if they were vertical echoes. And so they got out of cable when they were at six hundred fathoms. And they couldn’t understand this although the part of the Navy that did the work had originally written about side echoes. We never understood that. And we made remarks about it and eventually people asked Ewing if he would come down and talk to them about their problem. And he got down there and he said, it’s very simple. It’s a side echo problem. You’re getting these side echoes and you’re treating them as vertical and they aren’t. And when they applied that information then they solved their problem. But we never understood how the people who had written about this problem before never —
And it was the same group of people?
Yes, well we don’t know that.
Institutionally certainly it was the same.
Institutionally it was the same. So well that’s the story of side echoes though. We worried about side echoes a lot of times in our own work as to whether the profiles we were drawing were quite accurate. They were as accurate as we knew how to make. But we worried about the side echoes coming in on a lot of our profiles.
Right. Were there any particular cruises or particular problems you were trying to address with the side echo problem. [Interruption for lunch] Okay, we’re resuming after a brief lunch break.
We were talking during lunch I should say about Angelo Ludas of the machine shop. Angelo personally.
Angelo came to Lamont or to us at Columbia in the very earliest days because we needed to set up a machine shop, and Dr. Ewing, I believe, contacted Dean [George B.] Pegram who recommended Angelo Ludas who had been in the Manhattan Project at Columbia University and when they closed that project out, he was one of the people that they had to let go. He had a great deal of native intelligence. He didn’t have much schooling as far as I could tell, but he was a very, very careful and skillful machinist. And he had the attribute of anticipating a large part of the kinds of materials and things to have available when somebody needed it. Somehow or other he always had it when you needed it. And a lot of the things we asked for were pretty esoteric in the machine tool business. But you rarely stumped him with something. And he spent lots and lots of time going through the catalogues of machine tools and machine materials and managed to acquire a good assortment of all the things that we needed. He also had made it a great point to look carefully through all the government surplus lists and nearly all the machine tools we got came from government surplus, and a lot of the hand tools we got came from government surplus. He was aware, very aware of the sizes of the things that were listed in the tool things. Things that really stumped me, he seemed to know were the right size. Because you know in the machine tools you could get a machine tool that just one machine would fill this room.
And you’re talking about back through the bedroom.
Right. Back through the bedroom, thirty foot square, something like that. Or you can get things that are six inches, but he got the right size, mostly the right size. Sometimes we got somewhat bigger machines than we thought we really needed at the time, but frequently later on they became necessary for something we hadn’t planned on. But he was very, very good about keeping the stocks up in the supplies. Now in the early days, the shop was just one of the other parts of the Observatory and the work done for each project was not charged to the project. Later on, I would say towards the end of the 60s, the cost accountants caught up with us, or caught up with the world I guess, and decided that every project that used the shop ought to pay their share of the shop’s cost. And that put a stop to a lot of work that went on in the shop. And was a very, I think, a very bad move.
It sounds like a very major transformation.
It was a major transformation and made a lot of people avoid conceiving a new instrument rather than to have to face the shop costs. Because the overhead on a shop having materials and machines available were high.
You say that was in the mid-1960s?
About the middle to the end of the sixties that they insisted that we cost account it to every project as the projects used it. And that put a damper on people using the shop.
That’s very interesting. Was Ludas still there at that time?
Ludas was still there at that time.
How did he react to the changes?
Well, he didn’t like it but —
Of course there wasn’t a great deal.
There wasn’t much he could do about it. He had to live with it.
You mentioned also at lunch that you felt that Angelo Ludas would, that one of the ways that he could anticipate what was needed, was that he would seek out and talk to scientists about their needs and discuss problems that one scientist might be having with instrumentation with another. Is that?
Well, it was a little different than that. A guy would come to him and say he wanted something or other and Angelo would frequently talk to somebody else in the Observatory who could help in that area. And the first person might not realize that he could. And Angelo would realize it and talk to them and frequently get them together or just use the information that Angelo could get from them. I know he used me that way a lot.
You said you went in about once a week?
About once a week I used to go in. I felt it was my duty as an assistant director to keep track of what was going on and see what he was doing and talk to him about the projects that were going on. And quite often he would get me involved in them. Sometimes I would go in there on my way from lunch. My house was, the shop was about halfway between my office and my house. And so it was convenient to stop there. And sometimes I would stop on the way back from lunch figuring I was going to stop for ten, fifteen minutes and talk with Angelo and I’d be there two or three hours. Sometimes helping with a design or talk about a project and suggest ways to do certain things. And I’m sure he used other people that way. I’m sure Chuck Drake will tell you the same. And Jack Oliver wasn’t much of a shop person himself, but he used Angelo’s services a lot so he’ll probably tell you a lot about it.
Do you recall any of those times in particular when you would stop off at Angelo Ludas’s and end up discussing? Was that the genesis of new instruments or developments?
Well he would be working on an instrument for somebody for some project and he. Well take one that happened in the early days. Doc, in the earliest time with coring, they brought the wire rope down to the coring head and then they would terminate it at the coring head. And then they use another wire rope that went down to the piston in the core. And after the trip mechanism tripped it. Well when you recovered the core, then you came to the terminated end and you still had a hundred and fifty feet of wire rope to the core and you had to unshackle it from the line and hook it up to something else and pull up that last hundred and fifty feet which was time consuming and dangerous. And he turned over the problem to Angelo and said find a way to connect the core to the wire rope without damaging the wire rope. So that you can then free the wire rope and bring it on up. And Angelo came to me or I came into the shop I guess. He said here’s the problem Doc wants to handle, how do we do it? How can we get it? And I said, well Ang, I think that’s easy this time. I said you take a pair of parallel rules like that and you run the wire up through there.
And you’re literally holding a pair of parallel rules.
You have to have an initial grip here to hold this, but then your weight. Hang the core on this and the harder the core pulls the more it collapses this and you’re clamping on a long enough piece of wire that you aren’t going to crimp the wire at all. And he took that and he made the core release that we used all the time. He doubled it. He moved the other side on this so the core, the wire was trapped in here. And he made a third one out here which is the one that the arm that tripped it operated on. So that there are three bars instead of two. But it worked like a charm and that’s what we all used until I retired, we were still using it. But that’s the kind of thing that would happen. I remember several times, he was, I used to tell him about, oh what’s these natural angles. What do we call them again? The natural angle, 52 degrees is the — Oh, two pi is 360.
I know what you’re talking about but it’s not —
I can’t think of the name right now. But he would pose a problem of an angle and I would say, well let’s see that’s about. Radians, that’s what I’m talking about. He’d say, I’d say well that’s about a tenth of a radian. That’s about five and a half degrees Ang. And he’d say, how did you figure that out? That’s a radian. I tried to teach him what a radian was. Never succeeded.
That was hard for him to grasp.
He didn’t grasp it. But any time he ran into a problem with angles after that.
He’d come to you.
He’d say, c’mon, help me with your radians. Ang was a good guy to have in a group too because he’d jolly people out of bad feelings or something like that. And he had a lot of strange sayings.
What kinds of things?
Well, he’d say let’s see how this eppellenoorgo would work. Well what’s an eppellenoorgo? But this one day this would be a clamp, another day it’d be a tool. It was just a quick saying and we all got to be using all these little sayings from Angelo. In fact, ask Chuck Drake about what he called his kids. Faysay Lugan was one of them.
Faysaylugan — F A Y S A Y L U G A N. And what was the other one. Faysaylugan and well, I forget now. But anyhow his other girl is called something like that too.
And this was simply his way of being clever verbally and having fun.
Yes, and fun and it jelled people, got people together.
Was that lost once Angelo left Lamont?
Yes, yes. He was the sparkplug of it. And Chuck picked up the slack, and I picked it up. All worked in the shop one time or another. Chuck worked in the shop quite a lot in the early days. Later on he didn’t. But that’s true of all of us. I did a lot of shop work. Well, when I first went to Woods Hole, I was the shop. Not much of a shop, but I was it. But in later years, well I worked in the shop occasionally. And Angelo knew how to do a lot of things. For instance, he taught us all to weld. None of us knew anything about welding when he came and he got the welding equipment and showed us all how to do it. All, I say half a dozen of us.
Who were the, you mention Chuck Drake and yourself. I realize many of you were in the shop in the early days. Did anyone else stand out as being particularly active?
Walter Beckmann does. Charlie Bentley was partly. Not as much as the rest of us.
Had Nelson Steenland for instance done much shop work before?
No he never got involved in the shop work.
I’m just curious had he spoken to you or any of the others about his interest in going into applied geophysics. Was that something that he had known himself as he went through the graduate?
Well, I’ll tell you. He’s a funny case. He was a very enthusiastic researcher. But he had a wife and two kids and they’d been living very close to the edge of poverty for quite a long time by the time the war was over.
Was he already a graduate student when the, he had been?
Well, he joined up as a graduate student about the same time I did.
And he lived with, he and his family lived with me and my family. I had two kids; he had two kids and my father had bought a house at Lake Mohawk and to help me out in graduate school. And basically he told, whether it’s true or not I don’t know, but he told me that he could make as much money renting it out as a summer house as he could make renting it out as an all year house. So he would rent it out as a summer house and give it to us to live in in the winter time rent free which helped a hell of a lot in getting me through graduate school.
Well in the first year we were in graduate school, Nelson, this was before they had opened Camp Shanks to the student population of New York City. And Nelson and his family had nowhere to live. And he was going to come to graduate school with us at the same time. And we had been fairly close friends at Woods Hole. And so we offered him the opportunity to bring his wife and two kids into the same house that we were in. And we shared the house and we shared the expenses of living in the house and they had their two kids and we had our two kids. And we didn’t have any difficult times at all. I remember once that I was grossly embarrassed and I mentioned it to Nelson’s wife, Isabelle once and she didn’t even remember it. But one time we came back what we did was we went into the city and Nelson and I each had a room in the dormitories in the city and we’d stay there all week and then we’d go out to Lake Mohawk on the weekends with our families. And we’d leave one car with the families and take the other car into New York. And one time we came in from New York on a Friday evening and somebody said something at the dinner table about chocolate pudding and I went on at great length about how chocolate pudding wasn’t the kind of desert that anyone should bother with. I really didn’t think much of chocolate pudding in those days. And of course Isabelle had made a chocolate pudding for desert that night. Well I was greatly embarrassed by this, but she didn’t even remember it when I brought it up to her, oh I guess ten years ago, I asked her if she remembered the incident and she didn’t. Or at least she said she didn’t.
Do you feel it was the poverty that they had lived in that inspired him?
I got off the track didn’t I? Yes. He decided he would, he had gotten an offer of a job when he got his degree. He got his degree within hours of the time Frank Press and I did in the Ph.D. We all finished.
You all had the exam at the same time?
We all had the exam separately on the same day, in the same afternoon. So at any rate we all essentially passed at the same time and were relieved we’d made it. Well he’s got an offer of a job in the magnetics that he’d been working on in his thesis. And he said he was going to take it. That he was going to work. He didn’t enjoy this business of researching and not having much money. And that he was going to work in the oil business and make enough money so that he could come back to research and he didn’t have to worry about money. He would have money enough. Well after he’d been out in the commercial world about, I guess about ten years, I said Nelson don’t you have enough money yet so you can come back to research? He said yes I have enough money but I don’t have an oil well yet. I’ve got to have an oil well before I — and after a few more years I said are you ready to come back yet? He said well I’ve got an oil well but I don’t have a field. I’ve got to have a field first.
An oil field.
An oil field. Well I don’t know whether that was all talk or what. But I’m sure he’s a wealthy man. I know he bought that house in Houston for about two hundred thousand dollars and I know he turned down an offer of over a million dollars for it at one time. So he had at least a million dollars at one time. And I’m sure he has considerably more. I know he set up trust accounts for his two kids that they would never have to work if they didn’t want to in their life. He had trouble with his young son because he rejected it all. And now he’s reconciled with his son and his son is very glad to have it. A few years make a lot of difference in your outlook in the real world. But any rate he did set up a fairly sizeable amounts of money in his kids’ names. And he’s not the kind of a guy that would short change himself to do that. I don’t think. So I think he’s well off and probably a multi-millionaire is a guess. I don’t know that.
Was there much sustained contact between Steenland and Lamont after he had gone to industry?
Not while I was there. Now since then he’s been put on their advisory committee by Gordon Eaton. When he formed the advisory committee, he got Nelson and Frank Press both on it. And I don’t know what the advisory committee has done. I do know that as part of PGI [Palisades Geophysical Institute, Inc.], we’ve offered them a grant at Lamont and they were — the terms of the grant were that they would have to raise matching funds. And they turned the raising of matching funds over to Steenland and when I was up in New York, I was informed that Steenland had finally replied to them that he had been unable to raise the matching funds. Now I can’t believe that he couldn’t have put the matching funds up himself if he wanted to. But at any rate, that’s the only connection to Lamont that I know of.
Okay. So that’s again a much more recent developments. We’re talking almost about contemporary.
Yes. Once before we left Lamont, well about the time we left Lamont, it didn’t mature until after we had left Lamont. But I got together with Frank Press and Steenland and Gordon Hamilton and we arranged for a local artist in New York to make a portrait of Doc for Lamont and we paid for it and presented it to Lamont. And Nelson’s wife Isabelle was the actual presenter of the portrait. He couldn’t be there. The rest of us were there so we made his wife present it at the time. And so to that at least in that case he had something to do with it, but nothing much direct. I was the prime mover of it and contacted them and I knew the artist and so on. I had hoped that this would start a tradition of directors’ portraits at Lamont.
Right, right. What was the, you just mentioned that’s interesting and important is the way that the advisory committee structure developed and changed over time.
But I don’t want to.
No. I don’t know much about the advisory committee. That was all set up by Gordon Eaton.
Was there much of an advisory group at all during Ewing’s early administration? There were people who served.
There was supposed to be an advisory committee.
In that the advisory committee was all the professors of the department of geology. But they had very little to do with anything.
Indeed. Were there were any others from outside the geology department
At that point who played a role.
But Professor Kerr who was the chairman of the department at the time that Lamont was set up got his friends in the mining industry to put up the funds that President Eisenhower felt were necessary to establish the Observatory — a hundred thousand dollars. Pledges for a hundred thousand. To set up the Observatory for a five year period. And he raised that money and I think he thought that Lamont would go into the mining industry, develop geophysics for mining. Well we never had interest, never any intention. And as far as I know, he never put any complaints for arguments that we should change our ways or anything.
I was just curious if you recalled any discussion say in the 1950s about whether there ought to be an advisory committee composed of people much more broadly outside Columbia’s department?
Certainly other institutions of that sort have had advisory committees.
Yes. No, there was never anything, I don’t think that Columbia ever thought that Lamont would amount to anything. And so they didn’t care and didn’t put any effort. And Ewing liked to run things the way he wanted to run things.
Indeed he did. And as I want to cover as we move a little bit closer into the 1960s during the [Andrew W.] Cordier, Cordier. How does one pronounce the interim president’s name prior to.
I don’t remember.
Prior to [William J.] McGill’s coming on as.
McGill was the problem.
Right. And I want to get back to that. I was curious under Grayson Kirk it seemed that Ewing had a better relationship at least in the beginning with him. Did Kirk in your view share that opinion of Lamont?
As far as I know, Grayson Kirk was non-committal. He didn’t care much about Lamont, yet he was not interfering much with Lamont. And there is an incident that happened just before Columbia got into financial difficulties.
When do you date that to be?
Oh gee. It would have been about 1967 or thereabouts. Let’s see now. Trying to think of the data I’ve forgotten threads of a thought.
Sorry. You were talking about around the time that Columbia was getting into financial difficulties regarding Grayson Kirk.
Oh yes. We got a request from the administration that they got, Columbia University got a thing called a fee, I guess it was — or something like that — from each contract. And they had been banking that, never spending it in all the years that they had had government contracts up to that time. So we’re talking like twenty years of accumulation of this fund. And it amounted to several million dollars as I remember. At any rate, they called together all the people that had significant numbers of projects into a meeting and said, what should we do with this fee? We think it’s time to, it’s grown enough and we should allocate it. We, the people at the meeting, I was one of the people at the meeting. Doc was busy somewhere else so I went. And we all allowed that it ought to be allocated to each laboratory or group. We were the only real laboratory I guess, but each group in proportion to how it had been contributed from their group to be spent in whatever way that group thought would be most useful to them. And when we left that meeting, I thought we would see three hundred to half a million dollars as our share to spend some way and that I thought that it would be very helpful to the welfare of Lamont. I never heard another thing about it. That’s about the time they decided they were in financial trouble and I suspect that money went to help them out financially. And that was essentially the beginning of our time — troubles with the administration. We never had any trouble with Grayson Kirk; he was very good. And he had an administrator — oh God what was his name now? He came from the Noroll Bearing Company, if you can believe that. Salmon, Stanley Salmon. He was an administrator under Grayson Kirk. And he was the one who mostly I had to talk to about financial things with the Observatory. And he would talk to me about financial things. And when I was on sabbatical in England in ‘63, he stopped by in England and talked to me and asked me if I would come back early from my sabbatical so Ewing could go on his sabbatical. I had left in October the previous year with the intention of coming back in October, just a year away, and he asked me if I would come back in early September and I allowed I would and I did. I thought Ewing was going to go away somewhere, but he took his sabbatical and stayed there and just worked without having any administrative problems at all. They all devolved on me. But no there was no problem with Grayson Kirk. Later when Columbia got into financial troubles, they tried to get us to pay more and more of the part of the salary that really belonged to the university to pay — our teaching duties and so forth. Most of our salaries of most of our people were paid from our grants, from government contracts. Like sixty or seventy percent in most cases.
These are critical issues and we’re going to be covering them in depth when we get into the late 1960s which I think deserves a great deal of attention. I wonder if it may not be a good idea to try to cover those things yet in the late 40s or early 50s that we haven’t done yet in detail. You mentioned, but in looking back over the notes, I think rather more briefly, the acquisition of the winch that you had put on Vema. I know that it came from the Carnegie.
Well, I think I told you about acquiring it from the Carnegie Foundation. But then when we ran into trouble with Woods Hole in getting the Atlantis, we one year got the Kevin Moran, a tug from the Moran Towing Company to go out as the ship to the mid-Atlantic ridge. And then for a year or two we couldn’t get any time on the Atlantis and we got the Pickett and Retriever from surplus property, from the government from the Navy, And Jack Oliver and Chuck Drake and Charlie Bentley, John Ewing, and myself did a number of projects off those two small boats. The biggest one was when we did the seismic work across the Gulf of Maine. Neither of them had enough fuel to make it across the Gulf of Maine.
How did you resolve that?
We were able to charter the, oh the other ship at Woods Hole.
Not the Caryn?
Yes, the Caryn. We were able to charter the Caryn from Woods Hole to go along with us and they acted as a supply ship. They gave us food and fuel at sea. And we would operate the two vessels. We had four of us. Chuck and I were on our ship, and Jack Oliver and Walter Beckmann were on the other ship. Chuck Drake and I were on the Retriever and Walter Beckmann and Jack Oliver on the Pickett boat, and they had the recording gear for seismic and we did all the shootings for the seismic. And then we would all work on analyzing the data together. We did the — one of the first things we did was the profile across the Hudson River where the Tappan Zee Bridge is. And we showed there that the rocks all dip to the west about six degrees and that there was no rock within range of the bridge pilings from the time you left a hundred feet from the east shore to the other side and by the time you got over to the west side of the Hudson River, the solid rock was down about fifteen hundred feet deep. Obviously unreachable. Although they had drilled into a big piece of Triassic sandstone off the shore there, it turned out that it was an erratic boulder that they had drilled into and they thought they would find some basement area.
Very interesting. Was that where this port was actually anchored?
No, that’s where the bents are now that they ran into that piece. But because they ran into it off the shore there by a hundred and fifty feet or something, they thought maybe there was more Triassic sandstone to base the bridge on. Well there wasn’t and there isn’t. It all dips that way. And the base of the Triassic comes up just before the east shore of the Hudson River. So there’s nothing for them to base it on so they had to support the main span on caissons. You know how that bridge is built?
I didn’t hear the details.
Well they built huge caissons, in fact I understand they’re the biggest enclosed space in the world even today, up on Stony Point. And then they put them in the river and floated them down and then sunk them where the main piers are for the span across it. And they sunk them down into the mud and they pumped mud into em to help sink them and then they built the bridge on top on these. Oh first they drove about fifty piles about fifty feet deep through the bottom of the caisson so that it would have enough friction so that ice wouldn’t move it up and down the river in an ice time. And then they pumped a lot of river bottom mud in it to sink it into the bottom and then they built the bridge. As they built the bridge they pumped mud out to keep it floating. And after they completed the bridge, they kept adding or subtracting mud as it started to show evidence of rising or falling for the first couple years. And by the time, about two or three years after it had been established, they only had to make minor adjustments — like every ten years or something like that — ever since. Now I understand they’ve got another problem now. That they need another bridge like it to handle the traffic. They didn’t make any provisions for a second deck on it like they did on the George Washington Bridge. And so they don’t — and the caissons probably couldn’t stand another support of similar structure. So they don’t know what they’re going to do as I understand. They’re struggling. In the newspaper, we noted when we were up there, we noticed that they were talking about establishing a ferry service from Nyack to New York. And I made a quick back of the envelope calculation on it and now you’re talking about a ferry leaving every fifteen minutes during rush hour down and back. And the nearest I could figure out is that it could handle maybe forty, fifty thousand people that way. That doesn’t amount to a trickle of what goes over the bridge. So talking about that kind of solution is crazy, you know. That reminds me of a story that the Lamont help told us about when we moved into Lamont.
You mean the folks that stayed on.
The folks that stayed on that had served the Lamont family. They told us that Tom Lamont used to get into his automobile, driven down to the bottom of the hill to the water, get on his yacht at the water, and his yacht would go down the river, and he would have his breakfast and read his newspaper on the yacht on the way down to New York. Meanwhile, his car would drive down to New York to meet the yacht where it docked in New York to take him over to Wall Street. And at night the reverse. Now, that’s conspicuous living. [Laughter.] In my book.
That’s very interesting. And he would have dinner on returning back to Lamont.
Well probably not dinner, probably cocktails and hors d’ouvres. Have dinner with the family.
That’s a very interesting story.
Again I don’t know whether it’s true or not, but I suspect it is.
You were mentioning generally about developing a, acquiring the winch.
Well I think I covered the acquiring of it that we got it from the Carnegie Institution and brought it up with a lot of additions such as a big boom that would be capable of lifting it from the dock onto the ship. Things like that. But that at the time the winch flanges had spread and had jammed in the frame. And when we needed it for the Vema, we decided we’d refurbish the winch. And so we took, we managed to get the drum off of the winch even though it had been wedged so it wouldn’t rotate. We did get it off the winch. And then where we had the problem of the wire on the winch had been wound down under tension. Well when you’re talking about on tension of wire that rope that’s three miles long, on that order, you’re talking about eight to ten thousand pounds of tension on it that it was under when it was wound on that drum. So when we started to take the wire off the drum, it would go into what we called then ass holes. More nicely it’s called kinks where they wind up.
Kinks. Now if you let it get too tight, it would actually bend the wire enough that it wouldn’t have a kink in the wire which would be devastating. The wire rope that was on it was worth about five thousand dollars.
I was just going to ask the worth.
And so we couldn’t justify in our minds just throwing it away. So we got into the problem of how we were going to get this wire rope off without damaging it with the kinks. Ewing came by about that time and he said, well, that’s simple. You pick it up with the fork lift and you drive the fork lift in circles enough times. Well, we tried that and that got old very quickly.
And very time consuming.
Very time consuming. We weren’t going to get anywhere. And so then we stopped and thought about it a little more and then we put a pipe through the center of the drum and then a pipe spreader above the drum and supported it on a universal joint so that we could unwind some of the wire until there were some kinks and then we could rotate the drum underneath the fork lift to take the kinks out. And we got out the wire that way and then we were able to press the flanges back into close enough parallel shape to be useful and we welded on gussets on the outside to give it enough support that it wouldn’t collapse again.
And that had been a design flaw as I understand it in the original winch?
Well, everybody that’s made their first winch for deep sea has run into that problem. They never make the flanges strong enough. See you have two wires laying on the winch like this and the next wire goes in between it. Acts like a wedge. The farther in you get the heavier the wedge is, the bigger more pressure that’s on the wedge. And the flanges just always collapsed.
I should simply say, put on tape, you were holding your fingers together with two wires say on the strand and then the next strand goes between the two and then the pressure.
No matter what you do, the next strand goes between. [Laughter.] And that acts as a wedge for big lateral forces. And everybody that’s ever built their first deep sea winch, including the Chinese when I went over there they were having that problem.
That’s interesting. When did you go to China?
Oh about the time I left Galveston. John Quo got me to go to China because they were trying to establish oceanographic vessels.
So around ‘79 or thereabouts?
Yes. No, it’d be around, yes it’d be around ‘79. That’s right. And John thought I had a lot of experience there that I could give them the value my experience. Well it’s like most things. They didn’t want to hear it. They had their engineers; they were doing it their way. And I don’t think I did a bit of good by going over, but I tried.
Did you get to know any of them particularly well, the Chinese?
Not particularly well. But I went aboard one of their ships and looked at their gear and told them the problems they would have and how they could beat the problems. And it was a very cold day we were on the ship and they kept trying to get me to go inside and have tea with them instead of looking at the problems on the ship. And were shocked when I insisted on going down to the engine room and look at the engine room. Because that has a lot to do with what you do on shipboard is how that is set up. And I tried to tell them all the things, you know. I have no idea whether they paid any attention or not.
You haven’t been back?
I haven’t been. I was never invited back. I’ve been back to China but not in that capacity.
Right. Okay. In general what were the differences that were strengthened between the Chinese designs and what you had grown used to.
Very little. Because they were well acquainted with the western literature and they knew it well. They had read a lot of my papers that I’d forgotten about. They would ask me questions. They were older papers of course. But they had a really tough time because the Cultural Revolution wiped out about ten years of literature from them. And all the people that might’ve read the literature were doing menial jobs, not keeping up with the literature and when they came back to — well the guy for instance in one laboratory who had been the director of the laboratory was set to cleaning the toilets in that building during the Cultural Revolution. And at the end of the Cultural Revolution he came back as the head of the laboratory again. But their libraries had a ten year gap in, nothing added to the libraries in that ten year gap. They were hopelessly outdated on everything. And they missed ten years of studying all this stuff that had happened. They had a very, very difficult time. And I don’t know how they could reasonably cope with it. I think it would take fifty years to get back into the swing. It was a tough, tough time for them. But to get back to the winch, really. Well anyhow we got the winch together and it worked. And we put it on the Vema and it worked the way it had been designed which was with a truck transmission between the diesel engine and the gear reduction on the winch. And it had a planetary drive on the winch which allowed you either to turn the drum of the winch or to secure the drum of the winch and turn a gypsy head. We never had any use for the gypsy head and we secured the gypsy head and turned the winch. But still it was not a very good winch for our purposes at least because it took about four hours. You had to lower it while it was in gear with the truck transmission and it took about four hours to lower a core say to the bottom of the ocean. And it took about four hours to recover it. So we had eight hours, a third of a day, every time you decided to do anything on the bottom with this wire. Well that’s grossly inefficient. And so after a few years we decided that we had to make a winch that we could lower substantially as a free fall. But now if you ever, ever have seen a winch go into free fall, it’s a mighty dangerous item. Everything’s going to come apart because it keeps going faster and faster and faster and the load gets heavier and heavier the farther out it goes. And it goes faster and faster. And all hell’s going to break loose soon. Our winch got away from us one time. I was on the cabin top, by the hydrographic winch doing something up there and I heard it go and I jumped down and climbed down the ladder onto the deck and went over to the winch. All the other guys had run away. They were scared to death of it. Good reason. And we had a brake on it and I turned that brake and I finally got it stopped before it got really dangerous.
Was this the old Pickett winch that this was happening?
And that was the only time that?
That’s the only time it ran away. And it was right after we had had some work done on it and it was in the shipyard and they hadn’t tightened the brake up hard enough on the gypsy head. And the gypsy head let go and that meant nothing was holding. There were no brakes on it at all.
That must have been a frightening sight to see that.
There were sparks flying everywhere and rust flying out. All the guys that had been by the rig running like mad for cover. I was the only one running towards the winch cause I couldn’t just see me writing that message to Doc, lost five thousand fathoms and the winch. [Laughter.] But anyhow the long and short of it was that it was a very uneconomical operation. So we decided that we had to have a better way to do it and that we had heard of these brakes that trucks used in the Rocky Mountains. You know they have long down hill hauls and if they tried to use the regular brakes on them, they’d burn them out in the first two hundred yards and then what would they do. So what they all have is they move the transmission into neutral and then hook in a — what they call a hydrotarder, which is basically it’s a centrifugal pump that pumps water. By controlling the orifice of the water being pumped out, you put back pressure on the pump and that gives you control of the brake — provide just the right amount of braking by just turning a faucet. Or a valve I should say not a faucet. A valve. Turning a valve a little bit one way or the other you control speed. And they use these on these big trucks in the Rocky Mountains. We’d heard about it and so we thought that was the way to go. So we put in a system that we could disconnect altogether the power train and connect the hydrotarder which was on the other side from the drive and we could lower the cable on that. And the first time we did it, we lowered the core to the bottom in an hour and a half. It had taken us four hours to do it before. Then in order to improve the pulling capacity of the winch, we put on an Allison Torque Converter instead of a fixed-gear drive, truck gears that had been on that. With a torque converter what happens is that when the load is high, it runs at a slow speed, but as the load drops off, the speed picks up for the same driving power. And so while we would bring in cable at a slow rate when it was deep, the closer you got to the surface, the faster we came in. And we got that so that we could bring it back from the bottom in about three hours — I mean two hours, excuse me, not three.
So combining the two —
So combining the two we changed an eight hour operation into a three and a half hour operation. And it made a huge difference in our effectiveness. And then as we got acquainted with this and added projects and projects to the ship, we had more and more projects we wanted to do at the bottom that were cable connected to the ship. Well one way to do that is to take the core and then do the next thing and then do the next thing and each time you’re committing yourself to another four hours of operations and that’s not very economic. So what we did was we added, for instance, we would get hundred gallon samples of water for Wally Broecker on the same trip that we would take the core down. And we added the heat-flow measurement onto the coring apparatus so that we’d take the heat-flow and the core. Other people would do them as two separate operations. But we’d do it all in the one operation. And then later on we started doing two cable operations. We lost a couple of cables learning how which was expensive and embarrassing but we soon learned how to do it. We had the trawl winch which was being paid over a little bit forward of the starboard side, and we had the hydrographic winch on the top of the scientific cabin which is paying over the side about fifty feet behind the mid-point of the ship on the starboard side. So we had these two cables paying off the ship, separated by maybe seventy feet. But the small cable always had the lighter load and it would always take a bigger wire angle and than the big cable with the heavy load on it. And so the one would be out like this and the other like that. Well it turns out as you bring your cables back that are over side like that, the wire angle as you get near the surface the wire angle reduces and reduces and if you bring the small one in first, it reduces enough that it catches the deep one. And when you do that you saw the deep one off. It localizes on the cable and then it just saws it off. Well you can’t afford that. And we lost a cable or two learning. But we found out that if we put the hydrographic winch over first with the, say the underwater camera on it, and when we got down to a couple of hundred fathoms then we’d start the core winch down. The hydrographic winch would already have a reasonable wire angle before the core winch would ever get a wire angle of any amount. And then they’d be separated well enough all the time you were out. And then you didn’t recover the little wire until you got the big wire pretty well up. And we could bring them up both about the same speed. So we’d get the big wire up a few hundred fathoms and then we’d start the little wire up and we’d keep track of it so that we never got the little wire back before the big wire was on board. And that way we could do three operations on bottom with the time for one. Nobody else in the business ever did it as far as I know.
Very interesting. How much could Scripps do by the time they were actually doing parallel?
Well, they were taking cores with a core rig which is substantially a copy of ours. As far as I know, they never did anything at the same time as that. They never did any heat-flow measurements on the core rig. They put up a separate machine.
Apparatus for that. And as far as I know, nobody in the business ever used two cables at once but us.
And that was true also for the European.
European, and Woods Hole, any.
Miami, the whole smear.
Very interesting. One other development that I wanted to make sure we covered around this time that you had mentioned that was on the list you that you wanted to raise. And I want to be sure when this development occurred when you installed the anti-roll tanks on the Vema.
When it occurred?
Yes. Was that in the fifties or the sixties?
That must have been in the late fifties. Because by the time I had a gravity meter on board the ship, which would have been ‘63, or thereabouts, ‘62 maybe, by the time we had gravity meters we had the anti-rolling tanks on board. So it would have been the late fifties.
What was that development? I don’t think we have treated that thus far on tape.
Well, I heard there were two ways to put anti-rolling n a ship. One way was to put a gyroscope on and put a couple of wings out on the ship down deep and the wings would twist like this so that they would counteract the rolls. But by the gyroscope controlling them they would counteract the roll of the ships. The other way was a passive system of having an anti-rolling tank which would be about half filled with water. And of course you know in ships when you have tanks with liquid in, the liquid tends to go from side to side and tends to exacerbate the roll. Well these would have baffles in them which would put a ninety degree phase angle in the movement of the liquid in the tank. So that by the time the ship was over here, the water was halfway over. By the time it was here, the water had gotten back over to this side. So the water was just counteracting the motion. Now this is called a passive system because you don’t do anything to it other than keep the tank half full of liquid. And when I went to decide how we could do it on Vema, it didn’t seem very practical because the way it had always been done on ships is have a U-shaped tank around the hull inside the hull with the liquid in it. And there wasn’t any place to put a tank like that. Well I hired an architect, a ship architect, and got him to look into the question and he designed a tank that could go over the bridge of the Vema, over the head of the — we had built a bridge up forward. You know originally the ship was sailed completely from aft. When the merchant marine had it they installed. It had an open air bridge forward that in good weather you could stand up there and steer it.
I’m sure there were inconveniences having the bridge or the control area being so far aft. How big a problem was that?
Well, if you’re sailing, that’s where you want the control station so you can see the sails. If you’re just motoring, you want to be up forward where you can see where you’re going. But we basically operated from the open bridge for the first few years we had it and then closed the bridge in. So that it was one deck up and completely across the ship, completely out to the sides. And so we had an enclosed bridge up there, and that’s how we operated the ship most of the time we had it. But then we put the anti-rolling tank over the top of that.
And we had of course those constructual matters. We could get away with it because not having the upper hamper that the ship had as a sailing ship that that’s some spare weight that we could put up high. We had ten tons in our, of liquid in our anti-rolling tanks.
How bad a problem had rolling been on Vema before this?
It had been quite a bad problem. In the weather of a force five or above, basically we were forced to quit doing everything because there was as much damage to machinery from the motion as you were getting data. And it just wasn’t a paying proposition and so we’d shut everything down. Well this began to, well this would be like thirty percent of the time you were at sea. Well, Doc couldn’t stand that. So we decided if we put anti-rolling tank, tanks in, or an anti-roll system on the ship that we would be able to operate on more like a ninety percent cycle.
That’s interesting. Was that one of the reasons why the sails were removed then so you wouldn’t have?
No, the sails were removed because it turned out no matter where we were going, we were going up wind. And when you’re going up wind with the sail, you’re going twice as far and it takes twice as long. And again your efficiency drops to very low. So, but the main reason we took the sails off is that one sail cost five thousand dollars and they were rotting on the sticks. They were used so seldom. Partly because of this up wind problem and partly because the seamen were reluctant to handle them because they were heavy and so forth. The canvas on the Vema was that thick.
You’re holding your fingers out about half an inch?
No, about five sixteenths of an inch.
Five sixteenths, yes.
And trying to grab a handful of sail was quite a chore. Or put something that’s five sixteenth and you got to get a hold of it somehow to pull it in. And they would have to call all hands to handle the sail anytime they pulled in sail or raised sail. And that meant that some guys didn’t get their proper sleep. It just wasn’t, just wasn’t really a feasible operation.
It makes sense. And was it coincidence though that those voyages were largely up wind or was that the nature of the general research?
No, it just happened. That’s a euphemism. I’m not sure that that was really true. But it seemed like that.
Yes. That says a lot just there.
It seemed like anytime you said well I need to go over there, that would be the wind direction the wind was coming from.
That’s clear. And certainly the frustration was there in trying to do this. When were the sails taken off the Vema roughly? Do you remember?
We got hold of the Vema in ‘54 as I remember and probably ‘56 or ‘57 we took the sails off. We had a little spanker sail that we could put up to help some on the roll too. But the rolling tank did a really masterful job. I like the story that Captain [Henry] Kohler told that they anchored in Desperation Bay down in Antarctica on one trip down there. And then when they got on their way the next morning, the ship just started rolling like crazy. And he couldn’t figure out what was wrong. He finally went up and took a look at the anti-rolling tank which was frozen solid. [Laughter.] I told him that the solution to the problem was easy that he fill the tank with rum. And not only would it have the advantage of anti-rolling, but every time he got thirsty he could draw a dram.
How many gallon capacity did it you say? [Laughter.]
Well it was ten tons of water.
That would make the Vema a very expensive cargo.
That’s twenty thousand pounds at eight pounds to a gallon like three thousand gallons I guess.
That would have been an interesting solution.
He allowed that that was not a solution that he wanted to cater to. That he would have difficulty with his men.
With this three thousand gallons of rum up there. They would find a way to get it.
That raises another question. How much did Henry Kohler as a ship’s captain play in the redesign of the Vema as these developments occurred. Did he?
He didn’t really play any part of it. I guess I’m the, I was the prime mover in it mostly. Because I kept trying to think of ways to make things more economical, more reasonable. And that was always one of our great advantages and also one of our great problems. Was that we were operating our ships so much more economically than anybody else in the business, that we were pariahs to the rest. Their ships were costing two or three times as much per day as ours were and doing less work. And that.
When you’re going back to the same funding agency.
You’re going to the same funding agency that was a little bit of a hard row for the others to stand. One of the other problems was that the Vema was registered as a Panamanian ship, and the only way that you can change the registry of a ship to an American registry once it’s been registered in a foreign country is by a special act of Congress. And a special act of Congress is quite a hard thing to get. So we never thought it was worth while to try to do anything about it and it worked always very satisfactorily. We lived up to the U.S. standards as far as ship operations were concerned. Were inspected by the Coast Guard and so forth just like everybody else. But we kept our Panamanian registry.
Would that have affected the union status or non-union status of the work force, those sailing on the ship? Had it been U.S. registered?
We had no problems with unions until we got the, the other ship.
The Conrad. And because the government said we’re going to build a number of oceanographic ships, the union said well this is, we better move in. And they put all kinds of pressure. Well they would put pressure on everybody we would hire for the crew to the extent that they were afraid of their lives and they’d quit. And we had trouble getting a crew for the Conrad. But there was never any threat to do that on Vema because she was a foreign ship and we could tell them to go jump and did. Actually, they never made any attempt to unionize the Vema.
That’s very interesting. Was Henry?
Go ahead, I’m sorry.
They did unionize the Conrad when I was in England.
‘63, ‘64 while I was in England on my sabbatical. And at the time of it I was notified by mail and I wrote a letter to Doc saying, now that the Conrad is unionized, I will no longer go to sea on it. I will help get equipment ready and help to get it ready to go to sea, but I will not go sea on it. And if that is non-satisfactory why then I will look for another job. And he wrote back and said you don’t need to go on the Conrad if you don’t want to.
Yes. You felt very strongly about that.
And I didn’t, I did not ever go out on the Conrad once she was unionized. I went, I always made it a point to go on the Vema.
You mentioned already what you felt about union organizing tactics. Was it that primarily that you?
Well the whole idea of the union. Well, for instance, one of the things that happened when the Conrad was unionized. One of the men that had been there with us several years got some kind of a health problem. Well he struggled with the health problem and finally he admitted that he was never going to go to sea again. And he had been paying his dues into the union for retirement fund. He went to acquire his retirement fund that by rights he should get, and they turned him down because he hadn’t applied within a year having gone to sea. They claimed that was their rule and that he didn’t qualify and he never got any of his rights although he had been sick and trying hard to get well again so he could go to sea again until finally he was discouraged by the doctors that he would never be able to. That was the type of thing that the unions did at sea, and I was hearing about those on other ships. I didn’t want any part of it.
You heard about this from other oceanographic places?
Well not only oceanographic ships but other ships. You’d get into port with other ships and you hear these.
You start talking.
Awful stories about the unions. And pretty soon you don’t want anything to do with them. Or at least I don’t. [Laughter.]
How, did you have any role in selecting parts of the crew for the Vema? I’m not thinking as much on the scientific side as on the other aspects of the?
Not really. We turned that problem over to the skipper by and large.
And that by and large Henry.
We set salaries. Well for the largest part it was Henry. Before Henry there was another guy from Nova Scotia who acquired cancer after he’d been present for a couple years. And before that we had a pirate.
As a skipper. He came to us and said he was a great seafaring man and he could hire a crew and save us money. And he got all the dregs from the waterfront and they had knife fights up in the focsile and all kinds of things.
This is on the first cruise?
The first one or two cruises we had after we took over. Well we first, we first let the guy we bought the ship from, the [Captain L.J Kennedy —
For the first years. And he was robbing us blind. And as soon as we could establish that, we let him go. And then we got this other guy who said, oh he could find people and they would be cheap and it all sounds so good. And pretty soon we had a bunch of knife fights and all kinds of things going on. And we got rid of him. And then we got this guy from Nova Scotia who was great. But he got cancer after a couple years and he died and that was when Henry applied.
How had you found out about Henry Kohler?
He came and found us when he heard about this. This guy lived in the same town Henry did.
In Lumdenburg. And when he heard that the fellow had cancer and would not be with us much longer, he came around and said I want the job. And he made a good case for his knowledge of the people in Nova Scotia that he could run the ship with. And he wouldn’t get involved with the unions. And he knew all about it. And although he had a game leg, he assured us that it would never interfere with his operations and as far as I know, it never did.
Was there much continuity in the crews between that third fellow, the one who had cancer, and Henry Kohler’s crew or?
Yes. He kept most of them on as long as they wanted. But there was always, at the end of each cruise, there was always oh twenty to thirty percent of em would decide they didn’t want to go to sea for a while.
There’d be that high a percentage?
You know, they had accumulated money because they didn’t have any place to spend it and they wanted to spend it.
Yes, right. This is a sailing issue that’s — let me pause just a minute. Resuming after a very brief break And I want to get back to Henry Kohler in just a moment, but in the meantime, you have brought out from the side a diagram relating to the problem of side profile and determining the actual bottom depth. And you said you wanted to add something to our earlier discussion.
Well, no. It’s about the question of — you said you’re surprised that an institution lost its memory. Let tell you about another example in the work we did in World War II. We found about the bubble pulse. This means if you fire an explosion in the water, you essentially turn a bit of solid into gas instantaneously or virtually instantaneously. And the gas is highly compressed so it expands and while it’s expanding it’s sending out a sound wave. Well inertia takes over and it expands too much so then it contracts again. And it contracts back down and it gets down to a very small size and starts to expand again. In other words it goes.
Starting to oscillate.
Oscillate. It oscillates like that. And each time it gets to a small size it sends another sound wave out. And we have been in a situation when we got six sound waves from one explosion. And it also turns out when they investigated the phenomenon thoroughly that a gas bubble like that is repulsed by a free surface like the air-water surface. But is attracted by a solid surface like the hull of a ship or the bottom. And the case where we got about six sounds was where we just happened to pick the depth where the repulsion from the depth was equal to the buoyancy of the bubble. So it stayed in place and most the energy went into sound. Well, at any rate that phenomena was first investigated by a man name Blockmann in Germany in 1886 in a war situation. It was — he investigated it and came up with the right answers and so forth. And it was forgotten. World War I came along and that phenomenon was discovered again and they went through it and made all the same mistakes Blockmann made and found out their mistakes and corrected it before they found out that Blockmann had already done it. It was forgotten between that World War and World War II. And we discovered it in World War II and we made all the same mistakes that Blockmann made and corrected them at about the same time interval that he did. But there are three independent discoveries of the same phenomenon in just a very few years.
Yes. And simultaneous discovery is certainly relatively common in science. And there are many cases one can look at where developing is done, a generation might pass and then it’s rediscovered and the work redone again. In this instance, though, it sounded like it wasn’t that many years had passed within the same institution.
Well, look at the gas hydrates for example. We discovered gas hydrates in the ocean bottom at Lamont and decided about it. And then we looked in the literature and we found out there was a whole big literature about gas hydrates in the petroleum industry. They had run into it in their pipelines that were passing gas around. That they would come to a constriction in the gas and cooling would occur, and they’d form gas hydrates. And pretty soon the pipe was clogged. They knew all about everything they needed to know about gas hydrates from there and we could just read it all. And the difference in time was about twenty-five years. And we were talking about these strange reflections and the problems we were having to the oil companies all the time and they didn’t tumble that it had anything to do with gas hydrates.
Yes. There do seem to be generational influences that play a role.
Well, or it’s applied in some other way.
Indeed. The application, the context.
Nobody knows it was investigated for psychology when it has something to do with your hand. [Laughter.] For instance.
Those are very good points, indeed.
There’s another story that might be of some interest to you relating to the Panama registry of the Vema. In, it must have been about ‘66, ‘65 or ‘66, we decided we needed to do a detailed survey in the vicinity of Halifax, Nova Scotia in a depth of about two thousand fathoms off Halifax. And we were unsatisfied with the navigation that existed at the time which was the sextant and dead reckoning. So we built a transponder that we put on the bottom so that when you sent out a ping from the ship it would send a ping in response to you. And if you measured the time between your ping going out and their ping coming back, you could make an estimate of your distance from the epicenter or the point right over it by comparing those distances. If that distance got less and less, you were getting closer. If it got more, you were going away. If it didn’t get to where it was when you set it, you were off to the side. Well, at any rate, we put one of these down near Halifax and we put a big bunch of batteries in an ash can, waste can. And filled it up with tar so that it wouldn’t be shorted out by the salt water. We had no idea how long the batteries would last, but we figured it would last at least as long as we wanted it. And we went up there to Halifax and we put this on the bottom, and we surveyed around it and came back to the point with our dead reckoning and then we’d go survey another path and another path and so forth until we got our survey done that we wanted. We left the area. A destroyer patrolling off shore noticed this ship with a Panamanian flag that seemed to be in one area near there all the time. And after we left they went over and their twelve kilohertz sounder had a, got answers back that they hadn’t expected. Well they sent a message into the Navy department saying we have some kind of a marker down here on the bottom off of Halifax and it was set by a foreign ship with a Panamanian flag. The people in Washington said, well if that’s the Russians setting out markers off of Halifax, there must be one off of New York and one off every big — every port of the U.S. They’re getting ready to send missiles in from known points off there. We better go find them and disable them pretty quickly. Well, I learned this, that last bit, later. But I got a telephone call from J.W. [Smitty] Smith in special projects in ONR saying, did you guys put down a pinger or transponder in this vicinity. And he gave me a latitude and longitude. And I said well we did put a pinger down in a spot near there, but I’d have to find out from the ship for sure. He said would you do that? And I said yes. And so I contacted the ship and yes that was the coordinates at which they set it. And I called back to Smitty and said, yes we set that down there. He said, I thought as much. He said, I kept being asked about a transponder like this and I couldn’t think of anyone doing anything or why and I was about to tell them that I didn’t know anything about it and then I thought those crazy guys at Lamont. Just the sort of thing they would do. [Laughter.] So I though I’d call you and see. And then he told me about them worrying about them being similar things off of every major city. I said, I guess we can call the hunt off. It’s not needed. And I said, well now look Smitty. You guys brought this up to us. Now we don’t know how long that pinger’s going to last up there and we would like to know so that if we decide to do this kind of an operation again, we know, have a better idea of what we can expect. Can your ship that is patrolling up there go by there once in a while and let us know how long it lasts? C&O said denied. [Laughter.] They called off their hunt. They saved all that money and effort and concern, and they wouldn’t even do that for us. I thought that was pretty shoddy business myself.
It must have been frustrating at that point. It’s interesting too that often I hear cases like this where the success of particular operations comes from thinking quickly on one’s feet as situations like this with the military or other patrons comes into being. That in some way seems to mark how well one can navigate in other sense in the world of this time.
Well, here’s another story that involves Smitty. This isn’t about the foreign flag but — early on when we got the Vema, we were having trouble funding it. And we one time had the Vema down south of Capetown, heading for Capetown, about five days out. And we had no money to move it an inch beyond Capetown. And Doc came around to me and said, what are we going to do? And I said, well that’s easy, Doc. You get in touch with Henry and tell him that they can bring the ship back to New York without salary, or they can stay there, whichever they want. [Laughter.] And I said, I think I know which way they’ll go. He said, well we can’t do that. You go to Washington and see if you can’t scrape up some money somewhere to keen the ship going. So I went to Washington and I did, went around to all my people that I could find to work with. And I got a piece of money to get up to Madagascar. And another piece of money to get up to the Red Sea.
And was this money to do particular kinds of research along the way?
Do the kind of research we do, were doing, but in a new area you see. They would say, well all right, since there’s no data in that area of that kind, why I guess we can spring a little money to help you out. And at any rate, I got to Smitty and his projects. He was the one who got us involved in Bermuda incidentally. But anyhow, he said, well we can help you in the Red Sea and we can help you in the Atlantic, but we cannot let you spend a nickel of our money in the Mediterranean. I said, all right. That helps us. I’ll find somebody, some other way to get money for the Mediterranean. Well I managed to scrounge some money for the Mediterranean and we got the ship back to New York successfully. But about a year later I got a call from Smitty. He said, we’ve got a problem down near the island of Cypress. Our patrol vessels are detecting a magnetic anomaly that’s moving at about five knots. It seems like it’s a submarine and we’re wondering. We know the currents in that area are about five knots and we’re wondering if there are any magnetic anomalies like the ones we’re seeing in that area. I said, Smitty, you know I can’t spend a nickel of your money in the Mediterranean. He said, I know, I know. [Laughter.] He said, can’t you help us out? I said, well as a matter of fact, we happen to have a little magnetic data in that area. We’ll look it up and see. And we found that they were magnetic anomalies of the sort that they were finding, and it turned out that the ships that thought they had them were just drifting in the currents and thought the magnetic anomalies were moving when they were moving.
This was before there was satellite navigation of course.
Right. Which is another critical topic that we’re going to need to get to. What kind of background did Smitty have in the earth sciences, in science?
I don’t have any idea.
How well did he understand the issues?
He understood them very well. And he understood the Navy position very well. He was Navy. He was a — I figured he was probably the best civil servant that I knew in the government for the Navy. He really worked at understanding important things for the Navy, and finding people who could work on the problems. He knew his way around. Now what his background is, I don’t know. Maybe he was, I’m sure he is college educated, but I don’t know in what.
But he didn’t have the equivalent of a Ph.D. or master’s level training?
No. No. He had no, I don’t think he had any advanced training as far as I know. But he had a lot of native intelligence and had been working with the Navy for many years. Knew their problems and concerns. But he was basically one who got the SOSUS thing started.
We were talking a little while back particularly about Henry Kohler and development of his role in the Vema. What were your impressions of Henry when you met him?
Well when I first met him, I felt that he wasn’t very friendly. That he was probably a very competent seaman, competent captain. And that he took no nonsense from anybody and that he’d run a good taut ship. And that’s basically what we wanted. And I brought him down to see Doc, and said, Doc, this is the man I think we ought to hire. He wants to have the Vema. And Doc talked to him a while and he said, I think he’d work out. And so we hired him and we kept him until the Vema was laid up. Now both of my sons went and spent a year out on the Vema as technicians. They got no special advantage being my sons other than maybe that that may have helped get them the job. But on board they were treated just like anybody else and they hated Henry’s guts. I think because he ran a taut ship.
What sort of things did your sons tell you about that they found difficult?
Well they thought he was unfair to the seamen on board and to the scientists. That he didn’t provide as much information to the people on board as he could have. I guess that pretty well covers it. And well, for instance, they had a toaster in the scientific mess hall. We had a scientific mess hall, an officer’s mess hail, and a crew mess hail on the Vema.
Three separate ones?
Three separate ones. And in the science mess hall, they had the toaster burned out about three times in one cruise. Well it turned out what was happening is people were putting in hot dogs to grill hot dogs at midnight when they wanted a hot dog. And hot dog would stay down in the toaster so they’d stick a fork in and catch the wire and break the wire. Well after buying three toasters, Henry said no more hot dogs. Well, that didn’t go down with those guys that had been having hot dogs. Of course, he might have provided a better way to cook hot dogs. That might have been a more —
A different solution.
Adroit solution to the problem. But his solution worked. There were no more burned out toasters.
How well did you get to know Mrs. Kohler, Laney Kohler?
Quite well. Yes.
How often did she sail?
Well, in the early years she didn’t sail at all. I’d say in the last ten years when he was there, she went out with him maybe two or three months a year.
And was this in part as the voyages became longer and longer? Or were they already?
Well in part because the voyages became longer and in part I think because her girls were gone and she didn’t have any need to be home anymore. And she’d just as soon see a little of the world too. She was a nice gal. I’ll tell you a story about she and Henry. I went out to join the ship at LeHavre once. And we flew out and Laney flew out with me. She was going to join the ship at the same time. And we got out to the ship and I went in to report to Henry that I was on board and make my presence known. And we sat down and when he was in port like that, he always had a two gallon jug of martinis in his icebox that he would serve to you. He never drank on board, ever. But he would serve to the chief scientist or somebody that could afford to have a drink. And he would make sure they only had one or at most two. I never drank more than one. Martinis weren’t exactly my favorite fare anyhow. But at any rate, they were pretty good martinis. And he sat me down and gave me a martini and I said, Henry, you’re going to have to quite your helling around. I brought your wife out with me here and you just gotta quit going ashore and helling around like you’ve been doing. He looked me straight in the eye and he said, Joe, those years have been long since gone and thank God too. [Laughter.]
That’s interesting. Was it a different ship when Laney Kohler was with her husband than during the voyages when she wasn’t?
I didn’t notice it. And nobody ever said that to me. My boys used to complain about Henry’s strictness. But I kept telling them that was good. That’s what I wanted.
And it sounds like there was a real difference in the crews from Nova Scotia versus those that had come in from the one fellow that you called the pirate.
Oh well these were all good, all good fellows from Nova Scotia. And Henry knew them all. And he knew their fathers and their, all their families. And you know he got good guys to come. They were all great guys. They had their problems, you know, some of them would go up and get drunk and do some crazy things, one thing or another. But any sailors are going to do that. You’ve got to put up with some of that.
Were there ever more serious problems that occurred, drownings for instance or other?
We had a radio operator that died at sea on one cruise I was on with Henry. And we never really knew what was wrong with him. He had just joined the ship. He had been only on board about three or four days and he died. And we got in touch with the health authorities. Well before he died trying to find some way to help him for his sickness and he just expired. But that’s just, I don’t know how you account for that. It was nothing Henry did or that we did or the ship did or —
Those sort of things happen.
Those things happen. Another case, John [F.] Hennion blew himself up on board the Vema. And — but it — I headed the group that looked into the circumstances to try to find out why, what went wrong.
The explosion had gone off prematurely. Or gone off in his hands.
Gone off in has hands. Or at least prematurely enough that it killed him. It didn’t do much harm to the ship. So he must have been holding it up in the air somewhere or had just thrown it or something. But it was basically, it was his own damn fault as far as I could find out. He had been trained in handling explosives in the Marines. We had trained him to handle explosives on our ships with all the techniques we used. He’s the only man who ever blew himself up on our ships. And we blew — we set off thousands and thousands of charges as big as a thousand pounds and as small as a quarter of a pound. We had another incident with an explosive that a guy threw it overboard and threw it into a sail instead of overboard. He got it up above the boom. And fortunately it fell off the boom before it went off and it didn’t do any harm. But that was kind of carelessness. But John, as I said, he had been trained by the Marines who would presumably do a good job. And we did a very careful job of training him in using them. He was the chief scientist so he was responsible to see that safety procedures were followed. He was also a shooter and the shooter has the responsibility of seeing that the safety procedures are followed. What exactly went wrong we don’t know. We suspect that a spark ignited the fuse and he didn’t notice it. He had a fuse lighter and he pulled the fuse lighter, and I, somehow, I guess he didn’t realize that it had gotten ignited and he was fooling around trying to pull the fuse lighter off or something. And Henry sent a message to shore and his wife authorized his burial at sea. And later she wished she hadn’t. But I don’t know. It was the only explosive accident that, actually the only serious accident we had in all my years going to sea. Handling all that heavy gear in all those rough seas and so forth. I think that’s a remarkable record.
Yes. One other thing I did want to ask you about, roughly at this period. There may be yet a few things that we want to go back to. But around 1960 there was the proposal possibly to relocate Lamont, the Observatory, to the Sterling Forest development. And I’m wondering how that discussion came about.
The people who were developing Sterling Forest decided that an educational community in Sterling Forest would stimulate great growth out there. And somehow they heard of Lamont. I don’t know how. But they appeared at Lamont and talked to Doc and said — at the time we were having housing troubles — that is laboratory housing. We needed more space and we didn’t have any way to get it. And they were talking that they would build all this kind of space for us and give us low rent so that we could afford it with our contract funds. And it sounded like it was a healthy prospect. We went up and looked at it. It was up near Suffern [NY]. And they gave us a long talk about how they’d help, all of the staff build houses up there. And that they would run a bus down to New York so that getting to and from New York would be very straight-forward and simple and people wouldn’t have to drive that far. It all sounded like a pretty good deal. But when we got down to thinking about it, that we were having enough problems getting into New York from where we were, fifteen miles away, going out to forty-five miles away didn’t make much sense. And we finally decided it just wouldn’t work. And about that time I got on my horse and started trying to find some funds. Well first we found —
Funds particularly for building new buildings.
For buildings. First we found an outfit that was going to build us a nice big building and we thought about it as an adjunct of the Lamont Hall at the end of the, east end of the building. Just adding a big wing that went up almost to the tea garden. And we had these kind of dreams in our head and then the people that had the money decided no, they just didn’t want to do that now. So that evaporated. And I, about that time, I read about Tisch in the — I guess it was Time Magazine and his real estate ventures. And I contacted Tisch and said, what can we do to do something. And he said, well, we’ll build you a nice building to your specifications whatever and we’ll charge you monthly rent that would pay off the building in thirty years at the rental rate and so forth. But, they wanted the deed to the property that the building would be on. It was, we were talking about building it up on the entry road, the present entry road. And Columbia balked at that. They weren’t giving anybody rights to any of their property of any kind. Well Tisch wasn’t going to build any building that he couldn’t put people in if Columbia didn’t want it. So that evaporated. About that time I went down to ONR and I talked to the people at ONR and told them that we were in desperate trouble and I guess they had gotten some support money somewhere for places like ours. At any rate, they said that they would consider it and so we talked about the oceanographic building and the administrative building that was built on the tennis court. I guess that was it at that time. And we built those two buildings. I forget the date. I probably got it somewhere in the picture albums. Incidentally, I have Xeroxes of all the newspaper articles that have appeared about Lamont, at least all the ones my father and my wife ran into. She collected them. And I lent them to Arnold Finck one time and he Xeroxed them and sent them the originals back to me and a Xerox copy. So I could let you have the Xerox copies if you want to look through it.
That would be very nice. Make another Xerox and give them back.
And you can do whatever you want with it.
That would be good.
So anyhow the Navy came up with the money and they built the building. First they built the administration building that got all the people that had been inhabiting the front hail of Lamont Hall into proper offices for the first time. And then we built the oceanographic building. The administration building was easier. It was the size of the tennis court and the tennis court was all nice and level and already had a good base. So it was easy and cheap to build and it was built of Butler Building type construction. It was cheap and it was good and it still functions well. And it’s made of a decent color so that it melds into the forest where it lives. So that building is good. The oceanographic building we built, two and two-thirds floors, because we didn’t have money enough to finish the third floor. We figured some day we would. Well it never got finished. Shortly after that, the seismologists decided they needed a building and they went to the National Science Foundation and the National Science Foundation had construction money and they built the seismology and biology building there. That’s also of Butler construction so it was cheap. And it was built shortly after the oceanographic building.
Who lead the effort to develop the seismology?
I think it was Jack Oliver. I didn’t have much to do with it. We had some interesting discussions, if you’ll notice in the oceanography building, there’s a big main room in the center with a bunch of offices around that. And that was basically my design. I insisted to the architects that we build it like that because we handle a lot of big charts and so forth and that everybody in these rooms could come out to the big room to deal with the big charts and to go for their solitude to write their papers or what have you.
Very interesting thought. Did that work out well?
It worked out very well by and large. Jack Oliver in his building down there built corridors with little cubby holes off every corridor, Well he called ours the rabbit warren design and we called his the rat hole design. We had long, lengthy discussions about which design was better and Jack thought that people needed to get off by themselves and think carefully and well about their own problems and not be bothered with anybody else’s problems. And we thought it was vital at least to our area of science that everybody be interested in everybody else’s problem.
That’s actually a question that I wanted to ask. As the buildings began to proliferate, did it change the character of Lamont — the way in which people came together as a community?
Yes, yes it did.
Well it separated us a lot. We had a lot of interchange with the seismologists and geochemists and so forth when we were all down at the Lamont Hall. When the chemists moved up to their building, they were the first to move out, we had very little to do with the chemists except every once in a while. When we brought, when Doc or I would bring a visitor around to show them the Observatory, we would get a little bit of a run down on what was going on in geochemistry too. And that was about as much contact that we had generally.
By this point they had developed their own colloquia series, hadn’t they?
So even that kind of community was lessened.
Well they, the Friday night seminars they would appear at frequently, but not regularly. But that was true of people throughout the Observatory. They would get into those Friday night seminars.
Who was organizing the Friday night seminars?
Well, I can’t remember. I think Jack Nafe organized them for a while and I think Chuck Drake organized them for a while. I think it passed around people like that. I was already too busy being assistant director. And basically the ships got to be my problem. I had to worry about that they were equipped properly and added things to them and so forth. And I was pretty busy with that.
No, indeed, it’s simply too that it becomes an increasing challenge for any one person to try to develop a program that’s going to interest people from geochemistry and seismology and so on.
Well, it’s not as hard a problem as you may think. Because being in New York you are privy of a lot of people passing through New York that can give a seminar and they might be interesting to anybody.
Sure. And the Friday night seminar then particularly had outside people or —?
No, not particularly.
It was a mixture.
But it was a mixture, probably two-thirds inside and one-third outside. And anybody who thought that they had a particularly interesting thing or paper that they just finished that they thought people might be interested in would let the person running the seminar know and he might schedule it for a month hence or two weeks hence or whatever.
Do you remember presenting much yourself during that time?
Not very much, no. I would present usually the results of a cruise that I had been on when I got back. We got everybody up to speed on what was going on on the ship. But I didn’t, other than that, I didn’t have much. Not too many people were interested in gravity which was my main field of interest.
One thing else I was curious about in this period was the development of biology. How that came to be part of the seismology development and?
Well, it wasn’t really part of seismology.
Well, not, but then the building got built. Was this primarily [Paul R.] Burkholder and [Oswald] Roels that —?
Well Burkholder originally had worked down in the Botanical Gardens in Brooklyn. And he wanted to look at biological things around the world, soils and plants and so forth with the concept of finding wonder drugs in them. And he never could get anywhere with it at the Botanical Gardens. And he came and told Ewing of his desire. Ewing said well, we’ll be glad to give you some space and have you work here. And I don’t know something happened. He got unhappy and he left. And Oswald Roels appeared about that time and he had been down in Africa. And he developed some fisheries things in some of the lakes of Africa. And right at that time, there were some fisheries things that looked very interesting in the scientific world and so we thought well we — this is a good addition in our biological realm. And it just happened that the seismic group and the biological group needed room at the same time. And they had both gone to NSF for money. Apparently NSF agreed to give money to both of them and that by pooling it and making it one building, we managed to get more building for the same amount of money. So that’s how they got side by each.
Right. Let me just pause to turn the — I hadn’t meant to imply any kind of disciplinary connection just what you recalled — the way in which — what hope Ewing had for the biology department as the — and what hopes you had for it.
Well it was, I guess it was more Ewing than I. But he thought that if Oswald Roels had spent a lot of time looking at land and land plants and that if he could get interested in sea and sea plants, that there might be a big future in it. And anybody who’s interested in the sea in any way got Ewing’s interest. So he sponsored Roels, I guess you’d say. And I tried to help when I could. I had the principal responsibility of supervising the contracts to see that people lived within their funding. It’s a common principle of scientists that they get so much funding and then they want to go spend money and they don’t look or care to see whether they have money enough to spend. Their ideal way of life would be to have a waste basket full of money right by the desk. Anytime they think of anything to do, they reach in and get the money and do it. Well, life doesn’t work like that. And nobody was paying attention and we were getting into overspent conditions and things like that. And nobody seemed to be doing anything about it so I started doing something about it. And I watched, I’d have Arnold Finck watch the contracts and he’d call problems to my attention. He claimed though if he went to people and said you can’t, you’re overspending and so forth, they’d just tell him that he didn’t understand science and ignore him. But if I went to them and said you can’t spend any more money, you’re overspent already, they would listen. And I guess in a way that caused a lot of people not to like me very much because I kept preventing them from spending money they didn’t have. And they didn’t see any point in not spending money they didn’t have.
But at this point that wasn’t something that Doe Ewing would personally be involved in. He wouldn’t get involved in telling Lamont people this?
No, no. He would act as a judge if there was a dispute. We would bring the matter up to him, and he would listen to both sides and he’d rule on how it was going to work. And he didn’t have much chance to rule against me because he didn’t know where the money was going to come from for them if they overspent. He wasn’t going to raise it for them. He raised a lot of money on his regular trips to Washington, but he never once made a trip to Washington to raise money. He went for one thing or another of science and in the process somebody would say oh we’d like some work done on that. Oh we’d do that work and he’d come back with some money. But if we needed some equipment or supplies or more contracts or something, it was my job to go down to Washington and beat the bushes and see what I could manage to come up with. And I had some success in it I guess so we managed to survive.
You did indeed. Did others ever accompany you on all the trips when you had gone to fund raise?
It really was your responsibility.
And I would visit essentially all of our funding agencies anytime I had to go to Washington for any reason. And quite frequently about this time of year, see the government cycle of years starts in September, I think it is, or October. I don’t know which. But about this time of year, a lot of those agencies end up with money they have been saving for one thing or another and they’ve got to spend before the end of the fiscal year. If they don’t, if there’s a dime that they don’t spent by the end of the fiscal. year, their funds are cut by a dime next year. And they don’t want that. And so frequently you can mop up quite a lot of money.
Just by being there.
Just by going and seeing the people towards the end of the fiscal year. Early enough that they’d have time to give you the money. Do the paperwork and get the money, and you have time to write some kind of proposal for it. At least that’s the way it worked in my day.
It still works perhaps somewhat although there’s much smaller pots left obviously.
Well I’m not sure there’s much smaller pots left.
They may be more difficult to persuade to give the whole pot to you. I often got the whole pot.
You mean of what was left over.
Of what was left over in the branch.
Which branches at that time, say the 1960s, would you go to routinely?
Oh I would go to ONR in the geophysics branch, in the acoustics branch and the special projects branch. I’d go to the Bureau of Ships. I don’t know any branch, that they have a branch system in the Bureau of Ships or did, they didn’t then. I just saw the one guy that we dealt with in the Bureau of Ships. Which was King Couper. And then I’d go to NSF at to the geophysics branch. And NSF opened up a branch in, oh, what do they call it now? Anyhow it’s another division of NSF that they opened up that was related to environment. This was very, very early in the environment days.
You’re thinking now after 1970?
Yes, about 1970 would be about right. And I would go see that group. I never got any money from them, ever. But my visiting them confirmed in their opinion that they were a viable organization. And they went about giving a lot of money to a lot of other people. But I never got any of it.
We might want to get back to that. Why do you think that was so that Lamont didn’t get environmental funding from NSF?
Well, we weren’t very environmentally conscious or worried at that time I guess you’d say. And we had, I’d say, plenty of money, but that isn’t really quite the right way to say it. We were not suffering for money so that we would be willing to change our fields of study towards environment.
And at that time.
At that time.
It really had seemed to those in the environmental branch that what you were doing wasn’t directly related to the environment.
Apparently it didn’t seem very apropos to them.
Do you remember any particular discussions that they suggest that if you were doing other work and you, as you say in other fields?
No. No, they just, they said we would welcome any projects you propose and so forth. And we will give them consideration and that’s was as much as it amounted to.
And you did send proposals in?
I don’t remember that we did. Because they didn’t seem very apropos to us at the time. I don’t remember sending any.
Were there any other patrons?
No. That’s the list. Well, in a way — I once went to a conference that was held in the Pentagon, and one of the guys in the Pentagon asked me to send him some ideas that I had about missiles. And all I could think of at the time was that, God, if you need my ideas in that, you’re in desperate straits. I’m not going to waste any time on that. I never responded to it at all. But occasionally at a meeting like that, you would run into someone that would say, well if you send us a proposal about so and so. But frequently the so and so was something way out. You’d have to go out and hire somebody new to do it or something. Didn’t help you at all with the staff you had. I was having enough trouble keeping our staff functioning.
Indeed. One thing that, actually — one thing I do want to ask you about. I think it would be appropriate right at this point to change the piece we’re talking about administrative matters. Is to talk a bit about your work in interpreting the Worzel ash which I asked you about before we realized there were a lot of other things we didn’t cover up to then. How did that — I’ve read through some of the material that’s on that. I’m very curious how that work emerged in the context.
Well it happened, I don’t remember the cruise number, but it doesn’t matter. I was on the cruise and I was on the two legs that went from Panama down to Antofagasta, Chile. And one leg was to be up in the Middle America Trench which incidentally I named originally.
Is that right?
We had a submarine cruise up there and we published some data on it, Jack [J.G.] Heacock, [Jr.] and I. And we didn’t know any name for it so we called it the Middle America Trench and it stuck. But at any rate, Bob [Robert S.] Menzies was with us as a biologist at the time, and he was — he had two interests which were both interesting. One was eels. In the Atlantic the elders spawn — are spawned in the central Atlantic, and they are a couple of inches long. And they make their way to Europe and to the United States, to North America — make their way up the rivers and so forth and grow up to be three to four foot eels. Then they make their way back to the central Atlantic and spawn again. In the Pacific the elvers have been found in the eastern part of the Pacific and they’re about six inches long. Well if a two inch long eel grows to be four feet, a six inch eel should grow to be three or four times four feet, or twelve to fifteen feet long.
It’s the law of proportion.
And one of Bob Menzies’ goals was to catch a full grown eel in the Pacific. He was on the cruise. This cruise that I was mentioning which was number, I can’t come up with. But anyhow, he neglected to bring any hooks for anything that would be large like to catch something twelve to fifteen feet. So we went down into the shop and we made a hook. We took a piece of quarter inch rod and bent it into about that size hook.
[Cross talk] about four inches.
And we cut a barb on it to catch hold and made a ring to attach it and we put it on the hydrographic winch. And while we were out there in the Pacific we were seeing the scattering layer. Do you know about the scattering layer?
I do. It probably’d be a good idea though to put this into —
Well just to put it into context for you. The scattering layer is all of the plankton and small critters that come up to the surface at night. At night you see the surface just teeming with life. And apparently their hydrophobic and as the sun comes out in the day, the plankton layer goes deep. It goes down to two to four hundred fathoms depending on whether it’s a really sunny day, and you can even see it move up and down as the clouds move over the sun. It’ll move shallower, beneath a cloud.
In response to that light.
In response. And then if the sun comes out again, it goes down deep again. Well in the scattering layer in the Middle America Trench, we saw some big echoes in amongst the scattering layer. Big being they were blacker and larger in size than the general smokey nature of the scattering layer. Well that meant that there were big animals feeding on the little ones in the scattering layer. And on the presumption they might be some of these eels we were looking for, we took a flying fish that had flown onto our deck and impaled him on this hook that we made and we put it on the hydrographic winch and lowered it down to four hundred fathoms, which was the depth of the scattering layer at the time. We were at that time seeing these large echoes on the sounder. Well something grabbed it. It wasn’t down there five minutes. Something had it and the winch tension meter jumped up and down. So we threw it in gear and started to haul whatever it was up. It got a pretty good load on the springs so it was something heavy. We got it up to about a hundred fathoms, and all of a sudden the springs went all the way closed, and then they went bang up, and very little load on it. We brought the thing up and the hook was straightened out perfectly, nothing on it. The flying fish was gone. Nothing else was on it. We never knew what we had on it, but it was something big.
Could an animal have been able to bend the hook back?
Oh yes. If, you know, I’m sure if we’d hooked a whale that he would have bent that hook like that, or a big shark, or possibly a big eel. Well, at any rate, that night Henry Kohler called on the intercom and asked me to come up to his cabin. And he gave me a martini and he said, now Joe, suppose that had been a fifteen foot eel and you had brought him up to the surface, what were you going to do with him? He said we don’t even have a gun on this ship that we could shoot a critter that didn’t like us. He said what were you going to do with him? I said, Captain, that’s easy. I said, it’s a tradition of the sea for many, many years that the people who charter the ship catch the fish and bring it along side, and the captain brings it aboard. [Laughter.] He said, not on this ship. He said I don’t want you to do that ever again. So there was no use in making another hook like that and have it straightened out so we never attempted again. Well, at any rate, to get back to the scattering layer.
Did that leave an impediment to the biology program or to those who went on like Bob Menzies to do these kinds of studies, that kind of restriction?
Well, no. Because most of their kinds of things didn’t have any element of danger in them at all.
This was a very unusual situation.
This was a very unique and I think humorous incident myself. In fact, so humorous that I wrote it up and we have a little journal in here and I write. Each month it’s published and I’ve written one for each month since I’ve been here of some little sea story like that that I thought people would be interested.
Yes, that’s interesting. You mean in the context of PGI [?]?
Or just here at Plantation Village.
Just here at this place. These older people are sheltered and getting a little indoctrination in the real world. [Laughter.]
The residents here in, yes, okay.
As far as the scattering layer’s concerned: While we were out in the Middle America Trench, we found an echo shortly beneath the bottom echo. And we could follow it with the sounder wherever we went. It was everywhere. Well we followed it several days and finally we found a place where it — Oh, at the same time we were getting longer and longer cores. This was soft sediment. It was greenish in color and it had a lot of hydrogen sulfide in it. In other words it was smelly. In fact, I sent a message to Ewing that I had found where the moon came from, that I had found where the green cheese was that the moon had — [Laughter] The part of the Pacific where the moon had come from [Laughter]. He never thought that was humorous. But at any rate, this echo was prevalent everywhere we went. And we finally found a place where the echo was especially strong and it was up within the range that we could get it with the corer. So I made it a special point to put the corer over at that point and get a core. And it was the white ash. In that particular place it was about five centimeters thick. I called it a white sand at the time. I didn’t realize it was ash until we got back to Lamont actually. I should have known better. I didn’t have a good core investigator on board at the time. And so although we had a microscope on board, nobody looked at it through the microscope.
Through the microscope. And you were relying mostly on the corer, the person who did the —?
The coring person was supposed to have that kind of knowledge and the one we had on that trip didn’t.
Were these graduate students, these students?
This particular one I think was just a hired technician. Somebody to do the leg work who didn’t know much about it but he could fold them carefully and mark them correctly and so forth. Take care of them the way they’re supposed to be, but he couldn’t know much about what the core was. Now, normally we had somebody on board who knew a lot about what the sediments were in the cores, but this time we didn’t. We finished that area and we went down to South America to the Peru/Chile Trench. There’s another story relating to these trenches on this cruise too that needs to be told. But we followed this layer all the way down everywhere we went. We went off three hundred miles off shore, we came in shore, we were doing a pattern of study that had been planned in advance. And everywhere we went we found this reflection and it was continuous. And it would rise closer to the surface and be deeper at some places. And some places we could get long cores and some we couldn’t. But anyway I was able to core it in about four places before we got to Antofagasto. And it was this white looking ash which I was calling a white sand at the time cause that’s what it looked like to the uninitiated like me. And when I returned to Lamont, I brought some of the records with me and I brought some samples of the layer that I’d found. And I showed the layers to them. Dave [David B.] Ericson looked at in the microscope and he said well those are all ash spicules. They came out of a volcano. Well, the area, if you took the area that we had been in, we’re talking about an area three hundred miles wide and about fifteen hundred miles long that was continuously covered by this ash. That’s a lot of ash. If you take — well some places the ash was only a couple of centimeters and most frequently five centimeters. If you took a mean thickness of two and a half centimeters or so, it added up to more outpouring than any volcano that is known. And how could it get distributed over so much? Well anyway there were speculations at Lamont that this was a worldwide phenomenon and that we would turn it up in other places if we got enough samples in enough places. Well it turned out that it didn’t. It didn’t extend much more than, probably five hundred miles off the coast there. It’s still a huge amount of ash.
Indeed. When was it determined the limits, the area limits?
I don’t know. Sometime, a long time after that.
It was much after.
Much after that, yes. We didn’t determine the limits. We didn’t determine the north limit, the south limit, or the west limit.
But the eastern limit was.
The eastern limit was the land.
But, that’s basically the story of the white ash. I brought it back and said this is a layer I followed everywhere. And I showed them the records and showed them the material.
There are a few things that I thought were interesting. You had written a piece that describes the discovery of the ash and the nature of it. And then there was a second piece that was co-authored by Ewing and Bruce Heezen and Dave Ericson.
Dave Ericson, yes.
That gave more interpretation and put it in a different context. I was curious why those papers hadn’t all been brought together as a single paper that discussed the discovery of the —
Well they decided they wanted to call it the Worzel ash, and so that I should describe the regime.
That makes sense.
And that it would be inappropriate to call it the Worzel ash in a paper which I was co-author. And they would call it the Worzel ash and would also speculate on its possible extent since we had not determined it. And I wasn’t willing to speculate on it to the extent — I was hopeful that it was a worldwide layer. The part that I really enjoyed was that it was in what Scripps thought was Scripps territory and they had missed it completely. [Laughter] And we had found it. I never said anything like that to them, but I thought — I chuckled about it to myself many times.
These sorts of things were understood indeed. I was curious given that there was a lot of interest in that general period of time, in the late 1950s, with tektite problem and the possibility that this might somehow be related to tektites. John [A.] O’Keefe was very interested in that problem. Harold Urey had gotten interested. Had they gotten in touch with you or you with them?
Just curious if you knew how they reacted to —
No. I don’t have any idea. They never contacted me — talked to me about it. I don’t think they talked to any of the others. I think I would’ve heard about it.
How aware had you been at that point of what was more yet an astronomical rather than an earth science issue, that question of tektite bombardment and whether one was seeing evidence of a locally produced phenomenon coming in from outside the Earth. Did you find that people at Lamont talked about that much?
No, it wasn’t talked much about at Lamont. And probably only Dave Ericson was really very aware of it going on because he was identifying sediments and so on. And the rest of us that was a side issue to us.
So I would guess if anyone knew it would have been Dave. But I told you there was another matter I ought to talk to you about.
Yes, also regarding the trenches.
Yes, about the trenches. There was this Swedish expedition had turned up.
This was the one back in ‘47, I believe?
Yes. Had turned up some biological specimens, I think they were taken in the Middle America Trench, of monopiacophora. This is a forerunner of the snail. And it was conical in shape and apparently what happened is these things had supposedly been extinct since Devonian times. In other words three hundred and fifty million years ago they were extinct. Well they dredged a couple up from the Middle America Trench on the Swedish Expedition. And they were so badly damaged, they couldn’t do much in the way of describing them. So Menzies wanted to get some of them from the Middle America Trench. And so we made several biological trawls in the trench and we got up about three specimens of them, and they were in pretty good shape. Their hearts were exploded. They each had five hearts. And their hearts were exploded from the change of pressure, the same thing as the bends. But aside from that they were in good shape and he was able to write a paper describing them with the appropriate biological detail and measurements and so forth. Apparently this is a forerunner of the snail that was conical in the shape and the cone kept getting longer and longer until it couldn’t support itself and then it coiled up and formed snails. And this animal had been forecast from the fossil record but had never been found in the fossil record. And it has believed that these animals were shallow water species. Well these were found in the deepest part of the deep. And another, when we got down into the Peru/Chile Trench, we made a couple of biological dredges down there and we found another five specimens of another variety of the same critter. That was a little different which we named, let’s see, oh I can’t think of the name, but anyhow we called Neopolina ewingi. The first name identified the critter. But anyhow we brought in another five specimens from even deeper in the Peru/Chile Trench. So here we had eight specimens of critters that were supposed to be extinct for some three hundred and fifty million years and had never been seen in the fossil record and had only been judged to have been present, because there were earlier fossils and late fossils. And here they were still living in the deep water when they were supposed to live in shallow water. Well that leaves you with certain arguments of were they originally shallow water species that migrated to deep water when things got tough in the shallow, or were they always deep water specimens that lived there because nothing ever changes in the big deep?
When you said that, I’m thinking to the ways in which Burkholder and then Roels came to Lamont. Was there much contact with the biology department at Columbia?
Were they interested? Were they aware?
No. I don’t know whether they were aware or not, but they certainly weren’t interested. Didn’t bother to look them up or anything or let us know that they were interested or invite them to come down to lecture them or, you know, any of the things you might do if you had some interest. But they’re probably like us. They had their own interests and none of them included the sea. And so they couldn’t care less probably. That’s not a good scientific attitude you understand, but it’s a human one.
But these things happen.
Yes. I think it’s important to try to lay it out and make sense out of it. One of the other things I was tempted to ask about right now is the way in which the Conrad was acquired but in that, in saying that, we’re moving a bit more into the early, early 1960s. And I wanted to make sure that as far as you can recall, we haven’t forgotten anything that you particularly wanted to.
Well satellite navigation came along about then.
Was this also about ‘59?
In the early sixties.
Okay. If you want, why don’t we take that up now.
All right. Now what happened there was that I was following up on gravity the determination of and about the geoid of the earth. And the group at Johns Hopkins published a map of the geoid that had been determined by their transit satellites. So I made a date to go down and visit them at their laboratory, telling them that I had been watching the data that came in from satellites and this was the first data that agreed reasonably well with my gravity data at sea. And that I wanted to know, learn more about it. And well we had a nice little discussion about the whole thing.
Who were the folks particularly at Johns Hopkins who were?
I’d have to look up the paper.
I don’t remember.
They’re people though that you really hadn’t had much contact with?
I’d never met them before that I went down to see them. George Bryant went with me to the meeting because he was interested too. And as we were getting ready to leave, the guy said, you know you can use these satellites to navigate at sea with as well. Well, about six months before, I had decided that the limitation of our gravity measurements at sea was our ability to navigate. And that that was the next crucial problem that I had to attack. Well my ears flapped.
I’m sure they did.
And we turned around and came back. And we said tell us more. And they told us about transit satellites and satellite navigation from transit satellites. And I said, well how do we get one of these? They said, well I don’t know, it’s pretty hard. We’re making these for the Bureau of Ships, or Special Projects in the Bureau of Ships. And I don’t know how you’d get one. There are only six of them in existence and there are four of them on Navy ships and we have one here in the laboratory and one was somewhere else. This was in November. And so I said, well suppose I go down and talk to Special Projects. I just happen to be working with them on gravity measurements because they were interested in gravity measurements for submarines at that time. And I had the first gravity meter that had made surface ship gravity measurements. And especially done many years of submarine measurements. So I knew the people in Special Projects some. And they had come to me for help on gravity on the Compass Island which was a big surface ship about eight hundred feet long that they tested out devices for nuclear subs before they were established. They went out and checked them out at sea. Well for instance, one of the cruises I went on the Compass Islands, they had three navigation systems. Each navigation system claimed that they were good to a quarter of a mile and they had disagreements as much as five miles between each system. Well, nobody knew which one to believe. And it turned out that none of them probably should have been believed. That reminds me of another funny story of the Compass Islands story, but —
Let’s save that then. I’ll make a note.
Another time. But at any rate, I said I’ll go down to Special Projects and see if I can cadge one of these things. They said, well the real problem is the Navy hasn’t been able to decide how accurate the satellite navigation is. I said, well that’s a cinch, we can do that for them. We’ve got sounders and magnetics and gravity, and we’ll just do a grid of surveys on various courses. And if we get the same gravity number when we’re travelling this way and when we are travelled at right angles.
And you’re pointing at an orthogonal.
Orthogonal direction. The chance is pretty good that the navigation’s pretty good. If they don’t get the same number on three different course, then the navigation isn’t as good as you say it is. I said we can prove that in a hurry. So at any rate, George and I went back to the airport with the intention of going back to Lamont. And we had to wait for our plane for about an hour. George and I were sitting there. And I said, George, this is silly. We want to get one of those navigators and the place where you get them is in Washington and we’re heading to New York. We were in Baltimore. I said, this is crazy. We don’t want to — we want to go to Washington. Well, he said he couldn’t go to Washington. He had a meeting the next day that he had to attend. I said all right, you go back to Lamont and I’ll go to Washington and see whether I can scrounge one of these up. So I went to Washington and my brother-in-law, Bert [Albert] Crary lived there at the time. And so, whenever I went to Washington, I’d sleep overnight at his apartment and we’d drink a few drinks and chat a bit about geophysics and so forth. But anyhow, he said, what are you doing down here? And I said I came down to get a satellite navigator. He said, you don’t have a chance. I said, how do you figure that? Well he said, the first time they’re successful the National Science Foundation has the option to have the first one on their ship for the polar work and that was his department. I said, why don’t you have one? He said, well they don’t know how accurate it is. I said, that’s what we’re going to tell them. He said, you’re still crazy; you’re not going to get one. I said, well, maybe I won’t but I can try. So the next morning when Art [Arthur] Maxwell appeared in his office, I was there waiting for him. And Feenan Jennings came in a little bit later. And I told them that I’d been to Johns Hopkins and I’d seen this data. And that they said the navigation was good with it, but that nobody had been able to say how good it was. And that I was, we were just the right people to say how good it was for them. And we needed to go over to Special Projects and persuade them that they should let me have a satellite navigator. So, at any rate, Art sent Feenan Jennings over with me, and we went over to Special Projects and we found the guy who was in charge of the satellite navigation, and I went through the spiel with him to try to convince him that they should — he said, well, all of our satellite navigators, except one, are on ships that are at sea. I said well, this is November. All of your ships are going to come in about the sixth of December and stay a month for Christmas holiday. They’ll never miss it. We’re going to work all that time. Why can’t we take one of your satellite navigators off one of your ships and put it on the Conrad which is just coming into Jamaica in a couple of days. We’ll put it on the Conrad and we’ll do the survey, show you how accurate the stuff is, and let us have one. Well, they didn’t know whether that was a good idea or not. So they decided to take me up to see Admiral Smith who was in charge of this whole Special Projects. So we went up to see Admiral Smith and he’d been happy about the work we’d done in gravity, although at the time, I was unaware that he even knew that I had anything to do with it. But apparently he knew. But anyway, he kind of smiled when we said we could tell him how accurate it was, and that we thought that over Christmas holiday when the ships were, when they would be doing nothing with the Navy, they could be doing a good service for the Navy. And he kind of smiled and he said, I guess we can let you have one. I had talked to the people at Johns Hopkins that if I could persuade Special Projects to have a navigator, could they send a technician down to the Conrad to install it so that we knew that we had it installed properly. And they said, sure we can do that. And I said all right. We’d like to take it. He said, you know you can’t solve, the results on board, that it takes a fancy, kind of fancy computer to do this. I said, oh we’ll send all the information back by radio to our lab at home and we’ll work out the program on the computer at Lamont and then we’ll send the position back to the ship and we’ll get the whole thing done by radio fine. And he said, all right, let them have one of the satellite navigators.
Let me pause right there to change the tape. So he said we could have one of the satellite navigators. Well I called Johns Hopkins and told them and they said they’d get the technician down to Jamaica. The ship was coming into Jamaica in I think it was two days after that. And I sent a dispatch. Ewing was on the Conrad. I sent a dispatch to him saying that I had gotten the satellite navigator for the Conrad and there would be a man from Johns Hopkins to help install it. That they might have to delay their departure from Jamaica a day or two for the installation, but the man’d be there and the satellite navigator would be there on their arrival and they should do everything they could. That probably some welding had to be done up on the masthead for the antenna and a few things like that. I got a message back from Doc saying, that’s great we’ll be all ready for them. And they got in and the technician had it all installed in a day. The ship was already going to stay three days to revictual and give people a little time off anyway. And so we didn’t have to hold the ship up any. And they went out to sea and Manik Talwani was the chief scientist on that leg. And so he went out and he sent us the data from the ship and that didn’t work worth a damn. There were so many digits that had to be sent by radio that it was inevitable that some of the digits would be mistaken.
Just by the problems of transmission.
Just problems from transmission. So none of the fixes that we sent them were meaningful as it turned out Well, anyway, after New Year’s, I went back to the Special Projects and said we’ve been getting good data from the sat nay, but we haven’t been able to do very well with calculating the fixes because we have enough errors in the transmission of the data that it’s not very reliable. And so we can’t give you the answers now, but we think it’s good and we’d like to keep the satellite navigator longer and try some more, try to get more information. Well, Admiral Smith kind of smiled and said, I never thought we’d get it back anyway. [Laughter.]
Sounds like you’re particularly enjoying that recollection.
I was amazed that he knew me so well. [Laughter.]
What had you anticipated at that time then? Did you?
Well I anticipated that I would talk him out of giving it back to him. And it worked out that did. But then talking to the Johns Hopkins people shortly after that, they told me that they had developed a computer that went with it, programmed and all for the program, that could be put on the ship. And that they would have one of those in about six months. Well I immediately went back to SP [Special Projects] and said, I need one of those computers on the ship so I can do the needed navigation to help you out with your program. By then we had taken all the data that Manik had obtained and worked it up and showed that the navigation was good to about a quarter of a mile which is —
Which is already well into the threshold that had been left by the earlier ambiguities.
Well the earlier ambiguities were, just at the time of the sights, about three miles. So that this was a real magnificent improvement. So I went back down to them and said, can I get one of the computers as soon as they’re developed? And Admiral Smith said, I guess we could manage that too. So I got a computer and by that time the ship had gotten around to Italy I think it was. And I sent the computer out to Italy and Doc was going to be on the ship when it was going, it was going to do a survey up at Peak and Freen Deep. Do you know where Peak and Freen Deep is?
Well the British have spent three or four cruises detailing that area of the mid-Atlantic ridge. And Peak and Freen is a biscuit maker in England. And these deeps resemble their advertising symbol. That’s why it’s called Peak and Freen Deep. But anyhow I got the computer and they got it installed and the crew under Doc used it and, they were doing a detailed survey of the Peak and Freen Deep with magnetics and gravity and the whole smear. And they were able to show that probably a quarter mile was a little bit high and it was probably a little bit better than a quarter of a mile where we had the navigation right with us. And Doc was just amazed because he wanted to core certain features. And he could see the features when he passed them on the sounder or the magnetics or what have you. And then he could go back to them with the satellite navigation and find them again.
And previously that really hadn’t been possible on previous work?
Previously that had not been possible at all. If you saw a feature, you could usually never come back to it, no matter how hard you tried or how many hours you spent at it. You just simply couldn’t find the place again.
But with this satellite navigation, you could. Now it had its limitations because they didn’t have enough satellites flying to get navigational information all the time. And some time you’d go an hour to an hour and a half between a fix. But within those limitations you could still come back and look at features that you thought were important when you passed them the first time, but didn’t want to stop to look at. And he got his cores in the places that he wanted to get the cores in. And he was most pleased. And we published on the results in the American Geophysical Union in the April meetings that year.
What year is this now?
This would be in 1961, I guess. Somewhere in that area.
Okay. We can check that.
We published a paper on it and we published the paper jointly with one of the members of the staff of the Johns Hopkins about using it for oceanography. He didn’t really do anything deliberate about the paper or anything, but he had helped us a lot in getting equipment and getting it established and so on. So that we felt that that was a reasonable thing to put him on this as one of the authors. And he seemed to be very pleased about that. The next time we, that I remember, how it pleased somebody is with the satellite navigation, in 1969, in the first deep sea drilling project. On the first leg of the first deep sea drilling project, the second hole we drilled was on the Challenger Knoll and that’s the — those knolls are something we need to talk about somewhere along the line here. They’re 1960s material. And we had surveyed the knolls on a Vema trip earlier and had picked one knoll that we wanted to drill on and had gotten it on the drilling program. And it was to be the second hole that was — the first hole that was drilled by the Glomar Challenger, which was the first deep sea drilling operation, was essentially a test hole near the Sigsbee Scarp just to see if all the drilling equipment worked before we sailed. And so the second sailing we were going to hole number two which was Challenger Knoll and the skipper of the ship was absolutely flabbergasted because I was running the satellite navigation on the ship for them and I would tell them where they were and what course they should follow to get Challenger Knoll. And we came right up and I said, okay this is it. We drill here. And he was shocked as could be that I could — he had never in his experience of drilling ships had anyone be able to tell him.
With that kind of accuracy.
With that kind accuracy. Just come up and here’s the spot.
I find that very interesting. What I’m curious about is whether that began to affect significantly results in other fields where the accuracy became important. Did it matter for instance in terms of measuring the magnetic anomalies and the spacings between them to have that kind of accuracy? Or did simply using the track back and forth eliminate that kind of need for precision?
No, you needed that kind of precision. It eliminated the necessity of making orthogonal grids. Because you knew where they were.
So it was much more efficient to gather the broad amounts of data. That makes sense.
But, now, for the first five years, we were the only ones in the oceanographic community that had satellite navigation. After this first year, I went back to SP again, and said this has been so great for our geophysics. It’s put my gravity on course and so forth. Gravity, you know, you have to know your speed over the surface of the Earth. And this you can get that out of this information. And I said, we’ve just got to keep it. And he allowed us to keep it. And I said, now we want to build our own so that we can give you yours back. [Laughter.] He said, well that’s a good idea. And I said, now this is classified and all the circuits are classified, but we’re a cleared operation at Lamont. Can we get the circuit diagrams and build our own? And they said, well if you ask for it through ONR and ONR takes the responsibility for giving you the classified things, yes. So we asked for it through ONR and we got a filing cabinet that size (four drawer) full of plans.
You’re pointing back to a four drawer —
Four drawer filing cabinet. Full of plans. We filed all the plans in an orderly way so we could find them. They filled the four drawers of the filing cabinet.
And they really were necessary.
And they were necessary. They had, meanwhile Johns Hopkins had made them some improvements of course as you would expect. And when we talked to them, they said now there is the radio circuit on this equipment is very crucial and is very difficult to build. And they said, you won’t have the equipment to build it. You won’t even be able to afford the equipment to build it. We don’t even try to build it ourselves in house. We go to Motorola who’s building the equipment for us and we have them build that radio circuit. Because they said, if you misplace a single wire by a sixteenth of an inch, everything will oscillate and you won’t be able to do anything. So it’s got to be really precision work. So they said, we recommend that you get Motorola to build the radio part of this. Which we did. We were able to get the necessary backing from the Navy to get Motorola to build it for us. And we built the rest. And we had a problem. We thought we needed three, the satellite navigators. We had the Vema, we had the Conrad and we had Ken [Kenneth] Hunkins working on the ice island in the Arctic who felt he needed one just as much as the rest of us. Of course, navigation in the Arctic is even worse than anywhere else. So he did need one really badly. And then we figured, well, we had to build some spares and we finally got thinking about it and said, well while we’re building them, we might as well build four and that’s our set of spares. And whenever anything goes wrong with one, we’ll send out the spare unit to that, to the ship or the ice island and replace it and send the one back and we’ll fix it back in the lab where we have testing equipment and know how.
It sounds as if the costs are high enough where it wasn’t profitable to afford, it didn’t make sense to build more than four.
No. Well we couldn’t. We just didn’t, we got the money from ONR and it was, we’re talking about like thirty thousand dollars a copy to build these things. Even though it was in our own labs with our own labor. And we built them and we had them for about five years before anybody else in the oceanographic community had them. And when they, whenever the other institutions heard we had satellite navigation and that we thought it was the cat’s meow, they all wanted satellite navigation and they went, all of them went down to ONR and Feenen and Art said, yes we’ll have to get — they knew what we’d been doing, had been getting. They said, yes we’ve got to put this kind of information available in all our ships and we’d better get a group together and think about this. So they called a meeting up at Rhode Island, and I got a call one Saturday morning, saying that an oceanographic committee was meeting in the University of Rhode Island, and they wanted to talk about satellite navigators and could I come to Rhode Island. And so I said sure. And so I got in my car and drove up there and I got there by about after lunch. And they said, well you guys happen to have the satellite navigator, what do you think of it? Well, it’s the greatest thing since pastrami. So they said, well, how about building some for us. You got the circuits. And I said, well, what are you talking about? And they said, well we’re talking about thirty of them. I said, we can’t build you thirty. We’re not in the production business. We’re a research establishment. That would mean that we got no service from our electronics department for a couple years. And we can’t do with that. I suggest that you all have classified access as well as we do. You get your own copies of the circuits. We will have the circuits copied for you if we get authorization to do it, and make them available to the rest of you if you want to. Well, at any rate, I guess they went back to Art and Feenan, and Art and Feenan apparently talked to Johns Hopkins and Johns Hopkins of course again had made a lot of improvements in the circuitry and so forth. And they said, well, in fact Motorola’s going to come out in a year or so with a new model that is much more improved. It includes all of the satellite navigation and the computing circuitry in one little box and the box is now about a foot long and about eight inches wide and eight inches high. And ours was, this wide and this high and this long.
Right. A larger unit by about two times from what.
Three times, about three times.
And that was just the navigation unit and then the computer was a similar size. So basically they were bringing out a unit that was about a sixth of the size and so they opted — ONR opted to buy the units directly from Motorola themselves and then make them available to the institutions. Well, this, what I’m describing now, happened about two years after we had been using ours.
So this is the mid-1960s now?
This would be the mid-1960s. And it took about three years before Motorola brought their, had their instruments ready for them.
So it was that particular set of developments that hindered the other oceanographic.
Well, I wouldn’t say it hindered, but it didn’t help them.
It didn’t help them.
We had our help in ours and they didn’t. But then they took a big leap forward because they had more modern, easier to use equipment and we didn’t. And we went to ONR and said, hey, why can’t we have some of these new units too? And they said, well, you’ve had the advantage of using it all these years. You’ll have to put up with it.
One thing I’m curious about, given that the design of equipment was what was classified, but also the accuracy that you were retrieving classified?
Did that affect then the way in which you could present your data or present what —?
Yes. And it kind of astonished people that we would be able to recover a spot or something without explaining that our navigation had been upgraded considerably.
You couldn’t even talk about that you were using this?
Well we could talk that we were using satellite navigation and that’s how we were navigating. But we couldn’t tell how accurate it was. We could tell them it was the order of accuracy of a half a mile or so, but we couldn’t tell them any better than that.
I don’t want to leave that story if we’re leaving it prematurely.
No, I don’t think there’s any more to it.
There are a number of other major developments at the time I want to try to cover. One, indeed you mentioned the Conrad, the way in which Lamont acquired the Conrad.
Well, the Conrad was one of the first oceanographic ships built by the Navy. It was the first one that was completed ready to be delivered to an oceanographic institution.
And this is done in large part through the committee structure that is set up in the wake of Sputnik for developing oceanography as part of the national interest.
Yes. Right. And the Navy had taken on as their responsibility making some new ships available to the oceanographic community. And Woods Hole had been slated to receive the Conrad. As the Conrad approached completion and submission to an institution, Woods Hole came down and said, we have received money from the National Science Foundation to build a ship ourselves of the type we want. The oceanographic type was supposed to satisfy all the institutions and as a result, satisfied none of them. A camel.
Were you involved in any of those discussions?
No, I didn’t get involved. Ewing was involved in some of them.
He was one of the principals of the institution.
But at any rate, one day when I went into Art Maxwell’s office, he said Woods Hole has just turned down the first oceanographic ship built by the Navy. Can you guys use it? And I said, I suppose we can use it. But we’re not going to give up the Vema. It’s too useful a ship to give up. And he said, well, you wouldn’t have to. Can you use two ships? And I said, I think we can, but I think I better talk to Dr. Ewing first before I make a commitment. So I went back to the lab and I said to Doc, what would you think about operating two ships? He said, what for? I said to do twice as much work, naturally. He said, what are you talking about anyhow? I said, well, I saw Art Maxwell and they want to give us the first naval oceanographic ship. Should we take it? He said, by all means. It’s going to be a lot more expensive to operate than the Vema because it’s going to take a bigger crew. It’s got a lot of more sophisticated machinery and so on. You still think so? And he said, yes, I still think so. I said, can we operate two ships? It’s going to be a strain on our staff. He said, we’ll find a way. So I called Art Maxwell and said, we’ll take it. And so they made it available to us.
And that decision could be made just by Ewing? It didn’t require?
So you got the Conrad.
We got the Conrad. And it was delivered to us down in Jacksonville, Florida, where it was built. And they had a winch on it, it was a traction winch. You know what a traction winch is?
No, I don’t.
Well it has a device which pulls on the cable. Essentially it winds the cable around two spools in grooves which is puffing the cable up and then the slack cable on the back side is taken up by another reel that has a drive on it that’s supposed to drive faster than the traction device and keep no slack in the cable because it does the same thing we talked about on our first wire going into assholes. Excuse me. Going into kinks if you let any slack between the traction drive and the reel. Well, we had strongly urged throughout the final stages of the Conrad that they do not put the traction winch on, that they put a copy of the winch we had on the Vema on which would be more elegantly satisfactory. We were denied. They put the traction winch on and they also had a fuel ballast system. You know what a fuel ballast system is?
That’s where the fuel is itself being used as a way of providing ballast.
Yes, as you use fuel, replace it with water and the fuel, water is in the same tank.
Oh is that right?
So that you have a problem of mixing some water into the fuel. Well we didn’t like that and we objected to that. But they said we would take that too. So anyhow we went down to Jacksonville for the trials on the Conrad. And Art Maxwell went out on the trials with us. It was good he did. We got out there, oh probably a hundred miles from Jacksonville, and the engine stopped, never to run again. Well that isn’t quite true. Never to run again on that leg. The fuel ballast system mixed water in the fuel and the diesels just couldn’t stand any water in the fuel. And so as soon as the water got into the injectors, everything stopped. Pretty soon all the generators stopped. There we were at sea — no engines, no generators, no lights — a hundred miles at sea. What do you do? Well the shipyard had people on that were taking data about various operations of the ship, but they weren’t people who knew how to operate any of these things. And finally it got down to that none of the engineers that were on board knew enough to do anything about it. And so it finally got down to Johnny [John] Ewing and I cleaning out one of the generators and getting the fuel cleaned up, enough clean fuel out of a tank, to feed the generators separately, not from the regular system, fueling system, to get a generator working so we had some lights and some radios going. And somehow or other, I don’t remember how, we also got a main engine working and we limped back into port as quickly as we could get there. And the next thing they did was they, oh I know, we got enough clean fuel out of one of the tanks to fill the day tank, and that gave us enough good fuel to run the engines with. But anyhow that got us a Laval separator to separate water from fuel, and so you would fill the day tank up with fuel that had been separated from any water that was in it. And this ran the various devices on the ship and very great care had to be made never to use any fuel that hadn’t been separated by the Laval separator.
How did the crew get selected for the ship then?
I’ve been trying to think of that while I was talking to you and I don’t remember. I think we had hired them, and they were supposed to operate the cruise. And we were, at that point we weren’t yet having trouble with the union. Very shortly we were and all those crew left us because they were threatened by the union. And then we had a real mess. As soon as we’d get a crewman in, the Coast Guard were in cahoots with the union. And we had to register all the crewmen with the Coast Guard. And as soon as we’d get a new crewman in, we were bringing them in from long distances away, New York and California and stuff like that. We’d get a crewman, we’d sign him up, and we’d bring him in, and we’d no sooner get the crewman on board and the union would find out, and they’d get hold of the crewman somewhere and pretty soon he’d quit. They didn’t need to tell me what was happening to the crewmen; I knew. But we managed to get enough people and get them on board and be able to sail, but we had real trouble. Especially in the cooking department. The cook and the servers in the galley area. They were especially under the thumb of the union somehow.
So many things would deteriorate or not depending on union —?
Well if you don’t have a feeding department, you don’t go to sea.
Indeed. A critical focus. Yes, I understand. What were the differences at that time between operating a ship like the Conrad versus operating the Vema?
Well, there weren’t very many differences in operating them other than the union. If you forget about the union problems, the people that needed to operate in the engine room were, had to be a higher grade of people than were needed in the Vema for the diesel. In the first place they had, let’s see, they had one, two, three, four generators, four different generators and three different engines that had to be run, main engines. So you had seven diesels to run instead of two on the Vema. Which makes a lot of difference. It makes difference in the size of the crew. They were more sophisticated type engines than the Vema engines. But that’s the main difference. The captain, of course, has to be a member of the Masters, Mates and Pilots Union and so on. All these things were a pain in the butt to me. But they were still in the future in this shakedown cruise. We were able to get people that were, non-union, to operate. But all the equipment was new to them, of course. And they didn’t know how to operate it.
How quickly were you getting productive data from the Conrad cruises. Was it already by the second cruise?
Well, we’re not quite past the shakedown. We went back in and we got a separator put in and we went back out for a shakedown, to finish the shakedown cruise. And we operated all right on that. But this traction engine on the coring, the winch, was a nuisance and the pick up reel for the winch didn’t pick up the cable fast enough. And so there were kinks that formed and so forth, and we had lots of problems like that. But the worst problem of all is that the winding machine that was supposed to take this cable was misaligned or something and the bolts all sheered off that held it into place down in the — the winding machine was up on deck and then the cable was supposed to go through a hole into a deck and go to the winding machine. And the winding machine broke all its bolts for some reason. And we came in from that shakedown cruise and went to the shipyard and said, this is intolerable. The winding machine broke all its bolts off. And so the guy in the shipyard called the manufacturer — they didn’t manufacture it themselves — called the winch manufacturer and said, what about this winch? It doesn’t work right. And they said is that the winch for that Lamont crowd? Yes. Well, that’s all that’s wrong is the Lamont crowd just don’t like it. And the guy said but I’m holding the sheared off bolts in my hands that held the traction engine machine, I mean the winding winch. What do you mean, that has nothing to do with it? [Laughter] Well, to make a long story short, they did come, they put it all back together. And they made the bolts avoid being sheared.
But you stayed with that winch system on board the Conrad?
We were restrained to stay with that winch. And we used it for, oh four or five cruises, and it was just one problem after another, And we kept dumping the problems back into ONR and finally ONR said, well, if you can get another winch like yours, we’ll let you take the traction winch off and put your winch on.
Is that what happened?
And that’s what happened ultimately.
How long did it take before you could take the traction winch off? Was it a couple years?
Yes, it was several years. And I got pretty handy using it. Now the guy that we had handling our coring winch on the Vema we put on the Conrad because we thought he was experienced. And he made one attempt to use the traction winch, and then he would have nothing more to do with it. He would not try to bring any core up because you really didn’t have good control as the machine — as the core came close to the ship. You didn’t have instant control like we had had on the Vema. And he tried it and he was scared to death that he was just going to wind it right up through the pulley, and he refused to use it. And about that time was when the Thresher search came out and we had to go out on the Thresher search.
That was 1963, the Thresher search occurred then. I have that in my notes that was the Conrad’s sixth voyage. Before we turn to that, I simply wanted to ask, did it change the way that Lamont scientists could work having the two vessels compared to the one?
No. We outfitted them with essentially identical equipment. And it all operated the same way. And it was just a different platform, that’s all.
And having two platforms as opposed to one didn’t really introduce any other.
It caused a doubling of our data capacity. And it made us hire some extra technicians and so forth. We didn’t have enough graduate students to man everything any more.
That was the principal difference.
So we had to hire some technicians to fill in where we didn’t have enough graduate students.
Were you able to get more graduate students?
We were getting more graduate students than we could handle all the time. We had gotten up the level of sixty graduate students each year in our unit.
How restrictive were the admissions policies?
Well we, again we had no problem with them because our —
I just wondered what the [cross talk].
We had a problem with the geology department because all of the students were applying to us would pass with flying colors and about two thirds of the geologists had to be turned down by admissions. And the geology department wasn’t happy about that at all.
I’m sure not. And of course you did have separate admissions all the way through for Lamont versus the geology department.
No. No. It all came through the geology department.
Oh it all came through geology then.
That’s why it was a problem.
Yes, I’d like to hear more about how that worked in terms of who made the review of the candidates who were particularly interested in —
Well, all the applications for graduate studies came to the geology department. And there was always at least one of the Lamont professors on the admissions committee. And he never had any problem because all of our, almost all of our applicants qualified and only about a third of the geology applicants qualified. And it was always embarrassing to be at the committee meetings that we were saying, well we’ll take this graduate student, this. Because we had no problem getting all the students we wanted and they didn’t.
When students applied to the Ph.D. program, did they specify that they wanted geophysics Lamont or did it go that level of specificity?
Well they would apply as the area of their specialization.
That’s what I was asking.
With us as geophysicists or structural geologists or what have you was their principal interest.
Right. Were there ever years in which the majority of the committee simply tried to give more fellowships and more space to geologists coming, the prospective graduates in more traditional fields. Was that a tension?
The biggest tension we had was the geology department. By and large we had very little problem with them. But our biggest problem was every once in a while they would have a financial problem of supporting some graduate student on some project say in the west. And they would turn around and say, well Lamont has lots of money. Why don’t you give us the three hundred dollars we need to get this guy out west so that he can do his research program. Well, that’s a nice idea, but you can’t do that. You can’t take the money that’s given to you for going to sea and send somebody out west, you know. And that was the most contentious part of the whole thing. They thought, see they thought a two thousand dollar grant was a magnificent grant and we thought twenty thousand dollars was just barely making it — kind of thing. So our monetary scales were totally different. And they didn’t see why we couldn’t just give them a little bit off on the side.
And generally the funds that the geologists could apply to were less restrictive in terms of their use if it came from say the Penrose Fund or something. Is that a fair generalization?
I don’t think so. I think they were as restrictive as our sources of funding. You know, before you got funds from a Penrose you had to send them an application —
You had an application.
And you had to say what you were going to do with it. And frequently in a thing like the Penrose, they’d say well we can’t give you three thousand, but we can give two thousand. Can you use it? And I’ve never heard anyone say no.
No. Your point is very well taken. And I’m sure there wasn’t as much flexibility in such matters either. And indeed the main problem becomes the order of magnitude of difference.
Yes. And they couldn’t understand that our ships, well initially the Vema was three hundred dollars a day, when by the time I left Lamont it was up to around twelve hundred dollars a day to just operate the ship. That was before you put any science on it. And those numbers grow, you know, every day. When you add that up for a year, it’s a big number. And the geology department would look at that number and say wow. They got money to burn. Well we were scrounging all the time.
You said you were scrounging all the time.
We were always not underfunded but just barely enough funded that we had no leeway practically at all on anything.
You were mentioning about the numbers of graduate students rising. Do you remember how many more applied who were not admitted?
Well in the earliest days, when I was at Lamont, all the applicants were good people. Got great references and so forth. Later on some of them weren’t. And they didn’t get admitted. So that we were admitting somewhat above the fifty percent level when I was still there. I don’t know what they’re doing now.
Okay. It was about fifty percent. That’s good to know.
Yes. I’d say fifty percent were admitted. And some of the others that we turned down had records good enough to be admitted, but we just didn’t have any way to support them. And all the graduate students at that era expected support.
How many years of support would they have?
Well if you took them on, you would guarantee them to support them until they got their degree.
Do you know what the average was at that point? How many years it took say in the early sixties?
Well, four years was a pretty good average for a student. Now we had some that were staying there six and seven years that weren’t in any hurry to get out. They were happy with the status quo. And lots of times we had to goad them into getting their degree. Because they were enjoying the research and they were having fun and they had no particular dependents or anything and why change things. It’s great. Who’s in any hurry?
And that’s been a continuing issue.
Actually we got a kind of a bad reputation in the community at large because enough people stayed for such long periods that it was claimed that it was our, that we were preventing them from getting out on time. Well in the sense that — maybe we were preventing them in the sense that we kept sending them on cruises and so they never quite finished their thesis or something. But they were willing victims shall we say.
Where were those criticisms coming from?
The other institutions that were essentially our competitors.
Such as Woods Hole, Scripps.
Such as Woods Hole, Scripps and Miami, Texas A & M and so on. They were all, well when I went to the University of Texas, the guy in charge of our department said, we’re not going to let you destroy the Geology Department here at the University of Texas like you did up at Lamont.
That was one of the first —
That’s one of the first things he said to me.
Doesn’t set relationships off on a terribly positive note.
It doesn’t set things in a very good light at all.
And this you mean in 1972 rather than that first approach that Texas, well Texas A & M.
Yes. Well the Texas A & M approach was a — I still don’t see any way that it could’ve worked.
How did that actually come about? Was that Ewing or was it raised by Texas?
No it was raised by Texas A & M. They came to Ewing and said we want to have a department like yours. We want you to all come down and join Texas A & M. We’ll build you buildings and get you ships and we’ll do whatever we need to to get you to come down. And Ewing and I, they talked about Ewing and I, and we said that’s crazy. We can’t leave here. We were at that time negotiating for the Doherty funds. And in any case, we said we really can’t see puffing up stakes with everything that’s running and start over again with nothing running. And even though we have — you would provide everything. So they said all right, that’s reasonable. Why don’t you come down and start another division down in Texas A & M. You have a division at Columbia and you have a division at Texas A & M. And we said, well, how would that work for the professors? Well, you’d take say half of the professors would stay at Columbia this year and half of them would go to Texas A & M. And next year a different half and the next year a different half. And we said, how can you play that kind of a game? The people have to uproot their families, got to buy houses and sell houses. It just doesn’t sound reasonable. They eventually never came up with anything that sounded like we could possibly take it until we finally, they finally quit trying to come up with a solution is what it boiled down to.
What level was it coming from at Texas A & M? I gather it had the support of all the way up.
It was right from the president.
Was the president who had stimulated it and then told —?
I don’t know whether he stimulated it, but he was the one behind all the offers. And his gopher was the guy who brought the offers to us and tried to convince us to — well, he wasn’t really a gopher; he was an administrative assistant type supposedly. But that amounted to the president’s gopher.
Who was the president then?
I don’t remember. I don’t remember. And I don’t know who it was at A & M decided that they wanted us to come. It was interesting when we went to the University of Texas at Galveston, it was the same gopher that gave us the offer from the University of Texas at Austin.
He had switched in the meantime.
He had switched from A & M to University of Texas.
That truly is a very interesting further development. We need to cover that in detail the closer we get to the latter 1960s. What we have passed over — there’s one question that I was just particularly interested in. You had at Columbia during that time while Grayson Kirk remained at president, Jacques Barzun who had been writing in essence about the problems of science. I just wonder what you remember of contacts with him, familiarity with —
Very minor. We had very little contact with him and we didn’t think much of what he was writing either.
Yes. I’ve seen some of the writings of memos that Ewing wrote for instance that he was extremely concerned about what Barzun had been writing. And it was around the same period of time that he had published Science, the Glorious Entertainment. How did people react in other science departments? Was this a sign, was it perceived as a sign of that the university was no longer embracing the sciences or did this seem to be one person’s views more of an anti-science —?
I think more like the latter. Most of us figured he can’t affect us anyhow.
He didn’t really seem to —
He doesn’t matter. Why bother with him?
Do you remember any discussions with Grayson Kirk? Did he talk about what Barzun was writing?
He didn’t with me. If he did with Ewing, it was never when I was present. And I was present most of the time when Ewing met them. Unless he — they met on a social level on a couple of occasions when I was not included. And I don’t know what they talked about at those affairs. Ewing never reported to me that Grayson said this or Grayson thought that or anything.
One thing I’m curious about is just in keeping the chronology straight, did your sabbatical in ‘63 occur after you had been involved in the search for the Thresher?
So then we probably should talk about your involvement in the Glomar Explorer search. Glomar Challenger.
Glomar Challenger drilling. That was several years later. That was ‘69.
The drilling itself was, but the — I beg your pardon. I shouldn’t have said Glomar Challenger. I meant the Conrad search.
Oh the Conrad search for the Thresher. Well that came up at the time of the AGU meeting which would have been late April at that time. It was always late April in Washington or the first thing in May in Washington was the AGU meeting. And it was during the AGU meeting that the Thresher got lost. And we were various people on the east coast were pulled out of the AGU meeting to meet with ONR to ask what help we could give.
And you were one of the ones.
I was one of the ones hauled out.
Who else was in the group?
Well the Woods Holes people were there and the people from NRL. There was another group but I don’t remember who they are now.
Well, the people in ONR got, well, it was kind of a bad time in a way because they called us out of the AGU meeting. And they said, now look, the Navy’s been supporting you guys for umpteen thousand years and now the Navy needs your help. Aren’t you going to help them? Well, what can you say, but yes, we’re going to help. And then the next statement they made is well, how much money do you have left in your ONR contracts? Well, this was, we’re talking about Feenan Jennings and Art Maxwell —
Who were making these statements.
— asking us about this. And we said, do you mean in our contracts with you or with other divisions of ONR or what? And they said, well, all of ONR contracts. And we all made an investigation and returned with an answer that we had umpteen thousand dollars left in our contracts. They said all right, use any of that you have to for the Thresher search. We’ll replenish it when you use it up in the due course. We haven’t time to deal with new contracts. So don’t worry about what you ask for or’ doing the work that you were supposed to do for us, just use the money on the Thresher search. So we did and they never did replenish it.
Is that right? So you simply lost.
We simply lost. Well we used the money on the Thresher search and they paid, they allowed us to pay the people. But none of our research was being done. The ships weren’t active on the research and there’s no data coming in. We didn’t have to fire any people or anything like that, but —
Given that this occurred in late April, early May, you’re talking to the end of the fiscal year.
Well, no, it was later. Because our contracts were renewed two or three months after the fiscal year normally because they have to have some time after they get their money before they give it to us. So as I remember it, our money was renewed in January at that time.
So that was over a half a year’s amount of research.
To a large part. We didn’t spend all the money we had on the Thresher search, but we sure spent a lot. We loaded everything we thought that could possibly be needed on the Thresher search on the deck of the Conrad and sailed.
How much do you — two things come right to mind. One is how did that affect you given that people like Art Maxwell and Feenan Jennings, realizing as it became clear that you wouldn’t get reimbursed?
Well, we went back to them and said now we’re ready for reimbursement and they said, well the time’s gone by and you can’t recover the time, they don’t need the money for running the ship, so why reimburse you?
Just go into the next contract.
Just renew for the new contract. [Interruption to speak to Mrs. Worzel.] As I say, we loaded everything on the Conrad and one of the problems was in the location with navigation. This was before satellites. And so we decided that the only way that made sense to navigate was to put radar transceivers on buoys at fixed locations. And so we bought three radar transceivers for buoys. No, I guess we bought four. We must have. And we put three buoys out in the area and they had to be taut-moored buoys. Now a taut moored buoy has got an elastic member in the mooring cable so that it continually puts a strain, a downward strain on the buoy so that the buoy is trying to make the tether as short as possible all the time. And that makes the buoy come back to very close to the same.
As close to vertical as —
As close to vertical as you can get. And we were able up there to get the buoys to stay within, probably a tenth of a mile of the same spot all the time. So that radar navigation was quite reasonable. And the problem we ran into quickly was Woods Hole ship was there, the NRL ship was there, another Navy ship was there, and we were there. So there were four ships operating there and the fog dropped in and stayed in for a week. And all of us were using our radar for navigation and couldn’t use it to detect the other ships at the same time we were navigating. Because we had to navigate minute by minute. You couldn’t leave off.
So if fewer ships were there or the ‘visibility were much better, you would have had [cross talk].
Well, let’s put it this way. It was a hair-raising time to have four ships operating within a mile of each other with no radar and no visibility.
Given that we have just about run out of time for today, maybe this is a good point to end. We’ll resume with the development of the Thresher story as you want to carry it when we pick up the story again for tomorrow. Thank you very much for this long session today.