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 John Sindt by Ron Doel on 1995 December 22, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/6916
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
Family background and upbringing in northern New Jersey, including recollections of high school; involvement in horse shows and time spent as farrier; community college studies; gains experience in tool and dye industry and high precision work. Joins Lamont Geological Observatory machine shop, early 1960s; impressions of Angelo Ludas and machine shop operations; recollections of machine shop work for seismology and marine geophysics; effects of late 1960s funding cuts on machine shop and revised methods of instrument development; experiences on board Lamont research ships Vema and Conrad; recollections of Maurice Ewing, Henry Kohler, and Allen Jorgensen; recollections of air gun development at Lamont; impressions of work environment at machine shop from late 1960s through 1990s. Also mentioned are: Ivars R. Bitte, Bruce Bolt, George Bryan, William A. Cassidy, Steve Eittreim, Keith Evans, John Ewing, Nicholas Ludas, John Kuo, Walter Pitman ill, William B. Ryan, Manik Talwani.
Now I know that you were born on October fifth in 1940 in Englewood, New Jersey, but I don't know about your parents. Who were they and what did they do?
My parents. My mother was born in Scotland and she came over in around 1918.
So right at the end of the World War I?
Right at the end of World War I. My grandfather, her father, had preceded them in 1914 I believe. It was 1914 when he came over. And the war separated them for a few years.
What was your mom's name?
Mary. Her maiden name Taylor.
Okay. And was your father already in this country or did he?
My father was in this country, yes. His father, I believe was born in Germany, although much of my father's past history is not really known. One grandmother was from Ireland and the rest we really don't know.
That's the case I think in a lot of families.
Oh yes, yes.
How did your parents meet?
That I really don't know. I know my mother was living in Orangeburg at the time and working at a place in Orangeburg by the name of Bellands, they used to make an anti-acid type of medication.
What was your father doing when around the time that he and your mother met?
My father was an elevator mechanic for most of his career. In his later years he worked as a maintenance, electrical maintenance, for a book manufacturing plant. When they actually met, I really don't know what he was doing. I know they tried farming for a little while with his sister and her husband and that didn't work out.
And that was up in this area?
This was down in Washington, New Jersey, where the farm was. And I believe after that is when he went to work in New York City and that was I believe with the FVF Machine Works as an elevator repair man.
How big was your family when you grew up? Did you have brothers and sisters?
I have a brother and a sister. My brother lives in the area, Stone Ridge, New York, about eighty miles from here. And my sister lives in Calgary.
The Canadian Calgary?
Okay. For the record, what was your father's name?
Howard. And we grew up in Blauvelt, which is a neighboring town, in an extended household. Both my grandparents on my mother's side lived there and one aunt.
Was that where you ended up going to first in a real school, as well in Blauvelt?
Yes. And when I went to school, let's see I started in 1946. It was a three-room schoolhouse up on Western Highway for eight grades.
Is that right? And you went through all eight grades there?
Yes I did. When I was in sixth grade, there was only three of us in the class and we used to sit around a little round table for our lessons.
That's very interesting.
Yes. And then the Parkway and the Thruway came in pretty much at the same time in the, mid-'50s I would say they were sort of completed, in that area, and that just opened the whole area up to development.
Right. So during your teen age years then you saw the character of the town beginning to change.
Oh absolutely. Yes. When I was growing up there, it was a farming community, Handweark and Van Houten's did a lot of dairy. Van Houten's were dairy farmers and Handweark was a quite a big tomato and corn producer or farmer.
You mentioned going through the three room school all the way up until the eighth grade. When you think back was there anything that was particularly memorable about that kind of schooling experience?
Oh I don't know. I guess maybe if I had gone to that kind of a school and then went to a much bigger one, well I did in ninth grade, we went to high school. And we had a pick of it was either Nyack or Pearl River, Clarkstown, Haverstraw or at that time Piermont. Piermont later became Tappan Zee. And that was a big change. But it was a real small town and everybody kind of knew everybody. It was a very good experience. I really enjoyed when I look back on my growing up.
It sounds like there was a real sense of community in the town.
Yes, sure when it was — I forget what the population was. It was only a few hundred though when I was back in grade school.
How big did it become by the time you finished high school?
Oh, that I really don't know.
But you got to see a major.
Thousands, yes, sure. And some of the things I remember were just great quality of life — in the spring towards June when things were warming up we used to have — the Hackensack Creek wound down through there and that's where I learned to swim. And it was just one of those things where people didn't have pools in their backyard. After school it was down to the creek for a swim when it was hot. It was really nice, nice fresh water. It was, oh half a dozen different swimming holes we used to go to but one was in a place that had like sand pits, so it had almost like a little beach there. It was great. None of that any more. All kinds of water around from the water company but you can't swim there.
That's right. Were you active in sports?
Yes. I played softball back in grade school and little bit of soccer. Back, let's see, when I was around eleven years old, so that would've been around sixth grade, I started riding horses then a bit. My sister who was older than I used to ride and she would bring the horse up to the house at times and give my brother and I a ride. Well there was a friend of mine who lived down the street whose aunt owned a stable over in West Nyack. And he used to go over and muck out stalls on the weekend and then he would get a lesson over there. And so I said to him, do you need any help doing that? Could you use somebody else? So he said, well, he'll ask his aunt. And as it was, it was fine. So I used to go over on weekends to this stable called Glen Artney Farms in West Nyack and we would muck out the stalls and take care of the horses and tack them up for other people to ride that were paying for lessons and then at the end of the day we would get a lesson for the work we had done.
That was your compensation.
Yes. And that's where I began riding and I probably took, well I did take that further than any other sport. I competed then in small horse shows and finally I owned some horses myself at one time. And then I was in partners with a fellow by the name of Dan [Daniel] Bull up in Suffern, New York, on some horses and we showed all over the east coast and took a few of them down on the Florida circuit one year. And there I competed against some of the best in the country and members of the United States Olympic Team and won a couple of classes here and there. So I did pretty good.
That is good. Roughly when was all that occurring? Was that in the sixties or earlier?
Oh this went from, when I first started riding was, would've been around 1951 or ‘52 and by the time I finished competing it was about 1970, '71.
So you kept at that for a good long time.
Oh yes. Yes.
That's very interesting. Were there other friends who had the same interest? Were there a group interested in riding or did you find that you were pretty uniquely interested?
Yes, kind of uniquely interested. As I got older of course people went their own ways and I just met other people that enjoyed the horses, especially this fellow Dan Bull that I was in partners with for about seven years. And that's when I took it as far as I was ever going to take it.
That's very interesting. Was that full time at any point or did you do that?
Yes it was. Actually on the riding — we had a very, very slow time here at one time and I went on to what they called I believe full part-time employment. Where you have to work at least twenty-five hours a week to maintain your benefits and I did that and then spent a whole lot more time with the horses. And then at one point, I think it was 1971 after I had gotten back, I was working on one of the ships for I remember, a month. And I wanted to try a business of my own. So I knew a farrier in the area and I apprenticed myself to him for on a part-time basis for a couple of years and then I left here for about, it was about a years’ time. And I worked about a half year full time with him and then worked for myself shoeing horses and just never really got to like it as much as the work I'd been doing here and had the opportunity to come back and I did.
You found it just not as satisfying or?
Yes. And I'm also probably a little bit small for a black smith. I would go home with an aching back many, many days.
I hear you.
Under the best of conditions it could be a very nice job but under many conditions it was a real tough job.
I could appreciate that. Did you have any favorite subjects in school when you look back on it now? Either in junior high school or high school?
Actually in the high school that I went to we had a choice of various curriculums and I chose the industrial arts program and that's what I really enjoyed most back in school was the wood and the metal shop.
Now that was something you likely didn't have much exposure to in the much smaller schoolhouse in Blauvelt?
Oh absolutely none, but my father was a very, very clever mechanic and very creative person that way. I mean he could always make do with whatever he had and so I learned a lot of things.
That's what I was going to ask. When you mentioned he was an elevator mechanic for a time, did he ever take you out with him when he would go out on his rounds?
Only a couple of times, yes. But I did get a look at it anyway.
You got a sense of what he did and did he talk about that a lot when he came home? What he did?
No, not really. But his work was very important to him. When we were growing up, money was also kind of tight, so he had another job in the evenings. He tended bar for a number of years. So many times in the evenings he wasn't home till late at night.
What sort of things did you do together? How did you come to understand his abilities in mechanics?
Oh well he was a self-sufficient person at home on weekends and in evenings when he didn't work. He didn't work you know every week night. Anything that had to be repaired around the house or just maintained or the car that we had. Which the first one I can remember being a 1933 Plymouth. He was the one that did it.
Did you spend a lot of time on that car too?
Oh, watching. You know I was so young then that that was a watching era. But when I got into my teens and I just wasn't afraid to tackle things.
You did a lot of your own engine work.
Oh yes. And my brother he used to race cars and build race cars back when we lived in Blauvelt. So he was a couple of years older than I and, of course, I learned a lot from him.
I'm sure. Did you have as you went through high school, a sense of what you thought might be a satisfying or fun career?
Well actually. [Interruption]
It sounds like there's a cat that lives over here.
Well, there is a cat. He adopted us over, well a couple of years ago. So we just want to make sure that he has food and water.
Sort of the informal Lamont mascot?
What's his or her name?
Well, we call him VC as in Vapor Cat because he used to spit at us all the time when he first came here. He was a cat that must have grown up with people and then either ran away or was turned out. You know dropped him off and then went feral again because he was very, very scared of us as I said before but after he did start to adopt to us and we fed him a bit, he became very, very friendly and a real feral cat won't get like that way. Now he doesn't even like to go outside.
You've been adopted is right. You were saying a moment ago or I had asked you a moment ago about what you were thinking about to do after high school?
Oh, okay. Yes that's kind of amazing when I think back too because when I was back in high school, I thought about being a blacksmith. Because I was always fascinated by the farriers that came to the barns that I had worked at and the work itself.
But you hadn't apprenticed at that point, did you?
No, no. That wasn't.
It was a more casual acquaintance seeing what was going on?
How was it that you didn't do that immediately after high school?
I think at that time when I first got out of high school I wasn't doing anything with the horses. It might have been a year or two when they just sort of disappeared for a little while.
That happens in high school years a lot.
Yes. Yes. And the first year out of high school I just was sort of floundering. I didn't know what I was going to do and so the first job I took was actually a job at a plant up in West Nyack called Grant Pulley and Hardware. They made sliding hardware. That was my first job out of high school, and that lasted a number of months anyway. Maybe even around a year or so. And then some of my friends were going out to Arizona. One of the fellows was going to college out there and he'd asked if I wanted to go out and live out there for a while. And so I said, why not? And so I hopped in my car and —
Interesting. Did you graduate in '58 by the way, I forgot.
Yes, I did.
Yes. And then out to Arizona I went and I think I worked in a garage out there for a number of months. And not making very much headway at anything and I just sort of got tired of living as I was living and came back home. And then…
Did you like being in the Southwest? Was that the first time or had you traveled before?
That was the first time, yes. And then when I got back from there, the community college in Pomona had opened and again, not really knowing what I wanted to get into, I went to the community college. That was in 1959.
Okay. What were your impressions of the place when you got there? Was it what you thought it might be?
I had no idea what college was going to be like. I never thought about going when I was in high school and never visited one. So I just went.
But yet you're going back very quickly. It's only a year after you'd gotten out from high school.
So what did you take? What did you think about taking when you went there?
Well, I started taking some business courses, probably because I didn't know what else to take, and hadn't prepared myself in mathematics for college entrance in high school. So I took some of the easier courses that would've been there for me. And I think I stayed in the community college for a year and a half and then I switched my curriculum and started taking some social sciences and at the end of two years I never completed enough credits in one particular thing to graduate and I just knew that what I was doing wasn't for me. So, I left and went to work as an apprentice tool maker for a shop over in Pearl River called Orapoint. We used to make cold heading dies.
Cold heading dies?
For making screws and bolts. Fasteners. They got the name Orapoint because he used to also make these burrs that dentists used.
Oh, okay, yes. So that was one of the main areas of the business or was that?
By then they had actually dropped that line and were concentrating on dies for the screw industry.
Okay. Before I return to that job, I'm curious what was it that got you interested in the social sciences when you had taken the courses in those areas? Do you recall what you?
Thinking back then, I don't know. I knew business wasn't for me. And I didn't know anything about the social sciences so I said well maybe I'll take a course or two and see what it's about.
Part a search to find your place?
Yes. That makes sense. Were there any teachers that you found particularly influential or helpful in the community college?
I remember a man that I had and I can't think of his name now. Oh what course was it? It was sort of in the later years there. Sociology, I believe it was and it was a teacher that was doing a course and he was from the Nyack College at the time I believe. And he was just a very good teacher. He was one of these people that were very motivating and you wanted to work for him. But not being particularly interested in these courses that I took at the time, I never got as deeply involved in the work there that I should have.
Should's a hard word perhaps to apply as we look back. One thing that strikes me as you say this is that this is in the late 1950s. It's just about the time that Sputnik had gone up. In fact that would have just before you ended high school.
This was, right, 1958 just before I ended high school and that really surprised everybody.
What do you recall from hearing that announcement? Do you remember where you were?
Actually no. No, I don't remember. I believe I was in school that day. And we talked about it. But it didn't have the, nearly the profound effect that had happened when John Kennedy was assassinated.
Many of us from those generations who were in school or out from it early on, can remember precisely where we were for Kennedy's assassination but not as readily for Sputnik. I'm curious in a general sort of way did you have an interest in science at the time that you were in high school? Was it an area that you paid much?
Not particularly, no. My high school years were a little bit lost. I wasn't influenced probably as much as maybe I would like to have been when I think back on it. And I kind of floundered around and wasted a lot of time in high school.
Given your father's background and your own interest at the time, do you remember reading things like Popular Mechanics?
Oh yes, I remember Popular Mechanics was a magazine that certainly was around: Popular Science and Popular Mechanics.
Was that something you got at home as a subscription or did you read it at school or elsewhere?
I think it was at school, in the library.
Right, OK. You were mentioning that you had gone to Orapoint after you had left the community college —
How long did you stay in — employed there?
I think I was at Orapoint for about — maybe two years.
And I'm curious as to what it was on a day to day basis for you there? Do you — If you need to pick that up —
I don't think there's anyone there — maybe I should just grab that. [Interruption]
We're resuming after an interruption. Let me just double check to make sure the recording is still working well. I think I had just started to ask you about Orapoint —
The sort of work you were doing day to day — This was an apprenticeship as it was organized, did you say or —
Yes, it probably wasn't as a formal a apprenticeship as some companies have but in fact I was considered to be an apprentice tool and dye maker.
What did that entail? On a practical way.
On a practical way it started with polishing dyes putting little radiuses on them. And then some of the more simple lath work turning — rough turning things before they were, maybe stress relieved and then finished machined. So, it was an area where I was starting to learn precision work and production work. And them going hand in hand.
The precision was new as far as your experience to that time?
Yes. Except for very very lightly in high school making things. Again the industrial arts program wasn't like doing the machine shop BOCES [Board of Cooperative Educational Services] back then that I didn't do. So it was. Yes, it was the first, that I really got into precision work.
How many other people were working with you in your section? If that's a fair way to put it.
Well, it was a fairly small shop and it was open and it was probably, I'd say about twenty people in the building. It was just one big open shop with lots of lanes, a couple of milling machines, a grinder.
Were there others who began at roughly the same time as you did?
No. That was the only position that was open at the time.
How did that work? How long did you stay?
I think I was there between one and two years. And I found myself not learning as much as I wanted to. In many parts of industry they of course have to make money. They want you to learn but they also want to make money so they just can't take care of you like going to school or something. And I just found that I wasn't learning as much as I wanted to, so I sort of adopted this philosophy that I would move around different shops and of course they have to teach you what they're doing so you learn more in a shorter time than when you first get to a place. Like from Orapoint that I went to a couple of over in Warwick, called Marscota Precision.
That inevitably takes courage though to formulate a long range program like that saying I want to learn by going to different places.
Well, I wasn't living on my own back then. I could stay at home. So I never had the pressure of having to provide a roof over my head. It was always there even if the income wasn't coming in.
That certainly helps.
Yes and there was food on the table. So I could really do anything I wanted to and that was a big help. My parents really supported me well that way.
Did either of your parents give suggestions as to what they thought or directions that they wanted you to go in?
Or did they let you find your own way?
They did, yes. They supported us but we found our own way.
When you were over at Muscota, what was it that you were doing that was different from when you were at Orapoint?
Well the work was a lot different. In Orapoint we were doing just die work, cold dies. And this little shop over in Warwick did a lot of subcontracting for I believe the Bendix Corporation. So we started getting into many different shapes of things.
What kind of programs? Bendix of course was involved in a great many contract activities by then. The space program, in the defense areas. Do you remember what it was that particularly that was involved?
No. Over there most of the work we would get would be very short run things that they didn't want to do themselves, because doing one or two or three of a kind is not a very efficient way to do things. So when you're with a big company I guess it's more difficult for them to do things like that so they subcontract that out to jobbing shops. So I remember doing some valve parts for submarines and it was many different devices that I didn't even know what they were. There was all different materials too: aluminum and brass and stainless.
You were learning more mainly the tools and the techniques of the materials as well in taking on that position? How satisfied did you feel there? Or how long did you stay at this firm?
Well I was with them I think maybe about a half a year and I went in, I believe it was a Saturday morning. No, it was Monday morning. I had worked that Saturday half a day.
I guess that was standard at the time or was that considered overtime?
That was a little bit of overtime. And I put my tools away and went home and came back Monday and I came up to the door and there was a lock on the door and I looked through the window and all the machines are gone, my tool box is gone, everything's gone out of the building.
That must have been a shock.
Of course those were your personal tools as well.
They were operating the shop I imagine. They had probably bought the tools on credit. I think they had come from, a place we used to use here, for supplies. Clyde Machinery. And they probably weren't making their payments and they just foreclosed on them and the company came in and took their machinery back in a hurry.
But also took other property back as well.
Well not really. My tool box, the owner of the place took my box and took it to his home, and then I went over there and pick it up. And he apologized for not being able to say anything because I guess maybe he didn't know himself that they were going to come in and do that. But he was probably far behind on the payments and that was a surprise though.
I can imagine. That's probably an understatement. What options did that leave you with then? Or at least what did you think to do?
Is this now around '61? I'm trying to keep the chronology going. It's in the early '60s. It was '63 that you came here to Lamont, correct?
Yes. This probably would've been '62, around '62. And then from there I went to a place right down from my home, that recently opened where they make sputtering equipment. Oh I'm trying to think of the name now. It's now owned by SONY.
If it doesn't come to you that's the sort of thing that can be added to the transcript later.
Yes. Anyway I went to work for a company that just had relocated from, I believe they were in Yonkers, New York, and moved up to Orangeburg. And I went to work for them.
And what kind of outfit was it?
They made, I believe, it was high vacuum equipment. And what they had invented and were designing was a sputtering machine for putting carbide surfaces on things and different coatings.
That sounds different again from the experience that you had had in the past jobs? Or had you had some exposure to this?
Well there were two shops actually I learned quite a bit in before coming here that certainly applied in the precision type work, because although they're building this specialized equipment, the way you go about making parts for them can be quite similar. So they had lots of lathes and milling machines and stuff there. And they were doing a lot of their own production and prototype work there. And so I went to work there. And actually didn't stay there very long. I did some machine work and they seemed to be pushing me towards assembling the machinery which I wasn't that interested in doing. And it was right along that time that I had talked to somebody I believe it might have been a guy by the name of Bob [Robert] Skinner who used to work for the buildings and grounds department down here. And he mentioned Lamont and they had a machine shop down there.
Had you heard of Lamont before?
Actually I hadn't. And he gave me Angelo's [Ludas] name and I came down and put an application in. I believe it was with Mary Burton. And then I talked to Angelo and told him my experiences and I think he asked me if I minded getting dirty and I said I didn't. (laughs) And he said okay you can start whenever. I think it was a couple of days after I saw him.
So you knew immediately that first day that you were down here that you had a job?
Alright. I suppose back then that wasn't that an uncommon experience or was it one?
No, that was pretty much the way you started.
I'm very curious what your first impressions were both of Lamont when you came here and Angelo Ludas as a person?
Ah! Well, Lamont. I really didn't know much about the sciences they were in at all and I wasn't in any other building so just the machine shop.
You were just in the machine shop?
That's all. Yes.
Given, when you actually arrived at Lamont, this is actually very fortunate. This is a map that was prepared back in '62 or '63. I'm wondering how familiar things look on it. The machine shop of course is indicated here in its original location.
Which is now the tree ring lab.
Yes and there was no entrance to 9W, let's see it would have been —
It would have come off down, pointing right now to the bottom right corner of the map in here with the interview. I'll see if we can't put a copy of the map in. So when you came in you went directly to the old machine shop that first day.
Yes, I came up the hill there and probably parked my car on this triangle and just went in the building.
Did you have an impression that this place was very different from where you had worked or did this part of the operation seem more or less familiar?
This was a little different in that in that small building for a machine shop, there was a tremendous amount of equipment that I had never worked on before. Some of the big engine lathes that we have here today, the goring mill. And it was just amazing how everything was squeezed in that little building. And at that time there were twenty-two or twenty-three people working in the shop. And three to four on one of the ships. There would have been the Conrad, Vema, had sort of its’ own crew, but three people from the machine shop — The boring crew was hired through the machine shop and an air gunner.
So, they were all hired through the machine shop?
At one time, when there again was a lot of money in this industry if you want to put it that way. We used to repair — We used to build, repair all the equipment — the scientific equipment on the ship and operate the equipment. Coring was the big thing then.
That was done by a grant that was in the sciences. It wasn't done through maritime like they do now.
Right. You're exactly right. The funding systems have changed drastically through — over the years.
Oh drastically, yes.
And you were saying when you came in you met Angelo? He was one of the persons that you met on the first day you were here?
What were your impressions of him as a person, as a man?
Energetic. I'm trying to think of a word now — it just a — a leader. The kind of a person that knew what he was doing and knew what he wanted.
It sounds like you're describing a forceful person.
A forceful person would be another good word. As I came to know him through the years a very generous person. If he liked you, he'd do anything for you. If he didn't like you, you might as well find another job somewhere else (laughs) because you weren't going to get anywhere. He had his idiosyncrasies but he was always a fair person.
It's clear given that you are here now, that he liked you?
Let me just pause to —
You were saying a moment ago on the other side impressions of him. You'd had by that point quite a bit of experience in a number of different shops. Did you have the impression that, given the kind of work done here at Lamont, that Angelo had different kinds of skills and training than what was common in the other shops? Was that something that struck you as a difference or not?
I probably wouldn't come to realize that until I had started working and saw what was going on. But here after starting, the work was so varied compared to other shops. And we did everything from precision instrument work on fairly exotic materials to just steel fabricating and real grunt work.
But given the sorts of thing that you were indicating that you were looking for in your earlier employment, it sounds that this might have been a good match for you and your sense of what you wanted. Was it? Did you feel that when you first started?
Oh yes. Because first of all the work had turned out to be very, very varied and that's nice. And Angelo, once he had confidence in you, I mean you had pretty much complete autonomy on a job too to go about it any way you wanted you know as long as it got done.
Yes. In your case, how long did it take before you sensed that Angelo had full confidence in you?
That's a little bit tough to say because I probably wasn't given anything really challenging for oh a couple of years or so, but all the work that I was given, I just, I always enjoyed my work. So I went about it and I guess produced it pretty well and pretty fast and I know maybe five or six years down the line, I was having a lot of the tougher jobs thrown my way. And I know he'd always give them to me with confidence. He never asked me if I could do this. It was just here, you know, do this. This is what we need.
It sounds like it built up gradually.
For some people there might be a defining moment where someone realizes quite suddenly, uh huh, this makes me realize that —
No, this was a very gradual thing.
How well did you come to know him as a person in those early years?
Probably no more than people you get to know working with as acquaintances. We never socialized or anything like that so it was just on the job that I knew him. And it was in the later years, I would say, I had been here oh eight or ten years, not even moved to this building, when I was first invited with some other folks over to his house after we had partied here for the holidays. For a drink before we went home. But that's how I knew him. I never knew him any more intimately than that. Working and a little bit of partying afterwards.
Yes. He was married?
Yes. You met his wife when you went over that time you were describing?
I guess. Yes.
Did he have a big family? I honestly don't know much about his life or background at all.
Oh, yes. He had, let's see. He had a couple of daughters, two daughters I think. One, two, three, three sons. And one daughter I believe he lost to cancer and his wife died of cancer before he — And as far as I know the other three or four are still surviving. I see Nickey [Nicholas Ludas] once in a while. I worked with Nick here and his older brother, Harry [Ludas], worked a little bit here too. And occasionally saw them.
That's interesting. I didn't realize that. Did he talk much about his own background? Where he had been prior to the?
A little bit, not a great deal. But I know he was very proud to have been part of the Manhattan Project.
Did he talk much about that at all? What he was doing on the Manhattan Project?
Not to any great length except that he always used to kid that people there called him Flangelo because he used to make flanges. And then he said, but they weren't simple flanges, young man. They were very, very intricate flanges.
Yes, that puts it very clearly.
So he was connected then with the physics department primarily when he joined Columbia? Is that a fair way to put it?
I think so. I'm not sure of that.
Did he talk about how he first became involved with Maurice Ewing and Ewing's group when they were first out at Columbia itself?
He never talked to me about that.
Did he ever talk about whether it was a hard decision to leave the Morningside campus and his work, his shop there to come out here?
No. I never heard him mention that but I do recall him talking at times about leaving Lamont, having quite a good offer someplace else. And it was during one of the times that I guess in research you have your ups and your downs, where the funding, how the funding goes. And at this one time it was the funding was sort of low key, and things weren't looking too good. And then John Kennedy came into office and he I believe was responsible for — And it was Sputnik era for dumping a lot of money into the sciences and that's when things really took off again. But I remember him talking about times when he thought about leaving.
So this would have, to make sure this happened probably before Sputnik that? Or certainly or at least before the Kennedy administration and the growth of oceanography. And the funding that came in the 1960s?
Yes. Yes. And it was a very bad time here too in the late '60s when the funding started to dry up and we had some massive lay-offs here. We probably lost half our work force.
In the shop?
In one year, yes.
That's a lot.
And I know that really affected him. He was very sad about that. And that may have been a time when he had had an offer too and was thinking about something else but it never came about.
Did he decide against accepting the other offer or do you think it just was that the offer did not finally look very good?
I don't know that.
He never — Okay. I'm just curious if he had spoken about that. Did he feel responsible in a personal way for the welfare of the people here the shop? When you said about the massive lay-offs, it sounded as if this affected him?
Well I think it did personally in that he tried to do as much for his people as he could. He wanted to keep us all working and then the funding was drying up. And actually it had changed drastically then. And so sure I think it's just the fact knowing that it you have ten or twenty people working for you and you're going to have to lay ten people and they're going to have to find new jobs, it's got to be stressful. It was during — I think around 1966, '66 or '67, and I think that we had to be more responsible here for the money, for the spending that was going on. And in order to do that, they had changed their accounting system quite drastically. We used to be picked up on different contracts, the machinists. And you would be paid out of that contract for the year.
In other words, part of that contract would simply come in as a funding source here.
And then you would be able to draw on that as your needs came up. Is that a fair way to put it?
I think so. I don't know exactly how they worked it except that you were on a contract for the year.
And you felt unencumbered and it felt secure I gather was what was critical about that arrangement?
On yes. Sure. Yes. And then in nineteen, I think it was '66, they wanted to make the shop — [Interruption]. Okay, around 1966 they started a system here where we would be self-supporting and the work we did for the various projects, they would be charged on an hourly basis.
Who was the they who? Do you know who it was that made these changes?
I don't know who was responsible for this but I know Angelo had to deal with a person by the name of [?] Oberthal, I believe was his name. Was the accountant that was responsible for the system.
How did you and Angelo feel about it?
I don't know what Angelo's feelings were and mine immediately weren't — I didn't have much reaction to it at all. But it was very shortly thereafter that I knew we had made a mistake; that this type of a system, and we're still doing it today, I don't think is conducive to research and development.
That's an interesting comment. Can you tell me a little more about what you mean by that? What you're thinking of when you say that.
Well I think when you're charging somebody by the hour, at least I always feel, kind of pressured to produce. Always be producing for that time. And when you're doing a development project, there are many hours where you have to think of what to do. Try to come up with an idea. And, of course, as you're trying to come up with an idea, you're just building a bigger bill on and on and on. And some of the people that we worked for in the past were not too receptive to the length of time that things took. And so they were unhappy with us in some instances.
So that under the previous pre-1966 arrangement if something took time to develop, there wasn't a pressure put upon you because it wasn't budgeted in terms of hours?
That makes sense. What particular project was it, do you recall where you first started sensing the pressure coming down for?
Well it wasn't on my, or any work I was doing. But I remember a fellow that worked here by the name of Ray [Raymond] MacElroy (?) did a job for geochemistry and it was shortly after they went on the hourly accounting system. And I just heard that they got complaints about it right away, that it cost too much. Shouldn't have cost that much. And that was the start of it.
One wonders when you hear a phrase like it shouldn't have cost that much, how they were figuring their estimates of what an appropriate amount of hours of machine work would be? How was the dialogue at that point between the scientists and the people down here?
Probably depended a lot on the individuals. For the most part people that I worked with throughout my career here have always been pretty positive. I found them generally to be a very creative and good group of people to work with.
Who did you first come into contact with as you became familiar with Lamont from '63, '64?
John [T.F.] Quo was a person who I used to do quite a bit of work for.
What kind of work was it that he was doing at the time? What kind of instruments did he need?
Well this was work in seismology. I'm trying to think of some of the names but I never got very much into the sciences with him very much. It was just the instrument as he wanted it.
Right. What would he bring down when he wanted a particular kind of instrument developed?
Oh, gee, sometimes it'd be a sketch. I don't ever remember doing mechanical drawings for him to any degree. It would be just a sketch or something. And sometimes even a verbal idea.
How did you negotiate then? This is a very interesting issue of how you worked together with folks like that to actually develop an instrument.
Well if somebody came to you with a verbal idea, you might sketch something up. See if in fact that's what they're thinking of. Make sure you're along the same track. And then go from there.
To take that example, a sketch might then go back to John Quo who would then look at it and make further comments and suggestions that would come back to you.
How much back and forth would there be if there was such a thing as on average before you began building an instrument or a prototype?
That's a tough one to answer, but probably not much. A few sketches and you'd start cutting pieces if that's what it meant. And then there would be many changes as you went along.
But usually it would be modifying on the basic structure that was already emerging, and you really could afford to do that with the kind of instruments that you were building?
Yes, yes. Sometimes there was some major changes made but to me that was always part of development. You know when you're doing one of a kind and new things you're not going to be right all the time.
Oh, for sure. Can't expect to be, but as you say this is why it can become difficult and having excess pressure on it.
Yes, and when again you were picked up you know on an yearly basis, well you just licked your wounds and you started over again or whatever. Whereas now if you billed all this time and you're billing again, to me it just didn't work as well.
Were there any particular projects as you think back that this accounting system caused particular problems with?
No, not particularly. Not particularly for me. But I know some of the people that I worked for like — there was a young scientist here by the name of Keith Evans, and he was doing a lot of bore hole work back then. And he was developing some new instruments to go down in the wells and they were working with some German equipment, which would have been in metric, and some of his own stuff, so I was doing standard threads on that and then we're adapting to some commercial oil well type stuff too. So you had three different thread systems and adapters and what not to make, and of course this thing is evolving as we're going along and so you couldn't estimate it in the beginning. So I think what he said is, he just said we need three months of machine shop time. Well it turned out to be a lot more than that. But there was really no way of knowing. So I know he got green money or university funds to help him, complete this project. And I think that happened to a number of projects. And so I don't know what of kind of difficulties the scientists faced with that, but he was very understanding. He was over here a lot and he knew what it was taking to do things.
When you say green money, this was money that the university made available or Lamont made available to complete overruns?
Was it Lamont money?
I think that's the term that they use here when you get funds that are excess from maybe what your contract is that came in.
Okay. What did you find to be the most satisfying parts of the work in the early days here at Lamont?
Oh I think generally speaking, it even holds true today, just finishing things and seeing them there and knowing you've done a real good job and you can see the part, you can see it work. People are happy. You know you feel good about the job and yourself and everything. It's just very satisfying.
Would the scientists come back after a particularly successful use of one of your instruments and tell you in detail the sorts of things that happened?
On yes. Yes. And they would be very grateful because there were times that, especially if you went to the ship or before a cruise, where you really had to make things happen and we put in a lot more time than our normal work week. And they were very appreciative of that.
Was there anyone in particular or a group of people you're thinking of when you say that that you had?
Oh, Bill [William B.] Ryan was a person I always enjoyed working with. Keith Evans, could be sort of a difficult guy, but we got along fine. And he always had good ideas to do and kind of interesting work so he was fun. The bore hole gang which I'm doing quite a bit of work for now. Good bunch to work for.
Were there certain groups, I'm thinking in terms of either the geochemists or the marine group at Lamont, who seemed to be much more actively interested in the instruments and came with ideas than others? Do any stand out that way, or when you think back, was it pretty uniform?
Well, back a number of years ago, I think all departments were building and developing a lot of their own instrumentation. That's been one of the big changes here. Whereas today, they're not. I'm not sure why that is but from what I understand the funding isn't available for that type of thing. And of course the sciences change. We went from a lot of mechanical sampling devices to a lot of electronics and now, of course, computers.
So more of the work then that is done in the development you feel is coming here now as opposed to being done in the individual units of Lamont?
Or do you mean it the other?
When different departments needed something in the very beginning and it was something that could be built, wasn't available, say, from an industry. It was all done here. Today we're doing very little instrumentation here. Probably the last couple of years only Bore-holers provided us with really fairly new instruments to build and we do a little bit and we've been doing some not real instruments. [Interruption]
We do a bit of work for the maritime group here but that's not really development work. That might be parts and modifications to the air guns and the compressor system that they use on the ship for putting their acoustic pulse in the water. At this point instrumentation is really low key around here. One of the independent engineers who was a terrific engineer, Ivars [R.] Bitte, has been kept fairly busy with some stuff and J. Arge (?) who was another one of the engineers. He's down in the Antarctic right now.
What is the bulk of the work now that it shifted away from instrumentation?
Some maintenance items on the ship. A few things that the labs need modified here. We get occasional stuff from chemistry and the seismology department here. And bore hole has been our big customer in the last, probably two years now.
I'm curious how much contact you had with the independent geophysical firms that were in the area? Marine Geophysical, of course, was close by.
Right. I didn't have very much. Some of the fellows that worked in the shop used to work for them too in the evenings. But at that time I was doing a lot with horses and at five o'clock I was out the door.
You were out. Right. Okay, that makes it clear. You mentioned that things would get very hectic around the time of a cruise when you had to have the instruments ready and then service the ship when it came in.
Were you ever involved in, were you ever on one of the cruises?
Which was the first one that you went on?
First cruise I did was in 1965. They had had some problems with their core crew and I think somebody was fired and I went out as a temporary. I was on, I think, three or four months before somebody came out to replace me and I went back in the shop from there.
So your role then on the ship had to do with the coring apparatus?
Actually I went out as an air gunner. They were just starting to use air guns back in that era too so I ran compressors and operated an air gun. And then assisted the core gang.
How did the air guns work on the whole? This was of course the replacement for using the explosives?
For the seismic work.
Right. Well what it amounted to was a valve. And in one part of the gun or device you would pump up say about two thousand pounds of air in this small area. And then you wanted to release that into the water all at once. And we had a device where we'd blow air in the other side of the piston that held this and it would just release it and then the air that you — Well there was a third chamber. There was air in there that got compressed and that would blow the piston back in the gun. And that was the first of them. I think back then they amounted to maybe somewhere around thirteen or seventeen cubic inches all told. For the guns we're using today, they're four hundred; some of them as much as a I think a thousand cubic inches.
Big difference. Yes.
Were those developed here or were those semi-commercial designs that you incorporated for the air guns?
The first of them were developed here. John [I.] Ewing, Roger Zomair (?) had a lot to do it, and a person by the name of Steve Chalminsky (?) who would later form the Bolt Corporation. Sindt and Bolt Corporation was the one that really got into the air guns on a commercial basis and supplied us with guns for years afterwards.
How long did it take before the air gun became commercial?
I don't have a very good feeling for that. I would have probably guessed, Steve was gone before I arrived here, only shortly before. So I would say in the mid-sixties they had been building their company and things were going very well for them.
Was Bolt specialized in the air gun business or did it cover a lot of?
I think that's what started them and they got into air hammers and stuff like that. But I believe it was the air gun that really was their business.
You mentioned John Ewing, of course the younger brother of the director here, Maurice Ewing. And you say he was very active in this development or what role did he play?
He was, I think, I'm not quite sure whether he had the original design for it or whether this was Steve's or how much Roger. I just don't know on that item. But I do know that he was certainly part of the group that worked on this.
When you think back, on which projects were you closest to in those years? I didn't mean to be asking you about developments that you hadn't been that close to.
Well I had built many different parts and pieces for the air guns but I never had a whole lot to do with the development of them. They pretty much had reached a point where they were being used as far as they had been developed. And then — [Interruption]
And we had got them working quite well. And at that point I think just sat on it and accepted you know what we had rather than developing more. This was also a time when we had got into the hourly type thing again too.
And that introduced pressures than not to tinker too much.
Yes. I think that might have had something to do with it. But anyway we sat on our idea and used it for quite a while while the industry was really forging ahead with much bigger and better guns. And it was around 1975, I think, '74 or '75, when we started getting into multi-channel work here and they needed the big air guns and we started getting the commercial.
Did you or anyone else here feel sometimes cheated out of the chance to do further development because of the way that the contracts were being handled? Was it a frustration that grew that you couldn't?
Oh I don't know if it was frustrating. It was just, a fact of life I think. We just did what we were asked of by the scientific community and as money got tighter and they had to be more accountable for their money. It's just less was asked of us.
Yes. That makes it clear.
Were there instruments that you really did have a much greater role in development from start to finish?
Myself, not really. I'm primarily, I was a seat of the pants engineer and a machinist. I used to build a lot of stuff that people wanted and would come up with the ideas from and I would contribute. But I never considered myself to be the type of engineer that say Jay or Ivars is that I just mentioned.
I was curious about from the earlier days, how quickly did you come to meet Ewing, Maurice Ewing?
Maurice. I met him on one of the times I was on the ship.
And that was the first time?
Well I had met him. He would come down to the Christmas party that we had at the shop every year and I would see him on the grounds but I never had you know contact with him to any degree. And the first that I was around him a lot was one of the legs I was on the ship. I believe it was from Barbados to Bermuda. We did a lot of coring with air guns back then.
How was he to work with?
He was high energy. Day and night.
Did you enjoy it when you were working with him?
Yes, to a point. He'd be right there working with you, but sometimes you know enough is enough. You'd go in fourteen, sixteen hour days, one on top of the other and it can get a little bit long at times. But he was always there so you know you were there too.
How did you enjoy being on the ship? Had you sailed much prior to the time going out?
No. First time I sailed was when I was over at Lamont. It's interesting. We got to many different ports that you normally wouldn't as a tourist. It's interesting to be at sea for a month at a time; out of contact with civilization for the most part. It would be very boring at times. It could be hectic at times when equipment was breaking down and you were looking for things to improvise with and get it back on line. It was a good experience. I enjoyed. I'm glad I did it.
Which vessel did you sail on? Was it the Vema or the Conrad?
Conrad mostly. I trained a person for operating the air guns one time. We just left New York and I was supposed to get off in Bermuda but we had problems and after a few days out we came back to New York and I got off back in New York because the person really knew enough to go on. So I only had a short cruise on Vema.
Okay, okay. Was that when Henry [C.] Kohler was captain at that time?
Yes he was.
What sort of person was Kohler?
Kohler was a tyrant. I didn't know him that well and didn't sail with him to really say much. So I'm pretty much saying what I know from other people that had been on the ship.
You didn't have any difficulties directly with him on that cruise?
No. No. But he ran the ship with an iron hand. He was lord and master.
Was it a real difference to serve on the Conrad compared to the Vema? I realize you didn't have as much time on Vema at all?
Yes, I think so. And a lot of sailing I did on Conrad, Captain Allen Jorgensen was master of the vessel then. And he was just, he was a terrific man. He was a leader and just a pleasure to be with all the time.
Do you remember what scientists sailed on those missions, the legs of the expeditions that you were on? I wonder if any of them were people that you felt either close to or that you knew fairly well?
Not really. I never got to know many of the scientists very well. But people like Bill Ryan. I sailed on his legs and Manik Talwani, John Ewing, Maurice Ewing, Steve Etram (?) I believe. Oh gee, there was just a number of them. Walter [C.] Pitman [III], George [M.] Bryan. That's probably just a handful. Some I don't even remember.
Because it didn't really make too much difference though. One time I was out. This was after the person I had been in the horse business with, we went our separate ways and I just needed a change so I got on the ship here and I was out for about seven months. That was a long stretch.
That sort of thing can be helpful in certain ways after changes.
Oh yes. Yes.
You weren't married at the time?
Let me just pause and we'll put in another tape.
One thing that many people comment on, on thinking about the early years of Lamont were the parties that were held in the machine shop, in part because they seemed to be among the best attended, and Maurice Ewing would come there when he wouldn't come to other parties. What was it about the machine shop parties that brought people?
I think with the machine shop and with Maurice Ewing was the fact that this is where your ideas could be made to happen. That was probably why the shop was so important to him. He needed equipment that wasn't available. And his ideas I guess were a scientist's ideas come to life there. And he felt that development was extremely important I guess.
Did he seem particularly close to Angelo?
I think he was very close to Angelo. A good relationship there.
I understand that even the afternoon coffee breaks or the teas would be particularly well attended? Was that still going on at the time?
Well we always had a morning and afternoon break, but it was mostly just the people that were in the shop, and occasionally any graduate students or any scientist who was working there at the time of course was always. They had a standard invitation to join us.
Did many do that?
Oh yes, sure. Because it was a pretty formal thing, the break, at ten o'clock and three. Unless you wanted just to stay out in the shop by yourself and work you came and had your coffee. Actually if you missed coffee time, you missed it, you didn't have it after that.
That was how Angelo was running the shop?
You know, he liked people to be on time for work in the morning and at five o'clock you left.
What time did you come in the morning?
When I first started, I think we worked from eight-thirty to either four-thirty or five with a half hour lunch. And then it was a number of years later where they went to the thirty-five hour week and the nine to five schedule.
How did it work when there are competing pressures? One is to run the shop and get it, as you say, closed by four-thirty or five and yet in a facility like this the pressure to get a lot of things done very quickly was also I'm sure at many points strong. How did you work out those kinds of issues?
Well of course he was running it then and he just ran it from eight-thirty to four-thirty and if it wasn't done it didn't get done. That was it though. We had a lot of people there then. You know put more horses on the job so to speak, whereas there are few of us. And I've taken a much different attitude for the most part. The people work here from nine to five. But at times when things have had to go, especially some of the Orion's cruises that have had to be mounted fairly quickly, jeez it was in early in the morning, work late at night, there have been weekends. So I never followed as strict regime as he did.
You've kept it much more flexible for things of this sort? Back in the earlier days under Angelo, how often would it be that you needed to work overtime when the Vema or the Conrad were coming in or you needed to get instrumentation on board?
I never remember working overtime when Angelo was here.
Yes, because we always had plenty of people back then. Until sort of at the end. But then maritime was taking over. Actually his last few years here, maritime had taken over many of the responsibilities that were his. So it changed.
When you look back, when did the change, the transition, start to occur?
Gee, I can't really date that. I don't think it happened again all at once.
Probably things were gradual. What time did things begin to really seem different from how they had been when you first arrived at Lamont in terms of, say just looking at when there no longer seemed to be as many people around?
Well that would have been after the layoffs of the late, very late, '60s and '70s.
How much did that seem to be tied to the student uprisings and the challenges to Columbia that were going on on the Morningside campus?
Well I guess that certainly affected the defense dollars that came in here or would come in in the future. It probably had a fairly profound effect. Even though I can't say specifically because I think it used to be years ago if there was a big contract in here — I believe TL4 was one — There was so much money in it that little things could be generated on its coat tails. Whereas that doesn't happen today.
You mention TL4. What was that?
I don't really know.
This was a budget line though that you could use that was large enough?
It was a contract I think that operated, oh they operated a lot of stuff. Ice islands and arctic works. I can't be specific about it because I don't know that much about it. I just kind of heard through the grapevine.
Were there any research programs that you found particularly interesting? Or that you, just by the nature of the work, came to learn most about?
No, not particularly. One of my fun jobs I did here was for a person by the name of Bill [William A] Cassidy. We built a gyrocopter here.
Is that right?
Yes, he was going to use it for observation in South America. He had a lot to do with the study of meteorites and he was going to look for —
He was going to search there on site.
Yes using this gyrocopter down in South America. So we got a Benson gyrocopter kit, engine and all. And I assembled that and made it run and they were never very successful with it. They had one person fly it. A person by the name of Scotty [?] McCleod who was a test pilot for Grumman at the time and he did get it off the ground. I think Bill tried it a couple of times. May have ended up with a broken wrist once. And after that I never heard much about it. In fact, it disappeared.
What was the problem with it? Was it under engineered for what the scientists needed?
I think they are also a very sensitive craft and you probably would be much better off maybe learning to fly before you tried to fly this thing on a fixed wing and be quite skillful at it.
A lot of tacit knowledge in knowing how to fly was critical and not all scientists I guess had that. That's an interesting point. When was that development, '70s, '80s?
I think this was late '60s.
That early? Did morale really come to suffer in the engineering and instrument shops here in the late '60s as the funding dropped off?
I guess it must have to some degree. Especially for the people that were probably going to be laid off. People, men older than myself, that had families and could almost see it coming and would be a much more serious condition than for a person like myself. I was fortunate enough not to have to worry about things like that.
How long did you continue to live at home?
I guess it was in the late '60s. Anyway I had built an apartment and moved in up where I had been in business with this fellow. That was when I moved out. That must have been in the very late '60s or '70s. Actually '60s would have been for sure.
There was a question that was on the tip of my tongue that literally just vanished. What I did want to ask you was simply whether you had felt threatened at any point in the '60s? Your own job. Did it seem that you might also be laid off?
Do you remember how, and I realize that you weren't looking actively for other work at that point, but those who were laid off from here in the late '60s, how was the market? Could people be absorbed quite quickly?
I think it was quite good. I remember one person went to Hawaii and ran a shop out there for one of the scientists that went there. Another went down to Stonybrook and ended up running a shop down there. And another person ended up being a company rep for somebody. There was a lot of opportunity around back then.
Did it make it hard to hire people for particular tasks at Lamont?
I don't think so.
So the market was flexible enough that you could bring people in?
We weren't hiring anybody back then.
You were laying people off.
We were letting people go.
Unfortunately. I was just wondering if when you think back on it there was any point that it got hard to bring in the kind of people that you wanted to at a time when you were hiring?
Ever since I've been here, we seem to be getting in the long run smaller and smaller, letting people go. So hiring has never been much of an issue here. I'm just trying to think. At times we've been busy for spurts. I was able to bring people back that had been here on a part-time basis at times. And I think I did hire one person on a full-time basis. That didn't work out and then by the time we got rid of him, there wasn't a need for bringing somebody else in.
How many people say from the late '60s into the '70s were here part time as opposed to full time?
Oh just a handful, two or three at a time.
Did you ever have contact with any, or a chance to visit, any of the other big oceanographic facilities in the country like Scripps or Woods Hole to compare the operations here with them?
Yes, a number of times. We used to bring our ships into Woods Hole and I would go up there to work on them. So I met various people up there and got to know some of the folks in the machine shop there.
How did their machine shop compare to here?
Oh, they had a good shop, a little bit different than ours. They do a bit more fabricating for their — they do a lot more of their own ship work. And they had an instrument shop which I really only walked through once. But they had a good facility and they have a good facility. It's right down on the ocean. A great place to have the ships.
It's somewhat unique here in that you've got much greater distance to go to get, not that much of course, but you still need to travel.
Well at one time they used to bring our ships in to Piermont, the dock there. So that wasn't so bad. And a lot of the work was done at small yards on Staten Island and Brooklyn. There were overhauls and refits. So that was a bit of a nuisance commuting down there to work at times. But the ship they have now draws too much. They can't bring it in here at Piermont.
How often would you have to go down to Staten Island when you were still dealing with the Vema?
At one time it was once a year. The ships used to come in and they would be refitted and then they'd be out pretty much for the year and then come back again. And they'd go through the yard period and they'd be in for about a month.
You've mentioned this already indirectly but did employees who were in the instrument shop and whatnot feel particular loyalty to Lamont in the '60s and '70s? Or is that not the way that one looked at the relationships?
Oh I think there was a loyalty there. I think that the people that worked in the shop, we were all really quite satisfied with the work we were doing. We had really nice conditions to work under and very interesting work, varied. As far as the type of work that we do here, I don't think that you could get it any better. When you were working here as a machinist, you stayed.
So Lamont gained a reputation as being the kind of place that machinists would want to work at? And what was it that made it — you mentioned already that for you certainly, the ability to work on a number of different projects made Lamont be particularly appealing. Was it different for other folks or was that sort of challenge what many found to be attractive?
I would say that to be true. Most people would find that to be attractive. And in industry I think that you could be pressured a whole lot more than you were at Lamont. Everybody put in a day's work, but in industry I think you were pushed a little harder, especially years ago. I remember the first job at Orapoint I was across — there were two lathes that were sort of across from each other, maybe two feet and I was talking to the person that was operating the other lathe and jeez the boss came through and really scowled at us. You knew he didn't like us talking because I guess he felt we weren't paying attention to our work even though —
You're working at the same time you're talking though.
So that's the kind of thing that you could run into in industry whereas I don't think that was a factor at Lamont.
Under Angelo's direction you felt free to talk with others while you were working. That sort of thing never came up as a problem?
I was curious too did union issues ever come up in the shop?
There were some. I'm trying to think when this happened. This was I think just before the major layoff. Working at Lamont has always been a great place but years ago, I remember when Angelo's dream was that his top machinist make seventy-five hundred dollars a year. And it had been quite some time since we got a raise of any significance. And there was a bit of grumbling going on. I think I started at, thirty-one hundred dollars a year. So there was talk of a union at one time.
When you look back was it Angelo that was leading the thinking on that? Or others?
No, others. But nothing ever really came about it. This is kind of fragmentary in my mind, but I remember one time somebody wanted to do something about demanding a percentage of raise. And I didn't like the way they were going about it. And I think there were only three people that wouldn't sign the thing in the shop. And I know Angelo always appreciated the fact that the three of us didn't.
How many were in the shop back then? About twenty to forty?
Yes, twenty, twenty-three, counting the people on the ship.
I'm sorry just to be sure. That complaint or request that you didn't sign, what was it calling for?
Well, like a ten percent increase in our salaries.
Just flat for that period of time. You mentioned, of course, many of the things that made Lamont particularly attractive. Were there any areas that compared to industry or other employment that Lamont didn't seem to be as attractive?
In working conditions? From where I had been, no. If you were, maybe a first class tool and die maker or something, you probably could make more money in industry.
But it doesn't sound like many left Lamont for? Or how many did actually leave Lamont for other opportunities? Was there much of those who were here for any length of time? Did they tend to stay or did people get opportunities and leave?
They'd tend to stay. I can think of a couple of people that left. One person left and ended up teaching. Another person left and ended up running a feed business, things like that. There was a little bit of that. But most people stayed. It was a good place.
Were there any women who were working in the shop in the '60s and the '70s.
No. Angelo was a little bit funny about women in the shop.
Did women apply? Or how did, I'm just curious how things seemed to work at that time.
I can't remember any women applying.
But clearly he wouldn't have welcomed them is what you're saying?
He wouldn't have. He was very old fashioned that way.
One other issue that I'm curious about. Of course some of the contracts that came into Lamont, those that came from the military, involved, in terms of the data that was produced, national security clearances. Did any of the clearance issues spill over into what you could or couldn't say about instrument design? Did you ever run into any security matters of that sort at all?
No. I know a couple of people here that have had to get security to work on some government projects, but that's all.
Did you ever do that?
When you think back and in this part of the interview at least we've been concentrating on the period say through the 1970s and not so much into the present. But what has changed the most when you look back from the earliest days of your involvement at Lamont to the present?
Well, we've just changed the whole time that I was here things have changed a lot again from mechanical devices through electronics became more important. And now computers today are just a fascinating tool that I know nothing about. I'm a computer illiterate. So that the type of work that we do, you know it's just changed dramatically. About the only thing that I can think of right now that's fairly similar is some of the mechanical devices: pressure cases and stuff that we do for bore holes. Somewhat like we used to do years ago.
Did you learn much of the electronics when it started coming in?
That was handled separately.
How did the development of the electronics affect — Did it affect the way in which you did the kind of precision work that you were most skilled in?
No, I don't think so. Nope.
Certain fields in technology and science when new developments like that come along, the whole pattern and practice begin to shift. And it's interesting that in the area of work that you continue to do that it really didn't have that great an influence. I gather the same with the computers. That it still hasn't really fundamentally affected the sort of work that you've been doing.
One other question, in a general way, I'm wondering if you have any strong personal beliefs or religious beliefs that you have felt that have been very influential in your life? Guiding principles.
Well I'm not a very religious person so we can count that out. I think the thing that guides me the most is that I try to treat people like I'd like to be treated. And somebody has something for me to do I think I have a very strong work ethic. I like to do as well as I can at it and hope for the best.
Well I think that put it well. We are drawing to a rather late hour here and I need to close this part of the interview. But let me thank you very much. And let me just say on tape that you will be receiving from Columbia the transcripts that are being prepared from the tape as well as information on the ultimate utilization of those tapes. Thank you very much.
Oh, you're welcome.