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In footnotes or endnotes please cite AIP interviews like this:
Interview of W. Arnold Finck by Ronald Doel on 1996 March 11,
Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics,
College Park, MD USA,
For multiple citations, "AIP" is the preferred abbreviation for the location.
Born on May 15, 1920 in Jersey City, NJ; discusses family life and childhood. Married on April 22, 1944; discusses his military service in Army intelligence. Received a business administration degree from Walter Harvey Junior College after the war; worked at New York Life Insurance. Began work at Lamont in 1950-51 through connection with Joe Worzel; discusses the state of Lamont in the first years. Discusses the Lamont family and Mrs. Lamont’s funding of the director’s residence; comments on the many difficulties in managing the finances at Lamont. Comments on Industrial Associates; discusses the challenges of getting and managing private and government funding. Recalls his connections with the personnel at the geochemistry lab; comments on the acquisition and maintenance of Verna. Describes his development of the publications policy; discusses the process of separation between Lamont and Columbia. Discuss what he believes to have been his greatest administrative successes in his career at Lamont; describes his work in the first year at Lamont, creating regulations from scratch. Comments on the funding for instruments and the machine shop; discusses the changes in government funding and procedure over the years. Comments on the leadership of Manik Talwani compared to Maurice Ewing; discusses the International Geophysical Year at Lamont.
This is Ron Doel and this is an interview with W. Arnold Finck and today’s date is March 11, 1996 and I’m making this recording at Columbia’s Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York. I know that you were born on May 15, 1920 in Jersey City, New Jersey, but I don’t know much about your family or your early life. Who were your parents? What did they do?
Oh my father was a paymaster at the Robert Geer Company in Piermont, New York which was a paper manufacturing company. And we lived in Grand View, New York on the Hudson River. And during the depression my dad lost his job and we eked things out there in Grand View and he had various jobs. And I went to school at the Tappan Zee High School in Piermont. And after that I went in to the Army and the war came along, World War II, and I was in the Army for three and a half years. And during that period I came home on furlough and was married and then went back into the Army for another year and a half.
I want to cover a number of those developments in detail in just a minute. But I want to make sure first that we record your father’s, and your parent’s names.
My father’s name was G. Walter Finck and my mother’s name was Caroline Finck.
How big was your family?
I had one brother. So there were just my brother and myself and my mother and father.
When you were growing up prior — of course you were ten and eleven in that area, in those spans of years when the Great Depression was at its worst. What kind of house did you live in when you were growing up?
Well it was a very nice house in Grand View on the west side of River Road. 279 was the number of it. And it had four bedrooms and a living room, dining room. It was a very nice house. It’s still there and I pass by it every once in a while. Of course there are different owners, but it was nice growing up in sense because we were on the river and we did a lot of fishing and swimming and boating and that sort of thing. And we did something called pompying in the winter time. We’d jump from one cake of ice to another. We used to call that pompying.
Really. Pompying? This was on the Hudson?
It was on the Hudson River. The tide used to take some of the ice out but it would leave a pond sort of where there was no chance of getting out into the river itself, the main part of the river.
You never had any close calls then?
Well every once in a while we’d fall in. [Laughter] But no I was just mentioning that the other day when we came along the river and it looked like good pompying weather.
As we speak we just came through another snowstorm.
Yes that’s right.
How many generations was your family in the United States?
Ummm, one, well my grandfather was born in Germany so they came over here. So it would be my father and I.
Late nineteenth century when the family was already over here.
What sort of things were you particularly interested in grade school and middle school? Did you have any hobbies?
Well I was very much interested in the Boy Scouts at that time. And I was in a Boy Scout troop in Piermont, Troop 9 I think it was. And I stayed in that for quite a few years. I got up to be, let’s see there was star a life scout I guess you’d call it. And I became assistant scout master there and I guess I was that right up until the war. And that was one of the things that we did a great deal of the time. Scouting was one of my main interests. Other than that it was doing school work and boating on the river, swimming and that sort of thing, fishing. So it was a good life.
Did you have an inclination towards any particular field as you were growing up?
No I don’t think so. It isn’t like my son who decided he wanted to become a doctor when he was about thirteen years old and he just followed through on that and became a doctor. But I hadn’t anything like that. I think part of it was that the war interrupted whatever we were going to do at that time. And I was married during the war so it was a matter of then finding something that would support us.
Right. When precisely were you married? You were twenty-one of course when the war started in 1941.
Yes. We were married on April 22, 1944.
And you had been in the Army already by then?
Yes I had been overseas for about, oh a year and a half almost two years, and then I had an opportunity to come back on furlough. And my wife had made the arrangements, we were married, and I went back into the Army again.
But you had known one another?
Yes, we had known each other for oh I guess at least a year, maybe two.
Where were you stationed?
Oh I was lucky. I was down on Antigua, on the island of Antigua at Coolidge Field which was an air base, a Lend-Lease base down there. And I was in the headquarters company, in the intelligence end of it. And at that point, toward the end of the war, they were having points and if you had so many points you could get out. And my wife was about ready to come down. At that time they were going to let dependents come down and live there. And I wrote back and said, I’ve got enough points, call off coming down. I’m going to come home soon. And that was it.
So you came back in ‘46, was it?
I think it was ‘45.
Yes, late ‘45. I think it was October. I’m not sure.
I’m curious were any teachers in the middle school or high school particularly memorable?
Well there was one history teacher named Dixon who seemed to get people interested in history with a living history sort of thing. And he was very good lecturer and I think everyone enjoyed being in his classes.
This was at Tappan Zee High?
Tappan Zee High School. But other than that I can’t think of any particular one. No.
As you say, the war came to interfere with plans you had. Were you thinking of going on to college?
Yes I was. And after the war, of course, the G.I. Bill came along.
And since I was working at the time, I went to Walter Harvey Junior College which was part of the YMCA group of schools in New York City. So I went there nights and got a certificate in business administration from them.
And business administration was something that by the time the war ended you were thinking about business.
Yes I was thinking about it. I was working for the New York Life Insurance Company before the war and then back after the war right away. And then as I mentioned to you earlier I knew Joe [John Lamar] Worzel here and he thought that I might do a good job up here for them at Lamont.
You had mentioned that of course off tape. And we’ll turn to that in just a moment. One of the things I wanted to ask you in your earlier years, did you read a lot when you were growing up?
Yes I did. I read quite a bit. A lot of it was novels and that sort of thing. And, oh things, like The National Geographic and magazines and things like. But I didn’t do a great deal of reading other than that.
Was the library in the high school particularly good or the one?
Yes the high school library was good. It wasn’t very large. But I lived in Grand View and the Grand View students went to the Piermont school system. The Tappan Zee High School at that time was in Piermont. It was up on the hill overlooking the Hudson. And it’s the same name. The Tappan Zee High School has the same name, but it’s over in Orangeburg, I think now, which is a consolidated school district.
Were your parents particularly religious?
Did you have religious training?
Yes, yes we did. We belonged to the Dutch Reformed Church in Piermont and went to Sunday school there. And my mother and father went to church there. I went to church there. As a matter of fact I met my wife in a religious atmosphere because at that time there were not too many young people in three or four of the churches in the area. So they formed a Christian Youth League which was four churches in the general area and Liz [Elizabeth Ann Fox] my wife came from Palisades and I was from Piermont and that’s where we met, in one of these meetings.
That’s interesting. And did you say that was in the early 1940s?
Yes, yes, right.
And what is the full name of your wife?
Elizabeth Ann Finck.
And her maiden name.
I’m curious; there’s no reason to expect this but did you have any interest in science at all when you were growing up?
Not particularly. I took some courses and of course we all had chemistry sets in those days and that sort of thing.
You mean at home?
At home, yes. Home. And my brother and I used to fool around with telephones between neighbors’ houses and strung wire between them and that sort of thing but nothing really very deep.
So it was an experience of many people at the time?
What sort of activities did you find particularly rewarding when you were in the Boy Scouts?
Oh we liked camping and I think some of the merit badges such as civics and first aid, that sort of thing. I think I liked the summer camp when we went off a couple of weeks here and there. And then we used to camp overnights up on the Tweed Boulevard and back on the mountain over here.
Okay. You’re pointing behind you. This is where we’re recording from Lamont. This is out in the direction of what you call the Fox property.
Yes. And it was up on the hill behind 9W in Piermont and Grand View. It was a place called Hemlock Hollow which we used to go overnight camping. We never knew who owned the property but we always camped there anyway. We had a lot of fun. And old Tweed Boulevard at that time was not paved; it was just a horse trail. Now it runs along the top of the ridge along the Hudson here, going from about Piermont up to Nyack. And there are many houses up there; well they’ve built a great number of houses up there in recent years. Most of them are on stilts or hanging off the cliff.
Up in the direction of what’s now the Tappan Zee Bridge?
Exactly. It overlooks the Tappan Zee Bridge.
You mentioned when you were talking about your war time service that you worked in Army intelligence.
What was the range of things that you were involved in war time?
The range of things?
Yes. In either day to day or month to month, what was it like in terms of the sort of things you handed in Intelligence?
Well working with S2, which was the intelligence end of the base command there, it was a matter of trying to determine what was going on with the local population, the native population. There was some unrest in Antigua due to the fact that it was a sugar island, and when the base arrived and started to build, a lot of the natives were put on the payroll there and they were getting three to four times as much as the cane cutters. So that it created quite a bit of unrest. So it was our job to try and find out what was going on and whether there was any real unrest that was going to create problems for the military there. But since they built this base — it was a matter of starting from scratch and they had one of the largest air bases in the Caribbean there on Antigua. It became Coolidge Field. I think it’s now Vere C. Bird Airport which is the name of the premier down there.
Have you been back there more recently?
Yes. I guess it was in ‘63 or ‘64 my wife and I decided to take the children down and show them where Dad spent the war. And we’ve been back quite a few times since then, but not in recent years.
You mentioned too that you had gotten your degree in business administration from Walter Harvey Junior College.
How did you find the classes that were offered at the time?
Well it was — there were some good professors and some that were not too good. During the war I think a lot of these junior colleges grew up because the G.I. Bill was there.
And I would say that it — I got a good education — but it was not always uniform. You’d have some good teachers and some that were not so good.
And it depended on how much you wanted to put into it too.
Did you find that you had to do a lot of training? [Interruption] We’re resuming after just what still seems to be a little static. [Interruption] We’re getting continued static that now has dropped off but still is there. We’ll go for a little while longer on this tape and we’ll just see if it continues on. We’re resuming after another brief interruption using a different machine for the rest of the interview today. One of the questions I also wanted to ask you was — you had mentioned that a little bit about attending Walter Harvey Junior College and I just wanted to ask you whether you felt the need to actually do additional training outside of the school environment or whether you felt that by and large you had gotten what you needed for a career in business administration?
I think by and large I got what I needed. And I didn’t have any further training after that.
Okay. Was the job at New York Life the first major job that you had in the field?
No it wasn’t the first one. The first one I had was over at Leddrle Laboratories in Pearl River. It was during the depression and if you got a job you were lucky. And what I did was — at that time they were injecting horses with a serum to make snake serum for humans. And what they do they would inject the horse with a venom of some kind and then they had to bleed the horse, get the blood from them, and that was then refined and made into the serum that they used. One of my jobs was cleaning out the injectors and so forth. So that was it.
How old were you when you did that job?
I was about eighteen or nineteen I guess.
So right after high school?
Right after high school yes. And then I went to the New York Life Insurance Company and worked for them.
How did you get the job at New York Life? Was this within a year or so after you started the —
First job at Lederle?
It was within a year or so and it was through a friend in the church that had an in there and he knew I was looking for something other than what I was doing at Lederle. [Laughter] And that’s when I started at New York Life.
Interesting. What sort of responsibilities did you have when you were working there?
Well I was in the auditing department and I was doing routine audits of branch offices financial records and so forth.
Was it the same — you mentioned that was interrupted during you war time service and you came back to New York Life?
Yes, I went back into the audit department after that and continued on there until I came to Lamont.
You mentioned a moment ago and mostly off tape that you came to know of the position at Lamont through Joe Worzel.
Yes. Joe and Dottie lived here on the grounds of the Observatory and we became friends. And socially we got to see each other pretty often.
How did you come to meet them? Was it through —
Well they had children. Joe and Dottie had, I think it was, four children, and we had three children. And it was one of those things that you meet them through school or through the children more than anything. Same with Doc [W. Maurice] Ewing; he had children and they were basically the same age as ours, maybe a little older, but we got to know them through schools. I think that’s the way a great many people get to know their neighbors because of the school situation.
Surely. Where were you living then at the time that you came to know Joe Worzel?
Down where I am now at the bottom of the hill here on Washington Spring Road.
Okay. Here at Palisades.
One eleven Washington Spring Road now that we have numbers.
You didn’t back then?
We didn’t back then, no. We were known as the house next to the church.
That’s the church you were attending or is it a different one?
That’s the one that we attended once we moved to Palisades. My wife was a member of a church here in town, Palisades, and I was a member of the church in Piermont, but then I changed over to the Palisades church. It was right next door to our house; it was so easy to get to.
Okay. What did you hear from Joe Worzel about Lamont at the time? What was your first acquaintance?
Well I think it was that it was basically oceanographic and a earthquake seismology group. And I think one of the things I remember hearing from him was that the old root cellar, which was in the Lamont family, bad been turned into a seismograph vault, so the seismographs were on bed rock. And I guess the other thing he mentioned was that it was a growing organization and he thought when he approached me about coming here to work for Columbia, that it was a great opportunity. You know, things were going well and they needed someone to head up the business end of it. So I thought about it for a long time because New York Life was a pretty firm organization and coming to a place out here in the country was actually a risk. I had family by then and should I take that chance, which I did. And I was never sorry for it. I came into the organization in the very beginning, basically, and was with it during the period when it had its greatest growth.
Indeed. And again we should put this on tape; it was 1950 that you came or was it ‘51.
I think it was ‘51. I’d have to look the records up.
I think it was ‘50, ‘51.
But certainly within two years after Lamont first came into being as Lamont Geological Observatory?
What were your, indeed it’s perfectly understandable that it would have been a tough decision. What did you come to know about Lamont as you were making your decision? What came to convince you that this was a worthwhile gamble to take?
Well I think it — first there wouldn’t be any commute. It would be very simple to get here. Secondly, it was a growing organization. And I think Joe convinced me that there would be a great opportunity here. And after talking to friends and family and so forth, we made a decision to take a chance which I was always glad I did.
You mentioned Doc Ewing. Had you met him as well before you decided to accept?
I think I probably met him but I wasn’t as familiar with him as I was with Joe Worzel. In the first place, Doe was always off on a ship some place or running around the world. And of course Joe did that too. But I think in the long haul it worked out very well.
What were your first, what were your impressions, what was Joe Worzel like in those days when your first came to know him and Dottie?
Well Joe was a very outspoken person I think. He had his own ideas but at the same time he was a very good friend and he was a lot of fun, had a lot of good ideas. And Joe was always a person with hands on attitude toward everything. He was a mechanic in the sense that he always liked to get his hands dirty. And if there was something wrong with a machine or something like that, Joe was always there to fix it up. So in those days, I guess Joe was — when I first met Joe, he must have just gotten his Ph.D. because of the young people that were here back in the ‘50s were students of Doe Ewing or one of the other professors and they grew up here so to speak. And they were very loyal to Doe Ewing and I think they’d do almost anything for him. It would take them much longer to get their Ph.D.s because they’d be out in the ship or they’d be doing some kind of experiment. [Interruption]
We’re resuming again after a very brief interruption. You were talking about your early recollections of Joe Worzel. Did you get a chance to see the set-up at Columbia University as you came on board here at Lamont?
No I did not. I don’t remember going down there before I took the job.
No, I didn’t.
What were your impressions of the campus as it was beginning to emerge?
Well I knew somewhat of the Lamont estate because my wife had lived next door.
You mentioned that her property was literally next door to where we are right in Lamont.
Yes. Well actually we’re sitting probably on property that belonged to the Foxes, which was bought from the Foxes by Columbia. That’s twelve acres which was purchased.
And so it was right here, literally. So I knew something about it because I had a friend who was a minister in a Palisades church who lived in the apartment of the six or seven car garage over here.
Again you’re pointing out behind the building here which was where the garage had been located.
That’s correct. And he used to have the privilege of playing on the Lamont tennis courts. So I used to come up and occasionally play tennis with him on the court.
Oh that’s interesting. When was that?
That was prior to the time that you —
Yes. That was prior to the time that I came here as administrator. So I knew the property to some extent.
Had you ever met the Lamonts directly?
No I had never met the Lamonts directly. My wife had. She used to play with young Tommy Lamont, in fact, before the war.
Well, just play.
Just play; they were younger.
They were younger than that. In fact she tells the story of back around the time of the Lindberg kidnapping.
And everybody who had wealth at that time was concerned. And so the Lamonts had a guard for the children. And young Tommy always tried to get away from the guard. And one day he came over to Seven Oaks which was where my wife was living and went down into the cellar there to hide from the guard. And the guard came along trying to find him. And Tommy thought that was a great joke, you know, he was getting away from the guard for a while. So I had some relationship through my wife between this property here and the Fox property next door. My wife before marriage was Elizabeth Ann Fox.
How long had your wife’s family been on that property?
Well she can probably tell you the precise date, but I think it was about 1914, 1913.
Had they been in the area prior to that?
Well they lived in Brooklyn and they came out here summers. And they lived in the summers down here at the Cedars which is at the bottom of the hill. And they rented that for a while. And then they bought this place over here called Seven Oaks. I think there was something like thirty some acres there.
Seven Oaks was essentially what you mean by the Fox property.
Exactly. It was called Seven Oaks. And on it there was the main house and there was a gardener’s cottage, and a man who took care of the cows, and the barns, gardens vegetable gardens, flower gardens — and so forth.
As someone who was living in this area at the time that the Lamont property went to Columbia and then became the Geological Observatory under Ewing, how did people in the town feel about this development? Do you recall discussions with people at the time?
Well I think there was some discussion of, you know, here comes this big university taking over. We don’t know, we really don’t know what’s going to happen. And some town’s people were “again” it on the basis that at the time we were using the original road down the hill to the town which created traffic problems.
Right. This is the old Lamont road that fed into —
Washington Spring Road.
Yes. That was Washington Spring Road. And then there were others, there were also a number of people living in Palisades who were associated with Columbia in some way too. They were either professors or doctors or something like that. There was a certain amount of oh, “this is good for the community.” And I don’t think that at the very beginning there was much opposition to it. The only opposition I remember hearing about was when they wanted to build a machine shop, that this was not a commercial area; not zoned for that purpose. And then the town fathers decided that they’d make a small portion of the property available for that.
Where did that property; where did the — The machine shop then was built in what had been the original garden area?
Yes. The original garden area. That is the area there now, walled in, the walled in garden.
And then it extended out beyond that. As you notice the old machine shop is just south of where the steps come down from that formal garden. So it changed. The complexion of things but that’s where it had to go because of the zoning problem.
Right, right. What were your first impressions of Lamont as an institution when you came up here? When you decided to take the job?
Well at the time that I came aboard, just about everything was in Lamont Hall. And the business office was in the main hail. You came in the front door and to the right was the switchboard and then behind that were four or five desks with people working. People — purchasing, accounting, personnel.
There were already four or five people.
There were already four or five people which apparently [James] Coulter, my predecessor, had setup. At that time the core laboratory was in the dining room. The cores were set up on tables in there. David Ericson who was in charge of the cores at that time had his office there. The kitchen had been taken over by Larry [J. Laurence] Kulp and his geochemistry group. And the living room had been turned into a seminar room but not to the extent that it is today. It still had some furnishings of the Lamont family in there. Upstairs were offices and drafting rooms. They did a lot of the washing of their seismograms and records of the ships in the bathtubs. [Interruption]
You were talking about the upstairs offices.
Yes, the bedrooms were turned into offices. And Doe Ewing took over the morning room as his office which is at the far end of the second floor. Just about every nook and cranny was crammed with records and books and papers and so forth. And on the third floor Joe Worzel had his office. And there were lots of records up there too. So that Lamont Hall was the hub of the whole place, at the time I came aboard. After that, they decided that the dining room would no longer hold all the cores they were getting so converted some of the garages into a core laboratory.
Right. And those were the ones that are at some distance from the Lamont house?
Yes. They’re the ones that are on the road, coming from the Lamont house toward the swimming pool.
And those garages took care of the cores for a good number of years.
Did that make a difference, did you observe once the cores were physically remote from the Lamont house, in the social relations at Lamont?
No. I think that in the early days it was great because we worked closely together. Everyone talked to everybody else. So that a person handling cores was talking to people doing magnetics. People talking to the geochemists would talk about their work and it was a very close knit operation because there was the proximity of one person to another. I do think that over the years some of that’s been lost because they don’t have this communication that they used to have. One of the places where they do meet is in the cafeteria. They go there for lunch. And you often see three or four different groups getting together.
Right. But that took the place of what was the solid community because everyone was together.
In Lamont Hall.
In Lamont Hall.
What sort of things come back to mind when you think of the social organization of the group or how it worked? One hears often for instance about parties that happened at Lamont?
Oh yes. There were often parties. Whenever a graduate student got his Ph.D. there’d be a party. And there were some real good old parties. I remember Jim [Henry J.] Dorman’s party which we had out in the sunken garden. Somebody made fish house punch. And I think a lot of people had big heads after that. And then there were parties — for example, Joe Worzel and Johnny [John] Ewing had a garden out where the soccer field is now. And in the fall Joe would put on a big clambake and would have corn from his garden, clams, all sorts of goodies. And most of the people who were here at that time came to the party. Also there was a housekeeper named Alma Smith who was with the Lamont family prior to Columbia taking over. Columbia kept her on as the housekeeper at Lamont Hall. She lived in the servant’s wing of the house on the second floor with her husband Harold [Smith]. At Christmas time she always put on a big party for the children of the employees — scientists and administrative staff. And it was a great party because she was a great cook and made all sorts of goodies. They had a Christmas tree at Lamont Hall and games and the children came, Santa Claus came and all that. In those days it was a family community. And as we grew of course it just became impossible to continue that type of operation.
Yes. Who seemed to be the organizers of social activities of that sort? You mentioned Joe Worzel as one person and of course Alma Smith being in residence. Were others?
Alma Kesner did a lot of that. Well the observatory wide things, I think — I guess Joe Worzel. He had that fall party with corn and so forth. And then the parties that were had as the students, got their Ph.D.s they were organized by the students themselves.
You mentioned a moment ago that there had been someone who preceded you here at Lamont, Coulter?
Yes, Jim Coulter.
Jim Coulter. What sort of system had he set up and what did you find that you wanted to do, if anything, that was different from how he had begun organizing the administration?
Well I think after I got my feet wet and knew what was going on, I did make some changes. But he had just begun to get things organized actually. One of our big problems as we hired more people was to set up a personnel system to handle the increase. At the time we were all supported on contracts and grants. There was no funding coming through from Columbia University except for the professors themselves. And that was always a problem. It still is a problem here at Lamont; how to get the necessary support. But we had to divide people’s time up between the various contracts and grants. And a person might be on six or seven grants for a certain percentage of time. So we had to set up a card system which at that time was 8 by 5 cards and keeping records of each one because we had to report all this to the government. The government auditors would check everything out to see whether a person was actually working on those contracts or not.
Right. When you talk about the 5 by 8 card system, what actually went on the cards? How did this work?
Well the individual’s name, the time they started working with us. On the reverse was a place for their time off — vacations, sick leave, so forth. And on the front of the card would be the salary and the breakdown of that salary over the various contracts. At the end of each month that had to be recorded and sent into the Controller’s Office so that they could spread the salaries over the contracts. That was done for all the people at the observatory. There was very little green money at the time. I don’t know whether you call it green money now or not, it was money that wasn’t from the government. And then of course there was the purchasing which was done through Columbia. It was rather a two-tier system because we could not write purchase orders ourselves at Lamont; it had to go through the Columbia purchasing department. So it sort of evolved, as the needs came up we’d try to work out a system to handle it. And there were all kinds of questions like, after a while we had what we called sea pay. How do you handle sea pay?
The time when people actually out at sea.
Yes when people are actually out at sea. And all of these procedures had to be approved by the government. After a while we had an Office of Naval Research representative stay here and we had to check with him on the various things that we did as far as government expenditures were concerned.
That’s interesting. ONR actually had a person who stayed here?
Yes, they had a representative here.
When did that start? Do you recall?
Phil [Philip] Shandler came over here must be ‘68 or ‘69, in that general area.
It might have been ‘70.
But this — of course there were a great many contracts coming from the government by the late 1960s, but you didn’t have a person coming in outside of the auditors, in the, say in the 1950s?
No I don’t recall that they were actually here in the ‘50s. We had contracts with the government and they would have to give us approvals for various expenditures and procedures.
Right. How did that work generally? Would you call them in Washington on an issue?
Well they had an ONR, New York. It was an office in New York called the Office of Naval Research, New York Branch I guess you call it. The same people who eventually came over here and actually resided here were our contacts and so we used to call them and get approval for various things that we needed. If it was in a hurry, you called them on the phone and followed it up with whatever forms you had to send. One of things I remember was when nuclear submarines were rather new, a submarine was going to go under the Arctic ice and they wanted to know how to position it. And we were given the job — I think it was through a Bureau of Ships contract — to develop a pinger that could be released from the submarine under the ice and it would go to the bottom and then it would release these signals so you could tell where you were. I don’t know exactly why but they couldn’t make radio contact because of being under the ice. I remember one of the things we had to do was — the engineer said we have to buy some beach umbrellas. He wanted the beach umbrellas so that when he pushed the pinger out of the garbage chute of the submarine it would float down without damaging it and it would go down straight. Well of course we had to get approval for these beach umbrellas from the Navy and that was a very difficult thing. We had to go through a lot of rigmarole — well why do you need beach umbrellas? I mean that sort of thing came up once in a while. But in general we had very good relations with the Office of Naval Research.
Back in the 1950s when you were dealing with the New York Office, you came to meet those people and would see them personally when you needed to?
Yes. Well, occasionally you’d see them personally; most of the time they would come out here. We very seldom went to their office. They would come out and check on things and discuss the problems with us.
Then of course there was Hudson Labs across the river which was Office of Naval Research also. And I believe in later years they had a resident representative staying there. So we used to contact them over there.
And again that’s in the post — late ‘60s, 1970s period when a representative there.
That’s very interesting. When you look back on the period you arrived at Lamont, what did you see as the biggest challenges that Ewing had to face?
Well I think part of the biggest challenge was to find enough money to keep the buildings and the place going. Because you couldn’t spend government money for oil and for grounds men and things like that, you see.
And so it was very difficult.
That was always the big complaint about government grants systems. That you didn’t have money for those sorts of activities.
Those sorts of activities. And we didn’t receive any of the overhead back from the university. So it was a touch and go situation. I think we ought to quit.