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 W. Arnold Finck by Ronald Doel on 1996 May 30,
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 a continuing interview, Session 2, with Arnold Finck. Today’s date is the 30th of May, 1996 and we’re recording this in Palisades, New York. A moment ago, off tape, you had begun to tell me about a gift that had come from Mrs. Lamont, the widow of Thomas W. Lamont, whose property the Lamont facility was built on. She had given funds to build the director’s residence. How did that come about?
Well, I believe that Dr. [W. Maurice] Ewing was living in the small cottage, called the twin cottages, here on the property. And his family was growing, and it was not quite appropriate for him to be in such a small house with a growing family, as director of Lamont. And somehow Mrs. Lamont got wind of the fact that something had to be done, and she gave a gift to the University for building the director’s residence. And the director’s residence was designed by Walker Field an architect living in Sneden’s Landing. It was built on a cliff overlooking the Hudson. And a small story about that. Bill [William] Fassler who was a grounds man here on the property, who was employed by the Lamont family and was kept on by Columbia, said that the house never should be built up there on the cliff because it was a bad place for lightning strikes. And everybody sort of looked at him and said, well, maybe so, but we’re building it there anyhow. As far as I know, it’s never been hit by lightning.
But had he remembered lightning strikes from the time that he was —
Yes, he had remembered it before apparently. Of course, I always took everything he said with a grain of salt because I think he liked to spin yarns and that may have been one of his yarns. But the house was built, and it’s still the director’s residence. It’s been renovated and changed a bit during the course of the years, but it’s now in very good shape.
Did Maurice Ewing play a strong role in determining the architecture, the design of the house that you recall?
Well, I’m not sure. He did discuss it and go over the plans with Walker Field. And Walker Field was a young architect. I think that it was one of his first commissions to design that house. I’m sure that Dr. Ewing had some input, but I don’t know how much. I mean he met with Walker Field himself, and I wasn’t in on that.
Okay. I was just curious if there were any kind of special features that you had heard of that were built into the house that were —
The only special feature I can remember is there was sort of a wing which was for guests, a guest room. So when he had other scientists come or other important people, he could put them up overnight.
But Ewing’s offices remained in Lamont Hall?
His working area.
His offices were in Lamont Hall. On the second floor in what was called the morning room of the house. And there were two bedrooms and the morning room. And he took over the morning room and two of the bedrooms basically for his offices.
And I’m told they very quickly filled up with papers and charts and other materials?
Oh they filled up with papers and charts and what have you. And the bedrooms of the house on the second floor were all used for offices. And the bathrooms, which were off the bedrooms, were often used to wash seismic records from the seismographs that were located in the first floor of Lamont Hall. The scientists have probably said this, but the root cellar of the Lamont estate was used for the instrumentation of the seismographs which were then brought by cable over to the Lamont Hall, where the drums were recording.
Right. One thing I’m curious about is how often you recall Mrs. Lamont, the widow, coming out here to Lamont after the time that it became the geological observatory?
I don’t believe that she came out very often. I can remember maybe once or twice over the years that I was here. The person that came out more often was Corliss Lamont who was more interested in the bird sanctuary which is located south of the Observatory. And he would come out often and go over the trails there and cut back the bushes and look it over and so forth. But I don’t remember Mrs. Lamont coming out very often at all.
How well did you come to know Corliss Lamont during this time? Did he come over; did he come to this part of Lamont as well?
Well, that’s an interesting story because Corliss Lamont was very much interested in the bird sanctuary. And he would come out on occasion and go over the trails. There was a Lamont sanctuary committee in the University. And that was supposed to be guiding the use of the sanctuary and the upkeep of the sanctuary. Because he was very interested in that, we saw him more often and had meetings with him about the sanctuary.
Who was on the committee? Were there people from Lamont Geological?
There were several people from Lamont. I can’t remember their names now. And there were one or two from the University and of course, Corliss Lamont. There were probably seven or eight people that had something to do with it. I don’t know just how it’s operating now. But back in the days when I was around, I think there were seven or eight people, and we would meet once or twice a year down at the campus, downtown, and go over the problems of the sanctuary; the upkeep of it, who was using it, and various things that had to do with the sanctuary.
How well satisfied did Corliss Lamont seem to both the way the University was handling the sanctuary as well as developments here at Lamont geological? Did he take an interest in the work that was being done?
I think he did, but I think he was more interested in the bird sanctuary. I think he thought the Observatory was going along okay. He didn’t really have anything much to say about the Observatory as far as I can see. But on the other hand, he was not satisfied with the way that Columbia was handling the bird sanctuary for a while there. And he turned over the bird sanctuary to the Nature Conservancy to set up a standard for the rules and regulations of the bird sanctuary. After the Nature Conservancy had taken it over for a number of years, the University had to abide by their rules and regulations so to speak. Once we did that, then the bird sanctuary was given back to the University. But for a while there, it was under the regulations of the Nature Conservancy.
What particularly was it that Corliss Lamont felt that Columbia wasn’t doing with the sanctuary that he wanted?
Well, I think taking care of the trails and seeing that people would not abuse the sanctuary. I can’t remember exactly what made him do this, but it was a matter of — for a period of time, he felt that it wasn’t being handled properly. And I think it was a sort of a peripheral thing that the University would be involved in in the first place. But he felt that the University could do better and he had the Nature Conservancy come in and give us the rules and regulations which we were to abide by.
When was this roughly that it passed into the management of the Nature Conservancy?
I guess it was probably in the early seventies.
I couldn’t swear by that, but I think that’s about right.
Sure. Around the time that Ewing departed and Manik Talwani became director?
Yes, I think that’s about right.
Right around. One of the issues we didn’t get a chance to cover in the first interview were what you regarded as the biggest challenges that faced you once you came to know the operations here at Lamont? What, in terms of administration or organization, what, as you recall, were the major tasks that you saw that the Observatory needed to take on?
Well, one of the things was how to finance the place. We had government contracts and grants from various agencies of the government. Mostly the Office of Naval Research, the Bureau of Ships, the Air Force, Atomic Energy Commission, and later on, NASA [National Aeronautics and Space Administration] and the National Science Foundation. But our real problem here was getting funds for maintenance of the buildings, utilities, administrative costs and all those things that are required of an institution. We were not getting any of the overhead back to cover these costs.
Is that right? In the beginning none of the overhead came back?
None of the overhead came back to the Observatory. And there was an arrangement where the University would sort of throw out a few crumbs here and there, but the overhead which was earned on all our contracts and grants went to the University.
Into the general fund or?
Into the general or whatever, into the general funds of the University. Whatever they used them for was up to them.
That’s really interesting. It wasn’t even to the department of geology or the academic side?
This was very much altogether into the general funds.
As far as I know, it went into the general funds of the University. And that was a big controversy between the Observatory and the University. Here we were doing research, for which we were receiving direct costs, and there was also an overhead charge which was made by the University to the government, and we did not get any part of that. And this was a big bone of contention. So I think that was one of the big problems of the Observatory when it first started, and the first twenty, twenty-five years or so. I understand now that there is a provision for overhead to come to the Observatory. How that actually operates now, I’m not sure. But there seems to be more cooperation between the University and the Observatory than there was in the days when I was here.
Yes. That’s really interesting. I’m curious. How did you cover utilities and, say just utilities, in the first few years of operation here at Lamont?
Well, there were some funds as I remember which came from the geology department. There were some, there was a fixed kind of sum of money which was given to us by the University, but it was not the kind of money that we were actually earning on overhead. In other words, if you had a contract and you got fifty thousand dollars in overhead for the year, we might be given ten thousand dollars for maybe fuel or something like that. But it was not a fixed — there was no formula for us to get it back. It was sort of we’ll give it to you if we want to, you know. And that was a big, big problem. And I think it created problems in the administration of the Observatory, between the Observatory and the central administration at Columbia. And it probably was one of the reasons why Dr. Ewing left here after a while.
Yes. No, indeed, and that’s one of the critical points. This wasn’t resolved at all. Certainly not at the time that Manik Talwani for instance took over as director. These issues as you recall were they still?
No, they were still, they were still not resolved. Although I think there was a better rapport between the University and Lamont after Talwani became the director. Simply because it was not the old regime you see. But it never was quite resolved to the extent that Lamont thought it should be.
Is there a point at which you did see, well a turning point in those issues? Was there a distinct resolution or was it a gradual change that began to benefit Lamont in later years?
I think it was a gradual change that happened. And I don’t know what’s happened in the last ten years or so. But I believe that they are probably getting more of the overhead back now than they did before. From what I see, they seem to be able to do things that they couldn’t do before. And we depended a lot on whatever green money we could get a hold of to take care of buildings.
Green money being what you could use for those general needs.
What money you could use for those things that were not restricted money which was strictly for research purposes. And we did have a number of grants that came from private individuals and private corporations and so forth that made it possible to do some of these things. Now the buildings that we built here, for example. Question is where did the money come from? The oceanography building, for example, was amortized over a period of ten years from a Bureau of Ships contract that we had. And that was agreed to by the government to amortize the building so that we could continue on with our oceanographic research. I think you have to remember that in those days oceanography was in its infancy. Not too many people knew about the oceans. So the government was interested in what we could do to help them understand the oceans. For that reason they decided they could amortize this out of the contract we had.
Indeed. And that’s a good point. Because in the early 1960s, the amount of funds that became available for oceanography, federal funds, increased dramatically and it made these sorts of operations possible.
When was that building put up? Wasn’t that in the early, roughly in the early 1960s?
It was nineteen sixty something or other. I can’t remember exactly. It was before the riots at Columbia.
I think there’s a cornerstone there says nineteen sixty something, 1963, ‘64, something like that.
And I do want to turn later to the riots and the way that the unrest at Columbia began to affect operations here as well, which is a critical point. I’m curious if any of the funds that were provided by the Lamont family, there had been several hundred thousand dollars made available, once the Observatory was created. Did any of those funds go into operations like handling utilities or new building as well?
Well, they helped in upkeep, so to speak, of the buildings and the grounds. And there was an endowment and we used the income from that to supplement whatever we could get our hands on.
And I can’t remember exactly how much it was. But the Lamonts gave a sum of money for the observatory’s use, and that helped to do some of the things we otherwise didn’t have money for. But I don’t remember the exact amount of that. Over the years they set up an Industrial Associates program with oil companies, and that was helpful to do some of the research that could not be funded by government funds. And it helped to run the ships occasionally. It was a sizeable amount of money that these oil companies put up, and in turn they received information that we would acquire from the oceans. I don’t know whether it’s still going or not, this Industrial Associates. There must have been ten or twelve oil companies involved back years ago.
And again, that was something that started in the 1960s?
I think so, yes.
Do you recall how Industrial Associates, the program, got going? How that came about?
I think Dr. Ewing had contacts with some of the research people in the oil companies, and he realized that what Lamont was producing in the way of research in the oceans would be of value to them. And he approached the oil companies one at a time. One or two started, and more came in as they saw what was happening. As I say, I think there were ten or twelve at one point, and they all would get the data that we acquired. There would be meetings from time to time and they would go over the latest information. And there for a while, I think oil companies wanted to get in on it; they really would come and say, can we be a member of this Industrial Associates? But I don’t know just what’s going on now.
That’s interesting. Do you recall whether there were any frictions that developed at Lamont over the Industrial Associates program? Did people on lab feel that this was an appropriate thing for the Observatory to be involved in or were there any proprietary questions that came up that you recall?
Not that I recall. It may be that some of the scientific groups here that were not involved in something which would be of interest to the oil companies felt that they weren’t getting a fair shake, so to speak. I never heard that, maybe there was some friction in that sense.
The money that was raised in the Industrial Associates program, did that go out to the entire laboratory, or was it more targeted to the areas in which these data could be found?
I think it was targeted more to the areas in which the oil companies were interested. And as I remember it, at some point in order to build a building, we did use some of that money to supplement whatever we could get.
That’s interesting. Do you remember which building that was, that those funds aided?
I don’t really remember which one it was, no. But there again, since we weren’t getting the overhead, as I mentioned before, we were using all the sources that we could to do what we had to do here.
In rough terms, how important was Industrial Associates in providing green money after the mid- 1960s? Was it, in rough terms, was it a certain percentage of the amount of money you could count on in a year?
Well, you’re talking about University money, that sort of thing?
Well, in the sense of the money that isn’t coming through focused research grants, where you knew that —
From contracts or grants or something.
Yes, the money that helped to keep Lamont going. I’m just curious how, how significant in that time, Industrial Associates?
Well, it was quite significant. Of course, some of the costs of the ship were charged to Industrial Associates, too, when they went out and did some of these projects. Insofar as running the Observatory is concerned, it wasn’t a substantial amount; it wasn’t a huge amount. I don’t really know what the percentage would be.
You had mentioned something else very interesting a moment ago about other private sources of funding that came into the Observatory in the early years. Which ones of them seem significant to you? Which ones come to mind?
I’m trying to think of what they were.
I think there were Rockefeller Foundation funds at one point, for instance.
Yes, at one point there were some Rockefeller Foundation funds. The problem was not so much getting research funds as it was getting funds for general use here. You could make a proposal to a foundation, for example, to do some research which they might be interested in and would be willing to fund, and you would get these grants. And then the question always was how much of that can we take overhead out of. They would often stipulate that they would not pay overhead, for example. My recollection is very poor on just what foundations and institutions gave us money at that time. I’d have to look over the records, and let you know. But, most of our research was, I would say ninety percent of it at least, was government types — either grants or contracts. I think one of the things that made Lamont strong was that we had a number of different government agencies supporting us in different fields. In other words, if one agency reduced our funding another one would come along. Like we had the old Atomic Energy Commission, we had some contracts with them, and when they started to drop out, something else would take over. Then the National Science Foundation came into the picture and that sort of thing. We were diversified. We were not dependent on one agency or one particular field of science. We could switch back and forth. Through the years, it was emphasis on this particular field or that particular field, although our strongest backer was the Office of Naval Research. For example, when they started talking about sending a man to the moon, our people in earthquake seismology got involved in it, resulting in contracts with NASA. And then we had the lunar heat probe program which was to place a heat probe on the moon. In those days it was diversification which I think kept us strong.
I think that’s a very good point. And you felt that continued through the entire time that you were at Lamont?
That really didn’t waiver much during the?
During that period.
We kept growing as time went on from the time it was started here. We had, I couldn’t begin to tell you how many thousand dollars was involved from the government back, in say, 1955, and what it is today or what it was when I left here, but it certainly kept growing each year. And the different agencies that supported us also kept growing. And if one dropped out, another one would come in to take its place. And, of course, most of it was due to the scientists and what they could think of to put in as a proposal.
Indeed. I was curious particularly about the Atomic Energy Commission given that that helped to fund much of the work that was being done at the geochemistry —
— lab in the early years.
In the early years it was. Yes.
And I understand those funds were helpful in building what became the geochemical laboratory? How involved, I’m curious how involved you were in the negotiations that led to building of the geochem lab.
Well Larry [J. Laurence] Kulp actually was the one that was involved in that more than I was. I think that the Atomic Energy Commission wanted work done in the field of Strontium 90 with the aging. What do they call it?
The radioactive dating work.
Radioactive dating work, yes. And how much, I don’t recall where the funds came from for the geochemistry building. But that was one of the first buildings we built here after the machine shop. And I think Larry Kulp was mostly involved in that.
Yes. I was curious whether as Larry Kulp built the geochem lab, from your point of view in administration and finance, did that become in essence a separate center that began to handle a lot of those responsibilities or did you still have more or less responsibility for all the area of Lamont as Lamont grew?
Well I had responsibility for all the parts of Lamont. However, the geochemists always seemed to be on their own as compared to the rest of the Observatory. And when I first arrived here, the geochemists were in the kitchens of Lamont Hall. They had their apparatus set up in there. There was a small porch off the west side of the Lamont house, off the kitchens. And Larry needed more space. So they boxed that in and made it possible to use it as an all year round small lab. He had very little space actually for what he wanted to do. That’s when the geochemistry building was built. And of course over the years that was added on to and added on to, until it’s now the size it is. I understand they’re now thinking of a new building, but where they will get the money I don’t know. That’s something that they’re thinking of.
How well did you get to know Larry Kulp and any of the other early people who were at the geochem?
How did I get to know them?
How well did you get to know them?
Oh I think I got to know them fairly well. I was closer to the scientists back in those days than the administration people are today I think, because we were small. We worked with them on their proposals, the problems that they had all came sort of through me somehow or other particularly in terms of physical plant and the personnel policies and that sort of thing. I worked closely with the scientists. And I’m not so sure that they do that as much as they used to. Plus the fact that we were smaller and we saw each other all the time. The Observatory has become sort of divisionized. There’s a division for this and a division for that. And I’m not sure that they get to talk to each other as much as they used to. For example, for many, many years the living room at Lamont Hall was the seminar room. And so everyone came through there for seminars. And people would have their lunch together. The oceanographer would be talking with earthquake seismology people and this sort of thing. There was a lot of interplay and a lot of discussion of the research they were doing. Today because we’re sort of spread out and we don’t get together. I think the cafeteria’s probably the place where people do sit down and talk occasionally. If you go there, you’ll see they’re often talking to each other about one thing or another in the way of science.
But the point is that as the institution grew, it also became more fragmented, and that those kinds of close relationships weren’t as easily sustained.
Exactly. Yes. Of course in those days too, the graduate students were very — well they were used by the director and the people in charge of the contracts and grants, to go off on the ship for example. They might stop their graduate work for six months to go out on the ship and do some work. And that meant it took them much longer to get their Ph.D.s. I think probably a number of them have said that to over the years. It was a group that wanted to get a job done and they did it. It was a little different than it is today I think. But everyone was quite close.
In particular I was interested in whether you and Larry Kulp or other members of his group talked about what were then his religious convictions and those that were shared by others in the geochemical lab, given that many had come out from Wheaton College?
Well we always — many of us thought that Larry Kulp’s group were sort of holy rollers or something like that. They came from Wheaton. Many of them were very religious. Sometimes they would try and get you to think their way and that sort of thing. But Larry seemed to bring them all with him. We used to sort of say, you know they’re the holy rollers down there. They had their own way of doing things and so forth. But over the years I think geochemistry was more independent or tried to be more independent of the rest of the Observatory. Why it was, I’m not sure. It might have been that many of them came from Wheaton to start with.
Yes. A moment ago you said they did things differently. I wonder if anything particular comes to your mind when you say that?
What you noticed that made them distinct.
Well in the administration end of it, I often had more trouble with the geochemistry people doing things outside of the rules and regulations than other groups. It may be that they wanted to be more independent, didn’t want to follow the general rules of operation. But the —
Yes. Was this on the way in which the contracts were written or carried out, do you mean? Or other sorts of issues?
Well I think there were other issues. I’m trying to think of some specific examples. They didn’t want to go through our purchasing section, for example. They wanted to have their own purchasing person, which created some problems in that at times you had to get approval from the government to make certain purchases. It didn’t bring the Observatory together in the administration end when you were having somebody doing purchasing and not going through the routine up here.
Right. And these were major purchases? The mass spectrometers for instance do you mean or?
Not so much that as the smaller items particularly. The larger items they all had to get bids on and so forth and so they had to be handled a little differently, like a mass spectrometer. But no, it’s just that they wanted to be more independent and not be a part of the Observatory as such. Also as they needed more space, they just kept building on little by little, you know, and that sort of thing. But on the other hand, they did get their research done. They did a good job of it.
I guess that’s about all I can say about it.
I was wondering if their handling of Project Sunshine complicated the purchasing issues or the way in which they did business.
Project Sunshine was the one where they were collecting bones?
Yes. Well I think it was sort of a — I don’t know what to say about that. For a long time, I don’t think it was known what they were doing.
It’s true. It was declassified in the later 1950s. It was initially a classified project in the early and mid fifties.
Yes. But I’m not sure. I think they felt because they were doing this classified work, everything should be hush, hush. And therefore maybe they felt they could go ahead and do things on their own which were not quite along the lines of what the rest of the Observatory had to do. It was an interesting project. But I don’t think that many people from the beginning knew what was going on.
I’m sorry I didn’t mean to interrupt you.
I was curious how many people did need to know, or did in fact know, what was going on with Sunshine? Did you need clearance for instance when you were at Lamont in those days?
Yes. I had an ONR secret clearance, Office of Naval Research secret clearance. I don’t think I had an AEC clearance. But on the other hand, maybe they figured that the ONR secret clearance covered. I’m not sure how many people were in on the whole thing and had secret clearance. I know the AEC did give clearances to people in geochemistry, but I don’t know how many of them. I think one of the funny stories is that we used to have drivers who went to the city and picked things up. And one fellow, I think his name was [Bill?] Steinberg was one of our drivers. He was picking up these packages all the time, and he all of a sudden realized that he was picking up these bones, and he wasn’t quite sure what to do about it. He didn’t realize that he was bringing bones back to the geochemists all the time. I guess that was an important project to set up some kind of a standard, a base, for future use.
Of course it did serve, among other purposes, to identify how quickly the bomb induced radiation was spreading throughout human population worldwide.
But as you say, it did involve work that, both by its secrecy and the nature of it, that made certain people concerned about what was going on.
Did you feel at all concerned about Lamont being involved in that kind of activity at the time?
No. I don’t think I did. I don’t think that I was. It was part of our overall research. In other words, it was something going on down at geochemistry, and there were so many problems at the time that I really wasn’t — no, I wasn’t too concerned about it.
I’m just curious if there were any people on lab who did make known to you that they felt this wasn’t an appropriate thing to do?
I don’t remember anyone coming to me or saying anything to me about that.
No. There may have been people with problems.
Sure. But it’s important if in your recollections there really wasn’t that kind of concern or opposition to it?
No there wasn’t.
How did geochem — you mentioned their independence. Did they stand out then among the other groups like the core lab people or the gravity or the seismology? Did the other groups tend to be more receptive to following the procedures as you were developing them?
I think so. I think they seemed to be. It was all on a personal relationship. In other words, I think, most people felt that I was trying to — I was not putting rules into effect just because I wanted to put rules into effect, but certain government regulations had to be followed. In the purchasing for example and in the division of workload for individuals on contracts and grants, that sort of thing. So I believe that most of the people that I worked with felt that we were trying to help. But sometimes geochemistry felt we were trying to put things in their way. That’s probably –-
That’s a good way to put it, yes.
You know. And you did have trouble with certain individuals here and there, but on the other hand, on the whole I think everybody felt that we were trying to make the rules that would be best for them. We had such things as sea pay for example which was a policy that was set up to compensate people who were at sea for any length of time. And they would get a certain dollar value for each day they were at sea. Well that had to be set up and had to be approved by the government. And a format made up so that you could keep track of it. And I think the scientists felt that that was something that the administration was trying to do to give them some additional income for the fact that they were away from home for months at a time. We had set up a travel office for example which was trying to give them the best service that we could. And the travel office I think did a good job. We had an awful lot of travel to the ship, from the ship, and all over the world. And there again, that was something that should have been paid for out of overhead, but what we were doing was making the contracts and grants that were using the ship, or doing research in oceanography, and spreading these people over those contracts and grants on a percentage basis. We used to have some people on maybe five or six different contracts with ten percent of their salary here and twenty percent there and so forth and so on. That was the way we handled the business end of it.
No. That’s a very interesting point. Were the grants, say, that came through ONR flexibly enough structured that it more readily allowed you to make those kinds of arrangements say than contracts that came later through other agencies.
Well back in the early days, there was no other way to pay these people. In other words, the overhead wasn’t coming to us and there weren’t enough funds of green money to pay these people. So, for example, in the purchasing department of Lamont, the purchasing supervisor would be spread over maybe ten different contracts, with ten percent of their salary coming from each one. And this was Okayed by the government.
By the government.
Yes that was okayed by the government as long as we could show them that the purchasing supervisor was spending time on all of these contracts or grants. But that was always a bone of contention. The government wasn’t too happy with that. On the other hand, they realized that there was no other way we could pay these people and that they wanted this research done, and it was a way to handle it. But in actual business practice, I suppose that would all come out of overhead.
I know in PGI, Palisades Geophysical Institute, that does come out of overhead. It’s part of the cost of operation.
And indeed, PGI is one of the things we need to raise either later today or in a subsequent interview. When the incidents that you’re talking about right now, this is all in the 1950s and 1960s that. The sea pay policy, for instance, was that developed after the Vema was acquired by Columbia?
Or was that in place already?
It was after; I believe it was after the Vema was acquired because prior to that, the ships that we used were ships of convenience. In other words, we would charter them. We had a Moran tug, for example, at one point which we chartered from the Moran towing company. We put a winch on it for coring purposes. And there were other ships that we chartered from time to time. I can’t recall all of them. But the Vema was the first one that we really owned and had as our permanent ship; permanent research ship. Over the years, we must have had ten or fifteen different ships that were used. And the bother of that was that you put your equipment on and then you had to take it off, and you never had a permanent home at sea so to speak.
You mean, you’re referring to the time when Lamont was operating numerous ships, or the time before that? Before you even had any one ship that?
It was before we had any one ship. We weren’t operating all of them at the same time. There’d be one ship for six months, say, another one for two months, and so forth; depending on where the research was to take place, and what kind of a deal we could get from an owner of a ship. And that’s what happened with the Vema originally. You probably heard that story.
The Vema was chartered.
From Captain  Kennedy.
From Captain Kennedy, yes, with an option to buy. And it turned out to be a successful operation and the University took up the option and purchased it.
As I understand, the Vema’s cost was also amortized by grants over a number of years.
Yes it was. It was I believe it was from Office of Naval Research contracts, but I’m a little hazy on that.
I believe that’s right. I’m curious if you recall efforts ever being made at the time to try to find a private donor who could simply have put up the money for Vema’s acquisition?
Yes, there were attempts to do that. If I recall correctly, I think it was the Vetlesen Foundation that was asked for funds. I think they could give us some funds, but not to cover the entire cost. I think that part of it came from them.
Who was that in Vetlesen that you were in contact with? Was It Henry [G.] Walter [Jr.] at the time?
I think it probably was. I think Dr. Ewing made contact with him at the Vetlesen Foundation. But they were always a fairly good supporter of the Observatory. There were grants that came from them on occasion so that they’ve been good friends of the Observatory over the years. And of course they set up the Vetlesen Foundation Prize for earth sciences.
Right. Of which Doc Ewing was the first recipient.
Was the first recipient.
And that was back around 1969 or thereabouts.
Yes. Were you or others at the lab surprised that it wasn’t possible to raise private funds for the Vema’s purchase? Was that something that seemed to many to be a relatively easy thing to do or did you perceive that to be a really difficult challenge to the Observatory?
I think it was a difficult challenge. It’s never easy to raise funds. I don’t know where — I think Dr. Ewing was the one who tried to raise funds. I wasn’t too much involved in that so I don’t know.
Yes. I was also curious if you had gotten involved in fund raising there at the time?
No. It was mostly Dr. Ewing; who made contacts with the right people and tried to raise funds over the years and did pretty well I think.
Yes. Go ahead.
No, that’s about it right now.
We’re resuming after a brief pause. One of the things that I was very curious about that you had mentioned just a little while earlier was the setting up of things like the travel office at Lamont. How did you do that and when did that come about?
I think the travel office probably was set up in the 1950s. It turned out that we had a great many people traveling to the ship and from the ship, to meetings of various kinds, to projects a]I over the world basically. Scientists had to get to these meetings. We needed some means of providing the scientists with tickets, airline tickets, passports, all that sort of thing, visas. So it became obvious that the best way to do it would be to handle it from the Lamont business office. And we started out with one person. I think we ended up with two or three. Also at the time it started and for many years thereafter, the travel office also prepared the travel vouchers for the people. The scientists would bring in their chits and costs and so forth, and the travel office would prepare the voucher for reimbursement.
That’s a considerable savings of time.
Yes and it saved the scientists time. It also meant that the government regulations would be followed because the travel office was there to check it all out. So that went on for quite a while. I don’t know whether they’re still doing that or not. I know they cut down on the size of the travel office. I think there are two people there now.
How big had it grown to during the time?
It grew to three or at the maximum four. And I think the scientists felt that that was a service to them. All they had to do was bring in their receipts and so forth and it would be taken care of.
And it would be charged to whatever grant or contract they were working on. They still have a travel office that makes reservations and so forth. It’s all computerized now, but in those days you called up and you sent a person to get tickets and so forth and so on. But that evolved and I think it was a great service to them, to the Observatory.
How did the government feel about that kind of operation being developed? Again, did you have to fund this using percentage of funds from the grants?
Percentages and funds over the grants and contracts. Yes. That’s the way we did it then. I imagine now they may be getting overhead. I don’t know what’s going on now.
Sure; but during the time that you were involved.
During that time, involved, it was percentage of time over the various contracts and grants. Salaries paid in that manner.
Was this something the government generally approved of, or was it a battle that you had to fight with auditors over usage of funds?
Occasionally you would have to fight about it, but basically the idea seemed to be acceptable to them. I think the thing that they were worried about was is there a fair distribution.
Of time. And that was something was difficult to prove or disprove actually. You know how many minutes do you spend on this or that or the other thing?
In general it worked pretty well. We had an ONR representative here, and he would work with us on these things. You’d try to explain the situation, and often times you know we’d be turned down as well as approved. But occasionally, you know, you’d have to make a good case for the operation.
When was the ONR, when did the ONR representative first come here to Lamont?
I think it was after Hudson Labs closed down across the river in Dobbs Ferry, because there was an ONR rep there. When Hudson Labs closed down Phil [Philip] Shandler who was an ONR rep came over to Lamont and we provided him with a small office in what we call the Butler. He had several successors who were there. So I don’t know exactly the timing on it, but from the time Hudson Labs closed down until probably the late seventies or so. I’ve forgotten.
Okay. So again, fairly mid to late 1960s through to the —
Right in that period.
Right in that period yes.
How did you find the people that you were dealing with, your counterparts in the government, who were handling or overseeing or examining the? How well did they understand the particular needs of geophysical research or the kind of laboratory work that was being done?
I think in general they understood what was going on, and we didn’t have too many controversies with them. In general the ONR res reps usually gave approval for something which other agencies would then accept. In other words the ONR res rep was sort of the government person who gave approval. If they approved of a particular item, like the sea pay for example, then NSF or the AEC or whatever other agencies were involved would generally accept that. Of course that was still subject to audit. We still had to go through government audits after the fact so to speak. But in general that worked out pretty well. And I think it was an advantage to have those people here because they knew more of what was going on. It wasn’t calling up on the phone and the person didn’t understand what was happening.
Yes. So you’d be in touch with people like Phil Shandler when they were across the way in Hudson Labs?
And tell them the sorts of things you wanted to do.
Like the sea pay or the travel office?
Yes — The approvals that you needed for certain expenditures and so forth.
And in general they were very cooperative. And over the years, I think many of them got to know us when they were living here as res reps on the premises, they got to know the scientists better. And they got to know the administration better. Of course they had other things to do too. They would have other contracts and grants with other universities. But they were stationed here.
Okay. That’s interesting.
In other words they had cognizance of another operation say at NYU or something like that.
But was the bulk of their time devoted to projects here, when you had a resident, here?
I think so. I think that’s probably true. Although they would sometimes be away for a week or so visiting some other University or college, whatever it was. But I think most of it was here. And of course at Hudson Labs, that was a big operation. And I believe that they felt they wanted to stay with Columbia and this was an opportune place to come to.
During that period of time, how big was Hudson Labs compared to Lamont?
Big in terms of dollars? They were probably considerably larger because they had classified contracts that the Navy wanted to do and Columbia had the expertise to carry them out. I don’t know the extent of the dollars, but they had a very large organization.
I’m just curious about how often roughly, was it episodic when needs came up that you’d need to meet people like Phil Shandler more frequently or did it tend to be a lunch or a visit every month or so for these sorts of issues? How often and how did you contact them?
If we needed approval for something or other, there was a format that you used. A form, you put down what you needed, what it’ll cost and the reasons for it, and so forth and so on. And that would be a sort of a routine thing. And then there were sometimes when you had to explain it more or argue about a particular point. Or a method that you were using in calculating, say sea time, sea pay for example. Or why are you spreading people over all these contracts? How did you arrive at the percentage and so forth? Those things came up. And if we got the approval of these people, usually auditors would go along with it. Sometimes the auditors would argue with the ONR rep because they didn’t go along with what he had approved. But those times were rare. Then of course they had a government contracts division in the University at that time. Where the government, all the government contracts were handled in one division of the Controller’s Office. That was headed up, by Les [Lester R.] Watson. He was the manager of the government contracts division of the University. All contracts and grants from the government went through that office and it was under the Controller of the University, but it was a division of the Controller’s Office.
How did that work then in practice then when grants came into Lamont? Did they also go in, or at some point go through his office.
Yes. Actually, when I said we had a purchasing office, what our purchasing office did was to get the request from the scientist for whatever was needed. And our purchasing group would then shop it, find out where they could get it and so forth, send in a requisition, which was then sent to the purchasing department of the government contracts division of the University. And that in turn produced a purchase order. We did not make the purchase order directly from Lamont. But we did all the leg work on it. And that was good because our people here knew what the scientists wanted. And they could ask questions of the scientist and talk back and forth to him, and tell him what we could get in the way of, say, cable or whatever we needed. And it expedited things too. We could follow through on things. If we had just sent the requisition down to the purchasing department at Columbia, they would not have the knowledge that our people here would have about that particular item. It worked out quite well. Also accounts payable was in that same section. They used to approve bills there.
Were there bottlenecks in the system that was particularly troublesome to you?
I think the bottlenecks, if anything, were at the Columbia end of it. In other words, they may not have given it priority the way we would have done up here. And I think that was the nice part about our purchasing department here. They did give priority to the things. They knew the scientists; they talked with them, and so forth. So they were part of the team so to speak whereas at Columbia, they were in the purchasing department. They had no relationship with the actual work. They didn’t see the things. They didn’t see what was going on. So that made a difference. And I think the same thing was true with personnel. We had a personnel section here at the Observatory. And the personnel supervisor and the people with her actually knew the people, the scientists and the technicians and so forth. So in that sense it was a smaller operation, and I think that’s probably better.
I’m curious in a general way, thinking back, particularly to that earlier time or any point, were there any battles, any things that you really wanted to see happen in the business relations, say vis a vis Columbia or the government, that you couldn’t get in place, that weren’t resolved?
Well, I think as I mentioned before, the overhead problem. Getting some funds from the University that would take care of all these maintenance, physical plant, personnel, that were normally overhead costs, was our big problem. And I think that may have been resolved by now. I don’t know. But during my time here, we never did get it resolved. We did get some increase in the amount of money the University returned to us, but it was never a good standard formula that we could count on every year.
Sure, sure. Do you remember Ewing talking about his, with Grayson Kirk, at the time on that issue? Were you ever involved directly in meetings say that he would have with higher level University people like Kirk?
No. I was never involved with any meetings with Ewing and Kirk. But I’m sure there were meetings about this. I used to meet with the vice president for finance, I guess it was. I’m trying to think of his name. And he and I had a pretty good rapport. His hands were tied I guess by the University upper echelon and he couldn’t. What’s his name — Bruce somebody [W. Bruce Bassett].
We can make sure. That can be added to the transcript later.
He and I used to get together and meet about these problems. He was sympathetic, but I think that he also had to uphold what the University wanted to do. But he understood that we had problems in the way of financing our every day operations.
That’s interesting. And that really does stand out as the major unresolved issue from that.
I think it was the major unresolved issue and I think it was also the reason why there was always a controversy between the University and Lamont. And I think that was the major issue insofar as the existence of Lamont and the ongoing operations here. It never was resolved while Ewing was here as far as I know.
Did that issue change during Ewing’s time or during the Talwani period for instance? Did the University’s finances get more troubling? Were there more demands placed on funds later or was this simply an issue that as far as Lamont perceived it roughly the same year to year to year? During the fifties and sixties.
Well it was pretty much the same year to year to year. It was not something that came up and then was a big issue and then it dropped. It was there right along.
I was curious in particular if it just seemed to be a worse problem in the 1960s than it had been in the 1950s?
Well, I think it was a worse problem because we were probably doing more government contracts and grant work. Therefore, the volume was higher and to say we had a twenty million dollar total contract and grant figure for a year in sixty, whereas it might have been ten million previous to that. So therefore, there were more demands on the physical plant and on the costs which were not being reimbursed to us.
Right. And the amount still comes out to roughly the same that’s offered for.
That makes it clear. Did you travel much in the course of the work that you were doing at Lamont?
No, I didn’t. I was mostly here. My travel basically was to the campus downtown and to meet with people down there in the Controller’s Office or government contracts division.
And no I didn’t travel the way the scientists did.
I was curious if you ever had a chance to see your counterparts at Woods Hole or Scripps, other big oceanographic institutions?
No. Well I, they would occasionally come here and I would meet them. But I never was there to their operations.
Okay. How did they compare? Do you remember any discussions with any of them particularly about how similar or different?
Well, Woods Hole was an entity in itself. It didn’t have a University hierarchy over it. So therefore they could make whatever rules and regulations they wanted for such things as overhead. And of course they were in existence a long time before we were. They really were an entity unto themselves whereas we sort of are a satellite of Columbia University. And as I said before, we did basic purchasing preliminaries, but we could not issue the purchase order for example. And the same thing was true with many items that were the prerogative of the University. Checks for salaries, for example, came from the University. Whereas at Woods Hole, I’m sure they came from Woods Hole. I mean there’s no question about that. I don’t know how they operated out at Scripps for example. That was a part of the University of California. I don’t know whether that was a separate entity itself or not. So I’m not sure about that.
Do you remember discussions about whether an endowment fund would be created out here at Lamont; particularly when the funds were first coming in from the Lamont family. Do you remember discussions with Ewing about?
Yes. I remember those. We set up a Lamont endowment fund. And that was given by the Lamont family. And the income from that was used for — well such things as the physical plant, or the grounds or something of that nature.
What I’m curious about particularly is the pressure that existed at the time. On the one hand, building up the endowment, conserving funds in the moment so that later on one would have a larger endowment to work with versus using more of that money to maintain things in the moment to build the programs and rely more on government outside contracts to sustain ongoing work. Do you remember how Ewing felt about that in those early years?
Well as I remember it, we did not invade the principal of the endowment. Tried not to do that. We used the income from it. And we tried to do the best we could with the funds that were available, but we did not want to take the principal and devour that and then not have any income. So —
So you did try to keep the principal intact?
Yes. We did.
Yes. That’s interesting. Were there any problems with Columbia about maintaining an endowment for a separate institution separate from?
Well there were. Yes. When the Doherty Foundation gave money to the Observatory, they stipulated I guess because of the problems that Dr. Ewing was having with the University, that the investment of that endowment be invested separately. So that it wasn’t mingled with the Columbia University endowment.
Was this because Columbia’s investment strategy had gone sour at the time? Or just that the Doherty folks wanted separate administration of this?
I think they wanted separate administration of it basically. It may have been because of the income coming from the Columbia endowments. On the other hand, I think they did pretty well. It was a matter of not wanting Columbia University to get their hands on the funds themselves. I think that was basically why it was set up that way.
Surely. If the funds are all in the same general pot, then it’s up to Columbia to divide it when it comes to the funds.
Divide and invest and so forth. So I don’t know what’s happening right now. Whether that Doherty Fund is still separate, invested separately, or not. I’m not sure.
How involved were you in those negotiations that lead to the Doherty gift?
Well I was not involved in the Doherty gift at all. It was Dr. Ewing who made the contacts and developed that. The Doherty Foundation saw that he was doing good research and I guess he gave them a long song and dance [laugh] and they agreed to give, over seven million dollars I think it was. Something like that.
It was certainly a considerable, major sum of money.
It was a major amount of money and at the time the University agreed that the name would be changed to Lamont-Doherty. I forget the name of the lawyer who was involved that Dr. Ewing met. But he —
I believe there were two individuals in the Foundation; a [Walter R.] Brown and a [A. Chauncey] Newlin.
Oh right, Newlin.
It was Newlin.
Newlin was the attorney. I think he was one of the trustees of the foundation there. But he was very much involved. And certainly liked the idea of what Lamont was doing.
When Ewing talked to you about the difficulties that were coming up at that time with the Doherty Foundation, clearly the relations between Lamont and Columbia at the time were strained?
They were strained, right.
And that may be putting it mildly. They clearly were strained.
They were quite strained. And they weren’t getting better. In other words as time went on, you would think there would be some compromise made somewhere along the line by one or the other party, maybe both parties, but it didn’t seem to happen. And I think the Doherty Foundation was behind Ewing. They were probably trying to put pressure on Columbia also to give us more of a break up here. I never really knew at what point Ewing decided to leave Columbia. What brought that action up I just don’t know. Maybe, [J. Lamar] Worzel probably knows what actually —
I wanted to make sure we didn’t get too far ahead chronologically. There were a number of developments we have skipped over in the early years. One of the things we spoke about off tape a moment during the break was the development of publications policy. Of getting the publications bound in volume sets here and distributed widely. I’m curious how that came about, and how decisions about doing that were made?
Well. Publication was always one of the major things at Lamont. Everybody wanted to publish and everybody wanted to get their research down on paper and get it published somewhere. And as time went on, it, you know — more and more publications. And it was thought that it would be good to put these in some kind of a volume which would be an indication of the kind of research that was going on and what was happening each year. And it was Agatha Weston who was the publications officer at the time. She was at Lamont Hall, second floor. There was an office there the publications office. And they decided to put these in the volumes and distribute them to people who were interested in Lamont and who had contributed to Lamont. I was trying to find out from Joyce [Scherrer] before, do you remember where the funds came from to put out this volume each year. And I can’t recall where the funds did come from. I think any institution that does a lot of publishing should have some kind of a volume that shows what they did that year. And that was what they did basically here.
Right. And these are the reprints?
These are reprints of —
The gathered reprints within the chronological, the calendar year that were bound together.
And then distributed.
You say there were hundreds of copies, or a hundred or so sent?
I think we had something like two hundred copies prepared of the accumulated yearly publications.
And some years were thicker than others, depending on the number of papers and the length of the papers.
But I think it was a good idea. And I understand they’re thinking about doing something like that again.
These were sent, were they sent to libraries and other institutions as well as to individuals.
Yes they were. I don’t know what the criteria was for determining where they were sent. I mean, I suppose someone made that decision as to what libraries and so forth.
And you were also aware they were going to contributors or potential contributors. Roughly how many went out that you would consider more in that category?
Oh, in the category of potential contributors or contributors?
Yes, versus say those that were going to libraries or other research institutions of that sort?
Well of the two hundred volumes, probably what, seventy-five or so. I just don’t know the answer to that question.
Sure. Okay. No, I realize I’m asking some questions that are outside the compass of the business office, but. One question that I think is very central to that, how did things change for you in the business office once the Vema was acquired and once you had in house ship operations? What were the major things needed in introducing?
Well, once we acquired the Vema, it appeared that we had to have a port captain’s office and we had to have a port captain. At the very beginning this job fell to the administration by default. First we had Sig [Sigourney] Romaine was the port captain and he came aboard when we acquired the Vema. And his job was to see that it was crewed, that they had the proper crew. That it was maintained properly. Finding ship chandlers in the various ports around the world to obtain fuel and oil and food and so forth and so on. It was quite an operation for us. We had this tiger by the tail so to speak, and we had to handle it. The port captain had his office in the business office over there. And he was responsible for the ship’s operation in the sense of handling all the details of running the ship.
What sort of person was Sig Romaine; personality?
Well Sig was very nice guy. He lived in New York City. And I don’t really know what his background before coming with us was. It was not as a port captain. It was in some business in New York City. And I always remember that he loved Gilbert and Sullivan and he was in the Blue Hill Troupe up in Blue Hill, Maine. And he got things done. I think that since it was a new operation, everything had to be set up you know. And there were a lot of questions of how it should be done and we had to get government approvals for a lot of things that were done on board the ship, the costs of it and so forth and so on. And then we had to set up an accounting system for it. And Sig in cooperation with our business office had started the handling of that. And then Sig left us and then Captain Sinclair came as port captain. And Valvin, his name was Valvin Sinclair was the port captain. He was a retired navy captain and he ran a pretty tight ship and did a good job. And I think things went well when he came aboard. Well he was a different type of personality than Sig Romaine. He was sort of a pleasure sailor if you know what I mean. He liked sail boats and so forth and so on, but I don’t think he’d ever run an operation like the Vema. Whereas Captain Sinclair had been in the navy and been a captain and had run his own ships and what have you. So he knew quite a bit more about it. He also knew that government regulations had to be followed a little bit.
More than Sig Romaine.
More than Sig.
Appreciated it perhaps. Didn’t bother him as much. But then after Sinclair left, I’m trying to think of who took over. But there were a number of port captains after that. And the ship’s operations became a larger part of the Observatory, as far as the office of the ship’s operations. I think they had three or four people in there.
Was it simply Sig Romaine handling it alone initially.
Initially yes, yes. Oh he had help from the business office as far as purchasing, payroll, and so forth and so on. But he was the one that was in charge. He was alone at the time.
How big were your operations at the time? How big was the business office by say the mid-1950s when the Vema operations fully began?
Well I’m trying to think when we moved from Lamont Hall. The business office was in the first floor of Lamont Hall in the hallway there from the time I started with Lamont until we built — longer than that. We had a telephone switchboard there at Lamont Hall. We had the purchasing and travel, all there and down through that hail. And then eventually I got a private office underneath the stairs which was the ladies washroom. And I was the only person that had a private john in my office. But —
What was that like as an office?
Well you went down a couple of steps. I don’t know if you’ve been in there or not. But underneath the stairway was a little room which was a powder room and on the walls was a wall paper depicting Indians. Off that were a small basin and toilet. And that’s where I had my office for quite a few years. And the rest of the office was out in the hail itself. I think people envied me because I had my own john. Other than that it was a very small office.
What was involved? You hinted very well at how large the task was in getting set up to handle an operation like the Vema. Handling the port captain’s job. But what sort of things needed to be developed that weren’t already within Lamont’s operation? Which ones for instance were the big challenges that?
Well to have a home port for example. Not long after we acquired the Vema, we came into Piermont at the Piermont Pier which had been used by the Army during World War II as the debarkation and embarkation place for troops going overseas to Europe. And there was a pier there. Of course, the Piermont Pier’s been there for a long, long time. And that was originally developed for the Erie Railroad. But at the end of the pier was a wooden structure which trucks could go out on, troops could go out on. And that’s where we tied up, but it was in very bad condition. We tried to fix it up, put in new beams and so forth for a while. Then, I can’t remember the dates, but it must have been in the sixties that we proposed to the National Science Foundation that we rebuild this pier for the operation of the Vema and any other research vessel that —
Right. And with the early 1960s the Conrad was already in the pipeline.
Yes, that’s right. So the National Science Foundation gave us a grant to do this. And we at the time leased the pier, the end of the pier from the Continental Can Company, a paper manufacturer. We got their permission to renovate the pier and so forth. The pier that’s still there now was built by Lamont through these funds from the National Science Foundation. And it really has been, I think, an asset to the village of Piermont, because it’s, you know, still used for recreational purposes.
How long did Lamont continue to use it?
Well Lamont used it up until I guess the middle seventies or thereabouts. The problem I think is that the water there is silted up and there isn’t enough water for the Ewing to come in there now. It was even touch and go with the Conrad as I remember it. I think there’s something like twelve or fourteen feet at high tide which isn’t very much water.
Yes, yes. It isn’t. Was it also touch and go then for the Vema at times?
At times, yes. You had to come in the channel. Make sure you were on the right channel to get into the pier. And then I’m sure that she was probably in the mud part of the time there at low tide.
You needed to sail right at high tide and then —
And that put constraints on the ship operation.
In addition to the matter of the pier at Piermont, what other challenges came with operating the Vema, taking it on as a responsibility?
Well in the business end of it, it was always the question of the use rate. A daily rate was established for the vessel based on past experience and actual costs, to determine how much each contract should be charged on a daily basis for the work that was being done in research for that particular contract or grant. And we had a provisional rate which was charged, and at the end of each year, the provisional rate would be adjusted to the actual rate based on the cost of the vessel, running the vessel. And part of the problem I had was, sometimes the provisional rate would be in effect, and then the actual rate would not come up for maybe six months to a year. In the meantime, a contract may expire or you had to decide how much money you had to keep in reserve to meet the actual costs of the vessel. And that was always a problem because your costs fluctuated each year depending on what had to be done in the way of repair of the upkeep of the vessel. Sometimes she’d go into the shipyard and you’d have a hell of a big bill. And the next year there wouldn’t be any large expense. So the rates would vary you see. I don’t know what the rates are today, but in those days, you know fifteen hundred dollars a day, two thousand was a big figure. I don’t know today. So that was a problem we had in trying to make sure there were enough funds left in a contract or grant to cover the actual cost. Cause usually the provisional rate was lower than the actual cost turned out to be, just because of the way things worked.
When you had to figure out funds of that sort, did that involve communicating with the captain of the vessel to make sure that you knew what of repairs might be coming up, things of that sort?
Well that was mostly done by the port engineer or the port captain; in other words, in consultations with the captain of the vessel and the scientists. A lot of the things that were done on the ships were scientific changes or repairs or whatever it was. Yes, in coming up with a provisional rate we took into consideration any known costs that you were going to have which may not be normal.
And then of course there was always the question of fuel oils. You know, the cost of fuel oil would go up in some places, come down in others. It was a problem.
How well did you come to know, for instance, the long term captain of Vema, Henry Kohler? How often would you have contact with him?
Oh, I didn’t have as much contact as the scientists did, because I was never on the vessel for the length of time that those people were. In fact, I was on it just as a visitor once in a while I mean. And actually, Henry Kohler didn’t spend an awful lot of time here at Lamont. When he came off the ship from a long cruise, he would go up to Nova Scotia and visit his family, naturally so that I didn’t really have very intimate contact with him although we knew each other quite well. And he’d have a problem here or there on the financial or business end of things and I’d work with him on it. But I was never, you know, a drinking partner on the ship or something like that, which a lot of the scientists probably were.
Indeed. Yes. Yes, the situation certainly was different for others, but you were a visitor for a while on the Vema, you said?
Oh only when it came into port.
Just to come to into port and —
Come into port and I’d go down and see how things were and talk to the people and so forth and so on. But that’s all I was not, I was never out on in other than to go down the Hudson River or something.
Right. What sort of problems, you mentioned, that just occasionally would come up that you and Henry Kohler, for example, might need to talk to one another? What sort of things were you able to work with him on? What kind of problems did you have in mind?
Well, probably the auditors one time. For example, Henry Kohler would get into a port, say down in South America, and he might have to bribe the customs people in some country to get something from out of customs to the ship. And he might have to buy a couple of bottles of Scotch or something like that. And then the question by the auditors, well how come?
You had to buy?
He had to buy this. Well you’d try and I’d get the story from Henry Kohler why he did that, and then I’d present it to the auditors and so forth. And sometimes we had disallowances because of that, or something that the government didn’t approve of particularly. But it was something that was necessary in order to get the job done.
No, I didn’t have too much contact with him in that regard. Occasionally, something about the crew and they wanted to get a salary raise or some question about or that sort of thing. It wasn’t very often that I had an awful lot of business with him.
Right. Did it work better for people like Henry Kohler, given those situations, to have a good supply of cash reserves on hand to anticipate, to get things through?
Yes he had some. He had a, how do I call it, a slush fund, or you know, petty cash fund. Because there were times when things came up, where he needed the cash. And of course he was accountable for it. Usually that was handled by the port captain. In other words, the port captain would come and say I need X number of dollars, and we would make out a voucher for it. But the port captain would have contact with the captain on those things.
How did the office of the port captain work? You mentioned that it passed through a number of hands in the fifties and sixties. Sig Romaine to Captain Sinclair and then others.
Yes. Were there, how, as it grew larger, as you had the Conrad and then eventually the Ewing ship join, was it harder to control or keep in touch or keep tabs on the way in which the port captain operation was done?
Well they were pretty much a division of their own after a while. When Sig Romaine came in, we were very close in the sense that we were setting this whole thing up. And as time went on, it became more and more of its own little division to take care of. They had a secretary and they had someone taking care of the accounting, and that sort of thing. So that as time went on, it became less and less under the business office.
I see. Yes.
But there for a while, the business office was really handling the ship as well as all the other problems.
Did, were any of the, how well did the people who followed in Captain Sinclair’s shoes do in that position? I gather from what you were saying that you felt that Captain Sinclair, given his background, was effective in the position.
Yes. He was effective. And I think that the ones that followed were effective also and I can’t remember the names of them. But I remember that they were — that they had been in that business in some way so that they knew what was going on and handled it okay. We had a port engineer. Actually Hank [Haakon] Skjerding who was the first port engineer was also the engineer on the Vema for quite some time and then he came into that position here at Lamont. I think they’ve had a port engineer for some time after Hank Skjerding came. Sam [Robert D.] Gerard was the last one that I remember. They would take care of the changes in the scientific quarters and laboratories and the ship’s engine and so forth and so on. They would see that those things got done.
That’s interesting. How well did people like Doe Ewing and Joe Worzel know these people who served in these capacities? Did they ever come in contact with Lamont’s chiefs often, or was it pretty much separate?
No I think that insofar as the ship’s operations go, that Ewing and Worzel were very much involved in it. Worzel perhaps more than Ewing insofar as the details go. They’d make their decisions and then Joe would sort of see that things were carried out. Worzel really was Ewing’s right hand man and did a great deal of the follow through on the decisions that were made. I think that in some ways, there were people who probably didn’t like Joe too much because he was the one that had to carry out the dirty work so to speak. It’s like in so many cases, a decision is made and someone’s got to take care of it.
He mentioned in the oral history that I did with him the year in which he had discovered that certain grants were very close to being overspent and that he had to hold the line.
During the year that Maurice Ewing was on sabbatical.
That’s right. It turned out that the principal investigators on some of these grants and contracts were just spending more money than they actually had; or were about to do that. And with the mortgages that were against the contract, items that we knew had to be taken care of, it looked like we were going to run into deficits on these contracts. So I remember I talked to him about this, and he decided that he had to put a stop to it. He had to cut down on the expenditures by telling the principal investigators that you couldn’t do this, it had to stop. And that’s what I mean by some people thought that he was heavy handed or that sort of thing. But those things had to be done. And Joe was one of the people that could do it.
Did that task fall on you as well? At times did you have to?
Try to tell the principal investigators?
Yes. The other problem we had was that the Columbia University accounting was so far behind that before you knew it you’d be running into a deficit condition and you didn’t know it. So really we had a duplicate accounting system. We ran our own accounting system up here at Lamont on a daily basis. And I got an old NCR machine and we kept our own accounts and all the expenditures of all the salary costs, and everything went through these accounts with each contract and grant and in that way we could tell where we were before Columbia ever got their figures together. And it was my job to tell these people, you know here’s where you stand and you have to cut back. Or you have plenty of money, go ahead and spend it, depends on the situation. But it was a duplication of effort, but on the other hand, we had to be able to tell these people where they stood. And the Columbia accounting was so far behind at that time that it just wasn’t possible. In fact, there came a time when Columbia depended on our figures to come up with the actual costs in certain things.
Right. To get them to that point.
To that point.
Was that in the 1960s? Do you recall?
I think it was 1960, 1970. Vaguely, I can’t remember the exact time but it was about then.
Had you tried to simply get the contract responsibility here at Lamont rather than at Columbia in their office?
We talked about that, yes. We tried to get the whole shebang up here. I think Dr. Ewing pushed for that in meetings with authorities down at Columbia. But of course they didn’t want to let go of their end of it. And we probably could’ve handled it, but it would’ve meant much more responsibility in the sense that we were — See the actual monies were down at Columbia. We didn’t have control of them up here. And it would have meant a larger organization to handle this.
Would you have wanted it at that point, or did you feel comfortable enough with the way the arrangements worked out?
Well, I think I felt comfortable with them. I don’t think that I felt that we should just break away from Columbia to that extent. On the other hand, I could also see the problems that we were up against with this overhead question and all that sort of thing. But I think there was talk at one time about breaking away entirely. But you know it was talk. I don’t think it ever would have come. I don’t think Columbia would have allowed it.
Who particularly came to favor that as an option? When you say that, I guess I’m curious who you recall having spoken about it?
Well, I think Worzel and Ewing were thinking that way. And we did that to a certain extent when we set up Palisades Geophysical Institute when the problem came up of classified work. And PGI is still going. And it was a non-profit corporation.
How did the planning for that come about? This is the time at which Columbia made the decision that no longer would classified research be part of Columbia’s operations which left the Bermuda program, for instance, in difficulty. What percentages of other grants at the time coming into Lamont were still considered classified?
I don’t think there were many. And I can’t think of any others except the Bermuda group that were at that time classified. Or if they were classified, they were declassified. Certain aspects which had been classified would be taken out of contract or they would no longer consider them a classified problem. So that we only had the Bermuda group that actually could not be declassified. It could not be considered non-classified.
So it started out. Gordon had. Have you talked to Gordon Hamilton yet?
Yes. So you know his side of the story I suppose. But from our standpoint here at Lamont, it was a question of setting up a whole new corporation. And it meant coming up with a plan to work it out. So we held meetings and we decided what we were going to do. It was left pretty much up to me to get it going. We first did it with one hand tied behind our back. In other words, we sort of took our people that were here at that time in the business office and gave them this additional task. And then we finally, we finally hired a business manager for it, Frank [G.] Mongelli.
Into, into PGI.
Into PGI, yes. So what we tried to do is to take the people that were on the Columbia payroll in Bermuda on these classified contracts and set up our own accounting and our own payroll and all of that rigmarole. And we had to have insurance and all the things that a corporation would have to have. And I remember working on that for some time, and we finally go it set up. Then we called in Frank Mongelli to help us. And he became the business manager. And I was the treasurer and secretary, I guess it was.
Ewing was president as I recall?
Ewing was president, yes. And Worzel I think was on the board. We had a number of people on the board from Lamont.
Gordon Hamilton, himself was on the board.
Yes he was on the board. We finally did get set up. And it operated quite well. But it was another task that had to be taken care of. I remember we used to — Frank Mongelli who had an office in Blauvelt, finally rented some space in Blauvelt. You know, in a building over there. And Frank and I used to meet on Fridays because it required that payroll and checks and everything had to have my signature on it. So he would bring all the bills and the checks prepared and we’d meet at some restaurant and have lunch and sign the checks and that sort of thing. Frank always kids me. He says, gee you signed all those checks and you didn’t look at the bills. And I said, well I was depending on you Frank and that’s the way it went. But it’s amazing that it’s still going. When we first set it up, it was a temporary thing. It was supposed to take care of the immediate problem of classified contracts which Columbia no longer would accept. And we thought, well when this all blows over, we’ll get back to Columbia again.
And I recall that people like Gordon Hamilton wanted to retain the link with Columbia.
For things like.
Oh tuition exemption.
Tuition exemption in his case.
Benefits of one kind or another.
And it’s true. We all thought that at some point three or four years from now we’ll be back with Columbia. Well it never came about. And it’s still going.
Is that to say Columbia’s policies didn’t change? Or that it just seemed to be better to maintain as a separate entity after you did do that?
Well I don’t think Columbia’s policies changed. I don’t know what the situation is at the moment, but I think they also felt that it was better to be an independent operation. Then of course they left — the Bermuda situation changed. I guess that was after Gordon Hamilton left PGI and I guess he went to Office of Naval Research in Washington. And then, what was I going to say? I lost my thought. Sorry.
It’s okay. You were talking generally about the way that PGI had changed focus wise. Let me just ask. I’m looking at a list of the folks involved in Palisades, in PGI. Gary [V.] Latham was director and Hollis Hedberg was also involved as well as of course yourself, Lewis [G.] Weeks.
What role did those other people play in the way that it worked?
Well, most of these people that you’ve named and others had been with Lamont at one time or another, except for Weeks and Hedberg. And they were sort of advisory. And the part they took in it was mostly as an outside director, and didn’t take too much part in it insofar as the operation went along. They came to the annual meetings and they still are sort of that way. Worzel is president of it still. And let’s see, Frank Mongelli is treasurer.
Have you retained an active role in it as well?
Perhaps more than the other directors because I’m right here. And I have contact with Lamont from time to time. And I talk to Frank and I meet with him once in a while.
Did you retain the role as secretary then through the period?
No. After Frank came aboard and they set up their own office and so forth, I was no longer secretary. They had their — I forget who’s secretary, but there was another person who was secretary. Right now it’s Kathy Powers, she’s the secretary. And she’s also the business manager so that they had their own set up over there. But I do think that over the years, Frank and I whenever we get together, he’ll say well you got me into this and I thought we were going to get back to Columbia and here we still are twenty some years later, still a separate entity. Oh, I know what I was going to say was that after a while, after Gordon Hamilton left, Carl Hartegan took over as director of the corporation. They decided that they should move to Cape Canaveral because there was no real reason to be in Bermuda any more, and it meant more expensive travel. So they moved the whole operation to Cape Canaveral and that’s where it’s still operating down there.
Okay. Roughly when did that transition take place? Was it the late seventies, early?
I think it would be the late seventies, yes. I don’t remember exactly.
There certainly are a number of issues that we’re still going to need to cover in a subsequent interview. But let me just ask if there’s anything else about PGI that you wanted to make sure we spoke about at this point?
Well, it’s just that the PGI did have several contracts back when it left Columbia. It now just has one contract.
Let me be sure on that. The SOFAR and eventually the SOSUS contracts were present at the time of Columbia’s restriction on the funding for classified research.
What other contracts did you have when you split off?
I think there was one for operating a vessel called the Erline. It was a small vessel that was used off shore Bermuda. And I think that was the only one that I can remember that we had down there. And occasionally there’d be a special project come up which would be funded through one of these contracts that we already had. But I don’t think we had separate contracts.
In the broader environment at the time, how unique was PGI?
Unique. Were there other competitors for contracts of this sort or was it the unique situation here that made it possible?
Oh I think it was the unique situation here that made it possible. Hudson Labs was the unique situation which was a separate entity, in a sense it was still part of Columbia University but it was set up that way. Then there was another laboratory downtown that was set up too. But I can’t remember what it was. It had something to do with electronics and that sort of thing. I guess it was what they called the old Sheffield building then. I can’t remember the name of it, but I think that’s the name of it. And of course I guess the Manhattan Project was an indication, but that was during World War II. But I think Lamont was probably one of the few off campus operations that you know just grew like Topsy, and is still in existence.
Right. I’m sorry I didn’t mean to interrupt your thought on that.
No, that’s all right.
How did PGI contracts evolve over time? How did they change moving closer to the present time?
Well, the SOFAR part of it was no longer in existence. That went out and SOSUS went out as far as the research was concerned. And so that PGI now just has one contract which is for the location of missiles fired from submarines, where do they land. How close to the target are they and so forth.
What’s their accuracy?
Yes, what’s their accuracy, the accuracy of them? And that’s the only contract that is now in existence for PGI. It’s often talked about; nothing’s ever done about getting more contracts. You see the PGI operation down at Cape Canaveral, is in a government building. Therefore you can’t really get projects that are not government related and do anything, any kind of physical research down there because it’s a government place. So we don’t really have a laboratory such as Lamont where you can do things other than government research.
So that’s part of the problem. And if there was any other source of funding, it would be almost impossible to do the research.
Indeed. And so consideration at the moment is whether to do that. To enter into the broader market, if possible.
Yes. That’s true. It’s difficult to know where PGI is going. In other words, if we lose this one contract, is there anything else that we could do and we would be good at it and so forth. And the operation now is really not a research operation. It’s more of an operational type of thing. Where we go out and conduct these tests. They’re shooting off these missiles and we go out and try and find out where they landed. So that’s sort of a routine type of thing. And that’s one of the questions that we have in our board meetings. You know, should we be doing more research and how could we do it. Should we set up a new laboratory for example? Or bring in some scientists and that sort of thing.
That’s very interesting.
But you can’t. You don’t have a place like Lamont where you can do that sort of thing. At PGI it’s really a government operation, entirely.
Realizing that lots of factors came into your decision to being part of PGI, how significant was being involved in it for your total salary? Was being involved in PGI, did that become particularly important for you personally, in terms of?
Well. When PGI was first formed, it was just one of those things that sort of dropped in my lap. I mean we never, as I remember it, I didn’t receive a salary or any compensation from PGI.
As I say, there were clearly lots of factors involved in creating it.
Yes. And it was just another phase of the development of Lamont and how it evolved, you know. So I would say that once we got it started and then they had this office over in Blauvelt, Frank Mongelli came on board, it really amounted to like meeting with him once a week and signing these checks and having lunch together was about the way it worked. I mean we’d talk of course on the phone and that sort of thing. But the actual physical handling of things was handled by that office, PGI’s office.
It was fun in a sense that we’ve been talking about always developing what turned out to be the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory. I think that in that sense I saw it grow and helped develop what turns out to be here today.
Yes. Well there are yet some additional issues that I think we’re going to want to explore in future interviews, but in the moment, this is probably a very good time for us to break. So let me thank you once again for this good session.
Well, thank you.