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Interview of George H. Sutton by Ronald Doel on 1996 December 30, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA, www.aip.org/history-programs/niels-bohr-library/oral-histories/6993-1
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Family background and early education; Muhlenberg College (1944-1945, 195-1947); Merchant Marines (1945-1947); summer work for Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (1949, 1950); Bruce Heezen’s expanding earth idea; Columbia University (1950- ??); courses taken with W. Maurice Ewing, Shirley Quimby, Walter Bucher, Marshall Kay; seismic and gravity surveys in Africa, circa 1955; meeting Sir Edward Bullard in Cambridge; work at Lamont Geographical Observatory with Jack Oliver on seismology; formation of the Alpine Geophysical Association with Charles Drake, Walter Beckmann, Bernie Luskin; merging with Charles Officer’s company.
This is Ron Doel and this is an interview with George H. Sutton. We are conducting this interview on the thirtieth of December, 1996 in Lake Monticello, Virginia. And I know that you were born in Chester, New Jersey, on March 4, 1927, but I don’t know about your family or your parents. Who were they and what did they do?
Well, my mother was a homemaker. My father was a local grocer, butcher in Chester. Had a store on Main Street, which now has been divided into two stores, a boutique and a place that sells antique clocks I think. I was born actually in a little village off to the side of Chester, close by. But before I remember, I always, as far as I knew, I always lived in Chester in the same building the store was. Upstairs over the store. And from when I was a kid, you know, I started working in the store weighing potatoes, was my first job, for a quarter a week I think I got, something like that.
Of course, the Great Depression began only a few years after you were born. How badly did the Depression affect your family?
We were among the fortunate people in town. We didn’t have any money, but we did have lots of food. We always had lots of vegetables. We tended to use the vegetables that were left over, that didn’t sell. I know that my father helped carry a lot of people who lost jobs and so forth during the Depression on credit. And he was a good man. He was one of the founders of the local fire company. And helped start a local water company. And just a good guy. Neither of them had much education. Neither graduated from grammar school.
Had they been — how long had both sides of the family been in the United States?
My mother’s parents came from Germany. My father’s family had been in the United States for a long time. I don’t know really much, many of the details. They had lived —- my father’s family had lived out in New Jersey, but both my mother and my father were born in Newark, New Jersey. And my father had an interesting career. He worked as a steel worker for a little while. And then he worked as a brakeman on the Pennsylvania Railroad. He had his own little bus. I don’t know how he got the money, but in Newark, New Jersey, he ran a little bus for a while, until the town put in their own buses and drove him out of business. So he never liked that.
I can imagine.
He was a pretty strong Republican. He didn’t like all those, with the government taking over things.
How big was your family when you were growing up?
I had an older sister and a brother. My sister’s eleven years older; my brother’s four years older. And my mother died when I was thirteen. And my father remarried a couple years later. And he married a woman from Germany. And this was during World War II. And because she was from Germany, there was a little bit of problems in the local, small town.
I can imagine.
Nothing serious, but mostly a lot of people talking.
And you were clearly made aware of that.
Yes, I heard things about it. I didn’t — didn’t really bother me very much. I had trouble with her for a long time because she tried to civilize me. And I wasn’t — I was hard to civilize.
How do you mean you were hard to civilize? What are you thinking about?
Well, we ran this was during World War II, and it was just a bunch of kids. We didn’t have anything organized to do in those days. And we used to run around. And I don’t know how much of this is going to get recorded, but we used to sneak to the back. There were a couple bar rooms we could get to the back of to make — they’d sell us a couple quarts of beer. And then we’d go out and sit on the running board of the car someplace and drink the beer. We didn’t do anything really bad, just caused minor trouble.
I don’t want to get too far ahead of us here. But you were in the Merchant Marines, as I recall, from ‘45 through ‘47?
Once you had turned eighteen.
Yes. Well, no. I think I turned eighteen after I was in the Merchant Marine. I really wanted to get in the navy, but my eyes are too bad. And most of my friends were a little bit older than I, so they’d been drafted already. Were in the service. And I had started to college. I graduated in June of ‘44 and I started to college in July. That was when they were, sort of went around, around the year. And I was not too happy in school. I really thought I ought to be out doing something else.
You’re thinking particularly of your freshman year?
Was this at Muhlenberg? I do want to get back.
It was at Muhlenberg College. One thing I’m curious about before we talk about your studies at Muhlenberg. When you were growing up, what kind of house did you have? Did you say that it was connected with the store?
Yes, it was a two-story building. And we lived in the upstairs. We had an apartment above the store. And actually that was divided into two parts. It changed three times. It was eventually, it was divided into two parts. And then, at one point, my sister and her husband lived in the back half of the upstairs and we lived in the front half of the upstairs. My brother had already gone. He, my brother, was in the Merchant Marines. That’s sort of one of the reasons that I went into eventually. And he had started the Merchant Marines before the war broke out. Before we got in the war. Then he stayed in it through the war.
Do you recall having an interest in science when you were growing up?
Oh yes, yes. I was always interested in science.
What particularly intrigued you? Or do you remember what kinds of things you were reading?
Well, one of the things that I remember is we always had Readers Digest in the house. We also had National Geographic, but I remember reading articles in Readers Digest about all kinds of things. I especially remember reading biology things that was always interesting. And I had a chemistry set. I guess I started that, I don’t know when I started that. Maybe when I was in seventh or eighth grade. And when I went to college, I expected to major in chemistry.
Before you actually decided to major in physics, you were thinking of chemistry? That’s interesting. That’s interesting. I was intrigued when you said you were reading Readers Digest, National Geographic. Did you get Popular Mechanics or other magazines of that sort at home?
No. No. That was it. They were the main ones. When I was growing up, I was always interested in sports, especially football. Because my big brother was a football player. And, of course, he turned out to be a lot bigger than I turned out to be. And he was a tackle on the high school football team. So I figured I had to be a lineman too. And, of course, I was also blind so I couldn’t play in the backfield very well. And so I trained and I made the varsity in my sophomore year. And I did pretty well. Actually I was — and I went to college on a football scholarship. That’s the way.
I didn’t realize that. That’s interesting.
They were nice to me. And I thought I could be a professional football player, but, when you weigh 150 pounds and you’re five foot six, it’s a little hard to be a lineman in the professional football. But I was able to play in college for a while until I got injured.
When did that happen, the injury?
Actually, it was after I came back from the Merchant Marines. My freshman year was in two parts. One semester and then a big gap. And when I came back I played, the first year I came back I played again. That was my sophomore year and then I was injured. Actually, I was injured in practice. Got a bad concussion. So the doctor said I shouldn’t play anymore. So I played two seasons in college and then I wrestled after that. And they didn’t take away my scholarship which was very nice.
That is. Yes.
They said, “Just keep up your marks, George, and stay out of trouble.”
I imagine that was difficult to be told that you couldn’t play sports again.
Well, I was able to wrestle, but football was really my sport I liked.
When you were thinking back to seventh or eighth grade when you first got the chemistry set, were any teachers particularly memorable for you in either junior high school or high school?
We didn’t have junior high schools. The eighth grade teacher in my grammar school was also the principal, Mr. Williamson. He was a very bright guy. The seventh grade teacher was the popular teacher. Everybody thought he was really neat. I liked him too. But, and most of the kids kind of didn’t like the eighth grade teacher because he would stand up on the side of the room and sort of look out the window and talk. And he was not very interactive. But I thought the stuff he said made sense. So I really paid attention to him. And I don’t specifically remember him being especially good in science. He taught everything, but I think I learned a lot from him about all sorts of things.
And you say this was covering the, from one side to another. Physics and chemistry, and all science.
Well, he taught everything, yes. And this was just eighth grade science. Actually, in high school, I’m trying to think who my science teachers were. They weren’t very impressive. The most impressive teacher I had was a mathematics teacher who actually helped me. He introduced me to the football coach at Muhlenberg. He was a graduate of Muhlenberg. And he actually helped me get into the college. In those times especially — most of the science teachers were men. And they all got drafted. So some women teachers who were nice ladies. That’s the best way I could say it.
Were there — and realizing the situation with a lot of the teachers gone? Were there science clubs or other activities at the school? And this was in Chester where you…?
No, no. The school was Roxbury High School in Succasunna, New Jersey. You can look it up in the map if you want to know how to spell it.
I will. That’s fine.
And they had curtailed a lot of the sports at that time, as I said. I liked science. I was never awfully good in history and other things. I did play football. They had basketball. They stopped track because we lost the coach, or because of restricted travel. And we lost our good football coach in my junior year. He was drafted. What else? So we didn’t have a science club. I was active in most everything else we had. We had a fire squad. I was chief of the fire squad. And a whole bunch of different things.
Given what you were saying about your father, it sounds like some of those civic interests were carried on.
And they had some — I forget what it was called. It was some sort of a volunteer thing to support the war effort. And I worked weekends at the local Picatinney Arsenal my senior year, which was a joke.
Well, they didn’t really have enough work for us. And the bosses told us to try to keep busy. So we got a hammer and pound on something. Pretty silly.
It must have gotten frustrating after a while.
It was. It was.
Were your parents particularly religious? Were you attending church regularly?
No. No. They wanted me to go to Sunday school, but they didn’t go to church regularly, no. And, yes. [Machinery noise starts]. Let me turn that thing off. [Interruption to turn off machine].
One of the other things I wanted to ask you was whether any of your friends when you were growing up shared your interest in science? I suspect many of them shared your interest in sports.
Yes. No. One of my best friends was very bright, probably smarter than I was. But he was more interested in English and history and things like that than in science. He still did well in those courses, but he wasn’t as interested as I. But that’s it. We mainly were interested in girls in high school. And sports.
Perfectly normal at that time. You had mentioned when you went to Muhlenberg that you thought your career would be in chemistry. Did you know any chemists when you were growing up, or was it based on the interest that you had experimenting and reading?
No, just from reading.
Do you remember any books that you were reading in science as you were growing up?
Well, I do remember I had paperback sort of summaries of high school level chemistry and physics both. And I read those cover to cover, in addition to the texts from school. But it was just on my own.
Was that in the school library or the town library? Or did you just buy this?
I don’t remember where I got them. I don’t think it was from the library.
How was Muhlenberg? What do you remember from the — from taking science courses? Were there any teachers there who were particularly memorable?
Yes. The teacher who taught electricity and magnetism I thought was very good. He was a young Ph.D. I think he got his Ph.D. at Cornell. I’m not sure. And I’ve still, I’ve seen him more recently at reunions. He’s retired now. And I saw him. There was the head of the department, Robert Boyer, was more popular than this fellow, and he taught mechanics, and he taught thermodynamics. I can’t remember now what else. I didn’t think he was quite as good a physicist as the other one. I know that I did discover, part of the reason is because, when I went to Columbia and a really high powered physics department, I discovered that my background in the things that the unpopular guy taught was better than the popular guy’s.
Yes. I was real interested when you said that. I was wondering if it was a retrospective judgment or something that you perceived at that time.
It’s a mixture. It’s a mixture.
Yes. Because especially mechanics. I aced the mechanics course from this popular fellow. And when I got to Columbia, I discovered I really didn’t know too much about the subject. But my math background was pretty good. Most of the professors were friendly and approachable. So it’s a nice school. It’s a nice school. I think the only professor I remember having trouble with was a very nice man. He was a Lutheran minister. Muhlenberg a Lutheran school. And at the time, I don’t know if it’s still required, you were required to take an ethics course and a bible history course. That was a requirement to graduate. And I can’t remember which one of those it was. I think it was the ethics course. I took this exam, and since it was required from everybody, there a whole bunch of other football players and people in this one class with me when I — In most courses, I did much better than they did. And after this one examination, I got a pretty bad grade compared to all these other guys. And all he had was at the front of the thing he had a letter grade and with not one mark in the whole thing.
No comments at all?
No comments at all. So I went to see him. I rarely did anything like this. I went to see him about him because it just didn’t seem quite right when I saw what these other guys had written. And he said “Well sure, Mr. Sutton, let’s look through it. And we looked through it. And I said, “Well, what’s wrong with that answer?” “Nothing.” I said, “What’s wrong — “. We went all the way through it. He didn’t make any comments that anything was wrong. I said, “Well how come I got that grade?” He says, “That’s what I gave you.” So. He just, he obviously didn’t think it was very good. So.
He couldn’t tell you what he didn’t like about it, but…
I guess I just didn’t say enough. Maybe I didn’t use enough words. I’m not sure. But I’d never forget it.
I’m sure that was memorable. That’s very interesting. One of the other things I was intrigued about earlier when you had mentioned your switch from chemistry to physics as a major at Muhlenberg. How did that come about?
That was mainly from the laboratories. And partly my fault probably because in general chemistry and in analytical chemistry — we had to take two full years of chemistry — it just seemed to me that you sort of, you just followed this cookbook. And so you put a drop of this in, you put a drop of that in. You write down what color came out. And it didn’t make much sense to me while I was in the laboratories. The laboratories seemed to be very boring. And it probably would’ve been a lot different if I had had prepared myself before the laboratory to see what this is all about. But I didn’t. You did that afterwards when you wrote the report. Then you had some idea what was going on while you were there. But you spend three or four hours in the laboratory doing these silly things, it just turned me off. And so I did fairly well in the lectures, but I didn’t like the labs. And when I got — physics was just completely different. I seemed to understand what was going on during the laboratories. And I enjoyed it. It smelled better too.
Yes, I’m sure they did. It sounds like they were taught in a different way, the labs, as well? Or was it your familiarity with physics that just made the experience different for you?
I don’t know. Because they didn’t do an awful lot of laboratory work in high school either. We did have labs in both chemistry and physics. But I don’t remember very much about them. And I didn’t remember. I didn’t remember liking physics labs in high school more than my chemistry labs. It’s just that, when I got to college, I just switched. And when I took biology, I really liked biology in college. I don’t remember much about biology in high school. And at one point I thought maybe I’d go into biophysics.
Interesting. Of course right after the war, there was a lot of interest in biophysics. Irwin Shroeder’s book, What is Life, had just come out around that point. Was that something that you encountered at ??? Because not many people knew of biophysics in those years?
I didn’t really encounter. I just, before I happened to get with the geophysics group. See, most physics graduates at that point were going into some kind of nuclear physics. And I was not interested in that. So I wasn’t sure what I was going do.
And you knew that already. You were going through sophomore and junior years.
Yes. I don’t know when I decided that, but at least in junior year I was pretty sure. And, so I was thinking about maybe switching to Lehigh and going into some kind of engineering graduate school. And then it just kind of crossed my mind that maybe biophysics would be interesting because I was always interested in biology. I didn’t know what, had any idea what I’d do.
Does anyone stand out in your mind as a mentor in the faculty at Muhlenberg for your career and your interests?
I just this one, Dr. Raub, the fellow who taught. Actually, he was the one that taught nuclear physics too. But I was not — but he also taught the electricity and magnetism, which I really enjoyed.
You were telling me that one of, probably your first exposure to geophysics, although I wanted to ask you about that, came in the summer of 1949 between your junior and senior year, and this was off-tape. When your brother’s brother-in-law had brought you into contact with Woods Hole and geophysics. How did that come about? I’m curious what you recall.
Well, let’s see. I was married at the end of my freshman year. Of course we were poor, but I had a scholarship that paid most of the school expenses. My wife had a job as a secretary and paid for most of the rest of it. I got, when we went home to the store, my — we always came back with a batch of groceries. And so, but I always found a job of some sort between semesters, the summer, to get some money. And this between my junior and senior years I couldn’t find a job in Allentown. And my brother mentioned to me that his brother-in-law was a graduate student at Columbia under [W. Maurice] Ewing and they did these interesting things during the summer. And maybe, maybe they’d take me on to work with them, essentially for my keep plus twenty dollars a month or something like that.
Had you known of that before you began inquiring?
This was all new.
I don’t remember really. I had never taken a course in geology, so I had really never gotten, I didn’t have a great interest in geology. It was these other things I told you about. And they, they said, “Sure, come along.”
When you say “sure”, do you mean Dick Edwards?
Oh, I don’t know. I don’t know who said, “Okay come.” I guess they had to check it out with Ewing. But they needed people. And see at that time. See that was before Lamont actually. I think Lamont, they had started moving into Lamont that, during my senior year.
It would have been just about that time.
And this was still done out of Columbia. And at that time, Columbia didn’t have any of its own ships. And in the summer they used, they chartered ships from Woods Hole. So, and they already lined up the people who were going to go on the main at sea work during the summer. But Dick Edwards, who was the, was this brother’s brother-in-law, who I just discovered reading Jack [E.] Oliver’s book, Dick Edwards got him into geophysics.
And I hadn’t known that until just a month ago. And Dick was also a wrestler.
And I was thinking earlier, Jack Oliver, of course, played football for quite some time.
Right. He was good. They were both good. Have you met Dick Edwards by the way?
No, I haven’t.
He’s an interesting guy.
What sort of fellow is he?
Oh, he’s very nice. He has a nice tenor voice — likes to — We used to sing all the time.
And he harmonized and knew a lot of good old songs. Strong, he was strong as a bull. And he had been an officer in the navy during World War II. Actually, yes, he had gone through the navy program at Columbia. So he was an undergraduate at Columbia. And he really liked going to sea. And he was a graduate student and he went to sea so much. Whenever we were short of people who wanted to go to sea, and he would rather go to sea than take his exams in physics. So gradually he stopped being a graduate student, and he eventually ended up at Woods Hole. And he became the — essentially the port captain in charge of all their ships. Very capable guy. But he could do anything in the machine shop. He could run all the forklifts and cranes and anything there. In fact, he’s still retired. But the last time I was at Woods Hole, I think I saw him driving something around, picking something off a ship.
Quite a guy.
That must have been some fun doing that, the harmonies at sea.
Yes. Anyway the main group had already been chosen, and there were a few of us left over. There was Dick Edwards, Jack Northrop, who were graduate students, and then there were two fellows who just graduated from MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology], Ted Maddon, who eventually became a professor at MIT, and Ed Miller, who got his Ph.D. at Columbia and I. And we were — we sort of did things around Woods Hole, using small ships and setting off explosions kind of on-shore, off-shore seismic experiments. And that was really interesting. And I spent about half my time there. We’d sleep on whatever small boats we happened to be in, to save money. And — but part of the time I worked at Columbia, and I worked for Frank Press. I built a little radio to pick up the radio time signals for the seismograph station.
That’s very interesting. I want to get to that in just a moment. Which ship or ships were you principally on? Was it the Caryn or it was it the smaller vessels?
No. Smaller than that. I went on the Caryn the next.
That was the following summer.
Next year. This was the Mitalus and the Asterias, I think they were called.
That’s right. Those were the smaller, shore vessels. When you were there, did you get to meet the folks at Woods Hole, like Columbus Iselin or ??? Was there much contact between you and some of the more senior members at Woods Hole?
No. I didn’t get to meet. I don’t remember meeting many of the really senior people. I met some of the more junior. Let’s see, I have a little trouble because we interacted with Woods Hole after that.
And I forget when I saw some of these people. But mostly we were doing our own thing. And see, I helped, when I first went there, the big ships hadn’t gone out yet. And so I helped get ready to go to sea. I made a little gadget to help; it was Bruce [C.] Heezen set off charges. This was back in the old days of, before kilometer long streamers and air guns and so forth. You’d throw a quarter pound, a half-pound of TNT over the side of the ship and slack a hydrophone, a single hydrophone to pick up the signal. And I put together — I think Dick Edwards designed it and I built it too — a little gadget that you kind of push a button and it would change the gains on an amplifier and start the camera, and do a bunch of other things. So that one person could do this whole routine, rather than have two or three people doing it. It seemed to work. So Bruce Heezen was excited for me to come back because I did something useful.
Because you’d done this already.
Did something useful for him.
Your junior year. I’m really interested about when you say that. Clearly you’d picked up mechanical ability of this sort when you were growing up. You knew enough about electronics and at least, applying it, applied electronics to build things like this. What do you remember doing that helped you get ready for that sort of work at Woods Hole?
I don’t remember. I know the chemistry set I sort of built the stuff that I did it on. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t remember anything specific.
What do you recall of Bruce Heezen? What sort of person was he?
Oh, he was an interesting guy. Very, of course, extremely enthusiastic about geology. And I went to sea with him a couple of times. And after the second time, I swore I’d never go to sea with him again.
Well, I was trying to do seismic reflection work at sea with this business still throwing half pound TNT over the side every half hour or so. And he was, at the time, he was interested in, of course, he was mainly interested in the geology stuff he could see with the echo sounder. And he was also very interested in the cable brake.
The turbidity currents work.
The turbidity current stuff. And in just filling in all the gaps in the bathymetry all over the ocean, which, at that time, there were lots of them mostly unknown. So he never wanted to go back to any place the ship had been before. And I was getting these records that I looked like I was getting really beautiful reflections from the sub-bottom, but I didn’t know how to correlate them. A half hour a part, they were like several miles apart. And we discovered later that they were completely alias. There’s no way you could make any sense out of that data.
Because the resolution was too poor.
Yes. Because we missed about four peaks in between shots. And I sort of begged him, “Can we just run over one of the places where we did a refraction profile? Just once. And or do this or that?” Well, there never quite was enough time for this to happen, you know. So I just said, that’s it. I’ve had enough of this. And I remember coming back. This was Ewing, was a brilliant man. And, of course, he was just a working fool. And I came back. And he just couldn’t believe that the sub-bottom would be so complicated because the bottom looked so smooth most places. And he kept saying, George, you’re doing something wrong. If you can’t correlate that stuff properly, you’re just doing something wrong.
This is Ewing?
That’s very interesting. When was this happening? Was this before you’d gotten your Ph.D.?
This is going on, these interactions. Of course he was looking at the Abyssal Plains and seeing the smoothness after.
And so I think he missed all that. But eventually started doing it more often. In fact, we did one survey that never got published where we did really bang away. But this was over this little, this little, what to call it? It’s not a trench. It’s a little depression, almost like a stream bed on the bottom of the ocean that runs between Newfoundland and Greenland. And we did a detailed bang over that. I don’t know which of these two summers that I went out we did this though. But, yes, I could make some sense out of that; get some correlation when we were really shooting rapidly.
Rapidly being, say, every five minutes.
Every couple minutes.
Every couple minutes.
I can’t remember that it was so long ago. I know we used a lot of TNT.
But that’s real interesting. And you say that that result wasn’t published.
No. I don’t think that was ever published. It would have been a very small thing anyway.
But yet given how few profiles of that sort with high resolution were available at the time, it still would have been.
Yes. It’s too bad. I should have. I have a couple things that never got published that should have gotten published. That’s why I’m not famous.
I’d like to hear about those as we go along.
One of the reasons.
Were you working with ??? Please, go ahead.
What I was going to say about Bruce, now jumping ahead quite a bit. But after I came back from Africa, he was really interested in talking to me. And I did, as, I really liked him when I wasn’t at sea with him. Because he was an interesting guy. I just didn’t want to go to sea with him anymore. But, let’s see, I had worked, I was working on the western rift valley of Africa. The great rift is to the east. And with the western rift, it looks like a wishbone. And my main job was to sort of watch over three seismic, or earthquake seismograph stations, both run by this Belgium research group.
Very interested in how that came about.
Yes. And I did a gravity survey. That’s another thing that didn’t get published. It really should have been published.
You did the survey when you were over in Africa?
While I was there. A gravity survey around the western rift valley, which was a big part of what I did. And I still have all the data. It may get published someday.
Anyway, he was, at that point, he was really excited about the idea of the—this was in 1956 I guess it was or ‘57, somewhere around that, when I came back. And he was interested in the correlation between the topography of a cross section across the Red Sea and across the Atlantic Ocean, and across the rift valleys in Africa. And the similarities. And he was seeing the idea of these is places where things are splitting apart. And this is in the 50s.
Right. Yes. And we very interested in the expanding earth idea.
Well, the reason he was interested in the expanding earth is because he didn’t know what to do with all that stuff. And at that time, nobody thought about the down, the convergence part of the plates. But he had it all figured out, except —. And of course he was criticized for the expanding earth because the physics was not so good. He wasn’t a very good physicist. But anyway, he had to have something to do with all —. If this is spreading, it’s got to go someplace. You can’t have it spreading all over unless it’s expanding. And so he was kind of stuck. So he was just grappling for anything. And I know at that time the earthquake people didn’t help him at all. Because Benioff wrote a paper. I guess he’s a famous guy.
Yes. He wrote a paper saying that the all the earthquake focal mechanisms around the margins of the Pacific Ocean indicated that the Pacific Ocean was rotating relative to the countries. And of course these are the big earthquakes that are really the converging margin earthquakes. And this is based on some bias I guess in the way people were interpreting first motion. I remember running into this. Because I did the first motion studies from African earthquakes, from the stuff I did in Africa. And I found similar kinds of things that, and it was a different technique than they use nowadays for doing that. And apparently there’s some bias built into it. I never really understood. I got off on other things. Whoops, we just lost our lights. Do you need power?
Fortunately, I’m running on batteries so we’re okay.
So anyway, that’s, so Bruce [Heezen] was stuck. But he knew what was happening in the ocean.
Yes. I’m really curious about that. Do you remember any particular discussions that you had with him about that or that he had with others about the expanding earth ideas or the arguments he was bringing on correlation?
All I just remember is that he felt the volcanism and the seismic activity in these spreading places and the similarities between the, the rift valleys in Africa and the Red Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, just a cross section. I think some of that stuffs published.
That it seemed obvious to him that these are all the same phenomenon, just at different stages. And so he was really interested in talking to me about. Because one of the reasons I did that gravity study, was that Sir Edward Bullard, who I think it was for his Ph.D. thesis, he did a gravity study, using pendulum gravity meters in central Africa. And he did them around similar places where I worked. And in his interpretation of the data, he interpreted the rift valley as a convergent system. It was actually pushing together rather than coming apart, and that the central block was pushed down rather than falling down. And one of the reasons I wanted to do this, this young, snotty graduate student, I wanted to just show that Bullard was all wet. You know that that was wrong. That it was really a — it was a graben coming apart. And so that’s why Bruce was really interested to see if my conclusions were that, which way it was. Was it compression or was it spreading?
Indeed. Indeed. And what I have in front of me.
What I have here is a copy of one of the papers that you had published when you were over there. Gravity bases in central Africa, which was a very short paper followed by the seismological studies of the western rift valley in Africa.
The two works that I believe that came out from that. Had you already met the…
There were two papers on that subject.
That’s right. Had you already met Bullard at that point?
I hadn’t met him until I — I met him on the way back from Africa. And it was really — he was a neat guy. It was really interesting because I especially wanted to go see him because I thought I was going show he was all wet. And I went out to Cambridge, and he was a busy guy. And he spent, I don’t — it seemed like a whole day with me. We had lunch together I think and I told him that I was pretty sure that his idea was wrong. He says, “Oh, I haven’t believed that for years.”
That’s all the deflating, isn’t it? [Laughter]
So, it was. Actually, though, when I got back, of course, I got busy doing other things instantly. And I’m lazy. And I had to do stuff that I was getting paid for, and I managed to get a graduate student working on his master’s degree, who was a good student, to work on this data. And we actually had, he got his master’s degree out of a paper that didn’t get published on interpretation of all the gravity stuff that I did. And we did some model calculations based on the [Manik] Talwani, the Talwani 2D system. That I worked on. I worked with Manik on that earlier. And actually what we came up with was that, from the gravity by itself, it could be either compression or tension, depending upon how you interpreted it.
Interesting. So the gravity measurements were important, but they also led to ambiguous results as far as interpreting the ???
Yes. That was our result. And of course we wrote the paper. The paper was, one of the reasons that it never got published, is because it took so long. The master’s thesis wasn’t good enough for publication. And this was all done; all the writing was done before the great big explosion of everybody figuring everything out. So we would have to go back and rewrite, do a lot of rewriting. The science was the data was still fine. And I did give a lot of the data to other people, so it’s been used. Most of the basic data.
How did that exchange come about that enabled you to go over there in the first place? It was an exchange of positions I understand?
Debremaerker had come over.
Yes. Jean-Claude Debremaerker. And that was set up somehow. I wasn’t involved in the original arrangement. Debremaerker had gotten his Ph.D. at [University of California at] Berkeley and he was ready for a sabbatical. I don’t remember whether they’re four or six or seven years, I don’t know. I don’t think it was seven years. And the people in Africa could come out for a year because they were so isolated, to get back and find out what the rest of the world was up to. And it was arranged that he would come to, he would come to Columbia for a year, and Chuck [Charles L.] Drake was going to switch jobs with him. It was Chuck was a little senior to me. And I think his wife was about to have a baby or something.
That could well be.
That turned it off. And so I was second choice. And I took it. And we had two little kids at the time. That was great.
What was it like living over there?
Oh, it was wonderful. Those Belgians know how to live. But they had this really nice science center, IRSAC [Institut pour le Recherché Scientifique en Afrique Centrale] on the western hills on the west side of Lake Kivu and they had nice houses. In fact, we took over Debremaerker’s house. His was sort of designed in the western style since he spent some time in California. He had an American wife. And the center was real fancy. We had a swimming pool, tennis courts, and nice place. Nice labs.
How well equipped were they compared to those in the west?
Oh well see they had, they had quite a bit of money. The money came mostly from, I think, from the Allies to pay back the Congo for a lot of the uranium. Uranium ore that was taken out of the Congo.
Surely. That was a big issue in those days or previous to —
And so the Belgians set up these research institutes. And they did a lot of good for the people too. It wasn’t all. But the researchers lived pretty nicely. Especially the director. He lived like a king. He was about another thousand meters up the hill from us and he had a stable of horses and a little private zoo with chimpanzees and all kinds of African animals. He was something.
Did you get up to visit him often?
Not often, but a couple times. We were allowed to visit with the king. They called him Bwana Macuba, which means the biggest boss. What was his name? Van den Berg
That can always be added on to the transcript later
Van den Berg he helped me quite a bit. But it was for his own reasons. I can explain that some time. I don’t like to —, yes I do. Anyway, the whole deal was very interesting because Frank Press, about the time we went to Africa, went to Cal Tech [California Technical Institute].
I was just going to say that that really was one of the major changes in Lamont during those years.
Yes. Yes. And so his house was empty. And we had been — We were really poor. And we had been carting around this old used cast-off furniture, moving from apartment to apartment. And they had this — Press’s house was available for the Debremaerkers to move into on the grounds. I guess you know which houses are there.
And so they said, “Well George, why don’t you move your furniture into the Press’s house and then Debremaerker can live there. And then when you come back, you might as well since your furniture’s there, you might as well move in there.” This is sort of the way things were done. And it was great. And so that’s the way it worked. I remember especially the sofa we had. The last time, the last place we moved before we moved down to there, was like on the third floor of this private home in upper Nyack. And then, it was a fold-away sofa. And Jack Oliver, along with a bunch of other people, helped us move all this stuff. And I remember trying to drag this heavy, big old thing up these stairs and it kind of fell apart in our hands, it was so old and decrepit. And so the only way you could make it work was you had to have, I think, two or three big phone books to go under one corner of it.
You’re holding your hands about six inches apart from one another.
To hold it up. Anyway, that was the way it worked. So we were able to move into Lamont when we came back. And we lived there until our family got too big for that house.
One thing I’m curious about. When you were over in Africa, did you have much contact with other members of the geologic, the earth science community in the broadest sense? Did you meet folks like Lester King from South Africa for instance?
No. No. There was a… I’m trying to remember, There weren’t any other geologists at our institute. The — well except for Ed Berg who —
You were co-author with him on one of the studies, indeed the seismological—.
Right. And we became, we eventually became good friends. That’s another interesting story. But he’s now very sick. He’s a professor at the University of Hawaii. So we knew each other out there. And he and I worked together. So he came, he came to be Debremaerker’s assistant, the same time I went there to take over Debremaerker’s job. And the interesting thing is that, since I’m in the middle of it, he thought that he was my boss and I thought I was his boss. And this worked fine for several months until we came to something where we both thought that we ought to do something different. And he said, “Well, you have to do what I say.” And I said, “No, you have to do what I say.” So. That was kind of a nasty scene. We had to go to the big boss to find out who was the little boss. And it got straightened out eventually, but it was awkward. Anyway, where was I?
Well, generally about others you’d come in contact with.
Oh others, others I met. The other thing. I don’t know if I ever met this man, but there was a Belgian scientist who was the expert for gravity in the Belgian Congo. And he had done some surveys and I’ve forgotten his name. And when it turned out that I was going to be able to do this survey around the rift valley. Actually Joe [J. Lamar] Worzel lined up a Worden gravity meter and had it sent over to me. I picked it up in Leopoldville which is now Kenshusha I think it is. It was the capitol of the Congo. And so they, this Belgian didn’t want me to do the survey because he felt I was encroaching, I guess, on his part of the world.
Yes. And that’s where the big boss at IRSAC for some reason, there’s a lot of, at the time I didn’t realize how much politics was involved in science. I found out later that it wasn’t unique to the Belgians. And for some reason the director thought that, he wanted me to do it, partly to embarrass this other guy for some reason. That was the feeling I got out of the whole thing. Anyway, so I got quite a bit of support from them. They provided me with a big station wagon, and an African chauffeur to cart me all around. And one of the local Belgian guys who knew Africa very well, not a real scientist, but he knew a lot. Because one of these smart guys around. And he went around with me the first part and then I did the last part by myself with the chauffeur. And we spent at least a couple months at this. Up and down, all along the rift valley. We got all the way down to the bottom of Lake Tanganyka, on both sides. In the English side which was then English controlled. And I know I got some help. I got a lot of help from the head of the meteorology in; I guess that was in Leopoldville. Because they gave me, one of the biggest problems with doing gravity survey was the elevation and the location. Because the corrections are highly dependent upon those things, mainly elevation. And the maps weren’t any good. So that I had, essentially, I had three different barometers that I carted around with me to inter-compare, then lots of correcting. But that’s still probably the biggest source of error in all the data, on the elevation correction. Which now is no problem at all with GPS?
You had meant that generally and not just the rift valley studies, the western rift that you were thinking about. One thing I was curious about in general, given that not many geologists or others coming through Columbia or U.S. centers had a chance to work closely with feature, like the rift valley. Did you find that your exposure to it changed your thinking about the major geological issues at the time? When you look back on it, or didn’t it have that great an influence?
Well, I think so. But it’s a little hard to describe how. Because it seemed to — coming back and talking to Bruce [Heezen], and the whole idea was, I was with him. I didn’t buy the expanding earth either, but I didn’t know what to do about it.
And I was a little disappointed that he didn’t get more credit after it really got tied down. But I think he should’ve gotten a lot more credit.
How did others at Lamont react to Heezen when he presented the expanding earth idea?
I don’t really remember.
I’m just wondering if you remember discussions.
I don’t really remember. Because see I was — as soon as I came back, I got involved with the long period seismic. See, when I came back, Jack Oliver talked to me right away. And he was sort of — he took over seismology from Frank.
From Frank Press.
And so he was kind of by himself. And I was — I had been doing marine refraction work up until then, but I learned quite a bit about earthquake seismology when I was in Africa. And I was — and he wondered if I’d just kind of like the — since I have two young kids, and maybe more coming, that would I like to stay around home and do earthquake stuff. And I said, “Sure. It sounds good to me.” [Laughter]
I want to turn to that in just a minute. I’m curious if any of the courses that you had taken when you actually got started in the Ph.D. program at Columbia were particularly memorable to you? Did you have Ewing’s seminar for instance?
Oh, yes, yes. He was our — it was memorable all right. Yes, we just, it was just one year course in geophysics weren’t it at the time? And Ewing was the professor. And occasionally he’d fall asleep in the middle of class.
Is that right?
But he worked as many hours as he could stay awake. But, when he was on, it was just wonderful to listen to him. But we did a lot of the stuff ourselves. And the seismology part of it, they were in the process of writing the Ewing, Jardetsky, and Press book at the time. And one whole semester practically was essentially proofreading mimeographed sheets of equations to see if...
Is that right?
To see if...
I can imagine.
To see if the arithmetic was right. It was hard work. And of course we didn’t get anywhere near through the book because the book wasn’t done yet. And the rate we had to do it, to check every bell and whistle. It was a slow procedure.
That’s interesting. That was actually part of the course work that you had.
That was it. Yes. And I remember Ewing had to go to sea. This I don’t know. This is almost true I think. My memory’s not that great. He had to go to sea, and he felt that we really didn’t cover enough of general seismology. The approaches he was taking were… And, which was correct. So there’s a small book by Bullen on seismology.
Keith Bullen. It was one of the, and at that time, one of the best things available in general seismology. And he says, “Well fellows, you know, before you finish I have to go off to sea.” He said, “Read that little book. And then we’ll give an exam.” And I guess, I don’t know if Frank Press wrote the exam. I know he wrote one exam that infuriated me because I did a terrible job on it because I thought he was after me somehow.
Is that right?
Well, Frank’s a smart guy. And I guess he thought I was as smart as he is. So, anyway.
Did you sense a rivalry in that sense with him?
Oh no, no, not a rivalry with Frank. I just — he was above me so I wasn’t — But what was I going to say? The—yes, taking this exam. So actually we ended up, seems to me we ended up taking the exam mid-way through the semester after we were supposed to take the exam. And all that first half of that semester we were trying by ourselves to learn everything that was in Bullen. And I remember at the time Charlie Bentley and I were taking a course in the physics department called analytical dynamics which was a six credit, I think it was a six credit course. A real big course taught by Shirley Quimby.
Yes, famous name at Columbia.
Yes. He wiped out a bunch of geophysicists. Anyway.
You mean people who couldn’t pass through his course.
And we decided the only way, and of course we were taking it at the same time and while we were doing the seismology stuff, we couldn’t keep up. Quimby had, I don’t know how many, a couple hundred really tough, a lot of problems, that was the course. Essentially you solved all these problems, you’d pass the course. Well, we knew that we couldn’t. We only had half a semester to do it in. We knew we couldn’t. So we decided “Well, you take odd number problems, and I’ll take the even number of problems.” And that’s the way we did the course. And then we would compare. That worked.
You got through.
And you got through.
Did you have many other courses with the geology faculty?
Oh yes, yes. [Walter] Bucher was an interesting and exciting guy. I enjoyed his courses. And Marshall Kay, I liked his courses. I think I got the best. Well, Marshall Kay didn’t. He felt geophysicists shouldn’t get, certainly shouldn’t get more than a B. Really nice guy, though, I liked it. But that was sort of his attitude about — I took his stratigraphy and sedimentation, sediment logy, I can’t remember what it was called, with him. But the thing, one of the things that impressed me most about him because coming from a physics department, a physics background, and taking the geology courses, it didn’t seem quite like science to me. A little wishy-washy, no equations, no laboratories. And then I had to take two field courses that were required. And then I discovered, hey, this geology’s tough stuff. You go out in the field and really try to figure out what’s going on out there. And I really had a lot more respect for geologists after I saw what they had to work with, and what they were able to figure out from that.
You do remember going out on a — doing field exercises?
On yes. Well, there were two courses that were required for all, everybody. And one was by Hall Taylor. That was a sort of pacing and a Brunton compass type course. Started from scratch. The first thing we did was learn how to just come up with a little topographic map. And he sort of ran that like a marine boot camp to see how many people he could wear out.
This was in New York State that ???
Yes, that was New York State. The field work was in the Catskill region. And it was really interesting. At that time they were building the New York Thruway. So you had all these…
You had the cut troughs.
New, new cuts which is really, really neat. And then the second year was a classier course in a lot more complicated geology that was run by Marshall Kay in Vermont. A lot of marble, and oh that was messy stuff. And that was a much more civilized course.
It didn’t feel like boot camp.
I’m going to have to leave the room for a minute. [Interruption]
Before that brief interruption, you were telling me a bit about the field courses that you had taken with Marshall Kay. Were there any other classes besides those you’ve mentioned that were memorable for you?
There was a math course that was memorable for me, but I’m not going to tell you about that one.
You’re not? Okay.
Well, there I was an economic geology course that I did pretty well in. That was, it always nice to get good grades. Kay’s stratigraphy was really a tough course, but it was very thorough. He just kept throwing sections at you all the time, here and here. And his memory just phenomenal. Just amazing memory this man had. And Bucher was just—his enthusiasm was really neat. Who else did???
Was Joe Worzel teaching at the time? I was wondering just how well you came to know him.
He taught exploration geophysics. And that was okay.
I have the impression that in general math came relatively easily for you?
No. I like it, but it doesn’t come easily.
It doesn’t come easily, okay.
I have to work pretty hard at it. But I enjoy it. In fact, I still do this when I try to sort things out. And I’ve managed to find some stuff that I can work on that I’m a good enough mathematician that I usually get the right answers. There’s a lot of pretty tough mathematics in modern seismology.
Indeed. Indeed. There was a considerable amount at the time that you were getting into seismology. You had mentioned, and this was off-tape, that you were involved in some of the early Vema cruises. Were these before you had actually gotten your Ph.D., or did that come after?
No, that was all before I got my...
Which ones were particularly memorable for you?
Oh. Yes. Well, actually my first cruise, I was on the Caryn
You were on the Caryn. And that was between Muhlenberg and Columbia, wasn’t it?
No. No. That was the first. That was the first summer after I came to Columbia. Before, it was after my senior year, before I started actually classes.
And that was around in the Caribbean and the Puerto Rico trench. No, no, that’s not right. The Caryn. This was with Paul Winchell. We — first thing I did when I got to Columbia; we were still building these amplifiers that were designed by an engineering professor at Columbia. And it was a neat idea, but it was a complete catastrophe.
In terms of the way it worked?
Didn’t work, yes, they were awful. And so we went to sea, and we spent the whole time — I remember Ewing was on the Atlantis and Paul Winchell and I were on the Caryn, along with, I think, with Dick Edwards. And Jack Northrop, I believe. Paul was the senior guy and he was responsible. He was my first boss. In fact, he was the one gave me my first job. I think I mentioned that in my little note to you.
And we just never got any decent data. The whole summer was kind of awful. The other side got some data.
Other side meaning different instruments?
No, the Atlantis. The Atlantis.
The other ship, yes.
The other ship. And then I went out on the Caryn again after that. And then we got data. And that was, I don’t know when. I don’t remember when that was. But that was, then we used amplifiers. See that, my first graduate year I spent rebuilding all these amplifiers that didn’t work. So I was down at, I was working out of Columbia.
This was out of Schermerhorn that you were doing this?
Yes. Because Angelo [Ludas] was still down there. The electronics and the machine shop were still at Columbia when other people were moving out to Lamont. And so I essentially redesigned and rebuilt the whole thing. I had a one semester course in electronics at that point.
I improved on what this engineering professor… I was always proud of that.
Well, that was a valuable skill at Lamont, given the nature of the work.
Well, essentially what I did was I kept removing parts. And every part I removed it worked better.
You were simplifying the…
Anyway, and they worked for several years after that. And then we went out and we did get good data. And that was when we worked around the… yes. That was when we worked around the Puerto Rico trench. And that was my master’s thesis.
That’s very interesting. We may not have time to get to that in today’s session, but I know that you and Manik [Talwani] and others got very involved in interpretations of the Puerto Rican trench in the broad issue of geotectonic in the 1960s. So you were very familiar with that region from the master’s study. And you mentioned that you were on the Vema cruises as well?
Oh yes. The first time I went out on the Vema it wasn’t our ship. It belonged to this Canadian pirate whose name I can’t remember.
Was it still the original Captain Kennedy that you’re thinking of?
Yes. And his wife was on and their kids. The wife was cook. And an interesting, interesting guy.
What are you recalling when you think about that?
Well, he was a really good sailor, but he was, he was. I think he didn’t have much money. And he let the ship degrade pretty badly. The engines kept breaking down. And I remember, we start off, we were trying to get to Bermuda. And start heading toward Bermuda and the engine would break down. And then we’d sail. And but when we sailed, the ship really wanted to go north. So we ended up. This was with Bruce. Bruce Heezen was chief scientist. And we ended up fooling around up around Nova Scotia, Newfoundland most of that year. And I don’t’ know if it was on that cruise or another cruise when we ran into a really heavy swell coming back into New York. There wasn’t much wind, but a really heavy swell. And the main boom broke loose and starting swinging back and forth. Have you heard that story?
Yes. That was scary in the middle of the night. And that’s what I mean about this guy. Because the equipment was run down I think, just some of the lines should have been replaced. I think something like that. But anyway, finally it swung down. It swung all the way over, and then the boom broke. This great big heavy — this big around.
You’re holding your hands about eighteen inches or twenty-four apart.
That’s a big, the main, the main boom. And it broke and it went down into the water on, I guess it was the starboard side of the ship. And this was at night, and the ship was rolling something awful. And the ship was completely helpless in that condition. So Captain Kennedy climbed out down that boom, in the dark, and got a line outboard somehow got a line up the mast someplace. And we were able to hoist that stuff out of the water and then slide it crossways across the deck house and lashed it down. And we went into port that way. I don’t remember which cruise that was. But I know we ran into this stuff after we had cleaned up everything. We thought the work was all done. Of course everything was a god awful mess, you know, from all the rolling around after that. It was, but that was before Columbia owned the ship. It was treated better after Columbia bought it and fixed it up.
Yes. Did you go out much afterwards on cruises? Or you mention that with Jack Oliver you were hoping to stay?
Yes. I didn’t go out after, after I came back from Africa I didn’t go out again. My last, why do I do these things? Yes, my last cruise was in the Atlantic. Chuck Drake may have been the chief scientist then. We did — we did seismic work. We went over to — I know we did some seismic work in the — What’s the mouth of the Mediterranean, Strait of ??? I was going say Magellan, but it’s not Magellan.
Gibraltar. I’m going and I know it.
I know the feeling.
And we worked. I remember I had one memorable night in Cadiz in Spain. You can ask Chuck about that. He can tell you more about it than I remember.
I’ll put that on the list of questions for Chuck. One of the things I was very interested in was your role in the formation of Alpine Geophysical Associates. What do you — how early were you involved? I recall you were one of the charter people who helped to bring that about.
How did that come about?
Well, actually, as soon as I came back from Africa, the guys talked to me about what they were talking about doing.
Charles Officer was involved?
No, not at that time.
He wasn’t? Who was involved?
There was Chuck Drake, Walt Beckmann, and Bernie Luskin.
You know who Bernie is. Bernie is a real good engineer. Walt was a good seagoing guy, really good at seagoing stuff. Chuck was…Chuck knew all kinds of things. And I think it was just those three. And they asked me if I’d be interested. Because see I was, I was the seismologist. Chuck did lots of different things, but not mainly seismology. He did gravity and other kinds of stuff. And Bernie was a real good engineer. And Walt [Beckmann] was just good at a lot of things too, but especially good at sea and working in the machine shops, that sort of stuff. And the idea…and John Ewing came in soon, but he wasn’t, I don’t recall, he wasn’t right in the very beginning. But I think before we did anything much, he was involved. And I don’t remember exactly what at. And the idea was that all of us had young families and Lamont didn’t pay very well. And my thought, and I think everybody’s was, that well, gee, we occasionally as individual people get a chance to do a little consulting or something, and maybe we’re busy or we’re going to sea. And if we get organized, maybe we can make sure that we don’t lose too many of these opportunities. And then we can afford to stay here. And that was kind of, as far as I was concerned, that was the main idea of starting the company. And we had to — we kicked in a thousand dollars a piece. I remember Chuck’s brother, who was a lawyer, who helped us with legal kind of stuff, for incorporating. And a friend of mine, football buddy from Muhlenberg who was an accountant, Joe Menegus, helped us with setting up the books and that sort of thing. And I don’t know if I remember now too much about what Chuck’s brother did. But Joe was a good friend. We still are. And he stuck with our company and really helped us with tax laws and all that junk. Until we went public. And when we went public, the underwriters said “We want to use our own accountants,” so he got kicked out. That was when he might have been able to make a little bit of money off us.
That was tough.
So, but eventually he got back in later on. He was the accountant. He’s still there. There’s a little piece of it, offshoot from it that his company I think still does. He’s retired now himself. But he eventually became a partner in that firm. He did fine.
Who did you see as your principal clients at the time that you were launching Alpine?
Principal? Well I can remember a couple little jobs we did. Some that weren’t too successful. One was to do some kind of seismic thing, I remember. And I don’t remember what it was for. But it was in Glacial Till. We were doing little seismic refraction studies. And it was kind of an area where you’d have soft dirt here and a bus size boulder here, buried. And just completely erratic. They couldn’t make any sense out of it because all we knew was one dimensional kind of analysis. And so we weren’t too successful with that. And I can’t remember what it was for. But a more interesting job was at LaGuardia Airport. The other guys will remember some of this. They were these big hangars where the floors — the concrete slab floors — were settling, and of course it was all built on fill. That was built by the Mafia, probably during the Depression. And underneath they had these big pilings, big concrete pilings, about oh a foot or so in diameter that went down in the ground that was to hold up the floors. And some of the pilings had separated from the floor. They were sagging down, they weren’t doing anything. They were just there. Others, they think, were up against the floor, but they think they were broken off down at some depth so the floor was holding them up, rather them holding the floor up. And there were others that were really holding the floor up. Well, they were interested in knowing which ones which were which. So they could try to do something about it. So we said “Well the thing called bar waves, you bang on this thing and you put a little geophone here, and you’ll get reflections back.” Well we tried that, crawling underneath there.
It sounds like you were one of the ones who were actually underneath it.
I was one of the ones underneath it. And we got some results that were a little bit strange. And I know that, at the time, they were building one of the bridges across the Hudson.
Was that the Tappan Zee or?
No, no. This was way before the Tappan Zee Bridge. It was around Kingston. It was around Kingston, I thought. Is there a bridge at Newburg?
There may be. We can check on that.
Anyway, it’s one of the bridges. They were putting in. They had fresh pilings there that they had just put in. So the idea was to go up there and bang on something we really knew what they were all about. And we wrote a report. [Laughter] I don’t remember about how much use it was for anybody, but it didn’t cost them a lot of money.
How much time did it take all of you to be, when you were working part time for Alpine? How many hours in the month say did that come to take?
Oh, I have no idea. It was extremely variable. We didn’t really do much until that I recall, until we got the job to do the sparker survey across the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. That’s what really got the company started. And that was a big job. And we took off. It was in, I think it was January or February, something like that. We took off a couple weeks from work. And went down to do the field work. And I remember we loaded all the stuff in a, I don’t know, somebody’s cars or how, and drove down. The engineering company, I think was Parsons, Brickerhoff & something or other. It’s a big engineering outfit. They were putting test borings in every couple miles across where they wanted to build this thing, for estimates on how much it would cost and how to build it. And there were just at that time, mainly Walt and Bernie, who were, and Chuck maybe, were involved in doing sparker survey work. Which a forerunner of all the air gun, all that stuff. And so we were developing this technique. Or they were developing it. I was in earthquake stuff at the time. And so somehow, I wasn’t involved in the beginning of it, somehow this engineer was convinced that we could really help them fill in the gaps between the bore holes with this new technique. And that’s the way it started. They set up the ship. They chartered the ship. They set up a really good navigation, radio navigation system. So we knew where we were. And then we got it going, and we all went out on the boat the first day. And I don’t know if it was after the first or the second day, and we sort of switched up. And I know that Chuck and I had the nice soft job staying home reading yesterday’s data, and the other guys went out in the cold. So I liked that part.
That’s interesting. I seem to recall from an earlier interview with Chuck Drake that part of the engineering firm involved Sverdrop’s brother? I may be wrong in recalling that.
I don’t know. I don’t remember that.
How much competition was there among geophysical firms of this sort at the time?
I don’t know. I have no idea. We weren’t, we didn’t have any competition. Our only competition at that point could have been Chuck Officer who was down at Houston, and that’s a long ways off. And he eventually — we eventually merged. And since his company was worth a lot more than ours, he ended up with most of the stock. But see Walt Beckmann went full-time with Alpine. I think he went full-time when we had this chance to do some work, I think for the coal people in England, which was a pretty big job. So he went. And he’d sort of gotten tired of going to graduate school. And he may have stopped already. I’m not sure. So he went full time. And those of us who stayed at Lamont gave him. We started off with equal amounts of stock and we gave him some percentage of our stock because he was taking this risk. So he ended up with the most from us original. And then, when Chuck came in, he got even more than Walt had. So he ended up being chairman of the board. And it’s probably right. He’s the smartest one of the bunch. But it was fun, interesting.
I can imagine.
And it did allow me to afford to be able to go to Hawaii. Be a professor at Hawaii. I couldn’t have done it otherwise.
Is that right? That you needed extra to really support yourself in?
I had negative cash flow every year I was in Hawaii.
That’s interesting, Of course, there we’re talking about your career after 1966, and there are a number of things that we probably need to cover ahead of time. We probably need to bring this part of interview to a close fairly soon. Maybe one or two quick questions that I can ask at this point. Once you were back living in Lamont, when you had come back and you were in the Press’s former house on the estate, how much contact was there as a social community? How much did your wife, for instance, feel integrated with the other wives who were living there or with Ewing’s second wife?
Oh, it was, well his second wife didn’t come for quite a while. We didn’t have too much contact with her. What I recall —. My wife Fern was, she was pretty social. She really liked, not fancy social, but she just liked people. She liked parties. And so we had a lot of parties in our little house. And I remember that place just full of people, absolutely full of people. And we had good times. And now that it’s — in the beginning the Drakes lived on the Fox’s property in a little house just across the fence from Lamont. And so we used to babysit each other’s kids. And the kids would play together. The Nafes lived next door to us. Jack and Sally.
Sally. I wonder what you recall.
And then there was — Pardon?
I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt you. I was curious what you recall of Jack and Sally Nafe.
Well, I really liked Jack, a lot. But I think that Sally felt we were a little bit beneath her. And that was my feeling.
We didn’t do much socially with them. Jack would come to our parties. Joe and Dottie Worzel. Dottie, my wife really liked Dottie very much. And Joe was Joe. He’s unique. But the kids, the kids all got along pretty well. And our kids really liked the Ewing kids. And old Mrs. Ewing, they had a garden plot, where people had a garden. I know that old Mrs. Ewing, Doc’s mother, she had her garden. I don’t know if Doe—I don’t think Doe did much of anything with that. And the Worzels had a garden. And my wife and my son had the garden. They did the garden together.
Was there much sporting activities going on at Lamont when you were there at the time?
Not — well, we played football and softball on the lawns. And they were competitive. We weren’t into volleyball or — Oh, and that’s right, Jack Oliver lived down. He was a bachelor for a long time.
And he lived down at the bottom of the hill in this little house. And he set up a badminton thing. And he’s a really good athlete. And he used to get us guys to come down after work to play badminton. And of course the wives didn’t like this very much. He didn’t care about what the wives thought. But that was fun. We did that a while. And I played tennis with — I played tennis with Chuck Officer a few times. There was the park that’s there. What’s the name of the park? Is it Tallman? Is it Tallman? The park that’s…
It’s a little bit north of the –
No, no, it’s — Yes, it’s a little bit north, on the east side of 9W. There’s a park that’s in there.
Tallman sounds right. We’ll check on that spelling.
Anyway, there are some tennis courts in there. I used to play with Chuck Officer. I think that I was probably about as good a tennis player as Chuck Officer, but he always won because he refused to lose. [Laughter]
A competitive guy.
Very competitive guy. Yes. Interesting. Have you seen his book about the great dinosaur controversy?
Yes. I have.
Interesting book. You read that book and you’re convinced that a lot of the stuff was all wrong, absolutely wrong.
Was he opinionated in that way when you first new him? Was he someone who would take a strong opinion on particular controversial ideas?
Yes. He was very strong. Yes. I could never quite understand why he seemed to like me as much as he did. Because I didn’t think I was — I thought he knew he was a lot smarter than I was. So, this is probably right.
Well, we need to cover in a later interview both your work at Bermuda, your continued work in seismology, and particularly your lunar work and then your impressions once you move on to Hawaii. But we do need to save that for another interview. But let me thank you very much for all your time this session.