Mar 21, 2018

Too Close for Comfort...

The long-range forecast map

It seems that just about anywhere you choose to live, there are issues with some kind of unpleasant weather.  I grew up in Upstate New York.  We had our share of blizzards and plenty of lake-effect snow.  Our summers could be sweltering and terribly humid.  When the Navy sent me to Norman, Oklahoma, I quickly learned why the government established the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center there.  Later, when I lived on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, we had to be concerned about hurricanes.  And for the last 40 years I've lived in the North Alabama/South Central Tennessee region known for its devastating tornadoes.

On more than one occasion, we've gone to our "Safe Place" at the bottom of the basement stairs, in an area reinforced by the structure surrounding the stairs and with a couple walls in most directions between us and the great outdoors.  This past Monday turned to be one of those days.

Over the weekend, our local weather teams had been forecasting some nasty weather that could potentially breed some strong winds, large hail, and even a few tornadoes.  Monday morning we started to see "closings" being announced by schools, businesses, and government offices.  I've been working from home, so around 4:00 PM, I joined Mary Ann in front of the TV, where every local channel was totally devoted to weather coverage.  Several cells popped up, mostly to the south of us, moving almost due east.  Nothing appeared too threatening until this bad boy decided to rear its ugly head:

Bottom line was a tornado spotted on the ground near Ardmore, Tennessee, moving due east at 45 miles per hour.  Note on the picture the location of our "Safe Place."  Soon, we started to see reports of wind damage and very large hail in Russellville, AL and Athens, AL.  There was a large tornado heading toward Cullman, AL as we decided to seek safety in the basement.  The Ardmore twister was predicted to reach our area at 7:06 PM.  "If you live anywhere between Hazel Green, AL and Parks City, TN, take shelter immediately!  We have a tornado on the ground that has been sighted by storm chasers."  It was eerily quiet in the basement.  We stayed there for about ten minutes, able to watch the live streaming of our favorite weathercaster on an iPad.  We emerged to the first floor to find no issues.  We soon learned that the storm had tracked a couple of miles south of us, where it wiped out some lumber storage warehouses:

Further to the south, closer to Lake Guntersville, they received baseball-size hail.  Ouch!

Once again, we dodged the bullet and once again offered prayers of thanks.

Mar 20, 2018

The Chestnutts of Whiteville, NC...

World War II was in my opinion a high point in this nation's history.  The nation and its people were called upon to perform the impossible.  Our resources were strained to the limit.  Our people sacrificed in every way.  The results are staggering -- the very survival of our civilization as we know it.

In the course of responding to the call, many families were caught up in cataclysmic change.  Families moved, youngsters were taken by the armed forces, trained, and sent to places they'd never heard of.  People who had retired and housewives who had never planned to have a job outside the home suddenly were employed in the war effort.  One such affected family was that of Mr. and Mrs. Norwood B. Chestnutt of Whiteville, North Carolina.  Mr. Chestnutt was a state Agricultural Agent and part-time tobacco auctioneer.  He and his wife Mabel lived at 106 N. Madison in Whiteville.  That is, until Uncle Sam came a callin'.

In early 1942, the U.S. Army conscripted Mr. Chestnutt, and, because of his professional standing and experience, commissioned him an instant Lieutenant Colonel in the Quartermaster Corps.  He was now Colonel Chestnutt!  After he finished a few months of training he was informed of his first duty station - North of the Mason-Dixon Line!  Colonel Chestnutt became the proud commandant of the Schenectady Army Supply Depot.  And that's where he and Mabel crossed paths with Dr. and Mrs. Harold R. Mead.  Thus he and Mabel became Uncle Ches and Aunt Mabel to me and my siblings.

From my first recollection of the Chestnutts, I loved to hear them speak.  They had a syrupy sweet southern drawl as smooth as molasses.  Aunt Mabel could stretch the word "darling" into a daaahlin' that was 5 seconds long.  Both of the Chestnutts were avid golfers, so they fit right into the social circle of my parents, centered as it was at the Mohawk Golf Club, a friendly club dating to 1898.  In spite of the northern location, I think the Chestnutts felt very welcome and loved by a wide circle of friends.

My clearest memory of the Chestnutts came on Wednesday, August 14, 1945.  That was the day that brought an end to World War II, the day Japan surrendered.  We were at Lake George, at the cabin my parents rented each summer.  The Chestnutts were spending the week with us.  On Wednesday morning, the news came over the AM radio that the Japanese had surrendered.  Aunt Mabel announced that she would be preparing her "famous southern-fried chicken" to celebrate the end of the war.  It was an all day affair with lots of chicken parts being shaken in paper bags of flour and seasonings.  But there was a steady flow of celebratory bourbon underway as well.  I recall that by the time we had chicken and fixin's on the table, we also had flour on every surface of the kitchen, including walls and ceiling.  The celebration was boundless.

Not long after the war ended, Uncle Ches and Aunt Mabel moved back to their home in North Carolina.  Ches became a state Agricultural Vocational Training Supervisor.  Their friends in Schenectady stayed in touch over the years.  In 1959, my parents bought a new Ford sedan and decided to visit the Chestnutts.  After my Midshipman cruise had ended, I was recruited to be the driver.  We took two days to get to Whiteville, and it was a joyous reunion of old friends.  During our stay, their commode malfunctioned.  (it was a tiny, 2-bedroom, 1-bath house.)  Aunt Mabel called Mr. Simpson, the plumber.  "Mr. Simpson, this is Mabel Chestnutt and I have a problem.  I've got company from the Noath, I got a stopped-up commode, and I've got the dysentery!"  Mr. Simpson was there within minutes.  We stayed a few days.  My parents relished the time they spent with these unlikely acquaintances.

Mar 18, 2018

Rubber Molds...

When I was growing up, my father had his dental offices in our home, in the two rooms that would have been parlors or sitting rooms when the house was built.  He was by modern standards an "old school" dentist, doing much of his own laboratory work -- the fabrication of dentures and partials that today would be turned over to a dental laboratory.  He therefore had a small work area in which he could melt and cast precious metals, polish, and finish his work.  Interestingly, at one point he took a class in lost wax jewelry casting, although he never pursued that avocation after making a few small jewelry samples.

On weekends, my brother and sister and I often hung around Dad's lab as he worked on his craft.  To help us occupy our time, he had certain activities that we enjoyed participating in.  Sometimes we'd make things out of dental wax.  I recall one wax product that was in a small box.  It contained sheets of rose-colored wax resembling sliced cheese, separated by thin paper sheets.  I would cut pieces out of these sheets using a scalpel like tool and "weld" the individual pieces together with a flat tool heated in a Bunsen burner.  I would make 
small houses, bridges, cars, airplanes, and animals out of wax, an activity that often occupied me for hours at a time.

Another activity we enjoyed was making plaster castings of comic strip characters in hard rubber molds and once they had hardened, painting them to match their printed images.  My father had apparently acquired this set of molds somewhere and realized they would make an ideal craft activity for us kids on bad weather days when we couldn't be outside.  For some unknown reason, I recently thought about those silly rubber molds and decided to see if I could learn anything about them.  To my amazement, a set of the exact same molds I knew as a child were for sale on eBay!  The description brought back a flood of memories, "Vintage 1930s rubber molds for casting plaster figures of "Famous Funnies" characters. Made by Play Products, Inc. in Chicago, Illinois. Great item for vintage comic book or toy collectors. "Famous Funnies" is considered to be the first true American comic book and character molds include Little Joe, Skeezix, Tiny Tim, Winnie Winkle, Smitty, Andy Gump, Terry and Moon Mullins. Character names are printed inside each mold. Not a complete set. What you see in the pics is what you get. Comes in original cardboard storage box featuring Little Joe and Orphan Annie on the lid. Each mold measures 3.5" to 4" high. Box measures about 4.25" wide, 8.5" high and 3" deep. Very Rare Item!! Very good overall condition. Most rubber molds have hardened over time, but are fully intact and a few are still pliable. Paint set may not be original to the box and has been used. Box shows normal aging and wear from handling, but is complete. Small tear along top edge as shown in the pics."  The pictures reflect my precise memory of the molds themselves -- a kind of dark brownish maroon color, rather thick and quite rigid.

We would begin by covering my dad's marble workbench with newspaper and carefully lining up the molds in an orderly row.  We'd mix a batch of plaster-of-Paris in a small measuring cup.  Once the consistency was that of pancake batter, we'd carefully pour it into each successive mold, filling it to the top edge of the mold.  Then we'd tap each mold several times with a small tool to loosen and eliminate any bubbles in the plaster.

Each molded figure stood on a base with lettering identifying
the character - in this case, Smitty.  Smitty was a character developed
by Walter Berndt who appeared in the Chicago Tribune and about
100 other papers.
In a few minutes, the plaster would set up, and usually within an hour we could flex the mold and eject the small cartoon character.  We'd relieve the sharp edge where the surface of the poured plaster met the mold by scraping it with a small metal scraper.  Then we'd spend hours painting and talking about our creations.

A Smitty comic from the 1930s
Interestingly, with the exception of Dick Tracy and Li'l Orphan Annie, I don't think we were acquainted with any of the other comic characters.  That didn't seem to matter as we painted faces and clothes belonging to Little Joe, Skeezix, Tiny Tim, Winnie Winkle, Smitty, Andy Gump, Terry and Moon Mullins.  It didn't matter that they were cartoon strangers.

Several things have crossed my mind as I thought about the countless rainy Saturday mornings that the Mead kids spent with the "rubber molds."  There were no batteries or electronics involved.  We were engaging creative portions of our young brains.  We were socially engaged with one another as we gabbed about our creative efforts.  There are certainly far worse ways to occupy your time.

Jan 20, 2018

Father Tom Field

A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog entry about Father George Mathis, the first pastor I had at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Fayetteville, TN.  Father George served the catholic community of Fayetteville from 1979 to 1983.  He was instrumental in my finding sobriety in August, 1983.  I loved him dearly.  He was a very conservative, risk-averse manager of a young parish -- probably exactly what the church needed at that time.  He was also a sensitive and very creative artist who contributed generously of his talent to St. Anthony's and many other parishes.  In late 1983, the Glenmary Missioners Society, of whom George was a member, decided it was time for him to move on.  He was replaced by Father Thomas Field, known to all as Father Tom.  The change was dramatic.  Let me share my impressions.

Father Tom was originally from Minnesota.  He had been a journeyman electrician before he began his training as a Glenmary Missioner.  He was a big man, and often made it known that he was descended from "hardy Viking stock."  For every way in which George Mathis was refined, Tom was down-to-earth.  Where George avoided risk, Father Tom relished a good adventure.  They were very different people.

I recall a conversation I overheard shortly after Tom arrived.  One parishioner was lamenting the fact that "He certainly can't preach like Father George."  Another wasn't convinced he was as reverent during the Mass.  I felt that it was just a sign of change, that no two pastors will ever be alike.  The parish soon learned to love Tom Field.

Not long after Tom's arrival, he realized that St. Anthony's had never had a float in Fayetteville's Christmas parade.  He asked the next Sunday if anyone in the parish could provide a flat wagon and tow vehicle for the parade.  Soon there was a flurry of activity in the parking lot behind the church as a crew tried to build a manger scene on the trailer.  Hay bales were strategically placed.  Several mothers engaged in sewing shepherds' and angel outfits.  By the night of the parade, all was ready.  A couple of live goats and a lamb punctuated the rickety float along with a star on a long pole, lots of kids in costume (Mary, Joseph, a Jesus doll, three wise men, and a few shepherds and angels), and a boom box blaring out Christmas carols.  On each side of the wagon hung a primitive sign reading "St. Anthony Catholic Church."  As the borrowed tractor dragged the assemblage into the parade route, Father Tom looked at me and said, "We're gonna win a trophy.  Judges always love kids and animals!"  Sure enough, the St. Anthony float won first prize for "The Spirit of Christmas."  And for several years after that, Tom made sure we had award-winning floats in the annual parade.

Tom was not a formal individual, but he was affable and loved by the community at large.  He became very active in the Interdenominational Ministry Association, and served as its president.  He had a regular table at Rachel's Restaurant where he was joined at breakfast by a cross section of citizens every morning.  He became active in the Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs.  Everyone in town knew Tom Field.

One of Tom's lasting legacies had to do with his love for those suffering from mental impairment, special needs brothers and sisters.  He helped establish a chapter of the National Association for Retarded Citizens (the ARC) in Fayetteville.  Then he proposed a summer camp for special needs citizens.  Tom was at his best as he approached every church in the county looking for volunteers and cooks and equipment and buses to conduct a week-long program.  It became an annual event that continues and is a tribute to his persistence.  Every child has an escort or friend who ensures their safety and participation in games, meals, crafts, and general fun.  And as a side effect, it brought many churches closer together in a cooperative charitable effort that continues today.

One area in which Tom helped me was in my desire to restore and install a pipe organ in the church.  I was acting as choir director shortly after Tom's arrival.  I had proposed the idea to Father George a year before and he was way too conservative to give the go-ahead.  But when I suggested to Tom that I thought the parish could restore a pipe organ and that it would greatly enhance our worship, he was all-in.  We approached the Parish Council and got their blessing to try and raise funds.  I've told the pipe organ story in another blog entry, but it would never have happened without Tom's involvement and willingness to take a chance.

When he arrived at the parish, there was a small, very decrepit two car garage on the property.  Tom asked if I could draft some plans for a parish social hall of about 2,500 square feet using the corner of the garage as one corner of the hall.  I drafted up the plans.  It turned out that our Bishop had placed restrictions on any newly-constructed buildings in the diocese.  Father Tom simply asked for permission to expand an already-existing garage to make it usable as a social hall.  When the Bishop came to town to help dedicate the new Parish Hall, he was shocked to see a building bigger than the church!

He had a wonderful sense of humor.  He had rescued a wayward beagle that became a member of the church family.  When he took the dog to have him neutered, he announced to the parish that Blue "had taken his final vows."  A friend of mine went to Father Tom to see if he would be willing to listen to an AA fifth step, in which the recovering alcoholic "Confesses to God, to himself, and to another human being the exact nature of [his] wrongs."  Tom hesitated, then said, "I'd be glad to.  I normally would set aside about an hour, but knowing you, I guess I should set aside a whole afternoon."  Then he started laughing as only a Viking can at his own joke.

Tom left St. Anthony in 1989 to move to a double parish in North Carolina -- Cherokee and Bryson City.  Margo and I visited him often while he was there.  Just as he had in Fayetteville, he soon became part of the fabric of those two communities.  He loved machinery, and soon got involved in the Western Carolina Railroad and became a qualified steam locomotive operator.  He was engaged in a soup kitchen for the poor and a thrift shop to support it.  He started a Habitat for Humanity chapter and built homes for needy families.  He became active in a ministry to help addicts and alcoholics.  And then, sadly, he was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease.  It progressed fairly quickly.  In 2000, Father Tom left the active ministry he loved so much.  After a couple years assisting at a church in Madisonville, TN, he moved to the Glenmary headquarters in Cincinnati, where he could live with assisted care.  Even then, he missed being a pastor.  He called the Cincinnati Fire Department and asked if they could use an old, broken-down chaplain.  Soon, he was spending a couple days a week in firehouses around the city, where the firemen learned to love him in the same way his parishioners had.

Father Tom died of his disease and its complications on February 27, 2004.  He was only 64 years old.  During the night of his visitation at St. Matthias Church in Forest Park, a hook-and-ladder truck parked in front of the church bore silent testimony to the love that the fire department held for their self appointed chaplain.  A fire helmet adorned his casket along with a fur hat with Viking horns that had been a gift from a parishioner.  He departed this earth as he would have loved.

Rest in peace, my friend.  You are indeed a man who lived and exemplified Christ's gospel of love.

The Glenmary magazine published a fitting memorial:
‘A giant of a man with a childlike relationship with God’

Father Tom Field was a big man physically.  He also had a big heart. Father Tom, 64, died Feb. 27 in Cincinnati.  This giant of a man had a childlike relationship to God. Perhaps this is why he had such a special place in his heart for the little people of the world. He delighted in the summer camp for handicapped children he sponsored in Tennessee.  And each year Santa Claus became his partner in ministry while he served in Fayetteville, Tenn.  This true disciple of the Lord loved fire trucks, trains and practical jokes.  His heart also embraced the poor and marginalized.  I remember listening as he expressed frustration when someone displayed prejudice for the Cherokee people with whom he worked in North Carolina. 

Father Tom’s generous hospitality was experienced by many people over the years. His table ministry was a reflection of the life of Jesus, who was criticized by his enemies for being “a friend of sinners and eating with them.”  Meals were ministry events for Jesus. This continued even after the resurrection—and it continues today as we gather for the Eucharist. Father Tom strengthened bonds of friendship, unified mission parishes and reconciled alienated folks to the Church over abundant meals. 

Searching for God’s will was also a constant in Father Tom’s life. It led to his first vocation choice as a Benedictine brother on the northern Dakota prairie at Blue Cloud Abbey. Even after becoming a Glenmary priest, he was at ease with manual labor projects. He was seen just as often wearing a tool belt as a Roman collar. This ongoing vocational discernment led him to resign as pastor of St. Joseph Church in Bryson City, N.C., in 2000.  

His battle with Parkinson’s disease was taking too great a toll. He did not want to become a burden.  But he wanted to continue to serve. So he went to St. Joseph the Worker Mission in Madisonville, Tenn., as a sacramental minister to a community established and led by pastoral coordinators. He touched deeply this emerging congregation. Providing Eucharist to them allowed him to continue his table ministry.

Glenmary priests and brothers have a tradition of lining up to form an honor guard as the body of a deceased Glenmarian is brought from the church at the end of the funeral liturgy. We always sing this same joyful song: “For all the saints who from their labors rest,/ Who you by faith before the world confessed,/ Your name, O Jesus, be forever blest. Alleluia, Alleluia!”

At our funerals we celebrate the victory of God’s grace that enabled our brother to serve with fidelity to the end. We celebrate the unique way our fellow missioner lived out his Glenmary Oath to “dedicate myself for my whole life to the missionary apostolate in the rural areas and small towns of the United States.”

The call of every Glenmary priest or brother is also a call to a community of support for one another. Father Tom responded to that call as well. He made my journey as a missionary far more enjoyable, my commitment easier, my fears for the future more manageable, my attitude toward myself more compassionate.

Oct 15, 2017

Two Great Jazz Violinists...

The two great jazz violinists -- Grappelli and Venuti
While I was running the power plant at the University of Oklahoma in 1971, a young man named Adam Granger applied for a job as a night shift operator at one of our chilled water facilities.  This job was an entry-level position at a small subterranean facility at the southernmost end of the campus.  It involved taking and recording readings on a number of gauges and meters every hour and monitoring the operating equipment, looking for overheating bearings, listening for unusual sounds, etc.  Yet, when Mr. Granger came in for an interview, he brought a formal résumé.  This was definitely unusual.

As I looked over his credentials and past experience, I learned that Adam had lived in Nashville for the previous year, had worked as a studio musician, and had earned substantially more than I could afford to pay him.  Nonetheless he wanted the job.  He was living at that time very modestly and wanted a job during which he could compose music, write, and draw cartoons (he had published several in National Lampoon).  He soon became the night attendant of Chilled Water Plant No. 2.

In my normal routine of checking the various locations for which I was responsible, I got to know Adam quite well.  He had been raised in Norman, son of a respected Professor of English on the university's faculty.  He was an accomplished guitarist, and also played the banjo more than passably.  He was also a songwriter.  And Adam was a close friend of a member of the art department faculty, John Hadley, who also wrote songs.

It wasn't too long before Adam and John and I occasionally got together to jam informally.  We even played as a group, joined by another musician, Dudley Murphy, at the first Woody Guthrie Memorial Festival for the Huntington's Chorea Foundation, held in Oklahoma City.

As I became better acquainted with Adam, I learned an interesting thing.  He said that he was completely retraining himself to play the guitar!  He had become immersed in the guitar repertoire of Django Reinhardt, a Belgian-born, Romani French jazz guitarist and composer, regarded as one of the greatest musicians of the twentieth century.  Here was Adam, an accomplished and skilled musician, so influenced by Reinhardt that he was starting from scratch to re-learn his instrument.  I had never heard of Django Reinhardt when Adam shared this with me.  I had to learn more.

Stephane Grappelli and the great
Django Reinhardt in the 1930s
What I learned first was that Django had died in 1953 in his mid-40s.  I also found out that he and violinist Stéphane Grappelli had formed the Paris-based Quintette du Hot Club de France in 1934.  They were among the first to play jazz that featured the guitar as a lead instrument.  Additionally, I learned that Django had lost most control of two fingers on his left hand in a fire in his youth.  He developed a modified technique to overcome this disability and went on to forge an entirely new 'hot' jazz guitar style.  I promptly bought a couple of vinyl records of the Quintet's music.  I wore those records out playing them over and over.  The music produced by that group is incredible.  I also pursued research on other jazz instrumentalists and among others, learned of Joe Venuti, another master jazz violinist of the '20s and '30s.

It occurred to me that Stephan Grappelli was still living.  So was Joe Venuti.  Wouldn't it be a treat to hear their playing?  I began to follow their careers.  I continued to keep track of them even after I moved away from Norman and lost touch with Adam Granger* and John Hadley.**

In late 1977, while living on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, I learned that Joe Venuti would be playing a one night engagement at a cocktail lounge in the Hyatt Regency Hotel in New Orleans.  I immediately called for reservations.  I was disappointed to find that it was a small venue and that the limited number of tickets had already sold out.  I then asked the hotel representative if I could be placed on a waiting list.  I suggested that I would come to the hotel with a guest (I had just gotten engaged to Margo Burge), and that I would be in the hotel's rooftop revolving restaurant where I could be reached if they had a last-minute cancellation or no-show for the Venuti concert.  Fortunately, they accommodated my request.

The evening of the show, Margo and I arrived at the hotel in plenty of time.  I stopped by the lounge and reminded the maître d' that we were the couple on a standby list and that we would be at the bar on the top level of the hotel.  We were anxiously waiting when, at about 8:50 PM, we were notified to go down to the lounge where there had been a couple of no-shows.  We paid our cover charge and were directed to a front-row table!

Joe Venuti, in a three-piece pin-striped dark blue suit, was followed onto the small stage by a bass player.  They alone produced some truly memorable jazz over the next hour or so.  Then Venuti informed the audience that he had a friend in the crowd, a local dentist who also happened to be an accomplished jazz trombonist.  Soon, the Doctor was on stage with his trombone and they were joined by a drummer.  The concert went on for another couple of hours with a couple short breaks.  The music simply seemed to flow from the instruments effortlessly.  At the end of the evening, Margo and I knew that we had experienced something very special.

Not long after this concert, we learned that Joe Venuti was suffering from cancer.  He died the following August.  We were very blessed to have witnessed his superb talent in person, even for one fleeting evening.

Stephan Grappelli
I continued to follow the travels of Stephan Grappelli.  In about 1988, I learned that he was going to be performing in Nashville at a performing arts center.  Margo and I got tickets and went along with a couple friends.  The warm up act was a guitarist who had won the Jazz Performer of the Year for the British Isles the previous year.  He was spectacular, but he was merely the lead-in act for the real show.  After a brief intermission, the curtain opened.  In the center of the stage was a single folding chair.  Soon, a couple of stage hands were leading an elderly man from the wing onto the stage.  The crowd erupted.  He looked extremely frail as they half-supported, half-guided him to his seat and handed him his violin.  My thought was that we had waited too long to see this great artist, that he had passed his prime, that the performance was about to be disappointing.  I couldn't have been more wrong.

The man adjusted his seat, placed the fiddle beneath his chin, and it erupted with "Red, Red Robin."  The entire hall was energized beyond words.  For the next ninety minutes, one great hit after another emerged, each more powerful than the one before.  Blue Moon, Someone to Watch Over Me, Autumn Leaves, Uptown Dance, Stardust, How High the Moon -- the hits kept coming.

The album cover from the Grappelli-
Clements collaboration
At one point, after a very brief respite, Maestro Grappelli looked at the audience.  In very broken English, he said, "I understand that my good friend, Vassar Clements, is in the audience."  Vassar stood up, near the front of the auditorium.  Soon, he too was on stage with his violin.  The crowd loved it.  Only a year earlier, the two had collaborated on an album, "Together at Last," which had met with a fair degree of success.  So here they were, ready to perform many numbers from that album -- Alabamy Bound, Tennessee Waltz, Danny Boy, It Don't Mean a Thing, and several others.  Too soon, the curtain closed on the evening.  We drove home reminiscing about all that we had experienced.

I have reflected often on the fact that I got to see and hear these two incredible musicians from another era.  The fact that Adam Granger needed a job in Norman, Oklahoma, seems so remote, and yet it is the initiator of a unique string of events that made it all possible.  And I'm eternally grateful for the joys and memories that resulted.

* Adam went on to have a successful musical career.  The Web site of mandolinist and vocalist Dick Kimmel describes it this way: "Adam Granger has played guitar for more than 50 years.  His 1970's LP recording with Dudley Murphy, "Twin Picking" (Grass Mountain Records), was a monumental early step for flat-picked guitar. Soon thereafter, Adam released a second landmark for flat-picked guitar, "Granger's Fiddle Tunes for Guitar," a collection of guitar tablatures for more than 500 tunes from the USA, Canada, and the UK.  Adam is a regular columnist for Guitar magazine. 

Adam's guitar playing reached a wide audience with the legendary Powdermilk Biscuit Band.  During the 1980's, this band  performed regularly for "Prairie Home Companion," a popular public radio program in the USA for which Adam performed, wrote scripts, and substitute hosted.   During the 1990's, Adam co-hosted and was a regular performer for The Cedar Social, a television program featuring bluegrass, folk, and ethnic music."

** John Hadley continued to teach at the University of Oklahoma for many years, but also had a productive "second life" as a songwriter.  Some of his many songs have been recorded by the likes of Roger Miller, Sammi Smith, George Jones, Country Gazette, Dean Martin, The Nashville Bluegrass Band, Waylon Jennings, Joe Cocker, Trisha Yearwood, Wynonna, the Dixie Chicks, Linda Ronstadt, and Tim O'Brien,.

Sep 20, 2017

USS Maloy, the "Power Company"

The appearance of the cable section that hung on a bulkhead aboard Maloy
In 1964, I received orders to report to the USS Maloy, a destroyer escort (DE-791).  She was home ported in Groton, Connecticut, at the submarine base.  It may seem strange, but there were two surface combatants based in Groton, the Maloy and the destroyer USS Witek (DD-848).  Both the Maloy and Witek were assigned to the Navy Underwater Sound Laboratory as research vessels.  The sub base grudgingly tolerated the presence of two members of the surface navy.  When we were in port, we berthed at the two "finger piers" at the southernmost end of the base.

I actually reported aboard Maloy in Bermuda.  She was engaged in sound research associated with the then-secret Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS), a chain of underwater listening posts located around the world in places such as the Atlantic Ocean near Greenland, Iceland and the United Kingdom.  One of the central computing facilities for SOSUS was in Bermuda and we frequently went there to conduct research projects.

Not long after I reported aboard as Chief Engineer, I noticed a cross-section piece of very large three-conductor cable, approximately 10" in diameter, mounted on a bulkhead with a plaque expressing gratitude from the people of Portland, Maine, dated April, 1948.  I knew there had to be an interesting story there.

The root of the story goes back to a decision early in World War II.  The British requested in June, 1941, that the U.S. design and produce an oceangoing convoy escort and anti-submarine vessel that might be deliverable under the recently signed Lend-Lease Agreement.  In their war against Germany and Italy, the British had exhausted the hard currency needed to buy expensive armament, and the Lend-Lease program, promoted by President Roosevelt, was a life saver.

Captain E.L. Cochrane of the Bureau of Ships had already drawn up the requirements for such a vessel, as the U.S. Navy had been considering such a need for a couple of years.  The navy referred to the design as the "austere vessel" program, as the ship under consideration was a "no frills" design suitable for rapid manufacturing in large numbers.  By November, 1941, the first order, for fifty ships, had been placed with four shipyards -- Boston, Mare Island, Puget Sound, and Philadelphia.  These first ships were the Evarts class Destroyer Escorts.  They were powered by a diesel-electric propulsion system.  This first order was intended to produce ships that would be immediately delivered to the Royal Navy.  As the Destroyer Escort program expanded to include ships for our own navy as well as the British navy, four separate classes became defined -- Evarts with diesel-electric propulsion, Buckley-class with steam turbine-electric propulsion, Edsall-class with geared diesel drive, and John C. Butler-class with geared steam turbine drive.  The ships were designed so that hull production could begin even before it was known which power plant would be available at the moment it would be needed.  The hull design could accommodate any of the four propulsion options.  Incredibly, over the next three years, the U.S.A. would produce more than 400 of these ships!

Maloy was a Buckley-class ship.  She had the turbo-electric option.  A steam turbine drove an electrical generator of the synchronous type.  It drove a synchronous motor that turned one rotation for every fourteen rotations of the generator.  In this way, it behaved like there was a set of gears between the motor and generator.  To back down, instead of using a separate "reverse turbine" as most destroyers had, you merely had to reverse the electrical polarity in the stator windings of the motor.  Bingo!  You were now spinning the propeller in the opposite direction.

When I first reported aboard, I had just finished my tour as the main propulsion assistant on a destroyer, the USS Hugh Purvis (DD-709), that was driven by a geared turbine plant.  I had two immediate impressions of the Maloy's plant -- It was immaculately clean and extremely quiet.  I would learn to love the design simplicity of this class of ships.  In engineering-speak, each fire room contained a single D type boiler which produced superheated steam at a pressure of 450 PSI and a temperature of 750° F.  Each engine room contained one main propulsion generator rated at 4600 kW, 2700 VAC, 93.3 Hz, 5400 RPM, one ship service turbo generator rated at 300 kW at 450 VAC/40 kW DC, and a 6000 SHP, 400 RPM main propulsion motor. The ship also had the capability of operating both main motors on a single main generator.

The power plant of the Maloy produced 6,000 horsepower per shaft for a total of 12,000 shaft horsepower.  In electrical terms, this converts to about 8.9 megawatts.  For comparison, when I managed the University of Oklahoma's power plant, it had a maximum capacity of 12.5 megawatts.  So we could say that the Maloy had an equivalent power generation capacity of a small to moderate municipal power plant.

In 1946-47-48, the state of Maine was experiencing a terrible and persistent drought.  Much of Maine's electrical grid depended on hydroelectric power plants.  The Bodwell Water Power Company Plant, built in 1906 on the Penobscot River in Milford, produces about 8 megawatts.  The Ellsworth Power House and Dam, on the Union River, built in 1907, produces about 3-1/2 megawatts.  Another Penobscot plant, the Black Bear Hydro plant, generated about 3-1/2 megawatts.  The state was peppered with small hydroelectric plants for which a serious drought could be disastrous.  To complicate the matter, the drought was creating an environment in which wildfires were rampant.  The city of Portland began rationing electricity while it looked for a solution to a potential total loss of electrical power.  The U.S Navy had such a solution in its fleet of World War II turbo-electric powered destroyer escorts!  Maloy was chosen to help Portland along with a sister vessel, the USS Foss (DE-59).

The cable cross-section I had seen mounted on the bulkhead was cut from a power cable that ran ashore from the Maloy, which was moored at a waterfront pier.  The massive cable led down the pier from the ship to a shore power distribution point.  According to, describing Maloy in its area of naval history, "During this time she also successfully completed emergency assignments. At Portland, Maine, 11 November 1947 to 25 March 1948, Maloy provided electrical power for the city when, because of extreme drought conditions, local power companies could not draw on their normal power source, the lakes and rivers of the area."  

According to author George Stewart, in an article entitled "Going Ashore: Naval Ship To Shore Power For Humanitarian Services," for the Naval Historical Foundation, "During World War II, a total of five ships of the Buckley Class and two British Captain Class frigates were converted into floating power stations for the purpose of supplying electrical power to shore in the event of a power outage."  He goes on to point out, "A major part of the conversion process consisted of the removal of torpedo tubes and installation of large cable reels located on the 01 Deck."  It appears that Maloy never went through this conversion, but one of her sister vessels, USS Foss (DE-59), another Buckley-class ship was converted.  In this picture, you can see large cable reels on Foss' -01 level:

Foss and Maloy were moored alongside each other as they powered the entire city.

It would be interesting to know if we could be as resourceful today...

Sep 14, 2017

The Great Drop Tower Catastrophe...

On the right - The Dynamic Test Stand, Facility 4550, at Marshall Space Flight Center
According to a NASA document entitled, "Brief Chronology of Facilities Buildup Relating to History of Marshall Space Flight Center (Early 1950s through 1990) ," in 1964, "the Saturn V Dynamic Test Stand (Facility Number 4550) was constructed for low frequency dynamic testing of the complete Saturn V launch vehicle to evaluate structural frequencies and assure decoupling from the vehicle control system.  Various flight configurations were evaluated, including, the complete vehicle, the vehicle less the S-IC stage, S-II stage, etc.  In the years that followed the tower was utilized to structurally qualify the Skylab orbital workshop and the meteoroid shield deployment for Skylab.  The facility was modified in 1977 to perform low frequency vibration tests on the mated Space Shuttle using the orbiter Enterprise.  The facility was later modified to contain a drop tower and drop tube to provide a low gravity environment for approximately 3 seconds."

That last phrase, "The facility was later modified to contain a drop tower and drop tube to provide a low gravity environment for approximately 3 seconds," sounds almost like a throw-away, but it was a real effort and I was fortunate enough to have been part of it.  In 1981, my short-lived contracting career was coming to an abrupt end.  I need to find a different direction in my career and was open to just about any opportunity that might have come along.

One day my wife Margo saw an ad in the Huntsville Times that indicated that the Division of Continuing Education at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) was looking for someone with a Master's Degree (Preferably a PhD) to become the new Associate Director of Technical Studies.  The job description, which included the development of new training courses for the Army Corps of Engineers and other Federal agencies, sounded like something I might excel at.  So, in spite of my lack of an advanced degree, I submitted an application for the position.  I heard nothing for several weeks.  I checked with some acquaintances at UAH and was informed that the job requisition was still open.

The person who had posted the position was a Dr. Gary Workman.  I tried reaching him to no avail.  In speaking with his receptionist, I learned that Dr. Workman often met his wife for lunch and returned around 1:00 P.M.  I found out what kind of car he drove.  One day, in suit and tie, freshly shaven and hair combed, I laid in wait at the door of the Continuing Education building on campus.  When Dr. Workman stepped out of his car to return to work, I confronted him and informed him that his refusal to answer my written and telephone inquiries about my job application was both rude and unprofessional.  I was here to request an immediate job interview and I believed I could convince him of my ability to do the job without an advanced degree.

We went together to Gary Workman's office, had a cup of coffee to relax in an informal job interview that was followed immediately by two more interviews (with Dr. Mike Oliver and a lovely lady named Anneliese Dilworth), and I left that afternoon with an informal offer letter with the formal offer to follow.  Sometimes it pays to be assertive.

I worked closely with Gary for the next 2 1/2 years as his assistant.  We worked very well together and the department grew at a healthy rate.

One day Gary came into my office and laid a NASA solicitation on my desk.  "NASA wants to reactivate the old drop tower out at the dynamic test stand," he pointed out.  "They're looking for a PhD in metallurgy or metallurgical engineering.  I've got my PhD in physical chemistry and you have a bachelor's degree in metallurgical engineering.  What if we proposed the two of us for the price of one?  We might have an opportunity to get into some really neat research!"  We proceeded to write a decent proposal describing how we would proceed to reactivate a facility that had not been used for 15 or 20 years.  We went out to visit the dynamic test stand, took the elevator to the top, and inspected the rusty remnants of what had been a beautiful bit of research equipment.

The drag shield on the drop tower that we
reactivated in the early 1980s, here being held
in position by its hoisting cable
A little background is needed.  The dynamic test stand is an imposing structure nearly 500 feet tall.  One side of the building is comprised of an open steel gridwork within which various configurations of the Saturn V booster and later the Space Shuttle were mounted to be shaken and vibrated by enormous hydraulic actuators.  Alongside this mammoth structure is a series of platforms on which people can walk, accessible by elevator, and from which engineers could observe and measure various points on the structures being tested.  Part of that "floored" area was chosen in which to construct the Drop Tower.  A pair of long steel rails was erected vertically about 5' apart, extending the entire 475 foot height of the structure.  These rails are exquisitely constructed to be absolutely parallel and perfectly straight.  Now imagine a bullet- or bomb-shaped container (properly called a drag shield) aligned vertically between the two rails with guides that embrace the rails on either side.  Through access plated on the walls of this "bullet" scientists can enter the interior and install experiments that are designed to occur in very low gravity conditions and over a very short duration (less than 3 seconds).  An example might be the rapid melting and re-solidifying of a tiny droplet of some alloy.  The drag shield would be hoisted by a winch to its topmost position on the top floor of the dynamic test stand.  At the moment of initiation of an experiment, the latches holding the shield in place would be released at the same moment that a set of small CO2 powered thrusters surrounding the top of the device would be activated.  These thrusters were aimed upward.  Their function was to  give a momentary downward push to get the facility started on its 450-foot drop.  The experiment inside would "float" up from the floor and remain floating for the 2-3 seconds that it took the shield to reach the bottom of its travel.  Those 2-3 seconds represented the period during which the experiment would actually transpire.

When Gary and I first saw the "laboratory" it was depressing.  This facility is exposed constantly to the elements.  Every piece of equipment was rusty.  Paint had peeled off in great sheets, exposing broad swaths of rust.  The rails had layers of rust covered with bird droppings.  Apparently, there were some favorable roosts that aligned with the location of the rails.  Fixtures that we touched that should have moved, such as movable latches and hinges, were frozen with corrosion.  This was going to be an interesting effort.

We proceeded to write our proposal, describing in detail how we would restore, upgrade and activate the entire mechanism and its associated instrumentation.  Within a few weeks after submitting our proposal, the university research institute was notified that we had won the competition.  We were soon under contract to reactivate the drop tower!

Over the next several weeks, we spent most of our time meeting with NASA facilities specialists, researchers, and experimenters.  We completely stripped all the hardware down to bare metal and restored the painted and coated surfaces.  We replaced bearings and bushings that had long since ceased to function properly.  We rewired hundreds of feet of corroded and broken wiring harnesses.

The local operating center and instrument room adjacent to the drag shield's launch point had been gutted and exposed to the elements.  We completely restored it with up-to-date equipment and instruments.  Within only a few months, it was time to check out the drop mechanism.

We decided that Gary would be located at the top, or release point to observe the event.  Most of the NASA client's personnel would be there as well.  I would be stationed on the second or third deck of the drop tower facility, standing adjacent to the hole on the deck through which the "bullet" would descend en route to the "Catch Tube."  This was a steel cylinder about 25-30 ft. tall into which the drag shield descended at the bottom of its fall.  It had holes perforating its sides through which air could escape at a controlled rate to slow the container down and the bottom of the catch tube was lined with padding that looked like a collection of old mattresses.  My job was to try to take a photograph of the dropping capsule as it passed through my level at a high rate of speed.

In this NASA cutaway image
of the drop tower facility, you
can see the simulated capsule
descending toward the
catch tube.
On the appointed day, we all took our assigned positions.  A small dummy experiment and some high speed cameras were mounted inside the experimental capsule to ensure that the experiment "floated" correctly on the way down.  We had a formal countdown over the loudspeaker system of the dynamic test stand.  "3-2-1... and Bam!"  I heard the loud report of the latch mechanism and the whoosh of the speeding capsule.  It all happened so fast that it passed me before I even thought about the camera release.  Then I made a serious mistake.

I leaned over the edge of the deck to watch the capsule descend into the catch tube.  We had overlooked one item in our restoration effort.  The catch tube had collected twenty years worth of rainwater, debris, dead birds, and God knows what other detritus during its inactivity.  So instead of a soft landing against a cushion of air, the falling laboratory's kinetic energy was used to force the liquid in the catch tube between the capsule and the enclosing walls, creating a gusher of unimaginable foulness.  And I caught its full force and volume.  I got absolutely drenched with this vile goo!

There were a couple University associates and NASA representatives standing nearby who immediately started laughing hysterically as they backed away.  I ended up walking down the stairs to the ground level, since I didn't want to contaminate the elevator.  Fortunately, there was an outdoor decontamination shower available where I was able to get most of the slime and filth off.  In retrospect. the event got funnier as the memory of the smell grew fainter.

And you can bet that the very next day we began the job of cleaning out and restoring the catch tube!