This is Monday, June 28, 1982 and I’m on the bus as usua1 going to work. We had a special occasion Saturday night. Bob and Sue Talley took the “oldtimers”, Al Paul, Jack Lansing and the Petersons to dinner at Penelope’s. We had a very pleasant evening. Sue was insistent that the oldtimers write a history of SBRC. Since I want such a chapter in my book anyway I will put it down “As I Remember It”.
Lorna and I were pretty well settled in Michigan in 1950. We had been there since marriage in 1944. We had a lot of good friends and the Dow Chemical Company was a good place to work. Lorna was working in Plastics Sales and I was in the Spectroscopy Laboratory. There were at least two things that made us uncertain that we wanted to spend our lives there. Our families were all in the West and if we were to see them it meant using our vacation time exclusively for visiting family. Every other year we would take a month long trip putting two years of vacation together to make the journey worthwhile. The other problem was the weather. We had been spoiled by California, and the long Michigan winters became more unpleasant when we had a restless housebound youngster. Rolf was two and Lorna was pregnant with Christine when we started shopping about, sort of halfheartedly, for a job in California. The response was immediate, and Hughes Aircraft ask me to meet with their recruiters in Chicago the next weekend, and I did. There were two HAC people. I only remember one name, John Rubel. It wasn’t long after that when a telegram offer came – substantial salary increase and moving expenses paid. We weren’t long in accepting but we waited for Christine to be born and to age six weeks before we moved. Lorna and children flew and I drove out in our almost new Ford, accompanied by Lyle Reinhardt, a good friend also departing from Dow. This was in December 1950.
We rented an apartment on La Tijera Blvd. close to the Culver City plant and I started work in the Navigation section for Custer Baum. Since parts of this section later became SBRC I’ll name some of the people: Custer Baum, Jack Kuhn, Russel Hulett, Stan Buller, Jack Lansing, Dick Genoud, Kenny Meyers, Bill Noetling, Charles Deming and a few more. Stan BuIler had been in my class in sophomore physics at Cal Tech – I was a teaching assistant and he was a sophomore. We sort of stared at each other for a few days before we got together and traced back to1943.
The project of the Navigation section was to make a star tracker which could be used for celestial navigation day or night. Such a device had been invented, an experimental unit built and demonstrated and there was a contract with North American to deliver two prototype units for use in some system of theirs. The prototype design was nearly finished and construction was under way. The Air Force who had sponsored the development wanted development to continue, making the device smaller and better and keeping a team together to tackle the problems which were sure to arise in application. Ramo and Woolridge saw no future in daylight star trackers and HAC did not bid on the follow-on contract. I was not on the inside of this operation, but as I understand it, Dave Evans, who had been a radio operator for Howard Hughes during his round-the-world flight and who had joined the Hughes Aircraft Company in charge of the Radio Department in Culver City afterward, had just left or was on the verge of leaving HAC. He got backing and with Air Force encouragement proceeded to start a new company to continue the star tracking work – taking Custer Baum, Jack Kuhn, and Russel Hulett with him – the backbone of the Navigation section.
I hadn’t been at HAC long when Custer, Jack and Russ left and set up shop in San Fernando. I believe all of the people in the Navigation Section were invited to consider coming to work when the contract was signed with the Air Force and after they had moved to Santa Barbara. I wanted to give it a try but Lorna was not happy about the prospect. She liked our apartment, and her family was just across town. The company looked awfully small and might not last. We made a lot of Saturday and Sunday trips to Santa Barbara looking at housing. Even when it became apparent that we’d have to pay more for less space, I persisted and Lorna finally agreed to move.
After Cutter Baum left HAC, Bill Craven took his place and we continued work toward delivering the two units to North American. We demonstrated performance, a little on the shaky side, at Blue Ridge not far from Mt. Baldy. This was at about 8,000 feet elevation as I remember, and the sky was a lot less bright than in Culver City. I enjoyed those trips to the mountains and incidentally came upon some of my roots. On our way to Blue Ridge we went through a tiny “town” named Llano. My family, before I was born, had spent a year in a “colony” (a socialist experiment) at that spot. I had heard of it often but presumed it was spelled Yano and thought it was in Nevada. I could see evidence of attempts at farming. It was indeed the place.
We rented a house at 115 West Padre Street and moved to Santa Barbara in July 1951. I rented a U-Drive truck and with the help of our good friend, Lyle Reinhardt, got all our belongings moved to Santa Barbara in one load. Rolf was three and he “helped” us. I will always remember my first night in Santa Barbara. By the time we got the beds set up we were exhausted, but I couldn’t sleep. I am not sure whether it was the mockingbirds singing or the lack of traffic noise, but it surely felt like another world. Lorna and Christine spent the night at her mother’s. Next morning Rolf and I returned the truck in Los Angeles, Loma met us and the whole family drove to our new home in Santa Barbara.
I didn’t know much about the financial aspects of the company. We were part of the Pacific Mercury Television Manufacturing Company of Van Nuys. We had a government contract to make some daylight star trackers which included transfer of a lot of government equipment which had been acquired when the contract was with HAC.
We were located in a beautiful spot at the top of Mission Canyon road above the Botanic Garden. There were 6 or 7 buildings which had been a private school (for asthmatic children, I believe, The Los Feliz School). As I look back, it had some serious drawbacks as a place of business, inadequate electrical power, heat provided by fireplaces, security problems, etc., but we were all delighted to be working in such beautiful surroundings. I still remember some of our technical conferences out on the lawn under the trees.
The garages were made into a machine shop. Our drafting zoom had been an artist’s studio with abundant “north light.” There was a small swimming pool – which got green pretty fast because it did not have circulating filters etc. There was a soccer field up the hill a ways and there were horseshoe courts. Mission Creek was close by and up above the horse barn and orange grove (not cared for). There was a small waterfall – small in the summer anyway. On Christine’s first birthday, October 15th, the Huletts and Petersons had a picnic at the “plant”. Swam in the pool and had a grand time. The Huletts, Russell and Iva Lee had two girls Celia and Karen. The youngest, Karen was a little older than Rolf I believe. We were very fond of the Huletts, still are in fact, though we haven’t seen them for a long time.
There was a pretty good crew that first year. I’ll name as many as I remember. Dave Evans, Al Paul, Betty Wagner, Pat Meade, Custer Baum, Jack Kuhn, Russ Hulett, Jack Lansing, Curt Foster, Bob Jopson, Larry Hindall, Millie and Charles Lusk, Stan Buller, Al McEuen, Bill Davis, Bob Hahn, Ed Kutzscher, George Raabe. There were several guards, one was Ted Andrews. Hattie and Leon Morris did the janitor work.
- Dave Evans “The Boss”
2. Al Paul Business Manager
3. Custer Baum Technical Director
4. Jack Kuhn Head of Mechanical Design
5. Russ Hulett Head of Electronic Design
6. Bob Jopson Analyst
7. Larry Hindall Systems Engineering
8. Pat Meade Secretary
9. Betty Wagner Secretary
10. Millie Lusk Draftsmen Designer
11. Charles Lusk Draftsmen Designer
- Jack Lansing Electronics Engineering
- Stan Buller Mechanical Engineer
14. Al McEuen Physicist
- Eugene Peterson Physicist
16. Curt Foster Physicist
17. Bill Davis Systems Engineering
18. Bob Hahn Electronics Technician
19. George Raabe Technican
20. Edward Kutzsher Chemist (a “captured” German scientist)
21. Hattie Morris Custodian
- Leon Morris Custodian
Our contract with the government was a continuation of work already begun at HAC. We were to complete a daylight star tracker system and test it, including some flight tests. An airplane was bailed to us and Art Snyder, who owned the Flight Line Restaurant, was our pilot.
The telescope which was to be used on the new system was a Schmidt and components had been ordered at HAC. When we got the parts, they had already been accepted – but had not been checked out. When we put the system together, an adequately small star image was displayed, but when we started tracking stars, performance was poor. Took us a while to determine that the upturned outer zone on the Schmidt corrector plate was contributing no energy to the star image. It deviated so badly from the correct contour that light from that zone was spread over the entire field of view. When we ran a machine shop dial indicator over the surface we found the contour to be grossly in error. When we confronted the optical supplier with this information he said, “I know the contour is not as designed, but it is better that way, makes a smaller star image!” We started looking for a new fabricator, and we did get an adequate Schmidt plate made although we didn’t find anyone in those days who really had capability in producing aspheric surfaces.
We were very happy with being in Santa Barbara in 1951, although we were treated to some unusual weather. In our first month, we didn’t see the sun, down the hill at least. In the several years before 1950 there was a drought, very little rain. Water rationing was required and lawns were dead all over town. The Montecito County Club was completely brown. In the winter of 1950-51 the drought ended and in 1951-52 we almost washed away in the rainstorms. On at least one occasion we had to walk up the hill to get to work. Mission Creek was a roaring torrent and the ground shuddered with the huge boulders crashing together as they moved down the streambed.
Our company got a lot of publicity when we came to Santa Barbara, and a warm welcome as the type of “smokeless” industry that was wanted. The Chamber of Commerce invited all the employees to a steak dinner which was followed by speeches of welcome. The housing situation at that time was not bad for renters and buyers, although as I said before we had to pay more for less space in Santa Barbara than we did in Westchester. In those days the stores were all closed on Sundays including the groceries. 1t is not true that the sidewalks were rolled up at sundown, but it was a nice quiet place.
It was a sad winter for me that first year. Just before Christmas, Papa had a stroke. All the children gathered and we took turns sitting with him in the hospital. He was paralyzed on one half of his body and he could not speak. The doctor said there was no hope of recovery, although he appeared to recognize us, and managed to eat soft food. It was a very tearful Christmas – the only one I have spent away from Lorna since we were married. After a couple weeks I came back to Santa Barbara. He expired a short time after, and I did not go back to the funeral. I now regret not having done so.
That spring there was trouble in the company. As I was just an employee I wasn’t directly involved but the agreement under which the company was started, between Dave Evans and Pacific Mercury went awry. A separate corporation was to have been set up, as I understand it, and Dave was to get stock. I was never promised any stock but I believe some of the others expected it. Among other things I heard that Pacific Mercury had made improper charges against the Air Force contract. We believed again that if we disassociated ourselves from Pacific Mercury and started a new company, the star tracking job would come to us. I’m sure that the Air Force people who were monitoring our work encouraged such thoughts, but when Pacific Mercury heard of such, they fired Dave, and most of the rest of us walked out.
The Pacific Mercury people had some friends in the Air Force and they sent (Retired) General Kratz to take over the operation and he brought an engineer or two with him. They asked the technical people to come back to work – at least in my case they asked me to come up and talk. I made an appointment but when they weren’t available after I got there, I left and never went back. After the dust had settled, a few of our people were still employed by Pacific Mercury. I believe they included Al Paul, Jack Lansing, Curt Foster, Ed Kutzscher, Bob Hahn, Pat Meade, and Betty Wagner. Some of our people just left town. I never saw Chuck and Millie Lusk again. Some took temporary jobs out of town, one being Stan BuIler.
A small number of our group began working at home, among other things preparing proposals which had already been submitted or which we had expected to submit from Pacific Mercury. Lorna typed them. Al McEuen and Jack Kuhn made some drafting tables and Dave rented a little “office” at 25 W. Anapamu where they were set up and Santa Barbara Research Center was incorporated. I believe the date was April 14, 1952.
Before long it became clear that we weren’t going to pick up where we left off on our Air Force contract and more of our group left. Bill Davis and Russ Hulett went to Lockheed at Sunnyvale. Bob Jopson went to the Livermore laboratory. I was ready to go too, though not sure where. Dr. Wright in the Spectrosocpy Lab at Dow asked me to come back. I felt that Lorna’s reluctance to come to Santa Barbara in the first place, had been proved right, and we had better move on. However this time she didn’t want to go and we agreed to hang on as long as our savings would
By this time we had rented two offices at 25 W. Anapamu. Dr. Wagner, a German scientist like Ed Kutzsher, was starting a company to develop a wire guided missile. He got SBRC, in the persons of Larry Hindall and me to do some optical design for him and by dividing up those fees we each got a very small check.
After a false start during which SBRC was incorporated as a non-profit company, it became clear no one wanted to invest in a non-profit company. We had some response to our proposals, but who would make a contract with a company that had no assets? After a Jot of scouting about Dave found a backer, Grand Central Aircraft Company, who agreed to buy the assets of the non-profit company and formed a division, and we got a contract from Sperry Gyroscope to make a daylight star tracker. It was in the fall of 1952 that we started to work on it, and began getting salaries again.
Then we rented a house – next door to mine – at the corner of De La Vina and Padre Streets and we began to reassemble. Stan Buller and Jack Lansing and Bob Hahn came back. Ed Kutzcher moved down the hill bringing his Bureau of Ships contract to make lead selenide infrared detectors with him. The kitchen became the chemistry laboratory and he had a young chemist named Tom Johnson, working part-time. I believe it was at first a moonlighting job on weekends for Tom.
Stan Buller made us a rough looking but solid equatoria1 mount for tracking tests. We bought a barely big enough spotting scope for a star finder. I bought a big steel I-beam and a good spherical mirror for a collimator. When we put a coat of paint on the I-beam it was quite presentable as well as functional. One of my first tasks was to design a Schmidt telescope. I traced rays through the proposed designs using tables of trigonometric functions which had been made by hungry mathematicians under the WPA during the depression. Normal tables were not of sufficient accuracy. Calculations were made on a Friden calculator, clanking away. It amazes me that nowadays my little $15 pocket calculator can generate those trigonometry tables and do the calculations to far better accuracy than was reasonable in 1952.
I’m afraid I’m telling you a lot more than you wanted to know about SBRC’S first project. We made an arrangement with the Department of Forestry to run tests on Santa Ynez peak and to get some electrical power from them. We demonstrated performance and delivered a star tracker in less than a year. I’m afraid Sperry never made use of the device as they did not adequately consider the window problem. The window through which the star tracker was to look had a “joint” within the field of view. When the sun illuminated this joint, it generated giant spurious signals. Jack Lansing spent some time at Sperry, helping them with the problem. I think they finally gave up.
The company began to grow. We rented another building on the northeast corner of Chapala and Mission. This was especially convenient for me as I lived between our two buildings. This building had been an early movie studio. I believe they called it the Flying A studio.
We were interested in infrared for two reasons. The star tracker used a lead sulfide detector which had some infrared sensitivity and we expected Ed Kutzscher to be producing lead selenide detectors before long. We began working with Bill Bollay who was just starting a company in his home and garage in Palos Verdes, to develop an antitank missile. We were to design a heat seeking guidance system for it. Bollay’s company became Aerophysics and moved to Santa Barbara. They built the plant now occupied by Delco.
We had a couple setbacks in the first years. Dr. Kutzscher left, with bad feelings. He made what appeared to be a dishonest claim regarding some early detector samples. The Bureau of Standards group at Corona found the sensitivity to be due to lead sulfide instead of lead selenide, and although a seed layer of lead sulfide had been used to start the deposition he did not admit to them when asked, that there was any possibility that the photosensitivity was due to lead sulfide. Tom Johnson continued to work on lead selenide.
Dr. Larry Hindall died. Several of us played handball at the Y one evening a week, and one evening when we were just getting warmed up he collapsed and died. This was before the days of CPR. The fire department had him on an inhalator in very short time but he did not respond. That was my last game of handball.
During the war the Marines had a base at Santa Barbara. They built the airport and a number of buildings around it. After the war the base was closed and the airport and buildings given to the city. The airport was used and maintained but many of the buildings were in terrible shape in 1954. Some had been used for raising chickens. We rented an old barracks building #316 (no longer standing) and some of the Grand Central Aircraft people “performed magic” and made one wing reasonably liveable. We gave up the buildings in town and moved everybody into this one wing. We had a phenomenal old carpenter handyman named Jerry Crowther who fixed up the other wing of the building as we needed additional space, until in a year or so we occupied all of it.
I was not aware of any problems with Grand Central Aircraft Company but for some reason ownership of SBRC changed to the Bulova Watch Company. Mr. Bulova himself walked through our makeshift facilities. I am not sure whether he saw it first before or after an agreement had been reached. Bulova already had a research division and I believe those people looked at us as a threat. This situation was not helped at all when we were asked to review some of their projects.
Our biggest job in the early days at the airport was the Dart program which had developed out of the earlier work with Bill Bollay. They had become a pretty sizable company, first in Santa Monica and then they built the plant now occupied by Delco. Dr. Wagner was also involved. I do not remember whether he was still the H.A. Wagner company or part of Aerophysics. Tom had some success in making lead selenide detectors and we began using them in a measurement program and in the prototype Dart seeker.
I can’t resist telling of one of our first field trips on the measurement program. We had the detector in a dewar with a valve on it so that we could pump it out every few days. We were invited to participate in an army exercise at Yuma, and among other things look at some tanks with infrared suppression. We hoped our vacuum would hold for the tests but to be on the safe side we took our vacuum pump along, this included an all glass oil diffusion pump. We rented an old pickup and packed our gear in straw. Just before Herb Hatzenbeler and I started out for Yuma, Jack Lansing gave us a big beach umbrella to take along. He knew how hot Yuma can be.
There were severa1 other companies with infrared measuring equipment, but I only remember one, Olympic Development, with a team led by Dick Hudson. We got a lot of laughs when we arrived with our gear especially the beach umbrella and the vacuum pump. (I still remember some of the people: Col. Cherry, Floyd Lux, David Gee, Chuck Thompson).
They hauled us out on the desert and paraded a few vehicles past us, then we sat all day monitoring changes in temperature and infrared contrast of the vehicles. We were quite comfortable under our beach umbrella and it wasn’t long before the whole exercise was crowded under it. We didn’t get any more ribbing about bringing it along. Fortunately we did not have to unpack the vacuum pump. Our gear worked very well and everyone was impressed when we measured temperatures that agreed almost exactly with direct measurements that included a half-mile walk.
Another memorable field trip was to the General Motors Proving ground. Lorna, Rolf and Christine went along with Herb Hatzenbeler, Al McEuen, Charles Van Luven and me. We had a Dart seeker and the measuring instrument and worked on them both until just before we left. Arrangements were made to air freight the gear on Saturday and we flew Sunday. After checking with Southwest (later Hughes Air West) as to size of shipping containers they could handle, Jerry Crowther made some nice plywood cases to hold everything. We hauled them over to the airport on a Saturday morning – which happened to be during Fiesta – and found that the cases would not go aboard Southwest’s airplane. After much scouring we found a trucker to take them to air freight in Los Angeles, but since they contained classified material they had to be accompanied. I went with them to Los Angeles and rode back in the same truck. It was night when I got back.
This was before the days of jets and a flight to Michigan (Willow Run) took all day. We rented a car, filled it with people and began searching for a motel. It was very late when we found one and the children were asleep in various laps. Next day we took delivery of our new car, a 1955 Ford station wagon (must have been the fall of 1954). Lorna and the children drove off in it, and the rest of went to work. The proving ground is way out in the country and we stayed in a very small town a few miles away. There was one little restaurant and the food tasted great the first couple days, but after a week we could hardly face it. When we had finished our work. Lorna came to pick me up. We dropped off the crew at the airport, then went to a store and bought picnic and camping gear, and groceries and cooked our dinner in a nearby park. We had a pleasant drive home, camped out a few nights and stopped to see my brother and family at Los Alamos, New Mexico.
The Dart program fizzled which about wiped out Aerophysics, but our part of it had been pretty successful in showing the great potential of infrared. Even before I left HAC infrared detection was being talked about for air-to-air missiles. Since our star tracker used a lead sulfide detector we tried to interest the people working on the Falcon (radar guided) in an infrared seeker. However they were working on “The All-Weather Interceptor” and infrared detection was definitely not capable of seeing through clouds. The All-Weather Interceptor was an Air Force project and since the Navy didn’t have this buzz word, and perhaps because of the predominantly clear weather at China Lake, they developed the Sidewinder missile which used an uncooled lead sulfide cell.
The Sidewinder with its uncooled lead sulfide detector had limitations that would be removed if longer wavelength sensitivity could be obtained. My next job, which went on for quite a few years was under development contracts with NOTS (Naval Ordnance Test Station now called NWC Naval Weapons Center). The task was to put a cooled lead selenide cell in the Sidewinder.
At this time NOTS was a very exciting place. Bill McLean was technical director and he had a lot of extremely competent and dedicated people working for him. They could really get things done. The program was successfu1, at least the development phase. We invented some devices and adapted things to make a workable system and managed to produce sufficient quantities for flight testing. We made the first miniature Joule-Thompson cryostats, and developed means of supplying them with sufficiently clean high pressure gas. We progressed in making lead selenide detectors including “immersing” them optically on lenses of strontium titanate. Our miniature vacuum bottles maintained a permanent vacuum without a getter. In fact when we used a barium getter we lost vacuum. Actually we didn’t have a good vacuum at room temperature but the gas was mostly water and when the cryostat was turned on it condensed to a sufficiently low pressure. With the barium, the water generated hydrogen which did not condense.
On July 3, 1956 Bulova Watch Company sold us back to HAC. I know nothing about these negotiations, and nothing changed at troop level. By this time the All-Weather buzz word had been dropped and HAC was putting an infrared seeker in the Falcon missile. It used an Eastman Kodak lead sulfide detector. They were beginning production of the infrared version at Tucson and were having much trouble. I don’t know whose idea it was but someone at Hughes asked us to go to Tucson and see if we could help. Custer Baum and I went down and not unexpectedly were met with some hostility. Since we were working on the competitive Sidewinder which they considered a Model T compared to their Cadillac, they didn’t believe we had anything to offer – and were probably right.
Maybe this got us off to a bad start but relations did not improve until Dave Evans and Custer Baum were replaced, and Dave Hill came up to take over. We were still pretty small I remember as Dave Hill took all the engineers out to dinner at the Green Gables and we all sat at one table. (Pictures of this group exist).
Then a more important job was found for Dave Hill and I guess Hyland felt that SBRC was more trouble than good and sent Lloyd Scott up here to eliminate the SBRC problem. Little did we know what his mandate was, and how lucky for us that he got it changed. I don’t know how much the change was due to potential he saw in SBRC, or whether he just fell in love with Santa Barbara.
For the time at least I will end this chapter here. I’ve covered the early days of the company. The more recent history would be better told by someone else.