Recollections of My Life: Part 1

9 Jul 2024

The First Part of a Biography Describing My Life From Incept to Aged Nerd by Way Of the Winding Geek Road


I was born a long time ago at an early age, and at this juncture I am proximal to geriatric care. So I am older than dust. I am however still having fun, and I am going to do that as long as God allows it. My incept date or birth date is coincidentally the same as that of Beethoven, which is December 16th. 12/16. That’s a good ratio, three-to-four, three-quarter time. Coincidentally I was, like Beethoven, also born in Germany, but in a different century, the year 1947 of the Common Era.

I like to write poetry, fiction, comics, and non-fiction technical articles. I like to draw or create images. I like to write web code and doing web development, I am a full stack developer with several custom built stacks in the AWS cloud. I like designing digital hardware and writing the code to support it.

Formative Memories

The memories of my early life were and are largely sorts of vignettes of particular places or events. I have tried to resurrect the telling of the events into some coherent and accurate sequence, but certainly the memories are somewhat foggy.

My earliest memory was of Black River, New York. My Dad was in the US Army and this was near a military base, and about six miles from the Canadian border. We lived in a sort of a cottage and what I recall was an area like a car parking space beside the cottage that was covered with a thick green moss with bright red like anthers, and that abutted a large meadow that was filled with yellow flowers, buttercups, for quite a sizable area until it was bordered by a row of lilac bushes on the far side. I have a recollection of going to the river with this girl, and I recall stepping off the unseen underwater edge of a sand filled wading area into the deep water beyond. Almost drowned, it gave me a certain fear of the water.

But my first meaningful memory on the geek path was during my first encounter with public school. After she passed out paper and pencil to all, the lady teacher had instructed us to write down all the numbers from one through one hundred. I had little to no enthusiasm for such a droll task, and I quickly listed all the numbers. Then I flipped the paper over and began to draw, my oeuvre at that time was saber jets, jeeps, and soldiers. After a period of time the teacher, now on patrol, came up and saw that I was merrily drawing away and obviously not following her explicit directions, so she began to give me grief about it. I must have given her a portion back, but I left. I had my coat, it was winter time, and I recall there was snow covering everything and there were trees with no leaves in an area I had to cross. There was a small creek and I got pretty wet crossing that. But eventually I got home, and my Mother had to take me back to the school. We ended up in the Principals office with the teacher for a “discussion”. The teacher still did not realize that her assignment was completed on the opposite side of the paper. When this revelation came about the Principal told my Mother that I should be three or four grades ahead, but they didn’t do that because the students would be poorly socialized not being with kids their own age. Interesting concept that one.

I recall another event being on a military base and being put off the school bus at the wrong stop despite my insistence that this was not my stop. So I had a considerable walk to get home, which I vaguely recall surprised everyone that I had done this, and my Mother explained the error to the bus driver.

Another place we lived that I recall was in New Jersey, must have been adjacent to Ft. Dix, and it was named Sunbury Village. What I recall was the snow being in drifts up to edge of the roof, way deeper than I was tall. And an abandoned farmhouse nearby, it was haunted, supposedly. Trees right around it, but otherwise it was fields and I have a vague recollection of them being plowed. The only other memory from that time was some other little kid trying to hang my little sister, literally. Playing cowboys and Indians. Fortunately he did not succeed.

Elementary School

Finally we removed from the land of the Yankees and relocated “down South” to Columbus, Georgia, home of Ft. Benning and the Infantry School. The signage extolled the Infantry as “The Queen of Battle”. We lived in a sort of a cottage for a time, and I must have been bussed to school. But then my family bought a new house in suburban south Columbus, right outside of Ft. Benning. At first I was still being bussed to a school in downtown Columbus, and I don’t recall much about that interlude. I remember a boy who asked if I was a Rebel or a Yankee, and who further insisted that I must be one or the other. So I chose Rebel. I also recall being beaten in a spelling bee by a girl named Janice Taccati. She could spell bureau where I had failed. And I recall the teacher, an aged lady, telling me that I was lying about an assignment to write down what we ate each evening for a few days. My Mother once again had an opportunity to intercede and inform the teacher that is what we ate. My Mother was German and she could cook very well indeed.

After a period of time the city built a new elementary school, James B. Key Elementary, just a couple of blocks from our home, and I ended up attending there. I recall one teacher, a Mr. Wingo, and I got my Mother to go to the school with me to try to talk him out of quitting teaching. But the monetary difference between teaching and what he could make elsewhere was just too large. I recall being selected as a part of a group five kids that got to attend special art classes with a teacher periodically brought to the school for these scheduled classes. Her name was Ms. Bengert and she let me use her soft pastels. I was thrilled with them, the intense colors and coverage.

I recall being chosen along with that girl I mentioned previously, Janice Taccati of the spelling bee, to give a presentation to the PTA meeting about boiling water, that is how it boiled, what was happening. I also recall a science fair project, I built a model of a hydroelectric dam and its generators along with some poles and light bulbs. A model house with lights inside. I had taken a DC motor apart and exposed its innards as a generator at the dam. Plaster of Paris landscape. I enjoyed that episode. My biggest issue at the time as I recall was how did the protons not fly apart, one from the other?

I was pretty much a troubled child and ran away from home with some frequency. I would find a place to sleep in the woods near our house, or on occasion a laundromat. The police would bring me home from the laundromat, but when I was in the woods I was disappeared. The Chattahoochee River was about two miles from our house and I spent a LOT of time in the woods near the river. I also spent a huge amount of time exploring a huge sand and gravel company where the basic operation was to use these dredges to hoover up the sand and rocks that made up the river’s flood plain from lakes that formed when the surface soil was removed above the water table level below, and I collected such rocks as caught my fancy. I gathered a large amount of petrified wood for one thing. I also gathered ferns and wild flowers and brought them to plant around our house. And these lizards, called Chameleons because they could change color, but their real name was Anoles. We had hundreds of them running about. I recall one time the river flooded and came up pretty close to our house. That was exciting. There was a pretty good sized swamp between the residential area where our house was and the sand and gravel outfit, and I spent countless hours in and about the swamp and playing in the ponds and lakes. I was a trespasser of course, and the sand company had these folks who tried to secure the area. Avoiding them was exciting. Ever been shot at with rock salt?

When I would run off into the woods on occasion I would join up with a group of black men who lived in the woods down by the river. I spent time with them and nobody seemed surprised that I was a white boy. And much younger than the rest of the group.

I had a teacher named Ms. Turner. Once she had me sit and copy the dictionary to keep me from disturbing the class. I asked if she wanted me to copy the pronunciation symbols, and she realized that I was having fun with the assignment. I recall being given an assignment, along with the other students, to read some relatively short text. Which I did, and then went back to play. The teacher challenged me, why wasn’t I reading like everybody else? So I told her I already read it. So she told me to read it again. I was the only student who aced the test about the text. Another time she brought in these math books from 1871 and gave the class a problem from the book. First person with the correct wnswer she would buy them an ice cream cone. It was a linear algebra problem that asked the length of a fish given its head length of 32 inches and its relationship to the tail and the body. So I looked at the problem and went up to her desk and told her the fish was 128 inches long. She asked me how I had gotten that answer and I told her that was the only number that would work. She asked if I had copied the answer, and when I told he no I had not she carefully thumbed through the math book I had been given to see if someone had left the answer there. She actually did buy me the ice cream cone. Another boy also got an ice cream cone, and he told her his logic was that everyone knew a fish was four times as long as its head. Yet before his statement I did not know that. Somewhere I maybe lost being able to look at a problem and know the answer. More about that later.

We had assignments to write these “themes” every so often. I did not get mine returned. Why I inquired? I always got an A on the themes. She told me that her daughter was also a teacher, taught the eleventh grade, and she used my themes as examples of how to write a theme. Ms. Turner told me that I was the smartest student she had met in 32 years of teaching. We also had these achievement tests, placement tests of a sort, and I recall getting a score of 12th grade 9th month and I quickly calculated my IQ, which came out to about 163 (from 18/11).

Here below is one theme I did get back from Ms. Turner. She gave it an “A” and marked it “Excellent”. The “tilt” of the script was experimenting, ordinarily my cursive script would tilt to the right.

Somewhere at about this time one of my friends was a boy named Dewey Rhodes. He lived on the street behind ours in the housing area and one of the things I recall was his getting me to attend a neighborhood church. It was a Southern Baptist church (Southside Baptist, it is still there) and Dewey said that true Baptists sat in the back of the church, so we did. I never did get a satisfactory answer about who was going to Hell for not knowing Jesus.

I mowed lawns one summer, and another I worked on maintaining these rental properties in the neighborhood. One summer I recall in particular I spent working as a mess hall worker with a guy named John Anderson. The object of the work was to allow the US Army troops in the First Air Calvary Division more time for training. They were being prepared for Vietnam. That was my first “legitimate job” and required me to get a social security card. Paid $1.63 per hour, the minimum wage at the time.

By this time I had already made a major mistake by taking up tobacco. Bad idea indeed. Paying for it now. I also started another hobby, consuming alcohol, somewhere in there.

Middle School and High School

After Elementary school my interest in all of it waned, and I don’t recall much of Eddy Middle School (Junior High) save that I got corporal punishment every day for skipping “detention hall”. Licks or swats across the butt with a paddle.

Then I ended up going to Baker High School, which was also a dim memory for the first year. I flunked every subject every six weeks except Science which I aced. I had to attend English in summer school, and that was a lovely experience. The teacher taught by means of diagramming sentences showing the parts of speech and how they related, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, it was a tremendous benefit to me.

I ended up more or less working late at night at this neighborhood pharmacy or drug store. This was when Coca Cola was a nickel a bottle and the bottle deposit was three cents. Somewhere about this time was when the Coke went up to a dime and the bottle deposit went to the nickel. The drug store was run by an elderly gentleman named Dr. Bogart, and the store not surprisingly was named Bogart Drugs. As part of my pay for sweeping and mopping the store each night I got jars of Saltpeter, also known as Potassium Nitrate, and jars of Flowers of Sulfur which was basically powdered sulfur. Mixed those with confectioners sugar and it made nice flames and LOTS of dense smoke. I set a bunch of those off at the morning school bus stop. One time this boy John Smith and I went back down into this huge storm drain., we went in about a 150 yards or more, and set off about a pound of that mix. Its a wonder the smoke didn’t do us in, we had to run like Hell to get out of the storm sewer pipe before the smoke did. Just made it too! But the smoke ended up filling the neighborhood and the fire department came out and looked around. It was exciting. John and I remained silent.

Somewhere in this interlude I had this idea to hoist a flare up into the sky using a helium balloon. The flare was magnesium permanganate and magnesium metal powder. We bought the balloons early on, and by the time evening rolled around they would no longer lift the flare. I managed to set the flare off with a cigarette I had, and it burned the lens and frames of my glasses and I ended up going to Ft. Benning military hospital. Martin Army Hospital. So they were able to get my eyes clean and addressed most of the burns. It did reduce the amount of my facial hair. It became interesting because I had to explain where I got the pocketful of TNT explosive blocks.

I had a couple of friends that I ran around with. One guy was named Wesley Wallace and I spent a lot of time wandering the woods around our neighborhood with him. Another boy I knew then was named Carl Hall, and his Dad owned or managed a 7-11 curb market in the neighborhood, and I helped out there on occasion. A lot of it had to do with motorcycles.

I went to New Orleans at some point with a boy named Bobby Reid and his good friend whose name escapes me. Mardi Gras time. Got really plastered on “Hurricaine” drinks.

When I was back in school one year, Baker had these printed cards, each showed a list of subjects and the schedule and classroom. There was also a column that had an asterisk in it if the class was accelerated or advanced placement. I had an asterisk for every class, and in fact they had muffed up and even gave me an accelerated lunch period. lols. But nobody else had ALL of their classes accelerated. I was a maladjusted smart ass, and my behavior was not sterling. I had an English class and one assignment was a book report, and the teacher tried hard to get me to participate. So I went before the class and gave my report, and the teacher was effusive in congratulating me. Her happiness was mitigated when I told her I had not actually read the book. I am sorry Ms. Wood you deserved better than me. I had a class in Geometry, the teacher was a retired Colonel, a West Pointer named Mitchell. He would throw a piece of chalk at you if you were chatting, and he lobbed a piece at me. I ducked and it chipped a kid’s tooth behind me. But the Colonel was a smart cookie and the class was great. I had another teacher for Humanities and he was also an excellent teacher. Somewhere in there I had a lady civics teacher who became distraught when I did a fairly good job of supporting Barry Goldwater. How could you support him?! I took two years of Latin and that teacher, a Ms. Cobb, gifted me a Latin Grammar book she had used in college. I really loved Latin and had some thoughts of going to the women’s college that Ms. Cobb had attended, Agnes Scott College for Women here in Decatur Georgia. She was a clever woman.

One morning in study hall before classes I was sitting reading a copy of Lady Chatterly’s Lover and this teacher, Colonel Horan, snatched it out of my hands. I stood up and grabbed it back and said if you want to read it buy your own damn copy. I kept my book. Later he had some guy from Social Security come in and explain the plan. The guy from Social Security got quite angry because I called him out on ROI principals, the plan was a loser for most people. They were not only unhappy, they were angry.

I recall that I had decided to quit school at one point, and the School District sent a truant officer out to our house. He tried to bully my Mother into making me attend, which she could not do. I told him to get out of our house and not threaten my Mother. This was about the time Kennedy was assassinated and I decided to return to school largely on that account.

Every morning before class a bunch of us would leave the campus and go across the road to a gas station and gamble with dice for money. I had arranged with a couple of friends to parlay our rolls together and split the take. Kind of a hidden house benefit. One day the Principal of the school, Oscar P. Boyles, came over and surprised me, caught us gambling. He told me that gambling was a sin, and I deadpanned him by asking did that mean all the people in Las Vegas were going to Hell. That was not much appreciated. Oscar was an ex-marine and not much for clowns.

The next English teacher I had told me she figured that my lack of interest was because I was not being challenged enough, and she gave me a copy of Lord of the Flies by William Golding to give a book report on. She had it for a college class she said. That was an intense book, I thoroughly enjoyed it. But by the time I was nearly done with the eleventh grade I had decided to join the Navy, and in fact I joined the US Navy Reserves the first day after my Junior year of high school, which finishing the eleventh grade was a requirement for all Navy enlistees at that time. I also had to get my parents permission as I was only 17. I enlisted on June 9, 1965 and several days later I went to Great Lakes Illinois US Naval Training Center for Basic Training, i.e. boot camp. I spent my thirteen weeks of summer vacation in boot camp. I learned a great deal doing so. I also gained 35 pounds. I got a good score on my GCT/ARI (General Classification/Arithmetic) exam to enlist, 74/69 or 143 combined. A perfect score is the 74 GCT along with a 70 ARI which is what I think the RPOC (Recruit Petty Officer Chief) of my boot camp company had. He was a good bit older too, a college boy. I wasn’t even out of high school. One thing I recall aside from the fact that the Boot Camp company was made up of 81 Navy Reservists was that our company got a 4.0 score on a barracks inspection and the Navy sent an Admiral to inspect our barracks. I was in the special clean-up crew that got up before everybody else and went to eat early so we could clean while the others ate their breakfast meal and started their day.

So when I started my Senior year of high school I was already a military veteran. Basic Training was an unforgettable experience, and one thing I gained from it was an appreciation for the value of a documented education in the schemes of men. This appreciation was more emotional than intellectual, it was a fact I knew yet I could not force myself to it.

At one point I was invited to attend the annual Honor Student Banquet, because of my SAT college board scores and maybe the achievement tests. I did not attend because neither my ethics nor my grades would allow me to attend honestly. Certainly I was no Honor Student. Somewhere along the way I ended up getting 731 points on the Verbal and 710 points on the Math sections. Good at the time.

High School Science Fair

Right after school started one morning my Senior year, in home room, over the PA speaker comes the instruction for me to report to the Principals office. Everybody looking, asking what’d you do now? I wish I knew. So I trundled to Mr. Boyle’s office to see what was afoot. At the time this was the largest high school in the state of Georgia with 3000 plus students. Right away he asked me if i was going to do a science fair project, and I told him I had not planned on it. so he told me that Baker needed a winner in the Science Fair and he was expecting me to provide same. I immediately saw opportunity for a number of benefits to both myself and Baker High School. Plus I really liked Oscar P. Boyles. He was a marine that knew how to lead.

So I told him that of course we could probably at least get noticed, BUT there were huge caveats. First was time, good science always takes time. So I needed unlimited time off from classes to do this. Second thing I needed was access to components and supplies that could cost money. Third thing I needed was some transportation which my friend John Smith could provide if he also had time off. So Mr. Boyles said okay to the deal and we were now paid research scientists! John also had a neat project of his own to participate. As far as components I needed, my Dad being Army that made me a dependent and the Army would help. And they did too by providing me sets of six twelve volt diesel starter batteries that I could run down pretty quickly. Columbus Cylinder Gas gifted me a tank of helium and an extremely low pressure regulator for use in the project. Columbus Votech did some machining on a water jacket. The project was a plasma torch, I could literally vaporize a thumb sized chunk of chromium metal in less than a second. Just boom and it was gone along with the asbestos paddle under it. The basic idea was to draw an arc between two carbon electrodes arranged coaxially and flow helium through the interstice. Through a half inch ruby glass the flame looked white hot.

Speaking of the Army, one day this guy was kind of struggling with this bag. It was a heavy duty bag, olive drab canvas. What ya got in the bag I asked him? An alligator was his reply. No shit? Oh no no shit at all, it is a real alligator. What ya gonna do with it I asked him? He said I want to give it away. You want it? Now understand that I alwayys had poor impulse control but I said sure and then I was the owner of this three foot alligator. I do not recall how I managed to get the gator transported by the school bus, but I got it home. Now we had a sand box behind the house where my Mother, God bless her, kept masonry sand. We put the alligator in the box as a pen. Then my sister, not sadistically but in curiosity pocked at with a broomstick. The gator grabbed the stick and about pulled her into the pen. It became obvious that said gator was more agile and quick than had been perhaps assumed, and further it had brute strength. So after a short bit of consideration I called the US Army Rangers School at Ft. Benning and they came and got the gator. They said it was to be their mascot.

At first I had the batteries and we arranged for me to use this space behind the chemistry classroom. There was another student there he wanted t experiment with copper ions in ethyl alcohol. So he needed ethyl alcohol. which he contrived to produce by brewing beer and then distilling it in the space. A teacher tested the results fairly often. It was rent maybe? Anyway I had everything except helium, so I decided to run a test with hydrogen. Holy bat scat! THAT was impressive as Hell! But what was even neater was that the plenum above the space filled with hydrogen which exploded post plasma jet operation. The area adjacent to the space on one side was the chemistry classroom. On the other side was the girls bathroom. When the hydrogen blew out the ceiling tiles with a Hell of a bang this girl screamed to beat it. She may have shat herself, it was one Hell of a scream.

Now I had this teacher, Harold Hardy and he taught math and physics. So I’d go by his physics classroom, it was always good for a laugh. I remember the Ford Spark Coil. No it could not shock me if I didn’t complete a circuit, and touching it wouldn’t do that. I convinced myself and shocked the pee out of myself. One day he had this electric circuit on the blackboard, and he asked me what is the current? I looked at it and said it is one Ampere. So he said that was pretty good, he said his brother taught electrical engineering at Auburn University and a class of juniors could not solve it but I had done so in my head in about 17 seconds. So how did I do it he asks, and I told him that it was the only number that would work. Oh no, he says, it is not the only number that works. Go figure out what the other answer is and come show me. I was dumbfounded especially because I could not fathom another number working for the circuit. So it took about a week but I did figure it out. To do so I had to generate a quadratic equation and solve it which was interesting since it was my first encounter with them. BUT it showed me that there was indeed another answer! So sweet. The other answer? Minus one Ampere.

I had built a diode matrix and pilot lamp bulbs, #46 because they were fairly low current and these were signal diodes, and I shared that with Hardy. It allowed me to do decimal to bcd conversions. I also had a “computer” that had a cascade of transistor flip flops with, again, #46 pilot lamps to display the binary count. It had a rotary telephone dial as an input device. I showed it to my mother and she said of what use is that to me, I can count faster in my head! And she could too.

So the project won at the Columbus Fair and it also won an award from the Georgia Engineering Society. I also went on to win a prize or two at the state fair. One prize I won was a trip to the National Youth Conference on the Atom, but I could not attend because I would have already graduated. The sponsor of the prize was Georgia Power, and they asked what I’d like as an alternative. I said a job, which they gave me the following summer at the Columbus Division office. I won an award from the US Air Force as well. And a prize in Physics, might have been Second Place.

But back to Mr. hardy. He was also John’s teacher and I said I would not go to the state fair if he was not the teacher that went along. They had this idea that all the teachers should get to do this. Sorry but Hardy earned it and he is our friend as well as our teacher. So Hardy accompanied us to the State Science Fair.

I had an sort of a sadistic humor and I ended up in a lot of fistfights. One thing I did really surprised me that no one wanted to slug it out. But I took an audio output transistor from a car radio, a resistor, and an audio output transformer and wired up an oscillator that used the former secondary of the transformer as its new primary winding, now also center tapped. The secondary which was originally the primary had a LOT more turns than the new primary, so this oscillator would crank out enough voltage to get your attention. Put a pair of insulated pads in your palm wired to same, and apply palm to person. Sadistic I guess. This was your basic hands-on tazer long before its time. But there was another thing. The oscillator ran at a about 3 to 4 kiloHertz and the transformer also made a great transducer. It was quite audible. From the time of their introduction to the device forward a subject would react to the sound of the oscillator or similar. Kind of Pavlov’s Humans effect. ☺

Sometime during my high school career my parents bought me an oscilloscope and a vacuum tube voltmeter and a grid-dip oscillator. The scope and the VTVM were kits manufactured by RCA and I assembled those. Got a lot of play with them too. Got a pair of Knight Kit from Allied Radio walkie talkie radios that I played with along with my friend John Smith. I did some work for a local TV shop and was befriended by their technician, Bobby Morris. I vaguely recall repairing a transistor radio for the Ft. Benning Exchange store. I have met a few folks like Bobby, probably a certifiable genius but no paper. Bobby turned me on to building Citizens Band linear amplifiers to boost a CB radio’s transmit power. I built a few of them, each slightly different. It was art. Profitable art. I had a discussion with a fellow from the FCC about them and I pointed out that it was not against any law to build and even sell such devices. “Yeah but!” I admitted that it is illegal to operate the device. I told him I would stop building them.

The understanding that I had with Mr. Boyles, the Baker High School Principal, was that I would do all my assignments. But not necessarily attend class. There was a paper I had to write and the teacher told me that she would give it a grade of 99 since no one was perfect. I beg to ask, are we grading me or the paper? She also said that if I missed anymore of her class she would flunk me. I told Mr. Boyles and he got it straight with her. I really was spending a lot of time on my project. And apparently I actually made time to do well at a writing assignment as well.

I recall Mr. Boyles at some point telling me that he could get me a full scholarship, books and tuition, room and board, to Georgia Tech if I would major in Textiles Engineering. I smart ass answered that and told him I would not make a good man of the cloth. Stupid move that was.

One thing that was kind of strange to me were these achtevment tests we all had to take. I recall one boy who did pretty well using what he called the sweep second hand technique. He would answer A, B, C, or D by using the second hand of his watch and its position when he finished reading a question. It got him about the 85th percentile so that was neat. The school brought in some “guidance counselor” to discuss our scores and such, and I recall sitting there across this desk from her and I told the lady “well that is not so good eh?” and she said excuse me, what is not so good? So I told her my score, I only got 140. She gave out some loud expression of amazement that I could “actually read upside down!” That seemed to be of more import to her than the actual scores.

One friend I had while I was in high school was a guy named John Anderson, I mentioned him earlier with the mess hall job at Ft. Benning. We would grab a six pack of beers and go out late at night walking, talking, and drinking. It was good that I was tall enough to open the beer bottles on the top edge of a stop sign. John joined the Army after high school, and he trained as a helicopter pilot. Went to Vietnam by way of Hawaii and died in Nam when the front of his chopper was hit with some explosive.

In 1966 I was to graduate. I told Mr. Boyles that I did not wish to attend our high school graduation ceremony, please just give me the diploma? Oh no he said, attend the ceremony or no diploma. So I went. During the ceremony they announced that a student had gotten these amazing scores better than 99 point something percentile on these standardized tests and shined a spotlight on me and my seat. I was passed out drunk and they woke me up. That got most everybody in the audience, which filled the Columbus Municipal Auditorium, to crack up laughing to beat it. Ever been laughed at by a few thousand people? I have. This is me in the high school annual.

Now a High School Graduate

So even though I was already in the US Navy Reserves as an able-bodied Seaman the summer after graduation I went to work at Georgia Power Company at their Columbus Division office. I worked there over that summer. I worked as a draftsman on these maps of power lines and power poles, distribution maps. They were drawn on starched linen or sheets of frosted mylar which were replacing the linen sheets The drawings were done in India Ink using Rapidograph pens. I also got to go on some field trips to check the maps, one map in particular said the power line and its poles went onto the backwater lake of a dam on the Chattahoochee. Sure enough the poles and the power lines went right down into the backwater lake alongside this road which also went underwater.

Another thing I got to do was to calculate these load centers to size transformers and the KVAR (kilovolt amperes of reactance) ratings of capacitors that were also mounted on the poles. We had this fantastic mechanical calculator that had like 15 digits of capacity. Nobody seemed surprised that I could do this work, so that was nice. I also used some of my pay to buy my own Rapidographs and a couple of Parker Fountain Pens with broad nibs, and they set me to doing calligraphy on certificates and awards for other offices as well as our division. I recall that there was a Georgia Tech EE student who worked as an intern while attending Ga. Tech, and he was the fellow I went on these survey trips with. He loved antique Packard cars and worked on some of those, restoring them. I have known a few people who were into antique cars. There was a nice elderly lady there, a Ms. Macy Slaton, the nominal office manager type, and an engineer of sorts named Herb Bowick. The draftsman was named John Flanagan and he spent time telling me about his experiences with George Wallace of Alabama and his political fame. As it turns out John apparently did not actually know George Wallace. Everybody pretty much accepted this apparent psychosis.There was a black man working there, his name as I recall was James Wilson. He ran the blueprint machine which I also got to participate in. At that time the state of the art for diazo or blueprint machines was to heat ammonia that came as a solution in these gallon glass bottles. While I was there that changed to cylinder gas, anhydrous ammonia. I was admonished to not be so friendly to James since he was a “colored man”. Well excuse me, but fuck that attitude. He was working to put his daughter through college and I thought that was purely admirable. Another thing of interest to me was getting my drivers license, and my Mother hired a Georgia State Patrol Officer to teach me. Good lessons those. Do not take your hands off the wheel! Do not cross your arms!

I think it was during that time span when my friend Dewey introduced me to marijuana, or pot. We went to a spot of land his family had in Alabama and smoked some herb there in the woods. It was entertaining and I enjoyed it. I did not consume much over that summer but I took up the habit in earnest while I attended Georgia Tech the following academic year

Recall now that I was at this time a US Navy Reservist, I had gotten my Seaman’s rating. But rather than going on active duty I started at Georgia Tech in the fall on an academic deferment of one year duration. Many if not most of the events of the past are, to my mind at least, problematic to judge. So was it a good idea to do that, start school instead of just going on active duty? In retrospect it could be argued that it was a mistake. I had an almost perfect Navy GCT/ARI score and had done well on the SAT college board tests, so no doubt the capability was there. But I got lucky and ended up in a dorm room with another slack ass, and the end result was that I basically flunked out. Playing pool or billiards most all day every day, watching movies in nearby theaters, stealing movie posters. That is acceptable behavior if you can still cut the mustard. I could not without any effort do that, cut the mustard. Neither could my dorm roommate. I don’t blame the pot so much as I do my failure to participate in school.☺

While I was at Tech I recall helping that fellow I named earlier, Bobby Reid, to build a high voltage power supply for a laser he was building. I also helped a boy named Greg Faaborg build a controller that used an SCR and feedback to keep a light bulb at a certain current and hence temperature to grow crystals.

US Navy Active Duty

So when my deferment ended in June 1968 I went on active duty with the US Navy. My first duty station was the transient barracks at the Charleston SC Naval Base. I have some recollections from my brief stay there. I did not smoke any pot during this time. One thing that was revealed was that I was going to be assigned to a Navy Guided Missile Cruiser to become a Fire Control Technician, Missile. I managed to get my request to become an Electronics Technician approved, but I traded my obligated two years of active duty for six instead. I was a six year obligor. But I was going to ET School!

One morning at muster, there were two guys in suits and after muster they said I should go with them. I said no unless you get the Master at Arms to OK it. So they did and they brought me to this automobile and I got inside. They took me to a warehouse somewhere on the base. There were it seemed a LOT of warehouses. Along the way I asked them where the radio was? They seemed surprised and wanted to know why I asked such a question. Because of the antennas. I figure the transmitter is probably in the trunk. So they said yes and the radio is in the glove box. I thought that kind of strange, the antennas were a giveaway, no point hiding the radio. I just said OK, thanks. But we went inside this huge warehouse. It was a working warehouse, forklifts and huge containers being moved around and such. We rode up a freight elevator for maybe four or five floors, and when we arrived there was a hallway with doors, they took me to an office down the hallway. They told me I had become involved in a criminal investigation and they wanted to question me. So I asked him where the tape recorder was? Surprised I guess he asked why I asked that? I said because I can hear it running, so he showed me that it was in a desk drawer and it was recording. Cool is all I could say about that. They asked me a bunch of questions about where I had been and who I had been with going back some time, then they said OK lets go. They took me back to the transient barracks area and had a lawnmower waiting, and a can of gas. They told me to take the mower to the street and use it to mow along the small strip of grass between the sidewalk and the road, and when I got to the end of the road, turn around and go back down the strip to get the second half. Life already having presented itself as strange at times, I did as instructed. About the time I finished my way down the road, they came and got me and the mower in this pickup truck. I had been “looked at” by a person who had been a victim in the crime, apparently a woman who had been assaulted and then dumped out of a car by some sailors. One sailor had a white hat (typical round white sailor’s cap) with the name “WRIGHT” stenciled inside. Wasn’t me fortunately!

I had to retake the GCT/ARI test and after I finished part of it I laid my head on the desk. I was informed this was verboten and that did I not understand the importance of this exam? My entire Navy career depended on this exam. So I politely told him I had finished the exam. He told me to take it again. So I did. After the exam he called me up to his proctors desk and said I am sorry I gave you grief, but I have never seen anybody do that before. Do what before? Finish so quickly and get a perfect score. I now had a perfect GCT/ARI score of 74/70.

Something I want to interject here is about the Navy. My Dad ended up spending 31 years in the US Army, and then he worked twenty years at Burnham Van Lines in Columbus Georgia. He was amazed that I would choose the Navy. But there are or were a few reasons. First, in the Navy rates and ratings, that is jobs and pay grades, were allocated by courses and exams and quotas. More or less objective and competitive. The second consideration was opportunity, and if you got the right rate you could be assured of steady advancement. Electronics Technician was such a good rate.

One other thing I recall from Charleston that really stuck in my mind was one day I was running a floor buffing machine in a barracks hallway and this fellow came up wanted to know if he could go to his room down the hall. I said I can’t let you walk on the floor. He said oh yeah, that is fine. Took off his boondockers ( a kind of a low quartered boot) and holding them jumped up into the air and was quickly suspended by his hands and feet between the hallway sides, feet on one wall and hands on the other up near the ceiling, and then he kind of sideways walked himself midair down the hallway to his room. Amazeballs. Said he was a Seal.

Navy Electronics Technician School

Anyway, fairly soon I was on my way back to the US Naval Training Center at Great Lakes Illinois, except now it was going to be for ET (Electronics Technician) “A” School. ☺

The base was fairly large and well populated with students in many Navy disciplines. The ET barracks was quite a sizable affair, multiple floors and many, many rooms. Nice rooms, two man rooms. Convenient galley with good food, the proverbial adequate balanced diet. There were so many students that the watch was eight section duty, which meant you only infrequently stood a watch. This was after all the real military, the US Military, the Navy. The gate to the outside world was close to the barracks and there was everything a sailor could want outside the gates

The first thing we were going to be exposed to was Basic Electricity. There was an opportunity to be explored, which was an accelerated self study program called “E Branch”. So when I asked if I could sign up the Chief asked if I had any training, so I said yes I had physics in high school. This evoked the cheerful response of OK I am going to let you take the test, but if you don’t pass the test you are going to spend a month cleaning the heads (toilets) with a toothbrush. I did not tell him that is what I had done in boot camp. But I passed the test and started E Branch.

Now the Navy had these text books in which the material you would be expected to learn was content. They were actually decent texts. Meanwhile instead of an instructor you had other students. That all worked well until another sailor named Coblentz was explaining why submarines didn’t surface in a storm. I don’t recall the exact discipline applied, but I think that terminated our off topic entertainment. So it came to pass that I went on to “A School” which was a fairly nice environment. Nice building, nice classrooms, appropriate equipment. Had a gedunk where you could buy sodas and the like. Conducive to the learning experience.

One subject was the circuitry and fuction of an oscilloscope. Recall I had assembled an oscilloscope of similar nature during high school. Another class which I particularly enjoyed was diagnosing the failure mode of an R390 Receiver from the front panel and the sound in the headphones. There was a class about a Wein Bridge sine wave audio oscillator which used a lightbulb in its circuitry.

The Navy provided for a measure of entertainment, and in amongst the different school barracks areas there was a large building dedicated to such entertainment. There were quite a few pool tables and there was a slot car track for example. I really fell in love with slot cars and I even got permission to take a job working at the slot car track. Besides this track on the base I also frequented a slot car track in Evanston, Illinois. They had a Red American track with battery power and they had a good sized sales area where you could buy all manner of brass rods, stainless steel rods, and tubing of all sizes. There were particular cut brass items available like the bass tongue that held the contact brushes that rode the braided conductor that was part of each track’s slot. Sheet brass of varying guages or thicknesses. There were slot car motors and armatures. Some of the armatures were epoxy potted and had heavy wire windings, maybe 25 guage wire in some cases. I had a butane torch and a Dremel hand grinder as well as a few nice hand tools like pliers and saws. Rather expensive adult toys. The idea for me at least, and a few others, was to use a butane torch to silver solder the brass rods and such into a slot car chassis which we would race on the track. The majority of the customers were young guys, teenagers. I think the favorite phrase or term amongst them was “sano” which loosely meant sanitary, clean, neat, or pristine; an expression for a nice job. I have to say I did a much better job of building the cars than I did racing them. I have some recollections of another sailor named J.J. Malis, he was in machinist’s mate school and he liked to build and race slot cars as well.

Somewhere in there I met a girl who lived in Cicero, Illinois and I spent a lot of time at her place. I had another sailor friend, a guy named Howard Plumley who was in Communications Technician School, and he and I would traipse to Cicero by way of the Chicago “L trains”, public transport in the fashion of elevated trains. At that point I was not getting a tremendous amount of sleep, and in fact I had issues staying awake in class. One night I was in the throes of it when I heard this clicking away. What the Hell I asked. Plumley said he was taking photographs. In the dark? Well yeah he said, infrared film. Spending your liberty time in such activity was not a valid excuse for failing to stay awake, so admitting to this habit was not a great option. The Navy sent me to see the Doctors, and at first they gave me Mellaril, a sedative tranquilizer medication as “contra indicative therapy”. That did not give the desired results so they determined to give me Ritalin, a fairly strong stimulant. Then finally they sent me to see a shrink, a psychiatrist. He wrote that I was the most highly motivated enlisted man he had ever met, and that I had “neuresthenia” or selective boredom. He said that no doubt when I finshed school and got ou to the Fleet I would have no troubles staying awake. Meanwhile he gave me a chit, medical permission to sleep in class. The only person in Navy ET School history to have been given permission to sleep in class! Somewhere in that time frame I lost touch with the girl and with Plumley. Strange I cannot recall her name exactly.

Now during this time I still had good grades in class, and if they woke me up I could tell them the answer to whatever question they had. Somehow I managed to get a promotion to E4, or Petty Officer Third Class with an ET rating. That was not a real common occurrence, a quick in school promotion. Almost amazing kind of. Because of my grades I also got my choice of the next school I was to attend, a specilization school for whatever equipment you might end up working on. I ended up choosing Microwave “C” School which was in the same classroom building as the “A” School.

That was really interesting, we studied the AN-FRC-149 (Army/Navy Fixed Radio Communications system 149), which was a nice data signals multiplexor and microwave transceiver made by an outfit named Lenkurt. We had this final exam to diagnose some problem that had been inserted into the training system, and the instructor was rather miffed when I told him I had actually fixed the problem. But I did well in that training as well and soon I was an ET “A” School and “C” School graduate on my way to my first rated duty station. It also got me a Naval Enlisted Code or specialty designation of NEC1528.

US Naval Communications Station SFran

Now microwaves were esoteric at that time, and the duty stations that used this equipment were communications stations and US Embassies, and the first duty station I was assigned to was US Naval Communications Station SFran located in Stockton, California. Stockton was an agricultural town in California’s central San Jaoquin Valley in about the middle of the state. Naval Communication Station, San Francisco was a tenant of Naval Supply Annex, Stockton from 1960 to 1965 when the Naval Supply Annex was decommissioned. From 1965 to 1976, the facility on Rough and Ready Island was known as Naval Communication Station, San Francisco, Stockton. The CommSta was a decent sized installation that featured a huge blockhouse of a communications center. It had a nice modern barracks with an attached galley, and I got a two man room with another sailor, a Radioman named Dennis Rogge. Rogge’s job as a Radioman was to receive and send Morse code messages to sailors at other duty stations or aboard ships. The CommSta area had lots of warehouses full of various electronics equipment spread out over a sizable area. Besides your pay grade or rating the Navy was concerned with the concept of Seniority and the first man who got a rate was the senior and was nominally in charge. That put me in charge of the “Installation Gang” shortly after I had arrived on base.

I had not been there very long, just a couple of weeks maybe, when one day I was sweeping a floor between these electroincs racks and I overheard a class being held on the microwave system. I had seen the system, it was not sealed away or hidden, and at that moment I was only a few yards away, but they could not see me nor I them. So this fellow asked his audience if anyone knew how to change the klystron. This was figuratively the transmit and receive heart of the system. There was no reply and after a pause when he said “Anybody?” I piped up that I knew how to do it. So after he asked who I was he said go ahead and show us then. So I did, and after I was done he just said “Where did you learn how to do that?” The rest of the attendees were rather subdued. But I told him that this knowledge had been imparted at “C” School in Great Lakes Illinois. I may have been asked to give a quick rundown of the system, but at any rate the next morning muster I had become the Microwave Maintenance Petty Officer. The reality is that I really understood that system and how to maintain it.

So after that I had a special place to muster near unto the microwave systems. Part of the Lenkurt FRC-149 was an associated multiplexor system that combined multiple teletype channels into baseband signal that would be fedt to the microwave radio. The system also did the demuxing to separate an incoming baseband signal into its composite channels. The multiplexor was designed in such a way that if a channel failed there was a “hot standby” ready to take its place, The system signified that a particular multiplexor was active and ready to fail-safe by means of an orange pilot light on the front of each channel’s unit. I wish I could recollect some names better, but there was a Lieutenant in charge of our duty section, and every morning he would ask the same question, “What are all those orange lights for?”, and every morning I gave him the same answer.

I asked the Lieutenant if I could let the Installation Gang guys go at noon on Friday if the work request chits were all caught up. He laughed at me, so I said “Yessir! Can I do it?” He said the chits had not ever been caught up, but by then he figured I was serious and said OK but somebody has to stay til normal end of the day on Friday. I said sure, that’ll be me, there are things I can do in that time. It took a couple of weeks but it motivated the Gang to gain the reward. They loved me I gotta say. Most folks love time off.

One day the Lieutenant asked me if I could install a piece of add-on equipment to the microwave, it was a local voice system that allowed voice from on installation to another independent of the data and comm that went through the multiplexor, it would allow two people, one at each station, to talk with one another. In my typical attitude I asked if there was a manual for the equipment and if so sure I could do it. That was fun, I got to go to the far end of the microwave chain at the Receiver station, and to do so I got a Navy drivers license and used a Navy pickup truck for transport. The drivers license exam I had to drive a pickup truck with a manual transmission. I told the examiner I was not able to drive a manual transmission although I knew how to do so on an intellectual basis, and I was afraid I’d damage the truck. The examiner asked me “Is it your truck?”. Well no it isn’t. He said OK get in the truck and drive it around the parking lot here for a few minutes. That was entertaining I got the license and did not destroy the test truck. The actual truck I ended up using was of course an automatic tranny.

I got the comm units installed and running fine and did so fairly quickly. They were fairly simple units and it was no great challenge. I did not know it at the time, but there was a Chief Petty Officer who had gone to “C” school on the unit but he was not able to do the job. This put me in an unenviable position, I had shown the Chief up. So then a newly frocked (someone who had made the grade and was waiting for it to take effect) Chief came to the station and I became friends with him. One day he came into the front office and I greeted him by his first name. This was not good, and a First Class ET (pay grade E6) named Rundle began to chew me out for it, this was “Chief so and so” and I was not to call him by his first name, and did I understand that? The Chief then interrupted Mr. Rundle and told him that I could call him any Goddamned name I liked, and that in addition to that Mr. Rundle needed to understand that he was Chief so-and-so and that if Mr. Rundle ever called him anything but that he would write him up, and did Mr. Rundle understand that? Needless to say that got me on Rundle’s shit list. Rundle basically hated me because he was an asshole whose competence may have been questionable and here I was capable of making anything work. And obviously the Lieutenant liked me and the sailors that I was in charge of liked me as well. Jealousy over technical skills is not a great emotion.

The fellow who had been my roomate at Georgia Tech came out to California and we got an apartment off the base. The guy’s name was Jim Travers and he was a strange duck for sure. Not sure what his motivation was, but I don’t think he was gay. Might have been lonely, which I could understand. He had been burned, basically set on fire with some flammable liquid, by a childhood playmate and he was badly scarred from that. While he was no doubt a clever lad he was also rather obnoxious to most other folks, intelligence notwithstanding he was patently a proficient asshole.

I became friends with another sailor, also an ET3, and he and his wife and daughter also lived in the complex. She was a lovely lady and the child was also a beauty. They attended a church in Stockton, a Pentecostal Church, and I went there as well. I would have chased after her but for the fact that she was already married.

Once I went to San Francisco with Rogge, who had an automobile, and a couple of other sailors, one of whom we were taking to the airport. After dropping our passenger at the airport we picked up this hitchhiker and took him out to Marin County north of the city. Turns out the fellow had a good bit of pot in his possession and as we rode along he asked if anybody wanted a toke? Without thinking I said sure and took the joint he offered. It was quite good and the fellow, whose name was Bruno, became a source for pot. Once I was at his home and he said come here and check this out. As I looked up the street a police car drove up and stopped at a house up the street. Two officers got out and went up to that house, met somebody at the door, and left quickly. Bruno said the police were collecting a payoff for ignoring the activity at that place, and that in fact they would visit him the following week. Besides pot, which he had Mexican by the pound as well as some really good Southeast Asian pot. The Mex was $75 per pound and the Vietnamese was about $130 a pound. Bruno also had a nifty drawer in the kitchen that had little square compartments in it. These were filled with pills of various sorts of drugs. Psilocybin, mecaline, LSD and so forth, different dosages and colors in each little compartment. My interest was pot, not so much the psychedelics.

So during that time span the Lieutenant asked if I would look at a new piece of equipment that would monitor the teletype signals and sort them by the security clearance level in the message header. If the message was OK it would be sent to a teletype machine outside the secure areas, a kind of pony loop comm system. Now this was my first experience with digital integrated circuits and I had to resolder a whole bunch of these IC’s in the unit itself. Piss poor assembly technique. But I got going on that pretty well.

We had this sailor nicknamed “Weird Harold” after some TV show character. Harold was married and every payday his alcoholic wife would beat him severely to the extent that he was bruised black and blue. Harold was a mental basket case. He could not for example tie his shoes correctly and he was an inveterate fuck up. Once Harold cut the wrong cable in a cable trench that ran under the blockhouse building to carry signal cable. That took the entire CommSta offline and we had no communications to the Pacific Theater for more than an hour while new cables were installed. Bad fuck up!

Harold was typically late for muster and on one occasion the officers in charge were going to send Harold to the brig, a sort of a Navy jail that was run by Marines who would obligingly beat the crap out of the inmates on occasion. That freaked Harold out, and he told the officers at his mast (non-judicial punishment court of sorts) his reason for all the problems he had was drugs, not drugs he was doing of course, but the drugs the other sailors were doing. He said this made him worry and affected his performance. Now as I said, Harold was an asshole and nobody would do drugs with him or even associate with him off duty. But that did not keep him from giving the officers a list of purported drug users. Harold had made the list up because Harold had a fervent hope that he could deflect the punishment and not go to the brig. So the Navy took his list, thanked him for doing the right thing, and then sent him to the brig anyway. Justice for sure!

So the next day or so the Navy gave me an interview. They had searched my room in the barracks and found a joint in my effects. No idea how that got there, I made a distinct effort at keeping my locker and the room sanitary. The Navy also stopped Travers when he came to pick me up, and they found a bunch of pot in his car. That was not good, and of course Travers ever the smart ass did not mitigate any of that. He soon departed back to his home in Florida while I was stripped of my crow and was back to being a Seaman, and my friend Rundle the First Class ET went after me with a vengeance in a typical vindictive fashion. I took another hit from him, I think I was a few minutes late to a muster, and then I was a Seaman Apprentice, down two paygrades. By then I was basically through with the Navy, I felt like I had failed at my career.

We had a meeting after my last mast and I told the review officers that I felt it best if I left the Navy. The Lieutenant told the other officers that I was the best ET he had ever seen in 32 years of service and the Navy should keep me, but I no longer had the stomach for it. I told them to just discharge me. Meanwhile there was that pony loop monitor I had been installing, and the powers that be set me to doing that to completion because I was the first and only sailor to get the thing working. So here I was, now an E2 lowly Seaman Apprentice, and I could no longer tell anyone what to do. So they assigned a ranking Petty Officer to pass my instructions on to the crew doing the actual work installing the hardware and cabling. I did a nice writeup on the system too so the install could be duplicated elsewhere, for example a CommSta in Kodiak Alaska in the Aleutian Islands. But then in the end I was discharged from the Navy.

I had excellent performance marks and I was approved to go up for my E5 exam, Petty Officer Second Class. within a month of starting at my new dity station, which was pretty much unheard of. In fact I had 4.0 marks which had to be justified to the Bureau of Navy Personnel, and I was also approved to go to an Army electronics school at Ft. Monmouth New Jersey. I also got a special request that I would be allowed to finish my tour at the CommSta SFRAN before I would be sent to the school and get my rating, that being pretty unusual. The school was for Troposhere Scattering communications, more magic electronics. But when the stuff hit the fan i was more or less screwed for my marks and I absolutely believe Ed Rundle fucked with my records. So even though I had done a superb job according to my performance marks I still ended up with a General Discharge under honorable conditions. I think Ed Rundle is probably toasting in Hell. ☺

I looked for a job in the civilian world, and I applied at a tractor manufacturer in Stockton for a drafting job. They gave me a test and then came back and said there was a problem and would I please take the test again. So I did and then they said that when I had aced the first test they figured I had cheated, somewhere along the way someone had given me the answers, so they gave me another version of this aptitude test. When I aced that one too they told me that I would never be happy drafting for a tractor company and declined to hire me. I also applied at a hifi stereo dealership but again they decided I would not be a good fit. I went to Oakland and took a share in an apartment there that another discharged sailor, a guy name Pete Wright (no relation), had. I did not like Oakland and the opportunities seemed limited, though Pete had gotten a job with the telephone company.

So being depressed and unhappy, and once again a civilian I caught a Greyhound Bus back to Columbus, Georgia, my nominal home town.

So that concludes Part 1 of my autobiography. My Navy military career plans had been quashed and I was now back to being a civilian.

I hope you dear reader found this entertaining and somewhat informative. As always Comments, Criticisms, and Suggestions are welcome. God bless all!