The Wilson Story

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A Real Job - Hercules 

    As I was getting ready to graduate and we were awaiting the arrival of Carla, it became obvious that there was no way we could afford to have a baby and live on a graduate stipend of $1800 per year.  I needed a job and I heard that Hercules was hiring.  I talked to my engineering friends and they told me to ask for $540 per month.  I went down to the employment office after teaching genetics lab to fill out an application for employment.  After filling out the forms the secretary asked would I be willing to interview then.  I said that would be OK.  I interviewed with a bright young graduate from Montana.  He gave me a going over and then asked the key question “What was the minimum salary that you would work for”. I gave him my reply and he jumped all over me for asking for that salary and not having a suite and tie.  I responded that this was the first place I had ever heard of that wanted to hire for my looks and not what I could do.  That really changed the interview after some more discussion he said he would arrange three interviews and would I please come in a suit and tie.  I said of course.  I would really have liked the job in the chemical lab but with my strong background in math it was reliability that hired me. 

    My new job was to determine the storage life of the sub-components of the Minute Man Missile.  This was an exciting job as I had to understand all of the components of the third stage of the minuteman missile.  This involved continuing in progress tests for components and adding new ones to the storage program.  Many of the tests would use accelerated aging conditions to try and detect any problems with the storage life of the missile.  Thus, I would be required to learn all of the components in the missile and develop testing programs to evaluate the life expectancy.  Our goal as a company was to insure that the missile could last the three years guaranteed and if possible extend that life to five years. As a country our goal was to have an effective deterrent for the cold war.

    My line of authority was from John Gale, to Harry Cochran, and then Henry Jablonski etc. My best friends at work were Dwight Mendenhall and Jerry Murray.  Dwight was the technician that had to leave after his second security violation.  Having matches on plant was a security violation because of the danger.  When coming out of the plant he was twice found with matches in the back seat of his car.  If you received three violations you were automatically fired for a security reasons which would make it impossible to get a security clearance in the field. 

    Jerry Murray worked to make me a writer.  He really helped but my writing was horrible. A single page memo would take a week of rewrites.  Memos came back covered with red.  Engineers were often poor writers so every project had an editor.  Jerry got me interested in stamp collecting when the Dag Hammarskjold stamp came out with an inverted image.  I was able to procure a block of four but not a plate block. He had some rental properties which for some reason I went to visit. He called them slum properties. I didn’t want to live in them but it was a quadriplex of interesting design.  I have worked with many tech-writers over the years but Jerry was the best. 

    One of the people of great interest was a consultant named J G Gillespie or “Jinx” as every one called him.  He had graduated from engineering school in Canada at the age of 17.  He then spent time touring the United States as a wing walker with an air show.  He told us of his experience in St. Louis where he was paid with two bills ($10,000 and $500).  He went out on the town and no one would cash either bill, but when he told them he was the wing walker at the air show, he was not billed. While we worked in the Beehive Bank building (now gone) we watched the federal building grow the just south of us.  The question was how many stories would the building grow to.  The argument was solved when one of the workers pointed out that Jinx had been a consultant on the stress strain calculations for the eight story building.  One day I got a call from Jinx asking me to quickly find the bulk modulus for a certain propellant. If needed get the lab work done for he really needed the number. He gave me a range of numbers that he predicted.  The question arose because they had performed a hydraulic test on the motor to see how the propellant performed under pressure.  They found too much water going into the motor.  I quickly called my contact at the CP (chemical propulsion) lab and ask him if he could help.  It was interesting because just before I called he had received a document with the requested value.  It appears that Hercules had contracted du Pont Chemical to determine the properties of this propellant.  I quickly call  Jinx and told him of the work and that his number was the midpoint of the range.  His envelop calculations had been spot on.

    John Mc Crossan asked me to design a sampling system to look at propellant in a whole motor with the hope of explaining a series of motor explosions.  I set up a series of samples to measure the physical properties running through out the motor.  They then section a motor trying to determine why there was pockets of propellant that were very wet.  My conclusion which I think that was accepted is that there was some packing problems around the thrust terminator ports.  This wet propellant would contain excess nitro glycerine and could be a cause of motor failures.  At the environmental science meetings in Los Angeles, John related his experiences on 7 Dec 1941.  He was stationed at Pearl Harbor.  During the attack they spent time trying to repair and get an airplane in the air to see where the Japanese were going to attack. Unfortunately, friendly fire shot down the result of their efforts.  He remembered the roar of the bomb that went down the smokestack of one of our battleships.  He said he could never forget that sound. 

    One of the best things that ever happened to me is that I was fired at Hercules "extruded from the military industrial complex”.  This forced me to pursue my dreams in molecular biology.  The actual firing was an interesting event.  It seems that the managers job was to get me to quit thus saving my severance pay, which probably would come out of the Hercules budget not government funding.  He tore into me like I had never seen before.  I was in a state of shock because I had worked hard and none of the things he said were in my mind honest or correct.  It hurt, but not as bad as a broken nose.

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