Chapter Four of the True Story of the C&RPL


"Murray, sir, I deny putting 10 kilovolts into the front end of this $20,000 spectrum analyzer and even if it was me, how else can we be sure Hewlett-Packard built it right in the first place unless it gets tested properly?"

Having spent a fortune on the Acania, and finally her wonderful radars all worked, and the fresh water distillation plant as well we could not exactly decommission her and leave the Navy without a ship! So Mr. Van Nevery got us work in the Caribbean watching missile launches from Cape Canaveral and IRBM re-entries at Antigua. (All this led to OTH radars, the Army's DAMP ship and such--other chapters of the RPL daga). I flew a KLM DC6 to Bermuda and Curacao through an Atlantic hurricane in 1960 and joined the ship there. She was soon to be under the command of First Mate Woody Reynolds who lovingly cared for the ship thereafter for many years, finally ending his maritime career after a long stint of duty skippering the Acania as an oceanographic research vessel for the Navy Postgraduate school at Monterey. (Last I heard this wonderful ship was still in service back in Alaskan waters. She will be 70 years old next year). Anyway back in '60 we sailed across the Caribbean (pitch, roll, lurch, crash, heave) finally anchoring safely at Antigua.

Mr. Leadabrand flew down to the British West Indies (still Pan Am, by the way, now DC6s--they did not apparently have any stratocrashers left). The high point of our time in Antigua was a ride on the sugar cane train with lots of rum and a wonderful on-board steel-drum band. "We all work hard but when it is time to play we play hard also," Ray often said. The native girls at Antigua, each black as midnight, came to the pier every night at dusk to pick up our laundry. At night they were totally invisible on the dock so we had to yell to see if they were there. Arch McKinley made many friends in town and got to know everyone on a first name basis and the local culture was always a source of much frivolity and fantail discussions before dinner. Our next work with the Acania was at West Palm Beach and Ft. Pierce and then out to the Bahamas to watch with radar missile exhaust trails in the upper atmosphere. I left Roy Long to do the real work and spent time "resting" in Menlo Park (We called it "writing reports"). It was not easy getting out to the ship when it was at Eleuthra but I discovered that my International Air Travel Car would buy me charter plane service by seaplane from Miami, so I came and went in high style just in take to plagiarize the data and the final results to take to Mr. Van Avery.

Michael Victor Acania at Johnston Island, 1958

The Acania went on serving us and our Glorious Leader into the early 60's--including the above-mentioned second nuclear test series when the Good Ship was in Samoa. My last trip with her was 40 days in the South seas out of Samoa in 1962 or 63. George Durfey had preceded me and during our transition time in Samoa I shall never forgot our night at a native banquet and feast at a remote village. Later our Captain (Woody) took the ship out to a remote island for our own fun day of experiencing native life in the style of Margaret Mead. So much for the South Seas...

Our work at RPL with spark transmitters continued. Ray L. Leadabrand was "kicked upstairs" to be the head of the engineering division and young Dave Johnson (daj) assumed the helm of the RPL. Ever friendly, easy going, Dave was an immediately very popular Giant Leader for our motley crew, now a lab of about a hundred souls. Dr. Alec Montflower Patterson--One and Two--continued to drop by answering three phone calls simultaneously while pacing back and forth discussing the future of the human race in casual, cryptic terms, "I'll see the President in the morning and see what we can do about some extra funding. I suppose another 250k should tide you over for a few weeks?' Public Relations became more and more important over the years at SRI as more good people moved up into Higher management and populated the walnut paneled offices of Building One. Most of us did not venture there except for occasional command performances. We just worked away grateful for Mr. Leadabrand and Dave Johnson being Firewalls to protect us from the outside world, and especially from the Central Staff (whoever they were).

Dave's management style in our lab was easy going. He liked teams and management retreats.

RPL Lab Managers' Retreat at Pajarro Dunes during the David A. Johnson Administration

Dave fostered more spark gap transmitter work. I built huge wooden rings outside the high bay that ran on 100 kv x-ray transformers. We hoped to develop pulses at HF large enough to be seen by satellites, and to a modest extent we exceeded. But in spite of huge wooden wine vans filled with transformer oil and pressurized spark gaps triggered by UV light supplied from banks of thyratrons, we could not sync a multliplicity of spark gaps to get the single coherent pulse we hoped for. Dr. Oetzel came to our rescue and built some water filled coax sections that generated fairly hefty pulse so lots of hard work and investment did yield a good understanding on things and some minor applications to early high power RF pulse technology. Mad scientist Doldrums insisted everyone working around high voltage be properly equipped with corona ear-protectors, and Art Wickersham ran off to patent 125 useless high voltage circuits that he was sure worked or could be made to work if he could simply get us to learn Maxwell's equations correctly. Howard Young proceeded to work alone inside the high voltage cages at lunch time zapping himself several times, but somehow rejuvenating his brain every time. Archie McKinley was also nonchalant around high power stuff and he was never startled when the fuses blew in the building. Ron PreTzel led a popular movement to keep all the delicate instruments locked up where I could not get to them and Lee Lumbard in the machine shop had an alarm button he could push when he saw me coming to use a lathe or milling machine. There was actually real, honest, legitimate science going on in our lab by reputable people, but I steered away from such things.

Another fabricated, false, misleading, scandalous story generated by the fertile imagination of one Jim Hodges.
Friends of Commodore Doldrums and of his secretary Eunice Loibel (aka E Pluribus Unis) deny all these wild stories. The weakly concealed allusion to Granger Associates does not escape our notice.

Along about 1972, Dave thought Art Wickersham and Bob Bollen and George Oatmeal and I should see what we could do turning radars downward into the earth rather than outwards towards the ionosphere and outer space. Thus began the Nortonville Coal Mine era of radar development research conducted at Mount Diablo across the Bay. We explored the miles of old underground tunnels (last used in 1885) and tried all possible radar antennas and spark gaps. Bill Edson suggested slot antennas covered by copper cages so we lugged these in vain up and down the hills at Nortonville for many months. Joining us was Sharon S. O. ("Buck") Buckingham, right hand man of Prof. Luis Alvarez of UC Berkeley Labs. Luis had called me into his office in 1973 and handed me a piece of casing limestone from the great pyramid of Giza. He told us about his labors to look for hidden chambers in the pyramid of Chephren by counting directional cosmic rays in the burial chamber. He thought we ought to build a radar for the pyramids. The limestone sample had low radar losses when tested in the lab, little did we know that the real pyramids are wet and very attenuative as far as radar is concerned. Finally after trials in the open pit mine at Boron, California (below left), we succeeded in 1973 with Dr. Oatmeal's brilliant help, in getting our first spark gap transmitter to work. Our field site (below) was an old dolomite mine near Lone Pine in the Owens Valley.






Dave Johnson tried, always to be understanding and helpful. He loved field trips to exotic desert places such as Randsburg and Burro Schmidt's tunnel and Red Rock Canyon. "Lambert, are you sure that is a genuine petrified dinosaur leg there in the rock? If this is another one of your wild goose chases Mr. Leaderband will not be happy with us. But I'll call John Golden in Washington and have set up meetings for you and Bob Bollen at the Smithsonian so you can present this to them and also to Congress. Pete is meeting with the Joint Chiefs on Monday and he will want them to know about this. Thank God Hilly is out of town or he would jump right on top of this one. If this isn't a petrified dinosaur at least it is a great mine shaft we almost fell into out here. Let's go have a beer and sort this one out at California City in the bar. As Ray taught us, 'we work hard but we also play hard.'"

Alvarez sent me off to NSF to find modest funds for Egypt and a wonderful kindly Project Monitor Selim Selcuk at NSF went out of his way to find us a few US dollars--and a lot of Egyptian pounds. It would appear that the last of the big spenders was not as yet all washed up. To help spend pounds Buckingham came along on our first trip to Egypt in 1974. When our equipment got to Cairo it was scattered far and wide over a huge warehouse all in isolated pieces. Stepping into the customs clearing house at the airport, Buck threw a huge handful of piasters into the air. Landing with a clatter all over the stone floor he immediately hired a hundred workers and several large trucks and soon had all our precious radar equipment safely in the Guest House at Giza, out among the tombs of Cheop's court officials. So began the first of three exciting field trips to Egypt--1974, 1976 and 1978. Including other trips (with DAJ to Teheran for instance) I have made 14 trips to Cairo and it came to feel like a second home. This is especially so since as Roger Vickers and Patty Crawley Burns will testify, our field teams also lived in "SherAtone quality" housing--enjoying every amenity and luxury of high society in Cairo.

Bollen, Doldrums, Oetzel discuss dielctric constantts of wet Giza Limestone

 "My head hurts, I can't tell whether this rock measures 400 or 4000 ohms."

 "Lambert, you can't tell me this model pyramid sharpens razor blades? I'll never believe it!"

Some Government Projects are invariably "Blackops" for which trained security professionals are on duty 24/7/365.25

Chapter 5