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Part III

The following stories by James Hoefer on his move from the DSN at Goldstone to the STADAN at Tananarive, Madagascar

"When Bendix Field Engineering lost the NASA Contract to service the Goldstone Deep Space Network, I decided to quit rather than accept a ten-percent reduction in pay to stay on with Philco-Ford. I had just barely received a raise of that amount and it had taken me nearly three years to get that!

I was the last man in the [Teletype Repair] shop, the other two men having already quit before the contract actually ran out.

As a result, there was not going to be ANYONE to maintain the Teletype equipment. One day I got a visit from my supervisor, Walt Bell. It was requested that I have a conference with the Cognizant Engineer at Jet Propulsion Laboratories in Pasadena, California [Sorry, his name, too, has been lost to the ravages of time].

As I had been primarily responsible for the recent block upgrade to the Teletype communications system, I thought they just wanted to pick my brain before I left - sort of a debriefing. But no, it was an attempt to get me to reconsider my resignation. They could not over-ride the new contract and let me keep my wages, but this fellow showed me that BFEC would pay my severance pay and I could still work for Philco-Ford. He asked me how long it would take to receive all my severance pay and I calculated it would take six weeks. He pointed out that if I signed on with Philco-Ford for that time, I would get paid nearly double my normal income. BFEC and JAP had been good to me, so I agreed to stay that long. Good thing I had the severance pay! I was working for FREE for awhile!

Smart Feller, that guy. (I think he really WAS "Cognizant"!)

On the wall in his office were the usual 'sheep skins' - advanced degrees in a multitude of fields - no less, I think, than six - maybe eight. They were arraigned on the wall so as to frame one central item that looked like some sort of prestigious award. I don't remember the exact way it was laid out, but I'll never forget the words!

He had to step out of the office while I was there so I took the opportunity to examine them all. I have no recollection of what the others were. When I got to the one in the middle, everything else just ceased to exist in my mind. It was a mock diploma, beautifully done with fancy calligraphy that said, - -


Is that factor

Which enables a man

To get along without an



Is, apparently,

That factor

Which enables a man

To get along without

The use of his


This was late October, 1970. The change-over was scheduled for November 1st - A small plane was sent to pick me up at Goldstone and fly me directly to and from Pasadena - right through the middle of the restricted' flying space of Camp Irwin Army Training Camp. (My father had been an Air Traffic Controller in Daggett, Ca - and I grew up in that area - so I knew about things like that). We flew so low in some places that I almost felt like I could open the door and pick the tops off sagebrush! The pilot seemed to think he was going to scare me. At one point we flew off the edge of a cliff at the end of a long plateau. I suppose a "normal" person would have gasped, but I was just enjoying the ride. No one has ever accused me of being 'normal' - besides, he could not have known I had an older brother who flew the same way! I was RAISED in 'that thar Briar Patch' an' this here was nothin' new.

Time Wounds All Heels - - Philco-Ford's payroll was so fouled up that it was SIX MONTHS after I left before they got all of my pay to me! - I was sure glad I hadn't signed on permanently! The three men Philco-Ford brought in for me to train were experienced with the machinery and had only to be taught the administrative side of the job. They had been working at British and French resort locations in the Indian Ocean and, they told me, were told they had to take the Barstow assignment or be transported back to New York City for lay-off. Understandably, they weren't too happy, but they took the job. Needless to say, they didn't stay very long before they found other work. Of course, I was also gone by then.

For years the IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) had been trying to get a foothold at Goldstone. After being forced to take a cut in pay in order to keep their jobs, then next time the IBEW polled the station the workers welcomed them with open arms. As I understand it, (I visited with friends at the site when I got back from Tananarive). It didn't take long before the 'savings' NASA realized by accepting a low bid came back to bite them. With a now unionized work force, costs went up and at least SOME things went from casual and quick to formal and slow. The day I visited I observed that the union was now requiring some "safety" measures that were just plain nuts. Perhaps they had their place in some applications, but this one just struck me as stupid. Used to be when I needed to lift a floor tile to check a cable, I just went and got a floor-puller and lifted a square out. As there was always a short blast of cool air with a bit of dust, one simply closed eyes, turned head away and paused until the sand stopped blowing - then went to work. THIS day I observed that it was now required for TWO men to do the job. There had to be a "safety observer" and both men had to be wearing safety glasses. The floor-puller had to be checked out and signed for. I suppose the safety glasses were a reasonable measure - for a few seconds. But they quickly become a hazard because of reduced visibility, and because they tend to get caught on things when working in a confined space, like under a floor with only a few inches clearance and LOTS of cables and pipes running every-which way.

Another story: Sorry, names are not my forte' - this story is second hand, I only heard about it after the fact, perhaps someone can remember more of the details. Seems that someone was working on the 210 dish at Goldstone one day and though he heard ducks quacking - ducks in the dessert! When he came down and told someone he thought he had heard ducks they laughed at him. A day or so later some of the men had occasion to go over the rim of the valley and down the other side. There they found a dry lakebed with a flock of ducks trapped in the mire. All dead, of course. The explanation goes something like this. A short rainsquall had moved through the area and left a film of water on the lakebed - enough to soften the mud but with only an inch or so of water. The ducks, seeing water, landed on the lake. The water was too shallow and the impact of landing drove their feet into the mud and there they stuck fast. Within hours, the water was gone and the ducks quickly died - but not before our worker head their desperate quacking.

Another story: One of my jobs - one that we took turns at from time to time - was to change the paper on the seismograph units. This was an interesting job because some of the units were photographic in nature and you had to work by the light of very dim red lights. There was barely enough light to see what you were doing. One of the things that made it interesting was that you could see the vibrations recorded when the tracking dishes were moved. Even the dishes several miles away would show up as a steady ripple. You could tell the difference between an earthquake and machinery as the pattern from an earthquake is far from uniform.

We used an ultrasonic cleaning tank to remove the dirt, and in the process the lubrication, from the Teletype machines. Each machine needed to be cleaned at least once a month or the sand and grit in the air would cause it to malfunction. The machine consisted of three tanks (I think - maybe it was only two)- one tank was used to blow hot air through the machinery after it had been cleaned. I don't remember if there was a rinse tank or if we used the wash tank for that, or if we just used a hose. The 'working' tank had a soap and water mixture in it, and ceramic piezoelectric transducers underneath - I don't remember if there was a heater or not. The transducers were operated at - I think - 22 to 24 kHz - supposedly above the range of human hearing. None the less, whether I was hearing sub-harmonics or the base frequency, I was able to adjust the unit "by ear'" and then verify with an oscilloscope. A Teletype machine would be disassembled (LOTS of levers, springs, bearings and screws!) and placed in the 'bath' - when the unit was switched on you could watch the grease and dirt come boiling out of the machinery like smoke out the windows of a burning house. One of the things I would do to demonstrate the unit for visitors, was to place a watch with an expansion bracelet around a glass jar. Then, with the machine running, carefully lower the jar sideways into the bath so that the bracelet went into the water. You could watch through the glass and it would look just like smoke boiling out of the links.

After three years working in that room, I lost a range of hearing in the region of the sub-harmonics and up. Who knew that could happen?

Madagascar: In route to Madagascar my plane landed on a little dirt strip on the coast of Africa for refueling. Two men in a pickup truck used a hand pump to lift jet fuel from 55-gallon drums in the bed of the truck to the tank in the wing. No big deal, except that the guy on the wing was smoking and I could see the fumes blowing around him as they billowed out of the wing. I made sure I know where the exit was on the opposite side and watched very close until the operation was finished. I have since been told that jet fuel was not all that dangerous - but at the time, I was remembering gasoline explosions and had visions of the Hindenburg. So, I got settled in, found lodging and sent for my wife and little girls. The day they were supposed to arrive, they didn't! No one could tell me why. I called everybody I could reach. No body knew anything - the plane simply did not arrive. Visions of the Hindenburg, again! I was really worried about my family but reasoned that if there HAD been an explosion, surely the media would have picked up on it and somebody would know. Three days late the plane arrives and I'm called to go get my family. Seems they had been grounded in Rome by a freak snowstorm. But NOBODY KNEW!

Snakes: On the island of Madagascar there is, according to the herpetologist at the local zoo, only one deadly snake. This is a sand viper that looks for all the world like the Side Winders I used to catch for pin money in Barstow. It is, like the sidewinder, reclusive and will usually try to hide if it 'feels' you coming (no ears, vibrations through the ground is how it 'hears'). One day I found a colorful grass snake in the front yard at the office. It was about a 1/2-inch in diameter and about three feet long. Being somewhat experienced with snakes, I examined it carefully to be sure the herpetologist had not overlooked something important, and determined it really was harmless. It was almost time to go home (which is why I was outside) so I picked it up and 'tamed' it - no difficult chore as snakes LIKE to be coiled around a nice warm human wrist - if they don't feel threatened or hungry.

Having the snake on my wrist, I decided to let someone else drive and I took the jump seat across from the driver - Ford Econoline Van - one seat on each side of the engine, and two bench seats in the rear. Double doors on the side and double doors behind the rear seat. We had six 'native boys' on the bench seats when the driver noticed my 'bracelet' as he was putting the key into the ignition.

Now, the natives have bracelets that are supposed to keep evil spirits away - I'm not sure how to spell it, but they call them "Pock-A-Fu" bracelets. They are usually made of silver - or something that LOOKS like silver, but sometimes they are colored. So, when the driver asked me where I got the Pock-A-Fu, all eyes turned to my wrist as I said, "Out there on the lawn, isn't he pretty?" And stoked the back of the snakes head. Now, snakes, like cats and dogs, like being petted, and he raised his head a little for more stroking. I immediately heard loud banging sounds from the rear, and felt the truck bouncing up and down. When I turned to see what was going on, all four doors were slamming back and forth and there was no sign of the six men who had been in the back. That was how I learned that the locals believed that the spirits of the dead inhabit the bodies of snakes! As I understand, those six men were gone for three days before they got the courage to come back to work. No body ever said a word to me about the incident - I guess they didn't think they HAD to!

Hitchhiking in Madagascar: I did not own a car in Tananarive, but wanted to visit the British installation on the West Coast. One day I hired the brother of a native friend as a translator and we set off on the Thumb Express. Two things quickly became apparent. First, hitchhiking there is very different! When someone stops, you barter for your ride. The price usually starts higher than what it would cost to take a taxi but if you are persistent you can often get the price below the cost of a bus ride. The next thing I learned was that within about 20 or 25 Kilometers my 'translator' couldn't speak a word of the local dialect! Worse, his command of French wasn't a whole lot better than mine - and mine was LOUSY! I'm not sure that a good command of French would have been much help anyway - most of the people we encountered didn't seem to understand French, English, OR his dialect. By the time we got to the coast, my money was running very low so we slept on the beach. Next day I had a brief visit with my British counterpart and we started back - we got a ride with a fishmonger for just about everything I had left. 40 kilometers or so with a dead eel slapping the back of my neck at every bump - oh, mostly dirt roads! Even the major highways were only paved for a few miles out of town. And at night, you don't drive with your lights on - just parking lights - if you turn on your driving lights people get angry! As a result, 20 to 25 "Klicks" per hour was considered good speed!

James Hoefer
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