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Oral-History:Donald Lowden

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About Donald Lowden

Donald Lowden is a technician who has worked on radios, TVs, and computers. He worked on a variety of technical jobs after he graduated grade school, eventually specializing in radio repair. He was also a ham radio enthusiast. From about 1937 to 1942 he worked as a radio repairman for General Electric; from 1942 to 1974 he worked as a technician for NCR. During World War II he worked under Joe Desch, primarily wiring, soldering, and assembling initial designs. He is currently retired.

About the Interview

DONALD LOWDEN: An Interview Conducted by Frederik Nebeker, IEEE History Center, 17 September 1995



Interview # 417 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc., and Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey



Copyright Statement

This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.



Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, Rutgers - the State University, 39 Union Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8538 USA. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.
It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:



Don Lowden, Electrical Engineer, an oral history conducted in 1995 by Frederik Nebeker, IEEE History Center, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.


Interview

Interview: Don Lowden
Interviewer: Frederik Nebeker
Date: 17 September 1995
Location: Kettering, Ohio


Nebeker:
This is the 17th of September, 1995. I’m talking with Don Lowden, in his home in Kettering, Ohio, this is Rik Nebeker. Could I ask you first where and when you were born and a little bit about your family?


Lowden:
I was born in Miamisburg, Ohio, which is south of Dayton [by] about ten miles, in 1912. My grandfather, at that time, was superintendent of a twine mill factory down there that made binder twine. He worked for International Harvester in Chicago, and they sent him to Miamisburg to manage the mill there. My mother and father separated when I was two years old, and I lived with my mother, most of the time. And we moved to West Carrollton at one time. Wherever my mother had a job, we (laughter) moved. Later we moved to Dayton. And she had a job working for A. C. Dayton Radio, running a punch press, stamping out condenser plates. They made their condensers . . . .


Nebeker:
This was a radio receiver manufacturer . . . ?


Lowden:
That’s right. And she worked for them for a number of years, and later, she worked in the toy factories. And I didn’t go to high school. I had a common grade school education. However, I did take courses. I took a course in printing, in typesetting, at a high school, a night school, and that was at Parker. And I took a course in automobile repair at Barlow Motorcar Company. They were a Chrysler dealer. And I took a welding course, at the Ideal Welding Company, in electric and acetylene welding.


Nebeker:
Were you interested in electricity as a boy?


Lowden:
Yes. When I was about twelve years old, I built my first radio. A one tube radio. I later added two audio stages. (laughter)


Nebeker:

Were tubes still expensive then?


Lowden:
Yes, but we had a neighbor boy that had a bunch of equipment, and he gave me a lot, because I didn’t have much money.



At that time, they sold all the electronic parts, in the ten-cent stores, in Woolworth’s, I guess, it was in Dayton. And they had a whole counter full of all types of parts, sockets and everything. And I would save up whatever money I could make and buy parts. And then I’d assemble the things. My first job, though, was carrying papers. When I was eight years old, I got a paper route. We, of course, moved from the West Side to North Dayton. Of course, then I didn’t have the paper route anymore.



But then, for a while, I lived back in Miamisburg with my grandmother too. That was when I was about twelve, when I started to build radios. And our neighbor boy gave me a crystal set, it was all torn apart, it was in a little box, and I put it back together. And he loaned me a pair of earphones. That’s really what got me interested in radios. I never took any training in radios except, I worked in the radio stations here as a technician, a studio tech. I controlled the volume of the mikes and set up placements for bands, or whatever.



I started at WSMK, in about 1932. And WHIO came to town, in about ‘33, and I went over there then for a while.


Nebeker:
Those were rough years to find jobs . . .


Lowden:
That’s right.


Nebeker:
But I guess radio stations were doing O.K.


Lowden:
Yes, they were doing very well.



And then after that I worked for a time in a box factory, but I had taken this typesetting course, so what I got to do was put up stock and clean the presses, you know, the ink off the big drums, and I worked nights and did that. And they had what they call “the Kilgore Cap.” I don’t know if you ever saw anything like that or not. They were little boxes, they were red and white, and they’d have five rolls of caps in the box, and you put them in these little cap guns . . .


Nebeker:
Oh yes, that’s right, sure, I remember those.


Lowden:
. . . and keep shooting. Well, when you had a job, if they ran out of an order and didn’t have anymore work there, they laid you off. And that’s what happened there. I worked on that, I worked on putting up stock for the cylinder presses, if you know what a cylinder press is.


Nebeker:
No.


Lowden:
It’s a big press that has a drum that goes around, and the girls would feed those things. And I put the stock for them, and they would feed that big sheet, they were about three by four, or something like that, and they’d have all these boxes printed on them, and the cylinder press then would score the thing. And there’d be big stacks of these things, and girls would take them to a table, and take a hammer and knock the edges off. And then they, when they took these boxes apart, they would glue them. They’d fold them with glue, that’s where they put the . . . Well, while that order was there I worked on that.



And then later I went to the Cincinnati Soap Company, and ran what they called the “soap plotter,” and then there was, I can tell you, it looks like a big meat grinder. As the soap comes down we would let the soap down and it looked like macaroni. And then this plotter had steam in the head, and we would run out a strip of soap, which would be like two and a half inches wide and an inch thick, and, about three and a half feet long. And I had to control the temperature of this head, so it didn’t melt the soap too much. And then I’d put that on a table and step on a trip and it would slice the bars into the right size section, and there were girls on each side of the table and they would put those into a machine and it would stamp the name in them. And then they’d come out and go on down, and another girl would wrap the soap in a jacket. I worked on that, I worked, like, thirteen hours a night on that . . .


Nebeker:
Oh wow.


Lowden:
Well, then, later on I got a job working for a tube tester, Jackson Electrical Instrument Company. And that was soldering all day long. And tube testers and oscilloscopes. And originally, there again, when they ran out of orders they’d lay you off. I went to work over on Vermont Avenue, in North Dayton. That’s where they were. Well then, they shut down, and then later they opened over on Wayne Avenue. And I went back to work over there. In 1937, the flood hit Cincinnati, and Jackson couldn’t get any formica. The formica plant was flooded, so I got laid off again. (laughter) And I looked around, and there was an ad in the paper for a radio tech . . .


Nebeker:
I assume you liked that job with the test instruments?


Lowden:
Oh yes. And I had worked as a part-time serviceman for a local radio repair shop, Martindale Radio. The deal was, he would give me a dollar and a half to repair a radio. He was a crippled fellow, he had infantile paralysis, and his legs never developed. And so, the way he repaired a radio, he’d take a condenser and go across condensers, and do all, if the set was dead. He really didn’t know electronics. And so, he would pay me a dollar and a half per set. Well, I’d go into the shop and maybe he’d have three or four radios in. So I’d repair them, and he’d pay me for each one then. But he charged the people a lot more. He would tell them there was something wrong that really wasn’t, you know. Of course, I didn’t know, you know, I wasn’t paying attention. I wasn’t there most of the time. I just went . . . but he couldn’t keep me busy. He didn’t have enough business. So that’s when I went to work in the tester factory after that. And then when they shut down because of the flood in Cincinnati, GE had an ad in the paper for a radio repairman.


Nebeker:
This is the General Electric . . .


Lowden:
GE Supply Corporation.


Nebeker:
Making what?


Lowden:
Well, GE owned the supply corporation, and we had all the equipment that they’d buy at the field, wire and pipe and everything, all type of electrical products . . .


Nebeker:
For automobiles?


Lowden:
No. This was a supply company, we were distributors for Hot Point refrigerators, and ranges, and General Electric radios. And the first month I was there I got my checks from GE, they owned the supply corporation. But it was another facility. And I worked for them for five years, and I am happy to say, I never found a radio I couldn’t repair. They had fired the two fellows ahead of me and I was hard to get along with sometimes, if they did something I didn’t like, (laughter) I would tell them . . . And I offered to quit a couple of times and they gave me a raise each time. (laughter)


Nebeker:
So much of your work there was repairing radios?


Lowden:
Yes. Most of it, to start with, it was radios. And then they wanted me to replace clock motors, you know, the way the GE clocks run, they have a pole piece with a coil that plugs into the 110, and they have a little geared motor, in other words, that runs, well, like 1 r.p.m. or 3.6 r.p.m. And that motor slips into a pole piece, and the motors would get out of oil and they’d either make a noise or they’d hang up. And all you had to do was take two screws out and take it off and put a new gear in and put it back together. Except sometimes I’d get a chime clock, and it was more, I had to time everything. But I did that, and on occasion make a refrigeration call if it needed a new thermostat or something, I’d go out and put that in. But it was mainly to appease the dealers. We weren’t in business to repair people’s radio’s, didn’t have T.V. then . . . But, the dealers would get stuck with something, or the serviceman couldn’t find out what the trouble was, they’d bring the sets back. So I repaired them.


Nebeker:
So these clocks, the timekeeper there is simply the sixty-cycle house current?


Lowden:
That’s right. And some of the clocks have a 1 r.p.m. motor, and some of them have 3.6 r.p.m. motor. And of course it depends on the gearing, as to which motor you had to put in. And of course I had to do that, I mean, they kept putting more work on me. And I was the only one in the service department, so . . . and I’d make outside calls, if a dealer got tied up on something and somebody was unhappy, the company would send me out to see and to try to settle what was wrong, and make the customer happy.


Nebeker:
Did you like that work?


Lowden:
Well I liked it real well, yes. Then the war came on. And they wanted me to take a desk job, which I didn’t want. And they moved into a smaller building out in the west side. And so I quit. (laughter) I didn’t want to go through moving all that stuff. I wasn’t much at lifting a lot of heavy stuff anyway. I was better with a soldering iron than a screwdriver, but anyway . . .


Nebeker:
You quit without having another job?


Lowden:
Yes. Well, this friend of mine, J. Welker, who had this part-time radio shop. He sold radios, that’s the way I happened to meet him. He’d come in, and he was an electronic engineer, graduated at Ohio State University. And he’s the one who talked to Joe Desch about interviewing me for the job. And during the time between August and when I went to work in December, I worked at Jay’s repairing radios. He’d got a lot of radio repair, and at the time he had the workshop in his basement in Oakwood. And I worked there, for him. He paid me for working there, until I went into NCR.


Nebeker:
So when Joe got the large Navy project, the Bombe project, he needed, of course, a lot more people.


Lowden:
That’s right.


Nebeker:
You were one of the first?


Lowden:
I was the first. He said, “We got to decide what to call you.” And he says, “Well, we’ll call you a technician.” And I started in building 10, to work on that project. I worked on a diode chassis . . .


Nebeker:
What did he tell you this project was?


Lowden:
He just said it was a Navy project, and he never really went into details as to what it was. And I had an inkling that, you know, it was some kind of a machine that the Navy was going to use, but I thought it was a calculator of some sort. I didn’t .


Nebeker:
You didn’t guess that it was a code-breaking machine . . .


Lowden:
No. I never, never thought about it.


Nebeker:
What was your draft status at the time?


Lowden:
I was in 3A when I went to work there. I had to sign, you know, everybody had to sign up in 1940. And I signed up with that status, and so then when I went to work for Joe, I never heard anything until late in 1943, I got a 1A in the mail. And within a week or two, I got a notice to go to Cincinnati, for a physical.



Of course, I had been working on this other, you know, on that job, so I went in and told my boss there that I had to go to Cincinnati for a physical, and I went downtown and got on a bus and . . . So I passed the physical, and at the end of the thing we were interviewed, and, there was an Army man, I don’t know what his rank was, and there was a sailor who was a warrant. And then he said, “Which do you want, Army or Navy?”
”Gee, I don’t know, I never thought about it.”



And so the warrant said, “Look,” he said, “you work for the Navy now, why don’t you take the Navy?”



“Well, O.K., I take the Navy.”



He said, “All right, in twenty days,” says, “your blood test will come back. If your blood test is O.K., you got to go to the Navy.” He says, “We’re going to send you to the Great Lakes.”



Well, O.K., so I went back to work. And it went on a week or so and I got a notice that my blood test was O.K. that I was going to go to the Navy. And so, possibly about ten days before I was supposed to leave--in fact, I was thinking about packing my clothes because I said, “Well, they had drafted some of these people, like Ed De Laet was drafted, and some of the others.” But, Cmdr. Meader came in, and he said, “Didn’t you go to Cincinnati, Ohio, to take a physical?” And I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Well, how’d you do?” I said, “Oh, I passed. I’m supposed to go to the Navy in ten days.” I said, “Well, I guess it’s up to the draft board who goes in.” He just says, “Hell no, if you let it up to the draft board, they’d have everybody in.” And he just turned around and walked away. And four days later I got a 4A in the mail, so . . .


Nebeker:
So he went to the draft board, do you think?


Lowden:
I think he just called Washington, you know, yes. (laughter) But Joe used to brag about that. He never lost a technician or an engineer to the draft. In fact, they had Don Henry down at the bus station and they pulled him out of the line. Of course, he was young and single, or well, maybe just married. And they didn’t even let him go for a physical. But I did take a physical, and I passed, and I would’ve been in the Navy if that . . .


Nebeker:
Were you married at the time?


Lowden:
Yes. I had a son two years old.


Nebeker:
So you were certainly relieved to get that reclassification.


Lowden:
But, I figured, oh well, I never asked them to defer me or anything. I figured, well, if they want me in they’re going to send me. And so that’s how close I come to going to the Navy, see.


Nebeker:
Do you remember receiving that card? I must imagine that made a big impact on you when you were expecting to go off to war.


Lowden:
Well, yes, I was a little surprised, you know . . . I thought the job was fairly important, and they told us later that we had the second priority to the Manhattan project.


Nebeker:
Yes. What tasks did you have there in building 26?


Lowden:
I wired chassis. I could read a circuit diagram. And I could assemble the things and solder them together. And I did it for the first machines, mainly. And then they copied them, see, the production lines copied them. And built the other machine sets. But, see, I worked on other projects too, that wasn’t the only one. After I got done working on that project, they had a mechanical punch they were making, to punch, a cardpunch I believe it was. I did a little work on that--not much. But we also had a thing to fire a gun remotely, a radio control. I worked on that, next.


Nebeker:
What were you building, a transmitter or the receiver?


Lowden:
Both transmitter and receiver, yes. And I don’t even remember anymore what frequencies they were on or anything like that.


Nebeker:
You didn’t, I suppose, hear whether these things were put into use?


Lowden:
I don’t know. When I got the thing wired, that’s all I knew. If they were, if they were produced, they took them to a production line, somewhere. Just like they did on the other stuff. I mainly was the, since I could take a diagram and build the stuff, that’s what I did. And there was times when I worked thirteen hours a day, even. Now the Navy, they said that they had three shifts, but they only put in about eight hours.


Nebeker:
But did you get overtime, though?


Lowden:
No. I started at NCR for the same salary I was getting at GE, that was $1 an hour. And that’s another thing, heh, they were bringing women in, and they were paying them, like, $1.10 or something like that, maybe $1.20. And they were bringing fellows in, and paying them, like, $1.15 or twenty when they were paying . . . Usually the men got maybe ten or fifteen cents an hour more. And I was still getting a dollar! But they corrected it finally then . . . And they upped their pay then. So I was getting, like, $1.35 or something then. But it was quite a while . . .


Nebeker:
Did you like that kind of work better than the radio repair?


Lowden:
Well, yes, I liked it real well, although I’d always been repairing radios and television sets. I never got a ham license. All the fellows I worked with and my bosses were hams. And I never, never got a license because I was busy repairing T.V. sets. So all these nights and weekends I was working on somebody’s radio or television set. In fact, the company sent me out, to Harry Williams, to work on his radio, his wife’s radio in the kitchen and sent me to Allyn’s to work on their T.V. set in their bedroom. Twice I was out at Allyn’s place. I never saw Mr. Allyn. I saw his wife and his son and daughter-in-law. In fact, I repaired sets for him too. So they would call and when they had a problem then the company would send me out there usually during the day.


Nebeker:
I would imagine, though, these wartime projects were more demanding technically, I mean they were sort of on the borderline of what was possible with electro-mechanical systems.


Lowden:
That’s right.


Nebeker:
Did you find that more interesting than the other work, or not?


Lowden:
Well, not a whole lot. I mean, like the first chassis I wired in building 10 was a bunch of diode tubes. And they were tubes with a bunch of diodes in them and, like four diodes, and when I was wiring tube checkers it was a similar looking thing, you know. It had sockets--


Nebeker:
I know they had some trouble with, you know, the contact between the brushes and the rotors, they needed to get the resistance . . .


Lowden:
I never worked on any of that part. No, I was only in the electronic, working, putting the chassis together that they had, and stuff like that. And, well, for all it’s, one day, they had an organ in the auditorium, now this wasn’t during the time I was working for the Navy but later. They sent me down to the auditorium to solder a wire in the keyboard, for the fellow who played the organ, and I’d do stuff like that too.


Nebeker:
I heard about this, maybe this was before you started, it was a NCR convention that some of Joe’s people did a very advanced sound system for, and some demonstration gadgets.


Lowden:
That was before I was there. Louie de Rosa did that, I understand, but I never knew him. He had gone before. The same as Welker had gone, the fellow who talked me into coming out there. He had left before, only a week or two before I went in, see. There was a lot of changing going on.


Nebeker:
Yes, I see.


Lowden:
I started working on that project as soon as I went in there, wiring up the diode chassis with a bunch of tubes in it, diode tubes. And then we moved down to the “Employee Schoolhouse,” that’s what they called the building, and of course we got set up there. And then I kept working on various chassis, but also made some testers. We had many cables, and we used Jones connectors and . . .


Nebeker:
What are they?


Lowden:
You’d have a cable with, like, 33 wires, so you went to a 33-pin plug. Well, the colors were, oh, model of colors, so like it’d be black and white, green and, and, things like that. Well, when you’d take a 33-pin, there were three across and you soldered this color, all, go through all those, then you go to the other end, and start soldering. It’s very easy to switch a color. Well, the tester we made, I believe it was designed by Louis Sandors, but I made two of them. And it had a stepping switch on and a push button that you would plug the plug in and push the button and it would scan through, and if it scanned through all the numbers, then it would indicate that the thing was wired right.



Now let’s say that one and six were switched. And so you’d start it and you’d start it to scan, well, if one was switched, it didn’t want to start, but you push it again and it would start. And it’d go to six and stop. So we knew then that one and six were switched. So all we had to do was unsolder them on one end, turn them over, and solder them back on. So it made it very easy to check cables. That was another project I worked on, building a couple of those things, which we used on the production line . . .


Nebeker:
I understand, often, that the testers, equipment in this case had to be designed from scratch.


Lowden:
Yes. That’s right.


Nebeker:
Who did you work for, typically, in the wartime years?


Lowden:
Well, Bob Mumma and Joe Desch, mainly, then. And after the war I worked for Vince Gulden for a while. And we had moved back to Building 10, to the third floor, and they hired some new people in then, had expanded it somewhat, and then we went to Building 14, and then they built the engineering building and we went over there. After we got over there, I worked for Vince for a while then, and there was a fellow by the name of Bill Hale, I worked for him. And then, later on, they started to reduce that department and I went to work for the factory really. And I worked on, well, we worked on keyboards, made up keyboards and they had memory on them and all that stuff. I also worked on the on-line system. In fact, I built seven on-line machines myself, and we had another board, it was all backward . . .


Nebeker:
What is the on-line system?


Lowden:
The on-line system is the controller that connects the remote bank to the bank downtown, where the computer is. And we had several models of that. And I built about seven of those, and of course, I wired the backboards and everything, you had to take a gun and spin the wire on . . . And the production made the plug-in cards, of course, we had all the sockets wired and, and I plugged them in and we had to bring them up and test them.



We had, well, other tests that we were testing, we used an NCR, I believe it was a 410 computer, now this was a desk-type computer, full of transistors. But only had about a 4K memory. And we sent a signal to Vandalia, testing telephone lines, and, for instance, run a paper tape, and send this signal to Vandalia, and it would come back, and the computer would compare it. And if it got the same reading it meant no noise factor or anything would interfere. Why, it would send it again, but if it got an interference or if somebody pulled the plug or something it would shut down, it would shut our machine down. So I worked, I made a tape punch, and I completely put that together.



A company had a tape drive that ran the tape, and the tape did not run smoothly. The fellow who represented the company made those things, his name was John Paul Jones. And they made these units and brought them in to the NCR engineers who had designed this paper tape reader and I assembled it. And I couldn’t get it to run. And so I checked and checked and tried to figure out what was wrong, and I found out that the printed circuit board they’d made that had a transistor to drive this thing, they had reversed the base and the collector. Of course, I cut the copper and wired it right, and got that working, but I still couldn’t get it to run. And they wouldn’t let me look inside this thing, see. They said, “Oh, no, John Paul says it’s O.K., there’s nothing wrong with it.” And I put the scope on it, and I’m getting big pulses, 150 volts, and, “Oh, drive that thing.”



They got real irked at me. They said, “why don’t you get that thing fixed?” And I said, “let me see whether there’s something wrong inside the thing.” They go, “no, no,” the fellow says it was O.K. So finally, they said, “Oh, well, go ahead,” so I took it apart and it was all binding in there, it wasn’t running right. And since I could use the planer, I took a very fine cut on it (you’ve got to plane it, lubricate it, and put it back in) and it just ran like a top. And so, we had about three of them, and they said, “Well, the thing is running.” They would just hit it with a high voltage and it would trip over. And we couldn’t do it with that transistor. And so, they, later, wanted the things, they’d take them back to the factory and check them, see. And, then, finally they started sending some that would run but they give me a big headache for a while, because they wouldn‘t let me see what ... (laughter) But we got it straightened out. I did have a picture of that tape reader, someplace, I had taken out a while ago. But I worked on stuff like that then later.


Nebeker:
What’s your recollection of Joe Desch, as a manager of a project?


Lowden:
Well, I thought he was a good manager. I never saw Joe too much. I mean, he was the big boss. And I had foremen, NCR foremen over me . . .


Nebeker:
Did you work for some particular engineer much of the time?


Lowden:
Well, not really. I worked for Carl Rench for a while, we had a project, I worked with him, and I worked with Larry Kilheffer, who’s gone now. And Bill Hale was the boss in our department for quite a while. And then Bob Mumma had another department across the hall, but I didn’t work with him. Only during the war. In fact, I think Bob forgot that I even worked there, because when all these people, they were looking up all these people, even though I saw him at the QCWA meeting . . .



I have a ham license, I never got that for years; like I said, I was busy working on T.V. sets and radios, and a friend of mine said, “Well, you, you ought to get on the Dayton net, get a ham license.” So I was down in Florida, I spend my winters in Florida, by the way. I have a condo down there. And, so they said, “Oh, you ought to get a ham license.” So I took the novice course and I passed the course. So then I came back here and took a technical, and I passed that. Every time, I said, “Ah, I probably can’t make it, I probably won’t get that.” But I did. I passed, everybody said, “Well, you probably won’t have any trouble.” (laughter) And I thought that I wouldn’t, I didn’t believe it, see. But I finally got to pass, and I never, I never failed . . .


Nebeker:
Have you followed that hobby very much?


Lowden:
Oh, I guess, about three or four days a week I get on the Dayton net and talk to them, and there’s fellows in Florida . . . When I’m in Florida I talk up to here, and there’s fellows down here that I talk to. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I get the Dayton net on for an hour, from one to two. And I used to get on that . . . Usually we chat around about what’s going on. There’s a fellow in California, and I don’t have any trouble getting to California and to Florida from here, of course, I run about six hundred watts. And the antenna’s out here, I got a seven band antenna.


Nebeker:
I wonder if I could ask you, since you have--let me first ask when you retired from NCR.


Lowden:
I retired in 1974. At the age of 62, that was the retirement age, at NCR. Unless you were really needed bad, you had to go. And I never asked not to go. I always had plenty to keep me busy and I didn’t figure I was going to sit around and go to pot.


Nebeker:
Since your career spans years where there were lots of developments, how did this kind of work that you were doing wiring devices, how did that change over those decades? I mean, when you started oscilloscopes had just arrived; they were starting to be used. Of course, by the end of the time there were printed circuits. But what are the big changes you recall in that kind of work over those years?


Lowden:
Well, they increased the bandwidth for one thing, that was the ‘scopes. They used to be nothing but audio, really. And you couldn’t read pulses with them. I mean, they were too slow to reproduce this stuff. They increased the bandwidth, and Techtronics was, they were responsible for a lot of that. We had Dumott at first, and they weren’t great, and, by the way, I spent a week, two weeks out at Beaverton going through the school out there at, let’s see, it was Beaverton, Oregon, the Techtronics plant. And I asked NCR if they would pay my way out, and they wouldn’t do it. And they wouldn’t give me any time off. So I went on my vacation out there, because I was friends with the fellow who was the rep here. And, if I had any problems with it, he supplied me with the circuit diagrams and stuff like that. And I serviced the ‘scopes there. That was my job later, at NCR. Now they had a department that was supposed to do that, but Joe Desch wouldn’t let them touch our ‘scopes. I had to do it, see.


Nebeker:
So the oscilloscopes became much better.


Lowden:
Oh, yes. They had a lot more gain, and a lot more bandwidth. And, and you could look at seat pulses and stuff like that with them, and they changed in other ways. They went to centimeters and millimeters, instead of volts per inch.


Nebeker:
Was that a difficult adjustment?


Lowden:
Well, not really, but, I mean, you had to figure it out. I have a Tel equipment scope myself, which was made in England, and that’s Techtronics, but it’s not Techtronics’ name. But it’s Tel Equipment. And I bought it from Techtronics. And I’ve got analyzers for T.V. sets, so I can analyze anything on a T.V. set. For instance, the alignment of a T.V. set, you have traps that you’ve got to set, and I can input a signal to a trap that’s, say, that’s 10.7 megahertz, and look at it on the ‘scope and adjust the trap to where there’s no signal and it’s adjusted.


Nebeker:
So, maybe signal generators of different types were something that became available.


Lowden:
Well, yes, that’s true, the analyzers have it. Of course, they have a bar pattern as well as a color bar pattern, and they have bars and different ways to check the bandwidth of the set. I always believe in test equipment, and I’ve always had good test equipment. I never owned a Jackson tube tester, I had a Dayrad in triplet but I never did buy a tube tester that I made. (laughter) I had others, I had Dayrads and some of the others, and Paul Jackson who had Jackson’s Electrical Instrument, he was an engineer at Dayrad before. And I’ve got a tube tester that I’ve had since the 30s, a Dayrad.


Nebeker:
Of course, they must have improved over the years.


Lowden:
Oh, yes, of course now you’ve got cathode ray, we’ve got testers that test picture tubes of course.


Nebeker:
What about the basic volt meters, that sort of thing?


Lowden:
Well, I’ve got digitals now, and they’re very accurate. And I had a couple, two meters . . . In fact, down in Florida, I have a BMK little digital meter that’s very accurate, volt on ohms, and volt and current. And one evening I drove in our parking lot down there and the lights were out. I don’t know what happened to the lights. And every time they threw the circuit breaker it kicked back out, about ten seconds. So I had somebody look at it and the guy worked on it two or three days and couldn’t find out what was wrong. My wife’s secretary of the group (we have a board down there at our condo) so they had to call somebody else, they couldn’t figure out what was wrong with it.



I said, “Oh, let me look at it.” What had happened, we had some trees out by the parking lot on the sidewalk, and these trees, they wanted to get rid of them. And the city said they’d take them, and they came along and sawed off the roots, and they never took them. And so then in the meantime, these lights went out, and we went for three or four days, and the city then decided to come take the trees away, and right by one of the drive-ins, where you went into the parking lot (we had two of the little lights) and when they picked up the one tree, they took the light with it. And so I said to the fellow, “What are you going to do about that light, you guys?” (laughter) He said, “Oh, we’ll put a new one in.” And later, a truck crushed the one on the other side of the drive. So they came and put two new lights in. Of course, the lights never came on, and they never turned them on, because the lights were shorted. (laughter) So, I told the fellow, “Oh, let me look at it.” So I started checking the things, and I found that when the electricians had put the new light in, they had cut into the wire, and shorted it right there by the drive. OK, so I disconnected it, but I still had a short.



So I started checking the different lights around the parking lot, and finally I came to one where there was a dead short in it, using the ohmmeter. I had to break the cement, because the wires went up into the post and back down into the next light. Well, it had worn through, maybe the vibration of the wind blowing and stuff, and was shorting to this post up and right under where the lamp was. So I repaired that, and that was all about it. But there again, the ohmmeter will show you. I knew, you know, as I got closer to the short, why, I got lower resistance.


Nebeker:
Well, I’m interested in how things changed over the year, if a particular instrument came along that solved problems.


Lowden:
When I worked for General Electric, I had a meter I had made, and it would only, maybe, check like up to 50 K. And that was the meter I used all the time. And they had a tube tester, it was a Jackson checker, it wasn’t a very new one, and so I got by with that, but one time I ran into a radio that really gave me a headache. Several guys had worked on it, they couldn’t figure out what was wrong with it, it was an automatic tuning, a GEF105, 107 it was, and this was a motor driven set, that when you, it had fourteen push buttons on it though, and you set up the stations, and it would scan, the motor would scan, and, for instance, WLW was 700 and you set the thing up on 700 and you pushed the button and it went back to 550. And then you come back down to 700, and WLW wasn’t there. But if you tuned over 20 KC, there it was. So then you set the contact so it’s there and go to the high end of the dial, 1500, and come back and stop there and WLW wasn’t there. You’d tune it, it was on 700 again. Believe me, this will make you pull your hair out. Well, I had to find out what was wrong with the doggone thing. And they had AFC on the set, and that’s “automatic frequency” and what this was for, with the automatic, if it went off a little bit from the frequency, the oscillator would swing a little first so then on a . . .



. . . it had nothing to ground, and that’s what was causing the problem. And once I ...but I didn’t have the meter I could check that with, see my meter wouldn’t go beyond 50,000 ohms and, and here you had 30 megs still around see. So I was limited in that, so visually I found it, checking out the circuits.


Nebeker:
I’m afraid we have to stop, but this has been very informative. Thank you very much.