A Switchboard Operator
My father, Donald Sheldon Overturf, spent his entire life in the field of education, first as a teacher of journalism and English and as a high school basketball and football coach, then as an administrator at the junior college level, the college level, and the university level. 1
In August of 1949, we moved to a small town in southwest New Mexico when I was almost four years old. My dad took on the positions of Registrar and Dean of Men at New Mexico Western College. His office was full of interesting machines and gadgets, and I always enjoyed going there to look at everything.
One of the special machines in his office was called an auto-typist. When prospective students wrote to the college with the same types of questions, my father realized that it would be easy to have pre-written answers prepared for these repeating questions. So he purchased for his office an auto-typist. Paragraphs could be typed into the auto-typists' "memory bank" and then when a letter was being written to a new student with specific questions, the appropriate paragraphs could be typed in a letter to provide a response. Check out this page for further information about this machine.
I never got to use the auto-typist but I watched Dad use it. He showed me how he could tell the typewriter what paragraphs to type. And then we stood and watched the typewriter keys move as though Harvey himself were typing. 2
Although I didn't get to use the auto-typist, one summer I did get to operate the college switchboard (which was also in my dad's office). The college had its own number — all calls to the college went through the switchboard. I would answer by saying, "Good morning. New Mexico Western College. How can I help you?"
I had access to every phone on campus through the switchboard. The person calling would give me a name, either of a professor, an administrator, or a student — or they would just ask to talk to a particular department or dorm. Sometimes they might even know the extension number they needed. If it was a student, I would check their class schedule as well as what dorm they were in. Then I would call the dorm or the phone nearest the classroom he/she was in — but this was done only in emergencies. Otherwise, I would leave a message at the dorm for the student to "call home" or whatever message it would be.
A Lowly Typist in a Typing Pool — but helping to Land a Man on the Moon
I graduated from university with a degree in education in 1966. To tell you about my summer job in San Diego, I first have to tell you about my romance with my future husband, Bob Ingraham, who is the reason why I went to San Diego.
Bob and I grew up in the same small town in New Mexico. He had been friends with my brother. He was two years ahead of me in school and I didn't really pay much attention to him, nor he to me. We dated others and never seriously considered the other as a future life-partner. Bob joined the Navy and left; my life continued on. But, one day he came home and stopped by our house to visit my brother. My brother was not there, but I was. For the first time: I saw Bob Ingraham in a different light.
He didn't ask me out during that week he was home on leave, but within a few months I got up the courage to write to him. He was a Navy corpsman, assigned to the marines, and on his way to Vietnam. My first thought was that perhaps I could just help him to remember home and what he could return to some day.
The letters developed into a romance and by the time Bob was wounded in March of 1966, we were thinking there might be a life for us together. With his parents, I went out to see him in San Diego, and we agreed then that this relationship was going somewhere. I returned home, finished my degree, and told my parents I intended to spend the summer in San Diego while Bob recuperated. 3
Finding a job wasn't easy, but I could type, and Bob's father had some connections through his kite-flying organization. The next thing I knew, I was in line to try out for a typing position at Ryan Aeronautical Company. My parents followed me as I drove my brand-new 1966 Plymouth Valiant to San Diego. They helped me find an apartment, and then left me on my own as they returned home.
The next day I drove to Ryan to hopefully be accepted for the job. I was asked to take a typing test and I was so nervous that I didn't do very well, but I was still given the job. The man who hired me said, after seeing my poor typing test scores, "Well, you must know someone in high places." 4
So, I was sent to the typing pool. I typed engineers' reports and it all seemed strange and virtually a foreign language. We had many special keys we could insert into the typewriter to write mathematical formulas. Sometimes it was very slow, laborious work, and I usually didn't know what anything said.
Then I learned that these engineers were working on the Lunar Excursion Module for the first landing on the moon. Suddenly, it seemed pretty exciting. I still didn't know what I was typing, but at least I knew what we were working on and it felt special to think that I was — in a very small way — helping to put a man on the moon.
About halfway through the summer, all the women (I think there were 8 or 10 of us) in the typing pool were called together and told that we had a big job to do. All the documents typed thus far had used the acronym LEM which stood for Lunar Excursion Module. But the scientists had decided that the LEM would in fact NOT be taking any excursions and so all of the LEM's in the documents had to be changed to LM. For the rest of that week, all typists did nothing but insert pages into our typewriter, erase LEM wherever it appeared, and change it to LM.
Working at Ryan had its moments: I got to work two weeks in another department while the secretary was on holidays. At the end of the two weeks, my "boss" asked if I would stay on because I was a better secretary than the one he had. I might have taken it — except my teaching job was waiting for me in Kansas City.
I saw a laser beam for the first time at Ryan. I was asked to deliver some material to a lab. I knocked on the door and stepped in, and there was the beam shining across the room. The scientist in the white coat assured me there was no danger as long as I didn't actually try to walk through it. I gave him the items I was sent to deliver, and left quickly, but it was a fascinating look at a laser — something I'd never seen before.
By mid-August, I had to leave. My first teaching job would begin in just two weeks. That was the end of my summer job.
In no particular order, here are other personal articles I have written:
I should add that during World War II, he left education and built airplanes, but after the war he returned to the career he loved. ↩
You know who that is: Harvey. The six-foot tall rabbit in the play of the same name. ↩
I already had a job arranged to teach in Kansas City in September, but I wasn't going to waste my summer. ↩
It was, of course, the connection my future father-in-law had with some others at the company. ↩