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San Diego, here I come!
After graduating from Western New Mexico University in late May of 1966, I packed my blue Samsonite carry-all and its matching make-up bag 2 and drove in my new Plymouth Valiant to San Diego from my hometown in Silver City, New Mexico. The set shown at right is identical to the set I had, except (alas) I didn't have the hat box! My fiance had been wounded in Vietnam two months before and he was recovering in the Naval Hospital there. I had no responsibilities for three months. In September, I had my first teaching job already lined up in Kansas City, Kansas.
In those days, suitcases didn't have wheels and phones didn't have cameras. I have always regretted that I didn't photograph and document that summer as it was the best of all worlds for three glorious months. That may seem like a strange thing to say, considering that Bob had been wounded in Vietnam, but I was so glad to be on my own and that Bob was out of danger. Everything else paled in comparison. I never felt the slightest pang of homesickness, despite the fact that it was my first experience of being on my own. I was 20 years old.
Bob and I grew up in the same small town in New Mexico. He had been friends with my brother and two years ahead of me in school. 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 home; members of my family weren't so sure he was doing the right thing, but my life continued on and I didn't give him a second thought for quite a few years.
But, one day several years later, 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 new and 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.
Finding a Place to Live
As one might guess, my parents weren't going to let me drive out to San Diego alone, so they followed me in their own vehicle. I didn't really mind that, especially when we stopped at one point and a large motorcycle gang pulled in beside us at a highway rest stop!
The first job was to find a place to live for three months. Within a few hours, we found a nice little bachelor apartment which was not far from the hospital and hopefully wouldn't be too far from my job; the building was two floors, arranged in a rectangle with a courtyard in the middle. I parked my car in the parking lot and walked through the courtyard to the front door of my apartment which was on the main floor. To this day, I cannot remember the address and that may be partly because I never felt like I was living on a street; instead, I walked in and out of the courtyard and never particularly thought about a street or a street name.
The main furniture in the living room/bedroom were two foam cushions on platforms which created an "L" in one corner. Between them was a platform where the phone and other items were placed — a combination night stand and coffee table combined. At night, of course, these two spaces converted to beds, but I only needed one.
My parents felt relatively comfortable leaving me in my new apartment, but my mother was particularly nervous and wanted me to call her every night when I got home from visiting Bob. I obliged for a while, but eventually I said it had to stop. Years later, when I became a mother myself, I understood her fears.
"You must know someone in high places."
I didn't have to look hard for a job. Bob's father had some connections through his kite-flying organization and a lifelong interest in the space industry. Before I had even left for San Diego, my father-in-law had arranged for me to try-out for a typing job at Ryan Aeronautical Company.
My parents did not remain long in San Diego. The day after they left, I drove to Ryan to hopefully be accepted for the job. I was directed to a small cubicle where I was asked to take a traditional typing test: I was to copy a paragraph provided to me as accurately as possible within a minute. Then the number of words are counted, and errors are subtracted.
Let's say, for instance, I typed 100 words in that minute, but I had 5 errors. I would then be given a score of 95 words per minute. What is considered a good score? These are average Words per Minute (WPM) typing scores of different professions: Clerical and administrative jobs: 35-40 WPM. Federal civil service jobs: 40 WPM. A typing speed above 40 WPM (Words Per Minute) is higher than the average score, and over 100 WPM is usually considered a high speed.
I was so nervous on that day that I didn't do very well on the test. I don't remember my score, but I know it was lower than I usually achieved — I could usually get 60 WPM, but on that day I think I got only about 40. Fortunately, I was still given the job. The man who hired me said, after seeing my typing test score, "Well, you must know someone in high places."
I was hired. And I did know someone in a "high place."
Typing Pool and Special Typewriters
I was sent to the typing pool which is where I would be except for two weeks. Ten of us sat together in one room, each of us at a separate typewriter. We were using a new typewriter called the IBM Selectric which had been introduced in 1961, just five years before. It was quite a machine! What made it unique is that it had a "typing element" shaped like a ball (see picture at left) which was placed inside the typewriter instead of the usual individual keys. Wikipedia describes it thusly:
"Instead of the "basket" of individual typebars that swing up to strike the ribbon and page in a typical typewriter of the period, the Selectric had an "element" (frequently called a "typeball", or less formally, a "golf ball") that rotated and pivoted to the correct position before striking. The element could be easily changed so as to use different fonts in the same document typed on the same typewriter, resurrecting a capability which had been pioneered ... in the late 19th century. The Selectric also replaced the traditional typewriter's horizontally moving carriage with a roller (platen) that turned to advance the paper but did not move horizontally, while the typeball and ribbon mechanism did."
The advantage of using this typewriter at Ryan is that I was typing engineers' reports and there were many mathematical equations which I would not have been able to type on a traditional typewriter. We had probably a dozen or more "special balls" that mainly had mathematical equations on them. Sometimes it was very slow, laborious work — putting in and taking out various different "balls" to use numerous mathematical symbols — and I usually didn't know what anything said.
Ryan Aeronautical Company
Founded in 1934, Ryan initially built airplanes, about 16 different models, most of them named Ryan with, of course, a number after the title. The company was named, of course, for its founder, T. Claude Ryan.
According to Wikipedia, here are some of Ryan's major accomplishments:
- Its most successful production aircraft was the Ryan Firebee line of unmanned drones used as target drones and unmanned air vehicles.
- Built several historically and technically significant aircraft, including innovative STOL designs. 3
- In the 1950s, Ryan pioneered jet vertical flight with the X-13 Vertijet, a tail-sitting jet with a delta wing which was not used in production designs.
- In the immediate postwar years, Ryan diversified, including even building coffins for a short period. Later, in 1965, they acquired a 50% stake in Continental Motors Corporation, the aircraft-engine builder.
- In 1966/67, partly during the time I worked for them, Ryan was awarded the contract to build the digital Doppler radar system installed aboard the Apollo Lunar Lander.
- Lindbergh's plane, The Spirit of St. Louis, was built by Ryan Airlines. This airlines was once owned by B.F. "Frank" Mahoney and Claude Ryan. But Ryan sold his part of the business, and established Ryan Aeronautical Company, prior to the building of Lindbergh's plane.
- In 1968, two years after my summer employment, the company was acquired by Teledyne for $128 million and a year later became a wholly owned subsidiary of that company as Teledyne Ryan. Claude Ryan retired as chairman with the Teledyne purchase.
Let's go to the Moon!
It was 1966, three years before man would land on the moon. However, NASA had been busy long before I arrived at Ryan. I had heard President Kennedy's speech in which he challenged Americans to "go to the moon" by the end of the decade. There were already programmes occurring, but Kennedy caused a spark that lasted until the end of the decade. His assassination in 1963 probably urged many to "fight the good fight" and honor him by succeeding at what he asked for.
The Mercury program ran from from 1959 to 1963, the same years I was attending high school. Mercury, America's first human space flight program, introduced the nation to its first astronauts. There were six missions with a total flight time of 53 hours, 55 minutes and 27 seconds. I watched the first suborbital flights when Shepard and Grissom participated. Then John Glenn took a three-orbit flight around the earth, and we were all amazed. Three other orbital flights occurred with Carpenter, Shirra, and Cooper.
The Gemini program came next, which ran from 1963 to 1966. There were 12 Gemini flights, the first two being unmanned. But the names of the astronauts became common knowledge for most of us: Gus Grissom, John Young, James McDivitt, Ed White, Gordon Cooper, Pete Conrad, Walter Schirra,Tom Stafford, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, Neil Armstrong, David Scott, Gene Cernan, and Michael Collins.
The Apollo programme — landing a man on the moon — had begun in 1961, overlapping with the Gemini programme and adding more astronauts, including Roger Chaffee. By 1966, Ryan Aeronautical was working with NASA. I didn't know when I applied for the job what the company even did. (Some of the Apollo programme occurred after my three months in San Diego, including the tragic fire in the capsule which killed Chaffee, Grissom, and White on January 27, 1967.)
Shortly after I arrived, 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.
Change LEM to LM!
About halfway through the summer, all the typists 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.
It wasn't all typing!
Working at Ryan had its more interesting 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.
More than 20 years before, my father had quit his teaching job at a junior college in order to build airplanes during World War II. Like me, he was offered a job at the end of the war to continue, but he immediately chose to go back to his career in education. Both of us, then, had a taste of the airplane industry, but chose to keep our careers in education.
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. The room was very dark and to the right there was a long counter with the laser beam glowing above it. 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.
A Routine Changes Mid-Summer
After being shot in Vietnam, Bob was sent to the Naval Medical Center in San Diego which is where Bob had received his training to be a corpsman. It was known as Bob Wilson Naval Hospital and informally referred to as "Balboa Hospital", or “The Pink Palace”. Located within the grounds of Balboa Park in San Diego, the hospital has played a role in the history of San Diego for more than 100 years. Organizationally, it is first and foremost a military command.
When I first got to San Diego, Bob was in traction and could not leave his bed or the hospital. My days were spent driving to Ryan, typing all day, heading home, then going to visit Bob at the hospital in the evening. Weekdays were the same; on the weekends I might spend more time at the hospital.
In about mid-summer, Bob was removed from traction after 111 days. He was put in a cast that went from his foot to his waist. But for the first time he was able to leave the hospital: We took drives together, or I sometimes just pushed him around the courtyard near the hospital. We went to a few movies, and eventually he would sometimes come to my apartment and spend the night — we usually did that on weekends. He was so happy to be away from that hospital, even for a few hours.
Mid-August Arrived All too Soon
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. But it would forever remain in my memory as my first taste of independence and freedom from being a child, from being with my parents, from being dependent on others.
A sour end to the beautiful summer occurred when I asked my landlord and landlady to look at my apartment and see if it was clean enough that I could get back my cleaning deposit (which my parents had leant to me). The landlord was not friendly and began to accuse me of several things: He thought there was blood on the mattress (it was certainly not mine), the stove had not been cleaned (I had never used it), and he complained that the overhead lights were not properly cleaned.
He gave me back only half of my deposit and, with a great deal of anger, I decided to leave that afternoon instead of waiting until the following morning. The landlady heard I was leaving and came to talk to me while I was putting some things in my car. I told her that I had never used the stove, that there was no "stain" on the mattress, and the overhead lights were the same as they were the day I rented it. I guess she felt sorry for me because she went away and returned with a few more dollars — making it 75% of the original deposit. But Bob and I left that afternoon, anyway, not sure if we could possibly make it all the way to New Mexico before midnight.
Bob went with me so that he could visit his parents for a few days, and it was nice to have the company all the way back. Because of our decision to leave in the afternoon, we weren't sure how far we would get. We hoped that we might make it that night, but I became so exhausted that we were forced to stop in Tuscon. We got up the next morning, refreshed and ready to go, and got home by noon.
In a few days, I was off again — driving with my sister and brother-in-law to Kansas City to face my first year of teaching. Bob remained in Silver, visiting with friends and family, and eventually returned to San Diego. As his recovery continued, we planned our wedding for late December. He was finally released in late November and came to Kansas City where we found an apartment. We were married on December 27, 1966.
Two other stories about our marriage are:
- Courtship by Mail: A Vietnam War Story
- How does a Long-Term Relationship Succeed: A tale of a 48-year Marriage
Other personal-experience stories which might be of interest:
- Riding a Mule to the Bottom of the Grand Canyon
- The Elementary Laboratory School
- Valentine, Nebraska
- Memories of High School Band
- Interesting Summer Jobs
- My Mother: The Teacher
- The Three Dogs in my Life
- Move to New Mexico: A Family Transition in 1949
- Fairbury, Nebraska
- Two Outdoor Adventures
- Grizzly Den: A Hike in Sugarbowl Provincial Park
- A Career in Teaching: The First Year
- My father's Basketball Career at Hastings High School, Hastings, Nebraska
- My father's Basketball Career at Hastings College, Hastings Nebraska
These three dots behave exactly like a footnote. Click on them and you will get more information about the topic. ↩
These had been given to me by my Grandmother or my parents as either a high school or university graduation gift. I cannot remember which, but I think it was for high school graduation. ↩
STOL stands for Short Take-Off and Landing. ↩