Early Work to Salesman
The early fifties were fairly calm between the Soviets and the Americans. President Eisenhower decided that building up the military was not going to be necessary. With Stalin gone he felt that Russian troops would not be used in foreign lands. In a stroke of genius he pushed through the highway bill that set aside gasoline taxes to build the interstate highway system.
Khrushchev who took the reigns of power after Stalin's death in 1953 seemed mainly interested in increasing farm production. The entertainment and print industry found an enemy in homicidal communism that would sell. I Led Three Lives was a popular television series supported by the FBI who was looking at the lives of many Americans to find the communist among us.
Senator Joseph R. McCarthy expanded his search for communist to the army and accused Truman of helping the Russians. Late in 1954 the Senate finally condemned McCarthy's conduct.
A "hot war" started between the French and communist guerillas in Vietnam.
IBM announced that the "electronic brain" was ready for sale to business.
To make sure that I would get the hard to find position at Enka my daddy asked me to join the Masons. Daddy worked at local rayon factory, American Enka and knew some of the bosses were Masons. I accepted that position and my first employment was on the job training to operate a production laboratory for a nylon pilot plant. Four other young men shared this training. The prize job was to be the day man in charge of quality control. The four other jobs were rotating shift work. My experience with paperwork won me the day job.
Rayon is made from wood in a process that is similar to paper production. Rayon lost its place as a leading synthetic textile in automobile tires and the factory was in decline. The company introduced nylon to increase their sales.
I learned every step of synthetic fiber production including the detailed chemical analysis of the continuous chain of carbon and water called a polymer. Enka's nylon process was based on the German process using chemicals produced in petrochemical factories. This chemical was poured into a large stainless steel chamber where it was melted using steam pipes inside. When the chemical was liquid and at the right temperature a flame was lit under a plate of platinum at the bottom of the chamber. This plate had thousands of small holes through it using the smallest dental drill that could be found. Air pressure was applied and the liquid was squirted out. As soon as the flow was established cool air was blown at the exit to solidify the thread. The result was single filament nylon.
The process was very similar the silkworm as it produces threads. DuPont introduced Artificial silk at the world's fair in New York in 1939. It became an instant success as the women lined up to buy nylon stockings.
My job required a necktie that was worn during lunch in the cafeteria where my daddy worked. He was proud that his son was already in a top job with the company. The work was not satisfying and it appeared I could be trapped in this good job for a lifetime. To avoid being trapped I returned to college using the GI bill in the fall of 1954. I did not know it but this little education in the rayon business was my foundation for a carbon-carbon company I formed in 1984.
On June 6, 1954 Henry Rowan quit his job and became the CEO, chief engineer and half owner of Inductotherm. The company had a starting net worth of $1000 that was used for office furniture and equipment.
My wife could not work due to her injured foot. She was expecting our first child in April 1955. At the start of the school year we rented a small apartment at the teachers college in Cullowhee, North Carolina. My brother and his friend shared the small space with us, which helped with the expenses.
The payment on the car was more than we could afford. A local used car dealer let me put it on his lot to be sold on consignment. My first job as a salesman was to help this used car dealer sell cars. Our money problems were going from bad to worse. We drove old cars that included a Henry J, LaSalle and several others.
My first selling job convinced me that my future would never be in the selling business.
Number 4 and 5 furnaces were installed by the Metals Division of Utica drop forge of in New York Mills in mid 1954. These 500-pound units became their "work horses" for the forged aircraft engine parts.
During this period most of the engine parts were cast using the "lost wax" process like the dentist uses to make teeth. Many companies were looking into vacuum casting of these parts to improve the quality.
In 1954 Inductotherm was able to obtain a $300 order from Stokes for a small vacuum melting furnace and another $1,000 order from a foundry. Their big order was for $25,000 from the US mint for equipment to melt a copper alloy to be used in the new sandwich coin. Late in the year they obtained an $5,350 order from General Electric for a control panel for a vacuum melting furnace being built by James Nisbet.
My ability and desire to learn in the school setting was gone. When my brother decided to enter the army and the furniture store repossessed our furniture; my desire to stay in school was finished. The payments were late on the pickup truck, so we had to turn it in to the bank. My parents moved to their white house, their first with indoor plumbing. They asked Jody to stay with them until the baby was born. I hitchhiked north to Detroit in early 1955 to find a good job.
I found a job in a chemical laboratory of a company that produced chrome plated wheel covers for automobiles. This job consisted of opening drums of polishing fluid, measuring its temperature and thickness, then writing the number from a chart so the machine operator would know where to set his valves to get the proper amount of fluid to the machine that polished the hub cap. Not an exciting job for a technical hillbilly.
I found a way to visit my pregnant wife for a short time each weekend. A Greenville SC car dealer paid me fifty dollars for gas and meals to bring him a used car from Detroit. I would leave my job on Friday afternoon and drive at breakneck speed to North Carolina for a short visit with Jody. I would then deliver the car and hitchhike back to Detroit. I was fired after two months because I missed too many Mondays.
I found another job at General Motors Research, working in their metallurgical center. There were more than one hundred applicants for this position. I exaggerated my education and experience a little on my written application because I really wanted the job. During my interview with Dr. Fred Weber I told him I would work in this place for nothing. I got the job. This was no small college laboratory; it was the pride and joy of General Motor's metal research. http://www.ioa.com/~zero/389b-GM.html
Late in 1955 the Soviets exploded their largest H-bomb with a force equal to one million tons of TNT. Americans began to build bomb shelters in their homes.
GMR bought a 50-pound vacuum melting facility from FJ Stokes with a TOCCO power supply, but I left before it was operational.
Inductotherm moved into their new facilities in Delanco, New Jersey in 1955 and the annual business was $239,700. Not only was Rowan in a new facility but he had bought out his partner for $52,500 by paying him a down payment of $10,000 with the balance to be paid from future profits.
Rowan's book records this event as a difference between business philosophies but future events would show that he could not tolerate a partner.
In early 1955 General Electric decided to install a one ton vacuum melting facility in Detroit to service the jet industry. This facility was built by Consolidated Vacuum with the power supply supplied by Ajax. The capacitors were in a separate room with a low voltage secondary transformer located near the induction furnace. I found a new job with this company. http://www.ioa.com/~zero/389a-GE.html
Other furnaces were put into operation based upon the success at Special Metals that included Cannon Muskegon and Universal Cyclops. Stokes/TOCCO won the business at Cannon while James Nisbet designed the equipment at Cyclops and purchased Ajax induction equipment.
Based upon test results of GMR 235 melted in vacuum I came to the conclusion that good air melt practices produced better results. I worked at this job six months before I read in the newspaper that a company named Waimet was looking for a junior metallurgist. The salary was much higher than they were paying me at General Electric. Not being qualified, but with one years experience melting superalloys, it required a good selling effort to land that job.
Waimet was later sold to Howmet. The Ajax coil was replaced at GE with one from Inductotherm after I left the company. http://www.ioa.com/~zero/389c-Waimet.html
Inductotherm got their big break in the vacuum melting business in early 1957 when the furnace a Crucible Steel was destroyed by liquid by metal breaking through the refractory. Rowan was able to sell them a 3000-pound furnace with new water-cooled cables to replace the old co-ax system. His fast delivery and the fact that the system worked satisfactory allowed him to tell other customers just how good the company could be. http://www.ioa.com/~zero/384-Crucible.html
In 1957 a major spill of molten metal at Crucible Steel shut down the furnace. Rowan got the chance to enter the vacuum melting field big time. http://www.ioa.com/~zero/386-RunOut.html
By late 1957 the Special Metals operation in Utica had four furnaces that were melting superalloy. Kelsey Hayes now owned the metal operation and Doc convinced the new management to build a factory in New Hartford, New York and proceed with the purchase of a five thousand-pound furnace.
Consolidated Vacuum and Stokes were not considered for the supply of the new equipment because Jack Huntington selected ASEA in Sweden where dual frequencies were used with 900 cycles for heating and 30 cycles for stirring. Once again Jack Huntington was way out in front of everybody in the business when he started to design this new melting facility as the largest in the world.
I met Ken Iverson from Cannon Muskegon at a meeting of the American Metals Society and he offered me a good job running their vacuum melting operation. I accepted his offer on the spot so it was off to Muskegon. http://www.ioa.com/~zero/389-Cannon.html
On the 4th of October 1957 an event that would change the face of the world in many ways took place. The Soviets put an object in orbit around the earth. They called it "Sputnik." The satellite, with a diameter of 22 inches, marked the start of the Space Age. The world learned they were building large rockets when the news leaked out that an explosion of a rocket being tested killed 189 people. Eisenhower had to take note, and the military industrial complex was given money to build rockets.
By the end of 1957, my job training was sufficient to allow me to move on to better things. My parents could not understand why their son quit a good paying position in a solid company to move to a job with a new and doubtful company in Monroe, North Carolina. The pay was about half the amount Cannon Muskegon was paying me. Going home is something a hillbilly tries at least once in his life. Thomas Wolfe wrote about this with an Asheville, North Carolina setting in Look Homeward Angel.
Other companies recognized that the vacuum arc remelting was required to make the new alloys. The country was the recession of 1958 and focused on space and rockets so business in superalloys was slow. Allegheny Ludlum Steel started to produce VAR equipment for titanium and set up a separate operation called Electromelt to service other customers. Hereaus of Germany also started to produce this type equipment.
Inductotherm finally broke the monopoly that TOCCO had established with Stokes after the sale to Allvac with a special melting furnace and crucible firing station at Beryllium in Hazleton, PA.
I drove our new pink and black Lincoln to the mountains to see our families several times in early 1958. Our first son, Kenneth, was born on the 1st of July 1958. The doctor gave Jody two bottles of oil to speed up the process. He did not like to deliver babies on the weekend.
This was my second and last time to be fired. With the large mortgage in Monroe, three young children, and a large car payment, we could not afford to be out of work long. We found a buyer for the house, but after real estate commissions we did not get any cash from the house because the local real estate agent took advantage of our situation. I sold my Lincoln and bought an old Hudson. The man who bought the Lincoln, an eccentric millionaire in Asheville, was one of the founding members of Coca-Cola.
It was time to try Detroit again. Appointments were made with several companies with the understanding they would pay my expenses for the job interview. Just outside Detroit a lady slammed into the rear of my Hudson. I hitchhiked to Cleveland.
The American Metals Society held their show in Cleveland that year. My name badge was marked "unemployed" with red letters in the place where the company was supposed to be. The sales and management group of Beryllium Corporation had a booth at the show. I met John Mezas and Norm Pinto, the top bosses, for dinner that evening. They were in the process of building a facility to produce beryllium for the atomic industry and the Polaris program in Hazleton, Pennsylvania. They needed a design engineer to act as project engineer to set up the plant. I did not come close to qualifying for this position. I was interested and needed the pay. I sold my knowledge of vacuum melting equipment and would become a design engineer if given enough time to learn the job or until they found me out. I could not match these gentlemen one on one in Martini drinking, but I left that evening with a job offer.
With a job offer in hand I still thought my future should be in the melting field. I bought an old DeSoto and made a trip to the New Jersey area for a job interview with an investment casting company. The engineers at Austinal were perfecting the lost wax process for jet engine parts, and they had a furnace for melting superalloys made by NRC. This operation was run by metallurgist Al Talbot with his sidekick Don Furman looking over the equipment. They did not offer me a job because Nisbet had given me a very bad name.
On my way back to Monroe the police stopped me for crossing a yellow line late at night. That night was spent in jail that was inside very nice home with ham and eggs for breakfast. The judge fined me five dollars the next morning.
Pan American began regular service from New York to Paris using a Boeing 707 on October 26, 1958. More and better superalloys would soon be required.
The job at Beryllium Corporation in 1958 was a direct result of the cold war and the missile gap. President Eisenhower won congressional approval to expand our ability to produce missiles. The metal beryllium was necessary in the production of atomic bombs. The US Navy decided that this metal was necessary for the structural front end of the Polaris missile.
The decision to use Beryllium for structural was dead wrong, for many reasons, but this was not proved for several years. Even after it was clear that fiberglass was better the Navy continued to order parts. Northrup foresaw the use of beryllium when he wrote his fiction in 1936 about a rocket to the moon and return. http://www.ioa.com/~zero/380b-Beryllium.html
The strip mines of Hazleton were a cancer on the landscape. Jody was very relieved when we found a house on top of the mountain overlooking the green Conyngham valley just beyond the mines.
The task ahead was beyond my abilities, and this time others would be the brains and doers. I was hired as the chief design engineer for the vacuum furnaces that would be required to produce these parts. I had zero qualifications and technical training for this task. I did have experience in the use of vacuum induction melting and had become very good at selling myself. The only way for me to keep this job was to be the idea man and leader of the project. Idea's without details to make the work are useless so Beryllium hired Joe Lona (a mechanical engineer) to assist me.
The chemical side of the factory was already completed. The winning of pure beryllium from the ore is a bitch and many chemicals and by products are extremely toxic. My first impression was that they were pouring in tons of ore in the front end of the factory and taking grams from the back end.
The first step was to convert the ore to an oxide of beryllium and then to convert the oxide to a fluoride using the very dangerous hydrofluoric acid. The next step was to melt the fluoride in a graphite container and add magnesium to reduce the fluoride to beryllium metal in a bath of magnesium fluoride.
Magnesium burns in air with a white heat that would make hell jealous. If this mixture was allowed to stand the liquid beryllium would react with the carbon contained to form beryllium carbide. The white-hot mixture was quickly poured into a cooling mold. The three induction crucibles for this process were purchased from Ajax. I made some tours of this side of the factory, but wisely decided to avoid the area as much as possible.
On December 2,2000 the University of Michigan sent me a letter updating the status of workers at the facility who had "Beryllium sickness". The letter noted that they had located 714 people still living that worked at this factory and 25 had the illness. They sent me for major medical tests and I did not have the sickness. Many people who worked in the fluoride area died at an early age.
After separation from the slag the resultant product was metal beads with a little slag. The task of converting this material to an ingot was where my job began.
Machined graphite was required for the beryllium reduction process and curing of the crucible for the melting operation. A local businessman in the area "found a need and filled it" to later become the largest graphite machining company in the USA.
Vice President Nixon visited a home building show in Moscow in 1959. This came to be known as the Kitchen Meeting as cameras captured pictures and words. Nixon was bragging about our color televisions and Khrushchev was bragging about growing grain.
The famous quotation was: "We will bury you." In any reasonable translation the word "bury "should have been "overwhelm". The US propaganda machine used this quote as a threat for a long time. When Khrushchev took power on March 27, 1957 he told the Soviet people: "We will conquer capitalism with a high level of work and a higher standard of living."
My wife was busy with the three kids and the three moves to different houses in the area. She established a few friends, since it appeared we would be there forever. We bought our third house in the valley. We bought the last of the Packard's as our family car. Our second son, James Gregory, was born on the 7th of December 1959 the day of the first major snow of the season in Hazleton.
We bought the last of the hot presses and Multiductors that was to use the largest size graphite produced in early 1960. The 60-inch graphite was to be used to produce a 40 in part for the next section of the missile. This part was connected to the metal part of the rocket.
After the facilities for making powder and hot pressing it into blocks was completed we needed more melting capacity. This was my first meeting with Henry Raufer the first president and partner in Cragmet formed in 1967.
A very good chance to improve relations with between the Soviets and Americans was missed in a planned meeting in Paris. Khrushchev asked Eisenhower to publicly apologize for the U2 flight. He refused because he was sure the pilot would have taken his poison pill and blown up the aircraft before it hit the ground. The pilot Gary Powers did not make his country proud when he admitted he was an American spy. He was found guilty but later was exchanged for a Russian spy. The official record showed that the Soviets had rockets that could hit a target at this high altitude and he was shot down.
My friend who was flying refueling tankers at the time told me Powers had a flameout and landed without a shot. He was an outcast among his peers because he did not take the poison pill. Not long afterwards he was exchanged for a Soviet spy. Sometime later he received a dishonorable discharge for being drunk on duty.
In early 1960 we had to make control rods for a planned nuclear rocket engine. http://www.ioa.com/~zero/380a-ControlRod.html Late in 1960 we needed to make a rectangular slab so the Department of Defense could make parts needed for a planned engine for a nuclear powered aircraft. http://www.ioa.com/~zero/383-Nuke.html
Inductotherm started up their first 180-cycle equipment on the 6th of June 1960. This was a 5000-pound furnace powered at 500 KW for melting nickel.
In June 1960 Inductotherm gave us an offer on his new Tri-Line that we could not refuse. It was for the last line of hot pressing equipment that Beryllium Corp would install. He offered me a system that included all the parts needed and a power supply rated 100 kW, 180-cycle, for less than half the Ajax offer. In addition we would not be billed until the unit had operated successfully for six months. I drove Hank back to the airport in Hazleton. He was proud of his twin engine Apache with the number 007P. I noted that it would be nice to have such a plane to visit my family that was spending the summer in the mountains of North Carolina.
Soon the Tri-Line facility was delivered and we put it in service. After a few minutes I smelled epoxy and heard a bang. The chokes required for this design had burned up. Inductotherm had new ones in less than a week and the system hummed without another problem. There was only one problem. It was too good. With the graphite load we were heating it was easy to draw more than 200 kW from this 100 kW unit. I called Hank requesting a new meter because the one provided would not read high enough. I would have swapped with him or even purchased one, but I reckoned Inductotherm could use this information for their sales efforts.
Rowan remembered this event and meeting me earlier in his book. His dates are wrong and we met many times during my Beryllium days.
Several of the words in the following clip from Rowan's book came directly from articles in Newsday printed in November 1988. Jimmy Metcalf was the self-styled "hillbilly entrepreneur," a colorful wheeler-dealer who'd bragged of having flunked out of Mars Hill Junior College in North Carolina, but never let the lack of a college degree--or, for that matter, technical expertise--get in the way of closing a multi-million dollar, high-tech deal.
When I first met "Jest Plain Jimmy," it was 1956 (actually 1957) and he was the melt shop superintendent for Cannon Muskegon, an alloy producer in Muskegon, Michigan. Typical of his ingenuity, he asked me how to configure a coil to increase the capacity of a furnace beyond its original design. I said it was, of course, possible and gave him some concepts. A few years later (actually one year) I bumped into him again at Allvac, when I was a director and he was in charge of the vacuum melting operation. We met again in 1961 (actually 1960) at Beryllium Corporation, where he bought one of our early 125 kW, 180-cycle TRI-LINES. After six months (actually less than one month) he called to complain about the kilowatt meter on the control panel. "This one's broke, Hank. I need a new one. And by the way, make sure the next one has a O to 250 kW scale."
That was an odd request, I thought. "Why do you want a higher kilowatt meter scale, Jimmy?" I asked.
Metcalf hemmed and hawed for a bit, and finally admitted it was because he'd found he could run our 125 kW unit at 200 kW and the meter didn't go up that high.
It had been almost eighteen months since Jo Ann had been home to the mountains of North Carolina. Gregory was only five months old so she could not handle the 650-mile trip alone. http://www.ioa.com/~zero/380c-Fright.html In August 1960 Rowan purchased the land in Rancocas and would move from Delanco one year later.
The beryllium factory was completed with furnaces designed to use the largest graphite parts that were produced and we became the largest customer for graphite. Union Carbide introduced carbon cloth and threads on TV in 1960. We were having considerable difficulties with cracking of the large graphite dies. I called them right away to suggest they use these fabrics to wrap the graphite cylinders before the final step in the process to stop cracking. http://www.ioa.com/~zero/380d-CarbonCloth.html
In November 1960 I stood in the enclosed voting booth a good five minutes, reading the options in front of me. I was planning to vote for the young Catholic who had made a good argument that we were behind in the missile race. The sound bite of the period was "Missile gap". Kennedy won hands down in the televised debate and he was a very likable fellow. To get it over with I pulled the Republican lever. Kennedy won a close election that was probably rigged at the last minute by the political boss of Chicago.
Rowan was not satisfied that I treated him fairly as a supplier, since he was able to get only tough jobs when I bought induction equipment. I bought from Ajax because they had a new type of equipment that suited my needs, and he could not build it because of experience and patents. I had already decided that Inductotherm was a hundred miles ahead of Ajax in their ability to make and insulate an induction coil for use in vacuum. My reputation as a man not to be trusted at Inductotherm had its beginnings.
We were attempting to find ways to produce beryllium sheet and wire and to use an isopress process to produce parts. The handwriting was on the wall. Beryllium was going to be useless as the reentry portion of space travel and rockets. Money for this project was drying up and the men that had been my bosses and drinking buddies found other jobs and moved away. My new boss was very strict as an engineer. He needed calculations for my designs and fundamentally replaced me as the project leader. He assigned me the task of replacing bottle water drinking stations with electric fountains connected with copper tubes from the central water supply. Lona was in charge of plant maintenance and I had no one to make drawings. I was lost.
The use of beryllium for rockets was about to die, and my freedom to run the project without bosses was gone. It was time for me to move on after three hard years in this decaying mining town.
I thought my experience would qualify me for a position at FJ Stokes. They were the undisputed leaders in all types of the equipment business where vacuum was used as a metallurgical processing tool. This company had assembled a remarkable group of engineers, but they did not have a true peddler and vacuum melter. The head of this division of Stokes was intrigued with my possibilities. We spent three days in meetings and evening at dinner before he decided that my education and training was not enough to allow him to hire me as an engineer. My ability to articulate English disqualified me as a salesman. I told that they Stokes were about ready to catch a tiger by the tail with current shortages of nickel and chromium. My melting experience would be invaluable in the upcoming need to produce all stainless steel in vacuum. After a careful look he told me, "Jimmy your methods would upset our tight knit group that is already strained." They suggested that Inductotherm could use my talents.
I drove over to Delanco, New Jersey to meet with Rowan for a job interview. I became aware in the first minutes of that meeting that he did not have any interest in my engineering possibilities. He turned me over to Ruble for a possible sales position. Ruble already had a lock on sales of vacuum melting equipment through Stokes and the sales of his equipment that would be used to heat graphite susceptors was not a big business at that time.
Ruble took me to lunch at a dinner in the center of Burlington, which was a short drive up route 130 from his office in Delanco. After lunch he drove past the future home of Inductotherm on a large farm track. This farm joined a track owned by Campbell Soup where the had a their research farm for growing New Jersey tomatoes. He explained that Rowan wanted an airport in the cornfields behind a building that was being built. He told me that the people living in farmhouses at the rear of the property could live there for the rest of their natural lives. We continued a short drive through the historic village of Rancocas. The only commercial activity in this village was a country store that also served as a US post office. Further down the road was a new town built by Levitt and Sons they named Willingboro. Ruble had two open quotations to my employer at the time and was acting as a salesman when he told me his policy was not to hire a customer.
The annual business at Inductotherm had grown to $3,175,000 by the close of 1960. This included another 3000-pound vacuum furnace at Allvac and the lions share of motor generator equipment for melting. The combined sales of Ajax Magnethermic were larger but Logan was aware that Rowan had a monopoly in the vacuum melting equipment sales.
The Ajax salesman told me that his company would hire me as a project salesman. I was prepared to be a salesman of induction for special projects, but did not have any idea of the cost. I also was still very shy when it came to talking to new people and had to act it out while learning. Later it became clear that acting was the essence of selling. And selling was the essence of business.