Ajax Electrothermic was asleep while Rowan was chipping away at their business especially for the vacuum melting of superalloys. In 1959 a company named Magnethermic founded by John Logan bought the company and brought some new life to Trenton, New Jersey. Under the new management of Claire Hansen and chief engineer Sid Sedgeworth a new product was rolled out they called the Multiductor. This product was a trick circuit that used a transformer connected with an open delta connected to an induction coil in a manner to cause 60 cycles from the line to be 180 cycles on the coil.
Ajax Magnethermic hired me as project salesman on April 1, 1961. Two weeks later the Soviets put Major Yuri Gagarin into space to orbit the earth for 89.1 minutes. Two weeks later there was a failed attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro's Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. One month later Navy Commander Alan B. Shepard entered space in Freedom 7 propelled by a Redstone rocket. Twenty days later President Kennedy asked congress for $9 billion to send an American to the moon. The space race was on.
With the help of Joe Loan at Beryllium Corporation I was armed with experience of installing and using the Multiductor and I had experience operating equipment for the vacuum melting of superalloys between 1956 and 1958. Ajax management gave me a free hand to sell and in short time an order from Firth Sterling for a 3000-pound vacuum melting facility was obtained.
Ajax did not have an engineer with experience so they allowed me to seek the help of Joe Lona. Joe and his wife Pat agreed to move to the Trenton area in the fall of 1961. We completed this project in a short period and based upon the successful start up was able to obtain another larger order at Carpenter Steel in the spring of 1962. The details of this period can be found in: http://www.ioa.com/~zero/009-Salesman.html
In October 1962 I received a call from NASA with a request to provide a system for heating a large amount of hydrogen at high pressure to a very high temperature. The stated purpose was to use hot hydrogen to test a carbon rocket motor. A quick calculation showed that this would require equipment with a power of 20,000 kW.
My experience was limited to the equipment we installed at Beryllium for heating graphite to 2000 degrees F. Over the years Ajax had built systems to heat graphite to 2700 degrees C using induction coils but they were small. I had a little experience selling high temperature graphite heating equipment earlier that year but lost the order to Inductotherm for the production of pyrolitic graphite at a factory in Boston. (My first ride on the 707).
Lona made some sale sketches of a 120 foot high carbon heat exchanger showing 40 inch graphite stacked on top of each other in a induction coil mounted in a pressure steel chamber before my first sales call at NASA Cleveland.
The meeting room was filled with engineers awaiting the presentation. At the blackboard with chalk in one hand an eraser in the other the sales pitch was made. The only real question was how to prevent the induction coil from heating the chamber. Jess Cartlidge taught us in 1959 that strips of transformer iron stacked at right angles to the field and attached to the chamber would carry the magnetic field without heating the tank.
Lona and I stayed very busy constructing the five ton furnace for Carpenter Steel in Reading until early in 1963 a call came from an engineering firm in New York who were reading the specifications issued by NASA for the hot hydrogen project.
A firm named Vitro and teamed up with AO Smith to bid the project they called Vitro Smith. Vitro's claim to fame was the design of facilities to produce sugar from beets after the communist took over Cuba. AO Smith had a license from a French firm to produce pressure chambers from sheet metal wound to form the chamber.
This was my first trip to the Wall Street area of New York. As for as I was concerned this group was my competitor but I reached an understanding that Ajax would bid to their specifications on an exclusive basis and they would not contact Inductotherm.
There were a couple of blocks near their office where many Jewish men sold electronic items of every sort. All the shop windows displayed a going out of business sign as the prepared to move before the construction of the World Trade Center. About twenty years later I invited Joe and Pat Lona for lunch in the sky restaurant. We all know she came down on 9-11 and may be replaced with a building 1776 foot high in the future. From time to time she is replaced with a column of lights.
The first problem that faced us was the type and thickness of the insulation to be used. We had just completed a small furnace for Westinghouse Nuclear at Cheswick, PA where we used carbon felt to insulate the 2750 degree C temperature but this was done from the seat of the pants without engineering data. I called my contacts at Union Carbide and they agreed to give Ajax an order to obtain data on the insulation values of their product.
Lona rigged up a test facility with thermocouples placed at various points in the insulation to record the temperature. The data was collected but with a hitch. The next morning I noted that some of the insulation had burned away so the data was in doubt. Lona assured me that this happened during the cool down. The data for the values remain in literature today for all designers to use. I selected 8 inches thickness for the proposed NASA project from my "gut".
After the success that Sedgeworth had with the oil filled Multiductor at Carpenter steel he sold Union Carbide a facility to induction cure a very large slab of graphite for a type of steel slab casting machine that Washington Steel was planning. I ask Union Carbide to add an induction coil to this facility to make a large cylinder if we would give them an order for several pieces. They agreed that under these circumstances they would produce an 80-inch cylinder.
That week John Logan dropped a bombshell on the people in Trenton. All production, sales and engineering from the three existing locations would move to Warren, Ohio in five weeks. At first I was not sure Joe and Pat would move but they did.
Armed with new information on graphite sizes and the insulation selection I again visited the engineers at NASA. They were pleased and agreed to modify the specifications and supply the two hundred thousand carbon balls to fill the cavity to act as the heat exchanger.
Logan asked me to move into the engineering department to assist the engineers in the melting section because many of the engineers did not move from Trenton with the understanding that I would continue to assist sales for special products.
The modified NASA specifications would not allow insulation on the copper coils. To get around this I made a foolish suggestion to use tongue and grove sections of silicon carbide held away for the bare copper by using mica. This wound up in their specifications and in the quotation to Vitro Smith.
The final bids were to be opened in August 1963. Logan told me to increase the proposed bid to NASA by $200,000 and behind my back on the final day met with Vitro Smith in Cleveland. Our bid was almost $40,000 higher than the Vitro bid.
When the purchase order arrived from Vitro Sid Sedgeworth reviewed it. He called me to his office with shocking information. At these temperatures and pressures the hydrogen would be converted to methane at a fantastic rate. I called Vitro and NASA for an urgent meeting where they told us that all the carbon parts were going to be coated with titanium carbide so we had no worries. Sid was not worried about the carbon but the felt was light and would disappear in a flash. The remaining energy was enough to melt down the whole facility.
Once again NASA found a solution. They would supply controls and a balancing valve so helium would be injected into the volume where the carbon felt was located. The valve and controls would maintain a three-pound positive pressure of helium. This was mission impossible if NASA could not spend millions.
NASA found that they would need at least fifteen pounds to make the system work but did not tell us right away. They asked us a million questions about our calculations on the domed graphite section that we were furnishing as our part of the contract. I was finally able to assure them that it would not fail with fifteen pounds per square inch external pressure.
By the summer of 1964 Vitro had delivered and installed the pressure tank and supporting equipment. The four-inch thick chamber was a little undersize but it was bent like a dog's hind leg. The long coil sections would not pass the bend so Sedgeworth made a fatal mistake of being a good guy when he agreed to shorten the studs that held the coil together so it would fit.
In the end NASA did not build the complex valve because the underlying purpose of the facility was terminated. The contract between Vitro and Ajax wound up in the courts to be settled years later.
NASA later used the facility to heat nitrogen under pressure. The hot nitrogen was cooled with liquid oxygen to produce simulated air as a Mach 9 wind tunnel.