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Lockport, Illinois

b. 1936

Wadda ya know!
I'm an MTS!

the Hughes parking lot
Hughes, Fullerton, 1959

July, 1959.   The Hughes facility in Fullerton where I was to work was impressive. It was a large, sprawling, new-looking two-story building separated from Malvern Avenue by an immense parking lot. The sea of cars in the lot was evidence that a lot of people worked there. Now I was one of them.

We in Fullerton were called the Ground Systems Group. Our product was phased-array radar, and our main customer was the U.S. Navy. "Phased array" means that the radar makes its sweep via electrical changes in phase of the signal rather than by mechanical rotation. Our radars were mainly onboard ships. I don't know why we were called "ground systems." Perhaps it's as opposed to "airborne."

the Hughes parking lot
Hughes parking lot at sunset, 1959

Everyone wore a badge. Conspicuous on mine were the letters MTS, which stood for "Member of the Technical Staff." It was a good thing to be an MTS. We were the ones who designed Hughes' products and wrote proposals to the government. We were the bread winners. We were important, and I was only 23. All my years in school had, after all this time, amounted to something. The system worked. My degree gave me a tangible status that I had never had before.

I shared an office with Tom Griffin, who was also new to Hughes. He had gone to college after serving in the military. He and his wife, Jackie, were old enough to already have three or four children. We worked in the Power Supply section, and our boss was Joe Stover. Working hours were 8 to 5. But our MTS badges would get us into the building at any time.

card game
Joe, Verne, John, George, ??? and Tom (l. to r.)

Indoctrination for new engineers was "Unit Test." For me in my group this meant testing newly-built power supplies. Two technicians were assigned to me: John (the Italian one) and Verne, both very friendly guys but definitely older and more experienced than I was. I didn't like testing power supplies. Before too long, Joe Stover began giving me some design projects to work on. Everything I did at Hughes involved transistors. I had had two weeks of transistor theory at Purdue, compared with two years of vacuum tube courses. The transistor vendors---Fairchild, Sylvania, General Instruments, Raytheon, Texas Instruments, G. E., Motorola, RCA---were at our door constantly, always plying us with new data sheets and magnificent colorful, thick loose-leaf catalogs.

When I arrived in California I knew no one. But working at Hughes soon gave me a small but growing circle of friends. Tom, my office mate, had gone to school with two other new Hughes employees, George Sloan and Don Schmidt, and it wasn't long before the four of us were doing some things together, like going to the beach. There were also evening card games that included co-workers Joe, Verne and John.

the apartment on Malvern
1749 W. Malvern

When fall came, my weekly work load reduced to 26 hours as my grad school courses at USC began. One of my math courses was Non-linear Differential Equations. Believe it or not, I learned some very esoteric skills that proved to be immediately useful to Hughes in preparing some government proposals. I was rewarded with the opportunity to work some after-midnight hours as we worked to meet proposal deadlines.

I stayed at 759 N. Richman for a year. Then Don Schmidt and I decided to go in on an apartment at 1749 Malvern Avenue, very close to Hughes. This was a typical southern California apartment complex with a swimming pool in the center. The deal was that Don would cook and I would clean up. In general this arrangement worked well, although it had its moments. Ron Muckenthaler, a friend of Don's and national president of the Catholic Alumni Club at the time, moved in with us that year. That provided some additional social opportunities since the Catholics liked to party on weekends, and I felt OK tring to be like one of them. Topper, Fred and Ken from Purdue were all Catholics, as was my high-school friend Bob Cleary, so I felt reasonably comfortable at their social events.

Don Schmidt and Ron Muckenthaler
Evening meal with Don and Ron

In 1959 electrical engineers were in demand. Hughes used their fellowship program as a recruiting tool. It worked for me…and it worked for Hughes. There were no strings attached but the majority of Hughes fellows stayed employed at Hughes following graduation. I had a different drumbeat going on in my head, however, and shortly after receiving my MSEE in January, 1961, I received an offer of employment from Argonne National Laboratory back in the good old midwest. I accepted the offer and gave Hughes six week's notice. Friday, April 14th, would be my last day.

I think Hughes was genuinely sorry that I was leaving. Joe Stover tried hard to talk me out of it. And Bernie, Joe's boss, personally expressed his regrets. I, too, had regrets. I had been at Hughes for 21 months and by that time had made some very good friends. I was becoming pretty comfortable with the southern California lifestyle as well.

But the decision had been made, and I never doubted that it was the right one. When the time came, they did a nice going-away luncheon, and that was that.

Many years later

Hughes building
Hughes from the air, looking SW, 1959

Time moves on, and things do change. In 2008, forty-nine years after I entered that two-year-old two-story building wearing my badge with the letters "MTS," the community of Amerige Heights stands in place of that building. Any tangible evidence of the life I've just described is gone. It's a wierd, sad feeling to realize how completely a living community of bosses, engineers, and technicians and infrastructure of building, offices and equipment can disappear and something so completely different can be in its place.

The big changes began in 1992 when the Fullerton Ground Systems Group (GSG) became a division of Hughes Electronics and took the Hughes Electronics name. In September, 1994, Hughes announced that it would close the plant in Fullerton, Calif., and lay off 4,400 employees from the Fullerton and El Segundo facilities over the succeeding 16 months. At that time about 6,800 people worked at the company's Fullerton facility and another 7,800 in El Segundo.

Amerige Heights
Same view, via Google Earth, 2008

From the Los Angeles Times:

Residents Assail Homes at Hughes Site in Fullerton

September 19, 2000

Public debate raged into the night Monday as the Fullerton City Council considered whether to approve a sprawling development on the former Hughes Aircraft site.

The Amerige Heights complex would include 1,250 homes and a large commercial district on acreage that some residents have long argued is polluted.

Several of the estimated 250 people packed into the council chambers and overflowing into the lobby spoke of their fears of contamination.

Four hours into the meeting, Don Black, a 40-year resident of the city, urged the council to take its time with a decision that will have lasting effects.

"Rushing into this and doing what's convenient sounds like an implausible approach," he said. "You're the ones who are responsible." Staff from SunCal, the would-be developers, said the state hasn't ordered any cleanup, and monitoring wells showed levels of contaminants acceptable under state and federal guidelines.

Members of the Chamber of Commerce also spoke in favor of the project, saying the added sales-tax revenue would be a boost for Fullerton.

Hughes Aircraft developed the research-and-development facility at Malvern Avenue and Gilbert Street in the 1950s and opened it in 1957 for use in making defense systems for the United States and its allies. At peak production in 1989, the plant covered nearly 2-million square feet and employed 11,000 people. The plant closed in 1995 and was subsequently bought by Raytheon, which in June completed a two-year voluntary cleanup of the grounds and remains responsible for further cleanup of the site.

The use of solvents, chemicals and radioactive materials on the property raised public concern that any development at the site would cause a potential health hazard to future residents, as well as to students at nearby Sunny Hills High School.

But an analysis of the site by an independent consultant hired by the city determined the levels of contamination detected would not pose a health risk. City officials said the state Department of Toxic Substance Control, which has been reviewing two years' worth of studies of contamination at the site, has not issued any orders to clean up the property.

The project calls for 195 acres of homes, mixed with about 85 acres of commercial, office and research-and-development space. Streets would be lined with pedestrian pathways and traffic roundabouts designed to reflect the character of some of the older parts of Fullerton.

About 20 acres would be set aside as open space, and a 10-acre parcel would be dedicated for use as a school. The developer will also give $500,000 for a technology laboratory at Sunny Hills High School.

The Planning Commission voted unanimously Aug. 23 to support the project.