Relative to my working career, one of the most memorable and rewarding of my life was that day in November 1961, when Mr. Earl Coon looked up at me while reading my resume and said, "That's right. I'm bringing you on board as a PMA."
PMA stood for "Preventive Maintenance Analyst" in the Plant Engineering Department of General Dynamics Astronautics and it was the PMA who was responsible for supervising all the maintenance and operation of the Ground Support Equipment on the Atlas ICBM Silos.
A sub-contractor, Brown and Root had a foreman and crew who did the actual maintenance and operations but, they did so under the supervision of the site PMA who issued the work orders and authorized the work to be performed.
I had left the oil fields some 2 months previously just after turning age 27 and taken a job with General Dynamics (GDA) as a chauffeur delivering mail and personnel to the missile silos being constructed around Abilene, Texas.
Since GDA's personnel office did not consider me qualified to be a PMA, I had taken the chauffeur job only with the hope and belief that once on board with GDA I could meet the proper people and arrange for a transfer to a better paying position.
At the time, I had been a driller on a rotary drilling rig for J. E. Miller Drilling Company over 5 years and recently been disappointed after not being promoted to a Tool Pusher and also I had grown tired of the up and down economical life of working on the drilling rigs.
I am happy to remind myself here that after learning I had the PMA job, I phoned my Dad that very night and told him thanks for being a tough old Irishman father who taught me things and how to work.
Such a change in careers brings about more then just economical change for example, working on the rigs never required me to shave very often nor be too concerned with the clothes I wore because you sure didn't dress up to drive out in the middle of a cow pasture to a drilling rig where you got drilling mud all over you.
Going to work for GDA as a chauffeur meant I had to shave every morning and wear clean neat clothes every day which made for quite a change in my dress habits and daily routine.
Being assigned to the Plant Engineering Department in a salaried position meant I now even had to wear a suit and tie.
Problem was, the only suit I owned was my wedding suit now 6 years old with it's one tie and not even a sport coat did I own.
I now needed a few sport coats and dress pants with shirts/ties and at least one suit.
Problem #2 was, I had no money and my credit was not the best at Sears Roebuck and Company which at the time was one of the few places poor folks had a Credit Card which was called SRC for "Sears Revolving Charge".
The words, VISA and Mastercard did not exist.
The previous year, the oil field had been in a slump and I had trouble keeping my SRC account up to date but, had been man enough to go to Sears and explain my tardiness with the payments and promised to eventually pay my account in full.
Frankly, except for the house and car, I had achieved paying off most all my credit or I would never have taken the chance at the Chauffeur job with it's relative low pay scale.
My gamble of getting the PMA job once on board with GDA had paid off and now I had no choice but, to dress the part.
I went to the manager of the Sears Credit Department to ask that my SRC account be reinstated and explained my need to purchase 3 or 4 hundred dollars in clothing.
As I explained my need for 2 or 3 sport coats and a suit with the shirts, ties, socks, shoes and all to dress for at least a week of work without wearing the same outfit, I was rather amused when the Sears manager looked at me real serious and ask, "Your not fixing to leave town are you?"
I smiled and promised absolutely not. I got the credit and the clothes and was one of the best dressed PMAs in Abilene even though it was all tagged Sears and wasn't exactly designer clothing.
Once dressed for the part, it came time to see if this uneducated Oil Field Bum from Lueders, Texas could cut the mustard in this here Rocket Business.
After two weeks of orientation at the base and touring most all the sites it was decided I would be sent to the Lawn site since I was already friends with the Lawn PMA, Ron Nicholas.
I was to work on day shift for a month under Ron's tutoring and then be placed on second shift at the Lawn site.
GDA had no school to explain any of the equipment and how it worked or functioned.
All the Ground Support Equipment the Site PMA was responsible for had been installed by Brown and Root under contract from the Corp of Engineers and thus no one in GDA knew anything about the equipment.
We had As-Built drawings of the systems and they offered some help in certain areas but, were lacking in others.
There exist pictures and drawings on how the silos were laid out and where the equipment was located. Most are not too clear but, a few may be viewed:.. HERE
My 48 years of memory reminds me of the following:.........
In the NW Quad was a 250 gallon Demineralized Water Tank that was the make up water for the Hot and Chilled water system. The tank was replenished through a hose on top of the tank that was connected to a pipe that went straight through the silo cap to a fill connection.
Opposite the tank against the wall of the missile enclosure sit the demineralized water pumps that forced water into the hot and cold water systems when needed.
A large air handler was located in the NW Quad.
Level 2 was also the level with platforms to install the war head on top of the missile and was where the Gox Vent that vented the boil off valve on top of the Atlas to ground level through the utility shaft.
Had 2 pumps for Chilled Water System - 1 pump was a standby and if you shut down one pump the other would come on automatically.
These 4 pumps sit next to the missile enclosures west wall as did the Water Chiller Units for the Air Conditioner System.
In the SW quad was 2 pumps for the cooling tower or industrial water system.
On south side next to missile enclosure was the disconnect for the Liquid Oxygen (LOX) line which loaded the missile with LOX. Memory is dim but, the line was about 8 inches in diameter.
The Atlas stayed loaded with the RP-1 (Kerosene) fuel all the time and the only thing that had to be loaded before launch was the LOX. But, the Atlas required being pressurized at all times with nitrogen gas.
If I recall correctly level 7 was also the level where the Collimator Room was located on the north wall. But, I can no longer remember how that was fitted in around the elevator shaft.
The Collimator Room held the device that programed the guidance system.
From this Collimator Room some 100 feet below ground level was a tube about 6 inches in diameter that ran on something like a 45 degree angle to the top of the ground. At ground level directly north some 100 feet or so from the edge of the silo cap was were the tube surfaced and it had a steel plate bolted over the tube.
Using optical equipment that I know absolutely nothing about they would sight on the north star and send an optical signal down the tube to another optical device to tell the guidance system the exact spot on earth this missile was located. I was told the guidance system had to be told where the missile was located before it could be told where to go.
Also in the missile enclosure was two towers that held all the disconnects which hooked up the missile launch platform to all the ground support equipment.
On the west side was the bottom of all the cryogenics and high pressure gas storage vessels. Beneath the cryogenic tanks was two small vacuum pumps that maintained the vacuum to keep the cryogenic fuel from boiling off.
A cryogenic tank is constructed like a thermos bottle with an inter tank and an outer tank and in between is about 6 inches of insulation which is kept under a vacuum and the site PMA was responsible for both pumps and maintaining the vacuum.
Ron and I became a good team and together we could figure out most technical problems fairly easy.
Frankly, I was in hog heaven and took to this rocket business like a duck takes to water. It was such a fun challenge to learn what made that little red light come on or go off on any number of consoles and control panels scattered throughout the silo and control center.
After a month or two I went on 2nd shift and since Brown and Root had no 2nd shift maintenance foreman, I worked rather closely with the 4 Brown and Root maintenance mechanics assigned to 2nd shift.
One afternoon when I arrived at work Ron told me they had a high level warning light on in the LCC indicating a high level in the sewage holding tank located beneath the stairway in the tunnel between the LCC and silo.
The holding tank caught all the sewage from the LCC restroom and kitchen area and once the holding tank reached a near full level the holding tank pumps automatically came on to pump the sewage to a septic tank and drain field top side.
In the event the pumps went out, or a problem existed, a high level light was turned on in the control center to alert the launch crew.
So, me and two of the Brown and Root mechanics begin troubleshooting the problem and discovered the warning light device was operated by pressure on a diaphragm type gizmo and it was malfunctioning.
Neither of the two Brown and Root mechanics could figure out the problem with the diaphragm operated device and I too was having trouble understanding it because it worked outside the tank but, would not function properly when installed back in the tank. So, I went to question one of the GDA engineers who suggested I wait and discuss it with a Brown and Root employee who worked on 3rd shift. He explained this old guy had built the silo during the Corp of Engineers construction phase and he might know something.
His suggestion to see this guy was to become my book of knowledge about the silos and the ground support systems that I expect few other PMAs ever obtained.
When the Brown and Root employee arrived at work I was there in the quonset hut to meet him and discovered yes indeed he was very knowledgeable about the Ground Support Equipment and the overall systems.
Memory has faded about our discussing the sewage problem but, it will never fade from memory what this elderly gentleman in his late sixties did for this, at the time, 27 year old whipper snapper.
A few days after our first discussion I went to see him again about another system problem when he looked me in the eye and said, "You really want to learn don't you." I said "yes sir I sure do" - He asked if I could stay over on 3rd shift an hour or two so as he put it "we can get rid of all the rest of these jokers and have some peace around here" and he would take me in the silo and show me a few things.
Once all of 2nd shift had gone home leaving only a few of us on 3rd shift this elderly gentleman took me into the silo and picked out one system and put his hand on the discharge line of one of the pumps and said, "son here is where she starts" and then he traced out all the system piping showing me every place it went and explained how that one system operated.
For the next 3 or 4 nights I stayed over on 3rd shift on my own time and he took me back and forth and up and down and all around the complex showing me how each of the different systems worked and also how everything meshed together. I had struck a gold mine of knowledge and I took it all in.
One night he said I'll show you a secret no one knows around here but, me and told me if the hot water system with it's pumps on level 4 ever gets low on pressure, there is a way to fix it 9 times out of 10 and he took me up in the top floor of the control center and showed me two small bleed valves in the piping and he explained this is the highest point in the system and this is where the air will collect and to get the pressure back up you will need to open the bleed valves and let the air bleed out. Amazingly, I was to use this and greatly impress and surprise a few people in a short time to come.
When anyone first walks into a rocket launch complex such as was the ICBM silos it is all a maze of piping, duct work, conduit and equipment running all over the place top to bottom and displays nothing to the viewer except mass confusion.
A small example of Mass Confusion may be viewed HERE where most of the piping came together on Level 4 and where most of the industrial type pumps were located.
Confusing as it may appear, once broken down into separate systems the confusion disappears and it all becomes fairly easy and simply to understand.
This was what the elderly gentleman on the Lawn site did for me and I shall forever be grateful for the interest and time he afforded me.
Working second shift also helped me learn because it provided me the "quite time" to trace out the systems on my own and teach myself how things worked. Being mechanically inclined since birth didn't hurt either.
In the event of a nearby nuclear strike from a Russian ICBM, the LCC was suspended on 4 compressed air cylinders whose purpose was to float and absorb the shock from a nearby explosion.
One of the Air Cylinders may be viewed:.. HERE
During construction, the LCC was sitting on wooden blocks with all the air going to the suspension cylinders shut off.
Orders from GDA headquarters in San Diego came down that it was time to place the air suspension in operation and San Diego engineering provided a one sheet set of instruction on how to do it.
Suspending the equivalent of a two story house on 4 air cylinders was kind of a major event and Ron suggested we do it on 2nd shift when fewer people were around to laugh at us when we goofed it all up.
As we looked the system over and read the procedure, we discovered the San Diego instructions were worthless so, we traced out the plumbing and electrical systems which had me crawling beneath the LCC were the limit switch control rods were located to determine how they worked and once we understood everything, we decided to slowly pick the LCC up one cylinder at a time until we eventually had all 4 cylinders supporting the LCC.
Once understood, the system was fairly simply because it had limit switches that kept the floor level and if one side got out of alignment the limit switch would either open a valve to add air or open a valve to vent off air from the cylinder in order to maintain the floors level.
I've long since forgotten the details but, we got the Lawn LCC properly suspended without any problems which was not the case on one of the other sites which will be explained later.
To allow Ron closer supervision of the day shift crew we decided I would take care of all the AFTO II D forms required by the Air Force. The AFTO II D form was a simple form that listed all the work orders and showed the open items of repairs for all the systems on the complex. In short they were a ready reference to indicate system status.
When I was a driller on the drilling rigs I was required to fill out a daily log on footage drilled and the general status of the drilling rig and progress of the well being drilled.
Rather then writing out my drilling reports I had always chosen to print the characters and be neat with my writings.
Maintaining the AFTO II D forms was a contract requirement of the Air Force and required quality control by the Air Force Inspectors with routine reports being issued on how well each site maintained the forms.
I was pleased to learn my AFTO II D forms came to be known as the best and neatest of all 12 missile complexes at Dyess.
Memory has long faded about the details of working at Lawn and further dulled since Ron was in the lead and I was second in command.
I recall one night when around 10:00 PM we had one big Texas rain storm and the canvas cover over the silo could not keep out all the rain and we had to start covering equipment in the silo with plastic as water was running in the silo rather then being drained off top side.
I also recall the night when we ran the first high speed test of blowing the doors open and running out the launch platform with the water bird sitting on top. It was most exciting because I was top side near the silo when the doors came open and the bird came out of the ground.
A Water Bird may be viewed:.. HERE
Normally opening the doors and running the launch platform up and down is a very slow process and not much fun in it. But, in an actual launch the silo doors are thrown open with hydraulic fluid being pushed to the door cylinders from an accumulator pressurized with high pressure nitrogen gas and the launch platform elevator motors are ran at high speed.
I was raised on Buck Rogers and Tailspin Tommy movies and here I was playing a role in all this here rocket business myself. It was challenging, rewarding and lots and lots of fun.
Another of my knowledge seeking adventures I learned while working at Lawn was a machine mounted inside a van type trailer that always created a big fog of white smoke when in operation and my ignorance of the machine initially had me keeping my distance away for the white fog cloud it created because I didn't know what it was and assumed it was hazards rocket fuel of some type.
Although I had nothing to do with the operation, my curiosity final got me to venture into the fog cloud, climb up in the van and learn something of what was going on and I came to learn all about super cold cryogenic fluids and what liquid nitrogen and liquid oxygen was all about and how the equipment operated which was knowledge I was to put to good use in the years to come.
After being at Lawn from what had to be about January until mid May or very early June of 1962 I was told to report for work on first shift at the Oplin Site for two weeks so the Oplin PMA could take his two weeks vacation.
The Oplin PMA was an old GDA employee who had been transferred in from the Atlas D and E sites in Wyoming so unlike us local hires he had vacation time coming.
The Oplin site was the lead site and ahead of all the others on the schedule to be turned over to the Air Force. This also meant the Oplin Site was the first to encounter any potential problems in the design of the Atlas F silo systems.
As instructed I reported to the Oplin site on a Friday to spend a day with the Oplin PMA so he could being me up to date on system status and the open items being worked on prior to him starting his vacation time the following Monday.
Same as Lawn, the Oplin crew had suspended their LCC a day or two before my arrival and as I was sitting with the Oplin PMA going over the open work orders when the site supervisor, Gene Jesensky came by complaining there had to be something wrong with the LCC suspension because as he put it, "Jesus Christ you need a step stool to get up in the LCC." The PMA assured Gene the LCC was suspended according to the instructions provided.
I did not say anything but, after Mr. Jesensky left, I told the PMA I had helped suspended the Lawn LCC and if he liked I would be happy to take a look and see what the complex supervisor was complaining about.
So, we went to the LCC and sure enough it was most difficult to get into the LCC because it was sucked all the way to the top of the cylinders which meant the LCC floor was about 12 to 18 inches higher then the entrance from the tunnel and/or vestibule area.
I checked the valving on the cylinders and they had the bypass valves open which by passed the automatic valves controlled by the limit switches.
I ask the PMA whose name escapes me to get on the PA system and have the Brown and Root foreman and a couple of his mechanics report to the LCC.
Once there we closed the 4 bypass valves and opened the manual vent valves which kept the automatic valves from venting and started bleeding off air to the cylinders.
Slowly the LCC began dropping down and as soon as the proper level was reached the limit switches started controlling the automatic vent valves and they closed allowing the LCC to be at the height it should have been.
Nothing to it once you took the time to understand the system and learn how it worked.
The PMA and I returned to the office and he was able to tell Mr. Jesensky the LCC was now properly suspended and told him I knew something about the system.
I was introduced to Sam Phillips, the Brown and Root Maintenance foreman who as it turned out was the younger brother of Matt Phillips the Base PMA for GDA who had provided me with my initial orientation of a PMA's responsibilities on the missile sites.
Sam and I were to develop a wonderful relationship as not much bothered him and our different personality went together like sliced bread.
Having come from the oil fields of Texas I was some what of a holler screamer type feller when things didn't go my way and I could throw a pretty good fit while Sam's personality was one who shrugged his shoulders and took it all in and then went and took care of the matter to keep me happy.
So, we were a good match when it came to getting the job done and in the end we could joke, laugh and have some fun while taking care of business.
Monday following my arrival at Oplin, I decided to look over the complex and when I got to level 2, I decided to take a peek through the small 6 inch square window in the door to the missile enclosure and when I did I almost went in shock and pooped in my pants because I was staring at an atomic bomb. We only had the water filled test bird installed at Lawn when I left and here was a real live Atlas ICBM rocket with an atomic bomb on top. Of course what I was looking at was a dummy nuclear war head used for testing the systems. But, it was so unexpected when I peeked through the small window that it had really scared me after being raised in that "Duck and Cover" time period.
On Tuesday or Wednesday, the Site Supervisor, Gene Jesensky came by my desk and said, "Hey Bub, I want you to go with me, there's some things I want to show you." I was to learn that Mr. Gene Jesensky was a no nonsense demanding type supervisor who called everybody "Bub" and did so with a little emphasis when he had something bothering him.
I gathered immediately he wasn't too happy with some things and he was going to put this new piece of meat to the test and see if he could do anything about it.
He wanted to take me on a tour of the silo and when we got to the entrance stairs I observed two new cyntrifical water pumps laying on the ground and ask what they were doing there and Gene started mumbling words to me which was another of Gene's adorable traits and I came to learn the more unhappy he was the worst he mumbled.
He mumbled something about the hot water system not having any pressure and they were going to replace both the pumps. There was two pumps in the system but, only one operated at a time as the other was a backup in the event one failed.
Common sense told me it was highly unlikely both pumps failed at the same time and as we proceeded down the steps I expressed that opinion to Gene and he continued mumbling.
The entrance to the silo is by a tunnel coming from the LCC and the tunnel enters the silo on Level 2.
On level 2 Gene started pointing out little things that were broke or missing simple things like a handle or a screw or something. Perhaps a broken light bulb. Although minor, it was little things that Gene knew would not pass final inspection by the Air Force and frankly were unacceptable to his standards of a job well done.
All these type items and housekeeping of the silo was the responsibility of the site PMA.
We proceeded down the spiral staircase to level 3 were Gene continued pointing out other item of displeasure including plain old house keeping items and then we arrived at level 4 where the 2 hot water pumps were located.
Sure enough the pressure was only about 5 or 10 PSI when it should have been running between 40 to 45 PSI.
I switched pumps and the pressure did not change. But, after cutting my teeth on such equipment growing up in the oil fields with a father who taught me well, I could tell there was nothing wrong with either of the pumps.
I told Gene I thought I could fix this and ask if we could go up to level 1 where the storage tank and pumps were located for the demineralized water system which was the make up water for both the hot and chilled water systems.
So, we took the elevator up to level 1 where I switched the make up water pump from automatic to manual which started the pump forcing water into the system.
Gene wasn't saying anything and I could tell he wasn't too sure about all I was doing but, he went along as I told him we now needed to go up to the top floor of the LCC and bleed air from the system.
Thanks to an elderly gentleman on the Lawn site, who took an interesting in me, I knew about those 2 little valves up in a utility room almost hidden by the piping insulation that bleed air from the system.
Knowing the union rules, when we got to level 2, I got on the PA system and told Sam Phillips to meet me in the LCC with a mechanic.
Gene and I arrived in the LCC first and I went ahead and opened the valves and as expected there was nothing but, air coming out. Sam and his mechanic arrived after about 5 minutes and by this time we were starting to get a little water with the air.
I instructed Sam's mechanic to continue opening and closing the valves until nothing but, a solid stream of water existed.
I told Gene we could now go back to level 4 and check the pump pressure which we did and just as I expected the system pressure was already up to 35 PSI. I switched pumps to verify both pumps were working properly and when I turned around Gene was getting on the elevator. I ran over and said don't you want to continue our tour and he mumbled something about didn't figure it was going to be necessary and hit the Up Button.
Needless to say I was pretty pleased with myself and had made some brownie points with the head cheese of the Oplin Missile Silo.
All with my gratitude and thanks to a wonderful old guy on the Lawn Site.
Another points making event came my way when trouble shooting revealed we had a bad control sensor in one of the 3 water wells supplying water to the Oplin Site.
No one with GDA had the slightest idea how we were going to pull the pipe out of the well to repair the bad sensor. Of course the very thing I grew up with was an Oil Well Work Over Rig which my father owned. Because of his age, my father was now out of the business but, I personally knew his old competitor, Beasley in Hawley, Texas who I contacted and arranged to come pull the pipe out of the well so we could replace the sensor.
More Brownie points for my accomplishing what was an unusual job for GDA and the Rocket Scientist but, one I had cut my teeth on in childhood.
I still get amused when I think of the GDA employment guy who refused to give me a PMA job and best he thought me fit for was a chauffeur.
As I write this some 48 years after it occurred, I'm now wondering why we had 2 PMAs on the Lawn site and only one on the Oplin site when the Oplin site was ahead of Lawn in the completion schedule. My only explanation would be, we were working for the U.S. Government ??
Two weeks went by with me assuming I would return to the Lawn site once the Oplin PMA returned from vacation.
When the day came for his return we both arrived at work and I was tying him in on the current status when I was called to the silo to take care of something.
When I returned top side the Oplin PMA was boxing up the personal things from his desk and when I inquired what was going on he said "I am being sent into the base for reassignment." I was really surprised because absolutely no one had said a word to me about anything.
I followed him to the door of the quonset hut shook his hand and as he was walking away I heard him say to himself, "They must have found a good one right off."
I did have an inkling from Sam that he was not too bright when it came to the equipment and technical stuff on the complex but, he had been a PMA with GDA on the Atlas D and E ICBM sites in Wyoming and I never dreamed of my replacing him.
I don't recall my asking too much about it except seems like Gene told me "Yep, your now the Oplin PMA." And to this day 48 years later I have never been told any details of why they decided to keep me and send him some place else. However, it had to have been worked out and approved with first Earl Coon, the group leader and then the Plant Engineering Department at the base.
I'm sure my thoughts were as they are now, feeling bad you took another's job but, proud to know you apparently got the job done. Of course with me it's always been Lead, Follow, or get the Hell out of the way and I don't apologize for that.
I took my first cherry picker ride on the Oplin site and that was kind of a thrill being 90 feet in the air on the end of a stick. The cherry picker was on site to work on the instrumentation in the nose cone of the Atlas when it was out of the ground standing on the launch platform and it happened when, out of curiosity, I got in the bucket with an old experienced GDA mechanic and he thought it would be fun to scare this Texas country boy by extended the cherry picker to it's full height. He was not aware I had routinely worked 90 feet up in the derricks of rotary drilling rigs. But, like I said it was a thrill and is cause of some anxiety when on the end of what amounted to a stick.
While working on the Oplin site my father passed away on a Wednesday June 20, 1962. I informed Gene and told him I wouldn't be back to work until Monday June 25th.
As we progressed towards the completion date and turn over to the Air Force I was working long hours and into the night getting the Oplin facility and ground support equipment into first class condition.
We cleaned and painted top to bottom and fixed all those little items like the ones Gene had pointed out to me the first few days after my arrival at the Oplin Site.
After all the launch equipment had been installed and checked out, 3 countdown demonstration and launch test were required to verify the complex was capable of launching an Atlas missile with it's nuclear warhead to what ever location on earth it was assigned.
For safety reasons, 2 of these test were accomplished using Liquid Nitrogen and then the 3rd and final test was ran using Liquid Oxygen.
All 3 test called for the rocket to be loaded with propellants, the silo doors thrown open and the rocket elevated out of the ground to launch position in less then 15 minutes. The countdown was stopped just prior to engine ignition.
Once all launch systems had been verified and validated the Launch Complex was turned over to the Air Force and we called this "Sell Off"
About 2 weeks prior to acceptance by the Air Force it was their practice to send out a couple bus loads of the airmen who would be part of the base support team maintaining the complexes. There purpose was to walk the entire complex and write down any and everything they considered wrong.
It's always been amazing to me the number of things a young airman can discover and consider wrong on an Atlas F ICBM Missile Silo.
It was like that first tour with the complex supervisor except there was about 80 Gene Jesensky's with clip boards going all over the silo and top side writing down stuff for GDA to take care of before it would be acceptable for "Sell Off" to the Air Force.
The write ups were called squawks and sadly most of these squawks fell to the site PMA to take care of.
Usually there was about 600 to 800 hundred items ranging from missing screws to broken light bulbs to items in places you never knew existed until a young airman pointed them out.
Some of the items even involved structural concerns and a few would be amusing what the airmen considered a defect.
A meeting would be held with all the brass and complex engineers on both sides of the house to go over the list and initially weed out those items wrote with a misunderstanding, in error or were considered acceptable "As Is".
Once the list was weeded it became the official list of items to be repaired and bought off by Quality Control prior to turning the silo over to the Sac Crews who would install the live war head and activate the silo as part of our national defense system.
One of the squawks on our list was a high vacuum reading on one of the cryogenic tanks. I had been aware of this and we had been working to find a leak because we knew the pump was ok since it would pull a good vacuum with the tank shut off to the pump. However, in the cold war era our solution to get rid of the squawk so the site could be placed on active status was to replace the vacuum pump.
In the haste to get the site turned over we had a helicopter delivery us the new vacuum pump and as the chopper was landing north of the entrance road and just outside the gate to the Oplin site, I ran out to sign the paper work for the pumps delivery and to help the 2 Brown and Root Mechanics get it off the chopper.
A little different means of expediting things then those I experienced while working in the oil fields of Texas. But, as mentioned we were working for the U. S. Government who, thanks to the American Tax Payer, could foot the bill.
The vacuum pump installation was among the last of the squawks and occurred on what was to be our last full day of work on the Oplin site.
The complex was down to a minimum crew and all of us remaining had loaded our cars with our personal stuff as the office and ware house quonset huts had been cleaned out over the previous 2 days.
I did have about 6 Brown and Root painters and a few maintenance mechanics still on site.
The SAC Launch Crew and a final inspection team was scheduled to arrive for a final inspection and take over of the complex the following morning.
After the new vacuum pump was installed I kept a watch on the readings to verify the vacuum was coming down and stayed with the paint crew to show them where and what I wanted to paint.
Nothing really needed painting very badly and we were painting things more or less to brighten things up and knowing the path that would be taken during the scheduled walk through we made sure to paint things in those areas and especially the hand rails and spiral stair case top to bottom.
We painted all day and all night until the wee hours of the morning.
Around 6:00 AM I went down to level 8 to check on the vacuum pump reading which required me to squat down on my knees and after obtaining the reading I laid back on the floor to relax for a few minutes and was so tired after being on the job nearly 24 hours straight I fell asleep.
Unbeknownst to me the complex supervisor, Gene Jesensky and a few others had arrived at work early that morning on purpose so they could take a walk through prior to the Air Force crew arriving.
I learned later when they got to level 8 they all had to step over me to get to the elevator and one of the engineers ask Gene if they should wake Ray up and Gene told them "Hell No, let the boy sleep, he's tired".
I awoke sometime later and went top side and ran into Gene just outside the silo entrance. He told me to go home and get some rest and said "You did a good job Bub" I told him I was going home to clean up but, would be back because I was not going to miss being there when we turned her over to the Air Force.
I went home took a shower, changed clothes and rushed back to await the arrival of the launch crew scheduled for around 10:00 AM.
Gene was the complex supervisor and the man in charge but, I considered Oplin my Silo because the facility and ground support equipment was mine to take care of.
The diesel engines providing all the power belonged to me. When broke, It was me who made the elevator go up and down and it was me who made the A/C hot or cold. The grass was mine to mow and I even had all the asphalt paving replaced around the Silo Cap a few weeks before sell off.
On this day as all civilian personnel left the complex, it was me who closed the gate, picked up the gate phone and told the SAC Launch Crew, "You got it" So, I make the claim the Oplin Silo belonged to me.
I'm sure Gene felt the same as I did about Oplin for after all he was the absolute top dog and had been on the site since day one.
I never felt that way about any of the other silos I worked on. Call it nonsense or plain nuts but, Oplin was mine and I loved her.
A few days prior to turning Oplin over, I had asked our Group Leader, Earl Coon if he knew where I would be going after Oplin and he said yes, I want you at Corinth West but, I don't want to see you there until Monday and if anyone ask where you been tell them "You were on special assignment to Mr. Earl Everett Coon".
He told me this because my last day at Oplin was going to be on a Wednesday and he was telling me to take Thursday and Friday off on him.
I came to have the highest respect and regard for both Gene Jesensky and Earl Coon. Each of them appreciated the job you did and each of them were fine managers you appreciated working for.
Little did I know at the time we were to all 3 work at Kennedy Space Center and help put men on the moon.
My time at Corinth West is not too memorable but, I went through the same 3 DPL tanking test and cleared off the same 600 to 800 squawks written up by the same 80 man Air Force inspection team.
After Corinth West I was assigned to supervise a crew on the base that was sent out to the silos to take care of what we called warranty items.
Each day I would be handed a list of items that had been called in by the Sac Launch Crews and we would go out to the appropriate complex to make the repairs.
Upon arrival at the entrance gate you had to pick the gate phone up which was a direct line to the launch console that rang when picked up. You had to state your business and work authorization number and then the launch crew would, after verification with the base, unlatch the gate so you could open it. You had to do the same using another phone when you arrived at the entrance door to the LCC and silo.
With the sell off of the Lawn site Ron Nicholas had also been assigned to the base same as I was to look after one of the warranty crews.
We had only been working at the base for a couple of weeks when on the last tanking test at the Albany site with the Atlas loaded with liquid oxygen the large level 1 platform was knocked off and tore up the bottom of level 8 pretty bad and came in an inch of blowing up the silo because the GDA launch crew had to manually drain the Atlas of liquid oxygen.
GDA was aware of the bad latch design on the level 1 platform as it had come loose before and allowed the platform to come down on it's own accord.
What happened in this instance was when the launch platform with the Atlas sitting on top ran out of the ground shaking the crib steel the latch came loose allowing the platform to fall out against the launch platform. After completion of the countdown and the launch platform started back down the level 1 platform was lodged under one of the beams and was tore off the hinges causing it to fall to the bottom of the silo wrecking all the disconnect lines in the bottom so that control of the missile for detanking was lost.
A new latch design had been approved and was being installed on all 72 Atlas F silos. but, had not as yet been implemented on the Albany site.
In the mean time we had instructions to keep the platform tied back with a rope as a precaution.
Prior to commencing any tanking test and launch count down a meeting is held for every one concerned to go over all system status and any open items or discrepancies.
During the meeting prior to the last Albany tanking the Air Force Colonel in charge on the Air Force side of the house brought up the fact there was an open item regarding the platform being tied back with a rope and he wanted the rope removed and the open item closed out.
Earl Coon was the group leader over the Albany site and he always attended these meetings and when the Colonel insisted the rope be removed Earl handed him an AVO (Avoid Verbal Orders) and stated on it the rope was being removed at the Colonel's request.
I did not know this until years later when Earl told me about it. Earl said after the site was wrecked the General in charge of Dyess Air Force base called for a meeting to determine who was going to pay for what since the site was still the responsibility of GDA.
Soon after sitting down for the meeting Earl said he pulled the AVO from his pocket and handed it to the General. After reading it over a couple of times the General said what are we doing here, this meeting is adjourned, send us the bill.
How embarrassing it must have been for the Colonel and we often wondered what direction if any his career took after that terrible bit of bad judgment.
The wreck of the Albany site took place right in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crises in October of 1962 and there was a great push to get all the sites on active status ready to launch a nuclear warhead towards Russia.
So, the Albany site was over loaded with personnel for a round the clock effort to get everything repaired.
Ron Nicholas was assigned to 2nd shift and I was placed on 3rd shift at Albany. All in the haste to get Albany back together.
The selection of Ron and I was done by Earl Coon and it was becoming apparent that the two of us were his favorite PMAs and that could only be because he trusted us to get the job done since up to then neither of us had known Earl socially.
I was only on the Albany site for about two weeks and, as I had been well aware of, my time came to be laid off.
I don't recall my last day with GDA or being checked out at the base because it was a sad day for me after having 15 months of a wonderful adventure and job experience because I loved what I had been doing.
It had also been very good financially because I had been able to save just over a $1,000.00 for the first time in my life which I had never been able to do working on the drilling rigs. I had saved small amounts before but, then the rig would shut down and the minor savings would disappear before the rig started up again.
I had just turned 28 years of age in August 1962 with a wife and 2 kids. Debbie had just started her 1st grade of school at age 6 and Ray Jr. was fixing to be 4 years old in January 1963. We also another on the way with an expected delivery date in late February 1963.
I now had to decide what my next move would be to keep feeding the family. I did not care to go back to the Oil Fields but, I hated the thought of giving up our little home at 3189 South 20th Street in Abilene which we had purchased 5 years previously.
It didn't take me long however, to decide on chasing the rocket business for a period of time to see where it would take me as I was aware the Martin Company was cranking up to install the Titan II ICBM in silos in several different states and Boeing was installing the Minuteman ICBM in silos in Wyoming. Boeing was also hiring in New Orleans for something called the Apollo Moon Program.
What occurred is another of life's adventures for another day and a different story.
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