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Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor

Fall 1999 | Volume 15 |  Issue 2

The Soviet Moon Program


T. A. HEPPENHEIMER’S “How THE Soviets Didn’t Beat Us to the Moon” (Summer 1999) was most informative. You may be interested to know that a remnant of the Soviet Union’s N-1 rocket is still around, and there are plans to use its engines once again.

Upon cancellation of the N-1 program, orders were given to scrap all the parts of the launcher, but the engineers who developed the rocket motors placed them in a storage facility, locked the door, and “forgot” about the key. With the fall of the Iron Curtain, the motors have found their way into Western hands to power the Kistler K-1 Reusable Launch Vehicle, now in development. Each K-1 is to be powered by three NK-33s on the first stage and one NK-43 on the second stage.

Considerable work has been completed, but adequate funding has continued to elude Kistler Aerospace, and most of the work is currently suspended. Only time will tell when the N-1’s legacy will fly once again.

William Church
Whittier, Calif.


Seeds of Innovation

“DOING WHAT COMES ARTIFICIALLY” (by Miles R. McCarry, Summer 1999) brought back old memories and reinforced for me the fact that inventions often find uses far removed from their original purposes. In 1959 the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa) sought to develop an easy-open can end to salvage a container development using a composite foil-and-card-board laminated body stock. Conventional can openers would not be useful for the container, which was for frozen orange juice. No one had ever devised a way of affixing a pull tab while retaining the integrity of the package until Alcoa engineers hit on the idea of utilizing the cold-weld process and began working with the United Shoe Company, the holder of the patent rights, to attach an aluminum tab to a pre-scored aluminum can end.

The most important use of cold welding at the time was in the sealing of individual aluminum foil packages of semen used in artificial insemination. I can still recall the United Shoe development engineer telling us of attempts to collect semen. The tabs Alcoa developed, which were used by Minute Maid, were not completely effective, but they led the way to Ermal C. Fraze’s invention, at Dayton Reliable Tool and Manufacturing, in Ohio, of an integral rivet for attaching a tab—which made possible the pop top. Thus did invention take seed.

Lloyd G. Dunn
Wooster, Ohio


Seeds of Innovation

MR. MCCARRY WRITES, “THERE WERE 23,215,000 [cows in America] in 1938. They produced a total of 105,807 million pounds of milk that year. Parallel figures for 1997 are 9,258,000 cows producing 156,602 pounds of milk.” Maybe we should revert to the good old days after all—or insert the word million between “156,602” and “pounds.”

Forrest D. Thomas II
Professor of Chemistry Emeritus
University of Montana
Missoula, Mont.


Walter Chrysler’s Rise

AS AN ENGINEER AND A LONG-TIME student of industrial history, I found the article about Walter Chrysler (“‘I Like to Build Things,’” by Stephen Fox, Summer 1999) both interesting and informative. However, it failed to mention the importance of Charles W. Nash in his career. Chrysler credited Nash with giving him his start in the automotive industry.

When William Durant took control of the financially troubled Buick Company, in 1904, he put Nash in charge of his old business, a carriage works. By 1910 Nash had risen to become Buick’s president. Nash was an excellent manager who stressed efficiency and began to make Buick a success even before Chrysler arrived in 1911. James J. Storrow recommended Chrysler to Nash, and Nash hired him as a production manager. The next year Storrow and other bankers ousted Durant as president of what had become General Motors and replaced him with Nash. Four years later Durant regained control of GM, forced Nash out, and promoted Chrysler to president of Buick. Buick succeeded because of a combination of Chrysler and Nash’s management and manufacturing skills and Durant’s ability to raise financial support from banks and investors.

In 1916, after Durant’s return, Nash left GM to start his own company; he and Chrysler remained close friends until Chrysler’s death, in 1940. NashKelvinator swallowed Hudson Motors in 1954 and became American Motors, which was bought by the Chrysler Corporation in 1987. It was a very unfriendly takeover, but some automotive historians find it fitting, since the two companies and their founders shared so much common history.

Edward R. Hanna
Texarkana, Tex.


Walter Chrysler’s Rise

YOUR ARTICLE REFERS TO THE COMpany’s “floating power” engine-mounting arrangement. It had one flaw that I, and I’m sure many others, liked to spring on unsuspecting drivers. The gearshift ball on the Chrysler I owned for many years resembled the top half of a billiard ball on a floor-mounted lever. In low gear it almost touched the driver’s right kneecap. I’d invite a friend at the wheel to “check the full-throttle pickup on her”; after that, under power, the gearshift lever would be torqued way to the right. Then when the clutch was depressed, to change gear, the ball would spring back with remarkable speed and slam into the knee, with an impact I can still feel fifty years later.

Ed Hertfelder
Tucson, Ariz.


Thrilling Drilling

I HAVEN’T EVEN FINISHED READING LARRY C. Hoffman’s excellent piece on the evolution of rock drilling (“The Rock Drill and Civilization,” Summer 1999), but I’m already thinking of his work as being in the same vein as the wonderful PBS series Out of the Fiery Furnace. Sparked by Huffman’s imagery, vivid recollections spring to mind of my own childhood and adolescent experiences (frequently frustrated and/or painful) with hammer and star drill while assisting my father with house repairs and renovations. Recollections of later visits to functioning underground mines and recent work with a variety of consumer-grade and light commercial electric hammer drills and carbide-tipped bits only serve to reinforce for me Hoffman’s point that advances in rockdrilling technology and materials have enabled steady progress not only in mining, tunneling, and excavation but also in construction, ground transportation, and finally—as Hoffman says—in worldwide commerce, as ever more efficiently extracted minerals contribute to the wealth of humankind.

Nice work, Hoffman!

Frederick L. Orthlieb
Professor of Engineering
Swarthmore College
Swarthmore, Pa.


Buffalo’s Big Steam

I WAS ASTOUNDED BY THE PHOTOgraph of the Buffalo pumping engines (“They’re Still There: Hidden Treasure,” by Frederick Allen, Summer 1999). I have never before seen a photo of any engine so large. I sure hope the Industrial Heritage Committee can get these things on display, and I also hope they are interviewing anyone who still knows anything about the operation of the engines. I haven’t run across many stationary engineers lately.

Vernon Hales
Merriam, Kans.


Buffalo’s Big Steam

AS A LIFELONG STEAM-MACHINERY BUFF and engineer, I was delighted to read about the Col. Francis G. Ward Pumping Station, on the Buffalo waterfront. In the early 1960s I visited Buffalo, and it was my luck to learn that early the evening I was there one of the steam engines was going to be put in service. Standing on the balcony next to the enormous machine in the dim light, I was almost hypnotized by those flashing rods and whirling flywheels. Using the built-in cat-walks, we were soon standing on top of the 98-inch-diameter lowpressure steam cylinder nearly 30 feet above the balcony floor. It wasn’t until I was down next to the pump end below the balcony floor, watching those three pump plungers flash up and down as they pushed 947 gallons of water into the Buffalo water system with each revolution, that I really felt the enormous power of the machine.

The Holly Manufacturing Company, which made the engines, was organized in Lockport, New York, in 1859. It moved to Buffalo and joined forces with the Snow Steam Pump Works in 1902, and the resulting Snow-Holly Works continued to make reciprocating steam pumping machinery well into the 1920s.

Buffalo has a treasure in the Col. Ward Pumping Station. It should be designated a National Historic Site and opened to the public.

Irving E. August
Lakewood, Colo.


Film Fax

I ENJOYED “DELIVERING THE FAX,” in the Spring 1999 issue (by George Mannes). If anyone wants to see what fax was like just before World War II, they should watch the 1937 movie Charlie Chan at the Opera, starring Warner Oland and Boris Karloff. In it the suspect’s photograph is transmitted across the country over the telephone lines, and how this is done is shown. The picture is attached to a cylinder that starts rotating. In the city to receive the image, another cylinder the same size is also set rotating. Once they are both turning at the same rate, the photograph is scanned and the image is transferred over the wire as a series of electrical impulses and copied to the paper attached to the receiving cylinder.

William C. Uhland
Texas State Technical
Brownsville, Tex.

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