McClellan - the year of my discontent 1967.
All seemed to be going nicely with my Norton assignment, until McClellan started having
some very serious problems. They couldn't stay online! McClellan's problems began with the
AF Technicians assuming maintenance responsibilities for the switching center. This is not
to say that it was the AF technicians fault for the trouble McClellan got into, it simply
points to what was a breakdown in communications between Western Union local management,
the military, GS personnel and the Computer Center Technicians.
I made one trip in the fall to assist Lenny Ghiorso in fixing some tough problems in
both CDP's. I had been instructed by NYK Headquarters to also take a close look around and
see what was going on. When I returned to Norton after the first trip, I wrote a report to
Al LaFrance detailing what I believed to be the reasons for McClellan's failing to meet
the operating standards. About a month and a half later after returning to Norton, I was
again sent to McClellan along with dozens of other personnel from around the country. It
seems McClellan had hit bottom, and was flat on its "operational" back. Jet
jockeys were flying magnetic tapes out to Norton and Tinker to re-introduce the messages
into the system. None, I mean none, of the McClellan Tape Stations could complete a single
read-in pass without stopping. Recoveries were knee deep when I arrived.
A higher-up instructed me that after I arrived I was not to participate in actual
maintenance, but to observe and inspect equipment. The "Higher-up" was also on
site with other "higher-ups". Somewhere, sometime I had come by a reputation for
being a "good CDP man". Other military higher-ups were also present on site. The
IG team, black coats and black hats, I swear, had heard about "Don, the CDP guy"
and couldn't figure out why I wasn't lifting a hand to help out others who were
frantically troubleshooting one problem after another. In fact two of them told me so. I
referred them to my higher-up and proceeded to do as I was instructed. A lesson I learned
during that black period was, it is not good to have a reputation, any reputation, good or
bad, when working for the US Government. That is unless you plan to go into politics.
Things just went from bad to worse during December of 1966. Site personnel were
frustrated. Many were angry. This included AF, GS and W U personnel. None of the tape
drives would function properly during the read cycle, most would "stop" 2 or 3
minutes into the read cycle. Each night some of us would gather in the boss's motel room
and try to battle it out as to what the best course of action should be. Al LaFrance made
the decision for us. He appointed me as the next Site Manger. Wonderful! Just what I
needed when all concerned and responsible parties at McClellan had lost any faith in me.
And into management I was going, yet!
Beginning on January 1, 1967, it took us almost two months to gain the confidence of
government management. Earlier I had convinced Bob Bernard, Center OIC, to let us take one
Tape Station at a time back to the shop and do a complete head alignment and overhaul. One
W U technician was a Mandrake on Tape Drives. He saved my bacon on the promise I made to
Major Bernard that I wasn't going to blow up his AESC. All tape stations had to be
overhauled. All CDP memory currents had to be readjusted. MODEMS had to be cleaned up;
many failed units were waiting to be repaired. Art Galbraith had to call that one to my
attention. I never was much of a MODEM man, and the list went on. Finally we were able to
stabilize the AESC and then slowly move back up to operational standards. It was a good
experience for me, but I wouldn't have repeated it for any reasons.
A period of time finally arrived when McClellan was again doing many 100% days in long
strings. Then the Group Commander must have received some orders from his higher-ups.
"Get some back-up" power for the center installed as quickly as possible. P-55
had closed on the base and they had some Diesels in a shed close to the old P-55
installation, which they decided could be used for the back up power. The Group Commander
ordered a "pole line" to be installed from the P55 shed to the AESC shed. It was
kind of like a long extension cord.
One night (when I was finally able to go home and sleep) I get a call from Darl McFall,
followed by one from Lenny Ghiroso. The center was down flat. "What happened?" I
asked. Lenny said you better get over here. It's bad.
A bad electrical storm was going on, so I figured we got knocked off-line by a
commercial power hit. When I arrived, the group commander was sitting on the steps that
led into the MG room holding his head in his hands. I asked him what had happened. He
couldn't exactly explain it to me. I entered the MG room and watched GS engineers
scrambling over our MG's. I ordered them off the equipment and told them that someone was
going to have to explain to me what happened.
It seems the group commander and the GS engineers collectively decided to try out their
new pole line in the face of the storm that was going on. However, they failed to notify W
U supervisors, the GS OIC or the military office about the switchover from commercial to
the pole line power. One of the GS engineers threw the "big switch" and
lightning struck. No, not lightning from the sky, lightening from the "big
All center equipment went "kaplunk" and McClellan was dead in the water. It
took us 16 hours to get back on the air, and it cost the government about $125 thousand
dollars in component replacement. Almost every diode pack in the memory banks had been
fused. Unit power supplies had been damaged, along with other and various sundries
partially or totally crippled. When we assayed the mess, I wouldn't have bought McClellan
for a dollar. Of course, everyone knows that McClellan survived that fiasco. McClellan
survived, but I'm afraid the poor group commander didn't. Not too long after that he was
shipped out to the Canal Zone, and we got a full-blooded Apache Colonel as his
replacement, that I got along with marvelously. He was my kind of man! Life went back to
normal again at McClellan.