I’m not in Kansas any more...

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Old example of a pen chart recording Example of UKIRT result from such recordings

During the months after my return in July 1980 at the end of my first Hawai’i trip I worked on processing the data we’d collected. This was to allow us to assess the performance of the mm-wave receivers and UKIRT and to spot any changes or improvements that should be made so that astronomers could make the more effective use of them. It also would provide the basic calibration information which would be needed in routine use. I had many hours of raw data. A lot of this was stored on what would now seem a very quaint form of recording. This was a series of paper ‘chart recorder’ rolls. Instruments of this type have probably now vanished over the horizon of memory for modern scientists. But they used to work by having a pen that would write a graph line onto a slowly rolled-out long strip of paper that had a grid of lines printed onto it. The result was a long graph of how some measured quantity varied with time. By using an ordinary pen I was able to add notes onto the chart as this happened, serving as reminders of what the telescope was pointed at, etc, at the time.

Having returned home, these squiggles had to be tediously transcribed – using a ruler – into tables of numbers for analysis. For that QMC had some ICL mainframe computers and I used to write programs in ye olde FORTRAN computer language to crunch this data and get results. All in all, a lot more tedious than modern data methods. Fortunately for astronomers, this tedious approach was only needed for the kinds of calibrations and equipment assessment I was having to carry out.

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Example of System A correlator bank output

Once in normal operation to observe astronomical objects, receiver System A used a dedicated ‘correlator bank’ system which Kent University were providing. This was designed to generate power-frequency spectra as observations were done. The above graph, taken from my old Lab-book shows an example of the result it could generate. The scales and units used may seem very odd at first examination. Engineers would tend to expect such spectra to show values in terms of frequency along the horizontal axis, and power (or voltage) up the vertical axis. However here the scales are in degrees Kelvin and kilometers/sec!

This was because the main application for the receiver systems was to make observations of the mm-wave radiation from various interstellar molecules like CO (carbon monoxide), etc. These tend to radiate at specific frequencies. However when observing gas clouds in space we find that the gas may well be moving about. That Doppler-shifts the frequency of what the moving molecules transmit in our direction. When a gas cloud is swirling around, revolving, receding, etc, we will see the radiation from the cloud shifted and spread out in frequency. So for convenience, the frequency scale indicates the velocity along the line of sight that would cause radiation from a given molecular line to appear at a given frequency. This lets the astronomer read what they really wanted to know off the graph. Similarly, the sensitivity of the receiver is calibrated by having it look at reference sources of known temperature that emit thermal radiation. Hence the ‘power’ scale is in degrees Kelvin. Again, convenient for the astronomers wanting to use the system to gather astrophysical information. Using this sort of data they could check their theories about the dynamics and structure of molecular clouds.

The correlator was essentially a bespoke digital computation system that printed out its results having done the hard number-bashing in real time. However during the first Hawai’i trip only one (of the four) channels of this correlator was working as planned, and its output wasn’t directly relevant for all the things I needed to calibrate like the receiver + UKIRT’s antenna pattern, collection efficiency, etc. System B didn’t use the correlator. Instead it used system where the Local Oscillator frequency was swept and the system then recorded how the received power varied with LO frequency. In effect, this made the system a very fancy, high frequency, swept spectrum analyser of the kind many RF engineers would recognise. But much more complex and accurate than most in order to cope with the extreme demands of the situation.

As I did the above analysis, however, a number of competing thoughts and possibilities milled around inside my head. I’d been enjoying going out with various women I’d known at QMC. One in particular – Chris Adams – I was seeing often and visiting at her home. I’d come to care for her a great deal. And alongside my QMC mm-wave engineering, the project to bring a new set of Armstrong Hi-Fi equipment to market was something I’d continued to push forwards. Before the Hawai’i trip the main questions in my mind tended to be: Would the UKIRT project lead towards my getting further University employment and eventually a post as an academic? Would I eventually join with Chris, or one of the other people I’d come to care for and enjoy being with at QMC? Would the Armstrong 700 Series succeed and draw me back into a career in industry?

The trip to Hawai’i had added some unexpected new questions: I’d really enjoyed being with Mary Jane, so might that lead to a relationship? And given that what I’d been doing in mm-wave instrumentation seemed to be going well, might that eventually lead to possible jobs in the USA rather than the UK? This question was a significant one because I was very aware that I was only employed at QMC on a three-year contract. And the fate of UK University post-docs even then was to have to try and jump from one short contract to another in the hope that – eventually – you’d manage to grab a permanent position. The idea of working in the USA widened the scope for both experience and finding more chances of academic tenure! As a result I was unsure what to do next. But having got home I continued to think it over, and I also discussed it with Chris because that was my closest relationship.

I’d first encountered Chris when I was an undergraduate at QMC during the 1968-71 period. At that time she was a teaching lab technician who helped to run some of the lab courses I took. I wasn’t particularly aware of her at the time, but she later told me that her first reaction on seeing me was, “I wouldn’t want to have anything to do with him!” because I looked so awful. I was, back then, very overweight as well as being the usual spotty clueless teenager. When we first met her name was Chris Waigh. But in 1971 she married Steve Adams who was also a QMC Physics technician and her name duly changed. Hence records of the time will show her as being Christine Adams.

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Photo of RFH and South Bank taken from the old Hungerford foot bridge

Having returned to QMC in 1978 I’d started going out with Chris. This was a result of noticing a monthly list of ‘South Bank’ concerts at the Festival Hall, etc, sticking out of her labcoat pocket. At the time I was demonstrating the undergraduate lab course in electronics and she was the teaching technician, so we used to chat as we worked. I wasn’t aware then of all of the background I’ll describe, and simply knew her from working together in the teaching lab. We now disagree about which one of us first suggested we go to concerts together. She says it was her idea, I think it was mine. So we’ll compromise and agree it was her idea! Our relationship grew so gradually that, now, I can’t even recall exactly when I noticed that copy of the list of concerts. One of those small events that grow into what follows without any real indication at the time of any significance.

At this point she was living alone. Shortly after she and Steve had married Chris developed epilepsy and began having fits. This was unfortunate enough. But Steve wanted children... and he wasn’t willing to accept the possibility of their mother having epilepsy! So to – cut a long story short – he had moved out and started a relationship with someone else in the Physics dept. Divorce proceedings then began.

Steve was very reasonable in some respects. For example, he was quite happy to sign over the home Chris and he had been buying using a mortgage along with the contents without contesting anything in court. But clearly this was small comfort for her husband deserting her, the marriage ending, and having to endure knowing the reason he gave. All on top of finding that she now had epilepsy. As a result she was very unhappy and nervous of anyone else becoming too close to her. However as we continued to get to know each other the relationship slowly developed. We came to know and trust each other very well. By the time of the return from my first Hawai’i trip I was regularly visiting her home and we’d go out together quite often. The epilepsy didn’t really bother me. Just something to deal with like the weather.

This was the background when we discussed what I should do. I was thinking of taking a ‘grand tour’ of the USA. Partly to spend some more time with Mary Jane to see if a relationship with her flowered. But also to visit a few other people and places to sound out possible future jobs in America after my QMC contract on the UKIRT receivers ended. Should I go, or not? Chris’s view was that the only way for me to really find out was to go and see. So I decided to make the trip. During the period covering July to the end of August 1980 I worked on analysing the data we’d collected in Hawai’i and started organising the trip I’d make into the mainland of the USA to help me decide which path to take.

At the time the alternative was one both Chris and I were openly aware of. She could choose to ask me to stay, and that our relationship should eventually become a partnership, and then a marriage. She knew by then I’d be happy with that, but she was reluctant to take such a step and was still understandably wary from what had happened to her. She also didn’t want me to find I’d ignored other options if our relationship later cooled and ended, leaving me regretting discarded possibilities. At one point she’d said to me, “Do you want to see Mary Jane again and resolve the situation – or if you don’t, are you happy to dismiss the whole thing from your mind?”In the end we both thought it made more sense to go and find out rather than not go and risk regretting it later on.

Mary Jane lived in Hutchinson, Kansas. My original plan was to fly out to Kansas and spend some time there. Then hop back towards the UK via various locations. I’d phoned people in places like Kitt Peak Observatory and other research institutions that used mm-wave instrumentation to make some provisional arrangements to meet people and discuss their work and potential jobs. On the 3rd of September I also had an interview for a job in the Physics dept at QMC. This was, however, for a job as an electronic engineer to support research work, not as a researcher or academic. I was reasonably qualified for the job, but it wasn’t ideal for me. And in reality another applicant – Terry Pritchard – was a far better applicant. He’d worked on systems for the research groups there for many years. In fact he’d explained many practical points in electronics to me. So when he was eventually appointed I was neither surprised nor disappointed.

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Dave Adamson Karen Worgan

The evening before my flight there was a Physics dept barbecue that Carey had arranged to take place in the field – i.e. the disused Jewish Graveyard – to the east of the Physics building. The meat was the wrong kind to cook that way, so was a bit tough. But the rest of the food was good. I felt during the barbecue that Karen Worgan was, ahem, being monopolised a bit by Dave Adamson so decided to join the conversation. Obviously just to help her out. Just before I left the party Carey kissed me (entirely sisterly, of course) and wished me luck with my quest into the mysterious heartlands of the USA.

On the 5th September 1980 I boarded a Braniff 747 at London Gatwick. At the time Braniff was one of the airlines competing for transatlantic passengers. For me, their main advantages were that they were cheaper than the ‘flag carrier’ airlines like British Airways, and the flight would take me to Dallas / Fort Worth which was more convenient for my flights onward to Hutchinson than going via New York. At the time Braniff were known as the “Big Orange” because they painted their 747s entirely in a bright orange colour to make them stand out.

The take-off was delayed. After about half an hour sitting in the plane the Captain announced that the reason for the delays was that the British Museum was loaning some ancient cannons to a museum in Texas and they were having some problems loading them into the cargo bays! After about an hour’s delay the plane took off. It must have been unusual for a 747 to carry cannons. These days you might have trouble getting them past the airport security scanners! Having arrived I had to rush a bit to catch my connecting flight in a jet from Dallas to Wichita and arrive in Kansas. I then had to yet take another flight in a small plane from there to a small airfield outside Hutchinson, where I arrived at about 10:15pm, local time. I was met at the field by Mary Jane who drove us back into town. We’d arranged for me to stay with some of her friends, Jim and Jennifer Weaver who made me feel very welcome throughout my stay.

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Hutchinson Cosmosphere

On the Saturday (6th Sept) Mary Jane took me to the ‘Cosmodrome’ (Cosmosphere) where she worked. This had a planetarium and various displays and educational exhibits to help people learn about space, astronomy, etc. On Sunday the two of us went to the State Fair that was in Hutchinson at the time. We watched car races during the day. In the evening we walked around the stalls and stands and I bought a baseball cap. I had the words “London loves Kansas” printed on the front. A cap I tended to wear when I went cycling for many years afterwards.

The following Monday I spent some time just sitting in the Weaver’s back garden. I could hear the cicadas and wind in the trees. The sky was clear blue. It was also very hot and dry whilst I was in Hutchinson. Overall, I was very pleased I’d decided to come on the journey to discover places and people I’d otherwise have never have experienced or known.

During this period I tended to meet Mary Jane some of the time, and chat with Jennifer at other times. I also would sometimes simply take a walk around the town. This in itself was fascinating for me as it was so unlike the places I knew in London. As in some places in Hawai’i the residential streets often had no street lights or pavements (sidewalks) as it was taken for granted that no-one would be walking very far, or at night. Yet the place was clearly peaceful, relaxed, and friendly.

On the 11th I met Bill Mayfield who ran a Hi-Fi dealership in Hutchinson. I hadn’t brought any info on Armstrong because I wasn’t expecting this. But we discussed the possibility that if the Armstrong 700 series I was still developing was a success it might be possible to manufacture and sell a USA version from Hutchinson.

Having long since left Kansas a few isolated memories endure. One is the realisation that – as in Hawai’i – the TV and radio broadcasts gave almost no real coverage to events outside the USA. Indeed the local stations gave almost no real info on events even in other parts of the USA itself. Some of the people I met as I walked around seemed to have never even seen the sea, let alone travelled out of the USA or had a passport. In the middle of Kansas I was literally thousands of miles away from the oceans. And I guess that it was rare for anyone from outside the USA to visit Hutchinson. So the very idea of someone from ‘far away’ was a novelty. During one of my walks around town I decided to go into the local burger bar and buy something to eat. As I got close to the counter the man behind it asked, “Are you the Englishman who’s in town?” I said I was. He then promptly gave me a free chicken burger and seemed to think this made me a minor celebrity. Quite nice of him, but I’m not sure my visiting him would have helped his sales much!

I also recall drinking my first ‘Dr Pepper’ and quite enjoying it. At the time there was a heatwave in Kansas so the days were very hot and dry. Whereas the Dr Pepper was cold. In fact I think it was being chilled to well below 0 degrees Celsius and contained ingredients that allowed this to be done without freezing. In later years when I tried it in London it tasted awful. Like fizzy prune juice! I still don’t know if it was the weather in Kansas that made the difference, or if the actual formulations weren’t the same, or simply a by-product of my being excited by exploring Kansas!

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Mary Jane Butler Jennifer Weaver

During one day, Jennifer and I sat and discussed how to make tea. Being the USA the usual drink was, of course, coffee. She had one of the tins of tea that tended to be available abroad and was curious about what someone from England would think was the best way to make a decent cup of tea. Of course, like coffee, this depends on the type of tea, and your personal taste. But I remember discussing details like ensuring the teapot was hot, and that choosing thin-walled cups rather than mugs allowed the tea to stay hot once poured, and were nicer to drink from.

Another event was when I’d gone with Mary Jane to meet some of her friends during the day. There were about five or six of us in someone’s living room. A couple kept going out into the kitchen and then coming back in, sitting in front of the large fireplace, and smoking. After I while I twigged what might be happening and commented that it was interesting that the only people smoking were sitting in the fireplace. They were, I think, smoking marijuana. Although I can’t be sure because I’ve never tried it myself. On the couple of occasions I’ve tried to smoke just an ordinary cigarette I coughed myself inside out! So not something for me.

During my stay with the Weavers I’d used their basement as a place to sleep or relax. It’s worth reminding people reading this who live outside the USA that Kansas is an area that can suffer high winds, storms, and tornados. As a result many of the homes had a basement. From above the ground the house may simply look like a single-story wooden home. But, out of sight, it has a basement which can be as large as the house above. In the event of bad weather this can serve as a storm shelter. But more generally it provides more space. The Weaver’s home had such a basement with more than one room, and this was where I was given a bed and a place to be myself. There was also an adjacent ‘utilities room’ that had the washing machine, etc.

Having been shown the basement room and left to settle in I noticed a large bookcase. Since I tend to read a lot, this was a magnet so I investigated. To my amazement I found it held dozens and dozens of copies of old Science Fiction magazines! Mostly old issues of ‘Astounding Stories’ (which changed name to ‘Analog’ eventually) but also very early titles like ‘Air Wonder Stories’ which are pretty rare. I’ve always been a fan of what has been called “engineer fiction”. This is where the key element in a story is some kind of puzzle or problem that is founded on a detail of science or engineering and requires a ‘solution’ of some kind. In a sense it is a scientific parallel with ‘whodunnit’ crime stories. But in this case more a matter of ‘howtofixit’ than ‘whodunnit’!

I asked Jim about the magazines and he said they been given to him by someone. So I asked if I could buy some. Neither of us, though, knew what a fair price might be. I explained that I’d not want to buy the really early, rare, examples, as they were probably valuable, but I hadn’t a clue what the market price might be. However I did have an idea of the price – in the UK – of the old issues of Astounding magazine as I used to buy occasional copies from book dealers. (In those pre-internet days this was via getting sheets by post listing issues a dealer had for sale, and I’d then phone to buy books or magazines I wanted.) I then bought a couple of dozen issues that I knew I didn’t already own. I’d have bought many more except for the worry that I would then risk running into an excess baggage problem when flying home. So I came home with some unexpected copies of old SF magazines in my case. Strange coincidence.

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The street in Hutchinson where the Weavers lived

My contact with Mary Jane varied from day to day. Her feelings and wishes also seemed to keep changing unpredictably. Sometimes she, Jennifer, and I would talk about ourselves and various things would be discussed. As a result over some days she gradually talked about quite serious issues I won’t detail here, but which made it clear to Jennifer and myself that she hadn’t really decided who she was or wanted to be. And that some of the things she wanted for herself or was doing were incompatible, so she had choices to make. Not ones anyone else could decide for her, beyond being sympathetic and supportive. In the end I continued to feel for her and would have liked to help, but decided that she was unable at the time to really make up her own mind or commit to someone else because it would involve making choices which she didn’t then want to face. Given that I was, myself, visiting largely to help me clarify and resolve my own decisions, I wasn’t best placed to go further.

I flew out of Hutchinson to Boston, via Kansas City On Monday 22nd September. By then I had learned a great deal about Mary Jane and still cared about her, but it had become clear that she probably wasn’t going to be a permanent part of my life. In the end, I actually got on far better with Jennifer Weaver who, throughout my stay, showed what a kind and caring person she was.

Over the next few years I exchanged the occasional letter with Jennifer and we kept in touch. However, to my distress, in 1985 this contact was lost. Jennifer wrote to say she had split up with Jim as a result of finding he’d had another affair and she’d had enough of his behaviour. She gave me her new address. Unfortunately, she’d written to the London council flat where I’d lived. My mother still lived in the flat, but by then I’d married Chris and moved to Scotland. So the letter took a while to reach me. I planned to write back, but promptly lost her letter! I searched for it, desperately, with no success. Since I needed to know the new addresses she’d given in her letter I couldn’t write. Over the next few weeks and months I kept searching... but no letter. Eventually I decided it must have been thrown away by accident and stopped looking.

I finally found her letter about 20 years later when I moved a heavy chest of drawers to change around some of the furniture in a room. It had fallen down the back, out of sight. By then I felt it was too late to write, and I felt embarrassed by what had happened. So I just kept the letter along with others. However I have now (August 2017) tried writing to the last address she gave, just in case. I probably won’t ever hear any more about her or Mary Jane, but I hope they are both well, and deeply regret losing contact in such a foolish way.

From Boston I caught a connecting flight to Springfield. This was for me remarkable because it was my first trip on an East Coast ‘commuter’ flight. It was pretty much like being on a train. Walk-on, walk-off service consisting of a series of short ‘hop’ flights between airfields. And almost all the time, regardless of if the plane was climbing after a takeoff or descending to land, the stewardesses were moving up and down the isle selling drinks, etc, to the commuters who clearly did this every working day. Not something I’d ever experienced in the UK! And. I suspect, less likely to happen now in the USA given the increasing concerns for safety and terrorist acts.

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Pat Sollner The Sollner home

Gerry Sollner picked me up at Springfield airport. Gerry is the only person I’ve known who has more initials than myself! TCGLS. He had come to the UK with his wife, Pat, some years before to work for a while at QMC. I’d got to know them then. They had also visited the council flat where I’d lived with my parents and been fascinated by some of the stories told by my Father about his time in the British Army in the 1930s and as a child in and out of workhouses, or dodging rent-men, before the first world war. I also recall visiting Gerry and Pat in the flat they had in London and finding they kept milk on the widow-sill to keep it cool. A conversation that lead to how something similar in the USA in freezing weather could be used to, erm, enhance the potency of cider!

A minor difficulty in my travels at this point was that the airline had managed to lose one of my bags. Fortunately, this turned up the next day (23rd) whilst I was with Gerry at Amherst. During the same day he showed me around the Five Colleges Astronomy group and I got a chance to talk with various people about their work. A chat with Neil Ericson was particularly interesting discussing quasi-optics. I also phoned Brian Clifton (M.I.T Lincoln Labs) to arrange to meet him on Friday the 26th., and set a meeting with Richard Hugenin for Thursday morning to discuss possible jobs at Amherst.

Pat Sollner suggested that on Wednesday we should go for a walk and look around the area. Gerry and Pat’s home is set in its own large plot of forest with many maple trees. They make their own maple syrup. The views out of their windows were stunningly beautiful. The scenery was much more like England than Kansas. Indeed, the low population density and large forests, make me wonder if England was like that in past centuries. So I can see where the name ‘New England’ came from. Gerry and I ate lunch in a 10th floor canteen of one of the highest U. Mass buildings and were able to look out over the campus and town to the ‘Berkshire’ hills beyond. Quite a contrast with the ‘Gallery 273’ tea-room in the QMC Physics building which had a view of an ex-graveyard one side and a large building on the other.

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Another view of the Sollner home

Staying with Pat and Gerry was a really wonderful experience. In part because of the place, but mainly because they are both very warm and friendly people. So I’m embarrassed to report that at one stage I blotted my copybook. One day whilst there I took a shower. This had a curtain which was designed to catch the splashes and guide them safely, keeping the floor dry. However I’d become so amazed by the superb views of the trees and hills out of their windows that I found I’d not arranged these properly. As a result I finished, leaving some pools of water on the floor. I tried to mop some up, but didn’t do very well.

Where they were they were able to pick up an excellent Boston FM radio station that broadcast classical music concerts, etc. If I recall correctly it also carried various items from the BBC. This was good to hear, and a contrast with Kansas. However it did remind me of how much I appreciate the BBC’s output.

On the Thursday I spoke to Hugenin and also Paul Goldsmith and they seemed interested in the idea of my coming there. Three possible projects were discussed. An M.I.T. mm-wave receiver, a receiver for the Layton Dish in Chile, or developing new systems for the 150 - 300 GHz range. The next day I met Brian Clifton and he showed me some of what he was doing at Lincoln Labs. I then spent the evening and overnight at his home. During this we discussed some of the factors which differ between the UK and USA.

At one point we talked about the matter of health care – still it seems a challenging issue in the USA! His private health scheme was paid for via his employer and his feeling that this was actually much cheaper than the amount he’d have to pay in the UK via tax and National Insurance. However the real poser I then had in mind was... what happens when you develop some kind of serious enduring chronic condition, or grew old and infirm. I’d expect private-for-profit scheme charges then to either rise in cost or to have ‘small print’ exclusions. Difficult, particularly if you could no longer work or your employer wasn’t willing to pay. However I didn’t resolve these issues as I lacked detailed knowledge to do so. Having since spent 30+ years happily to someone who has epilepsy and found getting a job difficult because of that, I wonder how we’d have paid for that in the USA...

Another recollection I have of the trip is being in a bus driven though the countryside. The leaves on the trees were beginning to change colour and gave me a hint of what the peak of fall in New England would be like. I don’t know if what I saw was influenced by the same weather that had produced a heatwave in Kansas when I’d been there! Nor am I sure exactly when the bus ride took place, but I think it was when I was on the way to the airport to leave.

On the 26th/27th I flew from Boston home to London again. By then I’d largely decided that it wasn’t likely that Mary Jane and myself would ever get together. Although I still liked her I’d come to feel that she had her own problems that she’d have to resolve and I wouldn’t be a part of that. However I had really enjoyed getting to know Jennifer. And getting a taste of what it might be like to live and work in places as diverse as Hutchinson and New England. Overall, though, the experience had crystallised a feeling that the USA probably wasn’t for me. I suspected I’d miss too many old-fashioned British things and relationships I value, including the BBC and the NHS. Even now, I remain addicted to Radio 3 and 4 via the highest quality BBC iPlayer streams!

During the following month or so I did get some job offers from people I’d met during the latter part of the trip. In terms of a professional career, they were very attractive. But by then I’d decided to remain in the UK. In the end, I was very glad to have made the trip. It helped me to make my own decisions with a clearer mind. But I really regret that I never saw Jennifer again, and lost contact. I also would love to know how Mary Jane got on and who she became when she decided which path to take. I hope they both did well and were happy.

5500 Words
Jim Lesurf 
5th Aug 2017

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