|Author's note: I feel
exceptionally well qualified to act as Father's biographer; we were
very closely associated in a number of ventures during practically all
of Father's life: Oarsman;
Mill Operator; Pater
Artist; Sculptor; Author; Poet; Musician;
|OARSMAN: Very early in my life, I came to know
Father as a famed
athlete. I was very young when I first learned to read, and my
favorite "textbook" was four fat scrapbooks of Father's, full of
newspaper clippings of events that had interested him: college
football, club track and field events, professional boxing, and, of
course, rowing. There were many pictures and descriptions of
races between college crews: Harvard, Penn, Cornell, Wisconsin, and
Father, tall and slender and tough-looking,
along with the rest of the Yale
frequently given special attention; he had been chosen, as a freshman,
to row stroke on the varsity crew ... a position usually filled by a
seasoned veteran oarsman ... but by a Freshman ? Never.
|In the last
quarter of the 19th Century, the heroes of sports were champion boxers,
bicycle riders, runners, and oarsmen. Father,
rowing on an extra
good Yale crew and singled out for attention for his selection as a
Freshman stroke, got a full share of publicity.
growing-up years at home, some of Father's famous athletic friends
would drop by to see him, so I got to meet several of his crewmates and
some of the legendary footballers of the period: Ross Hickok, Orville
Heffelfinger, and Amos Alonzo Stagg,
later to be a
long-time football coach at the University of Chicago.
|It didn't strike
me as unusual when Father took up golf. He could do practically
anything he wanted with his good right arm. The loss of his left
arm made him develop a roundhouse golf swing, and he was the longest
and also the wildest off the tee at the Joliet
Country Club, where he
earned a twelve handicap.
|Years later, on
visits to St. Paul, he rowed a few times in a pick-up crew, just to see
if he could row with one arm and for old times' sake.
when I was very young, I was familiar with Father's reputation as a
scientist, not only because of his active scientific ventures, but also
because in Joliet he was viewed as a sort of resident scientist, and
whenever an event occured involving any kind of science, the
newspapermen would come to Father for explanation.
|Father also had many visits from scientists in various special natural science fields; men from Yale, Harvard, the Universities of Chicago and Illinois, and from the big museums. They would discuss their specialties with Father, and I would listen with both ears, comprehending very little of it at the time, although some of it eventually rubbed off on me.
OPERATOR: Father's job with the McKenna Company was a hard
demanding one. He spoke freely about operations problems, and
when I was only about six years old, he would take me on occasional
Sundays to the mill to see what was going on. I didn't understand
what the problems were, but I was very much aware that they were
and hard to deal with.
FAMILIAS: Our family life revolved around Father. In my
early childhood I viewed him as a combination of athlete, scientist,
steel mill operator and general advisor.
|He was always
available to anyone: Mother's artist and club women friends, visiting
family members, scientists, newspaper people, and very much to my
sister and me and our friends.
|PERSONALITY: Endowed with superior intellect, he never let it overpower people; he never talked down to them. Father had a modest, unaffected personality, a natural charm that inspired the affection of his friends, men and women alike. Most of the memorials that I have saved speak of this quality. He was a truly lovable man. The Unmack boys - Al, Fred and Henry - and I treated a two-mile square area as our personal domain. We knew every square foot of it, where each bird type nested, where the animal burrows were, where Indian relics were to be found, all the geographical twists and turns of our Sugar Creek. We found all sorts of interesting things, and we constantly asked Father for answers. We got straight-out answers, often full of scientific words that needed explanation; and so we learned.
LIFE: Despite all of his scientific and mill-business
Father led a far from anti-social life.
|In our living
room at home, he and Mother had evolved a geographical setup that
worked out just fine. This room was unusually large; in the
center was a social area in front of the fireplace, with two large
davenports at right angles to the fireplace wall forming an area about
twelve by sixteen feet. This is where Mother gave bridge parties
and received guests. At the south end [nearer
the front of the
house - George, III], behind one
davenport, was my sister's baby grand
piano and Mother's writing desk. The north end of the room,
behind the other davenport, was Father's workplace. He had a
bookcase, two tables and a large worktable. Father could write or
work mending clay pots, repairing Indian skulls, and still see over the
davenports and engage in the general conversation, or take a hand of
bridge, or whatever. Visitors were always welcome to come back of
the davenport and chat with Father as well as see what he was doing,
and Father treated these visits as welcome diversions and not
|Father was well
content to have Mother handle the social side of their life
together. She loved to give dinner parties and bridge
parties. They went to dances and out with their friends.
Mother had a special talent for making their home an hospitable place
to visit. She was the ideal hostess, and she and Father made a
much sought-after couple.
In 1887 at age eleven, Father collected marine fossils in the
outcroppings on the banks of the Mississippi River at St. Paul,
Minnesota. Aided by his father and grandfather, he learned
they were, their scientific names, and their geological history.
Not long after, he collected fossil fishes in a small, specialized
Wisconsin quarry. By the time he entered the Sheffield Scientific
School, the Engineering part of Yale University, he had acquired more
knowledge of paleontology than Yale offered in the first two years of
for registration in the course taught by Professor O.C.
Marsh, then regarded
as one of the top men in the field of Paleontology. But the rules
of the university required formal completion of its first two years,
and Father felt that he was not entitled to divert that quantity of
credit hours from his three-year Engineering course. The
university even denied him the privilege of auditing Professor Marsh's
advanced course. As the result, Father never had any actual,
formal training in Paleontology. This did not weaken Father's
interest in the slightest.
|In 1898 after
receiving his degree in Mechanical Engineering, Father moved to Joliet,
Illinois, to take his first job, as an engineer for the McKenna Process
Company, which reprocessed worn railway rails for the railroad
industry. The Joliet and Lemont limestone quarries were noted for
their extra well preserved marine fossils: crenoids, trilobites and
many other species, and Father amassed many superb specimens.
|In 1904 while
Father was in England, monitoring the construction and initial
operation of another McKenna rolling mill, he used odd moments to study
the huge British
Museum fossil collection and also to collect marine
fossils and coal plant fossils, specimens small enough to take back
with him to America.
business trips took Father near a collecting site, he would resume
collecting. He built up a very large collection of fossil shark
teeth from Plum Point
on the Eastern Shore of Chesapeake Bay, which was widely
admired by his museum friends.
bought small sized fossils from Charles Sternberg,
fossil hunter from the Wyoming Badlands. And Father had an
arrangement with some of his scientific friends to trade his shark
teeth for their surplus fossil items. As Father had no space
available to exhibit large specimens, he concentrated on small sized
fossils, which he kept in spool cases wangled from department stores
still have one of these J.&P. Coats cases, albeit filled with
mineral specimens of
George, Sr.'s - George, III].
|In 1907 Father
bought from Charles Sternberg a slab of chalk from the Wyoming
Badlands, three feet by four feet by four inches thick, that Sternberg
felt held the pieces of a lizard-like skull, possibly an entire
skull. Father set this slab up on a sort of easel in the small
barn behind our home on Union Street in Joliet. Although he had
lost his left arm in a rolling mill accident in 1900, Father used his
right hand very skillfully. Chipping the chalk away, he soon
uncovered piece after piece of a skull and lower jaw. In areas
where we could do no damage, I and one of my playmates were allowed
also to chip away the chalk. I can't remember how long it took,
but eventually Father assembled the lower jaw and skull into what is
known as an "open mount," that is, unsupported by its chalk
matrix. This specimen, Clidastes Tortor,
is still on exhibition at
the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. This display
brought Father his first real recognition as a serious Paleontologist.
|In June, 1911,
Father was near Minooka,
Illinois, looking for Indian relic collecting
sites and, remembering John
Bamford's 1902 discovery of mastodons,
drove over to see him and ask what had happened to the excavated
bones. Bamford was still living then and told Father how he had
found the deposit while digging a surface well to water his
livestock. He had felt that they were valuable, but the price he
wanted was more than the Field Museum and the American Museum of
Natural History were willing to pay. Bamford continued work on
his well, stacking the bones on the nearby ground, where they lay for
over a year, exposed to the weather. Then he moved them to one of
his old barns, where they were still piled when Father talked with
|Father felt that
the site was well worth exploring for more animal remains and for
possibly associated human bones. He interested the American
Museum of Natural History, and they secured the right to make such an
excavation. But the territory to be explored was so large, the
depth of excavation in marshy soil so great, and the probable cost so
large, that the Museum decided not to undertake the project, to
Father's great regret.
|But the bones
were still there in Bamford's barn, and Father felt that they should be
protected and preserved. Bamford was agreeable to their removal,
and so Father bought them for a nominal sum, about $150, as I remember.
|Father owned a
Hudson two-seater with no means for carrying freight. He and one
of his mechanics rigged a six-foot-high chicken wire enclosure around
the rear of the car and made several trips lugging bone and mastodon
tusks and crates full of bison and elk and other animals from Minooka
to his home in Joliet. I made at least two of these trips with
them up in the third floor of the house, taking over Mother's studio,
while he patched and protected the bones and tusks. There were
fourteen identifiable mastodon skulls, some small tusks, and one tusk
that was nine feet tall. All these animal bones eventually found
their way to Chicago's Field Museum.
|The Bamford site
still remained unexplored in 1986. It lay just above glacial
gravel, and the museum people estimated its age at about ten thousand
years. For years, a prized posession on the wall of my bedroom in
Joliet was the skull of an extinct bison, much larger than the modern
outgrew his interest in Paleontology. His last collecting occured
in 1945, when he and Mother were returning through South Dakota from a
nostalgic trip to Yellowstone Park. Driving along a little-used
road, he noticed a patch of exposed bare ground by the edge of the
road. There, on the surface of the Pierre Shale,
was the almost
complete skull of a large fish. Near it were the toothed jaws of
a small flying reptile, an immediate ancestor of modern birds.
Father brought the specimens back to the Field Museum to add to their
the Summer of 1892, Father read in his grandfather's library a report
by Squire and Davis, two professional archaeologists, who had done
exploration of one of the large effigy mounds on
the farm of a Mr.
mounds are common all over the central states and usually contained, in
addition to the burials themselves, the arrowheads and axes and
the like, usually found on the surface. But these Hopewell Farm
burials were totally different; with them were artistic items made from
shell and sheets of mica, copper items, ornaments made from river
pearls, carved bear teeth, obsidian spear heads, and shells from as far
away as the Gulf of Mexico.
|Squire and Davis
felt that these mounds had been made by Indians more advanced than the
modern Indians of the last few hundred years and gave them the name,
sveral of his young friends went by train to Lake Pokegama in
Minnesota and camped on the shores of the lake. Two Chippewa men
visited their camp, said they had no knowledge of any mounds, but said
there was a cemetary across the lake. As a lark, the boys rowed
across the lake, selected what looked like two small mounds, and dug.
|Two feet down in
the soft sand, they found two skeletons and expected to find strange
and valuable relics. What they did find was an iron cooking pot,
some china dishes, some traces of cloth, and two pennies with
post-Civil-War dates. Disillusioned and conscience-stricken, they
filled in the graves, rowed back to their camp, packed up, and caught
the morning 6:30 train back to St. Paul.
|Very soon after,
a lawyer located Father and, assuming him to be the ring-leader,
threatened trouble if he didn't make restitution. Grandfather
Robertson got Father a lawyer, and the two lawyers worked out an
agreement, that the honor of the Chippewa would be restored by the
payment of $25.00, which Father paid.
|Later in 1892,
Father read a newspaper article about a party of archaeologists
exploring the Hopewell mounds and planning to exhibit their finds at
the Chicago World's Fair.
K. Moorehead of the Philips-Exeter School, the professional
archaeologist in charge, took a remarkable collection of showy
specimens to the World's Fair, and in 1893 Father spent time there,
mainly to see their exhibit.
|Father went off
to Yale in 1894 and, after graduating in the 1897
Sheffield Class, went
to work in Joliet, Illinois, for the McKenna Company. He learned
that there were two very large Indian mounds fifteen miles from Joliet,
but he was just starting his first job as a cub engineer and had no
time available for his hobby interests. He was made an understudy
for the Joliet plant superintendent, was sent to Kansas City, Kansas,
to build and put into operation a second McKenna rolling mill, met,
wooed and became engaged to Mother in 1899, lost his left arm in a mill
accident in Joliet in 1900, married Mother in 1900, fathered me in
1901, then my sister in 1903, and moved his whole family to Liverpool,
England, for the years 1904 and 1905, where he monitored the
construction of yet another rolling mill for the McKenna Company.
|Back in Joliet
in 1906, Howard Calmer persuaded Father to drive with him on a sunny
Thanksgiving morning in his one-cylinder Cadillac the sixteen miles to Dan
Fisher's farm to see the two big mounds. The mounds were
pockmarked with scars from small excavations, and they were not
equipped to tackle such a big job. Instead, they selected one of
the smaller mounds and dug. About two feet down, they came upon
two skeletons and many relics. There were steel knives, a small
mirror, and many objects of German Silver: small broaches, bracelets,
arm-bands, a crescent-shaped gorget, and a large silver cross, all
obviously post-European. It started to snow hard, so they hastily
filled in the hole and drove back to Joliet.
|In the Spring of
1907, Father and Mr. Calmer again drove to the Fisher mounds,
planning to dig deeper in their earlier excavation. They found
that unauthorized poachers had beaten them to it and found that they
had unearthed a great many more silver items, some glass beads, and
glass and ceramic articles, all of post-European origin.
and Mr. Calmer decided to try again. They shovelled out all the
disturbed dirt from their two earlier excavations, dug down to the
underlying gravel, and then about two feet into the gravel.
Father, ever alert to the possibility of multi-layered burials, noted
that the skulls in the upper layer were "round-heads," while those deep
in the gravel were "long heads."
|In 1912, Father
recruited two big, healthy men from McKenna, and they explored another
small mound, digging two, four-foot holes several feet apart.
They again found "round head" skeletons in the upper layers and
"long-heads" in the lower layers, clearly a stratified mound, something
not yet known in Illinois.
really fired Father up; he felt that if he had found two small
stratified mounds, perhaps the two large mounds might also be
stratified. He felt that the proper thing to do was for trained
professional archaeologists to excavate them. So he made contact
with the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois.
|After repeated efforts to convince these universities of the potential importance of his discovery and failing to arouse their interest, he told them that, as long as they declined to excavate the two big mounds, he would do it himself. The university officials begged off and wished Father good luck.
|During the years
of World War I, the McKenna rail rerolling mill was busy night and day;
there was never any time to continue exploring the two big Fisher
mounds. But Father was interested in whether a "refuse heap" site
several miles away from the Fisher mounds might be linked to
them. The "refuse heap" site had been known for many years to
arrowhead collectors, who could always be assured of finding quantities
of small, triangular, finely chipped arrowheads known locally as "bird
points." I had collected them with Father ever since I was five
years old, and I had about two hundred of them.
trips to this "refuse heap" site, Father had never found human bones or
any evidence that it had been a permanently lived-in site. All
the bones and teeth were those of animals and fishes. There was
only one variety of thin-walled, rather poor pottery. Father
discovered no link to the Fisher site. Instead, he concluded that
the "refuse heap" site was simply a nomadic Indian hunting campsite.
recognition as a serious archaeologist came when "The American
Anthropologist," in its July-September issue, published Father's
Kankakee River Refuse Heap, Evidence of a Primitive
Culture in the Southwest Chicago Area."
[Tinnik] and Tom made occasional quickie scouting trips to the Fisher
site. It had always been farmed, but in 1922 heavy equipment had
been used for the first time. A second heavy plowing in 1923 had
almost obliterated traces of the small mounds and the large pits.
And worst of all, the Congress Construction Company of Chicago had
bought the site, was already excavating gravel at the west edge, and
they planned to continue across the mound site.
|This was too
much for Father. Foreseeing the destruction of the two big
mounds, he decided to excavate systematically both of the two big
mounds. I was at first away at college and then doing a great
deal of travelling on my first job as an engineer for the Belden
Corporation of Chicago, so I rarely had the opportunity
to do actual digging. But Father, Albert and Tom kept steadily at
it, proving, hole after hole, that both mounds contained stratified
days of digging, the discovery of 300 burials, eighty pots, and
considerable weapons and tools, Father decided that it was high time
that he report his findings. So, in its July-September,
1927, issue, "The American Anthropologist" published Father's
55-page article, "The Fisher
Mound Group, Successive Aboriginal
Occupations Near the Mouth of the Illinois River."
contained maps of the burials in the two big mounds, photographs of the
mounds, some of the burials, tools, weapons, skulls, and even the
diggers themselves. The article established two things: first,
that mounds had been discovered in Illinois containing stratified
Indian burials of two different racial types, and more importantly to
Father, it had established him as a qualified archaeologist, not just
an "interested grave-robber."
|In March, 1928,
Father published another article in the "Journal of the Illinois
of Science," again reporting the burial stratification of the two big
Fisher mounds: "Short" or "Round Heads" in the upper layer, "Long
Heads" in the lower layer.
|Some of the
professional anthropologists and archaeologists became interested and
visited the site. Dr.
Fay-Cooper Cole of the Anthropolgy
Department of the University of Chcago requested and reveived
permission for a group of his graduate students to excavate at the
Fisher site under Father's watchful eye. Following their
super-careful technique, they excavated one small mound and then some
lodge pits, which by that time had almost been obliterated by the
intensive farming cultivation. This was a happy period for
Father; he made many life-long friends among the attractive group of
|In 1929, when
Father, as he put it, was "ejected" from the Fisher site, he undertook
an excavation on the Adler
site, near the outskirts of Joliet, which
consisted of one large mound and several small ones. He and
Albert Tennik were joined by several University of Chicago
people. Their findings were totally different from those at the
Fisher site and led to speculation, never resolved, that the Adler
mounds were in some way related to the Hopewell culture.
Cole and Father developed both a scientific and a personal rapport
through their common interests during these years. By this time,
Father had filled shelves in Mother's third-floor studio with row after
row of toothfully grinning skulls, mended pots, and the like, and she
and Father both felt that it was high time a permanent home be found
for the whole collection. Dr. Cole wanted them for the University
of Chicago, and Father wanted them preserved somewhere near the Fisher
site, so it appeared to be an ideal arrangement. The Department
of Anthropolgy people transferrred it all to Chicago, pleasing Father
very much. The gift resulted in Father being appointed "Research
Associate" by the University of Chicago, and Dr. Cole kept Father
up to date on
his exploration plans.
|In 1930, Dr.
Cole invited Father to join his excavating project in the Jay Morton
mounds in Putnam County, Illinois, and Father spent a couple of
there observing. The university team spent too much time and
effort in cautious, centimeter by centimeter layer digging and record
keeping and too little time in actual dicovery, for Father's
taste. The scientists had found nothing in ten days of work, so
Father secured permission to make a small excavation of his own.
In half an hour, he found a fine clay pot and some implements.
Father's modus operandi was to dig down rapidly in the upper,
non-productive layers and then very carefully as he approached the
burials, the total opposite of the "scientific" technique.
Fortunately, each camp was tolerant of the other's methods.
apparent to Father that Dr. Cole was in the business of Anthropology
and had to protect and enhance the scientific aspects, while Father was
no longer planning any research on his own, so, in a sense, their ways
parted, even though their personal rapport continued.
Father received word that Don
Dickson was excavating a large mound on
his farm near Lewiston, Illinois, and wanted Father to come down to
it. So I drove Father to see what it was all about. Don
Dickson had eracted a roofed structure to protect the mound and his
excavation and had left all burials in situ, protecting them by glass
plates so they could still be seen. He had built a walkway around
the walls of the building so that visitors could see everything that he
had found. At that time he had exposed 190 burials, with many
pots and artifacts. To Don Dickson's disappointment, there was no
evidence of stratified Indian races.
|This, as I
recall it, was Father's last visit of any kind to mound exploration,
although as the Joliet expert in such matters, Father was often
consulted by the local nespapers when any digs were reported.
|About this time,
the University of Chicago and Dr. Warren Moorehead engaged in what they
called a "reconnaisance" of Indian Culture in Illinois. Its
original purpose is obscure, but the outcome was a vigorous effort by
Dr. Moorehead to have the state government protect "Monk's
famous huge Indian mound of Cahokia, near St. Louis, Illinois.
The State had theoretically protected it by creating a state park
around it but had allowed concessionnaires to create what amounted to a
Coney Island around it. Dr. Moorehead strove to have a very large
protected area created, about 7,000 acres, to protect both the mound
itself and the village areas surrounding it, which he felt apeared to
be a more advanced culture, similar to what he had found at the
Hopewell mounds in Ohio. He failed in his attempts, and the Cahokia
Mound area still looks like a big country fair.
known collecting activities in the Fisher mounds had aroused a
much-delayed bit of research that revived his memories and really
|When Father was
excavating and came upon animal bones and teeth, he saved them,
interested in what the hunters brought back for food and other
uses. Most excavators simply discarded this sort of
material. But [the late] Paul W.
Parmalee [formerly] of the Illinois State Museum,
learned that all these animal remains from the Fisher mound site had
been preserved in the big collection that Father had given to the
University of Chicago back in 1930. He secured permission from
the University of Chicago to study this material, and he published his
findings in the "American Midland Naturalist" issue of October, 1962,
Faunal Complex of the Fisher Site, Illinois." [See also this PDF of
another Parmelee article - George, III]
identified 16 species of freshwater mussels, 10 of fish, one amphibian,
10 reptiles, 38 birds, and 22 species of mammals. He noted many
interesting facts: the largest single species was the white-tailed
deer; there were almost as many mussel shells; an unexpectedly high
count of snakes; a wide variety of turtles and waterfowl; another
unexpectedly high count of hawk and eagle species; and one lone bison
bone. Deer meat was obviously the standard food item; the mussels
were used both for food and for conversion to implements and
decorations; hawks and eagles, probably for their feathers; the bison
was one of the last of his kind East of the Mississippi. But, why
snakes ? Maybe: only in hard times.
|Note added by George, III: see also the recent work of Michael Strezewski, "Prehistoric Warfare at the Fisher Site, Will County, Illinois," describing his analysis of George, Sr.'s notes and materials.
|Dr. Cole led a
group of professional anthropologists in a project to identify tribes
of pre-European Indians by their degree of progress in the art of flint
chipping, their use of bone, antler and shell, their skill in the
mixing of clay for pots, the making of the pots themselves and the
decoration of the pots, and in their use of copper and mica. Dr.
Cole asked Father to participate, but Father felt he could not add much
to their data. Besides, Father was then Curator of Fossil Plants
the Field Museum.
died in 1964, he was pleased when the State of Illinois made the Dickson
Mound area a state park and appointed Don Dickson Curator of
the Dickson Mounds.
Father's Grandfather Robertson had acquired a few Mazon
plant nodules in the 1890's, and Father saw a lot of them at the
British Museum in 1904. So in 1907 he took me on a "search and
collect" trip to this long-known site. We went by horse and buggy
from our home to the railway depot in Downtown Joliet, then on a
Chicago & Alton Railway local to Morris, Illinois, then by rented
horse and buggy to a spot near the creek. A farmer showed us
where other people had collected, said that he "didn't see any fun in
it," and left us. Wearing only a pair of shorts, I waded in
waist-high water, feeling the nodules in the soft mud with my
toes. I would bring Father a pail-full at a time, and he would
crack them open on the riverbank, saving only the nice ones. It
was a hot day, and the farmer came back with a cantaloup, "to cool us
off." Then, back home to Joliet. We may have made more than
one trip like this; I can't remember.
|For many years,
Father's time was fully occupied managing and operating the three rail
rerolling mills of the McKenna Process Company and, in spare moments
and, on holidays, excavating the Indian burial mounds on the Fisher
southwest of Joliet.
|In 1937, we
learned that the strip
mine spoil heaps contained nodules just like the
Mazon Creek nodules, and our dentist-naturalist guided us to where they
were being found. At this spot, they were scattered by the
hundreds all over the ground, but they were all of one species, so we
spent about half of our time looking for other, more interesting
sites. We were very successful and found a very wide variety of
leaves and bark and a few animal specimens.
|We didn't know what any of them were. So Father, using his appointment as "Research Assistant in Anthropology," found from Dr. Cole of the University of Chicago Department of Anthropology, that a Dr. A.C. Noe, considered the top man in paleobotany, was Professor of Paleobotany at the university and arranged a meeting at the university to have him look at the specimens and tell us what they were.
|We put four
piles of cracked-open nodules in Father's car, each specimen carefull
protected by wrappings of Saturday Evening Post pages, and showed them
to Dr. Noe. Dr. Noe nearly exploded. These were the
finest specimens he had ever seen, and he brought out all his graduate
student class to share in the excitement. As fast as he would
identify a specimen, I would write the name down on the wrapping.
|But, time after time, he would say, "This is new to science," and, "I believe this is new," and persuaded Father to leave them with him so he could take a more careful look. Dr. Noe was awfully nice to us; he persuaded Father to bring him a load of specimens on a routine weekly basis, and we did this most of that Summer. He always returned the new-species specimens to us. and Father carefully preserved them as "type" specimens, valuable to science as being the first of their species ever found, and Father gave Dr. Noe a great many particularly fine or showy specimens of the already-identified species. This was really a fine period for both Father and Dr. Noe, but it lasted only the two years until Dr. Noe's death.
|Father and I
made many collecting trips to the strip mines during the periods when
the McKenna rerolling mill was awaiting orders. We would fill
five-gallon pails and leather postman's bags with nodules, bring them
back to Joliet, and crack them open in the rear driveway at home.
But only about one in twenty-five or so was worth keeping. The
big percentage was of poor specimens, copralites (fish dung) or
blanks. So we changed this highly inefficient modus operandi to
another system that served far better.
only his right arm, hung two leather bags from his neck, cracked open
nodules as he found them, wrapped the fine ones in Saturday Evening
Post leaves, and continued until both bags were full. I, with two
arms, followed the same procedure, but filled two, five-gallon pails at
a time. Then we would carry our finds to where we had parked our
car and drive them back to the McKenna office, where Father would wash
and identify them. This style of collecting was hard, physical
work. We parked the car as close as we could to a collecting
site, but we often had to walk between half a mile and a full mile each
way. Father's bags weighed about 35 pounds each, and my two
pails, about 60 pounds each. After they were filled, we would
start walking towards the car, stopping each time my fingers got so
tired that I couldn't carry the weight. And all this, not on
level, clean ground, but over steep, pebble-strewn clay hills and
valleys, through marshy spots, and in, through, and out of drainage
ditches. We got pretty tough, physically, and we found thousands
of specimens. After about 80 trips, Father did a little counting
and computing and came up with a total of 250 thousand nodules that we
eventually cracked open.
|We were the
first serious collectors, and we really skimmed the cream, so to speak,
from the spoil heaps. But more and more collectors were attracted
to the site, and they, too, found fine specimens and new species.
were piling up, and Father started sorting them into collections.
He had no intention of keeping a personal collection; he hadn't the
space for one, and he felt that these things belonged in museums.
He built up one especially large and fine collection and negotiated its
sale to the Illinois State Museum, where it became the subject of Raymond
E. Janssen's publication by the museum in 1940, entitled, "Some
Fossil Plant Types of Illinois." Janssen had been one
Dr. Noe's students back in 1937 and was always a good friend of
|In addition to
Father's deep interest in the scientific aspect of our collecting, we
both had a very personal interest. We were making collections,
selling them, and crediting the proceeds to McKenna as we struggled to
keep that dying mill from going under. Father assembled
collections of about 125 fine specimens each, which we offered for sale
to colleges and museums. As I recall, there were about 12 or 15
of these collections.
|Father also kept
building and improving a very large collection of type specimens,
specimens new to science, and exceptionally handsome or showy specimens.
1938-1941 period, the McKenna Company was forced out of business, and
Father and I spent full time salvaging all we could to stay financially
alive. The decision was finally made by the trustees to turn in
the company's charter and liquidate the company's equipment, land and
anything else of value. Father stayed on to complete the
liquidation, and I left to seek another job.
|I had left
Belden in 1929 in good standing, they had an engineering job opening,
and so I commenced my second Belden career.
super-collection now filled an entire floor of McKenna's office
building. Father tried to get the Field Museum or the Illinois
State Museum to buy it, but money was tight, and eventually Father
donated this big collection to the Field Museum. Father then sold
his Joliet home and surplus furniture, and he and Mother moved into an
apartment at 1726 North LaSalle Street in Chicago, across the street
from Lincon Park.
|Without a job to
keep him busy, and with the fruits of his hobbies of paleontology,
archaeology and paleobotany all safely installed in museums, Father had
time on his hands. So, in 1947, Father requested and received
permission to curate his former fossil plant collection as a
volunteer. This proved mutually satisfactory, and in 1950 Father
was appointed Curator
of Fossil Plants at Chicago's Field Museum of
|At the museum,
Father was attracted to the fossil plant deposits in the southern
states by articles by E.W.
Berry in several U.S. Geological Survey
reports. So, in 1951, he and Eugene
S. Richardson organized four
collecting trips in Tennessee and Mississippi, followed by two more
trips with Dr. R.H. Whitfield.
occur in the beige-colored clay used commercially for flower pots,
kitchen ware and the like. They are cut out in large chunks of
clay with a mattock, and then each specimen is carved out in nodule
form with a jacknife. Back at the museum, the nodules are further
trimmed more closely to the leaf itself. The surfaces dry out
very quickly and must be protected before they become dust and blow
away. Father modified the "developing" technique he had invented
for preserving the Mazon Creek leaf forms, brushing on a dilute dextrin
mixture that hardened the whole surface of the nodule, preserving and
darkening the leaf impression.
earliest and most successful trip, they found such a tonnage of soft
clay fossil-bearing chunks that they had to hire a big truck to take
them back to Chicago. On subsequent trips, they took the museum's
truck, collected until the truck was fully loaded, and then drove back
north. This large, handsome collection is now on exhibit at the
had followed us at the strip mines and were acquiring fine specimens,
but they didn't know what they were. Expensive scientific books
had been published and were available at scientific libraries, but
these books were both figuratively and financially out of reach of the
average, local collector. A group of collectors belonging to the Earth Science Club of Northern
Illinois (ESCONI) often visited Father's
office at the Field Museum, and the idea of a "field guide to fossil
plants," similar to Roger Tory Peterson's "Field Guide to the Birds"
was born. ESCONI offered to bear the publishing expense, the
museum was agreeable to the venture, and Father went to work.
|In June, 1958,
ESCONI published Father's first book on fossil plants, "The
Coal Flora from a Pennsylvanian Deposit in Will County,
Illinois." This book was a success, filling the need for
was designed, and so ESCONI increased their association with the Field
Museum and with Father.
to make collecting trips with Gene Richardson of the Field Museum and
with his fellow collector, Dr. Whitfield. They kept finding new
species and rare specimens, and the material for a second book was
|So, in June
1963, ESCONI, again with the approval of the museum, published Father's
second fossil plant book, "The
Wilmington Coal Fauna and Additions to
the Wilmington Coal Flora from a Pennsylvanian Deposit in Will County,
Illinois." This second book was also a financial
Father continued to collect occasionally, ESCONI continued their
association, and other collectors began to send their collections to
the museum. Material built up for a third book, and again ESCONI
offered to publish it.
|Father prepared a third manuscript. The ESCONI people phoned me and asked if I would pick up the completed manuscript and bring it to them at Downers Grove, Illinois. I was stopped on my way to Father's office and was told I was to attend a meeting. The museum director, his assistant, and the head of the department of Paleontology told me immediately that the museum had withdrawn its approval and that Father's third book could not be published by ESCONI.
? That Father was not a "scientist," that he had no formal record
of university credit in paleontology. I asked whether two years
of work with Dr. Noe, then the acknowledged authority on paleobotany,
did not qualify Father as a scientist. They answered that Father
had not enrolled in his classes. They volunteered that if Father
had only be allowed to audition one course in paleontology at Yale, he
could have been accepted as a "scientist." I could hardly believe
my ears. I brought up the fact that, since Dr. Noe's death,
Father's collecting, preserving, describing and naming ten thousand
varieties of species had made Father the top man in paleobotany.
Their answer still was, "He is not a scientist."
|I reminded them,
rather tactlessly, that by elevating Father to their elite group of
Curators, they had tacitly admitted him to scientist status, but that
fell on deaf ears. They repeated that they had withdrawn their
approval for ESCONI to publish this third book, that I was to deliver
it to ESCONI, and that I was to tell Father of their decision. I
told them that I would not tell Father of their cruel decision, even if
they didn't have the guts to do it themselves. They dismissed me,
and I delivered the completed manuscript to the ESCONI men.
|ESCONI felt that
the museum people were unreasonable, but ESCONI did not want to publish
it without some sort of consent from the museum. They continued
their efforts with the museum. A long, acrimonious and eventually
bitter controversy then ensued between the museum "scientists" on the
one side and Father and ESCONI on the other. I was not privvy to
this long-continuing controversy, and I know, first-hand, only a little
of what went on. First, the museum stipulated that all fauna
material be extirpated, then that all fauna references in Father's Book
Two be disclaimed, then that all species actually named by Father be
deleted, and finally that all the material on the flora had to be
reviewed and done over by a paleobotany "scientist."
|To make a long
story short, the museum had by then so badly emasculated the manuscript
that Father and ESCONI gave up. Hoping that the manuscript to
this proposed third book on the Wilmington coal fossils might still be
preserved to await a favorable climate, I secured it from ESCONI, and I
still have it [as do I now - George, III].
|Oddly, the Field
Museum people felt that there was a lot of valuable scientific material
in the manuscript, and they would like to have it rewritten in
scientific jargon so that they could publish it themselves, but that it
would be very expensive to do so and would have only a very limited
circulation. But, in dog-in-the-manger fashion, they still would
not let ESCONI publish it, at ESCONI expense, where it would have a
wide, assured circulation.
personal friends among the museum curators did not dare support him
openly, and the other curators kept their distance, so the air
around Father's office was distinctly chilly until the museum "retired"
him soon afterwards.
and Dr. Whitfield took Father collecting several times, and in 1963
Father and I drove to the strip mines, just to look around, for old
times' sake, sort of like a couple of old football players revisiting
the scene of their triumphs. Everything had totally changed; the
hills were overgrown with trees and weeds, most collecting areas had
been fenced off and posted, and any thought of collecting was
absolutely impossible. But it was a pleasant day, we enjoyed our
renewal of our old collecting companionship, and we were content to
PROCESS COMPANY: Up to this point, I have written only about
Father's publicly acclaimed achievements, but Father deserves even
greater admiration for his life-long stuggles to keep the McKenna
Company alive as a profit producer. All of the following early
history of the McKenna Company is from Father's notes. Let me
start from the beginning.
McKenna was Chief Engineer of the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul
Railway Company. It troubled him that, when railway rails were
battered and worn and no longer could remain in service, they still had
about 95% of their original weight and yet had to be used in switch
yards and side tracks, but were replaced in main line service by new
|McKenna reasoned that if the battered rail-ends were cut off and the worn head and flange-side of the head rerolled while preserving the rail height and flange track dimensions, the rerolled rail could be reinstalled in main line track right along with newly rolled rail and at a very large investment saving. He worked out the idea in detail and secured a U.S. Patent on "the McKenna process." He also invented meny mechanical machines required for this, worked out the process thermodynamics, the labor content, and a profitability analysis.
the Milwaukee Road and sought to form his own McKenna Process
Company. He consulted with a railroad friend, Howard
to George, Sr.'s mother's sister, Julia A. Robertson, and General Counsel for all
properties to the Wisconsin Central Railway and eventually
part of the Soo
Line Railway - George, III] and a wealthy
man. Seeking adequate financial banking, they aroused the
interest of two Boston financiers, Harry L. Burrage,
who had built up a
substantial fortune from several financial ventures, and Edwin
Abbott, who had inherited and improved a very large family fortune.
Morris felt that all railroads would seize upon the idea of the
economical savings made possible by rerolling their worn out rails, and
that the potential profits of a rerolling operation would be
practically unlimited. Abbott and Burrage were sold on the
possibilities and agreed to put up the money required, but they had
their own way of doing that. They incorporated the McKenna
Company as a trusteeship. Abbott, Burrage and Morris were to be
the three trustees and would retain sole voting rights. They then
looked like stock certificates, but which really were what
are now known as "certificates of beneficial interest," entitling the
owners of the certificates to share in the profits, if any. They
split up these certificates between themselves and McKenna, making
McKenna about a one-fourth partner in the venture.
profits expected in the future, they organized the fledgeling company
on a rather grandiose basis:
McKenna was installed as Managing Director;
David Lentz, with rail mill experience, was hired as Operating Superintendent;
E.J. Tapping, an experienced railway supply sales executive, was hired as Sales Manager;
They established a Transfer Office for the trustees in Boston, Massachusetts;
The established a Sales Office in Milwaukee; and
Under the watchful eyes of McKenna and Lentz, they acquired a site in Joliet, Illinois,
near Chicago, which was then the terminus of most of the eastern and western railway
looked very rosy.
|Lentz wanted an
engineer to aid him and to replace the talents of McKenna, who had
decided to retire from active business. Morris, Father's uncle,
knowing that Father was about to graduate as a mechanical engineer and
enthusiastic about McKenna's future, persuaded Father to quit his
railway job in St. Paul and work for McKenna in Joliet.
|In his senior year at Yale, Father and a college friend had thought of starting a brass foundry, but they could not find the capital, and so Father went to work in St. Paul for the Chicago, Great Western Railway as a draughtsman, an essentially bottom-of-the-ladder engineering job. Hired into the McKenna mill, again as a draughtsman and cub engineer, Father worked under, and set about learning from, Plant Superintendent Lentz. Father was immediately introduced to McKenna's big, great problem: The Metallurgy of Steel.
basic idea was deceptively simple: take a worn-out, thirty-foot rail,
heat it to rolling temperature, re-form the rail head geometrically to
new and usable dimensions, put a slight, equalizing draft on the rail's
base, roll it out to thirty-two feet, crop a foot off each battered
rail end, and, behold !, you have a thirty-foot rail again, just like a
new one, that you can reinstall in main line track service. This
was quite a bit too good to be true.
|At this early
period, the rails already in service had been made from low-carbon
Bessemer steel that was soft and wore out quickly by becoming deformed
at the rail head, on the top by rolling contact from the wheels and on the side of the head by cramping
of the wheel flanges. McKenna was right, that there was little
wastage of the metal itself.
reroll the rail, it had to be reheated to rolling temperature, and that
often injured the steel. Rolling from a lower temperature was not
practical, so there was a constant battle to roll at the lowest
temperature that the rolling mill could stand and thereby minimize the
heating did to the steel.
|To improve the
wearing qualities of rails, the mills took to making harder, higher
carbon steel made by the Open Hearth process, which (it turned out) was
even more susceptible to injury from reheating, especially at the
higher temperatures the McKenna mill needed to roll the rails
one small virtue, and that was that it culled all rails with transverse
fissures [hydrogen-induced cracks - a bigger problem with
steel than with Open Hearth steel - George, III]. Rerolled
rails that passed inspection were therefore free from these dangerous
|No rails, newly
rolled or rerolled, came out perfectly straight; the curves had to be
straightenened out when the rails were cold. The crude
straightening process broke many rerolled rails.
|In March 1898,
Father had gone to work at the McKenna rerolling mill in Joliet,
Illinois, at $60 per month. His job was to tackle mechanical
engineering problems, do any necessary drafting, and act as all-around,
general helper to Mr. Lentz, was well acquainted with the metallurgical
problems that constantly harassed him.
|In spite of rail
breakage losses, the Joliet mill generated a good return on their
investment, and so the three trustees decided to open a second
rerolling mill to serve the western railroads. They selected
Kansas City, Kansas, as a good railway terminus, and bought a site for
mill. Mr. Lentz recommended that the new mill be a duplicate of
the Joliet mill, and Father was selected to move there, build it, and
put it into operation.
|Father had Yale
friends in Kansas City, who introduced him into the Kansas City social
stream, and Father, as a Yale man and a noted athlete, and a good
guy besides, was immediately accepted. There he met Mother, who
was very much a Society girl; they fell in love, became engaged, and
set a wedding date.
|With the Kansas
City mill operating successfully, Father was sent back to Joliet to
resume his work as understudy to Mr. Lentz. In June, 1900, Father
had a terrible accident. He was supervising the adjustment of the
guides that steered the hot rail into the rolls, when he slipped and
caught his left hand in the huge herringbone gears that drove the top
roll in the two-high roll stand. He was drawn into the gears, but
he managed to squirm to one end of the gears, saving his life.
|His left arm was
so badly crushed that no part of it could be saved, and so it was
amputated at the shoulder socket. Mother and Grandmother Langford
stayed in Joliet while he recuperated, and Father felt that he should
break off their engagement. Mother would have none of that, and
they were married in November. 1900 in a big, Kansas City wedding,
whereupon they moved to Joliet to live.
metallurgical problem still plagued the mills, and broken rail
rejections continued high, but with two rerolling mills generating
attractive profits, the trustees got ambitious again. With one
mill in the Chicago area, another in Kansas City, and business still to
be had, the trustees decided that a third rerolling mill should be
built in the New York City area.
|They secured a
site on New York Harbor called Tremley
Point, and Father was again
selected to build and put into operation their third mill. So
Father moved my pregnant mother to a house in Elizabeth, New Jersey,
where I was born in October, 1901.
operated all three mills simultaneously. They operated them one
at a time, carefully securing sensible schedules from the various
railroads so that a run at Joliet would be followed by a run at Kansas
City, and then one at Tremley Point. To make this idea work, the
mill superintendent would move to the appropriate mill, taking along a
staff of skilled specialists, and then pick up the number of common
laborers needed at the operating mill.
|This idea worked
smoothly and profitably until the next big problem surfaced; rail length standards were increased from 30 feet to 33
feet, but all three mills had been designed and laid out for 30-foot
rails. Most of the operations and the buildings could be, and
soon were, altered to handle the 33-foot rail length, but the roll
stands, set 30 feet apart, could not be moved. This dilemma was
solved by redesigning the rail guides so that the rail ends could be
briefly in both roll stands at the same time.
another blow: the standard rail length was increased again, this time
to 39 feet, and the roll stands were still only 30 feet apart.
The McKenna engineers solved this again by adjusting the rail guides,
and they also adjusted the roll diameters so the second pass would be a
little heavier than the first pass so that the rail would be placed in
tension while being simultaneously rolled in two stands rather than in
compression, which could prove disastrous. This was a delicate
dimensional problem, but they made it work.
Kansas City and Tremley Point mills, operating sequentially, were
generating good profits, and so the trustees decided to expand yet
again. Lentz suggested a fourth mill in the Colorado area, but
the trustees had greater ambitions; they wanted to build the fourth
rail rerolling mill in England. Experienced in the difficulties
of operating rerolling mills in America, and very doubtful of the
availability of the necessary super-skilled nucleus of experts in
England, Lentz was dead set against the idea, but he was orverruled;
the decision had been made.
|So Lentz drew up
plans for a fourth rerolling mill, based on the tried-and-true American
mills, and Father did all the drafting work, putting in the many
mechanical improvements that experience dictated.
another blow: Morris and Burrage had gone to England, committed to a
mill site, hired a sales agent, and contracted with the English
engineering firm of Cammell-Laird to design, build, and put into
operation a mill to reroll worn English 45-foot double-head
They had done no research with any English railways as to whether there
was a market for the rerolled rails. They had simply assumed that
a process that was acceptable in America would find equal favor in
selected to go to England to monitor the English operation, so in 1904,
Father, Mother, my new baby sister and I sailed for England, and we
were duly installed in a house in Birkenhead, a suburb of Liverpool,
the chosen mill site. Father was given the rather intolerable
order not to take part in the design and building of the English plant,
but instead to observe and report back to Lentz, who had stayed in
America to operate the three plants there.
at the start that Cammell-Laird had no experience at all in either the
design or operation of a rail mill and that they were making one bad
decision after another. Forbidden to criticize or even to
suggest, he dutifully reported back to Lentz, who in turn reported the
bad engineering work back to the trustees. Burgess and Morris
sailed again to England, reviewed the problem with Cammell-Laird, were
assured that the problems would all be solved, and then returned to
eyes, things were going from bad to worse, he reported so to Lentz
constantly, and was eventualy told by the trustees to quit his
complaining, that older and wiser heads had made the proper decisions
and would continue to do so. So the mill was built the
problem that had not been researched was whether a rerolled English
could be returned to main line service. English rails were of a
design totally different from American rails. American rails are
Tee-shaped, installed in track with the wide base flat on wooden
ties. English rails were two-headed, called double-head design,
with a dumbell-shaped cross section, the bottom head resting on steel
chairs which in turn rested on wooden ties. The heads of English
rails wore out just like American rails, but the chairs wore crosswise
grooves in the bottom head of the rail. Father knew that
rerolling would properly take care of the wear of the upper head, but
he had serious doubts as to whether the cross-grooves could be rolled
out, and so he reported to Lentz back in America. Again, the
trustees advised Father to quit complaining.
|Came the time to
make the first rerolling run. The English sales agent had secured
an order, and in came the rails. They were badly worn, whch was
no surprise, but they were 45 feet long, and that was a calamitous
shock. Another cabled report from Father drew the same answer
as before, "Leave it to your betters to work it out."
|With a heating
furnace far too short to handle 45-foot rails, and with roll stands 36
feet apart, the Cammell-Laird solution was to cut the rails into 15
lengths and reroll them, not into rerolled, usable rails, but into
blooms to be rolled into commercial shapes. As this was in
complete variance with the original concept of the English mill, Father
so reported and received the usual answer, "Quit complaining."
initial attempt to operate the mill was a complete disaster. They
had designed the mill to be electrically operated, including the
roll stands. But they had not analyzed the power requirements,
which were extremely heavy during the actual passage of the rails
through the rolls. In the American mills, the surge of power
required had been obtained from heavy flywheels that stored sufficient
kinetic energy to complete the roll passes all by themselves, the steam
engines simply providing the energy to get the flywheels back up to
speed between passes. The electric motors chosen by Cammell-Laird
were far too small to stand the rolling overload, and all of them blew
visits by Burrage and Morris and further work by Cammell-Laird failed
solve the design problems, and the English salvagers failed to convince
the English railways that rerolling their used rails into blooms for
commercial shapes was economically acceptable. The trustees had
poured in most of their capital, they agreed that the English rerolling
mill was a complete failure, and it was abandoned.
attached no blame to Father, and he was cabled to return to America and
resume his job at Joliet; and so in 1905 we all sailed home.
Shortly after arriving home came the next crisis. Lentz, who had
been out of town, came into the Joliet office, told Father that he had
quit his job and that Father was now General Superintendent of the
three American rerolling mills. This netted Father a welcome
salary increase but a very unwelcome increase in work and
the technique of straightening cold rail had decreased the percentage
of scrapped rails, the three rerolling mills were solving their
mechanical problems, but the metallurgy problems were still there and
had no possible solution.
|Then came the
final, bitter blow: the railroads had had all their 30-foot and 33-foot
rails rerolled, the standard length had been increased to 45 feet, and
there was no economical solution to rerolling 45-foot rails in the
existing three plants.
solution possible was to build completely new rerolling mills, the
investment required was very heavy, even for a single rerolling mill,
the English rerolling mill debacle had used up most of the trustees'
available capital, and so McKenna was forced to go out of the business
railway rails in 1923.
|Father offered the trustees a solution: build and operate a mill in Joliet to forge worn railway rail splice bars into usable bars, an idea just like McKenna's original rail rerolling invention. Father worked with the Burlington Railway to get their views on such an idea. The Burlington had a pile of an estimated 300 thousand worn bars, and together they and Father worked out a reworking tonnage charge that would attract the Burlington. The trustees authorized Father to design a forging plant or bar mill and to determine the investment required as well as the possible return on investment.
had its own design of splice bar, its length, and the number of bolt
holes. The smallest were about 18 inches long with four bolt
holes, and the largest, 36 inches long with six bolt holes.
Father felt that the bar mill must be designed to handle these largest
New York Central bars. All bars by now were rolled from high
carbon Open Hearth steel and presented the same metallurgical problems
that beset the rail rerolling process. That is, they had to be
heated hot enough to be forged, but not so hot as to make them
brittle. The correct temperature was not only not accurately
known, but such a temperature could not be accurately maintained.
building a heating furnace that could be charged continuously from one
end was no problem; nor was designing and locating an oil-filled
continuous quenching tank; but the forging presses were an unknown
area. So, Father made a number of trips to Pittsburgh for advice
from the E.W. Bliss Company, then the leading maker of forging presses
and dies. They made two separate types of press: knuckle-jointed
coining presses for small, accurately made products, and crank presses
for larger items like automobile axles and connecting rods. Bliss
recommended a 2,000-ton crank press as the right machine for McKenna's
proposed bar mill. This was a massive machine with 20-inch crank
shaft, 24-inch diameter crank bearing, and a structure held together by
four, 9-inch diameter tie-bolts, each 20 feet long.
the investment cost of a Joliet bar mill to the trustees, together with
his feeling that the outlay presented an opportunity for them to
regain part of their capital losses from the English rail mill
debacle. Fortunately, the trustees had salvaged enough capital to
make this Joliet bar mill possible. The trustees accepted the
resignation of President Tapping, shut down the Milwaukee sales office,
elected Father President of the Illinois McKenna Process Company, and
authorized Father to hire a sales manager, which Father did.
Company delivered the big crank press to Joliet and designed the dies
and die shoe required. The first forging dies were designed of a
barely machinable steel alloy and were the same shape from end to end.
They did not work successfully; used splice bars wore out unevenly,
with the heaviest wear at the center where the two rails abutted.
The next heaviest wear was at the two ends of the bar, and the lightest
wear was at the two half-way points between center and end. Also,
the bars had developed incipient cracks at the center, near the bar's
contact with the rail head at the point of heaviest load. The
center cracks were machined out with a grinding wheel, and that further
increased the center wear of the bar.
designed dies that were shaped so that the forging pressure would be
the same at each point along the length of the bar. This was the
correct solution, of course, but is was difficult to machine these
complicated die cavities. The next problem was the bolt
holes. Forging the bars distorted the holes, and almost closed up
most of them. Punching new holes in the hot bars just as they
came from the forging press proved impractical because the bars cooled
too fast and could not be oil quenched at sufficiently high temperature
to obtain the correct properties. Next, presses were set up to
punch the bolt holes cold, but the unsymmetrical holes tended to break
the expensive punches, and so that method had to be abandoned.
Father solved the bolt-hole problem by incorporating pins of the same
shape as the original bolt holes and placing them, loosely held, in the
upper half of the die. The pins would prevent the holes from
being closed in while the rest of the splice bar was being
forged. These pins were made of a special, expensive tool steel
alloy capable of high strength and wear resistance. [See
these two innovations, for which George, Sr. had models made: US
No. 1,890,687; and US
Patent No. 2,034,046 - and here
is a pair of McKenna's splice-bar specimens - George, III]
|All of these
ideas were new and patentable. Working with a Chicago firm of
patent lawyers, Father secured a total of 75
patents in his name that
covered the methods, means and products, all intended to build a wall
of patent protection around the infant McKenna bar reforming
business. This steady stream of patents being issued to a man
named George Langford of Joliet, Illinois, caught the attention of
David Wohlhampton, patent attorney for the Rail Joint Company
York City. He recognized that Father was doing for McKenna
exactly what he (Wohlhampton) had done for the Rail Joint Company, who
had a wall of
patents protecting their highly successful specialized railway crossing
connecting assemblies. He suggested to the Rail Joint Company
executives that perhaps they should add a reforming bar mill to their
crossing-assembly plant near New York City. They requested a
license under Father's McKenna patents, and as a New York Mill would be
far enough from Joliet they would not be directly competitive, McKenna
worked out a tonnage royalty agreement and granted them a license. The
Rail Joint Company had licensees under their patents in Alabama and
Colorado, and aided Father in granting them McKenna patent
licenses. They all started paying royalties, as substantial
addition to McKenna profits. This led to licenses in Texas,
Pennsylvania and Canada and eventually to a too close plant in Aurora,
|Most of these
licensees did not have organized cost systems, did not know what to
charge their railroad customers, and asked Father's advice.
Father wrote that McKenna had no cost system either, but that a $20 per
ton charge was acceptable to the railroads and profitable to McKenna,
so that this $20 per ton charge became the norm for the bar reforging
industry. And the royalty payments to McKenna grew to very
|While Father was
working out claims for his bar patent applications, he applied in jest
for a patent on the first tool invented by Man, 250 thousand years
ago. The staid old Patent Office was amused by this and duly
published the application along with their other patent applications in
their Patent Office
Gazette of May 1937. The head patent examiner
took the trouble to point out that although the invention of the first
flint tool was patentable, the patent could not be granted for two
reasons: first, because Father was filing as the inventor's attorney,
and the law required that the inventor file it himself; and second,
that the 250 thousand year delay in filing precluded granting the
patent. Father's archaeological friends got a big kick out of
of Father's most trusted aides at Joliet aburptly left McKenna, found
financial backing, and set up a reforging plant in Joliet.
Father, in rather desperate need of help to operate the Joliet bar
mill, asked me to leave my job with the Belden Company in Chicago and
come to work with him in Joliet as Bar Mill Superintendent,
engineer and general assistant to him. I had worked at McKenna
before, knew all the key men and their specialties, and they liked the
idea, so I moved to Joliet to help Father in late 1929.
1930-1931 Depression years, the railroads, making savings wherever they
could, sent McKenna a great deal of bar reforging business, and so we
were operating at full capacity. We had a welcome windfall
because the railroads, again seeking cost savings, found caches of
worn-out rails and sent them to us for rerolling. We sorted them
properly and prepared the rerolling mill for what we expected to be its
final operation. This rerolling mill run was both successful and
profitable. Royalties from our splice bar licensees were pouring
came to Joliet for a special policy meeting with Father. Victor
Morris had replaced his father. Victor, Burrage and Abbott then
comprised the three trustees. In light of the unusually high
profits of the 1930-1931 years, they accepted Father's view that a
second forging press was needed to ensure uninterrupted operations of
the bar mill, and so Father was authorized to purchase an appropriate
|As the rerolling
mill could not accommodate the current standard 45-foot rails, and as
the railroads had all their 30-foot and 33-foot rails rerolled, Father
was also authorized to liquidate the rail mill to the best possible
advantage. However, it was agreed that the machine shop and
Joliet office be retained. The trustees then paid out a very
large dividend, most of it going to the trustees themselves, but
retaining a relatively small capital balance.
|Father and I had both been refining the design of the bar-forging dies to equalize the pressure required to re-form each segment of the length of the splice bar so that we could easily handle the largest splice bar. Reviewing our improvements with the Bliss Company, they recommended a 1,500-ton forging press as being quite adequate. We therefore invested in a 1,500-ton knuckle-joint coining press, which operated about 50% faster than our 2,000-ton crank press. Even with two presses operating at the same time, we were hard put to keep up with the influx of orders, McKenna's profits were exceptionally good, and the trustees felt it appropriate to pay out a large percentage of the profits to the certificate holders, largely themselves.
|McKenna had the
bar re-rorming business of the Chicago-based railroads pretty much to
ourselves, but the Lentz bar mill in Joliet and the Wilbur bar mill in
Aurora were competing for the business. The Burlington and the
Northwestern Roads insisted that we share their orders between the
three bar mills, forcing us to do so. As our royalty income was
now a major source of revenue, this was not a very serious blow, and
our profits remained very good.
|But then came a
really serious blow: Wilbur, in Aurora, claimed that he was not
actually using the McKanna patents and stopped paying royalties.
As he owed us about $20,000 in unpaid royalties, McKenna filed suit in
court in Aurora in order to collect these debts. On top of that
came another serious blow: W.D. Heise, McKenna's longtime Joliet
attorney, suddenly died, and no equally competent attorney was
available in Joliet. Our Chicago-based patent attorney's business
was largely in procuring patents, not defending them, they were not set
up to work in Aurora, and so they were not available to help us.
The Rail Joint Company, in New York, had defended their own patents
many times, and so we suggested that their very successful patent
attorney, David Wohlhampton, take our case, but his company felt that it
might affect their own license arrangements adversely, and
declined. While we sought a solution, the suit languished.
attorney, a former judge, was recommended to us, and we hired him,
expecting him to persue the suit
aggressively. Judge John Newhall was a disappointment. He was a judicial type, not at all aggressive. He knew nothing about patents, nothing about McKenna's bar-re-forming business, and he resented being urged to act. W.D. Heise had been an aggressive lawyer, had felt that we had a good case, and, had he lived, would probably have won the suit. As it was, we lost our suit to collect the past due royalties and were enjoined from collecting any more royalties from the Wilbur plant.
|The loss of this
lawsuit really put the fat in the fire. All of our other
licensees, learning that McKenna's patents had been successfully
bypassed, refused to pay royalties that had accrued to a total of
$245 thousand. They also refused to pay any royalties that
McKenna claimed had contined to accrue. McKenna filed additional
suits to collect past-due royalties, and one of the recalcitrant
licensees claimed another defense: that McKenna had established a
standard of $20 per ton re-forging charge, and that McKenna was fixing
prices, then against federal law.
brought the Justice Department into the act, and they had the F.B.I.
come to Joliet and search all of our records for anything they could
find, a "fishing expedition," now illegal. The Justice Department
filed suit in Federal Court in Chicago, charging that McKenna had fixed
prices and was therefore a "combination in restraint of trade," then
illegal, and that McKenna should be enjoined from continuing to
operate. McKenna's Chicago patent attorneys, now defending
McKenna, were promptly joined by the Rail Joint Company's patent
attorney, who feared that this lawsuit might also involve the Rail
Department case was based entirely on the casual letter that Father had
written long ago, to the effect that McKenna had found that a $20 per
ton re-forging charge was acceptable to the railroads and profitable to
McKenna. McKenna's attorneys' repeated arguments, that in no way
had Father suggested that McKenna had told them to charge $20 per ton,
fell on deaf ears. Judge Barnes' verdict was, first, that McKenna
could not continue to charge this $20 per ton re-working charge, and
for good meausre, he had all McKenna's patents declared invalid.
This really sounded McKenna's death knell. It was the blackest
day in Father's life. As he noted: "It just about washed up my
approximately 45 years of life in a business that I should never have
|We tried to keep
McKenna alive by operating our two-press bar mill, but now we had heavy
price competition. We hired a cost accountant, and he computed
our break-even re-forging charge at $12 per ton. We eliminated
one expense after another: Harvey Lynch resigned, and so Father and I
became McKenna's sales staff. We let our diemaker go, and so I
made dies as well as templates for the dies [I still have the
layout tools that George, Jr. used - George, III]. We laid off
all of our employees, recalling them only when we had bars to re-form.
|We got some
business at $18 per ton; then we had to go to $16; the, $14; and even
some at $12, our break-even price, but we were hard-pressed to pay our
own salaries, and so McKenna's obituary was ready to be published.
|In liquidating the rail mill, we first tried to sell the two, large Corliss steam engines to the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, as they were already museum specimens when McKenna acquired them in 1894. But the cost and difficulty of transporting and then installing them in Chicago were more than the museum people could handle, and they were eventually scrapped, including the two, 22-foot flywheels. We found a buyer for the locomotive crane, but the rest of the equipment and buildings went to the scrap dealers.
|In 1933 and
1934, we operated the bar mill in a feast-or-famine market.
McKenna faced price competition from the Joliet Lentz bar mill and the
Aurora Wilbur mill, and the Chicago-based railroads were splitting
their business three ways at re-forging charges of $18 to $16 per
had been forced by the economic conditions of the Depression to examine
their true costs, such as including the previously absorbed freight
costs of shipping the bars from the rail line to the bar mill and the
also previously absorbed cost of scrapping a percentage of the
bars. A new welding technique had been introduced by the big
oxygen-producing companies, which eliminated the shipping costs
entirely and substantially reduced the labor costs. Weld repair
of the worn splice bars therefore turned out to cost less than
|A technique for
evaluating the condition of the rail ends and for finding transverse
fissures had been developed by the Sperry Company. An inspection
car would be run over the track to identify magnetically each rail end
and each transverse fissure, paint-marking them as it proceeded down
the track. Next, the railroads would send a maintenance crew to
remove the splice bars from the rail ends and then use oxy-acetylene
weld overlay of high-quailty steel to replace both the metal lost from
the centers of the splice and the metal worn away from under the heads
of the rails by rubbing against the splice bars. They would then
grind the weld overlays smooth and bolt up the rail joint once again.
|To keep the bar
mill going in order to generate a little income, we had to quote prices
in the $10 to $14 per ton range, and to supplement this income, Father
and I collected, assembled and sold fossil plant collections to a
number of colleges and museums.
|In 1938, Father
requested a meeting with the trustees to discuss McKenna's
future. We had this meeting in the Union Station in Chicago in a
private dining room. It was attended by the two old trustees,
Burrage and Abbott, by Victor Morris, by Father as President of the
Illinois McKenna Process Company, and by me, as Plant
Superintendent, Secretary, and Treasurer. Father pointed out
that McKenna was at the end of its rope. All accrued royalties
had been ruled uncollectible; McKenna was enjoined from charging any
royalties on its voided patents; the Joliet bar re-forging mill had
been obseleted by the gas welding technique of repairing rail joints in
situ; and that McKenna had no source of income and no prospects.
reulted in the following decisions:
Liquidate the Joliet bar mill;
Sell the mill's real estate;
Sell the Joliet office buiding and its lot;
Abandon the Boston transfer office;
Terminate my employment;
Surrender the McKenna charter to do business in Illinois; and
Terminate the McKenna Process Company and go out of business.
|In 1939-1940, I
stayed on without salary to help Father liquidate the bar mill.
We sold the machine shop equipment locally. We advertised the two
forging presses for sale in machinery journals with no success.
Mechanical forging presses had been obseleted by hydraulic forging
presses. Modernizing our mechanical presses by installing
hydraulic base cushions would be prohibitively expensive and could not
increase their operating speeds. We eventually had to scrap both
presses. We offered the mill property for sale to the Elgin,
Joliet and Eastern Railway, but we were horrified to find that McKenna
had never had a deed to the land, just a lease for the business life of
the company. We finally accepted $1,000 for a quit-claim to
clarify E.J. & E's deed. By 1941 McKenna's bank account
balance was close to zero. We surrendered Father's McKenna life
insurance policy for its cash value. I went looking for a job,
and in 1941 I went back to work for the Belden Corporation in
Chicago. Father sold the McKenna office building and its lot, and
that closed the books on the McKenna Process Company.
LIFE PARTNER: In 1899, Mother and Father met each other in Kansas City, Missouri, as members of the same social group, where they had mutual friends. Mother, pretty and vivacious, was a popular, established socialite. Father, the newcomer in Kansas City, came as a well known athlete, a Yale graduate, good-looking, and a member of new business in Kansas City, Kansas. They very promptly fell in love, became engaged to be married, and set a wedding date in 1900.
When Father lost his left arm in a rolling mill accident in 1900, he felt obliged to call off their engagement, but Mother would have none of that. She came to Joliet, Illinois, where Father was living and, with Father's mother, helped him to recuperate. They were married in a big, stylish wedding in Kansas City on November 14, 1900, and set up housekeeping in Joliet.
Mother and Father were different in almost every respect, but perhaps that helped to weld them into their relationship. Their devotion to each other never wavered, and they lived to celebrate their 63rd wedding anniversary together.
Their social backgrounds had both similarities and differences. Mother grew up as a rich girl in Kansas City's top level social stratum, accepted everywhere. Father grew up as a member of a non-affluent group, socially accepted everywhere in St. Paul but not associating with the very rich families of railroad, mining or milling money. Mother had never had any reason to worry about money; her father paid the bills. Father, ever since his father's premature death, had always had to stretch his dollars.
Their educational backgrounds were totally dissimilar. Father was a college graduate in Mechanical Engineering and a highly skilled, self-educated natural scientist, an intellectual. Mother had gone to what were known as "finishing schools" at Monticello Seminary in Gadfrey, Illinois, near St. Louis, and to a small private school in Montreal, Canada. She was well equipped with social skills. Born with artistic talents, Mother sharpened them by formal attendance at Chicago's Art Institute.
Their first problem was housing. After their 1900 Kansas City marriage, they moved to Joliet, Illinois, and set up housekeeping in a small rented house on Third Avenue on the East Side of Joliet. This was quite a come-down for Mother, who was used to the social graces of a big, prosperous city. Joliet, frankly, was an ugly steel-mill city, with practically none of the advantages that she was used to. Mother hated Joliet all of her life, and that dislike led to problems. The city of Joliet had three social groups: a prosperous group, mainly Catholic, on the west side of town; a business group, consisting of lawyers, doctors, businessmen and the like; and the workers and steel-mill laborers' group, which clustered around the mills themselves.
Mother had never learned to cook, but Mrs. Bedford's excellent Home Restaurant was nearby, and so that problem was solved. On the other hand, soon, with two children, their home became crowded, and there was little room in which to entertain friends. Therefore, a larger and better house was rented on Western Avenue, on Joliet's West Side. Their Western Avenue house was comfortable and convenient to Father's job at the McKenna mill, but it was in an extremely Catholic neighborhood. Her neighbors didn't accept Mother at her evaluation, and Mother liked very few of them. Mother's and Father's good friends mostly lived on Joliet's East Side, so we all moved again, this time to another rented house on Union Street where we lived for a number of years. It had a large yard and a carriage house in back. It was also within bicycling distance for Father to reach the McKenna mill. However, it was still within the city limits of Mother's much-disliked Joliet. Mother's visitors from Kansas City made matters progressively worse and worse. They kept contrasting gracious Kansas City with unattractive Joliet. They also contrasted the large homes they owned with Mother's smaller rented house.
Mother persuaded Father that their happiness required them physically to move out of the city and into their own newly built home. So they selected a site about two miles out of downtown Joliet and yet still only two miles from the McKenna mill. They bought the large, pie-shaped lot in a thickly wooded Maple and Oak grove, with pretty Sugar Creek only a hundred feet or so in front of the house. Only two houses had been built in their, The Maples, subdivision, and those were rather far away.
Mother, talented as an artist, designed the house herself. Unskilled as an architect, she designed all the rooms far too large. Fortunately, they were scaled down to proper proportions by the selected architect-builder, who nevertheless preserved Mother's design while correcting the architectural blunders.
Father, only a few years out of college, supporting a family of four on the salary of his first job, and having no capital of his own, negotiated with the local bank for financing.
A couple of years earlier, Father had met an innovative mechanical shopowner named Karl Jensen, who custom-fabricated windshields for automobiles, which in those days were not so equipped at the factory. Jensen had caught the eye of Henry Ford, who offered Jensen a contract for 1,000 windshields. To fill this contract, Jensen had to build an adequate factory. He had $20,000 of his own, but he needed $20,000 more, and he fancied Father as a partner in the venture. The bank was perfectly willing to lend Father money for the house, but they were leery of Jensen and wouldn't lend Father the $27,000 total required to fund both the house and the business venture. So Father had to be content with a $10,000 loan, which he used for the house and for the family's first automobile, a 4-cylinder Hudson two-seater.
Jensen ultimately organized his Vanguard Company and made the windshields; he was both a good engineer and a good manager, and Vanguard was one of the companies put together to create General Motors. Jensen's General Motors stock at his death was appraised at $6 million.
Our new house in the country was built just right for entertaining, but Mother still couldn't cook. A succession of hired cooks didn't work out well, but she was offered a fine solution: a Montreal friend had read an advertisement that Mother had run in the Chicago Tribune; a cook-butler couple whom he knew wanted to migrate to America; and so they moved into the third-floor quarters. Robert Baxter had been a Mess Sargeant in the British Army, knew how to dress properly and how to do his job, but he was an alcoholic who eventually had to be institutionalized, ultimately dying there.
Mary Baxter, on the other hand, was not only a marvelous cook and housekeeper, she was well read and a lovely person. She truly enriched our lives. Mother now had everything she needed to put her talents as a hostess together: a house built for entertaining; a gourmet chef who loved to display her skills; and an adequate household allowance.
Our home became the focal point of our family, very satisfactory to both Mother and Father as well as to my sister and me and to: Father's scientific and business friends; Mother's artistic and social friends; Mother's Kansas City relatives; Father's St. Paul relatives; Sister's friends and beaus; and my high school, college, fraternity, and business friends.
I could write a book about Mary Baxter. She and Mother were equals as hostesses, and they both loved to entertain. The had developed an amazing routine. Mary would bring Mother breakfast in bed, and the two of them would spend half the morning planning; whom and when they should invite as couples for dinner, what were their favorite foods; should they have a large dinner party, with whom and when; and what visitors were expected; and how to entertain them.
Mother always had Tea in the living room in the mid-afternoon; anyone was welcome to drop in. Mary just loved serving these tea parties. She had two specialties: Scotch scones and Skotch shortbread, both super-good, and so when the rattle of the teacart sounded, Mary was deluged with compliments. All our friends became Mary's friends, too, and they never failed to drop in to talk with her after the parties were over.
Mary was born in Edinburgh, remembered every poem that Robert Burns ever wrote, read every book and magazine in the house, and even took a Britannica Encyclopedia volume [which I still have - George, III] to bed with her in emergencies. In Mary's eyes, no one in the family could do anything wrong; to me she was both a friend an a third parent. She worked for Mother and Father for twenty-five years until her terminal illness; a most lovable lady.
With our home well established pretty much as an open-house center of attraction, Mother's horizons widened. She had a talent for writing about both her own and Father's interests, which led to her being in demand as a speaker, and she loved doing it. She joined the Joliet Women's Club, was a good organizer, and was elected President. She also joined the American Penwomen and became its Chicago President.
She had long acted as the family's accountant and treasurer, taking care of Father's income to the best advantage of the family, handling my sister's training as a pianist and mine as a mechanical engineer, and building a joint savings account. Mother's legacy from her mother in 1929 was a motley array of local Kansas City stocks, California real estate ventures, and a few, nationally traded stocks. Mother and a Joliet stockbroker house-cleaned the portfolio, retaining the good stock and putting the proceeds from the balance into her investment account.
Mother was impatient with the small investment return that she was able to add to their joint income, and when a Canadian brokerage firm got hold of her name somewhere and began offering great profit possibilities in a mining stock, she seized the opportunity to create a real fortune. She invested about $20,000 in this stock and immediately began receiving dividends plus the advice to buy more stock. Each time a dividend was declared, Mother took a small amount in cash, which went into the family's joint account, and used the rest to add to her stockholdings. The unit purchase price was a little higher each time, and the broker kept promising large capital gains.
When Father inherited his mother's St. Paul house in 1931 and sold it, he consulted his college mate, Marvin Goodbody, owner of the brokerage firm of Goodbody and Company, and invested about $10,000 in good quality common stocks paying conservative but steady dividends. The McKenna trustees had also rewarded Father with about $20,000 in McKenna Certificates of Beneficial Interest, which amounted to a substantial bonus whenever McKenna declared dividends.
With their home organized and operating so well, both children educated and on their own, the house all paid for, and money in the bank, the Mother-Father team appeared to have achieved success. When the McKenna Company went out of business and Father's salary ended, they planned to sell their Joliet home and move to a Chicago apartment, living on the proceeds from the sale of the house, Social Security, Father's stock dividends, and Mother's stock dividends.
But then, Mother's mining stock dividends suddenly ceased. When Mother tried to learn what had happened, she found that the Canadian broker had gone out of business. On further research it developed that the Canadian mining business had been fraudulent all along [a classic, but long, drawn-out Ponzi scheme - George, III]. The mining business was entirely fictitious and Mother's stock certificate was worthless. This was a heartbreaking blow to them both, but as always in their long life together, they acted as a team to sort things out upon starting their new life as retirees.
They decided that they would take a vacation together to plan their future, free from any duties in Joliet. They went on a two-month trip to Yellowstone Park by automobile. I loaned them my new Mercury for the occasion. On their return, they found an apartment that they could afford, across the street from Lincoln Park in Chicago [big and comfortable but several flights up in a building with no elevator - George, III]. Aware that their income was barely adequate, Ethyl Holmes, Mother's sister-in-law and a fellow artist, gave Father $14,000 in IBM stock, which was paying excellent and welcome dividends.
Father, with no compelling duties, volunteered to curate the fossil plant collection that he had given to the Field Museum and did so without pay for about two years. Mother worked with the Chicago Branch of the American Penwomen, eventually became its president, and acquired a new coterie of Chicago friends. Father's Chicago scientist friends saw them often. Most Joliet friends their own age had died off, but the new generation of friends came often to visit at their Chicago apartment.
The Field Museum appointed Father Curator of Plant Fossils at a small but steady stipend, and so they were again successfully operating as a team. There was one change: Father, well aware that their capital would not last forever, assumed the family treasurer-ship, never touching the capital itself except in cases of extreme emergency. Father and I developed the habit of auditing their monthly profits and loss and also any change in their total capital. My sister and I always added cash to any anniversary or holiday gifts. Knowing that the apartment rent was always a monthly moment of financial pain, I took on those payments.
But there were emergencies, serious ones. Mother would take falls, unexpected and unpreventable, finding herself on the floor unable to move. Each fall would break or dislocate something: her shoulder, a hip, a thighbone. Each of these events would necessitate hospitalization, surgery, and licensed nursing care during recuperation, all in addition to their regular household help. Father would then have to take money from their capital.
Mitzi [my mother - George, III] and I could see the time coming when we would have to become major contributors to my Parents' support, and we offered to do so ahead of time. Father was counting on this, but he wanted to support himself as long as he could, and so we worked out an unoffical arrangement that when his remaining capital reached a certain low point, we would commence contributing. But then Father died suddenly, before such point was reached, pleased, I believe, that he had managed the family finances as well as he had.
As Father's Executor, I administered his estate; it came to $6,500. But Mother and Father had made it as a team. Their life together had a bittersweet epilogue. Ethyl Holmes, Mother's favorite In-Law, had made her a one-third beneficiary of her estate, and when it was distributed, Mother's share was appraised at about $160,000. Mother had finally attained her life-long wish to become wealthy. But she was now in a nursing home with badly advanced Alzheimer's disease and never knew of her inheritance.
section is by George, Sr., writing in the first person - George,
My first cousin Mary (Curran) Alden practiced genealogy for some time as her favorite avocation. She tried many times to interest my mother, my brother, or myself in our family history, but none of us felt the slightest interest. But after my mother's sudden death in October, 1931, there came a change. She left many papers on family history which had to do more or less with her membership in the D.A.R. [Daughters of the American Revolution - George, III] and Colonial Dames [National Society of the Colonial Dames of America - George III]. These papers concerned in large part the proofs of ancestry entitling her to membership in the two organizations.
My brothers Tan and Will decided, for some unknown reason, that I was the one to determine what to do with these papers. So they sent the entire batch to me. As I examined them, my sentiments changed gradually from indifference to interest, and almost before I knew it, I was launched on a new career, genealogy, which I followed closely for about six years. The reasons for this were what appeared to be unsolved mysteries regarding the origins of a certain three of my ancestors, as follows:
1. Northrup Langford, my great-great grandfather, whose ancestry, Cousin Mary Alden was unable to solve.;
2. Alexander Robertson, great grandfather of my maternal grandfather, Daniel Alexander Robertson; and
3. Lilias Mackintosh, mother of my maternal Grandfather Robertson.
I eventually solved all three of these problems, with the able assistance of my older brother, Nathaniel Pitt Langford [nephew and namesake of N.P. Langford of Yellowstone & vigilante fame - George III]. This opened up such a large number of my ancestors that I compiled a list of them by families. I donated the original manuscript to the Newberry Library of Chicago and sent copies of digests to ten of the country's leading libraries. My son, George, Jr., joined me in this avocation, concentrating on the ancestry of [Sydney Holmes - George, III] his mother.
From 1932 until his death in 1964, Father and I shared an interest in researching out family history and genealogy. Neither of us had had more than a casual interst in these subjects until two events occurred:
October 26, 1931 - St. Paul Minnesota:
When Father attended his mother's funeral services, the three brothers (George, Wil and Tan) found that she had saved two packages of family history documents, and Father was elected to analyze them and plan the next move. He brought them home to Joliet, where he showed them to Mother and me. One package contained a group of letters, all in the same handwriting, written on soft foolscap paper on both sides of the paper. The ink had bled through, making the letters extremely hard to read. It developed that they had been written to Grandmother Elizabeth Robertson Langford's grandfather from his grandfather in Scotland [That's a six-generation jump to him, eight to me - George, III].
The second package contained an early attempt by a first cousin, Mary Alden, to work out a Langford line in New York and New England. These papers aroused Mother's interest, and she produced a document of her own, a D.A.R. membership application that her mother had filled out for her some years before her death in 1929. It contained portions of Mother's Massey, Hawkins, Picket, Lee, and Gilbert lines.
The three of us decided that we wanted to learn a lot more about our ancestral families; Father to work on his half; and I to work on Mother's half. Neither Father nor I knew anything about the subject of family history and genealogy, so we visited the Joliet Library for advice. They directed us to the Newberry Library in Chicago, said to have one of the largest collections on the subject west of New York City. At our first spare moment, we visited Newberry, and Assistant Libarian Joseph Wolf became our advisor for many years.
1933-1935 - Joliet, Illinois:
Our genealogical research was strictly a spare-time project from the start. We both had demanding jobs, familes to support, homes to take care of, and other interests, besides. At no point were we able to make it our top priority. All of our early research was done at Newberry, whenever we could find an open half-day or so.
N.P. Langford, Father's brother, combined with Father, and they collaborated by mail to decipher the Scottish letters, full of family information. Then, in 1932, the two brothers and their wives made a family-history trip to Denver, Colorado, and in 1935, they made another trip, this time to Oneida County, New York. In 1933 I visited Lexington, Kentucky, and Boonville, Missouri, seeking records of Holmes and Massey. Father's Robertson and Mackintosh lines hooked onto over a hundred Scottish clans, all well recorded in the "Scots Peerage." Father's other lines all extended into well recorded New England. In a nutshell, Father made amazing progress on his half of our project.
In contrast, my progress was rather pitiful. In the early 1930's there were few published records of the South and southern families, and I was badly bogged down on Mother's maiden name of Holmes, a very common name. I compensated by joining associations in Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri, and North Carolina. Early on, I joined the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS), used their Journal as a model, and borrowed books constantly by mail from their library in Boston.
Father and I had both established links into England, Newberry had a mass of English genealogical records, and I found a bargain copy of Burke's Dormant and Extinct Peerages in a second-hand store. Father and I had real fun working with these English noble families. At one time I had worked out our joint descent from sixteen Magna Carta Sureties and wanted to offer it for publication to the NEHGS Journal, but Father analyzed it and felt that a number of my marriage connections wouldn't bear scrutiny, so I withdrew my plan.
Father's time was so fully occupied by business problems and his scientific involvements that he decided to publish his results. So, in 1936, he produced about twenty copies of his handsome family charts in blueprint form, distributed them to a few family mambers and to a few large libraries and historical societies of his choice, and took no active part in any more family history and genealogy research,.
Father had stopped genealogical research entirely, and mine was limited to an occasional contribution to Mother's Holmes family in Kentucky and to an infrequent piece of data from the NEHGS Journal. We made a couple of trips to Newberry, mainly to visit with our old friend, Genealogical Librarian Joseph C. Wolf.
I had hoped that I could have produced results approaching Father's, but it wasn't until I moved to Harrisonburg, Virginia, in 1969 that I was able to really make a start on what will end up in the Massey Book. Father and I both enjoyed the fact that we had grown up together as family genealogists, starting as totally ignorant amateurs and ending up with actual competence in the field.
SCULPTOR; AUTHOR; POET; MUSICIAN:
So far, I have written at length about Father's attainments in the natural sciences and in his business career, and about Mother's part in his life, but he had more strings to his bow.
Father had a natural talent for pen and ink, illustrating his scientific articles and his books. He illustrated his penny-postcard messages to all of us with humerous and amusing sketches. I saved about a hundred of them, but they got discarded long ago in an all- too-complete housecleaning episode. Father developed competency in making bas-relief sculptures of animals and men. A set of these is on display at the American Museum of Natural History.
One Summer, Mother was on a Hawaiian trip as her mother's guest. I was away at college, my sister was studying at the Cincinnati Conservancy of Music, the McKenna mill was idle between runs, and Father was all alone at home with an idea: write a book about Early Man. He had read Tarzan of the Apes, so he produced Pic, the Weapon Maker, about a young Early Man and his progress with flint tools and his association with animals. It was well received by older children and by persons with scientific backgrounds, and it earned Father many new friends, but it did not attain commercial success; it was too scientific for the very young to understand.
Father's publisher, Boni and Liveright of New York City, thought that a sequel might improve Pic's circulation, so Father wrote Kutnar, Son of Pic, Mammoth Man, Stories of the First American Animals and then, Senrac, the Lion Man. Publication of these books brought Father membership in Chicago's Society of Midland Authors and some more good friends, but very little income. Considerably disillusioned, Father ruefully noted, "If an author expects that by hard work, he can make a profit, then he should stop writing."
As an outgrowth of his book writing, Father composed a poem, "The Dawn of Art," which the American Museum of Natural History published in Natural History, December, 1919, page 621.
Back in his teens, Father had taken violin lessons and had learned to read music. He liked to listen to my sister's piano performances, and he had played the piano himself for his own amusement and for relaxation. With only his good right hand available, he developed a technique for playing two-handed pieces. Our home piano had three pedals, the middle one being the "sustennato" or sustaining pedal. He would play the left-hand base chords with his right hand, press the middle pedal to keep those strings vibrating, and then play the melody, again with his right hand. It worked real well. He had a repertory of several pieces, but I can remember the name and melody of only one: Schumann's "Traumerei."
Having worked together so closely and for so many years with Father, it
was perhaps inevitable that we should be together when he died.
The evening before Father's death, I had made one of my weekly visits
to their apartment. I had brought along a Dover sole dinner for
the three of us from the Red Star Inn, and Father and I each had a Old
Fashioned cocktail. Father had been watching an extra-inning
baseball game and was in high spirits. We had an exchange of news
and events whiile Mother listened to us. She was a little hazy,
but Father was sharp as a tack as always. So, when I hailed a
taxi to take me to the the Union Station, I had no inkling that Father
had a health problem.
But at 6:00AM the next morning, Mother phoned me in Hinsdale that Father was "very sick" and asked me to come right away to their apartment, which I did at once.
Father was in great pain,obviously more than just sick, so I immediately called an ambulance. What we didn't know at the time was that he had suffered a ruptured aortic aneurism. The ambulance came promptly, I got in back with Father, and we started for Presbyterian Hospital where Father's doctor was waiting for us. My holding of Father's hand helped him stand the pain, so when his grip relaxed, I knew he was gone.
As I end Father's story, a thought keeps recurring to me about my father: All through his adult life, accepting setbacks, frustrations, and disasters, Father had never been defeated, a truly gallant and courageous man.