A Flood of Memories


I have been reading the June issue letters including those about the "candy striped cannons." I was on campus at the time and I thought the original prank was possibly a little out of line, but when the ROTC people went hysterical I laughed my head off. Rumors at the time were that the prank was triggered by rude remarks of an ROTC officer to some veterans. I have no idea of whether or not that was the actual trigger.
Whatever the motive was, I resent ANYBODY thinking that because they put on a uniform they have a right to judge whether others are patriotic or not and to declare others to be "misguided" or "mocking the military". There are times when the military deserves to be mocked, particularly when they get up on stump and spout nonsense.
 What would any reasonable person expect to have happen on a campus 80 percent veterans, many of them drafted, many of them with combat experience, many with every reason to resent petty actions by officers? ROTC was lucky they didn't have a more serious incident as a consequence of their reaction to the original incident.
I am not in any way against ROTC; I think the protests in the '60s were stupid as in my opinion our best defense against wrong-headed military brass is the large number of junior officers who come out of ROTC, NOT the traditional military schools. The professional military schools have their place but I believe it would be a mistake to see the whole officer corp coming out of those schools.
I am a WWII veteran and I worked on military bases for some time as a civilian with equivalent rank of Lt. Cmdr., complete with uniform, BOQ room, and special ID cards to let me into all sorts of places besides the officer's club. I later worked for over 25 years on classified projects including access to many government agencies, labs, test areas, and military bases.
I met and worked with some very competent and very professional people, both officers and high-ranked civil service, who most certainly deserved respect. I also met a very large number of narrow-minded bigots of limited intellectual ability who saw a plot in every minor incident and who really did not know what was going on around them even in their own commands or on their own bases. Those people seemed to totally lack a sense of humor or perspective.
The best officers I ever knew, men with excellent combat records and proven administrative ability, would have laughed privately and made at most a formal "protest" for the record, and if they suspected that a lack of manners on the part of subordinates was in any way involved, there would have been at the least some very pointed reminders to those individuals that they were not in charge of the world or even the campus.

L. R. Erwin '53

Regarding the candy-stripe painting of the NROTC's gun in the early '50's: I read Jim Merkel's letter saying this act was not comical but an abhorrence of the U.S. military. The funny thing is that I can clearly remember Jim's smiling face--as it looked back then--but I have no recollection of the incident. (Jim was a jovial, likeable youth before he turned into the grumpy old man that he obviously is today.)
Why don't I remember? I probably didn't think it great, funny, or horrible. Just a weak attempt compared to the welding of an I beam across the bridge one night in the late '40's--using thermite bombs as I recall (being no chemist)-- that stopped all trans-Hudson Troy traffic. This happened before I arrived at RPI and was the work of the older WW2 vets, I believe. Now, that was a great prank! No sacrilege, just a pain in the butt for our beloved city. Has it ever been bettered?

Larry Wackerman '52
Hicksville, N.Y.



I enjoyed Mr. Mayer's recount of his time in Tin Town in the referenced issue. I too was an inhabitant of Tin Town beginning in August 1947 and can offer a couple of tales that you may find interesting.
Apparently by the time Mr. Mayer's residency began in Tin Town, the post war production of boiler controls had spun up to the point where suitable devices were available to allow full automatic operation of the Tin Town boilers. Such was not the case in the winter of '47-'48. The boilers had to be started manually by an attendant who would douse a rag wound around the end of a long pipe with kerosene, light it with a match, start the oil burner, and thrust the lighted rag into the combustion chamber thus lighting the main flame. (And if the timing of this procedure was not quite right, a loud earthshaking "WHOMP" would result!)
The burner would then run until the pressure sensing device would determine that the maximum pressure had been reached at which point the oil burner would be turned off requiring the above-described manual procedure for restarting when the pressure dropped again.
This whole affair would have been transparent to the students except for the annoying fact that the Administration did not see fit to provide personnel to start the boilers between midnight and 6 AM.
On particularly cold nights when studying was required after about 12:30 AM, and they were numerous, the rooms became very cold. To remedy this oversight, my roommate, whom I shall protect by not naming, would pick the lock on the boiler room, and I would light the boiler in the manner described above having previously observed the procedure through the boiler room window.
In this way, we managed to keep warm and studying.
Finally, while Mr. Mayer remembers walking to the campus in the rain, I remember walking the same route that winter in snow and wind at temperatures measured by a new Taylor thermometer mounted outside our Tin Town window which read for a solid ten days at lower than 20 degrees below zero. One morning it was minus 26! Students were being regularly hospitalized for frostbite of noses, ears and cheeks.
I have lived in sunny California for over 25 years and wouldn't touch another New York winter with a pole as long as the one we used to light the boiler.

Dick Boyd '51
San Mateo, Calif.

"Tin Town," Mort Mayer's contribution to the June 1999 issue of Rensselaer brought back many memories of 15 Peck Drive and environs. Mort did an excellent job of the physical aspects. Mort must have had one of the end rooms a 6-foot window? We low-lifes along the corridor had only a 3-foot window. But what about the subtleties of those dorms? The wind generated great sound effects as it rumbled the aluminum sheeting that made up the outside skin including the roof. If you had the bunk next to the corridor, the plywood floor sagged as someone walked by and your bunk went with it. The boiler rooms may not always have kept the rooms hot, but the jugs of fermenting beverages "worked" very well close to the furnace. And after the Christmas recess with those windows closed throughout, many students found their wax LP records in a lump in the bottom of the jacket.

The creativity of the budding engineers was impressive:

  • Buying scrap newspaper from the Salvation Army and wadding it carefully made it possible to fill a room to capacity, using the window as an exit for maximum cramming.
  • A lighted cherry bomb dropped into a paper bag with about a pound of flour and tossed through an open window from the outside caused instant white-out.
  • One cycle enthusiast tried a ride in the front door, down the corridor and out the back door. Unfortunately, he forgot there was a four foot drop from because of the
  • Disassembling a grad assistant's car and reassembling it in a vacant room probably indicated a coming ME.
  • A potential EE had adapted Spike Jones classic "Beetlebaum" to bellow out "Faigenbaum" across the metallic community. (No disrespect to our chemistry lecturer, of course.)
  • That single glass globe in the center ceiling also substituted for a fish bowl-made an excellent multi-wall screen saver. (No doubt recognizing the future of color television developed in the attic of Sage by Dr. Babbits.)

Ah, the memories of "dear old RPI!"

Myron A. (Mike) Smith, '52
Painted Post, N.Y.

Since I also resided in the now famous (or infamous) freshman dormitories described by Mort Mayer '53 in his article under "I Remember" of the June issue of the Alumni Magazine, many of the same memories came flooding back. In my case, I have mixed feelings of that experience. The major advantage of those dormitories was the camaraderie that developed between incoming freshmen due to the geographical separation from upper classmen and the knowledge that we (freshmen) were all in the same boat. However, as anyone who was there at the time can attest, it was really brutal walking to classes at the main campus through the cold and howling winds of a typical Troy winter day with all of the books of the entire day under your arms.
Although I couldn't wait to move to the regular dormitories on campus in order to be closer to classes and other activities, I must admit that the experiences at TIN TOWN are now some of the most vivid I have of my years at RPI. I really appreciate all of the varied articles that appear in the alumni magazine; keep up the good work.

Peter N. Anagnos '51
Poughkeepsie, N.Y.


In the 1950 Class Notes section, James Moore writes "Here we are half way through the last year of the 20th century" and "It is mind boggling to think that the Class of 1950 will be the first class to celebrate its 50th reunion in the 21st century".
What I find really mind boggling is that an RPI graduate could think that the 21st century starts in 2000! How could he not have learned enough history to know that there was no year zero.

Richard B. Priest '50
Fayetteville, N.Y.


Time to up the ante. I also remember having a beanie as a freshman at RPI. That was in the fall of 1969 (Class of '73). What say the freshmen of the '70s?

Michael Marian
Northborough, Mass.



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