Saturday, October 27, 2018

Scovill Connections

I have written about various aspects of my connections to Scovill Manufacturing Company a number of times. But I thought it appropriate to pull them all together, as well as give a history of the company.

Scovill began life in 1802 as a button factory that was started by Abel Porter (*1), my 3rd cousin (5 times removed). In 1811, James Scovill and two others bought Abel’s business and began turning it into a brass company (*2). A few years later, James’ brother, William, bought out the other two men and the two brothers renamed it after themselves. James and William are also related to me through another connection as well (*3).

In 1918, my great-grandfather, Louis Russell (*4), began working in Waterbury, building a new power plant for Scovill. Here are the details of that as previous published in (*5).

My great-grandfather, Louis Russell (1871-1946), was born in Kent, but grew up in New Milford. He learned how to be a millwright from his father. He initially worked for the New England Lime and Cement Company, then trained to be an electrician and began working for the Tucker Electrical Construction Company.

During WWI, Connecticut produced nearly ¾ of the brass munitions used by the US. There were a number of large brass mills in Waterbury, CT, one of which was Scovill Manufacturing Company. When Russia entered the war, they wanted to have access to these same sorts of brass munitions. Czar Nicholas II paid Scovill to build a new power plant so they could increase their production and sell this increase to him. The Tucker Electrical Construction Company was selected by Scovill to build this new power plant. My great-grandfather moved his family to Waterbury during the war to help build this new power plant – a move that was funded by the Russians!

When the plant was finished, my great-grandfather was hired by Scovill to help run the plant that he had helped build. So, on August 26, 1918, the Russell family began working for Scovill – a relationship that lasted for over 60 years.

In 1924, when my grandparents separated, my grandfather, Erskine, left his wife and two small children living in Bridgeport and moved to Waterbury to live with his father and step-mother. His father, Louis, got him a job also working in the power plant. My grandfather eventually divorced, then later remarried in 1933, moving out of his father’s house, but continuing to work for Scovill.

In 1937, my father left his mother and step-father in Danbury and also went to live with Louis and his wife. When he graduated from high school in 1939, he also began working for Scovill as a draftsman. During WWI my father was serving in the US Navy in the South Pacific. Louis finally retired (at age 74 and with 27 years of service) when the war ended and died just a few months later. There is a picture of him in the Scovill Bulletin in February 1946 in honor of his years of service. Erskine also left Scovill at that time (with 21 years of service). Thus, when my father returned from his service in April 1946, he found himself the only one still working at Scovill. Nonetheless, he remained at Scovill until 1981 when he retired early (at age 60 and with 42 years of service). He also has a picture in the Scovill Bulletin in April 1964 when he had 25 years of service.

Meanwhile, I had my own encounter with Scovill, but not as an employee. During 1963-1964, the company had a contest for children/grandchildren of employees to write a paper on a current business topic. The top two winners each received a share of company stock (worth about $40 at the time) and the next three top paper writers received $25 and a glass serving dish. In the fall of 1963 I was one of the “honorable mentions” and received one of the $25 prizes, then I entered again that winter and received a share of stock. The topic for that quarter was “The Effect of Proposed Tax Reduction on Our Economy.” An excerpt from my paper appeared in the Scovill Bulletin for February 1964 and read:

“Paying less taxes would enable them (individual taxpayers) to have more money. This money would be spent, invested, or saved. If spent, the increased flow of money into stores and businesses would lead to expansion of these businesses so they could handle the increased volume of business. New jobs would result, both in the businesses and the firms that supply them. Money invested in businesses and industries would enable them to expand. Dividends returned to the investors could be spent, saved, or reinvested, and since money saved is actually invested in a savings institution, the same would apply there.

“What is the effect of a tax reduction on our economy? On the whole we come to see that it brings more jobs, increased business, and new products, which makes for a better and more vigorous economy.”

They ran the contest once more in the spring, then the six winners were invited to the company annual meeting as guests of the company. My picture appeared along with the other five winners alongside of the board chairman as well as the company president in May 1964.

The president at the time was Malcolm Baldridge (*6). He had been recruited by Scovill and joined as president in 1962, at the fairly young age of 40. Shortly after the picture that was taken with me, the previous board chair resigned and Malcolm became chairman and CEO in addition to being the president. He left Scovill in 1980 and joined the cabinet of Ronald Reagan as Secretary of Commerce. The Wikipedia article has many more details on his life.

Following that meeting of the shareholders, I was given a tour of the plant and offices of the company – with my father given the day off from his normal duties to accompany me. This was a rare privilege as the outside world was generally not allowed in – even my mother during my father’s over 40 years with the company was never allowed to see where he worked. We saw the continuous casting of brass, the rolling mills which turned the long ingots into sheets, and even the drafting tables where my father toiled.

I held onto my share of stock in Scovill for many years. The stock price rose to $100, then split so I had two shares. Four times a year my mother received a check (I was a minor so the stock was had on it “UGMA (uniform gifts to minors act)”). During my last undergraduate year of college, I sold those two shares as I was paying for my own college education and that additional $120 or so was needed to help pay that year’s tuition.

After 1981, when my father took early retirement and went to work elsewhere for several years, our family association with Scovill ended. But the plant maintained a large presence in Waterbury. I was by then living in PA and only passed the plant during our periodic visits to CT to visit my parents and other relatives.

Beginning around that same time, the diversification that had taken place under Malcolm Baldridge was being undone. Hamilton Beach (mixers and other appliances) which was a subsidiary of Scovill was sold off (*7). Schrader Air Valves was also sold off (*8). The brass mills which had been spun off as a separate company (Century Brass) in 1975 were shut down in 1985, ending the production of brass in Waterbury after 175 years (*9).  

In 1997, Scovill Fasteners, the last remaining portion of a once large diversified company, moved its corporate offices to Clarkesville, GA – a plant that our family had visited back in the early 1960s when my father went there for a weeklong project and the family all traveled with him and took vacation in the town (*10). Meanwhile, the large property occupied by the old mills and offices had been bulldozed and turned into two adjoining malls, the Brass Mill Center and the Brass Mill Commons (*11). These opened in 1997.

The company is now just a small shell of what it had once been. They no longer have any presence in Waterbury. Between my ancestral relationship to its founders, and all my relatives who spent the bulk of their working career there, it makes me sad whenever we have the opportunity to drive past what is now an aging mall.


My Work Experience – Part 4

While I was still stepping in as needed to write code for difficult situations, by the mid-90’s I was no longer spending my time in coding.  Rather, I was helping to lead others who were doing the actual coding.  I was not their supervisor, but was floating between projects as the need arose.  In many cases I was giving technical advice to people who were coding in languages and on platforms that I myself had never actually used.  Two things happened that made this transition complete.

The first was Y2K.  All the way back in 1980 I had designed a generalized date routine for the company that did all the needed date calculations – getting the current date, changes date formats, calculating the difference between two dates, etc.  As a result, many of our applications were insulated from Y2K as this date routine took it into account and would work until 2040.  But there were still many applications that would fail when the change of century occurred.  I had been the lone voice asking for this problem to be worked on for many years, but no one was listening.  Finally, I received permission from my manager to work on the corporate accounts receivable system, correct any faulty date logic, and document what the impact of the new century would have been if the changes had not been made.  The results stunned everyone.  Beginning in January of 2000, all accounts would be flagged as past due and interest charged to each customer with an outstanding balance, and any payments received would be dropped as having invalid dates and simply rejected – with no way to correct them except to rekey them from scratch.  Because of those results, I finally convinced management that we needed to address this issue.  The issue was too big for one person to handle, so one of the most senior project managers in IT was given overall responsibility and I worked on the team to address all the gas group systems.  This included all our gas group subsidiaries and joint ventures around the world – so I had a series of trips to all our major international locations to document their systems and work with their local IT staff to address any issues. 

On the night of the century rollover, I was on duty the entire night.  The VP of operations was also on duty and as Y2K rolled through each time zone the plants were being shut down before midnight, restarted after midnight, and the results called in to him.  Despite all that we had done, I logged over 60 failures, mostly minor ones, around the world.  The only ones with any financial impact were (1) the executive payroll system took out the deductions from each executive’s paycheck twice instead of once [that was a system I was not allowed to inspect because it was too sensitive], and (2) a computer in one of our facilities that logged the amount of product being imported via pipeline from a government plant calculated a negative amount of product for the hour that spanned midnight and gave us a credit instead of a charge [because the PC it ran on was a government PC instead of ours we had not been allowed to touch or examine it.]

The second incident was our (failed) attempt to buy out one of our competitors.  While the headquarters of both companies were in the US, we each had a network of subsidiaries and joint ventures around the world.  We had a large IT staff putting together a plan for how to integrate the two companies in the US, but just myself and one other person worrying about all the international locations.  I had been put on the team because of my Y2K experience.  So even without travelling to any of our competitor locations, I had put together a detailed plan on how to do the integration.  Management was impressed with the plan I had developed.  While the acquisition did not come to pass because of FTC objections (that’s another story that I will not include here), I became known as the international expert within IT – so much so that I knew more about our international structure than even the corporate secretary and I helped update the corporate records on our percentage of JV ownership (see below for more detail).

The result of these two situations meant that I had now totally divorced myself from the technical area (although I still had all that knowledge as an asset) and was the expert in our international operations.  Thus “rebranded”, I entered the final phase of my career at Air Products.

I had spent the four years prior to 2000 making the transition.  For the rest of my working years in the new decade I was still in IT, but with a very different focus – that of being an advocate and business analyst for all our international subsidiaries and joint ventures.  There were several facets to this new focus.

Defining the company – In the process of wanting to know where the company did business and where there might be Y2K problems, I had explored our ownership position of the various subsidiaries and joint ventures.  Some of what I found conflicted with information that was kept by other departments, specifically the corporate secretary’s office and the corporate tax office.  The former is supposed to be the “owner” of our ownership position, the latter cares about taxability, but stops caring whenever the total ownership position drops below 50%.  I ended up forming a small working group with representatives of those two offices and myself.  The definitions of things like “ownership”, “liability”, and “control” can be very convoluted but we needed to have a consistent view of them at the corporate level.  It’s complicated when you directly own X% of company Q, but then you also own Y% of company P which then owns Z% of the same company Q.  I also suggested some new wording for the standard wording that went on all corporate press releases: “… does business in __ countries …” as well as the language regarding how many employees the company had (it’s established at the beginning of a fiscal year and is published unchanged for the next 12 months even as company changes are made).  For IT to take the lead in such matters was quite unprecedented.

Standardizing computer hardware/software – One of our goals was to replace the hodge-podge of computer systems around the world that had resulted from either acquisitions over time or of each country going their own way in the absence of corporate standards.  The object was to make them consistent so you could take your company-issued laptop to any installation in the world, find a green Ethernet cable and log on to the network just as if you’d been at your own desk.  It took a couple of years to get this all done, but I led the effort to do so and this had huge benefits later.

Standardizing systems – At one time we counted 38 different order entry systems being used within the company.  There were several in various divisions in the US and when you added the international segment the numbers skyrocketed.  This usually also meant that there were several different accounting systems, complicating the function of reporting total sales figures for example.  The decision was made to replace all our homegrown systems with standardized purchased software, namely SAP.  The prior project to standardize our network paved the way to make this possible.  While I was not officially a part of the SAP team, I was often the lead person presenting this concept to both local IT and local business management, so I had to be pretty familiar with what they were going to be encountering and alleviate their fears.

Building relationships – One very important function was for me to establish relationships with the people in each country/subsidiary.  I needed to develop a level of trust as I was the voice/face of the company to them.  I also needed to be able to accurately represent them whenever decisions were being made in Allentown that affected them.  I found that a face-to-face meeting every two years would suffice as long as there was regular email/phone contact in between.  I also get very good at both understanding and speaking ESL (English as a Second Language).  Being able to communicate in a way that I could be understood directly was an extremely valuable skill.  Most of my IT colleagues either talked too fast or used too many figures of speech or complicated words to be easily understood.  I made many good friends around the world, even though I generally limited my travel to only one major trip per year (but usually with multiple stops in different countries in that part of the world).

Standing in the gap – There were a few occasions where I had to provide direct technical support.  For example, a couple of people in our Brazilian subsidiary were fired due to some improper actions.  Brazil has one of the most complicated tax structures in the world and some spreadsheets used by one of the fired individuals were critical to complying with these tax laws.  I stepped in and designed a new system that would automate the complicated calculations so we could close the books in a timely manner each month.  The night of the first closing I was on duty in my office in the US while the new finance manager in Brazil was running the closing from her office in Sao Paulo.  I had access to the server in Brazil so I could help make the necessary final tweaks. 

I had been saying for many years that I did not have a retirement date in mind – that I would keep working for as long as it was still “fun.”  While when I began saying this I meant that I might continue working after age 65, the “fun” ended quite a bit before then.

The company had gone through many reorganizations since I had been hired over 30 years before.  There were always changes and that was a way of life that I was used to.  But in the latest one I found myself with a new manager who happened to be British and he brought with him a new way of doing things.  This included that every task had to be done the same way by everyone.  It didn’t matter whether it was a relatively new hire in their mid-20’s in the UK or myself in my mid-50’s with 30 years of company background and knowledge.  And he did not believe in compromising this view.

The company as a whole was also undergoing change (again).  They were on a “quality” kick that was all about elimination of “waste” and “unproductive” time.  We had had similar campaigns in the past, but now “waste” extended down to the fact that if you took a bathroom break you were being unproductive.  Or if you were conversing with a fellow employee in the hall, even if it was about a mutual problem you hoped to solve, that wasn’t a formal meeting and so was unproductive.  The “fun” had left – and in a big way. 

Even though I was only 58, in the fall of 2006 I announced my retirement.  Rather than the typical two week notice, I announced it six months in advance, allowing a lot of time for the transition.  As it turned out, I was on the leading edge of a great exodus of experienced IT folks.  Over the next two years, there were dozens of “retirements” of my compatriots.  Some even left before I did by not giving as much notice.  And my fears were not unfounded.  As I visited a few times in the following years, or as others of my fellow IT retirees did the same, the mood had changed.  There were no people in the halls, there was dead silence – people were either “heads down” in their offices, or in meetings.  The “fun” of working for the company had died.  Not only had things like defined benefit pension plans been eliminated (that happened a few years earlier but I had been “grandfathered” in), but the feeling of contributing to the company and the willingness to give long hours because you felt valued had gone away.  Now it was just a job and not a career.  (As I write this, the company has just gone through another such reorganization – to operating totally regionally or by country.  As such, they are in the process of eliminating much of their home office staff – approximately 30%.  Not fun at all any more!)

I didn’t regret leaving but I didn’t regret my time working there either.  But it was the end of an era and I’m glad I left when I did.

My Work Experience – Part 3

When I decided to leave Olin, I chose an executive search firm, Robert Half out of Chicago, to help me find a new suitable position.  The position they found me, at Air Products and Chemicals (APCI) in Allentown, PA was one that I was told had been advertised in the Wall Street Journal, although I never saw it since I have never been a subscriber.  They were looking for an individual with very particular skills, and ones that I matched closely.  They wanted someone who had both the skills to do an RPG conversion [just like the one I had finished in Statesville], as well as one who could work with an online system [such as I had installed at Olin].  I had never heard of Air Products, and did not even know where Allentown, PA was – I had to look it up on a map before I could decide how to get there for the interview.  The interview was a full-day process, starting with the person who had called me (and who would become my supervisor), working through several other managers, and concluding with the Director of MID (it was then known as the Management Information Department).  As I later found out, this was their standard routine.  All the interviewers called the director’s secretary with their input after they had conducted their interview – if there were negative votes, then the director would be “unavailable” at the end of the day to meet with you so he only saw the candidates that had “passed.”  I passed and started at APCI in June of 1975.

I immediately got to work and had my first business trip down to Pensacola, FL, even before my wife had finished working with the movers and had come to PA to join me.  The conversion was quite similar to what I had done at Olin – moving all the applications at the former Escambia Chemical Company to the corporate computer in Allentown and transitioning from 360-20 RPG to OS-RPG.  The project budget was $100K.  After making my own estimates, I informed my supervisor that the budget was too high and should be only $90K.  I got a very shocked response!

A little history is needed here to explain this response.  MID had only attempted a few projects of this magnitude in the past.  The General Ledger project had been budgeted at $80K but the actual cost came in at $320K.  The Project Cost Reporting System (PCRS) had also been budgeted at $80K but they spent $240K.  And one other system had been budgeted at $100K and was soon to be completed at $350K.  So they had gotten used to being off by a factor of 3-4 times.  (Remember that this was the mid-70’s when salary for even an experienced, multi-degreed person like myself was only $20K/year, so $100K is five man-years.)  Thus, when I asked for a budget decrease they looked at me like I had four heads!  I agreed to keep the budget as estimated but privately I planned on $90K or less.

At any rate, I jumped right in to the project and started the conversion.  I was doing so many source code updates that I was overrunning the shared source code library and they needed to give me my own library for the project.  I was also preparing all the JCL (Job Control Language) for running all these systems and keeping the operations staff busy with all the production turnovers.  I finished the project a few months later with total expenditures of only $85K, $15K under the original budget.  That cemented my role as the “big project specialist” since I was the first person to ever meet the budget for such a large project – and it established the path down which I would travel the next couple of decades.

I also established my reputation in another way.  There were times when copying in the old JCL from Pensacola that one of the job initiators on the mainframe would freeze – eventually requiring a reboot of the machine to free it.  I looked at the symptoms, correctly diagnosed it as some improper coding, in assembler, of a company extension to the operating system, and sent a note with the corrected code to the head of our systems programming group explaining how to fix the problem – all without actually seeing the code.  That equally impressed that entire group and they became trusted friends for many years.

I should explain at this point that the company was used to hiring only new college grads into MID.  They would then train them in “the Air Products way”.  I was one of only a few people at that point who had been hired with experience – and only because of the specific projects that they needed help on.  So I was already two labor grades above all the other new people coming on and one of only a few who knew what it was like “on the outside”.  That gave me a perspective that others did not have and that also helped me as the years went by.

Over the next couple of decades I remained in the technical area of IT.  The department changed names from MID to MIS then to IT.  There were a number of reorganizations – from functionally aligned to business unit aligned and back again.  The mainframe platform continually expanded; we added mini-computers, then PC’s, and even hand-held computers.  I worked for a number of different managers.  On a couple of occasions I had the opportunity to make the move into management, but I knew that my strengths did not lay there so I turned down those offers.  By the time I moved on from writing code, I had written more lines of code for more programs in more languages than anyone in the company’s history – FORTRAN, COBOL (on several different platforms), assembler, PL/1, RPG, Basic, SAS, ASIST, FOCUS, Pascal and a few others.  I had worked on systems in HR, receivables, payables, purchasing, inventory, maintenance, cylinder tracking, order entry, sales, truck scheduling, asset management, and others.  Any time there was a new technology or a large “risky” project, I was likely to be involved.  I recall one instance where we were having a celebration get-together for a project that had just successfully completed.  My supervisor was in attendance as was I since I had helped on some of the more technical aspects of the system.  My supervisor said to me, “I don’t know what it is you do, Al, but every time we have one of these celebrations I notice that you’re invited.”  That pretty much summarized my contribution – not often running the projects, but always helping them to be successful.

I could write several pages here about all the various systems I worked on, but I’ll limit myself to a couple of interesting ones.

Cylinder Tracking – In the cylinder gas business, not only is there income from the sale of the gases, but from the rental of the metal cylinders that the gas is delivered in.  (Officially this is called demurrage as there is a “free” period when the cylinder is delivered and charges only begin if the cylinder is kept longer than some negotiated period which would be necessary for using all the gas in the cylinder.)  While the industry had for many decades just billed demurrage on average balances, there was increasing pressure to track individual cylinders.  Our early pilot project included such things as figuring out the best shape for the label (since it had to be mounted on a compound curve of the shoulder of the cylinder), the optimum thickness of the glue layer, the best type of bar code to use, etc.  I got involved shortly after the pilot project when the IT person on the project was let go and I discovered that he had booby-trapped the code so it wouldn’t run after he left.  This was a real “front line” project as it involved working directly with the customer.  I wrote the new version of the code over the Christmas break in Pascal.  We ended up licensing it to some of our larger customers so they could further track the cylinders within their facilities.  The actual input devices were handheld devices.  They were programmed by me using an e-prom (erasable programmable read-only memory) burner that produced the chip with the code on it.  I had the only such burner in our IT department.  Once one of our customers made a number of mistakes and wiped out the database on their PC.  As a result they ended up paying APCI for me to fly to their location (a government nuclear facility), got me through security, and gave me access to their PC to do my “magic” and recover the database from the erased area of the hard drive.

Vehicle Scheduling – An area where the company gained some national recognition by the Operations Research Society of America (ORSA) was our vehicle scheduling system.  This solved what was considered to be a very tough problem in the trucking industry, especially with trucks that delivered liquid products such as APCI did.  We needed to account for: different road weight limits in different states; days and times that our customers were open (some required that we deliver when the office was open so they could process the paperwork, other while the office was closed so we could turn around in the parking lot when it was not being used); and accounting for the amount of product to be delivered (since the onsite tanks were being drawn down even while the trucks were on their way).  Part of the system needed to be online and running under our TP Monitor, CICS – a product of IBM.  Because of this the OR group would not be able to use their primary language, Fortran, as Fortran interrupts would disrupt the online environment and affect all other users when they occurred.  The OR group was not willing to use COBOL, but reluctantly agreed to use PL/1 as it was closer to FORTRAN.  Unfortunately, no one in the OR group had ever used PL/1 before, so while they did write the first version of the needed modules, I had to do an almost total rewrite to make them useable.  I was one of the few people who not only knew both FORTRAN and COBOL well, but could pick up a new computer language quite easily.

EIS – In the early days of PC’s not everyone had one on their desk like they do now.  One of the uses of PC’s was for what were known as Executive Information Systems (EIS for short).  The first one developed at APCI was for the VP of sales.  Prior to the EIS there were bunches of reports produced by sales analysts.  If the VP had a question about how things were going in a particular area, then he’d ask the analysts who would do further analysis and produce yet another report.  The EIS was designed to shortcut all of that by preparing all the various “cuts” of sales/profit data by product, by geography, by major customer, etc. and make them available so the VP could just click on an area of interest and get further details.  To make it easy to use, we used the metaphor of the stoplight – green light for trending up, yellow light for stable, red light for trending down.  We were able to get access to the VP’s PC over a lunch hour to install the software.  Only a few hours later we were called into his office to answer the question, “How do I know if things are going ok or not?”  It turned out he was one of the small percentage of men who were red-green color blind so he couldn’t tell which areas were ok and which were not.  By the next day we delivered the revised system – with different shapes as well as colors – green up arrows, yellow circles, and red down arrows.  Sometimes you have to learn by your mistakes!

SPOC – In the early 90’s the divisional VP brought in a consultant to examine the business.  The consultants made a proposal to eliminate our mainframe-based systems and replace them with modern “client-server” systems.  The consultants said that they could do so in one year with a three-year payback.  But that would also mean that they would eliminate all the internal IT staff who supported that division (including myself) in the process.  We weren’t going to take this lying down, so we (IT) made a counter proposal to management that we could do it ourselves in only six months and with a one-year payback.  Essentially, we were betting our jobs that we could do this.  Fortunately management agreed to give us the six months.  We quickly assembled a team, partnered with an outside firm that had the expertise in client-server software that we did not, and began the project at the beginning of April.  We had a three-man project leadership team.  One was the non-technical project lead, one handled all the new hardware for this new model, and I managed the software end of things.  Each of us had to have complete trust in the other two for this to work.  The programming was going to take place in Cambridge, MA at our partner’s location.  We sent three of our IT folks up there to work with them and learn how to support it.  I spent a lot of time on the phone and made trips to Boston every other week or so (a total of 13 trips in the six months) – fortunately one of the airlines had a commuter flight from Allentown to Boston every day, so I only stayed overnight a couple of those trips.  On the last day of October (a little more than the six calendar months, but less than seven) we turned on the new system (called SPOC for Single Point Of Contact) and took the first order.  This system enabled us to consolidate all our district order taking, etc. around the country into a single customer service center and was truly world-class.  But even more importantly, we preserved our jobs!

My Work Experience – Part 2

In the summer between my two years of grad school I didn’t go back home to CT.  One of my CS buddies, Terry Opdendyk, had just graduated (in the normal 4 years) but had to remain in the area for the summer since his wife had a couple of courses to take before she graduated.  He had been accepted into the graduate program at Stanford for the fall.  He had contacts with a small computer company, Cascade Data, in his hometown (Grand Rapids, MI) about an hour or so away.  We formed a small business, TOAR Associates, using our initials, and submitted a couple of bids to do some contracting work for Cascade.  We got a contact to write a complete set of business applications for them, in RPG, that they could sell to the companies who bought the small business computer that they made (it was a competitor for the IBM System 3).  I didn’t know RPG at the time, so picked up a manual, learned it over the weekend, and started writing code on Monday.  We wrote a whole series of applications (General Ledger, AR, AP, Payroll, Inventory, etc.)  The company didn’t yet have a working RPG compiler, so one weekend we rented time at a local computer training company who had an early model Univac and spent the entire weekend compiling, correcting, and re-compiling all the programs we had written.

(A few asides about Terry.  I had met him in the fall of 1966 when were both freshmen.  We were taking ATL (American Thought and Language) together.  He told the teacher that he was going to be missing a couple of classes as he had a TV appearance in NYC.  The prior year he had been the National president of JA (Junior Achievement), and he was appearing on the show “To Tell the Truth”.  On the day that the show ran I made sure that I was back at the dorm watching.  We took a number of classes together as we were on the same academic path.)

In the fall, Terry and his wife moved out to CA.  He graduated from Stanford, went to work for a small company by the name of Intel where he started their programming department (it was just a chip manufacturer at the time), rising to become international VP of HR.  He then became president/CEO of a company called Personal Software Inc, renamed it VisiCorp (they produced a product you may remember called VisiCalc), then eventually moved on to become a venture capitalist.

Meanwhile, after the summer ended, I stayed on with Cascade Data as a contractor to help them complete their RPG compiler.  In the late fall the company was struggling financially and they decided to terminate all their contractors.  Since I was using that income to pay for grad school, I almost tearfully went to my grad advisor, Dr. Page, to let him know that I was going to have to drop out as I had no funds to pay for the next quarter.  He told me to wait on the decision and by the end of the week had put together a half-time assistantship running the help desk (a whole room of upper-level CS majors) where all the undergraduates came for help with their programming problems, and a quarter-time research assistantship working for the dean of institutional research.  That saved my graduate school career.

After completing my university education, I was unable to find a job – the recession of the early 1970’s having just begun.  So I once again returned to Uniroyal who was happy to have me.   They had just moved into their new corporate offices in Oxford, CT, just town or so away from where I had worked in Naugatuck those two summers.  My manager was once again Roy Peterson, and his boss Charlie Smith was the divisional MIS manager for CIP (Consumer, Industrial and Plastics divisions).  They made footwear, industrial conveyor belts, etc.  Charlie reported to the [financial] controller – a man who had come from Olin Corporation a few years earlier where he had been an assistant controller in one of their divisions. 

The following spring the controller left Uniroyal and returned to Olin as the VP of Finance (one way to get ahead is to jump to another company in a higher position, then return in yet a higher position – sometimes jumping around others in front of you on the corporate ladder).  Shortly after this, he convinced Charlie Smith to take early retirement from Uniroyal and come to Olin as the divisional director of MIS.  About the same time I felt the need to advance myself and had started looking around.  I had interviewed for jobs at Xerox in Rochester, NY and Lockheed in Bridgeport, CT.  I was about ready to accept the job with Lockheed when I got a call at home from Charlie Smith asking me to follow him to Olin.  He asked if I had thought about leaving Uniroyal and when I said that I was just about to turn in my resignation, he asked me to wait to accept the position at Lockheed until I met with him at Olin.  The Winchester Division of Olin was not all that far from me in CT, so I took a day off from work and drove down to New Haven.  Thus I ended up following on Charlie’s coattails and started working at Olin-Winchester Division.  It always intrigued me that of all the IT folks at Uniroyal, I was the only one he asked to follow him.

Winchester was the recreation products division of Olin.  Besides Winchester rifles (which they made at the New Haven plant), they made ammunition, sleeping bags, tents, lanterns and other camping equipment, Olin skis, and Ramset fasteners.  All the IT was done at the New Haven facility.  IT reported through finance and so was an overhead department and went through periodic ups and downs.  1972 was the beginning of an up cycle and I was in on the ground floor of the expansion.  Over the next 2.5 years I had the opportunity to bring in and install their first online systems, a database, and automate a fair number of areas of the company.  The last year I move from applications to internal systems and helped maintain the operating system, etc.  I got a lot of very broad experience in just a few years.

One of my more interesting experiences, and one which had some unanticipated (positive) implications later, was in-sourcing the division’s operations from their tent company in Statesville, NC.  The Hettrick Tent Company made tents for JC Penney, Sears, and other companies.  They had their own computer, an IBM 360-20, with a complete set of computer applications, all written in RPG.  As they had limited computer knowledge at that small location, the decision had been made to move those operations to our divisional computer facility in New Haven and run it on our larger machine.  It was a three-month project.  I and two others worked in the New Haven office on Monday.  After lunch we carpooled down to LaGuardia airport and flew down to Charlotte, NC (non-stop on Eastern Airlines at the time), rented a car and drove to Statesville, about an hour north of Charlotte, and checked into a motel there (the people in the motel got to know us on a first name basis by the end of the project).  We worked there until mid-morning on Friday, when we drove back to Charlotte and flew back home for the weekend.  We started the project at the beginning of September and finished at the end of November.  The project concluded by us flying down on Thanksgiving afternoon and working 12-on/12-off shifts over the weekend to do the final data conversion.  The following week was a light one as we just had to monitor the operation on the home office computer while the 360-20 stood idle.  In return for working the holiday weekend, the company flew our wives down on Monday for the last week.  We were able to do some sightseeing in the afternoons – spending one day at the Biltmore Estate in Ashville, and another at the Reynolda Estate in Raleigh.

In 1975, the company was starting through another down cycle and IT was bearing the brunt of the cost savings.  I watched many people around me getting laid off – including the other systems programmer with whom I shared an office.  Since the work wasn’t going away, just the people, those of us who were left kept having to pick up everyone else’s jobs as well as our own.  After a few months of this, I decided that I’d had enough and started looking around again.  After securing another job offer, I went to my supervisor to turn in my resignation.  He passed it upstairs to Charlie Smith who said, “Don’t tell me you’re resigning until I get back to you.”  Despite the downsizing going on, he came back to me the next morning with a 20% pay increase if I would stay.  I told him that I wasn’t leaving for the money, but because of the work environment and would be leaving anyway.

As an aside, the places where I worked then are either now torn down or abandoned.  The Uniroyal headquarters which was brand new in the early 1970’s with its open office concept is now a grassy field next to weed-infested parking lots.  The building in New Haven, only two blocks from Yale University, was shuttered about 10 years ago and the buildings are a rotting relic of the bygone days of manufacturing in the U.S.

My Work Experience – Part 1

As with most teenagers, I had a variety of afterschool jobs.  While I didn’t have my own car so did not use the income to pay for the car, insurance, etc., they did provide me with spending money and savings (which eventually went toward college tuition). 

My first paying job (at about age 10 or 12) was bagging charcoal at the “charcoal pit” at the end of the road.  A local neighbor, Mr. Seery, who owned the land, would cut down some trees, put the logs in an enclosure, light it, then seal the entrance so as it burned it would turn to charcoal.  My cousin Dave and I would use a shovel, minus handle, to scoop up the charcoal, fill sturdy paper bags and wrap a wire twist tie around the neck.  We got paid so much a bag.  It was dirty work, but both Dave and I were hard workers and it was good pocket money.  Not sure how my mother felt about how black I got doing this, but it kept us out of trouble and taught us good work ethics.

My next paying job was working with my uncle on the state forest fire crew that he ran.  Most paying jobs require you to be 16, but since he was the crew chief, I and my cousin Dave started a few years before that.  We would ride with my uncle to the closest road access to the fire, don heavy Indian Tanks and take either a rake or broom (not a garden rake and a household broom, but ones designed for this job) as we trudged back into the woods to fight the fire.  I had a pair of heavy red rubber boots that I wore for this.  The volunteer fire companies relied on these state crews for anything that they could not reach with their trucks and hoses.  We got paid the princely sum of $1/hour at the beginning (later raised to $1.25).  If we missed meals, then either the Red Cross or the Salvation Army had a food truck and would come out close to us so when we got out of the woods we had sandwiches and cold drinks.  (Because of this, I have continued to make periodic donations to these organizations that were so kind to me all those years ago).  One of the “benefits” was that if the fire was during the day we were allowed to miss school to fight the fire.  One pair of fires is especially memorable to me.  We were called out on a fire on a Thursday night and didn’t get back home until early morning.  While I could have missed school on Friday, I had a teacher who didn’t believe in any excuses and if he gave you a make-up test it was bound to be so hard as to be unpassable.  So I went to school anyway.  Just after getting home, there was yet another fire and so I went out again.  This was a fairly big one and although we got all the flames out we had to “baby sit” the fire location for several hours, putting out all the embers under the stumps.  I finally got home late on Saturday – after having been awake for about 60 hours.  I had a quick shower and went right to bed where I slept around the clock plus.  My parents didn’t even wake me up for church the next morning.

I had several other part-time jobs that lasted anywhere from a few months to over a year: driving a delivery van for the local radio/TV store; working at the local PikWick grocery store where I was a stock clerk and responsible for all the bottle returns; washing windows and cleaning up the store at a Fanny Farmer candy shop.  All these taught me the value of work.

While all the above jobs were fine, none of them provided the steady work that I needed to earn money to pay for college.  After I graduated from high school, I found a job working for a small business that sold and recapped tires (while they also handled car tires, they mostly concentrated on truck tires).  I was a skinny 17-year old who weighed perhaps 155 pounds.  The guys who worked in the shop didn’t think that I’d last two weeks.  But I continued not only the entire summer, but came back the next summer as well.  It was 55 hours a week, nine hours a day and ten on Saturday – with overtime that was 62.5 hours pay at $1.60/hour or a gross of $100/week.

Recapping truck tires is a tiring, tedious job.  Step 1 – mount the tire on a buffer that slowly turns the tire past a set of spinning blades that chew off all the outer surface of the tire, even out any flat spots, etc.  Step 2 – spray a temporary adhesive on the buffed up surface, put the new raw rubber around the outside and stitch it down (stitcher is like a thick pizza cutter but with a ribbed edge).  Step 3 – put the tire on a spreader which has one set of paddles holding each of the two tire beads, then use air pressure to spread the beads apart which shrinks the overall diameter of the tire (don’t stand in front of the tire as if the paddles slip they will kill you – there was a hole in the cinder block wall at the opposite side of the building from one such slippage!); put an aluminum band on the tire that has the new tread on the inside.  Step 4 – put on a heavy metal rim, put the whole thing on a round table with another round table over it, clamp it all together, inflate the inner tube, then run high-temperature steam through the tubes around the outside of the band.  Step 5 – “cook” for several hours, then remove everything and you have a newly retreaded tire.  It was generally 90% humidity and over 90 degrees, so with the black rubber dust that you quickly get coated with, you sweat a lot – making the black dust stick even more.  It was hot, hard work, but I came to appreciate this experience over the coming years.

After my second year of college I decided to try something in my field of study.  A family friend from church was a computer analyst for Uniroyal in their Eastern Management Information Center.  They never had hired a summer college student, but he convinced them to give me a try.  My interview included taking the IBM Programming Aptitude Test – a kind of mini-SAT geared to the thinking skills needed in this new technological field.  It was in several sections and all were timed.  The manager’s secretary set me up in a vacant office down the hall, gave me one section, and said she would be back when my time was up.  I was done so fast that I was back at her desk before she even got much chance to sit down – ready for the next section.  Totally blew everyone away, got a higher score than any of their current employees, and was so fast that they had trouble believing it.  The manager, Roy Peterson, then interviewed me.  He had originally wanted me to do some conversion of some old Autocoder programs to RPG.  But since I had done so well he instead gave me a project that he had planned on doing himself – as he didn’t think the other programmers in the department had the necessary skills to do it.  (Note that in those days few people had actual degrees or even college backgrounds in the field (Roy had a BS in Math).  So most of the department had no college background but had come out of one of the other departments – areas like payroll or production scheduling).

The program I had assigned to me was for the production scheduling of all their footwear (one of the divisions of Uniroyal was US Rubber, maker of US Keds).  Had to take the inventory of “lasts” (the metal foot-shaped forms that shoes are formed around), spread the initial production schedule over the available lasts, round down to the nearest dozen/half-dozen pairs, then take the unused lasts and re-spread the unsatisfied production over the residual lasts.  All this was done for each shoe size, noting that often a men’s size X was built on the same last as the women’s size Y.  This process used so much CPU time that it would read in the schedule and inventory for one style from tape, then be CPU-bound for a while before it spit out the results on another tape.  The computer had a “wait light” that went out when the CPU was busy – usually indicating that the program had gotten stuck in a loop.  So I had to put a note on my run deck that said, “This will shut off the wait light, do not cancel the program when it does.”  At the end of the summer they gave me a sarcastic “glad to see you going” party and a Cross pen and pencil set – one that I carried with me for a couple of decades before they finally wore out. 

The following summer I worked for them again, this time on a corporate funding model.  The program had an income statement, balance sheet, and source and use of funds sheet for each country that the corporation did business in.  Using several years of history and a sales forecast it forecast the sales, etc. for several years in the future and made assumptions about where excess cash could be used, where borrowing or repayment of debt was appropriate, all while keeping cash from flowing back to the US (where it would be taxed).  These days that would all be done on a multi-sheet spreadsheet, but doing it by computer back in 1969 was long before PC’s existed.  At the end of the summer I presented the results to the corporate finance folks and the VP of Uniroyal International at their offices in Rockefeller Plaza in New York City.  When they realized that I had done what had been taking them many days of calculations on paper spreadsheets, they got very excited.

These jobs paid for my tuition.  But during the school year, I had a few other odd jobs to earn spending money.  These included: (1) cleaning the apartment for an older couple each Saturday – vacuuming, changing bedding, mopping floors and cleaning the toilet, etc.  (She was blind and he was disabled and I enjoyed working for them.); (2) shoveling snow for a business complex on the next block; (3) tutoring in mathematics for a middle-school student; (3) reading textbooks for a blind graduate student while she took notes in Braille.  A variety of jobs and all very different from each other.

Witches in my Family Tree

Most people are aware of the witchcraft trials which took place in Salem, MA, in the late 1600s. But these were of a very short timeframe – 1692-1693. There were also a lot of witchcraft trials taking place in Connecticut – the first of which was in 1647, and the last of which may have been as late as 1724. A good synopsis of these can be found in (*1), although there are many other references. There are about 40 names mentioned in this article. As I looked through the list of names, I wondered if any of these were in my ancestral tree – and the answer was “yes!”

Part 1 – James Wakelee

James Wakely/Wakelee is my great*10 grandfather. He was born in England around 1594 and had come to America during the great migration. He had at least one child, Henry, who was born in England in 1620 who had come to America with him. In 1652, his first wife apparently having died, he married Alice Boosey, a widow, in Hartford, CT.

James seems to have led a somewhat contentious life. According to (*2), he was involved in nearly two dozen lawsuits between 1648 and 1662 when he finally fled to Providence, RI, to escape all these charges. He died there in 1690.

Before fleeing to Providence, he had been accused of witchcraft. (I insert here the account of this accusation from *3).

THOMAS BRACY (probably Tracy)—Misfit jacket and breeches—Vision of the red calf's head—Murderous counsel—"Afflictinge"

"Thomas Bracy aged about 31 years testifieth as follows that formerly James Wakeley would haue borrowed a saddle of the saide Thomas Bracy, which Thomas Bracy denyed to lend to him, he threatened Thomas and saide, it had bene better he had lent it to him. Allsoe Thomas Bracy beinge at worke the same day making a jacket & a paire of breeches, he labored to his best understanding to set on the sleeues aright on the jacket and seauen tymes he placed the sleues wronge, setting the elbow on the wronge side and was faine to rip them of and new set them on againe, and allsoe the breeches goeing to cut out the breeches, haueing two peices of cloth of different collors, he was soe bemoydered in the matter, that he cut the breeches one of one collor the other off another collor, in such a manner he was bemoydered in his understandinge or actinge yet neuertheless the same daie and tyme he was well in his understandinge and health in other matters and soe was forced to leaue workinge that daie.

"The said Thomas beinge at Sargant Hugh Wells his house ouer against John Harrison's house, in Weathersfield, he saw a cart cominge towards John Harrisons house loaden wth hay, on the top of the hay he saw perfectly a red calfes head, the eares standing peart up, and keeping his sight on the cart tell the cart came to the barne, the calfe vanised, and Harrison stoode on the carte wch appared not to Thomas before, nor could Thomas find or see any calfe theire at all though he sought to see the calfe.

"After this Thomas Bracy giuing out some words, that he suspected Katherin Gooddy Harrison of witchcraft, Katherin Harrison mett Thomas Bracy and threatned Thomas telling him that shee would be euen with him. After that Thomas Bracy aforesaide, being well in his sences & health and perfectly awake, his brothers in bed with him, Thomas aforesaid saw the saide James Wakely and the saide Katherin Harrison stand by his bed side, consultinge to kill him the said Thomas, James Wakely said he would cut his throate, but Katherin counselled to strangle him, presently the said Katherin seised on Thomas striuinge to strangle him, and pulled or pinched him so as if his flesh had been pulled from his bones, theirefore Thomas groaned. At length his father Marten heard and spake, then Thomas left groninge and lay quiet a little, and then Katherin fell againe to afflictinge and pinching, Thomas againe groninge Mr. Marten heard and arose and came to Thomas whoe could not speake till Mr. Marten laid his hands on Thomas, then James and Katherin aforesaid went to the beds feete, his father Marten and his mother stayed watchinge by Thomas all that night after, and the next day Mr. Marten and his wife saw the mark of the saide afflictinge and pinchinge."

"Dated 13th of August one thousand six hundred sixtie and eight.

"Hadley. Taken upon oath before us.


There seems to be some confusion about dates here, as (*2) says that he fled to avoid prosecution in 1662 and (*1) has that same year, but this account from (*3) contains a date of 1668. And (*1) has a date of 1669 for the other person, Katherin Harrison mentioned in this account. But regardless of this, it seems quite certain that James was accused.

Like many of these witchcraft accusations, it is only took the word of a single individual and an event from their dreams to make that accusation. Nonetheless, the accusation was taken seriously. In the case of James, he fled to avoid prosecution, but other individuals, generally women, were put to trial and sometimes found guilty and killed.

A Google search of “James Wakely witch” will produce over 100 references to this unfortunate individual. I’m not sure that I should be proud to have him as my ancestor as regardless of whether he was a victim on the charge of being a witch, he seems to not have had the best of character with the number of other court proceedings in which he was involved. But it is interesting to have a personal connection into this facet of our colonial history.

Part 2 – Mercy Disbrow

James Wakely/Wakelee was in my family on my mother’s side. But there is another name in (*1) that is from my father’s side of the family. The name is recorded here as “Mercy Disborough”, but is more properly the name Disbrow. My great*3 grandfather, Silas Russell, married Hester Disbrow. Mercy Disbrow is my great*8 grandmother.

Unlike James, who fled to avoid persecution, Mercy went to “trial.” She asked to be tried by being pushed into a pond where it was believed that if you floated you were guilty (*4). She did float, and at a subsequent trial was thus found guilty. However, the governor was against the whole idea of witchcraft because of the hysteria then taking place in Salem and she was released on a technicality.

Cobblestone Magazine published an issue on Connecticut History in 2001 that contains a nice two-page article on Mercy Disbrow (*5).

Part 3 – Mary Staples, Mary Harvey, Hannah Harvey

This trio of women were mother, daughter, and granddaughter. Mary Staples is my great*10 grandmother.

As noted in (*6), this was a somewhat complicated scenario. In 1653 when Goody Knapp was tried and executed as a witch, Thomas Staples’ wife Mary placed herself under suspicion, to which her unusual intelligence had already made her liable, by expressing doubt, for example "it was long before she could believe this poor woman was a witch, or that there were any witches, till the word of God convinced her.” Mr. Ludlow reported the suspicions of her to Rev. Mr. Davenport, but Thomas Staples boldly brought the matter to an issue by suing Mr. Ludlow for slander in the New Haven Colony Court, which awarded him damages of £10. In 1692, during the witchcraft epidemic, Mrs. Staples was accused again, together with her daughter Mary Harvey and granddaughter, Hannah Harvey, but no evidence sufficient for indictment was produced.

Part 4 – Mary Barnes

Mary is my great*9 grandmother. She was the last person hanged in Connecticut for witchcraft. Her full story can be found in (*7). Her daughter and my great*8 grandmother, Sarah, was 20 at the time of Mary’s hanging. Sarah married William Scovill and two of her great*3 grandchildren, James and William Scovill, were the founders of Scovill Manufacturing Company in Waterbury – the place that my great grandfather, grandfather, and father worked for many years. (*8, *9)

Part 5 – John and Joan Carrington

One of the few couples executed for witchcraft, John and Joan lived in Wethersfield, CT. They are my great*9 grandparents (*10). Their daughter, Rebecca, who was only a year old when they were executed was my great*8 grandmother.


I was surprised by the number of my ancestors who were on this list. Some were acquitted, one fled to escape persecution, one was found guilty but escaped due to a technicality, and three were actually hanged. This is an interesting part of Connecticut history and fortunately/unfortunately a number of my ancestors were involved.


*6 – “Witch-Hunting in Seventeenth-Century New England”, edited by David Hall