Some Pictures from My Three Year Tour at McClellan AFB, 1965 - 1967


TechOpsThis page is a blog from the past of some personal pictures and memories from my three year tour of duty as an officer at McClellan Air Force Base in Sacramento. These pictures have been in a shoe box for about 40 years now. I am posting them here in hopes that some of the people pictured will see them.

My tour of duty was Jan. 1, 1965, to Jan. 1, 1968, although I was released in mid December 1967. I was assigned to the McClellan Central Laboratory (MCL) in the 1155th Technical Operations Squadron (1155th TOS). I primarily worked as a support engineer in the Mass Spectrometry Laboratory. Our outfit was part of the Air Force Technical Applications Center (AFTAC), which reported directly to USAF Headquarters. If you are not registered as an alumni, you should go to the AFTAC link and click on "Member Locator/Change your info" to register your name in the data base. The 1155th was a tenant organization at McClellan AFB. I worked with some great people there and I hope that some of them find their picture on this page.

For most of my time there, we had three electrical engineers whose job was to support the electronics systems in the lab. My boss was Capt. Jim Smith. I replaced 1Lt. Clovis Hale who was reassigned shortly after I arrived. A few months later, 1Lt. Gary Seasholtz joined our group. Gary was a "ring knocker" who had graduated from West Point.

In the summer of '67, I had a new Miranda 35 mm reflex camera that I didn't quite know what to do with. It was purchased for me by an airman from our shop who went to our detachment in Japan for a couple of weeks to work on a system there. The camera had recently been rated by Consumer Reports as the best of the 35 mm cameras they had tested, and I had to have one. One weekend, I wandered to the California State Capitol in downtown Sacramento with my camera. This beautiful red rose was growing on the grounds.

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The Last Google Earth Views of the Building

Forward This picture of the 1155th building is a screenshot from Google Earth dated June 29, 2007. The coordinates are 38° 38' 46" N 121° 24' 34" W. At the left is Winters St. At the top is Bell Ave. Winters St. ran just outside the west side of the base. The west entrance to the base was at the intersection of Winters and Bell. In Google Earth dated May 27, 2009 and later, the building was gone. You can enter the coordinates (38 38 46 N 121 24 34 W) into Google Earth to locate the building. You must first click on the clock in the toolbar at the top to turn on the "historical imagery" feature. Then adjust the slider to June 29, 2007. By checking the "street view" box in the "layers" window at the lower left of Google Earth, you can view the building from the street level on Bell Ave. and Winters St. by clicking on one of the camera icons. Thanks to Michael Craig for walking me through this. He was stationed at the 1155th from Jan. 1969 to Aug. 1970.

The north side of the building is at the top in the picture. The main entrance was on the west side at the northwest corner. The row of metal vent hoods over the chemistry labs can be seen on the west side. The part of the building at the south side was the "new edition" when I arrived in 1965. We three electrical engineers occupied an office at the southeast corner, diagonally opposite from the main entrance. The metal structures over the center left of the new edition are over the computer room. I am guessing that they are parts of the air conditioning system. There were two computers. One was an IBM 1620 and the other was an IBM 1401. The 1620 was a smaller machine marketed for engineering and scientific work. The 1401 was sold for mid-range business applications. The combination of the two was said to provide fast processing of scientific data.

Forward Forward Here are an overhead view from the west side of the building and a street view of the front of the building from Winters St. just outside the base.


Building 628, Western Field Office - 1155th Tech Ops Squadron - Technical Operations Division comes down. These pictures have been shared with me by Jim Hartman who was stationed at the 1155th from Jan. 1964 to Feb. 1969. They show the demolition of the building.

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Squadron Telephone Directory

Forward This is a scan of the front cover of the squadron telephone directory. It was dated 1 September 1967.

AFROTC Summer Camp

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The first picture is the only proof that I attended Air Force ROTC summer camp at James Connolly AFB in Waco Texas in the summer of 1961. When the photographer told me to say "sh-t," I broke out laughing. The plane was just a prop for the picture. The second picture was sent to me by Ted Rapp. It shows him at ROTC summer camp at Lockbourne AFB (now Rickenbacker AFB), Ohio. Ted served in the Chemistry Laboratory at the 1155th from '63-'77.

Camping Out at Lake Tahoe

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These pictures were made when several of us junior officers went to Lake Tahoe in 1965 to camp out for the weekend. In the first picture, we had just pitched camp. Pictured are Marshall Leach, Dan Trainor, and Gary Smith. The second picture was taken the next morning. Shown are Stu Pattison, Marshall Leach, and Gary Smith. We had hiked up to a small lake in the mountains above where we camped out thinking that we could wash our face, hands, and feet. We didn't succeed in cleaning up because the water was too cold. In the third picture, Gary Smith and Dan Trainor are preparing our breakfast. We had grits, eggs, bacon, and coffee. I was the only one in the group who had ever eaten grits. The others seemed to like them.

A Trip to the Hippie District in San Francisco

Forward One Saturday, the group of us traveled to San Francisco to check out the emerging hippie scene there. This picture was made at the corner of Haight and Ashbury Streets, the center of the hippie movement. That night, we wanted to go to the Fillmore Auditorium, but we were told it was sold out. Instead, we went to the famed Avalon Ballroom to hear a rock band play before a crowd of hippies. During this period, some of the bands and artists that played at the Avalon were Capt. Beefheart and His Magic Band, Janis Joplin, Steve Miller Band, Bill Hayley and the Commets, Bo Diddley, Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, The Doors, Canned Heat, and Quicksilver Messenger Service. I have no idea who was playing the night we went there.

Liquid Light Show. Accompanying the music was a colorful liquid light show that was projected on a large screen behind the band. I was curious to know how it was done, so I went up into the gallery to find a projectionist with an overhead projector. On the projector, he had a mixture of oil and droplets of different colored water between plates of glass. By rocking the plates, the colored water droplets would pulsate about in the oil to create the liquid light show. If you have never seen a liquid light show, the link button shows a small animated gif that simulates one. As I remember, the one we saw at the Avalon had more colors and a lot more action than this one. At this writing, the Avalon has been converted into a mattress company. You can see some great trivia about the '60s in San Francisco here.

Camping Out on the Monterey Coast

Forward Our group went to the Monetery Bay area for a weekend camping trip. Shown is Dan Trainor outside the tent in which we slept in a sheltered area off the highway that ran along the Pacific Ocean. Dan and I shared an apartment in the BOQ for several months after I first arrived at McClellan. We checked out the tent and sleeping bags from the base recreation supply. I thought it would be wise to get an air matress, so I went to the GEM store near the base and bought one. When I got into the sleeping bag, I turned over and started to hear a hissing sound. Something on the ground had punctured my air matress and it slowly deflated. The next morning, a highway partolman drove up and told us that camping was not allowed there. Before we left, we went down the clifts across the road to the beach and cooked grits, eggs, bacon, and coffee for breakfast. It was early in the morning and it was cold. The surfers were already out riding the Pacific waves. My buddies had never eaten grits, but I believe they liked them.

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We went to the beach at Santa Cruz and thought we would try to surf. In the first picture, Stu Pattison, Dan Trainor, and Gary Smith hold a surfboard at the Santa Cruz beach. The water was very cold and none of us succeeded in surfing. In the second picture, Dan Trainor and Marshall Leach with their surfboards. In the third picture, Stu Pattison and Marshall Leach with a surfboard.

Forward Although not a picture from our visit to the Monterey Coast, this is a picture of me after a ride on Stu Pattison's motorcycle. The picture was taken outside our Royal Villa apartment. Stu and I were roommates for 1.5 years after we moved out of the BOQ at McClellan.

Lunchtime at MCL

Forward Lunchtime in our office (room 171A) at McClellan Central Laboratory (MCL) in the 1155th Technical Operations Squadron circa 1967. I am sitting behind my desk with the camera. My boss Jim Smith is on the right. Jim Meiggs is wearing the white lab coat. My good friend Jack Courtney pans for the camera by pretending to make a phone call to "the Colonel." I found out that Jack died of cancer at the age of 64 on November 9, 2002 at his home in Baton Rouge, LA. He retired in 1998 from a 27 year teaching career at LSU. He was a Fellow of the American Nuclear Society.

My Friend Jack Courtney

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The first picture shows Jack imitating James Bond in the doorway of his apartment at Royal Villa Apartments. The pistol he is holding is a fake one. My apartment was to the right of his. The Royal Villa Apartments had a pink stucco exterior and were located across the street from American River Junior College. I once asked the apartment manager why the buildings were painted that awful pink. He replied that all the apartment buildings in Florida were pink. I eventually got used to it. The second picture shows Jack, Mary Jane Guiry, and her roommate in Jack's apartment. He had invited us there to play cards. I don't remember the game we played, but I certainly remember the deck of cards. Jack dealt them out face down. When we turned them over, we found pictures of naked women on the faces of the cards. The picture is poor, but you can see the cards on the floor. Jack was one of the most fun loving persons I have known. The third picture was taken of Jack in 1999 at a conference in Baton Rouge. Click on it to see his obiturary.

The MCL Mass Spec Laboratory

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I worked primarily supporting the electronic systems in our mass spectrometry laboratory at MCL. Terry Cantrell, who headed the unit, had a fall party for the group of us. On the left in the first picture is Alan Mochnick, I am in the center back. That is John Nastal on the right with the Beatle haircut. On the left in the second picture is John "Mac" McAuliffe. After getting out of the Air Force, he worked at Varian for several years, then went to medical school UC Davis, became a MD, and ended up as a partner in Nash Anesthesia Associates, Rocky Mount, NC in 1983. Terry Cantrell is in the center right wearing the white shirt. Behind Terry is John Nastal from Bloomington, IL who later became an executive with Sears in Chicago. To the left of Terry is Dave Blanchar. In front of him and to the left is his wife Carol. After working for Hewlett-Packard for 24 years, Dave has joined his wife in launching a consulting company ( To the right of Terry is Tom Peoples who eventually became a professor of mathematics at the Univ. of Florida.

The 1155th had the cream of the crop when it came to enlisted personnel. Here are a few other names, and their eventual careers (based on years old info): Sgt. Jim Simpson - attorney, Sgt. Ron Hershey - founder and CEO of a computer consulting company, Sgt. Richard Bright - executive with Campbell's, Sgt. Skip Lemmer - Professor of Physics at Stanford University, Sgt. Nick Puketza - architect, and Sgt. Mel Berg - city engineer, Sacramento.

Forward This is a picture of the instrumentation and data collection system for one of the mass spectrometers in our mass spec lab at MCL. The box at the lower center right with the coaxial cable connected to it and the box directly above it were the brains of the system. These were made by Technical Measurements Corp., or TMC for short, which later went out of business in the later '60s. Our mass spec lab had five of these systems. They were designed to completely automate the data collection. The data were stored in magnetic core memory and output to punched paper tape to be analyzed with IBM 1620/1401 computers in our computer room which was run by Lt. Col. George Jubber (20 Oct. 1925 - 06 Oct 1987). The TMC systems were relatively new when I got there in 1965. However, they were not in use because they gave wrong "numbers" when analyzing calibrated samples. The numbers obtained from manual operation of the spectrometers were good, but this was labor intensive and time consuming. One of my tasks was to work on the TMC system. Some of my experiences are described in the following.

The box in the lower right-center with the cable attached to it and the box above it were the "brains" of the TMC system. The heart of the system was an internal discrete transistor computer that had a magnetic core memory. The data collected was dumped from the magnetic core memory to punched paper tape for analysis by the MCL computers. The tape punch unit is in the upper left of the picture. 1Lt. Clovis Hale, who I was to replace, was working on these systems when I got there. I remember him telling me that they were "a can of worms." In use, the systems appeared to work in collecting data, but the numbers they gave when the data was analyzed were wrong.

Clovis left the 1155th not long after I got there. About a year later, after I had finished the tasks I had been working on, my boss Capt. Jim Smith told me that he wanted me to continue Clovis's work on the mass spec automation systems. I didn't tell him, but this assignment scared the wits out of me. The TMC systems were so complicated that I didn't think that I was qualified to work on them. Jim told me to get one of the systems and connect it up in one of our screen rooms and play with it. I spent hours pouring over giant fold-out circuit diagrams trying to understand the circuits and looking at the waveforms produced by the circuits on an oscilloscope. I wasn't making much progress at all until I asked electronics wizard Sgt. Dick Jewell in our electronics shop if he would help me one day. I watched in amazement as he took one of the giant circuit diagrams and traced the flow of a signal through it. He was using "baby talk" to describe how the voltages changed. "This little bunny rabbit jumps up. This little bunny rabbit jumps down," he was saying. Watching him do this was like turning on a light in the dark. It wasn't long before I finally understood how the circuits worked. To this day, I have been grateful to Dick Jewel for showing me how to do this.

It wasn't long before I identified the main problem with the system. It was the pulse height discriminator at its input. The problem only occurred intermittently. I had to sit and watch the oscilloscope waveforms for several minutes to see it happen, and then it was only random. The circuit used a device called a "tunnel diode," something that I was not familiar with at all. I remember that Clovis was working on the discriminator before he left, but I had little documentation of what he had done. After reading some application notes on tunnel diodes, I made a stab at redesigning the discriminator. I finally got a working circuit that solved the problem. I was beginning to feel like I could do something of value to the lab.

There were other problems in the mass spectrometers that a working TMC system did not solve. The biggest was the detector used to detect the accelerated ions as they exited from the magnetic field of the spectrometer. The detectors that were being used were photomultiplier tubes. To convert them into ion detectors, a glass cutter was used to cut the scintillator and photocathode elements from the end of the tube. What was left was an electron multiplier tube, but not a very good one. Capt. Mike Burta had suggested to Terry that a particular electron multiplier tube used by the school he attended might work better. They were made in Europe. Some were ordered and we found that they were far superior to the photomultiplier tubes we had been using. This led to a major redesign of the detector side of the mass spectrometers.

After the high-vacuum components that housed the detector were designed and built, we had the problem of interfacing the output of the detector to the input of the TMC units. The pulses being analyzed had a pretty wide dynamic range. The high-level pulses tended to overload the discriminator. If the signal was attenuated, the low-level pulses escaped detection. Terry and I traveled to KAPL (Knowles Atomic Power Laboratory, a unit of GE) in Schenectady, NY to consult with Leonard Dietz in the mass spec lab there. He shared with us the diagram of an interface circuit that they had developed which he claimed solved this problem. When we returned to MCL, I layed out a printed circuit board for the KAPL circuit and it was not long before we had installed them. The TMC automation system now appeared to be generating reliable data. This was verified later when Col. Fred Westfall, the lab director, called Terry and I to his office and commended us on the improvement in the quality of the MCL mass-spec data. He informed us that the data we were producing were better than the data generated at GE's Knowles Laboratory. That visit to Col. Westfall's office was the most gratifying experience I had during my three years at MCL. In three short years, I felt that I had gone from a total tyro to someone who had made a positive contribution to the mission of our squadron. It wasn't long before my time was up and I headed to Georgia Tech for graduate school.

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The first picture shows one of the mass spectrometers. It consisted of two electromagnets with a copper waveguide through which the accelerated ions traveled. On the right is the source end. On the left is the detector end. The second picture shows a close up of the source end. The third picture shows a close up of the dectector end. The box with the coaxial cables connected to it contains the circuit I built to amplify the pulse signals that were detected by the detector above it. In the right background is the current source for the mass spectrometer electromagnets. The first task that I worked on at MCL was to determine what was causing transient variations in the current output of all of these supplies. With some help from my boss Jim Smith, I discovered that there was a problem in the way that they were connected to the safety ground and neutral in the three-phase ac power system. This caused a ground loop in the power supplies that caused the problem.

Forward Thanks to Doug Kennedy for sending me this picture of him working with the canoe-shaped filament sources that were used with the mass spectrometers. He was at the 1155th from 1965 to 1967, the same years that I was there. Doug left the Air Force in 1967 to work for Varian. In 1976, he became Southeast District Sales Engineering Manager for Varianís Electron Device Group. For the last 20 years, he has owned the computer company Kenneco Corp. (

The 1967 MCL Christmas Party

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In late fall of '67, MCL had a Christmas party. As part of the entertainment, Sgt. John Solgat in the first picture played his guitar and sang. He worked with me in the mass spec lab, had arms as big as Arnold's, smoked cigars, and listened to Sacramento's country giant KRAK-AM. In the second picture are Sgt. John Taylor, Sgt. Dan Oliver, and Sgt. Clarence (CJ) Havlik. Sgt. Taylor was our machinist. Although I got along well with him, he could be a grouch and he intimidated some of our junior officers. I still laugh at the time that a 1st Lt. came to my boss Capt. Jim Smith and asked him if he would submit a work request to Sgt. Taylor because he was afraid of him. Dan Oliver was from Minnesota. He was meticulate in everything he did. When he went to a restaurant, he carried his own steak knife because the knives in the restaurants were never sharp enough for him. He also worked with me in the mass spec lab. Sgt. Havlik was in charge of our electronics maintenance shop. He was always smoking a cigar.

Senior Master Sergent Frank Kuntz Retires

Forward In 1965, my first of three years at MCL, SMSGT Frank Kuntz retired. I remember him well. His lab was next to my office and I often went there to talk to him. I ran across this great picture of him and the MCL Commander Col. Jones at Frank's retirement after 20 years of service. Frank is on the left. (Thanks to Bob Chaney for helping me remember Col. Jones' name. His sucessor was Col. Westfall.) After leaving the Air Force, Frank worked 3 years for Eastman Kodak and 27 years for Ford Motor Co. He died on September 12, 2006 in Michigan .

MCL Training Courses

New MCL officers who were assigned to the chemistry and physics laboratories were required to take several courses taught by experienced officers. Being an engineer, I was not required to take these courses, but my boss Jim Smith suggested that I might want to sit in on the statistics course. It was being taught by a Captain whose name I cannot recall. Because I loved math, I really got into this course. We had homework assignments that I spent a lot of time on. Apparently, my work impressed the instructor because he suggested that I teach the course after he got his transfer orders not long after I took it. For the next three years, I was the course instructor. My notes were based on notes taken in his course and material from the little book "Theory of Error" by Yardley Beers. I still have this book and it is one of the best references on the analysis of errors in measurements that I have found.

I was also asked to instruct another statistics class while I was at MCL. It was part of a series of introductory classes that new MCL airmen were required to take. Along with the base gym and the credit union, the classroom was in a renovated WW2 era building that was located on the McClellan AFB Annex. The Annex was located adjacent to the main base on Watt Ave. I enjoyed teaching these classes because I got to meet new people.

My Farewell Party

Forward Before I left the Air Force in December 1967, my friend Jack Courtney had a going away party for me. Our apartments were next door to each other, so we opened both apartments for the party. Pictured here are Jim Oviatt, Terry Cantrell, Dan Trainor, and Jesse Hall. Growing up, Jesse and I lived across the street from each other and graduated in the same class from high school. It was a coincidence that both of us were assigned to the 1155 TOS. I later found out that Bob Wiley, another high school classmate of mine, landed in AFTAC, but not at the 1155th. Bob went on to make a career of the Air Force. What a strange coincidence indeed that three high school classmates from a small southern town of about 5000 people would end up in AFTAC at the same time.

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In the first picture, Sandy Trainor is on the right. The spiral metal object at the top of the lamp is the UHF antenna to my TV set. In the second picture, Pretty Mary Jane Guiry is in the yellow dress. She is drinking from one of Jack Courtney's Playboy mugs. To the right behind her is Tom McCrackin. Tom was a swimmer and coached swimming for some years. He has the Tom McCrackin Labor Day Swim Meet at the Charles Brooks Swim Center in Woodland, CA named after him. In the third picture, Jim Meiggs is in the center. Al Pavik is on the right. Al was only a captain when I was there. He eventually was promoted to full bird colonel and became the longest serving commander of the squadron. Under his leadership, the name was changed from 1155th Technical Operations Squadron to 1155th Technical Operations Division.

My Last Time as Squadron Duty Officer

Forward My last day of active duty at the 1155th was on a Friday in mid December of 1967. About 2 weeks before that, the 1155th TOS was hosting a "Hail and Farewell" party at the Officer's Club and I was on the farewell list. For reasons I never understood, I had been assigned to be squadron duty officer that night. This required me to stay 24 hours in the building. The only other person there was the non-commissioned officer of the day whose primary task was to man the encripted communications machine. It was my task to check over 100 safes and to assist the NCO with any emergency situation. I got to sleep on a cot in a small room while the NCO had to sit at a teletypewriter the entire night. This picture is of me at my desk at about 10:00 p.m. that night. It was made while the other officers partied at the club. You can see my GE transistor radio, my TMC coffee cup (with the stick-on label bearing the initials WML), my Air Force sun glasses, and a jar of Borden's coffee creamer. I still have the radio and the coffee cup. The glasses were dropped and broken not long after that. I have bought several replacent pairs over the years. For those of us in the Air Force, it was considered to be "cool" to wear them. The vertical shadow at the right of the photo is the space between the concrete block wall and one of our two RF screen rooms. I am sitting on a piece of compressable foam that made a good chair cushion. Not long after that night, I packed up at my apartment and left Sacramento to enter graduate school at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

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This page is not a publication of the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Georgia Institute of Technology has not edited or examined the content. The author of this page is solely responsible for the content. Copyright 2004. All rights reserved.

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