least it had a carport for the motorcycle, although our front 'yard'
was the parking lot for the bar. We furnished it from the
Salvation Army and Thrift Shops. The Mexican band in the bar
big building to the left in the photo) played in the corner of the
building closest to our house. Weekend nights our dishes
rattle on the shelves to the beat of the drum, and it would be necessary to
sweep a path through the broken glass the next morning before I could
ride the motorcycle out.
Once the truck driving job
ended, I had
a difficult time finding steady employment, and we mostly lived off of
Pam's waitress income. I did find the occasional odd job.
This was selling Flowers on a street corner for Valentine's
you may guess, a black leather motorcycle guy is not who you normally
think of buying Valentine flowers from, and I didn't make much money
By late winter it was apparent that
coming. We had no real plans of our own, and I'd had a
dropped on me. Back in the Fall we had celebrated Pam's 19th
birthday. A couple of months later she confessed to me that
wasn't really 19, but had just turned 17! I was floored, as
thought the age she had given me before was 'young'. But eventually
I reasoned that a number was just that, and we'd been getting along OK
so far. But then her mother, who had hired detectives,
found out where we were. She was talking about coming out to
her daughter', and I could tell there was murder in her heart.
About this time John ('Squeeze') and Pam ('Pang') came out to
visit, and they finally talked us into coming back East to be with our
friends. I was pretty concerned about what a Mad Mother might
to do (thinking back to having - unknowingly - taken a 16 yr-old
'runaway' across the
border into Canada, just for one...). So, with John, Pam, the
preacher and his secretary as the only witnesses, I married for the
the preacher noticed he was being inundated with Whiskey Breath, he was
kind enough not to say anything. With that little piece of
for 'protection', it was time to go back and Face The Music.
next problem was how to get there. I haven't seen these
listed for many years now, but back then there were a lot of 'auto
delivery' services listed in nearly every paper. If you were
moving and wanted to get your car transported, you could hire one of
these companies to deliver it for you. The company would put ads
in the paper looking for
driver from points A to B to deliver the vehicle to it's destination.
No pay for the drivers was involved,
but you had a car to drive to your destination and the only cost was
gas. So if you were yourself looking to get from points A to
it was a cheap way of doing so. The only car we could find
was a possibility was a tiny Chevy Vega station wagon:
I managed to fit the entire (disassembled) motorcycle into that car,
along with all our meager possessions and a stray cat and dog we had
picked up. The cat rode in the passenger's lap, and the dog
at the passenger's feet. We made the very cramped drive back to Virginia in 3 days non-stop.
East - 1974
than a year before I had left with visions of boundless, if somewhat
ill-defined 'freedom' in mind. Now I had had my fill of wandering for
awhile, and I had returned, with a wife no less.
leaving, I had driven trucks for a several years. At first it
a small delivery truck for a construction supply company:
in the Fall of '70 I had gone to tractor trailer driving school, and up
until my departure the year before ('73) I had hauled gasoline and fuel oil,
quite often on the night shift:
Tank Lines had not paid a very good rate, but they had not cared if I had
long hair and looked like a refugee from a Hell's Angel movie, so I had
been content. While I enjoyed the freedom of driving a truck,
I became nervous about my long term survival after a few years
the job. Every now and then there would be a small, molten
of slag under a bridge or on an exit ramp, which would be all that was
left after someone had made a mistake with one of these rigs.
to 8,000 gallons of gasoline or fuel oil can make quite a blaze.
Towards the end of those years I was making three 100-mile
trips to a Power Generation station per shift, often at night, hauling
fuel oil at high speed down some narrow 2-lane roads. If you
recall the Six Days on
song from many years ago, it was also often the case
that "my eyes were open wide" - not a good combination.
when we returned I wanted a different line of work.
I had done some work as a mechanic before, and I eventually
leveraged that experience into a job as a Technician with Atlantic
Research Corporation. There I worked with solid propellant rocket
motors, making elastomeric insulators and the propellant itself.
I believe it was the first 'respectable' job I had ever had:
a few rough spots I reached a sort of 'truce' with Pam's mother.
I don't know that she ever really liked me, but we had an
enough day-to-day relationship. At that point we still didn't have our
own place to live, but were staying with John and Pam. As
friends as they were, that began to wear thin after a month or two.
Wanting to go all the way in the direction of this
'respectability' thing, we started looking at houses to buy, rather
than rent. We didn't have much money, but at least I had the
Mortgage benefits to back me.
As it turns out, every
have ever bought so far has been a 'fixer upper'. They have
had 3 defining characteristics:
- The asking
price has been far below the value of any other house in the neighbor
- Considerable work was required to simply make
the house habitable enough to move in - replacing broken glass,
- Well meaning friends have had
reactions such as "are you out of your mind!?!?"
was the first of these houses:
photo above shows the house after several years of work.
many repairs have been made, and it has a fresh coat of paint.
Sections of the foundation in the basement had been
leaving a noticeable sag in the roof line. This picture is
I had jacked up the house and rebuilt the foundation again - the roof
line has been restored to nearly straight. I had left behind
The Road and was content exploring new, more settled futures.
Research Corporation was my first exposure to the Engineering
As a Technician I often worked to implement designs a young
engineer had drawn up, so I had frequent contact. And at that
level of engineering, my mechanical background was nearly as useful as
their engineering degrees, so there was a good deal of back and forth.
It really opened my eyes to new ways of thinking - I strongly
felt I could do
that job - all I needed was the "piece of paper".
had never thought much about going to college. Although my
grandfather had been educated in Germany, I never knew that part of him
since he died while I was young. And no one else in my family
been to college, so it was not something I had ever considered as an
option. It was also a daunting prospect - although I had done
in the earlier grades, by the time I reached high school I was on the
low end of things. I had taken to hanging out with the Bad
and academic achievement was not highly valued. In fact I
high school (I'm not sure I'd call it "Graduated" - they did give me a
diploma, but I think it was the easiest way they had to get rid of me)
with a GPA of 1.8 (4.0 scale). This was one of my report
from that time:
even though the idea of being an Engineer was appealing, and seemed
'possible' on one level, it was not something I found easy to
seriously consider. I guess the thought was working in the
of my mind though. One day, in Spring of '75, I picked up the
phone to VA and inquired what I could expect from the GI Bill Education
benefits. I also called the local, 2 year "Community College"
find out what their tuition rates were. Comparing numbers, I concluded it would be very
living, but not out of the realm of possibility. I can't say
the idea a lot of deep thought, it just took on a life of it's
own and dragged
me along with it. I believe it was about a week from the first
call to VA
that I was filling out the enrollment application for the Fall Quarter.
On the one hand, I was scared to death - it was 10 years
I'd left high school, and all I could remember about Trigonometry was
that it had something to do with triangles - and here I was planning to
enroll in a math intensive curriculum. On the other hand, it
seemed like another Grand Adventure, and it seldom takes much to talk
me into one of those! I reasoned that, after all the bad jobs
had, not to mention Viet Nam, I ought to be able to "hang on" for two
years no matter how hard it was.
college system is
forgiving in that they will give you a chance if you have a high school
diploma or even a GED, and so I learned that I had been accepted in a
relatively short time. A little later that Spring I was on my way to
work on the motorcycle one morning. The sun was at my back,
car coming from the opposite direction had the sun in their face.
The driver turned left into a parking lot without ever seeing
I tried to swerve around behind the car, but ended up
the entire right rear quarter panel on the station wagon.
confirmed something that I had experienced once already in Viet Nam -
if you are going to suffer a sudden and violent end, it will be
painless. The little I remember of that impact was sort of
hitting a big soft cushion. It was only afterwards, when I
regained consciousness lying in the road, that the pain began.
are the police photos. The driver of the station wagon is
on from the right edge of the above photo, and the crushed-in side of
the station wagon is behind him. I was completely immobilized
with pain - there were bulges in my clothes where it made no sense for
them to be, and I resolved that nobody was going to move any part of me
until I had some kind of pain killer. I learned then that a
scream was an effective way of communicating what you did not wish to
have done. I was gently moved onto a board and eventually onto the
table, all without changing the position of any part of my body.
My left hip had been dislocated, a kidney stopped working for
few days, and I had a bunch of broken ribs and a collapsed lung.
I spent several days in intensive care.
dislocated hip (they said I would have been better off to break it than
to dislocate it) I spent the next 10 weeks in traction. We
eventually went to court, with the driver being charged with failure to
yield right of way. His defense was that he had not seen me.
He was a local businessman in a small town, and the charges
dropped. His insurance company eventually paid me a few
or that was what I had left after the lawyer took his cut. To
it in perspective though, that was the equivalent of about 3 full years
of dorm living and tuition at Virginia Tech at the time, although I
knew nothing of either of those then. And that money turned
to be extremely useful for getting us through the next few years of
school. But I would not recommend it to others as a means of obtaining financial assistance.
Starting Classes - 1975
Pam and I enrolled for the Fall Quarter of 1975. You have 10 years to
up the GI Bill education benefits, and I was down to less than 4
years of that time left, so I could not afford to take extra
with remedial classes - I had to go for it all at once. Intimidated
does not begin to describe how I felt as the time to start classes
approached. I was heading straight into a 5 credit hour
course, and I barely remembered what Algebra was. I spent a
couple of weeks ahead of time in the school library, working my way
through every math tutorial and self study course I could find there.
On the first day of Calculus, they gave us a quiz to see if
had adequate preparation for the course. I believe
lowest possible score that they recommended even thinking about trying
the course was 18 out of 25. Well, guess who got 18...
that was after all that prep work ahead of time. None the
All Nighters were not something I did
before tests -
it became a way of life for those first few quarters. I could
bear the thought of failing - if I could only get C's I would be happy!
At the end of that first quarter it was with great dread that
went around to look at the grades as they were posted. I
not believe my eyes - in class after class I had gotten an 'A'!
had a perfect 4.0 that first quarter - something I had never imagined!
After that the (self-imposed) pressure was on. If I
got a B, I would never be able to go back to a (cumulative) 4.0 again.
was OK, but every time I would hit exhaustion before a test or
assignment, I would always ask myself this question: if you
the 4.0 because you stopped right now, how will you feel about it
later? And I knew there was some threshold at which I would
it didn't matter - I had done all I could do. And I did reach
those points, but apparently only after I had done enough.
I had not gotten that 4.0 the first quarter, I would never have pushed
myself nearly as hard afterwards.
That Fall the
had started with two full classes of about 30 students each.
the Spring quarter there were five of us left from those two starting classes,
and I received the only A at the end of the year. When I
enrolled, I had thought only in terms of surviving a two year degree -
as if it would be a tremendous ordeal. Instead I found myself
swept up as I could never have imagined - I loved
what I was
had always loved mechanical things, and would take small engines apart
as a kid and then have great delight in getting them running again
after putting them back together. But there had always been a
piece of that missing for me - as I held, say, a connecting rod in my
hand, it would always fill me with wonder how someone could know enough
to design it so that it could take those high loads and not fail, and yet be as light as it was.
It seemed like magic. And now, in my classes, the
veil was being swept away, and I was being given a great shiny toolbox
of knowledge that would allow me to know those things too!
kept that 4.0 all the way through the two year degree, which gave me
the credentials I needed to transfer to the Big School - Virginia Tech
- for the coming year. By then there was no question that I
continue on for the four year degree - I would have been heart broken
to have had to stop then. I had my first "piece of paper",
Big School - 1977
that point Pam, who had also received a degree, had had enough of
college. She found a job in carpet sales and it was decided
she would stay at home and support the house, while I would use my GI
Bill benefits to support myself at Virginia Tech. So, in
the age of 30, I moved into a Dormitory on the VT campus.
was at least 10 years older than most of the kids there, but that
didn't bother me. Loud parties were no big deal - I had
all that out of my system, and I had ear plugs if I needed them.
And although I had a young room mate, he was gone most of the
time. I heard many people complain about the food in the
halls, but I never understood that. They obviously had no
what Army chow was like! This was far better than that, and
you had to do to get fed was show up! That was luxury!
meals to cook, or dishes to wash, I could spend all my time in studies.
I did. I was intimidated all over again. Sure, I had
the 4.0 in the small school, but I heard the often not-so-subtle
condescension about how "things are different here". So I
it full throttle all over again - wanting to prove myself in the new
Many weekends I went back home, but on
I stayed in town when the work load was too high to justify
travel time. And on one of those weekends, in the Spring of
I discovered caves and caving. My first trip was typical -
lights, no helmets or other proper gear, and I became lost.
Fortunately it was a popular cave, and I found others to
out. From that I learned that caving was something I really
wanted to do, but that I would have to learn more about it. I
heard there was a Cave Club on campus, and resolved to check them out.
But I did not get a chance during that school year.
signed up for my second (Senior) year in the Dorm, but this time I
decided I wanted a little more control over my environment, and applied
to become an RA (Resident Advisor). I was accepted, and what
followed was one of the very rewarding experiences of my life.
was old enough that the kids did not feel the need to challenge me as
they might have someone closer to their age. And I, in turn,
enjoyed them greatly. We had our rules - nothing gets broken,
clean up your own puke, etc - but beyond those they were free to have a
good time. And when I had time, I would join in with them.
were not allowed in the dorm, but every so often some of the guys would
show up at my door with a pitcher of beer for me. "Oh, we just filled
up out of beer cans." And I would know whose room not to
go into in the near future!
That Fall I
did look up the
VT Cave Club, and it was the beginning of a life long relationship.
I found very competent people who also knew how to have a
good time! I felt a great affinity for this group,
myself into caving every chance I got. Although I
idea at the time, the cavers would eventually become my new "family".
was an organization with heavy alumni involvement, and members from 10
or 15 years previous were still going caving and attending club
functions. Many of these alumni had gone on to explore at the
fore front of the sport, and some were known as pioneers throughout the
greater caving community. I was the same age as many of the
alumni, and we bonded easily. Finding the caver group came at
very fortunate time, as it was becoming obvious that my marriage was
hitting some rough spots from which recovery seemed unlikely.
was one of those years that I will remember for the rest of my life.
I was having a great time with my Dorm Guys - this was after
took them on a Hall caving trip into a local cave.
out hiking and rappelling on the local cliffs. And
we had one final end-of-year party out on the mountainside in the
Spring. Instead of dealing with all the picky Dorm rules, we
simply loaded up some kegs and camping gear and headed out into the
woods. That was a fun, all night party with "my kids":
an "old" Viet Nam veteran living in the Dorm (I had just turned 32), I attracted the attention
of the school newspaper, which published an article in the Spring of
top of it all, I had managed to hold on to my 4.0 GPA all the way
through my two years at the "Big School", and graduated at the top of
the College of Engineering;
A proud mother
and son, as I got my second "piece of paper".
was a year that was a culmination of a transformation that had taken
me, and everything I had thought I had ever known, completely
apart and put me back together in ways that I was still trying to
figure out. The old "Hoss" of the Chopper Days might just as
have been some other guy, many lifetimes ago.
with all the
other honors and changes I experienced that year, I have not yet
mentioned one of the real highlights for me: I was voted into
membership of the Cave Club, and shortly afterward as the Vice
President - a position that was primarily responsible for training new
Prospective Members in safety and techniques. I had not known
Bill, the new President, before the elections, but we hit it off
immediately. I was delighted
with the training role, and Bill had the energy, enthusiasm,
personality to attract new members. Working enthusiastically
together we were able to do far more than just the sum of our
efforts. It was a Highlight Year for both of us, and the
a friendship that continues to this day:
This was Bill and I greeting the
dawn in the aftermath of an all night party in which neither one of us
had gone to bed.
all the ups, there were also the lows. My divorce became
one Friday in the Fall, and Pam remarried the next day.
that time I was busy with the Cave Club Training Program, and had also started
Graduate School. I had been offered a
Fellowship and a
Teaching Assistant position, both of which I accepted. It
a lot of money, but more than comfortable for my needs at the time.
I was learning about teaching, not only with the Cave Club,
also in Engineering.
(Graduate Teaching Assistants) normally only run Laboratory classes,
but I expressed an interest in trying more than that, and I was given
the opportunity. By my second (and final) year of the Master's program
I was teaching full Junior level Engineering courses. I was
learning that the role of teacher is one that suits me very well.
time of my Master's studies was mostly a quiet time in which I was
coming to terms with the new person I was becoming, and actively
involved in my studies, teaching, and caving. One very
event did happen in my second year. In January of '81 I took
first hang gliding lesson.
a beginner you only make very short flights off of small hills, but I
was hooked. My life would never be quite the same after that.
Most of the rest of this website is devoted to flying, so I
go into that here, other than to say I had found a new passion that lives till this day.
completed my Master's Degree in the Summer of '81. While I
had an offer to continue studies to earn a PhD, I felt it was time to
go out into the world and try out what I had learned so far.
I loved going to school, but I did not want to 'use it up' if I wasn't
completely into it. I found a job with a DuPont plant in
North Carolina. I moved to North Carolina, and was married
for the second time, in August of '81. While this marriage
also did not last, it did make it a lot longer than the first one.
Brevard, North Carolina DuPont plant, which manufactured X-ray film for
medical uses, was located in an idyllic setting in the mountains
adjacent to the Great Smoky Mt National Park.
My commute to
and from work was through mountains and scenery that many people only
see on vacation. My new wife and I spent two years there, as
I settled into the routines of seeing the Engineering profession from
'the other side of the fence' than had been the case back at Atlantic
Research. I enjoyed the job, and the people I worked with,
but it was a manufacturing plant, which meant that almost all the
engineering was directed towards maintenance and process improvement.
It was certainly interesting and challenging enough for a new
engineer, but I could also see that the potential for growth there was
During those 2 years I had regular contact
with the head of the Mechanical Engineering Department at Virginia
Tech, Prof. JB Jones. He would call once or twice a year to make offers to entice me back
to Graduate School. After two years at DuPont, I took him up
on a very generous offer.
In the Fall
of '83 I returned to Virginia Tech as a full time Instructor (bottom
end of the faculty ranks) and a part time PhD student. In
terms of a job, the next five years were some of the most enjoyable of
my life. I had almost all the privileges of a faculty
position, but without many of the responsibilities (such as seeking
grants). And I loved being in the classroom, in both teaching
and student roles. I feel it was here that I really learned
what I had been exposed to in the previous 6 years of classes.
By seeing a subject one time in a class you can only gain a minimal
understanding - it is repeatedly teaching that subject to others that
you actually begin to understand, and retain, that knowledge.
was fortunate to be able to have a renowned Professor and all around
great guy as the head of my Graduate Committee: Prof. Larry
Larry was well known in
the field of Vibration, particularly in experimental measurement of
complex structural vibrations. I gravitated towards the
experimental end of things, as it fit in well with my previous 'hands
When I was not teaching I spent most
of my time in research and the Modal Testing Laboratory:
whatever time I could spare, I also earned my United States Hang
Gliding Association Instructor rating, and had a regular group of
students that I would take to the "training hill".
1988 I passed the Final Examination and had my Dissertation approved,
and thereby earned my PhD. It had been 15 years since "Hoss"
had ridden into California, seeking shelter for the Winter.
The experiences of the intervening 15 years had completely
reshaped me. I had found more challenges, excitement,
adventure and fulfillment than I could ever have found 'on the road'.
I still shake my head in a sense of wonder that things turned
out the way they did. It would have been so easy to have not
made that phone call to the VA, or have made it but not followed
through. I can't even begin to guess where my life would be
now if I hadn't.
There is one thing that disturbs me
as I look at the world today, and particularly in the US. I
know that social programs can cause as many problems as they cure, and
that government expenditures cannot be expected to solve everything.
But I also know that when I was in my under-graduate studies
that the educational institutions were much more heavily subsidized,
with corresponding lower tuition rates. And while we were
attending the Community College we made use of Food Stamps and every
other bit of assistance we could find. And I am, today,
profoundly grateful for every bit of that assistance - it was what made
this whole adventure possible. I also feel the higher taxes I
am now paying, as a result of what that assistance made it possible for
me to do, have made that assistance a good investment for the
I try to imagine myself being
30 years younger in today's world, and making that same call to the VA.
I think I would have added up the numbers on both sides of
things and found it to be just too daunting to attempt.
Which is not to say that it could not be done, but higher barriers mean
fewer opportunities to raise yourself to the next level. And,
as happy as I am that things worked out for me as they did, I am sad to
think that there are probably others today who would like to do what I
did, but not be able to see their way. I strongly believe
that investment in education is one we cannot afford to scrimp on.