My first offer to work for NASA was to move to Mississippi and work on building the
Saturn V Rocket. However, I wanted to be involved in the development of space technology
rather than just building something someone else had already designed. So, when I
was asked by NASA to work at Arnold Research Organization (later known as Arnold Engineering
Development Corporation) in Tullahoma and work on research in vacuum technology, I
jumped at the chance.
Soon, I was asked to head up the team to build a system to study how objects would
react to molecular collisions in the vacuum of space. I was given a large budget,
and since I didn’t have much experience with molecular beam technology, I approached
top engineering colleges such as MIT, Berkeley, and the University of Pennsylvania.
The universities had entire departments ready for research, but they didn’t have the
kind of budget that NASA had, so it was a good partnership for everyone involved.
In those days, NASA had a list of colleges that we were allowed to hire from. It
was a total of about ten schools including MIT, UCLA, Berkeley, Penn and UVA. Tennessee
Tech was the only school from Tennessee that made the list.
The other hiring requirement we were given was to hire young people. We were told
to hire people under 30 because young engineers are more innovative, and President
Kennedy wanted a young group to provide the energy and innovation to achieve a man
on the moon by 1970. So, our goal was to hire someone who was around 25 or 26, but
nearly everyone working was under 30. Even our manager was just 33, as I remember.
Once we assembled our team, Jess Heald joined me to build the Luke 1 Molecular Beam
(pictured above). The molecular beam was a NASA project to determine what would happen
to a moving molecule in the vacuum of space. Would it stick to surfaces? Would it
The Luke 1 Molecular Beam was the most intense beam that had ever been built in the
world at the time. After it was built, we were invited to lecture all over the country.
We took turns lecturing at prestigious universities all over the U.S., and I drew
the lucky straw to lecture at the Fifth International Symposium of Rarefied Gas Dynamics
in Oxford, England. I was honored at a banquet hosted by the Lord and Lady Mayor
of the City of Oxford, and I was even invited as an honored guest at a Red Carpet
Dinner hosted by Her Majesty’s Minister of Aviation. It was truly an exciting time
to be an engineer!
In working at ARO (which was later named AEDC), everyone was trying to get a man on
the moon by 1970. John Kennedy was president and he had set the goal for us. At ARO,
even the union people that were paid just 40 hours per week, would stay if we needed
them to work 24 hours a day. And a lot of the projects required someone to be there
24 hours/ day. Employees would either work themselves or get someone to work, unpaid,
during that time. So that’s the atmosphere we were working in at ARO. If someone got
to work a few minutes late one day, we didn’t worry too much about it because they
had probably worked late earlier in the week. Our goal was to do whatever it took
to get a man on the moon.
One day, we were told that a group of inspectors from Washington, D.C., was coming
to see if everything was begin done as it should be. Our manager told everyone to
be there at 7:00 a.m. the next morning because the inspectors wanted to make sure
that all of their protocol was being followed. Well, that didn’t sit well with some
of us because we knew we were working hard and we cared more about getting the job
done than being strict about the rules.
Well, my co-worker, Ron Dawbarn, had worked for GE in Missouri manufacturing clocks.
So that night, Ron and I were working together, and we were talking about the fact
that everyone had to be there at 7:00 in the morning. And Ron said, "There are only
5 or 6 clocks in the building, and we could make them all run backward." So, he and
I went and changed the clocks so they all ran backward, but we set it up so they would
be set for the right time just before 7:00, so the inspectors wouldn’t notice right
And the next morning we were all there at the building before 7:00 like we were told,
but we stayed back where they couldn’t see us. And the federal inspectors from D.C.
came and they were talking and checking what the time was. Then one of them noticed
the time and said, “That clock over there is running backward!” They talked a few
minutes and then an accountant who worked in the office said, "Well, it’s probably
the electrical cord has been plugged in upside-down," so he went and turned it over
and plugged it in the other direction. After a few minutes the inspectors realized
that the engineers had outsmarted them, and they left ARO and we never heard from
Watt Count was a result of a group of engineers who had previously worked with NASA
meeting for a Halloween weekend at Rattlesnake Resort on Brotherton Mountain just
outside Cookeville. Jack Womack, Tom Moody and I were trying to figure out how we
could apply space technology here on earth. We came up with the idea that we would
form a company called Watt Count since “watts” meant how much energy used and this
was during the energy crisis in the 70’s. We eventually also hired TTU graduate,
Mike Busby, and asked astronaut Wally Schirra to also become a partner.
One of the things we used in Watt Count was a Heat Shield which was a special plastic
that was coated with heat reflection on one side. Heat Shield was used in space as
well as in many of our experiments at ARO and had a lot of applications when it was
developed for NASA. So, with Watt Count we decided to start using Heat Shield as an
application for houses and commercial buildings in addition to insulation to save
For our marketing plan, we wanted to have a way to tie the company back to NASA, so
we talked about different astronauts and decided that Wally Schirra would be the best
contact. Wally was one of the original 7 U.S. astronauts, the first to go into space
three times, and one of two who were a part of all 3 missions – Apollo, Gemini, and
The first time I met with Wally Schirra, he was in charge of water conservation in
the area surrounding Arizona, so it made since that he would be interested in energy
conservation as well through Watt Count. He became our partner and he worked with
advertising and traveled with us.
It was really interesting to travel with Wally Schirra because whenever we would go
in a restaurant or somewhere in public, he would quickly be recognized, and all the
women would come flocking around and want his signature. A few of them wanted my
signature, too, because they figured I must be famous if I was with him!
When Wally visited Tennessee, he had never been to the Grand Ole Opry, so my wife,
Pat, and I took him to the Grand Ole Opry one evening. As you might guess, the Grand
Ole Opry had a lot of ads in those days. The performers would come on stage and advertise
for their sponsors, such as Martha White. During intermission Wally and I went out
to get a drink and when we came back in to our seats, Wally said, “I think we ought
to change the name on this from the Grand Ole Opry to the Grand Ole Advertisement.
I really enjoyed getting to know Wally and working and traveling with him. Watt Count
became very successful with Wally’s help, and we eventually sold it in 1985 for a