PERSONAL HISTORY OF FRANK McCLATCHIE
PERSONAL HISTORY OF FRANK McCLATCHIE
By: Frank McClatchie
I am writing this personal history for my children, so that they will know some of the events in my life that they may not otherwise know of.
To start at the beginning, I was born in Stuttgart, Germany in June of 1923. My mother was born in Pegau, Germany and my father was born in Pasadena, California, so under US law that was in force at that time, I was an American Citizen at birth. I also had a ½ brother, on my mother’s side of the family and he was German. I only remember seeing one picture of him in a Nazi uniform, I assume he died in the war fighting on the German side. I also had a ½ sister that came with us to America, her name was Anna-Marie. She is now dead.
By the time I was 7 years old, I had crossed the Atlantic three times on ocean liners (the only way to cross the ocean at that time). The first time was when I was about 3 years old to visit relatives on a farm in Michigan, then back to Germany, and the I returned to the USA in 1930.
That time we stayed in New Jersey (Jersey City), where I learned to speak English (or is it American?). I was just entering the third grade in Germany when we left, so I was taken aback a little when the school system put me in the first grade. I thought what a tough school this must be. Imagine my surprise when I entered the school room and found total pandemonium, kids running around and yelling, etc. That would never happen in a German school! I thought they had put me in a nut house by mistake. Later on, I was sure of it when they had me cut out a paper bunny and stuff it with cotton. In Germany we had already covered addition, subtraction, and multiplication, and in the third grade we started in on biology. I was obviously retarded, from the teacher’s point of view, since I really did not understand what they were trying to do. The class was trying to learn to count to ten when the teacher asked me to count. When I got to thirty-something the teacher decided I was not retarded. Anyway, in New Jersey, my English went from “Too damn hot” as my total vocabulary, to a reasonable kids vocabulary.
After about six months in New Jersey, my Father purchased a 1927 Chevy and drove my mother, sister, and I across the country to Compton, California, near my Aunt Marge’s house. Later on, we moved to Beverly Glen, and then to Benedict Canyon. I graduated from University High School in 1941 during the Depression, and about two months later went to work at the telephone company in the Toll Plant Department (that was where the long-distance communications took place). I was the first person hired by the Toll Plant Department after the depression. The company hired me because I knew what a vacuum tube, transformers, any other such things actually were. After the war started (WWII), working in the Toll Department got me a permanent deferment from military service because of the importance of the work I was doing. The contacts between long distant telephone offices in the western half of the United States, involved contacting them by Morse Telegraphy, so that’s the first thing I had to learn. All contact between Offices was by Morse Telegraphy. We had about six telegraph lines and every long- distance office in the United States was on one of them, and they were clacking away all day long. We got used to being able to prick up our ears whenever CJ came through on one of the “sounders”. CJ was the identification code for the Los Angeles Toll Telephone Office. I had a First Class Radiotelephone FCC license, so I also signed onto the KOU log. KOU was a radio station operated by the telephone company so that people on ships at sea could place telephone calls to anyone. When I got a boat of my own, I also used KOU to call people ashore.
In November of 1942, I heard about something called RADAR and that the Navy had it. I wanted to learn about RADAR so I enlisted in the Navy. When I went down to enlist in the Navy, they insisted that I had to have a middle name, so I went home to ask my Mother what my middle name was. She racked her brain and finally decided that it was Frank, so that is what is written in the records of the Navy (and just about everything since that date). I could not access my birth records until after the war was over (they were in Stuttgart, Germany), to see what name was written in that record. When I finally got a copy of my birth records (they actually still existed, in spite of the almost total destruction of the city of Stuttgart), the birth records state that my name is not Francis, or Frank, or both, but rather “Franz”, with no middle name. Well I did not care for Franz, so I did not change my name in the official records. I don’t much care for Francis either, so now I call myself “Frank”. During my time in the Navy, I did not call myself Francis either (you can imagine the result of that among a bunch of macho crewmen). In the Navy, I was known as MAC (a take off from McClatchie).
Anybody that actually knew anything about radio, was so scarce that the navy signed me on as Radio Technician Second Class, by-passing the ratings of Ordinary Seaman, Seaman, and Radio Technician Third Class. When an opportunity arose to attend the Radio Materiel School at the Naval Labs in Washington D.C., I jumped at the chance and was shipped out to that school. That school at the Labs was the best in the world to learn about RADAR, and was also the toughest school. The class started with 130 students, after the first month about ½ flunked out. In subsequent months we lost many more, so we got re-enforced with about 60 men from other schools. The net result of all of the flunk-outs was that just 19 of the original class graduated after six months of school and almost all of the 60 from other schools flunked out too. I wound up being in the top third of the class. We actually were asked which kind of ship we wanted to serve on! Since I had walked about the Naval Research Labs in my spare time, I found out they wanted us too, so I said I would like to serve at the Labs, so bingo, I was transferred to the Labs!! Total shock, I never expected to work at the Naval Research Labs. Of course, I was born in Germany, so the Labs sicked the FBI on me and they interrogated everybody I ever had known in California. When I got back home, my friends wanted to know what the hell kind of trouble I had gotten into, to stir up such a hornet’s nest. While the FBI was checking me out, the labs had to have me doing something, so they put me into the part of the Labs developing the latest means of keeping communications secret! My next assignment was to the Combined Research Group, a super-secret group where the guards have to personally recognize every individual that entered that part of the lab, or you don’t get in at all. I still can’t talk about what happened there.
My First project at the labs (while I was being investigated by the FBI) was to design a linear, 4 quadrant mixer out of vacuum tubes (the only active devices available at that time) for a 100 kHz Spectrum Analyzer. At the time, no company actually made spectrum analyzers at all. Such devices were not even heard of. So that spectrum analyzer was a first of its kind of test equipment. This particular Spectrum Analyzer was installed into the USS Davis and was used by them in Europe to identify the signals used to control the Nazi “Glider Bombs” that were attacking our convoys from out of range of our anti-aircraft guns. Once we found out what kind of signal it took to cause the Glider Bombs to turn in one direction we would fire up our high power transmitter with same signal and cause the Bomb to spiral harmlessly into the sea. I remember the headlines in the Washington newspapers, “The new German Super weapon does not work!” Of course, nothing was said about why the bombs did not work. So, my first design was successful in a small way, helping to blunt one of Hitler’s new super weapons. It was fun and very instructive to build the spectrum analyzer. It enabled a person to see the actual frequency content of a complex waveform such as a square wave, or triangular wave. Mathematically I could calculate the frequency content, but to see it spread out in a graphical form was really spectacular.
My second design at the Naval Research Labs was to make a precision frequency meter for the Labs to use when Building 2 GHz Oscillators, so they could measure frequency drift accurately. I built and calibrated that meter before I moved on to the Combined Research Group.
My next assignment after the Combined Research Group was to the Solomon’s Island, MD Mine Test Station to do research on air dropped mines and torpedoes. In that capacity I was in charge of a 50 foot magnetic and acoustic Locator Boat to locate mines and torpedoes after they had been shot off or dropped into the river of the Chesapeake Bay. One of the objects I recovered was an anchor about 12 feet long that researchers for the Smithsonian Institute later said was left by a British war ship that had come to burn the White House during the War for Independence and had to cut away the anchor in it’s hurry to get away from our troops that surprised the ship as it lay at anchor. My rank was up-graded to First Class Radio Technician while at the Solomon’s Island Mine Test Station.
One day a captured German Acoustic Torpedo showed up for us to test and a target ship was brought in to shoot it at (of course the explosive had been replaced with a equal amount of concrete). We installed a sealed beam headlight into the top of the torpedo so we could trace it’s movement when shot off at night. After a series of tests in the Chesapeake Bay in which the torpedo kept turning around when it missed to have another “go” at the ship, the ship returned to our dock. I went aboard and asked the executive officer if he could use a Radio Technician aboard. He just about fell off the chair, a Destroyer Escort did not even rate having a Radio Technician aboard at all, they were so scarce then. So, he got on the shore phone to the executive office of the Naval Base and told them to get my records ready and give them to me when I came by. That’s how I got myself transferred onto the Neal A. Scott, DE769. The officer that I reported to at the Base did not know what had happened to me (I did not tell him I was leaving). The next day he reported me missing (AWOL?) and was told there was no record of me at the that Mine Test Station, I had vanished from the face of the Earth as far as the Officers at the Mine Test Station could tell! My adventures in the Atlantic had begun. For more details on that series of adventures, see “Six Days On A German Submarine”. I have a tendency to set my own course, as you may have noticed by now.
After the war in Europe ended, DE 769 escorted aircraft carriers that were training pilots to land on Carriers, south of the Azores, so we were operating out of Jacksonville FL. We would follow behind the Carrier and try to recover any pilots that missed a landing and wound up in the ocean. We did recover two pilots by sending a swimmer after him on a rope when we got close enough to where the plane went down. The third pilot went down with his plane At least we recovered two out of three. During that time. we weathered two hurricanes. We had to leave port to keep from being wrecked by the storms, so we encountered some pretty rough weather. At one point, there were three waterspouts to be seen at one time, we had to maneuver to keep from getting hit with a waterspout (a waterspout at sea is the same as a tornado on land, to be avoided at all costs).
During this interval after Victory over Germany, I married Mae Dell Mathews, and moved down to Florida with her. On the day we were married in Silver Springs MD, upon returning to Washington D.C. that evening, we were just settling down for the night when all hell broke loose in the street outside. We went outside and found all of Washington in the street celebrating!!!
Obviously, they could not all be celebrating our wedding!! It turned out that they were celebrating the Victory over Japan!! The news had just come in about the surrender of Japan. What a hell of a commotion that was. The city just went crazy. Never before or since has the city celebrated so wildly. It’s really impossible to describe that evening. And it was that way in every city in the United States! Wild unrestrained jubilation went on for hours. THE WAR WAS OVER!
After the war, I had plenty of “points” to get out of the service in short order. We went back to California, and I went back to work for the Telephone Company. The big problem was trying to find someplace to live. I finally found an apartment in Wilmington that used to be barracks for workers at the Wilmington ship yard, so the bathrooms (for men and women) were down the hall. The building held about a dozen two room apartments. I could not wait to get out of there. I traveled back and forth to work in downtown Los Angeles on the old RED CAR trolley car line. Gloria Jean was born while we lived in those apartments. I had to drive all the way up to Los Angeles to the Queen Of The Angels Hospital when it came time for Gloria Jean to be born in August of 1946.
My job at the telephone company allowed me to “bid” on jobs at other locations, so when a job opened up in the Las Vegas Repeater Station, I bid on it and got it. At Las Vegas, housing was provided by the Telephone Company because the repeater station was way out in the “sticks”, many miles from Las Vegas. Of course, now Las Vegas has grown up all around the Repeater Station. All long-distance communication between the eastern half of the United States and the western half went through the Las Vegas repeater station. Put that Repeater Station out of business and no one could communicate between the two halves of the country by telephone or telegraph. There were no other wires crossing the United States at that time. That is no longer true today of course, but it was then. That actually happened while I was on duty one night, when a truck towing a crane drove through the open wire lead, taking the entire east-west communications system down for many hours until the pole line could be replaced.
Nancy was born in Bolder City in February of 1949 while I was working in Las Vegas. The hospital wanted 25 dollars when we arrived, and they gave me back some change when we checked out two days later, after her birth. Nancy was the cheapest baby to have by far. I was present in the room during Nancy’s birth, which was a good thing, as I got a preview of the process.
After Las Vegas, I returned to Hollywood, California to work on television transmission at the Telephone Company. I purchased the house in Burbank and I started to try to get proof that I was a Citizen of the USA. That turned out to take quite a while. Three years later, and about 12 inches of paper later, I finally got a “Certificate of Derivative Citizenship”. Toward the end of the process, I was getting pretty frustrated, so I asked for the paperwork to apply for citizenship, and was told I could not do that because I was already a citizen. Just imagine my frustration with the process! It was at that point, they decided that I really was a citizen and went ahead and issued the Certificate.
After many years in the Toll Plant, The Chief Engineer’s Department borrowed me to design a modification to the RCA portable microwave system. The idea was to replace the 1/10 Watt transmitter with a one Watt transmitter, that would permit much greater distance to be covered on each “hop”. In actual practice, once I started on the project, I expanded the project to completely replace the transmitter and receiver in it’s entirety, so that I could also replace the I.F. amplifier in the receiver and thus completely changed all aspects of the original microwave system. Replacing the I.F. amplifier made it possible for the microwave system to transmit color television, which was not possible for the original RCA microwave system. The result was that when 30 of the systems were built, the telephone company had a vastly superior microwave system that could out-perform every other portable microwave on the market not only in distance that it could cover but also in the ability to transmit color television. Color Television could not be transmitted without scrambling the colors in the previous microwave systems because the old I.F. systems could not reproduce the colors faithfully. Because of this, the telephone company took over the portable microwave business in California, and all of the television broadcast stations would come to the telephone company for all portable television “remotes”. Even Bell Labs started calling the Transmission Engineering group of the chief engineers department, Bell Labs West!
I often got involved with these “remotes”. One in particular involved transmitting the atomic bomb blasts in Las Vegas for the entire world to see on television. I sat at the receiving location in Hollywood and controlled the entire affair. We set up repeater microwave stations along the entire route from Las Vegas to Hollywood, about six microwave hops all told. Most of the hill tops had never been used before, so the process was a D8 CAT would plow a road to the top, and then drag a truck carrying all the microwave gear up the hill to the top. The telephone company crew would then carefully adjust the antennas for the best possible signal between each pair of relay points. I remember that in the initial stages of laying out possible hill-tops, we discovered that when we tried to set the system up, that there was a mountain standing in the way and we had to add one more repeater point. It took about three days of plowing new roads up mountains that had never had roads before to get the signal from Mount Rose (north of Las Vegas, overlooking the blast area) to Hollywood where we handed off the signal to every television station in the United States. Recordings were also made and the rest of the world saw them. The live pictures of the atom bomb blasts would never have been possible, except for the modified version of the RCA Microwave System that I designed. That modified RCA system was used in hundreds of occasions, and in every Pasadena Rose Parade after the equipment was designed. This equipment gave the Pacific Telephone Company a hands-down advantage in portable microwave handling pick-ups. Eventually about 40 portable microwave systems by my design’s were built by the Pacific Telephone Company, and actually two companies were formed specifically to produce the equipment that I designed and were sold to microwave companies throughout the United States.
After completing the design of the microwave system and returning to The Transmission Engineering group of the Chief Engineers Department, I attended a very intense 3 month Data School in Cooperstown, NY. In this school, each telephone “Operating Company” sent one person each from the Engineering Dept., Marketing Dept., and Plant Department to each class. There were “Finals” at the end of each week. If you did not pass, you would be gone by lunch- time. We had a computer to play with (there were no such things as”Home Computers” at that time), and other equipment labs that were open for us to use 24 hours in the day. Talk about an intense school! Well needless to say, I graduated and returned to work in the Plant Extension group of the Chief Engineers Department, designing the Data Transmission systems for Reservation Systems for Continental Airline, United Airlines and the Western Hemisphere portion of British Airline, including Mexico and Canada. Needless to say, I was busy, responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars of equipment installation all over the Western Hemisphere.
In January of 1953 the twins, Donna and Donald were born at home. Just about midnight, Mae said to call the Doctor. Before I could get to the phone, she said, tell him to come here and not to the hospital. I did so and rushed back to the bedroom to attend the to birth of Donna. Having taken care of Donna, I looked at Mae and said there is another one in there. She did not believe me, so I said, “what do you think that lump is?”. About that time the Doctor showed up at the door, which is a good thing, because Donald was on hi way out and he was a breach birth. The doctor had an ingenious way of handling the breach birth. He rotated the part of Don that was now visible until an elbow came into sight, pulled the arm out, and then rotated the other way to free the other arm. That made it possible to get his head out. He was a big boy. The next morning Don actually had his head up and looking around. The muscles were rippling in his back.
My next job was in the Traffic Department where the switching machines were designed to expand the ability of any given switching center to handle the future telephone traffic that it would generate. Management was rotating me around to different jobs in the company. I was in charge of about ten different switching machine centers in the Los Angeles area and usually had about $10,000,000 worth of new engineering on my desk at any one time.
About that time I was asked to join EDC (Electronics Development Company) as Vice President of Engineering. I did like my job at the Telephone Company very much, but the new opportunity was just too much to turn down. In this new position, I created many new designs, including the first Stereo Transmission that was ever transmitted over satellite microwave and the first stereo transmission of the Texaco Opera program over it’s nationwide network. I also built and installed the equipment that was used to transmit the very first stereo transmission of the San Francisco Opera to Los Angeles. Unfortunately, EDC ceased to exist about that time, so I Started a new company to build Ferro-cement boats. To many people that sounds like making boats that would not float, but after all, the US Navy makes ships out of steel all the time and steel does not float either. I built a Boat Yard in Newport Beach, and built about six boats there, then I went to Korea to build even more sailboats for King Choy company. I had about 120 men working in that Boat Yard, turning out sailboats in Korea for sale in the USA. I would import Teak from Burma, ship it to the USA, where it would be kiln-dried (there were no kilns in Korea to dry the wood there), and then build the cabinetry to install in the boats in Korea. The Koreans are past master experts at working wood so closely that I could not even see the joints. Unfortunately, King-Choy, the American company that funded the operation could not keep up the necessary funding, so I got out before the Korean Government found out about that. That was very wise, because, under Korean Law, I would be held in prison until someone paid all the debts and bailed me out! Very different laws in Korea!
When I came back to the USA, the first thing I did was to spend a little while in Tahiti. Upon return I did consulting work for Leaming Industries. After a while, Joe Leaming decided he might as well hire me as VP of Engineering, because I was really their full time anyway. Again, many designs later, I was fully involved with the company and turning out many new designs for the company to sell. At that time Joe became very ill and I took over as acting president for couple of years. At the beginning of a new year, Jim and Rob, the sons of Joe Leaming decided to take over the operation from me, so they fired me, and I went to start a new company of my own. After a few months or more, the boys discovered that running a company was not quite so simple, so they came to me and asked me to help them. Under contract with my company FM SYSTEMS, INC. I took over all engineering design work (and retained ownership of the designs) and all sales activity, and they would produce the product, using their existing production people. This worked well for several years, then they decided to take over all aspects of design and sales as well as actual production so they would pay a royalty to my company for any of the products I designed. This did not work out too well and the company, as it is now almost defunct.
I was now released from any contract from Leaming Industries, so I continued on with F M Systems, Inc. That was 1985, and the company has bout 150 products that are being manufactured and sold on a daily basis. The best decision I have ever made in my life took place when I offered my son, Don a chance to join me in this new venture. He is now the Chief Operating Officer of the company and is responsible in large part for the success of the company. While I still produce new designs, Don actually produces the product and operates the company in its entirety. I am a very fortunate man to have four such loving children as Gloria, Nancy, Donna, and Donald. I am very proud of all of my children, they have turned out very well.