Pittsburgh Years

Quilty’s, and on…

pittsburgh.jpg

                                       

 

 

Q

uilty Engineering Company occupied a small office unpretentiously located next to a “beauty parlor”.  (It was in fact one that had formerly been operated by my father’s oldest sister, Genevieve.)  It was on the second floor of a modest storefront on Washington street, the main thoroughfare of Naperville.  The company was owned and managed by one T. Frank Quilty, an engineer.  A tall, relatively slender man of about 50, he wore glasses and had straight black hair flecked with gray.  He invariably dressed in a suit and tie and he had a distinct air of elegance.  I associated his sort of formality with the east coast; “natty” is a bit of a stretch, but not much.  In fact, I came to learn that he had been an engineer at Merritt Chapman & Scott, an old and storied engineering firm in New York City.  Although I had never before spoken with Mr. Quilty, I knew who he was; I had often seen him at our church on a Sunday.  I climbed the steps to his offices in search of a “real” job.  My first cold-call.  He was in.

After I explained the reason for my visit he was not enthusiastic and gave me no encouragement; it was after all a very small business and he already had a draftsman, his only employee aside from an occasional typist.  At the shop we’d had a drawing board which was used only sparingly—and not by me—to plan out the motion of some relatively complex moving part, but not to make formal drawings, just to make sure things would move the way they were supposed to after they had been built.  But the process of making building drawings, which is what Quilty Engineering did, didn’t seem too difficult to me and I thought I should be able to pick it up pretty easily.  I remembered the set of plans for the quarry house that had been drawn by its architect, a Mr. Van Bergen.

Uncharacteristically, as I sat in a straight-backed chair in front of Quilty’s neat, wooden desk without a positive response from him, I didn’t just let it go.  I explained that I thought I could do drafting, that I was a hard worker and a quick learner, and that I would work very cheaply.  I think the last part was more attractive to him than the first part and, now, with a mere flicker of interest, he asked me, “How much do you want to make?”  I’m afraid that at this point I hemmed and hawed around incoherently, trying to get out a reply that I had not thought to consider before-hand.  Eventually, somehow or other, the number $300 a month surfaced and I thought my little family could live on this.  I wasn’t worried about destitution; both my wife’s family and mine lived in Naperville and we could always eat with them.  For reasons I never quite fathomed he agreed to this and asked me when I could start.  I replied, “How about tomorrow?”  I had a job.

Bob Demar, the other draftsman at Quilty’s, was a few years older than me, single and a rather nice looking fellow.  He was a bachelor and seemed to have plenty of money.  He routinely bought a brand new car every other year which quite impressed me.  Faced with a situation that for many people might have seemed threatening (my competition), he generously became my mentor and helped me learn the ropes, possibly because he didn’t see me as any competition.  But I did manage to catch on pretty fast because I knew generally how things were built and the learning was more a question of understanding just how to represent physical things on paper so that they could be properly built.  I liked the work a lot.  It was clean and neat and now I was wearing a suit and tie everyday too and not dirty, grease-stained, work clothes.  I rather liked this part.

Mr. Quilty was in fact more dealmaker than engineer; I never knew him to do the least bit of engineering himself; he subcontracted structural engineering work out when necessary and Bob and I made all the drawings.  Quilty apparently had an ‘in’ with the Catholic church; the remodeling and expansion of their schools in the regional parishes was one of our main ‘lines’ of business, although we had other projects as well.  Quilty Engineering was a representative for a company called Luria Buildings, which fabricated structural steel frameworks predesigned to specific sizes; one simply picked the basic steel structure of a building out of a catalog.  Because they were predesigned, they were relatively inexpensive; customized tools and standard operations were used in their fabrication.  With a little cleverness they could be adapted for schools and commercial buildings as well as be used for industrial facilities which was their dominant market.  Even then I noticed the sharp contrast between Quilty’s business approach and that of my father.  At the shop, my father, who liked design and disliked selling, spent almost all his time on the former, undertaking the latter only when absolutely necessary to keep the shop financially afloat.

With the help of my mentor, Bob—I could look at his drawings and he would answer any of my questions—I learned to make plan drawings, elevation views and cross-sections and to delineate the details of structural steel framing, masonry, sills, windows, concrete foundations, floors and roofs of different types and all the other components of small commercial and industrial buildings.  Quilty subcontracted-out the design of the mechanical work: heating, ventilating and air conditioning, and plumbing.

All of our drafting work was stylized in a well established way according to Architectural Graphic Standards. One of the tools of the trade, this very large and thick book contains examples showing just how to represent (draft) various features of a structure so that they can be easily understood by the people who must then build them.  This book became my new Bible.

To describe the structures that we designed so that they could be built properly, a set of drawings is produced: ten or fifteen sheets of fine white paper—22in. by 34in. comes to mind.  One by one they are taped to a large drawing “board”, actually more of a table, but one that was canted slightly “uphill” from the perfectly flat—not at all like an easel.  One stands at the lower side of the table and bends over it from the waist to do the drafting work.  The paper ordinarily comes with a border already drawn around it in ink, and with a “title block” preprinted in the lower right hand corner with the name of our company and with specific small spaces, outlined in ink, within which to ‘letter-in’ our assigned number for the project, the number of the drawing, and other basic information like the initials of the draftsman and the date the drawing was completed.  Thereby, the draftsman takes a certain ownership of, and responsibility for, the product.  In those days drawings were made ‘by hand’ using pencils or ‘leads’ of different hardness.

To begin a drawing, one first decides on the scale of representation, one in which the entire building, or a significant piece of a very large building, will fit nicely on a single sheet of paper.  For example 1/8in. measured on the drawing paper might represent 1ft. of the actual building to be constructed.  Then, with a very hard and sharp pencil, and very lightly at first, one draws guidelines outlining the structure.  All this line-drawing is (was) guided by what is known as a “t-square” for horizontal lines and a suitably-sized, clear, plastic triangle that slides back and forth on the top of the t-square as a guide for the vertical lines. 

The first drawing is nearly always begun with a ‘plan’ view of the structure.  One imagines oneself looking down from above the building, as yet unreal, with the upper part neatly sliced off just above the window-sill level.  If the structure has a steel frame it’s column lines, the basic elements of the structure, are usually the first thing that is lightly lined in, next comes the as yet barely visible outlines of the masonry, or the panels that will make up the outer wall, and then the window-frames and door openings are added.  Eventually, when one is satisfied with the general arrangement thus lightly outlined, a softer, and thus much darker, lead is used firmly right over the top of the lighter lines, committing oneself so to speak.  If it is a multistory building this general process is repeated, with each floor usually drawn on a separate sheet.  Finally the dimensions of the locations of the distinctive elements of the building, the columns, the interior walls and windows and doors, and so forth, are indicated and any other special details and notes are added for the builders guidance.  My ‘lettering’, that is the hand-printing of words and numbers neatly and legibly with a pencil on a drawing, a distinctive, even artistic, part of the drafting job, was always my weakest point, but it was passable and over time it got better.  Some people have a flair for this.  I didn’t.

It is not too fanciful to suppose that buildings and other structures are almost universally rectilinear simply because the tools used to represent them on paper lend themselves easily to those shapes, as do the tools used to “lay them out” in the field.  Just to illustrate the antiquity of this affinity to right angles, I note that Pythagoras, who flourished around 525 BC, is credited with the “discovery” of the 3-4-5 triangle, a perfect, almost magical, right triangle (one defining a 90° angle) for which the hypotenuse, five, is an integer and also the square root of the sum of the squares of each of the other two sides of length three and four.  As ancient as it is, this clever trick is still used today to easily layout a perfect right angle corner at many construction sites. 

Draftsman are not generally required to decide how big foundations ought to be, nor the sizes of structural steel beams, nor the quantity and sizes of the reinforcing steel necessary for concrete beams and columns and other structural components; this is the job of an engineer or structural “designer”.  When necessary, Quilty hired a retired, registered engineer that he knew; this man did this work, which is simply called “making the calculations”, or the “design notes”.  Then the engineer turns a sheaf of these calculations, which include small, representative sketches of the structure over to the draftsman in a tidy little package, each page of which had been signed and dated by him.

For some reason not yet clear to me, these design notes that were handed to me interested me a great deal.  The notes, besides simply defining the materials and sizes to be used for elements of the structure, but they also showed the method that the engineer had used to figure out these details: how the loads to be borne by the structure had been calculated, and the formulas used to calculate the stresses upon each structural element that he had selected to carry the calculated loads.  If the structure is to be constructed of steel, as is typical of commercial buildings, each element was chosen from tables in a special book containing the properties of all the steel shapes that are manufactured.  And

Sometimes I tried to follow along the process that had been used in making these calculations but little of it was understandable to me.  It was Greek to me, sometimes literally, as in a formula for the calculation of an angle or a stress in which Greek letters such as Ø are conventionally used.  I could see though that standardization was at work here, that a similar process was repeated over and over for different elements of the structure.  One day, chatting with Mr. Quilty, I mentioned that I had been trying to follow these structural calculations and, though it was not strictly any of my business, he kindly suggested that if I was interested I should get a book called Parker’s Strength of Materials.  I asked him where I could get such a book and he replied, “In Chicago.  Go to Kroch’s and Brentano’s in the loop.”  I did—that same night.

I was very impressed with this book store; I’d never seen another like it.  I’ve always been somewhat addicted to bookstores and libraries and stores that sell instruments and papers, pencils and inks and such things—at least until the Internet’s magical web was woven.  Parker’s was a small and neat little book, a perfect size, pleasant to hold and clear in its exposition.  It had a light gray leather cover with its name and its author plainly but elegantly stamped on it in gold leaf, and it had a ribbon with which to mark one’s place in the book.  I can still see and feel it in my mind’s eye.  It reminded me distinctly of the missal that I used to carry to church, except that it was, of course, thinner; engineering of course being considerably less demanding than theology.  Parker’s became my newest Bible, and certainly more important than the Holy Bible at this point in my life.  Over a period of months I went over it at home at night from cover to cover many times with an energy and interest far exceeding any effort I had ever devoted to my school courses.  Gradually I came to understand a great deal more about these so-called “design notes”.  The next time I got a sheaf of them from the engineer I could pretty much make all of it out.

Another aspect of the job at Quilty’s was to define in typewritten “specifications”, what sort of materials were to be used for the new structure: the strength of the concrete and of its reinforcing steel, the types of finishes to be used on walls and ceilings and floors, what sort of roofing and flashing materials were to be used, the types and quality of windows and doors and locks and myriad other details which, along with the drawings, would completely specify the work for the project.  Copies of the drawings, and which we made ourselves in the office using a smelly, ammonia process, were neatly stapled together with a paper binding at the left edge and then the package was rolled up with a copy of the typewritten “specs” into neat cylinders constrained by rubber bands.  The subcontractors picked up these packages, paying a fee for the cost of their reproduction, and took them to their offices for study, the calculation of quantities, and finally an estimation of the of costs.  A few weeks later “bids”, prices for each of the different aspects of the work, would begin to come in: the steel, the masonry, the windows and so forth.  Quilty’s did no construction work themselves, instead they acted as general contractor, subcontracting these various elements of the work to others.

As the bids came in, Quilty himself would review them.  For some jobs, notably the Catholic church’s, Quilty simply acted as an architect might, with no monetary interest in the project himself, except for a design fee.  But for other projects he may have bid them himself for a fixed price.  In this case he stood to gain or lose on the construction itself.  Either way the prices would frequently be higher than had been expected.  When this happened, the whole process moved into a different phase and, as a sophisticated poker player might be, Quilty was unexcelled at this high-stakes stage of the game.  He might ask a subcontractor starkly, “Do you really want this job?  Your bid is too high!”  Sometimes specifications were loosened providing flexibility to the contractor.  Most often, at the end of this back and forth process, subcontractors would grit their teeth and lower their bid, but sometimes, depending on the competition, T.  Frank might have to “take a hit ” on the firm price he had quoted the owner in the first place.    

The optimism with which owners, and to a lesser extent even builders, initiate projects of all sorts is remarkable. This tendency for denial of facts accounts for the frequency with which projects of all types: construction, software development and even—especially—wars, often come to unhappy endings with cost overruns, and lateness, endemic to the process.  To one degree or another, each project is unique, distinguished from other enterprises.  They are “one-offs”, and without this optimism they might never be undertaken.  I think this accounts for why “project” people, both builders and destroyers, tend—more than in more predictable endeavors—to be the mavericks of the world, people that don’t fit the norm.  They, like poker players, are stimulated rather than intimidated by risk taking.

After a year or so, Bob Demar, Quilty’s other draftsman, left the company for greener pastures somewhere and I was left more less running the office by myself, including, by now, much of the business side.  I wrote specifications and purchase orders.  I arranged invoices that came in from subcontractors, and wrote out the unsigned checks to pay for all of them.  But usually Quilty’s bank balance was not up to that job.  At these times, when he came into the office, perhaps in the evening by himself, he would go over all the checks I had laid out neatly on his desk to be signed.  He weighed each invoice carefully, calculating how long he could hold out without paying, what money was expected-in and, cannily, how much he might need a particular subcontractor in the future.  He would then sign certain of the checks—up to the point where there was no more money in the bank.  The others checks, unsigned, went into his top desk drawer to "mature".

While I was strangely fascinated by this exotic, pecuniary dance—it was much like the tango, by turns passive and loving, but one that could quickly turn aggressive—I myself never learned its’ steps and twirls.  The contrast between Quilty and my father could not have been greater in this respect; if my dad said he would pay someone, he did, and he did it on time even if he had to borrow money from the bank to do it.

 

W

hile I was involved in my new career, my father was pursuing his new building career, and in his usual fashion.  Unsurprisingly, he had come to realize that there was a better way to build houses than that which had been used for some hundreds of years previously.  The classic method is first to have a hole dug for a basement, put in the foundation, and then dump stacks of lumber, insulating siding, tar paper and shingles, nails, flashing, roofing cement and all the other odds and ends for a house on the ground nearby.  Then, using saws and saw horses, hammers and nails, carpenters put these materials together by hand at the site.  After this “roughing in” had been done, prefabricated windows and doors, similar to the ones I had made at the frame and sash shop, would then be brought to the site and secured in place.  After all this had been put together the kitchen cabinets, interior doors, finish flooring and baseboards, heating and air conditioning, etc. would be delivered to the site and installed.  And

Coordinating all these people and parts individually for the many homes that were then being built, and the failure to use more than primitive tools, seemed to my father highly inefficient.  His idea, though certainly not original to him, was to build as much as possible first, in a factory, deliver it more or less completed on big trucks and lift these large sub assemblies into place with a crane. This technique took advantage of factory machinery that was not practical to use at a job site.  (I believe Levittown, New York, just after World War II, when all the troops were coming home, was perhaps the first to use these techniques at any scale, and Ryan Homes was a more recent follow-up.)

The problem was that he now had a boss.  Harold Moser was quite happy doing things the way he had been and, since he had made quite a lot of money doing it, he saw no reason to change.  For this reason dad resigned from Moser’s and started a new company, once again becoming his own boss.  By this time he well understood what it cost to build homes and he knew that this venture could not succeed with the money he had, nor be operated financially in the way the shop had been.  It was to be a bigger deal than that.  One day, to my surprise, he approached me with a proposition.

He told me he planned to set up a plant to build homes in the way he thought it ought to be done.  Then he explained that there could be big money in this (and he was not ordinarily given to exaggeration).  He and some of his friends and business acquaintances had raised a considerable sum of money—at least for those days—and he had negotiated a cheap lease on a portion of a very large factory in Batavia, Illinois (now the city of Fermilab fame), about fifteen miles from Naperville.  It had been a defense plant of some sort during World War II and had been vacant ever since.  It was well fitted out for the shipping of lumber and other requirements of this work: it had plenty of room and even a railroad spur so that lumber could be bought in carload lots.  He wanted me to join him in the venture and he said that he would give me a 5% share in the company.  On top of that I was to become the Secretary of the corporation.  Well.

With the old magnetism of working with my father attracting me, and the newfound respect shown for me by the nature of the offer, these factors combined with a creeping distaste for Quilty’s style of doing business, nevermind that it was peculiarly fascinating, like watching a cobra and a mongoose face-off.  And I suppose I had a little lust for making big money too.  On top of that, I thought I now brought a little more to the party than I would have a few years ago; I had learned quite a bit about designing structures and, almost against my will, about writing specifications, contracts, paying bills and the other esoterica of business.  I accepted.

We—my father, several of the men that used to work at the shop, and me (the other partners were silent investors) spent a year or more at this endeavor.  The equipment was developed to mass produce wooden trusses and wall panels, and several houses were sold and built.  But over time two problems became apparent, even to my father.  The first was the return of an old problem; he didn’t like to sell things.  For some reason known only to his psyche he did not consider hiring someone else with more talent along those lines. Secondly, it seemed people did not take readily to prefabricated houses.  They thought that they were cheap imitations of the real thing; they weren’t, but that didn’t matter; the perception was there.

I don’t know whether, as the money ran out, the other investors convinced him that we were barking up the wrong tree or whether he figured it out himself, but finally he called it quits.  And he felt terrible about losing other people’s money, nevermind that they had known there was a risk; he felt personally responsible; he had let them down.

The brevity and blandness of these last few paragraphs only feebly reflect the effort involved in this enterprise, the mental effort invested and the severe sense of failure that my father shouldered from this point onward, though he showed it only in his typically restrained, Midwestern fashion.  He was 62 now and he retired to the quarry home for a while to lick his wounds and to think. That I can’t remember just what it was that I did at that point, might indicate that I was in a funk too, but that's probably an exaggeration; I was about 24 years old, a time when funks don’t run nearly as deeply as they do when you're 62.

 

M

y folks decided to take a trip. I supposed it was a way to get out of Dodge, to leave a place where my father now didn’t want to run into many of his friends but couldn’t easily avoid it.  They bought a brand new, bright blue Plymouth Valiant, a notch or two down from the Chrysler New Yorker he had driven formerly, packed up the car pretty full and he and my mother headed south toward Texas.  Why Texas?  I don’t know.  First I thought: retirement.  I imagine that was on my mother’s mind.  Much later, reflecting back on it, I have come to think it was because Texas, in his mind, rather than providing a warm place of rest and contentment in old age, offered opportunity, a chance for redemption.  After a few months though, they decided that Texas wasn’t for them and they headed west to California which seemed to suit them fine.  They bought or rented a small house in southern California, I forget just where.  Real estate there was not very expensive then.

He sold the quarry, including our house, to his partner in the quarry venture, Harry Ridley, with whom he had bought the property in the first place.  I seem to recall that the sale price to Ridley was $75,000, worth a little over $500,000 in today’s money.  I was given the unpleasant, almost agonizing, job of arranging for an auction of all the furniture, tools, and other goods we had all accumulated during the quarry years.  Bridges were burned.

In a peculiar turn of fate, it seems that Quilty Engineering Company had gone belly-up as well during this period, Quilty declaring bankruptcy and moving to San Francisco where his wife had some family.  I later heard round ‘bout that he had secured a contract to have the Golden Gate bridge repainted!  I was only slightly surprised.

This story does not end there.  My dad probably felt that he had let me down, as well as his partners, or perhaps it was simply my mother’s notion; either way, what happened was that my wife Nola and I accepted an invitation to come out to California to live with my folks and sneak our fortunes together in the West.  And of course we took our two young daughters, Marcia and baby Lynne with us.

Once there, I had rather grand ideas about starting a business myself.  I thought a stationery store might be nice.  I had always liked the contents of such stores, their look, feel and even their smell.  Of course I had zero resources to invest in such a project, but I thought my father might lend me the money to get started, which I didn’t suppose would require very much.  I certainly imagined that he had plenty after having sold the quarry.  It was not to be.

My father thought a store was a terrible idea.  Perhaps it was because it involved selling all the time.  While he understood that selling was involved to some extent in just about every endeavor, his feeling seems to have been that one at least ought to minimize its necessity and not develop into a glutton for punishment, as would be required with a store.  Perhaps it might have been possible to sell him on the idea of some sort of technical endeavor, but I’m pretty sure now that he already had another direction in mind.  He wasn’t saying, probably because he didn’t know precisely what it was yet himself.  Meanwhile I thought I ought to look around for a job.

Coincidentally, at that same time, my brother John came to California to live with us as well.  Quite a few people in one house in this modest but pleasant, typically southern Californian, suburb.  My brother had finished college and was a year or two into graduate school (in mathematics) at the University of Missouri.  But in some real, but as yet inexpressible, sense we were both unsettled, though perhaps for different reasons.  Both of us kind of desultorily looked around for work without much success, nor regret.  We were like two moths circling closer and closer toward the flame of our old nuclear family, now flickering disconcertingly into we knew not what new shape, not knowing quite how to break the attraction and fly our own trajectories.

After six months or so Nola and I, never able in these circumstances to quite feel comfortable here with my folks—perhaps more on my part than on Nola’s who was, and remains today, more adaptable than I—decided to call it quits and go back to Naperville.  My father bought us air tickets, gave me a check for thousand dollars, and we flew “home”.

 

B

ack in Naperville we lived with Nola’s parents in their homey house close to the farm where her father, Ed, worked as manager.  He once explained to me proudly how, some years back, after the war, the demand for fat pigs, previously the most desirable because of the need for lard, had severely diminished.  What was wanted now, he told me, were long, spare pigs, very lean; people were starting to get fat.  He went on to tell about how, within, I don’t know, say ten pig generations or so, they were able to genetically select for the type wanted and use the most desired ones for rebreeding while sending the others to market.  Thus now, we eat roast loin of pork with nearly no fat on it. I’m not sure whether it was a good idea, but there you have it, straight from the snout.

Nola’s brothers were no longer home; they had enlisted in the Air Force.  Ed, Nola’s father, a kind though severe, and realistic, man offered me a little day work on the farm to earn some pocket money to help tide us over while I looked for a job.  Unfortunately, I failed the test of backing up a tractor with a wagon full of corn attached to the rear.  This managed to highly amuse the other farm workers.  Never fond of ridicule, I managed to minimize this hard and very dirty, sweaty, sort of work, but it did have the beneficial effect of concentrating my mind on the hunt for employment.  I now had what I thought ought to pass as an established career: draftsman.

One day, after a few weeks or more of job hunting, I had a nibble.  An architect from Barrington, Illinois needed an architectural draftsman.  The hitch was that the job position was in St. Thomas, in the American Virgin Islands, where the architect had an office.  He told me he concentrated on dock and port facilities.  Furthermore, he explained clearly, I would be required to get myself down there on my own money in order to go to work.

Nola and I did considerable research on the Virgin Islands. A more desirable location cannot even be imagined: perfect weather, an island life, an interesting city, and all this linked with what could potentially be a great career opportunity.  Maybe someday I could even turn into an architect.  I didn’t see what was so special about architecture; it didn’t seem as difficult or even as professional as engineering.  The deal looked good.  We bought air tickets.

As the time approached for us to actually get on the airplane, I became more and more nervous: the architect, young, seemed to be a little strange, at least to my then conservative Midwest sensibilities, and besides that he seemed to drink even more than Quilty, or at least he showed it more.  Now, as I write, having wintered in the Dominican Republic these last several years, and with the wisdom of old age in my eyes, I could put a fix on this guy easily.  I am now well acquainted with the island breed in which, just as with pig genetics, certain characteristics run true even though there remain minor variations.  But at that time, with a family, and a dwindling pile of money, it seemed a big risk to once again leave the security of Naperville, too big.  I canceled our flight tickets—TWA as I recall—and we got the money back for them.

A few weeks later, Nola came to me with one of the Chicago Sunday papers.  She pointed out an ad in the Help Wanted section for an architectural draftsman.  It was for a position with a company named Blaw-Knox, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  At the shop we had had a very large cast iron punch press with the name Blaw-Knox cast right into the iron.  In my mind’s eye I pictured Pittsburgh as a rather old, industrial and rather nasty place to live, and I was not enthusiastic.  My preferences then ran more towards the clean and the modern.  Or perhaps the contrast between Pittsburgh and the delightful Virgin Islands then seemed too vivid.  But Nola, a very intrepid woman, and one not easily deterred, was not enchanted with the reality of once again living in her old home after we had now been on our own for several years previously.  She pushed the matter to the point where it seemed better all around to simply call them on the phone.  So I did, and I made an appointment to go into Chicago and talk to them.

I had taken the precaution of saving copies of some of my better drawings from Quilty’s.  I rolled them up in a tube and got on the train early one morning, the Chicago Burlington and Quincy commuter special, at the small, brick station in Naperville.  I had once sold newspapers here in the concrete tunnel under the tracks leading to the trains, I think for the then price of 3¢ apiece, from which the 2¢ from a nickel was frequently left on the stack of papers for the freezing, young paperboy who had gotten up so early in the morning.

The office was in a big building in or near the loop.  It was not a Blaw-Knox office; they had simply temporarily rented some space for interviews.  I waited in an anteroom with a number of people for some time, then I had a surprisingly long interview, and my drawings were inspected rather carefully by a Mr. John Shaw, who said he was the head of the department of the Chemical Plants Division that included architecture.  They designed and constructed chemical plants, he said.  It seemed like a very big company to this young man.  He asked numerous questions and I answered them.  At the end of nearly an hour, or so it seemed, he asked me if I’d like to come to work for Blaw Knox.  He offered me a salary of $675 a month and said they would pay “moving expenses”.  I wasn’t sure exactly what that was, but it certainly was a better deal than the architect from Barrington had offered.  They seemed to want me, and they didn’t seem to need any time to think it over, which I had assumed would be the case.  In fact they wanted an answer right then.  I said I had to talk it over with my wife and asked if I could call them back tomorrow.  He said yes.

There was no question in Nola’s mind, only in mine.  All my other escape hatches seemed to have closed.  And here was this rusty one gaping open.  I didn’t want to leave Naperville, but like a pig on the farm, it seemed that I was ineluctably being routed in this particular direction.

Well, I said to myself, and probably to Nola, “Anyone can take Pittsburgh for year.”  That year was 1960.