Von Cassius Campbell, 95, of Syracuse, New York, passed away September 8, 2012 in Fort Collins, Colorado. Von was born November 23, 1916 in Jackson Township Wells County, Indiana to Williams and Cora Campbell.
A Conversation with W2RDC
So, where did you grow up?
Well, I was born in 1916 and grew up on a small farm in Warren, Indiana - had 3 brothers and 2 sisters. We didn't have a lot of money, but living on a farm we always had enough to eat even though it was the Depression. I was always interested in electronics and radio. Back in the 30's I built my first radio transmitter - it was a spark gap unit and operated in the broadcast band. I used it to communicate with a friend on the other side of town. We were about a hundred miles from Chicago so I don't think that we bothered anyone even though our signal probably covered the whole broadcast band. I used 4 Ford Model-T ignition coils in series, operating from a 32-volt light plant, to generate the spark.
In the mid-30's we finally got electrical power on the farm. So I built a 5-meter transceiver using a type 19 tube and using electrolytic rectifiers. I also got a room of my own in my grandparents house - now I really had room to spread out my equipment. I took the Ford coils from the spark transmitter and used them to power a home-built Tesla Coil.
My grandfather had a pretty good machine shop set up on his farm and we also had - DYNAMITE! We kept several hundred pounds of 40% nitroglycerine dynamite on the farm for blowing out stumps and to crack up old oil field equipment foundations. We also had nytroglycerine but that was stored in 2 gallon cans a half mile from the house. One of the farm hands was loading a wagon once and must have dropped a can. We never found any trace of him, horse, wagon or storage shed.
After I graduated from high school, I stayed on the farm for two years (actually, I spent part time during these two years working at the Grigsby-Grunow plant in Marion, Indiana - making loudspeakers) and then enrolled in Purdue University. I was interested in both Chemistry and Electrical Engineering but decided to go with Electrical. During the time I was there, I got to be a pretty good glassblower and actually made a cathode ray tube as a project - the experience came in very handy later on.
I graduated in May of 1941. General Electric was recruiting on the Purdue campus - they ended up making 55 offers to the members of my graduating class. I accepted their offer and in those days all the new hires started work in Schenectady on what they called the "Test Program" - a series of rotating assignments to give you a range of experiences. I started in the Radio Transmitter Department in July 1941 - it was in either building #81 or #89. My first assignment was the testing of a 2 KW transmitter for the Navy. After that I was assigned to test a 50 KW broadcast transmitter. That unit was designed so that you could operate it on any frequency in the broadcast band. One of the other engineers and I thought that we'd see how far we could push the design so we tuned it up on the 75M amateur band and started calling: "CQ." About 15 minutes later my boss came running into the lab yelling: "Turn that &*@#$%&*?#< thing off!" He'd gotten a call from the FCC!
When did you get licensed?
Of course, about 5 months after I went to work for GE, Pearl Harbor happened and that was the end of amateur radio transmissions for the duration of the war. But a number of my friends and I kept practicing code and after the war in 1946, 12 or 15 of us took the exam. I passed and received the W2RDC call that I still use today. Back then though, the test "environment" wasn't as pleasant. I remember the FCC examiner standing behind me as I copied the code. The minute the code machine stopped sending, he grabbed the sheet of paper from in front of me - no chance to go back and fill in the blanks. My first receiver was an S-40 that I had bought before the war. My transmitter was a homebrew crystal-controlled unit with a 6L6 driving an 811.
And your work at Schenectady?
The Test Program ended with the beginning of the war. In November I was sent to the Tube Works in Building 37, on the third floor. It was there that I designed my first cathode ray tube - the 12GP7 (also known as a GL-488). It has a 12" screen (which you can figure out from the type), with electrostatic deflection and focus for use in a radar. It had a 6.3 volt heater and required an anode potential of 6.6 kV. The number following the "P" indicates the type of phosphor used for the screen. (P4 is the white phosphor used in B&W picture tubes, P22 is the 3-color phosphor used in color picture tubes, and so forth.) The P7 phosphor was interesting in that when hit by the electron beam, it would fluoresce a bright blue-white color. This color would decay (fade) rapidly but not before it had excited a second phosphor which would glow yellow-green for a longer period of time. Thus this tube could "store" a picture for many seconds without any external circuitry.
Other tubes that I designed were the 4AP10 and the 5CP1/5DP1. The 5CP1/5DP1 were traditional electrostatic focus and deflection tubes with 4 kV on the accelerator and 2 kV on the anode. They were used in the A-scope of the SC-2 radar which was a second generation search radar manufactured by General Electric. One of the first units was installed on the USS Enterprise (CV-6) in late 1942. The 4AP10 was an interesting unit, not because it used magnetic focus and deflection, or because of the 9.9 kV anode voltage, but because it used a P10 dark trace storage phosphor. You could hardly see the trace, but the phosphor had a long memory and you could reflect a beam of light off the face of the CRT and see the picture in the reflected beam. One system used a 1 Kw mercury arc to generate the light beam and the reflected beam was projected on a flat plotting table as the display of a radar system for harbor control.
One of my visitors during the war was David Packard (of Hewlett-Packard fame) who built a test set for us while working summers at GE. In 1943 he sat at my desk for an hour and described a new product that they had developed - an audio oscillator.
Although I worked mainly with CRTs, I saw a number of the high power tubes that formed the GE product line in those days. One of my favorites was the UV-862 triode that had a 100 KW power input - 22 of those were used at WLW in Cincinnati, Ohio when it was operating at the 500 KW level. There were rumors that WGY, the GE station in Schenectady, wanted to "scoop" WLW by going to the 1 MW level. There was a special tube that GE developed for WGY that had a 250 KW power input and used a continuous mercury pump to maintain the vacuum - but that tube never went in to production. Tubes with 100 KW or 250 KW inputs may not sound like a big deal today, but remember that these were designed back in the early 30's and used tungsten filaments - not even thoriated tungsten.
We got to work with a lot of chemicals in those days - often under conditions that would give OSHA fits today. Some of the CRTs used a graphite coating on the inside of the bulb as the anode. We used a special mixture of graphite, bentonite and a few other chemicals in a liquid suspension. I remember one day that we had five gallons of the mixture in a glass jug over in the corner of the lab and some idiot (not me) broke the jug. The whole five gallons dumped down through a 3" floor drain, right into the Ladies Toilet directly below the lab, and onto the boss' Secretary who was sitting on the "throne." Boy did we get Hell for that!
I once did a count and calculated that over the course of my career, I designed 37 different tube types. I ended up with ten patents of my own, and helped a number of the other engineers with their patents - we kind of "spread the glory around" - my first patent was for the aluminized screen picture tube. During World War II GE built cathode ray tubes at the Lamp Department in Cleveland. They needed someone with production experience and because of my work at Purdue and in Schenectady, I was chosen to help them out. After the war ended, the Lamp Department kicked CRT production out and it moved to Buffalo - so I ended up helping out in that transition.
When did you come to Syracuse?
I formally moved to Syracuse in April of 1949 and started working at the Cathode Ray Tube Operation in Building 6 at Electronics Park. Building 6 initially held the Specialty Products Operation which manufactured a bunch of odds and ends such as diodes and crystals, but they soon got bumped out and CRTO took over the whole building. Initially, the work was mostly commuting to Buffalo because at that time they were building all the picture tubes for our TVs. But by 1950 we had the Syracuse plant up and running and picture tube production was moved from Buffalo to Syracuse - where it stayed till production moved offshore and the production line was shut down in the 80's.
The "Park" was really busy in the 50's just trying to keep up with the demand for TV sets. Building 6 produced camera tubes such as the vidicon and image orthocron. But like the Specialty Products Operation, they got booted out of Building 6 and sent off to Owensboro, Kentucky to make more room for CRTO.
I worked with Bill Good-W2CVI on the development of the Talaria light valve projector. Bill did the optics, I did the light valve (at Schenectady) and Tom True did the circuitry.
I retired in February of 1982 but CRT production had been falling off at the Park for years as more and more production moved offshore. GE had kept production going for a few more years in the 70's when they scooped the market by introducing their PortaColor line of small screen color sets, but even that came to an end eventually. In 1985, what was left of the operation was sold to the Chinese. Those folks wanted EVERYTHING! They inventoried every nut, bolt and washer in the Stockroom. They took the bulbs out of the lights, and the wastebaskets, and the chalkboards. They'd have taken the toilets if we had let them.
Well, there are a couple more hams in the family these days. My son is licensed as WA2YDW and lives in Fort Collins, Colorado. My wife, Anne, became licensed as KC2ALF in 1996. My daughter is my big disappointment - can't get her interested in the hobby.
I still like to get on the air and operate on the HF and 2M bands. My equipment is a Collins S-Line and a Yaesu - the model that has a "hidden switch" that, when flipped, allows you to transmit on any frequency that you want to - of course I'd never do that. I did just have a run-in with the City of Syracuse Codes Enforcement Officer when one of my neighbors complained about my antenna tower. But after the Officer came out to my place and looked things over, he decided that the neighbor's chimney was in worse shape than my tower was, so the neighbor got the citation. So I guess I'll be on the bands for some time yet to come.