Auto-biography of Jerry c russell The Early Years

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We used to listen to the radio every Sunday night, the shows we wouldn’t miss were, Jack Armstrong, the Green Lantern, Mystery Theater, Jack Benny, Amos and Andy, and Burns and Allen. When I was a freshman in high school I saw my first television. A rich kid in town (Roger Hughes) got one and we used to go over and watch it . The first shows were, Sid Caesar, wrestling, groucho Marx, and Steve Allen. Finally when I was a senior in high school we got a RCA television. We never got a color television until after I was married, around the mid sixties.

As I got into high school we started to run around with girls. My first girl friend was Pat Burd. We went together for two years and developed a group of guys and girls, about eight that we hung out with. I was usually the driver as nobody else had access to a car. We had a great time the last few years of high school. We would have ice skating parties in the winter at the lake. I was a good ice skater and could jump picnic tables both forwards and backwards. I recently went to a 45 year high school class reunion and met most of the old gang, although Pat wasn’t there and nobody knows what happened to her. Played golf with my old ice skating girl friend ILA Moans. I dated five or six other girls during these years. I was above average in school however in science and math I was great. Our science teacher was “Doc” Shelgren who became everybody liked and we became good friends. He managed the beach at the lake in the summers and I helped him out sometimes. When I graduated I got the Bausch and Laum science scholarship to go to MIT. However I had already decided to go to Iowa State University where Tom was going.

During our senior year in high school we discovered beer. We were to young to buy it but we could usually find somebody to do it for us. We had some really wild parties and drove the car very dangerously. There was not the publicity or severe penalties for drunken driving in those days fortunately. I drove that 48 Chevy through peoples yards, around the track at the football field for Simpson college, and lost the police several times by roaring through the lumber yard area where I worked. We would climb up on top of buildings around the down town square and throw tires over the street light poles, of course half the time we would miss and break the big globes. We climbed the flagpole on top of the lumber yard and tied a toilet bowl to it. Probably the worst was when we released the brakes and used jacks to start a railroad car moving at the lumber yard. Since the track had a slope to it the car rolled right through the steel gate of the yard, through town and apparently ended up about ten miles outside of town. It was luck we never got caught in any of these capers or we would have been in real trouble. We started hanging out at “Pizza House” on east 14th in Des Moines where they would sell us beer. (I went there in 1997 and it’s very much the same).

The year I graduated from high school (1952) both Tom and I got a job at Pittsburgh Des Moines Steel company in Des Moines for the summer. This turned out to be a tough job even though we made 1$ and hour. We cleaned welds on the inside of water tanks before they could be painted. Dirty noisy work. Older jokers would hit the side of the tank with sledgehammers that just about deafened us. We worked for the painters who sprayed red lead based paint. They worked without masks or any protection. I noticed that all the painters looked like they were 60 years old but found out they were in their 20’s and 30’s. That red lead was killing them fast. The guy I worked for got hit on the leg with a large plate of steel they were turning over and lost his leg. It probably saved his like as he was not going to live very long spraying that point. We were glad to get out of there at the end of the summer.

Before I went to college, Larry Starr , a buddy of mine, and I decided to go to California. The plan was to drive a new car out there since at that time you could contract to take a car to California and you got the car free as they sold higher out there and the company saved shipping costs. We would then hitchhike back and be back in time to start college. We picked up a new Cadillac in Des Moines and took off for California. Since we didn’t have much money, we slept in the car. The gas was paid for with a voucher system. We basically drove straight through to Las Vegas. We then hang around the casinos for the sights and the free drinks. The scheme was to tell the girls we ran into that we were rich and had our dads car but were out of cash temporarily. We had a hell of a good time for about a week before we decided that we better get the car on out to California before they started to look for us. We drove on out to San Bernardino and turned the car in. Our plan now was to hitchhike up to the resort area of Big Bear Lake to see Audrey, my cousin, who was there. She was a good looking girl about five years older than I who went to California when she was young to try to get in the movies. She did play some bit parts but ended up marrying a rich air craft company executive who set her up in Big Bear and came up periodically to see her. She spent most of her time partying. Larry and I walked from San Bernardino through Azusa and Cucamonga ending up in a peach orchard. We had stopped at a liquor store and bought a six pack of beer. I asked for the strongest beer they had, not realizing what that meant. We ended up very drunk throwing peaches at cars that wouldn’t stop for us. The next thing either of us remembered was waking up in a hotel in Cucamonga. We snuck out since we didn’t want to pay the bill and hitchhiked to Big Bear.

We called Audrey and she met us. For the next week we partied as was Audrey’s lifestyle at the time. She had a girl friend who went with Larry and I to all the many bars at the resort area of Big Bear. Everybody knew Audrey and they all bought us drinks so we never had to buy. We partied from about six o’clock until four o’clock in the morning for five days. I finally got a recurrence of my Hepatitis that I had earlier in the year and had to stop. Finally we decided we better start hitchhiking back as we were not sure how long it would take. When we got to the main highway back, route 66, we split up since we figured we would need to in order to get people to stop. When the first car stopped I talked the driver in to picking up Larry, who was about a mile sown the road. I asked the driver where he was going and he said Kansas City, so we had struck it rich. The guy was driving a near new Kaiser /Frazier and it turned out he was with a finance company. The car had been bought in Kansas city, driven to California and the loan defaulted so he was driving it back. The problem was this guy drove like a maniac, and never stopped except for gas. We went straight through the mountains at 80 MPH. He wouldn’t let us drive at first. After about 15 hours we finally blew a tire near Albuquerque New Mexico. Fortunately it happened in a desert area and we just went off the road and spun around. Finally he let us drive and we drove straight through to Kansas City. There we caught a ride with a trucker to up near Omaha, and from there on home. We came home in about 36 hours in three rides.


Tom started the year before I did at Iowa State College (University now). Iowa State is a very tough engineering school and we were warned that we probably wouldn’t make it based on our high school grades. Since I had never studied in high school, I decided I better study. The first few years at ISC were tedious and not a pleasant experience. There was a lot of pressure, and they warned us that about half of us wouldn’t make it. When we started freshman chemistry they said about one third would flunk, the same with physics and T @ AM. There were three of us from high school there, Paul Leverington, Aubrey Reed (my best friend) and myself. Paul and I did fine, but Aubrey had trouble and finally dropped out after the sophomore year. We made our arrangements too late to get in the dorm, so we got a room just off campus. Hitchhiked home most weekends. The college was in Ames, 30 miles north of Des Moines and 50 miles north of Indianola. Hitchhiking was pretty easy then, if you carried a suitcase with a Iowa State sticker. The first summer I got a job working on the construction company putting in a new highway between Indianola and Des Moines. The second summer Paul and I both got jobs with Iowa Power and Light as engineering trainees. We were finally out of the manual labor status and it was great. The Korean war was on and in order to deep from being drafted, I had to join the Reserve Officers Training Corps ROTC. The summer before graduation we had to go to boot camp at Camp Gordon Georgia, near Augusta. We drove a friends old Studebaker down there. Boot camp was a difficult experience, as they treated us like shit since we were soon to be officers and they wanted to get their licks in while they could. We were constantly threatened with being washed out and sent to Korea as enlisted men. Most of the guys I new made it however. After about six weeks there we finally got a weekend pass and drove to Greenburg South Carolina to get away. We had a wild time , got involved with some wild women at a dance, got completely snorked and ended up staying with them all night in some state park. Just got back in time to avoid being washed out.


During my first few years at college, I dated several girls from Indianola, including Marlene Miguire (Mars Mig), who was good looking and looking for a husband, Darlene Peterson the daughter of the local druggist and Beverly King who died of cancer a few years later. We then started to date girls from Des Moines. During our junior and senior years I was able to buy a car. It was a 1952 Plymouth I got from aunt Ethel. Ethel and Nell got back from Alaska after several years. They bought land there that turned out to have oil on it and became very valuable. Unfortunately Ethel died soon after they got back. Since I had a car now We could drive down to Des Moines and chase women there. I still dated Pat Burd occasionally who was now in nurses training in Des Moines. I met a girl named Sandra Piggot and dated her a few times. One day I had here line up a blind date for Aubrey Reed. It was this little blond named Ann Baker. Aubrey went with her a few times but decided she was too good for him. He was having problems about this time at school and ended up dropping out and going in the army. Never saw much of him now for almost 50 years (more later). I called Ann and asked for a date. We began dating regularly between my Junior and Senior years and became steady while I was a senior. I started interviewing companies for employment in January of my senior year. At this time engineers were in very high demand, so I was able to fly all over the country interviewing. I also was sponsored by Iowa Power and Light and sent to the American Power Conference in Chicago. Had a ball traveling all over on expense account. Iowa Power expected me to come with them since I had worked there for two years, but I had better offers. Ended up accepting with Westinghouse Electric Corporation to be a field engineer in the midwest area. I would be based in Des Moines which was great with me and Toots. Started working for 402$/month, which was a lot of money then. When I graduated (1956) I was commissioned as a second Lieutenant in the Army signal corps. I would have to go on active duty within a year. In the spring I proposed to Toots and she accepted. Her dad was sick for a long time with emphysema and was in the hospital at this time. We went there one day to see him and after the others left I stayed to talk to him and ask for his daughters hand. He said fine and I could have the rest of her too. It turned out I was the last to see him alive because he died that night. I started work as a field engineer in May, and we were married in October. On our honeymoon we went fishing on Cass Lake in Minnesota, a place where we went when I was a kid. An indian family ran the resort, it was on a reservation, and Aunt Nell got close to the family and built a vacation cabin on there property. Forty years later I stopped by there and they still remembered us.

We lived in an apartment on Cottage Grove ave in Des Moines for the first year until I went into the army. Toots worked for the school as a secretary. One day when I was traveling she was driving our 52 mercury that we got from her dad when she pulled out from a stop sign and got hit by a bus. It demolished the car and although she was dazed she told the bus driver she was all right, so he left. Art (her brother in-law) came and got her and had the car towed to a junk yard. When I got home I was so mad at the bus driver for leaving the scene that I went to the bus company and raised hell, they got a lawyer involved and became pretty concerned, since she was pregnant. It ended up they paid for her to have a physical (she was OK), and they reprimanded the driver. Most of this time I was working on a large supervisory control and power line carrier installation Westinghouse had sold to a utility up in South Dakota. I traveled most of the time and was only home on weekends. In fact I was gone the week before the wedding and almost didn’t make it home because of a snow storm. I had stored some expensive instruments in the trunk of Toot’s car, and they were damaged but I managed to repair them. I got to know the area around Aberdeen and Huron South Dakota very well and made many friends up there, and also became somewhat a expert on Visicode supervisory control which was a complicated relay encoding and remote control scheme. Later on they sent me all over to work on this equipment.


In the spring of 1957 I reported for duty as a second lieutenant in the signal corps at Fort Monmouth New Jersey. I drove our 52 Plymouth out there. The first eight weeks was officers basic training so I had to live in a barracks on post. We went through normal OCS basic training which was pretty rough and had to qualify on most of the weapons used by the army including the M1 and M30 carbines, 45 caliber pistol, machine gun and anti- tank bazooka. After basic was over we were full fledged officers and would go to school there for the next three months. I rented a small house off base, near the Monmouth Park race track and Toots and her mother flew out. I drove up to Newark airport to meet them only to find the airplane had been re-routed to La Guardia due to weather. I had to drive through New York in rush hour traffic in a rush to meet the plane. I got there in time. Toots was sick when she got off the plane, so we went to her uncle Bullets house in New York to stay overnight.

The house in Monmouth Park was interesting, it had been built by a retired sea captain who died and I rented it from his widow. The upstairs was locked up, and we were curious about what was up there. When we started to get ants coming under the upstairs door, I removed the door and we went up. The place was just as he left it, with food and clothes laying around. Fortunately he was not there. Toots made me remove a old maggoty moose head from over the fireplace because the eyes bugged her. Toots got along fine with the pregnancy and so we went to the beach with members of my section from the army. Some were rich and rented a large beach home. We were supposed to study since we were going to school on the base and there were test given every two weeks or so. Nobody studied much because copies of the test were passed around the section that had been obtained from previous sections. I hedged my bets by studying some anyway, which paid off on the last test because they changed it. Everybody else got bad grades on this test ,and I did OK, so I ended up graduating number one in the section. In addition to a plaque I got to choose my next assignment. The closest place to Iowa was Fort Riley Kansas, so that was where we would head next.

I was on post in class when I got a call that Toots was being taken to the hospital. She had started to have pains and so her mother had called a cab and they went to the hospital in Long Branch. By the time I got there the doctor came out and said “we had a future soldier”. The doctor was a Russian immigrant and didn’t speak English very well. Every thing went well, except he had colic and didn’t sleep much for a month or so. He also developed a large lump on his head after a few days, I took him to the nutty doctor and he said it was OK just a bruise caused by the clamps they pulled him out with.

When Steve was about a month old we started out in the old Plymouth for Kansas. We stayed a few days in Des moines and Indianola to visit everybody and to drop Toots mother off and headed for Fort Riley. We got an officers apartment on the base that was nice and had fun neighbors who were all in similar circumstances to us. To record Steve’s early days we got a 8 millimeter movie camera and took lots of pictures. We still have them today but don’t have anything to show them on.

I was assigned to the 267th Signal Construction company, 121st Signal Battalion, of the First Infantry Division (the big red one). The first division had just got back from Korea where they had been shot up pretty good. This construction unit is where they put the goof-offs and troublemakers in the signal corps. I had to take over a platoon and sign for all the material. This was a problem since it required I inventory everything in order to sign for it or the other officer couldn’t leave. He assured me there was no problem, but I spent a week trying to inventory it. A lot of the hand tools and personal type equipment was impossible to find. Finally I had to sign off on a reduced list, I’m not sure if the leaving officer had to pay or not. This was a rough bunch of soldiers, almost one third of them were in the brig at any one time. One Sunday, when I was officer of the day, there was a commotion in the enlisted mans day room which is a sort of recreation hall with pool tables etc. When I walked into the room there was a big black guy, with a knife in his hand, and another black guy bleeding from his head with his ear laying on the floor. The guy with the knife looked wild. I tried to get my 45 caliber pistol out of it’s holster but it was strapped in, so I yelled “hand me the knife” and thank god he did. There was a lot of this kind of trouble in that unit. About this time the army was trying to reduce the number of permanent rank officers so they reverted most officers that were not regular army i.e. West Point graduates, to their permanent enlisted rank. Therefore many officers up to colonel became master sergeants. The battalion commander was reverted and all his staff. Since I was in my first enlistment I couldn’t get reverted. However there were now very few officers and so I ended up executive officer for the battalion. This is a important position and I didn’t have the foggiest idea what I was supposed to do. The previous executive officer was now a master sergeant and was not about to help me. Fortunately there was a master sergeant who had been there under the previous officer who helped me. I was in charge of all the signal schools for the division. The commanding general Matthew Ridgeway decided to come and inspect the school. There was supposed to be a soldier at the rear of each class monitoring the class and he was supposed to see the inspector and yell “attention” and present the lesson plan. Needless to say this didn’t happen and I got chewed out by the general. Next he ordered a parade for Saturday with the 267 Battalion in charge. As battalion executive officer I was to make up the parade orders etc. I didn’t have the foggiest what to do. The sergeant helped some and I got a parade order out but didn’t know you had to order out the band. Saturday morning it was discovered, and it was too late cause most of the band were on weekend passes. The sergeant and I rushed over to the store room and got a record player and a dozen large speakers. The parade went off to John Phillip Sousa playing on the record. I never heard a word about it, although I thought I would get court martialed. Finally my time was up and I got a discharge from active duty but was supposed to be in the active reserves for seven years. Back in Des Moines I filed for a special deferment from the reserves on the basis that I was traveling and couldn’t attend reserve meetings. Actually I should have had to go to summer camp each year, but I got a dumb sergeant who gave me a transfer to the inactive reserves. Then when we moved several times over the next few years they lost me. Never heard until ten years later when they found me in Pennsylvania and since on there records I had been in the active reserve for ten years, they promoted me to a First Lt. and tried to assign me to a unit. I filed for a discharge based on my long service and got it, so that was the end of my army career.

A Field Engineer in Iowa

I went back to work as a Field Engineer for Westinghouse when we got back to Iowa. For the next seven years I traveled Iowa ,North and South Dakota and Nebraska working on all types of electrical apparatus, mostly with electric utilities but some industrial. We made a down payment on a new house in Indianola, that we had built. It was a three bedroom rambler on West Boston. Toots and I put in the yard, planted trees, put up curtains and it was very nice for a first home (15K$). I bought a used 56 Chevy from the leasing company that leases cars to Westinghouse salesmen. I got involved in Amateur radio and both Toots and I got a novice license. We had to take a code test from a friend of mine who worked at the water works, where I had installed a large motor. Our licenses were KNOSHY and KNOSHX. Later I got my general class license and became active with both a home station, and a mobile in my car (which was very unusual in those days). I developed friends with hams all over the world, some of which I ran across in later years.

I still specialized in electronics and supervisory control, but worked on all types of apparatus that Westinghouse sold to electric utilities. There was a lot of travel since I covered the three states of Iowa , Nebraska and South Dakota. Since I was the expert in Visicode supervisory control, I would sometimes be sent other places in the country also. Once I spent a week in the control tower of the O’Hara Airport in Chicago rewiring Visicode that had caught on fire. I was literally under the feet of the controllers, and it was very interesting. During these six years I installed transformers, circuit breakers, switchgear, large motors, did generator inspections and worked on many other types of electrical equipment. On one of the large transformer installations the was a strike of the IBEW workers and as we were closing up the transformer there was a bolt missing from one of the access covers. These transformers are as big as a house and have a steel case, filled with oil, surrounding the steel and wire core assembly. It is necessary to be very sure nothing conducting gets inside, otherwise the unit may blow up when it’s energized. Therefore when installing and working inside all tool and cover bolts are counted to be sure they are not inside. In this case I was pretty sure somebody on strike had taken the bolt to cause trouble, but couldn’t prove it. We sifted the rocks around the site and looked for the bolt for several days without success. I finally had the oil drained and several of the radiators taken off. My boss had warned me about getting to far inside the unit as it could be dangerous. However I was determined to be sure the bolt was not inside, before we energized. So I had a rope tied to my ankles and I went in alongside the core and had them move me around so I could look all around and below the core. As I was hanging upside down inside I looked out through a radiator hole and there was my boss who was visiting the job site. He yelled “get the hell out of there” and so I had to give up, fill the unit with oil and prepare to energize. I thought I was in trouble, but found out later he was bragging to people about how determined and resourceful I was. We energized the unit with 161000 volts and as usual I went up to the tank and listened. All I heard was the normal snapping of small air bubbles in the oil, and the transformer is probably still in service today.

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