After that horrible winter storm, my father resigned from Philco and did consulting work for several months at Raytheon in Boston. Employment opportunities were tough – until the launch of Sputnik in October 1957. Then all the aerospace companies began hiring again! (Ironically, I would later be an official NASA participant in the Moscow celebration of 50th anniversary the of that first Sputnik Launch!)
My parents decided to move back to Los Angles. My father flew on ahead, found a job at the Systems Development Corporation (SDC) in Santa Monica, and rented a house.
Rather than moving with my father, my mother and I flew to Ann Arbor to visit her mother. We flew out to join him on the Fourth of July 1958. I remember the two of us being the only passengers on the plane. I remember sitting in the plane’s lounge and playing with coloring books.
My father’s job at SDC was head of the Information Processing Branch. According to Wikipedia, SDC was considered the world’s first computer software company. It was a spin-off of the more famous RAND Corporation, also in Santa Monica (my wife would work at RAND much later.) My father worked on the SAGE missile defense system while at SDC. SAGE was by far the largest and most complex software system of its time.
When my mother and I arrived to join my father, we moved into a two-story rental house in Brentwood, on the West side of LA. I have some vague memories of that house. My bedroom was on the second floor. There was a landing that looked down onto the first floor – probably the living room. There was a piano in the house – hence we must have rented it as a furnished place. I can remember playing with a plastic train set on the second floor and winding the track between rooms.
In 1958, we moved into the house my father would occupy for the rest of his life. It was a brand new house in the hills of Sherman Oaks. The builder’s name was Manning Holoff and he had built several custom homes in the neighborhood. The neighborhood was so new that this was one of only a handful of homes on the street – maybe even the second.
This didn’t last long because I can remember having a few friends at that time that also lived on Scadlock Lane. The organ and model railroad were both installed in the house’s 20’x25’ sunken living room. I was given the small bedroom adjacent to my parent’s room.
I wasn’t an only child for long. My sister Barbara was born on August 24, 1959.
Some of my earliest memories of this home were of my father playing the trumpet and organ for me (not at the same time) while I rocked back and forth on my Wonder Horse.
Since my father spent most of his time at work and my mother didn’t want to send all day playing for me (she played the piano in her youth but pretty much gave it up after marrying my father), he made open reel tape recordings for my Wonder Horse sessions. I still have cassette transcriptions of many of these. I have irrefutable proof that my father was not a great organist! He was quite a good trumpeter, however. Most of the recordings were dubs of commercial records. Some of my favorites included Sousa marches, a record of the Boston Pops called “Opera Without Singers” in which the trumpet was usually giving the solo vocal parts, and the first two Liszt Hungarian Rhapsodies in orchestral settings. I also had quite an anthology of children’s songs – mostly about trains.
My other early memory from this period was about my father’s car. It was a gray Studebaker with a red plaid interior. I remember going on rides and staring at the upholstery, watching the plaid play tricks in the varying lighting. I also remember the air vents. They were simply two small doors under the dashboard on the left and right that opened to the outside. My mother said that this was his second Studebaker – maybe even his third! He would have continued to buy Studebakers if they had not gone out of business in 1963 (actually, they continued to be manufactured in Canada until 1966).
We used to go on weekly drives in the car, often along the mountain roads.
Our routes must have changed because in sometime around 1959, the state of California began excavating the land behind our house to create the Sepulveda Pass section of the San Diego Freeway (Interstate 405.) This was a massive construction project. My father used to say that more earth was moved than in the construction of the Panama Canal. The small hill that rose behind our house was going to be leveled by the State. My father got our immediate neighbors organized and petitioned the State to grade the land to match their existing properties. In this way, someday the land would be useful either to us or for building more homes. I watched the construction from our house. The State agreed to grade the land and soon there was an acre of play space at the house. I recall having one last giant “cowboys and Indians” play session with the neighborhood children on the site before it was fenced off. We used a mound of dirt as our fort. I think I left a toy pistol when we were done and it is now part of the freeway.
A few years later, the State agreed to sell this land to our neighbors and us. This gave us a huge lot – and room for the pool my father had always wanted. My father gave me the pool – though it was always problematic since it could not be moved. I remember telling my father, when later Karen and I installed our own pool, that I would have the dirt from our excavation sent to fill in his pool, completing the gift transfer.
My father made sure that Barbara and I always had plenty of toys. Mine were mostly construction toys. I had a large collection of Erector Sets because my father had them when he was young. I also had Lincoln Logs, American Bricks, Skyline, Girder and Panel, and (much later) Lego. I remember going with my mother, while my father was away on business, to the local FAO Schwartz toy store. Lego had just been introduced to the U.S. market and there was a large display where children could build with the bricks. My mother bought me a small set. After I demonstrated it for my father, he bought me the largest set available in the US at that time.