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banner - angelo a. ferrara

angelo ferrara operating winch I first started working for the Coast and Geodetic Survey on June 6, 1939. It was one of those odd moment of fate that got me the job with C&GS. The wire drag vessels, MARINDIN and RODGERS were scheduled to go to Point Pleasant, NJ., but while docked overnight at Chesapeake and Delaware Canal, they received a message to stop in Atlantic City to investigate a reported grounding. And it so happened that when they arrived in Atlantic City, their radio operator quit on them. That night, a neighbor of mine just happened to be in a beer joint near the docks and he started talking to some of the crew from the drag boats. It was then he learned about the radio operator vacancy and stopped by my house that night to tell me about the job. The strange thing about it, is that my neighbor never goes to that beer joint, as this place was several miles from his home. He told later that he was not sure what he was doing in that neighborhood and why he entered the beer joint.

The next day, during my break from my job in the hotel, I rode my bike down to the drag vessels and spoke to the skipper, Comdr. Kenneth Ulm. At the time, I already was an amateur radio operator and a radio operator in the New Jersey National Guards, so it was a simple matter to transfer me to the vessels. However, it wasn't until the third day that I asked the bos'un what did the letters USC & GS meant on the stern of the vessels. Since the vessels were docked at the Corps of Engineers dock, I had assumed that I was working for the Corps. It was only then I found out that I was actually working for the Coast and Geodetic Survey!

As I said, the commanding officer was Comdr. Ulm who had command of the MARINDIN. Ensign John Bull was the only other officer and he was in charge of the RODGERS. Comdr. Ulm signed me on for a 1-year enlistment as Seaman AB, but my actual duties were each morning to talk to the mother ship, the OCEANOGRAPHER (which was in New York Harbor) by morse code on the radio, passing official messages between Comdr. Ulm and the OCEO. Usually, my radio communication would take place as we were leaving the docks and last about 15 to 20 minutes. Then I would take turn at the helm with the other seaman until we arrived at the working grounds. I would assist in laying out the drag line. During the sweep operation, I was the recorder and would give a standby to Comdr. Ulm and the bos'un and then a "mark". After which I would record the angles and repeat them back to Comdr. Ulm for plotting.

This job was quite in contrast to the hectic 7 days a week, 9 hours a day of rush work in a hotel kitchen (I worked in the pantry preparing salads and desserts) in the middle of the summer season. There on the drag boats, we were taking a fix every ten minutes. It would only take about 30 seconds to give the standby, mark and read the angles back. So I had about 9 minutes of so just to relax and read!

I did not know that the official work week was 44 hours,(5 days and a half day Saturday). I also did not know that the crew and officers had decided to work everyday and then at the end of the 4 weeks, give everyone 6 days off lieu time. For the past 3 years, I had been working in the hotel where the work week was 7 days a week, usually between 7 to 11 hours a day depending upon the season. I worked in the kitchen, so I had to come in for each meal, and had off inbetween meals. So I didn't give it a second thought when the ship was working everyday. In the middle of July, when Comdr. Ulm said that I had six days off, I was very much surprised. But the biggest surprise of all is when I stopped in the hotel where I used to work and they were asking me what was I doing there. When I told them that I was on vacation, they could hardly believe what they heard. In the hotels, at the height of the summer season, no one ever got time off for anything, and here I was, just working a month and already had a week's vacation! Everyone said that I had the best job in the world!

When the crew returned from Norfolk, the ships sailed for Point Pleasant, where we dragged that harbor entrance, and then we left for New York Harbor where the OCEANOGRAPHER was working. We were docked at Fire Island, NY, and so it was a wonderful opportunity for me to visit the 1939 World's Fair in New York.

That fall, we sailed back to Norfolk and tied up to some old docks near the present AMC ship base. At the time, the AMC ship base was the Atlantic Naval Fleet landing site. Liberty boats from the Navy ships anchored in the harbor would take the crew to the docks for liberty, so all they had to do is walk up York street to the center of Norfolk.

All of the crew except me were from North Carolina, so they all went home for the winter season. In the meantime, President Roosevelt had arranged with Prime Minister Churchill to exchange our 4-stack destroyers for bases in Newfoundland, Bermuda, Jamanica, and Trinidad. The OCEO was scheduled to go to Trinidad, and Cornelius D. Meany, Exec on the OCEO asked me if I would like to transfer to the OCEO and go south that winter, to which I say yes.

In November 1939, the OCEO under the command of Captain Frank Borden sailed to Port of Spain, Trinidad where we surveyed the new American Naval Base. I was still Seaman AB, but they had me recording, working mostly with Comdr. William Russell doing levels and topography mapping. The one incident I remember in Trinidad is where I drank some water and promptly caught dysentery. I was taken to the Colonial Hospital where the cure at that time was to feed me cooked corn starch several times a day. It was a novel thing to have a native nurse come to my bedside and cook on a portable stove the corn starch. It took a week for me to get better, so I was careful thereafter what I drank. The only other novel thing is that since I didn't drink usually when I was with the other men at a beer joint or bar, my coke would be cheaper than their liquor drinks. However, in Trinidad, my coke drink would be 15 cents whereas a Rum and Coke was only 10 cents.

It took us about 4 months to complete the survey, and we returned to Norfolk in March. The OCEO went into drydocks at the Norfolk Shipbuilding Co. and in the middle of April, we got ready to head to Boston for the Summer Season. Captain Borden transferred his command to Captain Fred. L. Peacock, and Comdr. Hoskinson as exec. That spring, there was a vacancy in the ship's office, and because I could touch type, Comdr Hoskinson promoted me to Yeoman 1st class, and wore a petty officer uniform. Comdr Kirsch was in charge of the office and I enjoyed working for him during that year.

That summer, the OCEO surveyed Georges Banks, making 2 trips a month, at sea for 10 days and in port for 5 days. Being a Yeoman, I didn't have to go on the launches as a recorder. In port, I had a great deal of spare time, so I was able to explore Boston and surrounding communities. We were docked at the Charleston Navy Yard, so I was able to go aboard the USS CONSTITUTION many times.

That fall, we returned to Norfolk and spent the winter at Pier 10, Naval Operating Base. Because there was a vacancy in the radio department, and because I knew the Code and also was an Amateur Radio Operator, I was promoted to the radio department as a Wireless Radio Operator, and was entitled to wear a Chief Petty Officer Uniform. The Electronics Lab in Washington, DC had developed an Electronic Surveying System called RADIO ACOUSTICAL RANGING (RAR). This is a system where a small bomb is dropped off the stern of the OCEO and the sound burst is picked up by the hydrophones hanging from buoys that were anchored in known positions. When the sound wave reached the buoy, the signal was amplified and triggered a radio pulse back to the ship. In the radio room would be a waxed tape about 1 inch wide with two stylii mounted over the tape. One stylus was connected to a electronic clock which would generate 1-second pulses, and thereby making a timing track of 1-second pulses on the tape. The other stylus was connected to the radio receiver and would make second track of the initial pulses and pulses returning from each of the buoys. During 1940 and 1941 Don Jones was an Ensign, and he was on the RAR watch with me. That is, during my watch (12 to 4) twice a day, I would be on the radio tuning in and identifying the buoys, and Don would be sitting alongside me, watching the waxed tape and marking the beeps with the Buoy Initial. Then he would have to scale off the time interval from the initial to each buoy return, and call up the information to the plotting room. The hydro officer would use a beam compass set to the time interval and make a small line across our track. There would be a line from each buoy, and hopefully all of the lines would intersect at one point. However, due to the variables in the water temperatures, the intersection from the four buoys would usually form a coarse circle, and the plotting officer would adjust each line to make a good fix.

The summer of 1941, the OCEO was up in Portland, Maine, surveying Casco Bay which was a staging area for the supply ships which would leave in a convoy guarded by several war ships. Then that fall, we were surveying the Gulf Stream off the coast of South Carolina and we were docking at Charleston, SC. We were out on the Gulf Stream on December 7th when Pearl Harbor was attacked, and soon afterwards, the OCEO terminated the survey and headed back to Norfolk for transfer into the Navy which occurred about April, 1942. A number of the crew and officers transferred with the ship, but I was asked to remain behind and was transferred to the GILBERT. I was the only electronic technician on the East Coast, and while I was living on board the GILBERT, I took care of the echo sounders on the HILGARD & WAINWRIGHT (wire drag boats) and other vessels based in Norfolk.

The summer of 1942, the GILBERT was sent to Woods Hole, Mass. where we surveyed the area off Cape Cod. The Army base, Camp Edwards was also located on Cape Cod. One of our Officers, Mr. Thurmund(?) had transferred to the Army and had wanted an echo sounder installed in one of the Army landing crafts. I did that for him and was on several maneuvers navigating at night in the dark, only with the echo sounder and charts, going from the Cape to Martha Vineyards Island. He wanted me to transfer to his command and said I would have a Tech Sergeant rating. However, Captain John Bowie, who was in charge of the GILBERT then, asked me to remain.

That fall, we returned to Norfolk and that winter, we surveyed the James River from Richmond down to Jamestown. As part of our survey, we had to erect Bilby towers for triangulation to set up 2nd order control for our surveys. I was on the steel erection parties at first, and then later, I became a recorder. It was quite a novel experience.

The summer of 1943, we again returned to Woods Hole, and that winter, I am a bit hazy, but I believe we were involved in surveying the lower end of the James River.

I was married in the spring of 1944 to my wife Natalie whom I met back in 1938 when she was a waitress in the hotel where I worked. All during the intervening years, I used to correspond to her but we got engaged in 1943 and were married in February 1944. That April, the GILBERT under the command of Captain Rittenburg, first docked in Cambridge, Md where we did some quick hydrographic surveys on the Chesapeake Bay and Choptank River. Then the GILBERT went to Stonington, Conn. where we did some surveys on Long Island Sound. We stopped in Boston for 3 weeks and finally in June we arrived at Boothbay Harbor, Maine where hydrographic surveys were made off the coast and entrance to Boothbay Harbor. Miller Tonkel was a new Ensign and newly wed at that time, so both he and his wife Gloria, and my wife and I shared a log cabin overlooking the harbor.

That winter, we returned to Norfolk to our usual docks near the present AMC base. I can't recall the GILBERT doing any surveys that winter. All during the war years, I was being deferred from the Miliary Service because of "essential duties" with the ships. However, that spring, there was a concerted effort to get enough manpower to finish the war. So the draft board in Norfolk made me 1A and I went up for the examination. There was a Navy chief at the examination center and when he saw my record, he told me that just as soon as I got the the word to report, to come and see him, and that he would put me in as 2nd class radio operator, and send me to the Navy Radio School. In the spring of 1945, the GILBERT went to Boston for the summer. The Norfolk draft board sent my papers up to the Boston Draft board. In August 1945, VJ day came and I was put back on deferment, thus; I was never qualified for Veterans Benefits. A strange twist to this war story, is that in May 1991, Congress passed a bill stating that all personnel on the C&GS ships during the war years was now considered a Veteran, so in December, 1991, I received an honorable Discharge from the Navy!

While we were in Boston during the summer of 1945 we were surveying Dorchester Bay and the outer islands in Boston Harbor. We returned to Norfolk for that winter, and again, I can't recall doing any winter surveys then.

In the spring of 1946, Captain Malnate was the skipper on the GILBERT, and the ship was sent to Rockland, Maine for the summer, surveying Penobscot Bay. Up until Captain Malnate came on board, during the surveys, the GILBERT would come to port each night. However, Captain decided that we would leave on Monday and return back to the docks on Friday, even though we would be anchored each night in the harbor within sight of the docks. Naturally the crew didn't think much of this arrangement, and since I had my wife up there in Rockland that summer, I especially didn't like the idea. So that fall, I decided to resign and look for a job elsewhere. Now that I look back at that time, I realize that Captain Malnate did me a favor by getting me mad enough to leave. Otherwise, I would have remained on the ships, got promoted, and been a sailor for the rest of my life, not having much of a home life.

I had been taking a radio correspondence course from Capital Radio Engineering Institute in Washington, DC. Both my wife and I were from New Jersey, so we decided that Washington would be close enough and yet far enough from the relatives. So I wrote to my instructor asking how were job opportunities at the radio stations in DC. He said that the jobs were uncertain, but that he had an opening at the school and would like for me to come up for an interview. I was accepted, so on October, 1946, I resigned from C&GS and started working for CREI in their home study department.

I enjoyed the school work very much, and had gotten many favorable reports from the home study students for my comments and help I would give them on their papers. I was very happy and surprised to receive $250 bonus in Christmas 1946 and a $500 bonus in Christmas 1947 from the school, especially since my salary at the time was $225 a month. However, since I did not have a college degree, I felt a bit inadequate, as all of the other home study instructors had degrees.

Again, in one of those strange twist of fate; one day I just happened to notice a small 4 line filler in one of the back sheets of the newspaper that the Bureau of Standards was looking for Electronic Technicians, and the only requirement was having at least 5 years of experience. I talked it over with my wife, and thought it would be nice to return to Government service, especially since I already had 7 years of service. So one night, I called Dick Ross, who was a good friend of mine and who worked in the C&GS Electronics Lab. with Tom Hickley and Comdr. Burmister. I asked Dick if I could use his name as reference on my application to the Bureau of Standards, and he said he was happy to help me. The next night, he called me and asked if I would be interested in returning to C&GS as that morning one of the technicians had put in his resignation. The next day, I went to the lab and spoke to Comdr Burmister who hired me because I was already familiar with the electronic equipment on the ships and knew everyone in the Electronics Lab . Also I was very familiar with the portable echo sounders, and they wanted me to work on a new design. When I went to Personnel with my papers, I found that during the war years, President Roosevelt had blanketed the crews into Civil Service, and since I had not withdrawn the money I put into the pension fund, I was eligible to return without taking a civil service exam. For a few minutes, the Personnel officials thought I could not be hired because in those days, civil service employees had to be apportioned by states. Naturally, the state of Maryland quota had been filled for years. However, one official realized that the Electronics Lab employees were field people and therefore did not come under the apportion rules. So if I hadn't seen the article in the newspaper, hadn't asked Dick Ross for a reference, and if Gilbert Nedley hadn't put in his resignation that same day, then I would have never returned to C&GS, and my life would be entirely different. About the same time that I was returning to C&GS, Dr. Dorsey had retired from C&GS and got a job as a physics teacher at CREI, the school where I was working. At CREI I was doing day work in the Home Study department, and working 3 nights a week in their resident school as a teacher. After I returned to C&GS, the school asked me to continue on teaching night classes until the semester was over in June. So I got to speak to Dr. Dorsey frequently at the school, and we joked that we traded jobs with each other.

So in March, 1948, I returned to C&GS except now I was with the Electronics Lab in Washington, instead of being a crew member. I still went on many field trips, usually about 6 trips a year, mostly to our survey ships. However, I was able to buy a home and raise a family. First Comdr Burmister was in charge and when he retired, then Tom Hickley first took over the Electronics Lab, and when Mr. Parkhurst, (who made the Parkhurst theodolite) retired, then Tom Hickley became chief of the Instrument Division which included both the Electronics Lab and the instrument makers. First, Dick Ross was in charge of the Lab, and in 1965, I was in charge of the Lab. When NOAA took over C&GS, Tom Hickley retired, and Mr. Ringenbach was made Chief. He eliminated the "chiefs" of the various sections, but I was able to keep my title of "Supervisory Engineer" and also the GS-13 pay. I would have been 55 in August of 1973 and had planned on retiring then with 34 years of service. In 1972, President Nixon had called for the reduction in personnel throughout the government and it would have meant that I would have to "bump" someone under me out of a job. So I took an early out at age 54, with 33 years service.

Having one year less of service meant that I lost 2% of my retirement, or about $20 a month, which I easily made up by working part-time, where I made up the $20 in just one day's work. When I was working in the lab, different divisions within the Bureau would come to us for advice and help with their electronic problems. Mr. Ringenbach forbid us to help the other divisions unless they were charged for the time, so my friends would call me up instead. About that time, Bill Stanley was involved with the Museum and public relations, so he needed someone to take care of setting up the amplifiers and also taking care of the museum and exhibits, especially where recorders or projectors were involved. He asked me to form a business and he would hire me as needed which is how "FERRARA ELECTRONICS" got started. That was back in 1973, so I have been in business for myself for almost 20 years. This August of 1993, I will be 75 years old. Bill asked me if I would continue on working until the new museum is finished in Silver Spring. That will probably be 1995, and Bill plans on retiring then, and I will probably give up my business also.

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