Hugh Holmes Norton,
Eleanor Katz, Elliott Macis,
Mary Sue Valenti,
INTERVIEW WITH HAL BEERS
INT: Could you start off by telling me a little bit about how you got into the defense industry.
HAL BEERS: Well in 1950 I entered Purdue University with a Naval Scholarship, my first experience of feeding at the draft of the Government, but the Navy paid my way through to school and it was a natural thing for me as a trained aeronautical engineer to move from there into naval aviation but the Navy didn't really attract me as a career. I lied to the recruiting officer and he probably saw through me but they needed bodies and I was one so I went into the Navy, learnt to fly and married Terry, had a child and decided the Navy was not a good career for a family man especially I was interested in the technology of aero, of what was aeronautical engineering in those days. It came to be known as aerospace. So I just very naturally and easily moved from the Navy experience as an aviator into the defense industry, it was the only kind of industry I even contemplated at the time. Private industry was somehow not worthy of us at the time we were you know we were, we were cold lawyers although we didn't call ourselves that at all, people like me we just saw ourselves as high technologists and we genuflected at the alter of technology and read all the recruitment ads in the back of Aviation Week Magazine and believed every word and moved on from Service experience into Industry and it was just all a very natural and normal thing that, that any red blooded American engineering graduate would choose to do. And, although at the time there were some cutbacks in one selected program or another there was plenty of room in the defense industry for a young man like me and I had no.
INT: If you could start again by just telling me how you got into the defense industry and how you regarded what it was like to be working there, why you are pleased to be working there.
HAL: Yes, well when I was when I graduated from High School I was blessed with a Naval Scholarship for four years of engineering education at Purdue University. The Navy paid my way bucks fees tuition and I was trained as an aeronautical engineer, so from that point it was natural as I fulfilled my Naval commitment to get into flying and that introduced me to some of the higher technology of the day as far as aviation was concerned. but I married and we had a child and the Navy was not attractive to me as a, as a career but engineering was attractive to me as a career and it was the most natural thing in the World for someone with my background and training to move directly from the Navy into the defense industry and it was although it was a sort of a lean season in terms of the defense industry there were some cutbacks in 1957 this was. Nevertheless there was plenty of room in the defense industry for a young engineer who didn't have to make a whole lot of money and was happy just to have a job, and that was our case. So we never really, I never really considered what today would be called private enterprise. Government funded technology was the glitter of the day, it was the, that was the glamour of engineering jobs of the day to work in these arcane Government technologies, all of them you know related to weapons of war but we didn't think of it that way. so I, I moved very smoothly and naturally into the defense industry just based on what came easily.
INT: Why the move to lock heed and what was the attraction of that.
HAL: My first job out of the Navy was with the General Electric Company in Cincinnati and aside from the fact that I didn't care for Cincinnati's climate and neither did my wife since the Cincinnati job was jet engines, jet engine testing which was all technology, it wasn't thought to be you know the cutting edge technology that the big thing in those days was get into missiles, get into space craft, get into satellites, big things are happening and they're all happening out in California and the newest thing that was happening was the Lock Heed Missiles & Space Company which in those days was called something else Lock Heed Missiles & Space Division, OK, but the big thing was get into Lock Heed because Lock Heed had all these wonderful contracts, they had a thing called Weapon System one seventeen L which had several parts. One part was the same old satellite project which is reconnaissance satellite, another part was the midus which was an early warning satellite intended to detect missile launches, even in 1960 in 59/60, then the their part was the discoverer program which we thought was pretty ho hum because it had only scientific objectives, but of course it turned out to be the very first successful satellite photographic reconnaissance vehicle, but we didn't know it at the time, I didn't. So I signed on with Lock Heed because it was cutting edge technology, it was the same old reconnaissance satellite program and it was just I thought a wonderful opportunity to get the heck out of Cincinnati and get out here to Northern California and I've never regretted that decision.
INT: If I remember correctly Lock Heed sent you promotional material both about the Company and about California. Could you tell me very briefly what that material was like and what your expectations on coming to California were.
HAL: Well when I sent my resume into Lock Heed as I recall, I got back a, a small brochure, two pages maybe four folded, and it had the usual pictures of sunbathed orchards, marvelous mountain-scapes, people riding horses and I never rode a horse in my life, others playing golf, others at the beach enjoying the good life in the sun, and it all seemed like nervine and it was just a marvelous opportunity to get, to land in this, this open unspoiled area where every day was a holiday and all you had to do was work a few hours a week to make it all come true, so it that's the kind of, of lure that Lock Heed dropped in your lap and it turned out that some of it was true but all of it eventually just dissolved into freeways and tract homes.
INT: How did you feel about the Cold War at this time, what was your opinion of the Russians and America's involvement in that.
HAL: The Russians were clearly at our throats, it, there was never a question about bad guys and good guys versus gray guys. You know, the black hats were clearly on that side of the Atlantic and the white hats were clearly on this side of the Atlantic and there wasn't, there was never any questioning as to the, as to the merit of the pursuit of the Cold War. Clearly we were a threatened nation, that was, that was what we all believed at the time, those, those of us who even thought about it and I have to confess I didn't think a great deal about it. The Cold War had been a feature of my adult life, from the time I first became aware of world events I was you know, grew up in World War II when War was the daily news, it was a natural extension of my experience that after the World War II came to an end there had be, there would be yet another life threatening adversary in the World and what else could you do but oppose it. The Cold War at the time was the, the noblest of enterprises and it fit right in with the need for technologists like myself and the need for the Government programs that were opposing the Soviet advances, and it just seemed like a perfectly natural way of the World as well as you know the perfectly natural thing to do to, to support the Cold War.
INT: Now Lock Heed was one of the number of contractors who have benefited hugely from massive Government expenditure in the defense industry. Lock Heed invested in a number of other companies around here and California, could you tell me what you saw of that.
HAL: What I saw of.
INT: The amount of investment by the Government in Lock Heed.
HAL: Oh, OK, as a Lock Heed employee, as a Lock Heed employee we were quite aware on a daily basis that, that, that obscene amounts of money were just flowing into Lock Heed, but, but of course it had to because these were essential programs that had the national interest at stake and they were bound to be expensive and they were bound to be huge in numbers of employees. did we concern ourselves with the distortion in the economy because of this huge investment by the Government and the favoring of a privileged few as at the at the loss of many others in other parts of the land that did not enjoy that Government support never crossed our minds. It was just something that came about because it had to be and we were fortunate enough to be in a place and at a time to take advantage of it. There wasn't a great deal of hammering here or, or doubting of the wisdom of these huge investments by Government. That came later.
INT: So Lock Heed brings you out here and you have a nice secure job and you are able to pursue your family life and your outside interests.
HAL: Yes, absolutely.
INT: Can you describe for me just a little bit about what sort of life you led and what your interests were during that period.
HAL: We lived, I thought, a perfectly pleasant life just as we would have expected to lead having moved to the wonderful place and climate that we did here in Northern California. money was very tight, that is the family budget was, was on existent, we just spent everything we made and that was gone by the 20th of the month, you know, but, but we made the most of what we, what opportunity we had. Terry and I often recall visiting San Francisco on the weekend with our young son and the big thing was to go to the Fisherman's Wharf and at the time there were still fishermen, fishermen on the Wharf. We'd visit Fisherman's Wharf and we would buy a shrimp cocktail and we would have that and then that would be our day and we'd go home, grateful for the opportunity to have done even that much and then we'd go back to our work a day world, my work a day world and Terry nurtured our young son and that was, that was life, in those days, a very simple and not too cluttered you know, certainly not cluttered with material things, very simple pleasures. Mainly due to the fact that we had no money to spend.
INT: At some point you managed to buy a house. You managed to go back and spend your money a little further. Can you tell me how you went to go about buying a house here, this story about choosing your plot and choosing the type of house you wanted and how the whole neighborhood was built up as one.
HAL: For two years after we moved to this area we rented a house not far from here, maybe three blocks from here, we just landed there by accident. But surrounding this rental track were new tracks that were going up including the one that we're in today, and Terry and I did a lot of shopping for houses and I do mean shopping, you know it was like going to the clothes rack or going to the, going to the auto dealer, you would shop for a house. There would be banners and there would be bunting and there would be balloons and there would be specials and no money down and BA's veterans welcome signs, and we were it was buyer's market, you know, there were tracks springing up all over the place. Houses ranging from like fifteen or sixteen thousand dollars for a house to perhaps thirty or forty thousand dollars which were mansions at the time. This particular track was opening up about two years after we arrived and we had seem other examples of this house in tracks that were built by the same builder and we liked the house, it had some technologies that I liked, you know the heating was under the floor instead of coming up through the, coming out to the ceiling, that kind of thing. a well built house you know, an engineer could appreciate that so what was really attractive though was that thanks to the Government program called the GI Bill of Rights. The Verduns? Administration would guarantee a loan and would by reason of that guarantee would offer a very attractive interest rates for 30-year loans. So that a person like myself, our family, could get into a house like this for zero money down, you just signed your name and you were in the house. Now ours cost an extra $200 because we have a large lot you see...that's what the extra acreage cost us...$200. So this house for $22,000 when it was new. And it was bought off the rack so to speak. Terry and I knew the plot was going in, there was a plot map, and there was a sales office not far from here...And we would hang around the sales office until we saw the new plot map go up. Then we picked up the lot that we wanted, and talking with the sales agent, he told us that Sunday morning we are going to open this track for buyers. And we said "what time are you opening Sunday morning? He told us, and we went to church early that day, and by, I don't know 8am or whenever he opened his doors, we were first in line. Standing in line in fact with some of the neighbors that still live on this block, down a couple of doors. So we were first in line, and we chose this lot and this house, as our favorite and for $200 cash, check written, we were in the place. It was still bare ground, it was still orchard at the time, but eventually it got ploughed and then the house went up, and by November - maybe five months after we bought it - why we were in the house.