The "Waterstar Summit" - January, 2020

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The "Waterstar Summit" - January, 2020

Post by Paul_Schatzkin » Tue Jan 21, 2020 2:34 am

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I'm not sure if I should call this "the <first> Waterstar Summit – or the second.

If this was the 'second,' then that would be because the 'first' was a gathering at the Farnsworth home in Fort Wayne, Indiana in the spring of 2001.

Present for that assembly were myself, Kent Farnsworth, and Kent's then son-in-law Tim Moulton. Kent had been pondering his father's unfinished fusion work for several years at the time and had some interesting ideas about the direction his father would have taken the research if a) he had sufficient funding and b) he did not harbor such misgivings about unleashing the beast on an unsuspecting (and perhaps undeserving) world.

I was just coming out of my (brief) tenure as an executive at Gaylord Entertainment, the company that had acquired my Internet music business, songs.com, a year earlier. That merger imploded 10 months later (October 2000), I was fired from my own company, and was looking for the next thing to do (I was also beginning to work on the Farnsworth bio that was published a year-and-a-half later, August 2002).

Gene Meeks was still living in the Fort Wayne area at the time, and we spent several hours with Gene after uncrating and opening the "cave" fusor that Kent had recovered from Utah and had stashed in his garage. (Funny moment: Kent asking his wife Linda "Honey, do you know where the fusor is...?" Not your typical domestic dialog).

At the time Tim, Kent and I were seriously (?) contemplating doing something to resurrect Farnsworth's fusion project under the aegis of what was at the time called "The Waterstar Project.

Why "Waterstar"? Easy, because the reaction we're talking about is a star, and the fuel can be distilled from water. I've been using the expression for, oh, 45 years or so (as well as "star in a jar.")

Nothing ever came of those 2001 discussions. But, if that meeting in 2001 was the "first" Waterstar summit, then, this past weekend will have to be regarded as the second.

A generation has past. Kent Farnsworth passed away (was it?) three years ago, but "the torch" – as JFK said exactly 59 years ago today – "has been passed to a new generation."

A few months ago, I started exchanging some correspondence with Tim Moulton's son (Kent's grandson and Philo T's great-grandson), Jonathan. I first met Jonathan (and his sister Jessica) in the spring of 2013 when the family descended on Los Angeles for Farnsworth's induction into the Television Academy (ATAS) Hall of Fame. Details of that event are here: http://philointhehall.com.

What I did not know when Jonathan first contacted me was that since Kent died, he has assumed stewardship of the Farnsworth Family Archives. Prior to Kent's death, those archives lived in a garage that Kent called "the Bob" – i.e. "The Building Out Back." That garage is where we found the crated fusor, and Jonathan rescued it and all the other random boxes of... stuff... that had been gathering dust there.

The Farnsworth family has a devoted ally in Los Angeles. Phil Savenick is an accomplished TeeVee writer, director, producer and multimedia artist who got sucked into the Farnsworth vortex after seeing the PBS/American Experience documentary "Big Dream, Small Screen" in 1997. Over the ensuing decades his home near UCLA has become a museum of vintage televisions and a shrine to the man who invented it. In the last years of Kent's life, he provided some material support for the family by purchasing artifacts and documents from the archive that now reside in his home (and a museum in Canada).

Once a dialog with Jonathan got going, it became apparent that there was a lot of material that had been spirited out to Los Angeles that might be worth looking at.

I discussed the prospect of going to Los Angeles to rummage through the archives with a few people at Richard Hull's HEAS event in October, and that is what happened this past weekend. Frank Sanns, Joe Ballantyne, Jonathan Moulton, Phil Savenick and his colleague Kevin Miller and I gathered in Phil's TeeVee Museum / Archive / Home in Westwood and spent four days rifling around in the Farnsworth family archives.

Over the weeks ahead we'll all be offering some posts describing what all we found and saw.

Of immediate interest is the notion that "everything we think we know about history of the ITT/Farnsworth fusion effort is wrong – or, at least, suffering from chronological challenges.

At the very least, it was surprising to discover that the very first fusor is NOT the "bell jar" device seen in photos like this one:
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It turns out that THIS is the remains the very first fusor:
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At first encounter, we did not know what to make of some copper hemispherical artifacts, as well as some curious center grid configurations, which you can see on the table in front of us in the picture at the top of this post.

We were mystified until sometime on Saturday when Phil pulled this out of a box:
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As you can tell from the inscription in the middle of the page, this is a hand-drawn mechanical drawing of "the first Farnsworth fusor." By the 'EGF' notation we know this was drawn by Pem Farnsworth.

We're still at a loss re: what exactly this design was supposed to do, but if this is indeed the first iteration of the fusor, then it must be the one with the positive anode at the center rather than the negative cathode that became the norm with subsequent iterations of the fusor.

Frank and Joe spent quite a bit or time trying to sort out its design and construction, I will let them chime in re: what they figured out. Suffice it to say it's very different from any fusor we've seen before.

Before I punch out, take another look at this photo:
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From left to right are Jonathan Moulton, Joe Ballantyne, myself, Frank Sanns and Phil Savenick. Photo by Kevin Miller. Before us, and in my hands, are four generations of fusor-related devices.

1. The object that I am holding is the original spherical multi-actor tube where the ionization was first observed in the 1930s. That tube was supplied the progenitor of the fusor.
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2. On the right, between myself and Phil Savenick, is a vintage fusor that we are calling "The Little Guy." That is the first fusor I ever saw – I first stashed away in the corner of a bedroom/office in Pem Farnsworth''s modest (cluttered) home in Salt Lake City in the summer of 1975. I believe it dates from the early 60s, and is different from the other fusors we've seen because the chamber is not vacuum sealed. The whole thing is spot-welded together and was operated inside an evacuated bell-jar, which itself lived inside a shatter-proof wire cage. Joe Ballantyine has some photos of it from the Farnsworth/ITT journals that he saw at the University of Utah Library.

3. In the front/center of the table is the copper device that Pem Farnsworth sketched.

4. On the left is the "cave fusor" - a ca. 1966 or 67 Hirsch design with a solid spherical cathode. That fusor has had quite a journey, from Fort Wayne in the 60s to Utah in the 70s, back to Fort Wayne in the 90s, and now out to California.

That's as LOT of Fusor History in one photo.

I'm going to stop here so I can get this posted tonight. There will be more to come in the days ahead - not the least a discussion of a very intriguing entry in Pem Farnsworth's hand in the last of Philo's "confidential" journals.

More on all that to come...

--PS
Paul Schatzkin, aka "The Perfesser" – Founder and Host of Fusor.net
Author of The Boy Who Invented Television - http://farnovision.com/book.html
"Fusion is not 20 years in the future; it is 50 years in the past and we missed it."

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Re: The "Waterstar Summit" - January, 2020

Post by Richard Hull » Tue Jan 21, 2020 9:30 am

The copper fusor is more or less a second pass. Gene Meeks worked with Farnsworth in his State street home in 1957-58 time frame. Having been refused a dime for the project by ITT at that time, Phil dropped by the tube lab to see if anyone would like to earn some money working with him after hours. Gene a general ITT tech said that he would love to help out. According to Gene and verified by Pem to me in an interview with her in person, Phil was getting Jim Hiene, the ITT draftsman in the tube shop, to make up a glass fusor. Phil "read in" Gene as to his idea. Phil and Gene worked hard at the plumbing and vacuum system to test Phil's idea and the tube labs first all glass fusor. Pem noted that often, Gene and Phil would work past midnight and she would make midnight snacks for them. if extremely late, Gene would sleep over and she would make breakfast for them in the morning. Pem noted that after a few months, they considered him as one of the family. She said He was a nice and well mannered young man.

Gene was bonding with Phil who, like Hirsch, probably saw Gene's value as "a good pair of skilled hands. Gene was with Phil in the dark times and listened, as they worked, to Phil's lamentations regarding ITT's lack of regard for his ideas on fusion.

George Bain noted to me that he put up with a lot of Gene's rather gruff and dismissive attitude a few years later in the ITT program. Bain as the head of all engineering of the project was used to giving orders and Gene was used to questioning them. They were oil and water. Bain complained to Farnsworth who defended Gene as a useful member of the team. I have seen the letter from ITT to Bain (In Bain's possession when I interviewed him in person). Bain went over Farnworth's head to the manger of employment trying to get Gene fired as a disgruntled and often disruptive influence. ITT noted in the letter to Bain that Farnsworth was informed and asked about this. Apparently Farnsworth certainly went to bat for Gene. The letter concluded that Gene would be given a period to straighten himself out and if the next report was negative he would be let go.

George told me he was later called to Farnsworth's office who expressed in a kind way, according to George, that he was not pleased that George went over his head in the matter. George showed him the letter and said "Phil" told me he would have a talk with Gene and hoped both of us could get working together." In a phone call to Gene subsequent to the Bain interview, he admitted, Phil did indeed talk to him like a father in a kind and firm manner. (Paraphrasing)...George and I never really got along all that well, but things cooled down as I liked Phil, so we sort of co-existed after that. Bain told me a story of how he probably saved Gene's life some time after that. (for another time).

Back to that first glass fusor which Gene picked up at the tube lab for Farnsworth. Gene said it was the stupidest thing he has ever seen. It had all manner of mica insulating and aligned in the tube. Some of it was coated in aquadag. ( a form of conductive graphite). Gene noted that "we never got a good vacuum in the damned thing!" It kept out-gassing faster than the pumps could handle it. Gene asked the tube lab about this issue and was told that the thick mica requested in some parts of the tube would out-gas for a time. Gene did note that the lab they set up at Phil's place did not have a very good vacuum system anyway. He said, "ultimately, we just set it aside"..... "The last time I saw it was in one of those cabinets in Phil's office.

Looking at the copper kludged fusor that you note as the first fusor. It is a terrible mess that was silver soldered together by someone less than adroit at the ins and outs of brazing. The fittings are certainly not professional or vacuum grade, save for the two small VCR fittings. Only that grid is professionally done and is seen in some archived photo's sitting on nice white paper background all by itself. I attach an image of it taken by Bain on the 4X5 speed graphic with a polaroid back camera that he controlled. So, that grid was at ITT for some reason, but that fusor probably never was! That slapshod copper job was probably something gene and Phil cobbled up. The ITT model shop was not that level of crude. I wish Gene were alive. He could certainly tell us all about it!

In the end, Gene noted that the Admiral and Geneen ultimately got ITT to start the effort in 1959. He noted we never did fusion or even really got stuff going at Phil's place. Asked specifically when he could confirm fusion was done for the first time at a level that neutrons were detectable and he noted it was sometime in 1963. So, for almost 4 years the team produced no measurable fusion. None at Phil's lab and none at ITT. I was stunned and said so to Gene....His response more or less was..."Hell what do you expect? The first two years we were in a tiny basement room using hand-me downs from "stores" and we only had 3 three people on staff, more than that and we would be smelling each other's B.O in that little room". I rolled with laughter at this and he further noted..."Our budget was barely enough to pay our salaries....I hand built our first high voltage supply out of begged and borrowed stuff from the TV manufacturing floor." (At that time the Farnsworth TVs were just stopped being produced) Gene raided the left overs in the big abandoned manufacturing floor near the warehouse end of the Pontiac street plant.

There is so much more........Another time

I am the only person who has probably interviewed, in person, every living person on the team, plus Pem as of 1999. Later, in 2001 or 2002 I went back with the perfesser. (Paul for the newbies)
I am the only person who received a walking tour of the entire Pontiac street plant by two living team members. One of those members (Fred Haak), worked there until 1988 when he retired. I saw the little musty basement room - 59-61, the big lab area 62-68, Phil's office, the tube lab, etc. The Pontiac street plant was abandoned by ITT in the mid 1990's. It was up for sale when I was there in 1999. Gene, Freddie and I wanted in, but the big main door was locked. Gene said I'll get us in. We drove around back to a little guard shack that was occupied near by a locked, big chain link fence gate. Gene told me what to do. Gene walked up to the guard and talked for a while. I got out of the car and asked what the hold up was, I asked if I was going to get to see the place or not....I'm supposed to give a report Monday on whether my company would want to lease of buy the property. The guard said he could let us in but he could not give a tour. I motioned to the car. Fred came up and I said this man is our guide, he worked here for forty years. Fred pulled out his ITT retirement benefits card and I.D. and we were immediately let in. What a bluff!

There was a huge 100 foot long loading doc to receive and ship the hundreds of TV's made weekly in the 50's. Fred noted the dock often had trucks waiting to load up or unload back then. Thus, we had over 2 hours to tour the vast expanse of the plant and other key labs and offices. (The Guard told us we needed to be out by noon as he needed to go to lunch) I made a sketch of the layout of the labs and locations of the team's work areas, phil's office on the second floor, etc.

As an electronic engineer, well versed amateur physicist, nuclear instrument builder/designer and fusor experimenter, I was focused like a laser beam on the technical aspects primarily from the technical people who daily did the work, turned the bolts, built, assembled and tested the fusor systems. I stunned them all with my ability to instantly comprehend their jargon and systems. Gene was a hard man to get to know but after my visit as he drove me to the airport, he told me that while he had been interviewed a few times already, I was the only guy who knew or seemed to care and understand the full span of what went on in the project at the technical level. To my amazement, I was being told many secrets that only the old age of my interviewees and the death of many principals , like the Admiral and Philo would allow them to expound with loosened tongues. This, personal trajectory of my one week long Fort Wayne and Bloomington visit became every bit as precious to me as the technical story. I have many of my personal interviews with the technical people on video and audio tapes from in-person and recorded phone calls. All collected over the period 1999 through 2005. Not all is on video or audio tape but copious notes exist when I was asked not to record certain information.

The take-away was that no fusion or neutron detection occurred in any fusor prior to early 1963! (from the mouths of all team members interviewed) D-D fusion was in use from 1963 until the end, but in special runs D-T fusion was used. Tritium, at that time, was very expensive. Deuterium was not very expensive. D-D fusion could be used to tell if an experimental grid of new ion gun was an improvement or not. If the numbers improved they might run D-T. For if D-D fusion goes up in a modification D-T is certainly expected to follow suit by two or three orders of magnitude higher!

There are many complicated issues I will not expound upon related to Phil, the Admiral, and ITT management and outside physicists at the plant and at a number of universities. The history is rich and full of stories that are magnificent and some few sordid. with many unanswered questions and a couple of mysterious events. All the people involved are now dead, save for Hirsch. I am glad to have had the opportunity to speak to them and learn not only the technical details but some of the internal and personal issues.

Richard Hull
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cone grid.JPG
That bizarre solid grid (professionally machined) on polaroid original taken after 1962 according to George Bain as he said ITT wanted all items photographed from that day forward as he was given the 4X5 Speed graphic at that time and not before. Personal photo given to me by George Bain from his notebook
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Progress may have been a good thing once, but it just went on too long. - Yogi Berra
Fusion is the energy of the future....and it always will be
Retired now...Doing only what I want and not what I should...every day is a saturday.

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Re: The "Waterstar Summit" - January, 2020

Post by Paul_Schatzkin » Tue Jan 21, 2020 3:15 pm

No, Richard, the image you just posted is NOT the same as the "grid" structure in the image I posted from this past weekend. That is something else entirely, but I am not sure what.

But I have seen that grid thing in your photo upload. It's not much larger than a thumbnail, where the one in my photo from this past weekend is closer to the size of a tennis ball.

I am pretty sure that little grid was the pendant that Pem Farnsworth wore on a chain around her neck for all the years that I knew her (1975 until her death in 2006). I think I have one photo of her wearing it, from our 50th Anniversary of TV recreation in 1977. I'll have to root around later and see if I can find that, and I think Jonathan Moulton said he knows where it is now.

--PS
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Author of The Boy Who Invented Television - http://farnovision.com/book.html
"Fusion is not 20 years in the future; it is 50 years in the past and we missed it."

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Re: The "Waterstar Summit" - January, 2020

Post by Richard Hull » Wed Jan 22, 2020 8:05 am

Interesting....Bain took this image. I might imagine this would backup the model shop's output as the Admiral requested. If this is that small, and made up for Pem, Phil must have ordered it this way. As Gene noted to me, Phil had stuff made up that went straight into his cabinets and showcases and not into the fusor lab. No one questioned his model shop requests, they just did the work and delivered it to him.

George told me he had to put the camera under lock and key as it had a graflex polaroid back on the big camera and the big, special film packs were costly. Early on, he told me, when it was just in a metal cabinet, some of the guys would use it to take photos of themselves in the lab. Such photos were company confidential at that time. George had them in his personal note book and the ITT lab notebook. George noted that they had a formal photographer at the facility, but they did not want him in the lab, creating negatives that could be printed at will. They opt'd for the single, unique photos to go into notebooks held within the lab.

Richard Hull
Progress may have been a good thing once, but it just went on too long. - Yogi Berra
Fusion is the energy of the future....and it always will be
Retired now...Doing only what I want and not what I should...every day is a saturday.

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Re: The "Waterstar Summit" - January, 2020

Post by Paul_Schatzkin » Wed Jan 22, 2020 2:53 pm

pendant.jpg

Here is the image I have in my archives of Pem Farnsworth during the 1977 50th Anniversary recreation of the first electronic television transmission at the Foothill Museum in Los Altos, CA - 9/7/77.

I don't have a good enlargement of this negative - only the contact sheet, which I scanned this from this morning.

You can see that object in the photo that Richard posted hanging on a chain around her neck. I don't remember now exactly what she said the object was... if memory serves, she said it was a model of a fusor grid/cathode. But we're talking 40+ years ago, and memories are not reliable over that span of time.

--PS
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Author of The Boy Who Invented Television - http://farnovision.com/book.html
"Fusion is not 20 years in the future; it is 50 years in the past and we missed it."

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Re: The "Waterstar Summit" - January, 2020

Post by Richard Hull » Wed Jan 22, 2020 8:44 pm

Simple observation shows the Bain image is an octahedron and Pem is wearing a miniature 6 holed device, probably machined from a miniature cube of metal. Not the same at all. Bain's image is, therefore, a real inner grid from the model shop and might be the same as that in the original seen in the California trip image in the first post of this thread. No need for higher resolution on Pem's jewelry item.

I wonder if Phil had it done up in sterling or pure silver? Gold would have been ideal. It would be a simple task for even an amateur jewelry maker. Bore 3 small pilot holes in the little cube of whatever metal you choose and then use a 45 degree miniature bevel mill bit in a dremel tool to create the conical cavities. It could be turned out in minutes, by an adroit hand. Yes, I have made custom gold and silver jewelry back in the 1970's. Made a little easy bread with it, too. Planning the piece is everything.


Richard Hull
Progress may have been a good thing once, but it just went on too long. - Yogi Berra
Fusion is the energy of the future....and it always will be
Retired now...Doing only what I want and not what I should...every day is a saturday.

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Re: The "Waterstar Summit" - January, 2020

Post by Frank Sanns » Wed Jan 22, 2020 10:49 pm

And then there is this inner grid. It only stays together with the locating plugs present. This grid is a shallow ring setup and not the deep cones of the other early inner grids. It seems like this one was physically attached to the outputs of the ion gun assembly or some other external rigid structure.
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Here is also the original spiral grid of the first glass Farnsworth plasma device. I know others have claimed originality but this picture should put that to rest.
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Re: The "Waterstar Summit" - January, 2020

Post by Richard Hull » Thu Jan 23, 2020 12:09 am

Thanks for the images. I think the Meiro grid was independently discovered at fusor.net. It is a natural grid for those looking for solutions to avoid the nightmare of trying to assemble the classic geodesic. It is impossible to call it the farnsworth grid as there were many, many of them. Of course, it is a very weak grid and better suited for demo devices as it has no supporting structure to it, being just a length of wire wound into a sphere. (no closures or braces.) For that matter, who designed and used the first geodesic?

At least the Bain image is yet one of "who knows" how many other similar central grid systems. We have no idea if the Bain imaged grid was ever used. I would have hoped it was and not a cabinet trinket. I bet you nickels to doughnuts that lovely sphere was ultimately a cabinet sitter. It's just too pretty not to be on display. Might have been a multipactor design.

Upon re-examination of the image this grid is supported at top and bottom and would, indeed, be much stronger than the floating Meiro grid. I would worry about the life span of the vertical wire running through the center of the grid. If a lot of focused energy was brought to bear here at the very center this upright might melt.

Richard Hull
Progress may have been a good thing once, but it just went on too long. - Yogi Berra
Fusion is the energy of the future....and it always will be
Retired now...Doing only what I want and not what I should...every day is a saturday.

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