Richard Hull's Attic

This section contains files, photos, and commentary by Philo or those who have worked with, known him, or are related to him.
User avatar
Frank Sanns
Site Admin
Posts: 1814
Joined: Fri Jun 14, 2002 6:26 pm
Real name: Frank Sanns
Location: Pittsburgh, PA USA

Richard Hull's Attic

Post by Frank Sanns » Thu Feb 20, 2020 4:42 pm

All things from Richard's interviews.

User avatar
Site Admin
Posts: 743
Joined: Thu Jun 14, 2001 4:49 pm
Real name: aka The Perfesser

Re: Richard Hull's Attic

Post by Paul_Schatzkin » Thu Feb 20, 2020 4:51 pm

Richard has already posted several things in different sections from the work he did in the late 90s and early 'aughts, at some point we might want to find those posts and begin to gather them here, too.
Paul Schatzkin, aka "The Perfesser" – Founder and Host of
Author of The Boy Who Invented Television -
"Fusion is not 20 years in the future; it is 50 years in the past and we missed it."

User avatar
Richard Hull
Posts: 13194
Joined: Fri Jun 15, 2001 1:44 pm
Real name: Richard Hull

Why does Richard think he can report on the original fusor effort? Attic

Post by Richard Hull » Fri Feb 21, 2020 7:23 am

I feel a deep background is needed that will relate to everything I write in the "attic" here, and in the historical portions related to the ITT-Farnsworth effort at ITT. Were I not to offer this key posting, you might not understand where I am coming from. I hope to write a series of historical snippets, more or less in chronological order, interspersed with opinion pieces, all related to the Farnsworth-ITT era. It is to be remembered that as I write this, I have been doing fusion continuously since 1999 with a fusor.

We must examine all of the ITT period in the light that things were more regimented then in the business world. The materials were far more expensive in 1950s-1960s relative dollars. There were no computers. It was a slide rule world. Technology was only slightly advanced from that of WWII. Transistors were only making it to the market in 1958. All televisions and most all complex electronics were vacuum tube systems. Probing the world of fission and fusion physics was a multi-million dollar, government funded, rather secretive venture, even if being done in an academic setting. The average college or business wanting to do fusion work, needed big funding, AEC licensing, and components that were either just becoming available or that had to be hand assembled by talented technicians and engineers, guided by knowledgeable, physicists trained in the new field of nuclear physics. Fission based, nuclear power was still but a dream with the first fission based electrical power reactor at Shippingport, Pennsylvania just being turned on as Gene Meeks and Philo T. Farnsworth were setting up the abortive fusion lab in Farnsworth's home. The effort seemed like putting the cart before the horse. It was all about Farnsworth's dream to supply limitless, clean energy to the world before the world really got any really easy (fission) nuclear energy at all.

I worked as an electronics-engineer all my life. I started with chemistry and electronics at the age of 8. I was deeply involved with radiation at the curiosity level when 9 or 10. I became deeply involved with nuclear physics in High school and all through college, taking 2 courses outside my field at that time. Still, all my work was at the advanced amateur level. Then, belched out into the real world, many new things and interests blossomed. Work, at first, was rather grueling. Still, I was always playing with nuclear physics and constantly read and am, now, still reading.

Once I met Tom Ligon, circa 1995, my interest in nuclear physics was once again piqued. I had about 80% of the demanded skill sets needed in the sciences and mechanical end to vault right into the fusor effort. I am a technical guy, but also love the history of the sciences as well. By 1997 I had my first "demo" fusor built and moving on with grabbing onto the few skill sets that I needed via reading and doing. By 1999, I had done my first fusion at the amateur level and possessed enough skills and knowledge to feel confident about my understanding and grasp of the physics and a good bit of the hands-on involved. In 1998 I became deeply interested in the Farnsworth effort and its players. I searched them out and found all the living team members. I engaged them in regular phone calls gleaning a good bit of information, both historical and technical.

In 1999, I would take the bull by the horns and visit, interview, and tape both in video and in audio tape the living beings who were there and did the work.

As a technical guy, I was looking for only the technical story from those who did the work of making fusion. Via phone conversations, prior to my visit to Fort Wayne and Bloomington, I had already established a general time line so when I arrived I could not only absorb and record in some detail the technical side, but have the people suddenly confront me as a near equal and get far more comfortable with me as a living being, in person. I could talk "shop" with the best of them on both the fusion physics and the mechanical, technical and engineering intricacies related to doing fusion. This fact accounted for a vast flood of information given up freely including moments of history and the normally hidden, candid aspects of personal opinions of the players who were there every day in the lab.

Getting to know them....Getting to feel free and easy

I was in Fort Wayne in the month of May for one week. Three days with Gene Meeks and Fred Haak. One day included a personal guided tour of the Pontiac street plant during which time I was treated to the return to the team's old offices and labs. From this I have assembled aerial map of their first-floor facilities. (where the pit and cave were located, office desks, etc.) This is singularly unique and maybe the only such historical item of its type. One day was spent with Gene and Pem Farnsworth in her State Street home. Another day involved a 4 hour drive down to Bloomington to visit and interview George Bain the head engineer who was the ramrod in the lab and technical leader of the team.

Later, in 1999, I would pay a full day's visit to Robert Hirsch in his office of the corporation he had just formed to oversee the HAARP program that ARCO handed over to him to manage. He found me totally knowledgeable on the basics of fusion physics and said as much within the first ten minutes. I told him to speak science as needed....I could follow along easily. We had a great time and went out to lunch together and came back to continue our discussions.

Later still, (2001), Paul Schatzkin, (th' perfesser), and I would travel to Fort Wayne and interview Gene Meeks, and Steve Blaising (I think for Paul this 2001 trip was his intro to Both Gene and Steve), much more was learned and photographed, video-taped and audio recorded.

Who were the team at that time that I interviewed?

I have faced, in real life, all living beings of significance in the lab during the entire time of the fusion effort and have had many hours on the phone with each over a period of 7 years.

Here is the list with comments:

1. Gene Meeks - Least educated, High School and great electronics training in the Army. Sanguine at first, hard to get to know, but will open up like a can of beans if he likes you. Free and easy and if you allow for some of what might be called, "short comings", or foibles, you could easily become his best buddy. A real beer drinker. It is rare to see him without a beer, but I never saw him drunk, and have spent many hours in his presence. Gene is probably the most reliable, considered and outgoing source of team history! From 1 year before the ITT approved team even formed, (1958), to the last days when everyone had either left or were reassigned to new jobs at ITT, (1968), Gene was there. Steve Blaising would remain in the lab for a month or two by himself!! Gene had left to be member number one at Farnsworth Associates in Utah. So, the last man standing would be Steve Blaising at ITT. Meeks would also be the last human to operate the cave fusor in 1972 at Brigham Young University under Prof. Andrew Gardner. Meeks can give a steady stream of history from 1958 to 1972 related to all efforts with the fusor. He was my "go to guy"... Gene would pass away in 2008....The go-to source.... gone forever.

2. Fred, (Freddy), Haak - BS in Chemistry, Came to the fusor team in late 1961 as an engineering assistant to George Bain. He came from the tube lab at the Pontiac street plant having worked there since 1953 where he was a photo cathode chemical specialist at the tube lab. I asked Fred how he came to be on the Farnsworth team. He said that one day his supervisor asked everyone in the tube lab, "who would like to be on the Farnsworth project. They need an engineer with vacuum experience"? Fred told me that he was always curious about what they were doing so he volunteered. He said that he was to report the next morning! He retired from ITT in the late 80's. Fred had suffered a debilitating stroke in 1996. In 1999 when he and Gene and I met, He was almost totally recovered, played golf twice a week and smoked like a chimney. Fred was worried and warned me that since his stroke some of his memory might not recall well. To both Gene and my amazement, once Gene would mention something about the team Fred immediately pulled up related material, details and ancillary stories. Freddy was a great source over the 3 days. Fred passed away in 2007.

3. George Bain - MSEE... The masters-degree from Syracuse in electronics served him well at ITT. Interestingly, George first worked at RCA with Zworykin! In 1959, he was pulled from his work in the electron tube design division at ITT Pontiac Street and was what I term the second team member, assigned only after ITT decided to fund the Farnsworth fusion effort. George and I had spent many hours on the phone, already. He was sober and guarded... In many instances, I could sense he was holding back, not on the technical end, but on the historical end with queries about the people and the work environment. George was a gentleman and noted that many people were still alive and that he would rather not discuss certain things that I already knew about and when asked if they were true he would just say "yes, but that is all I will say about that". A lot of budget info and issues with procurement were his area of expertise, in addition to technical details regarding the Pit fusor. Sadly, George would suffer a stroke in 2001. He lost his ability to speak and would move to Arizona in 2002 and pass away in 2005.

4. Bob Hirsch - PhD Nuclear Physicist. A well-respected Washington political player/insider and "man to know"... Much nuclear and industrial experience. Bob joined the full-time team effort at ITT, hired right out of College by the Admiral. Bob is a past director of the AEC Thermo-nuclear Fusion Research division, Past V.P. at Raytheon and past director of Corporate Research at ARCO. Worked for Rand Corporation later. He is one of the easiest people to talk to. He has that gift of gab, (meant in the best way), that puts one as ease no matter what the topic. Pleasant, engaging, charming....Hard to be ill-temped around such a guy. The entire time I never saw him with a concerned face...Always a smile that engaged. Bob was a fountain of info on the ITT period, yet, like George Bain, he was careful related to incidents of a negative nature which he seemed to dance around without the average person noticing. I pinned him down on a few issues and would not let him up until I had some semblance of an answer. Many phone conversations.
As of this writing I believe Bob is still alive, I have lost contact with him.

5. Steve Blaising - Electronics Technician training and expert on Vacuum. Last man to join the team, 1963. Steve was also pulled from the tube lab at Pontiac street as a technician. he would replace Meeks in the pit fusor work as Gene was given to Bob Hirsch as his technician in the Cave fusor effort. Steve was incredibly likable, ebullient, spry for his age and very engaging, loved to talk about the old times with the team and with he and Gene together, you simply spent the time laughing and learning in a style where no holes were barred. You learned as much history and personal things about the team members as you did about the technical aspects that they were involved with daily. Many hours on the phone with Steve as well. Steve passed away in 2011.

I cannot say anything beyond what was relayed to me over the years of discussion with all of the above workers in the lab related to Phil Farnsworth or Admiral Furth, (Both Dead) Sadly, Admiral Furth passed away just a month before my investigation began. Upon phoning his home, a maid told me that he had passed away only a month before. I just wish I could have talked to him and get his take from the very top of things at the ITT hierarchy. He would have been a very valuable asset, indeed.

Finally, I learned over these many hours of time with the above folks that not one single person, save Hirsch, came onto the team with even the slightest bit of knowledge related to nuclear physics and especially Fusion Physics!!! Not one!! They would come to gain this knowledge via osmosis! Sort of a fusion physics OJT period. This fact would cripple the team from day one. Phil was not part of the team beyond being the head of the project. All would confirm that it was very rare to see Phil in the lab. It turns out Phil was an "idea man" as Gene and Steve would call him. He would sit in his office and dream. More on this later.


There you have it. I know what I know because I talked with every living being over a number of years. These were the people doing the work, making it happen and who knew stuff only they could know related to the ITT Farnsworth fusion effort. Save for Robert Hirsch, they are all gone now. I am glad I got the real technical details when I did and the surprising and interesting history as a form of lint stuck to the real whole cloth that came out of the dryer over the years in the memories of these folks.

Richard Hull
2001 visit paul coffee.jpg
Paul Schatzkin and Richard Hull visit Steve Blaising at home. Gene Meeks is also there. This was a very significant interview and the last time I saw either of them alive.
2001 visit Hull and Meeks.jpg
2001 visit By Paul and Richard to interview Gene Meeks and Steve Blaising
Gene Meeks Sketches out the lab layout as Richard looks on and questions 1999
Gene Meeks The ultimate go-to-guy for critical information related to the fusor team first worked with Phil late 1957 part of the fusor team 1957-1968
Fred Haak came to the fusor team near the end of 1961 stayed with it until the end, 1968
Fred6.JPG (61.76 KiB) Viewed 4095 times
Fred Haak 1999 project vacuum and systems engineer for the fusor team
Fred2.JPG (63.96 KiB) Viewed 4095 times
George Bain 1999 he was the ITT fusor project head engineer and lab team leader
Bain9.JPG (85.05 KiB) Viewed 4095 times
George Bain 1999 On his patio grabbed from a video
Bain6.JPG (106.62 KiB) Viewed 4095 times
Bob Hirsch (14).JPG
Bob with the desert cart fusor demo'd to the AEC back in 1967
Bob Hirsch (10).JPG
Bob at his desk in 1999, Washington, D.C.
1999 L to R Richard Hull, Gene Meeks, Fred Haak, Background is the pontiac street plant, Fort Wayne, Indiana....Where the ITT fusion effort took place
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.

User avatar
Richard Hull
Posts: 13194
Joined: Fri Jun 15, 2001 1:44 pm
Real name: Richard Hull

How Richard intends to report on this effort...The mechanics

Post by Richard Hull » Fri Feb 21, 2020 8:02 am

Outline of my methodology

Before I vault into my read on the fusion effort, we must all remember that be it the purely technical aspects or the purely historical aspects or even the personality aspects of it all, we are picking over the bones of a long dead corpse. There is much we do not know regardless of some claimed knowledge. There does exist verified factual data as well as flimsy hearsay. In addition there is much totally false information out there. There is certainly much we will never know as there is no one left to speak of it and no second party alive to verify or give it the lie.

My reports will tend to the technical, which means factual with material to back it up. However I am prone to comment related to a fact, or even editorialize on some point of physics or data that I find interesting to warrant such comments or editorializing. Rather than dig through for the mass of data for direct quotes I might choose to paraphrase the words spoken to me in video/audio tapes, over the phone or from notes taken during interviews or phone calls where no taping was done. I will develop a coda for these instances to let you know its me and not the factual data gleaned directly for the Team members.

" verbiage " - a Direct spoken quote to me by a team member.
' verbiage ' - a paraphrasing of a spoken quote to me.
< comment...verbiage....end comment > - signals an enclosed comment by me on a foregoing or following fact.
< editorial... verbiage.... end editorial > - signals an enclosed editorial by me on some point. Such editorials are base on my experience in doing fusion and fusion physics itself
All non coda enclosed remarks are factual taken from my mass of accumulated data and are simple statements of fact and any other researchers extant secured images or letters, notebooks, etc.

Watch for the above usage in my reporting.

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.

User avatar
Richard Hull
Posts: 13194
Joined: Fri Jun 15, 2001 1:44 pm
Real name: Richard Hull

In the beginning there was no Farnsworth

Post by Richard Hull » Fri Feb 21, 2020 9:19 am

Fusion was experimentally demonstrated and performed in 1932 by Mark Oliphant, one of Rutherford's post grad students. However, there were musings related to such a possibility as early as 1922 and discussions on purely theoretical considerations based on much of Rutherford's work around nuclear transformations via nuclear decay. Rutherford had also shown transformations of lower atomic number, non-radioactive elements by using very energetic alpha particles from some of the more active Radium decay products to bombard Nitrogen nuclei. It was hard not to muse over fusion as a source of energy prior to Oliphant's discovery due to the much-studied solar spectra showing hydrogen and helium lines predominating in the solar atmosphere. Once fusion was discovered, the idea of using fusion as an energy source on earth remained an amusement in that nothing was done regarding it after 1934.

The discovery of fission in 1938 was another matter altogether. It was too easy to do using only chemical methods and the tremendous energy seen being released per fission was an obvious possible extension to unbelievable future energy via the fission process. This set wheels grinding away in the minds of many adroit and capable physicists. We all know during WWII that fission research produced the atom bomb, which ended the war. All during the war, Edward Teller, who was at Los Alamos constantly pestered Oppenheimer about what he called the "super". (hydrogen bomb) Oppie felt Teller was keeping the team off the goal to the atomic weapon. Vexed over Teller's going off message, Oppie placed Teller in a titular head position of the "hydrogen fusion team" and gave him two or three, of his less useful scientists to play with well clear of the fission goal.

After the war, Teller's work would come to be pushed forward towards the super. The fact that this was being investigated would draw a very small and scattered cadre of physicists to actively muse over controlled fusion just as a far bigger rush towards controlled fission power was starting. Some very minor fusion experiments were performed in the late forties in universities. It would be in 1951 that Lyman Spitzer would propose to work in the effort to create a fusion power reactor! Money was allocated in 1952 to proceed. Soon, many universities were getting government grants to build their ideas for nuclear fusion power devices. This would ignite the secretive "Project Sherwood" funded by the AEC. The Super, (H-bomb), was first exploded in 1954. In the late 1950's, Sherwood was de-classified and the first popular articles appeared about fusion being an inexhaustible source of future energy.

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.

User avatar
Richard Hull
Posts: 13194
Joined: Fri Jun 15, 2001 1:44 pm
Real name: Richard Hull

Philo Farnsworth enters the fusion arena - A puzzle

Post by Richard Hull » Sat Feb 22, 2020 4:07 pm

This is a segment for which I have no interviewed party and is purely historical in nature. The only two people intimately involved were Phil and Pem Farnsworth. In keeping with going to the people who lived it, I must reference Pem Farnsworth's biography of her husband from her book Distant Vision. I relate solely to that part of the book in which she reports on Phil's interest in fusion and how his ideas would come to be supported by ITT in a effort to make Phil's fusion dream attempt to become reality with a physical embodiment. There are ancillary and direct players in this period that might only be mentioned once in that they were pivotal in some small way to Phil's dream taking on a physical effort.

Due to a number of financial disasters, which were a common occurrence for Phil all through his life, He lost control of his company, Farnsworth Radio and Electronics. Phil sold all of his stock but was retained as a systems consultant. This allowed him to be a source throughout the company to anyone needing scientific or technical advice or assistance. Meanwhile, ITT purchased the company and retained its name as a subsidiary company within ITT. This took place In the 1950’s

Phil slowly became interested in fusion at some unstated date in the 40's and mused internally over a path to make it a reality. It is claimed that he wanted to give the world an endless source of energy which fusion represented. He would even discuss his ideas over the phone with Einstein for over an hour. Einstein urged him to proceed with his idea. According to Pem, Phil continued to formalize his “math” and theory of how to make what he would call his “Fusor”.

In 1955 Phil met with a friend he had made while securing naval contracts in the late 40’s. The friend was Rear Admiral, (retired), Fredrick R. Furth. He was the former director of the U.S. Naval Research Lab in Washington DC. “Fritz”, as his friends and intimates called him, was hired in 1956 by ITT as the Fort Wayne assistant to the president of Farnsworth Electronics. Within a few short months, he was promoted to the Vice President of Research and Development. Furth would soon be promoted, yet again, to ITT vice president in charge of Research and Engineering and moved to the New York corporate office. During his time at Fort Wayne, Furth became intrigued by Phil’s fusion ideas and they bonded over the subject. Furth would become to be known by the future team members simply as “the Admiral”. I shall continue to use this moniker when referring to him, in future reports here. Phil now had a powerful ally in Furth ensconced at ITT corporate. Furth urged Phil to write a paper on his theory outlining it completely and scientifically. Phil succeeded in turning the paper over to corporate later in 1956.

At the time, ITT’s president was General Edward Leavey. Upon consideration by Leavey’s scientific and corporate advisors, Phil’s effort to get ITT to fund the fusion effort was rejected. In 1957 Phil decided that he would take out a second mortgage on the Farnsworth’s home and borrow on his life insurance. This was done so that he might fund the fusion effort personally. He had decided to assemble a fusion lab in his home! The basement was to be a construction lab with gases and machinery as needed while one of the upstairs front bedrooms was to be the fusion tube lab with vacuum gear. By late 1957 Phil began the quest, but he needed a second knowledgeable assistant for the heavy work and technical assembly, etc.

Phil asked around for someone in the labs at Pontiac street who might be interested in a bit of paid, evening side work. Gene Meeks, who was a relatively new hire at ITT and working in the plating lab, applied for the job. Phil and Gene worked in such spare time as available all through 1958 setting up the labs at Phil’s State street home. They would often work until the wee hours. Phil found a good worker in Gene who quickly proved himself very capable and willing to learn critical parts of the operations needed to make the fusion attempt. Pem would often make midnight snacks for Phil and Gene. On those occasions when they worked till dawn, she would fix a hearty breakfast for them. Pem would tell me in the presence of Gene, who was there with me in 1999….”Gene was so kind and helpful and ate so many meals with us that he just became like another family member”….Gene thanked her and just beamed. There is no doubt that Phil and Gene grew very close during that year-long effort.

In 1959 Edward Leavey would retire from ITT and would be replaced as ITT president by Harold Geneen, who had left Raytheon as its vice president. Geneen really took to the fusion concept by Farnsworth as Furth pushed the concept and Phil’s paper in front of him. Against all advice from his advisers, Geneen agreed to fund, to a very limited degree, the Farnsworth effort in Fort Wayne. The effort would now be a big, underfunded deal and run under a veil of high security at Pontiac Street.

Side note (technical)
The State Street lab at Phil’s home never did any fusion! Gene Meeks would tell me “Our vacuum system was a kludged-up bunch of crap”….”The tubes Phil had made up just couldn’t be pumped down”…
Before we move on, the tubes Gene mentioned were rough sketched by Phil, drawn up on the sly by Jim Heine, the Pontiac street draftsman who would come to be formally linked to the fusor team as their draftsman in future. These tubes were to be assembled by a fellow friend of Phil’s from the tube lab, again, somewhat on the sly. The tube maker was Cyrus Day. This is a mini-story by itself and was fleshed out in interviews of Gene Meeks and George Bain.

Gene Meeks: “Them tubes were really something to see, big, ugly and a mess to try to work with”….” I guess Phil knew what he hoped to get out of them”…..”I mean you could look at their guts and tell you weren’t gonna’ pump ‘em down.”….”I just didn’t have the heart to argue or tell Phil that they would never work, cause you just couldn’t get a good vacuum in ‘em.” From this you can see that Gene just hated the first pass at Phil’s fusion tubes.

<Comment – Phil was familiar with tubes of glass from his early television days. His whole concept was to create a true virtual cathode by knotting up electrons as he had done in his multipactors of yesteryear. In this way, Phil fervently believed the fusion gas ions would be accelerated towards the center of his device and create fusion. He would come to lock into this idea to the detriment of the team’s effort for 3 years!! While it is not, nor will it ever be known,what these two early tubes were meant to do in Phil’s mind, they could have been test beds to see if the multipaction could take place in a larger device using what power supplies they had on hand at his limited lab at his home. End comment>

It turned out that Cyrus Day would be diagnosed at this time with cancer of the face. This meant the removal of a significant fraction of the poor man’s face and nose. Here we meet George Bain.....
George Bain: “Richard, I was asked to assist Cyrus when Farnsworth, who I had never met, came to me and asked if I could help Cyrus with the tubes after hours.”….” Cyrus was horrible to look at. He was healing and still partially bandaged. My goodness.”…. “I had to try and help finish those tubes and we did, but they were filled with all sorts of mica plates, emitters, silvered mica components and lots of uranium glass graded seals to allow for pass-through electrodes.”…..”you just knew that these would be a bear to pump down, there was so much mica.”

< comment – Here we see George admit to the terrible concept of what he viewed as a useless effort. He said they delivered the tubes to Farnsworth’s office and Phil thanked George for assisting Cyrus in the effort and that while he could not pay him for his efforts, he would always be grateful. Once again, Phil recognized a good worker who could pick up in the middle of a job and yet come through in the end. Even though these tubes never saw “action” in the 1958 home lab, the stage was set for the coming funding of fusion. End comment>

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.

User avatar
Richard Hull
Posts: 13194
Joined: Fri Jun 15, 2001 1:44 pm
Real name: Richard Hull

Down in the Dungeon in a single room....but funded

Post by Richard Hull » Sun Feb 23, 2020 10:25 am

< Comment - The book Distant Vision has a number of specific dates given by Pem Farnsworth throughout. I was a little stunned seeing her note the Pearl Harbor bombing on December 2nd, 1942, had shocked She and Phil. It shocked me too. Still, I will have to defer to her on the early dates of the fusion efforts she gives in her book. Also, Pem, in her book, noted that once the funded effort started, they used deuterium and Tritium and that they had to secure an AEC license for the tritium. I know for a fact that this was not the case! Pem may be forgiven here as she was not on the team and was never in the lab, save for the rare instances when she was in the company of Phil. I assume that through passing conversations with Phil over the years she heard from him that they were using the two gases. They never secured a specific tritium license for the team. More on this in the flow...

My multiple interviews had most team members interviewed struggling for even approximate dates related to the effort. I will note that running into this obstacle, I developed a strategy that proved to be very helpful. I Told each person, prior to the interview, “ I will be asking for a lot of dates or approximate dates when specific things that you are telling me took place” This usually raised an “ugh” from all. “Wait, if you can think about world events, Kennedy assassination, Gary Powers U-2 downing, Berlin wall going up or of a birth or death in the family or a promotion or something that is fixed in your mind and relate it to the event under discussion, give me a year for sure and the time of year. Was it cold or hot outside? A vacation you took near the event, sickness, snow, anything to place it in a time of that year.”

Recently a large number of papers and documents have appeared and certain dates can be pinned down to a time frame. Most of this is Farnsworth internal memorandums collected in the Farnsworth family files. These files are incomplete but do offer up a number of interesting occurrences.

From the above, please note that all dates to the month are tentative and the best the team members could conjure up. Some dates are found in the papers and reports of the period to which I am privy. End of comment>

<Editorial - I am forced, by my looking for understanding in what follows, to give an opinion related to Phil’s abilities in the fusion quest. It is easy to bash someone, but to gain a more realistic idea about them, one must dig below the praise and adulation that a proclaimed genius garners over time. My interviews spawned much insight here. While every man jack of them admired Phil, they also, in some instances, had reservations. Such reservations grew over time, for as I have already noted not one person came to the team with any knowledge of nuclear physics in general or fusion physics, specifically. They became smarter and focused in on the fusion physics eventually and proved to be fast learners.

I do know that Phil was not a college graduate. He was a genius. Of that there is little doubt. The concept of scanning electronic television once fixed in his brain, (the genius part), would result in a rather easy, but physically demanding engineering path to make it work with yet to be invented electronic tools. Success was guaranteed just due to rapid developments in electronics which Phil and co-workers like the inventive Russell Varian would make use of. Phil, much like Tesla, would stumble through life rich then poor, then rich again, but unlike Tesla at his peak, Phil, remained a "background figure", at the time.

When it comes to nuclear physics and especially fusion physics, I am personally ill at ease with whether Phil possessed the "chops" to do and knowledge to move into the field. From my point of view, he took his multipactor invention's idea and moved it into his thoughts on fusion. Through the facts I have gathered, I was not alone in this feeling. Every person on the team at one time or another questioned Phil's rationale for what he was ordering them to do, and of his ability to recognize fusion when it was really taking place. (Gene Meeks: "Hell, Richard, Phil was the boss, what the hell did I know about fusion in the beginning?...We did what Phil told us and believed him"), (Fred Haak: "Phil was hard to figure out at times and once we started to gain knowledge about fusion through reading, George and I were getting skeptical"), (Robert Hirsch " Richard, when I arrived as just a summer worker/observer in 1963, these guys were still playing around in bell jar systems!") end editorial>

Gentlemen, start your engines

The funding began in 1959. Phil got to pick his team. Naturally, he looked to those he knew and trusted. Throughout the effort, Bob Hirsch would be the only hire from outside the Pontiac street plant. So much useful talent abounded within the walls at Pontiac street, why go outside? Too bad, in retrospect, they did not satisfy what would become a crying need for a trained nuclear physicist. Yet they would belatedly solve this problem.

Phil could not do better than selecting Gene Meeks with whom he already had a one-year physical, working relationship as his team technician. He also remembered George Bain as a capable worker and selected him to become the project engineer. Thus, it was a two-man team in late 1959. This was also a boon to security as the fewer people involved, the less likely for a security leak. Both Meeks and Bain were told to discuss the project with no one there inside Pontiac street or outside, for that matter.

As it would turn out, Phil would not be working in the lab with his team daily. Phil was the overall project director. He would come to direct the effort from his office on the second floor where he worked on budgets, conferred with other scientists and mathematicians as well as working directly and often with the Admiral who would come out to Fort Wayne, monthly, from New York to follow the progress and have day long conclaves with Phil.

I was told by every team member that the Admiral had a multi-year lease on an apartment suite in Fort Wayne to stay when in town. He often came out for a week or more at a time. It is to be remembered that he had stuck his neck out for Phil and the fusion project and wanted to be assured that progress was being made. So much so that he wanted no impediment to stand in the way of the effort. He decreed that every shop and lab in at Pontiac street give top priority to procurement and assembly of whatever Farnsworth needed or asked for. This "carte blanche", it turned out, would breed some acrimony among some departments at Pontiac street as demands by the Farnsworth group would sometimes interrupt these departments day-to-day work.

Here are your accommodations, such as they are

The fusor effort's two-man team were ensconced into a rather cramped and dingy basement room all the way at the end of the Pontiac street building. (For security??) The room had a fume hood in it to exhaust vacuum system oil mists and other possible noxious gases that might need venting. It would take a while to really get started. Both Gene and George told me that there was no money to purchase anything. All the funding went to just salaries for the most part. (George Bain: “We just didn’t have much to spend for a lot of material and instruments that we needed or were going to need. Our salaries ate up a large fraction of that early funding.”) This need was relayed to Phil who relayed it to the Admiral. The Admiral told them to scrounge from all the labs, offices and storage areas at Pontiac street what they needed. According to George, the Admiral noted that he dare not go to the "well" again for money as it was their first year. With results would come more in the 1960. The Admiral advised that if anyone gives you trouble, tell them to give me a call on the matter. Apparently, the Admiral received no calls, such was his power and influence at the remote Fort Wayne ITT enclave. According to George and Gene, the Farnsworth TV assembly hall had been recently shut down as ITT did not want to build the Farnsworth brand TV’s anymore and killed it. I have personally toured this aircraft hangar sized edifice in 1999 with Gene and Fred Haak.

While George corralled enough vacuum gear and set up a week or two for the glass blowing shop to make up the all glass plumbing for the vacuum system and the tube lab to send a couple of people to assemble it, Gene went on a foraging mission to pick up a lot of electronic parts, instruments and wire to construct their high voltage power supply. Gene would assemble a nice high voltage supply from scratch for the early fusor work and would be commended for his efforts. (Gene Meeks: “Yeah, I was stealing stuff left and right, putting huge loads of stuff on carts and wheeling it down to the basement. We had so much extra material, we stored it in metal cabinets on the other side of the room”…”We were pretty much a bric-a-brak joint down there for several months as we got ourselves organized for the first experiments.”)

Ultimately, they were ready to run the "Mark One" (MK I), device which was a rather well assembled very small bell jar fusor. It was machined, welded and assembled in the model shop run by Wayne Frame. This early model would see many modifications in future. I attach a few photos of this early system based on Farnsworth’s multipacting virtual negative well device. This concept would dominate the effort for almost two and a half years.

According to Pem, within her book, and with great pride and fanfare, she announces…

”On Friday October 7, 1960, in a small basement room, the fusor was assembled with its bell jar and hooked up to the vacuum and power systems. Making a vacuum tight seal between the lower half of the fusor shell and bell jar was quite difficult. The indium metal used as a sealant was forming bubbles that were breaking and keeping the vacuum from being obtained. Eventually,(at about 10 pm), the problem was solved. At sufficiently high vacuum, power was applied and gradually raised until the power supply’s maximum was reached. A bright glow within the fusor increased in intensity as the voltage was increased.”
Pem goes on to claim that a magnet was brought near the fusor at this time and a “gas like flame was drawn out of the center of the structure until about one inch long” She claims this proves beyond a doubt that a plasma had been formed and that no natural gases would do this. She states, “Phil, Fritz, George, and Gene were witnesses to this major event.”

<Comment – Pem got this one wrong. Any sufficient voltage applied to any evacuated gas system, regardless of gas contained, will produce a glow and this will follow a magnet around. This does not indicate a pure plasma, just gas excitation as a current is passed through the system between electrodes. End comment>

The team finally had a working system, but we must note that about 1 year has elapsed from funding in 1959 and first light in the little basement room. One year of paltry funding down….

Richard Hull
small 1.JPG
Phil looks admiringly at his first pass baby fusor. This photo also accompanied the media released images proclaiming that ITT was planning on solving the difficulty of doing fusion
small 1.JPG (118.78 KiB) Viewed 4089 times
small 5.jpg
A very Young Gene Meeks looks into the tiny device doomed to never do fusion.
small 5.jpg (136.9 KiB) Viewed 4089 times
small 4.jpg
"Fritz" Furth - the Admiral with the tiny first device
small 4.jpg (121.5 KiB) Viewed 4089 times
small 3.JPG
This was a major publicity photo of the team. L to R. Gene Meeks, George Bain, Fredrick Furth- "the Admiral", Philo T. Farnsworth. When released to the media in 1961, ITT stock shot up sharply as investors figured ITT would be doing fusion. This did allow for increased funding in all subsequent years. This photo was taken in the drab little room in the beginning of the effort
small 3.JPG (162.04 KiB) Viewed 4089 times
Small 6.JPG
Jim Heine - The draftsman for the fusor team. He designed those first "impossible" tubes that were never used. He holds a big, complex tube. At this time ITT was the number one inventor and supplier of unique tubes for computers, science, industry and especially the military.
Small 6.JPG (132.23 KiB) Viewed 4089 times
small 2.JPG
Typical all glass vacuum system in the small basement room. 1960-1962. Complex to start and operate. mercury diffusion pump, liquid nitrogen to keep mercury out of the system and even 2 visible ion pumps!! This was their first vacuum system used only in the little basement room. To connect any fusor, they had to have a glass blower show up and join it to the all glass system
small 2.JPG (218.82 KiB) Viewed 4089 times
small 7.JPG
One of many variants of that small first fusor of the period 1960-1961 used Farnsworth multipactor concept to form and electron based virtual cathode.
small 7.JPG (168.51 KiB) Viewed 4089 times
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.

User avatar
Site Admin
Posts: 743
Joined: Thu Jun 14, 2001 4:49 pm
Real name: aka The Perfesser

Re: Richard Hull's Attic

Post by Paul_Schatzkin » Wed Feb 26, 2020 8:05 pm

These photos are fantastic, Richard.

It's really cool to see the very first iterations of the fusor, those bell jar versions.

But also sorta confounding to hear that they didn't produce any of fusion.

I would like to hear more about the transition from the "electron / multipaction / virtual cathode approach to... what was it, exactly, that came after? Who first came up with the reverse polarity? What were the earliest models that used that approach, and how did that lead ultimately to whatever Hirsch was doing in "the cave" (which I understand to have been the highest yielding runs, with the D-T combo). And why did Phil insist to the end that they were all on the wrong approach. And what was he doing in "the pit" that was different?

What's confusing to me is how all this evolved. For as long as I have known these stories, I have understood the inspiration for the Fusor to be drawn from the observations of a plasma-like phenomenon in the spherical multipactor that I am holding in the photo from Los Angeles last month. How is that, if that tube was the inspiration for the poissor, and the fusor, that it was such a dismal failure, and didn't start to produce results until it was turned inside out (if I understand correctly)?

Here's another look at that spherical multipactor, supposedly the Alpha of the whole fusor project:


...or, the tube that produced the failure that produced the success that is still a failure.

No wonder I'm confused...

Paul Schatzkin, aka "The Perfesser" – Founder and Host of
Author of The Boy Who Invented Television -
"Fusion is not 20 years in the future; it is 50 years in the past and we missed it."

User avatar
Richard Hull
Posts: 13194
Joined: Fri Jun 15, 2001 1:44 pm
Real name: Richard Hull

Murky times of fusion confusion and delusion and training of the team.

Post by Richard Hull » Thu Feb 27, 2020 5:02 am

Paul's amazement is no less than my own. This is the next installment in the saga and the title of this posting more or less says it all. Almost nothing is known of this time 1960-1962. The team members could not fill in many details that weren't dragged out of them and the dates were tentative. Phil would be deeply involved with the ITT patent attorney's as ITT wanted everything on paper with all the math and details in place. He worked with Dr. Salinger, and a Dr. Ahmed, (ITT department physicist and mathematician at the time), on the math and theory in these deliberations related to the patents.

I begin with a phone call to Gene related to this period I recorded it on one of those little micro-cassettes and as my little recorder went bad, it damaged the tape a good bit, but I pieced some of it back together. I borrowed another player from a friend and had my wife slowly transcribe the text, removing some expletives that Gene was so fond of.

Phone interview 10 March 2002
Subject: Gene Meeks (260) 747-5448
By: Richard Hull

Reason for call: More info on Farnsworth's direct involvement with the fusor team. Now retyped from tape and written notes.
Q. How involved was Phil day-to-day?

A. Phil was not very involved at all in the daily activities. He was up in his office most of the time or talking with ITT reps or the Admiral. We could hear his monroe-matic chugging away from time to time. He would come down from time to time.

Q. What do you mean from time to time?

A. When he had an idea he would come down and have a talk with George, who would later tell us what was said and what to do. Phil would usually come around to the others, put his hand on our back and ask how we were doing and occasionally ask about our work, individually. However, he never meddled in the work. I guess he figured we knew what we were doing. No, he was a relatively rare sight down in the lab.
Q. Did he ever roll up his sleeves and help.

A. Oh no! The last time I saw Phil working to a goal in hardware issues was when we were doing the work at his house in the late 50's and very early while here at ITT. When we started there in 58, I hadn't been at ITT long. It was just Phil and me, like at the house. The admiral was a fixture here in those early days at ITT. He stuck his neck out to get us going at the plant once ITT funded us. The admiral had himself a permanently reserved apartment near the plant in those days and even put himself to work getting us off the ground in the little room in the basement. The admiral had power and was able to get us the best items from the stores. (storage area of controlled corporate assets) I got to get a lot of electronics stuff for the first power supply that I built from the old TV assembly hall. I was told, take what you need.
The guy who controlled that stuff was an asshole. I went to the stores with the admiral to get an oscilloscope and some meters, a roll around cart and some chairs and a table. We didn't have any list with us or signed checkout authorizations. The guy in stores said once we had the paperwork we could have the stuff he gave the admiral a form to fill out with what we wanted and to return with it filled out signed by the plant manager or other executive. The admiral took out his pen and wrote down a far bigger list than what we needed at that time and signed at the bottom, with his title, Vice president of research, ITT. The guy called the plant manager and we could hear the loud voice coming back at him. he turned a little pale.
He returned from the end of the table after hanging up and said.... yes sir, I'll get it together right now. The admiral said.... we're going to lunch and you will have it down at the lab in one hour or I will be back and know why. The admiral didn't accept foolishness.

We went to the cafeteria and had lunch. During lunch the admiral said that he hated to throw his weight around, but the guy pissed him off. That was the only time I ever ate or had any personal time with the admiral. He explained that he trusted and admired Phil and his dream and he was going to do all he could for him.
When we got back all the stuff was there and even placed rather well on benches. I was expecting to see a pile of stuff on a roll around cart, but it was all nicely placed with the paperwork stamped with the Stores receipt on the table. So, the admiral and I moved stuff to where we liked it. He didn't shun a bit of heavy lifting.
Those early days were the last time I saw Phil in shirt sleeves with the admiral and me doing the work that day. The admiral took George from the tube electronics dept. and proclaimed him project engineer. He let George know that he expected monthly reports on the engineering efforts and that Phil was project head in Fort Wayne. Phil was already a V.P. of special research at the plant.

Q. I guess a vacuum system of some quality was a first order of business.

A. It sure was! In those days all vacuum systems of custom design used glass plumbing. It was easy to keep clean and you could see when it got dirty or fouled. We got the vacuum system which was all custom blown glass from the tube shop. They had two good glass blowers. By late 1961 or early 1962 we added Freddie Haak who we took from the tube lab as he was an expert on vacuum system maintenance and tube assembly. By mid-1960, we were pretty much set up, but Phil was pressing the tube lab to cobble up that first little fusor you see in all those early publicity photos. The admiral pushed hard too so we could show something for the effort. That first fusor never even pumped any deuterium either.

Q. What! No deuterium?!

A. yes, Phil was working to get his virtual cathode working. His idea was to do fusion by creating an "electron knot" in the center. then have the deuterium accelerate towards it after being ionized.

Q. What were those little multiple things around the base?

A. They were really just simple unfocused electron emitters to supply electrons for the virtual cathode. They were not ion guns. Phil spent a lot of time on his idea of the electron cathode and wanted to make sure he could do that before using deuterium.

Q. when was deuterium first used?

A. Oh it was on the second fusor at ITT which was just the same bell jar item with new guts maybe late 1961, I can't remember precisely. Phil was sure it was doing fusion though. The admiral wondered how Phil knew, I told him I didn't know. By that time, I was pretty wise about fusion and the process. So was the admiral and he got us our first neutron counter sent brand new from Eberline. ( note I have seen this in photos, and it was the well-known PNC-1, which was very popular at that time.)

Q. Whoa....!! You didn't have a neutron counter until then!!

A. Yes. I was a bit worried that we didn't have one but, I was just a technician and was only now getting into the full understanding about nuclear fusion from my reading up on the subject. George and I talked about this. Oh, we had a Geiger counter due to worries about X-rays and we had those little re-chargeable pen dosimeters. We put a lead sheet in front of the counter to kill the x-ray counting. We still got a couple of counts and Phil told us those were neutron counts.

Q. I guess you know they could have still been scattered x-rays off other items.

A. Sure, I do now! But back then..... As the technician, I was tasked with reading the manual on the Eberline and sort of became the keeper and operator of the instrument. George got me some more detailed books on neutron measurement.

Q. Was there any that I mean neutrons present?

A. No. None. At first Phil was so damned sure he was doing fusion, but the instrument never moved or clicked. George then took the Eberline manual home and read it. This made me feel like I was not doing my job and set me at odds with George at that point. George ran the bell jar fusor both in the presence of Phil and then again with just he and myself together. Nothing....
I think George got frustrated.... George returned the counter to Eberline. they sent it back saying it was working fine with their neutron source. Meanwhile Phil was filling his lab notebooks with all sort of stories of fusion with his calculations showing it was so. George had worries, I could see, but we never talked about it. I think this created a wider gap between us. I felt marginalized as George never apologized for doubting my ability with the Eberline and made no excuse why he couldn't get it to work. There was a cold silence between us. I always felt he was frustrated over the whole deal. Now that I know what I know, I guess we were looked at to perform. We did not have the guts to go to Phil with our worries as he was far ahead of us, we felt.

Q. I mean....This was it?? Did you have a radiation expert there in the plant? Maybe a neutron source?
A. Oh, hell no! The tube lab had a physicist who monitors x-rays on high voltage tube tests, but ITT was not doing any work there that would warrant having a source. I think...I'm not sure...., but I think George gave the Eberline to the Admiral to take to perhaps his old pals at NRL. George came and took it from me during one of the admiral’s multiple visits during the year. It was 2 months before I saw it again when George gave it back. I asked rather gruffly did you send it back to Eberline...Again! He quickly told me that it was not my place to know where it had been. The rift between George and me widened.
A. So let me get this straight.....By late 60 or early 61 you were using deuterium and Phil was noting successful fusion in his notebooks, having no neutron counter! You had no neutron counter until 1962 and it was not reading at all!
A. Yes, that was just how it was ( I detected a breath of frustration in Genes voice over the phone).

Q. When did you start getting counts on the counter?

A. Well, Richard, you gotta' understand.......Phil had his ideas and George and I had seen three more bell jar fusors between 61 and early 62. All the time no counts. Even Freddie was starting to get concerned. I mean, you can't be around fusion work without picking up a certain amount of insight and knowledge. I think it was George who figured out a work around and had the guts to steer the project around the hole we were in. I think it was on about the 5th or 6th bell jar system. Phil was running the fusor with George and I was there running the supply up in voltage as we proceeded. suddenly the long mute neutron counter made a click. George turned around and looked at my face. Turn it up some more. Phil noted that the fusor didn't visually look right. George kept telling me to turn it up more. Then a few more clicks were heard and then some steady clicking. George yelled we are getting neutrons!

Phil said turn it off or we'll have a runaway! George said what happened? Gene, check out all the connections. I said they are as they always were. He yelled at me.... Gene do what I say!
I went back and found the positive and negative had been swapped from the HV supply. I knew George had done it and I got blamed for mis-connecting the system. Phil said, "Hold it George, maybe this is a good thing." Phil disappeared for a day or two, as he often did to cogitate. He must have been in deep thought. George knew that I knew, but not a word passed between us.

Q. when did all this happen?

A. Oh, now you are asking for another date! Sometime in early 1962 that's the best I can do for you. Gene complained that he was tired and had to go to bed. Call ended 10:20 pm

I felt stunned at this revelation. I would hope George could speak to this via the phone, but by this time, he had suffered a very debilitating stroke and could no longer speak. A phone call to his wife Eva confirmed that he was not improved. A call to Fred Haak verified that Phil got excited about a test run with reversed connections and felt that he was getting significant results this way and from about late 1962 they were getting neutron counter to sing with reversed connections, a spherical central cathode and accelerating the deuterium ions using electrostatic ion guns. These were still larger bell jar systems with some early crude ion guns of very low ion current.

I am much vexed by why Phil changed to an accelerated deuteron machine. Did Phil suddenly wise up and find out he could still get a poissor with a solid cathode grid biased to accelerate the ions, or did George leap in and suggest it?

This was a murky period 1960-1962. The upshot is that they had been working with non-functioning bell jar systems with the multipactor concept. No real neutron counter was available until late 1961 or early 1962. They had no counts on neutron counter until polarity reversal. The new, much expanded first floor, street level facilities and offices were moved into in early 1962 and the Pit is being dug. A new high voltage supply of 180 kv capability is bought as 1962 funding was expanded a good bit. Activity picked up significantly by mid-to-late, 1962, once they settled into their new facility. 1962 remained a year of continued bell jar systems, albeit far more refined and successful at D-D fusion. The team had a functional neutron counter now and knew how to use it. They had come up on the basics of fusion physics as well. The vacuum systems that would ultimately be installed and used up stairs in the big lab would all be of stainless steel plumbing with metal, oil diffusion pumps.

Much of what we know from this period is contained in a letter sent to Pem Farnsworth by the Admiral from his retirement home in North Carolina. This 4 page letter to Pem in 1989 contained a number of details from this early Murky period. Apparently, Pem could find little technical material related to the early fusion work for her soon to be released book, Distant Vision, (1990), and had queried the admiral. Furth noted a large number of unsuccessful attempts to do fusion and mentions that 1962 was the first bell jar fusor to do any measured fusion. and it was only 10e5 neutrons/sec. He notes that this was far short of the goal Farnsworth had set of 10e15 n/s. He notes that the pit fusors never did much better than 10e9n/s in 1966. However he notes that one run of the MKIII exp 2 they recorded 7 X10e10 and notes it could not be replicated again. We are getting ahead of ourselves in the time ordered report here. Suffice it to say that the first 3 working years 1960-1962 the results were very limited and then only once they reversed polarity and began accelerating deuterons to a solid negative dynode/cathode in 1962.

A note related to Gene Meeks: The strain between George and Gene was brought to a team and administrative head in an action that resulted in an official ITT departmental letter in October of 1962. In this letter Gene's review for a pay raise and general employee performance review notes that his job is in jeopardy if his poor attitude continues. The matter is referred to Phil and the Admiral among others. It ends with a suggestion to hold all further action until the parties had a chance to talk with Gene and would be picked up for either termination or a pay raise in December based on his performance in the interim. Gene told me that Phil talked with him and that Gene admitted he was probably to blame. (Gene noted to me, "It was a rough time for me at that time. I had issues at home with my wife.") Gene would straighten himself out at work and would get that pay raise and continue to work well throughout his time on the fusor team.

John Cornealius was a tech brought in to assist Gene and George in late 1961. Deathly afraid of radiation, he would leave for this reason in late 1963 as the experiments became more advanced in the pit and Tritium was used requiring urine samples weekly to check on radioactive up-take by personnel of Tritium. This would be the straw that broke the camel’s back for Cornealius. He left ITT.

Lab Team in 1962: George Bain, Fred Haak, Gene Meeks, John Cornealius (1961-late 1963) >end comment.

Some Photos below from the period.
BellJar image 2.jpg
BellJar image 2.jpg (285.3 KiB) Viewed 4003 times
BellJar image 3.jpg
BellJar image 3.jpg (199.26 KiB) Viewed 4004 times
Haak image 1.jpg
Haak image 1.jpg (298.8 KiB) Viewed 4004 times
Meeks image 1.jpg
Meeks image 1.jpg (229.93 KiB) Viewed 4004 times
Multipactor image 2.jpg
Multipactor image 2.jpg (306.25 KiB) Viewed 4004 times
Multipactor image 1.jpg
Multipactor image 1.jpg (270.31 KiB) Viewed 4004 times
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.

User avatar
Richard Hull
Posts: 13194
Joined: Fri Jun 15, 2001 1:44 pm
Real name: Richard Hull

1963-64 A good two years. On the right track

Post by Richard Hull » Fri Feb 28, 2020 6:52 am

<Editorial - As 1963 opened, the team was doing limited fusion, (10e5 n/s), in a number of bell jar fusors with metallic cathodes/dynodes. The troubles between Gene and George were smoothed over a bit. The pit was finished, the budgets were opened up allow for the addition of Fred Haak and John Cornealius to be added to the payroll and much new and valuable gear was purchased like the large 200 kilovolt Universal Voltronics supply. Some bell jar fusors were outfitted with electrostatic ion guns to try and focus the deuteron beams on the way to the dynode. The focus in these was not as sharp nor as high current as a pigatron ion gun type used later by the team. They functioned much like the classic canal ray tubes seen in old classroom physics demos. The team still listened to Phil and built his fusors as he wanted them, but they also had a handle on what worked and what did not. Many small bell jar "test beds" were setup. These did no fusion but did test internal piece ideas for fusion systems. George Bain noted to me in his discussion related to budgets that the 63 budget was on the order of $250,000 or about 5 times 1960 budget. end editorial>

General Data related to Gene Meeks troubled time:

Gene’s marriage became strained in 1962 until divorce took place in late 1963. Gene was stressed out and was giving a good deal of trouble at work with Bain. By this time, Fred Haak had joined the team and often mediated some of the issues between Gene and Bain.

I will paraphrase from my notes of a number of phone calls to George Bain, Fred Haak and Gene Meeks about this time. This was early on in 1998 when I first tracked these people down and just before my 1999 week long trip to Fort Wayne and Bloomington. It also includes much from the later, in person interview videos. I was the "keeper of the list". I supplied all team members from 1998 through 2007 a regularly updated, confidential list of team member's addresses, phone numbers and other data so that they might keep in touch

I now condense below some of the discussions related to Gene's "troubled time"

Bain: We had only Gene, myself and Phil from 1959-1961. That was it! We barely had enough for our salaries. Gene crafted just about every thing we needed in the way of electronics. You have to remember, Gene and I knew nothing about vacuum work and virtually nothing about nuclear fusion physics. We relied totally on Phil for this. Jim Heine turned Phil’s ideas into mechanical drawings which I took to the model and machine shops in house. The vacuum system was built for us by the tube lab. Phil never helped, it was just Gene and myself in that little room. Phil would occasionally drop by and offer advice. It was mostly Phil, the Admiral and Salinger doing the planning and getting us “Carte Blanche” within the facility to force all the entities there to snap to on our requests for drafting, machining, vacuum work assistance, etc. Unfortunately, Gene’s marriage issues, he brought to work and took some of his frustration out on Fred and myself. (Fred came from the tube lab in late 1961 or early 1962 and helped them move to the new larger facility up stairs)

Meeks: yes, for a while there I was kind of obtuse and hard to get along with. My wife was screwin’ around on me with two other guys. Nights were a torment and I guess I took it to work with me. That was on me. I almost got fired. George reported me to management and to Phil. It was touch and go there for a while.

Haak: Gene was a bit difficult when I arrived in late 1961 or early 1962. I was added to the team just as they were moving into the big lab area upstairs. They wanted to know if anyone in the tube lab wanted in on the Farnsworth effort. They needed a man who knew vacuum technique. I was curious, so I volunteered and within two days was down in the basement helping them move what little they had up stairs. Their setup was crap! Everything was kludged, leaking like a sieve and all glass…Terrible. George and Gene were at odds a lot and a couple of times I had to step in as it seemed like they might come to blows! Damn, what had I got myself into?! I only found out that Gene was having trouble at home much later. He straightened out a bit the next year. (1963)

Bain: I hope you won’t ask Gene about this, but during the worst of his divorce, his wife was awarded custody of the child and would ultimately get what little equity they had in their home. I did not know this until later, when I found Gene bathing in the men’s wash room out of the sink! I told him he couldn’t do this at work. He told me that he was living where there were no bathing facilities. I was told that he was living just down the street now and no longer at home. His attendance was spotty and he was out sick a lot. This affected our work as he was a main player. I reported that we might need to fire Gene as he was irascible and had spotty attendance. Phil was for giving him a chance while the Admiral was ready to immediately fire him. (Gene was a close friend of Phil, while the Admiral would not suffer slackers.)

I could not remember any nearby hotels or home just down Pontiac street as this was an industrial area. One morning Gene was not there at 10AM and I drove down Pontiac street and found nothing but an older city park. I found Gene living in a cardboard box in some trees in the park. It was September and getting cold at night. I could not leave him there. I took him home and Eva fed him. He took a shower while Eva washed his clothes. He stayed with us for a week or two and we found him a spot at the local YMCA to live until he got enough saved to rent a single room apartment. I had to pick him up and carry him to work for a while, until he got an old beater of a car and could drive himself. He kind of mellowed a bit after that.

This shows that George had a kind heart related to Gene in spite of his duty to report Gene's failures on the team later that month that would toss him into hot water. Gene told me that the kindness George showed him mellowed him to George after that and he readily admitted to Phil in his conversation over the furor that he was the issue. In his talk with the admiral, Gene noted that he was almost shaking before the admiral and came clean across the board. The admiral took pity on him and made him go to George and personally apologize for his attitude issues. By December, Gene was given the thumbs up by the Admiral, Phil and George. The saga here had ended well, it turns out, for everyone and the future of the team.

In June of 63 Bob Hirsch was finishing his doctoral work and was invited to spend the summer with the team. Bob leaped right in full of suggestions and new ideas. Bob would introduce the team to the idea of real ion guns of some power (pigatrons). Gene and Bob became friends fast as Bob encouraged Gene to read up on ion guns. Gene would ultimately be the maker of all the team's future ion guns and would make a number of modifications in his gun that made it able to be patented. Bob would say to me. "Gene had the best pair of hands I have ever had the pleasure to work with." Gene would tell me that his proudest achievement, "was them guns I built for the team."

Another of Bob's suggestions was for the team to get Tritium in the mix of gas in their fusors. (D-T fusion) Bob told them that 100 times the fusion could be done with D-T over D-D. This would be another saga in the team's history. The license was the issue. Tritium is radioactive and thus, was AEC controlled at the time. To buy it you had to have and AEC license. To use it in a lab, you also had to follow AEC use guide lines. This included weekly urine samples for all workers directly involved with the isotope as it is easily inhaled, but rapidly passes through the body and out with the urine. It would be tough and maybe a year long effort to get a license in the 1960's.

Upon hearing this, Fred Haak noted that a Chemist in his old tube lab at Pontiac street had a tritium license. His name was Howard Leightner and he got his license in the 50's when it was much more easy to get one. Leitner would agree to purchase Tritium for the team and would set up the urine testing routine. Strictly speaking, this was not totally legal as Leitner was not on the team and would not be supervising its use, directly. Nonetheless, the team was using D-T in 1964 and in all fusors from 1965 onward.

Bob wanted to just check on Phil's "negative well" idea and fixed up a bench to test this out, but while the electrons did multi-pact, the well wasn't deep enough to rival fusion done with a real cathode/dynode structure with hard ion blasting sets of ion guns. This set the path for the pit fusor MKII and MKIII. Bob left in September to finish and sit to defend his PhD. thesis. The newly minted PhD, Robert Hirsch, would be hired by the Admiral in April of 1964 as the lead scientist of the team. In my interview with Bob, he said he was interviewed by a lot of ITT VIPs for the job, but he can't remember who actually gave him the job as he merely got a letter of acceptance. But he feels that it was Furth as the admiral questioned him on his ability to write papers pertaining to the work with the fusor project.

The upshot is that there were no more bell jars. All tests were run in metal systems that kept Wayne Frame in the model and machine shop busy cranking out many all metal test beds for the rest of the project. Wayne could not spin or form hemispheres at Pontiac street. This work would be farmed out to the Chicago Float company. They would supply many hemispheres from 1963-1968. Wayne Frame would attach all necessary conflat flanges, tubulations, insulators, gas ports, gun ports and dynodes.

Bobs first year was spent in the negative well work and helping get Gene's guns fitted to the pit fusor. Thus, in 1964, there was but one fusor, the pit fusor, Phil's baby, and it would hit 10e9 in its best run of that year. Note: there were many modifications of the pit fusor like (MKII mod4). When a tiny change was made they would add an experiment number on the end in the notebooks. like, (MKII mod6, exp 3) under this they would also denote run numbers as they tweaked that experimental model.

By the end of the year, Bob would want to go his own way, figuring the showy and monstrous pit fusor was too difficult to make major revisions on. He was to have his own system in another part of the lab. it would be called "the Cave" and Gene would be his assistant practical engineer.

Below some images of this later period and people from George Bain's collection of images.

Richard Hull
Fred Haak.JPG
Supply Room.jpg
Sausage Grid.jpg
Sausage fusor.jpg
Meeks testing.jpg
Lathe Area.jpg
Electrostatic guns.jpg
Edy Heastan.jpg
Bob Hirsch.jpg
Bell Jar.jpg
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.

Post Reply

Return to “Philo T Farnsworth Archive”