Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Grandpa Built This Satellite Dome

Today we went to a place in the Adirondack foothills, just a few miles south of Grandmother's house called Starr Hill. It's on a very tall hillside and on a clear day you can see for many miles. (On a clear night you can see millions of stars).  From this vantage point I could see a white dome in the distance, like a giant golf ball perched on a mountain. To reach the vantage point it's on a Starr Hill Road...actually the same road you take to visit Baron von Steuben's memorial. It's where locals go to stargaze.

 I asked what it was and it's apparently a snow dome, covering a microwave satellite tracking dish that my Grandfather built in the early 1960's. He helped to construct it when he worked for the Department of Defense at the USAF base nearby.

Once I got back to the house, I checked the family photo archive and sure enough, here it is under construction. It was sometime in 1964.  The dome was built to protect the dish from weather, because snow and strong wind gales at this high altitude is a concern.

I know I posted one of these pictures before, but here it is again in its proper context.

It's not clear to me how the dome was set up from these pictures. It looks almost like they draped it over the dish and filled it with air like a hot air balloon.

The trees grew up around it in the last 50 years. But it's still being used by the US Air Force to track satellites.

Pretty cool if you ask me!

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Time Capsule: Hugh's Radio Room

Since my grandmother passed in 2012, her house has been emptied. But I did manage to take some photos of Grandpa's radio room, which was mostly untouched since 1995. All his radio equipment was still in there, along with his books, awards and certificates. For historical interest, I will preserve it here to give readers another glimpse of what kind of man he was.

This tiny room upstairs was what he called his "Radio shack", after the nickname for the space he occupied on the submarine.

The radio set below is a Heathkit SB-101, a popular ham radio rig from the early to mid 1960's. Heathkit was a company that manufactured mail-order kits allowing you to build a radio with parts and instructions.  In order to do it you had to know soldering, advanced electronics theory and be able to read complicated schematic diagrams.  This rig did not work, as the vacuum tubes were no longer sold as of 1986.  But the style of it looks very vintage, making it desirable to collectors of vintage radios. We donated this piece to an amateur radio museum in upstate New York.

In the corner was a bulky piece called a "Linear Amplifier," also a Heathkit, which allowed him to boost his transmitted signal. Something only licensed operators can legally do. All of his equipment could only be operated by him with his license, unless under strict supervision by him.

A book shelf above his desktop, with his collections of QST magazines. QST was the premier publication for amateur radio enthusiasts, these binders each contained one year of issues. The brown ones shown here were the years 1937-1940 (He first got his license in 1937)  The framed document at top is his actual operating license. When I knew him his call sign was K2CP.  His old call sign was W3GYY, so at some point after the war they were shortened to 4 digits. In front of the books are two photos, left is a picture of him and a fellow US Navy submarine veteran after a reunion, and the right one is him with an unknown friend. There is a license plate for the state of New York that says DARTER. He was very proud of his Navy career all his life.

On the wall was a calendar from 1995. Over the calendar is a barometer shaped like an anchor.  The days marked with flag icons are the dates on which American submarines were lost, from every war. The calendar reminded him to fly his flag on those days as tribute to the lost sailors on these boats. And he did!

There were many other interesting things in this room, which I know I have photos of somewhere. As soon as I find them I will add them to this post.

Most or all of what you have seen here is gone now, donated to museums or distributed to his surviving relatives. My brother still has some of his old radio equipment.

Monday, April 18, 2016

What did Hugh do after the war?

After the war, Hugh remained in the Navy until 1952. Men from the original Darter crew were hand picked to sail a new boat, called the USS Menhaden (SS-377) in 1946.
The USS Menhaden at launch. At some point during the war, they stopped launching the boats straight into the water like the earlier picture of the Darter launch, and instead slid them in sideways like this. I have seen film footage of this being done and it always seems to look dangerously like the boat will capsize and sink.

Hugh patrolled the Pacific in peacetime until just before my mother was born, then he was honorably discharged from the United States Navy. His expertise in telecommunications allowed him to remain in the military and serve within the US government. He moved with his wife up to the Adirondacks so he could be near a military base, and continued his highly skilled engineering with the Department of Defense, working closely with the US Air Force until he retired in 1975.  Throughout this era, as the Cold War tensions were escalating year after year, he was focusing on improving the range of radar systems and also pioneering the field of microwave and satellite communications.  Much of this involved designing, building and testing the large dishes used to detect long range threats and relay the warnings over long distances, coordinating defense across land and sea. He was known to have worked abroad as well, visiting Iceland, Australia and Alaska as well as some spots in Canada.

In the upper Arctic circle of Canada, Hugh was partly responsible for the design and building of the protective domes for the radar dishes of the "DEW Line" (Distant Early Warning Line) which were intended to warn us of an ICBM launch from the USSR. As far as I know, these domes and the radar machinery inside them are still used today, only now they are computerized and automated.  The name has since been changed to NWS (the North Warning System).

I do not know where or exactly when these photos below were taken, but they are from the 1950's or 1960's.

Here we see him and a bunch of other men building a mobile microwave dish of some kind. Judging by the car off to one side, this was sometime in the 1950's.
This appears to be the same dish as it starts to take shape.

And the dish deployed and ready to use.

Finally, here's an educational film from 1958 explaining how the DEW line worked.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Bronze Grave Marker for US Navy Sub Vets

At the time there was no special bronze medallion to decorate the grave of a Navy sailor who was in the submarine service. I have very good reason to believe my grandfather designed this one himself for the sub veterans. The drawing is undated.

Always the engineer, Hugh made this diagram of how the medallion should be mounted on a miniature flagpole to be stuck in the ground. 

His wishes were carried out in June 1995. The medallion was placed on a staff with a flag for the burial, and it was later cemented on to his headstone where it remains today.

New Scanned Photo

Radio Technician 2/c Hugh N. Siegel, probably April or May 1942.