K.D. Smith By Dave Smith
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K.D. Smith Memoriam By Dave Smith (c) SMEC/SMECC
K.D. was born in Galesburg, IL, where the family had a farm and his dad was a lawyer. When K.D. was a kid (5 or 6??) the family moved to the Asherton area of Texas to get to a drier climate for his motherís health , as they thought it would help her tuberculosis. They bought (or shared) an onion farm there and managed to eke out a living--never had much money.

When the children reached college age, the family opened a rooming house in Fullerton so there would be enough money to provide them with a college education. 

K.D. was the youngest of three: his brother Robbins was killed in a glider crash in the 1940ís, and his sister Lorna died in about 1985 in Tucson.

Just out of High School ( various Southern California schools) the family had the chance to buy a share in a cooperative gold-mining expedition, for K.D. and his older brother Robbins, for something like $500-$2000. So the two of them spent a summer outside of Nome. This is the only period of K.D.ís life for which there is a known journal, but the account is somewhat dull--each day like the one before, no great gold findings, and the entire venture eventually floundered when the companyís boat sank and there was no longer any way of supporting the mining camp. So he returned to the lower 48, presumably starting college that fall. (An index of how little people thought of environmental hazards at that time is how on the way to Alaska the kids were paid .05 per sack for shoveling coal from the hold into sacks for eventual transshipment to shore. And after a few weeks of this, K.D. had enough coal dust in his lungs so he coughed up black sputum for years afterward!)

If there was something mechanical or electrical I wanted to know about, he always encouraged me to investigate its operation or (in simple cases) take it apart and analyze it. The influence must have been strong at an early age--they tell me that I had a favorite giant screwdriver I always took to bed at the age of 2 (1940).

As a teenager, K.D. was intrigued by archery--in the days when people still used homemade bows and arrows. He collected Osage orange and yew wood staves and stored about 30 of them in the basement rafters, each painted at the end to enhance slow curing, and fashioned eminently workable bows from them. Arrows, too, were homemade -- I spent hours Ďhelpingí glue carefully-trimmed feathers to arrow shafts. But he was a non-violent man (probably because his father and older brother had explosive tempers) and never hunted with the bows and arrows--they were for target shooting and tournaments.

Occasionally he told stories about driving around Southern California in his second-hand Model T Ford during his college years (the only way to get up steep hills was in reverse, for the gearing was lower in reverse than first). K. D. obtained his B.A. In Physics at Pomona. (The choice of location for college was economic: he could live with his family in California and thus afford to go to college.)

During the two years of Masterís degree study in Physics at Dartmouth, K.D. specialized in quartz crystal frequency measurement and modification--his thesis dealt with hand-grinding crystals to fine-tune their oscillating frequency (remember, this was before VFOís and every self-respecting radio technician had a voluminous stock of crystals for different frequencies).

At Dartmouth he met Laurine Park, a schoolteacher who had just graduated (Phi Beta Kappa) from Colorado College. Her interest in K.D. was triggered at the party where they met when K.D., during a lull in the groupís conversation, casually unscrewed a light bulb, wet his finger, and stuck it in the socket to determine whether the power was AC or DC. They were married for 60 years.

K. D. Was proud of the fact that both his degrees were in "pure science".

After marriage, and his MS, he took an electrical engineering job with Bell Telephone Laboratories (he was hired just before the Depression, and they didnít hire any more engineers for seven years!). The couple shared a house with K.D.ís sister Lorna and her husband Bill in White Plains, NY until gasoline rationing at the onset of World War II forced the group to break up when Bill and Lorna moved closer to work.

Itís not clear whether there was a substantial home workshop during the 1930-1946 period, but there must have been a ham shack and associated home electronic and mechanical work going on, for when Bell Labs built new facilities at Murray Hill, New Jersey and the family moved to Westfield, NJ in 1946, the entire basement of the new house quickly evolved into a major workshop. About 300 sq. ft. were allocated for laundry and food storage, but the other 1800 or so sq. ft. was divided into machine shop (9'' South Bend lathe and drill press), electronics shop (all home-brew oscilloscope, VOM, frequency generators, power supplies and related equipment), woodworking (table saw, jigsaw, sanders), astronomical fabrication (mirror-grinding and calibration setups), potterís wheel and small kiln, and a general repair bench area with ordinary household tools like clamps, wrenches, oxy-acetylene welding set, assorted adhesives, and, neatly catalogued in recycled Regent cigarette boxes, a vast assortment of nuts, bolts, washers and screws. And overhead, the rafters were chock full of raw materials-- bars, tubes, sheets, and innumerable other objects of wood, metal, bakelite (and later, plastic) accumulated at industrial garage sales and war surplus sales over the years, waiting for the time when they would be utilized in some project or other.

Economy was always the name of the game--no extravagance or wild spending for a poor farm boy subjected to the awesome psychological impact of the Depression during his first job, not entirely sure whether he would be last-in, first-out at Bell Telephone. After 1946 the family car was a well-worn 1941 Pontiac, which got its oil changes and lube jobs at home, along with a flat-maroon-rust-preventive spray paint job about every three years, also at home.

The family (K.D., Laurine, Kendon, David) took two-week vacation trips every summer, driving through the West (Florida, too, once) to visit the National Parks, staying in inexpensive motels, recording all expenses in a journal, taking lots of color slides. Some of the color slides ended up being projected on walls in the family home and became murals--the entire dining room wall was taken up by a panorama of Monument Valley.

K.D. experimented with painting landscapes and nudes for 40 years, turning out perhaps 40 landscape paintings still hanging or stored in various family membersí homes.

There was also a lot of metal sculpture after retirement: bird feeders 8' across functioning as scales to weigh the birds, with the scale pointer easily readable from the living room window, and wind mobiles which spun or whirled in proportion to wind speed. Still in his home are a dragon head and unicorn head fashioned out of large tin cans and related objects (he figured the market value of these as art at about $1000). - DS


 
 

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