Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Friday, May 20, 2016

Job of the Future

The day after Ronald was admitted to the hospital, I left with Sonja Kebbe for a visit to Philadelphia. While there I signed up to attend the I.B.M. Automation Division of Florence Utt Schools, Inc. The course was designed to teach me to be a TAB Operator and Programmer. I didn’t know it when I handed them my first tuition check, but I was putting my toe in the first wave of the computer industry.
It was only a six-week course. My classroom was on the fourth floor of a building on East  Market Street in Philadelphia, almost next to City Hall, in the shadow of William Penn's hat, as they say. We were directly across the street from John Wanamaker’s Department Store. I had been to the city several times growing up, but always with a family member taking me. This was my first excursion alone. (By the fall, when Richard Ray Miller asked me to accompany him, I was a seasoned veteran, which is why he called me in the first place.)  Every weekday morning I caught an early Reading Train at the Pottstown Station (pictured right). My class ran from 9:00 to noon. My train rides started at 7:00 and ended around 2:00.

The first day everybody arrived and waited in a hallway for the instructor. There was a clump of fellows next to me talking in somewhat hushed tones about some Western film actor. One of them was saying, “Yes, he is.”
“Yeah,” said another. “He walks like one, too.”
“That’s right,” said the first. “They only shoot him walking from the waist up so nobody notices.”
I figured out eventually from their conversation that they were talking about Randolph Scott, but I had seen a number of Randolph Scott Westerns, probably only second to John Wayne westerns and was pretty sure I saw him walking, legs and all. I didn’t know what they were talking about, but they had a mocking tone. (Photo left is Randolph Scott and Cary Grant.)
The Instructor showed up and led us into the classroom. It was full of I.B.M. machines. The devices circled around several desks with 024 and 026 Keypunches on one end and continuing in a clockwise direction to a 604 Calculator (pictured right). The instructor began with an overview of what he would be teaching. He followed this with a lecture on 80-Column versus 96-Column punch cards. Here is my question never asked. Why were the 96-Column cards smaller by half than the 80-Column cards? That was a mystery to me.

There was a young man sitting in the desk next to me. He was my height and build, had lighter curlier hair and looked to be my age. I introduced myself at the first break. His name was Tom Newman from Clementon, New Jersey and he was my age. He too wanted to be a cartoonist. He was also studying art through a correspondence school. He was with the Famous Artists School, the biggest rival to Art Instruction, Inc. My school was represented by Charles Schulz, his school by Norman Rockwell. Tom and I became instant friends.

How far along he was in his lessons I don’t know. In my own opinion Tom was probably a better artist than I was. He had a flow of line that was smoother than my own. I was more deliberate in my sketching. We did have a similar sense of humor, though. The doodling on the left is the only example I have of Tom’s style. On the right is a sample of my sketching.

I found the IBM classes fascinating. The first lessons were on the keypunches, which were really glorified typewriters. Instead of putting ink on paper they punched holes in cards. You had thirteen rows on the 80-Column card. The first 10 were 0 through 9. The last three allowed you to punch letters. A hole in Row 1 and Row 11 of Column 1 equaled an A, for instance. A hole in Row 1 and Row 12 would be a K, and so forth.
The 96 column card worked basically the same, except it was far smaller than the 80 column card.

All the other machines in the room ere for reading the cards.
Feeding the cards over a metal surface beneath an electric circuit did this. Punching a hole in a column allowed the circuit to be completed and the machine read the character. Just like computers to come, everything was binary. It was either on or off. There were Interpreters, Collators, Accounting machines, Sorters and the Calculator to learn. Each machine did a separate function of a process. All read cards, but without a program could do nothing with the information.
You preformed programming on control panels using plug-in wires. First, the instructor gave you a job to program, say print an accounts receivable report. You wrote the logical steps on a flowchart. You then drew your program wiring on a schematic grid. Finally, you plugged wires into entry and exit ports of the board (pictured left a 402 Accounting Machine Board). There were no storage capabilities on these early machines. You had to tell each machine what to read (entry ports) and what to do with it (exit ports). The test was easy. Program your board, stick it in the machine and if it did the job, then you did it right. You knew it if you did it wrong. One poor chap plugged an entry into an entry and the bloody machine shrieked as if in agonizing pain.

Both Tom and I graduated ranking first in the class. We each scored 99% for the course. I don’t know how he lost that one point. I had a point deducted because I didn’t write my name on the back of one programming schematic.
During our weeks of training we sometimes visited each other. It was a lot more fun visiting his home because he lived two blocks from the Clementon Amusement Park. When I stayed a weekend there we got up and walked to the park. Wow, I thought, what a place to grow up. A few decades later I would be living just up the road from Clementon at a Ski Resort.

The first Friday I was going to his place we went to John Wanamaker’s right after class. He was buying something for his mom, if I remember right. Since he lived in Jersey we had to catch a Train. It went over the Benjamin Franklin Bridge to cross the Delaware River. It wasn’t called PATCO yet. The tracks had not extended further than 8th Street the year before. Now the subways and Jersey train all had stations on the basement level of Wanamaker’s.
We were up on the Mezzanine and suddenly found ourselves running late to catch our train. We went dashing through the store looking for a stairway down to those stations, but we were lost. We ran through some doors we thought were an exit, but they weren’t. We ran right into the Ladies’ Restroom. It was huge and full of women doing all the things women do in powder rooms. We rushed in and every woman screamed. We just kept running right out doors on the other side of the room. We found the stairs we wanted and escaped out of town.

Tom and I got our diploma from Florence Utt Schools on August 28. I traveled over to Clementon with him afterward and stayed the night. His mother dropped me off at the Pottstown train station on their way to Hershey the next day. He then rode off into the west and that was the last I ever saw him. My mother and grandmother picked me in Pottstown and he and I returned back to our hometowns and our own lives and soon lost contact. I sometimes wonder how he made out with his I.B.M. training. I especially wonder about his art and did he ever become a cartoonist? By the way, the last time I saw a IBM TAB Control Board was on display at the Smithsonian Institute. My Job of the Future is the job of the past.
Tom and I both being into art we couldn't resist trying out
a couple sketches using all this expensive IBM Equipment. So during some break time or something we managed to sneak through a couple rather simple TAB Operation illustrations. This is a long way from what can be done on simple devices today. Oh, the one on the right is supposed to be George Washington, just in case anyone mistook it for William Shakespeare. Also, I lot more effort went into creating these the it looks.

I myself dropped out of Art Instruction soon after Florence Utt. My marks had dropped from A during my first year to a B level. My last two assignments earned me a C. I wasn’t practicing anymore. My interest was waning. I was simply pulling the assignments out as they arrived in the mail, doing them without practice and sending them back. I wanted to be a cartoonist, not someone drawing vases and cookware for newspaper ads. I did use much of what I learned studying art years later on some of the jobs I held. I used more from that course than from the subjects I had in high school.

During the time I was going to Florence Utt Ronald sent me a story he wrote. He titled it, “The Potato Chip King”. It was really an extended dirty joke, a rather disgusting one at that. I won’t reiterate it here. Ron was to co-write a couple stories with me over the years. One was a Western parody, “Git ‘Em at the Pass” and the other a psychological mystery called “The Wreckage”. Actually, Ronald suggested a story line for that third one and I wrote it into a full tale.
I send one of our stories to a magazine once. It may have been a revamped version of “The Potato Chip King”. I received a handwritten rejection letter from the editor. He said our story had insulted the intelligence of every one living in the Southern United States. Gee, sorry, it was just a joke.

His routine surgery, however, was proving to be anything but a joke.

1 comment:

WARPed said...

Wow, those old IBM machines bring back memories!

I'm old enough to have worked with card readers/punches, but not wiring the boards (and I'm still at the computer work.)