A mechanical engineer from the University of Missouri of Science and Technology in Rolla Mo, Charlie started learning 3D software designing at the age of 86 years. His university education was interrupted when he spent two years in the Army. He spent the last year of the Korean War in the 984 Engineer Field Maintenance Company. During that time he was a machinist; he repaired sniper scopes and mine detectors. His company supported the troops on the front line.
During Christmas vacation in the year 2014, Charlie’s granddaughter Phoebe was showing him how she used SOLIDWORKS on her computer at the University of Tennessee. Charlie was so impressed with the quality of 3D design capabilities in SOLIDWORKS that he wanted to try it out. He found that as a US Veteran, he could get a copy of the software for $20. However, he faced some technical issues during the download, and submitted a service request to SOLIDWORKS technical support. Larry Zolla, Senior Technical Customer Support Engineer, SOLIDWORKS, spotted this service request, an 86 year old man going “Back to School” to learn 3D CAD, and reached out to Marie Planchard, Director of Education and Early Engagement at SOLIDWORKS. Marie was intrigued, and decided to encourage Charlie by gifting him a computer with a pre installed copy of SOLIDWORKS.
During our chat, Charlie pointed out how he never really liked 3D capabilities in his previous CAD software, while he found “SOLIDWORKS 3D very exciting. It was very different from 2D, and one could rotate the parts in space to look at them”. Charlie was hooked, and is now a regular user of SOLIDWORKS 3D. He studied SOLIDWORKS at the Pellissippi State Community College.
Charlie and Gerry (formerly, Gerry Neal), now married for 62 years, they started their life together in Rolla, Mo. Gerry taught home economics in Rolla, and they lived in a small house near the university.
After graduation, Charlie accepted a job with the St. Joseph lead company in Bonne Terre, Mo. “This was nice because it was closer to home in Sikeston, Mo”, he says. During this time, he designed equipment for the refinery in Herculaneum Mo mills in Flat River Mo, and mining equipment in the then largest underground machine shop in the USA. He used slide rule and drafting table for all the design work back then. His last job role with St. Joseph was that of a Supervisor.
In 1960, Charlie was invited to join the Oak Ridge National Laboratory Engineering Department. There he designed special equipment for the trans uranium processing facility, and other nuclear related equipment.
Quoting Charlie, “Oak Ridge Tennessee, ‘The Secret City’ is fortunate to serve our country in many ways”.
He adds, “Besides the weapons produced here, the same facility made many contributions to the space program by supporting NASA. The ‘Rock Box’ that was manufactured in the Y-12 Plant utilized the first CNC machines from tapes formulated from engineering drawings. Managers from the Y-12 Plant called on the ORNL Engineering Division to design the special equipment that was needed to bring back uncontaminated rock samples from the moon.
Harrison Schmidt, who was a geology graduate, and an astronaut on APOLLO 15 consulted with the designers to ensure that the hardware was designed in accordance with the requirements laid down by NASA”.
The 35 Bag Dispensers were used on all Apollo Missions to bring back rocks in Teflon bags designed to ensure no hydrocarbons contaminated the samples. The APOLLO missions proved that there were no hydrocarbons on the moon.”
Charlie went to Houston and asked astronaut Buzz Aldrin to fill a bag with sand while he was in his space suit and in the Pogo Room. This was necessary because the space suit gloves make it difficult to manipulate small parts.
The special Geneses Rock Bag, was designed with special knitted padding to protect special delicate rocks during the trip back to earth. Charlie designed all of these bags. The drafting board and slide rule were the main tools for this work.
After the APOLLO program ended, Charlie was asked to support the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville Alabama in an effort to study the properties of metal that solidified while it was suspended in space. Special towers were first used to capture this process; however, to study metals like Niobium which melts around 4000 F, a new approach was needed; experiments in the Zero-gravity of space seemed promising.
Charlie and Richard Fox, both in the ORNL I&C division, designed a very small Radio Frequency coil assembly that could levitate 5 mm spherical samples of metal, hold the samples in position, and melt the sample without the use of the shuttle.
During one day’s work, the KC-135 would climb to about 25,000 to 35,000 feet, and then tip over to experience the micro-gravity; and repeat this parabolic flight procedure 40 times. “For about 26 seconds we experienced Zero gravity. Linda was second in command of the Zero G program in Houston Texas.
As it turned out, it was possible to do these under-cooling experiments in the laboratory and the shuttle was not needed”, he told.
Later, Charlie requested a transfer to the Gas Centrifuge Development program at the K-25 Plant in Oak Ridge. He was given the job to develop special valves needed for the Gas Centrifuge plant. After the development, his company purchased valves for the first plant for 50 million USD.
When the Gas Centrifuge Development program was closed, Charlie asked to be transferred to the Instrument and Control Division of ORNL. He was given the task of learning computer drafting at the local college, and then teaching it to the division drafting personal. He started to learn CAD to make the drawings here. After this program, Charlie was asked to contact NASA to find suitable projects for the I&C division, where he developed the RF Levitator for the Marshall Space Flight Center.
Charlie retired in the year 1992, and now enjoys his time fishing, gardening and in his words has “a great life”.
However, once an engineer, always an engineer! He now has a machine shop in his basement to make things he designs using the SOLIDWORKS. Charlie now lives in Oak Ridge TN with his wife of 63 years. Charlie and Gerry together have 3 children and 4 grandchildren.
Dan, their eldest son is an electrical engineer, working in the area of nonlinear dynamics in Huntsville, Al. Dan’s 9 year old son Silas is a great student and likes Minecraft. Their second son Chuck is a mechanical engineer who worked for IBM and Motorola in Boca Raton FL before moving to Poland. In 1992 at Motorola, Chuck introduced, using 3D scans for comparison of a 3D model with the actual fabricated part, a concept he named as Computer Aided Verification (CAV). He is now working for a German Company in Wroclaw Poland. Chuck and his wife Teresa, who is an English professor at the University of Wroclaw in Poland, have a 10 year old daughter Carla, and a 14 year old son, Filip. Filip has been using SOLIDWORKS in designing computer cooling blocks and is now designing a small boat. Charlie’s daughter Carolyn is a mechanical engineer, and works for a Government contractor in Oak Ridge, TN. Carolyn and her husband Bruce, have a daughter Phoebe, who is also a mechanical engineer and works at the Savanah River Plant in Aiken SC.
Last February, the dove on Charlie’s shoulder in the picture below, came to the bird feeder, as he was filling it with sunflower seed.
Skipper, as he calls her with love, seems to have adopted Charlie and has been hanging out with him for over 9 months. Skipper rides on his “Kabota”, and visits him in his garden.
Thank you Charlie, for sharing your amazing story with us! You are an asset, and an inspiration to the SOLIDWORKS Community.