Remembering Early Times at HP

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Some Memories of a Hewlett Packard Product Designer, by Bob DeVries

- Part 1 -

Before HP


Part I - Table of Contents:


The Monroe Street Dam on Spokane River


Growing Up in Spokane of the 1940s


The photo above is a downtown view from across the Spokane River. It clearly shows the lovely waterfalls during spring runoff. To the right of the river is the Washington Water Power building. Within that building there was large AC generator that, using river water, provided electricity to much of Spokane in the early days and still does today, I believe. When I was in grade school the Washington Water Power logo was “Ready Kilowatt” a small electric looking man about 3” high, made of rubber, and could be used as an eraser for school children. "Ready Kilowatt" looked like a zig-zag lightning strike with a small light bulb for a nose.

Join HP . . .Donna gets the credit.

Donna was born on 1/14/34 and Bob born 4/14/30. Both Donna and I were born and grew up in Spokane Washington. Even though our births were about four years apart, we both had Dr. Lawrence as our pediatrician. (My middle name is Lawrence and named after the fine doctor.) Both our fathers were in business in downtown Spokane. Donna's dad was in the wholesale and retail radio business selling radio tubes, ham gear, radio parts, table model and console radios and phonographs before World War II. The name of his business was the Inland Radio Co. My dad was in the auto parts and car repair business. Early on, dad called his business the Inland Battery Co. Later he changed the name to William DeVries Co.

Who is Donna?

If it wasn't for Donna and her mother I may never have applied at HP. The main reason is that her parents decided to move to Santa Cruz, CA for improved weather in their retirement years. And when we came from Spokane to visit, I give them both credit for giving me the incentive and support to apply. Donna's maiden name was Donna Lenzi, a good Swiss name. My folks knew Fred and Edna Lenzi from both a business and church standpoint. Donna's family and our family attended the same church. I was the youngest in my family and Donna was youngest in her family. I would frequently hear my older brothers and sisters talk about Grace Marie, Donna's older sister and Edna Lenzi, Donna's mom but they never mentioned Donna. I know we all attended the same church. It seems I wasn't paying attention but, at my young age of 6-10, I just didn't know Donna existed. I was actually more interested in older women...ages 8-12. At that young age I was mostly interested in radios, radio parts and anything that looked like radio parts.

My father's work ethic

If I was to tell you the truth, my dad ran a tight ship. My mom passed away when I was about 8 years old. Dad never re-married. He had five kids to raise ages 8 to 18. Plus he had his business to run. My older brothers and sisters got married and went their way little by little until all that was left was dad and me. He wanted me to help him in his business and he insisted that when he turned in at night (at 9:30PM) he wanted me to either be home or I'd be locked out for the night. I'm telling you this because it really cramped any high school dating plans I might have had. Even though I had a lot of friend girls at high school, I really never had any girl friends during those high school years. I never dated anyone while in high school.

My dad kept me under his thumb by having me either in school or when school was out, I would help him in his auto parts and garage business. He had me sweep the floors, shovel the snow off the sidewalks, wash cars and trucks, wash windows in the business and keep up the window display. He really kept me busy and out of mischief. I would run errands all over Spokane either picking up parts he needed or paying bills here and there. Many of my trips across town would frequently cause me to pass Inland Radio Co. I would look in the window display or I'd go inside and just look around at all the beautiful new radios and electronic components that Fred had for sale. I got to know Fred pretty well but I still didn't know he had this daughter called "Donna".

Schooling for this designer's future

In later years, while attending Lewis & Clark high school, taking their traditional courses, I took some electronic courses at a nearby trade school. That would be 1944-1948. At the end of each school day my route from high school to my dad's business took me right past Inland Radio Co. Radio parts were hard to get because of the war but I'd still stop by Inland Radio and talk to Fred Lenzi. I learned a lot from Fred. In addition to electronic components I'd learn about business issues, stamps and coins and the Century brand of inboard speed boats. He was a fine man with a good sense of humor, a good stock of interesting stuff and had a good business sense. His radio/electronic inventory was much smaller at that time. During the war he actually sold the radio and radio repair part of his business and went into stamp and coin business. His hobby was stamp collecting and he turned that into a fine business for many years dealing in stamps and coins of the world. Well, I still didn't know about Donna.

The Lewis and Clark High School, Spokane, Washington


Join the Air Force


What'll I do in the Air Force?

To get out from under dad's heavy thumb, in late 1948 I joined the Air Force, spent some time in Texas, England, Germany, and most of the time in Merced California, at Castle AFB. After basic training in Texas this PFC Robert DeVries was told to see the captain and get my assignment. He said that they needed a new guy in the mail room. I said, "Oh no please sir not the mail room. I'd really like to work in electronics." The fine captain said, "OK, go see Sgt. Heinz in building 25 and see if he can use you." Bldg 25 was the radio/radar shop. Well, Sgt Heinz and I talked for a few minutes and he said to see Mac in the radio shop. "Maybe he can use you."

Assigned to the Radio Shop

I saw Mac and he said, "Let's see what you can do. We have this intercom that doesn't work and hasn't for six months. We have no schematic. Our Philco Tech Rep, who is a civilian, has worked on it many times but can't seem to find its problem. See if you can make it work." I took the intercom aside, checked the vacuum tubes, poked around, saw where some wires were changed from their original location, traced the circuit, moved the wires back where they belonged, plugged it in and it worked. I fixed it in about a half hour. Mac and Sgt. Heinz were quite impressed. The Philco Tech Rep was annoyed that I fixed it so quickly and never spoke to me. He left shortly after. Needless to say... they let me join the radio shop and in about three weeks I was promoted to Corporal and moved into the Radar shop.

APQ-24 Radar Mock-up Shop at Castle AFB, CA, and the folks involved in setting it up.
L to R is Major Andrew J. Meyers, Dean Fuller, Tom Bonsack, Hank Zierenberg, PFC Bob DeVries

Promoted to the Radar Shop

Our Radar shop consisted of 4-5 GIs and one civilian, Hank Zierenberg. Hank was a delight to work with. He was a great mentor and I learned a lot from him as we worked together. One day he was working on a Synch unit for the APQ-13 radar. He caused quite a fuss when showed Major Myers in the front office his improvement in the Q-13 display. By changing the value of mica capacitor the display went from blurry to crisp. It was so much sharper it would improve bomb and navigation accuracy. I asked him how he knew what to change to make such an improvement? He said his contribution would differentiate (a mathematical term) the video waveform just a little resulting in a sharper display. It was in the video amplifiers for the intensity modulation of a PPI display. I wondered why the original designer of this amplifier hadn't thought of that. As a dumb lowly GI, I was in awe of Hank after that.

Bombing Competition using Radar

At that time our B-29s were all fitted with the APQ-13 ground-scanning radars. There were several major units within the aircraft and a rotating antenna facing toward the ground on the underside of the fuselage. Being in the Strategic Air Command, SAC, we would have bombing competition between various SAC bases. It was a big deal for a particular base to win the competition. In any case, I was told I was going along with our crews to analyze and repair any Radar failures. I had only been assigned to Radar repair for about a month. I'd never seen a Q-13 before this. It seemed that I was the only GI there and all others were officers. Well, in summary, Castle Air Force base won the competition. I (as well as others) got a letter of commendation from the base commander for a job well done. Fortunately for me, all the Q-13s worked and I really didn't do anything. It wasn't long after that we switched our SAC aircraft from B-29s to B-50s and a different radar set.

The APQ-24 Radar mockup arrives

One day I came to work and Hank was painting some new workbenches the traditional military olive drab color. He invited me to grab a paintbrush and help him.

I asked him what these benches were for and he said our shop was getting a new Radar to replace the old and obsolete Q-13. He said we'll have an actual Q-24 mockup in our shop to help repair and evaluate various plug-in modules. OK, that's cool... I pitched in and helped paint those lovely new benches.

A few days later all the components came to our shop so we could put together the Q-24 radar. It was exactly like those in our B-50 aircraft but all circuits and housings were available for servicing and repair. The rotating antenna was mounted on the roof of our building and we could see targets out 150 miles or more. It had all the bells and whistles one would want. There were more than 150 vacuum tubes. There were lots of selsyns, servos, resolvers, tapped potentiometers, pots with special tapered windings, relays, motors, etc. It did a lot of math in the air and even allowed the pilot to release plane steering to the Radar officer who would control the plane, fly toward his target and release the bombs at the right time.

Sequence of Repairs

If, for some reason the radar operator thought his radar was inoperative, He would report the problem to the flight line radar service. Those guys would go out to the airplane, connect a motor generator to the plane, throw some switches on the Flight Engineer's panel, that applied the proper power to the Radar. Now the tech could operate the radar, find the black box that was inoperative and replace it with another black box. He would make sure it was all working and shut down. He would turn in the black box to our part supply stock room with a tag marked with the problem.

In our shop, one of us would go to the stock room, pick up the bad black box, plug it into our system, confirm that it truly was inoperative and proceed to fix it to the component level.

Q-24 Training

This Radar was designed and built by Western Electric. They sent out with the Radar a couple of Technical Representatives (Tech Reps) to help us get it all up and running and to answer any questions. Tom Bonsack and his partner, Dean Fuller, were there also to teach us all about the new radar. That course lasted about two weeks. They went over each schematic drawing and spent a lot of time on the operation of the electro-mechanical computer and how the radar would deal with pitch and roll, air speed, heading, winds, etc. This class was very interesting to me and I learned a lot of radar theory in class and practical airborne radar repair during my remaining Air Force years.

An Extra Year in the Air Force. . . Then Discharge

Because of the Korean Police Action, my enlistment was extended one more year. I got discharged from the Air Force on August 1, 1952 and moved back to Spokane and stayed with dad. Now Donna is 18 and I'm 22. I still didn't know about Donna so we never communicated during my four years in the Air Force. But, here is how Donna and I met.


On To Find Hewlett Packard Co


Television in Spokane

This was 1952 in Spokane you recall. Spokane was a little slow getting television installed and working in the local radio stations. One station, KXLY, was installing a large TV antenna and transmitter on Mount Spokane. That was the tallest mountain nearby. My brother Adrian worked at radio station, KXLY. First, as a radio announcer, newscaster, master of ceremonies, disc jockey and later as a TV host on local programming.

After the Air Force I worked at GE Supply. GE Supply was the local distributor for GE TV sets and other GE parts and appliances. Part of my job was to open each TV set box and make sure it worked and if it didn't, I would mark the carton for later set repair. Because I worked at GE Supply, I was able to get a fine new black & white GE TV for Fred at a discount. Fred was out of the radio business by this time and really appreciated getting a good deal on a new set.

A traveling salesman for William DeVries Co.

New opportunities come when least expected. I needed more income and my brother, Bill, worked for my dad selling service station supplies and auto accessories. Dad had several large trucks on the road selling to service stations within a two-hundred-mile radius of Spokane. Bill's territory was north to Canada and west to Coulee Dam. Bill had been on the road for several years and wanted a change. In March of 1953, Bill wanted to sell me his load of merchandise and dad would sell me the truck that Bill was using. Even though I'm not much of a salesman I decided to do it. I ended up with a truckload of spark plugs, fan belts, car polish, bug deflectors and a lot of other automobile supplies and a pretty good International one-ton truck. It was like a big bread truck with shelves full of stuff to sell to service stations. I received Bill's established route, good customers and quite a large debt.

The income from the truck and route was pretty good but the hours were long and I had to be away from home most of the week. I'd leave Monday morning and get back Friday afternoon and spend Saturday loading up the truck for next weeks route. We replaced most sold merchandise by buying it from dad at 50% off retail and sold it to service stations at 30-40% off. Each week I sold enough to pay expenses, to pay off my debts to dad and Bill and still have a little left over.

I'm about to meet Donna

I met Donna at a party at her parents' house where they were going to show the wedding movies for Donna's sister Grace Marie. I was also told that there was a pretty sister-in-law, Carolyn, who was attending and that I might be interested in meeting her. So, yes, I'll attend. About August 15th, I drove my 1942 BRIGHT RED Chrysler Convertible to Fred's home and met Fred again who I hadn't seen in more than four years. It was so good to see him. I met other mutual friends at their home that evening. I'm sure I met Donna right after entering their home but I just can't remember meeting her.

There must have been about 10-20 chairs set up also. It was time to sit down for the movie. Jim's sister, Carolyn, was toward the back of the room with an empty chair to her right and Donna was sitting toward the front of the room with an empty chair to her left. I wanted to sit in one of those two chairs but which one? There might have been other empty chairs but I didn't see them. So, at this crossroad in life, I decided to sit next to Donna.

While sitting and watching I was thinking it would be fun to get to know Donna better. What to do. . . what to do? The thought came to mind that she might like to see my bright red car. Anyhow, after the movie I asked her if she would like to see it. She agreed to come out front and see the car. She said she liked it. Then I asked if she would like to go for a ride. It was a lovely warm night and we'd have the top down. She agreed to go for a short ride. She wanted to get a wrap and scarf. She looked so cute with the scarf over her head and tied under her chin. I don't remember exactly where we went. We had a nice chat, I respected her wishes and kept the ride short and brought her home safe and sound.

After leaving her, I continued thinking about her more and more. I learned she worked at the AAA about a block from my dad's place of business. I stopped in to see her from time to time. We got to know each other better and started dating and spending more time together. You know how you feel when you are away from someone you really like? That's how I felt about Donna. I couldn't get her out of my mind. We had a memorable courtship, going on picnics, cooking and listening to 45 RPM records, spending time at Donna's parents cabin on the Coeur d' Alene Lake or go to the Spokane Natatorium Park. Natatorium means, "Indoor swimming pool." With my father's 9:30 pm curfew, my sister, Dorothy, would help me by arranging for me to come back to her house after a late date.

Bob & Donna marry on 5/2/53

Before we got married and for about five weeks I had been on the road selling service station supplies and automobile accessories out of my truck. On the second of May Donna and I got married. After our wedding on that beautiful and memorable Saturday morning, we had a lovely wedding breakfast at the Desert Caravan Inn and later, an afternoon reception at our home. After the reception, we kissed everyone goodbye and headed toward Idaho in my bright red Chrysler convertible. We stopped a few blocks from our home to remove the many tin cans and shoes tied to the rear of the car and we also removed the traditional "Just Married" sign from the car.

A honeymoon to remember

After about thirty miles, we stopped at Fowler's Café in downtown Couer d' Alene, Idaho for a delicious early dinner. Donna remembers she had French Fried Crab Legs for $1.60 and a piece of homemade pie at twenty cents. (Those were the good ol' days.) After dinner we headed toward the "Clark House" a fine resort hotel at lovely Hayden Lake in northern Idaho.

Clark House, a fine resort hotel at lovely Hayden
Lake in northern Idaho.

We stayed in the honeymoon suite in this beautiful hotel for only one night. We had the whole hotel to ourselves because it was early in the season and they had no other overnight guests. But, the Pacific Telephone Co. had a very large and noisy telephone company party that stayed half the night. I don't know how many folks attended but there were many and was quite loud. It went on and on into the night. Donna and I were snug in our room though. We ignored the party and had a fire in the fireplace and spent the evening hugging, kissing and reviewing the day. The next day we went hiking and sightseeing around the hotel grounds, just enjoying each other's company and the beauty of the area. We checked out of the Clark House late morning and headed home.

As I said before, my dad was a no nonsense kind of guy. He encouraged (insisted) that I get back on my route on Monday morning after our overnight honeymoon. He said, "Bob your customers are depending on you to be there every two weeks." You must not let them down. Even though I was 23 at the time, and an adult, I continued to get constructive comments from my dad and I learned at an early age that it was best not to argue with him.

Donna and I figured out a way to extend our honeymoon. Donna could accompany me on my route (oh boy!) selling to service stations. She would get to meet many of my customers and friends, see a lot of Eastern Washington and up to Canada and we would be traveling together for four days and staying in several different motels. We would drive from town to town, I'd stop at 4 or 5 service stations in each town, talk to the proprietor and sell him the items he/she wanted then we'd drive to the next town. It wasn't a perfect honeymoon. . . not the kind that young ladies dream about but we were together and it was very nice having Donna with me. It made dad happy that we were taking care of these all-important customers.

"On the Road Again!"

Selling service station supplies

I'd like to tell you about some of my experiences as a traveling salesman. Keep in mind that my heart really wasn't into selling. My dad and brothers are fine salesmen but I'm not. I didn't like selling, I didn't really want to be on the road. I didn't like trying to talk someone into purchasing stuff they didn't want or need. My heart was really into electronics but there was nothing but radio or TV repair (which was new to the Spokane area) and the pay as a radio repair technician wasn't very good. I actually missed being in the Air Force fixing those fine Western Electric Radar sets. I didn't want to re-enlist. Air Force pay wasn't all that good either. I considered going to college on the GI bill but now I had a wife to support. (I was eligible for the GI Bill because I was in the Air Force during the Korean conflict.) So a pretty good paying job had to be the answer.

My brother, Bill, sold a lot of stuff on his route because he was an excellent salesman and sometimes would promise the proprietor that he would take back the merchandise if it didn't sell. As you recall, I took over Bill's route. More than once I had to take back stuff that my brother sold to "Sam's Shell Station" or "Joe's Union." Usually this stuff, displays of key chains or spinner knobs, was partially sold and dull, faded or dirty from sitting in the window of the gas station for 10-15 months. Accepting back that stuff sure cut into the profit for the week. In addition it's hard to re-sell used faded merchandise. Plus most of the merchandise on our trucks was already quite shop-worn because of the dust and jostling as the truck went over rural and dusty roads. Our trucks were fitted with shelves so merchandise could be displayed in the truck and customers could enter the truck, see the various products and shop.

I don't want to sound too negative about these three years. There were several positive benefits being on the road. I was pretty much my own boss. I could earn as much as I wanted. . . I only had to work harder calling on more stations. I met a lot of very nice folks. I learned a lot about Northeastern Washington. The air was always fresh and clean along with beautiful scenery. I learned about profit and loss and being practical in investments and in the purchase and selling of merchandise. I got lots of exercise jumping in and out of the truck, moving stock, sorting stock and delivering stock. Looking back, I was quite physically fit.

Big sales aren't everything

An interesting side note. . . this same service station had been in business for several years. He was a moderately good customer. Generally items purchased from my brother, Bill, and me were paid for either by check or cash. Later, on another trip to Twisp, I stopped at this station and this time the proprietor was more than interested in purchasing lots of different items from me. I was so happy that I was making such a large sale. The total added up to several hundred dollars. Well, he asked me to charge the amount until my next trip up. That would be two weeks. That's not too bad. . . I could live with that. OK, let's do it. I charged all the stuff he bought. The next trip up, he was gone and out of business. He was nowhere and not available. All my merchandise was gone. My investment lost. I tried to find him to collect but got nowhere. I never did locate him and collect the money he owed me. We live and learn. . . don't we.

From Spokane Trade School to finding Hewlett-Packard

The HP 200C

OK, I'm getting close to telling you about joining Hewlett-Packard. Actually, at this time, the only knowledge I had of HP was their new Audio Oscillator (the 200C) that we had in our electronics class at the Spokane Trade School. I didn't pay too much attention to it at the time (1948) but the instructors were pretty pleased with it and said it was easier to use and more accurate and stable than beating two RF frequencies together to get an audio frequency. While in the Air Force for four years, I didn't see or use any HP equipment. And being on the road for three years, I never gave HP any thought. We just can't jump directly into 1956 and how I learned more about HP. This story will all make sense in a few more pages.

Shortly after we married, Donna's folks moved to Santa Cruz, California. Her mom often dreamed about living in the warm California climate. They built a new home along the San Lorenzo river. It was close to where the river emptied into the ocean. Fred had his stamp and coin business in an office and show room adjacent to the street. On this same property was a small cottage where Donna's sister lived with her hubby, Jim Swartz. Donna's folks would come up to Spokane to visit us from time to time. It was always good to see them.

In 1954 Fred wanted to get a new Cadillac and he offered to sell me his '49 Cadillac for whatever I could get for my bright red '42 Chrysler. I'll have to admit, I was getting a good deal but we were really going from a pretty hot (and old) "young man's car" to a deluxe gun-metal gray "old man's car." With some parting sadness we sold my old red Chrysler car and got the Cad. We were driving in dependable luxury now. Donna's folks were very kind and generous to us. We appreciate all they did for us. Fred purchased a beautiful baby-blue 1954 Cadillac and was like a kid with a new toy.

Donna's mom (Gram) came to Spokane for a few days to help with the new baby. We were glad to have her help. Donna quit her job at Kaiser Aluminum and became a housewife and mother. Christmas of '55 Donna, JoDee and I went to Santa Cruz to visit her folks. One evening Donna's mom told us about her friends from church, Mr. and Mrs. Hanisch. They told Gram that their son, Bill, worked at Hewlett-Packard and said it was a fine place to work. They said that HP does a lot of work in electronics. Gram suggested that I drive to Palo Alto and check them out. I was semi-enthused. I really hadn't planned to do any job hunting while on this vacation visit. Before this Donna and I never discussed applying for a job and moving to California. I was sure I would be a traveling salesman the rest of my life, even though I didn't like it.

My interview at Hewlett-Packard

Over the weekend, I gave it some thought and the next Monday I drove over to HP at 275 Page Mill Road in Palo Alto, CA. I went to the front lobby and asked the telephone operator for Bill Hanisch whom I never met before now. Bill was a nice guy. . . I liked him right away. Bill was a circuit designer working in the lab at HP. I told him I was interested in getting into electronics and told him of my radio and radar experience in the Air Force. (I really didn't do my homework up front. At this time I had no Idea of all the products made by HP but I knew it was more than just an audio oscillator.) I had no idea if HP was hiring. I was very naive when it came to big business and interviewing. Maybe I should have called for an appointment or something? Why am I here? How did I get into this situation?

Bill introduced me to Anne Laudel who was the front office receptionist and telephone operator. He told her I wanted to fill out an application. She gave me a form to fill out. She told me that my timing was good and that HP is doing some hiring and expanding at this time. I told her I was down here on vacation from Spokane and would only be available today. After the form was complete, she introduced me to Don Peebles and Ray Demere' in the production department. Don gave me a written test of about 20 questions. I didn't do too badly on the test. I didn't know what VSWR was but I knew what SWR meant. I didn't remember all three leads of a transistor but I got two of them right and all the other questions answered correctly. Don didn't say they would hire me. He said they would let me know. I learned later Ray Demere' told Don, "I wouldn't hire him but you can if you want." Roger Early gave me a plant tour. I was quite impressed with HP by the time I left.

In the Air Force in our radar sets we used magnetrons and klystron tubes. Varian was in the klystron business. I was a little familiar with their products. I also had a Sylvania tube tester and bought and sold lots of Sylvania vacuum tubes when repairing radios while in high school. So, after my visit to Hewlett Packard, I checked with Varian Associates who were not hiring at this time. I drove to Sylvania and applied there. We talked for a while and I filled out an application. I really didn't know much about either Varian or Sylvania and wasn't sure how I'd fit in at either place. I just wanted to make the most of my trip to Palo Alto and get my application into any stable and interesting electronics firm.

Hired by HP and quitting William DeVries Co.

After our delightful and rewarding Christmas trip to California, Donna and I returned home. We got back into our daily routine of Donna being a wife and mother and my calling on service stations. About February '56 we got a letter from Sylvania with an offer to come work for them. A few days later I got a call from Don Peebles of HP asking why I wasn't there yet. He was telling me I had a job with HP. I was so excited and pleased. He said I would start in the test department. He asked how soon would I be there to punch in. I told him at least a couple months because I had to sell my truck and route. That would work for him, he said. I had nothing in writing that I was hired. . . just the call from Peebles but I didn't worry (very much).

Now you can see that this "Y" in the road of life brought me to HP. With the help of Donna, her Mother, Mrs Hanisch, and Bill Hanisch I may have missed this wonderful opportunity. It was meant to be.

Telling my dad that I was quitting the route and moving to California wasn't too much fun. He really wanted me to continue on the route. It was clear that he was quite upset with me. It took him a few days of advertising and some convincing of some candidates that running a service station supply route was a good way to make money. The buyer of my stock and route was financed by his well-to-do brother. I rode along with the new guy for a couple weeks to introduce him to the route and customers. Then we emptied the truck, washed it inside and out, inventoried all the supplies, re-stocked it and sold all the merchandise, truck and route to this new guy. He did object to including the few Ford Model "T" ignition coils that were in the inventory. Not much market for them in 1956. (I don't remember his name. I heard that several months later he ran the truck off a cliff and lost truck and all the stock, but he was insured.) I think he wanted off the route. I don't know who took it after that.


Some Memories of a Hewlett Packard Product Designer, by Bob DeVries

- End of Part 1 -

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