Occasionally, I publish some of Mr. Montgomery’s musings edited only for grammatical errors. I really appreciate all that Mr. Montgomery has done in his life, so this article is for Mr. Montgomery.
The NAVY RADIO SCHOOL and the University of IDAHO
At Moscow, Idaho.
Sometime in April (or May) 1942 I arrived in Moscow, Idaho ready to go to work on a lot of Woodstock Typewriters at the University. The US Navy was in the process of establishing a radio operators training school on the campus. When I arrived, neither the machines or the prospective students had arrived. But I did meet the future head of the school operation, a Navy Chief Petty Officer (CPO), Cornelius. (I met him years later (1948) in Bremerton at Puget Sound Navy Shipyard (PSNS), where he was the head of a section of the planning dept concerning electronics and radio transmission). At Moscow, they were in the process of building a group of temporary wooden buildings for training classes, with mostly civilian instructors. When I arrived, they were in the process of installing the radio and code equipment – no typewriters.
It was several weeks later when the typewriters and the students arrived, almost simultaneously. The Navy quartered them in one of the college’s big brick residence halls in typical barracks form. The navy students eventually numbered something like 1,000 sailors. Many of them had no idea what they were doing there. They just passed a navy exam that qualified them for radio operators. There were a number of CPO’s assigned in charge of this group of sailors just sent directly from boot camp. These CPO’s were mostly returnees from pre-war service in the navy. I can remember one fellow (a little short guy, about 5’5”) a chief boatswain’s mate, with a full sleeve of gold stripes, and a voice that could be heard about 3 blocks away. I think the recruits were mostly afraid of him.
When they finally got started, each classroom was made up of long tables with 5 or 6 typewriter positions and a send/receive position, making about 30 or 35 students to a room. The instructor had a desk at the front with typical navy radio equipment at the desk including a machine that sent pre-made code messages over a common line to every student in the classroom. This apparently went on about 6 hours a day. It included instructions in learning typing, navy communication procedure, code sending and receiving, and anything else that would drive some of them crazy. It was a very intense training course designed with the idea of making radio operators who could be sent off to a ship in about 5 or 6 weeks time.
I can remember one fellow, who had been a legal court reporter in civilian life. He could type at about 120 words per minute, and do shorthand as fast as anyone there could talk, but he had real trouble making qualification speed for the navy code radio operations. There was another really big burley fellow who had been a meat cutter in a butcher shop who broke his typewriter. He was very apologetic about it. He actually pushed the manual carriage return so hard that he had sheared off the final stops, and pushed the moving carriage part clear out of its bearings. Fortunately it wasn’t that hard to repair.
My deal with the typewriter company paid me a flat fee per month for each typewriter delivered to the school. I think it was about $1.00 per machine (there were over 600 of them when I left). I got paid as long as I carefully checked the machines, and kept everything running to the satisfaction of the navy school officers. (PS Our chief petty officer, received his commission as a Lieutenant, while I was there).
One of the interesting characters at the school was a navy 1st Class petty officer (I think the name was Sattori, or Sartori) the name sounds Japanese, but he was a big tall fellow, probably with Italian ancestors. He was the fastest radio operator in the group. He and several of the instructors would have fun sitting on opposite sides of a classroom and sending code messages back and forth to each other. Nobody could beat this man for speed. He allegedly could handle 40 words per minute sending with a standard navy key (probably mythology). I never did learn any of the code, so it all went past me without meaning much of anything.
I was told a story by one of the sailors that they were awakened several times at night by one of the “students” suddenly loudly crying out in the night “ditta dah, ditta dah, dita dah….”. This was a really strenuous operation and was some kind of radio operators nightmare.
My arrangements to take care of repairs on these machines was with the Woodstock Typewriter Company, you never heard of them. This was a little company that for years tried to compete with Underwood, Remington, Smith, and Royal but just managed to hang on to their business. It was rumored to have managed to stay in business because way back in the 20’s the Sears Roebuck Co had financed their operation. When the war production started in earnest after the Dec 7th Japanese attack, the government ordered all production of frivolous, non-military production to cease. Result all the office machine manufacturers closed down their factory operations, and were assigned some war-time production jobs. Apparently Woodstock was too small for munitions production. Remington & L.C. Smith both got into rifle and other gun manufacturing, guns had been their original business anyway. But then it turned out that typewriters were a military necessity anyway, so Woodstock got back into business making typewriters for the government. These machines were an inferior version of their pre-war machine, and they were allotted bare requirement materials to produce this one special model of second-rate typewriters. My job was to keep these tired, special government designed machines, running while being attacked by eager radio operator trainees. It still only took me 1 or 2 hours a day. So I decided to see if I could sign-up for regular classes at the University.
CAMPUS LIFE AND U of I
I actually got into an English, Physics, and Math class at the summer school operation. I even signed up for a beginner’s piano class with the Music department, all while working on the Navy typewriters. I also discovered the empty college Auditorium had a Morton Pipe Organ, that nobody was doing anything about. So I whiled away spare time alone in that Auditorium learning to play this 6 rank movie theatre pipe organ. It was very interesting.
This was summer 1942, the regular summer sessions of the University were over, and the college was closed except for work crews doing maintenance and fixing things. I found that it took me about an hour or so every day to keep these first typewriters running, so I had time on my hands and found something interesting to me to work on.
A full size movie theatre pipe organ. It was located in the main auditorium of the Administration Building. Here was the theatre organ, which had once upon a time been located in the local movie theatre and had been given to the college when sound movies came into use back about 1932. I had never touched anything like this. Not only that I had a few piano lessons at one time or another, but I was game for trying it out.
It was a pipe organ manufactured by the Robert Morton Company of Van Nuys, California, one of Wurlitzer’s competitors. They had moved it from the theatre to this very ornate old auditorium, and reinstalled complete with everything including the usual sound effects, chimes, xylophone, etc. I discovered nobody was much interested in what was going on there in the auditorium, so I fired up the old organ, and tried playing it.
Problem: Nobody was doing any maintenance on it, and it probably hadn’t been played in 6 months. Almost every key or pipe or something was stuck, or didn’t play, or did some strange thing. I had no knowledge about the mechanics of the thing, but I was willing to try anything. NO, I didn’t climb up into the organ chambers. But I discovered that if I sat there with a key that didn’t play, and kept pushing it, or operating the stop levers eventually this miscreant would operate. It took me about 10 days or 2 weeks, but I got almost everything working including the xylophone.
I became pretty good at playing the organ, as long as I stuck to something that wasn’t too fast, or was somewhat simple. For me, it was fun, and very educational. Once in a while, I had company. The college’s big grand piano was on stage and behind the closed curtain. Sometimes one of the music students would be there practicing on that big grand piano. So, there was no organ playing for an hour or so. However, I found this young fellow’s playing to be very interesting. He was practicing Beethoven’s moonlight sonata except he was working on a very difficult part of the 2nd movement. That movement requires considerable dexterity with great spectacular arpeggios up the keyboard, and occasional crashing chords. In this case, over and over again. The music student was determined to suit himself that it was right. He seemed never satisfied.
I was living in a student boarding house in the town run by the Long family. During the summer I was introduced to their son who was a new 2nd Lieutenant and on his way to California to join his army unit. I got a surprise much later when I got off a troop train at Marysville, California, to find Lt. Long waiting trackside for a platoon of recruits also on the same train. Small World!
Many years later (probably about 1970) I found a Polk Directory for Latah County, Idaho, and looked up the name “Long”. I found a Sam Long listed as the county sheriff – same Lieutenant.