40th Anniversary of NCAR
UCAR 40th Anniversary Site Menu


Memories UCAR history Trivia quiz Share your stories

Your Stories...

Go back to Share your stories

1. From Tim Spangler, Director of the COMET Program at UCAR

While in graduate school at Wyoming, I travelled to NCAR on selected weekends to do my computing. In May 1972, I had to come down on a Saturday night to do many model runs in order to finish my thesis and graduate. I thought it would take me literally all night and into Sunday.

I walked in to the computer room at 9pm and saw that I was the only person there except for Kathy Kuntz, who I had gone to high school with in Madison Wisconsin, and of course the CDC 6600 and the CDC 7600. They were sitting there humming just for me.  Kathy and I chatted and then I started making changes to my deck and giving her jobs to run.  Each time I gave her a job she had to put down her book and run it. After awhile, she said "why don't we copy your deck and I'll make the changes while you look at the output?".

Between the four of us (me, Kathy, and the two computers) we finished all my runs by 11pm.  Kathy went back to her book, and I walked out of the building and looked at the lights of Boulder.  I remember thinking about what a opportunity it was to have two  powerful (then) computers all to myself, and wondering what my career would be like and if I could ever get a job at NCAR. And then I headed for Pearl Street.

<Back to top>

2. This is from an oral history interview Warren Washington did last year for UCAR.

"This may seem strange for these programmers I have now, but the way we had to do it here at NCAR was, I came up with this scheme where we had two tape drives, and we started doing the calculation at the South Pole, and marched to the Equator, and then switched tape drives and then went from the Equator to the North Pole, while the first tape drive was re-winding.  And then when we finished that, we would start the re-wind on the second tape drive.  And trying to figure out the timing of all of this, I can remember that people would come in and say, "How do you do that so crudely, how can you work out the timing?"  Well, we just wore the equipment out.  It was never intended to be used in that way.  It was intended [that] you would write a tape occasionally, but not to be used 24 hours a day, running."

<Back to top>

3. From oral history interview with Phil Thompson, who was NCAR's first Associate Director.

"[This NCAR administrator] was a gentleman of the old school and he believed that people could not maintain proper self-respect if they did not dress properly.  He approached me one day along in the spring and he said that he noticed that there were a number of people who were coming to work without jackets and ties.  Some were even wearing shorts, and that I should really do something about this--it didn't speak well for the organization.  I pondered on this for awhile, and that afternoon it happened that I went over to my other office in Cockerell Hall--it was during the Thermal Convection Colloquium--and I was looking out the window across the quadrangle and there striding across the quadrangle was Sydney Chapman wearing an undershirt, shorts, and sandals with no socks.  I thought, oh, my God, how am I going to tell Sydney that he has to wear a jacket and tie?  That was the end of that."

<Back to top>

4. From Vin Lally, who set up the National Scientific Balloon Facility under NCAR's auspices in Palestine, Texas.

"[NCAR's] first summer we had a lot of visitors.  There were very few permanent staff.  We had people like Ed Lorenz, who came in, and they were pretty much fulltime visitors for many years.  Seymour Hess, there were a number of fine people who gave NCAR some of its early character... It was an interesting summer, and of course Walter Roberts was in the middle of everything in those days.  He could not get rid of the habits that he was forced to acquire running the High Altitude Observatory.  He had had to run this on a very close budget for many, many years, so when we started up, we had rental cars and Walter had all the radios removed from the rental cars to save two dollars a month on rental fees.  In any event, his wonderful style permeated the whole organization...  The feeling was 'we're going to be good, we're going to bring in good people, and we're going to have various little intellectual cells here which would prosper, and then we will have the community visiting us in this idyllic situation to re-inspire us.  Then we will have facilities to serve the university community."

<Back to top>

5. From Janet Roberts, wife of Dr. Walter Orr Roberts, with her unique perspective on the founding of NCAR.

"When Walter was first approached about becoming the director of NCAR, I had just been elected to the Boulder City Council. He accepted the offer with the now familiar conditions that NCAR be located in Boulder and that the High Altitude Observatory, which had been his life work so far, be incorporated as one of its divisions."

These conditions were accepted, and NCAR became a reality. Walter was sensitive to the incredible beauty of the mesa site which had been selected, and one of his first acts was to appoint a committee of Boulder citizens who were concerned about environmental preservation. This committee was to be a sounding board for citizen reaction to the plans for the new scientific laboratory buildings. It served well. "

A major hurdle to the establishment of NCAR was that the mesa site lay above the "Blue Line," a contour line of elevation which had just been approved by Boulder voters in 1959 as a limit above which the city of Boulder would not provide water service. To complicate matters, I had been active in the fight to establish the Blue Line, and indeed had been elected to the City Council on just such issues.

The issue came to a head in January 1961. Plans for NCAR were well under way, and Walter had obtained a pledge from Alan Waterman, then head of the National Science Foundation, that the mesa site would be kept in its natural state, open to the public for passive recreation, and that no classified research would be performed at NCAR."

An election was held to determine if the people of Boulder wished to make an exception to the Blue Line charter amendment to permit the construction of the NCAR buildings. At the Council meeting at which the issue was referred to the voters, I had to abstain. An obvious conflict of interest!

But I’m happy to report that the voters approved the establishment of NCAR by a respectable, if not overwhelming majority -- Would such an exemption be approved today? I’m not at all sure. But working in its favor then were the fact that the land was privately owned and could have been developed for other much less desirable uses, the pledge had been made to preserve the land in its natural state and keep it open to the public, and the citizens had been involved in the planning from the beginning."

<Back to top>

<Back to top>



UCARlogo-sm.gif (4950 bytes)