Forward Progress

Mount Everest from Kalapatthar.

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A major step to recovery came when I got to sit up on the edge of the bed for the first time.  What’s the big deal, I thought to myself?  Two nurses came in to help slide me over sideways to let my legs hang off the bed.  The nurses lifted from under the arms and around my back to raise me into a sitting position.  Wow! my head started spinning. I had not been off my back for a month.

Meals were a joke because I took nourishment through a feeding tube.  The first thing they did after inserting the tube was to extract a bunch of vile looking fluid from my stomach. A nurse pulled green fluid from my stomach  for a couple of days before she got the okay to feed me. She did the reverse and pushed a syringe full of milky white fluid into my stomach. Just a shot glass full at first, then gradually increasing the amount over a period of days to a full eight ounces.  I felt the cold liquid stuff going down the tube.

Why did they have to feed me through a tube?  I couldn’t swallow.  The polio damaged the nerves controlling my neck muscles.  If I tried to sip something I would  drown.

Gradually,  I got better and started to talk with the nurses and doctors, I learned I had bulbar spinal polio.  This type of polio attacks the face, neck and chest.  Luckily, my chest muscles were the least affected.  My face, neck, and right leg from the hip down were the most affected.  The result was that I couldn’t smile, swallow, hold up my head, or walk.

Every evening in the Contagious Disease Hospital an attendant wheeled a snack cart through the halls and stopped at each room except mine.  I could see the cart through all the windows. The cart had two large glass bottles filled with colored water.  One was a brilliant red and the other green.  Something about the colored drink attracted me. I longed to have a glass of each.  As the cart came closer to my room I debated with myself as to which color I would ask for – the red or the green?  The hall lights helped make the color of that fluid vibrant, and I longed to have some.  Each night, the cart passed by my room without stopping, but I played the game each time. I later learned the magic fluid was cherry and lime jello water.

Another big adventure was to stand up.  Earlier in the week I got to sit on the edge of the bed. Sitting up for a few minutes became a daily ritual. Each day I sat for a few minutes longer. It was great to sit up, especially when Mom came with Mrs. Thomas.  Sitting made it easier to write on the chalk board and to hold it up to the window. When the time finally came to stand up, two nurses came in.  Again, I thought what is the big deal?  Just let me slide off the edge of the bed and stand.   That’s just what they did.  They let me slide off the edge until my feet were on the floor. One nurse on each side held me under the arm. Each held their leg against my knee. Wow! It felt good to stand;  It also felt strange. After a minute my legs started shaking and got all wobbly and I had to sit down again.

The day I stood up for the first time is when I realized how much damage the virus did. That day also marked the start of my re-hab.  There wasn’t any facility to do re-hab at CDH, but the simple act of getting me up and out of bed was the start.  I still couldn’t swallow, but I could sit up and stand.  Later in the week, they let me take a few steps which was hard because my hip and thigh muscles on the right side were gone.  I dragged the right leg along putting all my weight on the aide. The remaining muscle groups couldn’t hold me up straight, so I leaned heavily to the left to compensate and my head just rolled around like I had a  broken neck.

A nurse started me on swallowing exercises.  She let me take tiny sips of water, just enough to wet my tongue, and encouraged me to swallow.  I strained with all my might but nothing in my throat moved.

The jello water cart came every night. Each time I saw that red and green fluid I tried hard to swallow, but nothing seemed to happen.  I was never allowed to sip water on my own for fear of choking.

One day after what seemed like a month of practicing to swallow the nurse had to leave the room for a moment. What the heck, I decided to sneak a sip of water.  I felt the muscles move in my throat and the sip went down. I swallowed!  Things were moving in there, and the water went down the right pipe. At that moment I felt like I had just reached the top of the Mount Everest.  The next day, when the nurse came to exercise my swallow muscles, I showed her I could actually do it. That night the jello water cart with the fantastic red and green juice stopped at my door.

My first day at CDH was in early August, right after my fifteenth birthday.  It was now late October.  I missed football tryout, I wasn’t managing the basketball team, I hadn’t opened a book to study and I saw my friends once in that time.  It didn’t matter, all I could do is look forward and do the best I could.

One day a nurse came to tell me the news they were sending me to another hospital.  There was nothing more they could do for me at CDH.  It was Halloween night when the ambulance took me to Michael Reese.

Leaving all the nurses was a sad time.  There were so many who worked with me, mostly students from area hospitals.  All of them were great nurses.  It dawned on me that I never met another patient at CDH because everyone was so isolated.

Two aides slid me on a gurney and bundled me up. As they wheeled me out of the room I called home for so many weeks I touched the big ugly iron lung breathing machine parked outside my door. I whispered “thanks for being there for me.” I also thanked God that I never needed to use it. The attendants wheeled me down the corridor to the ambulance dock. I never saw any of the angels who cared for me to say goodbye.

During my last few days at CDH I thought about becoming a doctor.  All of the staff at CDH was so good and nice to me. I thought of giving back to the world by becoming a doctor.  The question stayed with me and I debated for very long time. Eventually,  I concluded that even though it was a noble idea that I was not the right kind of person to become a doctor.  I decided to stay on the path to become an engineer.  The ride to Michael Reese took only a few minutes, but it seemed like a trip around the world. In my mind I saw kids out on the street going door to door to “Trick or Treat”.

A Freshman Class Turns Into a Career

Pens Pencils

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DRAFTING

The pre-engineering curriculum at Mendel included Mechanical Drawing.  My drawing skills were pretty fair by then, and I became familiar with the tools by watching my brother Bill use a T-Square and a compass. The first day of class it became obvious I had to begin from scratch.   Each student received a package of drawing tools that included a small board, T-square, 2 triangles, protractor, compass, a triangular scale, some pencils, a brush, and a Pink Pearl eraser.

Printing the alphabet became the first assignment, but before starting, I learned how to use masking tape to fasten paper to the board.  Mr. Allen, the teacher, showed me how to properly use a T-Square, and to draw parallel guide lines for the letters.

Pencils suddenly became a science.  There are many grades of pencils. I learned to identify the softness of lead by the code number and letter printed on the end, ranging from very hard, to very soft.  For instance, a 4H lead is very hard and will make a very fine gray line, and an HB is very soft and black.  Pressing hard on a pointy 4H pencil  to make a heavy line will cut the paper.  Soft leads like “HB” make blacker, wider lines that look good, but smear easily, and smudge the paper.  A dirty drawing brought a reduced grade.  Neatness was essential to survive the class.

During my years of employment, I learned that machine drawings are larger and more complicated. They smudge easier because of the amount of lead on the paper.  The smudged lead makes the background gray resulting in a poor blue print copy. A print machine requires light to pass through the drawing paper everywhere except where there is a line. If the background around the lines is smudged and dark gray, the copy will show blue lines on a dark blue background. The quality is lousy. The most easily read prints consist up of sharp blue lines on a white background.

It seemed like weeks before we actually began to put a pencil to the paper. That is when I learned to print letters using prescribed strokes. First came large capital letters. When Mr. Allen felt I had mastered those, he started me on lower case. I learned to print letters between guide lines upright, slanted, large, and small before progressing to lower case. It must have been four classes before we finally got to draw something real; a two-inch square.

Mr. Allen referred to every drawing as a plate. Each plate required a border, a title block, and finally the object.  The title block needed space for the plate title, the date, our name, and class number.  Each time we turned in a plate, he graded the quality of printing, line sharpness, and neatness. He subtracted points if lines defining a corner did not meet by touch.  Conversely, he subtracted points if the corner lines crossed.  In modern Computer Aided Design (CAD) programs, the computer will not recognize lines that are not connected to form a geometric solid model or wire frame.  The lines appear on the screen, but the surface is not fully defined until the lines connect by five decimal places.

I loved the drawing class, and still love all aspects of it till this day.  I loved making the plates and using two views to create a third.  I really like making 3D solids views using a vanishing point perspective.

Mechanical Drawing was my first and only “A” in freshman year.   Mr. Allen did a great job teaching the fundamentals and I eagerly learned by doing the work.  Drawing takes practice to develop skill, just as cooking or working a computer.  Without the hands-on practice, the skills are lacking. The training served me well, because I used that basic skill to make a very good living.

One of my classmates had a terrible time with drawing. After several weeks, he still lacked the ability to draw a right angle using the tee-square and a triangle. His square never was square, his printing looked infantile, and the drawings were dirty. The lines resembled those made by a crayon. It was painful to watch him struggle so hard with something that came so easy to me. I helped him as much as I could by coaching, but he failed the class, and dropped out of pre-engineering.

Many years later, one of my draftsman was similarly handicapped. The man graduated from a prominent technical school with a degree in drafting. I assigned only the most simple components for him to draw. He struggled with completion. It took days for him to finish a drawing that would have taken another draftsman a couple of hours to complete. I reviewed his work often. I finally spoke to him frankly,

“Ike, you are not qualified as a draftsman perhaps you should find another field of work.”

“I have a diploma from my school.” I paid $5000 to get it.”

“Ike, I don’t care how much tuition you paid, you are not a draftsman.”

Because Ike was the first and only black employee in our engineering department, my boss wouldn’t let me fire him. Ike had nine kids, and worked part-time as a minister. Often, when I made my rounds, and walked in on him, he was on the phone counseling one of his congregation. Eventually, I learned that Ike started a second full-time job with benefits. That became the trigger for my boss to give me the signal to let him go.

Firing a guy is not easy, but in this case, I did Ike, the company, and me a favor.

Pea Pod Prototype

Black and White image of Delibike in Buenos Aires

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The Pea Pod Prototype

During the second semester of freshman year I befriended a boy named Frank, who lived in Roseland. He also rode his bike to school every day. He told me about a really great after school job he had delivering groceries for Tumey’s grocery store at 115th and Wentworth. Frank said the store owner could always use help on a part time basis. He probably wanted to quit his job and needed to recruit his replacement.

At home, I approached Mom with the idea of allowing me to work at Tumey’s after school. I already rode my bike to school, and the store was just another half mile further. She agreed and I went to Tumey’s with Frank to apply for the job.

My bike had a big basket mounted on the front from my paper route, and it was ready for the job. Mr. Tumey hired me for two days a week. At first I didn’t get to deliver anything. Mr. Tumey handed me a broom, and told me to sweep the floor. I did a great job of it. Next, he asked me to stack cereal boxes on the top shelf. I used the tongs on the end of a long pole to put them up there. The next time, he gave me a bucket of ammonia water, a brush on a pole, and a large squeegee. He took me outside and showed me how to wash the windows. Each day I went, he had another job for me.

Eventually, a telephone order came for groceries. Mrs. Tumey made a list on a paper-bag. When the list was done she wrote the address on the same bag. The Tumey’s knew all of the phone customers very well because the same people also shopped in the store when they could.

Mrs. Tumey ran around the little store collecting all of the items on the list and put them into a box. Mr. Tumey cut the meat items and wrapped them. Once she completed the list, she added the bill and recorded the amount on a receipt in her book. One copy went to the customer, the other stayed in the book.

It was time for delivery, and they called me from my sweeping job to take the order. Finally, after a couple of weeks at work I would be delivering groceries on my trusty bike.

The box looked very large, but I put both arms around it and lifted. Wow! That box was heavy. I could barely make it out the front door. Outside, I stood in front of the bike holding a box which made the veins pop out of my head. How do I get the box into the basket when the bike is leaning over on the kickstand? I took the box back in, then came out and propped the bike against the building. I wrestled the box up into the basket. It hung up on the wires half way in. That’s stupid, I told myself, the next time I’ll fit the empty box into the basket before she loads it up.

During the next challenge I rode three blocks with this huge load up front. My Sunday newspaper loads were heavy too, and I was accustomed to a loaded front wheel, but this box was at least double the heaviest paper load.

With every bump I heard bottles clinking against each other. Now, I know why Schwinn sells a delivery bike with the small front wheel and the huge basket. I wished I had one right then and there! My basket stood high above the wheel and made the bike unstable with a high center of gravity. On a delivery bike the load is low to the ground. A delivery bike also has a kick stand that holds the front wheel straight and off the ground. It keeps the bike rock solid. The basket is lower and wider making it much easier to load and unload.

My first delivery went to a customer who lived on a block of two and three flats. This lady lived on the third floor. I had to use the open back stairway for delivery. Somehow, I wrestled the box out of the basket. The road vibration had settled it in place. Miraculously, the bike didn’t tip over while I pried the box from the basket, and nothing fell out.

The box weighed at least thirty pounds, and I weighed ninety. The climb up the stairs was like climbing Mount Everest. By the time I got to the last landing my arms were tired, my legs were shaking, and I could feel the box slipping out of my fingers. What did I get myself into, I kept thinking?

God was with me all the way because I made it. I pressed the bell with a knuckle and then rested by pushing the box against the building. The lady took her sweet time to answer the door but finally came. She told me to place the box on the kitchen table. I politely handed her the bill and she paid. Ceremoniously, she awarded me with a quarter.

As I rode back, I felt a cold breeze drying the hot sweat from my back.

That first trip taught me a lot about packing boxes, and making them lighter. It made sense to split a large heavy load into a couple of trips.

The Tumey’s had a son named Gil. He didn’t work in the store. Gill came home from school in his baseball uniform. He played on the Fenger High School team and practiced after school. He came in, kissed his mom, said hi to his dad, grabbed a snack, and disappeared to the apartment upstairs.

When the store closed at 5:30 I rode home taking every short cut I knew and rolled in at 6:00 p.m. just as Mom put supper on the table.

Hand Made In the USA

One of my favorite times at Mendel was the wood shop class. The class met three times a week for two hours. I had some exposure to woodworking from my grammar school experiences at the Tuley Park boat building shop. This class was different. Father Hennessey, my instructor, believed in teaching the basics. At Tuley Park, I jumped into a project and started cutting wood. At Mendel, I had to learn the name and function of every tool before Father let me touch a single one.

For the first assignment, Father H. gave me a block of maple wood to square up using only a chisel and a square. It sounded too easy, but I almost didn’t finish the assignment on time. Father H. came around the benches and asked for the piece. He inspected every corner, every edge, and every surface for square and for flatness. If any sliver of light showed under the square he bounced the piece, and sent me back to the bench to do better. The piece also had to be within the tolerance he specified.  Father Hennessey was a tough, but fair teacher.

The next project was a more complicated. We had to make a chevron-shield with separate wooden letter “M” applied to it. The last project was a table lamp that looked like a hand water pump. Pushing on the pump handle turned on the light. This little lamp was in continuous use over the years serving me well at all of my desks.

Fr. H. was a tough disciplinarian. If he caught you using a tool incorrectly, he jerked it out of your hand, and hit you with it. He also had a habit of squeezing the muscle on your shoulder, the one that stretches from your neck to the shoulder. It hurt so bad that I dropped to the floor to get out of the grip. Fr. H. hardly ever had a problem with anybody in his class.

Safety was paramount in the shop. During my semester there was not a single incidence of injury. Even though the school shop had all the power tools as I used at Tuley Park, I never got to use any of them.  Only Fr. Hennessey ever used the tools powered by electricity. The experience gave me an appreciation for the term “handmade.”

The ‘AV’ or Main Street America

High school gave me a freedom to explore.  Classes ended at 1:50 p.m. and basketball practice didn’t begin until 3:30,  that gave me an hour to walk up to Michigan Avenue.  It is a brisk five minute walk from the school, and up the hill to the “Av.”

The “Av,” short for Michigan Avenue, formed the central business district for the Roseland, and surrounding neighborhoods.  The “Av” and “Main Street America,” were one and the same. Walking down MIchigan Avenue between 103rd St and 115th St was the same as walking down the Main Street of Lowell ,Indiana, or Morris, Illinois. Small businesses covered both sides of the street from 107th to 115th.  There were clothing stores, shoe shops, a shoe maker, drugstores, Gately’s People Store, Walgreen’s, a small bike shop, barber shops, photo studio, and more.  Anything needed for life could be found on the “Ave”. There were restaurants, taverns, Dentists, and Doctors mixed in between and above the stores.  At the top of the hill on the corner of 111th and Michigan stood the Mocambo Night Club.

One of my favorite places was the soda fountain at Walgreen’s.  After a day in class, a coke hit the spot.  Mom shopped at Gately’s whenever she needed a special dress. Gately’s ran a bakery and food shop on the lower level.  One of their specialties was the French doughnut.  These were made on the automated donut machine.  I could watch that thing for hours.

The machine consisted of an ovular trough filled with hot cooking oil.  The start point was a dough dispenser, which plopped a ring of raw dough into the oil. The plop cooked in the oil as it moved around the oval.   A new plop followed as soon as the first was out of the way.  Once the plop reached the halfway point, a submerged basket lifted up and flipped it so the uncooked side was in the oil.  The half cooked donut continued to the end where it was again lifted and flipped out of the oil onto a tray as a fully cooked donut.  A worker arranged the finished donuts on the tray. She gave a final touch by sprinkling them with either powdered sugar, dipping them in chocolate frosting, or into plain sugar. When completed, she traded the full tray for an empty, and moved the full tray to the display case.  The process never stopped moving. Today, if you go to a Krispy Kreme donut shop you will see the same donut maker amazing people the same way it amazed me fifty-five years ago. It is also the same machine that amused me  in Hillman’s basement sixty-five years ago.

The Cianci Photo Studio was on the west side of the Ave between  at 113th.  They always featured examples of their work in the window.  High School graduation pictures were among their specialties.  When I graduated Mendel I had my studio picture taken there too.  My ugly face was one of the pictures they put into the window.  That was great from a girl chasing point of view, but I took a lot of flack from the guys.

I often visited the bike shop to look for parts to customize my bike.  There was something about the smell of the shop that turned me on.  The shop was not one of the modern sterile bright show rooms of today.  It was more like an old hardware store where the aisles and walls are stacked with shelves loaded with parts.  The difference being a hardware store didn’t have bikes squeezed into every inch of available floor space.

The owner of the shop was a gray haired man who wore an apron. His hands were black with dirt and grease.  The looked liked my hands when I cleaned my chain or rear wheel with a strong solvent.  The dirty grease gets into every pore and every fingerprint.  It was at this shop that I bought an eleven-tooth cog for my rear wheel.  A classmate from Roseland introduced me to the mechanical advantage offered by sprockets. He told me that putting a smaller sprocket on the back wheel would make the bike faster.  What he taught is correct but that “faster” also requires more torque.  Torque is required to turn the crank.  The force exerted on the pedal transmitted through the crank arm is torque.  The smaller gear required more torque, and since the crank arm is a fixed length, the force has to increase.  I found myself standing on the pedal to get enough force converted to torque to pull the chain that turned the small sprocket.

Once I got the bike moving with this sprocket, pumping continued to be harder. This extra effort got me to thinking that a bike really needs many sprockets on the back wheel. For starting from a dead stop or for climbing hills, a large rear sprocket is needed. Once you gain speed the sprocket can be smaller.  A multiple speed bike, what a novel idea(1952).

In 1972,  I bought a bike for my wife at the Schwinn shop in Evergreen Park.  I bought her a ladies model 5 speed, exactly what I had invented in 1952.  I told the shop owner that if Schwinn was smart they would add the multiple speed rear wheel onto a fat -tired cruiser.  The guy told me it was a dumb idea and that no one would buy it.

A hardtail mountain bike.

Image via Wikipedia

Two years later a kid name Gary Fisher from California put a 5 speed wheel on a cruiser and started riding it up a mountain just so he could have the thrill of coasting down at high speed.  The mountain-bike caught on, and a fad began which pumped new life into a failing bike industry.  The new sport of mountain biking became a rage.  Schwinn finally woke up in the late seventies and sold a crude mountain bike.

The Av was a major commercial area until the late sixties.  By then, shopping malls displaced Main Street.  On the Southwest side of Chicago, Evergreen Plaza became the new hot spot for shopping. One by one, the businesses on the Av closed. The street became quiet, and the storefronts boarded.

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