Remembering Early Times at HP

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HP Memories



by James Robinson



Foreword by John Minck


Mr. Facility - James Robinson

No Army can fight without a first-class Logistics Organization, which provides the ammunition and fuel and food, at the right time and place. And likewise, no corporation can operate without their Facilities Department. The Facilities people operate behind the scenes, with none of the excitement of the Sales Dept, who gets all the kudos for the big deals and beating the target competitors to the punch. Or the R&D Dept which invents all the superior new products and launches them to great hoopla and extravagant Press Conferences. Or Manufacturing, which builds and ships those mountains of equipment which gives us the revenue to pay our bills, and make some profit, if it is all done well.

Facilities does everything from deploying janitors during the night shifts, to the telephone operators who provide the face and voice of the corporation, to all of the specialized shops with the craftsmen (and women) who build and maintain all of the machines of production. These include electrical, mechanical, wood and carpentry, model shops, plumbing, and a variety of other specialties. It was always Dave and Bill's basic idea to be self-contained, with integrated production capabilities, that came to include plastic injection  molding, aluminum castings, wire fabrication, transformer winding, and of course massive semiconductor facilities. To keep all of those machinery and building assets in good condition and proper maintenance required an army of people who were all part of the HP Way.

James was there for 18 years, and recalls many of the routine and special projects that the facilities and support folks were called to accomplish for our exceptional manufacturing and research facilities.

While James' memoir is brief, it still gives us an outline picture of the variety of life that the Facilities Crew experienced in supporting our "army" of HP people in our quest to make the world a better place.


John Minck




by James Robinson




My son noticed this Ebay ad for gold-plated Bufano Quail

I recently was made aware of this website archive of the many remembrances of HP employees. My son had informed me of an EBay sale item which was a Golden Quail. I remembered from my past work around the aluminum casting shop in Building 12, that at one time, the Division Manager Jim Ferrell authorized the production of an HP version of a Bufano Quail to celebrate all the hard work that went into the construction of Bldg 12 casting and fabrication shop.

It seems that when the project manager asked the HP Industrial Design department to recommend  some art object that would be a real significant object, and someone there remembered the renowned sculptor Bennie Bufano of San Francisco. He was well known for a large statue in front of San Francisco Airport. But one of his art items was a Bufano Quail, which Ferrell arranged for the casting crew to mold in the Bldg 12 casting shop. Employees were offered a chance to buy them at $10. I fed back the EBay offer which got to Betty Haines, who had written a short item in her memoir on this web archive.

Betty expanded on her original story here, and I noticed that the Curator offered to publish HP remembrances from any employee there. So I decided to offer these after-thoughts of 18 years at 395 Page Mill Road Palo Alto working for Hewlett- Packard. It was the BEST job I ever had. It is coincidental that I started my work there on April 29, 1970, when I was 45 years old, and retired on April 29. 1988, making it an EXACT 18 years, to the day.

I had many mixed experiences in jobs before I landed at HP. In many ways, they were interesting and challenging, but did not really have the wonderful work culture I found at HP. I started my apprenticeship in IBEW #689. (Now merged with another local) I finished that in 1950 as an electrician/lineman for the Southern Pacific Railroad until 1956. Then I moved to The American Can Company in San Jose. Soon I hired on as a Santa Clara County Electrical Inspector until 1959. Next, I worked out of the Hiring Hall as a 50 year old member of IBEW 332, San Jose, as an inside wire man. That gave many different exposures to electrical installations and maintenance. For a real difference, I moved for 3 years to General Electric, San Jose where they processed Uranium-hexa-flouride into pellets for atomic generating plants. I don't think I ever started glowing! FINALLY, I got smart and hired on at HP in 1970.

A picture of the Hewlett-Packard Company facilities circa 1948: In the foreground is the original "Redwood Building"
The quonset hut at right housed the R&D area. By the time I joined HP in 1970, the houses at the top left had been
replaced by the company headquarters Bldg 9. And along the backside of the back lot, another building housed our
Facility services like the carpenter and electric shops.

On my first day, I met George Isaacs, who was Maintenance Super at the electric shop along Olive Street. For the ordinary reader in 2013, I should note that in the 1970s, HP occupied the entire block, bounded by Page Mill Rd and Olive St, Park Blvd and Ash Street. Actually it was two blocks because Pepper St dead-ended at the HP Quonset building. It contained the old Redwood building at one corner, with the Quonset building behind. There were facility shops all along Olive Street, opening into a courtyard in the center of that large block. By the time I hired in, all of those production and maintenance facilities were called the Palo Alto Division (PAD). They were also known as the 395 Site, referring to the Page Mill address.

Stu Riley was our Leadman. The other electricians were, from memory; Andy Jackson, Walt Sinclaire, Ron Schreck and Rusty Gates. Rusty worked on the weekends. I was amazed that HP furnished tools, uniforms, safety shoes, and eye glass. And then, after the three year probation period, came stock options. Meantime HP's terrific benefits included profit sharing, IRAS, credit union, medical insurance. More impressive I was issued a 4 wheel tool box (Hand crafted by Moose Magin and Joe Romo in the welding shop, with drawers fabricated by the guys in the carpenter Shop. I still have the tool box. When I retired, they gave me all the tools I had been using. How could one employer be so thoughtful? Well, it was not just Dave and Bill, but the whole management team and the supervisors, who became personal friends. And, lest I forget the goodies at break time!! Donuts!' Danish!! Milk, tea, and coffee and powered drink mixes. These were served in all the buildings, so if we were on a remote building project, we knew we were welcome at the coffee pot anywhere we were posted.

With all these years since retirement, the old memory fades somewhat, but here are few incidents that happened to me while working at 395 Page Mill Road.

* One Saturday we were going out the front entrance and I managed to walk into one of the glass doors. The impact was great enough that my safety glasses left two scratches on the door and I wound up at the emergency ward at Stanford Hospital. Later, decals were put on both doors.

* Twice a year an insurance inspector would come in on a Saturday. We would check all water lines and valves for the right amount of pressure and flow. One day I managed to be in the way when the main valve at the old casting shop was opened. I really got knocked down.

* One payday I did not get me notification of the amount of stock I purchased. I had to write a letter to Mr. Hewlett to get it straighten out. It seems someone forged my name on a stop order.

* One day a woman walked up to me and said, "Did you know when you get 50, you have to go to retirement school?" I told her I was already 60 and had been working for 15 years at 395. So, I wound up going to the Hill for a whole week to learn how to retire. It was a very interesting class.

During my HP years, there were a lot of changes at PAD. Those who had been hired in the early 1970's were subject to the 65 year retirement rule.

When Bill Hewlett installed the every-other-Friday-off because of low revenues, we alternated assignments, and when it was my time to work I was up on the Hill working with Barry Schitner. He later came down to PAD as a Machine Maintenance electrician. Some the guys in our group moved off to various new plants, because as new remote facilities were built, they all needed their own support shops. In 1982, I remember that they began to tax sick leave, although of course, that wasn't HP's doing.

A picture of Chuck Fikes from MEASURE Magazine, February 1972

There seemed to be a lot of managerial changes in the site engineer post. I came to realize that happened because HP was continually expanding, and every time there was a new factory built, HP chose to send experienced managers to the new startup. Sherman Davis was a great manager. He moved on and we sometimes had folks assigned who had no maintenance experience. Chuck Fikes was the head for a while, and he was well-liked. Martin DeVries served for a time. I once went on vacation, and when I got back Dept Mgr George Isaacs was gone. Then came George Bender, but he too left for a new building, taking Pat Fay with him. Al Wheeler came along, but again, he and his brother moved to Boise. His brother was in General Maintenance.

Curt Briggs was our immediate boss when I left. He was another good guy. On another day another guy, Sol Scmitz, showed as a new Leadman. I had no idea where he came from. He was there until Briggs was took over, He and Bob Robinson (No relation) were assigned to the Palo Alto Harbors installation project. One of our bosses (I can't recall his name) was a lawyer.

When Dick Arms retired , Bill Jackson and I (he was the son of Andy Jackson, the current apprentice I was training) were assigned to work at Arm's house to wire up the machine tools HP gave him for his retirement gift. That seemed appropriate because Dick Arms had served from near the beginning of HP's long run. His project group was in the Bracamonte Building doing development of electrostatic printing paper which was used with Loveland computer printers. Very proprietary stuff.

Here are some other randomly-recalled events and support projects of some importance, moves and installations and demolitions and such. This is not the everyday minor stuff, nor are they in chronological order:

* The dismantling of the Plating Shop

* The creation of the cafeteria in the front of the Redwood Building

* The moving in of the "twinners," which were machines that spun single wires into braids

* The dismantling of the Transformer group facility so they could be moved

* The installation of a three inch gas line from the main meter to the paint booths

* The moving in of all the plastic molding machines and the tool and die maker shops

* The moving out of the LED manufacturing from the back of the Redwood Building and the Model Shop

* The dismantling of the cafeteria to its new location in Building (I think it was #8)

* We also had a bomb scare at this building and everyone was evacuated (No bomb)

* The installation of new lighting fixtures, converting  from 120 volts to the 277 volts in two buildings

* The installation of equipment to recover the gold from circuit boards from various plants to the Bracamonte building. I sometimes thought if it weren't for this building HP would have had nowhere to locate such strange manufacturing processes.

* The wiring of various paint booths and the installing of the zinc spray coating of some parts. The guy who did the spraying was Robbie Robinson (Again no relation)

* The dismantling and salvage of various departments, to reclaim old copper wire from the old casting shop

* When the excavating for the new building 12 started, a group of urban archeologists showed up looking for buried stuff, old bottles etc.

* The moving of the extruder from the Hill to (Where else: the Bracamonte Building)

* The outfitting of the Harbors facility buildings. That was a hard, long job.

* Moving our Electric shop to the Redwood Building

* The connecting up of all the machinery that was moved in

* The wiring of the computer room in Building #8

* The wiring of the class rooms in the basement of #8

* The upgrading of the intercom system at the site

* The removal of the AC units from the roofs and the new ones set in place. All done by helicopters, making it a very unusual and dangerous, although very professional operation. The hooks ups were done by Cupertino Electric along with the upgrade of the electrical system

* The wiring of the new air compressor

* The hook up of all the new machinery moved into the casting building

There were a few engineering errors made, from time to time: There was a sump installation, with pumps designed for what was termed "Casual Water" Leaks and overflows. But they forgot to install a cooling cycle for the reuse of the water to cool the casting machines. So they piped the water into the sump and the surge of water made the float switches trip the breakers. Over one week end I made the equivalent of 4 days pay, although I lived just 4 miles away. One time with this faulty equipment setup, a huge rain storm flooded the basement. One result was that some of the wooden laminated beams over the casting machines began to crack and split. The original contractor had to bore holes through the beam and install large bolts to hold them together more rigidly. For some reason, the design of the sump installation never got improved. With those conditions we and the General Maintenance guys spent a lot of time mopping up.

Think about organizing support services. With a fixed size crew of technicians, which were determined to be able to handle an AVERAGE workload, there were times when overloads required a lot of overtime, or temporary hiring of contractors to help. But other times, with reduced projects, we naturally didn't have enough legitimate projects. So in those slack periods we spent a lot of time doing the mundane tasks. Changing ballasts and flourescent tubes, checking out and re-labeling circuit breakers.

There was another design flaw in the installation of the new lights in the new parking lot. They were surrounded by grass and sheets of plywood had to be laid so fork lift could lift a pallet high enough to reach the pole fixture. In some facilities, 2- 3 times a year the dust bags on the dust vacuum system had to be changed. On some other schedule, the electrical panels were cleaned out and the wires to the breakers tightened. Filters on the numerous exhaust fans were replaced on various schedules. Keeping production machinery in top condition, with emphasis on safety were our goals. I hope this is of some help.

Lest I forget. There was a concrete block building termed "The Barrel House." This was used to store all of the various barrels of the oils, degreasers, chemicals,  etc needed for the varied processes that were in progress. The building design called for an underground tank to catch all the spills. The City of Palo Alto had required a monitoring system on their sewers to catch any spills that came from moving or taking out the dangerous liquids.  (It was never explained fully how they found out the tank was leaking into a sewer)

At one point, the plastic covered spill tank, made of metal was dug up because it was leaking. Now THAT's a bad situation, the tank INTENDED to contain any spills, was ITSELF leaking. They never discovered any explanation for the deterioration of the tank? My opinion was electrolysis caused by electric currents from the ground. I recalled that back in the 1960' s, when I as an Electrical Inspector for the County of Sana Clara, electrolysis would in some areas actually corrode grounding rods at the electric meters.

Another problem developed in the telephone system for (What else? The Bracamonte Building). The telephone cable entered the building over the office area where there was very poor lighting. About two or three times a year the telephone guy would hit the wires that set off the fire alarm.

At the outside of the barrel house there was a large combination compactor/dumpster for paper and cardboard. Every so often it was picked up without disconnecting the electrical cord. Oops!

Another chore we did that had nothing to do with our normal duties was drafting us for the inventory of all the assets machinery, parts, etc

SO THIS HAS BEEN A REMEMBERANCE OF THINGS LONG PAST!! I guess in re-reading this memory dump, I might sound like I am critical of our management and our life in the support services. That is not true, because this job at HP was the best I ever had, and all of the unexpected problems which we were assigned to diagnose and solve and repair just made life all the more interesting and challenging. Generally we were given complete responsibility to get the job done without much supervision, which was the way Dave and Bill wanted their company to be run.



Various Documents Linked from this Page for References:



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