[Many thanks to Jonathan Sheline for donating this recording to the Atomic Heritage Foundation.]
Jonathan Sheline: This is February 6, 2009. I am interviewing Dad about his early life. Dad, tell me where you were born and what you remember about your first few homes growing up.
Raymond Sheline: I’m not sure if I was born in Sandusky, Ohio or Port Clinton, Ohio [it was Port Clinton] but those are towns in northern Ohio close to Lake Erie. The first home I remember anything about was when we lived in West Unity, Ohio. My father was a principal of a school. I remember we had a house that was fairly cold in the winter. I don’t remember too much about it. I remember my brother, Harry, just Harry and I, that I remember. I don’t think we had the third child, who was Richard yet. That’s the only thing I can really remember from West Unity.
Then let me just go ahead a little. The next thing was in Eden, Ohio and that’s where I started to first grade. I started ahead; I started when I was five.
Jonathan: Whose idea what that?
Raymond: I assume both of my parents, I don’t know. It was my parents who arranged that I go, and I remember wanting to do really well because my parents wanted me to, but having some difficulty on spelling. I think the people who were teachers were not really very well trained in teaching very young kids. They taught spelling, for example, in the first grade for complicated words. I remember particularly that I couldn’t figure out how to spell the word eight, e-i-g-h-t, the number eight. My dad was very upset with me because I couldn’t do that. Looking back, it doesn’t sound like—it isn’t spelled like it sounds, and so I think he was being somewhat unreasonable.
My dad by then did not have a teaching job, but he worked he worked in the sawmill in Eden, Ohio, and also went to University of Michigan to get a higher degree. He ended up getting a Master’s degree in Education, where his earlier degrees were in Engineering. During this time, I went with him up to the University of Michigan once, and I remember I had a sprained knee that I needed to soak. I remember the other students being very kind to me.
I also remember going to church in Eden, Ohio. It was a Christian church, I guess Disciples of Christ, and my grandmother played the piano for the church. And even though she only had a second grade education, she was amazingly smart and gifted. She had never been taught to play the piano, never had lessons.
Jonathan: This is your father’s mother?
Jonathan: What do you remember about her?
Raymond: I remember she was a very stern lady, very determined and very intelligent.
Jonathan: She was the one with the real bushy eyebrows, right?
Jonathan: What was her maiden name?
Raymond: Kaiser. She was Christina Kaiser, and she was called Tina.
Then from there we moved to Sylvania, Ohio, and my father got a teaching job at Willard High School teaching Physics. This was after he completed his Master’s Degree at the University of Michigan with a few hours on his doctorate. He never completed his doctorate. In Sylvania, Ohio, I must have been in second grade, maybe part of first, I don’t know. I remember very little about it. By then we had all four boys in our family, but we did not yet have the fifth baby girl. The house we lived in was a rented house.
We moved—I was in the fourth grade—to Toledo to our own house that my grandfather and grandmother had helped my parents buy. My parents couldn’t have afforded probably even to start buying it. I think I was in the fourth grade. I remember being very frightened because the very first day of school, the first day I went to the school in Toledo, a trip had been arranged to the Toledo Museum of Art, which was quite a nice thing, actually. But I was frightened because I don’t know exactly what I thought, but I must have thought that maybe I was being kidnapped or something.
Jonathan: Did you go on buses?
Raymond: Yep, we went on buses down to the Toledo Museum. Later on, I actually took a course at the Toledo Museum of Art. Something that was very, very disturbing to me because I was specially sort of awarded a kind of scholarship to go down there to study art. I did all the projects and did them well, I think. At the end, the teacher said I didn’t graduate because I didn’t turn in the last project, which was absolutely wrong. I described it to her and she said, oh yes, she did remember that, she’s sorry. I don’t ever think I got the proof that I passed this course. Another thing I remember in the fourth grade is I had what was probably some strange fevers, something that lasted for a month and it had all the symptoms of—what’s this very severe thing that affects your heart?
Jonathan: Rheumatic fever.
Raymond: Yeah. I know that if I did have that, that’s very bad. But I know that I was sick for a month, out of school for a month. The doctor came to the house and painted my throat with silver nitrate, my very, very sore throat.
Jonathan: Did that help?
Raymond: I can’t say. I don’t know. I had kind of fevers, and I felt really quite sick during this time.
What I think one of the interesting things is, when I went back to school. The first day, we had a test on all the stuff I had missed. I’m not even quite sure what subject it was in; it might have been arithmetic of something. I got a perfect score, and all the kids said, “How could you do that?” [Chuckles] In grade school in those days, I was usually the top one or near it.
Jonathan: What do you remember about your parents about that time? What were they like?
Raymond: This was during the Depression and they were extremely frugal. Even though my dad had a fairly good job, there were an awful lot of people who had no jobs.
One of the things I remember is that when the banks closed, my dad had some money in the bank and he couldn’t get it. A man came around and offered my father some percentage, a fairly large percentage, maybe 70% of the money, if he would—
Jonathan: Turn over that deed?
Raymond: Turn over the money, yep, whatever you’d call it, the right to that money. My dad did it, and then in just a few days the banks opened. My father felt like he had been rather rooked.
Another thing that happened during this time, the Board of Education of Toledo did not have enough money to pay the teachers. So they paid them in script, which was sort of printed money promising to pay. Some stores wouldn’t take it, and some would.
So this was a time when my parents were extremely frugal. They were all of their lives, more or less, but maybe especially so. We went out and found some apple trees with wormy little apples and so on. We picked them and took them to my mother, who made applesauce.
In the meantime, my dad had some little tests, arithmetic tests essentially, with a bunch of arithmetic problems. Very simple little problems where you had to write in a hole in the cardboard thing. It would say 4 + 2, and a line, and then a hole where you wrote the number in, and there might be thirty or forty on the page, and he would time us to see how fast we could and how accurately. This was sort of a game for us that we liked. I, being the oldest, could do it the best.
Jonathan: What do you remember of what your parents were like, each of them?
Raymond: We saw more of our mother, and she was kind to us. My father was much stricter.
Jonathan: In what way?
Raymond: He’s the one who mostly punished us if we did something wrong. Sometimes my mother would say, “Now, I’m going to tell your father about that when he comes,” so the punishment fell to him, pretty much.
I remember one incident, I’m not sure when it was. My mother had set us up on chairs as punishment for something, and we stuck out our tongues at her. She was very angry about all this. In retrospect, I don’t know quite why she thought that was so terrible. But anyway, she said, “If you stick out your tongues again, I’m going to tell your dad.” Then she hid behind the door into the next room, and you could just see her there. I could not help myself and I stuck out my tongue, even though I could see her right there.
Jonathan: What happened?
Raymond: I don’t remember.
Jonathan: Did you get spanked?
I remember a thing where probably in Eden, Ohio, where I had done something wrong. My father was home at lunchtime and said, “I am going to have to spank you when I come back.”
I felt really that I didn’t want to get spanked. My mother said, “I’ll tell you what you can do. You go out and gather a whole bunch of dandelions, and maybe he won’t spank you.” They were for the rabbits that we had.
Jonathan: You had rabbits? You ate the rabbits?
Raymond: Yep. It was part of being careful, about the frugality.
Jonathan: Did it work?
Raymond: Yep, it did.
Jonathan: He didn’t spank you?
Raymond: He didn’t spank me. My mother told him, she said, “We will cool the water in these and spruce them up, so they’ll look like quite a bit.”
Jonathan: Who cleaned and killed the rabbits?
Raymond: My dad.
Jonathan: Did he hunt at all?
Raymond: Yes, he did hunt. He mostly caught rabbits and occasionally pheasants.
Jonathan: He never taught any of you guys to shoot?
Raymond: Oh no, all my brothers were hunters.
Jonathan: But not you?
Raymond: No. I may have gone a few times, but I didn’t like to hunt.
I remember one case where we were all going out hunting. My brother, Bob, wanted to come along, but I’m not sure how old he was, maybe nine or ten. My dad said no, he was too young, but he could go someplace by himself where he wouldn’t be dangerous thereabouts. Well, when we came back, he had more rabbits than all the rest of us put together.
Jonathan: He was a good shot, huh?
Raymond: He was a very good shot. He also was highly competitive, so he wanted to show us up.
Jonathan: What do you remember about your house, that house you lived in for a long time in Toledo?Raymond: It was a green house and my parents paid between four and five thousand dollars for it. Actually, my grandparents paid it off. I remember my mother being tearful, because she said she knew how hard they had worked for the money they used to pay it off. These were my father’s parents who paid it off.
The house had a basement, it had a kitchen, a very small dining room, and a living room on the downstairs. Then there was a staircase going upstairs, and three bedrooms with one bath. But the one bedroom was kept for almost all the time that we were there as a spare bedroom for who might come. So, all four boys were in this one bedroom in two double beds.
Jonathan: Bunk beds or two double beds?
Raymond: Two double beds.
Jonathan: Who did you sleep with?
Jonathan: Was your room as big as this room we are in right now?
Raymond: Yeah, I think so.
Jonathan: This room is about 12 x 12, I would guess.
Raymond: Yeah. There were two double beds on two sides, with a reasonable amount of space between them. They were against the far walls. Right down the aisle was a window out to the front yard and the street, and then there was another window as you entered the room on the left-hand side. We also had a dresser, and we each had a drawer.
Jonathan: You each had one drawer in the dresser?
Raymond: Just one dresser.
Jonathan: Did you have a closet?
Raymond: Yeah. I don’t remember much about it. Finally, when I was about fifteen or sixteen, toward the end of high school, I said, “Why do we always keep this spare bedroom? It’s never even used.” I said, “Why can’t one of us have that spare bedroom, so we wouldn’t be so cramped up?” My parents talked it over and decided I was right. They put me in the spare bedroom. Then Harry was in the double bed by himself, and Richard and Bob in the other one.
Jonathan: Did somebody else get to move into that, once you left for college?
Jonathan: Probably Harry, huh?
Raymond: It should have been, although when Harry left high school, he didn’t go to college.
Jonathan: Did he go straight to work for Ford?
Raymond: He went straight to work. I think it was Ford. I think it was several different companies in the first couple years or so, and then it settled down with Ford.
Jonathan: I remember you mentioned your dad sometimes had regrets about him maybe not getting to do what he originally intended to do. Tell me something about that.
Raymond: No, that’s not right. I never heard him say that he had a regret.
Jonathan: Or maybe it was you?
Raymond: Yes, I said it to my mom. I think I said to her something about that I felt he was really a very intelligent man, and it’s sort of too bad he didn’t continue in his engineering, because some of the people that he helped get through became big-shot engineers.
My mother said, “Well, if you had seen the hundreds of people who came to his funeral and talked to them, some of them said, ‘I would be in prison if it wasn’t for RK.’” She said, “Then you would realize that what he did was okay.”
Jonathan: So he never said he regretted anything
Raymond: No. In fact, I remember once we were sitting in the breakfast nook. By then I wasn’t married yet, but I think out of college, probably out of the Armed Forces. I think he said, “If I had it all to do over again, I think I would do it just like I did.”
Jonathan: What did you think about that?
Raymond: Well, it made me feel good.
Jonathan: What do you remember about your baby sister?
Raymond: I remember that during this time when I was sick, I took her out for a walk, and I shared an apple with her. I remember my parents being – my mother being quite upset about that. She asked me to take her for a walk, but she didn’t realize I would give her part of my apple.
She got sick, and my parents always believed that it was because I shared my apple. And she died. She had first something like a cold or like the flu or something, and then it kept going until she got meningitis and died. I always felt extremely guilty about this, although I am not at all sure that what I did caused her to be sick. I kind of doubt it.
Jonathan: But when you were little, you probably didn’t realize it so much?
Jonathan: Did she ever go to the hospital?
Raymond: I think so. She was an extremely beautiful child. Extremely tightly clustered curls, blond curls, blue eyes.
Jonathan: What was her name?
Raymond: Phyllis Jean.
Jonathan: Dad, tell me about your paper route growing up.
Raymond: When I was in 8th grade, I got a paper route. The newspaper was “The Blade,” which is a fairly famous newspaper. It was scattered in the vicinity of my home. I think bicycling around it was about a total of seven miles so. It was interesting, in those days it was the common kind of thing for routers, which was an afternoon paper route, not a morning. By being rather careful, I actually was able to build it up into more customers. I don’t recall exactly how many customers I had, but in the end I think it was maybe eighty or 100. I not only had to deliver the paper, but I had to collect the money. In those days, very few of them paid directly to the newspaper although a few did.
In the process of delivering the newspaper, I met quite a few people. In some cases, they became very good friends. For example, I met the [inaudible] who had a son who was about two years younger than me and three grades behind me. But of course, he went to DeVilbiss High School, whereas I went to Woodward because my father was a teacher there, and so I was way out of where I normally should be.
Jonathan: How much did papers cost?
Raymond: I think the paper cost eighteen cents a week.
Jonathan: How much did you get per paper for delivering?
Raymond: I think it was delivered six days a week, not seven, and I think I got a penny a paper. I’m not sure of that. I got a considerable fraction. But the major economics of newspapers is not the delivery price but the advertising. I’ve tried to think of what happened to my newspaper route when I went to college, and I can’t remember.
Jonathan: Did any of your brothers do a route?
Raymond: Yes. My brother, Harry, also had a paper route. Sometimes, we were somewhat in competition. Probably—although I’m not at all sure of this—I gave him my paper route. Actually, paper routes were usually sold.
Jonathan: Did you have to buy yours from somebody
Raymond: I don’t remember, but I think so. My parents would have helped me with that.
Jonathan: How much money did you save on from your paper route, do you remember?
Raymond: I have no idea, but I had saved every cent.
Jonathan: What did you use that money for?
Raymond: I put it in the bank and began to earn interest on it. Then in World War II, together with my mother, I bought a duplex. I made a down payment, I didn’t buy it. Little by little, it paid itself off during the war.
Jonathan: What were your relations with your brothers like growing up?
Raymond: For the most part, we got along really well. We sometimes did some very foolish things. One time, I think we all got spanked because we were trying to run away from Christian—I mean Bob. He followed across a very busy road, Monroe Street, and got hit.
Jonathan: Got hit by a car?
Raymond: Uh huh.
Jonathan: Was he hurt?
Raymond: No, not badly. But I think because of that, we all got spanked.
In fact, I was probably closest to Bob, my youngest brother. Richard and Harry were a little closer. At one time, among the four brothers, Richard was beating up on Bob on occasion. I taught Bob something about boxing, and then he easily protected himself.
Jonathan: What did Richard think about that?
Raymond: He was not very happy.
Actually, one of the things we did was bike all over everywhere. There was a creek probably maybe ten or fifteen miles from our house called the 10-Mile Creek, and we used to bike out to it and roam around.
One of things I did, one of the customers on my paper route was a woman who ran a nursery. Particularly times like Mother’s Day and Easter, she used to sell flowers, either cut or in pots. Out at the 10-Mile Creek, there were some rather nice flowers, just lots of them, just in the wild. I got my dad to take the car out there, and we got maybe fifteen or twenty of those flowers and took them to this woman. We had no agreement. She sold them, and I don’t know what she charged but it had to be nice because they looked really nice in pots. It had to be quite a bit of money.
Jonathan: Did she give you any?
Raymond: Yeah, she gave me twenty-five cents for each one, which would hardly pay for the gas so I really felt rooked. I never had any more dealings with her.
Once when I was delivering her newspaper to the greenhouse, I parked my bike by the side of the road standing up with the wheel barrels holding it up against the curb. Somebody came along and ran over the bike, and totally destroyed it. They bent both wheels of the bicycle. But they were very nice people and they told me about it, and I got a new bicycle.
Jonathan: They bought you a new bicycle?
Raymond: Yeah. Maybe it was their insurance, I’m not sure. Anyway, I got a new bicycle out of it.
Jonathan: Dad, tell something about your grandpa, Holly Sheline. What you remember about him when you were growing up?
Raymond: I don’t remember so much about him when I was growing up. He lived in a great big house in Eden, Ohio. When we went to visit, my dad drove from Toledo to Eden. We always used to try to get my dad to set a new record in getting there, drive faster. My grandfather worked at the mill. I don’t know the details, but I think he was a part owner.
Jonathan: Did he do administrative work then or did he do physical work, or what did he do?
Raymond: He did physical work right in the mill. He was very, very good at it, fast and strong. This mill, it shaved logs into veneer, and it made hoops for barrels. They had to bend these hoops, so they had to make vats of very hot water.
Jonathan: Did you or any of your brothers ever work in that mill?
Raymond: No, none of us ever worked in the mill. My father did briefly. But one of the things about it, going to the mill, there was a smell of cut timber, sort of a sawdust smell that I always liked it and like it to this day.
Jonathan: What do you remember about your grandmother, about Holly’s wife?
Raymond: She was an extremely dedicated hard worker who was extremely frugal and saved every penny. My grandfather was well off financially. I wouldn’t say he was wealthy, but he was well off, and it was mostly because of his wife.
In the early years, they owned a farm and my grandfather was actually a farmer. I don’t know what he grew. But then he continued to own the farm and rented it. After my grandfather died, maybe before he died—I think it was before he died—he gave the farm to my father, and my father sold it. At the time it was probably a fair price, a reasonable price, I’m not sure. But in a little while it turned out to be very, very foolish.
Jonathan: Had it gotten much more valuable?
Raymond: Yes. Farm land was climbing in value appreciably. I went to DuBeau Elementary School through six grades, and did well in school.
Jonathan: Your brothers went to DuBeau Elementary School?
Raymond: DuBeau was in Toledo, Ohio, about three-quarters of a mile from our home. Then for seventh and eighth grade, I went to McKinley, which was I would estimate three or four miles from my home. In general, my father took us there and dropped us off.
At McKinley, I started to excel. They, for example, put students in order of their ranking and usually my ranking in various classes was one or two. I remember, for example, that in eighth grade the English teacher made quite a point of giving a present to the most outstanding pupil, and she gave that to me. It was book of poems very nicely done up, a fancy book.
But I also remember that when they wanted to make an award, there was a guy in the class who was not anywhere the most outstanding, there were several who were better than he was. His name was Paul Barrens, and he was a nice enough guy, but he was not one of the smarter ones. Later on, he became a jeweler. But anyway, by his politicking and acting particularly nice to all the teachers, he was given the award. I remember everybody was really upset about it, including me.
In the last year before we went to high school, we took an IQ test. I was pretty good at those, because my father had given us tests as kids for fun. They were sort of games to us. On this IQ test, I got 143 which was a little above the genius level; 140 was supposed to be the genius level.
I was doing very well and I was a year ahead. But this was in academics. Socially, I was way behind. I think the year’s difference made me feel inadequate.
Partially because of this, I became more or less a total nerd. Everybody knew I was very smart, but I was not particularly well accepted.
At this time, my parents decided that it would be appropriate for me to go to the school where my father was teaching, Woodward High School. I started in the ninth grade as a freshman at Woodward High School when I was thirteen.
Jonathan: Did your dad drive you to school?
Raymond: Yes, we always rode with my dad. There are some interesting stories about that, that I will come to in a little bit.
As a freshman there, I was elected president of the freshman class, almost certainly because my father was a teacher, I think. At the end of freshman year, there was a dance. As the president of the class, I had to go. I asked a girl, and got her corsage and so on. I didn’t really didn’t know how to dance at all, but I went to the dance and sort of stepped around the way I had been taught a little bit. I remember this girl saying to me, “Hold me tighter,” [laughter] and I didn’t. I felt embarrassed to do that.
Another thing that happened in freshman year was that in the first semester English class, I did very well. Before the final exam, the teacher had said that there were certain students who had done so well that there was no need to take the final exam, because the only thing they could do by taking it would be to lower their grade. So she was excusing them from the final exam. I was one of those excused. When I got my grade, I nearly fell over backward. I had a B rather than an A. I couldn’t understand why she was telling me skip the final exam.
I told my parents this, and they were tremendously upset. They went to see the teacher. They took me out of her set of students and put me in another class with a much more mature teacher. This was a young teacher, and I don’t know what the real problem was, but she just had made a mistake, I think.
Jonathan: Did you ever take the final?
Raymond: No! Because it was past. I got my final grade, B, and I didn’t know anything until then.
Anyway, I kept going. My junior year, I took Chemistry and did very, very well in it. In fact, I always did well in the sciences. Well, I did well in everything, actually, at the level of high school, I was just obviously one of the top students. I was selected to go and take the state exam in history, but I didn’t do well enough to get one of the top honors.
I remember an incident that happened in European History in my senior year. One of the kids had managed to see the answers to the final exam. He was telling various people, including me, what the answers were. When I took the final exam, immediately I could see that the answers that he had—I just remembered a few of the first ones, but the answers he had given were obviously right.
I should have probably just shut up. But I told my dad, and he went to see the teacher. It turned out the kid who had told me, who was not a very good student, got almost a perfect paper. She gave him an F, I think, or she gave him a low grade, in any case. But when I got my grade, I had a B. I had been a special honoree in history and so on, and I think it was that she felt that I should not have been telling on him. I’m not sure what she thought.
Anyway, because of these B’s in freshman English and in History, I did not come out as the valedictorian or the salutatorian. I was number three in my class, and the one who was number one was really very good, a girl. The one who was number two was not nearly as good as I was, but she had taken easier subjects and had a higher grade point average. But I had a high enough grade point average in a class of 380 or 390 that I was given a scholarship to Toledo University. My parents thought, of course, that’s where I was going to go.
Instead, actually a relative of ours whose husband was a minister urged me to consider going to Bethany College in West Virginia and urged them to give me a scholarship. On the spur of the moment, they gave me a full scholarship. Although I had paid a $25 fee already to Toledo University—or my father had—I went ahead and went to Bethany College. He was very upset about this, particularly because of the loss of the $25. But this is one place my mother was kind of encouraging me to do what I wanted, and I went to Bethany College.
At Bethany College, I majored in Chemistry. I was fortunate because there was an outstanding Chemistry professor, Harold Dawson, who had a PhD in Organic Chemistry from Ohio State. And the thing which was unique about him was how much he cared for all of the students who were majoring in Chemistry. I also did well in the entrance exams in Chemistry and skipped over freshman Chemistry and went immediately to Organic Chemistry at Bethany.
In my first year at Bethany, I made all A’s except German. In my semester of German, I made C and then the second semester A. But the reason I made the C was something that still bothers me to this day. We had an exam and there was a long section of German, actually taken from something we had read during the year. There were some questions asked about the German grammar and so on for this, which were needed to be answered and were kind of hard when I did that. At the very bottom of the page, it said, “Translate literally,” and I failed to see that. I could have done that so easily, because I just was wishing, “I wish I could just translate this.” But I didn’t see the thing at the bottom. Without doing that, I got a C.
I was not very good in Languages anyway, although I later took second year of German and made A’s also. But I was still not very good in Languages. I also took French, first semester of French, my senior year just before graduating and made an A.
However, in Chemistry, I was really a whiz, so I was always the very top. At the very end at Bethany, they had an unusual thing. They required you to take essentially an all-day exam in your major, and that was Chemistry for me. My minor at Bethany, by the way, was Math.
I did extremely well in that all-day exam. My grade point average, on the basis of 3 as an A, for the whole time I was there was exactly 2.93, which in those days was a very, very high average. On the basis of how well I had done in this day-long exam and on my grades, I was stipulated to graduate summa cum laude, the highest in my class. Nobody else was, in any subject.
Jonathan: Tell me about your social life at Bethany.
Raymond: At Bethany, I continued to be, as I had been in high school, sort of behind the general level. I essentially had almost no dates all the way through Bethany until my junior year. I was living in a special house close to the campus that I will talk about in a few minutes, and there was a roommate there, a guy who was on a basketball team. Very much an outstanding, virile kind of guy. All the girls were interested in him, for example.
He made me a $25 bet that I couldn’t have a date with seven different girls in a week. Money was very, very scarce to me. I took up his bet, and I won the bet. The only trouble is, he didn’t pay me [laughter]. But maybe in some way by urging me to do that, the value for me was more important than the $25, because it did give me a certain amount of self-confidence and I felt a little more at ease with women.
Another thing that happened at Bethany is, knowing that I had three younger brothers, I felt it was very important not to cause my parents a big debt in the process of going through college. Because my father had just a high school teacher’s salary, and it was not very much, actually. My first year at Bethany, I lived in a dorm. Although I had full scholarship, the dorm price cost a certain amount. I ended up even spending my money from newspaper routes and so on. I ended up spending about $178 that my parents paid.
But after my first year, I never caused my parents any expense at college. The way I did this was, for food, I started working at a local tea room, as it was called, Aunt Kate’s Tea Room. By serving there and doing dishes and so on, I essentially earned all my food.
The place where I lived right on campus was about the size of a big closet. As I remember it, I think the rent was six dollars a month. During my freshman year, I worked as a janitor at the college. After my freshman year, I was an assistant in the Chemistry Department, earning sort of minimum wage, but nonetheless earning my way. I ended up going through college essentially for free.
Jonathan: I want to ask you another question. How was your self-confidence when you were in college, when you were around other people your age?
Raymond: I was still considered somewhat of a nerd, I think. My self-confidence was getting a little better, but not the way I would have liked it to be, I think. I think it was due to the fact that I studied very, very hard, and studying took precedence over everything else. Also, I think it was the fact that I was a year younger than everybody else, and that continued to affect me somewhat even in college.
Raymond: I’ll tell you an interesting story. I was so embarrassed about my physical development that in high school, I refused to take gymnastics because I didn’t want to get undressed in front of other people.
Jonathan: What about in college?
Raymond: No, let me go ahead. My parents, while I was still in high school, arranged for me to go to a camp, a summer camp, with essentially all fellows. The major thing of that camp was a skinny-dipping thing in about the last few days of the camp. Somehow, with everybody going naked into this pool, I felt perfectly happy to do that. I got over that difficulty, of being ashamed of my body.
That was not a problem in college like it had been in high school. But nonetheless, all of these things sort of added up and made me less confident than I should have been. I did not really deem considerable confidence in myself until after I had worked on the Manhattan Project and was about twenty-three years old.
One of the interesting things about what happened to me in college was that this professor, H. D. Dawson, was so impressed with me that he went with me on my job interviews after college. I had accepted a job with the Trojan Powder Company in Allentown, Pennsylvania, as a special assistant to the president of the company, largely because Dawson had recommended me and went with me to see this guy.
I was also supposed to on this trip go to DuPont. But at the last second, they called off the interview saying they were oversubscribed, but on the other hand, I had such an outstanding record that they thought they could recommend me for something that might prove very interesting. I never knew for sure, but I’m virtually certain that they recommended for the Manhattan Project, the atom bomb project.
But having already accepted the other job, I felt compelled to call the president of the Trojan Powder Company and ask him if he would dismiss me, if he would allow me to take this other job. I told him I had gotten a telegram from Harold Urey, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry and Physics, offering me this job. He said, “Yes, I’ll release you.”
Jonathan: What kind of hobbies did you have in college? Or other interests outside of school?
Raymond: I would say virtually none. Just offhand, I can’t think of any. I played the flute in the band, if you call that a hobby. I played the flute and piccolo in both the band and the orchestra.
Jonathan: How much of a time commitment was that?
Raymond: Particularly during the football season, it was every week. Well, not every week because when they traveled away, we mostly didn’t go with them.
I did the same in high school, I was in the band and the orchestra. It is kind of interesting—in my freshman year at Woodward High School, I played the flute. The director of the band who directed at several different high schools was Guy Sutphin, and he was very impressed with me. I played the flute well. He used to call me his “little pissant,” [laugh] because I was very short still. I hadn’t had my growth spurt. I was for most of the year just thirteen. Then between my freshman and sophomore years, I shot up several inches, and from then on, I kept growing.
What hobbies did I have? I, on occasion, played basketball or football with some of the kids. But not very often, very seldom.
Jonathan: Any other sports? You said basketball?
Raymond: No, I would say I played more football than basketball. But I got my mouth jammed together and destroyed a couple of my teeth playing basketball.
Jonathan: Oh, playing basketball.
Jonathan: Did the ball hit you, or what?
Raymond: No, no. A guy was jumping, and his shoulder came underneath my chin and he just jammed and my whole mouth was black and blue. One of the teeth was actually killed, the nerves were killed. I didn’t know that until years later, many years later.
So, this somewhat unsure of himself guy went off to New York City to work at Columbia University on the atom bomb project, on the Manhattan Project, at Columbia University. This called for things that I wasn’t used to: finding an apartment, and going ahead with research which was very, very different than anything I had ever done before.
Because although I was in a chemistry group, I began to build an apparatus for testing the corrosiveness of uranium hexafluoride. It was more or less dynamic corrosion, where the uranium hexafluoride was circulated in this system, and not only did it do static corrosion, but the moving gas had a sort of scouring effect. The question was, “Could this kind of system work or would the corrosiveness, the dynamic corrosiveness, destroy the whole process?” That was my problem.
The reason for this was that uranium hexafluoride was the gas that was used to separate uranium-235, which was the fissionable material, from uranium-238. There is only one part in 140 of uranium-235 in ordinary uranium.
Over a couple of years or so, I did this job successfully and was able to show that whatever corrosive effects there were, were mitigated by the fact that the barrier through which the uranium had to pass collected the corrosive materials and stopped the dynamic corrosion.
Jonathan: You did all that at Columbia?
Jonathan: How long were you there for? A year?
Raymond: I was there for two and a half years—or not quite, but almost two and a half years.
Jonathan: What was that like, living in New York City?
Raymond: One of the interesting things that happened is that I started out as a civilian. But by September of my first year there—I went there essentially in January of 1943, and by September of that year I had been drafted into the Army.
It is an interesting story in itself, because the Army did not want me to be drafted. They sent a Captain Grotchens all the way from New York City to my State Board of Appeals in Columbus, Ohio to tell them I shouldn’t be drafted, that the government didn’t want me to drafted. The head of the board said to Captain Grotchens, “What’s he doing that’s so important?”
Grochens said, “I don’t know. And if I did know, I wouldn’t be able to tell you anyway.”
The Head of the Board said, “Look, we have a draft quota to fill. If you can’t tell me anything, we’ll draft him.” They told me that they could get a month-by-month—
Raymond: —deferment by doing this through the President of the United States. But that best for me and best for the project was if I went in to the Army, and they brought me back to the same project.
I was drafted into the Army as a private. I went through basic training at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana. Along the way, they had you take a bunch of tests. They had told me whatever I did, I needed to stay in the Army because they couldn’t control the other services. I was brought before a guy and he said to me, “Would you be willing to work for a commission in the Air Corps?”
I said, “No, sir.” He couldn’t believe it. He looked up, and that was it. The same thing happened with the Navy. I was offered to work for a commission, both in the Air Force and the Navy, and I didn’t accept them.
But in that regard, it is sort of interesting that at Los Alamos, I had a Major in the Army who actually worked more or less under my direction. By then, I was a Sergeant.
Jonathan: Was that your highest rank, was a Sergeant?
Raymond: Yeah, Staff Sergeant.
Jonathan: Now you came back from Louisiana, and went back to New York City?
Raymond: Yeah. That’s correct. That happened in, I guess it was October of 1943.
Very interesting things happened to me during my basic training. I had a Master Sergeant in charge of the training, who was I think a sadist. He was very disturbed with me, because I came in to a group that was just finishing up their six weeks training. For example, we went on a hike about the second or third day I was there. You had to take your backpack off and display everything, and then pack it back together and be ready in just a couple of minutes.
Other people had helped me pack this, and I wasn’t able to do this. The Sergeant said—not the bad one, another one—said, “Pick it up in your arms and carry it.” [Laughter] I was dropping things, and people were helping me. Little by little, I got it together.
Then they went off to war and another group came in. By now, I was the senior one. After I had been there for six weeks, I got special papers, which on the inside sent me back to Columbia University, but on the outside, they said something different. The papers came to me, not to the Master Sergeant, and I was told not to let anybody see them.
I went to him and told him that I had orders to leave. He said, “Let me see those papers,” and he just took them right away from me. He saw that there was a discrepancy between the front page and the inside, the envelope and the inside. He called up somebody. All of a sudden, he said, “No, he has them in his hand right now, sir,” and he was handing them back.
That didn’t stop this guy, though, because we always had a meeting before the evening meal. This Master Sergeant said, “We have a guy in this camp who thinks his shit doesn’t stink.” [Laughter] He said, “He thinks he’s leaving here, but he isn’t. He’s staying here and doing KP [Kitchen Patrol] over the weekend.”
I asked the guys in the barracks what I can do. They said, “Well, he’s your senior officer. You better obey him.”
On the following Monday, after doing KP over the weekend, I was out in the field smelling gases. A runner came out, saying they wanted to see me back. I went back. This Master Sergeant was saying, “No sir, it’s his fault he didn’t leave!”
I went berserk. I started cursing, and I really did go berserk. The officer on the other side I’m sure could hear some of that. He [the Master Sergeant] said, “Get your things, and we’ll get you to the train.” Then he said to me, “Anyway, you won’t have a berth to sleep, because you were supposed to have left last Saturday.” He was really bad. Then he said to me, “By the way, what is this thing you doing that’s so important? What kind of a ranking are you going to get for it?”
This guy was a Master Sergeant, and I thought, “Here’s my chance.” I said, “I’m sure I won’t get very much. Perhaps I’ll be a Master Sergeant.”
I was back then at Columbia working on this corrosion project. It included some fairly serious work with electron micrographs of the corrosive dust that was produced, and involved a fairly long report. But I had finished this just at the right time. Most of the people at Columbia who worked on this project were going to Oak Ridge, where the uranium-235 was being separated from uranium-238, and we had done some of the research in connection with that. But I asked a special permission to go to Los Alamos. I had heard about Los Alamos and I wanted to go there, because I knew that the uranium project was essentially finished. They said, “We don’t know, but we’ll do our best.” Ultimately, I was sent to Los Alamos.
But let me back up and tell you a little bit about this project. It was supposed to be absolutely super-secret. Of course, all the people in our group were guessing what was going on, trying to understand why we would be working with uranium hexafluoride. We didn’t know really very much about it.
The head of our group, the guy by the name of Homer Price said “Look, it’s foolish for you guys just to keep speculating about this. I’ll tell you what it’s about. I’m not supposed to, so you keep quiet about this.” But he told us that we were working on a project to make a superbomb, something with a tremendous energy release, and told us a little bit about it.
At Los Alamos, I arrived just the day before the bomb was tested at Alamogordo in New Mexico. I wasn’t at the test, although I have fused sand from the test that’s still a little bit radioactive.
But when I got there, I was put on a project working on the second method of exploding an atom bomb. It was the so-called “snowball mechanism” in which you put pieces of uranium, pieces of a chemical explosive around a central fissionable material, which is not critical. By exploding it, you squeeze the fissionable material until it becomes critical and explodes.
Our part in that project was to take very large radioactive sources of the order of three or four thousand curies—which is a huge amount of radioactivity and very dangerous—and put it at the center of a ball of fissionable material. We used just ordinary uranium to in place of the plutonium, which would be the thing that would really be there.
Jonathan: Oh, I see. You mean a substitute?
Raymond: A model.
Jonathan: Yeah, a model, right.
Raymond: We separated this radioactivity. It was lanthanum-140 which we used. This was put then at the center of this. The chemical explosives, very carefully prepared, were place around this. Simultaneously, they were exploded. In the process, they squeezed the uranium so that you could see how much the compression was by the diminution in radioactivity, and in this way see whether or not this process would work.
I continued to work on that until I was discharged March 9, 1946. I was only there about nine months.
Jonathan: When did you arrive then, in Los Alamos?
Raymond: Let’s see. I think it was June 14 or June 15 [actually July].
Jonathan: Of 1945?
Raymond: 1945. But at Los Alamos, it was a whole different deal. The greatest scientists in the world were there. [Enrico] Fermi and Niels Bohr and [Hans] Bethe, and lots and lots of others.
After the war was over in August of 1945, they set up a college for people to attend. For example, those of us who were in the Army, we weren’t free to go anywhere anyways, so that was a very, very good thing. I took a course in Nuclear Chemistry. It was given by some of the more senior people.
Jonathan: In Los Alamos?
Raymond: In Los Alamos. I don’t know if it was ever graded or not. I can’t remember getting a grade in it.
Barbara: Who were your teachers?
Raymond: One was Gerhart Friedlander. He used this, actually, this course, to develop a book in nuclear chemistry which became famous.
Jonathan: What did you do for fun when you were in Los Alamos?
Raymond: I was in the Army, so I was in some sense somewhat limited. But on a few occasions, I went horseback riding.
There were essentially very few women. There were some WACs [Women’s Army Corps], but I never dated anybody there.
In the meantime, though, at Columbia and briefly at Oak Ridge, and so on, I was much freer. At Los Alamos, we lived in barracks. There was some tendency to try to make it like an Army. At Columbia, I lived in my own apartment, and I got some money to pay for it. As a soldier, I could go to the—they had all these free things, the Radio City Music Hall, operas, symphony concerts. I went to as many of them as I could, and I enjoyed them tremendously. I also began to date more seriously.
Jonathan: When you were in New York?
Raymond: New York.
Jonathan: Did you have any serious girlfriends there?
Raymond: Somewhat serious. A girl by the name of Jean Toller, who was very, very interested in me, and traveled across the US when I was at Berkeley to try to persuade me to marry her. She didn’t say that specifically, but that’s what she was trying to do.
But I didn’t want to get married until I had my doctorate. I had some other girlfriends. I had matured out of my “nerdishness,” and my lack of confidence, I would say. I think the girls were after me [laughter], rather than me being after them. That was true of several different girls while I was at Columbia.
Jonathan: When you finished at Los Alamos, where did you go?
Raymond: I was discharged from Fort Bliss in Texas from Los Alamos. I decided, “I’m free! I’m going to celebrate!” I hitchhiked across the country from Texas to California, the opposite direction from home, and got myself accepted at University of California at Berkeley for the fall of 1946. This was March.
That’s an interesting story in itself, because this shows a little bit about my increase in confidence. When I went to see the Dean of the college in Chemistry—his name was Latimer, Wendell Latimer. He had essentially an assistant or a secretary, Ms. [Mabel] Kittredge, who was really the one decided who got to see him. I had my record there and showed it to her. She said, “You have an absolutely outstanding record here, but I have to tell you that your subject matter is no more than about what our juniors would have.”
Something kind of snapped in me and I said, “Ms. Kittredge, I’ve been with a number of the students from this department at Los Alamos, and I know I’m their equal.”
She said, “I’ll let you see the Dean.” So, I had my confidence by then.
Then from there, I hitchhiked back across the country. I had already accepted a job with the Merck Chemical Company in Rahway, New Jersey. A guy came from Merck Chemical Company and interviewed people, and I was one of the very few that he gave a job to. I actually went back home first and then to Rahway, New Jersey. I enjoyed that job. I felt completely relaxed and at ease now. I dated the same girl, Jean Toller, in New York City, from Rahway, New Jersey. But I was there only until sometime in August, when I quit.
With a friend of mine from the [Manhattan] Project, Bill Tyson, we got a car, a used car to drive across the country, and this was going to be cheap transportation. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way because in Colorado, Bill Tyson was driving and a car crossed right in front of him, in a small town in Colorado, and we cracked into him.
Jonathan: In his car?
Raymond: Yeah. When we got out to California, they wouldn’t give us anything. We were supposed to get a certain amount of money. They said, “You’ve wrecked the car. We aren’t giving you a thing.”
Jonathan: Oh, you were driving it for somebody, I see.
Raymond: Yeah, for a company.
Raymond: At Berkeley, I really found that it was very, very much harder, significantly harder than Bethany College, and I really had to work hard. But I did work hard, and I was one of the best students they had, at least grade-wise.
Jonathan: Did you any extracurricular things at Berkeley, or did you have time?
Raymond: I didn’t have much time at all.
Jonathan: Didn’t you tell me you were part of an international—isn’t that where you met Mo[hammed] Alei [who worked at Los Alamos for many years, after the war, and his son Bob and Jonathan became close friends] or something, or you were at an International House or something?
Raymond: No, I lived in an International House. It was a great place to live. The International House had people from all over the world. I really enjoyed that, but I was not dating anybody. I was studying.
[Another interchange about Mo Alei; Raymond did not recall meeting him at Berkeley]
I worked extremely hard and I graduated in an amazingly short time, two and three-quarters years from the time I entered until I had my doctorate. That was close to a record.
Now I’ll tell you a story—
Barbara [Jonathan’s wife]: You were anxious to get married.
Barbara: You were anxious to get married.
Raymond: No, I wouldn’t say that. I was anxious to do well, and it just worked out that way.
Jonathan: Why did you want so much to finish soon? So, you could just get out and make money, or what?
Raymond: I wouldn’t say I wanted to finish soon. I wanted to do really well. It just worked. I happened to get all the right things, and my research worked out.
Barbara: The things just fell into place and you were able to wrap it up.
Raymond: Yep. Very short time.
Jonathan: It is Sunday, October 31. Dad is going to talk about his life starting when he graduated from Berkeley and got his first job after his Ph.D.
Raymond: It was an interesting thing. Because I graduated earlier than anybody else—the guy who was in charge of my dissertation, the guy under whom I got my Doctorate was Pitzer, Kenneth Pitzer, a rather famous chemist. He was Chairman [misspoke: Director of Research] of the Atomic Energy Commission, and was away from Berkeley. That caused some problems for me in being able to complete my degree. But at the last minute, when he hadn’t replied, I sent him a telegram asking him to respond. He said that he was well pleased with my work, and so I had no problem getting my degree.
I didn’t go immediately to the University of Chicago. Instead, I went for the summer to the American-French Service Committee Camp in Germany near Donaueschingen. At Berkeley, I had been interested in the Quakers and working with some people near Berkeley, poor people, who needed help. I had been doing that just on weekends, and this got me going. I ended up going to Germany, and it was a really worthwhile thing.
I remember being somewhat concerned, because they asked that if you could afford to pay your way or part of it, you should do so. But if you couldn’t afford to, they would pay it. And I had been saving some money, even in graduate school, which I had hoped to put toward a car, but I decided I should give them that money. I ended up really penile as a result of this trip to Germany.
In Germany, I joined a group called the “Nothelfergemeinschaft der Freunde.” It sort of translates “Helping the Needy Fellowship.” There were two people, a girl and me, from the United States. The rest were all Germans.
The amazing thing about this camp was that there were perhaps twenty German young people and the two Americans. The young people for the most part had been in the Hitler Youth, and were quite strongly indoctrinated in spite of the fact that they were doing this fairly giving kind of work. We had many, many really serious discussions. They might almost be called disagreements.
These German young people continued to believe that Jews were the cause of most of the trouble and were really bad people, and that’s why they had these camps where the Jews were killed. Some of them didn’t even believe that there were such camps, in spite of the overwhelming evidence. We often discussed and argued far into the night. It was a very exciting kind of experience, as we tried to make some progress in re-educating these German kids.
Another thing that happened in this camp which is quite interesting was that Marie, who was the other American, was very unhappy. The camp was arranged so that the girls did all the cooking and dishwashing and cleaning and so on. She said it ought to be divided equally between men and women. This was taken up for discussion, and the German guys decided to do it. We made a system in which different people were responsible for the full different nights, and they were usually a fellow and a girl.
To give some idea of what the camp was like—this is something that I’ve always kind of felt I wished my kids could have done more of, although they did do some things. They went to Europe, but they mostly lived in a home.
We were sleeping in a Luftwaffe barracks, which is a very crude place. We had straw mattresses, which fairly quickly conformed to the shape of our bodies, which wasn’t bad. I got my sleep. Then in the morning, we would walk to the place we were working. We were building four-family homes for refugees. Refugees in German were called “Flüchtlinge.”
As we walked to work, we sang German folk songs and so on. Sometimes the people in the village would come out and give us some fruit or something. But the food we had was extremely minimal. The camp had been given a huge bag of oats, “Haferflocken,” so we had oatmeal morning, noon, and night. In the evening perhaps, we would have some fruit mixed into it a little bit.
It certainly didn’t hurt me. I think I was probably in the best condition of my life, because as the guy who was twenty-seven, I was fully developed, I wasn’t going to grow anymore. I was one of the few ones who could handle the huge wheelbarrows full of cement that we poured into forms in building these houses. Most of the people who tried to do it tipped over the wheelbarrow before they got to the form. It was a kind of heavy job. I remember that after the first few days, I was just totally exhausted. But by the end of the couple of weeks, I was perfectly okay.
At the end of this time, I had enough time before reporting to the University of Chicago to travel. I hitchhiked from Germany down into Switzerland and visited a family of one of my friends from the International House at Berkeley, where I had been a graduate student. I remember liking this girl who was his younger sister, and sort of wishing that I was going to be around there.
One interesting thing about this work camp: when we arrived in Europe, we came over on a troop ship, essentially. The whole group of us, most of them went to northern Germany. I went to this camp in southern Germany. The whole group of us were billeted in Paris in a sort of tent camp. There were other Europeans visiting. When we told them what we were doing, that we were going to Germany to try to help get them going, the people were absolutely upset with us and said, “You shouldn’t rebuild one home of Germany until all the homes of the rest of Europe are rebuilt.”
Anyway, this was a great experience. I have always felt very close to the American-Friends Service Committee and the Quakers as a result of this.
Jonathan: Where was the camp exactly in Germany?
Raymond: It was very close to the Black Forest. The name of the town was Donaueschingen, which means, “The source of the Danube.”
When I got back to Chicago, I visited my parents on the way. My mother was in an institution. She had had involutional melancholy, and had had shock treatments and was in an institution. I remember when I decided to go to Europe, my father was very, very much against it and said, “You shouldn’t do that, because you’ll never see your mom again.” It was a very hard thing on me, but I decided to go and as it turned out, it certainly was the right decision.
The situation with my mother was still not resolved. She was still in an institution. I went on to the University of Chicago somewhat concerned about that, but realizing there was essentially nothing I could do.
Jonathan: How did you get the job at Chicago?
Raymond: I think I may have already talked about this when I talked about Berkeley. I’m not sure, but I’ll tell you again.
During the last part of my graduate studies at Berkeley, one day I was called into the office of the Dean of the College of Chemistry. It’s a separate college of Berkeley, very, very highly respected, a separate college. The dean’s name was Latimer, and he said, “We’ve been watching you, and we’re tremendously impressed with you. We would hope that you would stay on and accept a position as a faculty member of Berkeley.”
I was bowled over, because I had no idea they had thought this or what. I said, “I’ll think about it. I would like the chance to think about it.”
He said, “I just want you to realize that we are convinced that you’ll be very, very happy and very successful in this job, Mr. [George] Pimentel.”
I said, “Dean Latimer, you’ve got me mixed up. My name is Sheline. I’m not Pimentel.”
He said “Oh, but I’ve been watching you too, and I would like to offer you a job also.” But it was kind of clear that this was something he felt pushed into, or at least that’s what I thought.
I went immediately to see Pitzer, my Research Director. Pitzer said, “Look, if he offered you the job, you should accept it.”
I said, “But it was a mistaken identity.”
He said, “That doesn’t matter. You should accept it.”
But in thinking about it, I decided a couple different things, that it would be difficult for me to be in the place where I had been a graduate student. That would be a serious impediment, and I would always be thought of somewhat of a graduate student. In any case, and I also felt that this guy, Latimer, had just made a serious mistake. I told them that I would not accept the job, but I appreciated very much the offer.
Shortly after this, Willard Libby, a Nobel laureate—well, he became a Nobel Laureate after this, I guess—no, he was already a Nobel laureate [note: Libby received the 1960 Nobel Prize in Chemistry]—came to Berkeley. He made a point of searching me out and offering me a position at the University of Chicago, a joint appointment in the Institute for Nuclear Studies and the Chemistry Department. That’s the kind of appointment he had, and so I accepted it.
Jonathan: He was at Berkeley then?
Raymond: No. He was at the University of Chicago. But it is my opinion—although I could never be sure because I have no way to know this—but Latimer or some of those people urged him, told him how good I was and urged him to give me a position partially because of this previous mix-up. But that’s just what I think. In any case, it was a really great job for me at that time.
In the meantime, my former Professor Dawson, who was teaching at East Tennessee State, offered me a full professorship. This was a school that at that time did not have a doctorate. He offered me a full professorship and a salary close to double what I was going to get at University of Chicago. I remember telling my parents about this, and my mother was just upset. She said, “Ray, you worked all these years and you worked so hard. Why don’t you take the better paying job?
It was very difficult for me to explain that if I was really interested in research—and I certainly felt I was—that it would be much, much more difficult to do research and I would be much less challenged at East Tennessee State than I would be at the University of Chicago. I took the job at the University of Chicago, and my parents may have understood years later as I developed. I’m not sure whether they did or not.
At the University of Chicago, I had an apartment in the Disciples of Christ House, which was a place where ministers were going to be Disciples of Christ ministers lived. Since I had been in this particular church and gone to college at Bethany and so on, it was an appropriate place for me to be.
Perhaps it’s appropriate to speak a little bit about my relationship with women. All the way through high school, I essentially never had a date except to ask somebody to go with me to the Senior Prom. I was president of the freshman class, and therefore, took a girl to the dance at the end of freshman year.
At Bethany also, I studied very hard and I had very little to do with women. In fact, my roommate – he wasn’t really my roommate, he had a separate room in the same house. He was a huge guy, a basketball player, and not particularly studious. He bet me $25 that I couldn’t have a date with seven different women in a week. So, I took the bet and I did have a date with seven different women, but I never got the $25.
From the time I met Yvonne in September of 1950 until about just after the New Year of ’51, we didn’t date at all because I was in the process of breaking up with Jean and Yvonne felt that she should not date me.
Then shortly after this, we met at a dance at the house I was living in at the University of Chicago, which was by now not the Disciples of Christ Church but a more general Protestant house. Most of the people again were studying for the ministry.
So, I began to date Yvonne in January of 1951. I proposed to her in March of ’51. We wanted to be married in April. But we wanted her father to marry us and, in the meantime, he had gotten very sick with something called radiculitis and wasn’t able to marry us, so we put off our marriage until June. When I went to the University of Chicago, I was considered to be a protégé of Willard Libby, who had just won a Nobel Prize. I began doing some work on the Van de Graaff accelerator—no, the Betatron, the Betatron at the University of Chicago, bombarding species with gamma rays. At the same time, I also worked essentially on my own graduate work, continuing the same thing I had done with metal carbonyls and doing the molecular spectroscopy of metal carbonyls. I worked very hard on both of these things and rather quickly published several papers, so I was quite successful.
In the meantime, I realized that there was ahead of me a guy by the name of Jim Arnold, who was already a protégé of Libby’s, and I was the second one. This guy had been there for a year. He was from Princeton. A very smart guy, very good guy.
The years around 1950-51 were very difficult years in which the University of Chicago had essentially no money to hire additional people. I realized rather early that there was no future for me—there was no position for me after my two-year instructorship was over. Jim Arnold, also, was not hired. In the end, he went first to Princeton, back to Princeton, and then to University of California in San Diego, a great place. They were very successful there.
Jonathan: Now maybe you should talk about how you left University of Chicago, or how the wedding went first and then how you left.
Raymond: I have said earlier that it became obvious that there was no position at the University of Chicago for me, and so I took the bull by the horns. They would have allowed me to stay one or two more years I’m certain. They may have even told me—I don’t remember—that I could have stayed on. But I took the bull by the horns and resigned as of that summer. I was feeling very confident right then because I had just gotten engaged to Yvonne, and I was on top of the world. I really was.
I started putting out feelers, or I started paying attention to people who were offering jobs. There was a job offered at Cornell, a job at Purdue, a job in Nebraska. I sent my curricula vita to all these places, and all of them were interested.
I made a trip to Cornell, which is the one I was most interested in, and gave a talk. Things went very well. At the conclusion of this, I was told that it was only a formality that I would be offered the position, that I could consider that they were offering me the position. This was by the head of the Chemistry Department.
Jonathan: What was his name?
Raymond: I don’t remember. He said I would hear within two or three weeks. Well, I didn’t hear anything. When it got to be a month, I went to Libby and told him what had happened. He said, “Oh, I’ll call him up.” He just got on the phone and called him right in my presence, and I could sort of hear the other side of the conversation.
He [the head of the Cornell Chemistry Department] said, “Oh, didn’t we tell him?” He said, “After he was here, another person came who had much more experience and he has accepted the position.”
Libby really told him off. He said, “What kind of people are you?”
In the meantime, the positions at Purdue and Nebraska were gone. This was right over the crucial time.
Jonathan: What was the next job you heard about?
Raymond: So then, Mike Kasha had gone to—
Jonathan: Was he from Chicago, too?
Jonathan: Oh, you knew him from Berkeley.
Raymond: Mike Kasha – he didn’t get the offers that I did, actually, at Cornell and these other places. But he had made a trip to Duke and to Florida State. I think they did not offer him a position at Duke, but they offered him a position at Florida State. He tried very much to interest me in Florida State.
Jonathan: What did he tell you about it?
Raymond: He told me that he was very much impressed with how different the head of the department, that it was a very nice place and that it was just introducing the doctoral program and he thought it had a lot of opportunity. So I went out on a recruiting trip – or I don’t know if I should call it a recruiting trip. Anyway, I went on to three places: to Duke, to NC State, and to Florida State. And I was not offered a position at Duke; I was offered a position at NC State, who by the way had a nuclear reactor, and I was offered a position at Florida State. But one of the things that helped me decide on Florida State was that they offered me an immediate jump from an instructor to Associate Professor.
Jonathan: Salary was higher?
Raymond: I can’t remember what the salary was at NC State. I think it probably was higher because it was a higher position, but it wasn’t very high; it was – I can remember what it was at Florida State; it was $6,300 a year.
Jonathan: Of course, that was a lot of money then.
Raymond: Yeah. It was a lot. It doesn’t sound right, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as you think. And interestingly, talking about money for a second. The job I was offered at East Tennessee State as full Professor was $7,800, whereas the one I took at the University of Chicago was $4,200 the first year and $4,300 the second. And so I had already gone up to almost where I was being offered the same –$6,300 compared to $7,800. Well, still I wasn’t where I would have been.
Jonathan: I remember something about you or Mike Kasha was talking about how they took you down to the coast or something like that.
Raymond: Yeah, they did.
Jonathan: And a clam bake or I don’t know, some kind of thing like that.
Raymond: Yeah, I was really wined and dined when I came to Florida State, much more than to NC State or to Duke. And you’re right, I was taken out to several different people’s houses. Jack Eichinger lived on Lake Bradford and said that there were other lots around there, it was a great place to live, and easy to get into the university, and so on. And I was taken out to the coast and they had some kind of thing in which they cooked fish in beer.
Jonathan: Yeah, yeah they do that.
Raymond Sheline: Well, I had some and it was good. And so I was really impressed with the place. To be really honest, I didn’t care. I was going to be married to the most wonderful woman in the world and I would take any job. Of course, I would try to take the best one, but I was very unconcerned about making that decision.
Jonathan: Did Mom go along on any of these trips with you?
Jonathan: But you discussed it with her?
Jonathan: Did she have any opinion about it?
Raymond: I think she felt I should make up my mind. Okay. Let me tell you a little bit about the wedding. I don’t know if I’ve told about this before or not. I doubt it.
Jonathan: I’m not sure.
Raymond: Well it will be interesting to see the comparisons I have.
Jonathan: Okay, Dad is going to talk about his wedding now.
Raymond: I think I’ve told you already that Yvonne and I had really wanted to be married in April of 1951, but because of her father’s illness, we waited until June. In fact, June 9, 1951. My three brothers and her three sisters were principal people taking various responsibilities in the wedding. My brother Harry was my best man, and Richard and Bob were ushers. Elaine was Yvonne’s maid-of-honor, and her two sisters, Carol and Corinne, were ushers, I think.
The wedding was held in a small chapel on a part of CTS, that is Christian Theological Seminary, where I was living at the time. Yvonne and I wrote our own ceremony and Yvonne’s father liked it well enough that he used it for weddings in Congo after this. Our actual vows were repeated from memory and, of course, we were kind of worried that we would forget with the stress of the wedding, but we did fine.
Yvonne’s parents, I believe, prepared the hors d’oeuvres and so on which were served after the wedding. And the first week of our honeymoon was spent on the southeastern shore of Lake Michigan where Yvonne’s parents’ friends had a cabin or a house that they loaned to us.
Jonathan: Who actually paid for the wedding? Did you have food at the wedding – you had hors d’oeuvres but you didn’t have a sit-down meal, is that right?
Raymond: No sit-down meal.
Jonathan: So, it was fairly inexpensive then.
Raymond: Yeah. I bought the flowers for the wedding, and I was really angry because I ordered really lovely flowers [gardenias].
They gave us carnations and of course, I had paid in advance which was a mistake. I never even called them on it.
Anyway, one of the interesting things of the first night of our wedding is that the person who lent us their home had set an alarm clock for 3 a.m.
Jonathan: It surprised you, huh?
Jonathan: So, you said you had the first week of your honeymoon in this place and then you went somewhere else?
Raymond: Yeah. We kept going. One of the weird things is we met Bill and Eleanor Tyson. Bill Tyson was my very good friend at Columbia University working on the Manhattan Project. He and I both went to Berkeley, we drove out together, and then he married the girl who was doing volunteer work in the suburbs of Oakland, among the very poor people.
I went there and worked weekends, and this girl was the one who sort of arranged this whole thing. I don’t remember him working there with me, but anyway, this is the girl he married. The two of them had been married a year or two and they joined us after this first week, and it’s really too bad it did not work. They were interested in seeing all sorts of things, and Yvonne and I were interested in being together.
Jonathan: Did you stay together anyway?
Raymond: We stayed together for about a week, I think, and then they left. And we actually got into a quarrel essentially about it.
Jonathan: That’s too bad. You mean them saying, “Why don’t you come with us?”
Raymond: We said, “No, we want to stay in our room.”
Jonathan: Did you keep in touch with this guy, Bill Tyson?
Raymond: Yeah. I get a Christmas card every year from them and they from us.
Jonathan: Is he still alive?
Jonathan: His wife too?
Raymond: Yes. She’s almost exactly Yvonne’s age, I think. She is four years younger than I am, and he is about two years younger than I am.
Where was I?
Jonathan: You were just talking about you were on the honeymoon and Bill Tyson and you guys had an argument and you split up, and that was as far as you got.
Raymond: OK. I continued to be fairly close friends with the Tysons. They settled in California and have either four or five children. Bill got a master’s degree in biophysics and never went on and got his Ph.D.
After coming back from the honeymoon, we took up residence with my parents in Toledo, Ohio until we were supposed to report for work.
Jonathan: How was that living with your parents?
Raymond: It was fine. We had our own bedroom and so on. I got a job for the month or so that we had working with Libby [inaudible]. A glass company that I worked for when I was in undergraduate school at Bethany. And actually, did some work which led to a paper. Yvonne got a job working as a secretary, and she was a whiz. They tried to persuade her to stay on; they offered her more money. They really wanted her. She said, “No possibility,” but they kept trying anyway.
And the reason we did this, the other possibility would have been to paint the house which my mother and I owned jointly in Toledo. But what we did was earn our own money and we came out way ahead by hiring somebody to do the painting. This had been a house that we got during World War II, which actually paid itself off and was a good investment.
One thing I haven’t told you about the job at Florida State is that Karl Dittmer hired me without actually having the money to pay for my salary. He was that kind of guy, a chance taker figuring out some way to make things work. He arranged for me to be a visitor at the Oak Ridge Institute for Nuclear Studies in Oak Ridge, Tennessee for the fall semester. I took that job and enjoyed it very much, because I was working more or less an 8-hour day, and I began quite early and got off fairly early in the afternoon. I had carpooling, and it worked out just beautifully.
Jonathan: Mom was up there with you?
Raymond: Yeah, of course. I wouldn’t have done that without her. And as a matter of fact, our first child, Yvette, was conceived during this time. I did some really good work during this time and discovered an important new isotope, nickel-56, which is particularly interesting because it has both 28 protons and 28 neutrons and therefore is double-closed shell and is unusually stable because of this. Even though it’s well off the line of stability.
After I had been there a couple of months, the guy who I was officially working with, Ray Stoughton, came to me, and he said, “We have, according to your records, the fact that you are being paid $6,300 a year at Florida State. We would like to make you an offer for you just to continue here at $10,000 a year.” I told him no, that I felt honor-bound to go to Florida State. It’s strange. At this time I had many, many people making me offers at universities and at national laboratories.
We had come from Toledo, Ohio with all of our wedding presents in a trailer, which we then took on down to Tallahassee, and rented a house close to the university, and I started teaching and doing research at the university.
Jonathan: That was after the end of the Tennessee time?
Jonathan: When you were in Tennessee, you had your trailer full of gifts with you there in Tennessee?
Raymond: Yeah. We had them in the apartment mostly even though we had the trailer.
Jonathan: Where was that house, that first house in Tallahassee?
Raymond: That was on Lafayette Street, two blocks over from Copeland, which is the street that runs right by the university.
Raymond: So I walked to work. The first course I taught at Florida State was Physical Science. It was a combination of chemistry and physics, biology and meteorology, and geology. Out of all of these things, but it was done with several people, each teaching their specialty. I found that I enjoyed teaching. I had already been doing some, both at Berkeley, and, well, briefly at the University of Chicago. Essentially not all at the University of Chicago. And I began to try to get graduate students. My professor at Bethany who had tried to hire me sent me one of his very best students, who turned out to be a great graduate student, Noah Johnson.
I got another graduate student who had come just to Florida State without knowing who he would work with and decided to work with me, Joseph Wilkinson, who was already a faculty member at the Citadel, a military school. And then I also got Joe Cable, who of those three was probably the best. A really bright guy, a young guy, quite young, ahead of where he should have been. I found really good problems for each of them.
Joe Wilkinson worked on trying to find a long-lived magnesium-34 isotope. Joe Cable worked on metal-carbonyl spectroscopy and did an outstanding Ph.D. thesis, and then went from there to Oak Ridge to continue his work in neutron diffraction, which is also a structural study. Noah Johnson – I had a really great idea to try to find a new isotope of magnesium, magnesium-28, which because of the systematics I believed would be longer lived than any other radioactive magnesium isotope. I got a bombardment from the University of Chicago, gratis, and also one from Berkeley. We found this isotope. I published the first paper before I sort of turned this problem over to Noah Johnson. But ultimately it proved to be a great Ph.D. program for him, and it brought a great deal of favor to our group because magnesium-28 is approximately a one-day half-life radioactivity and can be, therefore, used as a tracer. There is no other magnesium isotope that has more than a few minutes of half-life.
Then my next student – I cannot remember his name – he ended up working at the end of his Ph.D. for Mike Kasha so I don’t remember him as well, but we used the magnesium-28 to study the biosynthesis of chlorophyll since chlorophyll has a magnesium atom at its center.
There is a very interesting story in connection with that which tells you that scientists are not all so honest. This work was not along our usual line because it was essentially a biological study, the biosynthesis of chlorophyll. What we had to do was take algae or some plant-growing material and suspend it in magnesium-28 radioactive nutrients and then try to decide as much as we could about the biosynthesis. Well, we thought we had done really a good job, and we sent the paper into a very prestigious biological journal. I think it’s called Biochemistry. I can’t quite remember.
They seemed to hold the paper for quite a while and finally we got a report back asking us to make a bunch of changes. Said the work was good but we needed to make changes. So we made all those changes, one of which was that if you’re going to make a separation, you need to tell in detail about how you made that separation, if it is a separation of chlorophyll that involved columns. So we put in a detailed statement about this. We sent it back. In another half year, we got another whole long sequence of changes that needed to be made, some of which were really asinine. But anyway, we felt we were under the control of these people so we made as many changes as we could and sent it back.
Then we noticed in the chemical literature an abstract on the biosynthesis of chlorophyll with Magnesium-28 by somebody in Iowa. We got the paper back a third time just after we noticed this. In this paper, they said, “The column separation of chlorophyll is a very well-known thing. You shouldn’t have that in there at all. That needs to be taken out.” Precisely the opposite of what we had been told on the first thing.
So, I was angry, really angry. I wrote a short, crisp letter to the editor telling him what had happened and, in the meantime, an abstract on our work – not on our work but on similar work – had been published and now they had asked us to take out the very thing they had previously asked us to put in. Of course, it may have been different referees. I don’t know that; I have no way to know. I got back just in a very short time: “Your paper is accepted as is.” And it was published. But I’ve always felt that one of referees was using our paper and trying to scoop us of our own work.
Jonathan: What was your family life during this time?
Raymond: Well, Yvette was born in our first year, August 31, 1952. We had actually come to the university from Oak Ridge in February of 1952.
Jonathan: During that time, you were still living in that rented house?
Raymond: Yeah. Well, we lived there until 1953. We were building our house on the lake almost as soon as we came. We bought a lot on Lake Bradford and decided to build. One of the interesting things – I designed our own house and then we got somebody to draw plans who actually did not have an architectural degree, because we were trying to save money. That was probably a mistake. But I also built a model of the house and we could fold it up and set it various ways on the lot on the lake to see which way we preferred.
It was a very rich, fruitful time. I was getting very quickly into research and had a strange kind of offer. One of my professors from Bethany, he had gone to the College of Religion in Louisville, Kentucky. They essentially were Disciples of Christ people. He asked me to – it wasn’t an offer, I should say. He asked me to apply for the presidency of this college. He was a very nice guy and is one of the reasons I seriously considered becoming a conscientious objector in World War II.
Anyway, this was a great time. So, I decided I would like to try to go further in the field of nuclear research and I applied for a Fulbright Professorship. You realize I had only been teaching for about two years, but I still applied for a Senior Fulbright Professorship and I applied for – because Yvonne is Swedish, I applied for the Institute in Uppsala, Sweden. Here is one of the three wonderful things that just fell into my hands. It turned out they didn’t have an opening, although according to their brochures they did. Maybe somebody else got it. I don’t know. But they said they had an opening at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen if I was interested. So that was just luck that I ended up there. I couldn’t have gone to a better place. By then we had three kids: Yvette, Raymond, and Jon, and we were off to Copenhagen.
Jonathan: What do you remember about Yvette as a little girl and Ray as a little boy, and me as a little boy?
Raymond: Well, first of all when got Yvette home, we had brought her into our room and every time she moved, I jumped out of bed.
This was the situation for the first few nights that Yvette was home from the hospital, and Yvonne said, “We have to do something about this,” and so she put Yvette into the second bedroom. That solved the problem.
Jonathan: I bet Yvette didn’t like it.
Raymond: I don’t think Yvette knew the difference really.
Jonathan: I bet she did. Babies know when they’re not with their parents.
Raymond: Well, she was, very nearly, because the next bedroom was a few feet away. I don’t think this bothered her, but I might be—
Jonathan: You don’t remember her screaming and crying about it?
Raymond: No. Not at all. She was quite a good baby actually. A lot of our seven children who – we had the most difficulty with the baby one was Christian.
Jonathan: Why, what did he do?
Raymond: He kept waking up in the middle of the night.
Jonathan: Was that when mom was sick?
Raymond: Yeah, she was. This was the beginning of the time when she was beginning to be sick.
Anyway, to go back to this earlier time, when Raymond was born, he had a severe cradle cap, and he was screaming in pain, itching for 101 miles, an hour and 40 minutes.
Jonathan: What do you remember about Ray?
Raymond: Yvonne was exhausted and so I stayed up with him for several nights. I remember that – it was hard to be up all night and then try and do a good job at the university. The cradle cap went away and Ray was a very, very relaxed, nice baby, very jolly.
Jonathan: Did he get along good with Yvette?
Raymond: Well. he was at this age—
Jonathan: Or did Yvette get along good with him? That’s the question.
Raymond: I think it was all right.
Jonathan: Didn’t I remember some story about Yvette saying she wanted Mom to take Ray back?
Raymond: There may be something like that. I do know this. And this was later. At one point, Yvette decided she was going to leave home. She walked down the driveway and walked across Longleaf Road, and there was a house out there. After she had done that, I guess she decided she would come back and she went to a different place along the way, but she was having a great time talking with people. Meanwhile, Yvonne was driven wild when we finally found her. Raymond said, “You shouldn’t have worried. She was fine.”
Jonathan: So Mom let her walk out down the drive, and didn’t think she would be gone that long, huh.
Raymond: Well your Mom didn’t know she was going. That’s what I think. She disappeared. She did this on her own. And then Jonathan was born, and he also had a severe case of cradle cap. Maybe not quite as bad as Raymond, but pretty severe, and various ointments and medicines that we put on it. It was just something we had to last through.
Jonathan: You must have been getting good at it by then, huh?
Raymond: Yeah, I guess we were more used to it. Strange thing, you were the only two that had a severe case of cradle cap. None of the other kids.
Jonathan: Which is basically like a fungus, is that what it is?
Raymond: I don’t know. Thickened skin, I think. It itches tremendously.
Jonathan: So how did we three get along?
Raymond: Well, for many years, Yvette was a big sister and treated you very well. All of you, all of the kids. And then there was a time when, I can’t remember – I think it is after we were back from Copenhagen when you began to take advantage of Raymond. He was playing with something, you might come and just take it away from him. Both your Mom and I told Raymond that he has to stick up for himself; he can’t fall for something like that because it’s not fair. He had to be taught more or less to stick up for himself. What he would do when you took it away from him, he would just start to cry.
Jonathan: All right. Then you were – let’s see. You were just talking about going to Copenhagen with your three kids.
Raymond: Yeah. We had a very interesting time going to Copenhagen. We went by train from Tallahassee to Jacksonville to New York City, and Yvonne had you three kids. You were still a baby. We had a berth where we could sleep. Because we were trying to save money, I sat up.
Anyway, we got to New York City and we flew by Icelandic Airlines from New York City to Reykjavik and then to Copenhagen. They had a special little place for you sort of in front of Yvonne, almost like a hammock.
Jonathan: I actually didn’t have a seat?
Raymond: I don’t know if you had a seat, but mostly your time was spent in this hammock. You were perfectly happy.
Jonathan: What do you remember about arriving in Copenhagen?
Raymond: I told you the wrong thing. We didn’t go directly to Copenhagen.
Jonathan: You went to Luxembourg because that’s where it used to land, right? Icelandic Airlines always landed in Luxembourg.
Raymond: You may be right. Anyway, somehow or other we went from wherever it landed, it may have been Luxembourg. It wasn’t Copenhagen, I’m sure. We went to Paris and we tried to take you kids to a restaurant and you were absolutely starving by about 5:30. The restaurants didn’t open in Paris at that time until 6:30.
Your Mom for a small additional fee got our landlady to let us use her kitchen. We bought [inaudible] beef steak. [Inaudible] something. So we bought hamburger meat and your mom fixed food for you and you were perfectly happy. And then the lady baby-sat and we went to a kind of posh entertainment. The French knew about, but most tourists didn’t know about it so we decided we would like that.
Jonathan: What kind of entertainment was this?
Raymond: There were all sorts of – the one thing I especially remember is that this great big guy with red hair and you would sure he was going to have a big bass voice, and his first note was something WAY in the soprano. Mezzo soprano. He sang an aria.
Jonathan: What do you remember about your first few days in Copenhagen?
Raymond: Our first few days in Copenhagen were really quite difficult, because we were in a rooming house and your Mom was very concerned with the tone: “We have to keep the kids quiet.” She was extremely concerned because you weren’t very quiet.
Then fairly soon, we were able to move into our house. Anyway, it was a beautiful new house. They had given us the cream of the crop. The Bohrs arranged this, and they knew the people. One of the things I always remember is that once the fall semester came around – I suppose it would have been October – Niels Bohr and Margrethe Bohr had a big gathering at their home. It was a magnificent mansion with inside gardens and so on.
Jonathan: Is this the one that I saw – was it in Copenhagen? Or is this their sort of country house I saw, where Niels Bohr had his little study and so forth.
Raymond: No, this is inside Copenhagen and it was –
Jonathan: Oh, I probably never saw that.
Raymond: You may never have seen it. This was given by Carlsberg to the most famous Dane and it went to Niels Bohr. He had it for many, many years. Anyway, so, this party was held and we went and there was sort of a receiving line with just a couple of people. But Mrs. Bohr was the last one, and she was an incredible person. When we came to meet her, she said, “Hello Professor and Mrs. Sheline.” She said, “We’re so glad you’re here. We are looking forward to your visit. How do you like your residence?”
We said, “Oh, we are very, very pleased with it.” Yvonne and I could never figure out how she knew before she had ever met us who we were. Was somebody prompting her? We didn’t see anybody.
Jonathan: She probably had been quizzed ahead of time.
Raymond: Yes, but how did she know us?
Jonathan: She was probably told, shown a picture of you, or else had a description, you know, that this is what you look like.
Raymond: Yeah. That must have been. A very impressive lady, really impressive.