Millen Memories 1949-1955
By Anthony Alegero


Anthony (Tony) Alegero started at James Millen Manufacturing in 1949 as an assistant foreman in the production of variable capacitors. Later he moved on to become foreman of the coil winding and distributed delay line department. Tony provides a great deal of insight into the working of the Millen operations during the years when employment was at some of the largest numbers in the companies history.

I was green out of eighteen months of electronics school in the USN and looking for a job. Born, schooled and still living in Malden made Millen a good spot to start jobhunting. I applied and was interviewed by Phil Eyrick and hired to be asssistant foreman of the Variable Capacitor department. working under Ray Fittz. He was an ME Tufts grad who had worked during the war at RCA in NJ. Helluva nice guy to work for and a great mentor. When I read of OSHA and EPA these days I often think of working with cyanide to remove silver plate tarnish, the girls (today ladies) were busy all day scrubbing all the ceramic parts of finished caps with of all things carbon tetrachloride. Somewhere in the early fifties someone became aware of what CCL4 could do to your kidneys so we padlocked the 55 gal drum spigots and only the supervisors could dispense it. We also had vent hoods built in our own sheet metal shop for the girls to work under. These simply discharged out the adjacent windows. Most of our shaft couplings and terminal strips were manufactured in this same department.

Phil Eyrick was production manager over the whole plant during my whole stay. After a couple of years they moved Howard Stone from coil winding foreman to final assembly and I took over the coil winding and distributed delay line winding depts. There I had anywhere from 10-12 girls winding rf chokes, IF xfmrs, large xmitter tank coils and coil forms (ceramic and plastic). In an adjacent elevated gallery we had the distributed delay winding machine run by one woman. This consisted of roughly 3/8 saran tubing in up to 100 foot lengths which was continuously wound with from about #36 to #40 formex insulated wire. This in turn was continuously wrapped with a very thin teflon tape which in turn was covered with a copper braid shield. It was unique because the long lengths were then chopped off at so many microseconds delay per foot depending on the customers need. My memory sugggests this process was developed by GE and licensed to Millen but I may be wrong.

In the early fifties Bob Pearson, ME Iowa State, came aboard and was originally Ray Fittz's right hand man. He, Dick Evans and I became sort of a triumvirate on and off the job as we were all in our marrying days and were part of each others wedding parties. Bob was a real nautical man and collectively owned about four boats. We on occasion would all head for the boat after work, including another name that just occurred to me, George Pike. George was the company purchasing agent and did all the company buying. We thought nothing of heading from Lynn MA to Marblehead at 6 pm and returning by 12. Eventually both Bob Pierson and Ray Fittz left to go to Towle Silversmiths as ME's.

All through my days Gene Williams was Millen Sales Manager. And of course, as in so many companys the real force behind the company was "Miss" Bearse.

CRT shields was a very profitable business at the time, as a considerable amount of work on radar development was going on. These were made of a high permeability alloy called Mumetal. If the design required spinning (a shaping process) to achieve a certain shape or size this was done by a couple of companies in the Malden, Everett, MA area. They were then painted, labelled, etc. The metal also required annealing after any drilling, punching, etc. This also represented a good source of business for several Greater Boston heat treating firms. The sizes we made kept growing as available CRT sizes increased. Mu metal was tough to work with as it was a pretty hard metal that came in about 4X12 foot sheets and was pretty thin. It could and did inflict some pretty rough cuts on workers. According to other article on the JMS website it sounds as though the business was bought by one of the original spinning companies.

The Paint department was run by Frank Weaver. He was able to spray paint almost anything to some pretty tight specs, including a few government jobs of my own. A lot of the delay line assemblies were hermetically canned and thus were painted, all CRT shields were painted as well as the classic black wrinkle that you have all seen as the classic Millen finish.

The Sheet Metal department was run by I believe Bob Carlson. They made all chassis, housings, CRT shields, cases for delay line cans, etc. A well run group with capable people.

Dick Evans was responsible for the Machine Shop, at least part of my time of employment. Can't think of any of the others. There was one, to me at the time, elderly gentleman whose name escapes me who was the super machinist, whose job was to make the molds for injection molding. The Injection Molding department was run, I think, by Frank Weaver when he wasn't spraypainting. These were jobs that weren't full time. All those polystyrene coil forms that were turned out by the thousands for GDO coils were made on a pretty good sized injection mold press. Another interesting note on the subject of plastics, the poly strips that many tank coils were mounted on were cut by bandsaw from large sheets. In order to get rid of the saw marks on the edges after manufacture we dipped the whole coils in vapor degreasers with TCE which took out the marks and gave them a polished edge.

Jim Millen was in the plant most days. He was a very quiet man and seemed a little aloof to us peasants. He very commonly closed his door after lunch and took a nap on the leather couch in his office carefully guarded by "Miss" Bearse. There weren't many who called him "Jim". In later years, I often wondered whether he wasn't actually a shy man. He would often make his way around the departments observing but saying nothing. You would hear later from Phil Eyrick about his observations. I would disagree, at least during my stay, about no smoking. There were breaks where you could go outside in the shipping area or out on a deck outside the machine shop on the roof for a "butt". Also, there were always a few who would grab a smoke in the mens room where the window was always wide open. Once in a while Phil Eyrick would come in, and out the window would go all the butts. Speaking of "out the window", the back of the factory overhung the Malden Brook. All the plants back windows were over the brook. When there were too many rejects they were known to have landed in the brook. Thank God for no EPA in those days.

Enough for now.

Tony Alegero
January 2004





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