Co-op Student Memories from 1964
By Edward Barile
My memories of Working as a Co-op student at James Millen Manufacturing Company,
in Malden MA.
In 1964 I was a sophomore at Northeastern University in Boston, and I went to my
first Co-op assignment. My degree was to be in Electrical Engineering, and although
I didn't know or appreciate it at the time, the company that would introduce me
to the wonderful world of electronics and technology, also held all of the ingredients
of the history of this amazing, but often taken for granted application of science.
Millen was a company that in 1964 was a literal bridge between the dawn of radio
science and the modern accelerating technological explosion that was occurring all
over the world.
The company was very old fashioned in every way. But old fashioned in the way of
precision, craftsmanship, design and manufacturing innovation and excellence and
attention to engineering the best product that could be possibly be made. Customer
satisfaction was number one and it shows today in the reverence that collectors
and radio and electronics enthusiasts hold for the products that Millen produced.
The factory was old - wooden floors and all, so smoking was prohibited in the building
because insurance premiums did not include this risk. Nobody complained about this
- many in fact cut down on their smoking. This was the first time everyone who worked
there enjoyed a smoke free environment, and it was 1964!
The practice of engineering and manufacturing excellence and especially impeccable
quality control were all there in that old wooden floored building. When you walked
in the front door, from Exchange Street, you were greeted by a smiling secretary/
receptionist. I think to the right and in back of her were the offices of James
Millen, and Wayde Caywood, who ran this small but entirely self contained company.
I met James Millen only in passing but Wayde Caywood was an enthusiastic, friendly
gentleman who welcomed all new co ops to the company. He really loved the field
of engineering design and manufacture and it really showed in his relationship to
the new co ops, whom he hoped would share his love of designing and building great
radio equipment. His kind of leadership is sorely needed in today's field, because
the man was a real engineer from head to toe. There were no Power Point Slide presentations,
no endless meetings or Six Sigma, or Total Quality Management (TQM) in those days,
yet these men and women designed, built and sold the Cadillac of Ham radio equipment.
There was an assembly line filled with grid dip meters, transmatch devices, soldering
irons, coil winding machines, encapsulating processes, and the people (mostly women)
at the bench who took great pride in their craft. I remember one woman in particular
- I forget her name - she was about 40 years old then, I was 18 or 19, and I remember
a crush I had on her in those days. I am sure she found it amusing and maybe a little
flattering, but she always had a smile for this love struck young man every day.
The machine shop was in a room at the end of the assembly line and to the left in
a separate room was Dick Freeman's lab. Here, myself and my companion co-op student
David Woo were taught how to test the great equipment made in this company. Being
new to electronics, many of the things I saw were new to me, and some I had seen
before, as my dad was an electronics technician who repaired radios and televisions
in his spare time. Dick Freeman was a patient and thorough man who carefully taught
us - instructed us, all about how each device worked. This was some feat, since
many co ops had not studied circuit theory yet. He explained how the measurements
and calibration procedures were made and why, with extreme patience.
Above all, we were taught precision and quality. Dick Freeman was a tall handsome
man with a full head of red hair and always a big smile and a big brother approach
to his interns. We learned a work ethic and pride in our products from him that
is sorely missing today. Again, there were not powerpoint presentations, or Six
Sigma Process seminars then, only good solid straight instruction on the technology.
Oh for the good old days!
To the right of the assembly line, as you entered it from the front office, was
the paint shop, the coil winding and encapsulation shop and the calibration and
test bench and shipping and receiving. I believe a man named Stone ran the coil
winding shop. I remember his big purple Pontiac he parked in the lot behind the
building. Stone was a character indeed, always teasing Dick Freeman. The thing I
remember about this company was the absence of infighting amongst the managers and
departments. Everyone got along and had mutual respect, In order to be successful
in a self contained business like this, harmony is key. And they had harmony.
On the calibration bench I used to test and calibrate Grid Dip meters. I remember
Dick Freeman teaching me how the device worked, in detail. Like I said, teaching
was an important part of training workers to do a great job.
We used to bend the plates of the tuning capacitors slightly to calibrate the tank
circuit that would work in conjuction with the coils to form the resonant circuit
in the grid dip meters. But we were only allowed to bend them slightly. If they
had to be bent any further, they were to be rejected and scrapped as unacceptable.
Like I said quality control was paramount in this business.
We inspected the meticulous paint job on the meters and if there were any scratches
that were longer than a prescribed length the unit had to be rejected and the case
repainted. They wanted these things to get to the customer in impeccable condition,
Millen also made a full sized oscilloscope that was absolutely beautiful. At a co
ops pay of 60 per week, I could never afford one, nor a grid dip meter, since I
had to save my pay for tuition at Northeastern.
I will try to contact David Woo, to see if he can remember some of our adventures
as young engineering interns at this unique company. Until then I wish that everyone
out there gets to experience the fragrant and intoxicating aroma of solder heating
up on an iron, and the feel or solid great equipment in their hands. I spend my
little spare time nowadays restoring old tube radios. It is like going home again,
and only someone who is lucky enough to have experienced early electronics work
can really appreciate it.