1945. After some months of supporting the Nuremberg war crime trials, returned home to Hopedale in
1946,....not yet old enough to vote.
With some connection my folks had with the Draper personnel manager, I turned down our benevolent
government's 52/20 club (the very unofficial name given to those returning GIs who took the offer of $20 a
week for a year to get on with their lives) and became an apprentice draughtsman in the shop, starting at 75
cents an hour. I survived for 32 years and 9 months in the same building.
You could say that I had a lucky break. You would be right! And that was the first of many, as I wasn't known
to be too smart, but I had developed the habit of working hard and keeping my mouth shut.
My biggest break came when some guys amongst us asked Draper if they would allow them to solicit
volunteers to turn Draper's Howard Farm property into a golf course, no less. Later on I became one of the
200 or more to sign on. We met regularly at the Community House where the leaders would define tasks
and project leaders, and ask for help.
At one of these gatherings they defined a project of cutting brush in the 7th fairway, under the leadership of
a Mr. Charles Burnham, and asked for help. No one raised their hand, so feeling bad about this I raised
mine, despite the rumors I had heard about Mr. Burnham graduating from Hopedale High in three years,
MIT in three years, and being an ex-Air Force officer, and known to be somewhat of a pompous oaf working
down in the research department. Anyways, the die was cast!
So at seven o'clock on a March or April Saturday morning, I reported to Mr. Burnham in back of the
Spindleville Mill on the banks of the Mill River where large cakes of ice could be seen still floating through
the seventh fairway heading towards Rhode Island.
Mr. Burnham announced firmly, "Our mission this morning is to cut brush. Are you game?"
Now the river was flowing knee deep where we were to cut brush, and I was wearing low cut work shoes.....
as was Mr. Burnham, but no MIT SOB was going to buffalo me! So......"Yes, sir," and off we went, knee deep
out into the ice water.
After about an hour or two of this misery, Mr. B turned to me and, with teeth chattering, said, "I think we did
enough for today. Agreed?" Again....the magic words...."Yes, sir!"
It was some years afterwards that both the chief engineer and the chief draftsman were to retire
simultaneously, and guess who eventually became the new chief engineer? You guessed it.....Mr. Charles
Burnham. And he still remembered me.
I was still a loom design draftsman but very soon was appointed to be the supervisor of engineering
services, reporting to you know who, with ten or more people reporting to me.
Some time later Charlie became the head of both engineering and research and I was made manager,
engineering administration for both departments and moved down to the research department near Charlie.
Charlie soon became VP engineering and development and I was made assistant director for product
There were times when Charlie was a mite difficult to understand, as when he sent me, along with two
others, on a textile fact finding visit to Czechoslovakia about six weeks after the Soviet tanks emerged from
their embassy in Prague to take control of the country, or.....like when I was in the plant trying to catch up
with Charlie's instructions as was my usual Saturday morning schedule, and he came by my office and
asked what I was going to be dong the next week or so. "Nothing much."
"See my secretary Monday and ask her to duplicate all my travel arrangements for you."
This I did first thing Monday morning and I asked Mary Ann, "Where are we going?"
The answer. "Switzerland." Geeze! And this was not the end of it!
Following our conferring for several hours with the Battelle Institute inventor of the electrostatic spinning
process, we, Charles, the U.S. Battelle engineer rep and I were at the Geneva airport on the way to
Germany to further our meetings with the people involved with the licensing proposal, when the U.S.
Battelle rep met the man who we were to see there. He then told Charlie that there was no need to
continue, and suggested we all return to London and fly back home.
Charlie said, "Understood, but Roy and I have other people to see in Stuttgart."
Off we went into the wild blue yonder and that night found us, for several hours, sitting at a ten foot long
table, arm and arm with a dozen and a half (or more) drunk Germans singing......I suspect.....Deutschland
Uber Alles! It was the most famous of all German beer halls.
Charlie never ceased to amaze us all!! Finally, just as Charlie was about to become Rockwell's president
of Draper Ireland, he appointed yours truly manager of electrostatic spinning and charged me with building
the first unit to show at the Paris Textile Show. We somehow succeeded but Rockwell eventually
announced their intention to move the ESP program to North Carolina.
The writer declined the opportunity to relocate, out of consideration of our two youngest who were yet to
graduate from old Hopedale High as did their parents and grandparents. I remained in Drapers until the
plant shut down in about 1978.
We could have gone south...but I forgot the magic words.
Finally, while I never really knew Mr. Burnham, I was certainly blessed by our acquaintance. Charles was
one of the greatest people I have ever met. His thinking as regards to computers, numerical control design,
and management was years ahead of the times.
And he taught me so much! Roy Rehbein, February 2008.
Roy's story of a hot night in the 40s War Veterans' Menu Draper Menu HOME
The photos and caption above are from a booklet titled, "The
2004 Marion Town Party honors the World War II Veterans."