Richard Volpe

I grew up in the Plains in Milford, on Middleton Street by the Stone Castle.  My mother was Irish and my father was Italian. I had two brothers and a sister. We were a close-knit family. Now I have just one brother left. There was a lot of heart disease on my mother’s side of the family. That’s what took my sister, Anne. She had been a nurse-superintendent at Cushing Hospital in Framingham. My brother Louie was a colonel in the National Guard. When the Guard was at Beaver Street in Milford he was in charge of the whole unit. He loved the military. He contracted a rare virus. It’s one that kills only about thirty-eight people a year in this country. There wasn’t anything for it and he died in about two weeks. That was a very difficult time for all of us.

When I finished high school, World War II was going on and my friends and I were very eager to get into the service. My friends, Joe Balmelli, Andrew Cecchi and I went into the Navy. Joe’s grandfather owned Chicken Pete’s. That was the big nightclub in the area at the time. My father worked there as a waiter and a bouncer. He was a fighter and he could handle himself pretty well.

When we went into the Navy, we were trained at the base at Bainbridge, Maryland. After basic, there was a ten-day leave. When we went back, we’d get an assignment, either for schooling or a ship. I had put in for a battleship. I wanted something big to walk around on. I didn’t want to be tossing around on a destroyer. As it turned out, the class I had graduated with was put on a carrier. Before I returned after the leave, I said to my parents that I might not see them for two years. However, it turned out that we were shipped out to Quonset Point, Rhode Island. I was assigned to the USS Randolph.

USS Randolph

When I was in training camp, they put us into a huge building with recruits from all over the country. As soon as the lights went out at night, the southern whites and the blacks would start cursing one another. It was a terrible thing; the names they’d call one another.

We were docked at Quonset Point for a while, and went out on a few cruises. Then we were sent to Pensacola, where we were assigned to the U.S.S. Ranger. It was one of the oldest carriers in the fleet, and was used for training purposes for young pilots.

USS Ranger

We got to Cuba a lot – Guantanamo Bay. They wouldn’t let us go into town, but we could get onto the base. We could go into the Navy store for souvenirs, and there was a restaurant and a bar. It was good to get away from the ship for a while. We couldn’t dock because they didn’t have a dock there. They’d take us in and back on a landing barge.

On the barge, the racial problem turned up again. The southerners would try to incite a couple of colored guys to fight one another. The guy steering the barge had to pull his gun out a couple of times to put a stop to it. On the next ship I was assigned to, the colored sailors were assigned to the laundry or the kitchen. For an experiment, they put one of them in our group; the maintenance group. There were a couple of white guys who hated the coloreds with such a passion that it was unbelievable. I was amazed that people could hate that much. They tormented the guy so much I couldn’t believe it. I used to wonder when he’d fight back. One day it started up again and the colored guy took a whack at the white guy. Knocked him right into his bunk. It took them a while to wake him up. It was then decided to end the experiment and put the colored guy back in the laundry. The hatred was rampant.

There was a beautiful sight one day with the sun out over the ocean. An old Navy guy looked over at some colored guys, and then he said to me,” You see those guys over there? I wonder if they can see the beauty in all that.” You say to yourself, why, why is that hatred so deep?

There was a big, circular bar at Guantanamo. The Marines in there would get very drunk. They’d get on  the barge and they didn’t know where they were going.

After the Ranger, we were assigned to the U.S.S. Philippine Sea at Norfolk, Virginia. We were to take Admiral Byrd to Antarctica, where he’d be staying for six months. Lots of supplies had to go along on that trip. The United States had a base there, but wanted to establish more of a presence before Russia went in and took over. The same thing was done in the Arctic. We took the Philippine Sea out on a training cruise to check out the engines and see how everything performed. That was a couple of months.

USS Phillippine Sea

They were planning to take three or four C-47s to Antarctica on the trip. They would be the biggest planes that had ever taken off on an aircraft  carrier. At first they didn’t know how to do it, but on land training they put boosters on both sides of the planes. That was enough to get them to take off on the short runway of a carrier.The first place we stopped before going through the Panama Canal was Colon. At the Pacific end of the canal we stopped at Balboa. The carrier was a very wide ship to go through the canal and the locks, but damage was minor. While at Balboa, the ship’s executive officer got off and went off into the mountains. He was an alcoholic, but nobody knew it. He missed our time to leave by two days, and we couldn’t leave without him. They sent a big search party out looking for him. You could see that the Admiral was upset about that. They finally found him out straight, drunk, in a mansion of somebody he knew there, and they took him back to the ship. Then we left for the South Pole.

Just south of South America is the most turbulent water in the world. We weren’t happy about that, but the ship was big and took it pretty well. The C-47s were going to be based inland, and they had to get off the ship and get to their base by flying there. They launched them with the rockets on them and it worked out perfectly. The Admiral and several other people were on the first one. Once that was done we headed home.

We had a helicopter on the ship, and while we were still near Antarctica, it took off. It had a motor problem and it crashed into the ocean, right before our eyes. They got the pilot and co-pilot out of there, but they had to amputate the legs of the pilot. They had been crushed.

We crossed the Equator again and had an easy trip through the Panama Canal. We docked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard for repairs. We stayed in the barracks there. We were eligible for discharge in a couple of months.

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After leaving the service, my friends and I would meet in the evenings at the Marchegiano Club. It was a place to go to, have a couple of beers and go home. My friends, Eddie Scirocco, John Murphy, Mike Alberta, John Trotta and I were musicians and played in an orchestra we had formed. We vacationed together on the Cape in the summer and went skiing in the winter. When we got into our mid and late twenties we started to think about marriage. We all got married, but we kept our friendship going for a long time. I was working at Draper and that’s where I met Mary Tetlow. There was a Draper chorus called the Textileers. Mary was in it and that’s where we first got together. I often tell her that the first time I met her, I fell in love with her.

When we got married, we lived with Mary’s parents for a year or so. Then we bought a piece of land on Malquinn Drive. We built our home and we lived there for 26 years. When my father-in-law died Mary’s mother wanted us to move in with her. She was lonely and needed help, so we moved into the house on Union Street and were able to help her a lot. We lived there until I was unable to start the lawn mower and operate the snow blower. That’s when we moved here to the Griffin-Dennett Apartments.

I left Eddie Scirocco’s orchestra because we weren’t playing very much. I joined Johnny Wittick’s orchestra. During World War II he ran a big orchestra out of the Polish-American Club. He had the number one orchestra in the Blackstone Valley. Anybody who had a big shindig wanted him.  By the first of each January his book would be filled for the whole year, except for July which we’d take off. Johnny had two sons who were hemophiliacs. I got the younger one a job in the engineering department at Drapers. He stayed for about a year and then decided that wasn’t his thing.

At Drapers I was a model maker in the R&D department. Earlier in life I had taken a mechanical drafting course. I also went to Worcester Junior College where I had taken engineering courses. I was thinking of leaving Drapers for a job that would pay better. When they heard about that, Ted Fitzgerald, head of research and development, came down and asked me why I was planning to leave. When I told him, he suggested that I stick around for a while, and they might be able to use me upstairs in the drafting department. It wasn’t long before I was promoted to the drafting department. I learned the “do’s and don’ts” of being a Draper draftsman. I eventually got promoted into patent illustration. I did that for seven or eight years. I worked with Rodney Southworth, a patent attorney in the Main Office.It was a sad day in the engineering department when Ted Fitzgerald was killed in a plane crash at Logan Airport.

I reached the top of my salary in patent illustration, stepped out of illustrating and went into a design position. While I was a design engineer, I was still doing patent illustrations at home. It was a business I had with Drapers on the side. I also have twelve or thirteen patent applications for inventions of my own.

Sometime after Rockwell Corporation bought Drapers (1967), they sent some looms to their plant in El Segundo, California, thinking their brilliant engineers there could come up with some great improvements on them. They had them there for about a year, and then sent them back. They didn’t understand what was going on in the loom business.

Charlie Burnham had gone to Ireland for a few years to work for Rockwell there. When he came back he was head of R&D. After a while they changed that department to engineering.

Robert Page, the president of the Draper Division of Rockwell, had the idea of making models of the first Draper loom, which was called the Queen City loom. It  was named that because the first shipment of Draper looms went to the Queen City Cotton Company in Burlington, Vermont in 1894. The models would be given to companies that bought a certain number of looms. One of the models is at the Red Shop.

Harry Thibault called me into his office. He knew that I had done model making, and asked if I would take on the job of doing a model of the Queen City loom. I accepted the assignment. He gave me a budget of $10,000 to do it. I built it for $8,000. Everything in it worked. It didn’t weave cloth, but all the parts operated as they would on an actual loom. All the gears, the shuttle going back and forth – all of that worked from a belt on a pulley below. Charlie Burnham was very impressed with it.

The Queen City loom model, with Charlie Shanahan on left and Dick in the center.

It took me about eight months to build the model. While I was doing that, I was still a designer. Every once in a while I’d have to break away from the model and do some design work. I hated to do it because my mind was completely absorbed in that Queen City loom. To break away from it meant conditioning my mind for something different.

Charlie Shanahan had been head of the photography department, but he became head of a specialized foundry for making small parts that were difficult to machine. It saved them a lot of money when lots of small parts had to be made.  Every time I’d make a part, they’d make a copy of it. When they had enough parts, they’d start gluing them together. Those, of course, wouldn’t work, but the original that I made did.

In that foundry, they’d make wax models of whatever they wanted to produce. They’d leave two breathing holes in the mold. When they poured the hot metal into it, the wax would melt and be pushed out.  The casting would come out in the exact shape they wanted.

Shanahan had a heart attack and left the job. Harry Thibault came to me and asked if I wanted to take Shanahan’s place. I was so engrossed in the Queen City loom that I didn’t want to leave it, so I refused the job. As it turned out, that small parts foundry was never productive enough to be worth keeping and they eventually closed it down.

One day I was called to the office of Archie Pickard, who was the personnel manager. I thought I was going to get laid off.

“Sit down, sit down,” he said. “We’ve been watching what you’ve been doing. I think we’d like to get you into politics.”

Drapers always wanted some of their men active in town politics so that they would have some control of how the town operated. I said, “I don’t know if I want to do that. Give me a couple of days to think it over.”

It wasn’t long before he called me back to his office. I said, “I’m sorry Archie, but I’m not interested.”

“You know something,” he said. “You bought a piece of land in Hopedale. You’ve got a little water problem down there. If I went down there and did a percolation test, it would probably prevent you from building the house you want to build there.”

He was threatening me. I said to myself, “I’m not interested.” That’s my experience with Archie. I didn’t run for office, the perc test wasn’t done, and the house was built. We never had any problem with water.

While I was doing patent applications, I was also doing background work on patents. The U.S. Patent Office is full of textile applications. When you’re filing for a patent, you have to check them out to make sure there’s nothing that you would be infringing on. A patent attorney named Hassel spent a lot of time at Drapers. When things there started to change, he went to Kodak in New York. Drapers lost a good man there. Lenny Carlson from Upton was one of the patent application writers. He wrote up all the mechanical points, with all the drawings and the numbers.

Draper was trying to copy all that was done in a fast loom made by the Picanol Company in Belgium. Harry Thibault made a model of it. They were plagued by patents with that project. They should never have gotten into it. You couldn’t do this and you couldn’t do that because of patents. It was around that time that they changed the name of the experimental department to the engineering department.

One thing they did get out of the Belgian loom project was a tucking mechanism. When the thread went across, in that loom, it was cut off at the end. The mechanism picked it up and wove it in, so it wouldn’t be left hanging out. There was a trimming operation that would take care of the ends, but the tucking mechanism made the trimming operation unnecessary. Draper did copy that. John Cugini was the designer, and he did a good job on it. When they applied it to the Draper shuttleless loom, it worked pretty well. They got it out in the field and they didn’t get much flack from Picanol, the company that had originally made it. It was a very expensive loom.

John Cugini was my manager when we were working on a loom that was doing great work on denim. Denim was in big demand. There was a hurricane down South and water got into a mill where a large amount of denim was being stored. It changed the coloring of the cloth. They decided to use it as it was, and it caught on. People were demanding denim with streaks of blue, and copper and everything else.

Before World War II, Drapers didn’t have any serious competition in the loom business. After the war, more and more companies in various countries were getting into the business. The mills down South got smart. They would buy a foreign loom and put it beside a Draper loom. Both would be monitored to see which of the two was the most efficient. All the mills started doing that. The government opened doors to lots of foreign products, including looms. Draper was hanging in for a while, but it wasn’t like former years. The Japanese would buy a loom with outdated patents, and start producing.

It was typical for Drapers to have five good years, and then one and a half to two bad years. They had many layoffs. I remember one year when things were spiraling down out of control and they laid off 800 people just before Christmas. You have to give Drapers credit, though. When business got better, they’d hire back the people who had been let go. That was just the opposite of high tech. In high tech, when you got laid off, they didn’t want you back.

Drapers had a water-jet loom that they bought. The wet end of the thread would be fired across the loom under air pressure. They worked on it for a long time, but they couldn’t do much with it. They could never make it a viable product. It would work well for a few days, and then go haywire. When they stopped working on it, some other company picked it up and they did pretty well with it.

Harry Thibault retired rather early in life. Everybody was  surprised because he was second in the engineering department. He explained at his retirement party that he was retiring because he came from a long  line of men in his family who didn’t live much after 55. He didn’t expect to live much longer and he wanted to have a few years of retirement before he died. As it turned out, he was correct. He died fairly young. He was a wonderful man. Well educated, too.

When Rockwell bought Drapers, the company was running three shifts. They were making a good profit. Rockwell found that the Draper board of directors didn’t own enough Draper stock to prevent a buyout. They came in with their money, talked to the shareholders and just picked the company up. The company had a lot of what was essentially cash, which was very attractive to Rockwell.

Charlie Burnham was a brilliant man. While he was there in the Rockwell years, they started looking into electrostatic spinning. Whitin Machine made spinning equipment. Rockwell/Draper spent a lot of money trying to develop electrostatic spinning, but they could never get it to work the way they thought it should.  Rockwell cut the engineering department way back. They just left a skeleton force. As I look back, it appears that they kept the people who had just one or two weeks vacation, and got rid of the rest. They kept the low income people and let the seasoned people go.

A while after I was laid off from Drapers, I got a call from the Rockwell corporate office in Pittsburg. I was asked if I would be interested in doing patent illustrations. They overlooked the fact that I wasn’t bonded, and over a couple of years I made a lot of money doing illustrations. They had seven patent attorneys in the corporate office. When Drapers was falling apart, Rockwell picked up Lenny Carlson as a tech writer and put him in the Pittsburg office. It was through him that they picked me up. I made some trips to Pittsburg at that time, which I enjoyed.

The Wildman Jacquard Company made knitting machines. The material they made was beginning to take off. Draper bought into it. Earl Harlow was made president of the company at their plant in Pennsylvania. From day one they were making money at that little place. We did a lot of patent applications for them, because of course when Rockwell bought Drapers, they also got Wildman Jacquard.

Drapers had bought a lot of companies over the years. One was Blue Jet Chainsaw. John Cugini and I worked on that project. The manager was Peter Consoletti. They lost in that business because the chains they were making weren’t competitive. Oregon Chainsaw was making the best chains. It was the chain that every chainsaw operator wanted. They were unbelievable. We took a trip to their plant in New York. They had a place where they had huge trees, as straight as can be.  

We went there to check out the chain. When we showed them what we had and they showed us their chains, there was no  comparison. They put a saw on a log more than two feet in diameter. They started it, and then let go. Just by gravity, the saw went right through the log. Drapers couldn’t compete with Oregon on chains, but they did have a good chainsaw bar, and they sold a lot of them.

Drapers invited a company from Japan to come and look at their shuttleless loom. It was something to see. There were about seven or eight Japanese engineers and designers, and they were all over that loom. Each one had a different part to study. One of them was standing on the loom; another was underneath. I think the idea was to have looms produced in Japan and sold in this country under the Draper name. I don’t know that that ever worked out. Later, when I was working at Data General, I saw something similar. When they had a new piece of hardware ready to produce, they’d get a quote on it from their own company, and also a quote from a Japanese company.

We had some great designers and engineers at Drapers. Many of them came from Rhode Island. Maurice Flamand was one. He had graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design. He did all the cam work. That’s very tedious design work. His work on cams for the shuttleless loom made it a much better loom. Another fellow, Theodore (Tuffy) Higgins was very good. However there were others who, I don’t know what they did or what they ever contributed.

After leaving Drapers, I looked around here and there for a job. I wasn’t having much success. A friend of mine, also laid off, got a job at A.T.F. Davidson in Whitinsville. They were developing a new printing press and they needed a lot of help, including engineers and designers. They asked my friend if he knew of anyone qualified to work there. He told them about me, and without even applying, I got a job there.

While I was there, I did a lot of creative work. By the time I left, I had three U.S. patents. It was a nice place to work. There were friendly people there. Al Savoy and Phil Cenedella were working there. Al and I had played in the golf league in Hopedale when we were at Drapers, and we still played in that league when we were working in Whitinsville. At that time we worked from seven in the morning until four in the afternoon. Then they wanted to change the hours from eight to five. It didn’t look good for golf.

At that point I started looking around for another job. A friend of mine, Bobby Moore, worked at Data General. He called me one day and told me that he was interested in hiring a woman who had a background in drafting. One of our secretaries had taken a course in drafting. She was having a problem with her boss, so when I told her about a possible job at Data General, she was very happy. She was hired, and a while later she was asked if she knew any designer or engineer who might be interested in going to Data General. At that time, they were looking for people all over the place. I got her a job and now she got one for me. I had some interviews, got the okay, put in my notice in Whitinsville, and went to work for Data General.

At Data General, they put me in charge of the drafting department. I had about ten people working for me. It was a good experience. It was a little hectic at times. I had to do a lot of work on the department budget, both at work and at home. My manager was kind of a lazy guy, and he was having me do some of his work. Each employee was getting two raises a year. A performance write-up had to be done on them. He’d tell me that we couldn’t afford to lose anyone, so give them all a good write-up. That was a good experience for me; writing up their background, attitudes, etc.

While I was at Data General, we moved from pencil drawing to electronic drawing. The drafting boards went out the door. It was a great thing. You’re more accurate with computers than you are with the drafting board. I worked there for ten years. I was closing in on sixty. Each year the computers had to be changed to take in more design features. That meant bringing myself up each year into a new area of designing electronically.I was starting to feel that it was getting to be too much. Also, there had been a small group of three who were doing the designs for the cabling. We lost the guy who had charge of that group to DEC (Digital Equipment). They were hiring all over the place. That group was then put under my supervision. There were two draftsmen who did printed circuit boards. They decided to give them to me. So it turned out that I had cabling, drafting and circuit boards.

In the meantime, Data General bought a supermarket in Hampton Beach and turned it into a printed circuit board manufacturing facility. They had a lot of problems up there, because there are so many parts that go into a circuit board. They brought in a big unit, and each of them was in a little cubby. All the parts for the boards were in plastic pails. They were called on electronically by the people doing the assembling. A little elevator-like thing would go up and down and get the part for them. They had problems with it, and the company they had bought it from had gone bankrupt before it was finished. They began sending me up to do what I could to get it straightened out. I’d go up there two, sometimes three times a week on a helicopter from Westboro where I was working. That was quite a ride. I’ve never seen so many swimming pools.

Data General was beginning to go down-hill. If a customer needed a new circuit board, they had to buy it from Data General. That was becoming a problem as other companies were beginning to be more flexible about such things.

After Charlie Burnham left Drapers, he went to Data General. He  ruled by intimidation. I knew he was upstairs somewhere, but I hadn’t seen him. One day I looked up and saw him at the door to my cubby.

“Dick,” he said, “I’ve got some favors for you to do. I’ve got some things I need designed, and I need your drafting department to do it.”

I replied, “Charlie, my department can only do what we’re designing here. Not the people upstairs.”

“You’ll find a way, Richard. I know you will, ” he said, while pushing his finger at me.

I just let it slide along, and he’d come back from time to time. “How are we doing?” he’d ask.

“I’m still working on it, Charlie.”

A big job opened up upstairs. Charlie and another guy were in line for it. The other guy was picked for the job, and they let Charlie go.

I got a full retirement with full benefits from Data General. ATF Davidson had gone out of business, and a guy there started selling parts for the printing machines. He called me one day and asked if I’d do drawings of the knitting machines so he could have the parts made up and sell them. I did quite a bit of work for him. I was pretty busy. At the same time I was doing patent illustrations for Rockwell, until one day I got a call saying, “Sorry Dick, but you’re a security risk.” I didn’t even bother to try and talk my way around it. I never would have sold out anything, but security is security.

I was playing the base, but I wanted to try another instrument. I bought a trombone from the Music Nook and started taking lessons from Jerry Seeco.

After retiring, I started doing some copies of Norman Rockwell paintings. I had always loved Rockwell’s paintings. I did nine of his. I started on the easy ones, thinking if I could do those, I could move on to more difficult ones. It was like a training course. I showed them at various places, and everyone was telling me they loved them, but no one was interested in buying them. We were in the recession at that time and the biggest thing to get hurt in times like that is art.

I kept them all until I began thinking of moving down here to the Griffin-Dennett Apartments. I knew I wanted them kept together. I finally decided that the best place for them would be at the Community House. I mentioned this to my son, Ernie, who works there. I didn’t hear anything from him about them for quite a while, and then as we were about to move, he and Drew Bivins came by with a pickup truck and some blankets. They took them to the Community House. I still paint, and now I’m working on a painting of the granddaughter of my neighbor. Richard Volpe, August 2015

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Dick shown holding patents that had arrived from the Patent Office in Washington.

A. D.W. Anderson   B. Budzyna   C. Budzyna   D. Dick Volpe   E. Ed Budzyna   F. W.E. Turner (head of engineering)   G. Dick Knight

There were four Budzynas in the engineering department: a father, two sons, and the father’s brother.

Below – Caricatures of the Draper engineering department by Dick.

Below – Dick’s Norman Rockwell paintings.

Mr. Richard L. Volpe, Sr., 89, of Hopedale MA, died Tuesday (February 20, 2018) at Beaumont Skilled Nursing & Rehabilitation in Northbridge MA, after a period of declining health. He was the beloved husband of Mary J. (Tetlow) Volpe.

Mr. Volpe was born in Milford MA, the son of the late Louis and the late Mona (Rockwood) Volpe. He attended Milford public schools, as well as art and draftsman school. He was a World War II veteran having served in the US Navy. Mr. Volpe had been employed at the former Draper Corporation in Hopedale.

He was an accomplished self taught artist. He was also an avid cook and was well known for his pizza, meatballs and porketta.

Mr. Volpe was a longtime communicant of Sacred Heart Church in Hopedale and had served as a Eucharistic minister for many years.

The family extends its appreciation to the many agencies who have helped Mr. Volpe recover from many setbacks of the years; Bright Star, Tri-Valley, the VNA, and Beaumont Nursing Home.

Along with his beloved wife of over 60 years, he is survived by two daughters: Mary Jo Volpe of Hopedale MA and Theresa Greene of Coventry RI; one son: Ernest Volpe of Hopedale MA. Mr. Volpe was the father of the late Richrd L. Volpe Jr., who died in 2003. He was also the brother of the late Louis Volpe, the late James Volpe and the late Anne Sturrick.

His funeral, with Military Honors, will be held Monday (February 26th) at 9am from the Edwards Memorial Funeral Home, followed by a Mass of Christian Burial at 10am in Sacred Heart Church, 187 Hopedale Street, Hopedale MA. Burial will follow in Hopedale Village Cemetery. Visiting hours will be Sunday (February 25th) from 2pm to 5pm.

Visit www.edwardsmemorialfuneralhome.com for complete obituary and condolence book. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to Sacred Heart Church, 187 Hopedale Street, Hopedale, MA 01747.

Published in Milford Daily News from Feb. 21 to Feb. 23, 2018

Mr. Ernest Volpe, 56, of Hopedale MA died unexpectedly at his residence on January 2, 2024.

Ernie was born in Framingham MA, the son of the late Richard L. Volpe Sr. and the late Mary J. (Tetlow) Volpe.

Ernie is survived by his 2 sisters: Theresa M. Greene & Mary Jo Volpe.