It was Sept. 21, and the sun was shining on a bright and seasonably cool day in 1971 as a young, enthusiastic and incredibly naïve 21-year-old metallurgical engineering graduate from the University of Illinois walked toward his first full-time employer’s manufacturing plant in Chicago (a furnace manufacturer no less) full of hopes, dreams and aspirations. Curiously enough, as he crossed the parking lot toward the entrance, he remembers saying to himself, “Well, only 45 years to go!” Let’s learn more.

Enter Howdy Doody

For those of you too young to remember, Howdy Doody was an American children’s television program (with circus and Western frontier themes) that was created and produced by E. Roger Muir and telecast on the NBC network in the U.S. from Dec. 27, 1947, until Sept. 24, 1960 (Fig. 1). It was a pioneer in children’s television programming and set the pattern for many similar shows. One of the first television series produced at NBC in Rockefeller Center, in Studio 3A, it was also a pioneer in early color production, as NBC (at the time owned by TV maker RCA) used the show in part to sell color television sets in the 1950s.

What I recall most vividly as a very young child watching the show was that each episode began with Buffalo Bob (Howdy’s creator) asking, “Say kids, what time is it?” and the kids yelling in unison, “It’s Howdy Doody Time!” Then the kids all sang the show’s theme song (set to the tune of “Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay”):

It’s Howdy Doody time,
It’s Howdy Doody time,
Bob Smith and Howdy too
Say “Howdy do” to you!
Let’s give a rousing cheer,
’Cause Howdy Doody’s here.
It’s time to start the show
So kids, let’s go!

And indeed it was. Howdy Doody was a puppet (but no dummy!) with a whimsical smile and a larger than life personality. He dispensed cowboy wisdom and his own rather philosophical views on life. They left a lasting impression on everyone who tuned in. The show quietly ended with a roll of credits over an empty, darkened set as “Auld Lang Syne” was played on a celeste. Ironically, one of the thoughts that kept entering my mind in later years thinking about that credit roll was that the words to the enthusiastic entrance tune would be fitting when it came time for me to ride off into the sunset.

A Career of Service to the Heat-Treat Industry

Fundamentally, I enjoy helping people. I have never been driven by money (but know it is a necessity of life), or ego, or a need for prestige or accolades. I am not the best, the brightest or the most talented person you will ever meet, but I am one of the most persistent. If I don’t know the answer, I will find it, either in my (huge) technical library or from an incredible number of people who I know are willing to share their hard-earned knowledge.

And I am a pack rat (haven’t thrown much away since first starting – much to the chagrin of my lovely wife) with a near-photographic memory for heat-treat-related detail, things so trivial at times that one wonders how (and why) it can be recalled. That’s simple: There is a story behind each piece of paper, each challenge and each problem solved, and I love stories. Finally, if I say I will do it, I will. If I fail or can’t fulfill a promise, I will try until I die to help find someone who can.

If I were to offer any advice to our industry after nearly 45 years it would be to share technical knowledge openly (there are few secrets out there; really, there aren’t) and never, ever settle for “good enough.” Accept that the quality of the products we produce can never be compromised. Somewhere, sometime, somehow someone’s life will depend on what we have done.

Mathematics and the Metallurgist

Did you ever think to yourself that you might be in the wrong profession? I haven’t. The “chemistry of metals” as metallurgy was first described to me appealed to my inner self. My father was a machinist for 45 years (ironic, isn’t it), and I was in the machine shop with him surrounded by metal and humming screw machines as early as age 6 (yes, Virginia, it was a different era back then).

After switching majors, I quickly discovered (surprise, surprise) that metallurgical engineering is the most fascinating of all the engineering disciplines! Being able to predict what will happen inside a metal component during manufacturing (including thermal processing) without always being able to “peek inside” (metallurgical terminology for cutting up parts) is the type of challenge I embraced. Highly motivated professors and interesting real-world problems kept this day-dreaming boy focused during my wild, wacky and often turbulent college years in the 1960s. 

Of course the long commutes to and from work on public transportation back in the early ‘70s quickly found me reading books on a wide variety of subjects – from The Lord of the Rings to Quantum Chemistry. One of the books I read early on was, aptly titled A Survey of Modern Algebra by Garrett Birkhoff and Saunders Mac Lane, the latter being a professor at the University of Chicago. This book introduced me to the field of abstract algebra and Galois Theory in particular (if you don’t know the story of Évariste Galois, you should Google it).

Like most engineers and scientists, I have always been better than average at mathematics. Until reading this book, I had always focused on applied rather than abstract mathematics (although ironically I did have a half year introduction to the subject in high school). This cover-to-cover read set me up for graduate school “just to prove I could.” Children and life interrupted the dream of teaching but could not quench the fire within.

Just to put things in perspective, today I own slightly over 300 metallurgical books and slightly over 3,000 mathematics texts. Need I say more as to where my true passion currently lies?   

Where Do We Go From Here?

My relationship with Industrial Heating extends back to the early ‘80s when then-editor Stan Lasday asked me to contribute an article to the magazine. What fun! Over the years I have worked closely with Stan, Ed Kubel and Doug Glenn and now Reed Miller and Darrell Dal Pazzo – all fantastic individuals passionate about helping the industry achieve its full potential. As such, I cannot and will not abandon you, the readers, and so The Heat Treat Doctor column will continue to appear monthly.

However, it is indeed “Howdy Doody Time!” For the next 45 years I look to pursue all things mathematical as a full-time student once again so that I can gain deeper insights into my second true love. I am neither completely closing up shop as a consultant nor stopping my association with Industrial Heating. I am simply becoming very, very selective as to the projects I take on.

The Heat Treat Doctor will be there for you for years to come, and while I have no dreams of being one of the 25 greatest mathematicians of all time (as Évariste Galois, who died at 20, was), it is time for me to take Howdy’s advice and nudge my horse down a new path. I leave you with these simple words from a chorus of Auld Lang Syne.

“And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!
and gie’s a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak’ a right gude-willie waught,
for auld lang syne.”

- Robert Burns, 1799