by Ed Reilly
Reminiscences of the KAPL of 35 years ago
In late 1956, my two-year tour of active Air Force duty in Washington over, I traveled to that strange-sounding place called Niskayuna to interview for a position at the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory. It has been 27 years since I left KAPL, but it is inevitable that the change of operator from GE to Martin Marietta would trigger a nostalgic review of the nine years I worked there.
The technical parts of my interview went well, but I can still recall that someone in Personnel took me aback by asking whether I wanted to be an "individual contributor" or (after some respectable interlude, I presume), seek a career in management.
Well, I thought, I am an individual, and I certainly want to contribute to the KAPL mission, so perhaps that's what I should say. I remember the question more vividly than my answer, but eventually learned that "individual contributor" was GE-ese for a valuable person whose efforts were supposedly just as well rewarded as those of a manager. In any event, I ultimately got to play both roles.
KAPL has always been a center of excellence. One of its stars, the late Henry Hurwitz, had gone to GE R&D just before I came, but he came back from time to time to consult. One night, at a monthly Journal Club meeting at which physicists met to discuss new developments, Niskayuna resident Norman Francis began some sentence with "According to Reilly..." He was referring to some computer calculation or other I had done for him.
Being used to references to giants like Bethe or Fermi, Henry screwed up his face into its most quizzical form and said "Reilly? Reilly? Who's Reilly?" I haven't been the same since.
No professionals as a group have a better sense of humor than physicists. The Bethe I referred to is Hans Bethe of Cornell who occasionally came to KAPL to consult. Another famous physicist of that era was George Gamow, the thesis advisor of Niskayuna resident Ralph Alpher. Just for fun, the latter two once wrote a paper and added to it the name of their friend Bethe, so that the triplet of co-authors read Alpher, Bethe, and Gamow.
I get a special kick out of that story because I have now met all three. Ralph, of course, I see often, Bethe I met at KAPL, and I had taken a course from Gamow at George Washington University while in service. And if they had waited a bit, it turns out that I supervised the doctoral thesis of one Robert Dell at SUNYA. (Does anyone know a Joe Epsilon?)
Some of my fondest memories relate to activity on the softball field that once lay northwest of the main gate but is gone now. Before I became a manager by day, I was manager of a team called the Dragons. KAPL management may have noticed some correlation between leadership on the field and performance at work since a contemporary player on another team, the Alloys, was Al Kakretz, who is now General Manager.
Two league participants were tragically killed in separate auto accidents. One was Kenny Edgar, the best softball pitcher the Capital District has ever known. No one could figure from whence he mustered his power, since he was the only Texan I've ever met who was shorter than Ross Perot.
The other was Walt Potter, an umpire, not a player. He worked for me as a computer operator, but he was an excellent and firm umpire partial to no one. Once a player who had been called out on strikes threw his bat high in the air. "If that comes down," said Walt, "you're out of the game." It did, and he was.
One of the strongest teams in the league was the Engineers. We didn't defeat them for several years, but one day we came so close that only a long late-inning drive by Denis Dougherty brought us down, 1-0. Though he left KAPL years ago, he still lives on South Country Club Drive, and now he knows that not only do I still remember the event, but I also know the exact spot the ball landed and think of it every time I drive by on the way to our landfill.
One evening, Harry Stevens came roaring around third base just as I took the relay from the left fielder. My throw to home was perfect except for one thing: Harry failed to slide and I knocked him cold. Unfortunately for our side, he fell on home plate.
In their early days, the Dragons didn't breathe much fire and were pretty close to the doormats of the league. But that started to change after I became Manager of Reactor Physics Computations. Charged with recruiting a number of capable young computer programmers, I was able - by coincidence, of course - to hire a bunch that were also pretty competent ballplayers. By 1963, we completed an undefeated season and reigned as league champions.
Don Dight, Gabe Basil, Paul Briggs, Bruce Benson, John Tuecke, Ed
Reilly, Ted DeBoer, Norbert Braza, Bob Gillette, Ed Riley Pollard
Above is the picture of the team receiving the trophy. Fran "Gildersleeve" Federighi missed it because he was away in Switzerland, but in it are our first baseman, Bruce Benson, who later became a Councilman in Schenectady, and Gabe Basil, our catcher, who is now president of Schenectady County Community College. (Another KAPL co-worker, Joe Bulmer, became president of Hudson Valley Community College.)
My careers at KAPL and in Town government are not unrelated. In 1961, while still living in Latham, I was promoted to a position that reported to Dick Ehrlich, Chairman of the Niskayuna Democratic Party. Now in those days, the Niskayuna Democrats were being defeated as often as the early Dragons, so, in an unguarded moment I happened to say "Gee, Dick, it's too bad I don't live in Niskayuna so I could help you."
A year later, forgetting my offhand remark, Jean and I did move into Town, Dick reminded me of my promise, one thing led to another, and by 1969 (four years after leaving KAPL) I was elected Supervisor.
If I had stayed and not retired from SUNYA in 1991, I would now be on the verge of becoming a Martin Marietta employee, so I can't help wondering what will become of my friends still at KAPL. And, as Town Supervisor, I am concerned with the fate of all KAPL employees whether I know them or not. I'll do my best to help them.
Postscript: KAPL, the Town's largest employer, continues to prosper under what is now Lockheed-Marietta. Indeed, the first new large building built on the site in years is just now being occupied. The Town recently allowed KAPL to connect to our sewer system, for appropriate fees, of course, in order to avoid a large capital expenditure to upgrade their old private system. Sadly, Town residents Harry Stevens and Al Kakretz have died since I wrote this.