Extreme South Texas – the Edge of the Known Universe

Arlyne and I are at Santa Ana NWR, our latest volunteer assignment.  We’re helping at the Visitor Center, with other duties thrown in.  Arlyne is working at the Nature Store and I work the front desk and the fee booth at the entrance, which I call Fort Apache.  We like being at the refuge.  This is our third time here.  The people are great and we’re surrounded by our birds.   Down here in the Rio Grande Valley, you don’t stop and smell the roses……you stop and smell the broccoli, the onions, the cauliflower, the kale, the cilantro… get the idea.  The farms are cool and they’re all around us.

THE REFUGE.  We had a 3-hour briefing when we got here.  The staff explained how the NWR protects birds and other animals, how the habitat is being protected and restored and the people who do it.

Right here in our little complex of buildings we have biologists, botanists, real estate experts, Fish and Game Officers, wildlife experts, local law enforcement, firemen, border patrol, maintenance, oil and gas experts, environmental education experts, a non-profit organization (Friends of the Wildlife Corridor), various managers and, of course, volunteers.

Now you know where we are and what’s done here so let’s talk about……………..

ALIENS.  (not what you think) Arlyne and I always find fascinating things to see and do when we’re here.  Just driving around the Rio Grande Valley we see stuff that no one else will ever see unless they visit here.  Here’s the thing:  Take a look at these pictures of great-tailed grackles.  I believe great-tailed grackles are actually illegal aliens.  They’re not from Mexico or Central America as some people say……..they’re from outer space!  Think about it.  We don’t know what beings from other solar systems look like.  We don’t know what they would do if they came to Earth.  Well………there are millions of grackles living among us on our planet right now.  We really don’t know where they come from.  I’m quite suspicious of these so-called “birds”.  They may look like birds but they’re not.  Just because they fly doesn’t mean they’re really birds.  I think grackles are robot-birds that mimic the appearance and behavior of true birds.  I say they came here from another planet or galaxy.  Here’s why:

They don’t speak English or any other known human language.


Figure 1 – I am your leader

Their “language” is a complex, unintelligible mixture of squawks, whistles, clicks, growls and buzzes.  Remember R2D2 from Star Wars?

They have ghastly, glowing, piercing, other-worldly yellow eyes.  See Figure 1.

They’re totally shiny, iridescent, glistening purple/black in color.  Probably a cloaking system.

They have a prehistoric appearance, particularly the tail, which is often held vertically instead of horizontally, kind of like a stegosaurus.

They have unusual behaviors such as extreme bending of their necks or simply gazing into the sky in silence.  Remember ET the Extraterrestrial?

They’re VERY aggressive, taking up habitat and residences previously “owned” by other life forms.  There are well-known stories of grackles watching tired migrating birds that have just crossed the Gulf of Mexico….then attacking them, breaking their necks, but not eating them.  I personally saw a grackle swoop in after a newly-arrived wood thrush, both of them disappearing into the bushes.  I think I know what happened.

Grackles are completely undocumented, having no papers, visas, passports or IDs, not even interstellar versions.

They’re spreading through the entire southwest of the United States.  There are other species of grackles that are encircling the globe.

They don’t pay any form of compensation to the countries they live in.  They just take over.  This is not a recent phenomenon.  Grackles began to appear in North America in the late 1800’s.  They cluster together in neighborhoods that include only their own kind.    See Figure 2.


Figure 2 – Grackle Condominium

U.S. Fish and Game personnel are, as we speak, devising ways to rid our planet (or at least this area) of these creatures.  I’ve talked to them.

They don’t observe state or national boundaries

They don’t have licenses to fly in our air space.

They don’t respect the boundaries of national parks, state parks, wildlife refuges, preserves, countries or infrastructure.

They ignore our culture and everyone else’s

They respect no authority except their own

They have huge numbers of offspring (up to 7 eggs)

They don’t assimilate into any earthly society

They don’t aspire to higher education (that we know of) for themselves or their offspring

They don’t learn English (or any other earthly language)

They don’t encourage us to learn their language(s).


They are highly social.  They live among their own kind peacefully, unlike humans (see Figures 3 and 4)


Figure 3 – Incredible Organization

They are well organized and faithfully follow their own laws.  They have a definite pecking order that we can see as they manage their roosting/living space, typically on wires and trees.  It has been said there are perhaps 20 million grackles in just the Texas Rio Grande Valley.

Engineering Assessments:  Arlyne and I drove along Highway 83 in Alamo a few evenings ago.  As I saw these “birds” lined up on the wires, I estimated that each one was 5 inches from its neighbor.  I drove about one mile and saw them the entire time.  There are 5280 feet in a mile.  That means about 12,600 birds per mile for each wire.  Typically, there were four wires full of birds on each side of the highway.   So, multiply 12,600 times eight and I


Figure 4 – There’s no end in sight

probably saw over 100,000 birds in a mile.  As Arlyne and I drove home, there were several other locations with more wires and more birds.  My rough estimate is we saw upwards of 500,000, just in our area, around the small city of Alamo.

A few evenings ago, I saw a “cloud” or swarm of these “birds” flying over the Refuge, heading north to Alamo (probably).  As I looked south, I saw more and more of them in a continuous stream.  I estimated about 25 birds passed by me every second.  After about 6 minutes, the bird swarm stopped coming.  My arithmetic says I saw (wild estimate) nearly 10,000 birds in just this one swarm.  I was blown away.


Figure 5 – Can you do this?

CONCLUSION:  Clearly, these creatures are hiding in plain sight, mixing with real birds.  Some say grackles are smart.  I say these alien creatures occasionally slip up and reveal awesome intelligence.   Some say they’re crafty.  I say they are cunning and wily, exactly the behavior that intelligent alien creatures would exhibit here on earth in an attempt to mask their true motive of taking over the earth.

I had fun doing this one!  But the next blog will have pictures of REAL birds!

Bob and Arlyne Draper

1 Comment

Posted by on February 2, 2017 in Bird Lover


One of My Heroes……

Many of my stories are from when I was younger but as long as I have these memories I’ll consider relating the ones I find interesting.  This story is certainly about an interesting (actually incredible) guy I knew who was one of my early (and current) heroes from both an engineering and sports perspective.  We all have our heroes and Charley Johnson is one of mine.

I was in college at New Mexico State University.  The football team was the Aggies (we all were) because in the early days of NMSU it was an A&M (Agriculture and Mechanical) college.  Students learned about soils, cotton, cattle and other farming subjects.  It later became a great engineering college.

The quarterback of the football team during my first year there was Charley Johnson.  In 1960, he led the Aggies to an undefeated season and a national ranking.  He was that good.  I believe that was the only time the Aggies had this kind of success.  The other thing that impressed me; he was taking Chemical Engineering.  He was getting straight A’s.  A 4.0 grade point.  I had started my college career in Chemical Engineering so I knew it to be a difficult subject.  Although I loved chemistry, I changed from Chem E to Electrical Engineering in my sophomore year.  Not Johnson.  He took the Aggies to the Sun Bowl twice during his tenure at NMSU, winning both charley-johnson-3games.  He was selected as the MVP both times.  Impressive for anyone but incredible for an engineering major.  There’s more.

Johnson went on to the NFL, initially playing for the St. Louis Cardinals (football team), followed by the Houston Oilers.  Although he had a spotty record with these teams, he was picked up by the Denver Broncos in 1972.  He took over the starting assignment in 1973 and led the team to its first ever winning season in the 14 years of its existence.

As an active player in the NFL, be began studying for his master’s degree in Chemical Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis.  Night classes!  There’s more.  Johnson was in the United States Army Reserve and was called up to active duty during this period.  He was away from the team during the week as an artillery officer, flying back to the team on weekends, throwing touchdown passes.  He was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1964 and 1965.  There’s more.NFL Historical Imagery

Johnson got his master’s degree and began studying for his Doctorate in Chemical Engineering.  He achieved this as well.  I heard he continued to get straight A’s.  Of course.

Later, Johnson went back to NMSU as the Department Head of the Chemical Engineering School and retired just a few years ago.  Amazingly, I heard this news while Arlyne and I were passing through Las Cruces (location of the NMSU campus) on our way to California.charley-johnson-quarterback-chemist

It is said of Charley Johnson that it is “unlikely we shall ever see this rare combination of accomplishments again.”  He showed how much one person can do if he puts his mind to it.

I actually recalled much of this story from personal observation but also borrowed some of it from Jim Saccomano’s* article, “Charley Johnson, the quarterbacking chemist.”

NOTE:  Jim Saccomano recently retired from the Denver Broncos as VP of Corporate Communications, after 36 years.

Thanks for reading my stuff,

Bob Draper


Posted by on January 12, 2017 in Bird Lover


Closing the Circle

Recently, many readers of this blog have followed and commented on the story about my friend and colleague Steve Athan from so many years ago.  He died tragically in Yellowstone NP.  (see blogs from January 6, 2016 and July 13, 2016) Last year I was given an exceptional opportunity when I heard from Steve’s wife and daughter, 50 years later.  When I realized that Steve’s wife Felice still lived in California, I knew Arlyne and I were going to visit her.  I told Felice that we should have a cup of coffee together.

On a recent Sunday, she invited us for lunch at her house and we drove there.  Thanks Felice, for having us over.  As I said, I thought this was a truly unique opportunity to meet Steve Athan’s wife.  We both have our memories of Steve but had never met.  In my mind, our lunch with Felice was a chance to close a circle that has remained open for 50 years.  I told her she has always been the “imaginary” wife.  I always sort of wondered about her over the years.

She remarried sometime after Steve died and her second marriage lasted 40 years.  Incredible.  She and her second husband traveled the world a bit and it must have been a very good marriage.  Let me congratulate Felice for a continued great life in spite of some challenges, not the least of which is, of course, the passage of time.  It’s happening to all the rest of us as well.


Felice and Me

She told me her marriage with her first husband, Steve, was “the best seven years of my life.”    I believe her of course because I knew Steve.


Wedding Day

Felice allowed me to take a picture with her and permitted me to take a few pictures of her photo album.  This is my friend Steve Athan and I remember him well.  Most importantly, Felice (Athan) Hunter is no longer the imaginary woman and the circle (my circle) has closed.  I’m sorry that we’ve both aged (pretty well, actually) but we’re leading the way for the rest.    Thanks Felice,

Bob and Arlyne Draper


  Felice and Steve Athan



1 Comment

Posted by on January 5, 2017 in Bird Lover


My Astronomy Saga……

I’m struggling a bit putting together a blog about Arlyne as I had promised.  It’s a lot of work and I want to give it my best.  It will happen however.  My next blog after this current Astronomy post will be another chapter of the Steve Athan story, The engineer who went to Yellowstone.  

In the meantime, I will post this piece about my fascination from an early age with telescopes and the night sky.  This blog has been in the “can” for a while.  You probably have to be an engineer to really like this story.

Early Days.  My brothers and I grew up in Arizona in the days of wonderfully clear skies, night and day.  We would lie in our dad’s half-full cotton trailers and look up at the night sky in summer.  I learned many of the constellations and the stars that made them up.  It was fantastic and I loved it.  My high school chemistry teacher gave me a 1950 edition of the Skalnate Pleso Atlas of the Heavens, which is a set of large celestial charts that covered the entire sky.  These were marvelous charts that included galaxies, star clusters, Messier Objects, variable stars and all stars brighter than magnitude 7.75.  (another thing I used to have but don’t anymore) These charts were discontinued in the 1970’s.

Now, I don’t want to bore you but, as a teenager, I used to spread these charts out on the floor and try to learn all the big stars, nebulas, and other astronomy stuff.  I wanted a telescope but only had binoculars at the time.  I learned quite a bit but couldn’t really put it into practice.

I went to college, had other hobbies, graduated and went to work in Los Angeles at North American Aviation (NAA), which much later merged with Rockwell.

Roger Coulomb.  I met several interesting people at NAA as many of you have learned.  One of the engineers I met was Roger Coulomb. He told me he was a descendant of Charles Augustin Coulomb, the famous British scientist.  I believed him.  Roger was probably the great-great (great?) grandson of Charles.  Having studied electrical engineering, of course I knew of Charles Coulomb, who developed important theories and laws.  Charles Coulomb is considered one of the great engineers of eighteenth century Europe.  He did research in friction, mechanics, physics, electricity, magnetism, and structures.  In his honor, the electrical charge of electrons and protons (and other particles) is measured in coulombs.

I had wonderful conversations with Roger, including discussions of astronomy.  I learned that he had built a 14-inch Newtonian telescope.  He told me he was working on a photographic map of the moon with this telescope.  I also discovered that North American, having so many engineers, had a shop in our building where we could make our own telescope mirrors!!  A 14-inch mirror is HUGE and was not often found in the amateur world at that time.  Urged on by Mr. Coulomb, I started making a (small) 8-inch mirror.  I spent several evenings at NAA, using their grinding plates to make a spherical mirror, which I would eventually polish to give it the parabolic surface needed for a telescope.

One evening I borrowed Coulomb’s telescope, took it to a nearby park and set it up.  Even back then the Los Angeles night skies were pretty bad but I was impressed by the power of this instrument.  Setting it up horizontally, I looked in an apartment window a few hundred yards away, saw a man reading a book and could almost read the book.

Alas, I moved from Los Angeles to the SF Bay Area, leaving my own partially completed telescope mirror in my Grandmother’s garage.  Pretty quick, a few major things happened:  I moved to Florida on an assignment, I got married, we had a child and my grandmother’s garage burned down.  End of that telescope (but not my interest in astronomy).  the-completed-telescope

Several years later, I again got interested in making a telescope.  Arlyne wasn’t thrilled but I set up a “station” in the garage and ground a spherical glass mirror again, by hand, this time a lowly 6-inch.  I finished the grinding and started the polishing process.  I then used what is called the “knife-edge” lighting technique to determine how close my glass surface was to a parabola.  It was pretty close when I was done.  I sent the mirror off to be “silvered” with a nice, shiny, reflective coating.  I used an air-conditioning duct, PVC pipe, shot, plywood, various screws and bolts along with lenses and lens holders and a few other cool things I had to buy.  Lo and behold, a Newtonian telescope finally emerged.  I set it up and had a great time looking at Saturn’s rings, the moons of Jupiter, double stars, red giant stars and distant nebulas and galaxies.  Our friends and neighbors loved to see these things they had never seen before.   This adjacent picture is not my scope but it’s quite similar including the tripod pedestal it sits on.

The grand sighting.  All this went along for a few years.  Computers got better and we got a Compaq.  Dennis Santocono, a colleague of mine, and I then purchased a great software program that could accurately produce beautiful images of astronomical objects, including stars, galaxies, the sun, the moon, the earth itself, and all the planets. We had great fun with this.  Then a marvelous, unprecedented celestial event occurred.

In 1993, the Shoemaker-Levy comet was discovered as it entered our solar system, heading for Jupiter.  As scientists predicted, the comet approached Jupiter, entering the planet’s immense gravitational field.  Astronomers around the world were excited, as no one hadcomet ever witnessed such an event.  No one really knew what was going to happen when the comet struck Jupiter.  The enormous gravity from Jupiter shattered the comet and broke it into several pieces as it approached Jupiter, forming a bright “string of pearls.”  (You can see these pieces in the official photo, just below Jupiter)  Finally, in 1994, these pieces struck our biggest planet over the course of a few days, making dark smudges on the surface.  (Look it up)

The software company that sold the previously mentioned astronomy program then offered an update to their product, fragment-a illustrating the Shoemaker-Levi comet as it struck Jupiter, including an accurate depiction of the smudges on the planet’s surface where the pieces of the comet hit.

Dennis and I bought this update and ran the new program, setting the date as the present.  The program showed the precise position of the dark smudges on Jupiter.  I then set up my little 6-inch telescope on a clear night in San Diego and after letting my eyes adjust, I focused on Jupiter.  To my surprise, I could actually see three of the smudges.  When I went inside and checked with the astronomy program, it illustrated exactly where the smudges should be and there they were, just as I had seen them.  jupiter-with-smudgeWhat a thrill for a teenager who loved astronomy!  I was practically a scientist.  I was the only one I knew who could be astounded by this.  It was a beautiful, unforgettable sight.  The smudges gradually disappeared, my telescope is gone, and it’s all just history now.  But, thanks to Roger (and Charles) Coulomb for getting me started.  I was finally rewarded.


Thanks for hanging in with Arlyne and me.

Bob Draper


Things I Used to Have But Don’t Anymore

We’ve all had little things we collected, found or stumbled on as we grew up.  Usually, they fit in our pockets.  Some of us still have these things.  I was musing the other day (as I often do) about some of the things I used to have and recalled a few of them.  The interesting aspect about most of these things is that to my knowledge, they were never actually purchased.

  1. A counterfeit 50 cent piece.  This coin I had in the mid-50’s was an accurate replica of a real coin.  The Franklin half dollar was released in 1948.  Apparently, it was a collector’s item initially.  Back in the late 1940’s and throughout the 1950’s, 50 cents was actually worth something.  I’m sure the counterfeit “industry” at the time 38942_obvthought it was a good idea to make some.  This project couldn’t have lasted very long.  I don’t know what happened to my coin but I remember twirling it on a table and hearing a really “dead” sound.  It didn’t seem to weigh the same as a real one.  I asked my dad about it and he said it was counterfeit.  I think he was right.
  2. Silver certificates. These were issued in $1, $5, and $10 denominations.  These bills briefly became redeemable for raw silver bullion in 1964.  After that, they could only be redeemed for Federal Reserve Notes. I had a few certificates at the time, but not enough to be meaningful.  A friend of mine at North American Aviation saw this change coming and hoarded as many as he could and traded them in for real silver bullion pieces.  It was interesting to me but I couldn’t cash in.  I don’t know what happened to these either.  Hey, it’s been 50 years.
  3. A presidential campaign button for Teddy Roosevelt. This small button has an image of Theodore and his prospective vice president, Charles Fairbanks. button-cropped
    My dad gave it to me in the 1980’s.  As I recall, this button was for the 1904 election.  It was in good condition and is worth about $58 today.  I don’t have it anymore because I gave it to my son.  At least it’s still in the family.
  4. An autographed photograph of Amelia Earhart. Actually, this photo was a family item that our father obtained way back in the day when he was a flyer.  I don’t know the circumstances about how he got it but he was in his 30’s when Amelia and Fred Noonan disappeared on their attempted flight around the world.  Again, this photo is still in our family.  My brother has it and takes good care of it.  It could be worth a couple of thousand dollars.
  5. An unusual toy with a WWII theme. As incredible as it seems now, this toy, which I played with in the early 50’s, had a small map of Japan encased at the bottom of a little cylinder about three inches across and half an inch high.  Made out of cardboard, the top was transparent and two BB’s rolled around inside.  There were two little depressions on the map of Japan labeled Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the trick was to roll the two BB’s around and try to get them to land in the depressions.  Needless to say, the BB’s represented atomic bombs.  The state of the world and our national attitudes were a lot different then.  I don’t know what happened to that little gadget either.  I think our mother threw it out.
  6. A short 16mm movie from the 1930’s of our father as he was piloting (from the rear cockpit) what was probably a Kinner biplane. The film was black and white of rgb-flyingcourse but there he was in his leather helmet and goggles as he performed maneuvers, filmed by a friend who sat in the front cockpit.  He loved to fly and even hired out as a “delivery” pilot who flew airplanes out of Los Angeles to buyers in California and Oregon.  This film, kept in our refrigerator rgb-kinner1931for years to preserve it, was lost in one of our moves as a young family.  This one I’m really sad about.  We have these photos though.  Our father was a dashing young man.
  7. A baseball signed by Willie Mays. My sportswriter brother gave me this one.  Hey, if I try really hard, I’ll find this one.  I did see Willie play in San Francisco a few times before he retired.  Anybody who knows baseball, even a tiny bit, knows Willie Mays, the Say Hey Kid.  I think this baseball is in our storage.
  8. Willie Mosconi’s autograph. Now, most people today have absolutely never heard of Willie Mosconi, who he was, what he did and why his autograph is undoubtedly valuable today.  Mosconi was one of the best pocket billiards players that ever lived67039939_wgtuy-m.  He played straight pool, also called 14.1.  I saw him in Los Angeles in 1965 at a pocket billiards championship in Burbank.  A friend and I drove there to watch the tournament.  Willie was already in his 60’s and I got his autograph on a small piece of paper because that’s all I had.  I was a fairly good pool player in high school and college and loved to play straight pool, a game most people don’t play anymore.  I played straight pool in college with one of my  professors.  We sneered at 8-ball and rotation but loved straight pool.  You can find out about and watch Willie on YouTube.  Needless to say, I can’t find Willie’s autograph.  I do have a box of stuff in storage and I think it’s in there.
  9. BONUS:  At that Burbank tournament, which I believe was the World Invitational Championship, I was astounded to see a black player shooting on one of the tables.  He wore a very nice suit and tie and was one of the few who did.  I could see he was very, very good.  His name was Cisero Murphy.  I googled him before I put this post ciserotogether and learned a lot more about him.  He is in the Billiard Congress of America Hall of Fame.  He even beat Willie Mosconi a number of times.  He won that Burbank tournament I witnessed.  He is the only player who ever won a national championship on his first attempt, which I saw.  He was the player who broke the “color line” for all the others.  I wish I had Murphy’s autograph.  He’s considered the Jackie Robinson of billiards.  Perhaps Willie Mosconi should be considered the Jack Nicklaus of billiards?
  10. The first issue of Sports Illustrated. Our father subscribed to SI way back then when it was first published, in 1954.  None of us ever thought to hold on to this magazine.  I sports-illustrated-first-issuehave to look for it to see if one of us Draper brothers still has it.  It’s worth a lot of money now but probably we don’t have it anymore.
  11. Buffalo nickel, with buffalo on raised ground. I acquired this coin in change in the 1960’s.  I had a small interest in collecting coins and had mostly pennies that, even today, aren’t worth much.  Maybe in a few decades.  This nickel had a major flaw.  It was so worn that the date could not be easily identified.  From what I could see, it was either 1934 or 1935 but it could not be confirmed.  The coin books at the time had this coin worth a few hundred dollars up to $30,000.  Alas, my coin was quite worthless except for its curiosity factor.  I hung on to it for a few years, storing it in my grandmother’s garage with a few other things.  I called her up one day in 1967 to see how she was doing and she said “Bob, the garage burned down.”   Good thing the coin was worthless.
  12. I presume that many of you used to have interesting things and still have some of them.  Little pieces of history that mean something to us.
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 11, 2016 in Bird Lover


Swimming in the Olympics…..and Me

The 2016 Olympics are over.  I loved the performances, especially track and field and swimming.  The Olympics are a business, for sure. A lot of money is spent and made.  It’s pretty overblown in many events and that’s probably why I like athletes that don’t have much on except shorts and a pair of shoes.

I’m also sorry we don’t get to see such events as table tennis, weight lifting, badminton and many other “minor” sports.  We’re missing some incredible performances and terrific athletes.  Alas, the money thing again.  But, about swimming.

I was a pretty good swimmer in high school and college.  I look at the times in the recent Olympic swimming events and can’t imagine how I could ever have been so slow, back in those days.  I worked hard and sometimes exhausted myself, mostly swimming against other guys I knew in Arizona.

I was the Michael Phelps of Arizona (and maybe New Mexico) but probably not anywhere else.  I set state records in the individual medley and the breaststroke.  I wondered…….then I began to think about how swimming times could have improved so much over the years.  Here’s what I came up with:

  1. Indoor pools.  We only had outdoor swimming pools, with wind and rain and dark water at night.  We practiced in pools that were only 25-yards long.  Not good.
  2. The lane markers (floats) today touch each other and form a perfect barrier that really isolates swimmers in each lane.  Our lane markers were flimsy little things that were sometimes several inches apart, creating waves from other swimmers.
  3. I believe the lanes are wider today than they were for us. Easier for swimmers to avoid the lane markers and stay in the center as they swim.
  4. Swimmers train all year. We went to high school and college during the winter months and only swam competitively in the summer.
  5. Swimmers lift weights today, a lot. We were told it wasn’t good for swimmers. Wrong.  We did strap 2-1/2 pound weights to the back of our hands with duct tape while practicing but that was it.
  6. Running. We were told that running wasn’t good for swimmers. Wrong.
  7. Swimmers wear bathing caps.  We wouldn’t be caught dead in them back then.
  8. Swimming trunks are tight-fighting spandex or something equivalent. We weren’t allowed to wear trunks like that.  Neither were the girls, unfortunately.
  9. Swimmers shave their bodies.  We didn’t do that.  I have to say we thought about it though.
  10. Great, high starting blocks are used all the time now, with non-slip surfaces, instead of just the edge of the pool.
  11. The water is clear and temperature controlled.  We swam in cold, cloudy, highly chlorinated water.
  12. Coaches are fabulous and highly paid now, not just part time high school teachers. It’s a science and a business now, not just a sport.  I trained myself to swim faster. Wrong.
  13. The flip turns that are done now were totally illegal then.  We had to touch the wall with our hands before we made our turns, for example.
  14. Swimmers now are allowed (trained) to swim underwater with a dolphin stroke when they start and after they turn. They do that for several meters.  That was illegal back when I swam.  We had to get to the top of the water quickly.
  15. Swimmers today have sports psychologists, dietitians and agents, not just parents.
  16. Swimmers today have protein shakes and supplements and other cool stuff. We had steak and baked potatoes.
  17. Swimmers now use super-cool, well designed swimming goggles. We didn’t have them.  My doctor told me my red eyes and cloudy vision were the result of too much chlorine and advised me to quit swimming.  I did.
  18. There’s a lot more competition now, motivating swimmers to perform better.  And giving them targets to shoot for.
  19. Swimmers are genetic giants now, apparently bred or selected for certain sports.  I can’t prove this but there are a lot of 6 foot 6 inch swimmers out there.  Where did these guys come from?
  20. Many swimmers (even well below the big stars that we all know) are highly celebrated, have sponsors and make a lot of money. We were all complete amateurs.  There was no money in swimming except for a few college scholarships.  In my sophomore year, my mother once wrote me that I had received a letter back home with a scholarship offer to Stanford.  It was for $400 a year. It was a nice thing but even then, that wasn’t close to covering college costs.  It would perhaps pay for a cafeteria card.  Besides, by then I knew I was going to be an engineer

I think if I had access to all these improvements, my times could have been a whole lot better.  Could I have gotten a gold medal (or any medal) in the 1960 or 1964 Olympics?

………Not a chance in hell.  But I still enjoy watching swimming events.bobcutout

Bob Draper


Leave a comment

Posted by on August 24, 2016 in Bird Lover, olympics


Tags: ,

The Steve Athan Story, continued


I would please like anyone reading this to go back to my January 6, 2016 blog entitled “Some Possibly Interesting Stories” and read (or re-read) the first story called The Engineer who went to Yellowstone.  Go to the archived list and click on January 6, 2016 and you’ll find the story, first on the list…..

You’ll see that the story is about a man I worked with 50 years ago.  He went camping to Yellowstone NP in July of 1966 and was killed by a falling tree on a windy day.  Although it’s an astonishing and tragic story by itself, the event had a powerful impact on me at the time, over the years and then just a couple of days ago.

Regarding my story of Steve Athan, something truly incredible and emotional for me just happened…….  I write my blog mostly for myself because I love to tell interesting stories.  I never thought one of my stories would someday have such a personal impact on me and another family.

Arlyne and I were visiting our son and his wife last weekend and I casually looked at my gmail.  I saw a message from a Felice Hunter, whom I didn’t know.  As I read her message and began to comprehend what she was saying, I was stunned.  The only proper way to relate what she said to me is to put her entire message here.  (Thank you so much for your permission, Felice) As I read her message, I was incredulous and started to cry.  I couldn’t actually read her words aloud.  My son did that for me.  Here is what she wrote, an unexpected tilt of the earth:

Thank you, Bob, for Steve’s story. I was the wife who went to Yellowstone with Steve and our daughter Stacey. Yes, he was so excited for this trip to happen. We had planned the trip in January, but his father got sick; we said that if his father recovered, then come July, we would be Yellowstone bound. Well, his father’s health improved, and off we went. I thank you for your kind sentiments; he was a special person, a loving and caring man.

I remarried sometime after, and fortunately Stacey’s life turned out well. Yesterday I saw Stacey and her special husband Mike; Steve would have been proud of what Stacey has achieved, both academically and professionally and if only he had lived to see her beautiful and talented daughters.

After lawyers and botanists’ fees, I did not receive all the money you mentioned in your blog, but if the trees in the campgrounds at Yellowstone have been removed and fewer people are injured, then I’m pleased that something positive occurred on July 2, 1966, in this precedent case.

Thanks again.
Felice Hunter

I almost couldn’t speak.  I never imagined how my story could cause such a contact after 50 years.  Just days ago, Steve Athan’s daughter, Stacey, found my blog by chance on the 50th anniversary of her father’s death.  She commented on my blog and was so kind to me about my story of her dad.  Fifty years!!  I read Stacey’s comment after reading her mother’s message.  Here is her comment to me about searching for her father’s name after 50 years and finding it:

I am the daughter of Steve Athan.  He died 50 years ago today, so I googled him on a lark and found your blog.  Your writing touched me, and I will share it with my mother.  Thanks so much for taking the time to remember my father in such a lovely way.  You brought him to life.

Stacey Hunter Schwartz

I’ll never get over this.  I’ve met memorable people over my life and I remember Steve just perfectly after 50 years because he was a memorable person.  I’m nearly overwhelmed by this lightning bolt out of the distant past.  I commented back to Stacey:

I’m so glad you tried your father’s name.  I actually did the same thing a number of years ago and learned more about him.  I answered your mother’s message yesterday.  You guys brought tears to my eyes………50 years, imagine.  I am hoping to put this update of your story on my blog because of the incredible nature of our communication.  I didn’t ask your mother’s permission yet.  What a wonderful thing you both have done.

Best Regards, Bob Draper and Arlyne

This is what I wrote back to Felice:

Ms Hunter, I received your kind message yesterday and it was an incredible experience for me.  My wife and I were visiting with our son in Upland.   They had heard Steve’s story before over the years but haven’t carried it around with them for years as you and your family have.  I still clearly recall Steve and his joyous outlook on life.  I loved his colleague Nick (the Greek)as well.  (Hope I got that right)

As you know, I am 75 years old now, but I have always felt compelled to tell the story of Steve Athan to a wider audience.  My blog, which you found, is mostly about birds, but as I began contemplating posting personal stories, the story of your husband did rise to the top quickly.  The tragic nature of his death and the suddenness of it stays with me.  I don’t always get responses to my posts but I have to say that several of my really “steady” readers told me they especially liked the story of the engineer who went to Yellowstone. 

I regret having never met you and your daughter and I recall a feeling of helplessness at not knowing anything about Steve’s family, where you were from or anything.

I was only at NAA for a year and a half before moving to the SF bay area.  I met the woman I am married to in Los Angeles and we are anticipating our 50th anniversary later this year.  Both you and Steve were cheated out of a life together……a life I am careful not to take for granted.

Arlyne says we should have a cup of coffee with you one day, as we come to San Diego and LA often.  We will be in San Diego for the next three months.

I thank you so much for having the courage to contact me without knowing very much about us.

Our best wishes to you and your family,

The Drapers, Bob and Arlyne.

I suppose I’ve become an emotional man in my later years but sometimes I think it’s warranted and needed.  I asked Felice if I could relate this latest chapter of my Steve Athan story because I wasn’t going to write about it unless she agreed.  She kindly gave me permission and I wanted all of you to understand what just happened.  I never met Steve’s wife Felice and his young daughter.  I know if Steve had lived and I had stayed at NAA for just a bit longer, I would have met them.  He and I connected so well at that time so long ago.

I remember he gave me a little “test” just a few days after I began working with the Apollo Test Group there in Downey.  He showed me a diagram of a transistor circuit and asked me if the transistor was turned “on” or “off.  I looked at the circuit and told Steve of course the transistor was turned on.  He liked that the college boy was right and this was the start of a short but memorable relationship between us.  I liked him right away.  He told me about researching and buying stocks for the long term and said that his other buddy (Nick, I think it was) bought and sold stocks so often that his broker sometimes made more money than Nick did.  I laughed at that.

I am still astonished that, after 50 years, such a wonderful thing happened, so unexpectedly.  Steve, it looks like you have a great family and I know this now.

My thanks to Felice and Stacey and their families.  You’ve made this guy very happy.  I intend to look you guys up in the next few months, you can be sure of that.

Our best regards,

Bob Draper and Arlyne


Tags: ,