Friday, November 16, 2012

California or Bust

As I approached graduation in late 1976 from BYU in electrical engineering I was excited about the prospects of gainful employment.  As we considered potential jobs we narrowed our choices down to a location with warm or mild weather, and in the western states.  I did not pursue interviewing with Hewlett Packard (the premier engineering company at the time) because we didn't really want to live in Colorado.  Nor did I interview with IBM for an Endicott, NY, opportunity.  I interviewed with Intel, ESL, and another company in the San Jose area, and with Burroughs in Mission Viejo and Santa Barbara.  I got attractive job offers from all, but was most interested in pursuing Naval Weapons Center in China Lake, CA, because of reasonable proximity to both our folks (2.5 hours drive), inexpensive real estate (compared to other California locations), and job security and benefits working for the civil service.

NWC was anxious to hire me, but initially could only offer a GS-7 position, whereas, with my masters degree, I qualified for GS-9.  I held out and within a couple of weeks the GS-9 offer came through, so we loaded up all our possessions into a '66 Chevy wagon pulling a U-Haul trailer and it was "California or Bust".

We moved into a duplex on base and started fitting into the tight-knit community of Ridgecrest/China Lake, and started our lives as "normal" people, instead of students (as we used to joke about and long for).

Here is the Michelson Laboratory where I worked.

I rode my bike to work most days, as well as a Honda CB100 motorcycle.  Winters were rather nice, summers quite hot.  And it would get windy at times.

My primary job for the two years I worked there was as a design engineer on the Sidewinder 9M missile.  It was very interesting and rewarding work, mostly analog circuit design, as well as analog and digital computer simulation work.  The field tests were exciting and memorable

After only four months we were able to buy a new home off base.  It was a lot of work putting in the yard and other improvements.  But we loved our new home and were pleased to be on the elevator of appreciating home prices.

But, as the project wound down I started getting itchy to work in the private sector.  We were sad to leave our friends and first home.


  1. Love the photo memories. And my sort-of Betty Grable pose on the patio.

    When you were interviewing you asked me where I wanted to live. We were on the threshold of a great adventure, and it didn't matter to me where we ended up. With one exception. I proclaimed I was willing to live any place except China Lake, CA.

    My brother and I once labeled China Lake as "hell on earth." Not that we had been there, but we had driven 395 North and seen China Lake 10 miles off in the distance, and thought, "that's probably what hell looks like."

    Then you met an old friend whose wife was from there, and she talked of it so highly that you caught her enthusiasm, and we began to feel that was the right place for us. And it was.

    1. No, China Lake wasn't "hell on earth". That was Trona, some 25 miles closer to Death Valley. Now that place lived up to the oft posed question "Where the hell is Trona?"

  2. PS: I wish you had a photo of the sign at the entrance to the top security area: "What you see here, what you do here, what you say here, stays here when you leave here."