SP-4223 "Before This Decade Is Out..."

 

Chapter 8

James H. "Harry" GUIN

(1939-1993)

 


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James H. <<Harry>> Guin, former director of Propulsion Test Operations for the Mississippi Test Facility (renamed the Stennis Space Center in 1988).

James H. "Harry" Guin, former director of Propulsion Test Operations for the Mississippi Test Facility (renamed the Stennis Space Center in 1988). (NASA Photo.)

 

 

[191] James H. "Harry" Guin was born on August 31, 1939, in Wilsonville, Alabama. As a child, he moved with his family to Birmingham where he attended public schools and graduated from Ensley High School. In 1962, he completed a BS degree in engineering at the University of Alabama.

Mr. Guin began his engineering career at Brookley Air Force Base in Mobile, Alabama. He joined NASA in 1963 and transferred to Marshall Space Flight Center but was soon assigned to the Mississippi Test Facility (MTF) and was on-site during the earliest days of its construction. As construction neared completion he moved into operations and was involved in testing the F-1 and J-2 engines for the Saturn V.

From 1968 to 1978, Mr. Guin was employed in private industry. He managed Center Operations for General Electric at MTF for several years, then worked in the oil industry after joining Global Associates. In 1978, Mr. Guin returned to NASA and MTF (at that point renamed the National Space Technology Laboratories where he again worked with the facilities group.

In 1988, Mr. Guin received the NASA Exceptional Service Medal. At the time of this interview, Mr. Guin was director of Propulsion Test Operations for the Stennis Space Center. Tragically, he was killed in a car accident in 1993.


[192] Editor's Note: The following interview has been edited from an original interview with James H. "Harry" Guin that was conducted by Dr. Charles Bolton. The interview, in Mr. Guin's office at the Stennis Space Center on June 30, 1992, is part of the Stennis Space Center History Project, in conjunction with the Mississippi Oral History Program of the University of Southern Mississippi.

 

 

You said that you've always wanted to be an engineer. Was there something in your background that made you want to be an engineer?

No.

 

Why this desire?

I think it was the fact that my father worked in the steel mills and he was always around engineers. He always felt that they really did have a good job, and they were the ones that established what needed to be done and how. So from the time that he was young he just started talking about that. And I really thought it was great. What really motivated me, I guess, was that feeling that you know, my gosh, it was a good opportunity. I was the first person in the family to ever go to college and here's a great profession, engineering. I always did well in math in school, it was never a problem. It just kind of fit in. All the science oriented type of things were never a problem going through high school and all. So it all worked.

 

Did you have a similar desire to specifically get involved in the space program or did that just kind of happenstance?

It did. I'll tell you what, I was in Mobile and working at Brookley Air Force Base, where, by the way, Roy Estess [current director of Stennis] was also. As a matter of fact, a number of people ultimately came to Mississippi from Brookley because Brookley closed about two years after I left. At the time that I went, the space program really had not picked up any momentum. They had already started talking about it in the early '60s, but it was not really....

 


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The Apollo Saturn V Test Complex. In the foreground is the A-1 test stand with an S-II stage booster being hoisted into the stand in 1967

The Apollo Saturn V Test Complex. In the foreground is the A-1 test stand with an S-II stage booster being hoisted into the stand in 1967. (NASA Photo 68-437.)

 

....known to the general public exactly what all that meant. You know, President John Kennedy made the announcement, but nobody really understood what all that meant.

One day in the Mobile Sunday paper there was a big two-page discussion on the space program. By that time, I guess, Sputnik had happened and everybody had gotten a little bit jittery. I read for the first time about what all this meant. All young people, as far as I know, are interested in space. And it just absolutely caught my imagination in what it was going to do and what was going to be required in all the locations around the country that was going to have to be brought online in order to make it work. I just got the bug. At that time when I saw that, I went ahead; that was Sunday. I left the following Friday, no, the following Thursday and went straight to Huntsville. Went into Huntsville and went over and interviewed. You know, just went in and said, "I haven't been out of school very long and I want a job with the Space Agency." I remember them asking me a question like, "What can you do?" My answer was, "I can do anything. That's all you have to do is give me [194] something and I can do it." They laughed about that and went ahead and hired me. Of course, there was a lot of people being hired. It was a time when they were increasing the numbers and trying to put together a team and so it was not difficult at that time.

Of course, after that when I came back and I spent a month or two before I actually went on board with them at Marshall. By that time everybody at Brookley was interested and wanted to find a way to get [involved]. But ultimately we ended up with a number of people over here from Brookley Air Force Base.

 

You said that when you were in Huntsville you worked at the test lab. Is that right? What was your impression of the German scientists that were heading that up there? What do you remember about them?

As a matter of fact the day that I hired in and went to the Marshall Center, I was one of 33 people hired that day, actually signing in; there were 32 Germans and me. They had just gotten off an airplane that had flown in. Most of the Germans had already been here for some length of time. . .

 

Had they also worked with the German scientists during the war?

Yes, they were highly skilled technician-level people that worked very close tolerances and that type of thing. You know, building the hardware. Most all of those weren't able to come over here earlier and all after the war. But since they were building up numbers and they had to have some level of craftsmen, they got the names of all those that had done such a good job in Germany and brought them over. Probably only a half dozen of those could speak English.

My first impression with the Germans was, you know, here I am surrounded in this country with a bunch of Germans. Really didn't know too very much about it. The only thing that I recall was back during the war they used to have prisons camps in this country. . . Most people didn't know that. One of them was just outside of town where my grandmother and grandfather lived. My grandfather [195] bought and sold timber. He sold it to the government, and the government in a type of payment in kind would do him favors. One of the things they did, they allowed the German prisoners to work on his house. Built his house, actually built it. So I got very close to some of them that worked there and learned a little bit of German. I was only about six years old, but I did know some of the German language. So I was able to communicate somewhat.

By and large the German people, or at least those that I've been associated with, are very serious-minded. They are very goal-oriented. They are focused on what needs to be done. They just didn't seem to have an awful lot of playtime, a lot of time to carry on, kid around and that type of thing. Well, as you know, Americans tend to do an awful lot of that. They are very serious-minded people. Heimberg was that way and he was the director of test lab. His deputy was Bernie Tessman. He was, as I've mentioned to you before, one of the more light-hearted Germans that I've ever run into. He was a little bit more playful, a little bit more American, and could speak, you know, fairly well.

 

When you moved here there were probably still people moving out, the residents that had been here before. Did you get a chance to meet any of them or know any of them?

Oh, yes.

 

How did they feel about this, this being moved out?

They were highly agitated and upset. Senator Stennis had come here earlier and talked with all the residents. Got up on a stump one time as I understand it and had a talk with them and said that he knew that moving out of their homesteads that had been in their families for generations was a hard thing to do. But that Mississippians were Americans and they had to be a part of such a great adventure and that type of thing. That they would ultimately be very happy that they were a part of history. So anyhow, he did an outstanding job but there were still numerous of them that were highly agitated.

[196] There were two or three things that happened that might be of interest. One, this was an open animal range at Stennis Space Center during the early days. . . A lot of the local residents even as far as Bay St. Louis and Picayune would come to this area and let their pigs loose in an open range and let them go out and find food the best they could. Then at roundup time they would come back in and round them all up. They had to crop their ears; that was registered in the courthouse. And so the law was that all pigs and piglets that were following those that had been registered properly became the property of the land owner. They would come in at roundup time and go all over these areas with hog dogs and round them up and catch them. The problem was that this area is so massive that you couldn't catch them all. It only takes a second generation before they are just wild. Let me tell you something, many were not tame any longer, they were wild.

 

There were a lot that they hadn't rounded up.

That's right. There was an awful lot that they hadn't rounded up. You know, they grow tusks and they got to be mean. Some of the things that we did, we had alerted all the local papers and news outlets that the last round-up was past time. The land was bought, they had already supposedly come in and taken all their belongings out and had gone. We kept putting in the paper, like on this date, all remaining free range animals would be collected and would be the property of the government. So they would come in and do what they had to do. Well, each time we did that some of the local people would gripe about it. So we kept extending the late round-up date. We extended it four or five times. The extensions lasted at least a year's period. Still there was an awful, awful lot of wild pigs. Some tame were also still in the area.

So finally we set a last date. It came and went and what we were going to do was go out and round these up and put them in pens. Well, when they are wild you have to feed them something, grain or corn something like that, to get that wild taste out of them. What we were going to do was have a luau for the employees here at that time. We only had probably about thirty employees....

 


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After testing is complete, the first stage booster of the Apollo Saturn V, the S-IC, leaves the test stand en route to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

After testing is complete, the first stage booster of the Apollo Saturn V, the S-IC, leaves the test stand en route to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (NASA Photo 67-2189.)

 

....at that time. So some of the community members found out about that and they once again griped about that. So we let the pigs go. Finally the time came and went and I think a judge finally said, "This is it. This is the end. No more. You're going to get it."

I think the funny part of it is on three different occasions we went out and had to catch these pigs, pen them in, and then had to let them go. The funniest part was how you catch them. If you've never been on a hog roundup-

 

I can't say that I have. [Laughter]

....It is absolutely an interesting proposition because you don't shoot them. You go out in this wooded area with hog dogs and run these hogs and piglets all over the doggone place and what you do, you run after the dogs that are running after the hogs. Up and down little hills and around until the hogs tire out. Then they will turn and they will fight. Then the dogs will try to corner them. [198] One would grab an ear and another will grab the tail. When you've got that ear they would stop moving.

 

Sensitive there.

Very sensitive in the ear. Then you just picked them up and threw them in the back of the truck with gates on the side. And that's how you caught them. So we went through that process about three times and then finally it was all over.

 

So this would be NASA employees out there on these hog drives?

Yes. We had a security group, a Hancock County security patrol that we had hired under contract that included local people. We had about eight or nine people that worked 24 hours a day and they cruised the area and so forth. They were the ones that had the dogs; they knew all the local people.

Another early danger for employees that was very evident was the number of snakes that were here because a lot of the area was boggy and low. We had an individual that came here, the first employee of Boeing Company, which built the first stage of the Saturn rocket. . . The first Boeing person was also a pretty high level manager that was very close to an expert on snakes and reptiles. . . What he decided to do, was to pen the snakes to educate the new employees that were coming in, many of which had not dealt with the type of snakes that were in this area. They were just-you couldn't believe how many [snakes] there were. And so he was going to cage them and take pictures of them and give all new employees an orientation of poisonous snakes that were in this area. A picture of them so they could see what they looked like and so forth because we didn't want anybody getting bit by them. So we had a snake roundup. Well, let me tell you, about 99 percent of all people are not overly enthralled about dealing with snakes anyhow. This dude, you know, he just loved it. He treated those things like a child. It's amazing because you know I've always been fairly well frightened of snakes and everybody else around me was too. But we got used to them after a while. Kind of like you get used [199] to anything else. During that period of time we caught an awful lot of local snakes and took pictures and distributed them. Most of the snakes were found when we dredged the Pearl River.

 

For the canals?

For the canals. We dredged to a little harbor first there just below the lock which connects the canal system. When they were dredging that area there was a Cajun crew that operated the dredge boat. They would average killing in that swampy area, something on the order of two or three hundred snakes a day.

 

Gosh!

And those were only the ones that were immediately around or in the boat, I mean the ones that they would have to do something about. They'd see them out in the water, I mean it was that bad. The hogs, the snakes that were here, and the mosquitoes were probably the three things that I remember about those earlier days.

You may have heard this, this was in the early '60s, '63, I guess it was in the year '63, that it got such national attention. National TV would show New Orleans and how bad the mosquito infestation was and how bad it was across this region. Actually numerous cattle in this area were killed because the swarming mosquitoes would be ingested during breathing and suffocate them.

 

Suffocated them?

They actually suffocated them. The number that they actually breathed into their nostrils would suffocate them and they would die. That got national attention.

Well, I was the one that had the responsibility to see about correcting that kind of problem. I contacted the people at the Bureau of Public Health in Washington. They sent two entomologists down here. I rented a helicopter and took them up and showed them low-lying areas where there was a lot of standing water. Then they took water samples. In the boggy areas in a square foot, their [200] samples showed that there was about two thousand wigglers, water larva, per square foot. That's how bad they were. They took a mosquito count of those flying and landing on a standing person in a one minute time frame. As quickly as they could they would get a count of two hundred mosquito landings per minute. So it was quite a troublesome time.

We had a labor strike here. Remember I told you about the fence, the first fence, the perimeter fence that was put in here. They had a strike on the crew that was putting that fence in because of the mosquitoes. There was no repellent that they could give them to stop them from being bitten so badly.

 

So they just walked off?

Walked off the job site. Said this is impossible, can't work. The company kept bringing in different mosquito repellents but nothing really worked. It would last for about ten minutes. Well, it was so hot, this was in the summer, I mean it was 95 degrees in the swamp. For crying out loud, the humidity was awful. In 15 minutes all of the Off would be gone. Well, they finally found a way to solve it.

 

What was that?

You might remember this if you ever have a problem with mosquitoes.

 

[Laughter] Okay.

The entomologist came in and recommended something to us. Came in and he said, "Go down and get the absolute cheapest, smelliest perfume that you could find. Get some linseed or cottonseed oil. Put that smelly perfume in it, mix it up, and rub that all over you." It worked. It would work for about three hours and then you would have to go back and put some more on you. But the oil that was used was the type that would just soak into your skin pores. That would work better than anything else, and it's the only [201] reason we got a perimeter fence that year because those workers were not going to work anymore, period.

 

It's amazing that anybody lived back here with those conditions. Between the snakes and the mosquitoes. [Laughter]

They were called salt marsh mosquitoes. You get used to that too. I mean I couldn't stand it when I was growing up even having a mosquito in the room, you know, at night how they buzz around. I couldn't sleep. I had to find the thing to kill it. But you get used to mosquitoes like anything else. I could actually be talking to someone outdoors and feel them land on my clothing or bare skin, kill them and never miss one beat in the discussion. You get used to them.


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