Richard Volpe

    I grew up in the Plains in Milford, on Middleton Street by the Stone Castle.  My mother was Irish and my father
    was Italian. I had two brothers and a sister. We were a close-knit family. Now I have just one brother left. There
    was a lot of heart disease on my mother's side of the family. That's what took my sister, Anne. She had been a
    nurse-superintendent at Cushing Hospital in Framingham. My brother Louie was a colonel in the National
    Guard. When the Guard was at Beaver Street in Milford he was in charge of the whole unit. He loved the
    military. He contracted a rare virus. It's one that kills only about thirty-eight people a year in this country. There
    wasn't anything for it and he died in about two weeks. That was a very difficult time for all of us.

    When I finished high school, World War II was going on and my friends and I were very eager to get into the
    service. My friends, Joe Balmelli, Andrew Cecchi and I went into the Navy. Joe's grandfather owned Chicken
    Pete's. That was the big nightclub in the area at the time. My father worked there as a waiter and a bouncer. He
    was a fighter and he could handle himself pretty well.

    When we went into the Navy, we were trained at the base at Bainbridge, Maryland. After basic, there was a ten-
    day leave. When we went back, we'd get an assignment, either for schooling or a ship. I had put in for a
    battleship. I wanted something big to walk around on. I didn't want to be tossing around on a destroyer. As it
    turned out, the class I had graduated with was put on a carrier. Before I returned after the leave, I said to my
    parents that I might not see them for two years. However, it turned out that we were shipped out to Quonset
    Point, Rhode Island. I was assigned to the USS Randolph.

    When I was in training camp, they put us into a huge building with recruits from all over the country. As soon as
    the lights went out at night, the southern whites and the blacks would start cursing one another. It was a terrible
    thing; the names they'd call one another.

    We were docked at Quonset Point for a while, and went out on a few cruises. Then we were sent to Pensacola,
    where we were assigned to the U.S.S. Ranger. It was one of the oldest carriers in the fleet, and was used for
    training purposes for young pilots.

    We got to Cuba a lot - Guantanamo Bay. They wouldn't let us go into town, but we could get onto the base. We
    could go into the Navy store for souvenirs, and there was a restaurant and a bar. It was good to get away from
    the ship for a while. We couldn't dock because they didn't have a dock there. They'd take us in and back on a
    landing barge.

    On the barge, the racial problem turned up again. The southerners would try to incite a couple of colored guys to
    fight one another. The guy steering the barge had to pull his gun out a couple of times to put a stop to it. On the
    next ship I was assigned to, the colored sailors were assigned to the laundry or the kitchen. For an experiment,
    they put one of them in our group; the maintenance group. There were a couple of white guys who hated the
    coloreds with such a passion that it was unbelievable. I was amazed that people could hate that much. They
    tormented the guy so much I couldn't believe it. I used to wonder when he'd fight back. One day it started up
    again and the colored guy took a whack at the white guy. Knocked him right into his bunk. It took them a while to
    wake him up. It was then decided to end the experiment and put the colored guy back in the laundry. The hatred
    was rampant.

    There was a beautiful sight one day with the sun out over the ocean. An old Navy guy looked over at some
    colored guys, and then he said to me," You see those guys over there? I wonder if they can see the beauty in all
    that." You say to yourself, why, why is that hatred so deep?

    There was a big, circular bar at Guantanamo. The Marines in there would get very drunk. They'd get on  the
    barge and they didn't know where they were going.

    After the Ranger, we were assigned to the U.S.S. Philippine Sea at Norfolk, Virginia. We were to take Admiral
    Byrd to Antarctica, where he'd be staying for six months. Lots of supplies had to go along on that trip. The United
    States had a base there, but wanted to establish more of a presence before Russia went in and took over. The
    same thing was done in the Arctic. We took the Philippine Sea out on a training cruise to check out the engines
    and see how everything performed. That was a couple of months.

    They were planning to take three or four C-47s to Antarctica on the trip. They would be the biggest planes that
    had ever taken off on an aircraft  carrier. At first they didn't know how to do it, but on land training they put
    boosters on both sides of the planes. That was enough to get them to take off on the short runway of a carrier.
    The first place we stopped before going through the Panama Canal was Colon. At the Pacific end of the canal
    we stopped at Balboa. The carrier was a very wide ship to go through the canal and the locks, but damage was
    minor. While at Balboa, the ship's executive officer got off and went off into the mountains. He was an alcoholic,
    but nobody knew it. He missed our time to leave by two days, and we couldn't leave without him. They sent a
    big search party out looking for him. You could see that the Admiral was upset about that. They finally found
    him out straight, drunk, in a mansion of somebody he knew there, and they took him back to the ship. Then we
    left for the South Pole.

    Just south of South America is the most turbulent water in the world. We weren't happy about that, but the ship
    was big and took it pretty well. The C-47s were going to be based inland, and they had to get off the ship and
    get to their base by flying there. They launched them with the rockets on them and it worked out perfectly. The
    Admiral and several other people were on the first one. Once that was done we headed home.

    We had a helicopter on the ship, and while we were still near Antarctica, it took off. It had a motor problem and
    it crashed into the ocean, right before our eyes. They got the pilot and co-pilot out of there, but they had to
    amputate the legs of the pilot. They had been crushed.

    We crossed the Equator again and had an easy trip through the Panama Canal. We docked at the Brooklyn
    Navy Yard for repairs. We stayed in the barracks there. We were eligible for discharge in a couple of months.
    After leaving the service, my friends and I would meet in the evenings at the Marchegiano Club. It was a place
    to go to, have a couple of beers and go home.

    My friends, Eddie Scirocco, John Murphy, Mike Alberta, John Trotta and I were musicians and played in an
    orchestra we had formed. We vacationed together on the Cape in the summer and went skiing in the winter.
    When we got into our mid and late twenties we started to think about marriage. We all got married, but we kept
    our friendship going for a long time. I was working at Draper and that's where I met Mary Tetlow. There was a
    Draper chorus called the Textileers. Mary was in it and that's where we first got together. I often tell her that the
    first time I met her, I fell in love with her.

    Sometime after Rockwell Corporation bought Drapers (1967), they sent some looms to their plant in El
    Segundo, California, thinking their brilliant engineers there could come up with some great improvements on
    them. They had them there for about a year, and then sent them back. They didn't understand what was going
    on in the loom business.

    Charlie Burnham had gone to Ireland for a few years to work for Rockwell there. When he came back he was
    head of R&D. After a while they changed that department to engineering.

    Robert Page, the president of the Draper Division of Rockwell, had the idea of making models of the first
    Draper loom, which was called the Queen City loom. It  was named that because the first shipment of Draper
    looms went to the Queen City Cotton Company in Burlington, Vermont in 1894. The models would be given to
    companies that bought a certain number of looms. One of the models is at the Red Shop.

    Harry Thibault called me into his office. He knew that I had done model making, and asked if I would take on
    the job of doing a model of the Queen City loom. I accepted the assignment. He gave me a budget of $10,000
    to do it. I built it for $8,000. Everything in it worked. It didn't weave cloth, but all the parts operated as they would
    on an actual loom. All the gears, the shuttle going back and forth - all of that worked from a belt on a pulley
    below. Charlie Burnham was very impressed with it.

The Queen City loom model, with Charlie Shanahan on left and Dick in the center.

    It took me about eight months to build the model. While I was doing that, I was still a designer. Every once in a
    while I'd have to break away from the model and do some design work. I hated to do it because my mind was
    completely absorbed in that Queen City loom. To break away from it meant conditioning my mind for something
    different.

    Charlie Shanahan had been head of the photography department, but he became head of a specialized
    foundry for making small parts that were difficult to machine. It saved them a lot of money when lots of small
    parts had to be made.  Every time I'd make a part, they'd make a copy of it. When they had enough parts, they'd
    start gluing them together. Those, of course, wouldn't work, but the original that I made did.

    In that foundry, they'd make wax models of whatever they wanted to produce. They'd leave two breathing holes
    in the mold. When they poured the hot metal into it, the wax would melt and be pushed out.  The casting would
    come out in the exact shape they wanted.

    Shanahan had a heart attack and left the job. Harry Thibault came to me and asked if I wanted to take
    Shanahan's place. I was so engrossed in the Queen City loom that I didn't want to leave it, so I refused the job.
    As it turned out, that small parts foundry was never productive enough to be worth keeping and they eventually
    closed it down.

    One day I was called to the office of Archie Pickard, who was the personnel manager. I thought I was going to
    get laid off.

    "Sit down, sit down," he said. "We've been watching what you've been doing. I think we'd like to get you into
    politics."

    Drapers always wanted some of their men active in town politics so that they would have some control of how
    the town operated. I said, "I don't know if I want to do that. Give me a couple of days to think it over."

    It wasn't long before he called me back to his office. I said, "I'm sorry Archie, but I'm not interested."

    "You know something," he said. "You bought a piece of land in Hopedale. You've got a little water problem
    down there. If I went down there and did a percolation test, it would probably prevent you from building the
    house you want to build there."

    He was threatening me. I said to myself, "I'm not interested." That's my experience with Archie. I didn't run for
    office, the perc test wasn't done, and the house was built. We never had any problem with water.

    While I was doing patent applications, I was also doing background work on patents. The U.S. Patent Office is
    full of textile applications. When you're filing for a patent, you have to check them out to make sure there's
    nothing that you would be infringing on. A patent attorney named Hassel spent a lot of time at Drapers. When
    things there started to change, he went to Kodak in New York. Drapers lost a good man there. Lenny Carlson
    from Upton was one of the patent application writers. He wrote up all the mechanical points, with all the
    drawings and the numbers.

    Draper was trying to copy all that was done in a fast loom made by the Picanol Company in Belgium. Harry
    Thibault made a model of it. They were plagued by patents with that project. They should never have gotten into
    it. You couldn't do this and you couldn't do that because of patents. It was around that time that they changed
    the name of the experimental department to the engineering department.

    One thing they did get out of the Belgian loom project was a tucking mechanism. When the thread went across,
    in that loom, it was cut off at the end. The mechanism picked it up and wove it in, so it wouldn't be left hanging
    out. There was a trimming operation that would take care of the ends, but the tucking mechanism made the
    trimming operation unnecessary. Draper did copy that. John Cugini was the designer, and he did a good job on
    it. When they applied it to the Draper shuttleless loom, it worked pretty well. They got it out in the field and they
    didn't get much flack from Picanol, the company that had originally made it. It was a very expensive loom.

    John Cugini was my manager when we were working on a loom that was doing great work on denim. Denim
    was in big demand. There was a hurricane down South and water got into a mill where a large amount of
    denim was being stored. It changed the coloring of the cloth. They decided to use it as it was, and it caught on.
    People were demanding denim with streaks of blue, and copper and everything else.

    Before World War II, Drapers didn't have any serious competition in the loom business. After the war, more and
    more companies in various countries were getting into the business. The mills down South got smart. They
    would buy a foreign loom and put it beside a Draper loom. Both would be monitored to see which of the two
    was the most efficient. All the mills started doing that. The government opened doors to lots of foreign products,
    including looms. Draper was hanging in for a while, but it wasn't like former years. The Japanese would buy a
    loom with outdated patents, and start producing.

    It was typical for Drapers to have five good years, and then one and a half to two bad years. They had many
    layoffs. I remember one year when things were spiraling down out of control and they laid off 800 people just
    before Christmas. You have to give Drapers credit, though. When business got better, they'd hire back the
    people who had been let go. That was just the opposite of high tech. In high tech, when you got laid off, they
    didn't want you back.

    Drapers had a water-jet loom that they bought. The wet end of the thread would be fired across the loom under
    air pressure. They worked on it for a long time, but they couldn't do much with it. They could never make it a
    viable product. It would work well for a few days, and then go haywire. When they stopped working on it, some
    other company picked it up and they did pretty well with it.

    Harry Thibault retired rather early in life. Everybody was  surprised because he was second in the engineering
    department. He explained at his retirement party that he was retiring because he came from a long  line of men
    in his family who didn't live much after 55. He didn't expect to live much longer and he wanted to have a few
    years of retirement before he died. As it turned out, he was correct. He died fairly young. He was a wonderful
    man. Well educated, too.

    When Rockwell bought Drapers, the company was running three shifts. They were making a good profit.
    Rockwell found that the Draper board of directors didn't own enough Draper stock to prevent a buyout. They
    came in with their money, talked to the shareholders and just picked the company up. The company had a lot of
    what was essentially cash, which was very attractive to Rockwell.

    Charlie Burnham was a brilliant man. While he was there in the Rockwell years, they started looking into
    electrostatic spinning. Whitin Machine made spinning equipment. Rockwell/Draper spent a lot of money trying
    to develop electrostatic spinning, but they could never get it to work the way they thought it should.  Rockwell cut
    the engineering department way back. They just left a skeleton force. As I look back, it appears that they kept the
    people who had just one or two weeks vacation, and got rid of the rest. They kept the low income people and let
    the seasoned people go.

    A while after I was laid off from Drapers, I got a call from the Rockwell corporate office in Pittsburg. I was asked
    if I would be interested in doing patent illustrations. They overlooked the fact that I wasn't bonded, and over a
    couple of years I made a lot of money doing illustrations. They had seven patent attorneys in the corporate
    office. When Drapers was falling apart, Rockwell picked up Lenny Carlson as a tech writer and put him in the
    Pittsburg office. It was through him that they picked me up. I made some trips to Pittsburg at that time, which I
    enjoyed.

    The Wildman Jacquard Company made knitting machines. The material they made was beginning to take off.
    Draper bought into it. Earl Harlow was made president of the company at their plant in Pennsylvania. From day
    one they were making money at that little place. We did a lot of patent applications for them, because of course
    when Rockwell bought Drapers, they also got Wildman Jacquard.

    Drapers had bought a lot of companies over the years. One was Blue Jet Chainsaw. John Cugini and I worked
    on that project. The manager was Peter Consoletti. They lost in that business because the chains they were
    making weren't competitive. Oregon Chainsaw was making the best chains. It was the chain that every
    chainsaw operator wanted. They were unbelievable. We took a trip to their plant in New York. They had a place
    where they had huge trees, as straight as can be.  

    We went there to check out the chain. When we showed them what we had and they showed us their chains,
    there was no comparison. They put a saw on a log more than two feet in diameter. They started it, and then let
    go. Just by gravity, the saw went right through the log. Drapers couldn't compete with Oregon on chains, but
    they did have a good chainsaw bar, and they sold a lot of them.

    Drapers invited a company from Japan to come and look at their shuttleless loom. It was something to see.
    There were about seven or eight Japanese engineers and designers, and they were all over that loom. Each
    one had a different part to study. One of them was standing on the loom; another was underneath. I think the
    idea was to have looms produced in Japan and sold in this country under the Draper name. I don't know that
    that ever worked out. Later, when I was working at Data General, I saw something similar. When they had a
    new piece of hardware ready to produce, they'd get a quote on it from their own company, and also a quote from
    a Japanese company.

    We had some great designers and engineers at Drapers. Many of them came from Rhode Island. Maurice
    Flamand was one. He had graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design. He did all the cam work. That's
    very tedious design work. His work on cams for the shuttleless loom made it a much better loom. Another
    fellow, Theodore (Tuffy) Higgins was very good. However there were others who, I don't know what they did or
    what they ever contributed.

    After leaving Drapers, I looked around here and there for a job. I wasn't having much success. A friend of mine,
    also laid off, got a job at A.T.F. Davidson in Whitinsville. They were developing a new printing press and they
    needed a lot of help, including engineers and designers. They asked my friend if he knew of anyone qualified to
    work there. He told them about me, and without even applying, I got a job there.

    While I was there, I did a lot of creative work. By the time I left, I had three U.S. patents. It was a nice place to
    work. There were friendly people there. Al Savoy and Phil Cenedella were working there. Al and I had played in
    the golf league in Hopedale when we were at Drapers, and we still played in that league when we were
    working in Whitinsville. At that time we worked from seven in the morning until four in the afternoon. Then they
    wanted to change the hours from eight to five. It didn't look good for golf.

    At that point I started looking around for another job. A friend of mine, Bobby Moore, worked at Data General. He
    called me one day and told me that he was interested in hiring a woman who had a background in drafting. One
    of our secretaries had taken a course in drafting. She was having a problem with her boss, so when I told her
    about a possible job at Data General, she was very happy. She was hired, and a while later she was asked if
    she knew any designer or engineer who might be interested in going to Data General. At that time, they were
    looking for people all over the place. I got her a job and now she got one for me. I had some interviews, got the
    okay, put in my notice in Whitinsville, and went to work for Data General.

    At Data General, they put me in charge of the drafting department. I had about ten people working for me. It was
    a good experience. It was a little hectic at times. I had to do a lot of work on the department budget, both at work
    and at home. My manager was kind of a lazy guy, and he was having me do some of his work. Each employee
    was getting two raises a year. A performance write-up had to be done on them. He'd tell me that we couldn't
    afford to lose anyone, so give them all a good write-up. That was a good experience for me; writing up their
    background, attitudes, etc.

    While I was at Data General, we moved from pencil drawing to electronic drawing. The drafting boards went out
    the door. It was a great thing. You're more accurate with computers than you are with the drafting board. I
    worked there for ten years. I was closing in on sixty. Each year the computers had to be changed to take in more
    design features. That meant bringing myself up each year into a new area of designing electronically.
    I was starting to feel that it was getting to be too much. Also, there had been a small group of three who were
    doing the designs for the cabling. We lost the guy who had charge of that group to DEC (Digital Equipment).
    They were hiring all over the place. That group was then put under my supervision. There were two draftsmen
    who did printed circuit boards. They decided to give them to me. So it turned out that I had cabling, drafting and
    circuit boards.

    In the meantime, Data General bought a supermarket in Hampton Beach and turned it into a printed circuit
    board manufacturing facility. They had a lot of problems up there, because there are so many parts that go into
    a circuit board. They brought in a big unit, and each of them was in a little cubby. All the parts for the boards
    were in plastic pails. They were called on electronically by the people doing the assembling. A little elevator-like
    thing would go up and down and get the part for them. They had problems with it, and the company they had
    bought it from had gone bankrupt before it was finished. They began sending me up to do what I could to get it
    straightened out. I'd go up there two, sometimes three times a week on a helicopter from Westboro where I was
    working. That was quite a ride. I've never seen so many swimming pools.

    Data General was beginning to go down-hill. If a customer needed a new circuit board, they had to buy it from
    Data General. That was becoming a problem as other companies were beginning to be more flexible about
    such things.

    After Charlie Burnham left Drapers, he went to Data General. He  ruled by intimidation. I knew he was upstairs
    somewhere, but I hadn't seen him. One day I looked up and saw him at the door to my cubby.

    "Dick," he said, "I've got some favors for you to do. I've got some things I need designed, and I need your drafting
    department to do it."

    I replied, "Charlie, my department can only do what we're designing here. Not the people upstairs."

    "You'll find a way, Richard. I know you will, " he said, while pushing his finger at me.

    I just let it slide along, and he'd come back from time to time. "How are we doing?" he'd ask.

    "I'm still working on it, Charlie."

    A big job opened up upstairs. Charlie and another guy were in line for it. The other guy was picked for the job,
    and they let Charlie go.

    I got a full retirement with full benefits from Data General. ATF Davidson had gone out of business, and a guy
    there started selling parts for the printing machines. He called me one day and asked if I'd do drawings of the
    knitting machines so he could have the parts made up and sell them. I did quite a bit of work for him. I was
    pretty busy. At the same time I was doing patent illustrations for Rockwell, until one day I got a call saying, "Sorry
    Dick, but you're a security risk." I didn't even bother to try and talk my way around it. I never would have sold out
    anything, but security is security.

    I was playing the base, but I wanted to try another instrument. I bought a trombone from the Music Nook and
    started taking lessons from Jerry Seeco.

    After retiring, I started doing some copies of Norman Rockwell paintings. I had always loved Rockwell's
    paintings. I did nine of his. I started on the easy ones, thinking if I could do those, I could move on to more
    difficult ones. It was like a training course. I showed them at various places, and everyone was telling me they
    loved them, but no one was interested in buying them. We were in the recession at that time and the biggest
    thing to get hurt in times like that is art.

    I kept them all until I began thinking of moving down here to the Griffin-Dennett Apartments. I knew I wanted
    them kept together. I finally decided that the best place for them would be at the Community House. I mentioned
    this to my son, Ernie, who works there. I didn't hear anything from him about them for quite a while, and then as
    we were about to move, he and Drew Bivins came by with a pickup truck and some blankets. They took them to
    the Community House. I still paint, and now I'm working on a painting of the granddaughter of my neighbor.
    Richard Volpe, August 2015

                                 Draper Menu                  Veterans' Menu                   Memories Menu                    HOME   

    When we got married, we lived with Mary's parents for a year or so. Then we bought a piece of land on Malquinn
    Drive. We built our home and we lived there for 26 years. When my father-in-law died Mary's mother wanted us
    to move in with her. She was lonely and needed help, so we moved into the house on Union Street and were
    able to help her a lot. We lived there until I was unable to start the lawn mower and operate the snow blower.
    That's when we moved here to the Griffin-Dennett Apartments.

    I left Eddie Scirocco's orchestra because we weren't playing very much. I joined Johnny Wittick's orchestra.
    During World War II he ran a big orchestra out of the Polish-American Club. He had the number one orchestra
    in the Blackstone Valley. Anybody who had a big shindig wanted him.  By the first of each January his book
    would be filled for the whole year, except for July which we'd take off. Johnny had two sons who were
    hemophiliacs. I got the younger one a job in the engineering department at Drapers. He stayed for about a year
    and then decided that wasn't his thing.

    At Drapers I was a model maker in the R&D department. Earlier in life I had taken a mechanical drafting course.
    I also went to Worcester Junior College where I had taken engineering courses. I was thinking of leaving
    Drapers for a job that would pay better. When they heard about that, Ted Fitzgerald, head of research and
    development, came down and asked me why I was planning to leave. When I told him, he suggested that I stick
    around for a while, and they might be able to use me upstairs in the drafting department. It wasn't long before I
    was promoted to the drafting department. I learned the "do's and don'ts" of being a Draper draftsman. I
    eventually got promoted into patent illustration. I did that for seven or eight years. I worked with Rodney
    Southworth, a patent attorney in the Main Office.It was a sad day in the engineering department when Ted
    Fitzgerald was killed in a plane crash at Logan Airport.

    I reached the top of my salary in patent illustration, stepped out of illustrating and went into a design position.
    While I was a design engineer, I was still doing patent illustrations at home. It was a business I had with
    Drapers on the side. I also have twelve or thirteen patent applications for inventions of my own.

    Dick shown holding patents that had arrived from the Patent Office in Washington.

    A. D.W. Anderson   B. Budzyna   C. Budzyna   D. Dick Volpe   E. Ed Budzyna   F. W.E. Turner (head of
    engineering)   G. Dick Knight

    There were four Budzynas in the engineering department: a father, two sons, and the father's brother.

Below - Caricatures of the Draper engineering department by Dick.

Above - A drawing of Draper loom parts by Dick.

Below - Copies of Norman Rockwell paintings done by Dick.