Source: NMHS Newsletter, August 1985 and November 1985
HARRY AND THE NUCLEAR THRESHHOLD
By Orpha J. Weimer
A North Manchester resident performed his duty to the country in the ominous Manhattan Project but eventually closed that chapter of his life to return here to live and teach.
Harry Raymond Weimer was born on a farm in northwestern Wabash County to Cain C. and Adella Hill Weimer on December 9, 1906, and into a rapidly changing world. The social dictates of the older generation of hard-working Midwestern rural culture prevailed. You did not gamble, dance, or play cards. You attended grade and high schools, if possible. Christianity and politics were taken seriously, and you were sure that America had been ordained by the Lord to save the world.
Cain Weimer came from Pennsylvania to visit pioneering relatives, taught school for a few years, later marrying into the Hill-Gamble family. He began farming one of the Gamble farms with a brother-in-law, Titus Hill, who later became a Methodist minister. Cain Weimer went back to an earlier trade as carpenter and craftsperson. Often he spent long winter evenings reading to his children.
Young Harry, a shy child, grew to love literature and became an omnivorous reader, digesting an average-size book in an hour. Even as a child he had a sense of responsibility, assuming care for his mother and siblings when his father was away.
With an uncle in the ministry and an aunt who was a Methodist nursing deaconess, the family expected this serious-minded child to enter a life of Christian service. Harry himself did not give up this idea until his high school years. About this time science captured world thinking. His faith, his church, and his responsibility as a Christian gentleman always held priority, yet scientific research and the teaching of its application to human welfare dominated his mind.
His early school years were uneventful. He did little reminiscing; he was not musical; and family chores gave him little time for athletics. Reports and records prove that he was an excellent scholar, and he held several class offices.
After the death of two small sisters, the family sought a better life by moving to Logansport where Cain worked in the railroad shops. Mrs. Weimer did not like the city life, so the family moved back to Wabash County after a very short period, purchasing land of Joseph and Martha Metzger on the west edge of town. Harry entered West Ward School under Martha Winesburg.
Cain Weimer began work with the Cox Showcase Company as a cabinet maker and built a new house (1210 W. Main Street) for the family and gradually pieces of furniture which the family now values. Harry was taught the use of tools to become an excellent cabinet maker on his own.
In 1912 Mrs. Weimer and a neighbor, Mrs. Charles Ball, began to pool their appliances and efforts to do home canning. Mr. Weimer contrived small, workable tools to help them. One was a metal can-sealer and a small sized steam system for processing the finished product and a small steam hoist for lifting. These he taught young Harry to use.
From this small beginning grew the Weimer Custom Canning Factory (located next to the home) which employed as many as 80 local people, with Harry and his father responsible for its upkeep. They spent long days, 15-20 hours each at times, inventing alternatives, trying new skills and dealing with shortages, a few labor problems, and pre-war tension. Harry received ¼ ¢ per can for his pay. This financed his education along with a final teaching assistantship at Ohio State University to complete his doctorate.
He had been advised to take a master’s degree and go on if war did not interrupt. He received his Ph.D. in the fall of 1933. Jobs were not available, so Weimer, his wife and two sons, moved back to North Manchester where he took a job sorting onions on the Noah Frantz farm.
In the spring of 1934 President Otho Winger told Weimer of an opening in science at Bridgewater College to replace the ill Dr. Starr. “We packed and left for Virginia on a half day’s notice. His salary was $100 per month, but we considered ourselves lucky to get it.”
“Our five years in Virginia were very pleasant ones. They were a gracious and kind people, and we loved them. In the fall of 1938, Winger called Weimer back to Manchester College. Harry’s father was failing in health and needed assistance. Regretfully we said good-bye to our many friends but were glad to return. Responsibilities and temp of living increased drastically.”
The Teacher and the War
“War came. Harry was just beyond draft age. We canned products for the government. College enrollment dropped. Harry’s brother, Paul, was home from Purdue to help the family when a call came for Harry to transfer his teaching to Navy personnel at Ball State. With the consent of Manchester College, he did that while his family remained to help at home.”
War continued. Pearl Harbor and Battan were fresh in our minds. Some of our church people suffered in the Philippines; some of our friends were lost on troop ships bombed at sea. During this period Harry received still another call from one of his former instructors at O.S.U. …”Would you participate in a government-sponsored program involving a totally new field of science with no questions asked or answers given?” Harry agreed. Quietly doors opened and he was transferred to the Monsanto Chemical Plant in Dayton, Ohio.
“Housing in Dayton was short, so the family stayed in Manchester where our 11 and 13 year old sons and I were needed. Harry was given weekend leave every three weeks and I received a gas ration card to pick him up in Fort Wayne. I knew he was under oath, had daily physical checks, and that his roommate was an Army colonel who could not wear his uniform publically. They worked 24-hours-a-day in an isolated building. That was about all I knew.”
Harry came home after a few months and literally walked the floor all night long. Exhausted by morning he picked up a cup of coffee and remarked, “We have succeeded, but I wish to God we hadn’t. It’s awful, but it has to be!”
Rumors and speculation were everywhere. Grossly absurd tales were told, and people were afraid. A lady in Dayton near their building reported that her four cats were poisoned by licking the brick-colored dust which settled on her morning milk bottle. The landlady of the rooming house called the police to arrest a spy because she found an Army uniform hidden away in a coat closet. The poor fellow had to be transferred to another unit.
It wasn’t all stuffy. The scientific workers were mostly young fellows. Harry gleefully related one incident in which they strapped guns about their waists, drove their trucks to Wright-Patterson Airport, briskly ordered all persons safely back while they loaded on a harmless shipment of raw rock from Canada before a gaping audience. High jinks or no, they became a close-knit group of valued friends and the achievers of later years.
The Manhattan Project was known of, but little known about. For an undertaking of its size, how the secret was kept is a miracle. Parts and bits of the work were scattered all over the nation. Definitely the right hand did not know what the left was about. Perhaps this was its secret. Oak Ridge was “X,” Dayton was “Y,” and Hanford, Washington was “Z.” That spring of 1944 was quiet. Harry came home to work at the cannery. He did not always get to see the morning paper so I was primed to scan the news quickly for a certain word and, if it appeared, to call him at once. But he was home. He paced the back yard, then over the radio came the stultifying news – the bomb had been dropped on Japan, and a new era for the world had begun.
Beyond the Manhattan Project
Harry told in latter years several amusing and interesting anecdotes, but he never discussed his feelings. He was still under oath and never grieved over spilled milk. He accepted nuclear energy, for which we needed much more study, as the link between our fading fossil fuels and future use of solar energy, but he did not entirely trust man and military power. He was invited to White Sands and Bikini Island for demonstrations but did not go. He trained an assistant to replace him, left Monsanto, cut his salary in half and returned to Manchester to teach. It was a closed chapter. One of his favorite quotes was “Undress your mind at night as you do your body; rest, and be ready to meet the new day.”
MEMORIES OF Harry Weimer [continued from last issue]
The last years at Manchester were fairly quiet, busy work-filled days. For nine years he participated in a summer National Science Foundation Program for 30 gifted and recommended second, third, and fourth-year high school students from all over the U.S. It was a rewarding, time-consuming, and often frustrating experience. Eight weeks of seven full days a week, 24 hour-day supervision, brilliant minds to be taught, entertained and kept from homesickness, boredom and mischief. Dr. Steven Grossnickle, an ophthalmologist in Warsaw, was one of our students.
During the world-wide period of student unrest and a few hot spots on Manchester campus, Harry was often called on for help. He had an uncanny rapport with students and always more counselees than the normal load. If a student asked, he was never turned aside. “Harry listened, considered, discussed and tried to find workable solutions. He was firm but just and sometimes did say no. One of the standing campus jokes was seeing him, with a student in tow, dog-trotting (he never took time to walk) across to the Dean’s Office. Harry was never a patient soul, more in evidence as he grew older. Another standing joke was when he was in such a hurry to get off that he backed into a passing police car. We always lived within four blocks of the campus, yet he never walked: he didn’t have time.”
His day began at 7:00, one half hour before his 7:30 class and being late to an appointment or committee meeting was a cardinal sin. His meetings began on time, lasted the prescribed time, and then were dismissed.
Everyone liked Harry. He had loads of friends yet he rarely wrote letters or seemed to work at it. He enjoyed groups but wasn’t much on participation. He was a good conversationalist but best in a small group, since in a larger unit he tended to drift into the instructor roll.
Harry was generous to a fault with both his time and money. Money to him was simply something to be shared. Every beggar on the street seemed to know him. He never asked questions; he gave. If I protested that he was too easy or being imposed upon, he merely smiled and said, Probably,” but he would rather give three times needlessly than to deny a real need once. Dishonesty by intent, however, was something different. This he would not stand for.
That Harry inherited a share of the so-called “Weimer temper” there was no doubt. This the workmen on the Hall of Science found out when they tried to put in non-acid resisting drains. He did learn to control his temper, however, except under very trying circumstances.
The Science Hall was much of Harry’s planning and thinking, a bit of a dream come true for him. One of his biggest problems was the name, Holl-Kintner Hall, in honor of the two men under whom he had studied. He was very proud of it.
Harry never really had a sabbatical leave in all his years. Dr. Helman almost forced him to spend part of one spring term visiting other science departments of this college association for Manchester. He did take refresher courses on his own during a few summers, to Pennsylvania State University in 1958, to the University of South Carolina at Durham in 1960, and the University of Oklahoma at Stillwater in 1963.
Harry held memberships in several organizations, the American Chemical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Sigma XI, the honor society Phi Lambda Upsilon of Phi Beta Kappa, and the Indiana Academy of Science. He was listed in American Men of Science. Locally he was a Kiwanian, was in the Masonic Blue Lodge, and he held the York Rite degree of Masonry.
His knowledge was broad. At various times he had taught math, physics, geology, as well as chemistry. This is why his Memorial Scholarship Fund includes all of the sciences. At Manchester College he was chairman of the Department of Chemistry and head of the entire science division. At the time of his death he was working up to adding a computer section. This was new at the time but he felt it was a must.
He had broad contacts with both schools and industrial plants through his work on the Manhattan Project. Both he and Dr. Holl had had remarkable success with pre-med students. Placing a Manchester graduate was never a problem. His staff of four young Ph.D.’s were also achieving enviable records.
But Harry was growing tired and beginning to look toward retirement. He had a large and valuable stamp collection, begun when he was nine years old, that he had little time to enjoy. He also wished to do more with his lapidary hobby. We had dug, cut, and polished gem stones from every state except Hawaii as well as made slides and charts for geological study. He wanted to build this into a sizable department for Manchester but he had so little time to spare.
I realized he was ill those few days before the Christmas
break in 1970, but he refused to see a doctor at the time for there was still a
bit more to do and one exam to finish.
His students had honored him with a surprise birthday party just the week
before. The children were coming
home for Christmas and a big new colored television, which we purchased for a
combined gift, had just been delivered.
Yes, in a day or two he could sit and watch the ball games!
But his heart said no. He
died a contented man.