A: I was drafted into the Army. Lois and I decided to go ahead and get married 10 days before I deployed to Germany. We spent our honeymoon in Arkansas via Muskogee, where we were waylaid one night when the timing gear broke down on the car I borrowed from my brother-in-law. We were apart 16 months before my return, as a sergeant, on Christmas Eve 1957. Overseas, I served in training exercises with the 10th Infantry Division as a forward observer on a 4.2 inch mortar company. Back home, Lois, who's been a lifelong painter, sketched dresses for the newspaper advertisements of Harry Katz dressmakers. We spent the following year in Fort Worth, where I worked for an exchange parts company and Lois, as a drafter for the soil conservation service.
Q: How did you move into the engineering field?
A: Lois encouraged me to get my engineering degree from OU, so we moved home and she worked full time in drafting for Superior Oil Company, while I went to school full time. Many of my course credits at Midland transferred, so it only took me two years. When I graduated, Bill McCurdy — my sister's husband and longtime traffic engineer for the state — and I started VePed Traffic Controls Inc., which was in business 21 years and grew to 90 employees. We started out as factory reps for the paint, sign and other companies that contracted with the state. But as we went along, we had ideas of our own, which we started making and selling.
Q: What is your bread-and-butter product?
A: The Astro-Brac, a universal mounting system for traffic signals, cameras and sensors that can be fitted with bands or cables and rotate 360 degrees. I invented it in 1968 and, with astronauts bound for the moon, we incorporated “astro” in its name and billed it as a product that was “out of this world.” Today, it remains our cornerstone product.
Q: What became of VePed?
A: It died. We had what's now the Maaco building on seven acres at Hefner and Broadway Extension. A complex was planned for the four corners there, causing the property at the intersection to shoot up in value. But when the planned construction fell through, the bank foreclosed on our appreciated property, forcing us to auction the building and land. My brother-in-law and I separated. He took Trafco Constructors, which incidentally had built the Myriad Gardens tube in 1984, and I took VePed, which my son Steve and I renamed and rebranded Pelco in 1985. Steve had just graduated from OSU in marketing. It was one of those cases where bad things turn out to be good.
Q: What's next for you?
A: I plan to move to chairman of Pelco, and Steve will become president. Then I can spend more of my time on the Bacon Barn, a bandage dispenser and other products I've developed and market under the name Unico, which is the Spanish word for unique. Between traffic signal hardware and other products, I have some 28 patents. I don't plan to quit working. I believe the mind is like any other muscle. If you don't use it, it will atrophy.
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