EVENTS & DISCOVERIES

June 15, 1958

Across the River and over the Trees

Just 25 years after Buck Rogers first-streaked across the country's comic pages propelled by his personal rocket belt, the thing has actually been invented by three young scientists in Denville, N.J. They call it a Jump Belt, which sounds as handy as an automatic clutch; but you don't just run one through the loops in your trousers. You attach it to your body with "straps and belts and things," according to Alexander H. Bohr and Harry Burdett Jr., two of its inventors, who are vague about details because they haven't got them all patented yet. Then you blast off, and the thrust of the rocket on your back counteracts gravity so that you are virtually weightless. You can leap a river, spring lightly up a mountain or run like the wind. Pushed along by his rocket, one man was clocked at a speed which would have given him an under-two-minute mile if he hadn't run out of fuel.

Burdett and Bohr are members, naturally, of the American Rocket Society and are employed by the Reaction Motors Division of the Thiokol Chemical Corp., on whose New Jersey testing grounds the Jump Belt was developed. Their work was called Project Grasshopper.

"We have both tried the belt ourselves," says Bohr, "and the interesting thing is that anybody can use it the first time out. You get a sensation of being lifted, something like you get in a high-speed elevator, and suddenly your leg muscles have an extraordinary power to move you about.

"How long does it last? Well, let's say that at present it has a rather limited range. But the fuel burns out gradually, so that if you happen to be in mid-air, the rocket lets you gently down to earth. And it is easy to recharge."

Can the Jump Belt be used in sports? "Not in team sports like football," says Burdett. "The blast from your rocket won't hurt you, but a group of people in rocket belts would have to be careful not to blast each other. The belt ought to work for skin-divers, though—the fuel burns in water as well as in air. Maybe the water skiers could use it too, and not have to be towed by a boat."

"It will also work in outer space," said Bohr.

The armed forces have shown interest in Jump Belts, which Bohr and Burdett say can be produced at "reasonable cost." They admit, though, that so far only the government is likely to find the cost reasonable. For people who just want to get from tee to green in a few giant steps, or spring to the roof to adjust the TV antenna, or soar over the rush-hour crowd, the price of weightlessness as yet would be rather high.

Winning Pitcher: O'Malley

The old pro had kept himself out of the lineup. Working in a strange league, apparently he felt that he didn't know the hitters. Even when it began to look like anybody's ball game, he sat tight and waited to see if somebody else couldn't pitch his way out of the spot.

The spot was this: the fate of the Los Angeles Dodgers lay with some highly unpredictable voters. Nobody could tell the old pro named Walter O'Malley just how things would go. But when Warren Giles, president of the National League, warned the voters that they had better approve the Chavez Ravine site or lose the team entirely, Old Pro O'Malley sensed that the opposition was getting to his pitcher. They don't like ultimatums in Los Angeles. There was just one thing to do. Walter O'Malley called himself out of the bullpen.

With a dazzling display of curves and changeups, O'Malley went to work on the voters. He called a press conference and, while taking the sting out of Giles's ultimatum, he left the vaguely disturbing implication that maybe Giles wasn't bluffing. Suddenly, he was on more TV shows than Betty Furness. Waving his big fat cigar, he turned on the O'Malley charm. He gave his viewers warmth and dignity and, using a blackboard and pointer, he gave them O'Malley-style facts. He participated in a jolly television marathon with big name stars like Jack Benny and created an image of a gentle, kindly, fatherly type who wanted nothing in this world (at the moment) but 300 acres of city property to build happiness and parking space for all. A remote pickup from a citizen in the street brought the challenge, just as it probably said in the script: "Mr. O'Malley, who is going to pay for sewers and drains in Chavez Ravine, you or the city?" Walter O'Malley removed his cigar and replied ever so softly: "The Dodgers...and we are happy to do it."

The five-hour television show concluded with a switch to the airport and a wildly enthusiastic reception of the last-place Dodgers by 7,500 fans. Was it a stage-managed climax to O'Malley's big inning? Try to prove it in court.

Anyway, it did the trick. The voters approved Chavez Ravine by a margin of 24,293 and, give or take a couple of law suits, Walter O'Malley was free to rest the old arm until it was needed again.

Secession!

For West Coast sports fans it was a history-making week. While the citizens of Los Angeles County were voting for "baseball in Chavez Ravine, other inhabitants of the area were quietly undermining the last supports of the established order in college sports on the West Coast. As of last week, in all but the formalities, the Pacific Coast Conference was a thing of the past.

It has been a long past—dating back to 1915 when the University of California got together with two Oregon colleges and the University of Washington to form a coastwide athletic league. In the years that followed, the top football competition in the Far West was staged within the nine-college membership of the PCC, and its godchild, the annual Rose Bowl game, became the apotheosis of the American football year.

But the rivalries and struggles of the PCC were seldom long confined to the playing field. Two years ago they burst like a bladder in the austere silences of the conference offices when four of the member colleges—Washington, USC, UCLA and the University of California—were slapped with heavy penalties for illegal recruiting. The first two were barred from championship competition for two years; the third for three. The fourth was fined $25,000.

The old conference has never been quite the same. Soon afterward, the three California members announced that they would quit the PCC cold after the expiration of their current agreement in July 1959. Last week, prompted by an invitation from its neighbors to the south to join in a new West Coast alignment, another PCC founding father—the University of Washington—decided to join the secessionists. On June 19 the Board of trustees of Stanford University will have a meeting and may well decide to take the same step and join the other dissidents in the formation of a new West Coast Big Five.

If Stanford goes, all that remains of the old PCC will be Oregon, Oregon State, Washington State and Idaho. Said President August S. Strand of Oregon State: "We've just about had it."

Little League Dept.

Johnson & Johnson, the Band-Aid people, have put out a little booklet for Little Leaguers entitled Baseball First-Aid Guide which contains useful information for treating such expected ball field injuries as dislocated fingers and heat exhaustion, but there is one entry which sounds an unexpected note and which, indeed, may reveal a hitherto unpublicized side of Little League play.

"The effect of human bites," the Guide notes laconically, "can be as serious as animal bites."

Home Truths in Keokuk

The man in the stands has often speculated on what ballplayers, managers and umpires say, holler and snarl at one another. He need not speculate any longer; now they can be heard! Set in a concrete housing beneath a perforated home plate in Joyce Park, home of the Keokuk (Iowa) Cardinals of the Class D Midwest League, is a microphone which picks up sounds made within a 30-foot radius. Monitored in the press box, these sounds are broadcast over the park's public address system. The microphone was installed by Cardinal Manager Don Shupe to add interest and stir up the crowd, but, sad to relate, the crowds have been small and placid, the sounds disappointingly commonplace and discreet.

Say catchers to pitchers in Keokuk: "Let's shake it up" or "You're the baby" or "Throw the old garbage in here." And what does the irate manager say to the umpire? In Keokuk he says: "Just because you missed one you don't have to make up for it with another." Says the irate catcher to the umpire: "You saw that play. You can change it. That man was out. The ball was waiting for him." Replies the umpire: "Watch the mike."

All of which goes to show that if you tune in on Class D ballplayers, you get Class D chatter.

Hail, the 'Columbia'

It was the brightest, warmest day of the spring when this country's first America's Cup yacht to go down the ways in 21 years was launched at the Nevins Yacht Yard, City Island, New York last week. The Columbia's keel touched water at 1:06 p.m., E.D.T., June 3 outside the launching shed where a final shine had just been put to the 70 feet of white egg-smooth hull and gleaming bright-work.

Minutes before, Mrs. Henry Sears, wife of the No. 1 man in the New York Yacht Club's Columbia syndicate, had recited "I christen this boat Columbia, and may she sail with great success," and had brought the champagne bottle down with a vigorous chop. The champagne spattered her green dress, Mrs. Sears blinked, the Nevins yard whistle blew, the horns of yachts in the harbor answered, and Columbia floated on the water with Sailing Master Fred Lawton at the wheel, a red rose from Mrs. Sears' bouquet in his lapel.

"Looks good," said a man on the dock to Briggs Cunningham, who was shortly to skipper Columbia's first run (see page 28). "They always look good alone," said Cunningham briskly.

Away from the crowd, a tall ramrod of a man watched until the tow-line had been thrown to Columbia, and then he stepped into a motor launch with his wife. "The best of luck to you all," called Mrs. Harold Vanderbilt as she sat down beside her husband. The engines gunned the launch out from the dock, and Harold Vanderbilt, 73, skipper of Enterprise ('30), Rainbow ('34), and Ranger ('37), turned to watch as the first New York Yacht Club cup boat to get under way without him in a generation moved easily off behind the tow boat.

Travelers from the Triassic

The duck-billed platypus is a curious, furry, semiaquatic mammal two feet in length when fully grown, with webbed feet and a broad and supple beak shaped much like a duck's. The female lays eggs, usually two, and suckles her young. The male has poisonous spurs on its hind feet, which it wields when fighting other platypuses. Fortunately, platypuses are placid. Duckbills are thought to have originated 190 million years ago in the last days of the Triassic Age, which makes them perhaps the oldest of surviving mammals. Until last weekend there were no platypuses, except mounted ones with glass eyes, outside of their native Australia. Then David Fleay, a tall, erect and apprehensive Australian naturalist under a straw hat, arrived in New York, accompanying Paul, Pamela and Patty, three baby platypuses which he had trapped and nourished. Pamela had a runny nose, Paul and Patty were tired, nervous and off their feed, David was in a bother; and no wonder—they had all just completed a formidable (for platypuses and a platypus minder) 10,000-mile, five-day journey from Fleay's Fauna Reserve in West Burleigh, Queensland to the Bronx Zoo.

"Platypuses," said Fleay by way of introduction, "are the most touchy, unpredictable, nervous creatures on the face of the earth." He stood in the basement of the zoo's bird house where the platypuses were hopefully recovering before going on public display. "They are very wary, which is, perhaps, why they have survived so long. They have no great array of teeth, you know."

Fleay selected a meal of live crawfish for the platypuses, which languished in their temporary platypusary, a covered box big enough to ship a Volkswagen in, containing an elaborate system of grass-filled burrows and a pool of muddy water. Fleay shone his flashlight on the water, dumped the crawfish in and watched with satisfaction as they sank.

"That's a good little feed," he announced. "Ought to be some meat in that lot. Ah, they're a bit jaded and weary now, you know. What sort of noise do they make? Oh, hardly nothing now, of course. When they do it's a sort of querulous growl, like a broody hen pulled off her eggs."

Fleay and the platypuses started their journey by automobile from West Burleigh to Brisbane on June 3. From Brisbane they took a plane to Sydney where a platypusary was awaiting them. At Sydney they were delayed for two perilous days; the platypuses munched away their precisely allocated food supply and the desperate Fleay had to send for replenishments. All told, Paul, Pamela and Patty ate 10,000 earthworms, 5,000 meal grubs and 500 crawfish en route. "There we were in Sydney," Fleay recalled with a degree of horror, "sitting in a busy airport with engines revving all about us—the noise!—not at all good for portable platypuses from the backlots; you know, the quiet river systems where all they hear is an occasional kookaburra or the roar of floodwaters."

Fleay finally took off for Fiji with the platypusary cushioned against vibration by a rubber mattress. "But," Fleay said, "the four great engines were bellowing and I couldn't insulate the poor little beggars against that. They went off their feed."

The plane made stops at Canton Island and Honolulu before arriving in Los Angeles on June 6. "The animals were getting progressively worse," Fleay said. "They were entirely off their feed. All in all, they were in a bad way."

Fleay's flight plan called for him to travel by slow cargo plane to New York but Paul was panicking badly, and Fleay was genuinely alarmed that he would lose all three unless he could leave Los Angeles at once and nonstop. He therefore transferred the platypuses from the platypusary into individual traveling cases and persuaded United Airlines to put them all on the next passenger flight to New York. United was delighted. "They deserve a pat on the back," Fleay said. "The platypuses would have surely died otherwise. I assure you, we got here just in the nick of time. Take my advice, never have anything to do with platypuses. I say without exaggeration that I experienced some of the very worst moments of my life during the last few days."

Thanks for the Break

The first official consequence of the hideous fiasco of twisted steel and sudden death that marred the start of the Indianapolis "500" two weeks ago was the prompt suspension of Race Driver Ed Elisian, an erratic leadfoot and the man deemed most responsible for the chain-reaction crash. "He jeopardized his own life as well as the lives of others," said Duane Carter, racing director for the United States Automobile Club, who imposed the penalty.

Last week Carter's superiors, the USAC's board of directors, took another look at the facts of the case and decided to give Elisian another chance. Race Director Carter, they said, was quite right to suspend the driver. "The safety of our competitors demands prompt action of the sort he took even if it works a temporary injustice." Nevertheless, the board opined, the facts simply did not warrant Elisian's continued suspension. "He will continue to drive on a provisional license."

"Thanks," said Ed Elisian, "for giving me a break."

Weighty Attitude

"Now a baseball weighs only five ozs.,"
So a sporting anozr anozs.;
But there's many a game
Will depend, all the same,
Upon which way that five ozs. bozs.
—HARVEY L. CARTER

ILLUSTRATION"Attention, mon cher Walter, we must not now get knocked out of the box." THREE ILLUSTRATIONS

They Said It

Dwight Eisenhower, in wryly affable comment on the fact that even on the golf course he is never out of reach of dispatches: "When you get to the top of your backswing and someone yells, 'Nasser,' what are you going to do?" Even weekends? "Weekends I stay home with my wife."

Josephine Sadecki, after the Cardinals signed her son Ray to a bonus contract and the last of a dozen competing scouts had trooped out of her home: "I hope my next son is a violinist."

Derek Ibbotson, sub-4-minute miler, after being criticized by British sportswriters for his plus-4-minute times this year: "They think that because they're ready to write in May we should all be ready to run."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)