STORIES

A Memory from Clyde Boyd ’52,  Where There’s Smoke, Redux

Post-war students
Post-war engineering students. Photo
from SCU Archives.

“This is one of my favorite memories of SCU Engineering. In 1945 Mr. Sam Knapp taught a freshman shop class teaching budding young engineers the use of machine tools. This was right after WWII. The US government gave SCU a retired B25 bomber. The plane was flown to Moffett Field in Sunnyvale and trucked to the SCU campus where it was set up in a parade field adjacent to the rifle range east of El Camino Real. I believe this area was adjacent to where Buck Shaw stadium is now. The landing gear was removed and the plane blocked up on pallets under the wings. The EE students were given first crack at it. They removed all the electronics and instrumentation.

“Mr. Knapp had an idea to set up a hydraulics demonstration in what was then the Montgomery Engineering Lab. His plan was to build up a functioning retractable landing gear demonstration. On this particular sunny afternoon the class objective was to recover from the plane the large brackets from which the landing gear swung. Mr. Knapp took his class of ten or fifteen eager young students, armed with acetylene torches, to the plane. We began to burn away at the heavy brackets located in the underside of the wings.

“Unfortunately the brackets were located under the fuel tanks. The inside of the fuel tanks appeared to be coated with a black gummy tarlike substance. I am guessing this was a self-sealing protection. Every time we started burning, the tanks emitted a cloud of black smoke. We would stop burning until the smoke dissipated. It soon became apparent that the time required to remove the brackets was going to far exceed the class time available for the job. There seemed to be no danger of fire so Mr. Knapp told us to go to it and let it smoke. We soon had a cloud of dark black smoke rising forty or fifty feet in the air. After a while the sound of sirens could be heard. Somebody remarked that there must be a fire somewhere. In a few minutes what appeared to be the entire Santa Clara City fire apparatus rolled up to us. They stopped our class work and put out the source of the smoke. My final recollection of that day was seeing Mr. Knapp explaining his demonstration plan to the fire chief. The chief did not seem impressed.”