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Engineering Bedframes

Engineering Bedframes

Matt O'Brien BSEE '73 wrote to Santa Clara Magazine:

Reading the [Winter 2010 Santa Clara Magazine], I was pretty amazed to find myself and other members of the second-floor McLaughlin back on our bunkbed in the spring of 1970. And I mean "our bunk bed," as to get it up to the height of the third floor took all our beds, and all our bodies!

Thanks to a higher resolution of the photo [courtesy of the SCU Archives], I and friends who were in the photo were able to discern seven of us on the bed: Jeff MillerJack FolchiTom BattleBob WilsonDan RiceMatt O'Brien, and Dave Adler. All of us were in the class of '73. Five of us were electrical engineers, Dan and Dave business majors. All of us lived on the second floor of McLaughlin. My roommate, Jack Folchi, and I had been hosting some amount of parties and a resting place for "day students" in our room—210 McLaughlin. That had prompted us to procure a third level for our room's bunk bed from a bed that had been abandoned in the hallway. This third bed was almost at the ceiling, allowing a person to slide in.

Those McLaughlin bunk beds were of the industrial sort—heavy-duty steel. Looking at our triple one day, we got to speculating how many beds one might stack. As this would take open space, we decided to build as tall as we might—outside. We waited for a quiet weekend day with no resident assistants or Jesuits in sight, and built on the concrete walkway between McLaughlin and Walsh dorms.

As we went upward with the beds from our rooms, the bed developed a side-to-side sway. If you look at the picture, you can see two guy wires that we attached to the third story McLaughlin fire escape. There were two others attached to the Walsh fire escape, obscured in the photo by the sky. At that ninth level of bed, we decided we'd reached the limit of lateral stability, although the beds clearly could have supported more above!

Most important of all, we were not caught in the act. No authority figure ever arrived, and we disassembled and replaced the beds in our rooms without detection.

Matt's letter was met with a rebuttal, however, when Thomas Wm. Cain '70, J.D. '73 responded:

I read with interest [in the Spring 2011 Letters section of Santa Clara MagazineMatt O'Brien's recounting of the events leading up to the 1970 bed-stacking photograph and his claim that "no resident assistants ... [were] in sight" and "no authority figure ever arrived." What he meant to say was that "no resident assistant tried to stop them."

As the then-resident assistant at Walsh Hall, I not only witnessed the event, but I believe that some of the beds actually came from Walsh Hall. As they were putting it together, several of the participants asked if I was going to do anything to stop them, to which I said that it had yet to get to my level of responsibility, in that I was in charge of the third floor of Walsh Hall. When it finally reached that height, I believe that I suggested that they tie ropes between the two buildings (which can be seen in the upper left corner of the photograph) to steady the beds.

By the way, I am enclosing a small contribution to the general scholarship fund to help prevent future engineering students from similarly going bad.

In the 1970s, a group of SCU engineers set out to determine how high a stack of bedframes they could make.

How high can they go? Photo from the Archives of SCU.