The Great Ring Of Canada
I can not remember that year or month in the sixties, but the image of a well dressed distinguished man, mid forties, a full head of dark hair, exuding an air of confidence, is still very clear in my memory. That was Don Pollard, the day he walked in our plant in New Brunswick, NJ and asked to see my brother, Jay.
Our company, started in 1932 was great for plating abnormal projects. We were 4 sons from 2 brothers that were raised in the plating business. Like kids that can not remember when they took their first step, we could not remember when we started to electroplate. After college and military service, the four of us came home to what we knew best.
The world’s largest die body for extruding plastics, the Surveyor, a soft lunar landing spacecraft with gold plated retro rockets, periscope tubes 34 feet long plated with .020" of nickel and machined .0005" tolerance, were just some of the projects plated at New Brunswick. So when Don Pollard asked us to bid on Rhodium plating an assembly 40 inches high, we did not hesitate at possibly installing the largest rhodium plating tank in the world. Rhodium was $ 5,000 an ounce.
Our proposal specified that we would purchase the rhodium salts from Engelhard Industries and recovery from remaining solution after plating would be given as credit. In retrospect, we should have let Steuben-Corning purchase and reclaim the rhodium. The way we submitted our quote seemed to scare Don away from our company. We did not get the job.
Almost a year later, I walked out of my lab into the office area and noticed a man with heavily thinning gray hair, his eyes were sunk deep into their sockets. It was Don Pollard. He looked as if he aged 20 years. The air of confidence gone and replaced with one of a defeated warrior. He acknowledged me and asked to see Jay.
Don told us how this turned to be a project from hell. He brought with him the assembly, finished with rhodium. It looked terrible and also had one fin broken. The company who did the plating would not return his rhodium solution. Their finished product would not have made it to the "Fred Sanford’s" junk yard. Also, During manufacturing of the crystal pieces, the east coast of the United States experienced the "great blackout" and the crystals had to be remade. He could not stop apologizing for not getting back to us, and pleaded for our assistance. He needed the frame stripped, repaired and re-rhodium plated in two weeks.
Compassion overtook all four of us. It was Jay who stood up and touched Don gently on his shoulder saying, " Don’t worry - The rhodium plate will be flawless, done in 10 days, and the cost will be kept to a bare minimum. We’ll figure out something you can live with."
That night, we began to map out a strategy for overcoming some major hurdles.
100 gallon rhodium tank ! Just to get it in house with the solution would take a month. We only had 15 gallons on hand. At this point, the job could not stand another hit.
There were no strips on the market to remove the rhodium without attacking the base material.
The delicate fins were attached at a central point to a small cone. Repair with no effect on the others was not going to be an easy task.
We did not have miniature polishing equipment on hand to get into the small areas of the inner sections.
Briefly, here is what we did.
We removed the rhodium by undermining the nickel layer with a chemical strip, aggressive to nickel but not to steel. There was interruption every hour to blow force air over the surface to remove some of the loose rhodium exposing more underplate. It took 3 days to strip. The broken assembly was given to a friend, Fritz Siegrist, a talented Swiss machinist who welded and repaired the broken fin. Surface polishing was performed by hand using abrasives and polishing compounds from our metallurgical equipment. A diamond dust final polish rendered the surface flawless.
Even we were amazed at how Jay figured on plating the assembly in 15 gallons of solution. Plywood tanks were made conforming to each shape of the assembly. The platinum anodes were insulated and mounted encompassing the part. It also served as the frame holding the .002" plastic liner to conform to the wooden vessel, rendering it water tight. The rhodium solution was preheated and poured into the lined wooden vessel holding the piece already cleaned and in place. It was a true "Rube Goldberg" and it worked. We did meet the deadline. In fact, Don told us that the last crystal was put in place minutes before President Johnson presented the Great Ring of Canada.
Now for the punch line:
That evening, when the Great Ring left our plant, the four of us, although proud of our accomplishment, were not in a celebrating mood. We lamented on how a "big one got away." You see, our higher salaries were based on the profits of these out of the ordinary projects. Considering all our time and effort, we actually lost money.
We were never a greedy family and we all knew that we had done the right thing in spite of a profit. We do believe in divine rewards and it came a few years later when the Canadians dropped the mainframe while disassembling The Great Ring to move it to another providence. It was now back in our plant for repair and re-rhodium plating. A guard was sent with it not letting The Ring out of his sight, until it was under lock and well alarmed. Each crystal with carrying case was also sent. That was the first time we saw it complete. It was magnificent.
The second time was an easy task. Our racks, tanks, and equipment were all in storage, Fritz Siegrist, the machinist was still around and we all knew exactly what we had to do.
We often said that there was enough profit in it the second time to buy one of those small islands off the coast of Canada.
I have searched for the letter written to us by Don Pollard and could not locate it. In it, he indicated the agony he experienced and extended his grateful thanks to us at New Brunswick Plating. Today only 2 of the 4 sons are left. In our office, we have picture framed only 2 of the many accomplishments we plated. One is the retrorocket on the Surveyor lunar craft and the other is a painted print of the Great Ring of Canada.