Constructing the Facility
My introduction to the project occurred at this time. I was working in DRB Headquarters as a staff officer in the Directorate of Physical Research (D.Phys.R.), having been assigned there from DRTE. When DRB advertised the position of Officer-In-Charge of PARL, I applied for and got the job.
My first assignment was to visit the Millstone Hill Radar near Boston which had been designed by staff of the Lincoln Laboratory. It was a prototype of the equipment intended for PARL and for the Ballistic Missile Early Warning Systems. Mr. Paul Sebring, the Officer-in-Charge of that facility, was very helpful in providing information about the facility and its operation. I visited the Millstone Hill site in company with an engineer from DRTE (Phil Tyas) who I believe was to be associated with the analysis of output from the radar. As it happened, he transferred to other activities after returning to DRTE and had little further contact with PARL.
The sight of the Millstone Hill radar was destined to give technological culture-shock to the uninitiated. The largest electronic equipment I had ever seen before was the LG17 Automatic Ionospheric Recorder designed for RPL by Canadian Marconi. Millstone Hill was immense in comparison. The metal building that housed the system resembled one large chassis filled with radar and ancillary equipment. The electrical power consumption of the transmitter was about equal to that of a town of 1000 people. The radar control room was the size of a typical laboratory at DRTE. The power transformer for the radar weighed about five tons. The two transmitter output klystrons weighed 1500 pounds each and were twelve feet in length. Changing one of these tubes required the use of an overhead traveling beam crane that was built into the building for that purpose. 5000 gallon tanks provided cooling water for the klystrons. Sixty horse-power servo generators supplied power to the equally large servo motors that moved the 84-foot parabolic antenna in azimuth and elevation. Power was fed from the transmitter to the antenna system through waveguides. Because the radar operated at 440Mhz, the WR2100 waveguide cross-section was correspondingly large. The transmitter driver, receiver and analysis equipment occupied a separate room that contained sixteen 7 foot-high relay racks of electronic equipment.
Steelox and Butler
Before we left Boston, Mr. Herbert Weiss of Lincoln Laboratory headquarters introduced us to the Lincoln Laboratory Safety Officer. He explained that the building that housed the Millstone Hill Radar was supplied by the Steelox Company. It was a pre-fabricated building so designed as to provide a firewall every 16 inches around the perimeter. Consequently, the only fire prevention required would be strategically placed foam and soda-acid type extinguishers.
As noted above, the Millstone Hill installation had been built into a Steelox type building. The original tenders for PARL specified Steelox. However, I understand that a bidder obtained, from the Inter-Equivalents Board of the Canadian Government, a certificate stating that a Butler building was equivalent to a Steelox building. The contract was given on that basis with no other changes in the construction of the building. As a result, PARL was housed in a Butler type building, a fact that was to have tragic consequences because the Butler building did not provide the sort of fire protection that had been designed into the Steelox.
On returning from Boston, I met with Mr. Jim Scott, Chief Superintendent of DRTE. He asked how I felt about my visit and the proposed facility at Prince Albert. I informed him that there was no possible way that PARL could be operated with four technicians and an Office-in-Charge. His comment was, If we need more people, then we will have to get them. A few minutes after this discussion, I met Dr. John Chapman, Deputy Chief Superintendent, in the corridor of DRTE. John said, I understand you told Jim [Scott] that we cant operate PARL with the staff as planned. I confirmed that as my assessment. He informed me that Headquarters had been told we would operate PARL with four technicians and that was what we must do.
Meanwhile, construction of the PARL had begun. A forty-foot concrete silo to form the base support for the 84-foot parabolic antenna system was erected and the foundation laid for the Butler building that would house the radar transmitter, ancillary equipment and offices.
The largest assembly for PARL was the conical tower, turret (turntable) and 84-foot parabolic antenna. The conical tower consisted of sections that were assembled and lifted into position on site. The parabolic antenna had a solid centre section which was attached to the turntable (or turret). It was surrounded by individual sections, like the petals of a flower. These petals had expanded metal type surfaces. Consequently, each section was relatively light and easily handled.
The turntable or turret was a one-piece unit and was large and very heavy. Indeed, its diameter was so large that it could not be shipped by rail but had to come by truck. To complicate things further, the bridge at Prince Albert was not wide enough to permit the truck carrying this large turntable to cross that bridge to the north side of the North Saskatchewan River. Consequently, the truck had to travel west to North Battleford, where a wider bridge existed, cross the river there, and then return east to the PARL site.
The bridge at Prince Albert was not the only difficulty encountered by the trucking firm which contracted to move the turntable from the Eastern United States to Prince Albert. Permits were required to move loads across state lines. Also, rules and regulations pertaining to such truck movement differed from state to state. For example, some states permitted loaded trucks to pass one way but would not allow the same truck to return empty. One state, Iowa, prohibited entry to any truck carrying more than a specified maximum amount of fuel. The intention appeared to be to force truckers to fill up with fuel in Iowa to ensure that the state fuel tax was collected. Such were the difficulties involved that the owner of the trucking firm, before making the final trip carrying the turntable, personally traveled the whole route by car, collecting the permits needed for each part of the route.
The weather in the area was cold, rainy and near freezing when the shipment finally reached Northern Saskatchewan. To supervise the shipment, the owner of the trucking firm traveled with the transport all the way. He drove his own car and was accompanied by his wife. We arranged to have the RCMP provide an escort for the transport truck on its route from North Battleford to the PARL site. The weather was bad and the highway icy as the shipment neared PARL. So nerve-racking had been the drive that when the transport finally came to a halt in the yard at PARL, the owners wife broke into tears. The owner got out of his car and approached the RCMP with money in his hand to try to tip the officer. It took some little time before he understood that the RCMP do not accept tips.
Erecting the antenna
The concrete silo designed to support the antenna system was awaiting the installation. It contained an elevator that extended higher than the silo as can be seen in the photo. Photo 1 (to come). That enabled passengers on the elevator to exit at the steel door located half-way up the side of the conical tower. To reach the turntable and dish proper, it was then necessary to climb up an outside ladder.
A contractor from Kitchener, Ontario was hired to erect the antenna system. This firm specialized in construction projects that required careful handling. For example, they installed the glass-lined tanks used in breweries. Careful handling was a requirement in such installations because the tank would prove useless if rough handling caused the glass lining to crack.
Before the 84 foot diameter parabolic reflector could be put in place, it was necessary to install the conical tower, the rotating drive turret, the servo drive motors and the supporting members that attach the parabola to the drive turret. Photo 2 (to come). Before the parabolic dish could be installed, it had to be assembled on the ground and shot-in with a theodolite, with shims placed where needed to ensure that surface was parabolic to the required degree of accuracy. One of the DRB senior technologists, Harold Serson, performed that task. Photo 3 (to come) shows the dish as it was assembled on the ground. Once this was done, the dish was disassembled and moved to the antenna site where it could be raised, piece by piece, and attached to the supporting members which had already been attached to the rotating turret. In practice, the solid centre section was first raised and attached. Then, the remaining outer sections parts were installed. This latter process was rather like assembling a flower, a petal at a time.
The contractor used a crane with 90 foot boom and a 30 foot jib. The crane had the customary large ball near the end of the cable. Beneath the ball was an open iron hook. In operation, the crane operator would lower the cable to the ground and a workman would engage the hook in a section of the antenna (a petal if you will). Then, that section would be elevated into place and secured by bolts to the supporting mechanism. A couple of workmen stayed up in the supporting structure to secure the petals both to the structure and to the sections that were already in place. The late Harold Serson, who loved work of this kind, was one of the individuals involved.
During the first part of this stage of the construction, the wind had been almost non-existent. The operation had gone well until about 70% of the parabola was in place. Another section had just been raised into position and was temporarily secured at the solid inner section when a gust of wind arose out of nowhere. The wind lifted the outer end of the section up and let it fall back slowly. But when it fell back, it was no longer in the cable hook. Everyone stopped breathing. We knew that if a healthy gust of wind were to tear that section loose, it would destroy the contour of the parabola and almost certainly make it necessary to start over with a new dish. That would, of course, involve an extensive delay in bringing the system into operation.
The foreman of the crew was up to the challenge. He took off his windbreaker, put on a pair of leather gloves, climbed up the ninety foot boom and out to the end of the thirty foot jib. Then, placing his legs around the cable and using his gloved hands to control his rate of descent, he slid down the cable until he was sitting on the ball. From that position, he directed the crane operator to position him near and just above the petal. Reaching underneath he hooked the cable into the outer part of the loose section and directed the operator to raise the cable; this, in turn, lifted the section into place. Meanwhile, Harold Serson had moved quietly over and inserted a drift pin to attach the petal to the adjacent section of the dish to secure it. Only then did those of us who were watching feel free to breath again.
For the remainder of that phase of the construction, an open hook was not used the cable was attached securely to a dish section before it was elevated.
The installation of the equipment inside the building was done either by staff from Lincoln Laboratory or, in the case of the transmitter, by personnel from its manufacturer, Continental Electronics, Dallas Texas. This part of the project went well and we were soon operating at low power.