Autopia? Nawtopia.

I read the article [“Autopian Algorithms,” summer 2016] about Professor Lili Du’s vision of the very near future, in which most of us will be in driverless cars, with some concern. I find it fascinating and appalling in equal measure, and it raises a lot of questions for me.

I have a sports car that I love to drive. I love to drive, period. I find it fun and refreshing, and I have no intention of giving it up. What does this integrated network of self-driving cars mean for people like me? Do I throw my little convertible into a landfill and buy some ugly electronic box? Will I be banned from driving entirely unless I switch? Will I be forced to spend money I don't have on a “kit” to convert my car so it obeys orders from some electronic brain buried under the street? Will there be a whole other highway system for Luddites like me?

Technology is rapidly disengaging us from our own lives, and this is another step down the wrong road. There’s an app for almost everything now, with more coming into being every day—from an app that does our shopping to an app that programs our televisions—not to mention all the texting, tweeting, tumbling, and other electronic anarchy that is destroying social interaction and leaving humans with no idea how to deal with one another in real life.

Thanks, but no thanks. I’ll drive myself, if you don’t mind.
Karla Von Huben (ENGL ’76)

Memories of Main

A number of alumni responded to the Editor’s Note on the Rewind page of the summer 2016 issue of IIT Magazine to share their memories of Main Building, which is slated be restored and converted into apartments.

Train Tales

My mechanical drafting course was held on one of the upper floors. The windows were open to get some cooling air into the space. Every time the coal-burning Broadway Limited, New York Central, or Pennsylvania Railroad trains went by, smoke and dust coated every drafting board, so it was impossible to grade on cleanliness. This problem got corrected before I graduated, so we all cheered the General Motors EMD [E]7 diesel-electric locomotives when they went by!
Roy Sahlstrom (ME ’45)

One hot day I was teaching an engineering drawing laboratory on the fifth floor of Main Building. There was no air conditioning available and we had all the large windows on the west wall open for a slight breeze. I was walking around the room and along an aisle next to the windows. A student had placed a completed drawing on the windowsill and was about to begin a new drawing. A breeze blew his finished drawing out the window, and as the student and I watched, it slowly wafted downward to the New York Central tracks. A train of open coal cars was heading east toward New York City and the drawing fell into one of the cars. The student was upset. I told him I would give him the benefit of a doubt and award him an “A” for this part of the assignment.
Edward V. Mochel (CHE ’51, M.S. EG ’57)

All engineers had to take mechanical drawing. Classes were held in Main. It was very important to keep your drawing clean; however, when a train went by, dust shook down from the ceiling. So much for a clean drawing!
Edward M. Rosen (CHE ’51, M.S. ’53)

One of my few extracurricular activities was an HO model railroad club that had a home in what, effectively, was the attic of Old Main. The elevator was a very long, horizontal cylinder that raised us slowly—and sometimes not at all—to that floor. We built both a portable layout that we could demonstrate at meetings and also an in-place extensive layout. We could also open a window and look down and watch the White Sox play in [the former] Comiskey Park. Binoculars helped. As I read IIT Magazine and have experienced 67 years since graduation, the changes in all of engineering are truly amazing. I have often wondered, what are we going to do for the next years?
Robert Olson (ME ’53)

I was taking a mechanical drafting class in the summer of 1955. The class was held on the third floor of Main on the side facing the Rock Island rail track. Because of the summer heat and no air conditioning, the windows were kept wide open. A problem arose every time a steam locomotive went by just 30 feet away—its belching exhaust would flood the room. That meant you had to keep your in-process drawing all covered up except for the space on which you were actually drawing. Neatness was part of the grade, so you learned to think defensively.
Ron Krengel (IE ’58, M.B.A. ’67) 

I had a drafting class on the fifth floor. We could feel the floor shake every time a train went past. There were markings on the floor from a gymnasium that had been on that floor at one time. The elevator was available only to students with a physical need; sometimes other students would ride along. But it was so slow that you could climb the steps faster. The steps were well worn and had a concave surface.
Ken Lundgren (EE ’63)

The Main Event

I still remember walking up those old stairs in the late ’40s to attend my electrical engineering classes and also to work at my part-time job in the accounts payable department. I must have climbed those stairs several hundred times. As I recall, Main was a splendid building, so I’m very pleased to hear that it will not be demolished but will be converted to apartments.
Paul Larsen (EE ’50)

In a heavy rain, the viaduct [on the north side of Main Building] would fill with water that was a combination of city sewer water and rainwater. One morning after a night of heavy rain, a colleague arrived for work, walked up the steps of Main Building, and pushed the elevator button to go up to our shared fourth-floor office. The elevator arrived, he got on, and the doors closed; however, the elevator went down to the basement, the doors opened, and it was immediately filled with waist-deep black water. He pushed the first-floor button, the doors closed, and the elevator started up, slowly losing the water. When the elevator got to the first floor, the doors opened, and my colleague left the building and went home. He didn’t return until the next day.
Edward V. Mochel (CHE ’51, M.S. EG ’57)

In approximately 1955 the U.S. Navy donated a very large radar unit to the IIT electrical engineering department. This was an old design using vacuum tubes and took up a large semitrailer pulled by a truck. The department decided to place this unit on top of the level roof on the south end of Main Building. They blocked off the street in front of Main Building and had a large crane next to the radar unit, planning to lift it up five stories and on the roof of the building.

I was standing in the office of H. C. Spencer, [director] of the [technical] drawing department. (I was an instructor in this department from 1953–57). He was sitting at his desk with his back toward a large window that faced east, the same side of the building as the entrance. As we talked a huge black item flew downward in a split second while I was standing, facing this window. The crane had lifted the large trailer up slightly higher than the roof of the building, and a steel cable snapped before it moved the trailer over the top of the building. The trailer, loaded with thousands of vacuum tubes, dropped down and hit the street and the sidewalk with a big bang. It had completely destroyed the radar unit and eventually was taken to the dump. Fortunately, no person was walking along the sidewalk or the street when this happened.
Edward V. Mochel (CHE ’51, M.S. EG ’57)

Freshman architecture drafting lab on fifth floor; trying to keep drawings clean while Rock Island trains passed, emitting smoke and dirt from steam locomotives; sophomore construction lab with renowned professor Alfred Caldwell; finally moving to newly constructed Crown Hall; Crown Hall completion delayed due to a fire in the wood forms for the main floor, so we worked elsewhere on drawings in the fall of our junior year, all long before the computer, T-square, and triangle to the exacting standards established by [Ludwig] Mies van der Rohe. Climbed those stairs many times. Happy that Main Building will be preserved, hopefully historically true.
David L. Richardson (ARCH ’57) 

Each time I have visited the campus on trips across the country I have stopped by Main Building, sort of a Hajj to Mecca. It was in that building, top floor, where I was introduced to mechanical drawing (when we made lines with sharp pencils, believe it not). This was one of my first classes at IIT, and it was important even then to succeed. But as we older graduates know, grades in mechanical drawing were based on the quality (straight, even, un-smeared) lines. Each morning the commuter trains roared past; each class you would have to time your pencil on paper to gaps in the shaking structure. It was a challenging and somewhat hopeless undertaking unless you had a midday schedule.

I believe the experience influenced me later in life, when as project engineer at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, I designed the fifth floor expansion of Mahan Hall. The expansion removed the mechanical drafting labs to a clerestory on the top floor and substituted a computer laboratory—with nary a slide rule or protractor in sight. Revenge! My last trip up the building was in 2012, but I still stopped by this year to get a glimpse of the first-floor [stained] glass majesty at the landing of the main stairs.
James M. Freiband (PSYC ’66)

I have had a picture of Old Main along with my Sigma Iota Epsilon (honorary management fraternity) certificate on the wall for more than 20 years. I recall one course in Old Main where I read Metamorphosis and still recall the point of the book! As an old South Sider, I wish good luck to all involved with the MCM remodeling project.
Ronald A. Dickman (BE ’67)


Christopher T. Hill (CHE ’64) was mistakenly listed as Christopher T. Jones in the Letters section of the summer 2016 issue of IIT Magazine. He was also misquoted. In his recollection about Armour Mission, Hill’s words are as follows: “…the apartments, which were called Chapin Hall when I was there…” IIT Magazine apologizes for the errors.