The James Millen Society

Hank Van Cleef Letter Excerpts

The following is an excerpt of a letter received from Hank Van Cleef relating to his work at the James Millen Company in the late 50's. I have edited the text to make it more understandable to the readers of this page.

So far as working for Millen goes, that was a long time ago, 1956-7, which is 42-43 years now. I worked in what was known as "the lab" for Wade Caywood, and with Dick Freeman. We had several co-ops from Northeastern come and go, who provided technician labor beyond what the three of us did. I don't remember Jim Millen at all. He did not come out our way very often, and I don't think he spent much time at 150 Exchange St.

I joke that the place was a real "garage operation." It was the second floor over a Pontiac dealer. I was surprised at how small the place really was, after having worked for Packard.

You don't see mention of Phil Eyrick in other documents about the Millen Company, and often only passing mention to Fran Bearse. Phil went to work for Millen at National Co. and was the one who did the mechanical design on the NC-100 sliding coil trays. He came over with Millen in '39 and was nominally "general manager" while I was there, although spent most of his time expediting orders of one thing or another. He wasn't in very good health; had a heart condition, and, I think, was out of the place shortly after I left.

Fran Bearse really ran the place. She was always "Miss Bearse" to me. Just about anything that happened in that company went through her, and if you needed something, it was "talk to Miss Bearse," although Phil handled things like salaries and raises. I have forgotten who told me, or exactly when it was, but I think it was just before I went to Tektronix in '60 that she went into her office one afternoon to take a nap, and never woke up. After that, Wade Caywood had the titles and essentially ran the place.

Wade was hired fresh out of MIT in '39. Howard Green, who ran the coil winding shop, I think was there at the start, along with Phil and a couple of tool and diemakers who were real craftsmen. Millen was a mechanical man, and while he was a ham, I don't think he did much if any electrical design work himself. Dick Freeman was a co-op from the early fifties who stayed with Millen after he graduated. I don't know what Millen did for those folks when he closed the doors. The place was pretty much a components operation when I was there, with a few runs of various assembled products, principally, the grid dips. There were a whole bunch of "RCA" (made by Millen) 158 and 160 scopes that were in the lab---maybe ten of them---and we used a couple in test jigs. When one conked out, we'd put a tag on it with a tentative diagnosis, then look at the others and see which ones could be fixed, and they were all pretty tired old soldiers. Also, some uncalibrated BC-221's from a production run, and the most serious scope was a P-4 from a WWII run that had, I think, a Sylvania nameplate. But the core of the business in the mid-fifties was mechanical components, magnetic delay lines (all wound on one machine by one skilled operator), and coil products. Most of my work was with coils, and I worked pretty closely with Howard Green most of the time.

Probably the stuff you've gotten from others, and particularly the articles, are much more comprehensive and balanced than anything I could add. To say that I was pretty junior at the time is an understatement, and working there was quite an education. What I still find suprising is that a small loft-garage operation like that could have been such a large presence in electronics for as long as it was. All of their products were quality stuff, and the Millen name was presold through the industry.

Excerpt from letter (email) dated July 20, 1999


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