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Ron Tolmie had the modern successor to that classic, which in the 1960's was the ID-19. He and I went on a business trip to a town in Northern Ontario in this car and I was fascinated with the way the thing floated over pot-holes and gravel roads, and how it hugged the road round sharp bends and curves. Ron explained the principles of the air suspension system and some of the other features and I was hooked. The design was at least twenty years ahead of its time with disc brakes, radial tyres (standard on Citroens incidentally since 1948!), self leveling mechanisms to keep it from rolling on the curves or pitching forward in an emergency stop.
The silhouette was arrived at as a result of wind tunnel tests, and not the whims of style-conscious Madison Avenue marketeers. The sleek aerodynamic shape was definitely not in line with the accepted norm for the appearence of a car at that time and caused much amusement to the young cowboys in their souped up Detroit behemoths, ("Funny lookin' car eh?" was a common reaction). Today it would have blended right in with the Toyotas and Hondas, which now all have shapes guided by wind tunnel tests. Another cause for comment were the radial tyres. Never having seen them before, concerned drivers would go to some trouble to draw up beside us at traffic lights and give a friendly warning that our front tyres were flat.
The suspension system used spheres of compressed nitrogen gas instead of springs, one for each wheel. A hydraulic system transmitted the up and down motions of the wheels to these spheres, using the compressed gas as a combined spring and shock absorber. The "springiness" of the gas was equivalent to about four times the length of the conventional coil springs fitted to ordinary cars. The result was that the car could literally ride over a kerb without the occupants being aware of it.
Level sensors were used to sense the height of all four corners of the chassis, which controlled a hydraulic pump as necessary to keep the car on an even keel, no matter how much weight was in the trunk or how fast it was taking a bend in the road. There was a lever by the drivers seat which allowed the whole car to be raised and lowered over a range of about 15 inches. This feature allowed automatic jacking of any one of the wheels for changing tyres, it was also very useful in the Canadian winter for riding over roads with six or eight inches of snow (which can acummulate very quickly in a heavy snow storm), or for navigating a low- lying flooded section of road during the spring runoff.
Although it had many other features which did not appear on American cars until many years later, there were some definite drawbacks to owning a Citroen in North America in those days. Citroen Canada, the Canadian subsidiary of Citroen S.A. (Societe Anonyme) in France, was located in Montreal. It looked after all the importing and distribution of cars and parts, and had well equipped facilities for major repairs. It was operated by a team of rather arrogant managers seconded from France, who quite obviously regarded the locals as serfs and treated them accordingly, including the customers.
I found this out at first hand when I had dealt with them on some matter, and had come to the conclusion that the president of the company thought that he was at the very least Charles DeGaulle, if not Napoleon Bonaparte. The local dealerships were few and far between and were not always particularly ethical in their dealings. The one in the Ottawa area was a case in point and the second hand car that we had bought there turned out to be an absolute lemon.
The brigand who ran the dealership rejoiced in the improbable name of Zonda. and as I met more and more of his unfortunate customers I realised that we had all become "prisoners of Zonda" to paraphrase a well known title. One of them was so incensed with the man that he parked his Citroen outside the dealership premises with a notice in the windscreen reading: "Le Citron" (the lemon), which caused much consternation. It became a source of dubious (and utterly pointless) satisfaction to me, that although too many British car dealers in Canada were offhand and uncooperative, the French ones apparently were a damn sight worse.
The engineers who had designed the clever hydraulic system had been too clever by half. Having once committed themselves to the considerable complexity of all the high pressure tubing and pumps that were necessary to make it work, they then decided to exploit it to the maximum and do other tricks with it. One of these was power steering and the other was changing gears. That was all well and good as long as everything was working properly, if however, a seal failed and all the oil in the hydraulic sysem leaked out, then the car became virtually immobile.
That was exactly what happened all too frequently to our car and it happened almost invariably somewhere in the USA when we took a seaside holiday. We would come back to the car park after a day on the beach and see the wretched beast with the chassis practically on the ground and surrounded by a billious looking pool of oil, looking for all the world like a crouching cat that had mis-behaved on the living room carpet, awaiting the wrath of the owner which was sure to follow.
The oil in question was like liquid gold and about the same price - if you could find it. Prudent owners never moved more than twenty miles from the nearest dealer without several quarts of the stuff stashed away in the trunk. Chris Thompson, the New Zealander, quipped that it was a wonder that Citroens ever did better than about 15 miles per gallon, because they must use most of the fuel to keep themselves up off the ground.
The DS-19 Citroen, with the hydraulic suspension
that made it like a magic carpet
The whole business was a love-hate relationship and I spent more time underneath them than driving them, trying to keep up with the preventive maintenance. I combed breaker's yards looking for deceased citroens having parts that I could use and I remember on one occasion finding one in a yard where the security arrangements were handled by an anti-social Alsatian with teeth like a chain saw. I had come armed with a chain wrench to detach the suspension spheres containing the compressed nitrogen, the heart of the suspension system.
Although I had the blessing of the proprietor of the yard to roam around and take whatever I needed, there appeared to be a communications breakdown between him and his canine director of security. It was the chain wrench that was the problem, every time I moved toward the stricken Citroen the brute indicated its displeasure by baring its armament and generating noises of the most menacing and unwelcoming kind. I felt like an eighteenth century medical student, robbing graves for body organs in the interests of science. Eventually I got what I came for and managed to keep our current model going for a few more months.
This aerodynamically styled DS-21 Citroen was
called "funny-looking" in 1968. More than thirty
years later they all look like that.
The Airborne Gamma radiation Mapping System takes shape
Analysing the data from the experiments that we carried out at Bancroft that summer was almost as big a task as collecting it had been. It involved a lot of programming on the PDP-9 computer and a lot of time processing the data tapes to make sense of it all. The net result led to the conclusion that it would indeed be possible to build a gamma ray spectrometry system at an affordable price, which could be used in an affordable aeroplane to produce useful data on the geological underpinnings of the Canadian landmass, at a fraction of the cost of conventional techniques.
Ron Tolmie put me in charge of the development of the hardware for an ultra high sensitivity system which would be based on the results of the experiments thus far. One of those results indicated that we would need an array of twelve of the largest scintillation detectors currently available, each nine inches in diameter by four inches thick. Just these detectors alone cost more than $50,000.00 in 1967 dollars (about $200,000.00 in 1993 dollars).
The winter of 1967 was spent in the design and development of the total system which stretched the state of the art to the limit. The data would be recorded digitally from the outset with a strip-chart recorder to provide a real-time display of the variations of the three radioelement concentrations as the aircraft flew along its predetermined lines. One of the major problems was the parallel connection of the twelve scintillation detectors to produce a single composite signal.
These detectors are notoriously temperature sensitive and it was essential that the amplitudes of the pulses from each one of them, corresponding to the gamma rays for a given radioelement, be maintained at a fixed level, otherwise the resulting spectrum would become blurred and indistinct. This meant keeping them in a controlled temperature environment which could be an expensive and cumbersome proposition.
One of the 12 scintillation detectors beside its
cooking pot and on the insulating block
Six of the twelve scintillation detectors in their
cooking pots - like Ali Baba and the forty thieves
Arthur Darnley was a pilot with a keen interest in all things aeronautical and he had made it his business to have the final say in the selection of the aeroplane that was to be purchased by the Geological Survey of Canada for this project. The key parameters were that it would be able to fly "low and slow", with the ability to take-off and land on small unpaved airstrips, and to have a fuselage with easy access for large awkwardly shaped loads.
A further consideration was that the fuel tanks would not be so placed that they would shield the detector array from the terrestial radioactivity it was designed to measure. The aircraft that met all of these criteria fairly easily was the twin turbo-prop "Skyvan" machine made by Short Brothers of Belfast, in Northern Ireland. It had a rather unpreposessing appearence rather like a shoebox with wings. The fuselage was of square cross-section with a rear door designed to allow full acess to the interior space for the transport of such cargos as race horses and Land Rovers. It was a high-wing design, giving the passengers and crew an unobstructed view of the ground.
The engines were designed by the French firm of Astazoou S.A. and were incredibly small and light for their horsepower, in aeronautical terms a "high power-to-weight ratio", the holy grail sought by all engine manufacturers. The only trouble was that they also needed an incredible amount of care and attention, much like the Citroens of my acquaintance. On one occasion during the revving up for takeoff, there was a deafening report followed by the tinkling sounds of pieces of hardware raining down on the tarmac. Upon investigation it was discovered that the port engine had disembowelled itself all over the runway with spectacular effect. After that the plane was refitted with engines of a more pedestrian but also more forgiving design.
Initial flights with the new system in the summer of 1968 confirmed that indeed airborne gamma ray spectrometry was likely to be a powerful adjunct to the available techniques for geological mapping. It was not very long before mining companies began to realise the potential of this technique, involving large scintillation detectors and separation of the signals from the three radioelements, for Uranium exploration. Until that time airborne surveying for Uranium had been done with detectors that were far too small to get any useable signal, with no attempt being made to separate out the radiation signals due to Potassium and Thorium from Uranium. Since Potassium is far more abundant than Uranium in the Earth's crust, this meant that an awful lot of false anomalies were recorded, which in turn led to the method being discarded as unreliable.
Some Unorthodox Clients
Our group at AECL was quick to exploit the potential market in the mining and exploration industry for systems similar to the one we had developed for the Geological Survey of Canada. The designs we produced were compact and sophisticated, thanks to the use of integrated circuits and our multichannel analyser design with its inherent digital capability and stability. One of our first customers was a very small outfit which was conducting small-scale surveys for Uranium in Canada's Northlands. They wanted us to put together a system which would fit into a single- engined DeHavilland "Beaver" aircraft, a very popular bush-plane which had pontoons to allow it to land on water. Transport in Canada is invariably by air in regions which are more than about five hundred miles north of the U.S. border, because roads there are few and far between. Most of the small aircraft ("bush- planes") used for this purpose are designed even today to land on water rather than land, because of the paucity of air strips and the multitude of lakes.
When we got into detailed disucussions with the company management (the usual collection of lawyers and accountants), it became painfully apparent that they had no clear idea of what they needed, so we ended up producing a system for them which we judged from our experience would meet their requirements.
[It never ceases to amaze me that for almost any executive position in industry, qualifications in business or law are automatically presumed to be adequate, irrespective of the mandate of the company or division. This despite the fact that everything in western industrialised society in this day and age (including the stock market) is almost totally dependent on science and technology, from simple creature comforts like spectacles and TV, to the frontiers of medical science and the precise navigation of the skies and oceans made possible by the satellite Global Positioning System. Absolutely none of these advances for the improvement of the quality of life for the human race were invented or are understood by accountants or lawyers.]
A small gamma-ray spectrometry system, designed
to fit into the popular de Havilland "Beaver"
Meanwhile I needed to do some calibration flights to check that everything was working as it should and I went up with the pilot to do the necessary tests. I had laid out flight lines on a map which would take us over some "tailing ponds" from a Uranium mine within fifty miles or so of our location. These are the fluid effluents produced by processing the ore from a uranium mine and have strong radioactive signatures as seen by sensitive airborne radiation measurement equipment. The Cherokee Indian was a carefree happy-go-lucky character and one of the best bush pilots I have ever met. He could maintain a constant altitude above the rolling terrain ("drape flying") and fly a map line with unerring precision. He had however a disconcerting habit of abandoning the line whenever he saw a band of something edible, like caribou, and then swooping down like an eagle, in a stomach-churning dive, to corral them toward some location where his band was and then getting on the radio to alert them to the presence of the prey.
Fortunately this did not happen too often and I was able to get the data I needed to fine-tune the system so that the wiggles on the strip chart recorder actually meant something. One of the key paramaters was an altitude correction; the radiation reaching the aircraft was heavily dependent on the height of the aircraft above the ground and I had developed an "analogue computer" which modified the readings based on input from the radar altimeter, which was part of the package that we sold with the system.
We were naturally very interested to know how well the system did the job for the company, but they were incredibly secretive and were not interested in passing on any feedback. This sort of corporate paranoia is not uncommon in the mineral exploration industry and ultimately militates against its own best interests. It did in this case, because some months later I got a call to go to a place somewhere near (within fifty miles of) Lynn lake in Northern Manitoba, to take a look at the system because it had been "acting up". Our policy was that travel and living expenses for calls to remote locations of that sort had to be borne by the company concerned.
Getting provisions in before going into the wilderness
where there was no sign of human habitation
Beaverlodge uranium mine in Northern Saskatchewan
It was a going concern in 1969, when this was taken
The company owned an old DC-3 aircraft, the twin piston- engined aeroplane that was known as the "Dakota" in England during the war. It was actually designed in 1935 and was one of the most successful aircraft ever built. It was the last one to have a tail wheel, rather than the modern tricycle undercarriage, and the tail surfaces were fabric covered. They were still in demand in the 1970's for aircargo operations and by companies who did any sort of work which required flying "low and slow", such as aerial photography and geophysical surveying. The reason was that by modern aviation standards it was relatively lo-tech; very reliable and very forgiving. The petrol engines were relatively easy to maintain and there were lots of ex-air-force pilots from many nations who knew how to fly them inside-out. They were also fairly cheap to acquire.
The DC-3 could have housed several of these
gamma-ray spectrometry systems
I had arranged to meet up with Ted Smith in Edmonton, where the installation of our system into the DC-3 would be done in the hangar belonging to Gateway Aviation Ltd. As always it took a bit more time than it should have, but eventually I was satisfied that everything was connected to the right every-other-thing and we took off from Edmonton airport, (the only one there was at that time and which is now the "Municipal airport") and headed north on the 400 mile flight to Lake Athabasca. The terrain in that latitude is undulating, with about thirty percent lakes and the rest being muskeg and small scrub trees and bush. Everything looks the same for hundreds of miles and there are virtually no identifiable land marks, except for the odd Indian settlement. We landed on the airstrip at Beaverlodge, which was on the Eldorado property and used by most of the small airlines and bush pilots flying in the vicinity.
Ted Smith had a student lined up to operate the system for the summer, doing a number of postage stamp surveys in areas that he was interested in. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon and the three of us went out for an initial sortie to see whatever we might see over the areas that he knew had significant surface radioactivity. There were two pilots for that flight, one experienced and one that was putting in the necessary number of hours to qualify on that type of aircraft. The chief one asked me how low I wanted to fly and I said: "as low as you reasonably can without killing us all". We had our eyes glued to the paper coming slowly out of the strip-chart recorder and pretty soon we started to see some activity as the pens wiggled back and forth showing the levels of Potassium, Uranium and Thorium.
The big DC-3 could fly "low'n slow"
After a couple of hours or so we came back to the strip and made an appallingly hard landing, bouncing back up into the air twice before all three wheels stayed down. Ted Smith said "What the hell's going on Fred?, you don't usually get it that wrong". Fred replied cheerfully: "...wasn't me Dr. Smith, my mate was getting in a bit of practice time". I didn't dare ask how long his mate had been at the controls during our low-level outing and he didn't say. I was just happy to be still in one piece.
Politics rears its Ugly Head
As was indicated earlier AECL, like Eldorado Mining and Refining, was a "Crown Corporation", which meant that it was state owned. The mandate for the Commercial Products Group, of which our small development group was a part, was to find applications for the peaceful uses of atomic energy research which had been funded by the state over many years with very little to show for the money except the "CANDU" reactor technology. As such the group was very much on a commercial footing. It was expected to bring in revenue by the sale of commercial products devised by the various segments of the group to help offset the public money that was being put into AECL as a whole. The more important goal was undoubtedely to help Canadian Industry work its way into a whole new area of technology which had not yet been exploited to any significant extent by the USA, although the industrial uses of radioactivity were fairly well advanced in the U.K. and some European countries.
On the face of it the mandate was admirable. There would be some tangible return to the public purse via the sales of equipment, which was politically desirable, and a measure of what is now dubbed "Technology Transfer" to Canadian Industry. The problem was (and still is) that if a state funded agency manages to devise and perfect something which is a marketing success, thereby fulfilling the mandate to generate revenue, then the pressure will be on from industry to have the profitable operation privatised, on the (perfectly reasonable) grounds that the state should not be a surrogate competitor with the private sector. As indicated above, this is still a front and centre problem almost thirty years later, as governments the world over try to make some of their agencies semi-self supporting with "user fees" and so on.
1970 Storm Clouds gather on the National horizon
During the time that I had been at AECL, the political scene had changed drastically. Lester Pearson had stepped down and a newcomer from Quebec, Pierre Elliot Trudeau had replaced him as Prime Minister. In 1968 he called a general election and the phenomenon which came to be known as "Trudeaumania" swept the land. The fluently bilingual Trudeau (his Mother was an anglophone with the maiden name of Elliot) was totally unlike any other politician that had ever been on the Canadian scene.
He was an erstwhile professor of law at the University of Laval in Quebec City and had been one of the leading protesters supporting the miners strike for better working conditions at the asbestos mines in the town of Asbestos (about a hundred miles east of Montreal) in 1949. It had been a very bitter and violent strike, and had been ruthlessly put down by by the company with the full support of the despicable Maurice Duplessis regime. It is now generally conceded that it was one of the more chilling examples of the collusion between the state and big business which characterised that era in "La Belle Province".
Trudeau was bright, unorthodox, very "laid back", poked fun at the establishment and cared little for status and recognition. There is no question in my mind that for many people (me included) he evoked strong images of another young leader, John.F.Kennedy, who had so captivated the American people with a similar charisma and charm only eight years previoulsy. Trudeau did not make the usual list of impossible election promises and he made mince-meat out of his rivals in the inevitable TV debates. He had an hynotic effect on young women particularly and when one asked him for a kiss following a speech on the hustings, he replied "Well its spring, why not" and obliged.
The kissing was used shamelessly by his handlers to the best possible effect. During that time we were passing through a park in Montreal where Trudeau was pressing the flesh and one of his campaigners came up to Lucille and asked if she would give Trudeau a kiss for the cameras, she did not oblige. To the surprise of no one he and the liberal party were elected back into office with a landslide majority.
Trudeau was the first francophone prime minister in ten years, but he was a committed federalist. There had always been periodic rumblings from time to time from some of the avant-garde intellectuals in Quebec, campaigning for separation of the province from the rest of Canada and it must have seemed to them that there was no better time, with a left-leaning francophone prime minister in Ottawa, to make a serious attempt to pull it off.
The net result of this apparent confluence of support for a separate Quebec, which of course included the famous "Quebec libre" contribution from De Gaulle, was the formation of the infamous FLQ, the Front de Liberation de Quebec. These people were nothing less than a terrorist brigade prepared to stop at nothing to achieve their ends. Their campaign began with bombs in street mail boxes and graduated to the kidnapping of the Qubec government minister of labour, Pierre Laporte, and a British diplomat James Cross. Cross was subsequently released, but Laporte was murdered in cold blood. Trudeau wasted no time in moving to deal with the crisis and proclaimed the "War Measures Act", an unprecednented action in peace time, because it gave the police almost unlimited powers of search, seizure and detention without charges being laid.
The official justification was: ".. to deal with an apprehended insurrection" but there was widespread concern that Trudeau had over-reacted to the situation. In reply to a question from a TV reporter asking how much further he was prepared to go in suspending civil liberties, he snapped back "just watch me". In retrospect there is no question that it was a dangerous and unpredictable situation. The Premier of Quebec Province had made a formal request to Trudeau to send in the army, because he could not be certain just how many people the terrorists controlled, or what there intentions were. Department of National Defence buildings in Ottawa were put under heavy guard (including the building where Lucille worked) and indeed a bomb was planted in the Headquarters building and exploded, killing a woman employee.
In the event, it became apparent that the movement was not a major uprising, but rather the work of a lunatic fringe. The ring leaders were eventually deported at their own request in return for intelligence information and subsequently returned to face the music some years later.
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