The Post Navy Years (1984 – Present)
Well it’s good-by to the Navy and hello civilian life.
I took 90 days terminal leave and left the Navy in March 1984 (officially retired in June 1984). I moved the family up to Placentia, CA, in Orange County, and went to work for Hughes Aircraft, Ground Systems Group, in Fullerton, CA. I worked on developing the maintenance and troubleshooting procedures in the technical manual for the Navy’s AN/BSY-1 Submarine Weapons Launch System – built by Hughes.
I worked for Hughes Aircraft for almost 3-years before leaving to take a Project Manager position with The TechniGroup in Irvine, CA – a small technical documentation company. I managed their largest contract for development of the Depot Maintenance Procedures for a 400-Cycle Power Supply/Converter for the Navy Aegis Program, built by ALS Corp – an excellent family run and employee loyal company (until MagnaTec bought them). I was later promoted to Director of Government Projects.
I had a falling out with that company about 2-1/2 years later and left the company. I didn’t like how the company VP (a real idiot) set up one of the managers, which resulted in her needless firing. Also, I could see the writing on the wall as most of the profits were foolishly being spent on fancy office space, paintings and furnishings – when anyone worth their salt in the business knew it was a low overhead and low frills business. Sure enough, a couple years later they went belly-up.
I took a Program Manager position with Air Cargo Equipment Corp, which had just been purchased by Zero Corp. I was hired to manage a $50-Million 4-year contract to build two types of Air Cargo Containers for the Marine Corps. I was in such a hurry to leave my old job that I jumped into this new position without doing more research, as this job turned into a nightmare. When they hired me, they had no idea where they were financially into the contract and Zero Corp was pressuring them for an official accounting. They had never bid on a government contract before, they grossly underbid this contract and naturally won the contract. In all fairness to them, they thought they were bidding on a build-to-spec contract, not a complete re-engineering contract. For two months, I literally dug into old file cabinets, analyzed engineering drawings, and inventoried material in warehouses – nothing was computerized. I estimated material requirements, estimated amount of scrap, inventoried all currently purchased material, etc. – all in an attempt to regenerate the original bid (which had been lost) and amount spent to date. I put all this information into a huge spreadsheet, that I built, so I could determine the amount of materials required, labor cost, and unit cost-of-production, etc. – thereby predicting future profitability/loss. As it turned out, I predicted a $2-Million loss over the next 4-years. Zero Corp raked me over the coals and scrutinized my analysis with a fine toothed comb and came to the conclusion that I was correct. The company’s strategy and main goal then changed, from completing the contract to pissing off the Marine Corp – hoping they would then cancel the contract. I was not about to become part of this scenario and left the company after only 6-months.
I still remember the day I saw my new office for the first time, it had a stained old worn out green shag rug, an L-shaped metal desk with one leg missing and propped up with a board, a bullet hole in the corner of the window, and a back wall that turned into Niagara Falls every time it rained! I had to provide my own computer, a 286 Zenith laptop (the latest and greatest on the market at the time). I also remember my first day at work, during the get-to-know-me management meeting, when I asked “okay, I’m ready to get going. Where are we in this contract?” and they said “we don’t know, that’s why we hired you”! I should have left right then!
An incident that occurred at Air Cargo Equip Corp still sticks out in my mind. It involved a Defense Contract Agency (DCA) QA inspector. We were having problems (or so we thought) with the air cargo container connectors not passing the environmental specs at the DCA test lab. They’re essentially nothing but a big chunk of metal that connect the containers together during transit. They were contracting and shrinking beyond the required specifications during extreme temperature tests. My boss dispatched me to the test center (about 50 miles away) to find out what was going on – after all they were nothing but a big chunk of metal and should be passing with flying colors. I observed the first test where the connector was placed in an oven and heated to a high temperature. Upon removing the connector from the oven, the QA inspector measured one of the critical dimensions with a micrometer. He then concluded that it was beyond the required expansion specification and therefore didn’t meet spec – the connector was then rejected. I looked at the same connector, and using the same micrometer, made the same measurement myself. But, when I measured it, it was well within tolerance. To make a long story short, the QA inspector did not know how to read a micrometer properly! And, I hadn’t read one myself since my old high school shop class days! None of the connectors were out of spec! His only comments were “sorry about that.” A typical government so-what response! And, the public wonders why defense contracts cost so much.
I left Air Cargo, and went to work for AIL Systems Corp, as an independent contractor, at Edwards AFB. I kept the house in Placentia and moved our 34′ 5th wheel trailer into a trailer park in Rosamond, CA. I lived in the trailer during the week and traveled the 120-miles one-way trip home on the weekends. AIL Systems developed the Defensive Electronics System AN/ALQ-161 for the B-1B Bomber for the Air Force.
After almost 2-years, I got tired of the 120 mile commutes and dealing with the two head managers – one, the most open and blatant womanizer/sexual harasser I have ever witnessed, and the other was a little guy with the typical short sh** personality. The Orange County housing market was making a comeback, so the wife and I made a drastic decision to sell our home. Our two kids up were up and gone, so we told them to come and get whatever furniture they wanted and we gave the rest to charity. We brought the 5th wheel back down from Rosamond, loaded it up and hit the road. We left in late 1991 and went exploring this great nation by full-time RV’ing for the next 10-years.
Below are some photos of the rigs that we called home for the next 10 years.
Rig No.1 – 34′ Single Slide-Out King Of The Road 5th Wheel & 7.3 Liter Turbo-Charged 1-ton dually truck. We’re parked on the Colorado River in Earp, California. This truck, when pulling the grades up 11,000 ft Eisenhower Pass, Colorado, took us something like 3-hrs to go only 11-miles. Later, we got rid of it & had a Nissan UD1800 special built in Kansas City, MO.
Rig No. 2 – Dual Slide-Out 40′ Alfa Gold 5th wheel & special built Nissan UD1800 truck – shown at the 12,000-ft summit of Monarch Pass, CO – 1995.
Rig No. 3 – 37′ Triple Slide-Out Alfa Gold 5th wheel & Nissan UD1800 truck. Picture taken in Wellton, AZ – 1999.
In rig no. 2 at 7500-ft elevation Huntington Lake, CA – We were campground hosts.
Diamond Lake Oregon – RV Park gang, summer of 1996. From the left: the owners Bill & Carole Leaverton, George & Paula Cooper, the managers Don & Sandy Brown, John & Carolyn Van Voorhis, and us. We came back and worked as managers in the summers of 1998, 1999 and part of 2000. A very nice full-service RV Park (the only full-service RV Park in the area) in some very scenic country and just 15-mi north of Crater Lake NP.
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Over this 10-year period, we traveled through every state in this great nation except North Dakota and Alaska. We visited many of the National Parks and Monuments across the country – the most scenic being Glacier NP in Montana. When it got hot – we headed North. When it got cold – we headed South. At first, we had to see everything right now and traveled several hundred miles between stay-over’s. Later, it was a hundred miles, or noon – whichever came first. The people were the friendliest in the mid-west and in the south. I made the comment, while in Texas, to my wife that the people were so friendly in Texas that they would wave at you going down the road. But, a little different than they did back in California, here in Texas they used all five fingers! We’ve seen the leaves change in New England, had snow on our roof in Oregon, experienced 100mph wind gusts in Colorado, and heard thunder so loud in South Dakota that I almost stuck my head through the roof while laying in bed. We endured temperatures as high as 119-deg in Las Vegas, and had rain so heavy in Louisiana that I thought we were parked under Niagara Falls! The steepest grade we encountered was a 11% grade in the Texas Grand Canyon (also encountered a 15% grade along the Rio Grande, without the trailer) – Monarch Pass in Colorado is no small hill either. We got eaten by meat eating flies in Utah, no-see’ms (flying teeth) in Florida, and hummingbird size mosquito’s in Wisconsin. We ate fresh shrimp from the boats in Mississippi, ate one of the best steaks I ever ate in Kansas, devoured fresh Salmon and oysters in Washington, enjoyed fresh lobster and clam chowder in Maine, ate the best chicken fried steak in Texas, ate fresh asparagus and delicious homemade Tamales in Arizona, and consumed the best Mexican food in Acuna Mexico (the worst was in the Mexican town just across the border at Yuma, AZ). We learned to religiously check tire pressure, use a check list, and turn off the propane bottles while traveling – after discovering a rig full of propane due to a leak in Arizona. Fortunately, we never had any bad accidents, blow outs, or calamitous events – we did fail to couple the trailer to the truck properly once, but the trailer landed on the spare tire in the truck bed and only damaged the valve stem. We started out with the intention of doing it for the rest of our lives, but eventually got tired of pulling the slide-outs in and out, and continuously moving. We had a lot of fun, saw a lot of the country, and wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.
During this 10-year stint, we laid over for a short while in Las Vegas, NV (Jul 93 – May 95) and I went back to work for an old friend of mine. I spent the next 21-months working as a contract project manager for McCaw Cellular. When AT&T purchased McCaw, my boss, as well as my contract, was terminated and we went back out on the road. While on the road, we worked on occasion as campground hosts, cabin managers, RV park staff, and RV park managers – mainly to pay for site rent and for something to do. In late summer of 2000, I took a job (from that same friend of mine) in Los Angeles, CA as Director of Operations for a Dot-Com company. That job only lasted for 8-months, when the company lost funding and severely downsized during the Dot Com crash – I chose to resign rather than be laid off. So, we were back out on the road again. By now the vagabond RV’ing lifestyle was waning and we were getting anxious to establish some roots once again. We sold our 5th wheel in late summer of 2001 – ironically the week after 9/11. We were in Northern California, in an RV park on the Klamath River, when our neighbor took an interest in our for sale sign and bought the trailer. We rented a UHaul truck and car trailer, loaded up, and left for our son’s place in Las Vegas, NV – I drove our truck and the wife drove the UHaul towing the trailer with our Honda on it. We sold the truck later, in December.
In Nov of 2001, we settled down in Sin City – Las Vegas, NV. I came here with the intention to retire, but I got bored hanging around the house and went back to work. You can gamble only so much (before you learn the actual winning percentage is only 1.5%), and patronize only so many buffets, before you run out of money and the waist line becomes unmanageable. I worked in the gaming industry, airport security, Wal-Mart, and for the State of Nevada DMV (I think this is where the peter principle was invented). In January 2006, I decided to form my own web design business (OldBlueWebDesigns.com) – I have since retired from this business. I now bide my spare time exploring and photographing the less-traveled back roads, ghost towns, and old mines of Nevada, and the Southwest. If you’re interested in this subject, or just want to see some of my photography, please visit my collection at SilverStateGhostTowns.com, or my photography web site WarrenWillisPhotography.com. UPDATE: As of mid-2014, we have sold our Las Vegas home and purchased a 20-acre parcel in Utah. We bought the property in March 2013, finished developing it in April 2014, and moved in in late May 2014. It is off grid, so our power is solar (w/backup generator), water is from a well, and we have a septic tank system. It is up at an elevation of 5800 feet, so we get some snow in the winter, but the summers are mild, which is a plus after living in Las Vegas for 14 years. We have a wood stove that keeps it nice and cozy on cold winter days and nights. It is about 12 miles from a small town, and it is very secluded and quiet like we wanted. Our son will also build on the property when he retires in 2017.
Me, and Ollie North, taken at the Sean Hannity Freedom Concert May 2008.
Our daughter lives in Southern California – she’s in phone systems software sales and training. Our son is in law enforcement – 23 year veteran police officer.
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