The Martin Company – so they put me on the company plane with a few other guys and down to Orlando we come. When we left Baltimore it was snowing, cold, messy, you know really bad and when we landed in Orlando we landed at Executive Airport which a lot of people know it as Herndon, that was the old name. When they opened the airplane door it was like a magic carpet – there’s sunshine, palm tree, warm, beautiful – I thought, WOW! What’s not to like. So we spent two days in Orlando looking around and we stayed in the old Cherry Plaza Hotel on Lake Eola…
In this oral history interview with Joe Sikora on the banks of Lake Jessamine, Mr. Sikora tells how he and his wife made the decision to move to Orlando, his life’s work as an engineer for The Martin Company, and the treasure of life in Florida’s lakes…
LISTEN Part I (20:59) (text excerpts from recording)
Mr Sikora worked as an engineer for the Martin Company starting in 1956 to his retirement from Lockheed Martin in 1993. He worked on programs such as the Missile Master, Birdie, RACEP, Bull Pup Navy Program, Pershing Program Computer Simulation, ASALM Cruise Missile, Patriot Missile, Wall Eye Navy Missile, including computer simulation work at Orlando Central Park.
His favorite program was the TADS/PNVS program. These were targeting sensors (FLIR, etc.) Martin put on the Apache attack helicopter. After that came the Longbow for the Apache, Mr. Sikora’s second favorite program. His last five years were spent in Advanced Systems with multiple, fascinating programs until retirement.
The Martin Company
…Well, we lived in Chicago for three months until I graduated and we got married when she [Mr. Sikora’s wife] finished college. And then we went from there to The Martin Company. There were a lot of companies that came to school. We were surprised at all the offers we were getting. And Martin just appealed to me as a company because of the fact they built so many airplanes during WWII and so on and I just had a good feeling toward them and they made me a very good offer. And we ended up moving to Baltimore and started with the Martin Company there…
And what I did was a program called Missile Master and this company in Long Island, NY, Airborne Instrument Labs, was building, they were a subcontractor, so they wanted me to go there and work with AIL…
And in the fall I was asked would I like to move to Orlando, Florida…
We moved here on the second of January in 1958… we really, really liked it. Orlando at that time, the number I kind of recall for the population of Orlando itself was 65,000. It was really small. And the Sand Lake Road which now runs everywhere… Sand Lake Road went into the Martin Plant and that was it. It dead ended there. And it wasn’t even paved…
St. John Vianney Church
Up the Trail there was a little church that we go to, St. John Vianney. But at that time it was a mission. The building had one building sitting there and it is now our social hall and that building was the church. But it was not a parish so there was not a priest there or anything. What happened is that on Sunday they would send a priest down from St. James in town so we would have a priest there. Well, occasionally they’d forget and everybody would show up and we’re sitting there – no priest. And, of course, those days no cell phones and the closest telephone was up the Trail at Oak Ridge and the Trail. And there was a parishioner, they called him Big George, that had a little grocery store there. Somebody would have to go up to Big George’s use the phone and they’d say, “Oh, we forgot. We’ll be there in 15 minutes….”
Sky Lake Community
So then we sort of outgrew the house pretty quickly at Morningside because it was small, two bedroom, one bath, and they started building Sky Lake. And so we went in and looked around, and we liked it. Back then what was so neat, it was a gas light community, Every house had a neat little gas lamp in front and when you went in the evening it really looked pretty. So we thought, well okay, we’re thinking hard about buying a house there.
Well, this is in May of 1959 [May 1960], and we had all this rain that year. The rain was awful. And what happened was the builders were supposed to build some sort of additional drainage canal and they had been putting it off and putting it off. And then if you go into Sky Lake there’s a road off the Trail called Sky View Drive and to the right of Sky View you go over a little bridge and it dips down in that area all those houses were sitting with water all around them.
Now the poetic justice, one house went underwater and that house was the one they were using as the sales office. So what happened too was this friend of ours had already bought a house in Sky Lake in that area so he wanted to see how it was doing. So he called the salesman, and the salesman said, “Well, meet me at the bridge. He gets to the bridge and the salesman met him in a rowboat. And they went in a rowboat out to where this guy’s house was. And he said it was fine. You know they sort of built up the lots. He said this house was fine so he bought it anyway. And so then we were looking at houses and our house was north and had already been built and that whole north area everything north of Sky View stayed bone dry. There was no water there.
So when we were dealing on the house it was kind of funny because the salesman said, “Are you all ready to buy?” I said, “Well, gee…” We had sold our house on Morningside and were renting. I said, “Well, we need a refrigerator.” He said, “No problem. We’ll get a refrigerator. We’ll add the refrigerator and if you don’t get the house for some reason we’ll deliver it to your house where you’re living now.”
We went through the house, my wife said, well, they had a gas stove. She said, “I’d really prefer electric.” No problem, they’ll pull the gas stove.” I looked at the ceiling and I said, “Some of the popcorn ceiling wasn’t quite right”. No problem they redid that whole thing. They repainted the house. They were really bending over backwards because their sales really got hurt. They were running pictures in The Sentinel of Sky Lake. But they were showing this subdivision up near Kirkman and Colonial, I don’t recall the name of it now, but it was bad. They had houses there that went underwater, total, right up to the rooftops because they were having a hassle with a guy who owned this property. And they wanted to put a line through there with pumps so they could keep that place dry, make sure it wouldn’t go under water. They tried to reach an agreement with him and by the time they did it was too late. All those houses went under.
Of course, the builders in Sky Lake, they corrected the drainage problem instantly, but it hurt them. And some of the publicity they got was not too good. But Sky Lake, you know was a great little place. We had that house and then in 1968 we needed a bigger house and we looked over the place and so finally we said, well we like the location there so well, it’s so handy to Orlando International Airport, to our church. I fly and I fly out of Executive Airport and it’s so easy to get to Executive Airport from there… in 1968 we bought a four bedroom house in Sky Lake…
Orange County Sportsmen’s Club
In 1961 we got a boat. I’ve always loved boats. So we got a boat in 1961 and we were boating some on the Conway chain. And then this friend of ours took us out on the Butler chain. He took us out to the Orange County Sportsmen’s Club. And we took off out of there and he took us on a whole tour of lakes. And I thought wow this is really nice. So we joined the club. We joined in ’62 and I’ve been a member ever since. I’m on the Board of Directors there now…
My kids, I have four daughters and a son, course they all grew up going out to the club all the time. You know almost every weekend, they’d be water skiing, picnics, it’s just great! And on our 40th anniversary, it was kind of cute one of our daughters said you know we should write up memories… and one thing that was really kind of heartwarming was that every one of them, the thing they remembered the best and enjoyed the most was those weekends we spent at the Club and water skiing and all that… They loved it! So after they grew up we still have birthday parties there, you know all kind of things.
Central Florida Lakes
The thing that was so impressive, you know, “62, “63, that era, was the water on the Butler Chain was just, you know, when you were up at the far end of the chain where Lake Down is and then move down to Lake Butler and so, you know as you move down the chain the water flows apparently that direction toward [Lake] Sheen where the Club is and there are two lakes beyond Sheen – you get this tannic acid from the cypress trees, you know. And so they put a little bit of cast on the water, but you can see, it’s still clear, clear water. But back in ’62 when you went to Lake Down where it all started on Big Butler – that water, it was like being in the Bahamas. It was just so absolutely clear…
Today it’s still nice, but it’s not the same. Because back in those days, I think, Lake Down only had five houses on the whole lake and somebody told me that those houses.. they got their drinking water from Lake Down. They would filter it, but their source of drinking water was from the lake. Now I don’t think anybody would do that today – no way. There are just so many houses on every one of the lakes. And you know you got all the fertilizer run off and everything else. So you know its slowly effecting the quality of water there.
I don’t know if you remember a gentleman by the name of Henry Swanson with Orange County, but he was very well thought of and his opinions on water conservation and so on. He was right on all this stuff and he kept warning people. You know you can’t keep mistreating the environment the way you are and eventually it’s going to catch up with us. And what I am afraid of mostly is if they don’t start getting a little more conservative on Butler for example all the Butler Chain with the fertilizer runoff and everything else. When we moved down here Lake Apopka was beautiful. And when we moved down here Lake Apopka was considered, Apopka was called the Bass Capital of the World. And there was fantastic bass fishing on Lake Apopka.
LISTEN Part II (11:55) United States Military Service.
Oral History Interview with Sylvester “Joe” Sikora at his home on Lake Jessamine in Orlando on November 14, 2013.
Joe Sikora Part I
Joe Sikora Part II
Joe Sikora Part II