I was fortunate to be involved with a number of programs… which became major programs for the company, multi-million dollar, billion dollar programs for the company. And some of those programs are still striving and doing well today. They have a long history of being good for this country and the protection of our freedom….
In this oral history interview with Walter Trippe on July 31, 2014, Mr. Trippe describes the career choice he made to work at The Martin Company Orlando over Bell Labs in New York, his years of service with the company as Director of the Technical Staff, Director of System Engineering, Director of Electrical Engineering, Chief Engineer of Electronic Systems Company, and Director of Research and Technology. The history of Lockheed Martin as it is known today and the history of our area come together in this interview highlighting the company and community benefits of a career working for our nation’s aerospace leader in the peacekeeping of the country.
LISTEN Part I (14:10)
My name is Walter Trippe and I am from Alabama. I grew up in a small town called Greensboro. Went to high school there. After high school I joined the Air Force. Spent four years in the Air Force. Most of that time was at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi. After Air Force for four years I went to the University of Alabama, graduated with a degree in electrical engineering and then moved here to Orlando to work for what was then The Martin Company. Later that merged with Martin Corporation and became Martin Marietta many of the years that I worked there. I retired in April of 1989 and shortly thereafter there was another merger and it’s now known as Lockheed Martin….
My parents were reasonably poor farmers. I grew up in the country and it’s interesting that when I joined the Air Force at the end of basic training they gave us all these tests and they said, “We want you to go to Radar School.” I didn’t have any idea what radar was, but I’ve always been a good student so I made good on the Air Force placement test so that’s why they decided I was suitable for the radar course. And after graduating from the radar school I was asked to stay as an instructor. So I stayed as an instructor of radar mechanics which is largely electronics. And then going to college, I had the background of near four years of electronic study, majoring in electrical engineering, so that allowed me to make really good grades in college. And making good grades meant that I got selected for offices in a number of clubs and things like that. Anyway, my Air Force background helped me out a lot in my life, I think.
I had a scholarship for about two years from Bell Labs and I had an Air Force GI Bill and I had another scholarship from the University of Alabama. So actually, I was doing better financially while I was in college than I did after I came to work. That’s not quite true, but almost true. And having the scholarship from Bell Labs and getting a little special treatment from them always made me just assume that I’d go to work for them after graduating from college. It turned out that I had a friend from Florida and he told me about all the great fishing. And when Martin came interviewing on campus I did interview with Martin. But I had not been interviewing with other companies because I just knew I was going to work for Bell Labs.
But, as it turned out I didn’t go to work for Bell Labs. Would you like me to elaborate a little bit on why? Well, my senior year, spring vacation, school was closed for a week. My wife and I drove up to the New York, New Jersey area for interviews. They invited my wife along and they had two days of interviews. But it was just an unseasonably cold spell, even for the northeast it was bad. So, after two days of interviews which was very nice, and went to several places and their facility; went back to personnel and the personnel officer says, “Mr. Trippe, would you like to work here?” And I says, “No sir, I don’t think I can.” Got back to school and had this offer from Martin and other classmates had come down while we were on spring vacation and I was up in the New York area. They come down to Florida and interviewed with Martin and they come back reporting about the company and all, so I accepted the offer without coming down to visit.
Martin Orlando, June 1958
So after graduating from University of Alabama my wife and I, my oldest child who was about a year old at that time, came down here. The night that we got here, by the way, I didn’t know exactly where Martin was so I drove out Sand Lake Road to what I thought was the Martin Company. Went back the next day I went out to the plant and found out the night before was the sewage treatment plant. So I thought I had gone to the facility but I had gone to the sewage treatment plant. It was on Sand Lake Road just east of the plant. Anyway, that’s kind of a summary of how I got here in Orlando and been here since June of 1958.
Of course, The Martin Company was growing at that time, you know, they were hiring engineers in that period of time. Of course, the community was growing physically also. Martin was bringing a lot of people into the area. Also, there was Harris Corporation was in existence and as time went on you know the space business over at the Cape things like that. Another thing that was going on at this time was McCoy Air Force Base so there was a lot of military people here. And soon that closed and that group of people left the community and all. But there was a lot of vacant property at that time and if I had the foresight I could be rich today. Of course, I didn’t have any money back then to buy anything even if I had the knowledge. But if I had the knowledge I’d have found a little bit of money somewhere to buy some of the places that now are valuable: scrub land, cow pastures, and things like that. Back when we moved here Winegard Road was a dairy farm, cattle ranch, and they had just moved the cows out whenever we moved in, but the fences, barns, and all were still there in the early fifties.
It was not congested. There were no traffic jams or anything like that. It was easy transportation and all that. It was nice to live here. We had a few hurricanes in the early years come through, I guess, Donna, in about 1960. And it turned out that just a few days after we came to Orlando we rented a duplex that’s just one block from here and then after staying in that duplex for three months we bought a house that’s just a couple of miles from here. Very close to Oakridge High School. And stayed there until 1973 and then moved over to this location here. So, like I say, very close to where we spent our first few months here. And when you leave here if you go out Alandale Court look straight ahead before you turn on to Lake Jessamine Drive. You’ll see the duplex that we lived in there. By the way that duplex is also on a small lake and I had an idea of building a boat and I built a boat in our living room. We didn’t have much in the way of furniture so I built a boat in the living room and I put it in the lake and a storm came up. We thought we were going to drown. The boat turned into my kids’ sand box….
My class was only about 30 electrical engineers graduated. So about five others and myself came down here together so we had some built in friends. And we socialized a lot, played bridge together once every week for about a year or two while we were getting acquainted in the community. And it was like I said, the community was growing. I’ve thought a little bit about Sky Lake. I don’t believe it had started. It might have been in the beginning of construction and all but there was a lot of Sky Lake construction after we moved here. And Tangelo Park also was built just shortly after we moved down here. You know it was across the street very close to The Martin Company. It was a little bit lower price than Sky Lake. So a lot of the production people not many of the engineering and management people lived there. Pine Hills, a lot of Martin engineers lived in Pine Hills.
Lacrosse Mode I
I started as a circuit design engineer and transistors were just becoming popular. And my, University of Alabama, they were kind of behind the technology. I learned a lot about vacuum tubes which I already knew a good bit about from my service experience. So I started designing transistor circuits not knowing anything about what I was doing. Really, what I was doing was learning as I went. And my supervisors knew less than me so I didn’t have anyone to get any help from. So working on Lacrosse test equipment for new versions of Lacrosse. And then later I had an assignment repairing some equipment that had been built for the Lacrosse ground support. Either detailed design or the management jobs related to new technologies. Very involved with new technology all of the time I was at Martin, really, which was interesting most of the time. There was a reasonable amount of government funding so all was well. There was a period of time about 1973 when there was a little downturn. And I was in a position of having to lay off people and that was kind of a sad period of time. And we were scurrying around trying to get contracts. I remember one contract we got was with the Tampa Police Department trying to use military technology for that. So doing a lot of little things like that just to keep jobs for people. We were fortunate at that time that the Denver plant was building up so we were able to transfer a number of engineers from Orlando to Denver so that minimized the number of layoffs that I personally had to be involved with.…
LISTEN Part II (16:44)
You’d draw something up that you thought would work and at times I would build it myself. And at times a technician would build things for me. I was selected engineer of the year for one piece of equipment that I designed during that period of time. Basically, back then the transistors were very prevalent and this was before the days of integrated circuits. Most of the time I was doing detailed design work, you know. As I became into the management realm integrated circuits became very popular at Martin, but not doing detailed design at that phase….
Martin Orlando’s Engineer of the Year, 1968
What it really was is there was a missile system called Walleye that Martin was building that had been designed by the Navy. So somebody, it wasn’t my idea, it was kind of old technology, and they thought it would be good to upgrade that with new design to accomplish basically the same function. So that’s what I did that resulted in the Engineer of the Year Award. Yeah, I was fortunate a lot of things worked out well for me from a technology standpoint and contacts with people. Some friends took good care of me while I was there… So there was good camaraderie among the people who worked there? Yes, I would say that was true at all levels. And I had contacts with upper management when I was still a rather junior person in the organization, you know. I thought there was good communications and positive attitude pretty much my whole career there as much as I could see.
June 28, 1968 Washington, DC Corporate Honors Dinner
It was a good time as far as technology and interesting work. The economy was booming during that period of time. And the Martin Company as a company was doing well. The Orlando Division and the Denver Division especially. The parent company in Baltimore which is concentrated more on the aircraft was not doing as well as the branches that had been spawned by the Baltimore Company. But both of those companies were doing well and still are doing well as far as the national defense industry and space industry and all is concerned.
A lot of the systems that I was involved with, you know, has played a major role in the peacekeeping of the country for a number of years. I was fortunate to be around the development of a lot of the weapons systems and associated equipment as well as the missiles and fire control systems and things like that.
Contribution to The Martin Marietta Corporation
So you were involved in actually hiring engineers? Yes, that might have been the major contribution I made to the company – hiring people. I hired a lot of people that did well for the company. I don’t know how many people I hired, but I’m sure it was in the hundreds of engineers. My management experience, I was manager of what was called the Seeker Department; that was part of the missile that would find targets and all. Later the company kind of had a reorganization and I became the Technical Director of Tactical Weapon Systems. And we had several major new business activities that blossomed into major programs. You know, we did so well that it eliminated my job. We won several contracts so the company decided to split those contracts out from tactical weapons systems. So tactical weapons systems which I was the Technical Director of was dissolved; became several things and I became the Director of the Technical Staff at that time.
As time went on the company was doing well and I became the Director of Research and Technology. And then the company was still doing okay and the company decided to break into two major divisions. A missiles system division and basically a Fire Control Division. And I became the chief engineer of the fire control portions of the company there. And for a number of years I had good relationships with the manager of both of those divisions and all there. And so having good relations with them, you know, is part of the reason I got good assignments and all that. But anyway after those two branches was formed and all after a period of time that didn’t work out quite as well as hoped so the company kind of merged back into one company instead of two separate companies. I became the Director of Research and Technology again which was the position I had before and then that was the position I retired from.
Missionary Computer Fellowship
Then really the same month [April 1989] that I retired I started working with a group called Missionary Computer Fellowship which was just getting started. So I was in the first meeting of that new organization. We became in a way well known. I stated one time that we were the most widely known rinky-dink organization in the world.
And the reason we were so widely known, we had missionaries come here from everywhere. You know, come in for computers or computer training. Because back in those days virtually none of the missionaries had any computer experience when they were in college and all. Getting a computer and getting trained in a computer was a big deal. Many of the missionaries stayed here in our house with us here. And I liked that because I could teach them computer stuff night and day and my wife was happy to serve meals to them. We provided free room and board for missionaries during those years and all that. If we sold them equipment we sold it at cost.
Estate Gift from Martin President Tom Willey
Turned out that one of the former presidents of The Martin Company, Tom Willey, he passed away and he left some money of which five thousand from his estate came for Missionary Computer Fellowship and that allowed us to have funds to operate and we got some small donations over the years. But we’ve been blessed with having plenty of money to do what we needed to do over the years. We became reasonably well known in the community for several reasons. One of which were we were affiliated with several large churches: First Presbyterian Church, and later on, the First Methodist Church. It was always an interdenominational thing. But being involved with large churches and people from Martin Company we were able to get a lot of used computer equipment donated to us. And through Martin also, not only just the community and businesses and all, but Martin Company. You know that all worked out to help Missionary Computer Fellowship get us going and all. And many of the people in the beginning and even today were Martin engineers.
Lockheed Martin Volunteers at Missionary Computer Fellowship
And now, it’s mostly ex-Martin engineers, retired Martin engineers. In the early days, people would work during nights and all, and working the day at The Martin Company. So, it’s a pretty strong connection between Missionary Computer Fellowship and The Martin Company….
Computers all over the world
Yes, all over the world. Like I said, thousands of them, really. The last time I made an estimate and that was several years back and all the count was up to over 30,000 that we had sent out and hadn’t charged a penny for any of it. It was equipment that we had refurbished that had been donated to us by Orlando businesses…
VIEW Missionary Computer Fellowship Leaders Walter Trippe and Jim Gibboney
We started out in the basement of the Presbyterian Church and had to move because of the construction of the building. Then we moved into the Methodist Church building. Then we had to move when they sold the building to the city. But it happened that a member of the Methodist Church had a large warehouse out on Central Avenue just a little bit west of Parramore. And so, that is our current location there in a large metal building.
We are not as active today as we have been in the past. For many years we were open about twelve hours a day five days sometimes six days a week. Now we’re only open two days a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays. More people have computers and computer knowledge and all. And also smartphones and tablet computers which we don’t do anything with has taken a lot of the need for a regular desktop computer. We have done laptop computers and that’s still a pretty good demand for laptop computers. But not that much demand. In addition to the new devices, and all the prices have come down such that a lot of people would just soon buy a new computer as to have a used one given to them.…
LISTEN Part III (10:52)
Martin Company Intramural Sports
Basketball and softball were the major intramural sports. And, of course, there were golf teams and things like that… So people took part in that and the families got to know each other. Oh yeah, my softball teams were known as “Trippe’s Tramps”. And there’d be a lot of wives and friends and all that would come to the games and softball field and things like that. We basically played other Martin teams….
Church and Community Giving
I’ve been an active member of the church and would have missionaries come and speak. A good many of them stayed at my house here. And there was one missionary that thought when I retired that I ought to become a missionary and since they knew that I had some church building experience and all they wanted me to be the coordinator of the U.S. building activity for overseas: building overseas, getting material, and teams going and all of that. But, about the same time my friend came up with the idea of missionary computer fellowship, so that just appealed to me more than the others, kind of led me into that. But, because of my background and being involved with churches and missionaries and all, the fact that his was computer related and that was kind of new to me. I had a computer for a few years in my office at work, but really I didn’t do much with it. My secretary used the computer for typing and things like that. She would do what we needed to do. Frequently, I would just loan my computer out to somebody that needed it. I didn’t need it for what I was doing. Anyway, that’s how I got involved with the missionary activities. We had a number stay here. One time we had, I think, it was twelve in this house at one time spending the week. You know, so people sleeping everywhere.
Pine Castle Baptist Church
Sky Lake Baptist Church is across the street from Oakridge High School so that’s very close. And we lived just a couple blocks from the church at that time there. And Pine Castle [Baptist Church] is close by where we live. Central Parkway [Church] is out a distance, that was fine for a period of time, but it got to be kind of a long drive. So, that’s one of the reasons we decided to look for one closer here. And, I went around to a couple of churches to kind of talk to them about moving a membership there, to get a copy of their constitution and things like that. I went into Pine Castle [Baptist Church], I was led into this facility of the assistant pastor and he was an Alabama football fan. His office was decorated with all kind of Alabama stuff and I decided that was the place for me. You know, Tim Key, was the name of the person, and so our decision was made to join this church and we’ve been happy there ever since… It’s been pretty much here since Pine Castle was in existence. You know, a hundred years, that kind of history. I teach Sunday School class, I teach a computer class there.
Walter Trippe Teaching a Computer Class.
The church had a centennial celebration and all. I probably could give you a copy of that brochure and all that we prepared for that. It was actually the 125th….
Martin ETAS Victory Party, 1985
Yeah, that was ETAS: Elevated Target Acquisition System. I led the proposal activity for that. We were fortunate to win that. It turned out that about the time that we won I became pretty ill and so I was actually not working. I had pretty much recovered whenever we had a victory party for that. And so I received an award, my wife received an award for putting up with me during that period of time.
The Martin Company
I had super good times over the years there. I have no regrets for coming. The fact that I stayed there, and I can truthfully say, that I never interviewed with another company in spite of many phone calls, opportunities to interview. But, never accepted any of these. And part of the reason is because I was there during good years when there was reasonable funding for the programs and all. I’m not sure that I would have liked it as well if it had been in a downturn, you know. There was this little downturn in ’73. It only emotionally effected me because it was very hard for me to lay off people that I knew needed the income for their family and all. But, other than that, in that period of time, you know, all was very good. I had the satisfaction in thinking that I did the best that I could, you know, to find jobs for the people. And to make the best decision as to who was to let go or transfer.
I was fortunate to be involved with a number of programs in the beginning which became major programs for the company, multimillion dollar, billion dollar programs for the company. And some of those programs are still striving and doing well today: They have a long history of being good for this country and the protection of our freedom. And good for the company from a business standpoint, all of the experience and background.
Lockheed Martin: A Major Positive Impact on the Community
Well, I certainly think that from several standpoints. One is just bringing people in and people in general at rather high income brackets in comparison to many of the people that were more native here. And the company has been good as far as donating to United Way and charities like that. And the people, there have been lots of activities where the people have been involved, the Science Center, and the Russell Home for Atypical Children over here, both as a formal action and the actions of smaller groups within the company. Yeah, I’d say it’s been a major positive impact on the community in pretty much every way….
Oral History Interview with Mr. Walter Douglas Trippe at his home on July 31, 2014.
Mr. Trippe was born January 20, 1932 in Demopolis, Alabama and passed away September 20, 2019.
Interviewer is Jane Tracy.Back to top
The history of Missionary Computer Fellowship document includes: Missionary Computer Fellowship Summary, Missionary Computer Fellowship History - April 1989 to August 2011, REALM newsletter article, photos, and book feature.
125th Anniversary publication for the First Baptist Church of Pine Castle, 1887-2012, with church history, mission, chronology of events, community history and photos.