LAUNCH: In the February, 1969 issue of Model Rocket News, there was a photo of you and Vern Estes, with Vern holding the company’s new 1/100 -scale Saturn V model and you holding a Mercury Redstone. How important were scale models to the success at Estes?
Simon: On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d give scale models about an 8. We couldn’t have grown so well without them, but customer communications and our education department under Bob Cannon were at least equally important. Scale models were one aspect of a commitment to providing our rocketeers with models that would capture their imagination and give them something to build that they could be proud of.
LAUNCH: I read somewhere that you actually came up with the body tube designations (BT-50, BT-60, etc.) that, in general, became the hobby’s standard way to measure the airframes of these rockets. Is this correct? And if so, how complicated (or simple) was it to come up with this system?
Simon: The body tube designations were my fault. I really didn’t know anything about good practice in part numbering, so I just tried to use numbers that would let us add in-between sizes later on. BT-60, of course, accommodated 3 BT-20 tubes inside, and that was the entire basis for the system. The complexity came a few years later as we added special tube sizes for specific scale models. By that point the system was a huge dinosaur, but we were stuck with it. When we switched to electronic inventory systems we assigned purely numerical part numbers, and the old BT number became just a part of the description.
About those body tubes…
Vern put George Miller, our purchasing agent, on the task of trying to come up with a source of better engine tubes. George sent inquiries to every company listed under paper tubes in Thomas Register. One reply, from Euclid Spiral Paper Tube Company included samples of a polykraft/polyglassine construction that struck us immediately as perfect for body tubes. They also sent mylar/polyglassine samples that were eventually used for the Streak.
LAUNCH: You were known as the company’s top writer. Did you have a background in journalism? Did writing come naturally? Did you ever go back to college after leaving Estes?
Simon: Writing was very much a part of my family’s “culture” while growing up. Writing flows from reading, and I was a voracious reader, especially when I discovered science fiction in my teens. I had some very good teachers, especially Prof. Hans Spalteholz at Concordia Junior College. I’m afraid I’ve gotten pretty sloppy in my speech and in my writing as I approach curmudgeon-hood.
I have continued my education throughout my adult life. Rather than following a particular degree path, though, I’ve taken courses to pick up some particular knowledge or skill I felt I needed, or something I just wanted for the fun of it. As an example, as the Estes mailing list grew, we needed a better way to keep customer records. I took data processing and computer programming courses at Southern Colorado to equip myself to better evaluate our options.
The downside of this approach to education is that those 250-300 credit hours don’t give you a nice diploma to hang on the wall. I wouldn’t recommend that anyone else take the same path I took.