Keeping the Secret: The Waves & NCR
Sugar Camp / Building Twenty-Six

 

Sugar Camp

 

            The Waves were escorted to their new home, called Sugar Camp.  John H. Patterson, the original owner of National Cash Register, or NCR, first opened the camp in 1894 for the purpose of training his company's salesmen.  Tents were raised in the spring and summer on land located near the west end of Schantz Road,  just south of the NCR factory complex.  The land was thickly wooded with large maple trees, where at one time syrup was made.  In the 1920's Patterson built 60 cabins to accommodate his sales force.  It was in these cabins that the Waves stayed.

            "I remember how strange and new everything seemed when we arrived in Dayton and how unique Sugar Camp was." says Jimmie Lee Long.  "Living in a cabin surrounded by those huge trees was quite a change from the boot school in the Bronx."

            One half of a cabin was separated from the other by a shower.  Each side slept either two or three women.

            Sugar Camp’s 31 acres also contained a dining hall, recreation building, social center, baseball diamond and a large outdoor swimming pool.

            "We were delighted with Sugar Camp." says Sue Eskey.  "It felt like a little country club.  We were more or less like a bunch of overgrown Girl Scouts.  We loved it."

 

 

            Building Twenty-Six

 

            The Waves were given their room assignments, then taken to Building 26 at NCR.  It was here that the Waves began assembling parts for the bombes.

             "At Building 26 we learned how to solder and how to lace harnesses, terminal boards, all sorts of electronic operations that we had never done before." says Evelyn Hodges Vogel.  "We were quite adept after a while."

            The building consisted of a number of rooms.  Each room was guarded by a male Marine.

            "We would go down the hill to the NCR building that had been turned over to us." says Ronnie Mackey Hulick.  “We had to show identification to get into the building.  We sat at a big table and they would bring us a graft and a rotor wheel."  The wheels were known as commentators.  Each commentator had two sets of twenty-six wires.  Each wire was a different length and a different color.  "This was before plastic so these wheels were Bakelite.  They'd give us a soldering iron and we would follow a graft, and put these little wires according to the graft.  And that would be what we'd do during an eight hour shift.  You'd sit there with a soldering iron and wire those little wheels according to a graft.  And when you'd finish one they promptly brought you another one."

            Secrecy was constantly stressed.  A Wave would never see any other part of Building 26, nor meet any of the personnel, except at Sugar Camp. 

            "Our work, of course, was strictly secret." says Evelyn Vogel.  "We'd never talk about the actual work to each other outside of that room that we were locked in.  Nobody had admittance to any of these individual rooms unless they had a reason for being there, and could prove it to the Marine on guard that they had a reason."

            Most of the women didn't know what they were building, and none of them dared to ask.

            "You didn't question what you were doing." says Jimmie Lee Long.  "You just kept that old soldering iron going."

            At the time Sue Eskey had an idea of what the rotors’ function might be.

            "If you had any intuition or deep thoughts about it you could sort of figure it out.  There's 26 wires and 26 digits on the wheels and, oh yeah, the alphabet has 26 digits, too.  So you sort of put two and two together.  I knew absolutely nothing about codes or anything, but I had that thought.  And, of course, I didn't share it with anyone because we were not allowed to talk about anything."

            A routine was soon established.  The Waves would march from Sugar Camp, down Schantz Road, then down Main Street to Building 26. 

            "We marched in the street." says Sue Eskey.  "We did this because the sidewalk wasn't broad enough.  When we marched it was four abreast."

            "We worked in three shifts around the clock." says Mary Lavettre.  These shifts were from midnight to 8 a.m., 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 4 p.m. to midnight.  "This was a new experience for many of us, as was having a meal at 0230 or 0300 (2:30 a.m. or 3 a.m.)."

            Dorothy Firor was the Officer-In-Charge of one of the rooms in Building 26. 

            "I would stand at the door and say good morning as the girls came in.  One of them would always say 'What's good about it?'"

            Evelyn Vogel was one of the women in Dorothy’s room. 

            "The loveliest thing was that when we would have lunch hour or rest period, we would all put our heads down on our work table and Miss Firor would read to us the Bobbsy Twins or Little Women.  She would read us all these childhood books, and just lull us into relaxation.  Then when the time period was up she would close the book and say 'Well, I'll start on the rest of it later'.  We were her flock."

            Sue Eskey's only complaint was that the work seemed boring at times, especially on the grave yard shift.  "Bonnie Skinner would sing to us half the night so we could stay awake.  She had a beautiful operatic voice."

            “The work at NCR was tiring,” agrees Jimmie Lee Long, “and there was no room for the slightest mistake.  Now I understand why.  I feel we did do high quality work at a time when all of America was under great pressure.”

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