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Title:
Interview with Kurt Schwerdt, July 22, 2008
Date:
July 22, 2008
Description:
Interview with Kurt Schwerdt, President of the Wilmington Railroad Museum Foundation and named Volunteer of the Year by UNCW's Master of Public Administration program.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: Schwerdt, Kurt Interviewer: Jones, Carroll Date of Interview: 7/22/2008 Series: SENC Volunteers Length 60 minutes

Jones: Today is Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008. I am Carroll Jones with Chris Malpass for the Randall Library Special Collections Oral History Program, and we're in the Helen Hagen Room of Special Collections. Today we're pleased to have as our guest Kurt Schwerdt. Did I pronounce that right?

Schwerdt: Pretty close, Schwerdt.

Jones: Schwerdt, okay, who is President of the Wilmington Railroad Museum Foundation. He was recently honored by the Master of Public Administration Program at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington with the [inaudible] Volunteer Award. He also volunteers at the New Hanover County Arboretum. He's going to tell us more. Good morning, Mr. Schwerdt.

Schwerdt: Good morning, Carroll.

Jones: And let's begin by you telling us a little bit about you, your background, where you're from, your career, how you got to Wilmington, and we'll go from there.

Schwerdt: Okay. Well, I think the first thing is I'd to say that I just celebrated my 70th birthday.

Jones: Happy birthday.

Schwerdt: Thank you.

Jones: You're a Cancerian.

Schwerdt: Yes.

Jones: I know all about them. (laughing) I'm married to one.

Schwerdt: Well, I was born in Reading, Pennsylvania in 1938. I grew up in Reading. My early years, up through high school, were in the Reading area. Interestingly, Reading is a railroad town. The Reading Railroad is headquartered in Reading. And we lived very close to the main line to Harrisburg. So one of the things as a kid that I did was always go down to the tracks and watch the trains go by. Back then, we had quite a bit of railroad activity. Actually, there's still a lot of activity in that area because of the freight trains. So that was one of my first exposures to railroads. You mentioned the railroad museum, and this will all tie together eventually. So I grew up there. I have a younger brother; he's four years younger than I am. He's a minister and also just retired. I went to high school there. I had a lot of railroad experience back then. A good friend of mine used to like to rid the trains, and we'd ride the train to Philadelphia.

Jones: How did you do that? Did you buy a ticket? Or don't tell me you're on top of the coal bin.

Schwerdt: No, we bought tickets. I think he bought tickets for me. And so we'd go to Philadelphia or we'd go to Philadelphia and New York, and we did this many times.

Jones: Did you get off the train or just sit and wait to come back again?

Schwerdt: No. We got off the train. In New York, one of the things he really enjoyed, and I guess I enjoyed it also, was to go on the oceanic-- the trans-oceanic liners. The day they left, you could board the ship and walk around the ship up until an hour before they sailed. And he wished to do that, so we were on many of the different ocean liners back when you could still do that. You can't do that nowadays. And so that was an experience that I had with railroading. Another experience, during the war years my dad was in North Dakota working on the Northern Pacific as a surveyor. And I visited him on two occasions with my mother and took the train basically across the country, which was kind of exciting.

Jones: That was really something then.

Schwerdt: Yeah, that was exciting. And I still have pretty vivid memories of some of the experiences; looking out the window and seeing the train go around the sharp curves and seeing the back end of the train.

Jones: Did it lull you to sleep?

Schwerdt: Yeah, the click of the rails. (laughing) So that was kind of fun. When I graduated from high school, I went to college up in Boston, and I spent pretty much the rest of my years up there until I moved to Wilmington.

Jones: Where in Boston? Where did you go to college?

Schwerdt: I went to college at MIT. I got my undergraduate in engineering at MIT.

Jones: So you are--

Schwerdt: And then I got a master's degree from Northeastern University.

Jones: Also in Boston.

Schwerdt: Also in electrical engineering. They're both-- MIT is in Cambridge, and Northeastern is in Boston. After college, I immediately got a job at the MITRE Corporation, which was in Bedford, Massachusetts, doing work in air traffic control, working-- trying to integrate the military in the civilian air traffic control system, doing some pretty advanced pioneering work, some of which still hasn't been implemented. And that was my start in my professional career, and pretty much the next 40 years I spent most of the time doing air traffic control system design work.

Jones: And you haven't lost your mind.

Schwerdt: Not yet. (laughing)

Jones: That's amazing. So this was in Bedford, Massachusetts.

Schwerdt: Yeah, MITRE is in Bedford. And then I spent two years in Washington, D.C. also with MITRE. And then when I got sort of tired of the paperwork and the paper pushing and the-- writing specs and doing that sort of thing, I decided to look for another job. And I found a really good opportunity at Raytheon Company. At the time, they were in Wayland, Massachusetts. And I went there also involved with air traffic control, but instead of doing paper, we actually built systems. We designed and built air traffic control systems, radar systems, displays, and so on. And did that for 38 years (laughing) and retired. And we had-- during that time, maybe we want to talk a little bit more about my years at Raytheon later, but I made some acquaintances with people at IBM and Lockheed Martin. One of whom was Bill Bryden, and we came down and visited him a number of times here in Wilmington. And the third time we visited, we decided to buy a house. And I had just retired, and he had done a lot of research in terms of places to retire, from Virginia down through Florida.

Jones: Mr. Bryden had done this research.

Schwerdt: Yes, so I figured, well, I don't have to do any research.

Jones: He's done it.

Schwerdt: I'll just follow in his footsteps.

Jones: And what year was this that you moved?

Schwerdt: This was 19-- or 2004; 2004, so I've only been here a little over four years.

Jones: Well, you've dug in, okay.

Schwerdt: Almost within the first week that I was here, Bill invited me down to the railroad museum to help clean track and do work on the museum's layouts. And railroads were always a passion in my growing up years.

Jones: I have to ask you. Do you have your home model railroad?

Schwerdt: I do. That was the first thing I set up.

Jones: Did you build your own-- an HO Gauge or did you have that--

Schwerdt: It's HO Gauge.

Jones: -- the old-fashioned, oh, what were they called, the big builder of those?

Schwerdt: The Lionel.

Jones: Lionel.

Schwerdt: I started when I was six-years-old, and my mom and dad gave me a Lionel set for Christmas.

Jones: Uh-huh, of course.

Schwerdt: And I can still remember seeing that, and I still have some of the buildings that they built on that.

Jones: Make mountains and little crossings.

Schwerdt: No, I never did--

Jones: Did you have two or three running at once?

Schwerdt: Not on the Lionel. I do now on the HO. I can run--

Jones: That takes up a whole room, doesn't it?

Schwerdt: It can. My wife doesn't quite permit that, but (laughing) yes, it can easily take up that space.

Jones: Do you build your own?

Schwerdt: I do. I love to build structures. I love to use my hands and do things, and now I am getting into scenery and painting and modeling. And I enjoy doing things with my hands and being creative in that way.

Jones: So in 2004, you moved here, and you were taken to the railroad museum.

Schwerdt: Right.

Jones: And this was during a time, wasn't it, or was it? You tell me, when it was kind of iffy as to whether or not the railroad museum was going to continue to exist? Were they looking for funding and people and all that sort of thing?

Schwerdt: Well, that was exactly right. The times were-- our lease was day to day or year to year. And it sort of occurred to me that the railroad history is so important in Wilmington, and losing this museum would be a real travesty.

Jones: Yeah, absolutely.

Schwerdt: So I wrote a letter to the board of directors and expressed my concerns about the fact that nothing seemed to be going on in terms of looking for new space or doing anything proactively. And before I knew it, I was on the board. (laughing)

Jones: Okay, that's what happens.

Schwerdt: I guess that's what happens. (laughing) So I worked again with Bill, and we put together POWERPoint presentations using a lot of the skills--

Jones: Spell Mr. Bryden's last name.

Schwerdt: B-r-y-d-e-n.

Jones: G-e-n, right?

Schwerdt: B as in "boy." B-r-y-- no, B-r-y-d-e-n.

Jones: B-r-y-g-e-n, yeah.

Schwerdt: Right. And so we did engineering tradeoffs, using some of my engineering background and Bill's engineering background. And we developed some POWERPoint presentations, went to the board, or at that point were part of the board. And went through the tradeoffs and decided to approach the city to buy a warehouse, an old Atlantic coastline railroad warehouse that was available. And that seemed to be the best choice in terms of a new location for the museum. After a number of presentations to the city, they agreed that that would be a good thing for the city and for the community to have a permanent location for the museum. And the rest is sort of history. (laughing) I've been working since then to help build the new museum. We've got over 10,000 hours of labor, volunteer labor, in the museum. I've got some portion of that.

Jones: How do you-- I'm not going to structure this sentence too well. You'll get the idea. You're down there near Cape Fear Community College, which seems to be gulping up everything in sight. Some people think it's great because it's providing all kinds of different types of eduction for students who cannot-- or don't want to get into a university setting. Others say it is causing problems with the railroad museum, or down by the new center that's being built with parking, with luring businesses back into the downtown area. From your point of view, have you given it any thought? I'm sure you have some feelings. How do you feel about it?

Schwerdt: Well, they're a challenging neighbor.

Jones: Because they do have that space.

Schwerdt: They have a lot of space. They have absolutely fabulous space--

Jones: Blue Clay Road.

Schwerdt: -- in downtown Wilmington in a really neat area, a really neat part of town.

Jones: Part of those buildings could be on the tax rolls providing income.

Schwerdt: Well, I'm not very political, so I don't know; don't care much about the taxes.

Jones: Do you feel it might interfere with what you're trying to do or the spaces?

Schwerdt: Not really, no. I think-- I mean, it provides some vibrancy to that part of town. I mean, having kids around is-- I've always enjoyed being with kids and seeing kids and seeing kids learning. The college has reached out to us in one instance to rehabilitate an old workshop that's in the wall near where they're building a new parking deck or where they're going to build a new parking deck, which I thought was a good move on the part of the college to sort of extend an opportunity for both the college and the railroad museum to work together. The construction down there is certainly a little bit of an-- has impact on the museum. I mean, the parking deck for the college, the parking deck for the convention center, the convention center, and whatever is going to happen with the Best Western Hotel certainly have caused some congestion. And I think the worst is probably yet to come when they redo Nut Street. But I think we'll get through it. I don't think it will cause the museum to stop functioning.

Jones: Well, let's hope not, because it is important in the history, as you said, of railroading down here, being what was considered-- well, it was the largest city in the state at one time, certainly not now.

Schwerdt: I've heard that.

Jones: Yeah, but depending upon railroads to bring in and out whatever could be manufactured. I mean, this place was set off so that there were no viable roads particularly. So I can remember the first time I came to Wilmington as a very young bride, and everybody was up in arms because the coastline was leaving. And it didn't mean a thing to me, but since I came back to live here and particularly my association with the university for the last 10 and a half years, realizing how the economic development of this county and a lot of people's lives and their jobs were associated with the coastline. Of course, that's changed now. The whole flavor has changed. So keeping the railroad museum is important, I think, to the history of this area.

Schwerdt: For the history, yes. But on the other hand, the fact that the railroad left down was sort of an opportunity for--

Jones: Yes, it was.

Schwerdt: -- a whole lot of new industrial development. And Corning came. GE came. DuPont came.

Jones: The Committee of 100 was formed, and they brought businesses here too.

Schwerdt: Right, so in many ways, it was a good thing. Now, it would be nice if railroad service returned to Wilmington someday, and I guess there are some plans to have rail service back to Wilmington. I think that would be a really neat thing to happen.

Jones: Well, tell me this; how did you get this Volunteer of the Year Award? That must mean that you put in how many hours? How many hours a week, just guess.

Schwerdt: I spend probably somewhere around 30 hours a week five days a week.

Jones: That's just about more than a part-time job. (laughing)

Schwerdt: Yes, more than a part-time job. (laughing) But it's a joy. I mean, it's a real pleasure to be able to do that, to do something that I've always wanted to do is to build a large model railroad. The room that we have the model railroad in is 50 feet by 31 feet, so that's quite a large space for a model layout.

Jones: What are your plans for the railroad museum as far as continuing to-- do you have any enlargement plans, number one? Do you have any plans for making it more of an attraction?

Schwerdt: Well, we do. And I think one of the-- probably the most important thing is to make it even more interesting for people to visit. And the way to do that, I think, is with interactive exhibits, more interactive exhibits. Right now, the train is running around, but there's not a whole lot of stuff going on in addition to that. But if we have sounds that go with it, barnyard sounds or baseball stadium sounds for the different parts of the layout that when you go there, the sound comes on. We added sound to the engine a number of years ago. I was involved with doing that. That makes the engine more real. It says, "All aboard," and chugs off and makes it feel like you're actually riding in a train. Our exhibits are continually being updated and refined and improved. Our new executive director, Mark Koenig, has done a fabulous job with the exhibits and the day to day operation of the museum. And we also look forward, I guess, to having more exposure to the community. This-- it's surprising how many people that live in Wilmington have never been to the railroad museum.

Jones: That's what I was going to ask you about as well. Why do you think? Do you think it's just not been that well exposed, or?

Schwerdt: Yeah, I think our public relations has probably been a little bit lax as has our fundraising. Our fundraising efforts need to be improved so that we can sustain ourselves in the future. Although, since we've moved, the admissions have been up. The gift shop sales have been up. We've had a lot of repeat visitors. I think the fact that we're building this model railroad within the museum-- it's only one of the many features of the museum.

Jones: Do you reach out to the elementary schools, for example?

Schwerdt: We do. We have a number of school groups that come and summer camp groups.

Jones: I'm thinking of one of them that's now become-- this past year is the first year it became a so-called magnet school. It's Freeman School of Engineering, et cetera. They have reached out to General Electric, and it would seem to me that the railroad museum would certainly be another avenue where they could take those children and [inaudible].

Schwerdt: I'm not aware of any specific thing with them. Mark gets more involved with that than I do, so he may well have some contacts. And that's certainly a good idea, I think, to get kids involved with the museum. We do have a number of volunteers who are 12, 13-years-old.

Jones: Really? What do they do?

Schwerdt: Well, they do painting. They do little odds and ends. They're actually very gifted, many of them. In the children's area, we had a mural done last year by a group in town. It was a summer mural camp, and they did a fabulous job on the mural. This was done by Make Art, a new organization in Wilmington. And there were, I think, eight or so children that were under 12-years-old.

Jones: That's great. That's _____________. It makes them feel good; they did something.

Schwerdt: Yeah. In fact, one of them came back yesterday to visit the museum and talk about the experience. And he and his grandma were amazed at how much had happened since they worked on the mural.

Jones: Is there any kind of-- do you have any kind of railroad car or engine that's operating, like in a circle for kids to get on or just to move back and forth or anything like that, a club car or something that kind of gives you a feeling of what it was like?

Schwerdt: No, but wouldn't that be neat to have? (laughing) Well, one of the thoughts, and this--

Jones: It would. Have you been to Salisbury, the railroad museum up there?

Schwerdt: I have not, but I've certainly heard about that.

Jones: I was thinking about that, yeah. They have a huge operation up there.

Schwerdt: One of the things we'd like to do, and this sort of ties in with the community college. This is in the very, very early stages, the multi-model center is going in up on Fourth Street, near Red Cross and Fourth. And then there's a right away down to the museum and the convention center area. And there's talk of putting in a trolley line that runs between the convention center and the multi-model center.

Jones: That would be good.

Schwerdt: And this would be a track trolley, not a road trolley. And that could be used to shuttle people back and forth to the convention center or the hotels. It could also be used maybe to run a Thomas the Tank engine back and forth for special occasions.

Jones: Oh my gosh, that would certainly appeal to kids, wouldn't it?

Schwerdt: Yeah. And Thomas has done amazing things for interest among kids in railroading.

Jones: I imagine. Do you have birthday parties down there?

Schwerdt: We do have birthday parties in the caboose. And we're now beginning to offer the museum for evening events.

Jones: I was going to ask you that next.

Schwerdt: The Residents of Old Wilmington had their Christmas party there last year.

Jones: That's a good idea. That would be unique.

Schwerdt: And I think they really enjoyed it. And again, that's a way of outreaching to the community. And then when grand kids come to town to visit or something, people will remember the museum and bring their kids to the museum.

Jones: That's great.

Schwerdt: So it helps business.

Jones: Well, I imagine that you've done all the usual suspect things like with the Chamber of Commerce.

Schwerdt: We recently joined the Chamber of Commerce, yes. It turns out, one of the biggest marketing tools are the little tent cards that go on racks on I-95 or in hotel lobbies. I always ask, or frequently ask visitors how they heard about the museum. And more than half of them say we saw in one of the racks at the hotel.

Jones: That seems to be a really big way for people-- they stop and go in there. And I know from talking to a few others who have their agendas to push that they track that, and it's been a boon, yeah. This is unique to-- or tell me, outside of Salisbury, is this the only railroad museum you know of in the state to make it unique?

Schwerdt: Well, I'm fairly new to the-- I'm very new to the state. (laughing) So I don't know.

Jones: That's all right, you're here long enough to qualify for something.

Schwerdt: I think we're probably one of the best, and we've heard that from many visitors that they really think we're pretty close to a world class railroad museum, which is really gratifying to hear after all the work we've put in. There are certainly other larger railroad museums and many feature larger rolling stock exhibits. We're very limited because of the amount of space we have to locate real rolling stock. So we have the engine and tender, the boxcar, and the caboose.

Jones: Do you know what happened or has anyone talked about what happened to those trains? They moved to Florida, and what's happened to all of them? Their line is defunct.

Schwerdt: Well, they've become-- the Atlantic Coastline merged with the Seaboard Airliner and became the Seaboard Coastline, I guess. And then that became part of the CSX, which still exists today.

Jones: But they certainly aren't using the same rolling stock, as you call it.

Schwerdt: No.

Jones: What do they do with it?

Schwerdt: Oh, I think they cut it up and make weapons out of or something. (laughing) I mean, they--

Jones: (laughing) _______________. Who would like to see happen? I mean, if someone said, "Okay, you've got carte blanche. Give us some ideas to either keep this thing afloat or to add to it, make it more aware. What would you do?

Schwerdt: Relative to the railroad museum?

Jones: Right.

Schwerdt: Well, I think the development of the north end of Wilmington is going to help the museum a whole lot. I think having the convention center up there will help. I'm excited about the multi use space up towards PPD and above, where we'll have marinas and condos and shopping. And I think that will really bring some vibrancy--

Jones: To the downtown area.

Schwerdt: -- to the downtown and especially the north end of that part of town. I think one thing that would be really exciting, and from a tourist perspective, I think is this trolley idea.

Jones: It would be.

Schwerdt: I think maybe not necessarily between the multi model and the convention center, but I think up and down Nut Street and maybe even Water Street, to connect the north end to the south end of town to have a rail trolley that shuttles back and forth or does a loop.

Jones: It would be. What do you think, Chris?

" "

"Yeah, I think it sounds great.

"

"Schwerdt: I think it would be a draw. I think it would be a tourist attraction for Wilmington.

"

"Jones: Right. Has anybody tracked the number of tourists you get per year?

"

"Schwerdt: We do track that, and I don't know the numbers off-hand.

"

"Jones: It doesn't matter.

"

"Schwerdt: I expect it's over 10,000 visitors a year to the museum.

"

"Jones: But you'd like to look for more.

"

"Schwerdt: But yeah, we always need more, because our funding is, in large part, dependent on admissions and gift shop sales and then memberships.

"

"Jones: How are gift shop sales?

"

"Schwerdt: They're increasing. They're probably 10 or 15 percent over last year. And we are a charitable, nonprofit organization, and we do try to solicit donations. We get a lot of donations of materials from people that no longer have use for their trains or their kids don't want them or whatever. And that's really neat.

"

"Jones: I can imagine that. They're cleaning out the attic. (laughing)

"

"Schwerdt: Yeah. And we also have a train show once a year, which is a fundraiser.

"

"Jones: But you do have the capability-- I haven't been down there in a couple of years. You have the capability of having events, evening events or afternoon events or whatever.

"

"Schwerdt: Yes.

"

"Jones: That would be an interesting idea, yeah, okay.

"

"Schwerdt: One of the other things we've done, which we weren't able to do in the other space we had was to have a library, a large research library of railroad books and Atlantic Coastline historical documents and drawings.

"

"Jones: That would be interesting.

"

"Schwerdt: It'll be-- we've got limited access, but it's a real resource.

"

"Jones: My understanding is that the original railroad, down here when it was finished, was the longest one on the East Coast. It was what, 40 miles long?

"

"Schwerdt: Yeah, for a number of years, that was true. (laughing)

"

"Jones: It just blows my mind to think of that.

"

"Schwerdt: There's a sign up on Third Street, North Third Street that points that out. I think it went from Wilmington to Weldon.

"

"Jones: Yeah. (laughing) I guess it was known as the Wilmington-Weldon originally, wasn't it?

"

"Schwerdt: Yes, yes it was.

"

"Jones: Amazing, oh gosh. I'm not old enough to quite remember that, but I'm getting there anyway. Well, that's very, very interesting. You're a perfect candidate.

"

"Schwerdt: For what?

"

"Jones: To work there, number one, to volunteer there and also to be president. I mean, you started out as a little one with your dad and mom giving you railroads from Reading. I can't--

"

"Schwerdt: Reading.

"

"Jones: Reading, excuse me, Pennsylvania. (laughing)

"

"Schwerdt: Actually, Westlawn is this little town where I lived, Westlawn.

"

"Jones: And that is sort of a real fit. I want to get onto another subject too, and we can always come back to this, but the arboretum, now tell us about that and what you do there.

"

"Schwerdt: Well, I decided that since we moved south from Massachusetts, I have to learn more about what grows here and how to grow it and how to maintain it and take care of it.

"

"Jones: In the sand, yeah.

"

"Schwerdt: So I took the master gardener program at the arboretum, and ever since that-- that was two years ago, I've been volunteering there also, answering the hotline and doing odds and ends around the arboretum. As I say, I love to do things with my hands, and pruning and weeding, and I enjoy doing that.

"

"Jones: That's nature, digging in the dirt and getting back to nature.

"

"Schwerdt: Right. And it's helped me know what to do with my own yard and shrubs.

"

"Jones: I wish I had someone like you that lived in my house. I really do. We have a huge piece of property, and I've always been a dig in the dirt type. And that's another story. Let's see is Melissa Hight-- she's down there, isn't she?

"

"Schwerdt: She was. I don't think she's there anymore. I think she's moved up to a higher position or something. I think; I'm not positive about that. I know Ken Wells is the county extension agent.

"

"Jones: Yeah, right, for some reason Melissa is the new president of the downtown rotary club.

"

"Schwerdt: Oh, so maybe she still is involved with the arboretum.

"

"Jones: She might be. That would be interesting, and do know several other people heavily involved. Doris Ayers, you probably know her. She works down there a lot. The arboretum is-- just a little bit of information, if you wouldn't mind sharing with us. Is there-- I'm not terribly sure what their aim is, except to show the various types of growth that we can be comfortable with down here in this type of soil, with this kind of weather, et cetera. But what is the mission of the arboretum; tell us for history's sake.

"

"Schwerdt: I'm not sure I can do that. (laughing) I mean, I think it's to-- they're basically acting as a county extension service to help deal with what grows, what doesn't grow, how to deal with various diseases, how to deal with southern lawns, watering, water conservation.

"

"Jones: How did you learn about this? How did you learn about these different things?

"

"Schwerdt: Well, attending this master gardener program, which I think is a 14-week program. It's pretty intensive, and you read a lot.

"

"Jones: Test at home.

"

"Schwerdt: Yeah, and you try it out at home. But the mission of the arboretum, I can't exactly voice it.

"

"Jones: Well, that's all right. I'm glad it's there.

"

"Schwerdt: I know that people love to visit it. My daughter, who's also a very avid gardener, every time she comes to Wilmington from Pittsburgh, she spends time at the arboretum looking at various plants and deciding what she would do with her garden. The work they have done recently on the water feature is amazing. It's just beautiful the way they've rebuilt the pond. It's just a neat resource in the community.

"

"Jones: In the master's program, are you given advice or told what to do to conserve water--

"

"Schwerdt: Yes.

"

"Jones: -- and yet keep-- all right. Can you share any of that with us?

"

"Schwerdt: Well, I think most of what happens here is that people over water. They tend to over water their lawns, and you see this frequently driving around on a rainy day. People are still watering their lawns.

"

"Jones: They have their automatic sprinklers set, I think.

"

"Schwerdt: They're set, and they don't have-- you can get a detector that detects that there's been rain so that it would shut it off for those days. So that's one of the things. Runoff into the retention ponds and creeks and waterways is an issue. People tend to over fertilize. That's another problem. Now, to some extent, you have to fertilize a lot more here with the sandy soil because it just runs through.

"

"Jones: I know. (laughing) What type of grass would you say is the easiest or least difficult to maintain or grow here?

"

"Schwerdt: Centipede.

"

"Jones: Centipede, and it's the slowest growing. Is it?

"

"Schwerdt: Yeah, it doesn't need quite as much mowing as Bermuda or Zoysia. And it's more like-- it's sort of more like a weed than a lawn.

"

"Jones: It is, right.

"

"Schwerdt: And it's fairly durable and doesn't need a lot of water.

"

"Jones: I'll talk to you about that later. (laughing)

"

"Schwerdt: That's what we have. Now, the other problem though is that you have weeds.

"

"Jones: Lots of them.

"

"Schwerdt: At the moment, we're having a terrible problem with Nutsedge in the lawn. There's these little nut seed balls, and they just-- it's taking over the Centipede, and it's pretty hard to get rid of.

"

"Jones: When you say "we," are you talking about Hanover County?

"

"Schwerdt: No, I'm talking about my particular lawn.

"

"Jones: You personally. I have noticed; I was talking to someone recently is supposed to be an authority. He has his own company on lawns and so forth, and he's a trouble shooter. And he said as of last year, when we had drought and we had forest cutbacks on water usage that the Centipede was a big problem. That because the soil is sandy that there was some kind of disease or something that was traveling from lawn to lawn to lawn in a neighborhood. And now it's big patches of sand everywhere. And he said that there's nothing anybody can do about it. And I thought, that's terrible. I mean, you can go someplace and get some fast green stuff, but that's expensive.

"

"Schwerdt: It's probably talking about large patch, or some people call it brown patch. And it's caused by too much fertilizer and pooling of water on the lawn. And that's been bad. It's a fungus, and it does travel from lawn to lawn and especially if there's a lawn service company that does all the lawns say, in a neighborhood and goes from one to the other. They can spread that fungus. (laughing)

"

"Jones: (laughing) That's not a good thing. So you say that too much watering-- and a lot of people around here, because they're working or their lawns are large; they're larger here than let's say up north and the east, that they do have the automatic sprinklers. And I too, I've laughed my head off sometimes going home and seeing somebody that's in a rainstorm and their sprinklers are all over the place. I don't know whether they're home where they can turn it off or what. But so over watering is a problem. What grows easiest here? Tell me about Oleander. Is it true that as beautiful as it is, it's poisonous?

"

"Schwerdt: I always wear gloves when I prune it. I don't know if it's--

"

"Jones: That's a hint.

"

"Schwerdt: I've heard that it's poisonous, but I don't know what part of it is for sure. But it's a wonderful plant; the flowers are magnificent. It's durable. And it sometimes gets winter kill, and when we have a severe winter. But you can cut it back and--

"

"Jones: It comes right back again. (laughing)

"

"Schwerdt: Yeah, it's a great plant.

"

"Jones: It's like Jack and the Beanstalk.

"

"Schwerdt: Now the other really nice plant down here is the knockout roses. They're prolific in terms of the blooms, and they bloom all summer long.

"

"Jones: Is that what you call them, knockout roses?

"

"Schwerdt: Yes.

"

"Jones: That's not just your term?

"

"Schwerdt: I believe that's the official term. That's not the Latin term, but it's a very common, colorful shrub, and they get big. They get quite large.

"

"Jones: What about certain things that seem to be indigenous to this area, like--

"

"Schwerdt: White Myrtles.

"

"Jones: Like what?

"

"Schwerdt: White Myrtles.

"

"Jones: Yeah, that but also like the Ladybank Roses that spread or the Confederate Jasmine that just becomes prolific. You can't kill it and that kind of thing. It smells good, but I guess Oleander-- being the South, Oleander sounds very southern. Jasmine sounds very southern.

"

"Schwerdt: I haven't had a lot of experience with that.

"

"Jones: People who come down here want to have a southern garden. They have to, I guess, to exist.

"

"Schwerdt: I like the Crepe Myrtles. I think those are quite attractive.

"

"Jones: They're pretty.

"

"Schwerdt: And there's a lot of dispute over how you should prune them or whether you should prune them, but they're quite nice.

"

"Jones: Well, that's interesting. So actually, you do have a service there at the arboretum. You do have a hotline.

"

"Schwerdt: Yes.

"

"Jones: Do you have people who are manning the hotline that have specialties in one area over another, or does whoever answer the phone, they can answer almost any question put to them if they've been through the master's course?

"

"Schwerdt: We try. We're not always-- we many times have to draw on the staff, like Ken Wells, to get the correct answer or Ci Ci.

"

"Jones: Who do you take the soil samples to?

"

"Schwerdt: They get sent off to NC State, I believe.

"

"Jones: Interesting.

"

"Schwerdt: It's a good service to the community.

"

"Jones: All right, now you've spent 30 hours a week at the railroad museum. How many hours a week are left for you to be out of bed that you can spend at the arboretum?

"

"Schwerdt: Well lately, I've only been volunteering there one day a month on the hotline. So that's three hours a month. Before I got this involved with the railroad museum, I did spend more time than that, probably about 50 hours a week-- or I mean 50 hours a year is what I spend at the arboretum. And then I also work-- I've done a lot of work in our little neighborhood community, building a database of names, addresses, and phone numbers and e-mail addresses that [inaudible].

"

"Jones: Do you have a citizens' association there, homeowners association.

"

"Schwerdt: Yes, homeowner's association. So I've been doing that. I did that for a number of years. And I also did a quarterly newsletter for the neighborhood.

"

"Jones: Well, you are busy. Now, is your wife as busy? Does she see you? Does she complain about this, or is she just glad to have you out of her hair?

"

"Schwerdt: No, I think she's borderline complaining lately. (laughing) But she's my cheerleader. I mean, she keeps me going, and I think she's happy that I'm happy and doing something productive and useful.

"

"Jones: How do you like living down here? Obviously, you do.

"

"Schwerdt: Oh, I love it. I mean I'd never go back. And she's actually-- my wife, Carla, is really one of the reasons that we're here. I think I probably wouldn't have moved if she hadn't pressured me a little bit. And I'm just so glad that she did, because it's just been great to be here.

"

"Jones: As a transplant, what-- name a couple of things, aside from what you're involved in, that you felt was worth moving, completely moving from one type of living to another to southeastern North Carolina. What were you looking for, and what did you find here?

"

"Schwerdt: Well, one of my concerns, quite frankly, was I was afraid of culture shock. We lived near Boston and the Boston area. And that's a real mecca for every kind of culture going. And the surprise and the shock was that Wilmington has as much to offer, and it's so much more accessible than Boston. And we just-- the art community is great. The theatre, there's just so many galleries. We love going to Thalian Hall. We were there at Cinematique last evening. It's just a great, great art community.

"

"Jones: Are you involved in any with Dr. Funk over the concert center?

"

"Schwerdt: No, I'm not. (laughing) I've got my hands full.

"

"Jones: I would think so, because that's a full-time job for him, I think.

"

"Schwerdt: Yeah, which is partly why he's sort of slowed down a little bit at the railroad museum and has sort of allowed me to take over as president.

"

"Jones: You brought with you a list. Obviously, you did your homework. What would you like to add that we haven't covered that you think is-- tell us a little bit more about you or what you're interested in or anything like that.

"

"Schwerdt: Well, I did make a list of just little-- I love to make lists.

"

"Jones: Go ahead.

"

"Schwerdt: And I guess one of the interesting things in my background is my mom and dad, they emigrated from Germany in 1929.

"

"Jones: Oh, they were lucky to get out then.

"

"Schwerdt: And they met on the boat.

"

"Jones: Oh, did they?

"

"Schwerdt: Yeah, which is sort of a neat story in itself. My mother was going to Salt Lake City. She was a Latter Day Saint, and my dad was--

"

"Jones: She was in Germany, and she was a Latter Day Saint in Germany.

"

"Schwerdt: She was in Germany, yeah. There were a lot of missionaries at the time.

"

"Jones: What part of Germany did she come from?

"

"Schwerdt: She was from Bielefeld, which is sort of middle-- central Germany. And my dad was a mechanical engineer, so he wound up in Brooklyn and then eventually Pennsylvania. And my mother wound up in Salt Lake City. And they corresponded, and eventually my mom moved East, and they got married in 1935. But I think just meeting on the boat was kind of a really neat story. It was the Columbus was the name of the ship.

"

"Jones: That's amazing that they met on a boat, yeah. I'll be darned.

"

"Schwerdt: Yeah. And my dad has kind of been a role model in many ways.

"

"Jones: Was he also an engineer?

"

"Schwerdt: He was an engineer; he was mechanical. But he sort of helped me pay attention to detail and to be fiscally responsible and he was just always there to show me things and let me take things apart and help me put them back together.

"

"Jones: Well, that was handy. Was your mother always-- remained an LDS?

"

"Schwerdt: No, when they got married she became-- well, my dad was Lutheran, and she was LDS. And then they became Evangelical Reform and joined a local church in Pennsylvania, which is where I grew up.

"

"Jones: That's interesting, so they were coming here not to escape anything were they, or in a way.

"

"Schwerdt: Well, it was a bad economy, although there was a bad economy here also.

"

"Jones: Did they have any-- yeah. I was saying; that was the beginning. Did they have relatives here or friends here or just they were--

"

"Schwerdt: Well, my mother came with her sister and her brother. And I think she had an aunt or so in Salt Lake, but she basically came as an au pair for a fairly well known, well to do family in Salt Lake City. And my dad, I think, had a relative or two here.

"

"Jones: That's a lot of courage, to pick up--

"

"Schwerdt: Well, and they were young. They were like 19-years-old.

"

"Jones: Yeah, you can do it then.

"

"Schwerdt: But they left their family. I mean, their mom and dads--

"

"Jones: But that's what courageous. You're going to a whole new country, different everything and saying goodbye. That is courageous in a way, but they did things then. Now they live at home until they're 50. (laughing)

"

"Schwerdt: Well, in a way moving to Wilmington was courageous, because we had kids in Massachusetts. We still have-- I have two granddaughters and my daughter and her husband live in Sturbridge, Massachusetts. And my other daughter lives in Pittsburgh.

"

"Jones: Well, that's close enough to drive to.

"

"Schwerdt: Yes, but there was a bit of a--

"

"Jones: Separation, yeah.

"

"Schwerdt: Separation, yeah, although, they love the beach. They love to come visit, and Wilmington is a great place to visit, the beach, the river, the river walk.

"

"Jones: See, they'll never say goodbye to you and mean it, because they'll always be here with the beach. Anything else on your list?

"

"Schwerdt: No, I think we've covered a lot of my list. (laughing)

"

"Jones: I was waiting for you to come up with some nugget there. (laughing)

"

"Schwerdt: Well, I don't know if there's any nuggets here or not.

"

"Jones: Well, you've been interesting. This is-- you've basically gone from-- let me go back to your first jobs or your first two associations with building air traffic control systems. Are you speaking of the way they communicate with planes to land them and have them take off, patterns, or the electronic devices that are used to track all of this? That, to me, is-- being an air traffic controller, number one, to me I've always been told and thought that you're going to lose your mind really quickly (laughing) doing that. Now, you say you didn't do that; you built things or you built operations or something. Talk a bit about that and get us on track.

"

"Schwerdt: Well, I helped design and build the systems that the air traffic controllers used, designing the software, designing the computer-human interface. I spent a lot of time, most recently, working with controllers on a new system for the U.S. And that was a very interesting experience, working very closely with the controllers and the controlling unions to develop a whole new system of-- or a more modern system of control. The other thing we did-- Raytheon built systems for countries around the world, and I did a lot of traveling in my professional career.

"

"Jones: So you would have to share this operation type style, wouldn't you, with other countries? I mean, how can you have one plane leave our-- the country and expect to interact with somebody else, some other country?

"

"Schwerdt: Yes, there are provisions to transfer data between the different nations.

"

"Jones: You mentioned having been to Russia was it in this capacity as developing a system for air traffic control?

"

"Schwerdt: Yes. Yeah, we were-- they were interesting in upgrading their system. And a group from the United States went over there, and this was early in the '70s. It was one of the early visits. It was before Glasnost, before they really opened the door. It was still very much a Communist nation. And I was there on two different occasions, once in July and once in December. I really enjoyed Russia. I thought it was a very interesting country to visit. We did not win the contract for their upgrade. And Italian company-- Italian and Swedish combination company won it. We were bidding with UNIVAC and IBM, and I guess they weren't quite ready to do business with the U.S. at that point in time.

"

"Jones: That must have been-- it was in the early '70s. Your travel within the country must have been very controlled or even within the cities. Was it?

"

"Schwerdt: Yes.

"

"Jones: How did you feel about that? You expected it; I'm sure.

"

"Schwerdt: It was exciting, in a way. I took the train (laughing) to Leningrad from Moscow by myself and met an agent on the train. She came to visit me one evening to chat and drink vodka. That was sort of interesting.

"

"Jones: You say an agent, a Russian?

"

"Schwerdt: Yes, a Russian. And spending as much time as I did there, it was-- I got to know the people at the hotel and got tickets to the ballet. I went to the ballet six different times, and it was kind of neat. It was an interesting experience.

"

"Jones: I imagine so.

"

"Schwerdt: And the people were uncertain as to how to deal with us, I think. I mean, they were somewhat reluctant to really open up. But we had also invited them to the United States and show them what we did over here.

"

"Jones: Did they come?

"

"Schwerdt: They did, yes. And this was a return favor basically, and they allowed us to take pictures of their systems and their radars and things, which I don't think many people in the West had had that opportunity to do before.

"

"Jones: No. That's amazing.

"

"Schwerdt: So when I got home, I had a visit from the CIA. (laughing)

"

"Jones: I wonder why. (laughing) Well, it's amazing to me that you didn't have a visit before you went as well.

"

"Schwerdt: No.

"

"Jones: I'm sure that the company you worked for had had enough dos and don'ts that sort of thing, or did you? Were you given any kind of profile as to what to look for and not to do?

"

"Schwerdt: Well, we were given a lot of what not to do. I mean, don't sell blue jeans. Don't [inaudible] money. (laughing)

"

"Jones: Don't take up with strange agents on the train.

"

"Schwerdt: And I also visited other countries, I mean, Japan, South Africa, Mexico.

"

"Jones: All for the same thing.

"

"Schwerdt: Most countries have an air traffic control system.

"

"Jones: They would have to, I guess.

"

"Schwerdt: I was in Iran back with the Shah was still in power. I went to Saudi Arabia once for a three-day meeting that took three weeks.

"

"Jones: Why?

"

"Schwerdt: Because they just-- time doesn't mean anything or they always had an excuse. They couldn't meet today. Come back tomorrow, so you come back tomorrow and it was come back the day after tomorrow and then it's-- but I enjoyed traveling. And that's probably one of the things that I miss a little bit about not working anymore is the travel.

"

"Jones: When you did travel to these countries, were you allowed-- you must have seen their operations, how they did things.

"

"Schwerdt: Yes.

"

"Jones: Would you say that we were far more advanced or that you could pick out different things that you learned from these various countries and how they did it as well?

"

"Schwerdt: Well, sort of the discouraging thing and frustrating thing, in many cases, the systems that we were proposing to some of these countries, especially European countries, were far more advanced than anything the FAA had.

"

"Jones: Really?

"

"Schwerdt: Yeah, so it was embarrassing when they came to visit us and to see what we were working with at the time. This is mostly in the '70s and the '80s, compared to what we were doing-- or proposing and actually doing for countries like Norway and Germany and Denmark.

"

"Jones: Why do you suppose it was that way that they were-- that some of these countries would be far more-- we're so used to thinking big globally, that we're the biggest; we're the best; we're the most advanced, and then to find that we're possibly not always.

"

"Schwerdt: I think it has a lot to do with bureaucracy. Bureaucracy and unions don't like change. I mean, they really resist change, and it's very hard to accept something different. Whereas countries like Germany or Norway, they also have a fairly bureaucratic government, but they're more streamlined and more willing to make important changes in technology. Now, the U.S. has come a long way since those days, but I think there's still some issues.

"

"Jones: Interesting. Do you keep in touch with a lot of these people, your friends from your Boston days?

"

"Schwerdt: Interestingly, shortly after we moved here, I got a card that was forwarded from my Massachusetts address from somebody that saw a picture of me in the paper down here. And he had retired 10 years earlier and was living in Wilmington. And so he said, "You must have been visiting or something, because I saw your picture." And I said, "No, I live here now." (laughing) And I do keep in touch with a number of friends.

"

"Jones: There's been certain statistics kept. They're loose, but it does seem that the northeast is providing most of our transplants down here. Mainly, we've joked that Long Island has moved down completely all by itself. (laughing)

"

"Schwerdt: And New Jersey.

"

"Jones: And New Jersey, yes. It used to Connecticut, but now a lot of people from Massachusetts, and anyway.

"

"Schwerdt: Yeah.

"

"Jones: Well, Mr. Schwerdt, thank you so much for spending this time. This is very interesting, and I do wish you well about the railroad museum. It is an important part of our history. When I say "ours," I'm talking southeastern North Carolina, and that's what we're involved with here. And I'm glad that there's someone like you who is sort of at the helm and also the arboretum. I'm going to pay a little more attention to that place from now on. (laughing) I don't think we've ever talked to anybody who's done the kind of work you have, so this is a plus.

"

"Schwerdt: Well, thank you very much for inviting me.

"

"Jones: It's been our pleasure.

"

"Schwerdt: I've enjoyed it.

" ""

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