Michael Antares (this site is no longer being updated -transferring to michaelantares.online)

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Blog

Life Story

At age 89, as this is written, a lot has happened.
I was born July 5 1932 in Saint Joseph hospital in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and named Michael Joseph Felgen. My father, Erwin George Felgen, worked for Bell Telephone as a lineman--a pole climber--but also played saxaphone well enough to play in a band. His father Michael Felgen, whom I was named after, immigrated from Luxemburg around 1880 and homesteaded in Barnum, a small town in northern Minneasota. Here's a picture of him on his buckboard taken in the 1800's and another of him and his wife (my grandmother)in 1938 . They were in their eightes then.
My grandfather about 1880
My grandfather--about 1880
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My grandfather and grandmother, 1936

"My mother, Kathleen Mary Rager, who was his third wife, also worked for Bell Telephone as a telephone operator. She was 26 when I was born. Her family, going back to at least 1805, was from Coshocton, Ohio. Coming from a farming family, she had only one year of High School. Here are pictures of my mother and father when they were older--I don't have earlier pictures.
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My mother, date unknown

My sister Jacqueline was born 14 months later. When I was three we moved to Geneseo Illinois, then shortly after, my father and mother purchased a night club outside of Brainerd Minneasota and named it the Lonesome Pine Nightclub. There was a large dance floor containing a player piano and a slot machine. Once in a while my sister and I were given a few coins to play the slot machine, something we always looked forward to.

Both of my parents were severe disciplinarians, not unusual for the times (spare the rod and spoil the child) but my reaction was to spend a lot of time outdoors, a good bit of it in the top of a tree. I loved the wind that swayed the top of the trees.

When I was five my parents separated. As settlement my mother got the nightclub.She continued to run it, now as a restaurant. In 1938 she put it up for sale but before the sale was complete the nightclub burned to the ground--see the newspaper accounts of both:
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After the night club burned my mother moved us to a small resort outside of Merrifield MN, close to Brainard. She became ill and was unable to work and started to receive welfare (we were on welfare most of the time until I completedf High School).We lived in a tent during the summer and moved into a small house during the winter when we were the only people living there other than the owners.
When I turned seven I entered first grade. The school was a typical one-room country school and it was located a long country mile from the resort. I went barefoot all summer, even going to school barefoot until the first snowfall. I remember one time that it snowed while I was in school so had to walk home barefoot through the snow. Then the first really traumatic event of my life happened. My mother became ill enough that she sent my sister and I to live with her relatives. I ended up living with my uncle Roy and aunt Pearl in their home outside of Minneapolis. They had two children of their own, Robert, one year younger than me, and Carolyn, six years younger. I stayed with them until I was nine, then returned to live with my mother who rented an apartment in Minneapolis and worked as a telephone operator. This was 1941. On December 7th, my mother sent me down to the store to buy a bottle of milk. Everyone in the store was listening to the radio as the news about Pearl Harbor was broadcast. My father, as I later learned, was at Pearl Harbor working as a telephone repairman. He was awarded a citation for repairing overhead telephone lines while the Japanese were strafing.

Around 9 years old my interest in science, nature, and model airplane building began. My mother would give me a quarter for lunch. With that I could buy a 10 cent model airplane, a 10 cent hamburger, and a 5 cent big dill pickle. Typically, I would buy a model of a Japanese Zero fighter or a German Stuka dive bomber. I would quickly build them (not very well), light their tails on fire, and throw them off of our second story balcony, making machine gun sounds as they crashed to the ground. I and my friends also carved pistols from orange crate wood, our favorite being the German Luger because we thought it looked really cool.

At age 10 I became a paper boy, delivering morning, evening, and Sunday papers for about $4 to $5 a week. My mother took the money and used it to buy clothes for me. When I turned 12, two traumas happened. Our original apartment building had been in a four-alarm fire so we were forced to move to another--I panicked for years when I heard a fire siren. In the back of the building was the remains of another with just the covered basement still there. It was a haven for rats because people threw their trash into the basement. I have a vivid memory of getting up one morning to start my paper route and seeing a rat trying to crawl out of a garbage can. I raced over, grabbed the garbage can cover and trapped the rat between the cover and the garbage can, then tried to reach something to hit him with. The only thing I could reach was a dried slice of bread. I kept hitting him with the bread until he at least became unconscious. Whether he died or not, I don't know.

The next huge trauma was that I was sent to live with an uncle and aunt living on a simple dairy farm in central Wisconsin.
The farm had no electriciy or running water. Food was cooked on a wood-burning stove. Their home was heated with a stove in the living room using either wood or coal. Without electricity the cows were milked by hand. I got to milk three of them. My uncle would wake me at 4:30 so I could jump into my clothes and run down to the barn. My bedroom was on the second floor and, in the winter, was heated only by the kitchen stove pipe running through it. Their home was not insulated so, in the winter, I would often wake to snow inside my bedroom under the window. I would jump out of all the blankets piled on my bed, run over to the stovepipe and tie my long-johns around it, then jump back under the covers. When the long-johns were warmed up, I would again jump out of bed and into the long-johns, then run down to the barn and cuddle in the haunch of the cow I was milking. The cow's haunch was wonderfully warm. The first year my uncle plowed with a horse and tried to harvest using a scythe. He quickly invested in a small tractor. Finally the REA (the Rural Electrification Administration) installed electric poles and we had power. No more hand milking, no more kerosene lanterns for light, no more battery powered radio. The telephone still was a party line one meaning everyone's phone rang when anyone called and you could pick up your phone and listen in.

When I turned 14 I came down with scarlet fever and became seriously ill. My mother now was well enough to bring my sister and I back to live with her, renting a small apartment in Wisconsin Rapids. She wasn't well enought to work and so we lived on welfare, at that time called "being on relief". My scarlet fever turned into rheumatic fever and I was confined to bed for over a year. Rheumatic fever was often fatal and, at one point, I received the last rites as I was close to death. Penicillin, invented during the war, saved my life.

Career

From age 14 until age 86, a long life of electronics.
The doctor who was treating me for Rheumatic fever--see my life story for details of my illness--gave me an old radio to take apart believing that electronics might provide me with a career I could do with limited physical capabilities because of my illness. I was 14 at the time. Two of my friends and I started building more and more elaborate crystal sets. These involved getting a "hot" crystal made of galena and probing it with a "cat whisker". Here's a picture of a popular cat whisker device:
Cat whisker
Cat whisker crystal detector

After a year or so I added a vacuum tube amplifier to the crystal set and it now had enough volume to connect to a speaker instead of headphones. I was incredibly excited when it started working. I then moved on to building radios with several tubes and finally got interested in ham radio.
At age 16 I passed the written exam plus the 13 words a minute morse code test and became a ham with a call sign of W9DEB. I purchased a Hallicrafter's S-38 ham receiver and a war surplus transmitter with money I received as a paper boy and theatre usher. For the hams reading this, I was on 40 meters CW. I didn't have enough money to buy a transmitter that had voice capability.
S-38 radio
S-38 receiver, 1940's vintage
Command transmitter
SCR-274-N transmitter, WWII vintage

At age 18 I joined the Air Force. I was trained in electronics theory, radar, and radiation instrument maintenance and repair at Keesler AFB in Biloxi MS. From there, in February 1952, I was stationed on the top of a mountain in western Honshu, Japan as part of the 527th Aircraft Control and Warning Group. I spent 2 1/2 years there during the Korean War as a heavy ground radar mechanic. Back in the US I was discharged from the AF in April 1955. You can read much more about my time in the Air Force and Japan in my life story section. Here are pictures of two radars I worked on in Japan.
CPS-1 radar
CPS-1 radar
fps-3 radar
FPS-3 radar

In 1956, at age 24, I was hired by the Philco Corporation in Philadelphia as a Field Engineer. We were referred to as "Philco TechReps". I was first sent to Fort Knox KY where I was responsible for providing guidance and instruction to the same AF heavy ground radar mechanics that I had been. I stayed three years there and then was sent to Fort Bliss in El Paso Texas to become an instructor. After several weeks of learning how to be an instructor in the army--very structured, I was assigned to teach army personnel how to maintain and repair a van-mounted radar that controlled a 120mm antiaircraft gun. The radar also contained a large analog computer that computed the necessary trajectory for aiming the gun. The students mostly consisted of National Guard personnel on their two week annual immersion into the army plus foreign nationals. I stayed there until close to the end of 1959 when I was approached by a head hunter from Convair Astronautics in San Diego asking if I wanted to instruct for them. I would move to a much more pleasant place to live plus make more money. I agreed.
In December 1959, now at age 27, we moved to San Diego. California has been my home ever since. I once again went through instructor training this time to conform to the requirements of Convair. I was to teach Air Force officers the launch control of the first operational Atlas ICBM's located at Vandenburg AFB outside of Santa Maria. I was part of an instructor pool where each of us learned and taught a specific function involved in launching the liquid fueled Atlas D. I was assigned to teach the launch control of the re-entry vehicle (a euphimism for the nuclear warhead) and the engines. The officers ranged in rank all the way to a one star general. For someone who had been an enlisted man it was hard not to be intimidated by their rank but it never became an issue. As you have no doubt seen in movies, the launch complex was a large room filled with dozens of consoles, each console performing a specific task. Our responsibility was to teach what all the lights and buttons did during a launch. It was exciting for me to enter into the world of aerospace. The thought that I was teaching someone how to launch a vehicle that could kill millions of people didn't detract from the thrill. Here's a picture of the Atlas ICBM.
Atlas ICBM
Atlas ICBM

In September of 1959 I was contacted by the Philco Corporation asking if I was interested in re-joining Philco at a location in Palo Alto. I would retain my time already spent at Philco and would start as an regular engineer. Again I would get an increase in pay. It was an offer too hard to resist. We packed our things and headed up the coast to Palo Alto in the San Francisco Bay area where I still live. Again I accepted their offer.
Nine months later, in September 1959 we again moved, this time to Sunnyvale CA to be close to Palo Alto. Being new to the bay area, we rented a home while we got our bearings. I started work as an engineer at the Western Development Labs. My first assignment was to work on the Discoverer program, see description of Discoverer program. This was a spy satellite that took pictures, then dropped the pictures over the ocean using a parachute that was grabbed out of the air by an airplane. We worked on the transponder that was used by the aircraft to locate the falling canister containing the film. At one point I actually was able to ride in a test flight. Later I worked on various communication satellite projects and, for a while, was in charge of a microwave test lab after I was promoted to senior engineer. In the mid-sixties WDL was purchases by Ford and the name changed to Philco Ford Corporation. I was promoted again to project engineer, spent a very intense week learning digital electronics (integrated circuits were just starting to be used) and was put in charge of testing the in-process electronics of the Lunar Surface Magnetometer (LSM). It was incredibly exciting for a young engineer to be part of the Apollo program! I needed to design test fixtures and test methods to test the various modules of the LSM, then test the completed electronics including temperature tests. The completed electronics was worth a million dollars in 1960's dollars. Since the electronics contained modules that required 28 volts and others that required 5 volts, the engineer doing the testing was often covered in sweat since, if the two test leads carrying the two voltages touched each other, a million dollars would be lost in a few microseconds, along with many, many, hours of work. Fortunately this never happened. Here is a picture of the LSM sitting on the moon.
LSM
LSM on the moon

Around the same time I became friends with Al Giddings, an underwater photographer, see Al's web site.
While still at Ford Aerospace, I became an avid scuba diver. I met Al at a dive club meeting where he showed one of his films. He was using an underwater light that would not illuminate the entire scene. I went up to him after the meeting and suggested that I could design and build a light that would light the entire scene. He agree to have me build one. I ended up using a 400 watt helicopter landing light powered by a huge NiCad battery pack that more than did the job. He asked if I wanted to collaborate with him to design and build a general purpose movie light. He designed the housing and I manufactured the battery pack in my garage. He marketed it as the Cinestar 20 movie light.

One night, after drinking a sizable amount of Stolichnaya vodka that I had gotten earlier at the Montreal World's Fair, I had a eureka moment. All the rechargeable underwater lights currently on the market required opening to charge the batteries. This broke the watertight seal and, if not put back together correctly, would cause the light to leak and potentially fail. I realized that there was a way to recharge without opening it. Although it was late evening, I called Al. He drove down, heard my idea and the next day constructed a plastic housing. I built the battery pack and we tried it out. With some tweaking it worked. He then asked me if I wanted to join him as a business partner and, once again, I agreed. This was a huge life change for me. I'll leave my personal changes out of this section. They were major and they're shared in my Life Story section.


I was now a co-owner of Al's company. The name was changed to Giddings Felgen, Inc. My side of the company was to use my electronics knowledge to design lighting products. This included an underwater strobe called the "Sea Star" but most of all the Sea Light. We hired Heiko DeMan, a top plastics mold designer, to design the injection molded housing, spent $25K on molds and committed to building 500 units. They were immediately sold. In the end they were cataloged and sold by U.S. Divers, AMF Voit, and Sears. The light became our most succesful product.

Long Walk

A solo walk from San Francisco to New York city in 1987.
In the fall of 1986 UNICEF (the United Nations Children’s Fund) sponsored an around-the-world torch run, titled “The First Earth Run” Watch a video about it here. Native Americans started the flame using flint. The torch was carried on the east and west coasts but not in the interior of the US. I worked for UNICEF under the direction of Oz Crosby doing logistical planning for the portion of the run that took place between San Jose, California and San Francisco. The flame was maintained in three miner’s lamps. One of the lamps had to be opened to get at the flame in order to light the torch. When the lamp was opened it was very susceptible to being extinguished by the slightest breeze. Even with two lamps as backups it could get quite scary on occasion when two of the three lamps were accidentally extinguished. This happened on the San Jose to San Francisco run.

After the run had completed in December, an NGO I was part of, Pathways To Peace, with help from members of the Baha’i faith retained the flame with the intention of establishing a perpetual peace flame in San Francisco. The flame had been continuously burning now for several months.

At this time I was renting a room in a home outside of Sebastopol, a small town some 55 miles north of San Francisco. I owned an old car that barely ran. I often drove to a restaurant some five miles away for dinner, not having the desire (or ability, for that manner) to gather food and prepare it.

On this occasion, just at dusk, as I had done so many times in the past, I walked to my car prepared to drive to the restaurant. My car refused to start. I now had two choices. Go hungry or walk to the restaurant.

I decided to walk. It didn’t seem like that big of a deal. The road was a winding country road. I should be able to walk the five miles in an hour or so. I had no awareness that this short walk would change my life forever

I found the walk to the restaurant pleasant though it seemed long. After I finished my meal and headed back, dusk had turned to night. The sky was filled with brilliant stars. It was December but it wasn’t cold. I walked, thinking about the new relationship I was in, and thinking back to my time volunteering with UNICEF on the First Earth Run. It saddened me that so few people showed up along the route between San Jose and San Francisco even though we had distributed over 4000 flyers. There were more police guarding the crowds in Hong Kong than Americans along the more than 40 miles. In the midst of these thoughts a new radically different thought entered, coming as a vision. I would carry the eternal flame back to the UN. I would do it by walking the more than 3000 miles. The flame was a flame of peace so I would do a walk of peace.

After the initial excitement passed the vision seemed a bit crazy. The longest I had ever walked in one day was 14 miles hiking with a friend in Yosemite Park. I would turn 55 this coming summer. I was an engineer living a relatively sedentary life and I was in the midst of a new relationship. I could come up with dozens of reasons not to act on this vision. However the vision came with overwhelming intensity. It refused to go away. It was exciting to consider doing something that defied logic and would take an enormous amount of personal strength, physical, emotional, and mental.

My book is too long to add all of it to this website. Instead I am including a download link so you can download the entire book if you wish.