Les Home NBJ Ka-Band Living Stereo jOrgan Organ Design Raymond Scott
Ralph Deutsch – California, For Good This Time

After that horrible winter storm, my father resigned from Philco and did consulting work for several months at Raytheon in Boston. Employment opportunities were tough – until the launch of Sputnik in October 1957. Then all the aerospace companies began hiring again! (Ironically, I would later be an official NASA participant in the Moscow celebration of 50th anniversary the of that first Sputnik Launch!)

My parents decided to move back to Los Angles. My father flew on ahead, found a job at the Systems Development Corporation (SDC) in Santa Monica, and rented a house.

Rather than moving with my father, my mother and I flew to Ann Arbor to visit her mother. We flew out to join him on the Fourth of July 1958. I remember the two of us being the only passengers on the plane. I remember sitting in the plane’s lounge and playing with coloring books.

My father’s job at SDC was head of the Information Processing Branch. According to Wikipedia, SDC was considered the world’s first computer software company. It was a spin-off of the more famous RAND Corporation, also in Santa Monica (my wife would work at RAND much later.) My father worked on the SAGE missile defense system while at SDC. SAGE was by far the largest and most complex software system of its time.

When my mother and I arrived to join my father, we moved into a two-story rental house in Brentwood, on the West side of LA. I have some vague memories of that house. My bedroom was on the second floor. There was a landing that looked down onto the first floor – probably the living room. There was a piano in the house – hence we must have rented it as a furnished place. I can remember playing with a plastic train set on the second floor and winding the track between rooms.

In 1958, we moved into the house my father would occupy for the rest of his life. It was a brand new house in the hills of Sherman Oaks. The builder’s name was Manning Holoff and he had built several custom homes in the neighborhood. The neighborhood was so new that this was one of only a handful of homes on the street – maybe even the second.

This didn’t last long because I can remember having a few friends at that time that also lived on Scadlock Lane. The organ and model railroad were both installed in the house’s 20’x25’ sunken living room. I was given the small bedroom adjacent to my parent’s room.

I wasn’t an only child for long. My sister Barbara was born on August 24, 1959.

Some of my earliest memories of this home were of my father playing the trumpet and organ for me (not at the same time) while I rocked back and forth on my Wonder Horse.

Since my father spent most of his time at work and my mother didn’t want to send all day playing for me (she played the piano in her youth but pretty much gave it up after marrying my father), he made open reel tape recordings for my Wonder Horse sessions. I still have cassette transcriptions of many of these. I have irrefutable proof that my father was not a great organist! He was quite a good trumpeter, however. Most of the recordings were dubs of commercial records. Some of my favorites included Sousa marches, a record of the Boston Pops called “Opera Without Singers” in which the trumpet was usually giving the solo vocal parts, and the first two Liszt Hungarian Rhapsodies in orchestral settings. I also had quite an anthology of children’s songs – mostly about trains.

My other early memory from this period was about my father’s car. It was a gray Studebaker with a red plaid interior. I remember going on rides and staring at the upholstery, watching the plaid play tricks in the varying lighting. I also remember the air vents. They were simply two small doors under the dashboard on the left and right that opened to the outside. My mother said that this was his second Studebaker – maybe even his third! He would have continued to buy Studebakers if they had not gone out of business in 1963 (actually, they continued to be manufactured in Canada until 1966).

We used to go on weekly drives in the car, often along the mountain roads.

Our routes must have changed because in sometime around 1959, the state of California began excavating the land behind our house to create the Sepulveda Pass section of the San Diego Freeway (Interstate 405.) This was a massive construction project. My father used to say that more earth was moved than in the construction of the Panama Canal. The small hill that rose behind our house was going to be leveled by the State. My father got our immediate neighbors organized and petitioned the State to grade the land to match their existing properties. In this way, someday the land would be useful either to us or for building more homes. I watched the construction from our house. The State agreed to grade the land and soon there was an acre of play space at the house. I recall having one last giant “cowboys and Indians” play session with the neighborhood children on the site before it was fenced off. We used a mound of dirt as our fort. I think I left a toy pistol when we were done and it is now part of the freeway.

A few years later, the State agreed to sell this land to our neighbors and us. This gave us a huge lot – and room for the pool my father had always wanted. My father gave me the pool – though it was always problematic since it could not be moved. I remember telling my father, when later Karen and I installed our own pool, that I would have the dirt from our excavation sent to fill in his pool, completing the gift transfer.

My father made sure that Barbara and I always had plenty of toys. Mine were mostly construction toys. I had a large collection of Erector Sets because my father had them when he was young. I also had Lincoln Logs, American Bricks, Skyline, Girder and Panel, and (much later) Lego. I remember going with my mother, while my father was away on business, to the local FAO Schwartz toy store. Lego had just been introduced to the U.S. market and there was a large display where children could build with the bricks. My mother bought me a small set. After I demonstrated it for my father, he bought me the largest set available in the US at that time.

American Skyline construction set

My father also made sure I had the full compliment of science sets for children. I had many of the Remco Science sets. I remember really enjoying these. I also had a chemistry set - but I lost interest in that one quickly.

Remco science kits
One special toy I remember came later on. My father brought home a plastic kit that actually allowed us to build a digital computer. The toy was called Digicomp and was extremely clever. It had three bits of memory. Each bit consisted of a plastic bar that could be either have left or right displacement. The logic gates were implemented as vertical wire rods. Small pieces of plastic straws could be affixed to the bits that would selectively engage the rods when the “clock” was engaged. The clock consisted of an in-and-out motion on the white plastic plane near the bottom of the chassis. I would not fully appreciate how clever this was until I studied computer design with Carver Mead at Caltech later in life. Whoever came up with this toy was a true genius.


My father evidently resumed his periodic teaching at UCLA and USC. Occasionally he was asked to teach a course away from Los Angeles. I remember two occasions when he took the family on trips to accommodate these.

When I was around four or five, we spent a month is Tucson, Arizona. My father was participating in a seminar at the University of Arizona. My family lived in a motel. Each day my mother would take Barbara and I somewhere nearby. We also spent a lot of time in the motel’s pool. It was my first experience with a pool.

Leslie playing the Conn Artist organ and Barbara riding the Wonder Horse

In 1961, my father returned to Hughes where he worked in space information processing. More importantly, he published his first book, “Nonlinear Transformation of Random Processes” in 1961. This was clearly an area in which my father had been working for some time – dating back to his days at Willow Run. Prentice Hall was my father’s publisher and they encouraged him to write other books. This became a new career for my father.

It was also a new career for my mother. She typed all the drafts that were sent to the publisher. This was in the days before computers so she did this all on her portable Smith Corona electric typewriter. My father did all the equations using his Leroy Lettering set. This was not a standard skill for technical people. I learned this when I managed a large research organization at JPL. We had a staff artist who did this kind of work for 150 engineers.

Ralph Deutsch’s Leroy Lettering set

His second book, “Orbital Dynamics of Space Vehicles” was published by Prentice Hall in 1963. It reflected his more recent switch in career paths toward aerospace in general and satellites in particular. This book sold very well. It became one of the standard textbooks in space navigation. Later, when I came to work at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 1980, I saw it on many of the JPL navigators’ shelves. When I visited Japan to give a technical talk in 1991, several engineers at the Japanese Space Agency asked if I was the one who wrote the book. They knew it very well. When I went to Surrey Space Systems in Surrey, England, in 2001 to give a seminar, the other guest speaker knew of the book. His comment was that the book was good but he didn’t like the fact that my father had introduced a nonstandard notation system using funny symbols!

My father wrote several other books. “Estimation Theory” was published in 1965 and “Systems Analysis Techniques” in 1969. Several of his books were also translated into other languages. I recall him telling me that he was invited to go to the Soviet Union to collect royalties from a Russian version. As a Jew and technical expert, he thought this was ridiculous since he might never be allowed to return again!

One of my father’s short-lived hobbies was western leatherwork. At some point in my early youth, he purchased a full set of leatherworking tools and sheets of leather. He made several belts and even a purse for my mother. Then he put the tools away and never touched them again.

When I turned seven, my father bought me a trumpet and began teaching me to play. It was quite difficult having my father as a teacher. I’ll never understand how he taught university classes. I learned to play pretty well, playing first trumpet parts through high school and college. I still play the trumpet regularly.

We also spent many vacations in national parks. My father loved to photograph the parks and to go on long hikes. Luckily for me, he was not a camper. We always returned to a cozy hotel room at the end of each day. In 1966, when I was eleven, we went on a long national park vacation that began with a week in Monterey, California, so my father could teach a class at the Naval Postgraduate School. (When I also had a similar opportunity in the 90s, I told the class about my father having preceded me.) After the class was over, we continued driving, visiting Crater Lake, Glacier, Waterton Lakes, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, the Painted Desert, and the Petrified Forest.

My father was teaching me photography. He had given me his old Contax Camera. It must have dated back to before WWII. It had a box full of extra lenses and viewfinders. My father had purchased a nice new Nikon F Single Lens Reflex (SLR) camera for himself for the trip. While my father, sister, and I were hiking in Glacier, we came to a small stream that crossed the trail. My father demanded that I give him my camera so he could keep it dry in the crossing. I crossed without a problem but he tripped and dropped my camera into the stream! He let me share his Nikon for the remainder of the trip. When we returned home, we had the Contax serviced. They replaced the shutter, probably ruining its historic and collector value.

During this period, my father also started building a larger model railroad. He had disposed of the old layout from the living room and my mother had the room professionally decorated with all new furniture.

The new layout was to be much larger with complete scenery. Instead of being built on a sheet of plywood, it was constructed on an open girder framework fabricated from large wooden beams. Following an idea he had read about in Model Railroader, the layout was suspended on six heavy ropes through a pulley and winch system so it could be hoisted over the parked cars in our two-car garage when it was not in use. This worked very well except for two problems. At one point, a rope broke and the layout dented the roof of one of the family cars. Much later, when there was space for the layout in the house, we moved it to discover that the suspension had warped the sides quite a bit.

My father continued building models of sailing ships. I remember him building the Revell model of the USS Constitution. This was a special model for him because the original ship still sits in Boston Harbor. My father remembered contributing a penny to its restoration during the famous fundraiser of 1925.