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Orange Groves, Rattlesnakes, and a Lynching

I-4 was empty, snakes were plentiful, and if you went downtown you would see colored fountains and white fountains. There was no paving of the streets in the black areas only in the white. A visit to Windermere, which was all orange groves at the time, included a stop at a clubhouse where on the wall was a painting of a lynching.

Those were the  days of boom and bust for the Martin Company when Dr. Patz came to Orlando to investigate the discharge of the charge particle in the chamber, a Martin project in Orlando.  He says in the early days, the Martin Company would hire like mad for two years then when the contracts were gone they would let people go and housing was cheap.  Dr. Patz recalls going through two to three cycles of Martin boom and bust, each one getting less pronounced. Regarding his work at the Martin Company, he says, “I worked with some really good people. I remember Orville Kyle, Ralph Rotersen … my immediate supervisor was Cliff Strain.”

He recalls his first trip on I-4 while traveling with his boss, Jim Litton. The highway was empty and then a truck appeared full of kids. The truck driver crossed  from one side of I-4 to the other going to pick oranges in the groves. Litton had all he could do to miss hitting the truck.

When Patz came to the area, the Industrial Park was just being built. He says, “You could see rattlesnakes most times we’d go. You’d have to be careful. And alligators in the canals. You’d have to be careful there too.”

He says he remembers going over to where Lancaster Elementary was and walking through the field there and there were snakes everywhere. They would stick their heads up over the tall grass that would be a couple of feet high. One day the kids were there and said there’s a snake under this walkway and sure enough there’s a big water moccasin, about 6 feet long. But you couldn’t take it to Gatorland because they wanted 7 foot or longer.

Hear more about life in Orlando in the early sixties in  this excerpt  (8:48) from an oral history interview with Dr. Benjamin Patz on October 31, 2011. 

Before moving to Orlando, research scientist Dr. Benjamin Patz worked at Martin Marietta in Middle River on Orlando’s Charge Particle Accelerometer Project. Specifically, he was asked to calculate what the discharge rate would be due to cosmic rays. When he first came to Orlando he came down in 1963-64 to investigate the discharge of the charge particle in a 1 centimeter cube.

Dr. Benjamin Patz’s scientific contributions to our area include working in the GENESYS Program at Cape Canaveral, Lockheed Martin, teaching at the Naval Training Equipment Center, Rollins College, and the University of Central Florida. His students from the Department of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science at UCF recall Professor Patz as a patient teacher who spent diligent time with everyone, undergraduate or graduate. In the GENESYS Program at the Cape his students were people working at Martin Marietta and NASA. Dr. Patz says, “They had interesting problems they would discuss with you… It was a good chance to go over control systems, electromagnetic fields, the boundary value problems.”

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Dr. Benjamin W. Patz, Martin Marietta Company
1967 photo of Dr. Benjamin W. Patz, center, in a meeting with Martin engineers, management, and research scientists on the Solar Probe...
The Martin Company
Photo of the new Martin Company plant on Sand Lake Road completed in January 1958.
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