Where Inquiry Meets Industry
From aircraft to Hollywood film editing, alumnus's problem-solving prowess makes an impact
by Tom Speicher, writer/video editor.
The room in back of the comfortable ranch house is consumed by a series of tannish bookshelves. The thin pieces of wood stretching toward the ceiling support a seemingly endless collection of books, binders, papers and magazines. Three file cabinets camouflage additional documents. A couple computers and their monitors crowd the gray desk. A framed, hand-sketched diagram of a security system circuit board hangs from the wall.
His wife might call the room “messy,” but for the occupant, everything is in order. The dusty resources on the shelves serve as reminders of past challenges and accomplishments. The modern tools at his fingertips provide a resource for today and tomorrow. For Glenwood Cheslock, the room is home. This is where the self-described “problem-solver” goes to work.
“I've had a lot of people say over the years, ‘You can't do this’ or ‘You can't do that.’”
“I’ve had a lot of people say over the years, ‘You can’t do this’ or ‘You can’t do that.’ I don’t believe in that,” Cheslock says as he shakes his head. “I’ve had a lot of fun solving problems. That’s really my forte.”
Even at an age when folks tend to relinquish some responsibilities in order to seek more leisurely pursuits, Cheslock puts his inquisitive mind and mechanical aptitude to work. The oil needs to be changed in his Ford Ranger? He’ll do it. The horn on his BMW R 1200 ST motorcycle isn’t loud enough? He buys and installs his own so it will blast. An engineering firm needs a power supply designed? He’ll devise it. After all, his work as an industrial designer has touched countless parts in numerous trades since the 1960s.
“I’m the kind of person who learns by doing,” says Cheslock, who lives with his wife, Jan, in Tarzana, Calif., part of the San Fernando Valley region of Los Angeles. “I’d rather do it myself. I’ve worked with people with master’s degrees but they don’t know how to do anything. They learn by the book. And if it doesn’t go by the book, they are stumped.”
Cheslock credits his self-sufficiency and hands-on skills to his upbringing and his alma mater, Pennsylvania College of Technology’s predecessor institution, Williamsport Technical Institute. “WTI changed my whole life,” says the 1957 graduate. “Otherwise I would have probably stayed in Hazleton and worked as a mechanic.”
As a young boy growing up in West Hazleton, Cheslock enjoyed the tools and workbench his dad, a mechanical foreman for then-Pennsylvania Power & Light, gave him. As a student, he gravitated toward shop classes. As a teenager, he worked part time in a garage, learning to become a mechanic.
“What a blessing that was,” Cheslock says. “After I got into mechanical design and engineering, I would remember working on cars and thinking, ‘Whoever designed this?’ You had to take 10 things off to get at the part that you wanted to fix on the car. It didn’t make sense. When I got into design, I tried to make things bulletproof, and if they had to be repaired, it was easy to do.”
After graduating from high school, an interest in drafting, born from a class he took in junior high, sent Cheslock to WTI.
“It had a very good reputation,” he says. “The instructors were great. They were knowledgeable and helpful. They came from the industry.”
Cheslock remembers living at a boarding house close to campus. No matter the outside temperature, he would leave his bedroom window open a crack so the piercing 7 a.m. whistle from the nearby Lycoming Engines plant could serve as his alarm clock. Once he headed off to class, the mechanical drafting student was pleased.
“The whole idea was if you’re designing and drawing things, you had to know how equipment works, what tools will be needed,” he says. “We spent time in the sheet-metal shop and did some spot welding and riveting. In the machine shop, we got to learn the lathe, mills and drill press. We had math classes, too, that were related to the field. They were also beneficial.”
Ingersoll Rand hired Cheslock and some of his classmates upon graduation for its operations in Painted Post, N.Y., which focused on air-compressor manufacturing.
“On my first day, they gave me an assembly drawing to do that had 100 or so parts, and I was able to do it,” Cheslock says with a wide smile. “That speaks well of the education received at the school.”
(Today Ingersoll Rand, a $14 billion global company, still hires students from Cheslock’s old stomping grounds, now known as Penn College’s School of Industrial and Engineering Technologies.)
Cheslock worked at Ingersoll Rand for two years before exploring opportunities out west. Tired of the cold and inspired by a friend’s firsthand account of life in southern California, Cheslock sold his motorcycle to finance his move.
“People at work asked me if I had a job,” says Cheslock, who stuffed his belongings into a 1954 Ford convertible for the 2,700-mile trip. “I just said, ‘No. I will find one when I get there.’”
Within three weeks, Cheslock did. He established a career as a contract industrial designer and settled into North Hollywood. He’s been in California ever since, save for a small stretch of time when he returned to Pennsylvania to care for his terminally ill father.
Early contract jobs included a mail-opening machine for the government and work on the Atlas Missile Program, America’s first operational intercontinental ballistic missile. Eventually, Cheslock established his own company, American Design & Technical Service, and got “hot and heavy” into the design and manufacturing of printed circuit boards, the heart of electronic devices. The range of homes for Cheslock’s circuit boards is impressive: from the “black box” of the SR-71 Blackbird, a long-range reconnaissance aircraft, to X-ray screening systems in airports to film-editing bays in Hollywood.
The variety and ubiquity of Cheslock’s handiwork struck him a few years ago when he returned to Pennsylvania for his 50th high school class reunion. An old friend reminisced about flying the Grumman A2F fighter while in the military. Turns out, Cheslock knew the aircraft well. He worked on the design of its joystick.
“It’s a small world,” he says. “I did work for several companies where they would have a lot of designers and those designers would run into a problem. They would get stuck and the companies would call me.”
Those unsolicited calls still come.
Cheslock is doing consulting work for a company involved with solar-power projects. “I’m into power-supply packaging now,” he says.
To illustrate, Cheslock doesn’t have to remove the pen from the breast pocket of his blue, buttoned-down shirt and begin drawing a part. Instead, he fires up one of his computers to show his skill with computer-aided design. He’s even fluent in SolidWorks, a prominent 3D CAD program.
“I’ll never really retire,” he says.
Nor should he. There are many more problems to solve, and Glen Cheslock is just 74 years old. ■