Born: May 17, 1930 in Saranac Lake
Died: April 10, 2019, in Ray Brook
Married: Florence Mello
Children: step daughter Patricia Mello
The following is a transcription of an oral history interview with Bob Farrell on July 23, 2011:
Today is Saturday, July 23, 2011, and we are in the process of interviewing Robert Farrell. My name is Priscilla Goss. I am a board member of Historic Saranac Lake, and we are collecting oral histories for our oral history project, so we’re going to start with questions for Bob.
PG: First of all, thanks a lot for talking with me. We’re going to be starting with some basic questions. First, what is your full name?
RF: Robert Daniel Farrell
PG: Where you born, Bob?
RF: I was born in Saranac Lake
PG: On what date were you born?
PG: Could you tell me a little bit about your early childhood, like your parents’ names; we could start with that.
PG: Where you born?
RF: In Saranac Lake.
PG: You did say that.
PG: Where did you grow up? Didn’t you grow up somewhere other than (Saranac Lake)?
RF: I grew up in a little mining town called Witherbee, New York, down in the south eastern part of the Adirondacks on Champlain.
PG: How did it happen that you moved from (Witherbee)?
RF: My father was a painting contractor, and he was in partnership with another man; and he was doing very well. It was during the depression, and he came to Saranac Lake because it was the only place you could get work. He gradually got his own business and went into partnership. This other man was … he had big political connections. They got some really big jobs: Lake Placid School, White Face Mountain, several big camps around. They were doing very well even though it was hard times. My mother was the chief operator for ATT. In those days, they had reams of girls, just answering the phones, getting numbers and stuff. They were doing very well, you know, for the depression. But she contracted TB, and eventually she died in 1933.
PG: So, what, you were only three years old?
RF: I was only three years old.
PG: Oh, my goodness.
RF: My father … we had relatives in the Saranac Lake area, but they were all working people. They couldn’t take care of me, so he decided to take me to his mother’s house, which was in this Witherbee town, and she was an elderly lady; she was in her sixties, and her husband was retired. He was a retired miner with an iron ore mine. But he had retired and worked as a fire warden operator in those towers that they have on the top of the mountains. But he died in 1939.
PG: You were still young when you lost him too. That was tragic.
RF: I can remember going up to the tower; we used to sail paper airplanes off the top of this tower. Two years later, my grandmother died. We were actually renting in a company house. In those days companies owned all the land around, and they built houses for the workers. It was a very nice house. It is still there today. It’s still a nice house – 50-60 years later. Anyway, my father decided to build his home, not build, but buy an older home. He had a friend, a carpenter friend, fix it all up, so we moved there, but it was just ½ block away, so it wasn’t much of a move. I started school and went all through school at high school in this little Mineville High School they called it.
PG: So you were back with your father at that point, just the two of you?
RF: Yes. Then he hired ladies to come in to clean, cook for us, and stuff. We cooked a lot of our own stuff. I used to cook quite a bit. We were like hunters; we hunted and fished, although we weren’t very good cooks.
PG: So you had no brothers and sisters?
RF: No; I was an only child.
PG: Did your father re-marry?
RF: No. He almost did, but he really never got around to it. He had several girl friends. But he died in … He was 48 years old; he died in 1946, so I was left as an orphan.
PG: Again. That had to be so traumatic for you. You kept losing people in your life.
RF: But I was lucky. He gave me a choice. You could live with your uncle or live with this Gillette family, who were old time friends, family friends. I had stayed there as a kid, a baby, a young kid. I was very familiar with them. He said, “You choose where you want to live with your uncle.” I went with this family. They had a little dairy farm just outside of town. But he had contracted some type of ungulent fever, some kind of fever, from cows. The doctor said to get away from the cows, so he went to work for this Republic Steel Corporation. He was a very good carpenter, so he became foreman in the carpentry gang there. They were very lovely people. I was very lucky that I fell in with them. It could have been worse. I fell in with some real nice people, and I enjoyed living there.
PG: You were fortunate.
RF: Anyway, that’s how … that’s how it went.
PG: You went to high school in Mineville? Did you participate in any kind of sports?
RF: Yes, I played football. My father wouldn’t let me play football. I was a good runner; he didn’t want me to go out for track because it was too strenuous, but after he died, I went out for football and track.
PG: Did you have any girlfriends in high school?
RF: Yes, I had a couple of girlfriends, the usual. I wasn’t very … I don’t know, I was kind of a quiet guy, bashful, shy.
PG: What else happened in high school? Are there any other memories that you have? Anything you can share?
RF: No, kind of uneventful. I wasn’t a very good student; I was average. I never tried though. My idea was, don’t fail.
PG: What kind of goals did you have for yourself? What were you going to do when you graduated?
RF: I don’t know. That’s what I couldn’t decide; I could never make up my mind. I always thought that somebody didn’t give me any talents. I wasn’t good at anything much. When I came to Ray Brook, this doctor asked me, “What were you planning to do?” I said, “I don’t know.” By then, I was still 17 years old. So he said, “What do you like to do?” I said, “I like to hunt and fish and be in the woods and things.” He said, “You should be a game warden or something like that.”
PG: Let’s go back a little bit so we can get it in a more chronological order. So you went to high school. Did you go into the military service at all?
RF: No; I was still in high school.
PG: How is it that you moved from Mineville to Ray Brook?
RF: Well, I was on the track team; I was running the mile. We had practice, and, you know, you run 3 or 4 miles in practice. In those days, nobody came around like hockey moms to pick you up. You had to walk. I had to walk to this little town 2 miles away. Let’s see, where was I?
PG: You graduated high school, then what happened after that?
RF: I ran 3-4 miles on the track, and I was running home 1 ½ or 2 miles. I’m running along, and all of a sudden I could feel something in my throat; it was blood. I said, “WOW!” I knew enough about TB, and I figured, “My life is over.” They took me to a doctor and all that, and put me on bed rest. Finally, they said, “Well, you have to be admitted to Ray Brook.” I figured, “That’s the end of me.” So they took me up there to this big gloomy-looking place.
PG: That had to be so traumatic at that young age, scary.
RF: So anyway, I get in there, and I kept looking around, seeing everybody was dressed up in street clothes. And I said, “Where are the patients? There must be some.” They said, “These are all patients.” And I said, “Well, they’re all out walking, shooting pool, playing cards.” I came here to die, I thought (laughing). So this big doctor came along; he was a Southerner; his name was James Monroe. He was a character, big, 6’2” and wore a straw hat, one of those Southern planter’s hats, had a bow tie. He kinda took … he had no children of his own. I don’t know. He kinda felt sorry for me, I guess. He took a liking to me. He used to bring me books on conservation, animal books, and things. He was kind of a nerdy guy; he liked to study all things. One time he said, “Do you like the forest and woods.” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Do you know your trees?” I said, “Well, I know a couple.” He said, “There’s only 39 trees that even grow up here; you should know them all.” I said, “You’ve got to be kidding.” So that’s how it went. Anyway, eventually I got on my feet, and he said … in those days they had what they called “cure jobs.” The State paid a stipend of 25 cents an hour in those days. But then Cokes only cost a nickel or a dime.
PG: It’s all relative.
RF: It’s like a couple of bucks would be like 5 bucks an hour, I guess. Anyway that was not the point. The point was to give you exercise to build up your strength. He said, “Well, I’m going to put you in the library.” He put me in the library. I didn’t like that; that wasn’t a very good job. I did it. Then after a while, he came along and he said, “I’m going to take you off that job; I’m going to have you do audiograms.” That’s when … by then drugs, streptomycin was just coming out. It was really dangerous for the balance in your ears, so they had to keep track of your hearing. I did those audiograms for a couple of … 2-3 months, and then he came to me again a little while later and said, “I’m going to take you off that job and put you down in X-ray.” I said, “Gee, I don’t know if I can handle X-rays. The guys who worked there were kind of nerdy guys – photographers, fixing radios, electronic guys. I said, “Geez, that’s over my head,” cause I had none of those talents. He said, “Go on down and see this Sanlow.” She’s an old Ukranian lady. She’d come there as a little 16 year-old girl. Finally they got an X-Ray unit in there and decided they had to have someone to run this machine. There were no such things as X-ray technicians. She was very good at needlework, fine, very precision needlework, so the doctor figured that’s the kind of people we need, exacting personalities. She became a really, really great radiologist.
PG: What was her name?
RF: Anna Sanlow. She was chief of the department. She was a real character. I always thought that I couldn’t buy the training that I got from her. It was like a young artist studying under Rembrandt.
PG: How many were in the area where you were working?
RF: About six or seven at different times. We had two different departments.
PG: So you had a lot of personal attention. That’s excellent training for sure.
RF: She had reams of complimentary records from all over the world. In those days, they would send the radiographs out to whatever doctor requested them after the patients were discharged. When they returned the films, invariably there would be a letter thanking them, commenting on the quality of the films, beautiful films, technically. They’d remark on that. So it was a great place to learn.
PG: When you were there, you were not as sick as some of the other patients?
RF: I was in the beginning, but I imagine this was a couple of years later.
PG: In the beginning, did you have any of those experimental treatments? What kind of treatments did you have?
RF: No. I was too ill for surgery; I had bi-lateral disease. In those days they had no drugs. The only thing they had was pneumothorax and what they called the phrenic – they cut the phrenic nerve; they paralyzed the diaphragm so you couldn’t breathe so deeply. It rested the lung for a while, and the phrenic nerve had the ability to reconstruct itself.
PG: Really? That’s something new to me. I’ve never heard of that that before. Is that what you had?
RF: No, I had … eventually they gave me pneumothorax.
PG: You did have that?
RF: They collapsed my left lung, and I’d go for air. You had to go every 10 days or 2 weeks; you’d go for air and get a puncture and crush your lung again.
PG: The air would naturally just come back?
RF: Yes, gradually it would come back.
PG: Then did they switch to the other lung?
RF: No, they couldn’t do it bi-laterally; they could only do it on one side because you could hardly breathe.
PG: I was thinking more that they did one, and after one healed, they would move to the other side.
RF: No. The right side wasn’t so bad. Anyway, I had that for about a year. Then I went to the X-ray school.
PG: And where was the X-ray school?
RF: In Saranac Lake. It’s called the Guild, an X-ray school.
PG: And where was that located?
RF: They had offices almost where the library is now, across from the Hotel Saranac. There was a home there; they had several classrooms. Where I stayed was up on …. it was called the Prescott House. It was a larger house.
PG: On Franklin Avenue?
RF: Yes, at the end. Downstairs they had all classrooms, and upstairs they had dormitories for the students.
PG: That’s very interesting.
RF: They had a family that lived there as caretakers.
PG: Was the Prescott House just for students then?
PG: Oh, it was. So that’s changed over the years, hasn’t it?
RF: I stayed there a year. I got a scholarship from the State. They paid my full tuition for one year. In those days you had to have 2 years, so I had to get a job quickly to get registered because of the pay scale in radiology if you registered. So I got the other year in and took my tests.
PG: At that point, were you already cured from the TB?
RF: Yeah. I was discharged.
PG: You cured pretty quickly then. How long?
RF: I was there five years.
PG: Oh, you were there five years. During that period, how many of those years were you studying radiology?
RF: Probably a year and a half.
PG: So it was just toward the end when you were more ambulatory?
PG: Can you share some of your experiences when you were there? What was it like?
RF: Oh, it was like … this job was four hours a day. It was … they sent me down to X-ray. I had no idea what was going on. I had been X-rayed a few times, but I didn’t know … never knew what was happening. This elderly Miss Sanlow, she was kind of decrepit; she was getting old; she had some kidney problems; she couldn’t lift things. She had me lifting these cassettes. I said, “Oh, that’s why they want me down here – a little gopher.” It was all right; I didn’t mind it because, you know, you have to start at the bottom. So I would lug the cassettes for her; then she showed me how to pin the things on, change the film, work in the dark room, develop the films. Gradually, through the years, through the months rather, I got so I that I could take films on my own. I’d work with her; then she sent me over to the infirmary building. I worked with the technicians over there a lot. It was kind of different over there; it was all surgical patients. We had to go up on the floors every morning and take portable X-rays. They had a clinic there; people would come in from the surrounding areas; we covered five counties.
PG: So they brought X-rays in for you to …
RF: No, they brought the patients.
PG: You read the X-rays?
RF: No. We had two clinics every week. We had a chest physician. He could fluoroscope, take chest X-rays, and examine people. We had a unit called tomography, which is the pre-runner of like present-day cat scans – computer assisted tomography. In the old days, it was just tomography. We had one of those units; it was state of the art equipment. They had modified the table. In the old days, when you do tomography – tomography is layers. In the old days, you used to have to put one view on the top part, then turn the X-ray so the person who was reading the X-ray was looking at one film, pull it out of the view box, and turn it. You had to do it with all this series of X-rays. Now, you see, you’ve probably seen it, a whole series that were developed from that machine we had. We were the first ones who devised that system. It was a good place to work; very interesting. It had doctors from all over the world came in, observers, a lot of technicians who came in for a year, from all over, from South America, Jamaica, Saudi Arabia, all over the world.
PG: That’s amazing. I know this is out of order chronologically, but what was it like the first few years you were there before you were able to start working in X-ray. What did you experience?
RF: Before X-ray? At first I was on bed rest, not on bed rest, but I wasn’t allowed to go out for walks. I could go out and shoot pool, play cards, or something. After a few months, they allowed me to go out for a walk. We had a walk hour in the morning and a walk hour in the afternoon. You could go any place on the grounds. They had a golf course there; you could play golf, a nine hole golf course. I used to fish, hunt, and trap. I was a character because all these were city guys, you know. They knew nothing about the woods. I was very popular; I knew everything. I was brought up in the woods.
PG: Were you able to do that even when you had TB?
RF: Yes. Once they let me out. I didn’t do anything that strenuous.
PG: That’s interesting. I didn’t think you’d be able to if you were still sick.
PG: After you recovered, did you recover completely?
PG: Did you ever have a relapse?
PG: Then where did your career track take you at that point?
RF: Well, I went to the Guild. I passed the test and everything and got accepted at the Guild. I went in there for theoretical training at first. Then they sent us out to all of Northern New York, from Albany up to Watertown, all five northern counties. They had cooperating hospitals, or they would send the students out for some different radiology. So I was assigned to Saranac Lake General. I went up there and worked there for a year as a student, not as a paid ... Although in the end I did work in Lake Placid, covering for vacations, and I got paid for that. Between the General Hospital and Ray Brook, I was thoroughly trained. I had excellent training. When I went for my registry, I had to go to Syracuse to write my registry exam. It was a snap for me, not even a challenge. Then I took the State civil service exam. Radiology is a competitive position: You have to take a state test, so I took the test and came out No. 1 in the whole state.
PG: What an accomplishment for someone who didn’t know what they wanted to do, who had no goals.
RF: Up until then, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But when I went down to that radiology department … I was working there one day. I was only there about a week or 10 days; there was a lot of excitement; there were all kinds of doctors around, student doctors. I knew something big was going on. This Dr. Monroe came down, and he said, “We’re going to do an IVP,” which is an intravenous pylogram, where they inject radio-opaque dye. As it passes through the kidneys, urine, and bladder, it outlines the radio-opaque and comes out all white. I hadn’t seen one of those. I went in the dark room. In those days, we had film; it was on metal hangars. Everyone was just waiting for this. It was an important case. I didn’t understand it at all. So when they lifted up this X-ray, there was this beautiful X-ray with a background where you could see the spleen and the gall bladder. In the middle of it, there was the urinary system outlined in white. It was just gorgeous. And they were all pointing to where everything is - so clear. And I said to myself, “Man, this is really … this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.” From then on, it changed my whole life. It was like getting struck with lightning. I went out and got all the books; we had tremendous libraries, big tomes of radiology books. I started reading the books, so by the time I got to the Guild, I was so far ahead of the average student, it was really to my advantage to get all that.
PG: Oh, yes. Then did you ever continue your education in college?
RF: No. I just went to work in the city hospital in Rome.
PG: At one point, since I know you, didn’t you mention that one of the doctors who had befriended you had offered to pay for college?
RF: No. When I went to take the vocational rehabilitation, this guy wanted to give me a test, a lot of tests: IQ test, aptitude test, personality test. It went on and on. When he came to evaluate me, he came over to the hospital, sat me down, and pushed this paper forward. He said, “You did very well on this test. You got one of the highest marks since I’ve been doing this job. All you got to do is sign here, and the State will pay your full tuition plus room and board for one year.” I said, “Well, gee, that’s great.” “Wait a minute,” and he pulled the paper back, and he said, “You’re selling yourself short.” I said, “Why?” He said, “Also, with this paper here (he pushed another one over), I’ll give you four years at any university you want to go to plus room and board for the four years.” He said, “If you do well there, I’ll give you two more years of post-grad.” I said, “No, I’ll take the X-ray.” He said, “You sure?” I said, “I am absolutely sure; this is what I want; I love this work; I’ve found my life niche.” This work just enthralled me.
PG: It’s wonderful that you were able to be so happy in the rest of your career.
RF: I really enjoyed it. And I didn’t know what to do with the other four years. I had no goals in the other one. I knew it was a valuable thing, but I was just so content with this.
PG: I interrupted you earlier because I wanted to get that into the conversation. So after you had your initial job and you were saying how you went down to was it Albany ?
PG: Tell me what happened from that point on.
RF: In Rome, it was a city hospital, a big city hospital. There was this man in there; he was a Ph.D.; he ran the department. When I got there, everyone said, “How do you get along with doctor so and so?” I said, “All right.” They said, “He’s fired at least 6 or 7 technicians before you got here. How are you getting along with him?” “I don’t know; he seems to treat me all right. He’s a character, but …” In addition to his radiology position, he was County of Oneida Civil Defense Coordinator, and as such, this was when the atom bombs were being blown up in the Western deserts, so he was required to go out there to observe that, study it, and all that. He had to have someone to cover for him. Even though he’d fired all these technicians, he had to have me. I fell into it again. He went, and here I was like two months out of X-ray school, and I here I was running this whole city department. Not only was I running it – the radiologist said you’re doing wonderful – this guy was kind of a character and everyone was terrified of him. He threw his weight around a lot. We’d have maybe 15 patients to do in the morning. He’d bring them all down. The whole hall would be full of stretchers, wheel chairs, people complaining, hollering, and swearing because they had to wait. They were sick people. He had these big autoclave rooms. In those days, we had to autoclave all our own things. He’d turn on the autoclave to the utmost position; the steam would roll out of this room. We had a big, long hall, maybe 200 feet long, a whole hospital wing. Steam would be rolling up that thing, and it would condense; then there would be water on the floor, people swearing.
PG: Did they autoclave clean things?
RF: Yes. In those days, they didn’t have disposable ... any kind of surgical. It killed … the steam killed everything. This doctor said – when I told him I had to leave – he said “Gee, I was going to make you chief technician. I’m gonna get cat scans, do all this.” I said, “I can’t help it.”
PG: Why was it that you decided to leave?
RF: I had … my health broke again. I was working so hard.
PG: So you had a relapse of the TB.
RF: Yes. I was taking calls at night, working alone. I was in my glory.
PG: What a shame. Then what happened?
RF: I came back to Ray Brook, but I was only there 2 months, and I healed right up. The same doctor I knew, by then was just running one ward, was assistant director, this Dr. Monroe. He came to me one day and said, “I’ve got a deal to make with you. I’m going to discharge you, and I’m going to give you a job as an X-ray aide. I’ll give you a room in the employees’ building. I’ll give you full staff privileges, and you can stay here for one year.” I said, “If you’re going to discharge me, I’ll go back to where … I have a wonderful job back there, great potential.” He said, “No, no. I won’t allow you to leave here. You must stay here for one year to take these drugs.” I said, “I’m an RT now, a Registered Technician. That’s an aide’s job, not a technician.” They had all kinds of jobs in those days, like a 36-hour a week job. Anyway, I took the job. I figured it was for my own good.
PG: Do you think you could have been discharged? Was he trying to hold on to you?
RF: No. I really had to take the drugs. It was the best thing for me. I was young and ambitious.
PG: Then what happened?
RF: I took this job, and my girlfriend – I wasn’t married then – she had an apartment in town. She was in radiology also. She was working in Plattsburgh at CVPH. So anyway I got in with employees there in Ray Brook, with guys who hunted. I was in my glory, hunting, and I got in with another guy who was skiing. Whiteface just opened. We were up on Whiteface all the time. Then I met this guy who was a native of this area; his father was sort of a guide. They were commercial fishermen; they fished and brought fish to the cure cottages, and sold them year round - ice fishing in the winter, trout in the summer. They had a regular route where they’d go, the three brothers. Anyway this guy was … I got fishing with him. I fished with him for 25 years. And really, we were so close, just enjoyed. And he knew every pond, every area, every trail because he’d been in it since a child, and he was older than I; about 20 years older. So I was in Heaven. He was teaching me all this, places to go, St. Regis there, those little ponds. We’d fish all of them; carry the boat into the back. He had a big guide boat. I was really enjoying myself, hunting, fishing, skiing. Finally, I was supposed to leave; my year was up. So I was going to see about … Sunmount was a Federal hospital then. I said, “I’ll just go over there and see what’s going on.”
PGF: That’s the one in Tupper Lake?
RF: Yes. When I was in Rome, they had an air base there. I just went to see about working there. The guy told me, “I’d hire you in a minute, but you’re not registered. I can’t give you a better job than you’ve got right now. The city is paying you just more than we can give you now. If you wait until you’re registered, come back.” I said, “Ok.” I knew I could do well in the Federal, so I went over to Sunmount and applied. The guy said, “Start Monday. You’re just what we want.” Because, by then, I was doing tomography, the whole thing; I knew everything about it.
PG: Was that a tuberculosis hospital for veterans? Or for anybody?
RF: Yes. Well, after the Federal government left, they changed it to mental disability.
PG: I remember. When did that happen?
RF: That must have been in the fifties some time; quite a while ago. Anyway, it converted to a State facility. Of course, it changed then. It went from really a hospital to a disability facility. By then, I’d got … there was a vacancy where I was working in Ray Brook. I had moved had up, got several steps, so I was content where I was after that.
PG : So after you left Sunmount, you went back to Ray Brook?
RF: I never went to Sunmount; I just went to Sunmount to apply.
PG: You got registered?
RF: It was an odd thing. I was going to resign and go over there. He said, “Come Monday morning.” I said, “I can’t come Monday; I owe these people.” They had helped me so much during my life. “I have to give them notice.” “Well, give them two weeks.” So I went in on Monday morning with a letter of resignation in my pocket. And I went down to X-ray, and I said, “Gee, there’s something going on; there’s a lot of activity, a lot of abnormal activity going on.” I went down, and I went in, and I saw … I said, “What’s going on? What’s all the excitement?” They said, “Hockey’s leaving.” Hockey was a guy named Frank Hockey; he was a middle-aged guy. He’d been working as a radiology tech there for about 20 years. There was never any question that he was going to leave. He had a family and a home in Saranac Lake. I said, “I can’t believe he’s leaving.” “No one else can.” I said, “Where’s he going?” “He got a job at GE in Schenectady as an industrial X-ray. And he’s moving down there. There’ll be another good vacancy for you; you’ll do good on this.” So they offered me another job, a better job. By then, I was building up seniority.
PG: You were with the Federal/State system, the government.
RF: Building up retirement because I had the same retirement in the city of Rome that I had with the State, and then as a kid I’d work on the county highway department.
PG: And that counted also?
RF: Yeah. We were never paid retirement because we were temporary. I wrote in when I was older, when I was pretty much older, and got all those credits.
PG: The credits for …. That’s wonderful. So then you ended back up here in Ray Brook?
RF: Well, I stayed there. I didn’t go to Sunmount.
PG: You just stayed.
RF: I kept the thing in my pocket. Eventually I just stayed right there for the rest of my career.
PG: So in between, you got married. Is that right? Tell me a little bit about that.
RF: I got married, let’s see, in 1968.
PG: How did you meet your wife?
RF: Well, she worked in radiology. She was working in Ray Brook as a student. Then she went to the Guild, and then she got a job down in CVPH in Plattsburgh.
PG: The Guild was still operational?
RF: At that time. I can’t remember when it stopped. She was working. She had an apartment in town. But, she never liked radiology. She could function in it, but it wasn’t her thing. She just didn’t enjoy it.
PG: To clarify, the Guild was still in effect in 1968.
RF: I can’t remember when it…. I’d have to look that up.
PG: I was just surprised that it was that recent. I thought it would have closed and become an apartment house around that time. So continue.
RF: Anyway, we got married, and I bought this little home over … next to Ray Brook, where I lived; I’m still living there; I’ve been there over some 40 years now. And I stayed with the State and worked all that time.
PG: Did your wife continue working?
RF: No, she came back up here, and she got a job in Newberry's; she was working in Newberry's. She stayed there for quite a while, and finally Newberry's closed, and she went into nursing, took Red Cross nursing courses. And she got a job as a nurse’s aide in Ray Brook. She worked there until the placed closed. After it closed, she didn’t go back into it; she didn’t have to work. I was working; I had a good job.
PG: Did you have any children together?
RF: No, she had a daughter. We have a step-daughter.
PG: So you have a step-daughter; she had a daughter from a previous marriage.
RF: We never had any children; we got too old. We got married; I was 40-something.
PG: You were very lucky to have found each other. And she was divorced or separated at that time?
PG: How is your health now, Bob. Any problems?
RF: Oh, great. Haven’t had anything in years. Recently I have a prostate problem.
PG: Prostate’s not good. I can vouch for that. I had a husband who had that too. So what would you say … what were your happiest times?
RF: When I got married and was working. I had a good job, a good home, a wonderful bunch of guys I hunted with, a great guy I fished with. (note: Bob is referring to his friend Evet Baker. He was also friends with Evet's oldest brother, Clarence Baker, and his younger brother, Kip Baker.) I had a skiing guy I used to ski with, a lab tech guy. The years went by so fast, I can’t even … I don’t even know where they went.
PG: Did you continue hunting and fishing after your retirement?
RF: No. When the hospital closed, I went to the respiratory disease clinic that they moved to Tupper Lake because they wanted to make a jail out of this Ray Brook hospital. So when I went over there, I don’t know; I didn’t have the time after that. By the time that … when they closed the clinic, fivr years later, I had to leave the area. We kept our home, and we moved all over. I went to Binghamton, worked in the psychiatric hospital down there. Then I got a job closer to home in Glens Falls, worked in a couple of facilities down there. Then finally a job opened up in the Clinton Correctional Facility. A guy called me, a nursing administrator down there, a friend of mine; he kept imploring me to come up there to work. I said, “No, I got a great job. I don’t want to.” He said, “You can live at home; you can car pool.” So, anyway, I took the job, and finished out my career up there.
PG: So you moved around a lot, quite a bit toward the end. How many years, what span was that?
RF: That was five or six years.
PG: That you were moving everywhere.
PG: You still kept your house here?
RF: Yes. It was really expensive. I had an apartment wherever I worked. Carpooling, and sometimes we weren’t close to where I worked. Then we had to come up here; we had to heat this place; we couldn’t turn the heat off. I wasn’t making fabulous money anyway. I was a radiology… well I was a chief, senior. We kept the house; it was like a camp more or less. We didn’t repair it or anything because we were never sure how our lives were going to come out.
PG: Well, you were at the mercy of the State, I guess, moving you around.
RF: No, it was my idea. I was going for the retirement. By then, I was 40-some years old, had 20 years with the State. I figured if I leave the State, where I’ve got all these privileges. I had maximum extra hours, extra vacation, extra incentive; every year I got another bonus for longevity. I had the best I could do with the State. If I started over, I would ruin my State pension, and I would get a lousy pension. I wouldn’t be able to get the years in.
PG: Being in Ray Brook all this time, what are your recollections of winters up here? Like, do you remember winter carnivals?
RF: Oh, yeah. I remember all that stuff. We used to go to all the carnivals, parades, gatherings.
PG: Now, your wife passed away. Is that right?
RF: Yes; she died ten years ago. I stayed right where I was. I didn’t know what to do. I was kind of a lost soul then. Stayed there.
PG: And do you still see your step-daughter.
RF: Oh, yes. We are very close. She lives in the Plattsburgh area. I go down there every few weeks. We both like to hike. Go to the trails at Point Au Roche State Park.
PG: That’s wonderful that you still have a good relationship.
RF: We’re actually closer than if we were biologically related.
PG: That’s wonderful. That’s really great. Is there anything else that you think would be of interest to other folks who might be reading about you - about your experiences – good, bad?
RF: I remember one time when I went down to start work in the radiology department. I had only been working there a week with in X-ray with this old lady. We were doing … this old guy had a hip pinning. We were taking X-rays; he was a big, large man. She couldn’t get the good, the best X-rays. She said, “I want to get that little portable out.” So this doctor came by; he was in charge of radiology, and when he saw her getting that machine out, he said, “Damn it; I told you to never use that machine. You should have discarded that thing.” I was only there a few days; he didn’t even know my name. He said, “You, you go over and get behind that lead shield, and put your back to the board, and don’t come out of there until this is all over.” I was terrified. I said, “What the heck’s going on?” So he said … this lady brought out this ancient-looking contraption. The real name for it is the Crookes-Hittorf discharge tube. It was a solid glass clear ball, like a bubble of clear glass with two points coming out at either end and wires. And the wires were not insulated, just pure copper sticking out of this thing. There was no shielding on it. It was an old X-ray … when Röntgen (or Roentgen) discovered X-rays in 1895, he was experimenting with a Crookes Hittorf tube, that’s how old this thing was (laughing). Anyway, to judge how much current was going through there, they had what they called sphere gap balls, and you would put these 2 balls together, and all of a sudden a bolt of lightening, where one goes from one to the other (makes hissing sound). It was a big blue blast.
PG: Sounds like a Frankenstein movie.
RF: It was. That’s what it was. You could smell the ozone; it created ozone. And this thing had no protection on it. The modern tubes have just a little aperture where the X-ray actually comes out. This had no lead at all on it. The guy told me that if you touched any part of it, you’d get electrocuted. It used tremendous kilovoltage, thousands of volts. Anyway, she got out this thing. It did have good power, and we did get a good film, a lateral film, no matter how big he was. But they soon discarded that machine. I guess they sneaked down during the night to get away. I don’t know how they got rid of it – that old thing.
PG: Old habits die hard as they say. Well, we’re reaching the end of our time, actually we’ve probably exceeded it; we’re only supposed to go 45 minutes. I think we’ll wrap it up. I appreciate very much all your interesting information. I know it’s going to be one of the unique ones that we’ve captured. Thank you, Bob. We appreciate it.
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, April 13, 2019
Robert D. Farrell
Robert D. Farrell, 88, of Ray Brook, died Wednesday, April 10, 2019, at his home in Ray Brook.
Born May 17, 1930 in Saranac Lake, he was the son of Daniel and Marion [Skeels] Farrell.
Mr. Farrell graduated from Mineville High School and the Saranac Lake Guild x-ray technology school. He was a registered radiologic technologist and was employed in the Rome City Hospital for one year then Ray Brook state Hospital for 20 years.
When that facility closed, he transferred to N.Y. State Respiratory disease clinic in Tupper Lake until 1975 when that facility closed. He then transferred to various state facilities as senior/chief radiologist technologist in Binghamton, Glens Falls, Wilton and Dannemora until his retirement in 1987 with 33 years of state service.
He was a member of the American Society of Radiologist Technology and the C.S.E.A. He was a communicant of St. Agnes Church in Lake Placid.
Mr. Farrell was a skilled fisherman, hunter and skier.
He was pre-deceased in 2000 by his wife Florence Mello, who he married in 1968. Survivors are step daughter Patricia Mello, and step grandchildren of Plattsburgh.
Funeral arrangements are in care of the Fortune-Keough Funeral Home in Saranac Lake. There will be no calling hours. A mass of Christian burial will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday, April 16, at St. Agnes’s Church in Lake Placid with the Rev. John Yonkovig officiating.
Friends wishing to Remember Mr. Farrell can sign the online guestbook and share their memories at fortunekeoughfuneralhome.com.