Accelerator champions Jim Wendt and Ray Hren retire
Jim Wendt (left) and Ray Hren retire tomorrow after 42 years at Fermilab.
James Wendt and Raymond Hren were barely more than teenagers when they first arrived at the National Accelerator Laboratory, which was then little more than a blueprint and a hole in the ground. This Friday, more than four decades later, Wendt and Hren will turn in their badges—numbers 80 and 81—and leave Fermilab as employees for the last time.
They're known around here as Jim and Ray, and they dress with the same understated practicality. Both sport faded jeans, a belt loop of keys and a shirt pocket stuffed with pens and the stray dosimeter. But that's where the resemblance ends.
Standing side by side, they are the stuff of Charles Dickens novels. Wendt is tall, lean and soft-spoken, with the gentle demeanor of a minister. Hren is shorter, with a workman's build and a mischievous chuckle, and has the affable manner of a favorite uncle. Their partnership has lasted longer than many marriages, and it shows. The two can finish each other's sentences. When each finally got his own office a few years ago, they had a window cut through the wall that divided them.
Their desks sit just beyond a row of work tables heaped high with glinting copper wire and a jumble of tools, near where the beam originates. It's an apt spot for two people integral to getting it started in the first place.
Hren and Wendt were on parallel paths before they ever met. Both studied electronic engineering at Chicago's DeVry Technical Institute at the same time. Both were hired on the same day—Jan. 22, 1968. But it wasn't until they spent six months together at Brookhaven National Laboratory, meticulously winding the magnets that would eventually go inside Fermilab's Linac, that Hren and Wendt really got to know each other, and began their career-long collaboration.
When they returned to Fermilab, they spent their days in what is now the Village, constructing the first tank for the accelerator. Wendt handled the drift tubes. Hren worked on the pre-accelerator.
"There was nothing here when we came," Hren said. "Building this place was a lot of fun—one thing led to another, and we just kept going," he said.
Both share the official title senior operations specialist, a name that belies their duties as inventors, metallurgists, chemists and surgeons. Larry Allen, who's worked on the Linac with Wendt and Hren for 38 years, said that their names, always linked, are spoken with reverence.
"Whatever needs to be done, these guys can do it," Allen said. They built the second Cockroft-Walton, Dr. Frankenstein-style, from spare parts. They came up with a new way to contain radiation in blown drift tubes. And when the beam breaks down in the middle of the night, it's Wendt or Hren who gets the 3 a.m. phone call.
"The primary concern is to make sure that what we have keeps running," Wendt said. On a table in their workspace, he points out a metal object the size of an electric saw. It's the beam source, in the shop for some tweaks. "The beam comes out here," Wendt said, pointing to a small slot. "So this is where it all starts. That's the beginning. If we don't work, nobody works."
That's meant good job security, he said. They laughed.
They’ve been training their successors for several months now.
Neither man has grandiose plans for retirement. Hren will spend time with his grandkids and do projects around the house. Wendt plans to keep up with his gardening and his local church.
Their retirement party is today, Jan. 28, 11:30 a.m., at the Orchard Valley Restaurant, 2411 W. Illinois Ave., Aurora. Contact Karoline at x3317, or Larry at x4386 for more information.
-- Andrea Mustain