Yesterday the slide-rule way


There are any number of reasons why I knew I had to drive out to Delano to meet Dave Grout last week, after he called to chat with me following a “newscast” I did on The Current a few weeks ago.

Grout, a Saint Paul native and son of a man who parlayed two peanut-vending machines at Lake Harriet into a nationwide coin-op game business — pinball machines and jukeboxes — is a long-time engineering “nerd.”

“I started tinkering with radios when I was 8 years old, and started at the University of Minnesota when I was 15,” he said. “I got my degree two weeks before I graduated from high school (in Hopkins). I was fascinated by mathematics and I was fascinated by electronics.”

Grout says he worked on the space program when NASA was developing the Saturn V rocket (“they needed to be able to measure the stresses on the structure and I had done some work on a much smaller basis and I figured out a way to do it and provide telemetry to the control room”), helped calculate the landing site for the first Mars lander (Viking I), designed speakers and amplifiers for musicians, designed a power steering pump tester for Cadillac, restored jukeboxes, ran a pizza joint in Osseo, and took Joan Jett to his high school class’ 50th reunion.

Which ones of those are true, I cannot confirm, but I can confirm the one factoid that made me want to visit him: He doesn’t own a computer.

“They bore me to tears,” he said.

What he’s used his entire engineering life is a slide rule, the rotary telephone of engineers. We’re guessing there aren’t many people left who can do this, so I wanted to see it before the species becomes extinct.

Grout says this is a talent that needs to be taught in school again. “This thing is wonderful. You don’t need a battery, all you need is a little light to see it. But you have to know some mathematics. In my world, if you can’t do it with a piece of paper and a pencil, you ought not to be doing it with a machine because you won’t know if the machine is lying to you.”

Plus Joan Jett must think they’re cool.