SOCORRO, N.M., July 16, 1999 -- When Jack William Cobb (Sept. 2, 1916-July 12, 1999) served as field supervisor and manager of the Langmuir Laboratory for Atmospheric Research, all of the squirrels which lived around the research facility atop the Magdalena Mountains had names.
During his coffee breaks, Cobb would spend time hand-feeding the squirrels potato chips and peanuts, and, eventually, he got around to giving names to each of them.
But feeding and naming squirrels, although meaningful in its own small measure, is probably not what most of Cobb's Langmuir Lab colleagues will remember about the facility's longtime manager who recently passed away.
To this day, for instance, several of the "old-timers" who still spend summers conducting research at Langmuir will frequently encounter certain situations which invariably require that one of Cobb's humorous yarns, which he was fond of calling "Westerns," be once again recounted.
Although he was born in Texahoma, Okla., Cobb lived most of his life in Socorro County, having grown up and spent most of his young adult years in the Magdalena area.
As a young man, Cobb worked on a ranch west of Magdalena and began honing the blacksmithing and construction skills which would serve him well in later careers.
When World War II called many of the young men of Cobb's generation into military service, Cobb was exempted from active duty because of the strategically important position he was employed in "at the homefront" as a blacksmith and drill bit sharpener at the Kelly mining district in the Magdalena Mountains.
He later worked at the nearby Lynchburg Mine and eventually helped move tons of mining and smelting equipment down to Deming when mining operations "panned out" around Kelly after the war.
Cobb then found his niche in the post-war construction which was going on in Magdalena and built two motels, three houses, and the Trail's End Market.
Cobb's construction skills soon became evident to people outside of Magdalena, particularly to some atmospheric researchers who frequented the village's local restaurants and stores when they weren't "up on the mountain" studying the physics of clouds, thunderstorms, and lightning.
"We first recruited Jack in the mid-1960s because of his construction abilities," relates Charlie Moore, a longtime Langmuir Lab researcher and associate of Cobb's who joined the Langmuir staff shortly before Cobb came on board. "However, it wasn't long after that he became Langmuir Lab's manager."
Cobb designed and constructed many of the lightning research facilities which make up Langmuir Lab, including the mountaintop lab's radar tower, balloon hangar, and cross-canyon cable system.
"While working at Langmuir, he became interested in the ballooning experiments we were conducting," Moore says, "enough so, that he soon became actively involved in inflating an launching our research balloons into thunderclouds."
Cobb also accompanied the Langmuir scientists during their field research to study lightning near the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
In the fall of 1969, NASA's Apollo XII mission had experienced a direct lightning strike on its rocket just before launch and New Mexico Tech's lightning experts were called in to see if field measurements of atmospheric electricity taken just before subsequent launches would better ensure the safety of the ensuing Apollo XIII and XIV missions.
"Jack played an important role when we went to work for NASA for those launches," Moore observes, "and helped us out with electricity measurements and running equipment, as well as logistical support."
Cobb was honored by New Mexico Tech for his numerous contributions to the university in commencement ceremonies in 1977 when he was bestowed with the school's honorary degree of Master of Engineering Technology.
"Jack was a master at taking surplus materials and turning them into usable items," Moore points out. "His last major project at Tech before retiring was to design a carrier to move Langmuir Lab's research airplane sideways into its hangar which was otherwise too narrow for conventional use. . . . His ingenuity in the use of surplus materials alone must have saved Tech literally thousands of dollars over the years."
Cobb officially retired from New Mexico Tech in 1984 after 20 years of service to the university.
He is survived by his wife, Claunese Hinchman Cobb of Socorro; daughter, Arla Greene Pinto of Socorro; sisters Vera Knoblock and Lucille McCarty, both of Magdalena; grandson Kelly L. Greene and his wife, Jennifer, of Socorro; great-grandsons Justin and Dillon Greene, both of Socorro; and numerous other relatives, friends, and associates.