Jay's Slide Rule
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Back In A Big Way
by Paul Bourgeois
Star-Telegram Staff Writer
It measures 352 feet long, weighs 300 pounds and takes three men to slide.
Skip Solberg and Jay Francis said it will calculate to "six significant digits," which apparently is a good thing. Some other engineers smiled and nodded when hearing of the "significant digits."
Solberg, 51, of Arlington, and Francis, 53, of Richardson, said it was important to them that theirs be a working slide rule. They said they weren't sure if the previous world- record holder -- a 323-footer built 22 years ago at the University of Illinois -- was a working model.
In any case, they wanted theirs to work. It's an engineering thing. A source of pride, too.
Solberg, a retired computer systems analyst, said the idea came to him about a year ago as he was perusing a 20-year-old `Guinness Book of Records.'
Being an engineering guy who also collects slide rules -- he has 800 of them and a very understanding wife -- it was only natural for him to check out the record.
"We do things big in Texas, so I figured the record has to be in Texas," said Solberg, a Dallas native.
"We also wanted to stir an interest in slide rules," Francis said.
A communications engineer, Francis has 600 slide rules at home. He has business cards that identify him as "The Slide Rule Guy." He even has a Web site: www.SlideRuleGuy.com.
Francis said he started collecting them because they were something he knew about, they don't take up much room, they are available and affordable.
William Oughtred, an Episcopal minister and mathematician, is credited with inventing the slide rule sometime in the 1620s. For 350 years, it was an important tool of engineers.
Through the early 1970s, most high school math students were subjected to slide rules -- two interlocking but movable rulers with various numbered scales that can perform amazing mathematical calculations.
Every engineer worthy of his plastic pocket protector had one until small, inexpensive electronic calculators came on the scene. Suddenly slide rules didn't add up anymore.
"But the slide rule built the entire infrastructure of our country," Francis said. It also put men on the moon.
And so, in tribute to the slide rule, Solberg and Francis bought a bunch of 8-foot lengths of 1-inch-by-2-inch wood. They created three strips -- two outer strips connected at the base and a sliding inner strip. They glued thousands of numbers to the wood.
The 352 feet results from 44 eight-foot sections. They said they settled on 44 sections because 44 is a nice even number, it sets a record and because that's all they could get in the truck.
With the help of Lockheed Martin, which has big buildings, it was assembled Wednesday morning.
Solberg and Francis call it "The Texas Magnum, model TM 1." The name suggests that there could be a TM 2.
Solberg said the design allows them to easily add more lengths of wood, ensuring that Fort Worth and Texas will forever hold the record for the grandest slide rule there is.
"If anybody beats us, we'll just top it again," Solberg said. "It helps to be retired, you know. We spent a lot of time on this."
"The plan now is to keep it in Skip's garage," Francis said. "We have no plans at this time to do anything else with the slide rule. Perhaps we could bring it out for some kind of engineering expo.
"It takes the better part of a day to put it together."
Paul Bourgeois, (817) 390-7796
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