HomeA publication of the Post-Bulletin Company, Rochester, MN
August 2004

Rochester Magazine is distributed at hotels and on racks throughout Rochester, Minn.


Secrets of the City
The time traveler most likely to be spotted in Rochester; bet office view; local man, based on his past history, most likely to set his face on fire; worst float ever in a Rochester parade; the city's oldest league bowler; much more.

Oddchester: The Idiot's Guide for Dummies
Marmaduke. Heloise. Green screen.

Short Cuts
Letters; Dear Maggie; Conventional Wisdom; Four Facts; and a bunch of other stuff that didn't fit anywhere else in the magazine.

Wisconsin's Mississippi belles
The Mississippi River has been drawing tourists, in some form, for the last 15,000 years, give or take.

Small Town Spotlight: Wabasha/Kellogg
Especially in August, as the pleasure boats and cool breezes travel along the Mississippi, it's easy to see why early settlers chose to well here.

• Where to Shop
• Where to Eat
• Places to Stay
• Places to Worship
• Stepping Out
• Maps

Illustration by Nancy Fryer

Secrets of the City

A sampling

Time traveler most likely to be spotted in Rochester

By Patrick Stephenson

In November 2000, messages from a self-proclaimed time traveler, who called himself John Titor, began to appear on Internet discussion boards. Despite the surreal nature of Titor's story, the intelligence and lucidity implicit within his messages were, to many, convincing. Moreover, his claims held up under questioning from many Internet skeptics. The story soon became the stuff of Internet legend.

Titor claimed he'd traveled from 2036, a time of disrepair in the wake of a nuclear conflict that had killed three billion people worldwide, and that had resulted from an American civil war between rural and city dwellers. To provide proof of his predictions and claims, Titor gave exacting descriptions of the technology that had allowed him to move backward in time, and uploaded photos of the temporal components he'd installed into, of all vehicles, a 1967 Chevrolet.

However, warning of future events, and becoming a Cassandra, were not among Titor's foremost objectives. He felt that the destruction he'd predicted was inevitable. His real mission, he said, had been to travel to Rochester, Minnesota in 1975 and make contact with his grandfather, an engineer on the team in charge of developing a computer called the IBM 5100, which Titor needed to acquire. He claimed the 5100's future value came from an ability that hadn't been revealed by IBM upon its release, and that this then unknown function was required by scientists in Titor's time to resolve a computer problem they'd encountered.

Illustration by Jeffrey Johnson
According to Bob Dubke, the second engineer on IBM's 5100 team in Rochester (who now co-owns a locally-based company called eXport Ventures Corp. and also works for Edina Realty), that secret function was his contribution to the design of the computer. The function, which IBM suppressed because of worries about how their competition might use it, was an interface between the assembly code surrounding the computer's ROM exterior, and the 360 emulator hidden beneath it. (IBM declined to comment for this story.) The 5100's emulator gave programmers access to the functions of the monstrous, and much less portable machines, that IBM had produced during the 1960s. An imprint of a hook on the outside of the 5100 symbolized the ability of Dubke's interface to drop into what Titor called "legacy code," and scoop out any necessary operating instructions.

A hook is an appropriate symbol for Titor's story. His posts ended in March 2001, after his supposed return to the future. In the wake of his disappearance, the claims he'd made about the 5100 became the starting point from which all manner of Internet kooks conducted searches for proof of his claims. Unlike his vague predictions of future doom, the information he'd relayed about the 5100 was concrete, and filled with statements that readers could research. It's a surprise, then, that Dubke hadn't heard about the Titor debacle until we contacted him in July.

Period documentation Dubke provided calls the computer a "dramatic step forward," and reveals that the 5100 team were justifiably excited about their project's release. According to Dubke, they'd been set free from bureaucratic controls, and so had worked smoothly and efficiently on the 5100's design. The end result was a computer that, though antiquated in comparison to current technology, was an engineering marvel. Bulky but functional. When Dubke first heard about John Titor, his main question was not of whether John Titor was a time traveler, ("I'm not a ‘Star Trek' watcher," he says, "or into building fantasies") but of who among his team had the right sense of humor to orchestrate the furor created by Titor's posts.

"Somebody is trying to tickle somebody else," Dubke says. In response to our inquiries, he mentally reviewed the list of engineers with whom he'd spent turbulent and fun times at IBM. One candidate who emerged, a man with a "caustic" sense of humor, seemed to Dubke to be the most likely jokester. However, as he reviewed Titor's posts, he dismissed them as being "too simple" to be the product of any of his friends, and his eyes stumbled over the sight of the phrase "legacy code," which, he says, no members of the 5100 team would ever use. He concludes that Titor's 5100 material was merely "derived from information available on the Internet."

Despite skepticism, online debate over Titor continues to this day, three years after his redeparture for the future. And we may never know if he time-traveled to Rochester. But maybe more importantly, the roots of the civil conflict that eventually turned nuclear will soon take hold, and will be caused by an upcoming event at year's end, he warned, most likely the presidential election. By 2008, said Titor, there won't be any question about whether we're at war, but he refused to provide specifics. "How can you possibly criticize me for any conflict that comes to you?" Titor asked. "I watch every day what you're doing as a society. While you sit by and watch your Constitution being torn away from you, you willfully eat poisoned food, buy manufactured products no one needs and turn an uncaring eye away from millions of people suffering and dying all around you.

"Perhaps I should let you all in on a little secret. No one likes you in the future. This time period is looked at as being full of lazy, self-centered, civically ignorant sheep. Perhaps you should be less concerned about me and more concerned about that."

Local inventor who almost invented the slinky

Otto Haling (center)
By Anne Allen

"Invent a better mousetrap, and thieves will find a way to your doorstep," Otto Haling used to say. The local man who developed a machine to make steel coils ought to know, since it was one of his coils — invented as part of the process of making steel piston rings for motors — that a clever young entrepreneur later adapted and marketed as one of the most popular toys of all time: the Slinky.

Otto Haling was a born tinkerer. As a class project in machine shop at Rochester High School in 1918, he built a full-sized tractor, which his father used for the next ten years on the family farm just north of the city (where the Valhalla and Elton Hills East subdivisions are today). The tractor had a plain tube carburetor that Otto had invented to help it run on less gasoline. The idea impressed the John Deere Company so much that they offered Haling a job in their Waterloo plant, and paid him $500 for the patent. At the time, the teen-aged machinist thought that was a lot of money. It was only later that he began to think he might have been had.

But that wasn't why Haling left Deere's employ a couple of years later. He simply didn't like working for other people. Returning to Rochester, he got married and opened a small machine shop, the Haling Piston Ring Company, in the former Rochester Chick Hatchery on First Avenue Southeast, across the street from his home.

Around 1933 Haling designed a steel ventilated piston ring, which made the pistons in engines move more smoothly and cut the use of oil by more than half. Bending the thin Swedish steel bars for each ring was time consuming, so Haling invented a machine that made the bars into steel coils. Now he could produce upwards of 20,000 identically-shaped rings in a day. Because the coils were simply a way of making it easier to form the piston rings, he didn't bother to patent them.

In 1943, a naval engineer named Richard James was trying to develop a meter that would monitor horsepower on naval warships. While experimenting with a tension spring made from one of Haling's steel coils, he dropped one on the floor, where it began to "walk." Fascinated, James took the spring home to show his wife, Betty. "I think I can make a toy out of this," he told her. Two years later, he patented the "walking" spring, which his wife had christened the Slinky. Exhibited at Gimbel's Department Store in Philadelphia during the 1945 Christmas season, the Slinky was an instant success (and sold 100 million units in the first 10 years). Two hundred and fifty million Slinkys later, James Industries is still making and selling Slinkys, but since Haling's steel coils were not protected by patent, he could only sigh and wish he'd seen their whimsical potential himself.

But Haling was more interested in the inventive process than in patenting his ideas. By the time he died in December 1991, he had developed more than 100 inventions, including a boring machine to make compression piston rings and valve seats that made gasoline motors work more efficiently. He sold his piston rings — and other machine parts — all over the world. Every so often, he would come across one of his inventions being marketed in the trade catalogs under someone else's trademark.

Haling never built a big factory. He continued to do all his work in the little machine shop where he started out, seldom employing more than one assistant. In his spare time, he rebuilt engines and puttered with his machines, always looking for a way to make them run more efficiently. He also taught classes in auto mechanics at RCTC.

Haling was well-known in Rochester for the letters he wrote to the editor of the Post-Bulletin on topics ranging from the virtues of free enterprise to the dangers of nuclear war. He was a staunch Republican, an isolationist and a vocal anti-war spokesman. In May 1977, the Society of Manufacturing Engineers gave him an award for the substantial contribution he made to the Society through the editorials he frequently wrote for its newsletter.

The Haling Piston Ring Company no longer exists, but Otto Haling has not been forgotten. RCTC offers an annual scholarship in his name to students in the auto mechanics program. Since it was established shortly after his death, fourteen students have received assistance through the scholarship.

Rochester's worst parade float

It was, judging from the grainy black-and-white photo, a relatively standard float. People in costumes driving and standing on a flat-bed pickup truck draped with a banner of stars. But the costumes were KKK. The Ku Klux Klan sponsored a float in Rochester's Fourth of July parade (back when we had a Fourth of July parade) in 1926. The truck was driven by two men in the traditional white robes and headresses, while a third Klansman stood in back waving the American flag.

The 1920s were a period of strong Klan activity in America. In 1923 Minnesota was said to have ten active klans. Racial tensions caused by the flood of black laborers pouring into northern industrial cities were only part of their appeal. Opposition to increased immigration from abroad, fear of radical political movements in the wake of the Russian Revolution, the growing power of labor unions, and the increasing social and economic power of Catholics and Jews all played a role in the Klan's explosive growth.

Rumors of Klan activity in Rochester first appeared in 1922. On September 28, 1923, the city awoke to find copies of the KKK's Minnesota publication, Call of the Wild, on the doorstep of every home and business in town. The next day, Rochester's two newspapers received threatening letters in the mail, written in ink on pieces of white bed sheets.

On March 3, 1924, a series of explosions sounded on a bluff to the north of town, and people living nearby reported seeing a burning cross. In 1925, a Klan rally in Kasson attracted a crowd of 500. The main speaker had given an address the week before at Rochester's Flag Day celebration.

But the Klan never acquired a serious following in Rochester, perhaps because minorities were not a major economic concern here. Although for a time it was able to seize political power in Indiana, Oklahoma, and Oregon, the Klan's strong-arm tactics were not well-received in most American communities. By the end of the 1920s, it had begun to run out of steam, and while it experienced a brief resurgence during the mid-1960s, it never regained widespread popular approval.

And they haven't, as far as we could find, had a float in any Rochester parade since.

For these and dozens more of the city's secrets, just pick up your Rochester Magazine at any of our 200 locations throughout Rochester.

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