Now In: The Ted Ornas Interviews!
5 Interviews with IH Truck Stylist Pioneer & World known Scout Creator: Ted Ornas
By Dick Hatch (These are the notes from his interviews)
Interview with Ted Ornas – 02/08/08
Coventry Meadows Assisted Living Center
Fort Wayne IN
For over 20 years, I have toyed with the idea of writing a book. Because my career at International Harvester (later Navistar, then International Truck and Engine Corp.) spanned 40 years in their Industrial Design Department, many assumed that the subject of my book would be the history of that group. While I too have had a strong interest in that story, many other subjects have also been on my mind. So, when I retired at the beginning of 2007, I worked on a number of writing projects simultaneously. However, the one topic that I continued to feel compelled to write is International’s design history.
Although I have had continuous access to departmental materials, have a relationship with the keeper of the corporate archives in Wisconsin, and meet frequently with other departmental members and retirees, I have always recognized that the one person who really knows the story is Ted Ornas, founder of the department – many years retired, but still living in Fort Wayne. He is also the person who hired me, but at the lowest level, so we were not close. But I correctly believed that we always maintained a high level of respect for one another.
Today, I resolved to call Ted and see how interested he would be in an interview. From our phone conversation, I learned the following:
Ted has recently moved to an assisted living center just 2 miles from where I live. In fact, we have a view of the same landscape from the back windows of our two residences.
Ted is now 90 years old. (By the time of our second interview, Ted had achieved age 91.)
He seemed quite well and completely as I remembered him in speech and mannerisms.
Once he learned why I had called, he was immediately interested in conducting one or more face-to-face interviews, and was more than willing to start today.
He gave me excellent directions, and we agreed to meet at his residence at 2:30 this afternoon.
I stopped to pick up a small box of candy, a less than adequate gesture for a tremendous 40-year career, and easily found his assisted living apartment. Finding the facility to be very much like one my parents had used just a few years ago, I felt very much at home as I traversed the halls and knocked at the door. I wondered if Ted would look as familiar as he sounded, and more importantly, I had no idea what the status of his wife Esther would be. After a short delay, Ted answered the door and both questions were quickly answered, as follows:
Ted was noticeably thinner than the last time I had seen him, perhaps 3 years ago at the local airport
He was using one of those fancy walkers with the storage, seat, big wheels, and brakes, with which it was somewhat difficult for him to back away from the door so that I could get in.
As I entered, Ted offered his hand. We shook hands, and I was about to offer him the candy, when the bedroom door opened and Esther came forward. She was dressed in a housecoat and also looked much as I remembered her from the airport. I quickly offered the candy to her instead, and Ted began explaining in more detail who I was. Apparently she had already been briefed on why I was coming.
Ted seemed to move to a chair by the window but facing into the room. I was uncertain where to sit, thinking that another chair facing Ted might be Esther’s. However, she moved to the sofa and sat down, while I took a chair equidistant from both of them.
I began the interview with a sincere and fairly straightforward statement of appreciation for his having hired me and allowed me to stay during his tenure, noting that my original intentions had been to stay in Fort Wayne for only a brief time. However, the job and the community had “grown on me” continuously, and I had virtually never thought about changing companies. Neither of us quite knew where to start the process, but as we found our bearings, two nagging questions were answered right away:
When did Ted Ornas found the internal Industrial Design Department at International?
ANSWER:He came to Fort Wayne in 1951
What was the first major truck design project for which he takes credit?
ANSWER:The R-line/L-line medium trucks, introduced in 1949 were designed by his firm, Ornas-La Barre, operating in Detroit
While trying to find a track for our interview, Ted further identified me to Esther with something I had forgotten about. He noted that I had been a hard worker, even to the extent that other members had nicknamed me “Little Ted”. Working backwards from the 1951 date, Ted found an interesting train of information describing his early career:
He graduated from the Cleveland Institute of Art in 1939, after 4 years of study, and receiving a degree.
His friends scoffed at the notion that he could get a job and survive in the art world, since the country was just barely crawling out from under the depression.
Ted went to Detroit and managed to be accepted into the first General Motors Styling Training Class. The leader of the experimental group was an uninspiring designer named Reggie Bennett, who doled out boring assignments such as door handles, expecting designers to crank out “wallpaper” on such subjects until given a new assignment.
Participants were kept at considerable distance from GM’s actual styling studios, perhaps because of fear that young designers in the program would see too much, but then bolt for competitors. (Possible, but GM was already considered the ultimate place to work.)
When Bennett brought in a ¼ scale model with a 1939 Buick-like front end, proclaiming it to be the certain future of the automobile, Ted was disgusted, and thought about leaving the program.
However, he was able to befriend GM designer George W. Walker, who actually gave him a little “after hours” work to do.
Ted was overwhelmed by his desire to return to Cleveland, where the love of his life, Esther, was waiting for him.
Compensation was also a little underwhelming, at $75 per month. Participants were supposed to make $125 per month by their completion of one year in the program, but that was far short of the $200 monthly being made by practicing designers at GM, a position for which Ted felt qualified.
Despite the threat of being blackballed by GM, Ted left the program in November, 1939, returning to Cleveland to marry Esther.
With a little uncertainty about prewar events, both for Ted and for George Walker, we can proceed to the wartime years which find Ted back in Detroit, working for George Walker, who by this time has left GM, worked briefly for Graham-Paige, and finally founded his own design firm:
Ted has nothing but praise for George Walker, and found him generous. Ted also did well with Walker and during this time, started doing some sketches for Walker’s account with International Harvester’s Motor Truck Division. Ted signed Walker’s name to his sketches, which remained very mysterious, since Walker alone made the trips to Fort Wayne and revealed very little to his staff.
Walker also had a contract with the military at this time, and was dabbling in what most designers were doing during the war – imagining what post-war products would look like. George typically left Ted alone to pursue his own directions, except for the necessary course corrections dictated by the “secret” assignments.
Although immersed in a good job situation, Ted began to tire of doing endless sketches, especially with so little supporting information. However, during these George Walker years, some other opportunities came along.
Ted did some glamour advertisements for Bohn Aluminum, which appeared in Fortune Magazine, albeit with Walker’s name signed to them. Walker had the Admiral account, and Eureka vacuum cleaners as well. Ted managed to design a low-slung vacuum cleaner which was accepted by Eureka, and resulted in the firing of their chief designer. Ted was still doing occasional work for IH, and still with GW’s name attached. Ted’s employment with George Walker ran from December, 1939 through 1945.
The real Mecca for designers in the mid-forties was New York City. Ted mentioned Henry Dreyfus, Norman Bel Geddes, Frank Lloyd Wright, Raymond Lowey, and others who practiced there. Ted left George Walker’s organization, and taking a job with Donald Deskey Associates moved to NYC and remembers at least two areas of design which took place there:
Unitized central heating and utility systems for post-war houses (his later partner, Dwight La Barre worked on this)
Super-structures for yachts (Ted worked on this)
The former were quite brilliant in concept, and were developed to the point where five notable architects designed houses and installations for the same, to take place in Kalamazoo MI. However, union concerns kept the plumbing/heating/electrical/cooling merger from going forward. Borg-Warner was the manufacturer.
The yachts were designed for post-war buyers, to be made by the Wheeler Boat Company, which had distinguished itself building cargo ships for moving wartime material. Ted’s yacht designs were built, but even Ted feels his thinking was too automotive for a small market of traditionalist yachtsmen. The designs were not too well received, and the company then floundered because of divorces and money problems in the Wheeler family. This work was on 60-65’ yachts and occurred during 1944-6.
Ted’s initial attraction to NYC stemmed partly from the offices at Rockefeller Plaza, where the first contacts took place. He was inspired to bring a friend, Joe Esses on board as well, dragging Joe away from a foreshortened honeymoon – minus his new wife.
Unfortunately, the actual design facility turned out to be a loft area in the Garment District, near 33rd and Lexington.
Ted worked at Deskey with a design engineer named Dwight La Barre. The two really respected each other and their talents were very complementary.
Ted had managed to garner the U.S. Time (makers of watches) account, which company had recently been sold to European interests who had a bold new idea: Turn watches into disposable, practical items of fashion, rather than the heirlooms which they had been.
A French Mr. Godart provided an endless stream of new thoughts on watches, and once proclaimed, “Damn it, Ted, if only I could draw, I wouldn’t need you!”
Ted and Dwight concluded that it was time to start their own business, Ornas-La Barre, which they did. Dwight was not only a superb engineer, but also served as the chief solicitor for new business.
Limping by on $200 per month, Ted and Dwight elected to move back to “God’s country”, Detroit.
Once back in Detroit, the following took place:
Ornas-La Barre established their firm in Detroit in the Ford Building, downtown, mostly for the prestige that the name would bring. This was a one-room operation. Dwight had inherited a large cottage at nearby Watkins Lake, and the two young designers lived there with their families. The Ornas’s had two children by this time, but the two women found it somewhat difficult to share a house.
Income was extremely scarce, and Ted recalls an entire year during which he drew no salary. He also recounted the story of a minor traffic infraction, for which he was given a $1 ticket, and the extent to which he protested it to save the dollar.
Ornas-La Barre had an opportunity to display their talents at street-level in the Ford Building. Gradually, more work (and money) came in, as Wettlauffer’s sent some overflow work to the little firm, and during one strike at Chrysler, that company sent some engineering-type work to Ornas-La Barre. At their peak, Ornas-La Barre employed 40 people, but the situation did not have long-term stability.
Ted noted that the bills were always paid. Esther confirmed that, somehow or another, there had always been food on the table.
Never-the-less, Ted and Dwight agreed that their company did not have a good prognosis, and at one point, they agreed to split after one more week, if no significant work came in. That was the week that a cold call came in from International Harvester!
IH was doing substantial engineering work at Wettlauffer’s in Detroit. The IH representative who called Ornas-La Barre asked if they could do some work on a new medium-heavy truck. It seems that IH was experiencing an impasse on what the truck should look like. Ornas-Labar agreed immediately to work on the project. The cab of the truck had been designed internally by IH engineers, and the light duty models were already completely designed. Ornas-La Barre was asked to help adapt the design to a medium truck series.
Ted remembers this project of salvation in this way:
They immediately began the “wallpaper” process, with some dimensional information, but scant practical or emotional background for such truck products. In a sense, Ted felt almost as much mystery in his direct project with International, as he had earlier when George Walker was presumed to hold the missing links.
The project progressed quickly, and Ted moved from the sketch stage to airbrush renderings, which were then blown up to nearly life size. These were displayed at the Ford Building mentioned above, and were quite impressive. Then two GM modelers were enticed to moonlight during the construction of a preliminary scale model.
A Mr. Reese was head of IH Motor Truck Engineering at that time, and led the delegation to review Ornas-La Barre’s work. All were very pleased, and Mr. Reese took Ted aside, hoping that the firm could build a full-size clay model of the design. Again, Ted answered in the affirmative without hesitation.
Ted and Dwight recognized the gravity of their situation, while presumably, IH did not. Ornas-La Barre had never built a clay model, scale or otherwise, and employed no one who knew how to do so. Further, they lacked both the space and the equipment to complete the task.
The first step was a move to larger facilities on Mound Road, followed by a unique deal in which a Detroit scale model entrepreneur named Eddie Matusik was hired in exchange for the use of his modeling equipment. Jack Wiley was also hired and did an excellent job.
That being a success, the modelers stayed on to help as drafts were made from the scale model, then the full-size clay model was developed from the drafts. Ted estimates that three months were required to build the full size model, noting that prior to this experience, he had never even seen a full size clay vehicle model!
For the show to IH executives, Ornas-Labar went to the extreme of having a professional firm come in with decorations, plants, carpets, and the like for their facility. More mundane details, such as basic cleaning were taken care of by Esther and other volunteers.
A fine lunch was served, and the big show was a total success, with the clay model being “blessed”. Ted remembers being so tired – in fact out of shape and practically ill, that he was unable at that time to obtain health insurance. He admits to using liquor to calm down.
Ted later found himself at the dining table with the president of IH, and could only mutter, “Would you like some cream?”- gesturing towards the coffee set before them. In retrospect, Ted feels that he benefitted by saying no more than that.
Ornas-La Barre was pondering how to move some of IH’s engineering business from Wettlauffer into their own sphere, and decided that yet another move was in order. This time, Ornas-La Barre took over a defunct restaurant building across the corner from GM’s stunning new Tech Center, under construction at the time.
While finishing up the design project for International, Ted received a call from a rather disturbed designer named Dick Caleal who claimed that George Walker had promised the IH business to him, on Mr. Walker’s being hired by Ford to head their design operation. Ted gave the man just enough of a view of the project to prove that O-L, and not the other fellow, would be designing IH’s new truck line. In a way, the man was a double loser because he is believed to be the actual designer of the 1949 Ford, for which George Walker has received much acclaim.
The L-line/R-line project was carried through, and Ted was feeling successful enough to buy a brand new Oldsmobile Rocket 88. However, the next IH project carried with it the possibility of ruining Ornas-La Barre, International Harvester, or both! Ted remembers it this way:
Ted got a call from the head of IH’s Motor Truck Group, who was extremely fearful of a looming recession, anticipated just as International would be needing its next new series of trucks. His requirement for Ornas-La Barre was an “austerity truck”, so-called both because of the desire for low tooling and development cost, and low selling and maintenance costs to the buyer.
By following IH’s dictates, the “austerity truck” started to take shape, and Ted recalls it as a horrible shape, with flat glass, simplified cab that used the same door for left and right sides, and a homely front end driven partly by IH’s unwillingness to pay for any deep-draw tooling. The whole interior was to be bare sheet metal.
At first, Ornas-La Barre, who were compelled to do what IH wanted, offered no resistance to the horrible design. But as the project gained more publicity throughout the higher reaches of International, two camps emerged: The cost and function executive and engineering coalition, and the sales and marketing leaders who knew they would have to go out and sell the ugly product.
As the “austerity truck” continued in development, IH leaders intimated that Ted ought to consider joining International directly, starting up an internal styling group at their grand new engineering center in Fort Wayne IN. Ted remembers Raymond Lowey having something to do with the building (he definitely designed the IH logo), but a very famous architect – Albert Kahn has his name on the cornerstone of the building, which is still used today by International.
By this time, the very warm and successful relationship between Ted and Dwight was beginning to sour in several areas, and Ted agreed to IH’s suggestion, ending the partnership with Dwight. Ornas-La Barre had, at their high point, employed up to 40 people – mostly engineers, and did some jobs for Chrysler during a protracted strike at that company.
However, Ted’s initiation into International Harvester was fraught with disappointments:
The grand new engineering center had no place designed into it for a styling department.
The office offered to Ted, the only designer for the time being, had no windows in it.
Leadership was developing a scheme in which new designs would be developed without full-size models; scale models would be taken directly to full-size drafts.
The “austerity truck” was coming closer to fruition, and not looking any better.
Ted was hired by Mr. Reese, expecting to work for Carl Lindblum – head of Advanced Engineering. The head of Body Design at the time was Fred Lee.
After a short while at International, Ted was weighing the spectacular surroundings and prestige of his equals in Detroit, and also fearing that neither he nor International could survive the predictable failure of the “austerity truck” in the marketplace.
Ted concluded that he owed the company his continuing assistance through the die-model stage of development, after which he would leave IH. However, by this time, the Marketing gurus had planted enough fear seeds among the pro-austerity faction, and their leader, a Mr. Shumaker paid Ted a crucial visit.
Schumaker asked Ted why Marketing had such distaste for the truck. Ted didn’t have the courage to tell him in precise terms, but realized that “the worm had turned” just in the inquiry. The design, as planned, died and more or less metamorphosed into the “S-line”, a much better looking truck.
Even the “S-line” carried a few disappointments forward into production, but Ted knew that he had been allowed to create a winner, and thus stayed on to continue the development of his department.
(Note some uncertainty as to whether the S-Line is the correct identity of the vehicle which grew out of the earlier “austerity truck” program)
The plan to abandon full-size models was still in effect by 1951, but Ted was beginning to acquire young designers, and one pattern maker was recast as a clay modeler. Ted also commandeered the only surface plate from the pattern shop’s control, and thus paved the way for full-size modeling to again become favorable.
Second Interview (05/23/08):
More time had elapsed between the first and second interviews with Mr. Ornas. During that time, Ted had found it necessary to have his wife Esther moved to another area of the building where she could receive intensified and specialized care. He was very complimentary of the staff and facilities where she now resides, and noted the pleasure he takes in being able to see her every day.
For my account, I had become very tied up with another writing project, and then endured a series of illnesses before finally scheduling this May 23 meeting. This time, when I knocked, Ted called for me to come on in. He was seated at a round dining table and had an obvious mound of reference materials on hand for the discussion. I took the seat across from him and was about to suggest that we spend some time discussing his pre-college years, when Ted offered to do exactly that. Here is some of what he provided:
Ted was born in and grew up in Cleveland OH. He described his kindergarten experience at Warner Road School, where he was immediately enthralled by their supply of various sizes and shapes of building blocks. Ted was automatically inclined towards large projects, such as bridges - although his teachers thought he was reaching beyond appropriate projects for his age.
There were similar opportunities at the Ornas home. Ted’s father often brought home wood scraps from food crates, and Ted spent many an hour building projects from these.
Ted described his early design tools as a hammer, a saw, and some nails. He managed some pretty sophisticated projects with these. One of the first, at age 8, (1923) was an operating scooter.
In awe of Charles Lindberg’s 1927 trans-Atlantic flight, Ted built a large scale “model” of the aircraft which was large enough for him to sit in. It was equipped with a motor from a discarded Victrola, powering a moving propeller on the front. Ted could easily imagine himself flying as he had friends push him down the sidewalk in his homebuilt contraption with the propeller revolving!
Ted mentioned his favorite boyhood book, “The Boy Mechanic.” It was the source of much inspiration and “how-to” information. As a frequenter of used book stores, I briefly considered trying to find a copy of the book for Ted, but then he revealed that he had just unloaded his original copy within the past year!
From grades 1-4, Ted attended a Catholic school. He could very often be found there drawing advanced aircraft with very imaginative characteristics.
Another whole aspect of Ted’s talents and interests took me by surprise – his interest in music:
During grades 5-7, Ted learned to play the harmonica, followed by the ukulele, and then the accordion.
In the grade 9-10 era, he moved on to the plectrum banjo (it has a longer neck than the tenor banjo).
During high school, Ted advanced to the guitar. His Bacon & Day plectrum banjo and Gibson L-10 guitar were prize instruments, which he kept and are now in the hands of his two sons. I could not help noticing that even today, a Les Paul electric guitar and amplifier were prominent in his living room.
Ted noted that he had the privilege of playing many beer-garden gigs, and later described a summer (1937) job playing in a dance band aboard a Cunard Lines ocean liner, traveling to Europe with some time to explore while there.
Although Ted never lost his interest in designing new things, particularly aircraft, he did not pursue any high school art classes – finding the subject matter rather inconsequential compared with the projects which he pursued privately. Instead, music occupied much of his time.
Ted filled in several “holes” around his college years and his decision to study Industrial Design:
He graduated from Garfield Heights High School in September, 1935.
During the summer of 1936, Ted worked as mail clerk at the huge Cleveland Woolen Mills facility. He described how difficult it was to find work with only a high school education during these latter days of the Depression.
It was in that setting that Ted made his decision to pursue art at the college level. He assembled a portfolio which consisted of more copied artwork than original design, which resulted in his being awarded a working scholarship at Cleveland Institute of Art. This meant that he would be enrolled in exchange for cleaning the studio rooms, etc.
I had hoped to obtain answers to several obvious questions about Ted’s pre-college years, as well as his later years at International. We were able to discuss some of these as follows:
I asked what nationality was associated with the name “Ornas”. He said that family members had done considerable research on the subject, finding both Latin and Swedish words of the same spelling. However, these had not turned out to be associated with the family name, and the best understanding is that “Ornas” came from one of the Germanic principalities which later formed the German nation or one of its neighbors. He traces his mother’s side of the family to Polish roots.
During the first interview, Ted had mentioned having 2 children during the Detroit years. I asked if there were more, and he listed all four of his children, as follows:
While he was obviously proud of all of their children, he paid a special compliment to Donna for the recent help she had provided during his and Esther’s medical difficulties and the disposal of their house and unwanted property.
I felt that there were more family-based questions that would be important to Ted’s life story, but we had already spent nearly three hours in interview. During that time, Ted interjected much commentary about two other subjects: The foundation of the Industrial Design business during the 1920’s-1940’s, and the stories of a couple specific projects at International. I will cover Ted’s comments on these two subjects below. He and I agreed that other family topics, as well as his later years at International will have to wait for yet another session.
Foundation of Industrial Design as a profession:
Ted had on the table a well-preserved book from the early years written by Moholy-Nagy, one of the practitioners and philosophers of Bauhaus design thinking. In fact, Ted read a few lines from various points in the book, which were as impressive in their insights as they were dense in their expression.
Moholy-Nagy is credited with the moniker “Industrial Design”, but was perhaps too advanced in some of his other ideas. Ted pointed out that this ID founder had had a very keen appreciation for the environment and the appropriate use of resources.
Ted mentioned that Teague, Lowey, and Dreyfus had dominated popular recognition of Industrial Design, but that many others had been equal or greater contributors. In particular, Ted honored his own professor at Cleveland Institute of Art, Viktor Schreckengost. This icon recently passed away at age 101, and has been much honored since. Ted and other former students had been invited to send examples and information about their work to a recent Schreckengost commemorative event, in which Ted did participate. He is currently anticipating the return of the materials which he had contributed.
Ted is especially appreciative of Viktor’s willingness to take him back into the program at Cleveland after he ill-advisedly left it at one point.
Several pre-conditions to the establishment of Industrial Design were also on Ted’s mind. He mentioned the well-known story of Alfred P. Sloan’s thoughtful and groundbreaking formation of General Motors. In addition, he credits Sloan with the incorporation of the annual model change as a means for regenerating excitement. Since the appearance of new model cars would be the most obvious annual changes, this made the practice of Industrial Design extremely critical to market success.
Not surprisingly, GM was the first to form an internal Industrial Design department, choosing brash and energetic Harley J. Earl as its first head.
Ted mentioned that only an “Earl” type personality could have withstood the legions of GM engineers, who at first despised the idea of incorporating the work of “artists” into product development programs.
Earl’s first contribution was the 1929 Buick – often referred to as the “pregnant Buick”, and perhaps not indicative of the magnificent work which Earl and his staff did later on.
Ted alluded to the many experimental “looks” which the early automotive designers tried – some with great success, and others proving that the profession was still in its infancy. Of course, virtually every design is compromised during its development as well.
Ted correctly identified himself as one of the very few survivors of the foundation of corporate Industrial Design, which really found its footing in post-WW II America. There was far greater general recognition of the value of ID during the 1940’s than there had been prior to the war.
Regarding some of his memorable projects at International, Ted recounted many aspects of the Scout story. Thankfully, the name of Ted Ornas is widely recognized as pivotal in both the development of International’s first Scout (introduction: 1960), and the larger contribution of introducing the Sport Utility Vehicle to the American market place. Here are some of his recollections:
Ted did not claim responsibility for thinking up the SUV idea, but described how the first Scout grew naturally out of a sort of vague assignment presented to him by Mr. Reese. Reese, along with some other executives, had recently traveled throughout the Southwest, and came back realizing that, in many respects, people were trying to use WW II Jeep vehicles as replacements for the venerable horse. However, the execs felt that a better product could be developed to stand in “old Dobbin’s” place.
As with many projects, finding a path to a new solution proved to be elusive. Because of the utilitarian nature and unknown demand for the new product, very low cost tooling was envisioned – which would automatically result in very boxy, slab-sided results. Ted was not surprised to see interest in the project flagging as sketch after sketch failed to charm the executives.
Several approaches to finding an affordable, yet more sculptural solution were tried. Even the use of Willys passenger car tooling, then out of service, was considered for some portions of the body.
Ted had allowed himself to start thinking about shapelier bodies, even without a clear idea on how to achieve them. He did his now famous sketch at home on the kitchen table, and found that many at International were lukewarm to the concept – entirely because they were unsure of how to achieve it within cost.
Other ideas included the use of US Rubber plastics, possibly including Royalex, but early studies showed that component dimensional stability was not acceptable. B.F. Goodrich materials proved better in dependability, but could not be used at the desired piece-prices and may have lacked the required strength.
A major breakthrough occurred when Mr. Buzard, head of IH Motor Truck Division finally “bit the bullet” and said “Why not just do it in steel?” That was the go-ahead for Ted to develop the final shapely and attractive Scout body design, while not incorporating extremely expensive-to-tool forms.
The actual clay model was built in Detroit at Creative Industries, a firm used many times over the years by International. However, it took considerable wrangling to get Creative to stick to established modeling practices; they were trying to build the clay model on a concrete floor rather than the normal precision surface plate.
IH was not viewed as a major customer, but ultimately demanded and got the professional results they were paying for by obtaining use of a legitimate surface plate, and providing IH-sourced modelers in the persons of Joe Vidra and Bela (Bill) Bardos.
Some obstacles, primarily financial, also showed up in Fort Wayne, where accountants were reluctant to fund expensive dinners for the modelers who had worked night and day to complete the project.
The Scout 80 was seen as a “tool” in the hands of small business owners of all kinds. An interesting application, realistic or not, was envisioned by Mr. Buzard, who demanded the development of a bed cover. Over time, this evolved into a full-length roof ILO the pick-up style roof of the original design. He reasoned that when liquor stores delivered full cases of beverages to homeowners, they would not want these carried in an open bed where the contents would be subject to theft.
One of the last pieces of the Scout puzzle to fall into place was the sourcing of the engine. IH looked all over the world for a suitable 4-cylinder engine, before realizing that the perfect answer lay in their own parts bin. It was decided to “slice” the existing IH V-8 engine in half, resulting in a slant-4 which was perfect for the application.
The final concern was finding a location for Scout manufacture. Many companies were interested in building the product for IH, but ultimately, the U.S. Rubber steering wheel plant adjacent to IH’s Fort Wayne Assembly plant became available, and was purchased for Scout production.
More than once during our conversation, Ted mentioned the utter surprise IH felt when it was discovered that in addition to business men buying Scouts, a large number of women were also buying them. A research firm was engaged to determine why – and the simple answer came back: Scouts were cute!
Indeed, their non-threatening good looks and small size made Scouts welcome in almost any neighborhood, which was not true of pick-ups at that time.
Ted then extended the Scout story into a quick account of the development of its replacement – the Scout II.
The idea was to make the vehicle even more attractive, a little larger, and incorporate more choices of power and drive train.
Ted said the Scout II was developed mostly in rented facilities at Wettlaufer’s in Detroit and proceeded without a lot of interference from factions that might have favored different directions. This project was marked by definite IH control (unlike the Creative Industries experience), with Ted hiring the modelers and designers.
While much was accomplished in Detroit, Ted was growing tired of the 2-5 days per week spent traveling back and forth. At the same time, Fort Wayne’s Industrial Park was developing and looking for tenants. They desired a big name such as IH to lend prestige to their development. So the company agreed to build a design facility at Industrial Park, which was completed in record time and provided a very competitive and contemporary design development facility.
Despite having extensive glass and an overall attractive design, the new facility was short-changed by accountants again when they refused to allow any lobby furniture!
As soon as possible, the Scout II clay model was moved from Detroit to Fort Wayne, and the remainder of its development occurred there.
However, the final result did come under some criticism as being “too pretty”. That problem was solved when the Scout II prototype was run against its existing competitors over a representative on/off-road course which was assembled at the Fort Wayne test track. In the end, the “pretty” Scout proved to be the first choice of nearly all of the focus group participants – which was purposely selected to be a very diverse group.
There were a few brief stories and comments which Ted made regarding several subjects, as follows:
He noted that the original LoadStar was perhaps the most trying project he ever worked on. No one had ever tried to produce a medium truck with such a short BBC before. Ted found the job of terminating sculptural forms within a virtually flat front end to be challenging in the extreme. One of the ultimate solutions was to incorporate the characteristic LoadStar grille design, which wrapped around the hood sides into the sculptural area, making the whole grille assembly a contrasting color from the body color.
Although the final proposal was quite pleasing, Ted was devastated to see the compromises which were proven necessary during the prototype testing phase. However, the production vehicle did prove to be a ground-breaking success.
Ted’s official retirement was in December of 1980.
He has been extremely active in the local art scene since 1981, enjoying a special relationship with the well regarded art department of University of Saint Francis.
He had much to say about the current morose state of the American auto industry, and their abject failure to understand some of the fuel consumption, material responsibility issues, need for light weight efficient products, referring back to the early understandings of Moholy-Nagy, as well as his own proposals for light-weight plastic vehicles during his tenure at International.
Third Interview (06/24/08):
Once again, more time elapsed between interviews than I had intended. Ted called me and mentioned that the several predicted visits by his children had passed, and that it might be a good time for another interview. On June 24, I met with Ted again. The meeting went much like the previous one, occupying more than three hours, and supported by reference material which Ted had gathered prior to our meeting.
Roughly ten percent of the material now recorded under the first two interviews represents corrections or additions made during the third interview. The remainder of the third session is recorded below, mostly as answers to questions which I had provided to Ted.
Continuing years at International:
Tell me about how you built up the department. Who were the first people that you brought on board as the department started to grow? Ted answered immediately that Chuck McGrew had been among the first. I had known that Chuck came from Packard, which ceased production in 1958, and had always assumed that he joined International during Packard’s hard times. Apparently it was earlier than that.
Ted also mentioned Bill Bardos and Joe Vidra again, noting that they had been recommended by one of the modelers on Ted’s first International project, the L-Line. Although joining IH several years later, Ted mentioned Bob Zimmerman and Franz Mueller at this point. While the latter two learned the modeling trade almost entirely from the former pair, Ted and I are in full agreement that better modelers, or better employees cannot be found than any of these four. We exchanged several anecdotes regarding these great clay modelers, including Bardos’s talent and deep involvement in real estate.
An interesting detail – both Bill and Joe were Hungarian immigrants, and sported moustaches. Such facial decoration was not allowed at the IH Engineering Center, but I did not record how this was resolved. I was hired in 1968, and clean shaven. However, the unrest of the 1960’s and the clamor for more personal expression resulted in both the U.S. Army and IH to soften their stance. While on military duty during 1969, I grew a small moustache, which I still maintain today. More importantly to the story, Ted had also spent most of his years sporting a handsome moustache.
Who are some of the other employees you remember especially well?
We would come back to this subject, but among the names Ted provided were Caesar Testagusa, Chuck Harris, and myself. These three barely scratch the surface of the subject, and represent different eras of Ted’s IH career.
Would you say that the department grew steadily, or in occasional leaps forward, or were there steps backward along the way?
Ted was clear in describing how and why departmental growth took place. He had a dream that IH could achieve and maintain leadership in its truck-related businesses through the same means that had worked so well for Detroit auto makers: The effectiveness of a talented design staff consistently turning out more appealing products. Ted took advantage of every opportunity to add new talent and better equipment, and resisted every effort by others to limit or reduce the Industrial Design Department during lean times or periods of administration by those who did not appreciate the importance of design.
Was growth always connected with major new projects or new product lines?
Having a new major program, whether advanced or production, was always a good opportunity to add new talent. But Ted remembers always being alert to opportunities at other times to upgrade the department as well.
The annual model change was typical for American cars from very early days. International carried that idea into the truck world. Do you feel responsible for that, or were you a beneficiary?
Our conversation did not entirely answer this question, but perhaps illuminated a greater contribution which Ted made over the years: Like most truck companies, International had, for decades, followed a haphazard path of introducing new models based on changing laws, technologies, markets, and competitive actions. The result was a remarkably inefficient range of varied cabs, chassis, and power trains. With the encouragement of George Feil, Engineering VP, Ted undertook a number of studies and steps to rationalize the product line. Ultimately, this would result in the S-Series of the late 1970’s.
Interestingly, much of the support for this eventual accomplishment came from the ID Department not as design proposals, but as graphic representations of the overlapping and overly complex product line versus various proposals for resolution. I remember being involved in the creation of probably hundreds of charts, graphs, and comparative product specs demonstrating the problem and possible solutions.
Naturally, the definition of problems and the development of solutions had to travel upward through the corporate organization. Ted noted that Engineering did not have a good record for selling ideas. Not surprisingly, Engineering leaders making presentations to company executives tended to over-detail the specs and other data, often putting executives to sleep. Whether presenting more intriguing illustrated charts, or actual design proposals, Ted found that he could maintain the interest of the executives. The result was often the sale of a proposal, as well as greater recognition of Ted and the work of his department. In fact, Ted often asked himself later, when a proposal had not been accepted, “What did I do wrong?” (Note: Our intention here is to portray Ted as the accomplished designer and design leader that he is. However, it is easy to see the influence of his mentor, George Walker, in the salesmanship side of Ted’s career at International. Mr. Walker has been widely admired as perhaps the greatest salesman who ever led a major design department.)
From 1967 forward, I remember a multitude of ideas for new product lines being developed. We looked at a number of different vans, mini-vans, Scout derivatives, aerodynamic vehicles. Our impression was that all of these started with you, and the rest of our department had the great pleasure of working on them. Is this an accurate picture, or were some of these handed to you from elsewhere in the organization?
This question brought a smile to Ted’s face. While he has been given full credit for a number of innovations and accomplishments, Ted easily acknowledged that the numerous and far-ranging ideas which we, his staff, worked on often came from other sources. In fact, having established our group as broadly capable and instrumental in selling ideas, Ted found that people from all corners of the corporation (and beyond) began to come forth with ideas which they wanted to see developed. As I later learned when my own career carried me upward in the organization, companies do not like to have people working on unfunded projects. Therefore, many of the ideas, which we enjoyed working on, had been through a rigorous justification and funding process before we heard about them.
I remember many rapid periods of growth because of major proposed products, often followed by a reduction in staff caused by the cancellation of the project. When the light line ended in 1975 and the Scout in 1980, I don’t recall that the ID department downsized. Was there pressure to do so?
Ted did not answer this question with direct reference to elimination of these product lines, but did note that a very disappointing aspect of his last years at International was the constant need to defend the existing manpower in the department. He did not want to lay off people, both because of the hardship to the individuals and the setback to his organization. The many projects noted above kept the whole department busy, and the staff never seemed excessive in Ted’s view. However, it became increasingly difficult to maintain staff, as corporate fortunes made some of those projects seem less promising or simply out of reach.
I clearly remember the day you announced your retirement. We all felt like one of the great leaders of the automotive design profession was leaving it, but could only speculate on your timing. What would you say led to your decision to retire at that time?
Combined with the preceding answer, Ted also felt that he was struggling to work with a new breed of Marketing leaders who did not appreciate the work of his department. IH was also beginning to show signs of the economic difficulties which nearly brought the illustrious company to its end a few years later. With a lifelong heart for new product design, Ted did not see a lot of product opportunity on the horizon.
You’re replacement was another well-known leader of the profession. Was Larry Shinoda your first and only choice to succeed you, or were there other candidates? Was it your decision alone to make?
This was perhaps the most surprising answer to any of the interview questions. Ted stated unequivocally that he did not make the decision to hire Shinoda, but that it had been made by Ted’s superior at the time, Larry Abbot. While Ted was clear that he did not feel anyone within the ID department would have been a better choice, he also had voiced misgivings about bringing Shinoda on board. However, Larry Shinoda’s reputation as a designer was widely recognized (often because of his exceptional efforts at self-promotion), and Ted’s concerns were overlooked.
This might be a point where a dramatic shift in corporate culture could be pointed out. During Ted’s years of leadership, extreme care was exercised to avoid unnecessary negative responses during executive interactions. While this meant using great care in the development of design themes and details, as well as thoroughly considered graphic presentations and verbiage, it also meant limiting very severely who and how many ID people should be directly involved in executive presentations.
During the 1990’s and later, during my administration of the department and that of my successor, Dave Allendorph, it became customary to have most or all of the designers present and involved in the meetings. The then-CEO John Horne came to know all of us by name, and often interacted with us by phone or e-mail, often bypassing all others in the chain of command – strictly for efficiency, not for any ulterior purpose.
As we discussed this change of culture, Ted was visibly concerned about the possible negative effects or at least the unpredictable effects of such an arrangement. He noted that in his days of leadership, even Chuck Harris, second in command, did not normally attend executive reviews. It is fair to say that the political arrangement at that time was of the “hourglass” variety, wherein Ted and Chuck were closely connected, but that Ted’s functions were upward and outward from that point, while Chuck’s were to be inward and downward as he managed the studio in its day-to-day operations.
How did you view the prognosis for International and for the Design Department at the time you retired?
By the time we arrived at this question, Ted and I were both growing tired. I have to admire his stamina and hope that I did not overstay my welcome. Our questions and answers were wondering a bit by this time, but I do recall that Ted mentioned Keith Mazurek as being in charge during the development of the CASTA program. (Later this separated into S-Series and CO 9000 programs.)
It is here that we can truly identify Ted’s greatest achievement for International. The outgrowth of Ted’s considerable effort to rationalize product lines resulted in products introduced in the late 1970’s which nearly eliminated all of the confusing and overlapping products from before. Not only was the range more manageable for the corporation, but the individual products were themselves efficient to manufacture, sell, and operate. In that IH survived only as a truck and engine builder, it can be easily stated that Ted’s simplified product range, enhanced by the corporate decision to limit its products to diesel power, allowed that survival to take place. Indeed a noteworthy accomplishment for Ted Ornas of which he can be proud!
As of this writing, July 17, 2008, I am preparing for a 2-week vacation. Ted and I have not made specific plans for more meetings, but I am anxious to keep in touch with him. No doubt, I mis-recorded or mis-represented some ideas from the Third Interview, so perhaps Ted and I will correct these items in the near future.
I can truly say that these hours spent together have been immensely enjoyable, and I think, valuable for any party who becomes interested in the history or importance of International’s ID department. Although my own career and family life kept me quite busy until my own recent retirement, I am feeling that I should have re-established contact with Ted much earlier. After all, it was his decision to hire me that permitted not only my career, but my very satisfying life in Fort Wayne IN, where I met my wife of 37 years, Mary, and through her came to embrace Christianity, and with her have raised a delightful daughter and enjoyed a lifetime of interests and involvements. How can I, at this point, thank Ted adequately for what his decision has allowed?
Fourth Interview (08/07/08):
Having spent roughly two weeks away from home, I called Ted on August 6 to see when we could arrange another meeting. He had called me shortly before my trip, indicating that there were a few major programs at International which we had not covered adequately, and felt that another interview was in order. He agreed to meet the day after my call at 2:30 PM.
Once again, I joined Ted at his dining table, and he had several items marked with Post-it notes for our discussion. Since our conversation was more limited this time, both in duration and scope, I’ll simply record the information regarding the programs which Ted had pre-determined.
For those unfamiliar with it, the Travelall was International’s utility station wagon which was roughly the equivalent of Chevrolet’s Suburban (still in production). International entered this market as early as 1934 with C-Series light duty trucks bearing wooden station wagon bodies built by Baker-Raulang and other suppliers. However, these did not bear the “Travelall” name nor did they feature the amenities of later models. These remained in production through the D-Series of the 1930’s and the K-Series and KB-Series of the 1940’s. However, in 1952 and all-steel station wagon was shown, which emerged as the production 1953 L-Series Travelall. Note that the “All” moniker was characteristic for IH, which by this time had produced Farmall tractors for many years.
Ted refined the Travelall during its early years from being simply a 2-door panel truck with extra windows and seats, to a truly functional station wagon, first with 3 doors (starting in 1957) and then with 4 doors (starting in 1961. Ted reports that the refined Travelall was well-received in the market place, and was understood to be “the family vehicle for pulling boats and trailers”.
I recall the days when mid-level managers and above received Travelalls as company “cars”. Ted reports excellent results from using his own Travelalls on lengthy trips to Florida and elsewhere.
Ted also provided some more information regarding the Loadstar medium duty truck, which first appeared in 1962. Casual observation would make this product seem like merely a heavily face-lifted B or BC Series, which had preceded it. However, the Loadstar was actually up to 13” shorter in BBC than the earlier model conventional – so short that the Loadstar also replaced previous LFE models as well, exceeding their length by only 2 inches.
Ted remembers substantial internal resistance to the snub-nosed conventional, made worse by the crude assembly of the first prototypes. However, the buying market immediately saw the advantage of the shorter trucks, and lined up to buy them. From a stylistic standpoint, Ted points with pride to the neutral silver grille and wrap-around surround which make Loadstars (and later Fleetstar models) identifiable from a half mile away. Panel breaks were carefully positioned to allow this “natural” two-toned effect without masking or extra trips through the paint booth.
Composite Scout Program
This is one program which took place entirely during my career, and I had worked on various aspects of it. However, Ted’s description of how the program unfolded, progressed, and then died provided much new information.
Most people familiar with the Composite Scout assume that it was intended to be the replacement for the aging Scout II. From Ted’s comments, one could glean that the materials and processes explored in the Composite Scout were hoped to have applications to future Scouts, but the design and configuration would have been much different, had the intention been to serve Scout’s traditional markets.
The original Scout had succeeded and survived for 10 years (1961-1970). The Scout II had repeated this success story, but was facing strong competition from Ford, Chevrolet, and Dodge, with their pickup-based products. It was evident that The Big Three would develop their sport-utility vehicles further and faster than International could afford to do with conventional stamped steel construction and the exorbitant tooling costs which go with that process.
Ted reiterated that many plastic materials and processes had been explored throughout the Scout years, but with the right combination of strength and stability never having been found without being offset by cost or process issues. U.S. Rubber, GE Engineered Materials, and others tried repeatedly to interest International in their latest materials, but nothing could meet all of the reasonable requirements for a vehicle body of medium production volumes.
Then a Mr. Pruitt of Dow Chemical helped forge the connection between International Harvester and a recent development in which Dow had participated with Dr. Leo Windecker. Specifically, Windecker had successfully produced and demonstrated the world’s first 4-place all-plastic aircraft fuselage. With selectively oriented fibers, the Dow-Windecker material weighed much less than steel or aluminum, but matched these metals in strength. Cost and process manageability were also looking promising at this point.
Windecker’s 4-place airplane was certified and slated for series production but sudden changes in the world’s oil supply caused backers to pull out of the project. Dr. Windecker had pretty much had his fill of large corporations, but Dow convinced him to work with International Harvester on a consultant basis.
Once again, Ted found himself in a frequent-traveler mode, as he was given internal responsibility for exploring the composite process for truck cab use. The first developments took place in Windecker’s own large garage and were encouraging. One full-size model was made, using a number of IH ID modeling staff and engineers. The prototype was drivable, reasonably well-finished, and met most of the real-world requirements for a utility vehicle.
However, new requirements were constantly being added to the existing ones, as the federal government intensified its involvement in vehicle design for safety considerations. Because of the initial success, permission was granted for the founding of a research facility at Midland TX, where eventually, 13 vehicles were built, with 12 slated for government-required testing. These units, while similar in configuration, incorporated a T-top design for the necessary crash strength, as well as a more aggressive grille design and other improvements.
The vehicle was receiving rave reviews from most who saw it. Ted was often the person expected to drive the experimental product to corporate or dealer reviews – making a grand entrance, and then providing the supporting commentary and answers to questions. He remembers his astonishment at one high-level demonstration when Marketing Manager Tom Dougherty announced to the crowd “This is going to be the new Scout!”
Nothing could have been further from the intentions of the little group down in Midland, who still had hundreds of tests to run and questions to answer. Further, while appealing as an adjunct to the familiar Scout, the Composite prototype was of a much shorter wheelbase, was less enclosed for all-weather operation, and simply did not have the utility range that Scout buyers had become used to. Further, an almost ground-up redesign would be necessary in order to suit production needs. Beyond all of that lay the thoroughly unanswered questions of how to adapt the innovative material and process to production volume systems.
I can remember local Fort Wayne newspapers announcing that the “plastic Scout” was going to be made there, commencing in a few months! While a number of developments and variants of the Composite Prototype were made on paper, the project quickly wound down to nothing as IH’s financial health and its inability to meet increasing domestic competition head-to-head drove the decision to exit the SUV market – totally the invention of Ted Ornas and IH, but now in the hands of richer players.
As a reminder of the hoop-la which is integral to Industrial Design promotion, I should record here what Ted told me about the earliest intentions for his demonstration of the Composite Scout to corporate executives. A Mr. Bill Dietrich was trained and licensed to engage in aerobatics, and owned one of Windecker’s prototypes. It was planned that he would fly his plane, unannounced, across the demonstration field, making a loop-de-loop maneuver prior to Ted driving the experimental Scout into its first official showing. Late in the game, this showmanship was considered to be too risky and the airborne portion of the show was scrapped.
Ted also described one of the perennial situations that Industrial Designers find themselves in. Early in the Composite Scout program, as the Windecker process was being evaluated, the Head Engineer on the project and others favored full development of one representative component so that complete proof of viability could be obtained. While the idea was very practical, Ted already had too much experience with corporate leaders who tend to be bored or underwhelmed by purely technical accomplishments. Thus, Ted ruled in favor of development of a whole prototype vehicle. In the end, both were right – and neither won!
Having already abandoned the light-duty market (pickup and Travelall) in 1976 because of the high cost of new steel tooling, IH was already sliding towards the same conclusion regarding the Scout. The Composite proposal was simply too little – too late. The most important part of the composite process – adaptation to mass production was still very much unproven when International decided to leave the SUV market which it had founded by cancelling Scout production after the 1980 model year. Some work continued on composite processes, as I remember making many illustrations of other utility vehicles, small trucks, taxies, vans, sports cars, and various electric vehicles which would use relate composite processes, but nearly all of these remained in the “illustration phase” only and were not widely considered for development.
Running a close second among his accomplishments (fathering the SUV being first), Ted counts the CASTA Program, which was a massive redevelopment and realignment of virtually all domestic International medium and heavy duty truck series. Design work took place during the early 1970’s and continued through the end of the decade, although heavy conventionals were introduced in 1977 and mediums in 1978. Most contentious of the early inclusions were the COE models. Cab-overs dominated the market at the time, and International was the undisputed leader. However, that position was being threatened as more and more competitive COE’s adopted fabricated aluminum cabs rather than welded steel. After 6 years of development, IH abandoned the hope of incorporating COE models into the CASTA range, and redesigned the cab-overs as aluminum riveted products with a very effective 12” radius on the front corners for aerodynamics. These were introduced in 1980.
However, all of the conventional products originally seen as part of CASTA (which was derived from Cab and Chassis Standardization) saw full development as stamped welded steel trucks with flat windshields. The effort was extremely successful. Ted remembers with pride not only convincing leadership to favor a family of cabs developed in this way, but also inspiring such chassis leaders as engineer Jack Bloemker to believe that they could make similar consolidations of designs and part configurations in the chassis area. The net result was a new range of trucks which cost far less to develop, less to produce, less to service and operate, and which were immediately accepted in the marketplace. Other than facelifted front ends incorporated around 1988, these designs served International through the 2002 model year, and are still very commonly seen in use. Ted recalls that the actual part reduction for the whole range was something approaching 30%. IH’s share of the market increased quite noticeably after the introduction of these S-Series (later QSP) models.
Medium-Heavy Worldwide Truck
Usually known around the studio as “The World Truck”, this project is one which saw about as many twists and turns as any that ever passed through IH Engineering. As implied by the brand-name International, IH had enjoyed truck sales in a number of markets around the world. Highly successful in Australia, and well-regarded in Great Britain and Germany, International had never been a big seller in European markets. But activities in Turkey, South Africa, the Middle East, Mexico, and other small markets convinced IH leadership that America’s top brand could be a winner in other major markets as well. Strategic partnerships were developed with DAF of Holland and ENASA (Pegaso) of Spain, and Seddon-Atkinson of Great Britain.
The goal was to develop a complete and highly competitive line of medium and heavy LFE trucks which completely met European expectations, but brought American economies of scale and cost know-how to the already crowded European marketplace. After an unfathomable number of concept sketches and partial concept developments, a final design was chosen and developed into medium and heavy full-size clay models. These were deemed by Marketing as being “too American” or “too conservative” to be competitive in Europe, so Ted was charged with finding a European design house to provide competitive designs. As it turns out, many of the top houses were reviewed, but Ted selected Pininfarina to provide a counterpoint to the in-house design. Their final proposal, when enlarged to actual scale, seemed very exaggerated and impractical.
Finally, a significant revision of the Fort Wayne proposal was made and became the winning design. This was developed into plastic full-size models and running prototypes. During the long process of developing trucks for world markets, many smaller related projects were done for IH’s world-wide partners. Both DAF and Pegaso’s existing heavy trucks were facelifted, as was the Sava van, also made by ENASA. But by the time much effort had been expended towards the World Truck, many conditions obviated the need to back out of this venture – quickly! IH’s financial condition certainly ranked at the top of these concerns, coupled with the equally weak condition of all of our global partners, the Australian company excepted. Moreover, Europe was already overpopulated with name-brands from every country, the most successful of which did not emanate from our partner’s. Establishing the International brand, or re-establishing the Pegaso, DAF, and Seddon-Atkinson brands was too much to add to the huge project of designing the vehicles for production. Further, at the time, European and American truck legal expectations differed widely, so sharing some models with the domestic market would have required expensive variation.
Ted remembers the World Truck project as one in which he again performed well and orchestrated all that was asked of him. But the apparent dire straits of the company and the likelihood that few other major Industrial Design projects would be coming along caused Ted to look carefully at his retirement prospects. When he saw that the numbers were reasonable, he concluded that this would be a good time to close the International Harvester portion of his career.
Although covered in the industry press, the experimental WUT is one truck project which may have been forgotten by most observers. Yet Ted had his usual intriguing story to tell regarding this attempt to design a low-cost easily produced utility vehicle for developing countries. From the earliest days of International’s relationship with DAF, intriguing projects were considered which would have taken advantage of DAF products or components other than for the heavy truck market. Of particular interest was the DAF small car drivetrain which included the unique Variomatic transmission. One important program which Ted has not mentioned in our interviews was the ECO – a pre-Chrysler minivan which would have used the DAF drivetrain, including front wheel drive. This project was taken to the extent of having plastic styling models and running mechanical prototypes, but did not proceed to a production design stage.
The WUT was another small vehicle concept which used the DAF drivetrain. However, this was International’s bid to design a low-cost vehicle which could be cheaply and easily assembled almost anywhere in the world. General Motors and Ford both offered their own proposals in roughly the same timeframe, and all three found brief coverage in the press. Ted says that the WUT (World Utility Vehicle) sprang from a balsawood model which he built in his back yard, which was based on a space-frame design configured around the DAF components.
Perhaps because of the Ford and GM efforts towards this undefined market, and IH’s burning desire to develop some advantage from their relationship with DAF, Ted’s model quickly evolved into a running prototype which was demonstrated to various groups. Ted did not elaborate on the fate of the project, but revealed that, as its “founder” he was automatically installed as the WUT’s chief spokesman and promoter. My own memory of the project includes the understanding that further development was denied because observers felt that the unusually small wheels of the vehicle would be unsuited to the terrain of many of its intended markets.
It is interesting to note that today, with global awareness and interaction, most people in developing countries are intent on skipping any “rudimentary” designs, and have their eyes on fully developed automobiles, much like the rest of us are already driving. But in the 1970’s, vehicles such as the WUT were seen as the logical way to mechanize developing markets.
IH Design Facilities
Inevitably, after four interviews, some of our discussions touched on the same subjects more than once. Ted provided more detail and background to the events which led to IH’s establishment of its Design Center on Wayne Trace, as an adjunct to the Engineering Center on Meyer Road. This tale dates back to Ted’s involvement with the Scout 800 which was mostly developed in Detroit. Although grueling to Ted and others who commuted, circumstances made it seem advisable to continue an overflow facility at Wettlaufer’s, even after completion of the Scout project. This continued for at least four years, until the opportunity to build a stand-alone Industrial Design facility presented itself in Fort Wayne, at Industrial Park. The building was planned quickly, and completed in a record three months, with the ID Department moving in during the fall of 1964.
Ted related an interesting sidebar to the development of the Industrial Park facility. The plans were made so quickly that at least one small mistake crept into the drawings. Floor-to-ceiling windows had been incorporated into the Design Studio plan, and a sink was intended for one spot in front of the windows. This was specifically intended for designers to use in cleaning their paint brushes. However, the building draftsman accidentally put the symbol for a urinal in front of the windows. Once discovered, the anomaly was dismissed with the comment, “Well, it’s all artists using this building, and you know how they are!”
However, IH’s time at Industrial Park was also short, since other Engineering departments were experiencing a shortage of space in the Meyer Road facility. Plans were made to lease and occupy a former ITT facility at the corner of Wayne Trace and Oxford Street Extended. The modern building was completely gutted and re-outfitted for vehicle design, with up to 30,000 square feet allotted to Industrial Design use. This is where the ID group was operating in the summer of 1967 when I joined the company. (It might be noted here that the adjacent property to the East, also owned for many years by ITT, was previously the site of a prison camp for German prisoners of war. Fort Wayne has a predominantly German heritage, which no doubt aided in the selection of this site.)
Although staff members were still lamenting the loss of their nearly new and dedicated facility at Industrial Park, I personally found the studios on Wayne Trace to be everything I had ever imagined, as I grew up, bent on becoming an automotive designer. The Styling Studio featured large windows along the entire West side, and was clean, modern and spacious. Neutral colors and careful accents had been chosen by designer Deo Lewton, not just for the ID group, but for the whole building. Although separated from the Styling Studio, the Modeling Studio was exceptionally large, with possibly a dozen full or half surface plates for full-size clay modeling, and the necessary lighting, windows, and skylights for this type of work. Separate areas for storage, woodworking, and plaster adjoined the studio.
Interestingly, the Wayne Trace facility perpetuated the difficulty of having a functional sink in what was deemed an office space. Although a sink was present at the rear of the Styling Studio, in all the years I worked there, the sink was never vented to drain properly, and always contained the residue of countless palette and brush cleanings.
Decision to Retire
During this fourth interview, Ted was pulling many facts and memories from a number of typed documents which he had found among his personal papers. Some read as entries in a running resume or autobiographical sketch. Other items came from some records which Ted says he kept for several years, which were much like a diary. Ted provided his age at several points throughout the story, noting that he was still somewhat shy of normal retirement age when all the other factors seemed to indicate such a step.
With IH suffering from a protracted strike and subsequent economic losses, and the product lines which had provided the steadiest Industrial Design work being withdrawn, Ted retired officially in 1981. While many more chapters belong in his biography, that event marked the end of the longest and most illustrious portion of the professional life of Ted Ornas. Ted is widely recognized as the father of the SUV, an honor in no way lessened by the present fuel crisis and questionable future of this type of vehicle. After all, the original Scout was a small, gasoline-sipping functional vehicle which was fully appreciated for what it could do. Moreover, Ted’s long career at International provided many more examples of his interest in finding new, more appropriate packages in which to move people and goods – often exploring new power systems, materials, and production methods. Beyond that, Ted fulfilled the (often unspoken) expectation of all corporate management: to innovate products and methods which add to the bottom line and to the prestige of one’s employer.
Writer’s Note – 08/09/08
Just as it was a pleasure and honor to work for Ted during the years 1967-1981, I have truly enjoyed the occasions of these four interviews. I regret that it took my own retirement for me to recognize the opportunity to spend some time with one of the founders of corporate industrial design and the person whose decision to hire me allowed me a full and satisfying career for just shy of 40 years. As our formal interviews draw to a close, excepting the refinement and anecdotal additions which I am sure will follow, I look forward to an ongoing friendship with Ted. Any development of, and access to, this information which I can accomplish should serve as an inadequate but sincere gesture of thanks for his role in my life.
Fifth Interview (09/05/08):
Squeezed in between a series of trips which my wife and I took this summer, Ted and I managed another short interview. Ted had called me, noting that there were still a few minor corrections to the previous record, plus some additional information which he felt constituted an important part of his story. We met on the above date under circumstances nearly identical to those of the two previous sessions.
Uppermost on Ted’s mind was the fascinating side of Industrial Design management which few people are aware of, that being the “showmanship” and creativity necessary to make effective presentations. He had a number of examples which are recorded in the following section. Some incidental topics which we discussed are placed there as well, but the corrections to earlier work have been incorporated into their respective locations above.
It may be worthwhile to set the stage for the subject of presentations. Truck manufacturers produce a huge range of models with specifications oriented towards specific markets. Truck buyers, in almost every market, choose to buy a certain brand or model based on objective, rather than emotional grounds – or so they believe. After all, how well, how efficiently, and how dependably a truck performs its prescribed duties is uppermost in the minds of most buyers because, for them, the truck is a tool. A poor-performing, or broken, or overpriced tool does not provide the value which is desired.
International was almost alone during Mr. Ornas’s tenure as an independent truck producer with its own Industrial Design Department. With so many practical aspects of a new truck model needing to meet the strict demands of its intended buyers, a more subjective area such as vehicle styling was often perceived – even by others within the company, as a difficult counterpoint to the real job at hand. Yet, the fact remained that new products did need to be styled, as well as engineered, and International’s dedicated Design staff proved to generate far more value than mere product appearance, as Ted’s group demonstrated in program after program.
Much has been covered in these interviews regarding Ted and his staff developing designs which not only looked appealing, but were more practical, lower cost to tool or produce, or easier to maintain. However, Ted made a career of successful sales pitches, as well as successful designs. An interesting and compelling design presentation has at least three applications in a corporate setting such as that of International Harvester’s Truck Division:
Other disciplines, particularly Engineering must become convinced of a design’s value, in order to add their support to the larger presentation.
Engineering’s own presentations often bog down in detail. Even if the executives being “sold” on a design have an Engineering background, they often are bored with dry specifications. They may become distracted by other responsibilities of their roles at headquarters.
By truck company standards, some design programs can seem quite expensive, yet be modest in accomplishment. (as in minor facelifts). It may take a dramatic presentation to sell mundane design programs.
The first such presentation that Ted recounted was titled “Trucks that Speak for Themselves”. These were, as suggested above, mildly facelifted trucks which met the cost, timing, and scope expectations – but needed some extra words of support before management would feel comfortable financing the program. Ted conceived the idea of using several local employees with particularly good speaking skills and voices to pre-record a message about each vehicle in the presentation. At the appropriate time, each truck was spotlighted and began to “speak” on its own behalf. These enhanced audio-visual effects, indeed, sold the program.
Another example which Ted conceived and successfully used was known as the “Fashion Parade”. I recall the Design Center facility on Wayne Trace, which had outstanding modeling and model presentation capabilities. However, on this occasion, Ted was selling his designs on running vehicles, and chose to use the space outside of the modeling studios. He kept the audience of executives in their usual place inside, but turned them around to peer through the large North-facing windows. He engaged a suitably fashionable and attractive female model from the Charmaine Finishing School to make the commentary about each vehicle as it made a slow pass. There were 25 trucks (including competitive vehicles), and bleachers had been installed at the window so that everyone had a good view of the show.
Ted provided some more details on an executive show which I had only heard the barest details before. This was a presentation of the WUT (World Utility Truck) design. Just as the original Scout had developed out of an interest in replacing the horse, the WUT was expected to supersede the use of pack animals and other primitive modes of light transportation in emerging economies. Ted had an individual dressed in suitable attire lead a live donkey across the presentation floor while the WUT model stood highlighted on stage. Not surprisingly, the donkey had relieved itself in Engineering’s staging area outside the presentation room – surely a first for IH Engineering!
Some of Ted’s other stories were quite familiar to me, but only in the final and “public” ways in which they unfolded. As the instigator of many creative presentations, Ted’s background information to these events was quite fascinating. The reader may not know, for instance, that early SUV promotion and actual use by owners involved a lot more “Sport” and “Utility” than that enjoyed by more modern versions of the genre. Today, an SUV earns its “Sport” credentials by hauling the junior soccer team to its game, and gets its “Utility” stripes from transporting the family’s new flat-screen TV from the big-box store to home.
Not so in the 1970’s, when SUV’s routinely took part in grueling off-road competitions – for money, titles, and honor. As a part of such events, or in their work-a-day applications, early SUV’s were used to pull larger vehicles out of hopeless situations and traverse impossible terrain for a multitude of purposes. Queuing up at the local elementary school was not part of the SUV idea.
Ted recalls a time when IH Marketing found that it could not convince corporate leaders to approve funding for participation in such high profile events as the Baja 500 (Alternately the Baja 1000). Although other SUV’s were competing on a regular basis (with their maker’s support), International Scouts were absent because of no corporate funding. Joining Scout Marketer Larry Ehlers and champion driver Jimmie Jones, Ted made a trip to Baja with a Scout prototype behind him on a trailer. The unfamiliar vehicle made such a splash with off-road fans on the way, that on one occasion, curious fans boxed in the Scout procession and vowed (via CB radio) not to let them free until they would stop and allow their “kidnappers” to examine the Scout vehicle!
Encountering numerous setbacks on the journey, including thieves breaking in to their tent and stealing Scout tires and parts, the little party did much to cement the need for International to fund direct participation in competition. Ted took hundreds of photographs, and later assembled many of these into a presentation designed to show the huge following that existed for off-road competition, and the degree to which competitive brands were being fielded by the companies which built them. Looking for a clincher slide, Ted produced one, in which he was at the wheel of a winning Scout, identified as “Walter Mitty Ornas”, and being handed a huge First Place trophy by a beautiful girl. Contrasting that fiction with the present reality, Ted had a deep-voiced member of the audience proclaim repeatedly throughout the presentation “…and there were no Scouts!”
Although discussed previously, Ted repeated the story of SANROT (pronounced SAN row). The acronym stood for “Serving All Needs Right on Time”. But again, Ted used an audience member to provide both humor and emphasis, having him yell out, “Hell, Ted, SANROT is just T. Ornas spelled backwards!”
Such created forms were a staple of Ted’s presentation methodology. Another example is “FICA”, which stood for “Feet in Cement Approach”. Ted used this effectively to open corporate minds to the need for materials and processes which were faster and cheaper to use than stamped steel. Over time, such acronyms played a huge role in Ted’s success at selling design programs.
Ted also gave me some generalized insight into the rationale of using creative presentations. He noted that many presenters at most organizational levels are very nervous about talking and “acting” in front of corporate executives. He described the presenters as “so scared of execs”. But Ted found early on that the executives are equally scared – about how they will come across to lower level employees, but even more frightened about possibly making the wrong decision. Female models, acronyms, donkeys, and staged photos can go a long way towards bonding presenters and the high-ranking individuals to whom they present.
Another point which Ted made is that executive presentations can be valid tests for the quality of a design proposal. After all, he reasoned, “if you can’t sell it to corporate executives, how is it going sell on the road?” But even with the most deserving designs, Ted pointed out that getting broad consensus early on saves numerous high-risk moments later on in the program. Styling – as a discipline, has the unique ability to bring people on board as allies, committed to helping make the sale further up the corporate ladder.
As we reminisced about Ted’s use of creative methodology to sell design, I couldn’t help wondering how much of this inclination was integral to the young Ted Ornas, growing up in Cleveland, and how much was acquired as a part of his “life education”. My reason for wondering lay on the table between us as we talked: An extremely positive and well-written Automobile Quarterly Magazine article about Ted’s second major mentor – George Walker. In that article, Mr. Walker was very positively portrayed as a dynamic leader, deserving of his reputation, but perhaps more skilled and better known for his design salesmanship than his design portfolio.
Throughout these interviews, Ted has repeatedly credited, first, Viktor Schreckengost, and second, George Walker, for the preparation and opportunities which he has enjoyed. If the subject article declared George Walker a success at Ford because of his selling ability, then Ted’s consistent use of such skills at International mirrored the ultimate value of being able to “sell a design”. But in the end, Ted answered this question for me, stating that “salesmanship can’t be taught in a course – it has to be an integral part of you!”
There were other examples of salesmanship and of memorable design programs which Ted remembered fondly. He described one presentation of the first generation of High Performance Truck Brakes, which he helped present to Joan Claybrook. One of the most powerful women in the public eye at the time, Ms. Claybrook came to International for more than one presentation during her tenure. On the occasion Ted recalled, he was charged with developing a compelling comparison of the new truck brakes versus conventional ones. His solution was to have the IH modeling staff build a life-size Foam-core model of the Scout, which was placed in the path of a heavy duty truck traveling at speed. At the precise point, the truck applied its brakes and stopped just short of the foam Scout model. For the next run, a truck with conventional brakes was used and could not stop before hitting the Scout full-force, blasting it into so many shards of foam and tape. The point was well made, thanks to a very short-lived model of the Scout.
As for programs not previously discussed, Ted brought up “Unit-X.” With Ford, GM, and Chrysler all successfully fielding full-size vans, International went through at least three preliminary programs to develop such a vehicle, each conceived with features to distinguish the IH vehicle from those of their richer competitors. Unit-X’s claim to fame lay in two aspects:
It was fully front wheel drive, when all other vans were rear wheel drive
It was designed to the width of 85” rather than the 80” of existing vans
These were very purposeful variations from conventional designs. The front wheel drive, recently proven for large vehicles by the successful Oldsmobile Toronado and Cadillac Eldorado, allowed exceedingly low, flat floors in the vehicle. These, in turn, permitted larger loads within the same overall height, easier entry and exit, and improved loading of material. A lower center of gravity was expected to provide better and safer handling.
The extra width increased load capacity and gave IH’s commercial customers an obvious advantage. Although panel vans and pickup versions were intended, the model which drew the most attention, and benefitted most from the 5 inches of extra width was the RV version. Most commercial trucks were finding applications at the time as recreational vehicle conversions. Ted pointed out that Unit-X’s extra width made it the only such vehicle capable of bearing a full-size bathtub mounted crosswise in the vehicle. In that the RV version also had a partial raised roof, this would have been a remarkable camping vehicle compared with its competitors. However, IH always had huge investments underway in its Agricultural, Construction, and Transportation businesses, and funding for this entirely new range of vehicles was not forthcoming. For one thing, such sophisticated and content-dense products require hundreds of millions of development dollars, which must be weighed against the anticipated size of the market.
With this subject covered, Ted and I both were feeling a little worse for wear. I am always amazed at Ted’s stamina, and his excellent mental sharpness, strong speaking voice, and good hearing. We had covered a number of subjects not recorded above – but the essence and substance of our interviews lie in the above words. It seems fitting to wrap up this fulfilling interview process with some sort of conclusion, and I can think of nothing more fitting than this:
Ted Ornas entered the Industrial Design business during the years when it was still being formed as a profession. He not only used, but helped develop the techniques and processes for designing industrial products, and selling those designs to upper management. One thing which has persisted from the earliest days of ID to the present is the enthusiastic sense that most young designers have, that their talents and career paths will result in some fantastic world-changing contribution. For Ted, looking back on his career, the outstanding contribution he made did not involve individual programs or designs, even though he spearheaded many such successes. Instead, Ted’s most significant legacy was that he succeeded in making beautiful, the “lowly, utilitarian” medium and heavy truck. Further, he convinced the management of International Harvester of the value, not just of good design, but of having an in-house Industrial Design staff. At the time, no other independent truck manufacturer in America – or probably the world, had such an arrangement. Now, in 2008, no major truck manufacturer could afford to be without it!