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Did You Know, January 1, 2024

As you pack away your Christmas tree ornaments, are you rushed to get things put away, or does it become a time for reflection?  Maybe you think about the memories connected to individual ornaments.  Perhaps you have memories tied up in making those ornaments.  For my family, we have one set of ornaments that we made for our first Christmas here in King George during a special event held at Smoot Library.  There were several stations set up with all kinds of materials for ornament creation – cardboard and yarn for making little caps, wooden spools and paper for making Santa’s nice list, beads and pipe cleaners for making candy canes. 


Have you ever wondered if simple Christmas tree ornaments can be put to other uses?  Meet one man who found an alternate use for them in this reprint of an article from the June 7, 1968, edition of the Dahlgren naval base’s The Laboratory Log.


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A ‘Can-Do’ Man: Jimmy Burns Makes Ideas Turn into Actualities


Whether he is supervising the construction of the hardware necessary for a radio-controlled drone helicopter, a hydrofoil sailboard or a reduced scale model of an RF & P railway bridge for bridge vulnerability studies, James R. Burns is a valuable asset to the Warhead and Terminal Ballistics Laboratory and to NWL.  He is the “can-do” man the idea men come to with their projects and his positive viewpoint assures them that a solution can be found for any problem with minimum time and cost.


Jimmy’s high productivity and his…creative ability..stem in part from his…practice of keeping a problem…constantly in mind – at work and away from work – until a satisfactory answer is developed.*


He is ingenious in converting materials and hardware at hand into equipment with a new and unique purpose. He also has excellent organizational ability for setting parallel efforts which later combine to form a final product.


Jimmy's organizational ability and talent for adapting existing hardware provide a quick-response capability for his shop (TDE-1), which has frequently been essential in furnishing urgently needed information.  One past example of this was a two-day program to generate rod lethality data for a DOD committee responsible for warhead selection.


The task involved fabricating and testing a quantity of model aircraft fuselages with dimensions unlike any built previously.  Jimmy Burns directed and coordinated the work of several individuals in producing model components, and the necessary targets were completed in one day.


Another example of his quick response was a project, also of 2-days' duration, to establish the minimum size of an explosive device required to defeat railroad tracks.  In this instance, adaptable hardware for the tests was drawn from points like Colonial Beach and Morgantown, Maryland.  The location and procurement this hardware required a continuous 17-hour effort.


Mr. Burns' talent for adapting existing equipment has been further exemplified in the construction of a novel automatic fragment weighing device, assembled from a discarded print dryer, a counter, and stock electrical items.  Early in the NWL warhead effectiveness work, he modified a salvaged lathe into an excellent encounter simulation device.  Another lathe was converted to a rolling mill for producing stringers for model fuselage sections.  Later, this same lathe was incorporated into a system for rolling, embossing and annealing small reinforcing rods for concrete targets.


In recent experiments in the impact of viscous containers he used inexpensive Christmas tree ornaments as the fragile containers required by the modeling theory.  The examples could be cited on and on.


Jimmy was born in McGehee, Arkansas, and completed ninth grade in school.  He served in the United States Navy from January 1943 until December 1945 and reported to Dahlgren for his last tour of duty.  He was first employed on station as a Helper General and, by dint of employing the positive point of view for which he is so much admired, has now just been promoted to a Supervisory Engineering Technician, GS-12 – a remarkable employment record.


Jim has taken all courses possible to add to his proficiency.  In 1955, he passed the exam conducted by the Virginia State Board of Education which is equivalent to a high school education.  Among the other courses in which he has enrolled are Trigonometry, Math Analysis I and II, Calculus, Calculus II, and College Algebra.  In all, he has accumulated 25 hours of college level mathematics.


He is married to the former Halcyon Clare of King George and home, a beautiful house on Williams Creek, most of which he built himself, includes [three children].


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The Dahlgren Heritage Museum is proud to share the stories of people like James R. Burns, men and women who, through imagination, education, skill, and hard work, are true problem solvers.



*Paragraph edited for readability.

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