The stair challenge at Oak Brook

The first office building for National Accelerator Laboratory was in Oak Brook. In 1967 it was the only tower in Oak Brook Executive Plaza. Photo: Fermilab

The first office building for National Accelerator Laboratory was in Oak Brook. In 1967 it was the only tower in Oak Brook Executive Plaza. Photo: Fermilab

The first office building for the National Accelerator Laboratory was in Oak Brook, Illinois. We occupied one floor of that high-rise building.

One day Robert Wilson decided that, instead of taking the elevator, he would climb 10 flights of stairs to work. Some of the rest of us followed his example, and then we got the idea that we’d see who could do it the fastest. Bob could get up there really quite quickly, and, as I was only 30 at the time, I took it as a challenge to see what I could do. It took a while, but eventually I was able to beat his time — about a minute. I called my wife and told her, in great excitement and very much out of breath, that I’d succeeded in a making a good run up the stairs. So did another one of the younger guys.

At the end of that year, 1967, the lab staff had finished the conceptual design report for the lab’s facilities and accelerators, and just as we were about to finish the day’s work, the power went off. A bulldozer had, in the course of aiding the construction of a new building next door, struck our power lines. People had to leave. There were many people from all building floors making their way down the pitch-dark stairways. I don’t know how anybody else did it, but I knew exactly how to get down. I ran down the stairs really fast — I knew the exact way to go!

Lincoln Read was a physicist at Fermilab for 37-and-a-half years, from the first design work at Oak Brook in mid-1967 until the end of 2004.