Features September 2006 Issue

8 Bells for Dale Nouse

PS Executive Editor dies at the age of 85.

Dale Nouse, above, helped produce 350 issues of Practical Sailor.
"Easy come, easy go."

Those were nearly Dale Nouse’s last words to me. "Easy for you to say," I retorted. "I’m the one who has to live with you gone."

Our conversations were always frank. That’s the way he insisted they be—no social niceties.

I’d just learned that Dale had inoperable tumors in his abdominal lining; the doctors had given him just three or four months to live. Turned out, that forecast was exceedingly optimistic. Or maybe Dale just decided he wasn’t going to loiter around wasting everyone’s time. That’s the way he thought of it. Two weeks later, he was dead. No one really knows why he went so fast. Personally, I think he just made up his mind and willed himself out of this world.

Dale joined Practical Sailor at age 67, after most men have retired. When then editor Nick Nicholson left to finish building his 40-foot double-ender, Dale suggested I apply for Nick’s job. I did, and we spent the next 11½ years together, producing 275 issues of Practical Sailor.

Dale was at his best when called on to figure out fair, accurate, and practical ways to test gear. Often they were Rube Goldberg, like the rope abrasion machine he invented to repeatedly draw a length of line across a knife’s edge; it consisted of an electric motor, reduction gears, belts, and an eccentric wheel. Shock cord tensioned the line, and a micrometer measured diameter loss. Manufacturers, used to working with standard ASTM tests, often initially scoffed at his contraptions. But on closer inspection, frequently said, "The results are pretty consistent with ours…so, what can I say?" Real world conditions and results—that’s what Dale, and PS, always have been after.

Dale had the most fun breaking things—rigging terminals pulled apart by a hydraulic press; cam cleats stressed with a line and sheet winch; and portable toilets dropped from a ladder. Snap! Bang! Crunch! Dale reveled in the postmortems. How and why things fail intrigued him.

In this business, we editors often lament that engineers who understand such things unfortunately can’t write, and those who can write don’t comprehend physics and mechanics. Dale was one of the few who could do both, and do them well.

A few months ago, I asked Dale if he wasn’t tempted to retire. After all, he was 85. "No," he said. "The day I can’t work is the day I’ll die." He fell just a few days shy of the truth.

Dale died at home on July 11, 2006. Two days later, an informal potluck for friends and family was held in his garage, the "smoking room" where in earlier years we’d noodle over boating gear puffing our pipes.

An old colleague telephoned to share a remembrance. He said, "Whenever I’d run into Dale and ask how he was doing, Dale would reply: ‘Still foolin’ ’em.’"

Fool me, Dale. Tell me it ain’t so.

—Dan Spurr
Contributing Editor

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