Dan Worsham & Bob Robson

It is hard for me to think of these two guys independently because they were most often co-conspirators in adventures that were, – if not illegal – at least highly irregular, often very dangerous, and always lots of FUN. I don’t think either of them ever did anything purposely that was not FUN – at least not when I was with them.

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I met Dan shortly after he founded Pacific Western Systems to make VAPOX[i]probably a conjunction of “vapor” and “oxide” machines. In the early days of semiconductor devices, it was common practice to deposit a thin layer of oxide[ii]SiO2+SiOx; a.k.a. Silox over finished wafers to protect the surface from contamination until the final step of etching holes in this VAPOX layer to expose the Aluminum pads for wire-bonding. There were numerous ways of depositing that layer, most of them being rather clumsy, expensive, and with uncertain results. Dan developed a method and a machine, which he called the “Coyote” that used some sort of Silicon laden vapor in a heated quartz tube, not unlike a diffusion furnace of that era. It took the industry by storm and he couldn’t make machines fast enough, so he sent Charlie Ellenberger to Winnemucca, Nevada to open a plant to make more of them.

I could not afford to buy such a machine[iii]I was developing a thermal printhead, using thin and thick films, for a thermal line printer that we eventually sold to Ricoh in Japan so I would take my wafers to Dan in Mt.View, where his technicians would deposit the layer on them while Dan would tell me adventure stories. I am quite sure that one of his first stories was about how he captured the rattlesnake that lived in a small aquarium – right at eye level – above his desk. There were no chairs in his office and I am sure that was the first time I had seen a stand-up desk.







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Bob and I met some years later, after he and the other founders had sold Microma to Intel. I never actually worked with Bob until much later, but he and I and Dan helped Charlie Ellenburger tame the northern Nevada desert together on many occasions. Charlie had moved there after our Fairchild days of working together, to open a government-funded machine shop start-up for Pacific Western, on a Navajo reservation.

After the Intel deal closed, Bob took his Microma profits to La Grand, CA, where he bought 400 acres of farmland and planted Pistachios. Prior to that time, almost all of the world’s supply of Pistachios came from Iran, but the hostage crisis of 1979 changed all that. Bob was about to find himself on the leading edge of another major market inflection – not electronics this time, but agriculture instead.

Bob’s wife, Sharleen took on the task of building a retail business around the farming operation. It continues today, featuring her original recipes. Aside from being a wonderful lady, and sharing Bob’s feisty nature, she was also a very talented artist. This watercolor, which she called “California Pistachio” still hangs next to my fireplace after more than 30 years.

Later, in the mid-1980s, when he inquired about the possibility of selectively spraying RoundUp to hit only the weeds in his orchards and not be wasted by hitting the bare ground, that question sparked an idea that never left my mind. He eventually became one of the original investors in my Patchen WeedSeeker project – a business I later sold to John Deere.

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By: Jim
Written: March 3, 2023
Published: March 3, 2023
Reader feedback always appreciated[iv]. . thoughtful commentary perhaps more so than shallow thoughts
i probably a conjunction of “vapor” and “oxide”
ii SiO2+SiOx; a.k.a. Silox
iii I was developing a thermal printhead, using thin and thick films, for a thermal line printer that we eventually sold to Ricoh in Japan
iv . . thoughtful commentary perhaps more so than shallow thoughts