Computer whiz recalls early days
Bobby Hammett started at Levingston Shipbuilding right out of high school, but it would not be ships he was famous for.
He eventually headed up the early computer services there, staying and keeping up with technology, as well as traveling for the company as a software consultant.
“It really became my whole life,” he says. “I must have driven every major highway in the state of Texas. And most of the minor ones too. And I did the same thing in Louisiana.”
A native of Sherman, Hammett is 75. He moved with his family to Orange in 1941, attended Pinehurst Elementary School and later Carr Junior High; and lived in the Riverside Addition then along Dupont Drive.
As a teenager, he got a job working directly for Tom Clemmons of the Jefferson Amusement Co., which owned all the theaters in Orange.
“At the time he owned the Strand Theater, the Royal Theater, the Bengal Theater, the Gem Theater and the Dragon Theater on Second Street. They put me at the Royal. Everybody looked at it as the bottom theater, but the Gem was the worst and they got rid of that.”
Hammett ushered, drove trucks and transported film reels.
“I got to know every individual in the city and working in the city; and all the store owners and all the people that worked there. I’ve always been a very curious individual … I just like to meet people, talk and find out about them … Downtown Orange today is not like it was. The only thing left right now is two buildings on the west side of Fifth Street between Front and Division. The Holland Hotel used to be on the end.
“I knew all the people down there and everything about them. When you work downtown like that you know everything from the back alleys to everything else. That’s just the way it was.”
In 1953 Hammett was hired as a file clerk in the Levingston engineering department, and later transferred to the printing department where he worked for Hugh Weatherford.
The office had offset presses and photographic equipment, and managed all company printing operations.
A few years later Malcolm Vaughn, Levingston’s chief financial officer, became Hammett’s supervisor.
“I learned everything in the accounting office and everything about the shipyard. They put me into the yard as a timekeeper. We had about 3,800 people there and it seemed like I knew them all.”
In 1960 Bobby attended a meeting on a Saturday, where he and others took a test and met with IBM representatives who had just opened an office on Calder Avenue in Beaumont.
Bobby was the only one with a perfect score, so Vaughn sent Hammett to more classes in Beaumont, Dallas, Los Angeles and Chicago.
“At that time there were no computer classes anywhere. You went to IBM or you went to Univac. That was it. And you didn’t go to any particular school; you went directly to those places.”
Soon Hammett was in charge of four computer offices at Levingston, and was told to pick the people he wanted working there.
The early computers used punch cards sorted through a machine to do payroll packages. Later the office did payroll for Gulfport Shipbuilding, bought by Levingston through some sort of connection between Levingston’s Ed Malloy and Orange businessman Edgar Brown.
Eventually Levingston put Hammett on the road as a consultant. After he retired, he wrote software programs for Valero, Conoco and Pumpelly. He estimates he worked in 30 states.
He has a computer at his house in Lindenwood, but only uses it once a year for taxes and is unwilling to trust the hackers and viruses out there.
For those who spend a lot of Internet time, Hammett advises that most of the free virus protection programs are as good or better than the ones you pay for.
“I’m tickled to death that I got to do what I did,” he says. “There’s not very many people that get that kind of opportunity.”