In Memory

Duncan Macdonald

Duncan Macdonald


Duncan Macdonald

Duncan Burton Macdonald, age 33, died December 1, 1978.

He was born July 1, 1945, in Columbus, Ohio, to Robert and Mary Wiggenborn. Duncan graduated from Olympus High School in 1963 and attended the University of Utah, emphasizing his studies and research projects with the School of Engineering.

Duncan was an accomplished mechanical engineer with a gifted mind for innovation and invention. For the past eight years, Duncan also had a sincere interest in the securities field, working for and with a number of Salt Lake’s securities firms. For well over ten years, Duncan had been designing, engineering and building a unique computerized mechanical manipulator - he and his many friends referred to it as “The Robot.” Hopefully, the many institutions, experts, and friends that supported Duncan with this project will be able to help Duncan see it through to the vast practical applications Duncan felt possible.

Duncan is survived by his parents in Newtown, Connecticut; his brothers Douglas of Salt Lake City and David of Newtown, Connecticut; his sisters Josephine Matlock of Rome, New York, Margaret Stewart of Mapleton, Utah, and Alice Tyrrell of Salt Lake City.

Funeral services will be held Tuesday 1 p.m., at St. Mark’s Cathedral, 231 East 100 South. Interment will be at Wasatch Lawn Memorial Park. The family requests that flowers be omitted. Funeral directors will be Neil O’Donnell Mortuary.

The family and friends are desirous of a scholarship fund in Duncan’s name at the University of Utah Graduate School of Engineering. Please send contributions in care of Stanley S. Adams, Suite 1004, Boston Building, Salt Lake City, 84111.


go to bottom 
  Post Comment

07/15/09 12:17 AM #1    

Robert Poulton

I knew Duncan well. I lived above 20th East, Duncan lived in Millbrook, a few blocks away. We ran around together, Duncan, Dennis Holm, Steve Bunker, Dave Paulson, Larry Kilpatrick, Danny Fehr, and sometimes, Howard Collins and Stan Adams would come along too. We had an old Jaguar Sedan, I'm not sure who actually owned it, but, it seems, we all contributed to keeping it running. It had a sun roof, we'd roll it back, and it was sure swell for a Friday night at the Motor Vue or the Highland Drive-In. Duncan had the mechanical know how, and I'm certain the old Jag only ran because of Duncan's fiddling with it. Duncan and the old Jag got along. We sure had a lot of fun on those summer nights between our Junior and Senior years at Olympus.

Duncan liked cars and as long as I knew him, he was building a Hot Rod, the same Hot Rod. He had an old Model A body, nothing more than a rusty shell of a very old car with a Dodge Hemi engine in it, and an automatic transmission. There were two seats, no windshield, and the thing was an honest to goodness rocket ship. To make it appear legal, we took the inspection sticker out of his mother's station wagon window, glued on two very thin wires, and carefully placed it in the left hand corner of the windshield frame so it looked as if it was stuck to glass. It wasn't, there was no windshield, no glass, but, I suspect that was probably one of the least of the safety violations committed every time we got into that thing to blast off down the street. It didn't steer well and one sunny summer's afternoon Duncan shot across a neighbor's lawn, a Millbrook neighbor, leaving tracks, ruined bushes, and a wrecked fence. The offense was serious enough that, as I recall, the Hot Rod was locked up and Duncan paid for damages.

While at the University of Utah, Duncan and I were neighbors on 12th East just off of South Temple. He lived on the second floor of a little white frame house; the first floor had been condemned by the city, but, I guess, because his place had a separate and outside stairway to the second floor, his digs were never condemned, although I recall thinking the place should have been. Duncan attended a few quarters at the U, but he didn't like school, and his grades were lousy even though his mind was brilliant and creative. He'd rather drive a Taxi Cab, play the Penny Stock Market (the walls of his place were plastered with stock charts and graphs), and work on his inventions. He wanted to build a dirigible, one like the Hindenberg. I asked him why? He told me he figured it was the best way he could meet Doris Day, the Actress in Pillow Talk. He'd fly over her house in Hollywood, stop above the pool, and lower the ladder. He figured she wouldn't be able to resist a feller in a dirigible. But, building a Hindenberg was no small task for a guy who was making his living driving a Taxi Cab. So, in typical Duncan fashion, he began working on a robot, a robot that would build his Hindenberg for him while he was driving his cab. You had to laugh when Duncan would explain his scheme.

I moved from 12th East and no longer had daily contact with Duncan. We stayed in touch, he'd stop by my new place, or I'd stop by his, but sometimes, a week or two would pass between visits. One late evening he called.
"I've got to show you something", he said.
"What?", I asked. It was late and I had classes in the morning.
"you'll see. I'll be by in fifteen minutes to pick you up."
I'd learned over the years that anything was possible with Duncan. So, I was interested for sure, but also a bit wary. Duncan had gotten us into a number of jams over the years. Some jailable.
Duncan showed up at my place on his old motorcycle, a Royal Enfield, I think. I got on back and off we went into the night. It was around midnight. We headed for the University, to the University's Engineering Building to be exact just east of the Sigma Nu house. We drove the bike right up to the front doors, Duncan shut it down, and produced a key, on a ring of keys from his pocket, and opened the front doors of the University of Utah's Engineering Building. I couldn't believe it. I asked him, no I demanded, how did he get a hold of a key to the Engineering Building? Breaking and Entering was what I was thinking. He told me simply, "They gave it to me". Before I could ask "Who" had given him the keys to the building, we were inside, on the elevator, and headed to the second floor. On the second floor, Duncan produced another key, and opened a pair of large metal doors, with the comment, "This is my lab". We walked in, Duncan turned on the lights, and there, sitting in the center of the floor was the darndest contraption I had ever seen. Hydraulic cylinders, valves, shiny chrome and steel, hoses, gears, wires, lots of wires. On the north wall was a stack of boxes, all of black metal, all with lights and switches, and meters, all over them. I had no idea what any of what I was looking at was.
"What's all of this?" I asked, amazed, but wondering when the Cops were going to show up.
"You'll see", as he flipped toggle switches and turned knobs, little lights blinking of and on.
"And what's all that stuff on the wall, with the switches, and the lights?"
"That's the computer. We built it"....very matter of fact.
Remember, this was 1967 or 68. I'd heard of computers, the Business Department had one, but, I'd never seen one.
Duncan then placed a target with a red bulls eye on the west wall of his Lab.
"Watch this." He grinned.
Duncan turned more dials, flipped more switches, and the thing in the center of the floor came alive. An arm extended, an arm with a mechanical claw. It jerked and swung around to where we were standing and Duncan placed a hammer in the claw. The claw closed around the handle of the hammer. He hit more buttons, checked some dials, and then placed a tack in the bulls eye of the target on the wall.
"You won't believe it" Duncan said, as the thing began to move across the floor, pistons, motors, wheels, hydraulics, something like what you'd expect a Mars Lander to look like, but more so. The thing approached the target, the hammer cocked back in the claw, and then, tap, tap, tap, the thing drove in the tack at the center of the bulls eye.
"What do you think"
I had no idea what to think. I was without words, I couldn't believe my eyes, the whole scene, the lights, the switches, the hum and clicking of gears and who knows what. The fear of imminent arrest. Never in my life had I seen such a contraption.
"You've got to tell me what this is".
Duncan replied, as if I should know, "It's my Robot. The U Engineering Department thinks I'm on to something, measuring distances traveled in the hydraulics with sonar, and so they've given me a bunch of PHd's to help me build my Robot. They gave me the space too." Well, the Cops never showed and we left the building, right out the front door, just as we had entered. Duncan locked up the building securely just as if he were the Night Watchman making his rounds.

Well, Duncan got kicked out of the Engineering Building a month or two after our midnight visit with his machine. I don't know what the transgression was. He never told me. The day it happened he called to ask if he could keep his Robot in my garage for a while until he made other arrangements. I couldn't do it. Too much stuff and I was only renting. I don't know where his dream wound up. It may still be boxed up in a storage shed somewhere. But, Duncan's version of the Hindinberg, his ultimate Chick Magnet, was never built. Duncan was killed in an automobile accident a year or so later. I attended his service at the grave. Not many were there; his Mom and Dad and his Sisters, a few from the neighborhood, but, not many.

I often think of Duncan. He was without doubt the brightest, the quirkiest, and sometimes the most outrageous, human being I have ever met. He was a dreamer; his dreams were huge and sometimes outlandish. Nothing was considered impossible for Duncan. Had he lived he may have been a Bill Gates, or, he may have been a George Soros or maybe he would have driven a Taxi all of his life, maybe striking it rich, now and then, in the Penny Markets, just to loose it the next day in the Penny Markets. He could have wound up homeless too. There was no middle ground with Duncan. It was always all or nothing.

Duncan was a good friend, we had lots of fun, he always made me laugh. He had a good heart. I have often missed him as the years have passed. If he were still around I would very certainly enjoy his company on a summer's evening, sitting on the front porch. I'm sure we'd talk of all that was, all that is, and all that could be.

Bob Poulton

07/19/09 06:54 PM #2    

Ronald Scott

Bob, you made Duncan come to life.

09/07/12 11:44 PM #3    

David Paulsen

I think about Duncan often, even more as the years pass. We sure had a lot of
Fun growing up, we Millcreek Boys.

go to top 
  Post Comment