Few would have guessed that Mike Baryk's boyhood fascination with model airplane building would one day lead to an enthralling career in the aeronautics industry, eventually earning him a certificate from "The Lunar Module Program of Project Apollo" in 1969.
"A Certificate of Participation was awarded to Michael D. Baryk as a member of the Lunar Module Team that has participated in a national effort to land American astronauts on the moon and return them safely to earth."
Born in New York, Mike had always made his home in three of New York City's boroughs, including Brooklyn, the Bronx and finally, Queens, until 2001 when he moved to Saranac Lake. Though the city was always his true home, it was not the only place he lived. From the age of 5, every summer found him upstate at his maternal grandparents' 127-acre dairy farm in Schoharie County.
Raised in a crowded urban setting, he fell in love with the wide-open country and farm life. There, he found doing chores more of an exciting privilege than a labor. His grandfather, a Russian who immigrated here in 1912 just prior to the Russian Revolution, taught him how to drive both truck and tractor, how to cut hay, herd cows, shovel manure and all manner of other farming chores. He also taught him the importance of a strong work ethic and maintaining social values.
When not helping his grandfather, Mike loved wandering through the fields, catching insects and exploring ponds full of salamanders and frogs. He also enjoyed building model airplanes. One of his grandfather's neighbors, a summer resident from Long Island, took note of his interest in this hobby and when Mike graduated from high school, asked him if he would like to work with him at the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation. This company, a builder of military aircraft, designed and manufactured, among others: the OV-1 Mohawk, low-flying aircraft for army reconnaissance; the F-14 Tom Cats with variable swept wings for aircraft carrier use; the Hell Cats used these in the Pacific against Japan; the Albatross, a large seafaring plane used in rescue operations, and the Prowler for radar jamming.
He jumped at the chance to learn more about planes, but the experience was to be all too brief.
It was 1965, the Vietnam War was raging and Mike was caught up in the draft. He had just met his wife-to-be, and so it was with mixed emotions that he left for training, convinced his future might prove to be short-lived. However, to his amazement, he was assigned to the Military Police and shipped to Paris, where he was posted at the United States-European Command and the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), the military command of NATO forces). Home on leave from France in February 1966, he married his fiance, who then accompanied him back to Paris.
Mike's schedule required nine straight days of duty followed by three days off. Not wanting to miss any sightseeing opportunities, he and his wife bought a car, using his pass days to travel and see as much of Europe as possible. They traveled to London when his wife's parents came to visit.
Other excursions were to the Loire Valley, Mont St. Michel, Chartres, Normandy, Utah Beach, Calais, Dunkirk, and in Brussels, Belgium and Bastogne, scene of the Battle of the Bulge. More than anything, they were impressed by the architecture.
"It was just magnificent to see what men built by hand so very long ago," Mike said.
Though he was just 22, and his wife, 20, they developed a great appreciation for the splendor of the architecture, sculptures, paintings and tapestries.
In 1967, President Charles de Gaulle requested that SHAPE pull out of France. And so, Mike was discharged two months early, returning to the states where he and his wife raised a son and a daughter in Queens. He also returned to his job at Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation, where he remained until his retirement 29 years later.
And what a job he had. He became a specialist in packaging airplane parts, built by the Grumman Corporation and shipped to the U.S. Navy for their aircraft carrier planes. These components need very special handling. Each different piece requires individually prescribed treatment, both in preservation, using specific oils, and in shipping, so as to protect against the damaging stresses of shock, temperature and pressure. It is a surprisingly complex field requiring a special plant division, Preservation and Packaging, which is devoted to this challenge.
In order to understand how each part functioned, Mike had to read blueprints. Being artistically inclined, and having taken drafting in high school and aeronautic drafting and technical illustrations at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, he had a good start.
From reading blueprints, he was promoted to creating technical drawings based on those prints. His pen and ink drawings, many of which he still has, are detailed, complex 3-dimensional illustrations that could only be made by a skilled artist with a deep understanding of the workings of his subjects. Each of his drawings took from 50 to 60 hours of work.
This knowledge and his quick grasp of the operational details led him, in 1969, to be again promoted, this time to the training department to develop training aids for aircraft operations and maintenance. Students attending training school included American air force personnel as well as those from countries such as Japan, Egypt, Israel and Iran.
Technical manuals, which included many of his own illustrations, are used for training. For each plane, there can be as many as 28 two-inch thick manuals that the aircraft crews are required to learn. Each manual addresses a different aspect of operation, for instance, instrumentation, air frame maintenance, hydraulics or avionics (which covers the electronic systems, such as radar, flight path guidance, submarine detection systems, along with systems that can jam enemy radar).
And to earn that certificate of participation in the Lunar Module program? Grumman Aircraft Engineering had become Grumman Aerospace Corporation, builder and supplier for the space shuttle wings. Mike's job included classifying, preserving and shipping components for the assembly of the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) for the Apollo Lunar Program. He also had to insure that all operations complied with the Federal Manuals for Preservation. These parts were sent to a final assembly plant where they became part of the lunar module that, in 1969, flew Neil Armstrong to the moon to make the first manned landing. Participating in this endeavor is one of Mike's proudest achievements.
When George Bush Sr. cut back on military spending, Grumman was forced to lay off a large number of employees, one of whom was Mike. Retired, but not yet ready to stop working, he did similar freelance work. Recognized for his experience and skills, he had the opportunity to be hired as tech illustrator at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories on Long Island. As an artist of technical means, he would be doing illustrations and art for the human genome project. However, the employee he was to replace decided to stay on and the job never materialized.
Disappointed, but beginning to think about how hard he had worked all his life, he decided maybe it was time to ease up a bit. He and his wife had known about Saranac Lake as they traveled through it many times on their way to visit her grandparents and aunt in North Lawrence.
Long Island began to feel too noisy, crowded, polluted and congested. In the midst of a 13" snowstorm on a December day in 2001, they made their move to Saranac Lake. Standing in his new, snow-filled driveway, Mike had briefly paused to ask "What the heck are we doing here?" but said he has never since regretted his decision. After living in New York City all his life, he says, "I love it up here, love the lakes, the forests, the mountains, the clean air, and especially the quiet."
The work ethic, taught by his grandfather, has apparently never left him. Mike couldn't just stay at home doing nothing. Through a series of chance encounters, he was hired for a totally different kind of job. For the last four years, part time at first, and now full time, he has been cooking for the Saranac Lake Adult Center, making lunch for 24 or more people every day, plus providing some 34 meals for the Meals on Wheels program. Twice a month he serves up an evening meal as well.
Mike and his wife live comfortably in Saranac Lake where, in spite of the distance, they still manage to see their children: David, a psychologist and Margaret, a real estate broker, and their two grandsons.
For comments or questions, Caperton Tissot can be reached at tissot@SnowyOwlPress.com.