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It probably is not surprising, John, to hear that I knew Gene Shoemaker (same year I came to worship RP Feynman: 1971-2). Of course, it was actually his wife who was the "Shoemaker" of Shoemaker-Levy, but they were so much a team that the sharing of credit was automatic between them...except for Gene's horrifically bad driving skills, or lack of same.

I went to Great Meteor Crater with Gene and a couple of dozen geology students, and I noted that he was never allowed to drive on that trip from Caltech to the crater in Arizona.

He was, though, allowed to teach us tenderfooted acolytes the calculus of draw poker one night at his Arizona home, not ten minutes from the north rim of the Grand Canyon. Unfortunately for him, he did not have the cards that night to make the lesson stick. I slept that night in the courtyard of his home, outside, and awoke the next morning to find three inches of snow atop my sleeping bag. It was a gloriously deep night of sleep, I have to say.

It was Gene's misfortune to be driving in the Australian outback when he met his end decades later. I never learned the details, but I was glad not to be there to witness it.

John Ptak

Thanks very much Rick for this great set of stories--wonderful images about Gene Shoemaker, especially the driving part! (Pretty good guy btw to survey Meteor Crater with....)


Yes, John--when we arrived at the crater, the visitor's center erupted with every single employee bursting forth.

I was so much not in the know that I had no idea, up until that moment, how revered he was among professional geologists for his seminal work on the crater. To me, he was just quirky Gene--he preferred students to call him 'Gene'--but to all those folks at the crater, he was DR SHOEMAKER! DR SHOEMAKER! with great big grins and excitement such as one seldom sees from geologists.

Clueless, yet learning...that was me on that trip!

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