World War II bombs falling around Charles Whatley’s childhood home changed his life course and thrust him upon an inventive career and a circuitous journey to Lawrence, where he developed a successful business.
At 12, Whatley was evacuated from London to Surrey with two younger sisters.
“My mum warned me to look after them,” he says. “When we arrived at Haslemere railway station, people wanted us separated, but I clung to my sisters until the billet officer said he’d put us in two houses in the same street.”
At 13, he won a scholarship to Exeter Boys’ College, joined the Junior Air Cadets and took dancing lessons from the College principal, who was a professional dancer.
“Learning to dance was the best thing I ever did,” Whatley says. “It changed my life.”
He graduated top of his class in 1944, returned to London and volunteered for the Royal Air Force. When poor eyesight prevented him becoming a pilot, he became a Navy airman navigator and served on HMS Glory. After the war he worked in Australia for a year before returning to England with hopes of emigrating to Australia.
Dancing at London’s Lyceum changed his plans.
“I saw Hilda dancing the jitterbug, asked her to dance and married shortly afterwards,” he says.
He worked as a draughtsman and became fascinated with aero and thermal dynamics while studying engineering part-time at London University.
“I was excited about anything to do with air movement,” he says.
He worked 24/7 developing air-conditioning systems before deciding he could make a better life for his family in America.
“I booked my passage to America and told Hilda I’d send for her within a year,” he says.
He arrived in New York with $10, went straight to the state employment agency and spent $7 on a fare to interview for a job in New Haven, Conn., with a company looking to develop machinery to control massive dust emissions.
“I said I could help and asked for a month’s advance,” he says.
“Advances were unheard of then, but I told the boss I needed the money, and promised him I’d solve his dust problem. We shook hands, and that was it.”
Whatley delivered, and 10 weeks later he brought Hilda and their two children to live in New Haven. He designed and developed an Entoleter machine capable of air-removing larvae from invested wheat.
“This was new technology in the ’50s,” he says. “I could design any system to carry anything through air.”
Many promotions later, he arrived in Lawrence to design and develop new machinery for a local popcorn factory. He fell in love with the friendly community, moved here and opened his own multi-state business, ChaDa Sales, for designing and developing machines for bulk handling.
“With a button touch, one person can unload 200,000 tons of material in four hours. Can you imagine how long it would take to move all that by hand?” he says.
“Machines that direct right movement of air through pneumatic process can work wonders.”
He retired in 2002, sold the business, and he’s still dancing.