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The Demise of Shulgin's Folly
by Paul F. Daley, PhD
Feb 2016
Citation:   Daley, PF. "The Demise of Shulgin's Folly". Erowid Extracts. Feb 2016;28:20-21. Online edition: Erowid.org/culture/characters/shulgin_alexander/shulgin_alexander_article6.shtml
Forklifting in the NMR Spectrometer

In 1981, Sasha and his compatriot Peyton Jacob bid on a surplus nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometer at the old Ft. Ord Army base in Monterey, California. They soon found themselves in possession of a 1969 model 60-MHz Hitachi NMR that they hoped to use to probe their newly created molecular structures. These large analytical instruments use powerful magnetic fields and radio frequency waves to extract detailed information about the electronic environment around protons or carbon-13 atoms in a molecule, and confirm structure.

Not the sort of equipment usually found in a home!

Sasha's son Ted arranged to have the hefty spectrometer brought in by forklift. After chopping a hole in the roof of what had been Ted's teen-years' bedroom, the magnet was lowered into place by crane.

NMR Magnet in Basement Four

Only one problem...the NMR had sat idle for too long. Though several technicians worked on restoring it, "all the kings horses and all the kings men" couldn't put the NMR back together again. The roughly two-ton device -- soon dubbed "Shulgin's Folly" -- occupied the same spot for the next 30 years, succumbing to gradual entombment in the corner of the now catch-all room.

"Basement Four", as the room was affectionately known, also became the home for Sasha's infrared spectrometer, a tiny workbench, boxes of chemical references, a gas chromatography/mass spectrometry machine, clothing, part of Sasha's library, and lots (and lots!) of papers and memorabilia. Did I mention... lots?

As we were closing in on completion of The Shulgin Index, Volume I, in 2010, Sasha's health deteriorated. He became bedridden, and for stretches was confined to a hospital bed in the Shulgins' living room. This arrangement was clearly unacceptable, and the family decided that Basement Four needed to be reclaimed as a bedroom where Sasha could be properly cared for. I took on exposing the boarded-over windows and moving the accumulated stuff to the barn up the hill for safekeeping. But we were left with... The Magnet.

Panorama of Basement Four

Dr. Paul Daley Ruling over the Magnet
Team Shulgin Pries the Magnet out of Basement Four

Without disassembly, the NMR was too large to fit through any doorways. After a fair bit of Internet sleuthing (Could it be dismantled in place? Did it have unusual metals?), I finally met an enterprising welder, one Dennis Nelson, and struck a deal: if he could help extract it, he could have it! On the appointed day, we assembled a crew of seven and went at it.

After removing the large beige metal cover, we found the core of the NMR, consisting of a blue stainless-alloy box that supported and shielded two opposed alnico permanent (unpowered) magnets. Being giant magnets, they exerted an irresistible force on any steel object that came too close. We had to take care not to lose tools or chains to its grasp. The magnet box was supported on wooden blocks (!), cemented onto an angled aluminum platform. We chipped away the wood blocks and slid the assembly down onto wooden rollers, slaves-building-pyramids style, and rolled it down the hall and out the door.

Sasha in Cleared Basement Four (2010)
Shulgin's Folly Towed Away

Miraculously, we were able to move the core outside without damaging either the house or ourselves. The next day, our savior Dennis had a friend bring his tow truck to winch the core up the hill to the driveway and onward to its final resting place (we didn't ask!). And so, Basement Four became a proper bedroom once again.

Photo Credits #
  1. Photos courtesy Paul Daley and Shulgin Archives.
Revision History #
  • v1.0 - Feb 2016 - published in Erowid Extracts.
  • v1.1 - Jan 2017 - Erowid - Published on Erowid.org.