Dana R. Morton’s penchant for finding out things that other people didn’t know was apparent from his college days, one of his longtime friends recalled Saturday.

“He had all this information about lots of stuff,” Terry Weymouth of Buxton said. “How he found out the things he found out, I still don’t know. In college, he found a ski dorm at Sugarloaf that was just $2 a night – if we did the dishes. It was quite a tragedy when the lift tickets went from $6 to $8.”

Morton, who died March 16 in Portland at age 75, went on to find out more things that most other people didn’t know. After college he went to work for the Central Intelligence Agency.

After getting stationed in places like Area 51, the top-secret Air Force base in Nevada, and working on projects including development of supersonic reconnaissance jets such as the SR-71 Blackbird, he returned to his home state of Maine and helped found SMRT, an engineering firm.

Weymouth said Morton was always coy about what he knew and didn’t know.

“It was always a joke with my wife – she would say, ‘Dana, do you still work for the CIA?’ And Dana would just smile,” Weymouth said.

Morton grew up in Gorham. He and Weymouth, who grew up in South Portland, met in the freshman dorm at the University of Maine in the fall of 1959. They later joined the same fraternity.

Weymouth said Morton’s knack for mechanical things showed in college, when he paid $125 for a 1929 Ford that had been stored in a barn and got it running. In the winter, it sat at Morton’s parents house, but in the spring, Weymouth and Morton would drive it up to Orono to use for weekend jaunts.

The trips up to Orono, in the days before an interstate highway made it a relatively short venture, were especially enjoyable, Weymouth said.

“We weren’t 21, but let’s just say we were able to get beer, and we did that for several years in a row,” he said.

In the CIA, which recruited him from college, Morton was part of a new crew of engineers that the spy agency brought in, said Noble Dowling, who worked with Morton in the mid-1960s, when the Cold War was in full swing.

Dowling said prior to the early 1960s, most CIA workers were spies, spy handlers or analysts who worked on finding out information. Morton, Dowling and others were part of a new wave of CIA hires who were engineers and scientists who could make sense out of the detailed information that was being collected.

Dowling said other CIA employees stole the telemetry – readings on speed, altitude and the like – from Soviet Union rocket tests and then he and Morton would analyze it. Dowling specialized in figuring out the capabilities of Soviet rockets, while Morton’s focus was on determining the kinds and capabilities of nuclear warheads the Soviets would pack on top of the rockets.

“It was an interesting period because we were among the few engineers hired by the CIA,” said Dowling, now 79 and living in Florida.

Dowling said he and Morton and the other engineers would usually socialize only with one another. They had weekly cookouts, he said, mainly because they were the only people they could talk shop with while grilling steaks in the backyard.

After a few years, Dowling left to work for rocket manufacturers for the U.S. space program. Morton, he said, “went into the black stuff,” meaning supersecret projects, including the SR-71, a high-flying, supersonic spy plane that was the successor to the U2 and was used to capture photographs of military installations and equipment inside the Soviet Union. Ultimately, the spy planes were supplanted by spy satellites.

Arthur Thompson, eventually Morton’s business partner, said Morton returned to Maine in the late 1970s, where he opened his own engineering and surveying firm in Buxton, That firm was later blended into SMRT with Thompson and others. The Portland-based engineering firm now has more than 100 employees and offices in four states.

Thompson said Morton’s was eager and positive, two traits that were essential in a startup.

“When all the chips were down, he was always ready to go, go, go,” Thompson said. “He always had this little twinkle in his eyes – he would walk in a room and really light it up.”

The Morton family plans a celebration of Dana Morton’s life in July in Kennebunkport. Morton lived in Kennebunkport and also had a house in Venice, Florida.

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

[email protected]