Salary was about $35K in the mid-1980s, for a Government contractor in the DC area. That was a bit low at the time, but we were having a recession back then (though not as bad as today's recession) and the Government had cut back a lot of projects.
My supervisor wasn't much help -- just gave me some basic parameters and the names of other more senior engineers to quiz about specifications. We had a problem with internal politics (our working environment was protectionist and the company was teetering) so I was misled about specifications. Fortunately I was able to "read between the lines" well enough to produce a serviceable prototype. Some of the same senior engineers who gave me the specifications tried to shoot me down, but in the end my design was quickly integrated into the final product. Not trying to toot my own horn -- just trying to show what the working environment was like. It's a lot like that again today.