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So in traveling this all-famous "road", one tends to remember little incidents along the way to and from work as it were, and appropriately named these events and/or locations. Thus, the naming of several curves, bridges, areas, etc.; most have of which survived 35 years of "Tales". Some names you might have heard of, others maybe not. The author doesn't claim to know all of them, but after 10 years on the road traveling it 3 to 4 nights a week, one tends to "remember" a few Also, please take note, for some of the names might be "Post-Earthquake" tagged.
The first one that comes to mind was up in the Holiday Beach hills area near the housing area, the sharp comer just before this facility. This comer is named for Sam McCauley who missed this comer on rainy ice, and went to the bottom of the gully uninjured in a 62 or 63 black Ford country sedan wagon. The next one was up the road a little bit, the switchback curve just before the entrance to the Holiday Beach Receiving Facility. This one is named "Joe Beaty" comer (the father of Billy Beaty). Poor Joe almost clipped Dick Monnell in the old Philco blue Dodge carryall on this comer avoiding him but missing the comer ending up in the antenna field in his old Dodge "Weapons Carrier" truck, Ice was the culprit again Joe was a longtime Kodiak rancher who lived out in the Narrow Cape area known as the Kodiak Cattle Company spread. Billy, his son was raised there.
Then you came upon the Rendezvous, a little bar-grill-saloon roadhouse at the head of Women's Bay run by long-time residents of Kodiak John and Sally Nosich. It was a real "Alaskan" watering hole complete with deer horns game skins, and the like on the walls. Also some other types of controversial stuffed game models like the dreaded three- homed jack-a-squirrel, the very rare-indeed Kodiak trained killer bear (back end of a bear, front end a Marine with MSGT stripes), and of course the usual collection of "Polish" war equipment like shotguns, saws, and the "like". More than once patrons had to sleep over at the "Ronde" because of road conditions, or just had a little too much. In later years, this place passed on to Albert and Dori Naughton, then on to Bob and Geni Hood, then I guess to the Monroe family. Then, the place burned down and was rebuilt again. Today, I couldn't really tell you the status of it. Since Then, "Another" Rendezvous sprung up in Bell's Flats.
Elwood "Woody" Swartz. What can I say. This character can just about claim every dam curve or comer at one time or another as "his". But Woody's claim to fame had to be his unique ability in totaling-out no less than 6 Volkswagons, and almost single- handedly wiping out the Black Angus cattle population of Kodiak!! Every one of his total outs were because of "meetings" with these cows. We finally just put a cow catcher one night on his front bumper for his own protection!!
At the Mayflower Beach area at the upward side of the "S" curve is known as "Bobby Grilli's" rock. Up in the right side of this cliff there was a rock' protruding out that always looked like it was ready to fall out. We used to take bets on when it would. Well Bobby, that damned rock was still there and in place the last time I looked in 1994! The earthquake didn't even take it out, I thank you Sir!! Then there is "Weitzel's Curve", right in the out-tum of the "S". He missed this turn (in the summer no less) in an Air Force Jeep ending up in the brush. As I was told, Joe had a passenger, but I never was told who. About a mile and a half down the road, the route takes a sharp left, and up a hill to Black Canyon. At the sharp left comer, Roger Bagnati didn't make that one in a "rental" car, therefore named "Bagnati's Comer".
At the top of that hill, also known as the Black Canyon curve, Chuck Lumsten missed this one in broad daylight (with the author as a passenger). How in the name of the Almighty his missed it I win never know. I do now that I was sure as hell scared! Take a look at the other side of that corner sometime; it's straight down So, Lumsten"s Comer is named. Next comes (on the old road, but still visible on the new one), the "Twin Sisters", or twin curves in Black Canyon. The First one is "Brazeal's comer, and the other is "Ciano's" curve. Both Incidents on ice trying to get to work one morning. Hank Ciano's accident took 2 vehicles and 7 people to get his Ford 6-pack back on the road again.
Next comes an incident about half way up the road from the top of Kalsin Bay Cliffs. Walt O'Neal was driving to work one rainy, icy morning in his Nash Rambler stationwagen when lo and behold, no road! An earthquake the previous evening had opened up a large wide crack in the road. By the time Walt got stopped, the front end of his. Rambler had fallen into the crack with the back end still on the town-side of the road. He said he "gingerly" got out and hung onto his Johnson CB, microphone to call for help. Then he discovered he was balancing the Rambler from falling further into this crack by just his microphone! Now, that sez something for an American-Made CB radio product, doesn't it? So named "O'Neal's Crack". (Take note Motorola .... )
At the top of Kalsin Bay Hill, just before starting down the cliff road, there are approximately 5 cars over the cliff in the Bay right here. All of these are the most probable results of "stolen" vehicles joy-ridden out the highway and "disposed of". Half way down the Cliffs at the "waterfall" crossing, Aloice Kopen put an Air Force Ford 6 pack into this crossing. So named "Kopen's Kreek".
Well, about now you are asking "Didn't this guy have any incidents on the Road?" Yes, the author did and it was kind of unique in nature. My claim to fame is the Myrtle Creek bridge, the only bridge (then) on the road system that was curved in the middle. One night coming back from bowling the "late" shift at the Elk's Lanes, I crossed this bridge and the damn thing collapsed right under me putting my candy-apple red Mustang into the creek. I sat there for 5 hours until the mail truck came along and pulled in out. Incidentally, that very day was the day that Smoky Stover quit the State road division and went into full time at this junk yard (1966). So, "Smaker's Bridge". You remember "That" Mustang, you do, eh?
Hee, Hee, Hee If that car could only talk! (How about it Jack Rhines?)
Further down the road just before the Saw Mill, there is a tree on the left almost in the road and normally avoided by a slight curve and dip in the road. Well, one early morning Walt Reese and his yellow Mustang (appropriately named "The Yellow Submarine") skinned this tree. And yes Walt, I looked at this tree in 1994, and your "Mark" is still on it! So, then and now known as "Reese's Tree". Walt has a few more claims to "fame" as you will be further into this book!
Oh yes, and another I just recalled. Just past the top of the Rendezvous cattle crossing and down to the next comer is "William's Curve". Ron missed this one on ice putting all of us into the brush. Old Harvey Dennison slept right through it, waking up on impact saying "are we there?" already? And of course, I will never forget getting crossed up trying to get up Marine Hill on ice, sliding backwards, and bailing out. The Air Force Ford 6 pack ended up in the gully. Shall we say 4 doors opened before going over with 6 people going in 5 directions Louis Esponosa (I think) was the driver.
Then there was in later years John Thompson, one of the Lockheed managers and his white Porche (is there any other color Porches?) John would drive this (I believe it was a 411) "bomb" down the highway literally like a bat out of Hell. Now, this Porche was real low to the ground, and one of his favorite tricks was to drive at high speed and go under the Little Navy area security gate.
It just cleared by about 6 inches. He used to terrorize visiting Air Force and Lockheed visitors with this act. The reason for his "Up and Down" the road, well, he was seeing a real fine Lady in town and was quite serious about here. In Fact, he married her a short time later. The Lady was Mrs. Lightfoot, a highly respected citizen of Kodiak. (Are you smiling Gene Sunburg?)
As it can be readily seen, the "Road" has had (and stiff is experiencing) it's history and moments. Not exactly "Freeway" driving .......
The Casa de Toro translates from Spanish to English as "The House of Bull". This was the "Watering hole" of the Chiniak Tracking Station. It was located in an recreation area that was intended originally to be an ice cream soda and snack bar for the site. It was equipped with horizontal refrigeration boxes and a small freezer. There was a bar counter about 30 foot long and a mews rest room. This area was quickly transformed into a full- blown "saloon" operating under the Government's regulations as an Air Force Officer's Open Mess. All of the booze, beer, and food stuffs were obtained from the appropriate class-stores on the Navy base.
In accordance (then) with regulations, we had a board of directors, an appointed Open Mess Manager (the first one being "Wild" Bill Baily), and various committees for entertainment, etc. The Club could not show a profit at the end of each year, so, needless to say, prices were quite reasonable; i.e., can of beer 25 cents, shot of booze (call) 35 cents, mixed drink 45 cents, etc. And at that, the Club was making around 75% profit on everything! So, there always were plenty of "funds" for special events, parties, decorations, etc.
It seemed that just about every year or so the Casa de Toro was redecorated in some fashion or another. They went through the various "fish nets" decor, a Paris cafe theme, a German Gausthaus, English "Pub", South Seas beach scenes, etc. Those walls in that club just couldn't fall down for all of the many coats of paint on them!
And excuses for parties, you name it and it was celebrated. Just about every "Day" was recognized, such as Mexican Independence, Icelandic Virgin Sacrifice, Korean Dog, Kodiak Revolutionary, Russian New Years (any day for that one ... ), and of course "anybody's" birthday. I used to like the 29th of February celebrations, as it were, in 800AD or so Gin was invented!! And "Happy Hours", yea, those too, usually 2 for the price of I for an hour before the Mess Hall closed. Many of the patrons didn't make the chow line, so the club always had hot sandwiches, and orders available.
The "hours" of operation were usually 5:00PM to no later than 7:45AM the next morning (Herb Long's boys had to clean up the place). And of Course, on weekends, special event days, etc., whoever could find the Manager or his key, open it up, and have at it ......
It was a known fact that the Department of the Air Force looked at this operation with a strange eye when it was noted that, for I believe 4 years running, it was the largest grossing Officer's Club open mess in the Alaskan Air Command. Not bad considering that there was only I officer on site!!
And of course, all of the "Regulars" had their own bar stool places. Woody Swartz's was on the first end against the comer of the building. After about 5 years, we just bolted it to the floor and attached his own safety belt to it! As I write this, I can "see" and "hear" them all, but I had better stop here .............. Some are still alive!
During the "Territorial" days of Alaska, gambling was sort of illegal, but nobody enforced it (or bothered to). It was legal in certain circumstances such as church groups, closed clubs, and military open messes where there was a restricted membership. Chiniak fell into this open mess club group, as long as the criteria of membership was met. When Statehood arrived, some of the rules changed such as licensing, local governmental controls, etc. As for the Military installations, it was rather loose during this period of time, for the State hadn't really gotten control of things yet. But, the local government did require a permit of sorts realizing that revenue could be obtained from this source. The problem here was just whose "Jurisdiction" was whose. Again, enforcement was a problem.
It is strange to note that the Chiniak group were not, per se "Gamblers", although there always was a game going on somewhere. Nothing big time though. However, if the challenge presented itself, they went at it "whole Hog" such as betting on sled races, timed events of any kind, etc. And of course, if there was an excuse for another kind of a party, they were all for it. Then someone figured out that a "Monte Carlo Night" might be a real blast!
This was in May of 1960, and "Our" fellows went after this one in great style. The Lockheed boys, (you note I'm being very careful here), had some contacts in Sunnyvale who had contacts in Reno who, by devious means got their hands on a bunch of quarter slot machines, a couple of crap tables, and a complete roulette table with wheel. How to get them into the State? Well, lets say they were "Flown in", and leave it at that. (Miller Field had a visitor one night with a no-gas-stop flight, bypassing the State airport .... )
Very special preparations were made for this great soon-hoped-to-be annual event. The Casa de Toro was redecorated into a "Gay Nineties" theme, all casino "workers" were appropriately dressed in the attire of the times, and a special barbecue was dreamed up for outside, just adjacent to the Club room. And special printed invitations were sent out to most of the town's "notables" promising the "night of all nights". They even advertised "free booze" and food for all. Now, you know that brought out just about everyone on the invitation list and about every "Swinger" in town who had money. And of course, every single (and not-so-single) woman that wanted to participate showed up too.
Well now, the great Saturday night finally arrived, with the Casa de Toro filling up to over-capacity quickly by 7:OOPM. 3 bartenders and 2 cocktail waitresses were going full out. Gambling was to start a 8:30PM after the barbecue. Everything was going according to plan except one huge big bad mistake. The "Organizer", (you know who you are you turkey!), had also invited chief Vickery of the Kodiak City Police AND Alaska State trooper Hussey! You never saw such a mad dash to "cover over" the gambling tables with blankets in your life! Now, what do we do?
Well, Chief Vickery, I think, didn't really care one way or another, for he was looking forward to a Comfortable retirement very soon. But as for trooper Hussey, this one was no "Pussy Cat"! It was quite a scene watching all of these people hanging around the bar trying to keep up cheap small talk "wishing" that these two would "go away". Well, I think that it was Chief Vickery who finally got Trooper Hussey aside and most probably told him "let's get out of here; out of sight, and out of mind". They both left together about 9:00PM. One, of the Budson trucks followed them as far as little Navy to make sure that they had departed for town. Then, they promptly "radioed" the site with is information which allowed everyone to breath easier again. Monte Carlo night then began!
Talk about a smoke-filled room, this one was! Everything got going in real fine style except for one thing; not enough room for the Poker Boys. So, down the hall they went into the supervisor's wing rooms. I guess that there was most probably a half dozen games going on at once. It really drove Herb Long up the wall for he was trying desperately to keep some kind of control over this wild bunch. Amazing enough, no fights, arguments, or the like ever materialized. A lot of money changed hands, but I understand that the real "gambling" were the poker games. One townsperson (I care not to name for he is still around), went home a $10,000 winner! I do remember a local "stripper" from the Montmartre was real hot on the roulette wheel. All in all, lots of fun was had by all. And of course, the Casa de Toro made a "Bundle".
These Monte Carlo Nights continued on every year after for the remaining 15 years of the Tracking Station's existence, but none as memorable as the first one!
As it has somewhat previously been described, the Chiniak Tracking Station was a completely independent "city " capable of carrying on regardless of what was happening around it's own environment. This location was ideal in many ways suited well for it's primary mission; the tracking and servicing satellites. It was located in an RF quiet area (free from radio and man-made interferences), physically remote from any large concentration of population, and of course remote enough to have a controllable security system and plan. If for the lack of high fences, lights, and a guard gate, one might have passed it for a minimum security prison. Life on the Station was anything but a prison!
The original Station consisted of 2 main areas; the main complex, and a remote area called Telemetry Hill. And adjacent to the main area was the Verlort (Very Long Range Tracking) radar tower with it's pressurized balloon dome and two 135 foot bore-sight guyed steel towers.
The original main area had a series of buildings all adjoined together to form a continuous complex. The "Core" area had the operations, supply, messing, recreation, and offices. The adjoining areas consisted of 3 two-story housing wings capable of supporting I 10 or so people, a 6 stall arctic garage, a 5 generator power production plant, and a general maintenance/storage shop. Adjacent to this complex was the fuel storage tanks and the sewer treatment plant. In addition, two 60 foot trailer vans were in place near the complex providing technical equipment support.
The supervisor's wing had slightly larger rooms than the other 2 wings with a bathroom/shower combination between each 2 rooms in the wing. The other wings had bathroom and separate shower facilities on one end of hallway. Each person's room was furnished with "Better-than-average" equipment for a former military installation. (Let's face it, the Air Force knew how to live .... ).
All of the rooms were maintained just like a hotel, in that beds and linens were made up, floors and bathrooms cleaned, etc. all by the O/M contractor, Budson, then Burko, and finally Emerald. Most of the men that worked for these Companies were sort of "Career" types, that being they tended to stay on with the operation. Lots of stories about some of these people could be told, but one should be, and that was about George Borisdy, one of the hotel janitors.
His native country spelling of his name was Giurgea Adrian Borsidy. His nation; Hungary. How did he come to America? Do you remember in 1956 when Hungary revolted against the Soviet Union over the terrible living conditions in Budapest and other large cities? Well, this quiet-spoken man, a former Colonel in the tank corps during WW2 led an attack armed with only "Molitov Cocktails" against Soviet tanks in the streets of Budapest! George almost lost his right eye during that skirmish from a glancing bullet off of something (he thought off of a tank, but couldn't be sure). He later escaped with his life to Austria where the world was trying to place these brave refugees. A church group in Kodiak "adopted" George and got him a job with Budson in 1957. How do I know all of this, well, George was my janitor for a good 7 years and we got to know each other quite well. In fact, he used to sort of baby-sit my Son Butchie when it was family nights at Chiniak.
We have previously discussed the Casa de Toro saloon area. Adjacent to the "Toro" was the movie hall. All chairs in his hall were given up by each man's room in order to provide "lounge" type appointments. (Now, that's a real fancy way of saying "adding class" to the joint, isn't it?) There was normally one movie each night (16MM), and it was of course, "First" run. They cost plenty, and it was no where near what the Air Force budget had allowed. The balance was made up by profits from the Casa de Toro. The movies came out of "Movies, Inc", a firm in Anchorage, Alaska that rented films to the Armed Services and remote commercial camps. And of course, all "first line" flicks such as "To Russia with Love", "Guns of Navarone", etc. All films come with a cartoon or two and sometimes a "News Reel'.
Now, at this point I wish to interject a rather humorous fact. Lots of the guys really used to "get going" mimicking certain cartoon characters. One such character was the "road-runner". This guy used to run up and down the hallways "Beep-Beeping" as he passed everyone as a "greeting". Well, the greeting stuck, and is still "Hung" on him today, some 35 odd years later! Louis "Beep-Beep" Esponosa! And another Chiniak-Fact is brought to light .........
The mess hall was capable of serving 80 to 90 at a single sitting. And of course, the hall was also appointed with the very best of furniture that was available. The kitchen utilized a cafeteria-style serving fine system. The supporting kitchen had 5 large commercial ovens, and all of the very latest equipment of the day (circa 1957 being the "day"). And of course, one of the very first and finest "China-Clippers" of the time, a mechanical dishwasher. This mess hall facility supported 3 basic meals a day, and on special occasions, special midnight lunches during operations, and of course great "spreads during holidays. All breads and desserts were baked on site by Alfred Romanski, a "Master" German baker.
The operations area had all of the classified equipment and control consoles necessary to support the tracking mission. Adjacent to this area was the semi-secure Lockheed technical supply area that supported the entire technical operation of the station.
The other main area was Telemetry Hill, the area for receiving the satellite radio signals transmitting back to earth all of the mission data. The hill consisted of I very small building (about 10 x 10), and two 60 foot equipment vans; the instrumentation van containing the antenna controls and station master timing signals, and the other all of the telemetry receiving and recording equipment. These vans sat on a very large concrete pad. Over the instrumentation van in a fiber-glassed dome was the tri-helix VHF receiving antenna for tracking the satellite.
So, living at Chiniak, you could go to work, home, eat, sleep, play, and whatever, all under one roof without going outside in the "elements". But really, who wanted to do that anyway, right? R I G H T ......
The "Heart" of any remote logging camp, construction site, or a far away military outpost is the mess hall! These far-flung facilities just could not operate without daily good (and lots of it) food or chow. The Chiniak Tracking Station was no exception either. I will attempt to describe some of the menus that our two Chefs, Papa Jan and Alfred used to dream up. And this was one area that Herb Long did not dare fool around with, for you had to be an extremely fast man to beat this guy to the head of the chow line!
Daily breakfasts, usually served from, 6:00 AM to 8:00 AM. The steam table was usually loaded up with breakfast sweet rolls, fresh juices and fruits, sausage both links and paddies, bacon, ham slices, some meats such as chops and steaks left over from the previous meal, hot cakes, and of course S.O.S. You could always tell a man that wasn't in the service if he ate SOS. (Something on the shingle, OK?, OK!). At the end of the line was Alfred whose primary breakfast job was eggs, anyway you wanted them. We called Alfred sometimes the "Custom Chicken" Man. Now, as you were waiting for your egg order to be completed, you always put bread in the toaster for the next guy in line. Now Alfred, being a very good "German" Baker, only knew how to make very coarse bread, something akin to Exterior CDX plywood. Well, you guessed it, for it had to happen sooner or later and it did. Going through the line in the normal manner, someone slipped in two pieces of plywood cut out to the shape of bread slices and stuck them into the toaster. Result, a blazing fire and one very mad Alfred! More on this fine gentleman's true character later on in this book. (Are you smiling, Billy?)
And for milk, there was a two-holer mechanical cow that usually ran out at least twice during any meal period. That's 20 gallons of milk per meal for just 50 to 60 guys!! (MOOOOO!!)
Next, the 9:30 AM coffee break. Now, Alfred would really shine on this, for his pastries were just outstandingly exquisite!! You would swear that you were in' some Austrian Coffee Shop. And I mean not just a couple of entrees, oh no, at least ten or more, and if a certain type ran out, he had plenty of "reserves" stashed away. Boy, I can still smell that fresh pastry!!
11:30 AM to 1:00 PM was the normal "Lunch" hour. For some strange reason, this always seemed to be the "Big" meal of the day. I think that it was a hold over from the Brown Baggers complaining that they didn't get their share of all of the "Good" food and meals. (Poor Babies, I really felt for ya boys!). A typical spread was always 3 kinds of main entrees, such as pork chops, spaghetti and meatballs, and we'll say a meat loaf. There was usually french fries and mashed potatoes, usually baked or chili beans, and at least 4 vegetable entrees. Loads, and loads of gravies. Fresh breads, sliced and rolls to go with the attire of the menu (like bread sticks, etc). Now, the soups, this was Papa Jan's backyard. It is obvious that this man raised his family during the depression, for, he threw away NOTHING! All left over vegetables, meats, potatoes, gravies, etc all went into the soup pot. And boy, let me tell you, a good meal could be made just from Papa Jan's soup entrees!! And of course lunch desserts were the usual from Alfred plus cakes and pies. There was also a large horizontal refrigerator in the mess hall containing all kinds of ice creams and sherbets. I have seen some of the Chiniak boys go through the line at least 3 times just to sample everything. No wonder most of us put on 50 to 60 lbs during our tour at Chiniak.
Afternoon Coffee Break 2:30 PM to 3:00 PM. This one was very similar to the 9:30 AM one except there usually was sandwich fixin's available for the real starving ones.! Normally, it was a banana split break with all of the good stuff that goes with it too.
The Evening meal started at 5: 00 PM and ran through 6: 00 PM. This meal usually featured either steak, fish (fresh caught or otherwise), roast beef or pork, any game that the boys would donate, and usually the entree that didn't move so hot at lunch. This meal, Herb would allow us to take home to Kodiak if we were going in order not to waste it. Sometimes the steaks weren't cooked yet either .....
Now, when there would be special operations, the mess hall would make up sandwiches, soups, snacks, etc. just for the "troops". Needless to say, subsistence was not a problem at Chiniak.
And of course, we played a lot of pranks on those kitchen boys too! One unique one was on some lazy teen-ager kid that was working the dishwasher pen. He would sit a the table and let all of the dishes pile up in the return area until you just couldn't cram another one in. Then, he would get up, run like hell, (usually when Herb would come into the mess hall), and look busy as all get-out. Well, the Telemetry Van boys got him good, and in fact, we told Herb Long in advance on this one. (He thought it was a great idea). This prize trick was the brainchild of Joe Weitzel and Dale Thompson.
After completing breakfast one day, we borrowed a tray, cup, saucer, knife, fork, spoon, dinner plate, and dessert bowl and took it up to the work area and "Plybonded" (that's old time super glue for you younger folks ... ) all of the items to the tray. It took 3 days for it to completely dry solid. Then, one lunch time, one person sort of "faked" eating off of it, and returned it to the dirty dish area and threw it into the pile. Well, we had it planned, so that Herb would come in and start complaining about the piles of dishes, and for this Kid to get with it. Back the Kid ran, and started cleaning off trays like mad, and not really looking what he was doing. Then, he came to the "Glued" tray. Oh my Gawd, was that a sight! It really shook him up and the whole mess hall just roared for at least 5 minutes. Lots of pictures. Anybody got a copy of that event out there?
No story can be complete about the: "Mess Hall" without telling this one. Papa Jan was really proud of his Green VW Beetle, and was always bragging about it that it would go "anywhere" and get out of "any" situation! Besides being called the "Green Hornet" or "Jan's Bomb", that was true, but we were about to really test that theory.
Jan had a bad habit of not locking his VW when it was parked at Chiniak because the locks always used to freeze up. So, one blustery night, the "Toro Raiders" struck! They pushed Jan' s VW down the hallway, through 3 fire door sections (had to physically remove these doors to get the VW through and past), and planted it right smack in the middle of the mess hall.
Well, the next morning at 4:30 AM, Papa Jan went to work, and started up the ovens, grills, pulled out meats and other groceries for the day, and proceeded to start his normal routine. It was 5:45 AM before Alfred noticed that something didn't look right in the mess hall, so he turned on the dining hall light and screamed! Jan came out and I guess was really screaming, swearing (Boy, He could do that all right!). Herb Long come running (as a result of all of the racket) and he started laughing! I guess now Jan grabbed a meat cleaver and he was looking for some "meat" to chop.
Well now, after all of the commotion died down, and all of the picture taking, we put his VW back outside. Jan admitted about a year later to a few of us that he wasn't really mad; but he had to keep up his "image", or the troops would run over him. He really did love all of us, and Lord knows, we sure did love and respect that old "Dutchman". (Right Rackets, You Bet Easy Money, God Bless Ya!)
You say "Hobbies" after all of those shenanigans, you must be crazy!! Well, not everyone was doing pranks all of the time. Hobbies kept a few of those "California- Angels" straight and away from the loony farm. And lets face it, there was no future in trying to "Drink Canada Dry" either.
Guns. This had to be the biggest hobby of Chiniak by far. You name the caliber, bore, make, it was there at Chiniak. By far, the 2 experts in this field were Don Blacklock, and his side-kick Otto Wheeler. Otto was also known as "AutoTrack" Wheeler, from working in the radar area. These two were rather large and "round" individuals with full- blown beards. Lots of the site guys referred to them as the "Smith Brothers", akin from a box of cough drops by the same name then. I guess its just the fact that being from California or for that matter "outside" that you just do not have the gun freedom that you have in Alaska. This, I presume, brings out strange and sometimes interesting traits in people especially at a place like Chiniak.
This gun thing created lots of target shooting competition matches. A little known fact until these gun groups got going was that Herb Long was a "World" class Skeet shooter, and he would always try to "snooker" some unsuspecting new troop into a match for money.
Now, Don Blacklock is famous throughout (then) the Satellite Control Facility Network for his precision model shoot-for-real cannons! Yes, I said cannons. Don used to announce Sunday morning reveille with his 2 inch (yes, I said 2-inch) diameter cannonball gun. About 7:55 AM, we used to hear his door open, the "squeaking" of the wooden wheels on the floor going down the hallway, the rear door of the middle wing opening, the "fizzing of the fuse" followed by a very large and loud "Kerboom" at 8:00 AM sharp. Then, (if you could still hear), the reverse of the sequence ending with the closing of his room door. This Reveille was one of Don's traditions, Don't ask me why, but he just did it to be doing it, I guess He sure took care of a lot of hangovers that way!
Next came Model Airplanes, both static and gas model free flight. Later, some "U" control, but free flight was the thing. And of course, then came radio controlling. This was a bit of a "Bear", for we were still using vacuum tubes and required lots of batteries, etc. Transistors hadn't really come into their element yet, and were quite expensive.
And then there was "Real Live" airplanes. The boys took over a bunch of old Miller Field buildings and were either building or rebuilding aircraft. At one time, I counted 7 separate aircraft down there in various forms and repair. This just drove the FAA crazy, for the Field was adjudged unsafe and even painted a yellow "X" on the northeast end of the runway. Our intrepid aviation boys were always touching and going off of this field. Radios, what's that?
Believe it or not, Chiniak "Fostered" quite a few new and budding artists both in water color and oils. In fact, some of them were quite good. I believe that "Roads End" or the Hoppers restaurant has one of them today. Ernie Hopper had saved quite a bit of the odds and ends from the site when Chiniak was closed down.
And in later years, when the "New trailers" were put in, a lot of real good gourmets came out of Chiniak. The new trailer area were two bedroom 60 foot trailers installed for additional housing during the mid-sixties. The author learned most of his meager gourmet skills then.
Then there were the "Physical Fitness Nuts". These guys were forever working out, and to the point some of them couldn't even bend over for all of the muscles, and "toning". And yes, of course, they had their health foods, herbs, weeds, pills, and all of that which went with it too. Oh Boy, it takes all kinds, I guess.
And finally, there were the car or "Hot Rod" builders. Some of these guys were really quite innovative Billy Beaty was one in that he built up a 1952 DeSoto with an engine and transmission (fluid-drive, no less) from the old green 1951 Mecca Cab Chrysler. I ended up with that car, and drove it up to and just before the earthquake. You can still see pictures of it up at the Kodiak Inn (or whatever it's called today) on the second floor wall. The car is pictured upside down with Naughton's Bakery on top of it.... (are you smiling, you turkey, you?)
Then there was Vince Cappelletti with his "James Bond" machine of a Volkswagen. He built up this "Kit" that looked like an expensive Italian sports car with an all Fiberglas body and a VW chassis. Now, that was a real beauty, and was it a screamer!!!
Why this chapter? Well, several reasons, and a few being that it too was a hobby, but actually, a little more. It served Chiniak and the Air Force well during the earthquake, for it was one of the only links to the outside world after this disaster for quite a few days. Another reason for giving amateur radio a separate "call" here is that the author was widely known as an active "Ham" operator from Chiniak. Lot's of the readers of this book are radio hams, and would also be quite curious as to equipment, set-ups, and conditions from the site.
In 1959, my station, KL7JDO, was set up in an old Lockheed supply office just off of the garage area on the main entrance floor. OK you sharp-eyed hams, you're asking "how did I get such a high-issue call sign when Alaska was just beginning the KL7"B"s?" The FCC field office recommended that I be issued it because my old secondary call was W6JDO. How about that, Charlie?
We had 2 antennas for the station, that being a TA-33 on top of bore-sight "Able" at 135 feet, and a homemade trap dipole for 80 and 40 meters off of the same tower. Needless to say, nobody even thought about losses with 300 foot runs of surplus RG-8 coax! The rig was an old "Globe Champion" at 200 Watts of CW and AM and a Collins 75A-1 for a receiver. Believe it or not, the rotator was one of those old "4 wire" AR8 CD rotators made for TV! That thing survived quite a few high-wind storms too!
In 1959, the sunspot cycle was on the downside of it's curve, but 10 meters was still good to the States. 15 had to be the real band, but all of the good DX was being worked on SSB. Few stations then would answer you if you were on AM. But, phone wasn't really my bag, but CW was. Later, my spouse bought me my first store-bought radio (brand-new type), a Hallicrafters (Popularly known as a Halii-Scratcher) HT-37, a phasing-type rig. Boy, big time now .....
During this era at Chiniak, there were other stations sort of "on", and one was Bill Farley who had his station in his room (his call sign escapes me today though). His antenna was an unterminated "V" beam strung across the quarters wings and radio shack TV push up masts for support. The damn thing was always falling down in one form or another. And Woody Swartz had a technician license, but his call sign also escapes me at the time (KL7ENI?). He would get all "bombed'up and started calling "CQ" on 6 meters on his Gonset rig. I don't think that, at the time, there wasn't another 6 meter rig on the air in Alaska. I often told him that one night someone might answer him on a summer opening to JA or something like that.
When the Lockheed boys took over from Philco, several new hams showed up, and one being Walt ONeal, KL7EDY. He was mentioned previously about the crack in the road and hanging on to his car by his microphone cord. Well, Walt was in Kodiak when the earthquake hit and was one of 3 stations that were capable of getting on the air. Walt's mobile station was set up right in front of the Police Department. Good ole' Jack Rhines, the Chief of Police needed his communications near at hand, and Walt's rig was it. Sgt Conrad Walters kept Walt's Nash running to keep the batteries up by supplying the Gas and oil. Walt's rig in the car was an old Elmac AF-67 with a Gonset converter working through the car radio. (AM in those days, remember?)
Kodiak's Mayor Pete Deveau was also a ham with a call sign of KL7FC, but didn't really get on the air until the second day for the lack of emergency power. Some more hams from town were Tony Reed, KL7BDC, Bill Maur, KL7ML, Wilton White, KL7BDK., Roger Page, KL7GF, and Leroy Whittich, KL7BDD. There were a few more in Kodiak, but they slip my mind today (come on, that's 31 years ago .... ) Oh, at Chiniak, "Geno" Guerra, KL7FMA, "Buz" Longstreth, W0KON, Fred Voge, KL7Z, and of course the club station, KL7FOS of which I was the trustee.
Chiniak had a Club station with most of the antenna equipment donated by the Lockheed LERA (Lockheed Employee Recreational Association) fund. They donated a couple of Hygain Hy-towers, a TH-6 thunderbird, and 50 foot of 25G tower sections. The station was located downstairs in one of the old "towel" rooms between wings.
In the later years, my station was located at the old "T" Hill building when the tracking station relocated the VHF receiving system to the "Balloon" tower with a new antenna. Of course, the Vans were long-since removed, and the concrete pad was "mine", so I erected the old 25G tower there and put up a 4 element tri-band quad on it. Now, that was a real "Monster". It collapsed about 1968 in a storm splattering formvar wire and blue Fiberglas spreader pieces all over the countryside. In a visit to "T" hill in 1994, the author "found" some of that quad still in the brush around the site. I still have a piece of it in my office today as a reminder.
As for all of you 80 meter followers, the author had accidentally stumbled upon the Grayline effect not knowing any difference until later years. Europe and Africa were worked early evenings and mornings almost at will. Hoppy, K6UA explained my ease of operation to me later about 1980! And Chiniak was the real 80 meter location with the North Pacific Ocean on three sides of it.
And of course, the 13th of December 1961 was another notable "first" for Amateur Radio and Chiniak; the launching of OSCAR, Orbiting Satellite Carrying Amateur Radio. Chiniak was the Station that verified to the Amateur Radio World (Through Air Force Channels in Sunnyvale, California), that OSCAR was in orbit. Although Antarctica verified that it was transmitting, the actual orbital achievement had not been verified. Yours truly, working in the Telemetry Van at the time, had the privilege to announce on the "Hot Line" going south "Oscar Sweet", which meant it was in orbit and working. (If Oscar sour was announced, it would have meant no acquisition of the satellite). The "Bird" was a very simple satellite that was piggy-backed along on the back engine rack of a Discoverer satellite and, at the appropriate moment, was ejected away from the parent vehicle by a spring tossing Oscar into it's own orbit. The bird only transmitted the simple message on morse code "HI". If you counted how many I-us in 5 seconds, it would tell you the outside temperature in space! Ah, those were the days when things were really simple and adventurous! Look at where we are today ............
In those "Heady" days of the late 50s and early 60s, space and satellites were still in it's infancy. Although the technology was advancing quite rapidly along, goof-ups, accidents, and near-misses were still part of the business. And the Air Force's Discoverer program wasn't any exception. Up until August of 1960, the primary mission of this space program was never met; that being to launch, orbit, and recover a payload from space for "research" purposes. Several "Birds" managed to somehow get into space but were either lost in space and/or just plain malfunctioned. Most of the launching problems were caused by the Atlas booster, a real "Kludge" of a rocket. I still think to this day the contractor had an "in" with the Defense Department over the development fundings on this piece of junk!
Payload recovery still hadn't been accomplished successfully although I believe some of the payload research plans were meeting their intended goals. The recovery area was just north of the Hawaiian Islands, with shall we say Chiniak as the "Key" command "Dump" station. The satellite payload was to be snagged by specially equipped C-130 aircraft with large "V" shaped horns, to catch the. parachute of capsule in mid-air before water-impact. Just like in a James Bond Flick .............
Well, one-such mission launched all right, but when it left out of radio sight of Vandenburg AFB in California, the Bird kept on going, so to speak, or the engine didn't shut down at the proper time. Revolution 1 always occurred over Chiniak (in those days) and was usually first to determine health and actual injection orbital parameters. Well, the Bird didn't appear on time, in fact not before 20 some odd minutes later! The satellite had injected itself into a very elliptical orbit like about 900 by 100 miles. We were just about to "man-down" when Woody Swartz thought he heard Telemetry on the receiver speaker. Our VHF Tri-Helix receiving antenna spun around and lo and behold the bird. We got about 15 seconds of data before the bird shut off. The reason for this was that the bird's programmed timer "thought" it was over Vandenburg AFB after passing Chiniak when it was in fact North of Kodiak over about Fairbanks, Alaska.
Now, it became quite obvious that the satellite was "out-of-sync" with the ground, so experiments, turn ons- and offs were occurring in all of the wrong places and times. Finally, New Boston, New Hampshire station "caught" the bird and tried to issue a "reset" to the timer. This was about rev 6 or so. No one ever heard the bird since, except for one more time about a day later over Chiniak. The Bird's timer was just not in sequence with anything, dumping, shall we say it's evening-time data in broad daylight! Then in desperation, commands were sent to the satellite every time is was "suspected" to be in the vicinity of each tracking station. If, and I suspect a few, commands ever did get through, the bird must have been really confused. Let's face it, the bird was "lost".
No, it wasn't really lost, it was just doing it's thing, but in another part of the world. Needless to say the Air Force was in a "near panic" over this particular bird as well as it will be sort of "seen" just a little later on.
It can be told today because of a certain movie that was made about a year after this accident. When the satellite was over Northeast Russia, it thought it was over Kodiak and initiated it's automatic sequence for bringing back the capsule payload. Well, the first man-made satellite finally made it down and back to earth, but landed in Spitzbergen, a small Norwegian island about 800 miles due north of Iceland. And from many sources and accounts, I guess it was a real race to get the capsule, Russians, U.S., and the Norwegians. I understand that it was the "Vikings" as the winners ......
Now, the Movie; remember Rock Hudson as the Submarine Captain going under the Ice, etc on a defacto rescue mission? "Ice Station Zebra" by Alistair MacLean it was. Add up now? All he had to do was to pick up a copy of Aviation Week (or as we used to call it Aviation Leak), move the story location around a bit, and he had a plot for a prize- winning movie. How about that?
The time period was August, 1960. This particular flight had to have been one of the most significant satellite operations to date in this nation's space expertise race with the Soviet Union. It was the first time that a recoverable capsule was snatched after re-entry from an orbiting satellite and caught by a specially equipped C-130 aircraft in mid- air. As you remember from the previous chapter, it wasn't the first object recovered from space; only the second one. No one still admits to who really did get the first capsule ......
The story for this bird at Chiniak starts this time about a week before the planned launch when the station assumed a "Manned-Up" posture. All of the usual pre-flight checks, rechecks, more checks, and all of the rest of it. I will here omit all of the usual "Get- ready" things, and get down to the portion of the operation that is of interest and the events occurring after the fact.
During the long and tedious count-down of the launch sequence, everyone was glued to their intercom speakers following the event with anticipation so to speak. The senior technical management of the station wasn't any exception either. In fact, one particular Lockheed manager, Jim Paris, consistently would jump up and look over Station Operations Controller Dick Brazeal's shoulder and would say "What's that fight?" Dick would calmly answer as to what it was and continue on. This would always occur on every operation to date, and it was driving Dick crazy. So, for this flight, we installed another labeled fight on his console. Every once and a while Hank Ciano, the command controller would push a switch that would light up this light on Dick console. Big as life, on this light came and Jim Paris jumped up and asked what the light was. Dick calmly said "read it, I don't have time to explain". The light said "PARIS, SIT DOWN"!!
The operation launched and inserted into orbit right on it's predicted flight path, or so to speak, "Text-Book". The satellite appeared right on time over each of the preprogrammed areas performing exactly as planned. Then came rev 16 in which it was Chiniak's responsibility to "Reset", or finely-hone the program timer in the satellite. Everyone was extremely nervous, and not to mention the Command Controller Hank Ciano whose responsibility it was to "Push-the-Button" at the correct time. At the appropriate time the command was sent and correctly. From this day on, Hank was now known as Hank "The-Finger" Ciano. And another Chiniak-Fact is brought to light ......
During rev 16, there was 8 of us jammed into that telemetry van manning the equipment, and one beagle dog named Toby. He usually slept right in from of Dale Thompson, his owner during operations. Now, Toby had 2 very distinct attributes, one being I think his empty head was resonant to a telemetry channel for he could hear the satellite on the station's receivers a good five or so seconds before we would see it on the scopes. And the other, well, I don't know what Dale was feeding Toby, but he sure could "Pass the Fog" at the darndest times!!
Rev 17 came, and Dale Thompson had the privilege of announcing the capsule separation from the parent bird " 16-17 at 606" was the call. This referred to a particular telemetry event occurrence verifying the capsule "was on it's way" so to speak. The capsule was caught "Text-Book" and all parameters were met. One problem; the birds payload was purely "diagnostic" or a research flight with NO PAYLOAD except for a bunch of metering points! In Layman's terms, an empty flight wasting millions of dollars and learned nothing ........
Now, the Air Force had to get the data tapes back in a hurry. How to do this? Well, enters Lockheed Aircraft Corporation. They flew up from Moffett Field San Francisco, California to Kodiak, Alaska Non-Stop a specially equipped four-engined Electra aircraft. After refueling at the Kodiak Naval Station, it flew into Miller Field and picked up Jim Foley and the data tapes. Some of you may or may not have been aware of the fact that, in those years, the Electra had a developmental problem when it was initially designed, it had quite a few commercial crashes. The problem, as I understand it, was the windows over the wing areas had a design vibration which tended to allow the wings to fall off above 500MPH! So, Lockheed was working on the problem at the time and this aircraft was one of their test units that landed at Chiniak. It was flown in by an all test pilot crew and was literally a flying "Gas Can" for all of the fuel stored in it. Jim Foley said of the non-stop flight later that he was really scared and was real glad to get off the damn thing .....
After the completion of the flight, the Lockheed management threw one of the biggest closed parties that I believe I have ever seen in Kodiak. Chiniak took over the Montmartre Inn completely including the band and all of the "Strippers". There had to be at least a hundred people there for the event including wives, girlfriends, invited guests, and what-nots. Lockheed picked up everything including food and booze. The champagne (not the cheap stuff either) flowed freely and everyone really got bent out of shape. And to make sure, "Black" Bart even leased the old Mission-Roader bus and the driver for the night. OK, Ray-who-was-it? I Cannot remember, but it used to cost 25 cents to go from the "Beach" to the Post Office ......
Then came the floor show. Ole Vaughn Straut got on the microphone and announced "Ladies and Gentlemen, Diiiirrrreeecccttttttt flIrrrooommm Laaaaasssss Vegggaaass the Montmartre Inn prrrreeeessssseeeeennnnnnttttttssss Miiiiiiiisssssss Jeeeeeaaaannnnyyyyyy Baaaaarrrrr for your entertainment!!!!" (Names changed here for obvious reasons .... ). And the "Act" proceeded. Sitting next to my then-spouse was a Canadian lady who was a devout Catholic and was hanging on to something. Well, that "something" hit the floor with a "Splatter and Spit". Scratch one set of Rosary Beads. Only a few people knew this happened until the dancing started; "crunch Quite a few had trouble getting home that night. At least the brown baggers took in some of the singles in order to keep them out of the "Bar Hotel". However, I understand that 3 did make it as "Guests" of the City of Kodiak.
All kinds of Wacky things happened at this party. I guess it's just the pressure valve letting off Strange things (or maybe not so strange now that I think of it) like dancing on the tables, drinking champagne out of the lady's high heel shoes, trading of clothes on the dance floor while dancing, and dancing with that "Damn" padded steel pipe support brace by the end of the bar. (OK, admit it you Kodiakans, how many of you people have done it? I did it more than once). And how many of you remember the "Secret" after-hours bar downstairs? Remember the entrance, that comer booth cushion that "moved" to one side to reveal the door?
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