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CHINIAK

"A hilarious but accurate account of life and the related humorously funny events that occurred at the Kodiak Tracking Station on Kodiak, Alaska during the 1950's and 1960's."

Compiled and Written By:

TONY SMAKER

CHAPTER SEVEN
THE GREAT TOBOGGAN RACE

As a likely carry over from the Christmas 1959 episode, our intrepid Chiniakers. just wouldn't stop there. Where there were one seater sleds, there had to be two seaters, and on it went. It finally reached some pretty serious and heated proportions. It was decided one evening in the Casa de Toro that they would "build" up 2 or 3 twelve man toboggans (!!) and race these down the road for the "once and for all" championship, or "King of the Road". Each team, as it were, would build up their own sleds using whatever material was available on the site, and nothing from town. 2 separate areas apart from each team were designated "construction'' areas, and spying wasn't allowed. It was also mutually agreed that in 3 weeks time, working evenings and weekends only, the great race would take place, snow or no snow! (This was January). Finally, Herb Long was not to know anything about it. Well now, I think Herb knew all along, but chose to "keep his head down" on this one.

Team one was headed up by Jim Foley, and team two by "Wild Bill" Baily. Both of these guys were the Lockheed supply people for the facility, and if anything was scroungable or available for use, they knew where it was. Now, when you toss together a group of senior technicians and engineers into a project such as this, you know you are going to see some real interesting and innovative results.

Now, I'm not sure which team had which rig, so I'll arbitrarily (since it makes little or no difference in the story) assign the first description to team one. The toboggan design consisted of a 24 foot 6 by 6 timber for the chassis, six sled feet to support it, and a steering sled post in front. The steering mechanism consisted of the old rope and drum trick, that being, two ropes wound around a drum in opposite direction and each tied to each end of the steerable arm support. The steering wheel and pinion were lifted from the old Chrysler taxi cab junker. When the wheel was turned, one rope let out and the other took in, thusly controlling the steering. Each participant sat on a board seat and hung on to a piece of pipe in front of him for balance and support. Naturally, no safety belts!! A battery and headlight completed it.

Team two's toboggan had some "Pazazz" in it's design. It was 24 foot long also, but utilized two 4 by 4 timbers for a chassis. I'm not going into a technical description on how some of the following was accomplished, but only outline the toboggan's finer features. It had 4 cross arm assemblies for sleds, all shock mounted on springs assemblies yes, springs. They were scrounged from an old junk engine! A 5th cross arm assembly was the steering, rack and pinion no less.... !!!

The seat design was rather unique. The team borrowed mess hall molded-plastic chair assemblies and bolted them to the chassis. They would "borrow" them at night and put them back in the morning before Papa Jan or Alfred in the mess hall would miss them! This monster had twin headlights, a rotating yellow beacon (borrowed from the front- loader), tail lights, and even turn signals. 3/8 inch rope safety belts completed it out. Oh, the headlights "Turned" with the steerage system!

Well, finally the great race Saturday night arrived! For Gosh sakes (You know what I really wanted to say here), it looked like NASCAR Atlanta right down to the "Pits". A great crowd had been attracted for this inaugural event which included about half from town. By this time, Herb Long knew all about it (except for the mess hall chairs ) and most probably just figured it was better this way than killing themselves on the road to town in one of his-trucks. Beer, booze, food, and snow everywhere, and qualifying was about to begin. It was agreed that each team would have two practice runs, and then 3 runs for averaged time.

It was outright amazing to see those wooden "Monsters" going down that hill, and during the qualifying runs, not a single accident. That would soon come to an end as more and more "loud-mouth and water" was consumed! During the practice runs, one engineer at the near bottom of the hill clocked the speeds just for the heck of it. Team one managed a top speed of 33 MPH, but team two was clocked out at 43 MPH just before braking. Now, that's flying! Each team took their runs alternately thereby making the course somewhat equal. Before the runs for record, each team was in the "pits" waxing down the sled bars, planning strategy for the race route, and shuffling of men for weight distribution. Quite a science, but the "loud mouth and water" was catching up with them.

After the 3rd or 4th run (I forget, but who the Hell cared at this point), the team one toboggan missed a sharp turn about half way down the hill, and went over the guard rail and on into the brush. Luckily, no one was seriously injured, but one member of the team, "tail-end-Charlie" ended up in a tree. Of all people it had to be, it was "Woody" Swartz! He looked like an owl, just sitting there hollering for someone to bring him his Vodka Seven! The other near accident occurred to team two when the brakes failed at the bottom of the hill right where there was the 90 degree turn to the left! One observer down that end said it looked real strange seeing a 12 man toboggan in a "Full cross-up" going around that comer! After all of the fun was over, team 2 was declared the winner.

Now, this saga just didn't end here. About three weeks later, after getting sufficiently fortified in the Casa de Toro, team two's sled was last seen being towed by the "Corn-Binder" flat bed going like a bat out of hell down the center- stripe of Miller Field no less. This toboggan finally ended up in the junk yard, but as you might say, they got their kicks out of it!

CHAPTER THREE
THE MILITARY INVASION OF CHINIAK (Or, Spies Like Us ....

As I have been told, about every 2 or 3 years the Military services in Alaska hold forth with maneuvers to test (what I assume it suppose to be), their prowess and stealth to repel an "invasion" scenario. Through the years I guess that I have seen 4 or 5 of these exercises, and after a while, you just ignore it for maybe it will go away all by itself But the first one that I witnessed in February of 1960 will stick in my mind forever. I believe it was dubbed "Operation King Crab One" in which all branches of the military services in Alaska would participate.

I guess the scenario was that the Army (and National Guard) was to "invade" the beaches of Kodiak to capture the Navy's communications facilities. The Air Force would fly cover for the operation with the Coast Guard delivering the troops to the beaches. Our ever-faithful "trained-killer" company of gate guard Marines with Navy support were suppose to defend the Island and repel the invaders.

The Brown-Baggers were the first to stumble upon the "War" one Monday morning on the way to work on the Chiniak highway about Mayflower Beach. I personally was in this blue Air Force truck at the time when out of the brush pops a pimple-faced scared trained killer of a Marine with an M- I rifle (loaded no less) stammering and stuttering that we halt, identify ourselves, and give the "PassWord". Well, old Harvey Dennison, who was sitting in the front seat of this 6-pack truck, rolled down the window and said "what's that Sonny?" Harvey had his hearing aid turned down and didn't realize it at the time. The marine said "thank you" and waved us on. The damn password just happened to be "Sonny"!! We proceeded on to Chiniak seeing several Army units all around the area setting up gun emplacements, and the like. Looked like a "real" War at that .....

That evening, in the Casa de Toro, it was decided among some of the braver bucks, that a little sabotage to the operation would go a long ways. So, being sufficiently well "fortified", 4 guys climb into an open Air Force jeep, armed with rifles proceed down the road to cause a little havoc. Now, the weather was snowing large wet flakes and starting to blow a little. These guys decided to take off their jackets and just wear their Hawaiian short sleeved shirts. Rubin "The Mex" Dominguis was the driver of this safari and he drove like a wild man. He drove through (on the open road) encampments of troops and convoys just literally terrorizing them. The troops looked cold, wet, and hungry in their full field packs, helmets, and horse blanket overcoats. It looked like Washington's retreat across the Delaware! Everyone started firing and shouting "Enemy Attack" and "Hit the Ditch"! Needless to say, the Jeep scattered the Army around a little.

On the return trip when the Jeep was crossing Miller Field, it was noted that a great quantity of WD- I 10 (field wire) had been strung out through the bushes into the old Quonset area. Another passenger in this raiding party Jeep was "Dixie" McGehee, an old Ma Bell main frame man. The temptation was too great! Dixie got going and mixed up and/or transposed the majority of the Army's telephone communications that night.

All of the Military's officers didn't have to stay in the field, they bunked at the Site in nice warm beds. At breakfast, most of us were just finishing up when a group of military officers came in and went through the breakfast fine. One officer said to the other, "Boy, you really terrorized my boys last night with that Jeep episode". The other said, "Well, you did a nice job on my commos too". They finally figured out that neither one did anything to the other and that their must have been a "3rd" player in the game. If I live to be a hundred, I'll never forget the looks on those two officer's faces when they together turned, rolled their eyes around, and "Stared" right at us. I really don't thank they ever really figured it out (unless one of the officers reads this book ). The next night down at the "Battlefield", security was a little better I should say .....

CHAPTER NINE
"THE ROAD"

"THE ROAD" This subject alone has had many, many a person telling their stories over and over, but to the "Locals", so what, we've heard it all. Yes, this might be that you have had heard it all before, but of what generation are you, if you please? Are you of the post Coast Guard era, the Navy era, the pre-earthquake era, or the Chiniak era? Well, obviously, this is an account of the Chiniak era when there wasn't over 15 miles of pavement on the whole damn Island.

The Chiniak Highway was 52.5 miles long (pre-earthquake), and was posted between "Blackie" Patterson's gas station (directly across from "Tokyo" Jack's Toyota dealership today) in town and ending at the site operations building. The only pavement was from town through the Navy base to the back gate. All of the rest was unimproved, with gravel and dirt surfacing. Now, I'll take you on a "tour" of the road (as I can remember it) as it was in the summer of 1959.

As you departed from town, you skirted the right side of Pillar Mountain through what is above the slide area today and joining the existing road just before the State Highways station. When you turned at Deadman's curve and followed along the rock wall for about a quarter of a mile, you were greeted by the Navy base front gate. You couldn't miss it for it had a 100 foot telephone pole planted right in the middle of the road with a Marine guard house. After signing your life away for a pass to drive through to the back gate, you were then on Tom Stiles Road. This road wound around Swampy Acres coming out to where the Buskin River bridge is today. The road then followed the end of the runway and paralleled it until you reach the Pacific Northern Airlines (PNA) terminal. From here, you proceeded up and over "Aviation Hill", past the CPO club, and down the right side passing the Civilian club to about where Samson Tug and Barge docks are today. This was the "new" rear gate. At this point, you turned in your "temporary" pass, submitted to search (for whatever they thought would be good to look for), and you passed on to the dirt and gravel. (More on this at the end of this chapter).

The road then proceeded into the "marshlands" of Bell's Flats until about the location of where the 2nd bridge is today. It then turned slightly to the left across the tidelands towards the base of "Marine Hill" passing the Navy's garbage dump (whew!!) and the ammo pier area (known to some as the Nyman's Peninsula Docks). The highway then proceeded up the hill which is essentially the same exact route except for the width of the road. At the top, the road then began a series of winding in and out of the little gullies and valleys passing by the Navy Communications receiving area new quarters area (under construction then), through the antenna field, down the long hill to what is known today as "Lion's Park" at Woman's Bay. (How did area get named Lion's Park; ask any Kodiak Lion's Club member .... ).

The road then turned slightly left again, going across the beach area of Woman's Bay, to the first roadhouse, the "Rendezvous" and a series of never-ending cattle crossing road barriers. This was (then) milepost 21 or so. You then went up the long slow hill to a very large cattle crossing at the top, across a small bay along the beach, up and across the peninsula, and down an "S" curve to Mayflower beach. The "S" turn used to be half-way, or mile 25 or so. The road then proceeded through several turns into "Black" Canyon, or what is known today as upper Kalsin Bay. From Black Canyon to the bottom of the Kalsin Bay "Cliffs" was considered by many as the most treacherous section of the entire Chiniak Highway because of it's high location and consistent exposure to winds, rain, ice, and snow. And of course, it was (then) one of the narrowest sections of the road.

At the bottom of the Kalsin Bay Cliffs hill, you turned sharply to the left and proceeded to follow the long beach to the mouth of the Kalsin River where there was a bridge and a sort of an intersection. Straight ahead was Pasagshak, and to the left again was on to Chiniak. You then passed the old Alaska Road Commission road camp where in the summers, "Smoky" Stover's crew would try to repair the road. (See "A Retired Failure" by Smoky Stover, a rather humorous account of the ARC days on Kodiak. I think Norman's on the Mall can get a copy for you). This section of the road from this bridge to about where the Chiniak Post Office is today, used to always be "out" from the storms consistently washing it out and planting huge amounts of sand in the it's path. The area is essentially the same except when you passed through until about where now is the Chiniak Saw Mill. From this point on, the majority of the road system was literally riddled by the results of the earthquake. I must interject at this point a fact that the sandy and loose areas of the road literally "sank". I have been told that as a result of the earthquake, that the island sank 6 or so feet at the north end, and raised up 8 feet at the south end. (This information from the late "Ole" Johnson; can anyone confirm this fact?)

You then passed from the Saw Mill, through Rosalyn Creek, around "Hawk Alley" to almost Silver Beach. This section today is essentially rerouted and new in an effort to avoid all of the beach areas. The section just before Silver Beach, was known as "Pike's Peak", a switchback and a very steep hill which was hard to navigate in the wintertime on ice. On the downside of this hill was some summer "scabbed" homes and a large lake to the right, still known as "Captain Curruthers" lake. Silver Beach is also known as "Whale Beach" being named appropriately as a result of a "ripe" dead whale residing on this beach for a month or so. (That's another story on how it was disposed of .....

From Silver Beach to the Chiniak Creek Bridge remains the same today as it was in 1959. This area today is known as "Chiniak Town", or as it was known in the mid-1960s "Dingleberry Acres", all scabbed housing. At the creek bridge was the Quonset Hut area and Miller airfield. Crossing the field, the road then had a fork, straight ahead was little Navy, and to the right was the Chiniak Tracking Station. On the way through this area was a flat area known as "Christmas Card Gulch , appropriately named for it's frosty and icy look in the winter time. Just past this section, you made a hard right, up a 2 mile road that ended at the Chiniak operations building. With normal sane highway speed, the trip took an average of I hour and 30 minutes. In the winter time, it has been known to take up to 7 hours because of the ice!

0K 0K OK, I know the next question logically that one would ask, "What's the record"? It belongs to Dale Thompson (and his dog Toby), in a 1954 red Ford sedan in 1960, and that being in 33 minutes! It seems that Dale used to be (as I recall) a midget race car driver on dirt, and was pretty good at it too. Why all of the speed? He had a girl friend in town who was a nurse at the old Griffin Memorial Hospital that he was seeing pretty steadily. (Yea, that will do it every time, won't it?)

The other "close" record is held by Billy Beaty in 1966 with a time of 3 5 or so minutes. I was with him on "that" run! Seems that we both had hot dates! (Remember that Billy?)

Now, driving on this road was tough enough in the summers with all of the dust and pot-holes, but when it came to winter-time, that was a different breed of cat. For the lack of funding prevented anything but minimal maintenance resulting in some very poor road conditions.

Winter driving really was a nightmare for the California boys in their fancy convertibles, sedans, station wagons, and the like. And just about everyone of those "Boats" lacked limited-slip differentials which made it quite tricky if you got stuck on snow or ice. So, everyone "Chained" up, but they soon found that chains on the rear end of the vehicle just didn't make it. So, on the fronts they did too. Now, these "outside" cars just were not made to have chains on the front end which resulted in may a vehicle falling apart. At least with the chains on all fours did allow the vehicles to somewhat stay on the road and get around!

Then, Sears introduced the "Alaskan" snow tire with walnut shells implanted in the rubber for additional tracking on ice. These tires were very short lived only lasting one season before falling apart. I guess at this point you are asking "How about studded tires?" Well, they weren't invented yet....

Lots of innovative ideas were tried to somehow fight this winter problem. The chains of course (and still is under certain circumstances) is still the best. But, one individual "beat" that system. It was "Papa" Jan Beukers with his "Green Hornet" VW. He would buy the cheapest Sears street tire that you could get your hands on (usually about $9.95 then) and paint them with Clorox no less. He would get out on the road about every 5 or so miles, stop, and spray his tires! Of course come spring, the tire literally disintegrated. Of course, these tires were Cheapies". I wouldn't want to try out that theory on tires today with prices the way they are .....

And then there was THAT damned Navy Base gate and Tom Stiles Road. That whole set-up by the Navy created more problems for the Air Force, all of the Chiniak personnel, and every Kodiak rancher living out that way. And those "stupid" marines. I guess that it wasn't their fault, for they were just a bunch of misfits and screw-ups that the Corps didn't know what quite to do with other than "send 'em to Kodiak"; out of sight, out of mind. And that included one paranoid "Hispanic" Master Sergeant who thought that he was THE "God" on Base. (And by Gawd, HE WAS!!!) Officers and Navy Civilians alike would shake in their boots when this guy was loose.

And Lord knows, these "Guys" were really dangerous! For something to do during the night guard shifts, the marines used to practice "fast draws" in front of their "dress" mirrors. More than one marine managed to shoot themselves in their feet and legs. And the mirrors didn't fair so well either .....

So now, we come to the Gate system. The marines had orders at their own discretion to "search" all vehicles, military and/or civilian, going off of the base for "contraband". They would make you open your trunks of your car, lift your hoods of trucks, stand out in the street while they "looked" over your vehicle, etc., just in general "bugging" people. And of course, ID. They demanded Photo IDs on all personnel operating government vehicles which forced the Air Force to badge everyone at Chiniak at great expense. If they found something suspicious, they would call the Sergeant of the Guard, then the OD, etc. We always finally got through. That happy "BS" finally came to a halt one cold blustery afternoon.

The Navy was having one of their "Conditions" that closed the base to vehicular traffic, and one of the Air Force trucks with classified data tapes was held up at the back gate. During this exact time there was an Air Force KC-135 jet tanker sitting on the runway awaiting this truck to initiate the ferrying process of the tapes to Sunnyvale, California. On board was a 2 star general, and these guys don't like to be held up for anybody. The mail driver radioed the site explaining the situation about the inability to pass through the back gate. The site called duty OD at Elmendorf AFB in Anchorage and explained the situation. At the same time the General was getting inpatient and I guess he did some "radioing" too. The result was immediate clearance through the gate, a marine escort to the aircraft, and an apology from the Base CO in person to the mail truck driver!!

From that day on, there never was any problems passing through, in fact, it was just a wave-on and a courtesy salute. The "Sergeant"? Come to think of it, I didn't see him around anymore ......


Chapter Ten

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