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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 Nineteen
THE SITE WATER SUPPLY (Or, Jaws 6?)

In between Telemetry Hill and the main operations area of the Chiniak Tracking Station, there was a naturally-formed small lake that served as the site water supply. The lake wasn't very big, only about 300 ft by 100 ft or so, but it was fairly deep in the center. It had an overflow spillway at the west end of the lake that emptied into the Chiniak Creek that continued it's run down the hill.

Along in the mid 50s, the Federal Fish and Wildlife Service "Stocked" several lakes along the northwest end of Kodiak for sport purposes. People used to pack into these lake areas and experience great trout and land-locked silver fishing. Herb Long said, that in 1958, the FWS boys came out to restock the lakes, but were told specifically not to restock Chiniak. It appears that the stocking party mis-counted, and stocked Chiniak and Grevel Lakes instead of Grevel and Sequel Point. The result was an overstocked lake as a site water supply. This became a constant headache for Herb with fish and everything else clogging up the intake filtering system of the chlorination plant. He used to let the boys fish the lake in a effort to thin out the population, but that idea soon backfired when the Air Force found out that the lake had fish in it.

So, in an effort to thin out the lake, a spillway was built on the west end, and was occasionally used to drained the lake. Well that idea didn't last too long for when one day a big rain came along and washed out the initial spillway. So, Herb went down the Chiniak highway and rescued a whole bunch of abandoned wrecked cars and placed then in the lake area as an reinforced spillway. This worked out real neat except it would not have passed any EPA inspection today. At least this stopped the destruction of the spillway every time a big storm came along. But it didn't solve the fish problem. So, what to do?

The first try was explosives in an attempt to kill and/or stun the fish population. It sort of worked, but in the process created another "Spillway" almost draining the lake in mid- summer! And, as the story goes, it took almost a month for the filtering system to recover from all of the silt and garbage that was brought up. So, again, Herb let the boys attempt to fish the "Hole" out. Well, the damn fish for sure weren't dumb, and they more or less stayed at the end of the lake where you couldn't get to them. So enters the rafts, or the "Chiniak Navy". These "vessels" were made mostly out of old packing crates and the like. Some got pretty exotic with, here again, the mess hall chairs, battery-operated outboard motors, depth finders, and the like! There even was a floating "Bar" with a saloonkeeper no less!! Pretty soon, the lake looked like the mouth of the Buskin River on opening day of commercial salmon season! And of course, the Air Force didn't like that either; after all, it is the water supply. (Those dam outsider types, no sense of humor or reason).

As the years went by, I think that "Someone" restocked that darn lake again, for the fish population never seemed to go down. And some of the sizes of a few of the fish looked akin to junior sharks by the mid 60s! And you know, sooner or later someone had to do it and it was done. Here came the scuba divers with spear guns, battery operated "James Bond" water sleds and the whole bit! The scuba diver bit just was too much for poor Herb Long (and even almost swallowed that ever-present cigar), so he put his foot down; fish be-damned, leave them alone. The lake was put off-limits.

But it didn't end there either. In 1967 (that will make some of you Chiniakers think a little), a midnight party was had, and 3 couples were swimming "Skinny-Dipping" in the lake. Oh well, what can I say? I will state here that the "women" were from out of town as a result of a particular event occurring in Kodiak at the time. (Gawd, that water was cold!)

When Billy Beaty and the author visited Chiniak in 1989 just after Underwater Construction Company stopped tearing down most of the buildings, we went to the lake area and looked around. Yep, you guessed it, we still could see some fish loping around on the bottom. And they weren't small either!

Chapter Twenty
WINTER STORMS AT CHINIAK

Kodiak Island, by virtue of it's location in the Gulf of Alaska, gets all of storms coming and going. The winds are the most ferocious than in any other part of the State by far. The equinoctial storms (March and September) usually did the most damage along with the changing tides and seasonal weather patterns. Chiniak, because of it's high and commanding location got hit from just about every direction except southwest, and that was due to the mountains 3 miles away. Normally, the winds would come up from the Aleutian chain through the Shelikof Straits and split coming up both sides of Kodiak Island, and then circle around the Gulf and on down through Southeast Alaska. In the winter times the most feared storm was the Northwestern out of Siberia. That type of a storm would hit Chiniak right between the eyes bringing with it tons and tons of snow and winds.

The Chiniak site was designed to handle just about any kind of weather except real high winds. The buildings were always losing their asbestos shingles and blowing out (or in as the case might be) windows. Another major problem was flying debris, usually crashing in windows and in general damaging anything that got into it's way like cars, trucks, etc. Herb Long always had problems with his "Flat-landers" as he called the Californians, with opening up doors and windows to take pictures and the like not realizing the delta-pressure (difference) created. More than once, a flatlander would open a door only to have it disappear down the road in the storm. Or another would open or crack a window, and then only to open his own door and to see the window blow in. Herb more than once said that he wished that he could nail every window and door closed, but fire regulations prevented it.

The real scary thing about living at Chiniak pre-earthquake was that there wasn't any medic on site. If there was an accident, one had to rely on either the Navy to come out with an ambulance, or get to the little Navy facility down the hill where 2 full-time medics were stationed. Most of the required medical assistance was as a result of an industrial accident or the like, but once in a while there were exceptions.

Once exception was in January of 1961 when a Budson Maintenance Company employee, Tom Healy, was repairing the spring on one of the overhead doors when it disengaged causing Tom to fall to the concrete floor about 12 feet down. As I recall, he landed on his shoulder, breaking it along with the arm. Now, this was a night that a real bad blizzard was in progress with the roads covered over in places 12 feet plus. So, Dick Prentike cranked up the front loader and worked getting the road open to Little Navy which took about 4 hours.

During this time, we managed to make Tom as comfortable as possible applying normal first aid procedures for shock and the like. Finally, the medics from Little Navy arriving in an old Dodge weapons-carrier-type meat wagon affectionately called the "Blue Goose". We loaded Tom into this ambulance and the medics drove him to the Navy base hospital. I understand it took 3 hours to get there because of an old mechanical governor on the engine. I also understand that there was a near fist fight at the back gate of the Navy Base because of a "Closed" condition of the base. It took the OD and a call to the CO of the Navy Base to get Tom past them. (I guess by now you know how I feel about these in particular "Trained-Killers": No Brains, No Guts, but on duty every day .... )

If Chiniak didn't have all of the road equipment that it had, the whole operation most probably at one point or another would have been in serious trouble. A Northwester was always feared because of particular sections of the road would always disappear from the high tides and wave action. Along with the water, the sand would cover the road along with all kinds of ocean-going garbage such as fish balls, logs, pieces of fishing vessels, nylon rope, crab pots, etc. And then we come to one-each whale, dead-type, who deposited himself on what was then Silver Beach.

After the storm, Dick Prentike managed to get the road open across the Curruthers Lake area only to discover that the beach had a new resident, a dead whale. He continued on opening up the road, and upon returning, the whale had "moved" partially onto the road. So with his D-8 cat, he "moved" the whale back to the beach. Here this whale sat for almost 3 weeks turning a real bright orange-reddish in color. And smell, you could sense it for at least a mile each way on the road. How do we get rid of this "Guy"? The Alaska Department of Fish and Game was contacted and since it was "their baby", carry on. Well, they didn't know what to do with it either, and there it sat awaiting the outcome of interdepartmental haggling at Fish and Game. And the smell really got with it to the point the sea gulls even avoided the area....

Well, then enter our intrepid "Toro Raiders". Some bright-type idiot decided that let's dynamite the damn thing, and that will get rid of it. So, one dark and dreary night, down to the beach they went with, as I understand it, 4 sticks of dynamite. "One" brave soul put on a gas mask, lit the fuse, and tossed it into the whale's open mouth. "Kuraboom", whale all over Curruther's Lake, Pike's Peak, the road, and our "Toro Raiders". Herb Long thought that was real funny that the "Raiders" finally got their "Come-up-ins". Well, that was short lived when he found out just how far that whale was spread out to. It took a full week with a cat, grader, and a front loader to clean up the mess. Exit the Whale, and another Chiniak-Fact is solved: Whale Beach.

Chapter Twenty-One
THE CHINIAK WOMEN'S "KOFFEE-KLUTCHNG" AUXILIARY

Now, let me tell ya, I did some real soul searching trying to decide whether or not to include this chapter within this literary works, but the damn television set one afternoon made up my mind after seeing all of the women's lib on 3 different channels at once all screaming for equality! Well, Ladies, here is your chapter!! I will attempt to be as nice as possible in relating to some of these events. But if the shoe fits, wear it, and don't scream at me if your shoe size has changed either, period!

Given, in any normal human relationships, there are the go-alongers, I-don't-want-to- be-involvers, I-want-to-be-better-than-you-ers, the Oh-goodness-ers, I-am-better-than-you-ers, lets have a party-ers, and so on. The Chiniak wives were no different than the above. The only one thing that most of the Gals had in common was that they weren't in the sunny California bay area, but in Kodiak, Alaska where things were different. I guess that it is just natural that the gals wanted to group together in what they most probably thought was an act of pure survival. After all, these Alaska women talked, acted, and dressed SO differently than we do, so therefore we must stick together to beat this system and show them that we are more civilized than they are ......

Myself, I didn't give a "Hoot" one way or another what went on with the women, but at the time, my then-spouse was a native Alaskan and I would get all of this "Neck Biting Bull" when I came home. Luckily, I told her to be quiet and don't let on where she was really from. This was pretty easy for she had spent 2 years in Europe with me and knew how the officer's club auxiliaries were. (She was required to be a member because of my officer-status with my job).

I guess that it started off innocently enough. The informal get together in the afternoons, lots of coffee, complaining to each other about prices, poor living conditions, their husbands' long hours and not enough pay (Gawd!!). More coffee, more complaining, a little wine (just a little bit won't hurt), more coffee, more wine (burp!) etc. I am sure that you can adjudge some of the results. Then 3 or 4 more groups would get together for "lunch" at the town club and away they would go. I knew about some of the town club capers, as it were, for Danny O'Neil, the bartender at the time, told me about some of the real big bar tabs they used to run up! It was at one of these "get togethers" that the Chiniak Women's Auxiliary was formed, which included a President, Vice-President, Secretary/Treasurer, Sergeant at Arms (what that was for I'll never figure out!!). I don't remember who was who exactly then but I do recall a Jean was the Sergeant at arms and let me tell ya, you knew it too!! I also recall a Pammy, but I cannot recall the last name, but she was a red head and liked to ride a bicycle all over "town". (OK now, I didn't say it, did I?) She was some kind of an "Activities Manager" for "Better Words"!!

Well, one of the very first events that the Gals wanted to participate in was the Thanksgiving dinner event a Chiniak. So, one Wednesday afternoon, here come the Auxiliary's officers out at Chiniak to organize this holiday event. Of course, none of the men had any previous knowledge of what their wives were up to and the result was a complete and total surprise to the Lockheed, Philco, and Budson managers. They wanted to run the complete thing because "Men just don't know how to put something like this on". Well, the managers just didn't know what to do. Finally, by accident, Papa Jan heard about this great master plan of the gals and really flew into Herb Long, and the women in his most masterfully executed Dutch/American swearing that has ever been heard in the halls of Chiniak since! Papa Jan and Alfred had made great plans with much pride for this holiday, and no women were going to change it ever. Papa Jan and Alfred offered right on the spot and in front of these women to quit and let them run the damn mess hall period ! ! Well now, needlessly to say there was no shortage of red and embarrassed faces that day!! Herb Long (again) masterfully negotiated a "peace treaty" with the Wives by allowing them to decorate the mess hall and the tables for the holiday event. Another bullet dodged ......

Then, in the summer of 1960, the "Auxiliary" decided to "put on" some beach picnics and outings. Well, it was a truly valiant attempt, but just wouldn't work out. Every time they would schedule on of these outings, we had technical operations and had to work over the weekend. Well now, the President of this group just was not going to stand for "her" plans to be askewed again, so up the hill she went and demanded that the men be let off for this picnic, and the damn satellites can wait!! Well now, that really went over big- time. She and her husband were shortly thereafter transferred out by the Company to "another remote Alaskan site" where his talents were needed more badly .....

Soon this "Auxiliary" sort of became "Auxiliary", in that just the organizers were the only complainers and participants. Most of the other women accepted what was here in Kodiak and it's unique life-style, finally starting to enjoy fife in the "far north". Many of the ladies became very active in the Elks Emblem Club, The Legion and VFW Auxiliaries, Griffin Memorial Hospital volunteer work, and of course, some of the churches of the community. My then-spouse was involved with the Episcopalian Church doing needle and bead work for the alter. Her name? Delores.

Another Auxiliary tried to start up in the mid 60's, but it was called the Chiniak Wives Association in name only. I don't remember any earth-shaking events relating to this group.


Chapter Twenty-Two

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