Phones that take pictures,send EMails, calculate and do everything but cogitate it seems....
Back in the early '70s when I arrived in Kotzebue, phones (when you could find one) didn't do so much, but were relatively simply to operate. And just to make it easier you only had to dial the last four digits to get any other phone in town. At least locally. Now long DISTANCE was another matter.
One could well wear one's dialing finger down to a bloody stump trying just to get a call through to ANC. (Sidenote for those viewers UNDER the age of 25.....phones were not INITIALLY designed with pushbuttons.)
As I discovered shortly after arrival, when trying to place my 1st long distance call to my parents in the Lower 48 to advise them their precious sole offspring had made it to the Great White Wilderness safe and sound (not yet having discovered the Ponderosa).
Turns out there were at the time only six (6) simultaneous long distance "connections" allowed OUT of Kotzebue to the rest of the world.
So in a town of about 2300 folks at the time (85% or so local natives) of whom at LEAST 25% didn't even HAVE a phone. You would think your odds would be pretty good. BUT all the various nefarious bueracracies that operated in the village such as the State Troopers, BLM, City of OTZ, the school district and the Public Health Service hospital managed to do a pretty good job of tying up the lines. UFFDA!!
And to think that nowadawys you can walk into practically ANY building in OTZ, pick up the 1st phone you see and touch tone the Queens Palace in merry old England - DIRECT - with just a few key strokes! (Ain't satellitte technology wunnerful....)
Much MORE difficult however was attempting to speak by phone with someone located in any of the region's eleven outlying villages such as Shungnak or Kiana. This generally involved calling the number of the one and ONLY ALASCOM radio/phone, IF the village was so equipped, and you happened to try at one of the times it actually was operating properly. Of course, the upside of the system for me (an on-demand charter pilot) was the fact that, since at any given time, two or more of the eleven village's phones would be on the fritz. Yes, the local Alascom technicians provided a large number of hours for my first couple of logbooks; as well as a rather steady flow of "tuition" payments for me to "study" at my boss's weekend "School of Dice Games for Beginners", whose meager facilities were located in the back room of his beer 'n wine dive on front street (which also provided many of our OTHER charter customers). Boy! So MUCH to learn.
Given these circumstances, local radio stations such as KBRW in Barrow, KNOM in Nome, and KOTZ in Kotzebue and many other stations in Alaska had their own version of "Tundra Drums", "Tundra Telegraph", "Bush Chatline" or some such. At given times (I think it was always at 20 after the hour on KOTZ) messages from for people in the outlying villages surrounding Kotzebue would be read live over the air by the announcer. These messages could range from Wien Air Alaska announcing "Joe Blow of Selawik has a prepaid ticket to ANC from Kotzebue", to a region wide-death/funeral announcement, to the mundane birth/appointment/schedule for the traveling dentist, to the sublime to the absolutely ridicumlous.
An added plus in those days of few bush aviators was unique to KNOM in Nome for a long time. In those days of so few flights, KNOM would announce not only which flights were operating to which villages but who was flying the plane (by name) as well. It was the very, VERY tail end of the days when bush pilots were as gods. (In the minds of others...obviously in our OWN minds most of us knew we weren't REALLY gods but hey....why rock the boat!!)
WHAT may you ask does ANY of this REALLY have to do with airplanes or "Lighter Than Air Humor"??????
Come back soon for Part Two to find OUT!!
Part Two -
At the time of my arrival in the arctic, Wien Air Alska provided the only "scheduled service" to most all of Alaska outlying villages with one or two Twin Otters or Shorts Skyvans (known far and wide as "the box the Otter came in). And Kotzebue was home to a 200 series Twin Otter, N4901W, on a full time basis. Crews rotated in and out for generally a two week stay from Anchorage, but it was always basically the same ten guys for a couple of years. Now Wien, by this time, was the "big time" to me. I mean these guys had seven-threes and F27's. A real AIRLINE. Professional training and ALL that stuff. The fact that they got to fly their 737 freighters in the summer wearing cutoff jeans, tee-shirts and Ray-Bans just added to their overall coolness. But being a union carrier, copilot on one of the bush Twatters or Skyvans was the entry level position; at least until they started putting a third man on the seven-three crews for a while. But that is another story.
So ANYway, Wien provided the "scheduled" flights to all the villages; some like Kobuk with a population of only 25 souls would get two flights a week, and other towns like the "Golden Triangle" of Noorvik, Kiana, and Selawik would get daily flights (sometimes even TWO daily flights) due to their"large" population of 300 folks apiece or so. And believe it or not, those people travelled alot! For it was often cheaper to pay a roundtrip airfare to Kotzebue and have THREE stores to chose from for groceries, staples, and clothing than to buy whatever few goods you might find among the 75 to 100 TOTAL choices in your home village store.
Other than the Wien, with their IFR equipped and professionally trained airline pilot fellas; it was just us on demand charter guys in our generally rag-tag fleet of assorted semi-common to oddball airmachines that kept goods, commerce, and services flowing around our little corner of the world.
So one dark 'n stormy January afternoon, my roommate "Bounce" and I (don't ask) are sitting around in our "office" at the airport. Office actually being a misnomer here. It was more of a shack. Half a World War Two leftover green quonset hut, pretty well insulated with a good furnace to keep us toasty, and keep the cases of Chevron oil from freezing solid. Outside we were into the third hour of what was forecast to be about a good three-day blizzard.
It was only 1:45 in the afternoon yet pitch black outside as we don our snowpants, scarves, parkas, mittens, face masks, and prepare to secure the fleet. Having been advised by the local NWS people that from what little information is available, and based on the weather in Nome and Bethal, that this was gonna be a biggie; our first order of business was to make sure the air machines would be safe and sound and warm when thjis thing is over. This entails, of course, making suree that they are firmly and securely lashed to the ground; engine covers snugged, and listen for the Carter heater inside the cowling of the 206. Dammit! The wind is blowing and gusting to 40 knots already and even with my hood off and my ear pressed hard against the side of the cowling, I can't hear the heater through my knit ski/facemask and the padded/stuffed engine cover. JEEZ!. The side-screaming blowing snow has instantly packed the top of my head as I bend over, and it's COLD. I turn my back and put my hood back up, instantly melting 1/4 inch of packed snow and ice on top of my head into water.
Fumbling in the feeble light of a street lamp 30 yards away, by feel and memory I find the hook behind the nose strut holding the engine cover bottom together from both sides and release it, allowing me to slide the cover forward. Now I can open the oil service door. Except I have to take my mitten off, which I promptly drop and the wind begins to take it for a ride. Fortunately for me, it falls against the left main tire and is held there by the wind until I grab it, noting that my fingers are already starting to numb immediately. Sure glad it's not any COLDER that 17 degrees (ambient). Quickly I raise up (whang!) remembering upon impact that there is a wing strut above my head, and hurry to upon the oil service door and place my bare hand inside.
A-A-A-A-H-H-H-H!! The heater is working and my not quite yet numb right hand rests on a warm cylinder. Pointing my fingers downward, I place the back of my hand against the rocker box cover of the rear cylinder and warm it too. Out comes my hand and DIVES back into my strill warm mitten, almost dry now. Quickly I press my face, mostly my nose, mouth and part of my cheeks as far into the oil service panel as I can, which is hardly at ALL but still closee enough to feel warm, moist, oily smelling air blowing against my face.
I snap the door shut and tug the aft edges of the engine cover along the side and at the top of the cowling. Must get it as far back as possible. Not wanting to waste time fumbling I dive under the plane and roll halfway around the nose gear to grab the bottom of the cover on the other side so as to resecure it as quickly as possible. Man do I want to get BACK INSIDE.
But one last thing to do is double check the electric cords runing to the plane. Not just that they are plugged into the plane securely, but that the two extension cords are tied in a knot so all the crazies with their snomachines will not run over the cords abd disconnect our airplanes. It's GOOD. I turn towards the next airplane a 207 and as I do "Bounce" looms up out of the darkness, having already completed all checks on our two C-207s. "Let's get the hell OUTTA' this stuff", he screams about two inches from my face. Good idea, sez I as I turn and make a beeline for the the office.
Well, thus ends Part Two -
I know it's not nearly as hysterical as my first effort, but I hope you enjoy it, as well.
It's nigh-nigh time here, and still being on reverse in the morning I gotta' get my beauty rest. Will finish this on Sunday, if'n I doesn't hasta fly tomorrow.
Part Three -
Slamming the aluminum door tightly shut behind us, we retreat into the warm cocoon of of the quonset as Mother Nature shows her winter fury and ponder what to do now.
In those days, due to the aforementioned lack of weather reporting and forecasting resources, our first indication of both impending blizzards, as well as the duration and end of same, came best from observing the hourly sequences for Nome, 160NM to the south. This worked 9 out of 10 times due to the fact that almost all these storms were born in the Aleutians, far to the south where the frigid Bering currents meet the somewhat warmer North Pacific climes.
If the low was moving north at 30 or 40 knots, you simply divided that number into 160 to determine what your weather would be in Kotzebue either five or four hours from now. It was 99% accurate. The Noon sequence at OTZ would be a carbon copy of the 8AM sequence at OME, the 1PM OTZ would read the same as the 9AM OME hourly report and so on. Unfortunately, for our counterparts at Nome the was nothing between the (Aleutian) Chain, to the south of Nome, to give ANY warning. They were therefore surprised a few times each winter from the blind side so to speak; and this resulted in the Nome boys scrambling for safe refuge anywhere they could find it. Since we all hung out on 122.8 or point nine most of the time, the Kotzebue pilots on our region's southern borders around Buckland and Deering would overhear one or two of the Nomites on the northern portion of the Norton Sound begin the "seek and HIDE" game. They would relay the information around the Kobuk valley and the western Brooks range and we'd all start calling OTZ F.S.S. What's the OTZ wx AND what's this hours OME sequence? We could figure out if we had time to squeeze in one more trip before things started generally going all to hell.
Ergo, Bounce and I, half undressed and warming up nicely now decide to mosey on over to the combination Flight Service Station/National Weather Service office for a 1st hand briefing. We'll also eyeball all the weather charts, lovingly and carefully, colored in by our bored NWS observer to show the (supposed) depictions of all the highs, lows, pressure gradients etc. Surface charts, prog charts, 500 millibar charts, all VERY fascinating and pretty adorn half the wall alongside the customer service counter. Of course, I haven't a CLUE what any of that crap means, but like pornography, I can at least recognize bad weather when I see it coming AT me. But usually, when among my peers, I study the charts. Right elbow cradled in my left hand with the right hand massaging my chin as I appear to analyze the printed information in front of me; after twenty seconds or so of silence, either Bounce or I will make the acutely accurate observation "Boy, this sure looks like a BAD one!" to which the other almost invariably reponds "Yeah, no ****." Thus concludes our "expert" analysis, although I'm fairly sure Bounce is a clueless as I am when regarding the maps.
So bundled up again, we brave the elements, padlocking the door from the outside and stomp through the already mid-thigh high snowdrifts to the little company Dodge Colt that the boss lets us have for transportation. With the vis something below a 1/2 mile now, we warm the engine for a couple of minutes before attempting to move our little spam can, as we will be needing some good reliable engine RPM to plow this baby through the snow drifts on the ramp and road, now already half the heighth of the car.
Like a tugboat in 30 foot seas, we plow our way through five or six consecutive snowdrifts created by our parked airplanes, piles of 55 gal. drums ....whatever. Fortunately, they are properly spaced so that we JUST achieve sufficient speed prior to impact that we are able to plow through/over each one and emegre into the free windswept clean area of the taxiway where we turn to parallel it to the beach road to get to the FSS. In passing, we note our Wien bretheran anchoring ol' 01W, the Twin Otter, to a bunch of fifty-five gallon drums. Three to a side, each drum weighs in at about four hundred pounds, being full of either Jet-A or stove oil. Also noted is a 10 foot tall A-frame aluminun ladder/workstand sliding across the ramp with one pilot it hot pusuit, aided by the gale at his back. One of the very few times I am grateful to fly a Cessna single instead of the DHC-6. Now that airplane really is a pain to get engine covers on!!
We honk as we sail past the pilot, and in a flash of brilliance, Bounce passes the sliding ladder as well, slips to the right just ahead of the ladder and begins braking until the ladder collides with the rear of our vehile whereupon he really brakes. This allows our Wien pilot buddy to recapture the company equipment and begin the upwind 200 yard slog back to his airplane. He thanks us by banging on the roof twice.
Yeah....break time.....doesn't look like I'll be using my thrust levers today......so I should be able to wrap this up tonight.
Part Last - (I'm sure we'll make it to the "punch line" this time)
Stomping the excess snow off our sorrels as we climb the front steps to the FSS offices alerts the building's only two occupants that they have visitors and we find both men staring at us as we walk in. They await our partial disrobing so they identify their guests and greet us by name. The F.A.A. man is one of two Flight Serviced specialists who flies part time for us when off-duty. Jim greets us heartily and offers a couple of cups of fresh hot Java eagerly accepted, as we walk past the swinging wooden waist high door to go behind the counter and park ourselves for a few minutes at least. May as well kill some time here.
As we settle in and make the prefunctionary small talk about the weather, the AM radio in the background is playing and, of course, it is tuned to KOTZ; for indeed, nothing else can be heard anywhere on the dial. It' s the 20 after "Tundra Telegraph" hourly message blitz which can be as brief as 20 seconds for a couple of messages up to ten minutes on days like today when the weather creates another storm. This one being a "storm" of messages phoned in to the radio station by those whose plans have been affected in some way by the weather. It is most often to assure someone that they are "home safe and sound".
This because, so many people travel dozens, up to 150 miles on their snow machines from one village to another. Many times coming to Kotzebue to shop for heavy items; sofas or sled loads of flour, beans, powdered milk, coffee and the like. Heavy items that won't freeze but are exPENsive to carry back on the plane with you.
Jim, Bounce and I are in gales of laughter talking about our Boss's latest attempt to get back out of the doghouse his wife has banished him to, after catching him (yet again) for the umpteenth time in the back room of the bar "negotiating" the price of an cash village charter with a quite cute young maiden from said village. These negotiations apparently most often entail some sort of barter agreement wherein the boss winds up with with ownership of some or all of the prospective customer's undergarments. Flexible terms are available. Ownership may be temporary when used as collateral for a loan if you are short of full fare, or permanent when traded for a more significant one-time today only discount. It is speculation about what our boss does with this collateral afterward that has driven us to laughing to the point of tears.
As the laughter subsides, and silence momentarily ensues we all reach for our coffee to take as swig as the following Tundra Telegraph announcement is read....
"To Mary Josephson in Noorvik from Joe Josephson in Kotzebue....'The weather is too BAD to go home on snow machine...WILL TAKE WIENS!' " Simutaneously we all do a "spittake" with our mouthsfull of coffee, and damn near fall off our chairs in laughter!
Visibility now nearing a 1/4 mile, winds gusting to 45knots, and Joe has realized, unable to safely snow machine home the only other answer is to FLY in this weather. Oh god, my sides are KILLING me.
We hang with Jim for another forty-five minutes or so and wait for the 3PM weather to come in from NOME. Peak gusts to 52 knots and visibility now a steady 1/16 of a mile with pressure still falling, it ain't getting no better HERE any time soon. Having waited until after 3PM, Bounce and I now determine it is a respectable time to decide in which of Kotzebue's two drinking establishments we shall "batten the hatches" so to speak. Not that respectability has any REAL significance in the decision making process. Had the storm rolled in two hours earlier, at 8 AM rather than 10AM, we would have undoubtedly come to the same conclusion, only two hours earlier.
Bidding our farewells to the FEDs, who promise to meet us at the bar shortly, we again mummify ourselves to the elements and dive into the storm. As we head back to town, Bounce realizes he's still packin' his "heat" in the form of a Colt .45 in a shoulder holster and decides we need to go back to the office to drop that off. You can get into plenty enough trouble in either of OTZ's bars without a gun. I realize that I've left my wallet in the office somewhere as well so I jump out when we get there too; for while you'd be amazed a what you can do/get on credit in this town (Stove oil, groceries, clothes, and even furniture "Here. Just sign here".) Booze, by the bottle OR the drink is a "cash only" business!
Bounce has to half-undress (again), disarm, unload, and stow his hogleg in his footlocker as I shuffle papers, open drawers and try to find my wallet. This being done in relative silence, it's easy to hear this hour's "Tundra Telegraphaph" messages, now playing over the office radio. (Everywhere you go in Kotzebue, all the time 6AM to 12AM, it's playing on something usually). I snicker quietly to myself remembering last hour's message from Joe Josephson, and no sooner than I have, the following message is read by the announcer.
"To Mary Josephson in Noorvik from Joe Josephson in Kotzebue.......(Bounce and I both start giggling to ourselves, at this point; thinking we know what's coming....."Honey I won't be home.....).....from Joe Joesephson in Kotzebe....'Weather is too BAD to go by Wiens....WILL CHARTER!!" Bounce and I look at each other and laugh some more. I mean, C'MON. He can't be SERious! The big two-motored plane with the two professionally trained highly skilled AIRLINE pilots won't go. They must be wussies. I'll get one of the local bush pilots to take me. Naw. Couldn't be.
Well, there's only three really "on-demand" charter outfits in town, and for lack of anything better to do we decide to wait 15 minutes and see if the phone rings. We bet tonights bar tab. I won.
"Hi Joe. Thanks for calling us Joe, but I don't think ANYbody's gonna be flying to Noorvik for about a day and a half. Yeah Joe, it really IS pretty bad. No. No. No, I don't think I even want to "take a look". Well, if old so-and-so can DO it, you'd better FIND old so-and so and get HIM to take you. Yeah, we'll be here tomorrow. Yeah. Good Idea Joe. May as well go ahead and go to the bar. If I see ya' over there tonight, I'll buy you a drink to make it up to ya'. O.K. See you."
Re: Tunda Telegragh
KNOM still does this. They also still do the bush telegraph.
Originally Posted by CloudDancer
KBBI bushlines. Radio 890 AM in Homer.