Mr. Bill and Miz Mona

Monday, August 8, 2011

Moose Pass Journal/ Whittier/ 8/8/2011

Bill Says: First off, a very Happy Birthday to our son, James Arthur Lee Casselman and our grandson, Tariq Leroy Casselman. Both born on this date, but James was first by a long shot.

Secondly: We have already had our first signs of termination dust on the mountain peaks and this is very early- even for us. Termination dust for you people who are not aware, is first snow, which melts pretty fast and signals the termination of summer. Our flowers and other plants are also signaling the end of summer and it is of course as you know, only the 8th of August. This makes Mona and I wonder what kind of winter is ahead of us and how much wood we might need to keep this place toasty. We average 10-12 cords for a winter and this is a lot  of wood, but thankfully we do not have the extreme expense of fuel oil. We also have a propane stove, so if the power goes out from avalanches or wind, we still keep warm and eat hot food. Sadly, the microwave won't operate on wood or propane. Someone really needs to think about that.

Now to Whittier: During the 1988-89 winter, Alaska was struck hard by extreme harsh temperatures, high winds of hurricane force and lots of heavy snow. Newspapers called it the Big Freeze and it really felt like it. Whittier received 30 feet of snow that year and only Valdez beat us out with their 33 foot snowfall. We had people jumping out of second and even third story windows into soft fluffy snow and then having to tunnel their way out to the parking lot. We only had one massive front end loader for the whole town, so it often took time before everything got plowed out before the next snowfall. Most vehicles were not running because of the extreme cold, but we had our two patrol vehicles parked inside the fire hall to keep them nice and warm and ready for use.

During this time, the US Military had decided to hold their arctic winter war games and had received permission to use Whittier for one of their staging points. Overnight, my fire hall and police station were transformed into the headquarters for a company sized component of the 6th Infantry Division, ( Buffalo Soldiers), out of Fort Wainwright. I had barbed wire strung out all around my building, machine gun nests and my entryway was sandbagged nearly 7-feet high. Guards were posted all around and I was quick to advise them I would not play the pass word game. I had a badge and my gun shot real bullets. They agreed.

I allowed the army to have use of one section of the fire hall to set up their mobile kitchen and moved my secondary ambulance into the Alaska Railroad Warehouse to make room for them. But the weather turned sour all too quickly, bringing the wind chill factor down to minus 122 degrees (F). The US Coast Guard cutter was in Whittier to record the weather and decided to leave after their wind device was blown off their vessel. They were the ones to give us the -122 degree chill factor, so I didn't make it up. We had a raging blizzard going on and only I and one of my officers was out in it to continue checking on the town.

One wind blast actually brought my new Dodge Ramcharger patrol car to a halt and a second time I was brought to a sudden stop and struggling to open my door against the wind, I made my way outside to find a massive snow berm had formed right in the middle of roadway and was now blocking me. Not that I could see much and was mostly acting from memory as I drove about.

The soldiers were eating their MRE, Meals Ready to Eat, but they were being cooked by this mobile kitchen. I had to laugh when I saw how the military had not changed all that much since my days in Viet Nam. The assigned cook had brought with him a lot of cheap white bread, the stuff that dissolved in your mouth, and cases of Skippy creamy peanut butter. Made me wonder how our boys would do in the field without peanut butter. Even our old C-rations had peanut butter in it, but it sure wasn't Skippy! You could lube a car with the peanut butter they issued. Thankfully, thoughtful parents sent jars of peanut butter to us and we were saved.

One of my chores during that winter was to rescue soldiers. These frozen men were manning their posts several hundred yards from the station and couldn't get back in because of the wind, so Officer Mark and I were out picking them up. We actually had to handle a few of the men to get them moving again and into the safety of our vehicles.

The very next night we had to break up a fight, right smack in the middle of an intersection outside my fire hall and between 3-locals. They had gotten drunk in the bar across the street from my station and decided to take it outside to see who was the toughest. No one could see much of anything because the blowing snow was so heavy it was like making your way through a pillow factory, right after someone let all the feathers loose from the bins and added a giant fan for effect. And it was so cold, I threatened to leave the combatants out there to freeze to death. But we towed them bodily into the station to warm them up with blankets, hot chocolate and peanut butter. I had the army medic look them over, not wanting to call the EMTs out in this nasty weather.

My utility bill nearly quadrupled while these soldiers were here, burning up the hot water to keep warm and I should've billed the Army, but I didn't. I mean these poor guys had to sit through hours of my telling old war stories and that was a thankless task on their part. At least I could give them some hot water and electricity for their stoves.

I had never seen Alaska like this in all my 34 years in our beloved state and hopefully never will again. It was miserable, almost like an end of the world event... maybe that's too strong. But it was like bathing yourself in ice cream and then walking into a freezer. Ice cream? That did it. Now I'm hungry!

Eventually, the military closed down the war games for fear some of the men and women might freeze to death. The 6th Division prepared to leave, taking their sandbags and wire with them. I tried to keep a machine gun, but they caught me and I just told them I was kidding and checking their security. Not sure if they bought it, but they still presented our department with a beautiful wooden plaque, which displayed a charging buffalo and their thanks.

But this wasn't my only dealings with the military while in Whittier. No, I was visited that spring, right after the Exxon Valdez went on the rocks and our little town was jumping. Two civil servants and an officer, representing the military from Fort Richardson and Elmendorf Air Force Base, (both in Anchorage), had come to pay me a visit concerning the government's tank farm in Whittier. Barges were coming in all the time to keep the tank farm filled with fuel for the Air Force and Army's aircraft and it seems the tank farm had found itself on a possible terrorist target list. Now this was long before 9/11, but the terrorists were out there and making themselves known.

The civil servants had the Whittier Police Department down as a first-responder in the event of a terrorist attack. Sort of a hold them, while the Army got their special forces en route. So, they wanted to know what kind of weaponry and man power my department had to carry out this job. Really, I tried hard not to laugh. I mean, I had four officers at the time and the only serious weapon I had outside our pistols and two shotguns, was a single AR-15, ( semi-auto variation of the fully auto M-16).  I guess they were surprised I had no hand grenades, flame throwers or tanks hid out in the pucker brush. I was seriously beginning to doubt the intelligence of my military. But I was the host, even gave them coffee and explained that I was putting together a Disaster Preparedness Plan for the City and would add a section concerning our response to any attack on the tank farm. I also had to add a section concerning a possible terrorist attack on any cruise ships tied up to our docks. Believe me, I was tempted to add some real sci-fi into these parts, but didn't and when I finished, my operational plan for handling earthquakes, nuclear attack, tsunamis, major fires and whatever, was eventually accepted by the city council- though I doubt they read any of it. Much like our current congress and the submitted bills.

I'll get to my problems with the Alaska Railroad folks in the next blog- God Bless!


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