My Second Antarctic Adventure – Palmer Station Part II

A year of Preparation – copyright 2009 Jack W. Cummings

Barbara and I were prepared to spend six weeks in the San Francisco area while the west coast selectees for Operation DeepFreeze completed the necessary physicals, in fact, this process as I remember took no more than two or three weeks. During that brief period, I was able to complete the paperwork necessary to bring Barbara into the Navy Family. We soon said goodbye to friends, and headed south to Rialto, CA to spend a few days with parents and family and to allow Barbara to continue the process of settling her affairs there.

One thing I really enjoyed when traveling in the Navy from duty station to duty station, was the opportunity it allowed me to visit with friends and family. Our trip to Davisville, Rhode Island was no exception, and a perfect opportunity to introduce my bride to my family in Colorado, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Maryland. I was also proud to demonstrate my driving skills in winter weather, and Barbara was thrilled by the wintry landscapes we traveled through, especially those in the mountains of Colorado. Maryland was probably the most special of all for Barbara, because it was there, north of Baltimore, that she was introduced to her new daughter, Joni. This was also a special time for me because it had been almost four years since I had last seen my daughter, as Joni was almost seven years old now. That visit was the beginning of Barbara and Joni’s bonding that grew stronger over the years and many, many visits. I was so proud of them both.

We arrived in Rhode Island sometime in early March 1964, and after reporting in to CASA at the Seabee base at Davisville, we set about in search of our first home together. What we found was a beautiful old home that had been converted into four apartments, in the quaint seaport village of Wickford. The Navy had picked up our small household goods shipment that we had “u-hauled” to San Francisco, and as soon as it arrived at our new home we comfortably settled in. For our first year of marriage we couldn’t have asked for a better assignment – the honeymoon lasted until we departed Rhode Island in November.

Why did the Navy transfer us to Rhode Island instead of just putting me on a plane/or ship bound for Antarctica? Preparation! The adverse conditions and the isolation of duty in the Antarctic during the early US Navy supported expeditions demands that personnel be physically and mentally prepared to cope with those conditions. Training and sometimes cross-training in the Navy and civilian schools may also be required. Since good food is such a necessity in maintaining good morale, those assigned as station cooks and bakers were sometimes sent to upscale hotels in New York to work with the restaurant staff to learn how to prepare meals that were of a higher quality than that served in Navy dining facilities. Early in our “year” at Davisville, it was necessary for CASA staff to begin preparing rosters for the five outlying stations; Pole, Byrd, Hallett, Eights and Palmer. I was selected for Palmer early on and was sent for a week’s training at the Collins Radio facility in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Normally radio shacks on the Ice are equipped with standard US Navy radio equipment and staffed with an Electronics Technician to maintain that equipment. However, since Palmer was apparently being built as a temporary station, with a more modern permanent station to take its place in a few years, the powers that were making the decisions decided it would be more cost effective to equip Palmer with amateur radio equipment purchased from a reputable company, and Collins proved to be the right choice. As a radioman, I had not had extensive training in repairing my communication gear, so it was necessary to provide me with a crash course in maintaining the new equipment from Collins. The station was to be equipped with four 100 watt KWM-2 transceivers and two 1000 watt linear amplifiers (power boosters – commonly referred to as “gallon jugs” in the Ham” radio community). The transceivers were normally equipped with “plug-in crystals” that were set to a specific frequency range normally outside of the range of frequencies assigned for exclusive use in Navy communications. When my equipment was shipped from the factory in Cedar Rapids it was not equipped with crystals for the frequencies that I would be using. I was told that as my transportation to the Ice (Icebreaker USS Edisto) finished transiting the Panama Canal, I was to pick-up the necessary crystals at the Naval Communications Station (NCS) Balboa, located on the Rodman Naval Station there. During the next year NCS Balboa would be my long distance contact and would be responsible for transmitting to me my daily message traffic.

In addition to the above training we were required to undergo more extensive physical and psychological testing. I remember vividly that these physical examinations were not conducted in private, but in a large room with several physicians attending to the different aspects of examining the mass of near naked bodies in the room. Thankfully “Ink Blot” tests were conducted in private. For some unknown reason, other than to keep us occupied, we were subjected to a period of “military training”. You know, things like marching, and shooting various weapons. This was curious as defensive weapons are not permitted on the Antarctic Continent per International Treaties, and we would not be expected to repel an invasion force. Finally we were issued all of the cold weather gear that we would need to live and work for the next year on the Ice. That gear plus our personal gear was packed up and turned over to the supply department for shipment to our assigned stations. JWC

(Next: Part III – Our New England Honeymoon)

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