by Pat Glesner
Fall and I arrived in Northern Japan at the same time. And a lovely, rainbow autumn it was: cider, carved pumpkins, a harvest moon, and golden Tamarack stretching into distant hills. On lazy afternoons in those waning days of 1988, the crew combed the nearby beach for glass fishing floats and other treasures, or parked themselves in front of the TV and watched the Chunichi Dragons and the Seibu Lions see‑saw battle for baseball's World Championship. In the evenings the smell of burning leaves wafting over the fields and mingled with the odor of cow manure.
Autumn In Japan
the end of October the station celebrated Halloween and the season with a "Gijin
party," attended by many of our local friends. About the same time Typhoon
Ruby's far reaching skirt swirled over Hokkaido, leaving us a taste of what was
soon in store: waves of icy rain and a cold, hunting wind washed over us,
rattled the station building and drove us close to the hearth. This soon broke
though, giving us crisp, Ainu Summer days that carried us through the middle of
Mother Nature didn't seem to want to settle into one mode. We'd get two or three
days of warm shirtsleeve weather, and then two or three days of cold before the
cycle started all over again. Unfortunately, LORAN Ops at Hokkaido was about as
predictable as the weather, and had been for years. It had been over five years
since the station last put together three months of 99% on-air and in-tolerance.
the last week in November it seemed as if winter had finally arrived. Monday the
28th started off with sheets of icy rain and a strong, cold wind blowing off the
Pacific. On Friday it turned to snow, and by early Saturday morning we had two
inches on the ground. But by Saturday afternoon the storm and the snow were gone.
so Monday arrived, warm and sunny. The station van was gassed up and loaded,
ready to haul our skipper, LTJG Todd Watanabe, and Senior Chief Art Odgers and
Chief Jerry Beneke to the Obihiro airport.
The chiefs were off on a boondoggle, a CPO conference in Tokyo; the
"old man" was taking care of some dental problems. So I was left in
charge, with all the other high power gone. "Jack" Sato, LORAN Station
Hokkaido's interpreter for the past twenty-five years had also recently retired,
and had not yet been replaced. If I had to conduct any business with the locals
in the next week, I would have to do it with the help of Shishi, our cook, or
DC2 Greg Ackley--"Chumley"--a young man with good command of Japanese,
on his second tour at LORSTA Hokkaido.
don't know if the skipper had begun to trust me in the few weeks I had been
there, or if he was leaving me with just enough rope to hang myself. In any
case, he left me with a short "to-do" list: repair storm damage to the
station, conduct a pre-mast investigation on an incident involving our only bad
boy (who had gotten himself in trouble for the fourth time in as many weeks),
and of course try to keep our good run going: 15 days on-air and in-tolerance as
of that morning, a recent record.
quarter of a century earlier, Coast Guard planners selected a 100 hectare
section of land near the mouth of the Tokachi River on the southeast side of
Hokkaido as the site for a new LORAN station. They designed and constructed it
to be as independent as possible; however, they did not completely severe
dependence on local Japanese infrastructure and resources. For instance,
although our power was commercial, if need be we could run independently on
half-a-mile away another, pristine creek sprung up, and cascaded and rippled
over beds of glistening gravel and polished stone as it meandered majestically
through virgin woodland and peaceful meadows. Several miles downstream its
waters were drawn into placid, man‑made pools: nurseries for fry trout
that would someday stock other rivers and streams in Japan. It wouldn't even
have surprise me to hear Sapporo boast that it drew the water for its Classic,
100% Fine Malt beer from our delicate little stream. But ... from which of these
two runs do you suppose we drew our drinking water?
this reminded me of Mark Twain's observation on St. Louis drinking water:
"they let it sit in the glass until the mud settles out. Then they stir it
up and drink it." If we left things the way they were that was prospect we
faced, of drinking brown water until at least the following spring. Or we could
have taken a clue from our recently departed corpsman "Zippy,"
strictly a beer man he‑‑water never touched his lips.
investigation proved that the engineers first guess was partially right: we
definitely had soiled filters. Civil Engineering's "maintenance
program" calls for replacement of the sand every three years; however,
according to our records, it's been thirteen since last they were touched. To
rectify the problem we couldn't just go down to the beach and scoop up a few
bucket loads. We had to use several different grades of a special silicate sand,
from very fine to course, tiered on top of sized and layered gravel.
this second go around, taking a scientific approach, we gathered up several
empty pickle jars and collected samples from various sources around the station.
Three of these showed clear: water collected just upstream from the pond, water
from the spring behind us (source or our delicate little creek), and the
discharge from the "rose room" (sewage treatment plant). Three others
were a murky brown: pond water, water from the upper pump house, before
filtration, and lastly, filtered drinking water. Since the water from the pump
house was no more brown than the pond water, that eliminated one of our first
ideas: a broken water pipe. Also of interest, and a clue, was the fact that the
color did not settle out of the water.
passed on our results of our investigation to FESEC. They agreed with the
findings, and added another possible cause: the pond has not been flushed since
the dam's construction twenty-five years before. After that much time it had to
be heavily silted. And we drew our water from the bottom of the pond.
a solution (or at least a partial solution,) FESEC suggested we open up the
flood gates and drop the pond by a foot, breaking up the ice and stirring up
some current flow, while flushing some of the silt and brown algae laden waters
out, leaving room for several thousand gallons of fresh, clear water from the
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