The Curious Cat

by Chuck Kircher

 One Life down and Eight more to go

The rainy season was upon us and it seemed that we should be constructing an ark if it continued much longer.  NMO at Lualualei was in a valley of clouds and visibility was near zero.  Down in the transmitter building, the humming equipment was creating a cozy warmth that belied the conditions outside. In a vain attempt to dry them out, we had the plates off the wire races which contained the power lines, phone lines and antenna lines. Rain water continually seeped into these trenches and, at the far end of the building, a sump pump whirled away barely keeping ahead of the deluge.

At 0200 the shrill ringing of the hotline bell startled Larry and I out of a sound sleep.  The RMs at Wahiawa were complaining that one of the mid frequency transmitters had gone off-line.  Groggily we went through the double doors into the equipment bay.  There were two mid-range transmitters built into alcoves on either side of the passageway.  The components were mounted either to the floor directly or on insulated stands bolted to the floor in a three-sided concrete bay. A row of steel panels with windows and a commercial refrigerator-like door spanned wall to wall to enclose each unit.  You didn’t so much work on these units as you worked in them.

A quick visual check of the monitoring meters showed #1 was on-line.  A look through the window panel at the transmitter tube of #2 told a different tale. These large glass tubes sat atop a nest of copper cooling fins and, when operating, their cylindrical collector plates gave off the warm glow of a pot bellied stove. The glow undulated in intensity as the nimble fingers of the RMs tapped out the syncopated rhythm of a Morse code message.  But now the plate and filaments on #2 were stone, cold gray. 

 Larry found that the main power breaker had tripped. Snapping it back on, transmitter #2 sprang to life -- filaments lit up and the familiar roar of the cooling fans returned.  After a little warm up time, Larry keyed a test, ‘dah-dit; dah-dah; dah-dah-dah -- NMO’. Repeating the test pattern several more times, all appeared normal.  Why the breaker had tripped was anybody’s guess.  Sometimes with bad weather and power surges, they had a mind of their own.  We shut her down again to inspect inside.  Everything looked fine -- no signs of burnt resistors, leaking transformers or broken cooling fans.  Just as we were leaving, I noticed something in the back corner that didn’t look quite right.  On closer inspection, what appeared to be a large, dirty rag turned out to be the stray cat that Larry had befriended some weeks earlier.  Only now she was sad caricature of her former self -- burnt nose and face fur, whiskers gone, eyes tightly shut, foot pads burnt and surprisingly, still alive.  She must have gotten into the transmitter through the open wire races.  Nosing about, she had hit either a power line or main relay and suffered the results.

Strays were not an unusual occurrence at Lualualei.  Generally we ignored them and they went away.  For some reason, Larry had taken a liking to this particular gray cat and had been feeding her.  Since she was not a problem, the rest of us tolerated her presence.  But now she had become a problem.  Larry gently lifted her up and took her out of the transmitter building to our off-duty living quarters.  Meantime, I brought #2 back up, keyed another test  and notified Wahiawa that it was back on line.

Larry made a bed for her out of a box and an old blanket.  For the next few weeks he nursed her diligently.  Most of us thought she would never make it but Larry was undeterred.  He treated her burns with a salve and fed her milk with a turkey baster.  Gradually she improved, though her looks were permanently disfigured.  Larry continued to hand feed her as she graduated from milk to food.  Each day you could see that she was getting better but she was unable to walk. Taking tentative steps, she would wobble and collapse like a gangway drunk.  Her feet must have been extremely sensitive due to the burnt pads. Eventually she could take a few hesitant steps and we all began to cheer her on.  She was going to make it!!

And then one day, after several weeks of Larry’s tender care, she gulped down the milk and cat food he had put out for her; took a look around and bolted.  The last we saw of her was the tip of her serpentine, gray tail disappearing through the tall, green grass. Down one life, she wasn’t about ready to take any more chances with us.  Lualualei was too dangerous a place for this curious cat.

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