Loran Yarns

 

Port Clarence – The Journey Continues

By Jack Morrison

 

When assigned to isolated duty you knew that you gave up many things you enjoyed at other units. Contact with those other than those with you was limited to mail or an occasional phone patch; television and radio became an unknown, you made do with sea prints, copies of selected movies (you had no vote in the selection, you just watched them) or occasionally a B/W copy of Perry Mason, Rawhide or whatever the selectors thought was a safe TV show for you to see. Naturally all commercials were excluded which meant an hour-long show lasted 50 minutes. But the one thing that could not be left behind was beer!

When I first reported to Port Clarence in May 1963 our logistic needs were met by an airplane from Air Station Kodiak every two weeks. Part of the cargo was the beer, a round number like 40 or 50 cases for our 30 man crew was on board. Flying in Alaska is a little rougher than in the lower 48. Accidents occurred and investigations made. The primary cause (or so it was said)  was the increase in flight hours due to the bi-weekly log flights made to the Loran stations (I believe there were four at the time) and it was recommended that they change the period to three weeks. Now there was a problem. The primary aircraft used was an HU-16 and occasionally a C-123.  Generally an Albatross was limited in the amount of cargo it could carry. Instead of 26 log flights we now had 17, the additional food carried on each flight had to go somewhere. The district decided that one case of beer per man per flight was adequate, 24 cans to be spread out over 21 days. This solved their problem!

Our skipper at the time (I’ll leave him nameless) loved his beer, so the new restrictions had an immediate impact on him. Solution: he drafted a station order setting the drinking age at 21. This opened about 4-6 cases for use as he determined.

This did not go over well with the crew but what could we do? The engineering department consisted of seven snipes, six of whom came from those parts of our country where homebrew was a fact of life. Shortly after the new station order went into effect, a design was drawn up and the necessary work accomplished to provide “white lightning” to a selected group. This continued for many months with only a few knowing where the still was actually located and strict self-policing to avoid problems.

For the Christmas and New Years holidays it was decided to widen the choices offered and production of applejack, orangejack and grapejack commenced. The selection of containers was limited so the electrician donated the glass containers that his battery water and acid came in. Each held five gallons. After dinner on Christmas Day, the captain opened a fifth that he said had been a present from the bush pilots that supplied us -- It was soon history. The CO commented that he wished that there had been more than the one bottle, looks passed around the mess deck, heads nodded in agreement and shortly a five gallon jug of applejack appeared with a ribbon it. I do not know what surprised the captain more the appearance of the jug and its contents or the fact that the crew had been able to accomplish the manufacture without him being any wiser. He wisely said nothing other than, "fill it up” as he passed his glass forward.

A very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Years was had by all.

 

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