Loran Yarns –
Port Clarence “The Journey Begins”
By Jack Morrison
In the early 60’s the
rate to be in if you desired to be promoted faster than the average Coastie was
Electronics Technician (ET). Unless you really screwed up you graduated from ET
School as ET3 and went out into the world of the “real” Coast Guard. Once in
the real world, you took the institute course for ET2, passing it hopefully on
the first go around, and if you had time in grade, your practical factors
completed and caught the leading PO and Chief in a good mood. Your chit for
advancement would be approved and the District advised that you were considered
eligible. In most instances this meant you would make ET2 about nine months out of
school, generally before most of your boot camp shipmates made third, but a
price had to be paid -- “Isolated Duty”.
Just about everywhere
you turned in those days there was a Loran Station, the locations living up to
the Coast Guard Marching song. From Aztec Shores to Arctic Zones, Europe to Far
East there was a Loran Station. A couple were located stateside, some in
locations you could take your family if so inclined, but an “Isolated Duty”
station meant you went by yourself for a 12 month tour.
I reported to the old
Third District in July of 62 and was assigned to Radio New York out on the
Island. Several months later I was sent out to the Fire Island Radio Annex, the
winters were hell, but the summers were out of this world so I never got around
to putting a chit in for ET2, but I had completed both the course and the
practical factors. Not making ET2 meant not going to Isolated Duty, I could stay at
Fire Island forever, so I thought. Late in 1963 the District received blank
orders for 1 ET2 to CCGD17 for isolated duty. As was the rule in then, they
asked for volunteers, no response, they looked at the ET2 list (promotions E6
and below were made by your District.) It was vacant. A check of the records
showed that all the ET2’s in the District had either just come back from
isolated or didn’t have enough time left to take the orders. They then checked
for thirds eligible for second, there was but one. For Christmas that year I
received word that I had made ET2 even though I hadn’t requested it. The next
day brought the orders for CCGD17.
In those days, if you
were going to the 17th, you reported to Base Seattle. Here you
learned just where you were going to spend the next year. In my case the
friendly YN3 said, "Port Clarence and you leave tomorrow." The following day I stepped
off the plane in Nome with a ticket for a Wien Airlines flight to Port Clarence.
I shortly learned that the next flight was tomorrow and I was to be at the
airport around 9 or 10. The take off time wasn’t set in stone. The next
day found me standing alongside the smallest airplane I had ever seen for the
final leg of the trip. There were four passenger seats on the plane and five
passengers. "No problem" said the pilot, "first off sits in the co-pilots seat,"
that was me. I have to admit that it was a very enjoyable flight and 90 minutes
later I was on deck at Port Clarence looking at my home for the next 12 months.
At the time Port
Clarence was the northernmost Loran C station located about 100 miles north of
Nome, 100 miles south of the Arctic Circle and about 100 miles east of Siberia.
Apparently there was nothing 100 miles east of us with a name. We had a LTJG for
CO, a CHRELE for exec, a DCCM, HMCS, ENC and a ETC in the CPO quarters, and down
in the “barracks building,” room for 24 crewmen. The welcome aboard
formalities were soon taken care of, a room assigned and then a tour of the
station. The station was comprised of four buildings all interconnected by a
50-foot tunnel, the loran transmitters were in a 5th building about
1800 feet away, also connected by a tunnel. The ET’s stood loran watch, 8 hrs
on 16 off, a week of midnights, then a week of evening watches followed by a
week of day watches, then you spent a week as a day worker before beginning the
cycle all over again.
When you completed your
watch it was off to the transmitter building to take readings. In summer we rode
down the road to the transmitter building, fresh air, a nice view, not bad. In
winter however the trip was made in the tunnel, I soon learned the trick to
turning a bike with 26” wheels around in a tunnel 36” wide. The station did
have several vehicles but the ENC would not allow their use for the readings.
Now riding a bike in a windowless unheated tunnel 1800 ft. gets old fast,
especially when the outside temperature was well below zero. The interior was
covered for some reason with Masonite, which got very slick in the cold; the
transmitter end of the tunnel had a 90-degree turn to the right. Now this was
before you could get a bike tire for every imaginable surface. We had good old
balloon tires. Stopping, much less making the turn was now a major undertaking.
We soon had three bikes with damaged front wheels, no replacements aboard and no
idea of when we would get new ones. The ENC, who felt it was the ET’s fault
that he was on isolated duty, felt no sympathy. Trust you guys with vehicles
when you can’t even operate a simple bike, no way, WALK.
Well, walk we did, the district instead of replacing the wheels provided two “Bermuda tricycles” for the tunnel complete with wire mesh basket to carry the clipboard. They suffered from a few minor drawbacks, we couldn’t sit down on them with our winter clothes and if we thought turning the bikes around in the tunnel was awkward, it was a snap compared to a tricycle that had a span of 30 inches, walking wasn’t all that bad.
It was a long twelve months!
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