In every career, even one as erratic as mine had been up to that time, I imagine there is a job that you really like, under great conditions, and you wish you could hold on to it forever.
THE JOB I REALLY LIKED
by Jack A. Eckert
That's how I felt about the Sturgeon Bay Canal Station in 1957 and through early 1958 when I left there. Here is a recount of the events.
Leaving the Ice Breaker Mackinaw, and after our mid-winter return to Wisconsin in 1957, I half heartedly looked around for a decent job, to no avail. After considerable soul searching we decided our future lie with the Coast Guard, nothing else was working.
In April I reenlisted for six years at the recruiting office in Green Bay. I was within the 90 day continuous service requirement. After swearing in I was directed to go to the Ninth District Office in Cleveland for further processing and assignment. I left Green Bay and drove to Cleveland the next day.
I stayed at the District Office long enough to collect my reenlistment bonus of about $1500. In those days this was a fabulous sum. I was again assigned to Coast Guard Group Sturgeon Bay and went back there by way of Waukesha once again.
We left our young son Randy with my mother while we looked for a place to live. We stayed a couple of days at the old Svoboda Hotel and then found an upstairs apartment in Sawyer. Randy was brought up after we moved and we were a family again.
I was pleased that I did not have to go back to an island again. I stayed at the Sturgeon Bay Canal Station. Liberty was port and starboard with every other weekend off. By the standards of the day, that was pretty good. This was really the best job I had ever had up to that time.
Joana took a seasonal job at the local cherry factory. My job allowed me quite a bit of freedom from the station routine and I stopped at the apartment almost every day when I was on duty. We had a nice life there, just about the right mix of work and social contact. In mid summer we were offered quarters on the station and accepted them. This was great. I received an extra $30.00 per month to eat at home. This was the first and only time we ever lived in Government furnished quarters.
My job as a second class Engineman was that of station engineer. My main duties were to fix, fix, fix, fix. It seemed as though I would get one thing fixed and running and twelve things would break down. I also made the Aids to Navigation runs up and down the Door County Peninsula both by truck and by boat, servicing the automated lighthouses and structures. I stood tower watches which really amounted to radio beacon watches, and served as the engineer on boat calls when I was at the station. In the winter we laid the boats up and that was that for the season. I spent my work day servicing the trucks, the caterpillar tractor, and the crane car. Plenty to keep me busy and all the help in the world with the TAWD (Temporary Additional Winter Duty) people there from late Novemeber until the lights reopened in April. The job was a good one, interesting to say the least and I could have probably spent most of my career there.
The Sturgeon Bay Canal Station with the Pier Head Light in the foreground
Randy was two years old. The quarters were in a side by side duplex overlooking the Sturgeon Bay Canal. Car Ferries went through several times a day. Randy enjoyed running out of the house and over on the bank and waving at these big boats as they passed through. The bank height was about even with the bridge on the boats and he would only be about 40 feet away. After the skippers got used to seeing him at the corner of the house by the clock-key punch station, they would toot their whistles for him even if he didn't get out to see them.
The basement of the quarters building was at ground level. Because the quarters had it's own refrigerator, ours that we had brought along was in the basement and used for storing extra things like the crew's beer. It was not unusual on a hot summer's day when the seaman were doing the yard work to have a couple of them slip in for a cold one, soon to be joined by the first class boatswain's mate who also had a thirst. Nothing ever got out of hand and everybody was happy. Joana would object to somebody walking upstairs or into her kitchen unannounced and that was understandable.
Chief Joe Schultz the Officer in Charge retired in late Summer and was replaced by Chief Lloyd Hanks. These were really two different persons. Joe was a bit of a rounder who ran a loose station. There were few disciplinary problems because of it. Chief Hanks ran a tighter ship. The crew was a pretty decent bunch, those who stayed in spent most of their Coast Guard careers there. One SN who was in on a two year reserve hitch was Mike Salerno of the Chicago Salerno Cookie people. I saw him 20 years later and he had become the BOSS of the company.
One weekend in October of 1957 we drove down to Waukesha. The Chief told me to stop at the doctor's office and get a flu shot on my way through Sturgeon Bay. The doctor was an old Public Health Service contract physician. Our nickname at the station for him was, "Shaky Jake." I rolled up my sleeve and while his lady assistant held his hand steady, he gave me the shot. We continued on our way. I got deathly ill that night. I found I was allergic to eggs. I could have died. Whatever it was, it was worse than the flu.
I completed my required correspondence course for Engineman First, had the requisite time in and was recommended for promotion. Those were the days of the long waiting lists. Unfortunately the road to promotion was limited on stations and my ambitions were greater than was my desire for a comfortable billet.
Just before Christmas a notice came out from the District Office soliciting volunteers for Instructor Duty at Engineman School in Groton, Connecticut. I had a nice new typewriter and I composed a letter to the District requesting the position. It was favorably endorsed by Chief Hanks and the Group Commander in Two Rivers. (The Groups had been consolidated earlier that year.) About a month later I received orders to proceed to the Groton Training Station Engineman School for 30 days Temporary Additional Duty to determine my fitness for Instructor duty. I believe the Chief expected me back and no matter he had winter duty enginemen around to do my work while I was gone.
I packed my seabag. Joana and Randy packed and we left Sturgeon Bay for Waukesha. The intent was to leave them at my parent's house while I went east. It was the end of January of 1958. I left for Groton the next day. I couldn't leave Joana in Sturgeon Bay as I had the only car. I didn't want to do that as she didn't have any transportation to town.
With a Cities Service gas credit card and thirty dollars in my pocket I left for the East Coast. Better than half of my thirty dollars was used to pay tolls.
I was made permanent at the Groton Training Station and Chief Hanks was a bit mad that nobody told him about it for several weeks. When my wife returned the Canal Station to pack up our things to move east she told him and he was understandably irate. This was the first he learned of it.
So much for Coast Guard protocol.
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