A Visit to BAR M 1957/58

By Lynden T. (Bucky) Harris

In July 1957, at the time of contract O&M take over by Federal Electric Corporation there apparently was no major concerns or panic. The management staff and most of the technical staff had already been on board anywhere from 3 to 8 months. Everyone seemed comfortable with their responsibilities and carried out their duties without undue pressure. The original management staff was as follows:

LaVerne Newell, Sector Superintendent
Arnold Smith, Sector Chief of Communications and Electronics
William Bachman, Sector Chief of B&OP
Bruce Davis, Sector Chief of Logistics
Doctor Edwards, Medical Doctor
Doctor O’Gorman, Dentist
Reverend Paul Maurer, Chaplin

It is believed that Vern Newell was the most versatile manager I ever worked with. He could and would do anything and everything from flying airplanes to operating heavy equipment; from repairing electronics or refrigeration units to antenna rigging. I had the opportunity to visit with Vern at his retirement home in Florida in 1990, and at that time he remained sharp and vinegar coated as ever. However, I was advised late in 1991 that he passed on that fall.

Lets visit with some of the BAR-M/BAR Sector personnel working in that sector during the 1957/58 time period:
Karl Lockhart, BAR-M Station Supervisor
Jack Eagen, Lead Radician
John McKeon, Chief Clerk/Medic
Bucky Harris, TransSpec/Airport Manager
Joe Esposito, Air Cond/Refer
John Rosco, Plumbing
Chuck Munshaw, Electrical
Ted Jacobson, Carpentry
Bob Fretwell, Power Plant Supvr
Bill Rounds, Light Duty Shop
Clarence Fry, Heavy Duty Shop
Bill Funi, Supply
Gordon Peqanuet, Sec Station Supv
Art Brown, Sec Station Supv
Jessie Covington, Sec Station Supv
Dick Humphreys, Sec Station Supv
Yancey James, DLM Supv
Lou Bolderzar, DLM Supv
John Bolderzar, Supply
Sherwood Mansfield, Chef
Abner Mansfield, Cook
Jim Hickman, Supply
Max Bausell, Supply
Wayne Weeks, Supply,
Jay DePoy, Supply
Jay Broyles, Supply
Herman Rexford, Equip Opr (Native)
Issac Akoochik, Equip Opr (Native)
Neal Allen, House Mouse (Native)
Danny Gordon, Laborer Airport (Native)
Bob Rice, Pilot
Neal Bergt, Pilot
Juels Thibadeau, Pilot
Paul Palmer, Pilot
Frank Gregory, Pilot
Tony Shultz. Pilot

The BAR sector encompassed sites from POW-C west of Barter Island, Alaska, through BAR-C in Western Canada at the mouth of the MacKenzie River – a total of 9 Stations. Support was based upon the Sector concept, with all stations supported from the Sector Headquarters at BAR-M. Manning at the I sites (intermediate sites) consisted of a 3 man workforce. The Station Chief (electronics technician), a Chef (housekeeper) and a mechanic. The Station Chief maintained and operated all of the electronics 24 hours per day 7 days per week. The Chef cooked, baked, and kept house. The mechanic hauled water, sewer; maintained the runway and roads, ran the power plant and did general equipment and building maintenance. Any maintenance required beyond the station capabilities was satisfied by a Sector roving team out of the BAR Sector Headquarters. Manning at the aux sites (auxiliary) sites consisted of approximately 25 Management, Technical, Mechanical and Administrative employees. At the Main Station, which included the Sector Headquarters, manning was perhaps 225-250 employees; especially during the summer months when the sealift arrived and outside work projects were underway.

The average age of personnel assigned to the DEWLine at this time was probably around 30 years old. Vern Newell, John Roscoe, and Joe Esposito were considered “old men” yet it is doubtful they were yet 40 years of age. Most of the early employees were recent Korean conflict veterans and no doubt in their mid – to late twenties. – and in excellent health.

The early days were extremely busy times. There were no such thing as a time clock or even a time card. You worked until the job was done – be it nights, Saturdays and Sundays. The work schedule was based upon 6 nine hour days, or 54 hours per week. All technical, mechanical, and administrative personnel were paid identical salaries of $1,000.00 per month. Supervisors were paid $1,200.00 per month and the Superintendent paid $1,500.00. (It is understood in the Canadian Sectors, the salaries were some what less). Each employee signed an 18 month contract. Upon completion of the 18 month tour, a $1,200.00 bonus was paid. This was excellent compensation considering the economy and cost of living in 1957. Since board, room and transportation was provided as a part of the contract benefits, employees had very little expense other than the small amount of necessities required for proper grooming. A two week unpaid leave was provided after 9 months of on site duty. Transportation was provided the employee to and from his home of record for vacation and at the completion of his contract.

Meals were and have always been outstanding. Anyone that has ever been on the DEWLine will vouch for that. Meals were served 3 times per day plus a mid-night meal for shift workers consisting of what was left over from the dinner meal, or, the baker that brought up the mid-night meal would serve a breakfast, or, one could fix its own cold sandwich. Only two main meals were served on Sunday – a brunch from 10am until noon, and a dinner meal normally prime rib or T-bone steak. All of the dry and staple goods were receive from the DLA out of Philadelphia via the annual sealift. Meats, produce and vegetables were received from the Commissary at Ladd AFB, in Fairbanks, via air. Sometime in around 1958, a cost cutting measure was undertaken and a sub-contract was awarded Crawley-McCraken, a Canadian company to provide the culinary support duties – that did not pan out and the contract was terminated in less than a year. Also, at about the same time another cost cutting measure was undertaken to eliminate the chef at the Intermediate stations and provide frozen “TV” dinners for those employees. Needless to say that did not go over well either.

Mail was by far the most important item of concern. This was the only method of communicating with the outside world. Weather problems and conditions plus the lack of air navigational aids prevented on schedule arrivals of the mail and resupply planes at the outlining sites. Let a station go without a mail plane 10 days or so, which was not uncommon, and you certainly had a group of disgruntled and angry employees. Recognize that the only method of communicating off of the line other than via mail was by teletype.

One could telephone across the line, say for example from Barter Island to Point Barrow (BAR to POW) but you would have to dial through 4 switching centers (PBX) to get there. One would hve to first dial POW-3 PBX, wait for a dial tone, then dial POW-2 PBX, wait for a dial tone, and dial POW-1 PBX, wait for a dial tone, and then dial POW-M PBX, wait for a dial tone and then dial the local number desired. Nine times out of ten you would get knocked off the circuit before completed and have to start all over again. All of the telephone numbers at all of the auxiliary and main stations were identical – with exception that at the main stations, home of the sector headquarters, additional telephone numbers were required that added numerous other numbers. Telephone number “21” would get the console at all stations, “22” the station supervisor, etc. An excellent scheme.

Each station had a small necessity store (PX/BX) that was stocked with necessities such as tobacco products, tooth paste/brushes, towels, toilet soap, washing power, candy, soda pop and etc. Each store was opened, either during the lunch hour, or, one hour after work. One of the on station employees accepted the job of store operator and was paid a small fee for maintaining stocks, records and performing the sales. A committee consisting of the station supervisor and 2 other employees performed a monthly audit to insure that the books and money was in order and correct. The necessity store operation was segregated from the station government functions and sale prices were established to insure no profits/loss was generated.

Initially, each employee was permitted to purchase from the necessity store one six pack of beer per week. It wasn’t long until ingenuity set in and a group of men built a bar, created a recreational committee, purchased the station allocation of beer from the necessity store, and sold the beer over the bar without restriction. This was a realistic method since some folks did not drink and since all BAR Sector personnel, including transients, arriving and or departing the line would have to first come to BAR-M for onward travels, permitted transients to have a beer with their friends while on station., There were times when we ran out of beer allocated for the month but no panic set in and the employees merely awaited the allocation to be made. There was no hard liquor prmitted on the line (until around 1963). However, I must admit that a lot of shoe boxes arrived via the resupply plane from Fairbanks. I assume that those in charge merely looked the other way. Be assured that booze was not a problem or abused in the early days.

Planning for the recreational needs for the DEWLine employees was initially considered very inadequate. This perhaps was due to the initial large staff of personnel assigned, plus the influx of personnel to built added warehouses, garages, maintenance shops, housing and other work rojects; billeting and recreational facilities were sorely missing. Until additional facilities could be constructed, perhaps as many as 50 per cent of the employees had to reside in temporary billeting facilities left over from site construction -Quonset Huts.

Each station was provisioned a major library with hundreds of books; weekly newspapers, and monthly magazines. All kinds of games were provided – cards, chess, checkers, ping pong, pool tables, fishing equipment and some outside supplies such as footballs, softballs, etc. Bridge, pinochle, poker and checkers were major games played after dinner and on Sunday afternoon. Poker was normally “penny” ante and the games never got out of hand or created problems. Due to inadequate recreational space, the dinning room was utilized, after clean up each night to permit employees to havean area to play cards and read.

Each station was provided a tape recorder and tapes of music; a 35mm movie projector and 3 movies per week. Again, due to overpopulation, the dinning facility had to be used as a theater. In order to go a year without seeing the same e movie twice, Hollywood would have to produce 156 new movies each year – an impossibility. We just ran the same movies over and over about every couple of months.