Dad’s Alaska

Here’s to all branches the military who are just doing their jobs

6 December 2020 Sunday

Tomorrow is December 7th-Pearl Harbor Day. I wasn’t in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. I was in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1963. only 22 years after the Japanese destroyed Pearl Harbor and sank a lot of ships including the Arizona. The ship I was on tied up to Hotel Pier which was just about 400 yards from the Arizona Memorial. I could walk out the back door of the Combat Information Center on the 03 level and look right at it. I saw it everyday when we were in port. I watched the boats taking the tourists to the memorial. To me it was a daily reminder that ships sink and people die. I never visited the Arizona Memorial. Just seeing it every day made me sad enough without setting foot on the Memorial platform. I was 19 years old and and becoming old man at the same time. In my three years onboard the USS Ponchatoula AO-148, I did nothing heroic. I did my job. That’s the contract you sign when you join any branch of the military. You agree to do a job, you are expected to do the job and the vast majority of military personnel do their jobs without question or serious complaint. They see their duty and they do it. I sometimes wear a baseball cap on which there are the military service medals. Often people will say “Thank you for your service” to which I reply “Thank you. I didn’t do very much.” A lot of us didn’t do very much. We simply did our job. The cap I wear was given to me by the son of a ‘Brown Water’ (River Boat) sailor who earned medals for his heroism while just doing his job. I’m not allowed to wear his heroic medals but I wear the cap with the ones that I am allowed in his honor. My youngest brother was in Vietnam with a Marine Recon group that killed a lot of people just doing their job. After returning to civilian life he was never the same. Most of the men and women who come back are never the same. They just did their jobs and those of you who were never in the military will not and cannot understand. So next time you see an active military person or a Military Vet say to him/her “Thank you for doing your job.”

This past week has been a doozy. Monday morning we awoke to 9F temperature. Tuesday morning it was 6F and snowing. Wednesday was another 6F morning. Thursday was a 2F morning and the water froze during the night. Friday was another 6F morning, Saturday was the same as Friday. Today, Sunday, it is 38F and raining. Dressed properly the 14-16F afternoons weren’t bad. I got a good bit of outside work done.

On Wednesday, Summer had to go into work. It was around 6F when she started her walk with the pack of dogs she supervises. The uphill walking made her feet sweat. Sweating is about the worst thing you can do in extreme cold. Her feet were hot right up until they weren’t. The dampness conducted the cold and by the time she got the dogs back to the van her toes were aching from the cold. It took thirty minutes or so for her toes to thaw out and they hurt like hell whilst they were thawing. She had, apparently, decided to wear the wrong boots for the weather. Fortunately, she carries extra clothing including socks in the event she gets wet. With her toes thawed she took her second pack of dogs for a walk that afternoon. Same thing happened and it happened sooner as her boots were slightly wet inside. Even after she got home she kept complaining about being cold. She now carries two pairs of boots along with a couple of pairs of dry socks. Lesson learned. I, on the other hand, spent the day kneeling, lying in and rolling around in the snow. My big task for the day was to remove the tires from the ‘parts’ Land Rover. The first thing was to shovel over a foot of crusty snow away from the vehicle. I needed room to get the jack under the car and to get the tires removed. I spent over an hour shoveling what seemed like a ton of snow away from the Rover. Then, because I have always aspired to be a bonafide redneck, i went to get concrete blocks to set the car on. A impediment to my aspirations to redneckness presented itself. The damned concrete blocks were frozen together. A drizzling rain late last week had wetted them enough that they were attached for the duration of the winter. I tried to separate the and managed to break one. That was four dollars shot to hell and the end of my redneck aspirations, concrete blocks and the beginning of jack stands. The ground is frozen and as hard as concrete so the jack stands will suffice until Spring. After that they’ll sink and likely disappear into the ground. Sometime between now and then I’ll need to get out my propane weed killer torch and defrost some concrete blocks to fulfill my redneck dreams. I had recently removed the lug nuts on the rear tires and replaced them with the non-factory lugs nuts off the ‘good’ Rover. When I did that lug nut switch, I only needed a 24 inch breaker bar to remove the lug nuts on the ‘parts’ Rover. The first thing I did was attempt to remove the lugs nuts from the front of the ‘parts’ Rover. I put all of my 200+ pound fat ass pushing down on the first lug nut and could not make it break loose. This led to a 20 minute search through a snow covered pile of scrap metal trying to find a piece of pipe heavy enough to use as a cheater bar. I found a three foot piece of pipe and returned to the task of removing the lug nuts so as to remove the tires. With it slipped about a foot over the 24 inch breaker bar, I now have 4 feet of leverage. With all of that leverage and again my 200+ pound fat as I was just barely able to break those lug nuts free. The kneeling in the snow was caused by taking off the loosened lug nuts. The lying down in the snow was caused by the need to place the jack and later to place the jack stands. The rolling in the snow was caused by tripping, sometimes on my own feet, and falling into the snow. I, usually, fell backwards or sideways and when attempting to get up I’d have to roll onto my belly and push myself up. The kneeling made the snow melt onto and into my snow pants, jeans and thermal underwear. When I would get up to walk around they knees of the garments would freeze. After the first tire removal, I was kneeling on ice knee pads for the removal of the other tires. All of this effort is to get the studded snow tires on their own rims. Having the tires changed from rim to rim ends up costs near $200 every year. If you have two sets of rims with the proper tires for the season, you can change them yourself for free. I am really, really fond of free. Yes, I did start sweating from the exertion. First I shed my trapper’s hat, shortly after that I shed my heavy wool sweater and I swapped gloves three times. Wet fingers are cold fingers.

On Thursday, we got up early to take Spike to the Dodge dealer to have the radio and the backup camera checked out. The radio comes on and turns off by itself. The backup camera comes on while you are going forward down the highway. Sometimes it comes on at 60 mph or won’t work at all when you shift into reverse. Both problems are random and therefore unpredictable. In my old age,I have come to expect things and people to do what they are supposed to do when they are supposed to do it. Actually, that is something I’ve expected for the majority of my life. Oh Boy, have I ever lived a life of constant disappointment! The highway to Soldotna had areas of ice on our way up. Coming back the sun had heated up the asphalt and the road very near ice free. However, at this time of the year the sun is so low that there are places on the highway that get no direct sunlight. These places remain icy for the entire winter. Fortunately, there aren’t very many of them and the traffic makes ruts through them. All you have to do is stay in the ruts and you are driving on solid pavement. The rut thing remind me of times when I tried to keep my balance while walking on the rail of a railroad track. After dropping off the truck we came straight home. We had several chores that needed to be done. Bring in firewood, feed the critters, thaw out the water lines and a half dozen other menial tasks that I cannot remember. I think one of those chores was watering the critters. Since the house water was frozen, Summer shoveled snow into the water in their trough. The water trough has a heater that comes on for an hour every 4 hours the snow would be melted and the critters could drink their fill. By the time we finished it was beginning to get dark. Darkness comes early at this time of the year. The sun sets at just a bit after 4 PM and will set even earlier until the winter solstice in the latter part of December. By then the sunrise will be near 10:00 AM and the sun will set at near 4:00 PM. You have four and a half hours to get done whatever that needs to be done, if you don’t want to do it by flashlight. It is incumbent upon you to have a well planned day under these conditions.

Friday is a blur. I couldn’t tell you all of the things i did because they were small things and a lot of them. The only one I remember is installing the black iron gas pipe into the downstairs bathroom. That entailed drilling holes through several studs and an outside wall. That which would be a one hour job in Clearwater, Florida that took over two hours in Fritz Creek, Alaska. I can’t really use the downstairs bathroom anyway. The pipe that drains the bathtub and the hand sink burst in the first hard freeze. It did the same thing last winter. The problem is that burst on last summer’s repair and cannot be repaired again. The commode is unaffected by this problem. So now I take my showers upstairs and brush my teeth at the kitchen sink. It is a little inconvenient but later this winter I’ll be tearing out he bathroom and remodeling it so that all of the piping is larger and further under the house. Every winter the pipes burst or they freeze because they are all on an outside wall. By moving them inboard, making the drains larger and the angles deeper there should be nothing in the lines to freeze. After three years of this, I am well and truly tired of this annual aggravation.

Saturday we hit the road to Soldotna to pick up Spike at the Dodge dealer. We picked up the keys and Summer drove me to the back of the dealership where Spike had been parked. I turned on the ignition switch and the thermometer is reading zero. Diesel engines really hate cold weather. That is the reason for block heaters that you plug into 110v house power. There was no house power out in the back lot of the dealership. When I turned the key it took almost a minute and a half before he glow plugs got hot enough to start the engine. The damned thing really struggled to run when I cranked it and it was 30 minutes before it got warm enough to defrost the windshield. When it, finally, warmed up enough to clear the windshield I dispatched Summer back to Fritz Creek. I went to Home Depot to get parts to install the heater in the downstairs bathroom that I can’t use. Nobody ever said I was smart. Upon my arrival home I had but one task on my mind. That task was to get the tires I had struggled to remove from the ‘parts’ Rover into the bed of the truck. After that get the studded snow tire into the truck. It seemed to be two simple tasks. Just get the little trailer, hook it up to the 4 wheeler and load all four of them up. Simple. Not simple. The trailer had a flat tire, the 4 wheeler wouldn’t stay running and when it was running you could only carry one tire at the time. that which should have been a twenty minute job took almost an hour. Then all we had left to do was dig the studded tires out of the snow. They were between the two firewood tents. Simple, right? Not simple. The previous week’s rain had caused the snow to become ice and the tires were solidly frozen into on immovable pile. Summer tried digging them out but tit was to no avail. I got the jet heater, which was conveniently out of fuel. By happenstance, I had bought 5 gallons of diesel fuel for the tractor on my way home from Soldotna. With the jet heater refueled it still took almost and hour to extricate the tires. Now all that was left to do was load all eight rimmed and un-rimmed tires. Simple. No problem. WRONG!! The bed of the truck was completely full of snow and under that snow was 20 2x4s I purchased on a previous trip to Home Depot. 30 minutes later after shoveling out a bed full of ice ladened snow and removing the 2x4s we were able to load the tires.

Well, fellow campers, it is 00:41 AM December 7, 2020 In a few hours from now 79 years ago 3000 people died in the attack on Pearl Harbor. Let us not forget their sacrifice.

One thought on “Dad’s Alaska

  1. Your writing produced the second smile for the day
    when I read it and nodded my head in agreement that
    ( and I’ll say this delicately ) — men who are older
    tend to expect everything to work as advertised
    until “our” expiration date.

    The first smile came while reading another blog I follow
    and though not an Alaskan it is
    about someone who lives a similar remote lifestyle
    that WordPress blog that brought the smile is located at
    https://escapingalifeofquietdesperation.wordpress.com/2020/12/06/the-weeks-news-ernest-t-and-sherylee-a-tale/

    Like

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