posted 11/30/2005 12:12:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time
Thanksgiving was a blast, I ate an incredibly tasty meal at 7pm (we ate in shifts 3pm, 5pm, or 7pm depending on what you signed up for,) then was Molly's guest for the midrats Thanksgiving at midnight. Had the usual Thanksgiving standbys - turkey, cornbread, stuffing, potatoes, cranberries, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, salad, shrimp (yummy!,) and I'm sure plenty things that I've forgotten to mention. Lots of good conversation with fun people to go with the meal, which really made the evening. Was also able to get a phone line out and chat with family at home, which was nice! The time difference between here and the states means that for me to call people at a reasonable hour I have to get up extra early on workdays (yeah right,) or get lucky and grab a line out sometime between breakfast and lunch, which is usually when I'm busy at work - kind of a pain but it's a harsh continent as they say.
Work wise, we've been doing a fair amount of cleanup work and getting things prepped for moving our fueling stuff from the ice runway out to willy field in addition to the usual Fule Mule and Delta Scharen runs. Had an interesting experience while transferring a bunch of fuel down to the ice runway the other day. I was sitting on top of the runway tank we were filling to monitor the fuel levels and noticed that the level was rising consistently, then stopped. At about the same time on the radio, Patrick said that the line had gone flat where he was inspecting it. Soon after, Wendy said her section of line went flat as well. Fortunately, all that had happened was that our 2 million gallon bulk tank had hit 'invert' or the point that there isn't enough fuel left in the bottom to drain anymore out. We still had about a foot and a half of fuel in the bottom, and our documentation said that invert should have happened at more like a foot (a difference of tens of thousands of gallons.) The thing that made us get a little tense was that the symptoms at first looked like what you'd see if the line ruptured, but we quickly were able to establish that nothing was really wrong - we were just out of gas. Switched over to a nearly full bulk tank and were shortly back in business.
Also, yesterday I finally had a good opportunity to try out the bamboo flag puller on some frozen in flags in the area where we fill the fuel trucks up. The concept definitely works well - it easily pulled some flags that we couldn't budge by hand or with a hammer (one of the usual techniques is to whack the top of the flag with a hammer to break it loose, then pull it out by hand,) but the gripper mechanism slipped on the smooth bamboo with a couple that were stuck super hard. I'm going to try making some slight modifications to the gripper soon and see if we can't yank out the remaining flags with it then!
So, what's cookie day? It's pretty simple really - every Wednesday the galley staff cooks up a whole bunch of cookies and serves them up at lunch as a special treat. Usually there are 5 or so varieties and they're all really tasty. I like cookie day!
posted 11/26/2005 09:27:00 AM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time
posted 11/25/2005 10:58:00 AM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time
posted 11/21/2005 07:44:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time
posted 11/20/2005 05:11:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time
posted 11/18/2005 11:49:00 AM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time
It's pretty impressive when the switch gets thrown to turn on the big pump in general, especially impressive when you're pumping fuel from somewhere lower than the pump as we were. Before turning the pump on, you have to open the valves in line with the pump to keep from "deadheading" (pumping fuel into a closed line) and breaking things, but when you open all the valves like that, the fuel that's left in the line (hundreds or thousands of gallons) flows downhill and will start the pump spinning backwards if it's not turned on. So, what we do is essentially get all the downstream valves open except for one right by the pump. Then, one person (me in this case) starts frantically opening that valve while another person stands by the "on" switch. Once the valve is halfway open, the pump is spinning backwards fairly quickly (nowhere near how fast it can go backwards if allowed to) and the switch is turned on. The lights brown out, the floor shudders, the air is filled with a really loud groaning sound, and everything rattles as the big electric motor comes on line, stops the fuel from flowing backwards, starts pushing it the right way at a rate of around 500 gallons per minute (8.3 gallons get moved every second.) Now, as all this is happening, remember that the person at the valve has to keep on going as fast as they can to get it open all the way so that fuel can flow smoothly out from the pumphouse. Neat experience, don't think I can do it justice in writing.
So, after getting the pump going, I walked the hard pipe from the pumphouse out towards Scott Base to confirm everything was in good shape. Nice walk - we had beautiful weather and firm crust on the snowfields. As expected, the fuel line was in good shape, so I hitched a ride back to McMurdo with a passing communications tech, got dropped off in town, then had lunch.
After lunch was the really neat stuff - I got to drive our fuels Delta, Scharen, for the first time! Scharen is a 1986 Foremost Delta II with a roughly 1800 gallon fuel tank on the back connected to a reversible positive displacement PTO pump. There was a picture (here) posted on here a while back of me standing beside one of the wheels. Basically, Scharen is our fuel delivery truck for delivering fuel outside of McMurdo. She's also used for a variety of fuelie tasks in town since her pump is reversible (unlike the Fule Mule's - our in town truck - which can only discharge fuel.) Our first task was to drive out to the Pegasus runway, which on Scharen is about a 45 minute drive from town in good conditions like we were experiencing. Had a blast learning how to drive the delta, although it's controls are very similar to a regular car's, it does take some getting used to. The floorboard is about 5 or 6 feet off the groun, it bends in the middle for steering (so you can smash the sides into things when it's not moving if you're not careful,) and it's BIG. Even though the delta is so huge and heavy (roughly 25 tons with an empty tank,) it can turn sharper than most regular cars I've driven since it bends in the middle to steer.
Anyways, Matt and I drove around filling various tanks around Pegasus Field, the Ice Runway, and a D8 Bulldozer out near Scott Base until about an hour and a half after we were supposed to stop working (had more to do than usual.) Had a bunch of fun, and we came up with a plan to put a CD player and stereo in the Delta - going to run the idea past my boss and see what he thinks about it.
That's all for now, I'm driving the Fule Mule today and need to get back to it since my lunch break is nearly over. Will try to get some Scharen Action Shots posted on here later.
posted 11/15/2005 09:21:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time
Nothing much new
Today seemed kind of laid back as it was happening, but in hindsight we got a lot of stuff done. Guess that's what efficiency is all about :) Moved a whole bunch (in the hundreds of thousands of gallons) of fuel between two of our bulk storage tanks, drained the line between the two of them when that was done, and filled up the Ice Runway tanks while the bulk transfer was going on. Of course, those are each pretty big tasks and there were several of us working on them at the same time, it wasn't just me singlehandedly setting valves, dipping tanks, and running the big electric pump! Which brings up some interesting little bits of info about how we do things down here, like how do we tell how much fuel is in one of these big tanks?
Unlike the fuel tank in a car or even an airplane, the tanks we use don't typically have a gauge that tells how much fuel is in them. We do have a few smaller tanks that do have gauges, but those are horribly inconsistent due to the harsh environment down here and generally bad design of these particular gauges (unfortunately, the fuels department doesn't get to choose exactly what tanks get purchased for some uses - these are a shining example of why that's not so good.) So, what do we use then? A dip tape! A dip tape is a pretty simple device, and is the most reliable and efficient way to measure fuel down here. In principle, they work a lot like the dipstick that you use to measure oil in a car engine, but instead of being a stick, it's a roll of thin metal with graduations on it (just like on a regular measuring tape.) Attached to the end of the metal band is a bob (some of these have a thermometer that we need to use when measuring large quantities of fuel) to make the tape sink down to the bottom of the tank. To use a dip tape, you climb up to the top of the tank and unroll the dip tape down into a port on the top of the tank. When you feel the bob touch bottom (very very gently! If you let too much tape out, you'll get an inaccurate reading,) you stop reeling it out and start reeling in the tape. If there's any fuel in the tank, part of the tape will be wet with it when you reel in the tape. You can then just look at the line of fuel and read the numbers on the tape to know how deep the fuel is in the tank. If you need to know how many gallons of fuel are in the tank, you compare the depth of the fuel with a chart that's made for that particular tank to get the number of gallons of fuel you're working with. It's a nifty little system that takes a bit of practice, but once you've got it down it's no problem to figure out how much fuel you're dealing with whether it's a 200 gallon tank or a 2.2 million gallon one!
Finally, I was just goofing around looking through some of the shared pictures folder down here and ran across a picture of some fuel drums about to get airdropped out of the back of an LC-130 over the WAIS (West Antarctic Ice Sheet) fieldcamp site - there's nothing there yet but snow and things that got tossed out the back of this plane. The drums are strapped in groups of 4 onto pallets cushioned with several inches of corrugated cardboard padding stuff, then a parachute (in the green bags you can see on top) is strapped on top. The plane flies over the site, the drums get shoved off the back, and if all goes well they land unbroken on the snow ready for people like my friend Trevor to show up and help get the camp up and running. Trevor's been waiting to get down to WAIS for over a month now, but nobody's managed to get a good enough weather window to fly from McMurdo and land on the ground (in an LC130 - C130 with giant skis and JATO bottles) at WAIS. If you look closely to the right of the red diamond sticker, you can even see some of my lousy handwriting!
posted 11/13/2005 12:48:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time
Yesterday after posting on here, I ended up working on building a bamboo flag puller at the fuels barn. The problem is that we use hundreds of flags made of a bit of colored cloth tied to a bamboo pole to mark things on the ice around here. Sometimes we can plant flags just by shoving them into the snow, other times we have to use an auger to drill a hole to drop the flag into. After sitting in the snow/ice for a few weeks or months, the bamboo often freezes in and can be nearly impossible to pull out. So, what I'm building is basically a little thing that grips the bamboo mounted a third of the way up a long handle. This thing should give a person a bit of mechanical advantage allowing one person to pull up really hard on a flag and break it loose without having to pull really hard on the handle (mechanical advantage.) We'll see how it goes, I haven't seen anything comparable in use down here, so I guess there's a chance that there is a good reason why nobody has done it yet. Will post pictures when it's done.
And, just for a little bit of Antarctic trivia, here's what some flag colors mean:
Red/Green: Used to mark roads or trails. The two colors are usually interchangeable except on a couple of the big roads around here where they are used to designate lanes.
Blue: Marks fuel related stuff - usually fuel line or hose.
Yellow: Pee flag - marks a place that it's okay to pee on the ground to keep things from getting nasty all over the place. You don't usually see these around town since we've got plumbing in most of the buildings, they tend to be more common in field camps and places far from buildings.
Black: Caution! Black flags are used to close off certain dangerous areas like crevasses, closed roads, high power antennas (we've got some antennas - well away from town - that will fry your brain if you get too close,) or similar nasty stuff.
Flags are usually placed vertically standing alone in a line with other flags to mark routes. If there's a change in a route like a turn or end, you will often see two flags place diagonally forming an X. For instance, on the long fuel hoses that we lay (like the one to Willy Field that I've been working on) we have a single vertical flag every 50 feet along the hose (over 5 miles, that's a LOT of flags,) with two crossed flags marking connections (the hose is made up of many sections that average around 3-400 feet each connected together,) and three flags (two crossed and one vertical) marking the border between two reels (average length of a reel is about 1,800 feet) of hose.
posted 11/12/2005 12:29:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time
Today we've got some more funky weather. Woke up to a couple inches of new snow, thankfully without too much wind or really cold temperatures. Most of the day so far has been a little windy with low visibility, so we've been taking care of little tasks in the barn. That's all for now.
posted 11/10/2005 08:45:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time
The last few days have mostly centered around laying the hose to Williams (willy) field, with some fuel transfers thrown in for good measure. Tuesday was a bit different in that pretty much nothing went smoothly. First, our Pisten Bully wouldn't start, so we weren't able to lay much hose. We tried improvising and running hose without a mobile bully, but soon discovered that one of the hose reels was jammed. Managed to get that straightened out with the help of a big prybar, then headed off for lunch. Got back from lunch expecting to find one of our mechanics fixing the bully, but before we even got there, we found a truck without a driver apparently stuck off the road. As we were investigating this truck, we noticed that someone had unhooked our bulldozer from the hose reel trailer and was driving it towards the pickup. It was soon apparent that either the driver of the dozer wasn't very good at it or the dozer was having some mechanical problems. We ran down the bulldozer, and found out that the driver was our mechanic, who had driven out thinking that he could use our tracks as a road to get to the pisten bully and had gotten himself stuck. It was also revealed that the dozer did in fact have a bit of a personality, so we had our operator drive it to the mechanic's truck, tie up, and drag the truck cross country over to where the pisten bully was stuck. We opened up the pisten bully (neat process - will post pics at some point) and used a Herman Nelson ("15 gallon gas tank that you can light the top of") to heat up the engine. It was a particularly cold and windy day, so the pisten bully's builtin heater wasn't up to keeping the engine at starting temp, so once we warmed it up a bit it started right up. Now that we had all our mechanical problems sorted out, the mechanic's truck was drug back to the road and we tried in vain to lay hose. To add insult to injury, the base radio unit at the fuels control center was down, so we weren't able to do anything anyhow! All in all, about 10 new feet of hose made it on the ground and we were able to plant one marker flag...
Wednesday, we had much more success and spent all day efficiently laying hose down. Some small changes were made to our arrangement, so we ended up unrolling 4 full reels of hose (on the order of 2,000 feet each) to land about 35-40 feet short of our destination. We had a nice lunch out at willy field rather than driving all the way back to McMurdo for lunch, which was a nice experience. On the way back to the barn at the end of the day, I was really looking forward to getting home, changing into some clean, dry clothes, and eating some food though. To my complete surprise I got to the barn and Bodie said I would have to stay later to prepare to go to a fuel cache and take samples tomorrow! yay! Helicopter ride for Ian!!!
Thursday - today - has been a blast! Took care of some small last minute stuff this morning, then headed down to the helopad to catch my bird out to the Darwin Glacier, which is pretty much the farthest out point that helicopters go from McMurdo. We were going out there to take samples from a fuel cache in order to verify that the fuel contained in the barrels was still usable and in good condition. Also, since the cache had likely drifted over, we needed to dig the drums out of the snow and place them back on the surface so that they could be used when needed. These caches are placed in several strategic locations around the continent to allow helicopters or ski planes to stop out in the field and get fuel in case they are forced down or are out on an extended trip for some reason. They each get inspected once a year, and I was lucky enough to be doing one of the inspections this year!
I was going with five other people; the pilot, the helitech, Jodie (one of the other fuelies,) and two guys out on a 'boondoggle.' Boondoggles are pretty much the only way that people get to go off base if they work a 'town job' and are a very special treat. Basically what happens is a few extra people are sometimes needed to head out to field camps or whatever to help out with basic tasks. Rather than having a special labor pool for those tasks, seats are handed out to each department to pass down to people who win a break from their normal jobs. Our two helpers usually work for the supply department and the utilities department, and were coming along to help Jodie and I with excavating the drums and any other tasks that we would need to accomplish in the field.
We each had our bags, tools, and bodies put on a scale to help figure out how much fuel to take, then we were given a quick briefing on flying in a helicopter (this one was a Bell 212,) fitted for flight helmets, etc. Once the chopper was ready, we were lead out onto the pad and boarded the helicopter. Takeoff took a few minutes as the helicopter needed a little time to warm up (which is usual for the first flight of the day,) but soon we were in the air and headed out towards the distant mountains that you may have seen in some of my pictures here! About an hour (and loads of amazing scenery) later, we touched down on what appeared to be nothing but a big snowfield with a few tattered blue flags sticking out in a rectangle. After a bit of digging, we struck gold! We struck orange actually, but in any case we found one of the drums. With a little more exploratory digging, we had figured out where the edges of the cache were and uncovered each of the 30 drums that it was comprised of. Fortunatly, the drums hadn't "iced in," so we only had to uncover the top half of them and were able to use the helicopter to pluck them out of the hole and put them down on the surface a short distance away. The plucking process was 45 minutes of incredible flying that was really neat to watch, and a little chilly too. Once the chopper was done moving drums, the pilot landed and shut it down and we set to work taking notes (Jodie,) drawing samples (me,) and rearranging the drums (the helitech and boondogglers.) The old flags were planted back around the refurbished cache, we loaded up, and we were soon back in the air! The flight back to McMurdo was really cool, but I was rather tired and the rhythmic noises of the rotor put me to sleep for part of the ride. We got back to town about 6pm, took our tools and samples back to the fuels barn, then headed off to dinner and the 'net!
|Pics Tim took:|
posted 11/06/2005 01:32:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time
After working on the willy hose on Saturday, I got changed into some normal clothes, ate, then visited with friends at the cafe learning how to play cribbage. Neat little game - think I'm starting to get the hang of it! Spent some time doing laundry and cleaning up the room a bit. Think I'm going to scrounge around for some wood to build some furniture to get more storage space sometime.
So far this Sunday I've slept in, eaten a nice waffle breakfast, read some in my new book "The Dancing Wu-Li Masters" (it's about quantum physics - not crazy dancing guys,) and spent some time on the computer as is usual when these posts get posted. Did get a couple pictures added here:
|Working with reels of hose on a Challenger trailer||Jody and John goofing around by the "golf ball" (a radar installation above town) - those buildings are McMurdo|
posted 11/04/2005 12:09:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time
Tuesday was another nice weather day where I worked on laying the willy field hose. We got several hundred feet of hose on the ground, tested, and packed with fuel including running it through two bridges (so that equipment can cross the hose,) down a steep hill (but not too steep for the pisten bully!,) and a pair of valves (that let us isolate sections of the line and drain it out when it comes time to roll it back up next spring.) Had a good time working on that project and got a lot of stuff done too!
Wednesday the weather out was pretty bad, so we were going to take care of tasks around town instead of trying to go lay hose with stiff winds and very low visibility. The ice runway was closed too, so there were many more available fuelies than jobs. I was originally going to go out on the "fuel mule" to help out with fueling things around town, but was feeling the beginnings of a cold, so I talked to my supervisor, Bodie, who just told me to go home and rest rather than hanging around doing small stuff in the barn all day. Went back to the dorm, took a nap, read a bit, and was generally lazy.
Thursday the weather in town was iffy, but we headed out to the ice shelf (basically sea ice that doesn't get melted off annually, so it's really thick) to see what it looked like out there in case it was clear enough to continue on the project. Unfortunately, it was near whiteout conditions out on the ice, so we weren't able to do anything and turned around to head back to the fuels barn. Spent the evening working on various tasks including making some handles for the hundreds of files (of the metal cutting variety) we have around the shop without them, did some fuel deliveries with the Fuel Mule, and helped out with several other small projects. Nice day, and I'm feeling a lot better than Wednesday after a nice rest.
Friday - that's today! So far I've helped out with an ice runway transfer including a bunch of shoveling out the line after our wind the last few days. Just about to head out to the ice shelf to continue on with the hose lay project, will post more later!