posted 2/22/2006 07:27:00 PM UTC+12, McMurdo Local Time
The last week has mostly blended together into one long stretch of working and going away parties. Nothing too remarkable happened at work; basically the usual town crew tasks, a little post-boat cleanup stuff, and a bit of preparation for the end of the season. Our two winterover fuelies, Jennifer and Eric, have arrived (actually about two weeks ago, but think I forgot to mention that here,) which has added some fun new conversation and fresh humor to the crew. Matt and Wendy have left for New Zealand, which is kind of a bummer, but it definitely did help me realize just how close the end of the season is getting! There was a fair amount of speculation and anticipation going around last week regarding when the weather at pole would turn cold and keep the LC-130s from flying - and starting the pole winter season. The last pole flight finally left Willy field for Pole early yesterday (Tuesday) morning and returned later in the day, so we've shifted into high gear closing down the airfield end of fuels. The pole closing has pretty much set the date of the last flight out of McMurdo to February 28th, although it's sounding increasingly like that date's going to be moved uop to the 27th. So, if all goes as it's sounding like it will, I might be spending Monday evening at the Dux De Lux in Christchurch!
This week has been pretty busy so far. I've been a little under the weather with general exhaustion and a lingering throat bug that hasn't been bad, but not too fun either. Didn't end up staying up to watch the first sunset Sunday night, probably a good thing! The sun has actually been setting behind some of the bigger mountains for several days anyhow, which looks much the same.
Spent the better part of Monday getting two Challenger trailers (think semi trailers, but with rubber tracks instead of wheels) loaded up with four reels and bases on each. Basically the same process as what Matt and I went through to get the reels loaded up for laying out the Willy hose, except this time we loaded empty reels and installed electric drive motors on some of the bases for rolling up the hose. We had a forklift and operator on loan to do the lifting, then Brian, Chris, and I gathered up a whole bunch of chains and binders to secure the bases to the trailers. Fun stuff! In the evening I started gathering up parts for a new tool that Bodie waned me to build for the Willy hose rollup.
Yesterday (Tuesday) mostly went towards the hose roller project - it's basically a big roller mounted on a pedestal that's attached to a wooden pallet. The idea is that this device will allow us to drag a mostly empty hose across something with a slightly higher elevation than the surrounding snowfield to consolidate any remaining fuel all into one end where it's easier to drain out. I built the roller out of a plastic hose spool that's about 18" wide, made a flange from some scrap plate steel, and an axle from extra steel pipe we had lying around. Reinforced the spool with strategically located screws and plywood, and David helped by building the base with an old pallet and some scrap lumber. It's pretty neat what you can build with an industrial camp's waste stuff at your fingertips! Tuesday evening was my friend Hilary's birthday, and a bunch of people's last day at work (including hers,) so of course we all ended up at Gallagher's socializing as has been usual for the last week or two. What was unusual was that this time my friend Mike found a gingerbread house kit, so a few of us ended up building a gingerbread house in the bar - quite a funny experience! Unfortunately nobody involved had a camera, so you guys will just have to take my word for it :/.
Today we pigged the Willy hose, started rolling it up, then some of us got started with breaking down the Willy fuel pits. There are only two LC130s left on the continent and they will be leaving for the season tomorrow morning, so we won't be fueling any more planes out at Willy until well into the next Summer season here! The pigging operation - where we shoot a foam bullet through the hose with a gigantic air compressor - went super smoothly and apparently left us with a very dry line (good thing.) My job was to drive the chaser vehicle (the Pisten Bully) and try to keep up with the pig so that we would know where it was and be able to keep track of how the operation was going. Fun stuff! In case you haven't been following along for the last few months, Pisten Bullys are one of my favorite vehicles down here - they're nifty tracked vehicles that are intended to be used for things like grooming ski trails, but end up getting used as versatile utility vehicles when it's necessary to drive over completely ungroomed or mushy surfaces. Managed to keep up with the pig all the way to the 48th connection on the hose (out of roughly 60,) which is a lot farther than we usually manage to keep up ;) You can tell where the pig (the foam rubber bullet) is because it gets momentarially stuck in each connection before the compressor builds up enough pressure to squeeze it through. When the pig pops through a connection, the hose in that area recoils, or on occasion even jumps several feet into the air! Today it didn't go airborne, but it was pretty impressive to see some of the connections violently wiggling around on the ground for a second as the ~150psi air forced a bunch of fuel and foam rubber to move around really quickly! The drive was fun, a neat blend of making up a strategy on the fly and spending as much time focused on the hose as possible while still driving in a sane manner over sometimes rough snow. We were done with the pigging by lunchtime, and from what we can tell at this point, we did an exceptionally good job overall and there is very very little fuel left in the hose. Sometimes things don't go so well and the pig disentegrates or doesn't always make a good seal so some fuel gets left in the hose, which is a pain during the rolling process. After lunch I helped get things setup for the hose rolling, then went out to the fuel pits to start taking them apart for the winter. By the time we quit, the hose reeling crew had gotten two full reels of hose done and had only draned a gallon or two of fuel out of the ~1 mile of hose involved - other times that would be more on the order of a couple hundred gallons!
Tomorrow I'm not sure exactly what I'll end up doing - I'm not on one of the hose rolling crews, so it could be anything between working in the lab or working on breaking down the pits, we'll see!