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Mike Kelley

Profile Updated: November 8, 2019
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Residing In:
Lincoln, CA USA
Occupation:
Mike Kelley - Alyeska's Public Enemy #1: "Vocal IBEW supporter and connected with organizing activity"(K. Carr 5/22/91 to James B. Hermiller during Alyeska Covert Operations)
Yes! Attending Reunion
Work at Alyeska:

Alyeska direct, 1979 to 1990, contractor 1990 to 1993. Valdez, PS#1 SCADA and in between.

Alyeska Story:

Pipeline Stories
WRITINGS FROM ALASKA SERIES II
S. Pam MaGee
~ Chinook Journal ~

Once upon a time, Alaska had nothing but land valued at 2-cents an acre. We still have nothing, and missing a lot of oil. That’s because of the dipstick. Yes indeed, a pipeline won out over several other possibilities to transport crude oil from the North Slope of Alaska to the lower 48 states. The pipeline was the most controversial method of choice. Some said it couldn’t be done. That was 40 years ago! Some say it still can’t be done. Now the intellectual losers that still believe it was impossible to weld pieces of pipe together for 800-miles in the wilds of the wilds, well it was the same people that believed in radical means of getting the much needed commodity to markets. They had special interests. Take for instance, modified 747-jets with super-sized wings for transporting crude oil. Or crude oil submarines that could - supposedly - safely navigate the ice-covered waters of the Bearing Sea and Chuchi Sea and Whatever Name Sea. Or how about ice-breaking tankers? Those that could make mince meat out of age-old glacier ice. Now the ice-breaking tanker was attempted as an exercise in futility that ended up an embarrassment. One outfit modified the heck out of an old tanker, a decrepit rust bucket that was destined to be mothballed. When it sailed off from the boat-yard, it looked like a ship with a beak! Would have made a great Green Peace boat. During its maiden voyage to the Arctic Ocean, it was assisted by the Navy’s bravest ice-breakers – hi-tech marvels of marine architecture. Guess who got stuck? Anyway, there where exhaustive stories that followed the construction era of the pipeline. There are many untold stories of interest that follows the operation of the pipeline – by now just shy of 30-years in the making. So comes the time for those stories, documenting the trials and tribulations of the men and women who braved an insane world to make believers out of those that said it couldn’t be done time after time after time. Then some!
In celebration of 30 years since the first pipe hit the ditch!

30 ALASKAN PIPELINE STORIES

1) Go Tell It On the Mountain
2) Pig Out
3) Got Ya Ears On?
4) Asleep at the …
5) Crash Harvey
6) Reese’s Cache
7) What Boss?
8) Trajectory of an Airborne Phone
9) DooDah Man
10) Million Dollar Johns
11) Incoming
12) Mr. Green Jeans
13) Pipeline Wives Club
14) Brown Trout and the Mound’s Bar Theory
15) Key Hole Smith
16) Wonder’s Worriers
17) Chlorine Coca-Cola, Aye Carumba!
18) Pipeline Re-route 101
19) Grey Poupon
20) A True Memorial
21) Wild Ride Westerhide
22) Pump Station 8
23) Dummy Brigade
24) Aunt Ruth
25) Egg’m On
26) Barney Fife of Anutuvik Pass
27) Fallen Worrier
28) One Pill Makes You…
29) Mad Mac & Geronimo’s Cadillac
30) North Slope Beauty



~ Go Tell It On the Mountain ~
From the Chinook Journal of S. Pam MaGee

I was working the projects group. This position was probably the best of the best of jobs. Let’s face it, the pipeline worker’s motto, “The Best of the Best”, was a sentiment that rattled up and down the entire 800-mile pipeline. We were good at what we did. Now this particular position, it meant a whole lot of freedom. It meant if the job was complete, a hightailing from places unknown to places known about became the priority. Fairbanks remained our rendezvous point and home away from home. Now Fairbanks never got over the hangover from pipeline construction days. So when work turned to play, it meant time for a few “yards” of beer. That was the advantage with this job over working a steady job out at one of the pumping stations. I had done that routine for just too many years. The only bad thing about the projects group, there was no set schedule. If manpower was needed for emergencies, we were on the way. It meant the possibility of postponing a trip home to Anchorage, even if one was cleaned up and boarding a plane south. This one particular day, that indeed happened. I had a crew of electrical and instrument guys who knew their stuff. We would go up and down the pipeline fixing things that were not part of the station equipment, like remote gate valves. These 48-inch valves are designed to control the head pressure of accumulated oil after it rushes down the pipeline through various mountain passes. If a valve fails when it is supposed to go closed, it can pop the pipeline out of the ground! Just like a big zit. It means oil spill time. Anyway, after we had just completed a job at Pump Station 10 in Isabel Pass, we were all cleaned up and waiting for the call to board a plane heading to Anchorage – for at least a weekend off. But the other call came in. So dedicated as we were, we abandoned our attempt to go home and went north instead. It was towards Anatuvik Pass we were headed. The remote gate valves in the area of the Brooks Range had been causing some nervousness, so in efforts to protect the pipeline, the company had stationed an around the clock caretaker operator. Remember, money is no object to the operation of this beast. It makes a whole lot of money. Now these valves are out in the middle of nowhere land. No hotels, no camps, nothing. And to make matters worse, off a road that doesn’t meet any definition of drivability, unless you are a seasoned semi-truck driver. A nut is a better description. These sites, being temporarily manned, consisted of an ATCO trailer with a generator and a mobile radio. As far as food, these guys were catered too by the security helicopter. Basically, they received the same food fare as the pump station crews – good stuff. Anyway, there had been a report that this one particular site we were directed to go was having a higher then normal use of diesel fuel to run the generator. Now the ATCO had a heater, lights and a small refrigerator. Not to forget the propane John. That is it. So we headed north to check to see if maybe the generator was malfunctioning. Hey, run out of fuel in the dead of wintertime, it may mean a dead worker! As we approached the valley that would take us into the pass, we could hear something that caught our attention. There is nothing out here except wildlife. And about the only living thing that makes noise, is that of the Raven. Anyway, it sounded like music. I slowed the truck down to a standstill. Sure enough, it was music, loud music at that. It sounded like an outdoor concert was playing out. But in Anatuvik Pass? No way. As we approached the exit off the road to the one-man camp, the music was getting louder and louder. In fact, it could be heard loud and clear, even with the truck’s windows closed. When we finally exited the main road, there on a makeshift porch of the ATCO one-man camp was a one-man concert. I think the decibel level was causing an early migration, as nearby caribou could be seen scrambling about. Well there stood this guy named Johnny, wailing away on a Fender Stratocaster. And to make his picking noticeable, giant speakers lined the entire side of the 40-foot trailer. This was major good, good, good, good vibrations! The tune was familiar, Jimi Hendrix’s Voodoo Child. Johnny was so into the after work rock out, he didn’t even notice our presence. We didn’t even have to get out of the truck to realize just why the fuel usage around here was questionable. In fact, every so often the lights would dim when the speakers hit overdrive. And these were not no rink dink Sears type generators. I think it was a Cummins! So what to do? I called my boss. Told him of the dilemma. At first he told us to shut it down. Then I told him who the guy was. That meant a completely different story. My boss was a good friend with this guy’s dad. They both served in Vietnam. So the next day, a flatbed truck with a larger fuel tank would be dispatched from Fairbanks. Hey, music was this operator’s only entertainment. And like I said before, who really cared about the money aspect. It was hard to find people who would be comfortable just sitting around all day watching a valve. So it was OK to give this guy a little extra special attention. We headed back to Fairbanks, had a few beers and caught the next plane south. Another job completed! It felt good to give this guy a break. But that was how business was handled on the pipeline. People cared!

CopyRight 2005/MSK Media
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~ Pig Out ~
From the Chinook Journal of S. Pam MaGee

It was the holidays. Some us had to work. And work meant being some 800-miles away from home. Pumping crude oil doesn’t take a break! Now normally, come a day like Thanksgiving or Christmas and unless for an emergency critical situation, things are pretty quiet around the pump stations. Not true with the kitchen crew over at the camp. It was not unusual to have activities around the clock in preparation for yet another feast. They don’t employ cooks out here, just real “chefs”! This had been the norm for several years now. How come that saying, “that all good things must come to an end” holds so true? With some most recent management changes, we ended up getting a district manager that thought we were all a bunch of lazy high paid cry-babies. He soon acquired the nickname, “His Majesty’s Lard Ass”. Sure we made good money. And working a holiday meant triple time wages. That included an inflated wage for the day before and the day after. And sure we complained when in efforts to save money the head nutritional intuitionalist - a townie - switched to cheaper hotdogs. But who wants to knowingly eat rat hair? So one Thanksgiving morning, when in fact everybody was about to have a slow day, this new manager initiates a work order to send a pig through the pipeline. Of course, he did it from the comfort of his home way back in Anchorage. He was at home with his family! Pigs are used to clean the wax off of the pipeline’s inner walls. It has to do with efficiency. The more wax buildup, the more horsepower it takes to pump a given amount of oil over the mountain peaks to Valdez. Now this isn’t a big deal - launching a pig - just a messy ordeal. We got too thinking. What if we didn’t send a pig? According to our local engineer, there was no immediate need for such a gyration as his calculations indicated that the efficiency standards were being surpassed. So what if we could fake the launch switch to think a “pig out” was initiated. Hey, then we could go “pig out”. So over brewed coffee we brewed up the scheme. We talked to the electrician. Everybody was all for it. The pump station operator called the main pipeline controller in Valdez to inform that the station was ready to launch. The OK was given. We went through the motions of switching the appropriate 48-inch valves, then at the precise moment, the electrician shorted out the switch to send a launch signal to the computer that would send that signal all the way to Valdez. That is where the pipeline controllers would begin a timer that would in effect monitor the travel of the 4000-pound beast along the line. Pigs had a nickname, Alex - in honor of the pipeline’s superintendent. Alex was big. In fact he also had a nickname, “Two Chairs”. He was an alright guy, just don’t cross him. Now the plan would work only if it could be coordinated with the guys down the line. Pipeline workers stick together. See, there exists a pig launcher and a pig receiver at several of the pumping stations. The guy at the 4th station down the line would have to fake the “pig in” switch at the precise time. All went without a hitch. We didn’t even get our hands dirty. Hey, what they didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them. What we had accomplished with the pig “faking” was indeed due to our understanding of the operation and equipment. Now pigs are nothing to mess around with, as there exists some pretty good momentum behind that head of oil – at 1000-pounds of pressure. One time, the pig wasn’t sent to the receiver at the precise moment. Instead of being diverted, it ended up in the suction piping of the main pumps. It physically bent 1-inch cold rolled steel bars designed to prevent a pig from entering the system. When caught, these things are no match for the flowing oil and self-destruction is imminent. The strainers upstream of the pumps catch all the shrapnel and debris. So don’t mess with pigs and don’t mess with the workers – especially on a holiday! Right when we were heading to the chow hall to grab a piece of pie, we get another call to run another pig. From the same idiot sitting comfortably back at home. Supposedly, he didn’t see the results he was hoping for. Why? Everything was OK. That is why we employ engineers at each location. Guys that know pipeline dynamics. Our supervisor said that this jerk was behaving this way because he could not stand the thought that we were all sitting around watching football and “pigging” out. We were. Hey, even the drilling rig crews take a break on the holidays – unless an emergency. As we were pulled away from our duties - TV and pie - it pissed us off. So it was decided amongst a chosen few that we would just fake another pig launch. And as before, we went thorough the gyrations that simulated an actual launch. It was back to pie and football! Well come about midnight, all hell broke loose. The “ghost” pig did not show up at the 4th station down the pipeline. Damn, we forgot to call ahead about our plan of attack. Maybe too much food was to blame. Regardless, this was not good by any stretch of the imagination. The next day, which was supposed to be an extended holiday weekend for the townies, it was panic from Valdez to Prudhoe Bay. Oil spill reconnaissance was in effect. The command center in Anchorage was powered up, which meant all the high rollers of management – including the president – had adjourned away from the comfort of their homes. Something stuck in the pipeline can mean serious business, especially if it requires a bypass operation. Believe it or not, at one point, they honestly accused us of not putting a pig in the line. But like was said before, we stick together out here. When one of the line surveyors heard the rumor that we were suspects, he told the chief civil engineer that one of the check valves about 60-miles south indicated a stuck gate – like a blockage. It meant the “ghost” pig was stuck at that point in the pipeline. And like mentioned before, if a pig was stuck, it was in the self-destruct mode. We had nothing to sweat, as by now the belief all around was a “stuck” pig at that check-valve, which really wasn’t all that bad an ordeal. It has happened before when the clapper on the valve fails. Soon “His Majesty’s Lard Ass” shows up with “Fat Alex”. We need more chairs! Being in the clear, we couldn’t help not laughing. So after about two days of panic, it was written off as a destroyed pig. The only other problem we had to contend with? The inventory showed one too many pigs! How in hell were we going to get rid of a “hog” out here on the tundra? No problem, as one guy needed a flowerpot for his cabin outside of Fairbanks. It was a done deal. Hey, we own the roads up here. Nobody questions what really goes on up and down this pipeline – just to remote. And remember, we feed the regulators! By the beginning of the week, which was the end of our workweek, we were heading home, delayed a day because of the “missing” pig. It meant free booze on the company. And what a paycheck for our shenanigans! We never had to worry about launching another holiday pig, unless it was a scheduled event. And Lard Ass found it difficult to talk his way out of why he initiated the work order in the first place. When he admitted to the president that he felt the workers were not very productive, a phone went flying across the room at the command center. See that was the company president’s indication that he was pissed off. The president made it clear and convincing that he didn’t give a rat’s ass if the crews sat around for ever, as long as they were running when the shit hits the fan! As long as throughput met the daily target, they were doing the job they were paid for. Managers learn early on that their survival depends on us. They learn early on to respect us. And we don’t need a union!

CopyRight 2005/MSK Media
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~ Got Ya Ears On? ~
From the Chinook Journal of S. Pam MaGee

Ely was a proud individual. Proud to be part of the Trans-Alaska-Pipeline efforts that allowed lifting in the neighborhood of 2-million barrels a day of crude oil - safely that is. This of course, before Hazlewood wrecked his boat on Bligh’s Reef. Anyway, Ely was in charge of operating the vapor recovery system at the Valdez marine terminal. This was the beast that consisted of three odd looking chimneys and a bunch of pipes chaotically crisscrossing one another around massive support beams – a monster of an erection. Vapor recovery was a fancy name for an incinerator. The engineers called it a thermal oxidizer. They used to get into arguments with each other over the differences between combustion versus oxidation. With words like exothermic and endothermic reactions thrown in to confuse everyone not listening. Hey, fire is fire. The system was supposed to annihilate unburned hydrocarbon gases that were sucked off of the giant 550,000-barrel crude oil storage tanks. That’s a tank that is 60-feet high and 250-feet in diameter. It is a big tank. There were 18 tanks. It meant about 9-million barrels of crude oil stored at any given time. Enough to make about 650-million gallons of motor fuel. Now these tanks are not very rigid, so maintaining the proper internal pressure was part of Ely’s job. Any imbalance could cause a tank to collapse in seconds. And the worst-case scenario would be a collapsing tank’s contents catching on fire. And crude oil likes to burn. But even fire didn’t scare us operators. We had these systems that could blast a bunch of fire retardant into the tanks at the wink of an eye. It had to be designed this way, as there was a city of people across the bay. Anyway, one morning just after the workday commenced, we were sitting around drinking coffee and catching up on the fishing stories. Most of us had just finished our week of R&R, so it was back to work for 7 days, for 12-hours a day. The crew that we replaced had installed a CB radio in the break room office where Ely hangs out. It was pretty interesting listening to the truck traffic, especially the semi-trucks roaring down through Thompson’s Pass. It is an all down hill stretch for about 22-miles. And it was the time of year when “black” ice starts to show up. Then the fishing story chatter quieted down, as everybody was tuned to the radio wave gossip. Some gal, who went by the call name “Sweater Girl”, was talking up an erotic storm. And then she invited one lonely trucker over for coffee, donuts and you know what. Now the crew didn’t seem to be amused over this as would be the norm – all guys. Then some buzzer like alarm grabbed Ely’s attention and he quickly vacated the break room towards the control room. Like I said, he was a real good operator. Then Brian informed us that “Sweater Girl” was Ely’s wife. So here was Ely at work and his wife was 10-Whoring truck drivers! Well Ely didn’t seem to be all that upset over the fact that this truck driver may have just gotten a quickie off of his wife, while he was busy at work! Well paybacks are interesting. And to make matters worse, the guy that just visited Sweater Girl was heading towards the terminal with a load of dog food. Purina is used in the STP plant to generate bugs that eats human wastes. And Ely had the job of unloading the stuff. In about an hour, the truck pulls up to be unloaded. Everybody made it a point to get back to the office, for the fireworks. The trucker walks in. Right off the bat, he starts talking about “Sweater Girl. He drew a southern accent and told everybody that it was his first trip up to Alaska, and it was going to be one to remember. In fact, he started pushing his weight around and asked how long it was going to be before the freight was unloaded, as he had a return date back up the pass. Guess with who? Up to this point, Ely was really cool. He told the guy to relax, have some coffee, take a nap. When Ely said nap, the guy thought that was not a bad idea, mentioning something to the effect that he needed rest, something about Alaskan woman keep on humping. Ely was up to something. Off to the side of the main control room office was an ATCO trailer that was used for projects. There was a bed towards the back room. Ely told the trucker about it and in no time, this guy was into z-land. Then one of the security cameras caught what Ely was up too. He was coaxing a black bear towards the trailer, and sure enough, once he had lured the beast inside by throwing a sandwich through the open door, he ran up and barricaded the door. The bear was now stuck inside with the truck driver. What a commotion. Ely let this go on for a few minutes, then opened the door. The bear came running out first. Then nothing. We thought maybe the guy was dead. But he was to embarrassed to exit, as he had pissed his pants. He walked like a guy that had one too many bronco busting rides. And to even it off, Ely had thrown bear shit into the guys boots. Mr. Trucker realized he hadn’t made any friends around here and quickly hightailed it north. Ely didn’t have to worry about this guy having a return affair with “Sweater Girl”. In fact and to our surprise, Ely called his wife and told her what had happened. I guess this was not unusual for Ely, his wife’s sideline business. And Ely finished his conversation by sending a kiss and telling “Sweater Girl” he loved her. Life on the pipeline I guess.

CopyRight 2005/MSK Media
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~ Asleep at the… ~
From the Chinook Journal of S. Pam MaGee

The workers housed in the camps at the pumping stations along the pipeline enjoy first class accommodations, unless one was a contractor. There existed a definite class system. But everybody worked together in a team spirit mentality. There really wasn’t a class system when it came to the nuts and bolts of the operation – keeping the 800-mile long beast running 365 days a year around the clock. But the camps were a little different. The management saw to it. Why? It was anybodies guess. Some say it had to do with one’s religion. There was a pipeline superintendent who carried around a bible. In fact when a technician went into a review board meeting - for a pay raise - questions of religious affiliation were sure to enter into the picture. Anyway, the direct hires - the elitists - these high paid workers enjoyed single status room accommodations, it meant you could sit around naked after wearing fireproof coveralls all day. The atmospheres inside the pumping stations are hazardous, so the company provides fireproof NOMEX coveralls. Basically it is just a convenient body bag should an accident occur. Fires burn quick and fast when crude oil gets loose. Now along with one’s own room, a shared bathroom was common. None of those cafeteria style latrines. Anyway, I shared a bathroom with a guy named Joe. Even though he was on in age, not to be messed with. Joe looked like your typical marine drill sergeant. He was at one time, and had many tours of Vietnam. Maybe one too many! I would hear Joe at night, when he should have been getting a good nights sleep, engaged in battle - flashbacks. On many mornings when he showed up for work, it looked like it was an all night battle. Everybody was aware of Joe’s nightmares. One morning I woke to relieve myself and found Joe sound asleep on the stool. Didn’t want to bother the poor guy, so I pissed out the window. For years, nobody shared with Joe, for reasons. And his room was situated at the buildings end, so his flashback showdowns didn’t really bother another person’s sleeping habits. But I didn’t work directly for the pipeline, so I was the unfortunate individual, as it was required that I get single status accommodations. Joe showed up late for work this one particular morning. No big deal. Things are pretty routine and low keyed at a pumping station, since most of the activities are controlled some many miles away in Valdez. After lunch as I approached the outside entrance to the control room, I noticed a white like smoke billowing from the exhaust stack of gas turbine generator unit 1. These units are natural gas powered jet engines that produce massive amounts of thrust to turn a giant fan, which in turn powers a pump. Realizing something was wrong, I ran into the control room. Joe was on the floor and underneath the desk. He was yelling incoming. It was the sound from the vibration alarms that startled his imagination. What made matters worse off, the trip out circuits had been bypassed. So as Joe went for cover, the gas turbine blew its cover. It was totaled in no time, to shrapnel. Joe felt bad, but we all knew that the failed generator was nothing more then some minor loss in oil throughput. Big deal! This place rakes in millions each day! And contingency plans accepted worse case scenarios. So within minutes, the Herc C-130 in reserve from Anchorage was airborne with a crew of mechanics. In 6-hours, it was business as usual. And what can you say to an individual if the shutdown circuits were bypassed? The station manager wasn’t about to open a can of worms about the systems not working correctly. So nothing happened to Joe, business as usual. The crew felt sorry for Joe, he was probably a great marine. Still is, as he served his country beyond duty. May he rest in peace upon the Great Plains where the buffalo roams free!

CopyRight 2005/MSK Media
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~ Crash Harvey ~
From the Chinook Journal of S. Pam MaGee

The bad thing about working some 600-miles away from home? It meant a plane was the only way to get back and forth. So after a week away from the family, what wasn’t appreciated was bad weather. The management didn’t like bad weather and delays, as morale went downhill real fast. Sure the overtime was good, but we made good money to begin with, so the extra wasn’t all that exciting. Just more taxes! We just wanted to get home. And in Prudhoe Bay, along with all the other sites along the pipeline, weather rules. If its not fog, its blowing snow. The weather was bad more then good. Now some of the southern pump stations could use buses if necessary to get the crews changed out. But up in Prudhoe, it was just too dangerous an option. And the other bad thing about Prudhoe? The chartered plane outfit wasn’t allowed to land at the oil companies’ private runway. It was allowed to land only at the Dead Horse runway, a DOT facility. The minimums were higher at the state approved airport. So when an oil company’s plane was landing at the gravel runway just 5-miles from the paved runway, we were stuck. The company needed a solution. So that is where “Crash Harvey” came to the rescue. When the weather was below minimums, “Crash Harvey” would come out of semi-retirement and get the job done. It was interesting. He would ferry the plane north and run passes at the socked in runway. Then, he would declare a low fuel emergency and the controllers had no other option then to let the plane attempt a landing. It worked every time. Nobody really cared if the rules were bent a little bit up this far north. And it was just oil workers! When the plane would finally land, you could see the pilot’s red faced glow even before the engines shutdown. It was “Crash Harvey’s” trademark. What caused the red face was anybodies guess. We didn’t really care, just get us home. Now it wasn’t bad for the workers waiting to get out of Dodge, as anybody can take off with a plane. It is landing that is scary, especially when it takes a Red Barron like Harvey to get the job done. Now this one particular time when the plane came to a halt, about a dozen sick workers came running out. It was windy from Anchorage all the way to Prudhoe Bay, some 600-miles. Super turbulent was a better reading. So even though we were homeward bound after a 3-hour delay, we were ready. And another fringe benefit, if a delay lasted longer then 1-hour, it meant free booze on the company. We needed it, as it was tremendously bumpy flight. In fact, some of the other flights were already cancelled for this day. Maybe Harvey had met his match. Anyway, booze helped the misery. There was a tenderfoot member of the crew aboard this flight. She looked not so well. Dub called the attention of the sickly looking stewardess. He informed the new girl that Leon was sick. Now Leon was holding a “puck bag” as if he had just unloaded. What she didn’t know was the fact that the bag had already been loaded up with a can of chicken soup. From those little cans. We keep a lot of those cans around the stations, as backup provisions. She reached to retrieve the bag, and as she was about to take it away, Dub grabbed it, opened it up and guzzled the contents. This sent the stewardess AWOL to the plane’s rear galley. But soon enough, it was wheels down in Anchorage. With the booze, everybody would most likely forget about just how bad it truly was. Crash Harvey did his thing again. A true “Bush Rat” pilot he was. What really mattered, I was home with my family!

CopyRight 2005/MSK Media
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~ Reese’s Cache ~
From the Chinook Journal of S. Pam MaGee

For the most part, working at a pumping station is pretty slow work. Routine means hanging around the break-room. Every so often, we hit the deck pretty hard. Our job responsibility is to keep the oil flowing through the pipeline. Of course, we have other jobs that really aren’t part of our job statement but it comes with the territory. Like being a member of the fire brigade and the oil spill response team. The fire brigade, it is a joke. Should a fire break out where crude oil is available to stoke the storm, run. As far as the oil spill response, the pipeline company is required to have a set number of available workers to respond to a pipeline leak. Now that doesn’t mean available from a city like Fairbanks or Anchorage, it means available within 30-minutes. So that is why we have a full staff of workers at each pump station along the 800-mile long dipstick. The pipeline is actually controlled from Valdez. So we are just a bunch of baby-sitters. Every so often we have to play out the part of oil spill response workers. It sucks. It is a waste of time. Cleaning up oil is impossible. We know it, the regulators know it. But they make us practice anyway. At least it pays good! And what would normally be a 12-hour day can easily turn into a 16-hour day. The overtime makes it worth it. Plus one can’t complain about the scenery. When the call comes in that the controllers in Valdez have observed an anomaly, it basically means heading out in some type of vehicle to score the pipeline right-of-way. Oil spills are bad business. Even a little spilled oil is cause for concern. Take for instance oil from a broken oil pan. Not a problem unless it gets into a stream or river. And each vehicle is equipped with a diaper. This thing is placed under the engine when not in use, to catch oil. Now about the word “anomaly”! One guy was out doing recon one day. He high centered his truck in one of the river crossings. When he radioed in his predicament to the security office in Fairbanks, he just happened to mention that an oil “sheen” was observed dissipating in the flowing water surrounding his stuck truck. That was a no-no. See, everybody listens to the radio conversations, even the regulators. Before you know it, helicopters are flying above this guy. Oil spill reconnaissance teams were dispatched to the scene from north and south of his location. It became a big deal. Just for using the wrong word! He was given a class in radio etiquette. Anyway, this particular day we were out patrolling the pipeline. Now these drills can go on for hours. And as usual, about a few hours into the drill, we were hungry. Pipeline workers are always hungry! But nobody remembered to pack a stash of snacks. Not to worry said Frank. He put in a radio call to Reese. Now Reese operated the big cat. It was a monster of a contraption that was on tracks. It could go anywhere. It could go over anything. The main use was to rescue workers should they get stuck in bad weather. Anyway, contact was made and no sooner we were heading in a different direction. We all knew it was a drill, so our coordinates were faked when we communicated with the command center. They thought we were still going south, when in reality we were backtracking. We finally showed up to where Reese was hanging out. It was like a scene form the days of the old west. Reese’s machine was a chuck wagon. Hee ha! Evidently, he would head out and find a good place to set up camp. One that was sheltered from the wind and sheltered from the bosses. He didn’t give a rat’s ass about spilled oil. So his job was to pack up the tracked rig with all kinds of food. There was a bunch of other vehicles hanging around. So we knew that everybody else was also calling in fake coordinates. Reese had a barbeque going. You name it, Reese had it cooking. It meant a well planned raid on the camp’s supply pantry. From steak to chops to prime-rib. And of course camp coffee. A little heavy on the coffee grounds, but satisfying. Man everything but alcohol. Now we didn’t get to look out on the prairies for steers and cattle. Hey, around here it was looking out on the vast wilderness of tundra, caribou country. On this particular day, thousands could be seen just a stone’s throw away. And as everybody enjoyed the food, Reese was off wetting a line, hoping to cook up some fresh fish. Sure enough, he even knew where the good fishing spots were, for arctic grayling. Then the drill was called off. Hey we were just beginning with our fun. So after about an hour, we headed back to the station. When we arrived back at the camp, because of our delay, the chow line was purposely left open. Hey, we weren’t hungry. That was the sentiment from most of the crew that had come upon Reese’s chuck wagon. The camp cook said something to the effect it was either a bunch of sick guys or Reese was at it again. Come to find out, this had been going on for sometime now. Innocent fun. So now when we hear the call to respond, we all watch the direction Reese is heading towards. Must be where the oil spill is, or at least the action. Chuck wagon Alaskan style. On overtime! Try to top that Mr. Texan!

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~ What Boss? ~
From the Chinook Journal of S. Pam MaGee

It was my first trip north, to where the pipeline begins. I had been stationed in Valdez, where the big steel tankers take on loads of crude oil and then depart somewhere. Who knows where that stuff ends up? Anyway, there seemed to be a delay in our departure from the airport. Delays were not the typical, as this was a private charter. And I didn’t know any of the workers well enough to ask what the problem was. Then I heard a few guys discussing what to do. Seems the plane cannot depart until the station supervisor gives the go ahead. And the supervisor was nowhere to be found. Then a few guys huddled together and before you know it, they were vacating the concourse and flagging down several taxis, as each was going in a different direction. Where to? Still a mystery. Then about 30-minutes later, here comes a taxi, returning one of the guys who earlier vacated the concourse. Now along for the ride was another guy that looked drunk. In fact, past drunk and unconscious! Soon several of the workers went to the assistance of the man. He seemed to recognize the workers hanging about in efforts to help out. The guy, well he now sported an, “Oh shit” grin. Now one would think that this kind of behavior would not be tolerated. We really weren’t at work yet, but attempting to head that way. I was used to working at the Marine Terminal in Valdez, where a “UI” meant a trip to the unemployment line. Maybe the pipeline worked a little differently. The pipeline and Marine Terminal where separate, like two different companies all together. Well without further delay, the dead-weighted guy was man-handled on to the plane, and before you know it, we were airborne. He was the supervisor. His OK was required for the liftoff. Now when we arrived in Deadhorse, the same guys had to carry the unconscious dude off the plane. And when we arrived at the camp, same thing. I guess they just carried him to his room and threw him in the bed. Nobody mentioned anything unusual about this ordeal, like it was a common occurrence. This guy liked his booze. Some said he would go on week’s binge. Hey with a week on week off schedule, there’s enough time to get loaded and also accomplish a whole lot of things. But just booze? For the next four days, there was no supervisor present at the shift change. Wow, a five day sleep off so far! Then on the sixth day all hell broke loose. They called Carl, he was right there. Now this guy was good. He had a hairdo that could have used a comb, but there were more important things to think about then personal hygiene and he knew it. See, most of the time it is business as usual. Pumping oil is not that complicated. But some changes with the Prudhoe Bay oil field was causing the oil to separate, from too high a vapor pressure. Pumps were going crazy, as cavitation from gas bubbles unloaded the jet engine driven units. Now when the pumps aren’t happy, the entire football sized complex starts walking! Normally, the controllers in Valdez would just shut-in the pipeline, but shutting down the pumps wasn’t an options this time around. For a reason, as a collapsing oil column following even an orderly shutdown could prove to be dangerous in the “slack” line regions of the pipeline. That is where the oil’s velocity is almost zero. It starts at the top of the mountain peaks. The falling oil gains momentum when it travels downhill, unabated. What occurs in these regions is the formation of giant gas bubbles. Over time, the bubbles get to big and pieces break away. When these outlaws hit the downstream stations’ piping, it causes strange things. Now being the first station on the line heading south, we had the duty to minimize what was happening the rest of the 800-miles. So Carl did his thing. He quickly gained manual control of the pumps. He had one operator adjust the speed on one unit. He knew the particulars of each pump and with each system. He saved the day. Maybe the entire pipeline this time around. It was an all day affair. Finally when things calmed down, he asked what day it was? Good, tomorrow was going home day. He needed a drink! But for sure, he knew how to tame the beast, the pipeline that is. Hey, as far as the operators were concerned, he could sleep all day, as long as he showed when the shit hit the fan.

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~ Trajectory of an Airborne Phone ~
From the Chinook Journal of S. Pam MaGee

Oil spill preparedness drills are part of the everyday workouts up and down the pipeline. Every worker has a designated job function during a spill drill. Some of these drills can last an entire 12-hour day. It means mobilizing equipment and heading out convoy style to head off an environmental nightmare. When a call comes in, the reconnaissance teams head out to perform a visual along the 800-mile pipeline. We have 3 and 4-wheeled vehicles to cover the path of the pipeline. We have track rigs, the kind used to rescue skiers. You name it, the pipeline has it at its disposal. Even a few helicopters on standby. Some equipped with infrared sensors to pick up heat loss from a crude oil leak. Now oil spill drills are kept secret. Nobody really knows when one will occur. And the authorities don’t wait for good weather to make the call. Now this one particular time, an imbalance in the pipeline flow caused the pipeline controllers to issue a reconnaissance check. Any suspected failure involves the entire length of the pipeline, it involves the entire workforce. In Anchorage, a hi-tech command center comes alive. With the recon request, we didn’t know if it was a drill or the real thing. As the first responder teams headed out, we mobilized the heavy equipment. There were enough construction rigs to build a town involved in a drill. The word came to head north to a rendezvous point up on Thompson’s Pass. From here, the heavy equipment could respond in either direction. This kind of mobilization was occurring up and down the line. After a few hours, the recon teams still had not come across a pipeline leak. How this was done for a drill was to place a large spread of “black” plastic to appear as if a crude oil leak had tortured the ground. It was easy to locate in the wintertime. A little more difficult with the green scene. We would be graded on the response time to find the leak and the time to get the appropriate equipment on the site and begin capture and clean-up. Now some mandatory drills must cover both shifts. So the authorities use oranges - as a simulator - to see how well the crews can retrieve waterborne runaway crude oil. Cases of oranges are let go in the rivers upstream of the fake leaking pipe and the clean-up crews must boom the rivers to capture the oranges. Oranges that get free cause the score to go low. If a score is too low, the drill is failed and a follow up must be arranged. Oil spill drills are time intensive. Rigs get stuck. People get stuck. This is wilderness we’re talking about up here in Alaska. The Scout motto rings so true, “Be prepared”. There was one particular time when an on-scene oil spill manager was upset that the crews had not retrieved enough oranges. It was a windy and cold day, which made the booming operation tough. So he directed the crews to go downstream and retrieve shore-side oranges to make it look like the booming process was successful. We found all kinds of oranges, as a week earlier, the first drill was called and it was a failure - so un-captured oranges littered the shores. A second failure was not what the bosses in Anchorage were willing to accept. The pipeline’s operating permit required an oil spill contingency plan approved by the regulators. So failure could jeopardize the operations. It could mean fines. He could mean shutting the beast down! So we had the oranges. But little did we know was the fact that the state authorities were smart and used a different kind of orange on the second drill. We failed bad! Now on this most recent drill, after about 6-hours of gallivanting here there and everywhere, the drill was called off. It was reported that there was not a leak found. The imbalance was written off as a computer glitch. As we headed back towards the Valdez Terminal, an operator that stayed behind to monitor the facility reported that a big piece of “black” plastic was on the ground behind the West Tank Farm. We never thought to look for a leak at the terminal, it was always a pipeline leak! There was a new regulator working for the state. He threw us a curveball. Anyhow, this was not good. I guess when the company president heard this, as all radio traffic is monitored at the command central, he did his usual thing. He pulled the phone out of the wall jack and sent it sailing across the room. He was known for this, it was his trademark reaction to bad news. I guess the phone technician always had a handy supply of phones, just incase. And the engineers would place bets, trying to figure out the trajectory of the airborne phone. In fact, they would set up invisible targets in the command central, just as an exercise in aerodynamics. Supposedly there was this one engineer who had a PHD. He liked the drills because he was good at the trajectory stuff and always made a killing on the betting scheme. I guess at times, these guys would purposely get the president upset, to get the phones airborne if it looked like it was going to be a calm day! In fact, when he would make his appearance out at the pumping stations, which was rare, the technicians would hide the phones. We like phones in efforts to call home! Now the best thing we heard is when one of the phone techs became tired of George’s behavior. So he hard wired the phone into an outlet at the office in Anchorage. Sure enough, something caused the postal reaction during some kind of meeting. They say when George got finished, there was a hole in the sheet-rock about 2-feet in diameter. It was really hard wired! What made matters worse, when the building contractor repaired the hole, it was discovered that the building contained asbestos imbedded in the insulation! It required a major building overhaul to make it a safe workplace. All because of an un-airborne phone!

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~ DooDah Man ~
From the Chinook Journal of S. Pam MaGee

Truck’n! The tune we would all hum when Bo Peters made his arrival noticeable. He walked just like the DooDah man made famous by the Grateful Dead. We used to imitate the long stride gait as we followed him around the pump station, he was an alright guy. Just seemed to have a few screws missing. Some were convinced that was a prerequisite of getting a job on the line. He was the supervisor, so he had the final say on many things. One day he came strolling into the control room. We were in the middle of an isolation procedure. Now anything done at a station followed a pre-approved plan of attack. It was a “don’t miss” anything written procedure with a checklist and each step required more approval signatures then a declaration of war. Anyway, the stations were starting to show signs of wear and tear, so some mundane things, like valve status lights, didn’t always work. But good operators didn’t need all the fancy bells and whistles to determine the immediate status of the pipeline’s operation. A lot of the stuff was redundant BS. Now the procedure we were dealing with was in efforts to take a 250,000-barrel storage tank out of service so the inspectors could check things out. There were two of these cylindrical beasts at the first station on the 800-mile line and building such structures on permafrost had made for some design challenges that were still in the experimental stage. Basically, the bottoms were falling out! Once the 10,000 year old frost starts to melt, it can’t be stopped. The bottom of the tanks were well insulated, so it was hoped that it wasn’t the permafrost melting, just the fact that the entire sea-level North Slope was sinking. Some geologists were convinced that the oil removal was allowing the surface to subside. It was like a marshland to begin with, so it wouldn’t take much more before it became part of the Arctic Ocean. Anyway, Bo made mention that the valve on the mimic board was not showing the correct status. The light was burnt out! We all knew it. The valve was supposed to be open thus allowing oil flow into the tank that was still in operation. We had physically checked the position of the valve in the field prior to Bo’s unwanted appearance. An argument engaged that “whose on first” scenario. Soon the head operator and Bo were face to face and the argument crept closer and closer to the mimic board that showed the valve being somewhere. Besides status lights, there is a switch that allows manually opening or closing a valve from the board incase the computer systems don’t work. Well Bo, while pointing fingers, gets a little carried away with his emotions and hits the close button. Now these valves are designed to go in transit once commanded. There is no stopping the valve travel. And in order to reverse the operation, the valve has to travel all the way to the opposite condition. This is a 4-foot diameter valve with a load of oil behind it. So if it started to go closed, it would have to travel all the way closed before it could be open again. As we all know, mistakes of this magnitude must be avoided at all costs. Unfortunately it was to late. We scrambled, in efforts to cut off the electricity energizing the valve. But the switchgear was out in the yard and construction equipment barricaded our efforts. As the valve traveled closed, it allowed all of the incoming oil under pressure from the largest oil field in North America to go straight to the booster pump building. Even though the piping is of welded construction, there existed many flanges in this one particular building. Well there was nothing we could do. Oil sprayed out of every possible opening made possible by pipes buckling in every possible direction. It was a mess. It caused the station to shutdown on high gas vapors. What was once a concrete walled building, we think blue in color, was now saturated with crude oil. Anyway, a few days later, the incident was cleaned up and we were getting ready to initiate a pipeline start-up. Downtime is bad in this business. Bo still didn’t understand that he screwed up. Now when the gas detection system initiated a station shutdown, that also dumps halon. Each building is equipped with about a hundred bottles of this stuff, which is banned. So dumping the stuff is not good because the pipeline gets fined. And before start-up can commence, the discharged bottles have to be replaced. No fire protection, no start-up. There is hardly any water up here for fighting fires. And this halon stuff is getting scarce. As we were replacing one of the bottles, a gas leak was heard. It started really pouring out of the bottle, enough to send everybody to cover and bouncing the bottle around until it fell on its side. That’s what happens under 2000-pounds of pressure! The bottle then began a floor spin as by now the gas was blowing out at maximum pressure. Then it found a target, it shot forward like a rocket, right towards the janitor. He didn’t know anything about this stuff. He was usually over at the camp cleaning toilets. The bottle was a direct hit, you could hear the leg bone crushing. You could hear his shrieks of pain over that of the escaping gas. There was nothing we could do until the pressure bled off enough to attempt a rescue, and the arriving medics could calm his pain. It was pretty ugly. Then somebody commented. What the hell was the janitor doing here anyway? We all looked at Bo. Strike two for this week! It was his screw-up that put us here to begin with. He was the person that corralled every able-bodied person to help out, as he wanted to look good. Soon everything was back to normal. Now in the meantime, the weather conditions outside had turned for the worse. We heard that the medi-vac plane had made it in to take the janitor back to Anchorage. But after that, everything was closed down. Now at the station, in efforts to get back to the camp, it required the placement of a guide rope, that’s how bad it was with the blowing snow - zero visibility. In fact, it got so bad that the decision was made that if you were at the station, you stayed at the station. If you were lucky enough to be at the camp, stay there. This went on for a few more days. Temperatures with the wind chill fell to minus 100 degrees! At the camp, it meant a pinochle-playing marathon, and we were getting paid. Soon we heard an emergency call come in from the control room. Somebody was missing, it was Bo. Even with restrictions still on, he decided he wanted a donut. With no traffic allowed between the station and the camp, provisions were dwindling. Still not a big deal as the stations have a well stocked canteen. Just no fresh fat pills! Now Bo was lost, as he decided to walk over to the camp, really only about a 100-yards away. The saving grace was the fact that the entire station perimeter was surrounded by a fence, so no one could really get lost. But we knew the victim was Bo. And Bo was known to do stupid things. So the fire chief made the decision to make a rescue. His plan was to send out a rescue team, tied together by ropes. But before the first rescue team could head out, we received a panic call, from Bo. He had made it into the mechanics shop. A little on the frostbite side but nothing serious. Reese, the fire chief, told him to stay put and the rescue team would make advancements to rescue the boss. Of course, the chief had no inclination to send out a rescue team, Bo could stay put in the shop. It was warm, and there was most likely a supply of Lipton soup. But the dumb shit wanted a donut, so after about a half hour, Bo tried to rescue himself, once again. Guess what, lost again! This guy’s brain must have been frozen. Was this strike three or four? And once radio communications stopped, as the batteries freeze up pretty quick, the chief had to attempt a rescue. It was pretty dangerous, and of course, one always had the realization that a polar bear could be sniffing around, even though these bears were few and far between around this part of the oil field. Soon the rescue was over. And according to the rescue team, Bo was nowhere close to finding his way back to the camp. He was going completely in the opposite direction. And come to find out, the gate that headed south towards the out going pipeline had been forced open by the effects of the storm. It could have been disastrous if Bo had found freedom outside the fence. But once back in the camp, he acted like nothing was wrong and headed right for the donut tray. And he was convinced that he wasn’t lost. But his radio was nowhere to be found. He said he lost it when he slipped on the ice. Most likely from the DooDah walk, as it makes one unstable. And after pigging out on jelly filled donuts, Bo tried to head back over to the station. Our sentiment at that point in time, let him go! The weather had calmed down a little bit, so he did find his way back. We all realized that to work for this guy it was just like a babysitting job. The good thing, in efforts to keep the idiocy out of what really happened, we were all awarded a safety award. Yes indeed, $150.00 dollar gift certificate. Hey Bo, there’s the door! Don’t come back now, ya hear!

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~ Million Dollar Johns ~
From the Chinook Journal of S. Pam MaGee

As the new kid on the block, it meant the work orders nobody else was interested in – like the “dirty” jobs. I was hired to work at the southern end of the pipeline, at the Valdez Marine Terminal. This was a monster of a facility. After an 800-mile journey, the crude oil would be stored here first before being loaded aboard supertankers. Then those tankers would head south through the “narrows” on to the open Pacific Ocean and eventually end the journey at refineries on the West Coast. All in all, the oil traveled some 2000-miles from wellheads in Prudhoe Bay to be made into motor gasoline. The tank farm here, carved out of a mountainside, it could hold 9-million barrels of crude oil. That’s about 430-million gallons. And in March of 1994, the pipeline reached the 10-billion barrel mark! The operation was like a small city, with around the clock activities. There existed four loading berths in operation at the peak of pipeline throughput, some 2-million barrels a day. Now each loading berth was located some distance from land by a causeway. And with an average 18-hours to unload the ballast water then switch gears to take on crude oil, the big problem for the workers was the fact that “duty” does call. Basically, “I have to pee”! Due to liability concerns, we were not allowed to board a tanker. And due to fire watch requirements, it meant constant vigilance by the on-duty operator. If an oil leak occurred, the operator had to initiate an emergency shutdown, which would close off the flow of oil in 3-seconds! So the relieving problem solution was to provide an on-site John. I wanted to say “portable”, but that really wouldn’t fit. Now due to environmental constraints, it was a specially designed John. About the size of a small house. In time, these were called the million-dollar “Shitters”. And like mentioned beforehand, none of the seasoned maintenance workers would go near these beasts, so news guys like myself ended up getting the “shit” detail. These things never graduated out of the experimental stage. It was based on a technology that was new and would never be used anywhere else except up here in Alaska. So during the first few years of operation, the operators still pissed over the railing into the sound. Pissing was no problem. The other thing? Now to get caught in either act, it meant a direct termination offense. Hey to loose a job like this for the act of relieving oneself, it would be better to piss in one’s pants! So the attempt was made to get the things working correctly. Anyway, there was a staff of maintenance workers whose full time job was to baby-sit the latrines. The design engineers were constantly trying out a new gadget here and there to make the things “flush”. What made it difficult, no potable water was available. Seawater couldn’t be used. Add to the dilemma that there was no way to get rid of the contaminated water. No bilging allowed here. So it meant a Rudy Goldberg “dry-flush” contraption designed to annihilate the human waste by mechanical separators, pressure cookers, sludge buckets and something called anaerobic bugs. The room that held the stall also held all the processing equipment to handle what went into the can. These things were designed on an “up-lift” theory. From the can, the contents would be sucked up into fancy separators then sent to a pressure cooker like tank. All in all, the cycle to take human waste and turn it into something that would eventually disintegrate, it would take at least a month. So the stench of decaying human waste was everywhere. Probably the biggest design problem on the Trans-Alaskan-Pipeline were the Johns! Even up and down the pipeline it was a challenge. With very little water, it meant collecting the human waste and burning it in the high temperature exhaust stacks of the turbine pumps. If it didn’t work right, it caused a yellow like haze to surround the station. When it rained, it was “yellow” rain. Here in Valdez, we finally had something that worked, after about an entire year of nothing else accomplished. These “shitters” had become the most costly of systems. The only problem, don’t be sitting on the “can” when it flushes. And flushing was an automatic ritual, a hands off type of approach. Now with the different shifts and varying change out days, some information is wilted down by the time it is passed down. Somebody forgot to pass down the flushing problem with the Johns now in service and reported as working. Basically, it sounded like “Hell” and the “can” would jump and vibrate like all hell was indeed breaking loose. To make matters worse, the vibrating “can” was enough to shake the berths super-structure and initiate the strong motion accelerometers. These devices were used to measure seismic activity – earthquakes! Anyway, there was this one particular operator named Hotai. Many said his real name was “Hotair”. What a character. He wore a sea captain’s hat, the old fashion kind, like Captain Cook. He had a black patch over one eye. And he was equipped with a sheathed dagger that went from waist to knee. He could flip that metal blade out in seconds flat. This guy was living proof that pirates did exist – today even! When he wasn’t loading crude oil onto tankers, he was practicing the switchblade act. He was always up to something. Now one day when a tanker was closing in on the berth for tie-up, right after the Johns were supposedly in working order, Hotai had to relieve himself. The tie-up was another crews’ responsibility, so this was a good time for him to take a break before his job responsibilities were in effect. During the act, the toilet decided to flush, when he was still sitting on the can! He came running out with his pants down. Still had his pirate hat on, and the knife was ready to make mincemeat. He thought the tanker had crashed into the berth. He was pissed. Enough was enough. So when the tanker was ready to take on a load of crude oil, Hotai refused to engage the loading valves. That action or inaction pissed the captain off. An argument broke loose between Hotai and the tanker captain. Guess who won! Anyway a deal was made. This must have been Hotai’s plan of attack. If the tanker captain would let Hotai on board to use a decent restroom, in return it meant free phone calls for the tanker crew. We stood around listening to what was going on. Hotai was a wheeler and a dealer. Anyway, they struck a deal. And this captain was so pleased with the fact that his crew would have unabated access to phone calls to the lower 48 states, not only was a restroom made available, but so was access to the tanker’s galley! It meant free food, and good food at that. There was a pay phone at each berth, so the crewmembers could call home. Now Hotai had figured out a way to switch a few wires around so the pay phone worked off the same pair of wires as the operations phone. It meant long distance phone calls were looked upon as local calls, because the phone signals were sent to Anchorage over the company’s satellite system. Once to Anchorage, there was no accountability whatsoever, just normal business calls. So over time, when word was out that tankers tied up at Berth #5 offered free food, work orders that came in for John work were scoffed up by everyone. It was no longer the “dirty” work, but the job that had the fringe benefits. Thanks to Hotai the Pirate! Now working the berths initiates a pirate like atmosphere. Fog hangs over the operation for most of the year. And tankers make creepy creaky noises as the football length hulls bend to accommodate the crude oil being pumped onboard. And the size of these beasts is mind-boggling. The entire scene is kind of aerie like. In one of the operating shelters, somebody had scribbled, “Old pirates yes they rob I”, a Bob Marley song. Yes pirates! One guy spent his spare time fishing for halibut, just below the berths, as it was pretty deep water. The catch was traded to the tankers’ chefs, for what in exchange was anybodies guess. Some say the tanker crews had call girls in town. So rumor was catch for snatch. And two guys found a way to get to a small island just off of the number 4 berth. It was a trapper’s paradise, on company time! One guy, a native Alaskan, spent time carving. He would sell his goods to the tanker crews. And then there arrived the tankers with the strange flags. Along with crews that couldn’t speak any English, accept for one word, marijuana! The only problem with that? No place to flush away the evidence! Oh, and at one time during the pipeline’s construction days, there existed real live “Million Dollar Johns”.

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~ Incoming! ~
From the Chinook Journal of S. Pam MaGee

The pipeline was constructed out of temporary “cold storage” buildings, sometimes referred to as the Sue Lay buildings. Cold storage because inside it was just like a refrigerator. With steel walls and concrete floors upon permafrost, what else could one expect? Now for the Sue Lay? Sue was a hooker. Lay wasn’t her real last name, just a nickname. After the oil started flowing, these steel sided buildings were just to valuable to tear down. Costly at that to demolish, as all the materials would have to be shipped to a disposal site many miles away, like 800! So what was once a pipe welding shop or a fabrication shop, these bygones became things like a mechanic’s shop or a pipeline oil-spill contingency office. Now these shops were usually manned by the contractors, so there was no direct supervision from the pumping station management. Well after a few years, we became very efficient with our job responsibilities. It allowed time for long lunches, even longer afternoon siestas and time to think up crazy things. Bostick was one of those grown-up guys that was a kid at heart, just stuck inside a football players body. He liked the crazy stuff. Like joining you on the treadmill and ramping up the speed to maximum, until Humpty takes a great fall! One day I was walking from the station over to my shop, located in one of the old buildings. I was the radio guy. The path would take me by the mechanic’s shop where Bostick and Rooster hung out. Now Rooster, well the best way to describe his character is like this. He would hang out with his father-in-law on his week off. They were always looking for deals. Well they found a camper, one that fits in the bed of a pick-up truck. They decided to buy the used thing because Rooster had just returned from the “slope”, which meant a pocket full of cash. Besides that, they were driving around in a pick-up truck. So when the seller made an offer they couldn’t refuse, it was a done deal. It meant packing it up. Now they had no idea what they were gong to do with the camper. And the bed of the pick-up wasn’t prepared to accept the camper, like holes drilled in the bed’s sides for bolts to secure the camper. So it was decided that Rooster would sit in the camper to stabilize it. Now after a few miles on the road, I guess the father-in-law forgot about the camper’s loose security and rounded a steep corner a little too fast, the camper toppled off of the truck and rolled down a steep ravine, all the time Rooster was still in it. According to Rooster, this was a normal week off! Anyway, as soon as I was ready to open the door to my shop, I here this “whump” and feel this thump! I was hit in the back by something. It looked like whipped cream, with chocolate and some sort of pastry. Then I heard the laughing. It was Bostik and Rooster. They were experimenting with a cream puff launcher. It was a piece of pipe, the diameter sized to fit cream puffs that were readily available at the camp. And acetylene was used to propel the load. These guys were crazy. So over the next few weeks they refined their weapon. See there was increased emphasis on the pipeline’s security. It had something to do with the possibility that terrorist would try to disrupt the flow of oil. So security guards were now allowed to carry “loaded” guns. The “cream puff” launcher was these guys salute to the flag. They were doing their duty. The only bad thing about their efforts, it takes a lot of puffs to get it down right. At lunch, I heard someone complain that all the cream puffs were disappearing. Well one day, Rooster comes storming into my shop. He’s running scared, something about the fact that Bostik is going to kill himself. It wasn’t a few minutes later when we heard a horrendously loud explosion and the entire building started shaking. We ran outside, just in time to see Bostik struggling out of the mechanics shop. Looked as if he was having an epileptic fit. He was holding his hands over his ears, as if deafened by the concussion. Now the “slope” doesn’t get that much snow, but it does accumulate. So the roof above the mechanics shop had a three-foot packing, and it was sloped towards Bostik, who was still trying to recover from a premature explosion caused by a little too much acetylene gas. Rooster grabbed my attention. The snow, in one continuous batch, found a target. The explosion from the cream puff launcher had loosened the pack. The target was Bostik, now covered from head to toe. Damn, we had a live snowman. Just like the abominable snowman. We took a picture of him. For years, workers up here had been trying to build a snowman. The snow is more like ice, so it doesn’t pack. But the snow over the mechanics shop goes through thawing and freezing cycles, so it packs because it gains moisture. People don’t realize that this place is considered a desert. It was a first for a Prudhoe Bay snowman! In fact, it looked so real that the picture was used as the cover on one of the monthly worker magazines. Only a few of us realized that it was a “real live” snowman. Over time, people started telling Bostik that the snowman looked like him. He never let on that it was. And since he didn’t want anybody to find out, for the remainder of the winter, which lasts at least 6-months up here, he would start our trucks up, so they would be warm when we headed for work. It was nice, to walk out into a nice warm truck. On top of that, he would keep the gas tank topped off! Hey, when it is 60 below zero and the winds are calling for a minus 90 chill factor, self-service is bad business. We had Bostik service!

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~ Mr. Green Jeans ~
From the Chinook Journal of S. Pam MaGee

During the construction phase of the Trans-Alaska-Pipeline, many research projects found unlimited funding to pursue things that had nothing to do with pumping oil some 800-miles. It is said that the design project in itself was a PHD dissertation give-away haven. Some projects were beneficial. Take for instance the project to determine if a hunter’s bullet could pierce the steel walled pipe. A pressurized test section of pipe was set-up to challenge the laws of probability. And there came no rules of engagement, just pride, integrity and guts. The pride came from the fact that if anybody could breach the pipeline it would be the law, as they had the most sophisticated weapons and armament. Integrity, because they were sharpshooters and could pick out a weak section of pipe even if it were covered with a bunch of insulation some 2-feet thick. And guts? Well anybody crazy enough to take a close-up shot at the pipeline, it meant guts. A hole from a bullet, based on the fact that to every action there exists an equal and opposite reaction, would allow a high velocity stream of hot crude oil to impale the scoundrel. It could mean death by a hot prod like piercing. Anyway, the lawmen said it was an impossibility. They were wrong! There came along other beneficial research projects, like how to keep the work crew buses’ beer kegs cold, so you didn’t have a bunch of disgruntled welders come quitting time. If they quit, kiss it all goodbye. One low life project that didn’t arouse much curiosity or fanfare was the reseeding project. Yes indeed, outfits like Bechtel were assigned the duty to come up with a seed mix that mimicked the pipeline corridor’s ecosystem. It was required, because after the construction crews left, the gravel work-pad was to be restored to its original habitat. Now one just can’t go to the local lawn and garden and pick up something that would grow along the wilderness route. And with 800-miles of pipe, it meant several different growth zones. So the scientists were hard at work and came up with the perfect seed mixture. It was imbedded with a super duper fertilizer. So tolerant this stuff was, that it was kept under lock and key. A few years after start-up of the pipeline and during an equipment auction, the outfit in charge of getting rid of everything, well they came across a few bags of seed that never made it into the vault. This was leftover stuff, in-case reseeding was necessary in the future. Now right before it was supposed to go on the auction block, the pipeline police confiscated the stuff. But before they could get it back in the vault, it was stolen, from out of a truck in Valdez. Little things like this gains attention in little towns. The bandits had no idea what they had gotten away with, except it must have been important stuff. Valdez is at the end of the pipeline, in Prince William’s Sound. Now this town had become a family town after the construction hookers headed south. So houses were springing up, in neighborhoods, with cul-de-sacs. Anyway, the guys that stole the specialty seed sold it to a local “we-have-everything” store. And come the summer construction season, the general contractor for one of the big housing projects decided to save some money, so he purchased the stolen seed. Now, like mentioned before, this wasn’t your ordinary seed stuff. It could grow on a bald spot, just add water. So soon, new houses were sporting these immaculate lawns, like overnight. But not known was the fact that the seed mixture also contained, “Devils Club”. It started growing everywhere. Now this stuff grows about 5-feet high. And it contains these sharp barbs that can rip Carharts. Pretty soon, some people couldn’t even get into their houses. And kids were scared silly of the ugly looking plants, like something out of Jurassic Park. It was so prevalent come Halloween, the authorities banned outside trick or treating. And once this stuff starts growing, it keeps on going. It is a weed. It grows just beneath the surface, sending out tentacles that can bust through concrete foundations. And it is an invading type species. So where there once was the possibility of grass, well it required the entire lawn to be up-routed and replaced with small pea gravel to keep the stuff at bay. And all it takes is one seed to take hold and the entire cycle starts all over again. It actually grows on rocks, from the super duper fertilizer. Not to fear, as some outfit on the East Coast, some exterminating firm, well they had a solution. Wrong, the local authorities said no and placed a ban on the use of anything that could stop the “Devil”. It had to do with the fact that if the poison made its way into the environment, it could cause the wilderness to sprout lawns. It could affect the animals’ migratory patterns! So, when visiting Valdez, enjoy the rock gardens.

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~ Pipeline Wives Club ~
From the Chinook Journal of S. Pam MaGee

I worked out on the pipeline with a bunch of young through middle-aged men who thought a good day at work meant a good farting contest. I could keep up with them. And when a lady farts in the crowd, and takes the credit, men get pretty weird. Better then that, find out who was showing the porno-movies over at the camp at night and barge in for the entertainment. I didn’t really like the smut. It was my way to intimidate the younger guys. Hey, just what the hell was that guy trying to do with that women? It’s all fake! Now being the token worker of the opposite sex, there existed some advantages besides being around a bunch of horny guys all the time. Guys away from their wives for a whole week! And way far away at that, some 600-miles! Now if there was some kind of social gathering, say in town, I would always get an invite. “Fat Man” my boss thought that was the proper thing to do. He was from the south. It meant putting on a dress. I preferred the Nomex coveralls! I was the token female for the southern section of the pipeline. Sue held the reigns for the northern section. There was not a proportionate minority head count on the pipeline. It was more like the military, where men ruled, white men that is. In fact, most of the after construction workforce consisted of ex-military men. So they more or less minded their business in the company of a female. I was also ex-military. My main job was that of a pumps and drivers mechanic. Yes indeed, it was a no-brainer to tear down a Rolls-Royce jet engine. We had a lot of territory to cover. Like 400-miles of wilderness. But we could hold our own. And this was before all that sexual harassment crap. When we first heard of this EEOC garbage, we thought it was the sound of a good orgasm. Eeee, Eeee. Oooo! Hey on the pipeline, if a gal couldn’t handle the abuse and dish it back, my as well take a job in town. So when there was some touchy-feely thing in town, a woman only thing, it meant shedding the coveralls for a dress. Like mentioned before, I preferred the coveralls. The only thing underneath was underwear. I used to tell the young guys that fact. Must would blush. Now there was a rumor going around that a secret club had started up, and once the cat was out of the bag, well that secret had to disappear quickly. It was called the 801-mile club. It had something to do with that employee that went the extra mile. Now when the pipeline company president held a photo-shoot with the club’s first recipients of the 801-Award, well it was a farce. The Fat Man’s son was in the picture. We all knew about this guy. In fact we thought he was fired a long time ago. I guess the secret club could also camouflage one’s existent, along with a paycheck. Not to mention nepotism. It was a club that was doomed as soon as it went public to the employees. It was a joke and nobody wanted anything to do with it. And Sue and I already had a club. It was the 800 Club. Guess what the 800 stands for? It’s not that bad when you divide 800 by 2! Anyway, to soften the blow that the company management was getting over this secret club, they tried in vain to get the employees to accept it and become part of it. That is how the token broads were involved. Hey, for a few days off work with paid leave and a free diner in town, we decided to accept the offer. So we went to this get together sponsored by the Pipeline Wives Club – called the “Pip” club for short. Gag me with a spoon. It was a bunch of desperate housewives who had nothing better to do with their time then assemble to complain when their husbands were away at work. Now the first thing that was a turnoff was the British accent. This weekly gathering consisted mostly of the uppity-up society of pipeline management. They seemed to be a bunch of lonely housewives. During the luncheon, one snobbish lady asked Sue what she did for a living. Sue was sharp. She went on to tell the women that she had a building named after her. Going on to boast that it was called the Sue Lay building and located at a pump station up north. This lady had no idea what Sue was eluding to. Then the lady said that her husband was in charge of that station and never heard anything as ridiculous as naming a building after a worker. Sue asked for a phone. In no time Ken was on the line. Sue then asked if the Sue Lay building was still around. Sue then gave the phone to this lady. An interesting conversation continued, with all the other bitches tuned in. What a miserable life these broads must live. Sue was getting a lift off the wine and hinted that this lunch needed some excitement. She called one of those male stripper numbers. Soon the lunch group had company! I guess she had a friend that was the manager of this dance outfit. So this group of guys shows up. Now the club had a private room at this eatery. So what looked like a boring lunch was about to have a face lift! At first, the stuck up ladies were shocked. So shocked that they were stuck in their stools. Then the wine started disappearing. Either they were afraid to leave or starting to enjoy this out of fashion phenomenon. It was the latter! Then Sue was on the stage. She pointed to Ken’s wife. “Now your man likes to do it like this”. Wow, talk about erotic. The other broads soon started loosening up. Must have been the wine. A few ladies were into the champagne by now. I guess money was no object with this class. Before you know it, another gal is stripping down to her underwear and joining in. These ladies were having an orgasm and didn’t even know it! We thought we were goners after this. But when we returned to work, nothing was said. Then I received a call from the Fat Man. He said that the Club had requested our presence again. He said his wife had the time of her life! Sue nor I had any idea that his wife was present at the luncheon. Hey, what the husbands don’t know about won’t hurt them. And out on the line? What the wives don’t know about the workers, well it seems they were to busy at the club. We never went back. Once was enough. But Sue’s contact with the male dance outfit is testament that it is not only crab legs that are being enjoyed each Tuesday. I guess it is a real live “Pimp” wives club!

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~ Brown Trout and the Mound’s Bar Theory ~
From the Chinook Journal of S. Pam MaGee

The workers hired to maintain and operate the 812-mile long Trans-Alaskan-Pipeline sport all kinds of experiences and educational levels. It’s a pretty complex system, even though the art of pumping oil from point A to point B is in some locals a no-brainer. The company remained stingy in the recruiting and hiring process, only the “Best of the Best” need apply. And that allowed some pretty innovative thinkers and tinkering. For instance, everybody thought the pipeline was only 800-miles long. A big “can’t miss” milepost marker in Valdez that signifies the “end-of-the-line” indeed displays the figure 8 leading two zeros. But one of the bean counters saw an advantage in the true length. The pipeline expands and contracts, by 12-miles! An extra 12-miles means an lawful lot come tax time. It means a depreciation in the neighborhood of an extra 13-million a year. And the guy that thought of this was not a seasoned bookkeeper, just a mindset that was innovative. The entire workforce had that same mentality. We wanted to be the best. We were the best! Out at Pump Station #1 in Prudhoe Bay, there was one gentleman of an operator who went by the nickname of “Brown Trout”. Now when not talking about trout fishing, he was glued to some book titled “Multivariable Calculus”. He wrote the book in his younger days. But he wasn’t a mathematician anymore, just an operator. But he would coach some of the young engineers when their calculations on some event didn’t hold water. So with this guy I found a relationship. He was definitely a scientist by my standards. He was a good friend with another older guy, Bernie. Now Bernie was the sharpest power generation operator I had come across in my career. One day these two guys were engaged in some new theory called the “big bang”. It had nothing to do with fishing and something to do with the origin of everything. It was pretty interesting to hear these two guys get into such a heavy discussion. There wasn’t much else to do around the stations when things were running on normal, which was most of the time. This place was built tough! Anyway, I had to vacate the tabletop discussion because I had another engagement to see too. I worked for a guy named Leon out of Fairbanks, for the SCADA department. My job entailed maintaining the electronic and communications systems up and down the line. My main area of responsibility started in Dead Horse and ended some 160-miles south, at Pump Station #4. So I was the lucky one. A company vehicle gave me freedom. My boss had asked me to pick up two G-men at the Deadhorse airport. These guys were running some kind of study up and down the line. It had something to do with stray magnetic currents given off by the Aurora Borealis – the northern lights. And this study was tied in with the “big bang” thing Bernie and Brown Trout were talking about. The race was on to map the origin of the beginning! So all kinds of experiments were on the drawing board. One involved using the pipeline as an 800-mile long antennae. Some thought it was possible to get the “big bang” signature from background radio waves. The steel pipeline was the thing some government investigators thought would give them the edge up in the “battle of the bang”. All the other proposals warranted building massive antennae like structures or deploying specially designed satellites. So we were talking years before data could be retrieved and analyzed. And according to Brown Trout, the signature would probably look like a “Mound’s Bar” and nobody would really understand what it really meant. So I picked these two guys up. They had a truckload of equipment. That is why my boss offered his department’s assistance. The company truck was a Chevy Suburban and provided the platform required to perform the “Mound’s Bar” test. It was October, and this time of year in the arctic can bring daytime temperatures up into the low 10’s and 20’s. The fall season takes a hiatus from Alaska’s north. So all this gear was strategically placed in the back of the big red pipeline truck. We headed back to the station. The SCADA shop here had a garage, used for radio communication installation work. This would provide a sheltered bay were the G-men could check out the electronic eavesdropping equipment. We could also load up on a good lunch before heading out to run the tests. Imagine getting paid to do this! I was to accompany these guys and take them were they thought the testing would provide something of interest. So after lunch, we headed back to the airport. The Deadhorse airport is manned around the clock. It is a DOT approved asphalt runway. Maybe one flight a day comes this way. The oil companies have their own runway about 5-miles from here. Now the G-men scientist thought the airport runway would be the best place to perform the tests. Since they worked for some department that was connected to the FAA, they had already contacted the control tower and were made aware that there were no scheduled flights until the evening. They needed about 4 hours of “quiet” time to run the tests. So we were granted the privilege to drive on the runway. Looked like a great place to do brodys! I was asked to pull up close to the control tower. We opened the back doors to the suburban and these guys positioned several weird looking antennas and then turned all the equipment on, which included a few data recorders, the paper chart kind as this was before the new age computer stuff. Anyway, the sun was in the sky, but the low elevation was in anticipation of its upcoming disappearance for 3-months, so it was a little cold. And these guys were not prepared to stand out in the cold for several hours. So they came up with the bright idea to go up into the control tower. They called somebody with my bag phone - radio phone - and the next thing we are being invited in for a cup of coffee. I am sure that the guys that man this establishment love to have visitors. But I didn’t have the proper clearance badge - like the G-men - so I was told, sorry! I told them I didn’t mind hanging around outside. You learn an important lesson real quick up this far north, always go places prepared. My truck, besides a transport vehicle, it was also set up as a survival rig. That was a company requirement. I had enough gear to last a night in the dead of winter. And my truck never left the camp without a full thermos of coffee. Anyway, after about a half hour into the testing - as the G-men sat in comfort - I decided to get a little heat. My truck had a big engine, so a few minutes with the engine running allowed a revival. So about once every 30-minutes, it was a trip to the cab, some heat and a good cup of camp coffee - pretty stiff stuff. Then the G-men finally showed up. Looked like naptime had ended. Now this one guy gets really excited. He calls the attention of his partner and soon both have their eyes glued to the data recorder. What gained their interest were these unaccounted for “spikes”. They showed me what they were now interested in. Damn! I knew what caused the spikes. Remember, I was a radio-man. A spike occurred on the paper recorder every time I started up the engine! Now I wasn’t about to spill the beans on their discovery, they were just too damn excited. Back at the station, I told Brown Trout all about my time with the G-men. He laughed, especially when I told him about the “spikes”. He reiterated that it was indeed a prime case for the “Mound’s Bar” theory. I still didn’t get it. A few weeks later, I had a visit from my boss Leon. At lunch, we were joined by both Bernie and Brown Trout. We started talking about the G-men tests. Now Leon informs us that the tests showed some interesting interference. In fact, Leon went into some detail to explain that the guys had recorded several “spikes” of un-definable origin. And it had caught the interest of the head scientists back in D.C. This stuff could indicate signals from the origin! So future tests were on the consideration drawing board. Brown Trout couldn’t help but tell Leon what caused the “spikes”. At first Leon was a little concerned, then laughed. We all knew it was too late to tell anybody. You would think that scientist would be able to differentiate the engine noise over God’s wrath. Then Brown Trout explained the “Mound’s Bar” theory. Supposedly some years ago, a scientist was doing some kind of research and a technician had left ½ of a frozen Mound’s bar out to thaw. The scintillation device recorded the outline of the mounds bar as the temperature difference was resonating a signal that was suspect. In the meantime, the technician devours the candy. The evidence disappears! So this guy’s discovery made its debut into the scientific community as plausible, as a come and go signal from space! All the time, it was nothing more then a “Mound’s Bar.” But many scientists are afraid of defeat, so the man-made object has become part of the “big bang” theory. Now the other day, some years after this episode out on the pipeline, I was watching the discovery channel. It was a show on the “big bang” theory. So after about an hour and waiting for the conclusion to what hundreds of scientists have been involved with for many years and millions of dollars to boot - taxpayer money - the scientists have a clear and convincing picture of the “big bang”. You know what, it looks just like a Mound’s Bar!

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~ Key Hole Smith ~
From the Chinook Journal of S. Pam MaGee

Why does man’s behavior warrant sayings like “All good things must come to an end”? We had it made down at the Valdez end of the 800-mile pipeline. And even though the same company was responsible for the pipeline and the marine loading terminal, it acted like two entirely different organizations. We did our own thing here in Valdez. As long as oil was loaded on-time to the tankers, we were out of sight and out of mind. Then some executive woke up on the wrong side of bed and decided to make things miserable for us. We ended up getting some flunky managers that had no idea or prior experiences at running a loading terminal the size of this complex that rested on the side of a mountain. Now it wouldn’t have been bad if they just minded their own business and let us do what we were good at. But interference seems to be part of their game. Anyway, Valdez was different. The work crew could head to town after work and enjoy a cold one. There was a bus that catered to our back and forth drive to work routine. Even had a coffee pot on board. Nothing like a warm bus ride in the winter when overnight storms have deposited 6-feet of snow in the drive. So come payday Friday, we wanted our paychecks in hand. This was before all of that automatic banking bullshit. So when this new manager showed up and decided that his shortcut Fridays were more important then getting our paychecks delivered, it meant disgruntled workers. See this new superintendent headed to Anchorage every Friday morning so he could enjoy the big city lights over the northern lights. Remember, he was a pipeline transplant. So come about the second month, he still would not deliver the checks on-time. It pissed the workers wives off big time. It meant no shopping come the weekend. So this one particular Friday bash at the local pub, none of us had any cash. We used to cash our checks at the bar. Some good betting machines could be found in the back. Nobody really cared what went on here. Even the police chief encouraged the need for charity! Good thing our credit was good. Anyway, a retired superintendent we all respected came in one Friday evening to say hello. He owned some rental property in town and was here to check some things out. He was a great guy. We told him about the predicament with the paychecks. He had a solution. Since I was the lead technician, I listened real well. It was definitely a plan. See, Smith told us to break into the office where the checks were located. His plan called for stealing the checks and shredding them. Then come Monday and nobody was paid, this guy’s ass would be in a bind. And there was no excuses allowed, since he had to sign for the checks. And there was some policy that the company was held responsible for not getting the checks off in a timely manner. So we could steal the checks then send our wives on a spending spree, as bounced checks would be covered courtesy of the company. And this guy would then be pulled out of the loop for disbursing the payola. Smith told us that the guy was doing it on purpose. Something he had done when they both worked together at a Texas refinery. So Smith knew what plan of attack would get this situation straightened out. Now Smith also knew the easiest way to break into the monster office door locks. It was a rather odd procedure, but I was no crook. It was interesting to find a CEO who was well versed in this method of sabotage. The next day, we mobilized to pull off the plan. Now on the weekends, there is no direct supervision and the lead technicians have the run of the mill. There was not anything big going on, so this weekend called for smooth sailing. Now Smith’s plan called for sizing a key to break into the office. This rather odd procedure involved setting a screw through the keyhole then filling the lock with that foam type spray. Once the spray expanded, it was office trespass time. Now what made the foam so handy was the fact that the expansion characteristics and the rigidity with the lock and screw made for a perfect key. Plus, a can of Electra-clean would not only diffuse any fingerprints, it would also disintegrate any remaining foam. It was a clean-cut way to perform a Watergate. Now we couldn’t find any small cans of the foam spray. What we had was recently used to fill a few toolboxes as a practical joke. It works great. It was the best way to get a free set of tools. And we ordered the best around here. Really, if somebody played a practical joke and a toolbox became an insulated box, the bosses realized it was cheaper to buy new tools then to spend time trying to clean all the cured foam off of the individual tools. So the tools would be sent home and a new set ordered. Remember, money was no object around here. So without the small cans, it meant using the “big” can. There was a trailer that held a 500-gallon tank located up in the salvage yard. It was used during construction to insulate the propane tanks. So I sent Jim to get the trailer and I spent time assembling a hose that could be dragged into the office building. We were on scene before morning break! First we set the screw into the keyhole and duct-taped the foam hose so it could squirt the stuff into the hole. We had installed a valve so the amount could be adjusted. I had Jim go out and open up the main valve as I observed what was happening inside. At first, the flow of foam was pretty stubborn. Maybe its shelf life had expired and the stuff was no good. But something started flowing. I called Jim on the radio and had him open the valve all the way. Just as I un-keyed my radio mike, I heard the fire alarm on the “hill” go off. This was the “all call” alarm that is sounded when something isn’t right. I was headed out. At the same time, it was reported that a “fire-foam” dump had occurred in the East Metering building. This was serious, Jim was right behind me. We drove to the fire-hall and waited as the assault teams mobilized. We were in a hurry but cautious, as we were dealing with highly flammable crude oil around here. The workers make up the fire-crew. We train every Saturday. Now the worse case scenario is when the operators get an indication that the “fire-foam” has discharged. It means a fire or flame was detected. The fire-foam systems are designed to flood the building equipment in micro-seconds. You don’t want to be in the vicinity when this ejaculation takes place. And the worse, worse case is when the “fire-foam” is supposed to be discharged and a malfunction occurs. We don’t know if it works. Now if the building becomes airborne, we know it didn’t work. And the East Metering building is the receiving end of the pipeline. Right then, crude oil at about 60,000-gallons per minute was entering the piping in that building. A “fire-foam” dump shuts the entire 800-mile long pipeline down. And when the line shuts down, we are talking several hours to get things up and running to normal. So with the fire crews prepared, we hightailed it over to the staging area that was supposed to provide a safe distance to command the evaluation efforts. What was happening inside was still anybodies guess. Soon the delegated fire chief made the decision to attempt a reconnaissance of the building interior. The building was still standing, so that was clear and convincing evidence that it was not a major incident. Several fire fighters prepped for the check. It required full body protection and fire suppression backup available to shower the workers should something happen as they made their approach. We all hold our breaths when this type of procedure is going on. Soon the door was opened. The thumbs up gave an indication that everything looked OK. It was a false alarm and the system had not discharged any foam. We had the alarm technicians check everything out and a go-ahead was given to start the pipeline back up. Then the response went to the stand down mode. Now Jim and I had to get back to our priority job. As we approached the office administration building, something looked odd. There was something drooling down one of the office windows. Oh shit Jim yelled. This was the office we were trying to break into. Evidently, what was causing the reduced flow of foam had by now dislodged and because of the good holding abilities of duct tape, a full stream of foam was flooding the office. Now this stuff has an amazing expansion factor. We quickly shut down the foam and were afraid to access our efforts. We let the foam in the keyhole dry. By this time we had several interested workers laughing their “you know what” off. You could see from the outside window not even the desk. And this stuff cures really fast. We were screwed. But it was so funny that we just kept on laughing. Why cry when you know the un-employment line was our next gig. We did make progress getting the office door opened. But there was no way to find the checks. The room was filled with at least 4-feet of foam that was now taking on a weathered sheen. I called my boss Horse to tell him what we had done. He laughed. Said the bastard had it coming to him. What we didn’t know was the fact that the new guy was trying to displace the Horse for one of his pipeline buddies. So we realized then if the Horse was leaving, we are to. Lynn said he would get back with us. Come Monday, we thought all hell was going to break loose. Horse came into the morning meeting and scalded us out. Not for what we had done, but because he wasn’t here to have a good laugh. Nothing was ever said about this ordeal. The office was remodeled and we never once again had a problem with our paychecks delivered on time. Evidently, there was some bad blood between Smith and the Earl, so Smith went to bat for us. Basically, Smith had something on Earl. Just another workday in Valdez!

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~ Wonder’s Worriers ~
From the Chinook Journal of S. Pam MaGee

Yes indeed, the way to a man’s you know what is through his stomach. The Trans-Alaska-Pipeline project created new name jobs. Or maybe it was “name your own job” in some instances. Sure we had the typical craft type workers like welders, pipe-fitters, electricians and grunts. But what I am talking about here is the inspectors. Some would say borderline on the imposter side more then the oversight side. With well over a thousand permits to operate, it indeed required an army of “specialist”. Over ranked and over hyped was especially true for Wonder’s Worriers. We never met the Wonder, just his field men. They acted like the “Untouchables”. And maybe Wonder thought he was the “Nest”. His job was to protect the “nest”. These guys represented the state of Alaska “revenue men”. The entire pipeline and oil field infrastructure had pretty severe security restrictions. Bottom line, no way was a terrorist or unwanted going to make an appearance at a pumping station. First off, this was a pretty remote pipeline. And to top the remoteness issue, the security outposts sported an M-16 assault rifle stash. These guys would use the weapons if need be. Now the “revenuers” had carte’ blanc access to any place on the pipeline. It was without warning that the inspectors could show up. Pump Station #1 was most vulnerable for crash inspections. And not only did these guys have unabated access to the facilities, they could demand access to any and all paper work or data that dealt with crude oil inventories. The big problem came about not by any of our duties derelict, but by the inspectors’ lack of knowledge. The inventory side of the Alaskan oil business was a complicated paper-shuffling ordeal. Nightmare was more like it! Now the unannounced visits are what threw us off. We tried to keep things up to snuff, just incase. But when it came down to the nuts and bolts of the measurement end of the pipeline business, it was a constant headache. See Pump Station #1 was the official receipt point. Not only for the seven different oil companies’ separate interests, but also for the state’s share of the “black gold”. The state had the option of taking its royalty share of oil “in-kind” or “in-value”. It means if the state wanted barrels of oil, it got oil in barrels. But all of the time the state opted for its fair share “in value” – basically the going rate for North Slope crude oil. How that was determined was anybodies guess. Now these oil companies were pretty stingy with the goods. There existed constant arguing over ownership of the oil. See, when a company’s oil was delivered to this station, it was mixed with the other companies’ oil. So what came out of the pipe in Valdez, it was “commingled” oil. It didn’t have the same characteristics as the oil that a company put into the pipe. It meant some of the good stuff was watered down - literally - and not so good stuff enhanced. So the degradation would have to be accounted for. That is why accurate measurement was a constant battle royale. The station was equipped with turbine meters to measure the amount of oil entering from the various trunk lines. The propeller like measuring devices had to be calibrated every 24-hours. That was accomplished by sending a 36” ball through a calibrated piece of pipe followed by countless calculations to adjust for just about everything. The state was suspect of the oil companies right off the bat, so the “revenuers” required two types of measurements. A computer generated measurement along with an analog generated measurement. Now when I say “computer”, I am talking about onetime state of the art computers as big as a small office. And it was a big no-no if somebody was caught “tweaking” the analog computer without first getting permission from the “revenuers”. They had the option of being on-sight when any adjustments were necessary. It meant if there was a problem at the station with regards to accurate measurement that warranted a fix, the prerequisite notice period allowed inaccuracies to make a small problem a bigger problem. If a problem occurred on a Friday, it turned into a 4-day problem before a fix was permitted. The pipeline bosses didn’t like this because the oil companies didn’t like it. So “tweaking” was starting to go on without notification. We didn’t have time to wait. Now Wonder’s Worriers didn’t maintain an office in Prudhoe Bay. Their presence could be at anytime. Convenience seemed to rule. Besides responsible for checking out the station equipment, they also had the job of overseeing the blow out preventors at the oil field wellheads. It was these guys’ job to make sure the oil companies were not cutting corners with respect to eliminating all possibilities of creating a “blowout” situation. If a well blew its stack, the heat could melt the permafrost. That was a worse case scenario. Hey once the 10,000 year old ice starts to melt, there is not enough “cold” in the world to re-freeze the stuff. It meant the entire “slope” could become a swamp. It is almost a swamp to begin with but scientists call it a desert? Now we despised the inspectors’ unannounced visits. So we came up with a plan. These guys liked to hang out at this station. It wasn’t because of the atmosphere – being explosive most of the time – but because they were treated like royalty. That is where we needed to change directions. We thought if we made it miserable for them, then they might stay away. Now when I first met Charlie the new inspector, I could tell right off that there may be a way to control this “revenuers” appearance. He was a good-sized individual. Which meant he liked to eat. Now the grub that was doled out at this station, it was gourmet extraordinaire. So that was the key. Not to make it miserable, but extraordinarily over-comfortable. One day, we decided to try it out, as we had some “tweaking” to do. I called the inspector and told him we were going to perform some maintenance. Now the notice period meant it was to occur on a Sunday. Sundays are reserved for real good menus. The inspector showed up around lunchtime, as the flights into and out of Prudhoe were limited on the weekends. We stuffed his face. With that, he needed a nap. He told us to do what we had to do and in the quiet comfort of the camp. It was z-time. This became a routine. It worked rather well. So over time and when we were required to notify the inspector, the first thing Charlie would ask, “What’s on the menu”. Now if we really didn’t need his appearance, we told him “Spam” sandwiches. The sigh of dissatisfaction would be our ticket to “tweak” as we please, Charlie wasn’t about to ruin his weekend for “Spam”. And the “Spam” was kind of like an “SOS”. He knew what we meant. And when something really good was happening out at this station, like a special diner, which included lobster, we would call Charlie and invite him “for diner”. And most of the time, his appearance at the chow hall meant the required annual inspections were a done deal. It seems he didn’t really give a rat’s ass what we did. So it all boiled down to what was happening in the kitchen, not really what was happening with the state’s share of oil. This went on for a few years until the old computers were replaced. Then the complexity of the entire inventory accounting system was held up in the courts. With that, the inspectors were few and far between. And they realized that computers were hard to fake. What they didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them!

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~ Chlorine Coca-Cola, Aye Carumba! ~
From the Chinook Journal of S. Pam MaGee

The pipeline camps are equipped with washer and dryer combinations, for washing one’s work clothes. At Pump Station #1, there was a washroom on the second deck of the camp, down past the sleeping quarters. One night, when most were already asleep, a worker decided to wash his clothes. Now besides a box of dry laundering soap, there was also a box of dry bleach. Anyway, this guy threw his clothes into the machine and left for the dessert tray. He forgot about a can of coke that had accompanied him to the laundromat. Anyway, when the washer hit the spin-rinse cycle and went into fibrillations due to an unbalanced load, the can of carbonated coke found freedom in the box of bleach. Well, chemistry rules. Before you now it, a bad-ass gas is filling the hallway of the living quarters. Now the station had an alarm system that remotely monitored the camps vital signs, like smoke detectors. When the operators over at the station received the chlorine gas alarm, they had no idea what it meant. But they were vigilant enough to insist that the rover run over to check it out. Of course the biggest reason to head that way was to fill up the cookie jar. Anyway this guy Fred walks into the arctic entryway of the camp. Before he figured out what the problem was, he realized something bad was going on inside. He radioed over to the control room to sound the general alarm. When workers were awakened from their sleep and hit the hallway to inquire whether it was a false alarm or not, they knew better. Soon, everybody was filing out of the camp, double time. Now it was late October. Up here that means the dead of winter. So everybody headed over to the station’s break-room until the source of the gas could be pinpointed. It was no big deal, except for one thing. During the work shift, we usually all walk around with blue Nomex coveralls on. The only time you see someone dressed differently is when we are coming to work or returning home. That is when street clothes are preferred for the long airplane joy ride. But seeing your fellow worker in pajamas? It was a gas. See, with everybody awakened form a somewhat sound sleep, most forgot that they were now sitting in the break-room in pajamas. There were all kinds. Hey, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. Joe had an outfit that was from Star Wars. One worker asked him where the Luke Skywalker wand was? But that guy should have heeded the warning to be quiet, as he was wearing these orange pajamas with pumpkins. It was close to Halloween! Now Jim? Well he wore this thing that a male stripper would wear. And Randy had white stuff all over his face? Rhonda, she had this flimsy nightshirt on that revealed some things that seemed to get the guys attention. Soon all realized the predicament we were all part of by now. Hey, during the day we are rough and tough roustabouts working with wrenches and pipes. But now, just a bunch of fuddy duds in pajamas. Hey what the heck, no big deal. Not until the camp manager snuck in and snapped a group photo-shot. He said he was going to use it as “blackmail”. So for a few weeks down the road, we all kept a vigil as to when and where that picture would show up. It never did, but most of us realize that it is out there somewhere. And someday it will make its debut when least expected. I can still hear Hose’ saying “Aye carumba, aye carumba”. He was the guy with the “hot lip” PJ’s, ones that were not a gift from his wife!

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~ Pipeline Re-Route 101 ~
From the Chinook Journal of S. Pam MaGee

I was a new engineer working on the pipeline. When this thing was being built I was only seven years old. But I remember it happening while living and growing up in Fairbanks. What I remember about that time was the fact that the grocery stores were always running short of supplies, especially toilet paper. So right out of school from a university in Fairbanks and getting a job with some of the best engineers in the business, it was a real thrill. The money was pretty good for a beginner. My first job was basically as an engineer in training. First off, when big projects like the Pump Station #3 by-pass come up, it takes a whole lot of coordination. It takes at least a year of planning. And the entire engineering department gets involved, along with a cast of outside consultants. Some of the consultants worked on the original pipeline design. One guy seemed to be familiar with every inch of the 800-mile line that stretches from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez. So it was meeting after meeting. The entire project was simulated on some of the fastest computers available. This project was a big deal because it required by-passing the entire station. It meant reduced flow in the line, as without this critical station, there just wasn’t enough upstream horsepower to push the oil head through Atigan Pass. And once the project conception was approved, it would be practiced out by the crews that would perform the work. Now my job was to coordinate the heavy equipment required, making sure the cranes and stuff like that could handle the loads efficiently and safely. This project called for a lot of pipe to be moved around, from 36-inch to 48-inch in varying lengths. It meant excavating equipment that could quickly dig up and expose the pipe. The project called for welding strings of pipe together that would allow the entire station to be bypassed in a chaotic fashion. See, corrosion had made its debut in the area. Corrosion is the pipeline’s engineers’ worst nightmare. A little moisture, which is prevalent along the entire pipeline route and some heat, it can spell disaster. And since the pipeline is insulated, the 140-degree oil heats things up. With a bypass in place, then the entire underground pipeline system that leads into and out of the station could be refurbished then embedded in concrete. But adding this much concrete posses a problem unto itself, like settling. So some civil engineers spent days and days trying to figure out what effect settling may have now and into the future. One must remember that the pipeline’s original design called for at the most 10-years in operation. We were already 5-years past the “end-of-the-line” time! Some guys said that they would be around for the 20th and the 25th and the 30th anniversary. Concrete is a pretty interesting subject when working at a remote location. It isn’t just a phone call away up here. A concrete factory had to be built, on site. Which means materials for such has to be trucked in. It is easy to see how these projects take a whole lot of everything from a whole lot of disciplines. Now my job wasn’t all that interesting, but at least it was part of the project. Talk about starting at the bottom. And when the crews were picked to do the jobs, like the welders and the mechanics, well it was just like a draft pick for a major league hockey team. Really! Crew bosses would sit in these meetings and basically argue about this guy and that guy. Now about a week before the first critical benchmark meeting, I was called to the office of the chief roads and pads supervisor. He reamed my you know what pretty good. He told me my figures for equipment requirements were way off basis. This guy was mean. He literally threw the report at me like a paper airplane and instructed me to correct it. Now this wasn’t really rocket science. See, the engineering department had these industry accepted best practices guidelines. To move a given amount of pipe, you need so much equipment. So with that kind of information and with interviews with the crew bosses, it was like getting the ingredients for a recipe. It was back to the computer. Now I had based my report on what I had learned in school. It was based on ethics of economics. Basically, don’t rip off the customer. I went over my figures. Everything seemed in check. So I confided with another engineer who was new but had worked several projects already. He grabbed my report and within seconds had found the flaw. I guess he was good. All he did was take my numbers and figures and multiply it by three. That was the key. It meant three times as much stuff for the same job. That was the rule of the road around here. See, downtime costs money, a whole lot of money. Some of the figures that floated around, the revenue loses while the station was temporarily shutdown, was in the millions. So having a back-up for the back-up, that is how it was done on the pipeline. So even though there would be three crews for everything, that is what made these monster projects so successful, for the last 15-years. So out the window with the economic stuff, this was the big pipeline! It meant three cranes instead of one. With my first job, I learned that money was no object with this thing that some people have called the 8th “Wonder of the World”. Hey, I wonder if that means our paychecks will be three times as much?

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~ Grey Poupon ~
From the Chinook Journal of S. Pam MaGee

Pipeline work is pretty good work. It pays great. And with the week on week off schedule, one only works in reality for 6-months in a year. Now take a few weeks vacation and back to back shift swapping, hey it amounts to less then 5-months work. Now there was one station that had it over all the others. Pump Station #5 was considered the retirement home. It was just like a regular pump station, except it didn’t have any mainline pumps, just a few booster pumps. It was basically just a relief station to control the oil coming over the Brooks Range. So it was a real easy job. Now when I talk of retirement, hey we were still good technicians, just a little on the senile side. One of the on-going problems plaguing the stations up and down the pipeline was how to handle the human waste disposal. It was a predicament. See, there is very little water at these remote places. Most of it has to be trucked in. And it is no place for a septic system. The ground is just to cold to allow the bugs to thrive and destroy the waste. So the human waste is sent to the jet engines’ exhaust stacks. We use jet engines, just like you see on a 727, and the thrust drives a pump. So the exhaust stack is pretty hot. The waste is normally pumped into the exhaust plume and annihilated. Basically cooked to death. Now it doesn’t always work all that well. In fact, when not working correctly, it allows a yellow cloud to form in the atmosphere above the station. And let it rain? Hey we have “yellow” raindrops falling on our heads. It falls down upon all of the outside piping and structures, leaving a paste that looks just like “Grey Poupon”. Now to keep the systems running in efforts to prevent the “yellow rain” stuff, it requires a lot of maintenance. At this station, with no big pumps, we had to find a different way. Plus nobody liked cleaning the “shit bags”. Hey, we were semi-retired. So over coffee one day, we proposed a project. Now due to cost cutting measures, we didn’t have a manager. So we were on our own. Hey we thought, lets just pump the stuff right into the pipeline. We figured it all looked the same, dark and gooey. So we set out on our own to design and implement a septic and human waste removal system. And not being a critical station, nobody really knew what we were doing. So in a few weeks, we had the station’s urinal tapped into the big pipeline. Now we were smart enough to realize that chlorine would have to be added into the line to protect the workers south of this station. But having a need for chlorine was a no-brainer, as we used it for other things. So adding a zero on the order provided us with plenty of the chemical. Of course being senile, we didn’t realize one thing. See, chlorine is bad for a refinery. And it doesn’t dissipate in the crude oil with vapor boil-off. So all the chlorine we were pumping into the main pipeline was corrupting the crude oil. I guess it can raise cane with a catalytic converter used to turn crude oil into gasoline. And it backfired on us. Sure enough, the chlorine attacked a refinery’s cracking unit. It doesn’t take very much to poison the catalyst. Now this happened real soon after we had completed the project, and all patted each-other on the back. Well when the “War Room” was mobilized to find out where the chlorine was coming from, we got rid of the evidence. Hey, semi-retirement was looking at full retirement! We got caught. Somebody ratted us out. No big deal. It wasn’t that big of a deal. As it was found sooner then later, eliminating major problems. But all the maintenance workers were pissed off at us. See, chlorine constituents can be found in many and most of the cleaning solutions used up and down the pipeline. Well our shenanigans led to a ban of the stuff, everywhere. That is what the managers blamed the problem on. See they weren’t about to admit stupidity. To do that would have meant an inquiry, then maybe a few terminations. And nobody else wanted to work the retirement home. Actually, the company was afraid if they terminated a bunch of senile pipeline workers, they would be faced with an age discrimination suit. Now as a penance, we were tasked with finding a new type of cleaning solution, to replace the banned stuff. Once again, not a big deal! We found this stuff that was a “citrus” based solution. Nobody really liked it. But you know what, it doubled as an air freshener for the urinals. Killing two birds with one stone! Who says age is a detriment!
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~ A True Memorial ~
From the Chinook Journal of S. Pam MaGee

Meeting after meeting. It seems that is all we did to pass the time away here in Valdez. Finally, the boss interrupted the meeting, gaining the attention of the participants as he pointed to the wall clock. Today was a special day for the workers here in Valdez. The oil companies had hired a famous artist to design and sculpture a monument - as a dedication to the 28 thousand or so construction workers who helped build the pipeline. Valdez had been picked as the home base of this statue, a bronze masterpiece that was 3 years in the making. It was well deserved, especially in memory of the 31 lives lost during construction days – 5 years all total in the making. In this day and age, that’s pretty high on the fatality graph, but the environment made it a dangerous job. If you ever saw the pictures of the construction workers’ faces cast in fright as they lowered the pipe down the Thompson Pass drop, you would know what I was talking about! As we drove towards the festivities in progress down at a specially set aside and manicured outcropping overlooking the bay, one could see that the still unveiled statue was indeed going to be a well-deserved memorial. It towered over the landscape. Closing in, one couldn’t help but become emotional. A band played music, tents were set up to shelter the dignitaries. There was an open invite to the residents of Valdez. This was the big time. Someone said the tarmac out at the airport was “nose to tail” with private corporate jets, and a few bearing the insignia of the U.S. Department of State. Over the past week or so, it was rumored that some pranksters were planning a sabotage of the monument. Security was beefed up. As the band played the uncloaking song, I forget what it was, the removal of the canvass like cover reveled multiple figurines - the detail was unbelievable. There was the engineer, as depicted by hands in possession of scrolled documents. Then came the surveyor, a transit the give-away. Onto a replica of a worker with a face easily recognized as that of an Alaskan Native, a tribute to the 5000 young men who left the village life for a taste of a different lifestyle. In honor of 3000 or so females who braved the daily affiliation of “farts and burps” from the roughest and toughest band of construction worriers, came a ponytailed head and face - accompanied by a time forever smile. This one brought out the oohs and ahs. Then the crowd became silent, as did the band except for the slow rhythmic beat of that big drum. Low and behold, as the cover inched up over the last figure, something that was not part of the sculpture had gained the attention of the entire assemblage. It was the figure of the welder, as hanging from his welding torch, a six-pack of Budweiser beer, easily distinguishable as the red, white and blue shouted out against the dullness of the bronze background. All it took was that first laugh from a brave soul in the crowd to break the silence. The cheers followed, the band continued to play. Everybody realized that item should have been included anyway!

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~ Wild Ride Westerhide ~
From the Chinook Journal of S. Pam MaGee

West looked the typical oilman. He had that lanky type Texan build. He had that Texas drawl. He had that Texas drool, when it was cigar chewing time. And he drove like a longhorn steer on the loose. Anyway, this guy’s job required his presence in Anchorage at least once every other week. And flying in and out of Valdez can be a test of craziness. Add the fact that this guy didn’t like flying at all. So, his choice was pedal to the metal an away we go. Now this guy had a tendency of driving a little on the fast side. And driving a little too fast can be a devastating mistake, as most of the roads between Valdez and Anchorage do not come equipped with shoulders for erasing minute perturbations behind the wheel. So it is easy for one to steer into the wilderness. The pipeline’s security detail worried that West would one day find himself off the road. And with winter coming on, a season that can bring temperatures down to the minus 70’s around the Thompson Pass area, well they needed a plan. Now the Thompson Pass area is avalanche area. So getting stuck there can become a missing persons story – forever! Hey, if you get stuck in an avalanche racing down a mountain side, you’re going with it. And some of the gullies that corral the snow breaking away, it gets deeper and deeper every season. But not to worry as ingenuity was about to solve the problem. All of the company vehicles were painted with bright white identifying numbers on the roof. The vehicles were painted this god-ugly red, so the identifiers could be seen in just about any weather conditions. It was a contrast that would allow an off the road vehicle to be located from the air. So West’s vehicle was taken into the prep shop and the numbers were painted on the bottom of the rig. Sure enough, the first time that West was on a return voyage from Anchorage and about half way home, the wilderness became his personalized parking spot. And the truck was capsized. Security sent out a chopper after getting a report of an off the road vehicle. A red one! They surmised that it could only be one person. And these roads don’t get that much traffic, except pipeline trucks. Now when the mechanic’s shop dispatched a wrecker to travel some 100-miles to retrieve the overturned truck, West had already confiscated a ride back to Valdez. The mechanics that arrived on the scene were aghast as to how far off the road the vehicle had landed. And nobody got hurt? Anyway, when West was filling out the accident report with security a few days later, he said that the new identifiers worked pretty well. Of course, he admitted that once you are heading off the road, you have to gun it big time in order to make a good flip! Only West could come up with this off the wall thinking. And he was the boss of the entire facility here in Valdez. That brings up another interesting story about nature. See, we had more then one idiot at the wheel on the pipeline roster. What I mean, some of the managers that worked in Anchorage had no idea what it was like to work out on the pipeline. We had this one president who really thought his deposits didn’t stink. He showed up one day at the security post in Valdez. Now no employees can have access to the pipeline or terminal without a picture ID badge. And even though we trudge through the security post day in and day out, we still have to show the badge, to the same guy who has been looking at the same photo mug shots for many years by now. Well the president thought it was above him that he had to prove to the security police who he was. Everybody knew George’s mean demeanor. But this one security guy was not going to temporarily amend the policy, that everybody must show a badge. Now the president was at the gate with two owner company representatives. These guys have authority above and beyond what George was used to having being in charge of the entire pipeline. These guys own the pipeline and the oil fields, big power brokers. So they were happy to present their ID’s, but not George. And it was a miserable day. Finally George knew he wasn’t going anywhere soon and it was getting down to the stage of embarrassment. But George was known to have a temper. Well he produces the badge. But instead of nicely presenting it to the patient security guard, he flips it out the window. Hey, we get some pretty good gusts here in Valdez. The wind propelled the badge about 20-feet from the vehicle, right smack down in the middle of a mud puddle. Well the security guard walked over to the puddle, shined his flashlight on the badge, and wrote down the ID, then walked away. George was pissed, as by now the gate had been opened but George didn’t have his badge, it was still in the puddle. So he jumps out of the truck rip roaring mad. Now being another lanky type dude, hey the wind was his match. And in his haste, he was soon airborne. It was a great landing! Mud covered him from head to toe, good old Valdez mud. And these guys where expensive suits. It was one of the best paybacks to a manager most of us could remember. The good thing, it was recorded on the video surveillance camera!

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~ Pump Station 8 ~
From the Chinook Journal of S. Pam MaGee

It was always interesting to get new help. Especially young energetic guys with an attitude, the right attitude that is. The turnover over rate for pipeline workers was almost non-existent. The pay was just too damn good. And with a week on week off work schedule, it was in reality station life for only half a year throughout the year. I used to be a teacher, this technician job tops it all around. And with my seniority and vacation accrual, I get almost the entire summer off, to go fishing. I clock in for about 20 weeks a year now. Been here for 25-years. I pull down about 85k without overtime. Don’t take to kindly to OT. See this station is a little different then the remote stations. There is a road right out that window that takes me home every night, to Fairbanks. I like being home at night. I guess you could say it is semi-retirement. And the work isn’t very hard. In actuality, because this pipeline was built so well, the reliability factor called for more time in the break room then anywhere else. But when the “you know what” hits the fan, we respond. One year we had a 100 percent reliability factor. It means every station up and down the line ran around the clock and made the daily target deliveries. That is when we were pumping 2-million barrels a day. Things have slowed way down. Now getting back to the new guys that come this way. When new help would arrive, it was important to set them straight right off the bat. New recruits were usually hired as contractors, to see just how good a worker one was. It takes more then brains around here, teamwork is the key. Some have it, some don’t. That is why there was such an ex-military workforce presence, most from the Vietnam era. That conflict meant teamwork. Maybe not to claim victory for an un-winnable war, but to protect your buddy. The pumping stations are designed pretty much the same. A pump house, a “pig” receiving and launching facility, an electrical generator building, a turbine building. Nothing that complicated. It’s just a pipeline trying to get oil over those mountains to Valdez. And because of extreme temperatures in the winter and hordes of mosquitoes in the summer, the buildings were connected together via covered walkways. This was a bone of contention during the early pipeline design efforts. Not because of the costs. Money was really no object. Some engineers felt it was unsafe to have the building tied together. If crude oil leaked from some piping, the concern was the possibility that the oil could make its way through the corridors and find a source of ignition. So these special doors, double doors, were installed to eliminate that possibility. They worked. Now one of the things the new guys do is try to please the bosses. With that, they take to cleaning things up. The stations are pretty clean to begin with. Hey, we live here. So cleaning becomes a habit. Some things need not be touched. Let me show you what I am talking about. There is a section of concrete down in front of the doorway that leads into the incoming manifold building that remains untouched. Most of the concrete has been resurfaced with that shinning looking stuff. So when new guys come around, they all make an attempt to paint that one odd-colored square. There is a reason it remains untouched. Back when the pipeline was starting up, the oil was slowly moving this way. Now with a new line, there is a lot of crud, like welding slag, that is forced this way by the oil front. When the oil arrived here, we had to monitor the filters, as they had a tendency to choke up. Better have the filter plug then the pump become contaminated. Now these are huge filters, a guy could stand in one. And that is exactly what happened the day this station burned to the ground. A few mechanics were busily cleaning out one of the filters. The pipeline was blocked in with valves, but open to accommodate the maintenance, Then all hell broke loose. Somebody unlocked the electrical cubicle that powers the valves. Somebody or something directed the valves to go open. On one side of the valve, the maintenance guys. On the other side, a 4-foot diameter pipe filled with crude oil. When the valve started opening the maintenance workers tried to evacuate, as they realized this was a bad news day. The oil shut out from the open filter, hit the ceiling, vaporized, then ignited in a fireball. The entire station melted, it was a total loss. Except for the concrete. It doesn’t burn. The structural I-beams melted, everything. When the smoke cleared, one worker was unaccounted for. We all think that Joe made it out of the building, to that spot. If one looks close enough, there is a faint impression of a body in the fetal position, seeking protection. It was a bad day. So the concrete is a reminder that no matter how well planned, somebody will try to circumvent the best made plans!

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~ Dummy Brigade ~
From the Chinook Journal of S. Pam MaGee

Pump stations pump crude oil. Crude oil contains many nasty things. It contains many volatile things. Like natural gasoline, propane and butane to name but a few. It is highly flammable and explosive. And because Alaska is a cold climate, the oil enters the pipeline at about 140 degrees Fahrenheit. That hot! And when the oil is exposed to the atmosphere at that temperature, it boils and gives off dense fumes. Don’t light a match! In fact getting caught with a book of matches or a cigarette lighter at a pump station meant immediate termination. Everything is build to withstand an explosion or fire. But sometimes things can get out of control really quick. Not to long ago, somebody did a study, one of those worse case scenario studies. It involved pump stations along the 800-mile long Trans-Alaska-Pipeline. At one time, there were 11 stations in operations. This study was exclusive for pump station 1, up north in Prudhoe Bay. This station was a little out of the ordinary as it contained storage tanks. Now the study indicated that if one of the two storage tanks caught on fire, there would be enough heat to overheat the adjacent tank and an explosion would level everything within a three-mile radius. Now there isn’t much surrounding the pump station except tundra. Oh, I forgot one important thing, the camp living quarters. So in no time, the camp was vacated, turned into offices, and the crews were put up in a safer place. It had something to do with liability. See, if somebody dies in a fire when at work, workman’s compensation takes care of the misery. It is the exclusive remedy here in Alaska, so a death brings a real quick and cheap settlement, not much. Now if the camp was ransacked by the tanks turning into a big “Bic” lighter, well then the families of the deceased could bring big lawsuits. So the crew now sleeps safely far and away at the Prudhoe Bay base camp owned by one of the big oil companies. Anyway, all of the crew members are trained to fight a fire. We all know that the only escape away from a station on fire was to grab on to a loose hose hanging off the fire truck and hang on for dear life. This was a direct order from the fire chief, as he was headed out if it ever happened, Right through the fence if need be. There was no way we could tame an out of control fire. We practiced anyway. Every Saturday, it was fire training. Now one of the things that we practiced was rescuing a fallen comrade named Annie. Annie was the dummy that was used and abused for CPR and anything else, sometimes as a punching bag. And a guy named Rooster used to take it to his room at night? So on this one particular training day, the chief called for a rescue mission. Everybody was teamed up. Now nobody knew what kind of event would get us into the fireman mode. I was teamed up with Casanova. The call came in. There was an earthquake and the office area personnel were unaccounted for. Now when we grabbed our self-contained breathing apparatuses, the face shields had been duct taped to simulate a black smoke fire. So we downed the proper equipment, and with word from the chief, we were given the direction that Annie was trapped in the office adjacent to the break-room. It wasn’t that difficult to maneuver our way up the stairwell through the break-room and into the office area. But furniture had been purposely placed to hinder our egress. We kept tripping, so it was down to our knees, like real firemen. Now all the time, Cass and myself were roped together with a buddy rope. Soon we were making headway around the office, looking for Annie. Since these breathing devices have built in radios, the entire crew was listening to our progress. This was all part of the training. Now we were beginning to sweat as we were all decked out in full fire fighting gear. And the fact that it was dark, due the duct tape, it was like the real thing. Cass radioed that it would have been nice to have a real thing right about now. He was talking about a Coke. Then I felt a body. It was Annie. I informed Cass about the find. He was right behind me. He said he felt a crotch. Then I felt something familiar, like a boob. But there was something strange. The boob felt too real. I asked Cass if the crotch felt like a real crotch. He laughed, but it was a serious type laugh. Well little did we know, a gal that worked at the station decided to take Annie’s place. Now here we were feeling up what we thought was a dummy. And we were commenting about this over the radio, so everybody could here us. Now as we started moving the “dummy” it was definitely not some plastic artificial human. It was. So we ended manhandling this dead weight body. I think she enjoyed the all thing.

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~ Aunt Ruth ~
From the Chinook Journal of S. Pam MaGee

I was heading towards Pump Station 12 with another pipeline worker named Frank. I had not yet really worked with this guy as he worked the opposite shift. Pipeline work commands a week on week off schedule. Not bad, especially when vacation time comes around. It basically boils down to at least an entire month off! Frank was an Athabaskan Native and knew the area very well, especially between Thompson Pass and Gulkana – his birthplace. Even with the scenery looking nothing more then wilderness for some 100-miles, the area was rich with a silent history. Frank’s knowledge about this part of Alaska was testament to a story that hasn’t been recorded. And the reason we were headed toward Pump Station 12, well it was lunch time! That was the only good thing about maintenance work this far north from our home base, we could invite ourselves to lunch at the station’s camp. Frank and I worked out of Valdez, at the marine terminal. This is where the storage of 9-million barrels of crude oil and loading of such aboard super-tankers takes place. It is a monster of an industrial facility, but small in comparison to the backdrop, big mountains. It marked the end of the 800-mile long pipeline. Now pipeline workers that worked in Valdez lived with their families, so we didn’t have the luxury of dining at a camp. Camp food is dynamite. No cutting corners around these remote places. So when maintenance details allowed getting away from the terminal for a few days, everybody pushed and shoved for this job. Basically, we were performing maintenance on the DSMA system. Along the pipeline route there exists strategically placed Digital Strong Motion Accelerometers. A pretty fancy name for a device that monitors the earth’s movement. It is supposed to predict an earthquake. So these devices, which consist of specialized gyroscopes with a radio link to Fairbanks, are used as a means to access the potential of a major earthquake heading our way. Anyway, we had been on the maintenance detail between the last station on the pipeline and Valdez for about three days now. So lunch was always appreciated. Now Frank knew most of the workers at the camp, especially the cook. And right before we would leave for our road trip back to Valdez, following a gut wrenching meal, he would get a “To Go” sack. Along with a fresh thermos of coffee, to go along with the cookies. It is a crime to head out on the pipeline without a fresh thermos of coffee! Anyway, soon after we would depart the station, Frank would pull the truck over and disappear into the woods, with the “To Go” sack. Now on the first few days, I thought he was just throwing it away. I surely couldn’t eat any more! But on this one particular day, he seemed to be looking for something before he pulled over. In fact, he would scan the horizon. And when something of interest caught his fancy, it was time to pull over. And it looked as if he was relying on the sighting of a Raven as his guide. Curious, I followed along when Frank departed the truck. Sure enough, he would head off the beaten path and place the contents of the “To Go” bag on a perch. Now the stuff wasn’t just thrown about. It was painstakingly positioned about, as if someone was coming for diner. I didn’t have to ask what he was up to. He offered an explanation. It was for his Aunt Ruth. See, the Athabaskan legend talks of the deceased becoming members of the Raven Clan. So Frank was doing his duty. And he said that Ruth loved hamburgers and fries. So when in this area, he would look for a Raven that fit Ruth’s character and description. Now on our forth and last day, sure enough, when we left the camp a Raven invaded the air space above the truck. It stayed with the vehicle for a few miles, then started this gawking. Frank pulled over and proceeded into the woods. I followed. Sure enough, in a tree limb, a Raven awaited our arrival. Frank did his duty. It seemed the Raven was still making a lot of racket as we departed. He mentioned she was mad! Why I asked? She knows we won’t be here tomorrow!

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~ Egg’m On ~
From the Chinook Journal of S. Pam MaGee

Deadhorse is the only town this far north that isn’t off limits to visitors. Around the oil fields were talking about here. One can fly here, or drive. But the driver finds no facilities for about 400-miles. And to catch a plane, it is pretty costly. The oil companies like it that way. And one would think that a town that skirts the biggest oil fields in America would be teaming with booze and women. Not up here. No booze, no prostitution. Now Deadhorse has an airport, a novelty store and a post-office all in one. And that’s about it. This town is asleep by 7pm. But every so often, the betting urge gets to people. So if you can catch a ride, hey maybe one can find a card game. But the stakes are pretty high. So we came up with our own betting scheme. It starts with a raid on the hen house. At night, some of us would sneak down and steal a few dozen eggs from the hardboiled egg bin. These were prepared the night before by the bull cooks in preparation for the next day’s hungry lions. Anyway, we finally were successful in acquiring a good amount of eggs. We kept the stash over in the mechanics shop. It doesn’t really get warm up here, even in the summer time, so spoilage wasn’t a problem. We needed about 4-dozen eggs, for the start-up pot. Saturday night was betting night. After diner and when most of the workers had hobbled to their rooms, it was game time. It was all kind of secretive. Now anybody who showed up was automatically in the betting pool. Frank was in charge of the game. It wasn’t like a cockfight or anything like that, but it did involve a bird. Up here, the gulls stand about 3-feet tall. Pretty good size birds. And they will scarf up anything that looks or smells like food. These birds love hardboiled eggs. Just how many will they consume and still be able to lift off was the game. So Frank coaxed a bird into the open bay. One dozen was no problem. Then two, the betting was on the increase. Now when everybody had placed the bets, then Frank would do something to scare the bird into flight. After about 4-dozen, it was time. One could see this bird’s waistline had turned into a bulge line. Well little did we know that the manager had caught wind of the game. The cook complained about the missing eggs! So right before “Gertrude” was given the scare, here comes the chief, barrel assing our direction in his pipeline manager’s truck. Well the bird saw what was coming and started its retreat, right towards the truck. It looked like it was going to be a windshield grounding event. But right before it was a smash, the bird let one go. Like it was determined to escape by getting rid of some ballast. There was green gooey shit flying everywhere, a direct hit on the manager’s truck windshield. In fact, he had his side window down and you could see the stuff had speckled his glasses! By that time, we had all vacated the bay. After that, the hardboiled eggs were locked up. Nothing was ever said. Probably out of embarrassment. In fact, one could still see the damage left by the goop. It acted like a paint remover. So nothing said meant play ball. Except, the eggs were under lock and key. We tried everything else, but these birds were fussy. They didn’t like donuts. They didn’t like hot dogs. Eggs, that was the key. We started looking for other ways to have fun!

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~ Barney Fife of Anutuvik Pass ~
From the Chinook Journal of S. Pam MaGee

We were on an emergency project up in the Brooks’ Range. Now if this place isn’t a prelude to what heaven will look like, I don’t know what to expect. But when work duty calls up here, it means stuck in some shelter that houses batteries and electronic control gear. What makes it worse, no windows to observe the surrounding natural beauty. Smells and looks just like an old fashion type bomb shelter. That musty smell! And it remains on the dark side, even with plenty of lights. Could prop the doors open, but the mosquitoes would suck us dry. On one wall of this particular shelter we were working at, some graffiti from pipeline construction days. It was a drawing of a marijuana plant. Ken looked for some roaches, not the bug type. Then one has to put up with the smell of sulfide from the charging batteries. John, the electrician, he thought it was Ken passing gas. Pipeline food will do that for you. This shelter was the control shack for one of the remote gate valves. These valves are critical when an orderly shutdown of the pipeline is called for from the control center in Valdez, some 650-miles south. Now this is remote work. First, it takes a road trip to get to these places. In this case, three hours on something that looks like a road and far away from the nearest pumping station. Now when I say emergency, the bosses in town wanted the project completed and tested by the weekend. And the state regulators had proposed a penalty and fine if the midnight Friday deadline went unaccomplished. So we worked diligently to get the problem fixed. The problem we faced went like this. These valves control the oil’s pressure head and isolates sections of the 4-foot diameter pipeline in the event of a rupture somewhere along the 800-mile line. The valves are commanded closed by a super-duper sophisticated computer located in Valdez. These valves are heavy duty and require about 250-volts of DC power. It takes a pretty good-sized battery pack to accomplish this feat. Like 200 military type vehicle batteries! Anyway, should a valve go closed “un-commanded”, the head backup from upstream pressure can easily cause the pipeline’s half-inch thick pipe to burst wide open. And the “un-commanded” valve closure was starting to become more then just a nuisance. In fact, the FBI was investigating the possibility that a local terrorist group, some greenie following, had some how gotten a hold of the command codes. With that information in hand, then all it required was a radio at the same frequency that was used during the normal operation, to close or open a valve. And radio frequencies are part of the public domain. Now once these valves start to go closed, it is impossible to stop the activity, meaning the valve would have to travel all the way closed before it could open back up again. So a decision was made to install a remote supervisory system that would basically take the operator power away should the controllers in Valdez see an “un-commanded” valve go in transit. The only way to do this without failure was to “crow-bar” the power supply. The term crow-bar originates from when that guy was changing a flat tire and placed the lug wrench across the battery terminals. Talk about a flash, Gordon! So this system that we were gainfully employed installing would in essence place a “live-bus” to ground. It would basically blow the fuses that were part of the valve’s motor control circuit, a “dead-bus”. Now it was late on a Thursday when we waited patiently for an inspector to show up. I was the inspector for the crew, but this project had to be signed off by the state regulators. I guess the state doesn’t keep regular inspectors around. There is a lot of territory to cover up here. So come about 7pm, here comes this “green” fish and feather vehicle towards the shelter. We were just hanging around, as our work was finished. In fact, we were one day ahead of schedule. It meant the bosses were happy. It meant we were happy. Because as soon as this guy put his “Hancock” on the inspection report, we were headed to the airport in Fairbanks, then home to Anchorage. Now the inspection report required the inspector to verify that the motor control fuse was indeed “blown” by the action of the “crow-bar” dead bus. These fuses are just like the ones you find in household appliances, except bigger, like 1-inch in diameter and about 1-foot long. We had tested the circuit’s operation enough times before the “so-called” state inspector arrived that we were confident that it would pass the test. Anyway, we went through the gyrations and you could here the in-rush current zap the fuse. One cannot see if the fuse was blown. It has to be verified with a meter. Now this inspector had no idea what I was talking about when I tried to explain this “crow-bar” stuff. He was a biologist or a game warden! Well he refused to sign off the blown fuse section of the report. Because he couldn’t see that the fuse was indeed blown. And he had no idea what this “meter” business was all about. We laughed. He said that he would have to check with the guys in town. So we were delayed and had to find a place to stay for the night, as in the morning, hopefully this guy would have his brain in gear! Then again, maybe we would get a real inspector. We headed north. Each pump station along the way was pretty busy with summertime activity, so the camps were full. It meant heading to Deadhorse for a stay in the Hotel North El-Raunchy! There isn’t much in Deadhorse. We stopped at the local store. This store sells everything. John had in idea. He was checking out the kinky section. You won’t find any blow-up dolls up here, just inflatable sheep! Anyway, he finds this remotely controlled dildo, that looked just like the fuses we were fussing with on the valve control system. When you work with the same crew long enough, you start thinking the same. We knew what John was thinking about! Now we were pretty pissed. The plan was to substitute the fuse with the dildo, then we could fake the test and hand the inspector a real doozy of a fuse. Now this would only work if the same guy showed up. Anyway, the next morning we headed out bright and early. We stopped at each pump station along the way for a breakfast. Before we arrived at our destination, we stopped for lunch. Sure enough, the dildo looked just like a fuse when it was placed in the fuse holder. Soon the inspector showed again, same guy, same attitude. Now we went through the gyrations of initiating a test. John really played the part of a high-voltage electrician. He had the high-voltage gloves on and the big old glasses, like it was real dangerous work, it was. Anyway, you could tell today that “Barney Fife” wasn’t going to be made a fool. Oh no, he now knew everything there was to now about electricity. Anyway, the signal was given and then John removed the fuse, the dildo. He handed it to the officer. Now this guy still had no idea what in hell he is looking for. I asked him if he would like to use the meter, to check continuity to see if the fuse was still live. He then said the fuse looked like it was dead. Just then, Ken hit the remote switch to turn on the dildo It started vibrating, still in the officers hand. This guy didn’t even realize he was playing with a dildo. Next thing you know, he is running out of the building, still holding the vibrating dido as if he was getting electrocuted. We laughed so hard that tears rolled! Then I guess he caught on to the joke. But it wasn’t a joke to him. Dam, he comes strolling back into the shelter, banishing a handgun and waving his fancy brass badge. He pointed the gun right at John. This was scary. When he realized that he had us and that the one who laughs last laughs best, he lowered the weapon. The gun was made of plastic. He told us that he carried the plastic one as a decoy. I guess he runs into some pretty strange things running up and down the pipeline. Anyway, everything was signed off. We headed to the nearest station, had the guy join us for dinner. Now right before we left, he asked John if he could borrow the vibrator. Said he had a Friday night date in Deadhorse. We laughed again, with who? Life on the pipeline!

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~ One Pill Makes You… ~
From the Chinook Journal of S. Pam MaGee

Roy was the guy that was always stealing other workers’ tools. Now we don’t know if he did it unconsciously, or out of stupidity. Some say it was his Oklahoma manners. Hey, you don’t mess around with another guy’s tool belt! You’d be better off messing around with a guy’s wife then his tools! And the other technicians would play mind games with old Roy. One day a technician made this fancy jumper cable with insulated alligator clips at each end. It was strategically placed so Roy couldn’t miss it hanging from this guy’s toolbox. The bad thing? It wasn’t made out of copper wire, but fabricated out of a fiber-optic cable! I guess the expression on his face when he was trying to bypass an emergency shutdown system caused one heck of an embarrassment. Especially when he realized the jumper wasn’t working and cut it in half, in front of the supervisor. Laughs were heard all around the Valdez Marine Terminal. Now I wasn’t one to play games. But over the course, I reported an increase in disappearance of my good tools, and replaced with not so good ones. Like a screwdriver that looked like it was chewed up by a bolt of lightening. And these were good tools, all Kliens! So one day I just happened to play a joke on old Roy. It wasn’t intentional, just happened to be in the right spot at the right time. Timing is everything, just ask a wife! Anyway, I had been diagnosed with a kidney stone. So the doctor in Valdez prescribed this pill to protect the inner wall of the tract that the stone was trying to navigate. It was just a prescription pill that would prevent an infection. These stones have a tendency to scarf the innards. Infections can be a nightmare to heal. Now I hate taking pills, always have. It is that swallowing paranoia. So I would place a pill in my coffee, in efforts to get it to dissolve, then I would enjoy my coffee and drugs at the same time. Now this pill had no side effects, like drowsiness or anything like that. It was just a precautionary medication. Well I came back from the foreman’s office to pick up my cup of coffee. It was gone. I asked Jim what happened to it. Roy was here was the answer. Oh well, but I forgot about the medication that most likely by now had been consumed by Roy. No big deal, except for one thing! This prescription turns the urine a bright MacDonald’s cheese orange! At lunchtime, we were all sitting around, almost to the nap stage. Then all hell broke loose. Dave came running out of the men’s room, calling for the medic. Roy had passed out, right after he pissed. We went running into the men’s room, to see if we could help. Sure enough, as Roy urinated he freaked out when the ugly orange urine hit the spittoon. There was this orange stuff all over the place, and Roy was coming too. By this time, the medics had arrived. I had to admit what happened as it was just too damn funny. A few days later, things were back to normal. Well it didn’t change Roy’s bad habits. But the guys were on to a new thrill. Yes indeed. They would set up a cup of coffee, just too inviting for Roy to pass up. And the coffee was laced with a liquid type Ex-lax!. Now it didn’t seem to be affecting Roy, at least not to the point that the pranksters expected. So they kept increasing the dosage. Well one day, Roy was sitting down at the break room table with his feet up in the air. Pretty relaxed I must admit and he had that mentality that said it was OK to pass wind, while others are eating! He tried. It woke him up. His face turned red. He limped off to the rest room. That cured him! It was revenge on the wild side.

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~ Mad Mac & Geronimo’s Cadillac ~
From the Chinook Journal of S. Pam MaGee

It was already winter like, with respect to the present weather conditions in Valdez. November was upon us. A non-disappearing blanket of snow had already started to accumulate out and about town with temperatures in the low thirties at night. Not bad considering the temperatures in Prudhoe Bay some 800 miles north were hovering at around zero with wind chills of –20 degrees Fahrenheit – so far mild according to one of the three permanent residents of Deadhorse, Alaska. Anyway, winter brings delays for travelers. I was told that the sooner I moved over to Valdez, the better. As it was not unusual to have the one road into and out of town blocked by the packing of snow some 30 feet deep, an almost impenetrable fortress left by a passing avalanche. This in concert with a three day long blizzard, so brutal that it takes as many days just to get the airport runway opened back up again when blue sky appears. As work ended for the day, and brought an end to my first 7-day workweek, it was one of those blizzards that would delay my departure back to Anchorage. No planes flying. Open roads, “iffy” according to the recording from the Department of Transportation’s road maintenance site at the top of Thompson Pass - a camp that looked like it was situated on a moonscape. I was waiting at the security post with several other workers who were also hoping to somehow get back to Anchorage. But before to long a few workers with weather delaying experience resigned themselves and their wishes – accepting the fact that they were stuck here. With that, they decided to head back into town for the night. They knew what I didn’t, so I followed. We caught the company bus that was just departing the Terminal. This bus would take the workers back and forth from work, it was front door to front door service. Even had a coffee brewing machine on-board, for those early morning runs. A good idea since work started at 6:00 am. Bus service, excellent pay, benefits not to shabby. Hey, this was a first class operation. The only thing open for complaining about was the weather! In short time I had acquainted myself with this group of stranded workers as we tagged along with other workers on the road back to town. One guy named Faller invited me for a drink at one of the local hangouts. I accepted. It seems all those with nowhere to go headed in the same direction. Damn, the entire busload was heading that way, causing a bottleneck at the pub’s entry – hey, it was the end of the workweek! Faller was a Vapor Recovery operator. Had worked pipeline construction for many years, then became a permanent as soon as the construction work began to dry up. Faller said the pipeline construction era spoiled him. No way was he willing to go back to the routine 40-hour workweek. Not to mention 20-hours a week on top of that for traveling back and forth to work – which was routine for his old job somewhere back on the Texas panhandle. Upon entering the drinking establishment, Faller pointed to a table occupied by a group of men who looked a little out of place. Instead of the flannel shirt attire common amongst the clientele who lived and worked in these parts and lacking beards, these guys wore uniforms - spiff and proper. Shirt collars even looked starched! Following a Snidely Whiplash like grin, Faller mentioned that it was the guys that sail the tankers in and out of Valdez. He knew most of the table patrons on a first name basis. They were enjoying themselves, as witnessed by several empty pitchers of beer about the table and cigar smoke so thick that it cast a noon time shadow to the ceiling lights above. Next it was on to a round table where several pipeline workers had already taken to enjoy the gusto themselves. The fact that the next seven days was all theirs was getting a grip. No where to go, no one to report to. A hangover would not be an unwelcome addition I gather. Then Faller introduced me to one obnoxious behaving and obnoxious looking dude who had made his way through the crowd, pissing off everyone in his path – like a bad Kansas storm moving across the prairie. His real name was MacKay. Everyone called him by his nickname, “Mad Mac”. I guess he weighed in at some 300 pounds. But not overweight, just a mean built. His face tarnished with roughness. At first introductions pretty aloof. Until Mad Mac found out that I was trying to get back to Anchorage. He insisted that I drive with him. He extended that invite to anyone and everyone, but everybody else just laughed - ignoring the invitation. Under their breaths muttered words to the effect that to accept this invite one would have to be crazy, insane. Hey, I didn’t know any better, so why not. I accepted. Then the muttered words from those surrounding, sounded of laughter, eluding to comments to the effect of “so long its been good to have known you.” I guess the saying goes true that one will learn from one’s mistakes, as no one in the crowd offered to help me, the newcomer, at resisting the foolish offer. Before long Mad Mac and Mr. Novice were Anchorage bound. Mad Mac had a few drinks under his breath, but he seemed cognizant to the fact that it was a long drive through mostly unforgiving wilderness, with very few places offering overnight shelter. I guess drinking was an accepted pastime in Alaska – one for the road. For that matter, two if by sea as it didn’t seem to deter against those guys who steer those ocean-going tankers! One re-assuring fact that lessened destinies concern is the fact that Mad Mac had just finished a hitch on the midnight shift, so he had the whole day to rest. That’s what he told me. I knew I was in for a joyous ride when he pulled into the last stop out of town. Not for gas, even though I had doubts whether his classic 1965 Cadillac, convertible at that, could make it all the way to Anchorage without filling up the fuel tank. Anchorage is really only about a hundred air miles away, but the rugged mountains in between make the road trip in a round about fashion, about a 350 mile trip - one way. Mad Mac called his two-tone baby Geronimo. He exited the store with a case of Bud. Great! Guzzled two cans just waiting for one of his 8 track tapes to rewind. When it started playing, it was pedal to the metal with George Jones in the background, Mad Mac pounding the dashboard, as if the idol’s drummer. Striking up conversation, I asked him what was with the duct-tapped holes in the convertible’s roof. He told me there was a tunnel up ahead. The last time he drove through it, just last week, something about his high beams screwed up - causing the horn to blow. The shock waves were enough to dislodge icicles that had already formed in the tunnel. Several bounced off the hood without much damage he said, a few more came crashing through the roof. He said not to worry. Soon we were on entry to that same tunnel, which leads out of Valdez into the treacherous Thompson Pass. And as mentioned before, an area known for its avalanches and a reported 30 to 35 feet of snow pack during a normal winter. Where the road itself becomes a tunnel like passage. Upon entering the rock tunnel, Mad Mac turned off the headlights all together. He again said not to worry, that George would get us through to the other side. Mad Mac wasn’t much of a singer, maybe that is what caused those icicles to come crashing down! Anyway, good thing the road ahead was void of traffic. Except for snow removal equipment. Another beer, can thrown in the back seat. Mad Mac said he would rather get a ticket for drinking and driving then to litter. I had lost count of just how many beers this guy had downed since leaving Valdez behind us. It didn’t seem to discourage his driving abilities. The icy roads didn’t seem to phase him at all either. Didn’t Bob Dylan write a ballad about this guy? Mac may have been mad, he had that demeanor, but he was also a wealth of information on the operation, or what he said was the screwed-up operation of the Vapor Recovery system. Mac was a multi-purpose operator at the Terminal – which is how he knew everyone at the pub. I couldn’t help not getting on the subject. He was one of the originals in a group of technicians that spent weeks at the University of Arizona learning about the system’s control capabilities. Mac said that not one, not even a single individual in the cast of engineers sent over from Anchorage, understood just what the hell those things were supposed to do. Breaking the boredom by insisting that the best part of the trip was when the whole group of technicians got busted at the border crossing - for possession of marijuana. Possession and use of cannabis was legal in Alaska at the time, so these guys didn’t think anything of it. The company had to send down a team of lawyers to act as bail bondsmen. Not that the company condoned the behavior, which warranted an overnight incarceration, but those under arrest were needed back at the Terminal for the startup signoff, the big day. Without these guys presence at startup in the already approved headcount, it would have meant a delay, another delay. Not what the oil companies needed at that stage in the game of the project. Every so often, I guess when Mad Mac had his lips to the can and his eyes towards the sky, there came a reprieve in his yapping. I wanted to get a word in, but I was more concerned about the fuel gage. It hadn’t budged, even after about three hours into the trip. I questioned Mac about the indicator. He directed a clenched fist against the stubborn gage, still no change. With that he said it was probably time to make a pit stop, I guess he meant for gas. I hope not more Bud. Damn, there wasn’t a town or anything that even looked like a town in sight, never mind a gas pump. For the last several hours it was nothing but woods, deep dark unfriendly woods. Next thing I know, Mad Mac is pulling off the main road onto a dirt exit. One of those “Chevy Chase” type of turns, no slowing up! It was a driveway I guess, leading up to a cabin. The approaching head lights in the midnight darkness waking a pack of dogs, as acknowledged by the alarming howls. In no time, the porch light reveals an interest to our intrusion. Through the front door comes the homeowner, shotgun ready. Mac had already exited old “Geronimo” and was relieving himself at a nearby bush. It seemed the right-to-bear-arms homeowner was ready to pull the trigger, until he notices Mac. Soon Mad Mac and a guy named Gus are exchanging hugs and greetings. I guess out here there is no such thing as unexpected guests! Next thing I know we are invited into the house. Gus was an Athabaskan Indian. Upon entering the house, one could tell that this was a family that relied upon a subsistence lifestyle, as the entry way held the necessities of survival, snow shoes, traps, fishing nets, a brightly colored kite! Gus’ wife Sally was also up, by now stoking up the fire in the potbelly stove and brewing up the Folgers, along with a side condiment of dried salmon and pilot biscuit crackers. I looked for a better word then hospitality - especially at 2:00 am in the morning! Before long we were back on the road, with a full tank of gas courtesy of some trade arrangement between Mad Mac and Gus’ wife. Had something to do with seal oil. Come to find out, Mac’s wife is also an Alaskan native, from the coastal regions inhabited by the Eskimos. Seal oil was a highly prized product of trade amongst the Alaskan Natives. Gus tried to bribe some Bud for himself, no deal! Besides spruce and willow tree forests, the road we traveled traversed the route of the pipeline. Every so often the elevated structure’s reflective insulation could be seen off in the wilderness, aided by the light of the full moon. It looked cold. It looked like a wilderness. The pipeline was purposely elevated to allow the foraging caribou herds and other animals unrestricted movement west to east, the migration route. That requirement added substantially to the construction costs. Finally, we arrived at one of the bedroom communities catering to Anchorage. I had been renting a small little cabin in Chugiak. Nice little place with that true Alaskan “roughing it” flavor. But nowhere near what Gus and his family woke up to everyday. Hey, for me, just down the road was an espresso shop! I gave Mad Mac many thanks. Thanked the Great Lord that I had arrived alive, and promised myself never again All things considered, the only thing to be concerned about now was the fact that I was back home. There to meet me, my wife and dog. Last thing I remember was catching a glimpse of the Northern Lights through the ceiling mounted skylight, finally relaxed to sleep. Next morning I woke rather early, still on company wakeup time. A nice day was about. Glittering sunshine bouncing off the frosted up windows told the story of what was happening outside, well into fall - maybe a tease of winter. Anchorage lags behind in the season change as the coastal influence blocks the incoming “Arctic Blast” – that burst of cold air from up north which sets winter into motion. It happens overnight in the interior. And unlike Valdez, where the surrounding mountain peaks have a tendency to block out most of the sunshine, Anchorage still saw lots of light this time of year – enough to keep winter at bay for awhile longer. The longest day, called the winter solstice, still a few months away. But it wasn’t easy not to recognize what looked like a vehicle blocking the bend of the driveway. Sure enough it was Mad Mac’s “Geronimo”. I ran out to see if something was wrong. Sound asleep he was. A few taps on the window and it was Mad “wide awake” Mac. Like an automatic response, he grabbed a beer, guzzled down the semi-frozen slush, shook my hand through the now open window and said “we’ll do the same in two weeks”.

CopyRight 2005/MSK Media
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~ Fallen Worrier ~
From the Chinook Journal of S. Pam MaGee

It had been some years since I had the opportunity to visit Valdez, the end of the 800-mile long pipeline. I had worked at the pipeline’s loading terminal for many years and at the same time raised a family. This place is called the “Switzerland” of the north. It was a nice little town, but definitely a company town. I had not really kept up correspondence with friends made on the job, even though I was still employed by the same company, but for now way up north in Prudhoe Bay. Hey, one has a tendency of loosing touch with past acquaintances. It is sad, but a fact of life. Like Bob Dylan sang, “Friends will arrive, friends will disappear”. So I was hoping to catch up with some past working buddies. To talk about old times. We had a great team down in Valdez. That was true until the management went paranoid over union activity and broke up the maintenance group. Regardless, it was still a decent job. So this time it was a plane ride from Anchorage to Valdez. It was a bumpy ride, not unusual considering the mountainous terrain that surrounds a plane’s flight path upon final approach. And also not unusual and par for the course in Alaska, towards the back of this 1950’s era turbo-prop plane, a casket. Sitting upon a wheeled gurney, somewhat secured at the rear bulkhead by bungi chords. A normal flight. Until a wallop from air turbulence off the nearby Valdez glacier tested the piloting skills and teased the passengers. A second wallop, this time sending the casket holding gurney forward, coming to rest right where the passengers were sitting. A little strange, but there was nothing anybody could do but exchange facial expressions of acceptance. Even the lone flight attendant was helpless, remaining buckled up as instructed by the guys up-front. Then came another fuselage engulfing invasion of turbulence. This time the jolt nudged the closed casket to open. Right there in front of us, only an arms length away. New facial expressions highlighted disbelief. We all thought, in short time it will be wheels down on the tarmac. But sitting there waiting for that final touchdown, well it was just to inviting not to peek into the open casket. For myself, it was not a good idea to be so nosey. The recognized face, a little older and I believe colder. A former working buddy of mine. A prayer was forwarded. It was Bruce, returning back to Valdez. He had lost the battle – the cancer battle!

CopyRight 2005/MSK Media
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~ North Slope Beauty ~
From the Chinook Journal of S. Pam MaGee

I am not a tourist. I am an oil pipeline worker on the Trans-Alaska-Pipeline. Yes indeed, 800-miles of unadulterated natural beauty. From the North Slope all the way to Valdez, in Prince William’s Sound. They call Valdez the Switzerland of the north. On a scale of 1 to 10, an easy 10 when it comes to a display of natural beauty. From the mountains to the oceans, postcard picture perfect. And if you ever had the opportunity to drive through Thompson’s Pass in the winter and there is a full moon about, it’s a breathless experience. Bring on the Aurora Borealis – sometimes called the northern lights. I have seen lights dancing about in colors that were hard to describe. Now such natural beauty stretches the entire 800-miles. And we’re talking only an infinitesimal slice that the pipeline right-of-way occupies, when considering the entire landmass of this 49th state. But having been able to spend several years in Prudhoe Bay, well I will let you in on a little secret. First, the winter can be brutal. But snowy owls seem not to mind the whiteout conditions. And the white arctic foxes find enough food to survive several months of nothing, that’s about it. But as soon as the sun’s light starts coming back after a three-month hiatus, well the “slope” starts to come alive. It seems birds start to show up overnight. The snows melt from underneath. As soon as puddles show, the migration begins. For days and days at a time, flocks arrive. From swans to geese, by the thousands. And songbirds bombard the airwaves with serenades. I bet there are species of birds up here that have yet to be discovered. In no time, this place transforms into a giant swamp. Then the lone caribou shows, the scout. And in a few days, thousands appear from out of nowhere, like on a pilgrimage. Then the newborn arrive, again by the thousands, legs shaking, but well protected by bulls with racks that make them look like knights in royal armor. This place comes alive in every direction. Alive in every dimension, then some. I was driving back from a pump station south of Prudhoe Bay. It was close to midnight. Something caught my attention. Off in the distance, a brown bear enjoyed the midnight sunshine, taking a nap. Close by, caribou also enjoyed the evening without fear. It was as if a time existed with no hostilities between the species that sometime rely on cruelty upon others in efforts to survive. But on this day, all was content. Two small cubs played with the caribou. The young caribou used their growing antlers to throw the little balls of fur into the air. They would land on the ground and come back for another lift. And the protective bulls knew they meant no harm, so they continued to rest. The sow, not alarmed but amused at the way her siblings played with the older caribou. Now since I had access, from keys to locked away territory, I could find myself visiting surroundings that were off limits to every other American! There existed places where giant arctic char could be observed dancing along a river’s surface. And grayling, what a sight! Money cannot even buy this kind of adventure. I am not rich, but I have been to places not even the richest person in the world will ever get to visit. Thanks to the pipeline!

CopyRight 2005/MSK Media
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~ The End of the Line ~

Alaskan Pipeline Stories CopyRight 2005 by ERP/MSK Media

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Oct 25, 2019 at 8:24 AM

Posted on: Oct 24, 2019 at 11:06 AM

Hello Mikey, shout out to one of the best Instrument Tech’s I ever worked with.
By the way, I found the solution to the agonizing P.I.M. Card and thought of you
phildoh@gmail.com.
Take care, it was an honor to work with you...

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