Dec. 29, 1998
Letter 7: Celebrations
Celebrations and holidays not only mark the passage of time but also
build the spirit of community at the Amundsen Scott South Pole Station.
The smallest event can trigger a large station occasion requiring a
week or longer of plans and preparation.
The arrival of a new and very unusual looking piece of heavy equipment,
a Caterpillar Challenger, whose purpose is to drag extremely large and
heavy snow and ice planes or "drags" for grooming the skiway for
aircraft, was the catalyst for such an occasion. This Cat is a fast
moving, rubber-tired and rubber-tracked machine. Since most of our Cats
and other heavy equipment including the Sprytes (track vehicles) are
emblazoned with names, this strange new Cat needed one too. A contest
was born. The person creating the winning name for this spaceage
monstrosity would be the person selected to unveil the name painted on
the side of it, christen it with a bottle of champagne and receive a
Caterpillar baseball cap.
From this, the need for a station party developed. The men from the
heavy shop (garage) worked extremely hard and exhibited their collective
creative talents in planning this party for the station. They dubbed
it the "New Tractor Debutante Party" and invited everyone to the heavy
shop beginning at 6:00 PM on Saturday, Dec. 12, for a BBQ in the garage
arch, the christening ceremony also in the garage arch and a dance in
the heavy shop. A couple weeks prior to the party, a slotted box and
slips of paper were placed in the galley at breakfast time on the table
closest to the food service line for the collection of creative tractor
names. By the end of the week, the heavy shop guys broke open a case of
beer after work to get down to the difficult task of choosing the name
for the new Cat. After much loud discussion a name was chosen and Marcie,
our artistic baker, was solicited to paint the lettering on the side of
the Cat in secrecy. The Cat was moved inside the heavy shop and cleaned
and polished. A couple days before the party Marcie nearly pulled an
all-nighter after work beautifully scripting the Cat's new name on the
The heavy shop men put in hours after work over several days cleaning
up the garage. I personally thought it was a poor choice for a party
venue, but when I saw how the guys transformed the shop when I stopped
by on the night of the party, I was amazed. The floor was cleaned and a
fresh surface of new sawdust covered it. No oil was to be seen anywhere.
Suspending a parachute canopy lowered the ceiling. A stage was built for
the debut of the South Pole Band (since naming themselves The Icemen). A
workbench was covered with sheets for the condiments, bat wings, and
pasta and potato salads. Christmas decorations were up and lighting
effects were in place for the dance. Outside on the snow yet inside the
arch, heavy shop master griller, Jeff, at the BBQs served up hamburgers,
hot dogs, and kelbalsa. The Cat christening ceremony was after the dinner
and one set of music by The Icemen. Bob, a beaker, was the contest
winner. He submitted "Drag Queen" because, afterall, the function of the
Cat is to drag the skiway. Runners up were "Catillac" and my submission
"Pole Cat". Because I needed to go to work, I was free to attend only the
christening of the Cat and hear the band perform a couple numbers. The
party went into the wee hours and the band played on and on. No performer
could have a better audience than what we provide at the South Pole
The Drag Queen.
Photo by Les Kolb.
A few days before Thanksgiving and again before Christmas a chaplain
arrives from McMurdo to conduct interdenominational and Catholic worship
services in the upper galley. He is usually here for two days in order
to conduct services for both the day and night shifts and to be available
to talk to people over coffee and cookies while hanging out in the galley.
Since McMurdo is such a large station they have full time chaplains and a
church (Chapel of the Snows) with an amazing view.
Christmas Eve is celebrated with a gift exchange game. Those wishing to
parcticipate crowd into the galley and place their gift on a table in
front of the Christmas tree. Numbers are drawn to begin this progressively
loud and rowdy activity. As a person's number comes up they can either
select a gift from the table or take away a gift from someone who has gone
before them. Popular items this season were a leather and fleece cap with
a snap down bill and built in ear muffs, a Fiberfil vest that rolled itself
into a compact case with a draw-string, baseball caps from other Antarctic
stations, a pair of wool socks, a framed 8X10 photo of our station, and a
series of 8X10 aurora australis shots taken by someone who previously
winter-overed. Before this activity, the galley staff set out trays of
Christmas cookies and a huge bowl of eggnog.
During the week preceding our Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, the
galley staff notifies the station by e-mail the schedule for food
preparation events and volunteers are solicited. One evening is typically
designated for making pies and other desserts, another for preparing hors
d'oeurves and/or peeling potatoes and preparing vegetables. Cookie
decorating was one of the evening events during the week of Christmas.
During these volunteer activities, the kitchen spills over into the dining
room and tables are taken over for food preparation. Music fills the galley
and there is much laughter and comradery while preparing for our station
feast. On the day of the holiday dinner, breakfast and lunch are combined
for a brunch that is usually served from 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM. After brunch
the dining room is transformed with the assistance of volunteers into an
attractive setting for our evening holiday meal. The tables are rearranged
into 3 long rows covered with white tablecloths and matching linen napkins.
Stemware is pulled out of the galley storage closet along with shiny new
stainless steel cutlery. The tables are attractively set with candles,
festive centerpieces and at each plate there are individual place-setting
favors. While volunteers are preparing the dining room others are in the
kitchen assisting the cooks. Volunteers typically prepare 2 or 3 types of
stuffing, sweet potatoes or yams, roasted or whipped potatoes, arrange the
assorted holiday breads that our baker has been preparing for a couple days
and assist the cooks in any way they can.
About one week prior to our holiday dinners, sign up sheets are taped to
the dining room refrigerator asking for volunteers for wine and water
stewards, busing tables and serving desserts, doing dishes and preparing
the tables for the next seating. Also posted are sign-up sheets for choice
of dinner seating time. The last seating is always reserved for the night
shift in order for us to be able to get some sleep and have time to dress
for dinner. Since our population is roughly 190, our holiday dinners are
in 3 seatings which makes it possible to eat during one seating and
volunteer for another. Many people choose to do this in order to mix with
those that they may not have had a chance to see during their own seating.
Each seating is scheduled for 1 ¸ hours with hors d'oeuvres being
served in the small upper galley area (standing room only) for a half hour
prior to the scheduled dinner time. Traditionally the beakers (as we
fondly call the scientists) provide the wine for our Thanksgiving and
Christmas dinners. It is their "thank you" to us for supporting them in
their research projects.
Once we are called to dinner and find our places the galley supervisor,
Sally, welcomes us to a round of applause and a toast. Among the large
assortment of side dishes we had smoked turkey (the inside of the dome
smelled like a small forest fire the day before Thanksgiving dinner),
roasted turkey and fried turkey for Thanksgiving. At our Christmas
dinner we were served prime rib, baked ham and fried turkey. Throughout
our holiday dinners there are always toasts to the galley staff, the
beakers for the wine and providing us with the opportunity to be here,
the volunteers and to the health and friendship of each other. Les and I
prefer attending the last seating because it provides a more leisurely
dinner and we can linger afterwards chatting with friends. During this
after dinner period, many of those from previous seatings join us for
more conversation. This table talk frequently extends for hours while
some eventually work their way upstairs to music and dancing.
Christmas day was also the occasion of the South Pole Station Annual
Race Around the World. I got off work at 6 AM Christmas morning and
after having something to eat, I decided to go back to my room to have
a brief rest and read before heading off to the Ceremonial South Pole
marker (silver globe on a candy stripe pole surrounded by the 12
original treaty member flags) for the race. The race officially began
at 10 AM but I went to the pole early to take part in all of the
pre-race photos and chat. As race time approached, Dave, our station
manager and Jerry, our NSF representative, led the way to the imaginary
starting line for the gun shot beginning the race. The length of the
race was 3 times around the taxiway loop from the skiway to the dome
which equals approximately 2.6 miles. It didn't matter how we traversed
the distance. People walked, skied and a few managed to run. With the
lack of oxygen around here, I chose to walk. Others rode on ski-doos or
were pulled on sleighs behind them. Still others rode on the back of
the pick-up, jammed themselves into the van, or lounged on sofas and
over-stuffed chairs on the enormous cargo sleigh pulled by the Drag
Queen. It didn't matter how one managed to go around the world as long
as it was three times!
The Race Around the World on Christmas Day, 1998.
Photo by Lisa Beal.
Once the race was finished, we packed ourselves into the galley for
orange juice and hot drinks to await the announcements of 1st, 2nd,
and 3rd place winners in the men's and women's categories. These
winners were only for those who actually ran, of course. After much
cheering and applause each parcticipant, no matter the mode of getting
around the world, was given a commemorative T-shirt of this race. I
knew it was going to be a festive event when I left the dorm to walk
to the pole for the race and saw the new big black Mantis parked in
front of the dome with the U.S. flag and directly under it the MIA/POW
flag suspended from the top of this raised crane! I got very little
sleep on Christmas day, but had a great time before beginning my work
shift for the night at 10 PM.
Tonight is New Year's eve and I'm on the job again until 6 AM. It's
a station day off, but I need to be here to keep communications up.
Since no aircraft were scheduled for the holiday, it is unusually quiet.
I've had a few station related items to take care of as well as various
weather reporting details that carry on regardless of the circumstances.
The Icemen are performing at a dance in the DNF (Do Not Freeze cargo)
Jamesway. Earlier this evening, Fiddlin' Tom, an accomplished fiddler
(and Comms satellite technician by day) performed in Comms over the
airwaves for the first ever All-Antarctica South Pole Station Barn
Dance. Jerry volunteered to key the mike for Tom while he fiddled to
the remote tent camps on the continent as well as the large McMurdo
station. We later received reports that our South Pole Comms New Year's
Eve Show was reaching Finland and other European countries! We drew a
small crowd in Comms with lots of foot stomping on the hardwood floor
and loud yahoos and cheers after each number. Around 11 PM Comms cleared
out and the party moved out to the band and dance at DNF.
Tom Carlson (Fiddlin' Tom) on the fiddle, Jerry Horning keying the
microphone and Neil Conant in the background on New Year's Eve.
Photo by Sandi Kolb.
Today, January 1, at 1 PM is the annual ceremony of the marking of the
new geographic South Pole. Because we are on over 9,000 feet of ice on
a land continent, the geographic South Pole at the surface moves
approximately 33 feet each year. A new survey marker is hammered in
place on the 1st of every January. Parcticipants are given a turn at
the hammer on the new survey stake after the station manager and NSF
representative give a short (remember, it's cold) speech. Les and I
among many others had the opportunity to engrave our names on the
underside of the brass survey marker.
The new 1999 geographic South Pole survey marker.
Photo by Lisa Beal.
At 3 o'clock this afternoon, we have a wedding! Donna and Roger came
to the pole together as winter-overs. On Christmas eve, Roger proposed
and they set their wedding date for January 1st at the Ceremonial South
Pole. According to word-of-mouth, this is the first wedding here since
1984. Those attending the ceremony will join hands forming a circle
around the bride and groom and a ring around the world around the
ceremonial South Pole marker. Pizza and wedding cake will be served
in the galley for the reception and live music by The Icemen will be
performed in the DNF Jamesway for their wedding dance. I'll be working
again tonight and am not sure how much of today's activities I'll
manage to celebrate.
Roger and Donna's wedding at the Ceremonial South Pole on
Jan. 1, 1999.
Photo by Lisa Beal.
Following is the weekly climatological summary prepared by our station
I would like to take this opportunity on behalf of Les and I to wish
each of you a very happy and healthy New Year!
amateur radio: NE7V
South Pole Station
PSC 468 Box 400
APO AP 96598-5400
Subject: SOUTH POLE WEEKLY CLIMATOLOGICAL SUMMARY
25 December 1998 through 31 December 1998 UTC
Avg Temp...-30.5 (C) / -22.9 (F)
Max Temp...-27.8 (C) / -18.0 (F) on day 26
Min Temp...-34.8 (C) / -30.6 (F) on day 25
Avg Sky Cover (8ths)... 5
Days clear............. 2
Days partly cloudy..... 2
Days cloudy............ 3
Sunset on 21 March
Sunrise on 23 September
Avg hours/day......... 17.5
Percent of possible... 72.7
Station Pressure (millibars):
Avg pressure........ 690.6 mbs
Highest pressure.... 693.2 mbs on day 30
Lowest pressure..... 687.7 mbs on day 26
Physio-altitude in feet and meters:
Average physio-alt = 10231 ft / 3118 m
Highest physio-alt = 10339 ft / 3151 m on day 26
Lowest physio-alt = 10134 ft / 3089 m on day 30
0 days with visibility of 1/4 mile or less.
Avg wind speed............ 4.4 mph or 3.8 kts
Max gust.................. 15 mph or 13 kts on day 26
Max gust direction........ from grid Northeast
Vectored wind direction... 037 degrees
Vectored wind speed....... 3.3 kts
Prevailing direction...... grid North
Balloon flight data:
Number of Soundings for the period.... 14
Avg hgt of Soundings...... 20.3 mbs
Highest Sounding.......... 6.1 mbs, or 35928 meters
on day 28/12Z flight.
0 Soundings were missed.
10 Soundings were terminated due to balloon burst.
1 Sounding was terminated due to flight equipment failure.
2 Soundings were terminated due to weak or fading signal.
1 Sounding was terminated due to floating balloon.
Day 25 - The minimum temperature of -34.8(C)/-30.6(F) broke the
previous record of -33.1(C)/-27.6(F) set in 1993. Day 29 - The
minimum temperature of -31.7(C)/-25.1(F) broke the previous record
of -31.1(C)/-24.0(F) set in 1962. Day 30 - The minimum temperature
of -31.9(C)/-25.4(F) broke the previous record of -31.7(C)/-25.1(F)
set in 1972. Day 31 - The minimum temperature of -32.0(C)/-25.6(F)
broke the previous record of -31.1(C)/-24.0(F) set in 1972.
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