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Arctic Field Party Work by Captain Robert A. Earle, C&GS

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In spite of the fact that it was necessary for cat trains to keep hauling supplies for several months, it was essential that we start field work in early March. Our first job was to lay out and measure a four-mile base across a bay on the sea ice. From this base, with an assumed geodetic position and an observed azimuth, we started extending triangulation across the North Arctic coast. Handling a theodolite and making specifications was a most difficult operation when the temperatures ranged from zero to minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Due to the fact that it was necessary to wear several pairs of gloves, we would have extreme difficulty leveling and handling our instruments. However, we found that when we were frustrated enough to throw off our gloves it was only a matter of seconds before our fingers would become so stiff that we were unable to move them. In spite of the difficulties, the work progressed slowly and by the time we were forced to stop operations due to the melting of the sea ice and overflowing of the rivers, an arc of triangulation several miles in length had been completed. It might be stated that triangulation marks, which consisted of disks welded on 3-foot sections of pipe were placed in the tundra by using a jet of steam furnished by our thaw boilers.

As travel across the tundra was impossible when the permafrost started to melt, it was also necessary during this period that we build hydrographic signals and establish points where subparties could be based.

During this time, several Esquimos were also engaged in building a large ice cellar near the camp in the permafrost. This was done by using jetted steam to dig a 4-foot square hole about 5 feet into the earth. Below this point, we dug out a run approximately 12 feet square and 6 feet high. When supplies arrived at isolated camps in the small town via ships we would rush them from the freezing compartments of the ship to our cellar which, because it was surrounded by permafrost, had an almost constant temperature of 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Over the initial hole in the ground a small house was built. This contained a winch which was utilized to lower supplies into our cold storage room and was connected to the room by ladders.

From the latter part of May until the middle of July, during which time the snow and ice was melting, we were more or less restricted to our camp on the island. At this period our bush planes were equipped with wheels so that we could land on the small sand bars. During this period, the four remaining launches which were required were converted to hydro launches. After conversation, these boats were placed on cradles near the high water line in order that they could be launched and hydrography started as soon as the sea ice broke up and moved off shore. During this conversion period, our personnel consisted of approximately 35 officers and men, plus about 50 women and children, the families of our Esquimo workmen. These families were initially allowed to live in pyramidal tents a few hundred yards away from our camp. About the middle of May when the sun was above the horizon for 24 hours a day it was found that the proximity of the native camps to our quarters was a mistake. The native children, who have no regular hours for sleeping or playing, would go racing through the camp at all hours of the night, thus we were forced to move their quarters to another sandspit about one-half mile from the main camp.

In order to keep morale at a high level, a strong recreational program consisting of all types of card games and later of organized softball, volley ball and horseshoe teams, was organized. While the highest temperature experienced in this section of the Arctic coast was about 60 degrees, it was such a contrast to the months of bitter cold that shirts were seldom worn during most athletic events.

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