A. Seran, Lieutenant-Commander, U.S. C. & G. Survey
(From the ASSOCIATION OF FIELD ENGINEERS BULLETIN
U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey
no. 1, June 1930, pp. 37-43)
8:00 o'clock in the evening of June 30, 1907, direct from
water college in Ohio, I reached Washington, D.C., for the
first time. An appointment as Aid in the Coast and Geodetic
Survey and instructions to report for duty on July 1st were
carefully folded in my pocket.
reporting to the Assistant Superintendent and taking the oath
of office. I was ordered to duty in the Computing Division.
The Computing Division in those days was an entirely different
division from what it is to-day. Among others was Mr. Doolittle,
a famous computer and the originator of the Doolittle method
of solving equations. He was at this time quite old and in
order to know when to stop work in the afternoon, he had an
alarm clock in his office which sounded off at 4:30. Needless
to say, this alarm could be heard throughout the Division.
It may have been the forerunner of the signal which is given
on the Auto-call today, which tells those who have not already
done so to put on their hats, coats and galoshes preparatory
to trying to work their various ways home through the jam
of traffic, red and green lights, busses, street-cars and
trucks. Mr. Doolittle always wore carpet slippers in the office.
That type of footwear must be extinct as the dodo bird to-day
for it is never seen except in fancy dress costume.
computer was Mr. Dennis. Years before he had been in the field
force, and among others who had served in his party was the
then Superintendent, Mr. O. H. Tittmann. Two lady computers
were very much in evidence, Miss Beall and Miss Pike. The
former was engaged principally upon astronomic computations
and the latter in the computations in connection with precise
levels. The Chief of the Computing Division at that time was
J.F. Hayford, afterwards Dean of the School of Engineering
at Northwestern University.
a reason which seemed plausible at that time, but which would
be regarded as foolish to-day, smoking was not permitted within
the sacred confines of the Division. Strange to say, not many
of the computers smoked, so the rest rooms were never too
crowded to find space when the craving became insistent.
Chief of the Computing Division called the Chief Computer,
A. L. Baldwin, now the genial district manager of the Northwestern
Life Insurance Company, and told him to put me to work. Mr.
Baldwin passed me a bunch of record books, a cahier of field
computations, a progress sketch and a copy of Wright and Hayford's
"Methods of Lease Squares" and told me to adjust that scheme
of triangulation. The triangulation was a small scheme up
the York River, Virginia, which had been observed by the present
Chief of the Division of Geodesy, Captain Bowie. How easy
it was for Baldwin to say that, but what consternation it
caused in my mind. Adams Manual on Triangulation Adjustment
had not been written or even thought of at that time, and
as I had had no instruction in least square adjustments, I
had to do no small amount of digging to find out just what
I was supposed to adjust and how I was to adjust it.
were eight other Aids who, like myself, had just been appointed
and we all struggled together. Kurtz, Maynard, Stanton, Swick,
Wells, Colbert, Garner, Purton and myself were scattered all
over the Division, trying to look busy, but more engaged in
trying to size up the whole situation.
we all received orders to the field during the month of July
before the specter of least squares had completely squelched
Heck in those days was wiredragging New England coasts in the
summer and Florida coasts in the winter and always had a bunch
of youngsters in his party. Four or five of our bunch were ordered
to his party; the others were scattered all over the States.
Purton and I drew orders to report to the Commanding Officer
of the Schooner Matchless at Saxis, Virginia, for duty.
That party was engaged in a hydrographic survey of Pocomoke
Sound on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, at the same time orders
were issued to Captain O. W. Ferguson to proceed to Saxis and
relieve Captain O. W. Ferguson to proceed to Saxis and relieve
Captain Vinal as Commanding Officer of the Matchless.
Purton and I were to receive our training in Coast Survey ways
and methods under one whose appointment in the Service was reputed
to be due to his ability as the best precise leveler in the
steamer to Saxis sailed from Baltimore in the late afternoon.
and myself had gone to Baltimore earlier in the day for a final
try-on of uniforms which were being made for us by the New York
Clothing House - our old friend Jessie Rosenfeldt, whom practically
all officers meet sooner or later.
reached Saxis wharf, Virginia, about noon the next day. The
Matchless was anchored about a quarter of a mile off
the wharf but Captain Vinal, who had been informed of our arrival,
had a small boat awaiting us. This permitted us to go directly
a lad coming from the fresh water lakes and rivers of Ohio,
the Matchless appeared wonderful. Retrospection shows
the dark bilges and forecastle, the stuffy and smelly wardroom
and cabin, the inadequate toilet facilities and other antiquated
and unpleasant features, but at the time she looked like a yacht
order to give me a proper initiation, while sleeping with my
port open, the first night the Matchless swung to the
tide and shipped a few gallons of Pocomoke Sound water into
my bunk, drenching my bed and myself and making it necessary
for me to crawl in with Purton for the balance of the night.
first working day Purton and I were sent out with the launch
hydrographic party for instruction in measuring angles with
a sextant. Jim Marsh, the Mate on the Matchless, was
in charge of the hydrography and he kept Purton and me checking
the angle he was measuring for a couple of days before he would
allow us to shoot an independent angle. After about 15 minutes'
practice we both assured him we were able to carry on, but he
only smiled. To look back on it now I'm not at all certain it
would have been safe to have taken us at our words, altho subsequent
experiences in the Philippine Islands with native members of
the crew who spoke very "few Englishes" who could shoot sextant
angles with best of them make me think that possibly we would
have gotten along all right.
first Sunday aboard we appeared on deck in our new uniforms,
which had arrived only the night before. Say what you please,
the old close-fitting blouse with its tight collar was a neat
appearing rig. Purton and I would not have exchanged places
with the President of the United States that day. True Purton
heard some scurrilous remarks on the forecastle deck, but
we were in much too good a humor to take them seriously.
remained at anchor off Saxis about four months after our arrival
until the survey of Pocomoke Sound was completed. During our
stay there we managed a trip or two to Chrisfield and also
Pocomoke City. Chrisfield was a city built largely on oyster
shells and the buzzards were so thick overhead that a random
shot in the air most likely would have brought one tumbling
down. Pocomoke City was a great cannery center and at that
time the country fair was held there. The Jamestown Exposition
was held that year and I took a few days' leave for a "look
see". Memory of the Exposition is pretty dim, so there must
not have been much of interest. I stayed at the Inside Inn
and well remember the quarter mile or so of mud flats that
stretched Bayward in front of the Hotel at low tide.
the Pocomoke Sound survey was finished we received orders
to proceed to Solomon's Island, Maryland, for general surveys
around the mouth of the Patuxent River. Our little cruise
across the Bay was uneventful, altho we ran into a head wind
and made very little progress against it. At that, we reached
the harbor off Solomon's early the next morning and dropped
anchor. I came out of my bunk in a hurry on the way in when
I heard the leadsman sing out "3 feet". We were actually skirting
the edge of the middle ground so closely that he got that
sounding. Captain Ferguson went ashore soon after we arrived
and arranged for a berth at the dock. We moved to the dock
that morning and settled down to a life of Reilley for sometime.
this survey we had both hydrography and topography to do.
As neither Purton nor I had ever run a plane table, Captain
Ferguson's first work was to give us some instruction. After
a day or so he sent us both out, each with a plane table outfit
- needless to say, it took us some time to get onto the hang
of things, but in due time things were humming, with two topographic
parties and one hydrographic party leaving the Schooner's
side at 8 o'clock each morning.
this project was completed we received hurry-up orders for
a survey of St. Mary's River near the mouth of the Potomac
River. Early in January, 1908, we sailed from Solomon's Island
to Miller's Wharf, Smith Creek, and in the dead of a severe
winter we tried to do hydrography and topography. To sketch
topography when your fingers are so cold that they can not
grasp the pencil is some difficult task, and artistic effects
under such circumstances are out of the question. To sound
through ice so thick that the lead can hardly break through
it would not be regarded as good, or even passable practice,
and I were relieved from duty on the Matchless while
this work was under way by Hawley and Siems. Our first intimation
that they were coming was when they blew aboard about 2 o'clock
one morning looking for a place to sleep. Purton and I were
ordered to Washington office en route to the West Coast. Purton
was assigned to the McArthur and I to the Patterson.
On my way to the West Coast, some leave was taken and this,
my first visit home after entering the Survey, was a memorable
visit. You may imagine the way I described the work of the Coast
and Geodetic Survey to those in Minerva, Ohio, to whom a theodolite
was some sort of a lantern, and a sextant some sort of an immoral
instrument. My prospective trip to Alaska caused a great deal
of comment and envy, especially among the fellows with whom
I had associated in high school days.
complement of officers on the Patterson the season
of 1908 was greater than
she could accommode. Thirteen wardroom officers were assigned
to the ship, which had only ten single staterooms. That meant
that the three junior officers had to sleep on cots in the wardroom
and pile their clothes wherever possible. As I was one of the
three, I don't recall my first ocean cruise as a cruise of joy
or pleasure. To add to our discomfort, the cots had to be clear
of the wardroom deck by 8 o'clock in the morning. As one of
us had the mid-watch from mid-night to 4 a.m., his sleep that
night was nothing to brag about.
the officers aboard the Patterson that year, few remain in
the Service. Captain Hodgkins passed away some years ago;
the Executive Officer, Clifford Quillian, is in the insurance
business in Seattle and maintains contact with the most of
the personnel around Seattle; the second officer; Henry Beck,
is Superintendent of Lighthouses in Charleston, S.C.; the
four mates, Stanford, Whitehead, Thomas and Duffy, have scattered
to heaven knows where; the doctor, Marchand, is in one of
the Departments in Washington; the Chief Engineer, John Wyer,
is on duty in the Philippine Islands; of the six Aids, Stanton,
Wells, McChristie, Vinal, Franks and myself, I am the only
one left in the Service, and the only one of the others with
whom I have maintained any contact at all is Franks. He is
now with a firm of construction engineers in Chicago.
orders that year called for our sailing from Seattle on March
1st and proceeding to Dutch Harbour via Kodiak. The Yukon,
which had been laid up at Dutch Harbor for some years, was
to be placed in commission, brought to Kodiak Island, and
used on the surveys that year. We did not sail on March 1st,
and on March 2nd we commenced receiving telegrams from the
office wanting to know the reason for the delay. We finally
got away from Seattle on March 8th. We stopped at Victoria,
B.C., to stock up the wine mess - another old institution
that has gone the way of corsets, petticoats, etc. - and also
stopped at Alert Bay for coal. From Dixon Entrance we sailed
direct for Kodiak. After a brief stop at the town, at which
time Vinal was put ashore in the company house on account
of being ill, we went on to Dry Spruce Bay where a camping
party was established to work while the ship went on to Dutch
Harbor. Quillian was left in charge of the camp, with Wells
as topographer and Stanton and McChristie to aid him with
the hydrography, triangulation, signal-building, etc.
Patterson reached Dutch Harbor on April 16th, after an
exceedingly rough trip. Frequent anchorages were necessary along
the coast and outlying islands. At that time there were six
feet of snow on the lowlands; some of the drifts reached to
the eaves of the houses. Under such conditions the work of placing
the Yukon in commission got under way rather slowly
and it was not until the middle of May that we were able to
launch her and commence thinking of the return trip.
some unknown reason, Captain Hodgkins decided to leave Dutch
Harbor on Sunday and about eight o'clock that morning gave orders
to get everything ready for getting under way. Practically the
entire crew refused to turn to - this resulted in his setting
the whole bunch ashore at Dutch Harbor only a few days after
the monthly mail steamer had left for Seward. With the aid of
the cooks, messboys, etc., the launches were hoisted, ship prepared
for sea and we left Dutch Harbor in the afternoon. The Yukon
trailed along behind the Patterson. Mate Whitehead had
been placed in charge of the Yukon and Mate Thomas
and Aid Franks detailed to the Yukon for the return
month's stay in Dutch Harbor was rather pleasant. There were
three employees of the North American Commercial Company -the
only inhabitants of Dutch Harbor - living in the company house
and we did considerable entertaining back and forth. Among
other things, the Company provided a billiard table so billiards
were in order practically every night. We also managed a few
stag dinners which, with the embellishments that were possible
in those days, resulted in lots of fun and usually a headache
the next day.
a more or less uneventful return trip, the Patterson
and the Yukon reached Uyak Bay some time the early
part of June. The Yukon was left in Uyak to make a
hydrographic survey of the inner harbor, while the Patterson
went on to Kodiak for coal and mail. Mate Thomas was placed
in charge of the Yukon for this work with Franks and
myself to assist him. The Yukon barely sat on the top of the
water and at times at anchor she would get caught between wind
and tide and just about roll us out of our bunks.
Patterson returned from Kodiak in about a week with our first
mail since leaving Seattle. On board the Patterson
as a passenger was Captain H. C. Denson, who was to assume command
of the Yukon, and Aid E.C. Kinnear, who also was assigned
to the Yukon. Kinnear had come to Kodiak on the Explorer.
having command of the Yukon gave rise to a very funny
situation which caused amusement to all of us throughout the
season. Captain Hodgkins flew a blue pennant on the mizzen of
the Patterson to indicate and signify the "Senior Officer
Present". There were four ships working in that section of Alaska
that year. In addition to the Patterson there were
the Explorer under the command of Dibrell, the McArthur
under the command of Rhodes, and the Yukon under the command
of Denson. The Yukon was by far the smallest unit;
she was little more than a launch. As soon as Denson assumed
command, he hoisted a red pennant to signify the second in command.
All during the season then the Patterson cruised with
a blue pennant and the Yukon with a red one.
the close of the season, on account of the crowded condition
of the wardroom of the Patterson, permission had been
received to return the officers of the Yukon and the
surplus officers of the Patterson to Seattle on commercial
steamer. Hence, Denson, Stanton, McChristie, Kinnear and I had
the fun of traveling on the old Portland. We were in Valdez
on October 24th and it was 25 below zero.
looked good to us, even though the usual rain obtained when
were a lot of young officers in Seattle that winter and we had
a delightful time. Thanks to Mrs. Bender, the step-daughter
of Captain Hodgkins, we soon had loads of friends. Dinner parties
and dances were frequent. In a month or so our social whirl
was rudely shattered by orders for field work during the winter.
The Patterson was to engage in current observations
off Mukilteo, the McArthur was to take up a survey
of Port Angeles, the Gedney was to revise the surveys
of Tacoma and the Explorer was to proceed to San Francisco
for surveys in the vicinity of the Farallones. With this scattering
of the ships and subsequent detachments and shifts of officer
personnel, the bunch soon scattered; some never have met again
to this day.
I have been writing these lines, I've tried to think of the
funniest incident that happened on my first Alaskan cruise and
I believe the following wins, hands down: The wardroom mess
of the Patterson had purchased a phonograph and a number
of records before leaving Seattle. We had among other records
one of "The Sextet from Lucia" - a 12 or 14-inch record - and
"Red Wing", a 9-inch record. The phonograph was secured at the
after end of the wardroom where there was little light. Someone
had been playing the record of the "Sextet from Lucia" and had
not removed the record. Dr. Marchand some time later decided
he wanted a little music. He picked up one of the 9-inch records,
placed it in position, started the phonograph, said something
about being tired of the "Sextet", took off his 9-inch record,
and spent some time looking for "Red Wing". When he had found
it, he put it on the phonograph again, started it, and to his
consternation, the same strains of the "Sextet from "Lucia"
were heard. It was a long time before he recovered from the
shock or before he could be kidded about his fondness for Grand