View of H. C. Frankenfield
in the making on that damp and gloomy afternoon in Washington
in January, 1882, when at the seat of the throne at 1719 "G"
Street, N.W., a number of callow youths, each hugging to his
breast the visible and tangible evidence of his collegiate experience,
embarked in the mule-motor express, with the black-bearded,
black haired, pessimistic McQueen as chauffeur. The objective
was Fort Myer, Va., the land of mystery, also only some three
miles distant on the Virginia hills that afford such a magnificent
view of our city of magnificent distances.
party, of which the writer was one, arrived at Fort Myer shortly
before nightfall, and was at once shown to quarters, small oblong
rooms along a long covered porch, each room with a single window,
running water, an army bunk in each corner, two double desks,
shelves and clothes chests. All shone with characteristic neatness,
and the first impressions were very favorable and encouraging.
Soon the staccato notes of a bugle rang out, and for the benefit
of the unsophisticated and uninitiated these tones were translated
into the supper call. It is almost needless to add that thereafter
we never failed to recognize the first notes.
in the mess hall was the signal for loud cries of "fish, fish,"
the colloquial appellation for newcomers. Well can I remember
the shout of derision that arose from the hardened reprobates
assembled when poor old McRae, big, burly and lovable, and who
has but lately passed over, said in his gentle voice "No, I
thank you. I do not take coffee. I would like a glass of milk."
It didn't take any of us long to discover that any milk we might
wish must be paid for out of our little salary.
We were soon
outfitted in the regulation "blues," and settled down to the
routine of study and military life. The menu was very limited
as to variety and poor as to quality with the exception of the
bread, potatoes and coffee. The bread was the finest I have
We came from
every quarter of the country; from Maine and Louisiana, from
Oregon and Georgia, each more or less stamped with the peculiarities
of his native heath. There was the lumberjack from Maine in
the person of the stolid Fickett, the Frenchman, Martin from
Louisiana with his pleasant voice and gentlemanly manners, Glass,
the webfoot from Oregon, and several cotton planters from Georgia
had rendered us easy of assimilation, and we were soon welded
into a compact and harmonious unit. We lived and moved as one
in a monotony that was unbroken save for Saturday and Sunday
trips to Washington for a square meal, (thirty-five cents at
the Temple Cafe on 9th Street, when we had the price),
for the seven-up game in the "extra duty" quarters, (tobacco
money), and for the little observatory game after taps.
We were a happy, carefree set of youngsters, and our greatest
trials were the constant longing for a good, square meal and
the Sunday morning inspections, especially the latter when the
Chief Signal Officer came up from Washington to witness the
same. This gentlemen was very fond of military display, and
his present always meant additional labor and trouble, both
at the time and thereafter, for our days were full to overflowing.
It was not:
hours for work, six hours for more work, two hours for recreation,
and eight hours for sleep, the latter not guaranteed. The program
was about as follows:
to 6:00 A.M.
Duty in rooms. |
to 9:00 A.M.
and general work such as cleaning uniforms and equipment.
A.M. to Noon.
to 2:00 P.M.
to 4:00 P.M.
to 5:00 P.M.
to 6:00 P.M.
to 9:30 P.M.
came the field signalling, both by day and by night, the latter
frequently calling for midnight travel in the rain, over muddy
road in black darkness, the horses choosing the proper route,
as we could not.
some six months passed. We had become a rugged, healthy and
active band of thirty-two youngsters. At the end of the fourth
month we were well pleased when old Mike Mahany, the terrible,
efficient, sarcastic, friendly, gruff first Sergeant, announced
that he could teach us no more of the manual of arms and company
drill, and that we had become a virtually perfect military machine.
We had mastered the military details, mounted and dismounted
and kept guard. We also had studied meteorology, physics, telegraphy,
mathematics and military signalling by wand, flag and torch.
We had constructed telegraph and telephone lines, spliced marine
cables and learned how to ride a horse, wait at table, clean
a carbine, act as valets de chambre and wield a saber. We were
more than ripe for the final course before leaving for our future
field of broad endeavor.
Service officers at Jacksonville, Florida (1890).
was our observatory course which consisted of instruction in
observational and instrumental work. With bag and baggage we
wended our way to the observatory which covered the second floor
of post headquarters building for a stay of some weeks. The
observatory was in charge of Sergeant Williams. Sergeant Williams
in uniform arrived mysteriously each morning shortly after guard
mount, that is, each morning except Sunday, and as mysteriously
disappeared each evening. He had some hiding place in the vicinity
of the Old Aqueduct Bridge for both mule and uniform, but its
exact location was never revealed to us.
William's supervision we soon became sufficiently versed in
the theory and care of meteorological instruments and in the
taking and reduction of observations to qualify us as assistant
observers. It also made us worthy to be promoted from the grade
of second class to that of first class private, the same carrying
with it an advance of pay of about $4.00 a month.
in company with Lamar and Ellis was assigned to the Central
Office at Washington, on temporary duty, and he remained on
temporary duty for five years and five months, taking charge
in December, 1887, of the station at Chicago, Ill. On June 1,
1894, he proceeded from Chicago to St. Louis, and on September
15, 1898, he returned to Washington as Forecast Official.
staff was then in the height of its glory. Abbe, Ferrell, Mendenhall,
Hazen, Upton, Waldo, and Marvin, and for a time McAdie and Hammon
joined us. They did yeoman service and their fame is international.
Well do we
remember that early summer day in 1884 when the telegraph announced
the rescue of Greely and his little party by Admiral, then Commander,
Schley, and the excitement that attended his return. After a
rest Greely took his place among us, and in time it became my
good fortune to assist him somewhat in the preparation of his
official report. I gratefully acknowledge my obligation to Greely
for the first real opportunity that came to me in the Signal
Corps. He was thorough and square and just, to commissioned
and enlisted men alike, and his administration as Chief Signal
Officer was eminently successful.
transfer of the meteorological branch of the Signal Corps to
the new Department of Agriculture on July 1, 1891, troublesome
times followed for a few years, but the troubles were finally
smoothed out and the Weather Bureau made giant strides upward
in efficiency and accomplishment.