was enlisted in the Signal Corps, U.S.A. with rank of Second
Class Private on September 25, 1885.
the four years previous I had attended Allegheny College
at Meadville, Pa. At intervals between teaching school,
working on a farm, working in a mill, cutting timber, blacksmithing,
painting and a few other things in order to obtain the necessary
in the summer of 1885, having despaired of obtaining my
degree at the slow rate I was progressing, I decided to
turn to teaching, in which I had been fairly successful,
as offering the best opportunity within reach. Accordingly,
I made application for the position of principal of the
village schools of Hydetown, Pa., and, having been assured
by each member of the board, for I saw them all, that he
would support my application, I felt that matters were settled
for the year at least.
in early September, much to my surprise and chagrin, I received
formal notice from the secretary of the board that another
had been chosen for the place. This was a hard blow. By
this time all the schools were engaged and about to open.
Besides, I was without money or prospect of employment.
will be recalled that in the spring of 1885, General Hazen,
then Chief Signal Officer, circularized the colleges of
the country, setting forth the advantages of the Signal
Corps as a career. As a result, some 30 or 40 young men
from different colleges enlisted. Thus, knowing that the
Signal Corps was employing men, I wrote for information
and advice with a view to enlisting.
dollars a month! Why, that was a fortune! - a munificient
salary! I could hardly believe my eyes, but there it was
in black and white. That anyone could earn $76 per month
- earn it honestly I mean - was outside the range of my
experience. (I had taught school for $18 per month and boarded
around) I hesitated no longer. I was resolved.
I made my application. I spent the whole day on it. I neglected
nothing. It was not too long, not too short, every word
in its place, every punctuation just as set down by Quackinbush
in his rhetoric. And the spelling; I was and am yet a notoriously
bad speller. Any unprejudiced person may confirm this statement
by consulting the official files of the Central Office.
But I maintain that if there is a misspelled word in that
letter, the mistake was in Noah Webster's, not mine. I verified
every word. And the writing of it: Here I was at home.
receipt of my letter at the Chief Office, examination papers
were promptly forwarded - a list of questions for me to
answer and then to make oath before a notary public that
I had not "cribbed" the answers. The examination papers
were sent in and in due time I was directed to report to
the Chief Signal Officer, Washington, D.C. on September
25 for a final examination - mental and physical - pending
the Signal Service, I was assigned to the Fact Room of the
Review Division under Sergeant James Berry. It was a small
dingy room in the G Street Annex, with one dusty window.
The sides of the room, from floor to ceiling, were lined
with books in which were pasted the monthly meteorological
records of all the stations in the world, on land, and of
all the ships, keeping records, that sailed the seas. I
was soon to make their acquaintance.
job, the purpose of which I knew nothing, was simple but
of deadly monotony. I was given books, containing 30 or
31 pages, according to the number of the days in the month.
The pages were about 30 inches long and 12 inches wide,
fastened together at the top and ruled lengthwise in columns.
The columns were headed: latitude, longitude, time of observation;
barometer, temperature, wind direction; force of wind; state
of weather. The appropriate data to fill these columns were
taken from the records that lined the room.
procedure was as follows: The first name at the tope of
each page was Alpena, and on the line opposite was entered
the data appropriate to the several headings for the first
day of the month. Then the page was turned and similar entries
made on the second page for the second day of the month,
and so on, turning a page after each days' entry until the
month was completed. The same process was followed for each
station and for each ship.
will be seen that in this way all observations made on the
first day of the month appeared on the first page of the
book, and that those made on the second day of the month
appeared on the second page, and so on throughout the book,
thus bringing the observations made each day, both on land
and on sea, together on a single page.
I had finished one book, I immediately began on another.
At first I was able to do one book a month, but later on
I was able to do two. We were then about five years behind,
and I figured that, baring accidents and delays, we would
catch up in about ten years.
in March orders were received to go to Fort Myer, but a
few days before the date specified, I was taken ill with
tonsillitis which laid me up for about three weeks. I was
glad to go to the fort, and I presume that that frame of
mind was reflected in my experiences while there. For I
may as well say here and now that I look back upon the months
spent at the Fort as among the most profitable and pleasant
of my life. There were a few disagreeable experiences of
course but there were many pleasant ones; and there were
friendships formed which the years have not dimmed.
that time there were two classes or sections at the Fort,
the Meteorological section of which I was a member, consisting
of 14 men, and the Military Signal Corps section in which
there were some 30 or 35 men.
arrived at the Fort one late afternoon in March, 1886, and
was assigned quarters. The barracks at that time consisted
of a two story building, the gable end fronting the parade
ground, and two wings extending outward perhaps seventy-five
feet on either side. The wings were fronted with wide porches
their entire length. The right hand wing, facing the parade
ground, was partitioned into rooms, each accomodating four
men. The Meteorological section occupied this wing while
the other wing, which was not partitioned, was occupied
by the Military Signal section.
room was furnished with four iron cots, one in each corner,
each cot with blankets, a straw tick, and pillow. A study
table stood in the center of the room, and there were shelves
for books on one side. There was also a small mirror that
hung from a nail in the wall.
was work aplenty. For the Meteorological section it consisted
of drill, guard duty, signal practice with flags and heliograph,
telegraph practice, observation work and recitations. But
there was also time for pranks, base-ball, and for leave
of an evening in Washington. The Military Signal section
was exempt from observation work and recitations, but it
enjoyed the distinction of cultivating the "post garden."
It was a brave sight indeed to see it march to its work,
armed with pick, shovel, rake, and hoe.
Myer was regarded as a regular station, telegraphing, at
least for the purpose of instruction, three observations
daily at 7 a.m., 3 p.m., and 9 p.m. In addition, if my memory
serves me, there were two "local" observations made at 11
a.m. and 7 p.m. The routine was intended to be the same
in every detail as that of the field stations. In the interval
between taking observations and working them up, we studied
the Bible - Instructions to Observers - the ultimate authority
of the Signal Corps, which no one, be he officer or private,
might question with impunity.
having failed to provide the necessary funds for the maintenance
of the school of instruction at Fort Myer (the meteorological
section at Fort Myer was closed in 1886), the members of
both sections were distributed among the various stations.
My original assignment was to Milwaukee, but later it was
changed to Cleveland. However, I was retained for a time
at the Chief Office.
work was to copy letter "briefs" into books provided for
that purpose. It was only a degree less monotonous than
the work I had done in the Fact Room.
that time there were few typewriters at the Chief Office
and none on station. Letters were not duplicated as at present,
nor letterpress copied as was done a few years ago. When
a letter was written on station it was folded in three folds.
At the top of the first fold was placed its number. (Letters
for each year were numbered consecutively, beginning with
January.) Following the number was the name of the station,
the date, name and rank of writer, and a brief statement
of the contents. This was called the "brief," and was copied
in the "Letters Sent" book. No copy of the letter was kept
- only the brief. Letters received were also briefed, and
the briefs were copied in the "Letters Received" book. Later
on someone made the discovery that it was unnecessary to
copy the briefs of the letters received, since the letters
themselves were placed on file.
observation work at the Fort was exceedingly interesting
to me, but the copying of briefs was no part of the future
I had planned. Besides, there was about this room the same,
ancient, musty odor that had sent me from the Fact Room
to the Fort. I had been there about two weeks, when one
day Zappone came to my desk and said that he was in need
of a man permanently and, if I so desired, he would recommend
me for the place. At the time my salary at the Chief Office
was $18 per month more than I would receive on station.
But, since I had been at the Fort on $12.50 per month, and
had not suffered, the $58 per month on station appeared
to be ample for my needs. I, therefore, replied, that, while
I appreciated his offer, I would prefer a station assignment.
He appeared to be surprised, but made no comment. Of course,
on account of the difference in pay, a Chief Office assignment
at that time was regarded as very desirable, and, when it
became noised about the room that there was one of their
number who actually preferred to go on station, it was looked
upon as indicating a mental twist of some kind. I think
that some even doubted my sanity. I am not sure that they
were wrong, for, in this instance also, I exercised neither
foresight nor judgment, but simply followed an inclination.
I was assigned to Cleveland, Ohio.
arrived at Cleveland in August, 1886, and reported to Sergeant
William Line, and there began a station service which, for better
or for worse, has continued unbroken to the present time. My
service at Cleveland was the beginning of my meteorological
education. For the first time I began to find out something
of what it was all about. I had served at the Chief Office and
at Fort Myer; had seen the forecasts and the weather maps, but
upon what the forecasts were based, or what was the significance
of the lines and figures.