View of Bette Silvey Donatt
I worked for the
Weather Bureau some of 1944 to 1950 at the Airport Weather Bureau,
Lambert Field, St. Louis, Missouri. My name at the time was Bette
certain how I learned Weather Bureau needed new employees. I applied
for training because I thought it would be interesting, a learning
opportunity. Thought aviation connection was exciting. This was all
proven to be true. The Weather Bureau needed help. When I began training
I was very young and had no vocational direction.
the test to qualify for the training school at Kansas City. Classes
were held in the Kansas City Federal Building eight hours a day for
six or eight weeks. Working from Circular N. plus extra study after
class and testing was followed by supervised duty at Kansas City Airport
Weather Bureau for a short time, perhaps a week. Following training,
I was officially assigned to Lambert Field. Cannot recall the number
in the small training class, perhaps a dozen. Assignments were made
throughout Region 5. There was one other woman from St. Louis who
was assigned elsewhere. Some time later she came to work at Lambert
Field for TWA. While I do not recall the instructors' names, one man
and one woman, they were very thorough. He gave a very accurate overview
of the job, which I still recall. I do not know how long the training
school had been in effect and never heard of anyone else who had attended.
In the beginning I was still being trained after my assignment to
Lambert Field. Circular N with updates was a forever source of reference
for all. Any subsequent new employee was trained by coworkers; even
if they brought experience, they had to get acclimated to their new
in 1944, the Weather Bureau was in great need of help. I was eager,
though inexperienced. For the most part coworkers were kind and considerate,
some more than others based on their individual personalities. There
was a separate staff of mature forecasters. Some treatment bordered
on patemalism. I was "low man on the ladder," and because of my age
and inexperience I logically accepted this role. I worked very hard,
as did most everyone, but not with a view to career advancement. This
was not the case with some of the women, well qualified, who were
never, I believe, seriously considered for advancement because of
their gender. For them I considered this unfair; for me individually,
I felt I was treated well. This was. a different time.
working during a season of particularly bad weather at a very busy
airport. Weather was constantly below Contact conditions, except Instrument
or Closed classifications for flying. Everything connected with the
Airport was in one long, narrow building. The ground floor was primarily
the waiting room for airline passengers, ticket counters used mutually
by airlines, and a restaurant open at the convenience of the management.
The Weather Bureau was on the second floor with Communications, Air
Traffic Control, and Army Flight Service. Additional weather instruments,
inflation shelter, and, of course, control tower were on the roof.
More gauges and a large inflation shelter were on the ground and the
1,000-foot light for nighttime ceiling measurements with lights at
specified distances and landmarks for visibility reporting. The instruments
and techniques were so purely simple. In addition to the problems
created that season by the weather, the Weather Bureau was to be moved
to the front of the other agencies, logical location because that
was the only office to which pilots, airline operation employees,
and the public came for information. A narrow hallway leading to the
Weather Bureau was being eliminated. Prior to the move, the panels
and wiring for Air Traffic Control communications were installed in
the midst of the weather office, and teletypes were being relocated,
creating not to be believed congestion. It was rather overwhelming.
No season was ever that difficult, still I considered it the norm.
duties were as circumstance dictated: Original title -Weather Observer
- describes initial and primary duty for reporting hourly observations
for transmission by Communications at half-past the hour, on-the-hour
checks, and reporting significant changes for special reports and
phoning these to the tower. Six-hourly reports were more extensive
and their communication resuked in map signals to plot the six-hourly
map, a chore everyone seemed to like. Filing reports from the teletype
for display so it would create a picture for the entire country was
a spare-time activity. Other duties included answering phones for
the general public and media; supplying any requests; and assuming
any duties for the City Office in the Federal Building located downtown
(for their hours of nine to five, Monday through Friday, no holidays),
preparing balloon for six-hourly winds aloft report, hoping helium
tank did not need changing; launching; recording minute readings,
unless with luck you could use headset and give readings to coworkers
in the office who would record and begin plotting until they were
interrupted by other duties. Everyone had an extra duty from a list
of mundane chores that allowed the office to be functional. Happily,
radio broadcasts were transferred to Columbia, Missouri, a less busy
station, but earlier in my service I did this briefly. This duty required
working from 2100 to 0500. Later, punch cards were introduced and
completed for designated reports and then sent to Kansas City Regional
Office. These were checked and returned for corrections when necessary.
Visitors to the station were dealt with, and even school group tours
could be a real problem because there was little or no spare time.
primary shifts were 0800 to 1600, 1600 to 0000, and 0000 to 0800.
These shifts were usually rotated each week. There was also 0700 to
1500, 1500 to 2300, 2300 to 0700, and the dreaded 2100 to 0500. Because
of the small staff the scheduling was quite irregular and sometimes
very inconvenient to the worker,-but necessary to cover 168 hours
per week. Days off sometimes were not consecutive and I cannot remember
anyone using sick leave. Each shift was scheduled for eight hours;
however, you arrived ahead of scheduled duty to prepare to take over
the shift and remained until your relief arrived and was able to assume
the continuity of the duties of the previous shift, no matter how
much time it required. Occasionally a staff meeting was called; attendance
was expected. The work week was forty hours, no overtime was recognized.
On one occasion there was such flooding in low-lying areas from sudden
rain, my relief scheduled to arrive at the end of my shift at midnight
was not able to get through. The earliest arrival was 0700.
was a very dedicated group for the most part, very considerate of
one another. Certainly there were some people you worked with more
efficiently than others, but everyone worked hard or the tasks could
not have been accomplished. If you were thinking not in terms of long-range
career but only in terms of doing the best possible job for the present,
it provided a compatibility with those contemplating future advancement.
Politics exists in everything in life, in this setting this was minimal.
the Weather Bureau in 1950, the official term was voluntary displacement.
The erratic hours certainly took their toll. It was time to "get-a-life."
The Weather Bureau experience made a great resume. I worked for a
short time in the Adjudication and Contact Office of the Veterans
Administration and advanced to the Aeronautical Chart Plant, both
interesting, located in the city and regular day hours. Soon I married,
became a parent and stayed home, for this was 'I Love Lucy' times.
low point of my Weather Bureau career came early on when I was inexperienced,
unsure of myself, wanting to prove myself, adjusting to the scheduling.
For the high point, though no one ever adjusted to the hours, acquiring
experience and confidence and the general spirit of teamwork cause
me to remember the time fondly.
of service includes little time prior to VJ Day, but I think my lengthy
answers to the other questions cover this more than anticipated.
to the airport was no easy task. Though the Navy Base was south of
the field and McDonnell Aircraft was to the north, the only public
transportation was the airport bus which ran every thirty minutes
when it made the run, at no one's convenience, and not over night.
I drove nearly twenty miles from the city during a time when gas rationing
was in effect. I was allotted extra stamps. There was cooperation
with the other airport employees regarding transportation, but scheduling
made this difficult. Prior to being paid on one occasion, all employees
were required to sign a sworn statement declaring that they were not
Communists. Thinking about this now, it seems like an unreasonable
requirement, but with the preoccupation of getting on with the work,
some of us nevertheless appeared before the Postmaster of Robertson,
Truman gave all government employees a declared holiday for Victory
Day, a gesture that was impossible for us. Some of the things I describe
would only occur during this time. The Navy Base provided all the
emergency equipment for the airport. I recall a few times when there
was a total power failure throughout the airport. The Weather Bureau
kept Coleman lanterns available for this situation.
I do it again? At that time of my life, in that time of history--yes.
It was work that needed doing, it was a challenge, I learned a lot.
Maybe I could have used those years to better personal advantage,
but my choices were right for those times. The major contributions
of all the employees at that time was keeping the Weather Bureau "manned"
and assisting in keeping the skylines safe for aircraft. Dramatic
phrase? Sure, but that is what we were doing.
remember individuals but I cannot recall the number of employees at
one time. There was a staff of forecasters located in the office next
door with flight service, probably six. These were all men, at least
one of whom had been a high school principal. The office in which
I worked had perhaps a dozen employees--at the time I arrived mostly
women; by the time I left mostly returning male veterans. The chief
and assistant were always men.
pay while I was attending training class was comparable to a beginning
female office worker. Upon station assignment there was an increase
and periodic increases. Later 10% night differential was added for
hours between 1800 and 0600 which recognized the inconvenience and
additional pay for holidays. By the time I left my pay since training
rate had nearly tripled and while the duties were basically the same,
my title, Weather Observer, became Meteorological Aide.
about Weather Bureau years was very pleasant for me. Perhaps it was
the times, the work, the hours, that created the camaraderie I remember