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By Louise Howard

Where do you think we’ll move to next?
Or when will we finish here?
Do you think we’ll get home for Christmas?
We’ve not been for many a year.

These are a few of the questions
The Coast Survey wives always ask
T’is a life of constant wandering
And moving about is a task.

We married not only the men
But married the job it seems
We’ve been here, there and everywhere
From Seattle to New Orleans.

We’ve lived in tent, cabin and trailer
We’ve tried hard never to complain
We’ve given our best consolation
To our men when they come home in pain.

They sometime climb a mountain
To show a light or observe
They love their work and wanderings
And try their country to serve.

They work very hard at times
And often are out all night
But we wives learn not to worry
We know they must show their light.

Until all the lines are finished
And the O-party gives a DG.
And some nights are very foggy
And it's very hard to see.

And then there are other times
When the atmosphere is clear
And all the lights can be seen
And the stations seem very near.

These are the nights we love
And wish they could all be that way
Cause the men get in early
And then the camp is very gay.

The men are happy in doing a work they love
You should hear them when they talk shop,
There’s nothing like work on the Coast Survey
To us all it is really the top.

Where else could one work and travel
And sight-see in every state
We’ve seen the statue of liberty
And also the Golden Gate.

Our children change schools several times
In every curricular year
But their travels enrich them extremely
And they pass without the least care.

They enjoy collecting souvenirs
And seeing new sights as they roam
Most of them were born on the Survey
And Geodesy to them is just home.

They make new friends very easily
And are proud of their Daddy’s jobs
They love to live in trailers
And among them there are no snobs.

So we feel that gypsying around
Never did them the least bit of harm
They are making just as good citizens
As those reared at home on the farm.

Some of the children we started with
Way back about 25 years ago
Are grown into fine men and women
As fine as anyone could know.

We’ve climbed mountains in Washington state
Dug clams on her peninsula shore,
We’ve been tanned by the winds of the desert
And listened to Indian folk lore.

We’ve visited Bryce Canyon in Utah
Fished for pike in the Lake of the Woods,
We’ve seen them ship iron from Mesabi
And been south where they make cotton goods.

We’ve lived near big cities and small towns
We’ve crossed many a long weary mile
But you’ll find that the wives in Geodesy
Recall all the years with a smile.

We’ve worked north in the summer
And followed the geese in their flight
We’ve come to our new location
So thankful we made it all right.

We haven’t had much of a social life
Our domain is the Coast survey camp
But we wouldn’t trade places with anyone
I guess we just love to tramp.

There is many a man in Geodesy
Who has finished his thirty years
But you ask him about retiring
And chances are you’ll see tears.

Its not the best life they will tell you
But it just gets under your hide
And to have to settle down in one place
That, friend, We could not abide.

We think of all the years we have been here
And of all the people we’ve met
And not one we can think of who has quit
Who’s been happy in one place yet.

We sometimes fuss about moving
And wish we could stay in one place
But fussing about one’s lot in life
Is just part of the human race.

We wouldn’t trade places with anyone
Who has not had a chance to roam,
Because seeing new places and faces
Is better than having a home.

We really have a lot of fun
We have clubs, sewing circles and teas,
And we make our homes attractive
And try our husbands to please.

We carry our homes along with us
And make them as nice as can be,
And when townspeople come in for a visit
They are so surprised to see,

The comfortable homey atmosphere
Created in such a small place,
And some would gladly give up their homes
Just to travel from place to place.

We really don’t mind meeting strangers
And answering the questions they ask,
Like what does the word Geodetic mean?
And what is your husband’s task?

And when we go home for a visit
And the neighbors all gather round
To see color slides from Alaska
Or from some far away town.

We show our pictures with pleasure
And recall how they each came to be,
And our friends really enjoy them
For they are places they’ll never see.

So that is one compensation
For never having had a home,
This bringing back pictures and souvenirs
To the ones who never get to roam.

It's all lots of fun and hard work
But the thing the men like the best
Is talking over the old days
When mountain climbing was the test.

How long did it take you for that one?
Were you ever on old Camel Back?
That station of top of old Baldy
Was once a seven hour pack.

Yes mountain triangulation was something
To find if a man was up to par.
Way back when roads weren’t plentiful
Which made the packs twice as far.

A light-keeper was left on a station
For many and many a day,
Until all work was done on that station,
And then he’d come down for his pay.

He’d get a new load for his chuck box
And maybe a new book or two,
And be ready to back up a mountain
And look down on another view.

He’d rig up his light with new batteries
And sit there by it all night,
Hoping the fog would clear away
And the observer could see his light.

Sometimes if the nights were very clear
With no fog to block their view,
They’d finish with that station
In only a night or two.

But oft times there’d be bad weather,
Or something else would go wrong,
Like smoke from some huge forest fire,
That’s when the days grew long.

He would sit there and wait for a signal,
Which the O-party just couldn’t get through,
And his rations would begin to run low
And he’d run out of something to do.

And soon he would start to wonder
If he had chosen right after all.
Maybe he’d quit this business
And look for something else in the fall.

But soon the truck would come after him
Or the weather clear and he’d see,
The O-party on the other mountain
Sending him over DG.

Then he’d forget about those days alone
And think ahead of some days at home,
And decide this was the best life
For a man who just loved to roam.

It was kinda hard on us women
Waiting in some strange town,
For a truck to go up the mountain
And bring our men folks down.

We all knew the hazards of mountain climbing,
But we knew they take it easy and slow,
Because Coast Survey men practice safety
As their records clearly show.

There have been a great many changes
In the past twenty-five year,
And most of the stations have roads now
That take the men very near.

So they don’t have to work such long hours
Or stay on the station all night
They can drive down off the mountain
And get home before day light.

It would be nice to get out of the mountains
And spend more time in the midwest,
But then there’d be wind and steel towers
To put our nerves to the test.

We’ve seen them put up steel towers,
When the sun was so very hot,
It would nigh cook the hands of the builders
If their gloves they ever forgot.

Then they take them down in the morning
When all the computations were done,
And put them up in another place
Under the broiling hot sun.

Sometimes when the sun is especially hot,
They go out before it is light
And finish the building and tear down
Before the sun comes in sight.

But you never hear the men complain
They just seem to like it that way,
It certainly isn’t monotonous work,
There’s a new place to go every day.

Then some of us went on reconnaissance,
And that made the wives hearts light,
For the men worked regular hours,
Very seldom working at night.

Reconnaissance is liked by some
But some miss the gang around
There’s lots of driving and hiking
Reconnaissance men cover the ground.

Their job is a very hard one
And rather a thankless task,
Whenever there is a blocked line,
Who did the reconnaissance, they ask.

But whenever the lights all show
And everything goes as it should,
Seldom does the reconnaissance man
Hear a word of his work being good.

We’ve had a few years of reconnaissance
And a few of levels too,
And our years on triangulation
Count up to quite a few.

So it's always been Geodesy
Wherever our men were sent
Some wives went to Alaska
And lived out in a tent.

Others were sent to Hawaii
And even to the dark continent
But most of us traveled the U. S. A.
And with that are very content.

We’re always ready to travel
State after state we explore,
Our husbands mapping the area,
Its always one station more.

Whether reconnaissance, levels, triangulation
Or relocation of all the marks
We try to visit all the best places
Scenic highways, and National Parks.

And do all we can as we go along
To get the most out of life
And let the folks we meet know
We’re proud we’re a Coast Survey wife.

Its appalling how little is known
Of the work of the Geodetic Survey
So we try always to explain its functions
As we travel along our way.

We feel it would be a great help
If the work were publicized more,
Most people think we are road builders,
Or do soundings along the shore.

But now that the years are waning
And we’re nearing the end of the line
We’ll leave all that to the younger ones,
And we’ll sit in Florida’s sunshine.

And they’ll be lots of reminiscing,
And plenty of fishing to be done,
No more hustle and bustle
Yes this life has really been fun.

We’ll look back over the years
When traveling was our life,
And we’ll be very glad to say
We were a Coast Surveyor’s wife.

Publication of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NOAA Central Library.

Last Updated: June 8, 2006 9:24 AM

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