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Walter H. Bainbridge
joins the ranks of the perennial vacationers on September 30th when he retires after 34 years in the Survey. When interviewed just prior to his retirement his comment on his Survey career was, "It was all interesting from beginning to end. I never had an assignment that I wanted to leave, and each succeeding one seemed to be better than the last." Discussing his assignments over the years he recalled particularly his tour in the Hawaiian Islands, where he said he was colder than he had ever been, before or since. One of his experiences on this assignment is told below in his own words.

"I was on a gravity party with E.J. Brown (now deceased) making gravity observations on top of Mauna Loa at an elevation of about 13,400 feet. The tree line was at about 10,000 feet. There was no wood to burn except the little that had been packed up for cooking. It couldn't be spared for heating. The temperatures ranged from the high 80's in daytime to 5 or 6 Fahrenheit at night. We didn't have enough clothes for that kind of weather. I slept propped up in a lava crack with a tarpaulin draped around my neck forming a tent with me as the center pole. The heat from a miner's candle placed under the bottom edge of the tarp kept me quite warm, although the rock mattress left dents here and there."

"From the starting point at the 4,000 foot level, it was about a 20-mile trip. The pack train consisted of a rancher, two or three cowboys, 20 mules including the mounts, Brown and me. The first day we made it to the half-way house, just a shack without doors or windows. From this point the pack train had to make it to the top and back. The animals could not be kept on top as they became unmanageable in the cold night temperatures. The rancher had tried it once and lost several animals through falls into pits and crevasses. Mules were used because of their sure-footedness in the rotten lava area."

"During the saddling of the mule assigned to me for a mount, I noticed that he gave me a thorough looking over. Later it was evident that he placed me as a tenderfoot as far as a mule wrangler was concerned. Also I am sure that he was cognizant of the fact that spurs were omitted from my equipment, but he didn't let on and the lack entirely escaped my notice because the first few miles went so well. After we had reached the point of no return for spurs, he began slowing down and soon the pack train was far ahead. No amount of urging, verbal or physical, had any effect. The rancher came back and gave me one of his spurs.

That helped matters until the rancher was out of hailing distance. Then my mount stopped all progress. When I applied the spur, he would pivot around on a front foot in a circle away from the sting. Changing the spur to the other foot only reversed his direction. I addressed him as a saint, as a sinner and everything else that came to mind, beat him with sticks, twisted his ears and his tail until the bones began to pop, but then I last my nerve. I didn't have the heart to detail him. Next I tried biting his ear from a mounted position, where-upon he cracked my head with his head making my nose bleed. I decided that perhaps he was just cold. By building a brush fire under him slightly on the down hill side, he would move just enough away from the fire and up hill. In 30 minutes we had made only about 20 feet. At this point, I decided that it would be easier to walk and started out. About an hour later, he passed me on the run braying and kicking stones in my direction. I returned the compliment with words. Lansing Simmons, now chief mathematician in Geodesy, was on this same assignment in Hawaii. After these two young bachelors had been out there awhile they got into what E .J. Brown termed "double barrelled trouble." They sent back to the States for the "girls they left behind." After lengthy correspondence and involved arrangements, the girls arrived with their trunks full of trousseau and wedding finery. To quote Bain again, "they say it was a beautiful wedding in the home of the Surveyor General of the Islands. I wouldn't know, I was too much in the clouds. Ask Simmons he may know." Lansing's report isn't much better because he was playing the other leading male role in the double wedding which took place in this romantic land far from the homes of the four young people involved--Bain from Texas, his bride from Tennessee, Simmons from Ohio, and his bride from California.

After what he calls a "2-year honeymoon" in the islands they returned to the States. Enroute to an East Coast assignment they stopped off in Texas for the blessed event which they were expecting. It was this strategy which resulted in their son, Walter H., Jr., becoming a native Texan, like his father. Bain has seen service on most of the Coast Survey vessels. His first assignment was in San Francisco Bay on the old NATOMA. Subsequent assignments on the SURVEYOR, the DERRICKSON, the EXPLORER, and the PIONEER, took him to Alaska. His east coast assignments were on the old LYDONIA, the GILBERT, and the COWIE. He saw the scenic Columbia River Territory while commanding the HODGSON.

In February 1938 he was appointed assistant to the chief, Geodesy Division, where he stayed until April 1945. While on this assignment his son, having a chance to stay in one place for the first time in his young life, became interested in ice skating, joined the old Washington Figure Skating Club and became proficient as an amateur ice skater. He became so proficient that he has made a career of this sport and says he gets paid for enjoying himself. He and his wife and three children live in Lake Placid, New York.

As Supervisor of the Midwestern District, Portland, Oregon, and as Supervisor of the Western District in San Francisco, Captain Bainbridge continued to serve the Bureau well, especially in the many dealings with the public which such positions require. His most recent assignment at Norfolk, where he has been District Supervisor since June 1954, again gave him this same contact with the public. A phase of this assignment which he found especially to his liking was meeting and conferring with university and college personnel and students while on recruiting trips for the Bureau. He was particularly good for this because his sincere enthusiasm for the Coast Survey and its work overflowed into his contacts with the students. So well did the Bainbridges like this last assignment in Norfolk that they decided to continue to live in Lynnhave, Virginia, a suburb of Norfolk. As he enters on retired status Capt. Bainbridge says, "I leave the active service with treasured memories of people, ships, and events."

The Personnel Panorama, Vol VI, No. 8, 9/1957

Publication of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NOAA Central Library.
Last Updated: June 8, 2006 9:27 AM

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