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banner - marvin and muriel paulson a travelogue and memories

Marvin T. Paulson

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Washington, D. C., “here we come!” 3042 miles. We made a comparatively leisurely trip this time with stops at Medelia at my brother’s and at Shannon, Illinois with Muriel’s mother. In all, it took us 14 days.

So much is said about the difficulty in finding housing in Washington that we took a temporary apartment in Alexandria to look around. Our good friends, Ivan and Lucy Smith, gave us good guidance and suggestions on where to locate. Ivan was the computer on my triangulation party for two years until he landed a position with the C&GS in Washington. We later settled for a new one-bedroom apartment across the street from the Smiths in Shirlington, a suburb of Arlington.

My first impression of Washington was the terrific tie-ups in traffic for going to work and, even more, on the homeward trek. There were only two bridges across the Potomac River at that time - one a lift-bridge for river traffic. What took 15 to 20 minutes on a clear “sailing” day would take at least an hour to an hour and a half on the average for going home traffic. Winter problems would add to the congestion.

The Coast and Geodetic Survey was a bureau of the Department of Commerce that occupied three floors on the east side of the Commerce building. My office was on the ground floor, southeast side, and closest to the Washington Monument such that I could keep an eye on it from my desk. I felt privileged.

My assignment was “Special Assistant to the Director, Office of Cartography” with specific duty to prepare and monitor the budget and expenditures for the Director. The office had four Divisions: Nautical Charts, Aeronautical Charts, Reproduction and Distribution. The Nautical and Aeronautical Divisions compiled the drawings of charts from raw field survey data. The Reproduction Division photocopied the drawings and printed the final charts. The Distribution Division maintained an automatic mailing list of subscribers and commercial agents and distributed the printed chart accordingly.

In 1960, there were over 42,000,000 charts issued, a large percentage of which were reproduced on a tight publication schedule. Certain charts, especially aeronautical, become obsolete at periodic intervals; others become obsolete only by printing of new editions. Certain chart sales are seasonal in nature; others are issued on a regular subscription basis. Some charts are corrected to date of issue; others can be issued directly “off-the-shelf.” The format of various aeronautical charts series is constantly being revised to meet changing requirements and regulations, whereas most nautical charts are comparably stable.

Adherence to schedule is an essential element in production of charts. A disruption in any segment may have a domino effect on the entire chain of events. As a means to become knowledgeable and familiar with the entire process, snafus in the process would be assigned to me for investigation and solution. It was amazing how smooth the production functioned most of the time; and yet, disruption of the smallest link could be so catastrophic in the overall publication effort. A most interesting assignment....

One Sunday, I attended church services alone and on the way home stopped at a promotional open house at a new development. I was very impressed with the house, the neighborhood and the fact that the contractor had saved every tree that he could during construction. I drove home full of enthusiasm, convinced Muriel to go take a look, drove back, she was impressed, we discussed details and at 3 P. M. signed for our first house. As we were leaving, another couple came in and announced “We’ll take it.” “Sorry, “ was the answer - “It is sold.” They later became our neighbor up the street.

Come the day before we were scheduled to move into our new home, I was handed “emergency orders” to replace the Executive Officer on the HYDROGRAPHER who had been hospitalized. What a blow - no amount of argument could sway the powers that be. Only 10 days was the reply - the ship is on a very sensitive mission testing for nuclear contamination from a dump site in the Atlantic.

On Sunday, I departed Washington. On Monday, Muriel moved into our first home all by herself. Professional movers did the heavy work and Ivan and Lucy Lee gave moral support and assistance; but the fact remains, Muriel moved in alone. I returned in 10 days as promised, but also got orders for extension of ship duty for another 10-day trip. Two days leave was authorized for me to fly home from Boston and return. I don’t think that I have to explain to any of you all the trials and tribulations that Muriel had to go through in getting settled, but when I returned the second time, our home was well established and the most beautiful sight I could have imagined. Those last two weeks had been the longest for both of us but we survived and have chalked it up to just another experience in a long list.

We were so happy with our new home and neighborhood and every place that we have lived since that time was compared to “the way it was.” We were fortunate to live there for nearly four years -- Muriel did anyway, and me too of course, but near the end of two years as “Special Assistant,” I had a 5-month detail to the Armed Forces Staff College in Norfolk with only week-end commutes home.... As it turned out, three other officers at the College also lived on our side of town, so we had a car pool. Poor Muriel, she had no transportation during my time to drive. Thank goodness for considerate friends.

On graduating from Staff college, I was given a very choice assignment as Chief of the Nautical Chart Division. It was choice because chart production was undergoing an evolution of sorts toward automation. The small craft chart publication was in its infancy and became my concentrated promotional activity. In doing this, I promoted Cooperative Charting with the U. S. Power Squadron and the Coast Guard Auxiliary which I believe was my accomplishment of record. Under this program they would provide reliable reporting of corrections or uncharted dangers in exchange for charts and other publications for their education programs. I am kind of proud to say that it is a viable program today - 40 years later.


All good assignments must come to an end and it was back to sea duty for me and a lonely vigil for Muriel during my absence. To commute to and from Norfolk was an option that we considered but opted for selling the house and moving to Norfolk. We had no assurance that another Washington assignment would be in the offing.

We signed a lease in a new apartment development in Norfolk, installed new carpet and moved in. In the morning, we woke up to a soaking wet carpet and a non-functioning wall heater. Luckily, we were relieved from our lease and reimbursed for the damaged carpet. We were aware of another available apartment, though expensive, but we took it anyway. As it turned out, our turmoil was a blessing in disguise as we became close friends with our neighbors in the apartment above us. Even in retirement in Las Vegas our friendship continued with several visits and stopovers on their many travels visiting family in California.

My ship assignment began as Executive Officer on the C&GS Ship EXPLORER -OSS28 - based in Norfolk but detailed to various projects throughout the Atlantic Ocean. Extended absence from homeport was the norm. I did finally ascend to Commanding Officer at a later time....

Our first project for the EXPLORER was one that I have expounded on to all our visitors and friends so bear with me as I relate our experiences again. Our survey instructions were to find a transatlantic route for laying a telephone “hot line” from New Jersey to France. Within a certain corridor, we were to find a route that was not over 11 % grade and to survey in detail any area that exceeded that limit. It seems that, in laying cable, things go along smoothly on level ground but on steep slopes the complications become monstrous. I almost wrote mountainous which would have been right too.. The steeper the slope, the more cable must be let out to avoid fraying and damage to the cable. Excessive spans between peaks adds to the dilemma. Many of you have seen the model I made depicting one such area about 400 miles north of the Azores. This volcanic area would cause innumerable problems for the cable layers and also for anyone assigned to maintain the line.... We made Brest our “Port of Call” after we finished the line on the French coast....

Our sailing trip home was to run a line parallel to our original route and develop the volcanic area noted on the first line. That meant two more stops in the Azores. We received a first-class welcome this time with keys to the city of Ponta Delgada and a barbecue for the officers at the U. S. Embassy. They arranged tours of the island and trips to the ceramic factories.... We departed the Azores with a few ceramic pieces and a good feeling. We arrived back in Norfolk to a tumultuous welcome from families and friends. After a short respite, it was off again to Puerto Rican waters. Captain Glenn Moore was given command for this trip in recognition of his length of memorable war service without command of a ship in the C&GS. Upon completion of this trip, I relieved Captain Moore as Commanding Officer.

“Captain of the Ship” is a title that has no equal in my vocabulary. There is something meaningful about it that even people in general react to with esteem, as compared to Chief of Party or any such title. I personally felt, and still do feel, proud to acknowledge that I was the Commanding Officer. Muriel too, increased in stature to “the Captain’s Wife.”

We had a month in port this time for annual repairs and maintenance. Most of the crew and officers get to take their annual leave during this lay-up period. The officers remaining smooth copied the past season’s work and wrote the summary reports.

On my first season at the helm, it was back to the Caribbean again and a survey of San Juan Harbor in Puerto Rico. The Resident Commissioner of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico was so impressed with this project that he had it read into the “Congressional Record” that the survey ship EXPLORER was charting San Juan Harbor....

A survey of the harbor in Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas Island was on our itinerary. This is a “free port” as to Customs taxes, so for whatever reason, everyone seemed to load up on specialty items. I bought a set of stemware that has given us enjoyment to use when entertaining dinner guests. Otherwise, it was an extravaganza just to take advantage of no taxes. It gets in your blood.

On our route back to Norfolk, we were supposed to pass close to Puerto Plata on the Dominican Republic. About 8 hours out we got an urgent message to avoid the Island of the Dominican Republic because an uprising had taken place and the ship could be in danger. We gave it wide berth.

Our project instructions always included a route to follow when going to and from the survey area. The soundings were all recorded for adding to the chart. Most commercial ships follow established lanes in transport for safe sailing; but our [the Coast and Geodetic Survey] purpose was to chart the entire ocean piece by piece as we go. Our course this time passed through the Bermuda Triangle of seafarers’ lore. For us, it was smooth sailing.

Homecoming usually meant lots of free time, after a six months’ absence, to get reacquainted with family and home. Not this time, 1965, we were given two weeks to finish our survey reports and equip the ship for a new project of tracking the Gulf Stream from Cape Hatteras to the North Atlantic, where it dissipates. The Gulf Stream is not a well-defined channel, but it meanders throughout its course by the influence of cold glacial waters penetrating from the waters of the north against the natural flow of the warm waters from the south. Other than seasonal effect, the heavy storms probably have the greatest effect on the Stream. Our survey meant criss-crossing continually from Cape Hatteras, where the Stream is well-defined, to the North Atlantic. The instructions called for monthly runs of twenty days at sea and ten days in port to take off the compensatory week-end time earned and to prepare the ship for the next run.

The survey was designed to run for a year to ascertain if a predictable pattern could be published for boatmen to use. A 3 to 4 knot current can make a lot of difference to an 8 to 10 knot boat or ship sailing the waters. Taking advantage of the current when sailing in a northerly direction is a time saver and knowing where the slack waters are for a southerly route is likewise necessary for good headway.

1966 - 1969

The Gulf Stream project was about 3/4 done when welcome transfer orders were received. This time, a completely new field for me. A shifting of Government Departments and Bureaus placed the C&GS and the Weather Bureau under one scientific entity called the Environmental Science Services Administration (ESSA) that was subsequently changed to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Integration of the two scientific systems, C&GS and Weather, became a real political issue.

Since its inception in World War I, the Commissioned Corps had dominated the Directorship of the Coast and Geodetic Survey Bureau and also its Divisions’ management -- much to the dismay of the civilian scientific community and Civil Service, too, I might add. The versatility of the Commissioned Officer Corps had always prevailed with Congress. The new reorganization set up by Congress could entail expansion of the Corps or possibly its demise.

The Weather Bureau was undergoing an expanded program and expansion of forecast management from Washington, D. C., central control to regional control. The Western Region, as formed, comprised the 8 western states with 88 observing stations. Meteorologists were selected for the forecast management positions but none were experienced in the Budget, Personnel, Finance, and Engineering management position vacated by the incumbent manager. From the C&GS point of view, this was an opportunity to demonstrate the versatility of the Commissioned Officer in management competence and know-how.

I was in the right place at the right time and was selected to “pave” the way so to speak. The decision to “jump ship” was, for me, kind of difficult considering my past 25 years in C&GS activities. It took me about 15 minutes to call Muriel for an OK and we were on our way to a new venture. I don’t mean to imply that I was glad to leave the C&GS, but in considering retirement in a few years, a change of venue experience might have led to some unforeseen employment recommendation.

In my new assignment, I was responsible for overseeing the day-to-day equipment maintenance operations, finance, and personnel management of the Weather Bureau Western Region, an organization of approximately 800 personnel spread over 8 states and 80 observing and/or forecasting stations. To accomplish the tasks involved with this was a different story. Meteorological language and procedures were foreign to me as were the names and locations of all the field stations. I was fortunate from the fact that the other Division Chiefs were new at their positions and were not familiar with mine. The Western Region Director, Mr. Hazen Bedke, got us all off in the right direction with daily staff meetings with each Division Chief presenting a critique explaining his “modus operandi.” I had two weeks to prepare for the “Adtech” presentation. Adtech is short for Administration and Technical Services Division of which I was the designated chief. To blow my own horn, if I may, they all expressed surprise that I had “caught on” so quickly. Little did they realize, or think about, the fact that government regulations of finance, personnel and procurement are the same for all organizations. All I had to do was learn their technical meteorological language and we were off to a good start.

Mr. Bedke was a firm believer that social activities, extra curricular that is, are essential to good morale in an organization. We, Muriel and I, were invited to be members in their bridge club consisting of 3 and 4 tables meeting monthly for a buffet and bridge. Each couple would host a meeting in turn with the host providing the meat dish and refreshments and all the rest would contribute a favorite dish each. We would ante before each game and then the 1st and 2nd got the loot. There were some pretty sharp players in the group but I must admit, in all humility, that I didn’t do too badly. For booby prize each night, you got your money back.

Mr. Bedke had one stipulation for all chiefs of Divisions - that of visiting all of the forecast stations at least once a year. Observation “only” stations as you could. After the monthly reports were finished, I would usually take off by plane or by car to visit several observation stations en route to the forecast stations. My concern was personnel, equipment, maintenance, and supply. Muriel would go along with me on these car trips and nearly every station would give us a very cordial greeting. Many of the observation stations, such as Stampede Pass, are so isolated that any company would be very welcome, even for inspections.

One of our longest trips, 3,210 miles, was from Salt Lake City, Utah, to Quillayute (Forks), Washington, on the west end of the Olympic Peninsula and return on a circuit route. Just for the record, the stations visited were: Salt Lake City to start; Pocatello, Twin Falls, and Boise, Idaho; Pendleton, Oregon; Walla Walla, Yakima, Wenatchee, Stampede Pass, Quillayute, (Forks on the Olympic Peninsula), and Olympia, Washington; Portland, Salem, Corvallis, Meacham, Eugene, Sexton Summit, Medford, Klamath Falls, and Lakeview, Oregon; Winnemucca, Elko, and Wendover, Nevada; and back to Salt Lake City.... Incidentally, if you want a scary drive someday, visit the weather stations on Stampede Pass and Sexton Summit. A 4-wheel drive is a must for Sexton Summit.

When we didn’t use all of our leave time to go back home to North Dakota, we’d accumulate up to two weeks and visit Las Vegas. When we got serious in 1968 about retirement, we got serious about house hunting in Las Vegas during our vacation between golf games. The market was good, the prices were down, we saw what we liked, and bought it one year early. We talked our sales lady into renting it for one year. Then we returned to Salt Lake City to sweat it out. My decision to retire was easy. After two years on the job, I knew taht a change in assignment could happen at any time in the natural rotation of officers. The only position that would appeal to me was occupied by one of our “old timers” who had no inclination to change. So to beat the “Powers that be” to the punch, I applied for retirement one year early. It was approved and we were in heaven.

There was no letup in work detail until the day we left. Primarily in reorganization and training a Civil Service person to take over my responsibility. Centralization of Bureau personnel management and the supply functions was accomplished. The financial accounting and disbursement was also transferred to central accounting so the position I held was changed dramatically....

An extra-curricular activity that was assigned to me by Mr. Bedke was to organize and manage a Combined Federal Campaign for the multitude of donations that are solicited each year. The program was mandate of the Civil Service Commission, so cooperation with Federal organizations was easy except for one Judge, who thought his organization was “above the law” so to speak. One letter to the Civil Service Commission and he submitted. The difficulty was with the managers of the various charity organizations over the percentage distribution of undesignated funds. They were all to gain from this program but the greed element seemed to be the stumbling block. A final settlement was reached and a successful campaign concluded....

An extravagant farewell was arranged for our retirement by the entire Western Region Office and several visiting forecasters.... A sendoff to last a lifetime. As we took our leave of Salt Lake, we left a host of friends in the Weather Bureau ....

Thus ended a quarter century in the Coast and Geodetic Survey for Marvin Paulson and his wife Muriel. Marvin has spent the last 32 years in retirement in Las Vegas, Nevada, swinging a golf club, seeing old friends, and enjoying life. After over 40 moves, he and Muriel deserve it.

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Last Updated: June 8, 2006 9:24 AM

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