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arrow Stories and Tales of the Weather Service
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Table of Contents
  Evolution to the Signal Service Years (1600 - 1891)
  Professor Cleveland Abbe
  Isaac M. Cline
  H. B. Boyer
  D. G. Benson
  Henry Calver
  Ford A. Carpenter
  Norman B. Conger
  Henry J. Cox
  John P. Finley
  H. C. Frankenfield 
  Glynn Gardner
  John S. Hazen
  C. F. von Herrmann
  J. W. Smith
  Richard H. Sullivan
  Wilford M. Wilson

signal service years

Personal View of Ford A. Carpenter

The military service of today (1922) and that of 30 years ago bear no resemblance to each other in the matter of distinction between officers and men. A generation ago, the Prussian dictum "The officers do the thinking, the enlisted men do the work" was in full force. Bearing this in mind one can readily see the logical working out of a unique institution such as the army weather service (Signal Service) with scattered enlisted individuals throughout the country officered by a handful of second lieutenants.

Signal Service Inspectors

At a seacoast telegraph office Private Gower, a college man, was entertaining a summer visitor in his office one afternoon. The office was tastefully decorated with the usual equipment and a calendar or two hung on the walls. The later violated the Sacred Instructions which permitted no unframed pictures. Without warning a young man (Signal Service inspector) bustled in; glaring about the little room, utterly oblivious to the fair visitor, this officer (as he proved to be) strode up to the walls and began tearing down the calendars and stamping on them. The girl fled to the weather man for protection. "That's alright, don't be worried" soothingly said Private Gower" "he's harmless, - you see he's just escaped from the post hospital for the insane!"

A particularly inconsiderate inspector was checking over the property for which a Private was responsible; a pair of scissors was missing. He had seven pairs, but he could only dig up six. The Inspector was insistent; the man searched drawer after drawer. His wife had accidentally dropped a pair of manicure scissors in the drawer and a thought flashed across the distressed man's brain. Seizing the curved blades with thick blotting paper, he turned his back on the inspector and straightened them out. Handing them to the inspector he blandly inquired "Now what do you suppose such a pair of scissors could ever be used for?" Appealing to the superhuman intelligence he immediately rose to the occasion by replying "Them were once used in repairing barometer cisterns; they held the linen threads while the buckskin bag was being replaced, but they are out of date now, - I'll destroy them."

One particular inspector was thrown in jail in his desire to humiliate Private Burton. On the Pacific Coast, the morning observation had to be taken at 4 AM. This inspector hurried over to the weather office before the hour, stealthily climbed on to the roof and there Private Burton found him. The inspector was in clothing. It was dark; there was no previous knowledge that an inspection was to take place. Private Burton had always suspected that sooner or later he was going to find a robber on the roof, so he collared the fellow notwithstanding his protestations, dragged him down stairs and turned him over to the town marshall. He filed his telegram, leisurely ate his breakfast, and at 10 AM called on his friend the marshall to appear against this suspicious character. Needless to say, the inspector never again tried to "surprise" a weather man early in the morning.

Importance of Signal Service Offices to the news media

Owing to the isolated character of the weather man's work it often happened that undue publicity attached to him. In some places he was as important as the postmaster. Always good material for "copy" the newspaper boys always worked the weather office for stories.

It was during the great storm of '88; all wires were down, there was a dearth for news and the ambitious 8 page paper of a western town had to be filled. Frantically the editor dispatched two of his men to the weather office. "The old man wants you to give him an interview - all you can give." The opportunity of a lifetime thus appeared, the weather man could not believe his ears, "do you mean to say that I can have all the space I want?" Sure - fire away - we'll give you the whole front page of the Patagonian." The next morning the staid and sleepy residents of Harborland were astounded, for the entire front page was devoted to weather; weather of past years, weather on Mount Washington, weather forecasting, weather here and hereafter.

The Rain-Maker's Revenge

On the treeless levels in Wyoming - then a territory - a rainmaker appeared. He "contracted" with the ranchers to "make" so many inches of rain for so many thousand dollars an inch. He erected mysterious funnels projecting out of dilapidated tents. All this aroused the righteous indignation of the old Signal Sergeant. He rushed into print, filled the little cattle country paper with outbursts against the rainmaker and his promise. The rainmaker said nothing but waited for the long promised rain. The sergeant became as abusive as the paper would print. This was too much for the straight-shooting cowboys. They practiced gunplay on the sacred Signal Service's whirling anemometer cups, shooting them up as fast as new instruments were replaced by the frightened sergeant. They shot his rain gauge full of holes, and as a last indignity, they caught the sergeant one night and hung him to a big brass hook in his own office by the slack of his trousers. And then, against all official forecasts, the first rain in six months came down in torrents!

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