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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 Norman B. Conger

Do you know that one of the first things that came to my mind was the different settings of the weather office of the days of 1878 and of those of the present time (1922).

The furniture consisted of four chairs, a small desk with a cubbyhole side piece big enough to keep in the daily journal, the book of letters sent and letters received, it was only a single desk; then there was a small table on which the single register stood.

There was matting on the floor. There was a partition half way up the height of the room dividing the main room into a narrow room in which was placed the printing press and type cases. Then off the main room was a little closet in which there was a wash stand and pail of water, and in this closet was piled the coal for use in the base burner in the office. We climbed up a steep ladder through a small scuttle hole to the roof where there was an instrument observation; the anemometer on a solid standard, and the wind vane with the shaft extending into the office room below where a tell-tale vane was located to know what the wind direction was. That is a description of the first office I stepped into as a regular observer (Private Signal Corps, U.S.A.) and began my work.

When you look at the six fine rooms I have now (1922) with fine office furniture, rugs on the floor and all things neat and tidy, you just stop and wonder what the boys of those days would think of us with such luxuries as we have now.

There was the observer in charge, and one assistant, and the printer on the station. I was expected to take the 6:36 a.m. observation and stay on until after the sunset observation. On Saturday nights, I remained until after "Goodnight" after the 10:36 p.m. observation was taken and filed. Then we had about 40 substations for storm warning display, and when we got an order, we made forty copies of it and filed them at the telegraph office. When replies were received from the 40 substations, we telegraphed the Central Office (Washington, D.C.) With a message something like this, " Storm warnings up received at 1:10 a.m." After the Central Office was notified, we could go to bed, but it was mostly about 4:30 a.m. when the last reply got in and you had to be on the job again at 6:00 a.m.

This was quite the regular thing during the season of navigation, and we just went along and did the work required, because we were soldiers, and to obey orders was the first to consider and sleep came later. How would our men of today like such conditions?

After taking the 6:36 a.m. observation you came back and took the 7 a.m., then got your breakfast, and went over to the telegraph office, and got the (telegraph) sheets and began to make the tissue bulletins, the words then were arbitrary, and no translation at sight. I made 18 of those blooming things and then acted as messenger boy and carried them along the docks and to the produce and commission men, and to some of the more important places in the business portion of the town. Things have changed greatly, and a great deal more work is accomplished now, with comparatively less assistance.

How would the younger man of today consider such daily work, and get away with it. Maybe just as we did, and maybe not.

This reminds me of our dear old Hobbs, of Northwest fame who was ordered from Fort Custer to Williston to open the station there. Under contract was a small office building with two small rooms in it. It was not finished when Hobbs arrived and he was so anxious to get to work that he receipted for the building without knowing much about what it was. It was in the late fall or early winter as I remember it; and all that he had with him were some blankets. He was married and had a family; and they were not with him, so he intended to occupy the building as sleeping quarters.

He got his instruments installed and then made up his bunk in the little back room. There was a base burner in the front room, with poor coal to burn it. It was a bitter cold night and snowing, and the poor lad was covered with snow that blew through the windows and cracks in the building. Did you ever hear him doing any kicking to the Central Office. Not a bit, he took his little medicine, and did the best he could with it, but never a whimper came from him. That was the pure grit of the boys of the early days. I am mighty proud of the fact that I was associated with such men in those days that took what was given them and made their way to the posts assigned to them and got there. Some mighty good reading would be the many ways they used to get through and still live and have something to eat.

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