View of Grace D. Harding
I worked for the
Weather Bureau from May 1943 to June 1946; and from July 1958 to March
1959. My assignments were at Boeing Field, Seattle (temporary assignment),
Bethel and Juneau, Alaska, and Great Falls, Montana. I became pregnant
in January 1946, and in those days it was almost unheard of for new
mothers to return to work, so I stopped working for the Weather Bureau
in June 1946. I had been at Bethel for two years and Juneau for one
year. I later filled my husband's observer position at Great Falls
while he attended school.
with the Weather Bureau as a means to be with my husband who had been
transferred to Bethel, Alaska. At that time entry into Alaska was
restricted to those who had employment - generally defense related.
Through the grapevine in Alaska my husband, Warren, had learned that
the Weather Bureau was bringing in wives of observers to work at the
stations. The outlying stations were all short of personnel. Some
of the work was being done by the military.
and experience had all been in the secretarial - accounting field.
I had experience working with numbers which was helpful.
one month at the observer training school in Seattle. From there I
went to Boeing Field for on-the-job training. I was in Bethel two
and one-half months later where I continued to learn while on the
Weather Bureau in the 1940s was small, scientific, efficient, and
appeared well organized. The employees were very dedicated and proud
to be a part of the service. The regional office, forecasting unit,
observation station, and hydrology all shared a portion of the second
floor of the terminal building at Boeing Field. By today's standards
it would be considered an impossible situation. However, it seemed
to work very well.
the observer not only did the weather observing, but plotted maps
as well. At Bethel, which was a radiosonde station, our only duties
were observing. No maps were plotted. At Juneau women were hired whose
only job was to plot maps. So I was solely observing there, as well
as at Great Falls.
around the clock working eight hours per shift. The shifts were scheduled
to fit the observation schedule. We worked six days (forty-eight hours)
in May 1943 as an SP-3 with a salary of $1440 per year. I was raised
to an SP-5 before I stopped working (rate unknown). In Alaska we were
given a 25% pay differential to compensate for the high cost of living.
number of observers varied from five to six depending upon the availability.
Most of the time I was the only woman, although another couple (husband
and wife) were there a short time. The CAA, which was next door to
us, had about the same number with two woman communicators.
was very friendly and helpful. I felt the seasoned male observers
had some reservations about my ability, but they were cooperative.
Being female in a 98% male situation helped to break the ice.
the exception of Bethel, morale at all stations was good. The weather
station and housing were located adjacent to runways built for Army
Air Corps. We were across a very deep and wide river from the town
of Bethel where the population was comprised of Eskimos, Indian Affairs
personnel, a Moravian mission, and white traders. Our housing was
adequate, but the food supply was of such poor quality that it took
a toll on everyone's health. The bachelors especially dreamed of "city
lights." Everyone was a long way from home, there were no vacations
and "R & R" had not been invented. Everyone realized that it was war
time and tried to make the best of
high point of my career was the day I took off from Seattle enroute
to Bethel which was my first full-time assignment. The low points
were the days when we received word from home about the deaths and
injuries of family members and friends due to the war. Although we
were anxious to get mail, we feared what the news might be.
of working for the Weather Bureau during World War II was one of lots
of excitement mixed with many days of boredom and homesickness. I
would certainly do it again. Not only do I feel I contributed to the
war effort, but I travelled to new places, gained valuable work experience,
and made friends I will never forget. By my filling a position at
a remote Alaskan station, some other observer was freed to go where
I could not have gone.
most exciting event which occurred while we were at Bethel was the
finding of one of the mysterious Japanese incendiary devices with
the attached balloon and gear. A native found it out on the tundra
a few miles from our station and brought it to the state marshal!
who, in turn, brought it to the weather station. At that time no one
was aware of what it was or what its purpose was. We were certain
it had Japanese origins. We later learned many of these had been found
along the west coast. They were never a serious threat.
and worked on the edge of the runways built to handle military planes.
Therefore, the random coming and going of many different types of
planes was exciting and interesting to us. The amount of traffic was
small, but there was enough to create some emergencies.
night while the crew of a B-26 was across the river enjoying a night
on the town (at the roadhouse), a sergeant who was familiar with the
plane slipped back, entered the plane, started the motors and taxied
to the end of the runway. He then asked in a very intoxicated sounding
voice for permission to take off. His plan was to take the plane out
into the tundra and land it, hoping to spend a few more days at Bethel.
After spending some anxious moments, the communicator talked him into
coming back to the station. We were concerned that he might hit our
quarters, but he made it back without further incident.Inflating a
Pilot Balloon Tracking a Pilot Balloon Ploting a Pilot Balloon run.