A German Ice Storm

D. E. Larsen, DVM

The winter of nineteen sixty-eight and sixty-nine in Northern Germany was throwing everything it could at us. I had been maintenance NCOIC since the middle of the summer. This site had been a madhouse following the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia. 

Snow and ice seem to be coming every week. If it wasn’t snowing, it was an ice storm.  The weather didn’t slow us down much. It just made life a lot more complicated.

“The direction-finding guys are having some problems with the new transmitter they set up for them,” I said to Jamie and Ron. “Why don’t you guys check it out and see if you can get them up and running.”

“We looked at it a bit ago and couldn’t get it to load to the antenna,” Jamie said. “With this ice storm, that antenna the Rothwesten crew installed is probably shorted out.”

“That is sure a possibility, but the big wigs at the Rock are starting to holler, so we need to make sure everything else is in good working order. Let’s start by checking all the tubes and running all your checkpoints. Then it doesn’t load, we can say with confidence that it is the antenna. At the hundred-foot level on that tower, there is probably an inch of ice. I don’t think we want to be climbing that any time soon. I will put a request in for the antenna crew to come to check it out as soon as you guys say everything else is working fine.”

***

“Larsen, this is Sergeant Z. What the hell is up with that DF transmitter?” Sergeant Z asked on the phone. “That new officer in charge of that section is a real ass, and he is all over me.”

“I have a crew out working on it now,” I said. “It looks like it is the antenna. We are in the middle of an ice storm here, you know. There is close to an inch of ice covering the tower at the hundred-foot level. Jamie thinks the antenna is shorted out, but I am having them go over the transmitter, checking all the tubes and everything before we call for the antenna crew.”

“I don’t think there is much of a chance you are going to get the antenna crew up there in this weather,” Sergeant Z said. “CWO Anderson is going to insist that you send someone up that tower. You can bet on that.”

When I hung up the phone, everyone in the shop looked at me for some kind of word. We were used to working independently, and I was a big fan of the previous OIC of the DF operations. Having someone question our work and my decisions were new to us. 

Jamie and Ron came back into the shop. 

“The transmitter is fine,” Jamie said. “We checked every tube and went through the entire checklist. It has to be the antenna.”

“Okay, I will call Sergeant Z at the Rock,” I said. “He didn’t think that we had a chance of getting the antenna crew up here during this ice storm. But don’t worry, I am not going to send any of you up that tower. It is too dangerous for the antenna crew to be on the road, but it is fine to send us up an ice-covered towner. That sort of lets you know where we stand in the line of importance.”

“Sergeant Z,” I said into the phone. “The transmitter is fine. That means the antenna is the problem. I would suggest you let Mr. Anderson know that he should get the antenna crew up here. I don’t have anyone who is trained or certified to climb a tower covered in ice.”

“They told me that you liked to live dangerously,” Sergeant Z said. “I will tell the man, but I am sure that he will be on the phone or more likely on the secure radio in a short time. You be careful. This man will think nothing of nailing you to the wall.”

***

It was not long, and Brian from the DF station was in the shop.

“I have Mr. Anderson on the secure horn,” Brian said. “He wants to talk with you, Dave. He sounds pissed. He is new, you know. Our guys at the Rock tell us he is a real jerk.”

I picked up the microphone at the DF station and clicked the transmit button.

“Larsen here, over.”

“Larsen, this is Chief Warrant Officer Anderson. I am OIC of the Direction Finding mission at this Field Station. I have a transmitter under your supervision that is not working. What’s up with that? over”

“I just had a crew go over that transmitter with a fine-tooth comb. The transmitter is fine. It has to be the antenna that your antenna crew installed that is the problem. I have a request with Sergeant Z for that crew to return and fix their work. over”

“The antenna crew is not going to be doing any traveling in this weather. I want you to send someone up that tower and do the fixing. over”

“There is an inch of ice on that tower at the hundred-foot level. I don’t have anyone qualified to climb such a tower.” over.

“Listen, Larsen, this is a direct order. You send someone up that tower and fix that antenna. over”

“Like I said, I don’t have anyone qualified to climb that tower. I will do it myself. over and out.”

Most of the operations had stopped as they listened to the conversion.

“Wow, what an ass,” Brian said. 

Brian and I had been in Korea together before coming to Wobeck. The Army Security Agency was a relatively small unit in the Army, and such continuity was almost standard.

“One day, I will get back at him,” I said.

I returned to the shop and strapped on a climbing belt and a tool pouch. 

“What’s the story?” Jamie asked as I was looking in the drawer for a ball-peen hammer.

“I am going up the tower and fix the antenna,” I said as I started out the door.

This tower was an AB-105 tower. That is a steel tower, triangular in design and about a hundred forty feet in height. The transmitter’s antenna was at the hundred-foot level.

I banged the tower with my hammer, knocking off all the ice I could reach. The is was not too thick at ground level, less than one-half inch.

I secured my belt to the highest rung I could reach and started my slow climb. After going a few rungs, I started knocking off some more ice. I moved my belt up a few rungs and continued my climb.

I was about twenty feet up the tower when Jamie came out of the operations building. He had a climbing belt and tool pouch on.

“Wait up,” Jamie said. “I am going up with you.”

I waited as Jamie started his climb.

“You need to belt up as you climb,” I said. “It makes things a little slower, but this tower is slick.”

It didn’t take long, and Jamie was up beside me. I knocked off all the ice I could reach and handed Jamie the hammer to clear his path.

“I don’t think we are equipped for this kind of work,” Jamie said. “My feet are cold already, and we’re not halfway to the antenna yet.”

We continued our climb together, going up in three-foot sections. Knocking ice off and changing our belt attachment at each stop. I have no idea how long the climb took, but it did not seem long, and we were at the antenna.

I spent some time knocking off all the ice from the antenna that I could reach. At this level, the ice was thick. Maybe not an inch, but then nobody was measuring. I handed the hammer to Jamie, and he knocked off the remaining ice on his side of the antenna.

“I think we got lucky,” I said.

“You find something?” Jamie asked.

“The screw clamping this side of the antenna must have slipped,” I said. “Either that or the antenna crew was just sloppy in their work. This screw is across the two beams of the antenna, shorting them out completely. It should be a snap to fix.”

We loosened the screws on each side of the antenna clamp and repositioned it. Then tightened the screws again.

“That should do it,” I said. “It would be nice if we had some wood spacers, but that will have to wait. Let’s see if we can get some attention and have them load this antenna and give us a thumbs up before we start down.”

“That would be a good idea,” Jamie said. “I really don’t want to climb this antenna tower again any time soon.”

We hailed Ron, who was watching from the door of the operations building. He quickly ran to the transmitter van and had them try the transmitter. A minute later, he stepped out and gave us a thumbs up. We started our slow climb down the tower. Again, going about three feet at a time before changing our belt hookup. At least we didn’t have to knock any ice off.

“I can’t feel my feet,” Jamie said as we started walking to the operations building.

“Stomp around on them a bit and then get in by the heater,” I said.

“Do you want me to get Mr. Anderson on the horn?” Brian asked.

“No, I don’t think I have anything to say to that man unless he addresses me directly,” I said. “I trust that he will get the word that things are up and running.”

***

The transmitter continued to do its job flawlessly, and my relationship with Mr. Anderson never improved. But I survived the remaining six or seven months of my enlistment.

Almost a year and a half later, both Jamie and Ron dropped in on me in Corvallis for a brief visit. They both were in Portland visiting family, and they decided that Corvallis was not that far away. 

We had a good visit, I think it was during finals week, so we drank coffee. Jamie was still complaining about his feet. 

Photo by Corbin Richardson on Unsplash

Published by d.e.larsen.dvm

Country vet for over 40 years in Sweet Home Oregon. I graduated from Colorado State University in 1975. I practiced in Enumclaw Washington for a year and a half before moving to Sweet Home to start a practice.

One thought on “A German Ice Storm

  1. Dave, this is Harold. I loved the story. I remember a conversation with Ken Halghton when he was at Ithaca he did studies of how to prevent ice on Radio towers. He had been in Korea.

    Liked by 1 person

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