Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Cibecue Cr nr Chrysotile

The Cibecue Creek near Chrysotile, AZ was always an interesting adventure just to get to it, let alone the work, and then gettng back out to the highway. The gage was always the second one on the first day of my field trip to the Salt River basin on the Apache Indian Reservation northeast of Phoenix.

First of all it's a two-hour drive from the office through Globe to ShowLow. At one point north of Globe you drive into the Salt River canyon. I personally like this place, kinda' a small Grand Canyon. At the bottom there is a bridge over the Salt River and a wide spot on the inside of the big u-turn to drive up and out the canyon. A small grocery store is in the wide spot where you can get some supplies.

Back up from the bridge on the way down into the canyon is the turnoff for the Salt River near Chyrsotile gage where you drive past it if you're not looking. It's two ruts in the road that run parallel behind the guard rail. You have to swing wide and make a tight turn to follow the ruts for a short distance and then the parking spot to this gage. It's a picturesque place and interesting to be.

By around noon or so you would be done and drove out to the store for a break or lunch. After that while absorbing the beautiful landscape you drive across the highway to a dirt road. The road leads to a campground alongside the river where people often put in to run the Salt River to the lower reservoir. You're still inside the reservation but once on the river, you leave it behind in a few hours onto state or federal lands.

Cibecue Creek is a box canyon about ten miles beyond the campground. The road isn't routinely maintained and can have rock slides or washouts for a short period before it is fixed by the Tribe. The road after crossing the creek goes on to other canyons and eventually up to the plateau north of Roosevelt Reservoir but it's always a 4-wheel drive road after the creek for the problems and crossings since it's not maintained at all.

The gage on Cibecue Creek is a mile upstream from the crossing, so you have to decide to ford it and park to hike up, carrying your hipboots and backpack of stuff or park and wade across to hike to the gage in your hipboots. It's always the question because if you drive, the ford is always up to if not over the wheels, and any additional flow will require you to wait until the flow recedes. But it's almost always wadeable.

The trail is on the far side along with the gage and cable car, so you can't get to it from the near side as the creek runs just along the canyon wall and has no access past some points without wading the creek. I usually drove across and parked at the makeshift campsite the indians built. Every now and then I would meet the Tribal police patrolling this road as it's used by indians and other people for illegal camping, parties and access down river who often get stuck.

Once parked there is a narrow trail along the creek to the gage. Here is where life can be interesting as you can't see more than about 10-20 feet in front of you for all the bushes. Once I walked around a bush and right into the middle of a family of javelinas. We all froze for a moment. I was lucky to have surprised them and they all ran up the hill so fast I quickly lost track of them into the brush. Lucky because as a family with small ones, they usually defend themselves.

I just stood there for a awhile watching them scurry up the hill and continued on, but it was awhile before my heart got its normal rate back. Servicing the gage and making the measurement was usually straight-forward stuff, and at the end it was always interesting to sit and take in the canyon. Since the work for the day was done and all that was left was to drive to Pinetop, time was now yours to enjoy where you were.

Once we had to fly in by helicopter to do service a series of gages in one day after some local floods. We told the pilot about the cable way at the gage, a requirement because they often fly at river level for navigation and observation purposes. He was good enough to literally put the helicopter right under the cableway in the middle of the creek. When we left, we had some daylight left, so we flew up the canyon.

I was totally blown away at the canyon upstream, totally inaccessible from above by the canyon walls and only from below by walking up the creek. We found eagle nests and hidden caves in the canyon walls before coming out on the plateau and going back down the creek to the Salt River and then home. Most of the pilots with the company we used were former Vietnam pilots so they were partly crazy but outstandingly good, and very adventurous.

I never got stuck on the far side except once for an hour or so waiting while I felt better about fording it, and other than a bad start to a field trip twice, that was about it with this gage, drive out to the highway and north to the motel for the week. Once, though, on the highway in my first truck I lost the fuel switch to the twin tanks. I had to switch the gas lines to the tanks and drove the field trip on one ten-gallon tank.

The other time I got two flats on the road out but limped it to the grocery store. They didn't have a garage nor a telephone to call the office (remember it's before cell/satellite phones and we didn't have shortwave radios). So I parked and locked it and waited for a ride to ShowLow. But it took two rides.

The first ride was with a family of Apaches in a pickup truck. They took me to the turnoff they took to White River where I got out and waited again. Then an elderly couple, not trusting my government id, with a fifth wheell trailor let me sit in the back of the pickup to ShowLow. Another technician came the next day to get the truck to ShowLow and fix the tires so I could finish the field trip.

Before I was transferred to the Phoenix office we operated a gage on Canyon Creek near Chrysotile, and I always wanted to see it, but was told the gage was discontinued because the road was too often too bad to drive and the trip was too expensive to helicopter. I didn't want to have to hike out to report I went where I wasn't supposed to be or go in a government truck. One small regret I didn't try once.

But then this gage was a nice reward by itself.

Sunday, December 23, 2007


Just a number. Everyone who joins the service gets one. Or used to. Until 1970 everyone got a unique number we had to memorize and stencil into our clothes in basic training. In 1970, the services switched to social security numbers so no new ones were issued when you enlisted and went through basic training. Mine was that number, AF for Air Force and the rest I don't know except maybe some sequential number or some office and sequential number.

Ask any service person and they'll likely remember this number. It was who you were, not a name but a number. It was on everything you owned. It was you. When it was assigned to you, you were expected to memorize and recite whenever asked. It was the first thing on any form about you.

When I enlisted, we were taken by bus to the Denver airport and given tickets to San Antonio, Texas. When we arrived about midnight, we were escorted onto another bus and taken to a dormitory where we were told we'd get a few hours sleep before being processed in. They were right, a few hours was all we got. We were woken up to take showers get dressed, make the bed and get ready.

From there we were escorted into a large empty hanger with lots of chairs. I mean lots, like hundreds upon hundreds in neat rows and aisles with long tables of staff at the front and the back. And all the recruits were told to sit somewhere until our name was called, and then report to the person who called it. That's it, sit and wait. For your name.

While everyone else seemed to be called by someone from one of the tables at the front, I was called by someone at a table in the back. I didn't know what I had done or what. But I went. It turned out I was selected for a top secret unit and they wanted me to fill out the paperwork about my past. At 19 I had a past? Ok, family, past addresses, references, jobs - the two I had before enlisting, and so on.

I did and went back to a chair before being assigned to a basic training unit. A lot of the rest is a blur because you're handed your clothes, given a haircut - whether you need one or not, poked and proded, given shots, and sent to a dormitory to change your clothes - leaving all your civilian stuff on your bed, into your first uniform. And you stood at attention while your drill sargeant went to each recruit examing them, their locker and their old belongings.

Basic training was interesting. I was in one of the brand new dormitories built on LackLand AFB. The dormitories for the recruits were in a cross pattern, one squad per wing on a cantilevered extension to create space underneath for assembly, excercise and drill instruction. The central part of the first floor had the mess hall, classes and administration rooms.

The goal of the open space below each dormitory wing was to provide outside shade during the summers and to stay dry during the rainstorms for drill instruction, exercise and fitness tests. Unfortunately I went there during the best weather or the worst time to be there as we did everything every day because it wasn't too cold, hot or wet. This also meant that I, being underweight going in, gained 25+ pounds in the eight weeks of training.

What I thought was funny that when the drill instructor inspected my civilian belongs the first full day he found a card I used which identified my father as a retired Air Force officer. He told me, "We'll fix that attitude." When we graduated I was voted one of the three most to succeed in the Air Force, even my drill sargent said I did well against what he originally thought.

The irony is that I simply put my mind in neutral to do whatever I could to survive. I was one of 60 recruits who I had never known before from all over the country, including some pretty racist young men on both sides of the racial divide. I decided to get through basic training and not let anything or anyone get in the way. So I got along with everyone.

And even more ironic, I wonder what they would have said if they knew 3 years later I was charged with insubordination and scheduled for a court martial hearing. It was a stupid act on both sides and a senior sargent I met on temporary duty didn't understand a joke, so he filed a complaint with my commanding officer, a two-star general. It's an interesting experience to have a two-star general stand a foot from you and read you your legal rights.

Anyway, I survived thanks to a full colonel who represented me (voluntarily too). And about a year later I left with a full honorable discharge, having turned down a substantial re-enlistment bonus and a promotion. Go figure. I never regretted it. And on January 2, 1973 I walked out the front gate at McClellan AFB for the last time, went home and got on with my life.

Monday, December 17, 2007

My Brother Greg II

I spoke of Greg's life and death in part one. This is, as they say, the rest of the story. August 21, 1991, was going to be a good day for me. I had spent much of the previous week waiting the arrival of my new 1991 Volkswagon Vanagon Syncro, the four-wheel drive version of the Vanagon. The dealership had taken my deposit and agreement to accept my 1985 Volkswagon GTI as trade-in if they could find one.

Volkswagon had discontinued the old version of the Vanagon in Europe more than a year earlier in favor of the Eurovan, and they had announced the replacement in the US in 1991. They didn't plan a four wheel drive version of the Eurovan, and only a few years later produced one for European markets. I've always wanted a VW van, so I made the deal for one, if they could find one.

They called me a few days earlier to say they found the last two in western Washington, that dealers would give up, in Everett, and what color would I want, silver or white. I said it didn't matter. They got the white one. And on that day I took the rest of the day off from work to sign the papers and take delivery of it. And driving it away from the dealership was one of the coolest days I've known.

It turned out to be a base model with four wheel drive with one exception. It had the "power' package, meaning air conditioning, power windows and locks, and cruise control. It had removeable middle jump seats with rubber mats. It was meant to be a commercial van, but was now mine. It's virturally unchanged and still 100% stock parts except the addition of higer power headlights and a pair of driving lights.

Well, I got home about 2:00 pm and noticed a message on my answering machine. It was Mom, "Greg has passed away from a heart attack. Meet us at the Denver airport to fily to Kansas City." And the next trip in the van was to the Seattle-Tacoma Airport to fly to Denver and then on to Kansas City for his funeral.

Flying from Seattle to Kansas City was a stark contrast. It was hot and humid every day. The family stayed in Greg and Jo's house to save money (I slept on the couch). Greg was cremated with the stipulation his ashes be spread over the Gunnison River from the bridge in Gunnison, Colorado, his favorite place he ever lived. I would learn years later Mom and Dad had to finally pressure Jo to do that.

Dad was totally quiet throughout the days we spent there and on the way home. He didn't speak to me, which I accepted as my reality and his loss, the loss of what he had put his life into believing his posterity. He never realized he had created Greg's life into an early death. He also didn't speak to me for another year or so, and I only saw him for an overnight stay a year before he passed away in 1994.

When they held the ceremony I kept one of the small bouquets. I packed it in my suitcase for a reason Greg spoke of years earlier.

When Greg was the CFO of AMC Theater company and negotiated the takeover of AMC by a California investor, he had to fly to Los Angeles for the final deal. He said he never saw the Pacific Ocean, and despite the time in LA he couldn't arrange the time to go to the beach somewhere, anywhere, just to stand there and say he saw it.

When I returned home, the first real trip in the van was to the coast, namely Westport south of Aberdeen. It's a quiet stretch of public beach. The north side of Grays Harbor has all the tourist because you can drive on the beach. The south side has the sport fishing community of Westport where I used to go there monthly on groundwater work.

This saturday I parked behind the dune, walked throught break for people, and spent the time watching the ocean. At the end I went to the water's edge, and gently placed the bouquet on the surface, and watch is slowly drift out with each succesive wave. It finally was caught in the outgoing waves and drifted out into the ocean before disappearing from view.

I drove home and decided the van would be called "Spirit" for my brother. And every year I celebrate the day and honor him. My brother. Thank you, Greg.

My Brother Greg

This is a photo of my brother, November 30, 1943 - August 21, 1991, (sorry, it's a scan of a poor print) in 1990, a year before his sudden death from a heart attack, when he was the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) for a automobile transport company. He was hired only about a year or so before being the CEO of American Movie Corporation (AMC Theater). He was the CEO for a year after being the CFO and negotiating the takeover by a California company.

My brother began with AMC Theater a long time before that when it was a small regional theater company and wanted to go national. He was the chief negotiator in the takevoer deals for many regional theaters into the AMC chain of theaters in the 1970 and 1980's. He loved this job as it was always changing with each negotiation for the buyout and the transfer of the resources into the company.

He hated a routine job, any routine job, even though he graduated with a Bachelors degree in Accounting. After college and a few years in a larger account firm, he split off into numerous partnerships before becoming a regional accountant for a Denver-based company. He was living in Gunnison, Colorado and was in charge of southwest Colorado accounts. He loved the job, and especially loved the place.

But his family didn't like the remoteness of Gunnison and our parents hated driving over the Rocky Mountains for visits. So after about two years he moved back to Denver and then accepted the job with AMC in Kansas City, Kansas. While his loved the job, he hated living there. He knew, however, as the elder son and our father's hope for the future, he knew his fate in life.

The one time when I visited him in Gunnison for a family reunion we had a good conversation about life. He spoke of his frustration of his life, being the elder son and all the things Dad wanted to see him accomplish. He was in effect, our Dad's older brother, to be something and have a good family. He always said how much he hated it.

It was also the first time I learned how our father viewed each of us sons. He, being the executor of the estate had all the responsbility of that but he wasn't mentioned in the will until the last of a six page will. I was mentioned somewhere in page three. Our sister on the other hand was in the first two-plus pages. He said that alone was a statement.

I urged him to consider making his own life, even if angered our parents, I certainly did, and maybe resulted in a divorce, which mine was the first in the extended family. He smoked 1-2 packs a day and drank quarts of whiskey a week. He was on the fast road to death, and he knew it, but after all the words, he knew the reality of his life.

I suggested he consider being a senior accountant, CFO or Treasurer for some non-profit organization, a university, or something that had the variety of work, be around a lot of people, was in a place he liked, and be something far less stressful with his family and our parents. But with a wife and three kids, he accepted the reality of his life.

After turning 40, he began to see the real reality of his life. After 20-plus years of smoking and drinking, he had a heart attack. A few years later he had an angioplasty to remove blockages in several arteries. A few years later, he had both lungs pumped when they were half full of liquid. The doctors told him the next time he'll need his heart and both lung replaced.

About a year after this photo was taken, he did something he had never done, he went home for lunch. It wasn't a short drive for him, but mostly he didn't really like being at home, seeing the reality of what he had brought into the world. He had three good kids, but they weren't the easiest to raise. On top of that, a child psychologist and our parents blamed him and Jo, his wife, for the problems with the oldest.

I didn't like that and told our parents in no specific terms that I supported him against anyone. Not so much he was my brother, but because I felt our parents shouldn't interfer and the child psychologists had their views, some right and some wrong, but I would leave it to Greg and Jo to make the right decision for them. They did and the kids came out ok, but it was hard for about 5-6 years.

When he got home for lunch, he went into the house, told Jo and each kid how much he loved them. He then sat down on the couch to smoke a cigarette. He didn't get to finish it as he had a massive heart attack and died within minutes. When they did an autopsy they discovered both lungs more than half full of liquid.

He knew the reality of his own life and his own death. He choose the circumstances of it, and while it wasn't a good things for the kids to see, he wanted to be home.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Dad and I

My Dad and I rarely spoke to each other especially after Christmas eve 1968, and he wasn't much of a talker to the rest of the family, only to his personal friends we hardly knew, but as told to me by my Mom my Dad and I had similar lives for a short period in our youth that defined the rest of our life. Except for the times and places, he and I were the same.

When Ace, my Dad, the nicknamed he got somewhere in his youth - short for Alva Clyde, not a name you want to be known by - graduated from high school in Valley Falls, Kansas, a small town about an hour drive northwest of Kansas City, he worked in his Dad's store, the only general store in town, until he went to the University of Kansas. It was 1939. We all know the history that was about to be bestowed on this country.

After his first year he returned home to work in the store and start his sophomore year, or so he thought. You see Ace was the third child of three and the second son, Kermit his older brother. My Dad's father came to the United States from England about 1908, moved to Valley Falls, set up his business, built a house a few blocks away, married Elfreda Anna after she immigrated in 1910, and spent the rest of his years raising a family.

I never knew what Ace's relationship with his fatrher was, but from what I've been told it was a mixed one as his Dad apparently favored Kermit and his older sister. Kermit got four years of college and went on to a properous insurance business in Kansas City never venturing far from the family home. I don't know about the sister except she married young and left for Colorado. My Dad and his father had a falling out about colllege.

He never spoke about it, but from tales from friends and relatives, he apparently didn't use college so much for learning as for enjoying life and the world away from home. And I gathered that his Dad didn't offer to put him through another year of a life away from home, so he stayed working in the store, and in the spring of 1940 Ace enlisted in the Army.

All I know is that my Dad's father "invited" him to leave to make a life for himself, just not there sometime while at home. He did just that serving 23-plus years in the Army and Air Force, eventually settling in Denver, Colorado when he retired, to work for the US Bureau of Land Management. He retired a second time in 1984 after 43-plus years with the federal government.

My Dad was a very private man. While he was generous with friends, as Mom would later know after his death to find a drawer stuffed full of iou's to him for money he had loaned to friends over 50 years behind her back, he was barely generous with us kids. Only later did I learn it was about the same his Dad treated his kids. A solid middle class upbringing and nothing too much or too fancy except for the special occasion.

What bothered me the most throughout the life I knew him after leaving home, was that he never spoke of his past. Never about growing up in rural Kansas, never about his service in World War II (non-combat), his military career (much in secret commands), or his retirement. He never wrote about it either, despite all of our attempts to get him to talk. He never did, and took all his experiences to his grave. Lost forever.

When I graduated from high school in 1967 I had plans to work but the draft made it clear I had to go to college too. I wanted to go a Colorado school out of the Denver area but Dad decided I should attend the same university my brother graduated from and become a mechnical engineer. My brother was the favored son, as with Kermit, got his full college paid. I, on the other hand, had to pay a third of my tuition and all my books.

After the first year, where I barely passed, I was put on academic probation. After the first quarter of my sophomore year I was released from the College of Engineering, and as explained in the Christmas eve story, my Dad said to me, "Son, I want you to have a life, just don't have it here."

Less than 3 months later I enlisted in the Air Force and left home, rarely returning, and rarely speaking to my Dad. We had another falling out when during my enlistment and facing a disciplinary hearing my Dad criticized me for not be a good soldier. I hated the military and the Vietnam War, but I loved my country to serve. I never forgave him for his words then as he never apologized for them.

Nearly twenty years later after my brother suddenly died of a heart attack, my Dad didn't even talk to me whole the time in Kansas City for the week of the funeral and cremation ceremonies. My Mom had to speak for him. He had lost his, in his mind, the only son who mattered to him. In the years in between my brother's death and his death 3 years later, we rarely spoke. He had lost his sons and was wrestling with his own demons.

He died shortly after his 75th birthday. My Mom's only advice a few years later was, "You and Dad are so alike it's scary, but please, for the rest of your life, don't be your father." The best advice I ever heard from my parents and am still living it.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Christmas 1969

I enlisted in the US Air Force March 7, 1969. After basic training and an extra stay in fabulous Lackland Air Force Base (AFB) outside of San Antonio, Texas I was given orders for electronics training at Lowry AFB, Denver, Colorado. When the ten of us graduated from the training, we were ranked in order of our grades for selecting our first assignment. Starting at the top, they gave each a choice of, one, going into airborne and later in Japan, two, depot maintenance McClellan AFB near Sacramento, and Edwards AFB, southern California.

There was one exception which was for headquarters in Alexandria, Virgina where one electronics technician was hand-picked. It wasn't a surprise he was from Virginia. Anyway, I was fifth in the class as I only had one year of college studying mechanical engineering, and those ahead of me had either degrees in electrical or electronic engineering or technical college degrees in electronics. I was the best of the rest after these four guys.

There were six assignments to Sacramento, three to transfer to airborne and initially stationed in McClellan AFB, Sacramento before going to Japan and three for depot maintenance. There were three for Edwards AFB and one for Washington D.C. In short when the Sacramento assignments were gone the last three got Edwards AFB, which meant the first six of us took the fomer as we knew Edwards was in the middle of the southern California desert.

Of the Sacramento assignments, within a year one, my roommate in the enlisted troop housing, went to Chang Mai, Thailand. The three in airborne went to Japan after finishing their flight training, but until then the six of us became good friends. We didn't always hang out together after work but we didn't forget the others. My closest friend then was one who eventually went to Japan, but we shared some off-hours interests, namely exploring Sacramento and many people's favorite hobby then, drugs.

Yes, a lot of young serviceman explored drugs. Of the six of us, only Rick and I were single, one was married, two engaged and eventually married, and one was too quiet and reserved to try, let alone enjoy, drugs. And as you may guess, drugs in California in the late 1960's weren't that hard to get, and one in the dormitory was a small-time dealer for marijuana and some non-hard drugs, like mescaline, etc.

But this essay isn't about my drug experiences, that's another story, it's about my first Christmas away in a strange place. Rick and I were out exploring Sacramento. We liked to see how far we could get on days off riding the bus, catching rides or walking. On Christmas day we got back too late to eat dinner at the base chow hall, they had an early one so everyone could get home for the holiday. So there we were at about 6:00 pm hungry.

We looked outside the base where there were some restaurants and they were all closed. So, we decided to try the flight line diner, and after getting some general direction (try the control tower and flightline area), we started walking. And after wandering around a lot of hangars we arrived at the flightline diner about 8:00 pm. Only to find the kitchen was closed and all they had were pre-made sandwiches, chips and drinks.

So, my Christmas dinner was a sandwich, chips and coffee. After a few hours of talking with anyone there, we got a ride back with a newly arrived flight crew and were being transporting to the overnight housing. Somehow, all these Christmas dinners since then, this one sticks in my memory as one of the best. Who would have thunk it all these years later.

Rick eventually finished flight training, went to Japan, married a wonderful Japanese woman, and came back to the States. I saw him when Linda (my then wife) and I were living in Sacramento. Both Linda and I were working and going to school. Rick and his wife did a tour of the western US before coming to Sacramento. He eventually joined rejoing the Air Force to study nuclear physics. That was the last I heard from them.

But for awhile life was interesting exploring California, drugs and life, a memorable Christmas dinner.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Christmas 1968

I didn't realize on Christmas eve 1968 that the next year will be the most pivotal period of my life. Overstatement? Not really because when we're 18-20 we're discovering the world outside our home, beyond the news on the television, stories in the newspapers, and the world outside the town limits. All by ourselves. And that's the pivotal point.

We had a normal Christmas with all the family, from the grandmothers to all three of us kids. My older brother had married and lived in Denver now after a year in Tulsa, Oklahoma. My older sister was home from community college in Grand Junction, Colorado. And I had finished the first quarter of my sophomore year at the University of Denver. I hated going there. My Dad required that I worked fulltime and pay a third of my tuition, something he didn't do for my other siblings. I wanted to go to Colorado State University or the University of Colorado.

In short, I wanted to go somewhere away but not far away. Both offered engineering schools, but my Dad has decided I should be a mechnical engineer, and within driving distance of home. But he said there wasn't the money. He had blown it on five years for my brother college at the University of Denver and the two years for my sister. There wasn't any more money and we had split the tuition costs between him, my brother and myself.

I worked 40-plus hours a week as a warehouseman at a local area department store. I worked at a local branch as the sole warehouseman unloading, stocking, and inventorying the goods and helping customers load their purchases into their vehicles. I also helped at the central warehouse unloading and stocking from trainloads of goods. All for $1.60 an hour while taking a fulltime engineering course load.

That is a recipe for disaster and it was. After my freshman year I was put on probation for my C average. There was just too little time and too much work and college. And I wasn't really ready for college. I enjoyed working for a change and having money, although most of it went to pay expenses to Dad for living at home, having a car and paying tuition and books (I bought all my books and supplies).

And the first quarter of my sophomore year wasn't any different. I thought I had a year to clean up my act, but I guessed wrong. On Christmas eve I got a registered letter from the College of Engineering. The family was cheerful and doing the things family do on Christmas eve in the house with too many people. Being joyous.

I took the letter to the top of the stairs to the basement, away from everyone. But Dad saw the letter and followed me. He sat down next to me. The stairs led to the basement Dad had refinished to have two bedrooms, a bathroom, a living room, a laundry room and a workshop. I was the only one using it after my brother left for work and marriage. I hated it as it was dark with only a few small windows.

My Dad had designed the floorplan around the steel support jacks holding the floor. The house was underbuilt and before we could really use it, all the floorbeams had to be reinforced or doubled and a longitudinal beam with support jacks added every 10 feet. This restricted the arrangement of the rooms. And I got the room farthest from the stairs and the darkest with one small window that wasn't much help.

I hated it for being so isolated in my home and in my life. It's why I often studied at college until I had to go to work and then go home to eat and sleep, to start the next day again. I hated weekends having to stay home when I wasn't working or studying. I was 19 and wanted to leave but didn't have the money. We all know this story of our youth.

I slowly opened the envelope and took out the one page letter. Addressed from the Dean of the College. It was short. It simply said I was hereby expelled and prohibited from enrolling in any more engineering classes. My name was sent to the university to decide if I could enroll in general education classes or other colleges. And my name was sent to the Selective Service that my student deferement should be reviewed.

I handed the letter to Dad, who silently read it, paused and said to me, "Son, I want you to have a life, just don't have it here." I asked him, "How long can I stay?" He responded, "Three months." He handed the letter back, stood up and returned to the family celebrations. I didn't say anything about the letter, and neither did Dad, and later in the month said I wasn't enrolling in the winter quarter.

In January I started receiving letters from the Army which stated, "Please feel out this form at your convenience and return it in 3 days." Really. I've never understood that statement. I even had to go through the Army's physical while filling out all the papers to enlist in the Air Force and given a March 7th report date. Just before I reported, I got my 1-A status from the Army.

My Dad and I didn't really speak after that letter. He had spent a 23 year career in the Air Force and only encouraged me to enlist in the Air Force and not the Army. I knew that because I didn't really want to go to Vietnam. I hate combat but I wanted to serve my country. The morning I reported no one said goodbye, I took a cab because both of my parents had to go to work and I had to report at 5:00 am even though I didn't leave for airport until late in the afternoon.

And so it was an interesting Christmas, and spun my life in a direction I never expected. My Dad and I never really reconciled our differences, but that's another story.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Big Arizona Rivers

When I was (forced) transferred to the Phoenix, Arizona - which is another story - I drove the less travelled highways from Eugene to Phoenix to get a sense of the country, the eastern side of the Sierra mountains, Nevada's basin and range mountains, and northwest Arizona. In Arizona drove from Kingman through Wikieup to Wickenburg into Phoenix. It's a 3 hour drive through the open desert. I didn't realize two years later I would be driving this highway once a month as part of a field trip.

While I was driving I kept an eye out for "rivers" or what I thought rivers would look like. I had never been in Arizona so I had no idea about desert rivers let alone big desert rivers. The first of these was the Big Sandy River. I approached a long bridge where the sign of the river was noted. I crossed what seemed to be just more desert except it was a few feet lower than the surrounding desert.

Near the middle there was this small, 10 foot wide, stream flowing, more wandering within a 300-foot wide river channel. With no cars around I stopped to see what was happening. Standing in the middle of this very long bridge over this very wide river channel with this one small channel of water I thought out loud, "Shit, I'm in trouble." And so it would be both and understatement and an overstatement.

As I would eventually tell people after I left Arizona, the whole five years was professionally very rewarding and the best thing I did in my career despite being forced to go. But personally it sucked. I hated Phoenix, hated living there, hated the heat, the long hot summers, and hated having to live in air conditioning almost year around. Remember I drove a 1971 VW bug then.

After about two years in the Phoenix office a new technician had arrived and wanted my field trip (upper Salt River and adjacent basins) and I had managed to anger the lead technician, so he switched our field trips. I got his which was the northwest desert. It started just outside Sun City and went to Wikieup. It was a scheduled once or twice monthly trip so the first week of every month I was on the road 5 days the first week and 2-3 days the third week.

The trip has a diversity of gages, rivers and roads into them. And I had to address the one thing I really hated about desert. Critters. Like rattle snakes, scorpions and spiders. They all love gages. Gages in Arizona are made of thick steel to prevent damage from survivalist and hunters with high powered rifles and handguns, and who love to shoot gages. So the gages heat up during the day for critters to live inside.

Well, my two farthest gages were the Big Sandy River near Wikieup and the Santa Maria River near Bagdad. Both were different but similar being big desert rivers.

The Big Sandy River gage as I learned was miles downstream from the bridge I crossed on the way into Phoenix. There were three ways into the gage, all off the highway, but depending on flow and river conditions you forded the river three, one or no places, respectively in order of priority. The two shortest were 2 and a half to 3 hours from Phoenix and the longest 4 hours, one way.

The standard route was the turn off the highway to dirt road that eventually forded the Big Sandy River three times, the last ford about mile where you turn off onto an semi-road sand path to the river. From there you hike about a half mile upstream. And there, bolted with braces attached to a rock wall was a 40-foot high stilling well. The cable way was at the gage where during high flows you hiked to the left bank platform to use it to cross the river to the gage and make a measurements.

I never had to do that except to ride and inspect it once a year. The flow was always low enough to wade to the gage and measure the flow. The real problems were after storms. The locals kept the first two fords solid, meaning packed and graded so hard sand so cars can drive over them with only about 6-12 inches of water. The flow isn't sufficient to undo the hard packed sand.

But it usually took them a few weeks to do this, so the second choice was the road with the last common ford. Except this ford was rarely graded and packed. The local person charged with this didn't like doing it so often, even when the grader was parked right there. So, you had to gamble it would be driveable because it's an hour drive off the highway to the ford - and only a few minutes to the gage, and if it wasn't driveable, you were stuck going back and taking the last choice.

Except if you had the fortitude to risk driving across it. I only did this once, as it was a lesson in what not to do. The storm had eroded the opposite bank of the ford almost nearly vertical. After checking the stability of the sand I thought it's doablel in four wheel low, in granny gear and never stopping - as I was told and taught by folks there. Well it worked until I hit the other side and slammed into it where the front of the truck lifted up and scraped the whole underside on the bank climbing out.

It worked and it worked driving out too except a month later when the clutch was discovered to have been destroyed by sand and water getting in a vent hole Dodge built into their trucks. Talk about stupid. They don't use a plug but an open hole where sand got into from the bank. My boss only said, "Next time, be a little more careful." He told the grumbling mechanics it's part of the work.

The last choice was to drive to Wikieup, turn left and follow the road long on the very long 2 hour drive on dirt and sand backroads to the gage. You often felt you were driving to the end of the world. It was also this road I got my brand new Dodge truck totally off the ground. I was driving down a one lane sand road with 4 foot banks and hit a bump at 45 mph, and suddenly the truck was off the ground and then thumped back down. I slowed down. After breaking my old truck which was due to be turned in anyway - and why my boss excused me, I didn't want to explain breaking my new truck.

When you finished it was a short drive to the last ford to check if it was driveable, and help get out quicker, and if not, you drive back around to Wikieup again to rejoin the highway. And I'll say Wikieup is just a wide spot in the road, nothing to write home, or here, about so leaving there the next stop of Wickenburg or farther Phoenix.

The Santa Maria River gage was similar to the Big Sandy gage, both being standard big desert river gages, and the trip was similar, being long dirt and sand backroads to the parking spot and a walk up to the gage. But it was different in that there were no fords of the river until you got to the parking spot. And there everything was different.

Where the Big Sandy River was easy to wade and measure, the Santa Maria River is a nightmare where you learn to feel the river bed for soft sand and quicksand. You had to wade a 300 foot wide channel usually full of water at or just below the surface of the sand with a smaller stream wandering around, so solid was relative as you used the wading rod to feel a foot or two in front of you.

You would take a step, feel with the wading rod feeling for solid sand, and if it wasn't, the rod would start sinking, maybe a few inches or maybe a few feet. You had to do this for 300 feet to the other side winding your way across, then hike a mile to the gage, and do the same at the gage for the wading measurement. But here is where the two gages were different.

The Big Sandy River gage was at a rock outcrop face, like the Santa Maria gage, but at the Big Sandy the contol below the river was bedrock along with much of the channel for some distance, so finding good footing in the river channel was easy. At the Santa Maria, there was no bedrock on or near the surface, but 50-100 feet below with a huge cross-section of water-filled sand. Hence the quicksand.

The only advantage at the Santa Maria gage versus the crossing point at the parking spot was the some of the sand in the channel was dried out to be solid for walking. But that also meant the gage wasn't connected to the real flow, so you had to dig a small ditch 50-100 feet to get water to the gage to get or check the stage, especially after storm events which deposited a few feet of sand in the stilling well and you had to dig out to get the float back to the river level.

And the Santa Maria River was where I did have to make a cableway measurement. It was one of, if not the, worst cableway measurement I've ever made. I hiked up the river bank to the cable car - we kept one on each side to ensure you always had access to the gage from either side. The river was flowing the entire width of the channel, all 300 or more feet, and was clear as gritty chocolat milk, so you couldn't see below the surface let alone the bottom.

All you saw was sand filled water flowing 3-5 feet per second. In the end it was a bad measurement because the water was only 1-2 feet deep, bad for cable measurements, but the bottom was constantly moving, which meant a wading measurement would have only resulted in my sinking into the channel. There are techniques for sensing the real river bottom during moving beds, so the measurement was ok, just not great.

In the end, after about 18 months with this field trip, being transferred to another one and eventually to project work, my best times were after the work at the gages where I was only driving out. I could take the time to see the desert, even the one time it snowed in December. The whole desert covered with a little coat of white. At the highest point of the drive, I just stopped and stood on the truck to get the whole panorama.

When I left Arizona I drove the same highway out, and stopped at the bridge over the Big Sandy River and said, "Well, trouble or not, it was ok. But I won't volunteer to come back either." And waved goodbye to desert hydrology.

Rogue R nr Agness

The gage for the Rogue River near Agness, Oregon, along with the Illinois River near Agness gage were the farthest from the Eugene Field Office. It was on the coast field trip which started with the Siuslaw River near Mapleton gage and lasted a week.

The coast field trip only had about 8 gages, depending on the year, because of the driving, along with 2-3 days the following week for the other gages that could be done in a day without staying overnight. The week on the road was spent in two or three different motels in different towns unless we had problems or changes in plans, and every technician did the trip differently to stay at their favorite spots.

I liked Agness. It wasn't much of anything let alone a town. It was a fishing resort in a rural area, and had a four room motel, a restaurant, a store and a gas station all in one long L-shaped building beside a RV park. A few homes were around the area, but for the most part it was where salmon fishermen/women came to fish and where the tourist jet boats from Gold Beach on the coast stopped for lunch and turn around.

Agness is about 50 miles inland from Gold Beach. It's acccessible from three directions, but only one open year around. The easiest was the highway from Gold Beach which split to go up the Illinois River valley for about 3 miles (deadend) and up the Rogue River valley to the "bridge" and turns to dirt for the long road over the divide into the Coquille River valley and the town of Powers. There was another dirt road to Grants Pass but it was only open for a few months in the summer if the winter storms didn't wash out parts.

The bridge over the Rogue River was interesting. Occasionally took water quality samples from the bridge and faced a problem because the powered B reel we used had to be double wound with a full reel line plus some extra wraps to get the full 60-feet plus we needed to get the sampler into the water and reach the bed of the river. In the floods of late 1964 the Rogue River was so high it threw trees over the rail onto the bridge putting dents in the guard rail.

This really meant we had two routes to Agness. I used to stay near Coos Bay to service the gages around Coos Bay and on the Coquille River and drive over to Agness to spend two days there. Mikey, the lead technician, liked driving to Gold Beach, staying thre and driving in and out to Agness before heading back north to catch the gages on the waya back. You see, Gold Beach is a real town with choices of motels and restaurants.

But I still liked Agness. The place was owned and operated by an ex-federal government employee. When I made reservations for two nights she would ask, "So what's the per diem rate these days?" I would tell her and she would say, "Ok, that's the rate. See you when you get here." And then they did several extra things.

First, you had to say when you expected to arrive and from what road. If you were late by an hour or more, they would send someone in a truck to go meet you. They knew people get lost or have accidents. They looked out for others. They never had to send someone for me but one time I was 50 minutes late and she had the someone ready to go if I didn't show up in ten more minutes.

Second, in the off-season when the motel and restaurant were closed for the season, she would open a room for you. The restaurant was never really closed, just to the public. Many retirees lived in the area so she would fix dinner family style. There would be 8-16 people in long tables with lots of plates of food and desserts. You didn't go hungry or lack company. And then she would ask what you wanted and what time you wanted breakfast. It would there ready and hot. And then she'd hand you a sack lunch for the day. After all she'd say, "You paid per-diem for lodging and food."

And you wonder why I stayed there two days? And the work?

The Rogue River gage was on private property about 3 miles from Agness. It would be the first of the two gages as each took about 4+ hours to service and make a discharge measurement. These are big rivers with big cableways and being the farthest from the office you took your time. You didn't want to get back thinking something wasn't done. The cableway at the Rogue River gage was at the gage and the one at the Illinois River gage a mile downstream so measurements were easily two-plus hour affairs.

And besides being in a cableway over a big river is really cool. It's one of the things I really grew to love in the field. It's just you in either a sit-down or stand-up car over the river. And some being 300+ foot spans, it meant a lot of arm, and sometimes foot, power to pull everything back and forth and arm power reeling a 50-75 pound weight up and down in the river. But my favorite was always the initial release to start the measurment.

The cablecar was at one end secured with a hook and lock. Both ends are the highest point in the cable, which drops to the lowest in the center. When you start, you pull the car up, move the hook, and release the car puller. The rest is gravity as the car speeds up down the cable. Both of these cables had about 80 feet of trees on both sides before you were suddenly flying out from the bank over the river to the center and up the other side. It was always a "Woohoo" moment.

One trip I took my (then) wife. Our boss in Portland wanted to have streamgagers share their work with the family so he would approve one annual trip (not paid for) for one near-adult family member. Since we used government trucks and access government property, they have to sign a release of liability, but no one every refused to sign and go on the trips. When Linda rode on the Illinois cable car, and I released it to go flying out, she was a little frightened.

Until we cleared the trees and we were suddenly soaring 50 feet over the water to the other side. She suddenly let out a scream of excitement and after that trip she was ready to ride any cableway to take notes for me. She eventually went on another trip, up the McKenzie River. She wasn't thrilled with wading measurements, just sitting on the bank taking notes, and always asked when we would do a cableway measurement.

This was where the these two gages were even more really cool. The Rogue River cableway was up a 40 foot tower on the gage side. Everything except your tools and stuff were at the top in a box on the platform. Once you got up there, it was kinda' scary for me as I'm afraid of heights (and yes, cableways are high but somehow I always felt safe). What worried me the first time I used this cableway was the opposite bank.

The cable on the right (opposite) bank went smack into the hillside underneath a paved road. The anchor (all cableways have heavy anchor on each end) was a large concrete block buried under the road. It was a real WTF moment the first time you released to go to the other side and start your measurement, racing to the hillside. You always slowed before reaching it and had to pull yourself up to start. But looking at the hillside was always, "I hope it holds." thought.

Anyway, the measurement was long but fun about 50 feet over the river. You often saw fishing boats float by, fishermen/women fishing while guides rowed back and forth and side to side trying to find the salmon. River otters would poke their heads out watching everything. And you could see the salmon below the surface following the boats and going to the opposite side of the river. The cat(ch) and mouse game they all played.

And you always had to raise the weight and meter out of the water so they saw the line. And surprisingly there would always been some stupid boat driver who would put the boat right under the weight and ask, "So, what's happening?" And you're standing there with your hand on the clutch which, in an instant, you can let the weight free fall, right into their boat faster than they could move it.

You don't, but sometimes, it sure was tempting. You smile, explain things and ask them to move so you can continue your work. When they see the (lead) weight, they often realized their own stupidity, and leave. It was never a dull measurement, you always found something interesting or something interesting happened. You only hated when you finished and had to pull everything up the cable to the platform.

And sometimes we'd stop and talk to the landowners. Once after going down the hill to the river to read the outside gage and get a water temperature I noticed a deer carcass on the bedrock ledge just above the water against the bank. When I left I asked the landowner and he said, "You just missed him. We saw the cougar kill the deer earlier in the week and move the carcass to the ledge. He comes down every morning to eat and clean himself. He left today about 5 minutes before you came."

After my heart skipped a beat I asked him how they live with a cougar in the area. He said if the cougar has enough to eat and you know where it's at, they'll pretty much leave you alone. But he said, a gun helps your sense of safety. And he said they usually leave in a week or so, so you time your times outside around him. And I remember just how innocent I moved around that morning. As they say, timing is everything.

After the Rogue River you serviced the Illinois River gage. It sat on a 150-foot high bank. To check the outside gage and crest-stage gage (used to measure the highest water level since the last visit) we had a one-inch rope attached to an anchor where you threw the rope over the 60-degree bank and climbed down feet to the river. The outside staff gages where lined up the bank along the rope's path.

It always made reading the outside gage and checking the crest-stage gages interesting, especially when you're done and look at the climb up the steep hillside. Once during a minor flood event where the river was high I saw a phenomenon I didn't know happened.

Rivers during a flood sometimes create harmonic waves, meaning the shape of the river channel at some stages causes the water surface to move down the channel in either standing waves or stationary or flowing cylical waves . This time I noticed the combined longitudal and lateral waves, the latter across the river, where the water surface rose and fell as the surface near the banks did the opposite. Two dimensional waves flowing down the river.

It's the point I always made to office hydrologists. You can't learn real world hydrology sitting in the office. And it's where I have respected the field technicians, the streamgagers, as the real hydrologist. They're the one standing by and working in or over the river when and where it counts. And sadly too many office hydrologists never saw the truth of it.

And another streamgaging is, especially with these gages on big rivers: it's real work. Maybe not continuously hard, but by the end of the day, you know you got a whole body workout. And doing that for a week, who needed an exercise program? And my (then) wife wondered why I felt tired after a week's field trip?

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Winberry Cr nr Lowell

Winberry Creek is one of the two creeks flowing into Fall Creek Reservoir west of Eugene Oregon. Fall Creek flows into the Middle Fork Willamette River above the Coast Fork and these two rivers form the beginning of the Willamette River flowing through Eugene, Oregon and north in the Willamette Valley to Portland, and into the Colmbia River.

The gage is the typical Oregon stilling well gage, with a 48-inch well and walk-in house, see similar one for Naselle River. The gage has a unique slope gage not typical with gages. There are stairs from the gage platform to the water and on one side of the support beam going down the length of the stairs are marks for the water depth in feet.

Normally outside gages are vertical staff gages, usually posts with gage plates marked in hundredths, tenths and feet to establish the stage, or water level, of the river. All the instruments in the gage are calibrated to inside and outside gages, and the stage can then be calibrated to the stage-discharge rating with discharge measurements, which you can read an explanation.

A vertical gage, often several from the lowest stage to the highest are usually 3-6 feet foot high posts positioned up the bank to the gage house, and sometimes on the side of the gage house if the water can potentially get that high. In some places, however, a vertical staff gage isn't feasible due to site condition or river conditions. An example is Alaska where the winter ice and spring break up will literally rip these gages apart, so levels are run every visit to get an outside stage value.

Winberry creek has a slope gage because in the long run it was the easiest to install when the gage was established. It's harder to set and calibrate a slope gage with survey levels, and requires more frequent checking to ensure the marks are accurate if the staircase moves or settles in the bank. And it also made it safer from vandals who often like to knock vertical staff gages over.

Anyway, I've wandered a bit. The gage is alongside a rural (dead-end) road above Fall Creek Reservoir. You can't miss it but the locals know it's there and so few people live in the area, there has never been any problems with vandalism. It's an easy gage to service and all measurements are made by wading near the gage or the cableway just downstream. It's one of those gages that makes streamgaging easy and enjoyable for a change.

It also taught me a think about water, especially freezing water. One December field trip the weather was below freezing. Everything was frozen or covered in ice or frost. I'm not fond of streamgaging in very cold weather, I can't bundle up enough to stay warm. Well, one of the standard tasks streamgagers do at gages with each service is to measure the air and water temperature. The air temperature was obvious, damn cold.

But it was the water temperature that was interesting. I measured a -.2 degrees Centigrade. The water in the creek was below freezing but the surface ice on the water was only along the six inches along the bank. The rest of the creek water had sufficient flow to keep from freezing. To check this, and I had my hipboots already on to make a wading measurement, I waded across the creek taking temperature reading. It was consistently -0.2 +/1 0.1 degree Centigrade.

I realize this flies in the face of what people have learned in school, that water freezes at 0.0 degrees Centigrade, or 32 degree Fahrenheit, but a physicist can explain that if you add velocity to any liquid, including water, the movement can prevent the liquid from freezing at its normal freezing temperature. And an article I read since then has proven that water can reach temperatures of -0.5 or more degrees and still not freeze. The trick is the movement.

The flow in Winberry Creek during the measurement measured near zero as water along banks do, was freezing on the surface. The flow in the channel was between 2 and 4 feet per second, just enough to keep it moving as it lost heat to the atmosphere and get just below freezing without freezing. While almost everyone since then has argued my thermometer was wrong - which has annual calibration tests, they weren't there to see it for real.

I serviced the gage and made the discharge measurement. But the measurement wasn't fun. Standing in this water for about 40 minutes was really damn cold. My toes were turning blue - with hipboots your only warmth is socks, big wool socks. Not enough to keep my body through the hipboots from losing heat to the water. It was one of those field trip where at the end you sit on the tailgate of the truck with your coffee and just let the world go by for a few minutes.

The stillness of the morning, the coldness of the air, and a job finished feeling satisfied was worth the whole time, albeit my toes and hands might disagree. But then there were other days here which also added to the memory of this gage.

Jack Mrowka (PhD), see tribute, was a professor at the University of Oregon when I started my work with the USGS. I walked into his office one day after work because I was told he taught water resources. That began a long friendship which we followed as our career moved us around the West, myself to Arizona and Washington, and Jack to Santa Rosa and Sacramento, California.

There were a number of adventures we went on in the name "research", mostly his, but sometimes jointly with my work. He showed me the USGS method for making discharge measurements had some flaws that could bias the measurement, but the method is basically sound as a common standard method. But it was Winberry Creek he had his best moment of surprise for me.

In his water resources class Jack taught about collecting, computing and producing streamflow data. But until we became friends he couldn't show how the field work was done by the USGS. One fall day I was at this gage and was just enjoying the quiet warm morning. The day was scheduled to service this gage and later the Fall Creek near Lowell gage, the other inflow into Fall Creek Reservoir. The following day was the reservoir gage and the Fall Creek below the reservoir gage.

I was in the gage house when I heard the sound of a bus. It seemed odd as there were only a few houses past the gage and the road dead-ended about a mile later. The sound of the bus stopped right at the gage. I stepped out to see why, and after the doors of the bus opened Jack stepped out. He had brought his whole class to see a streamgage and for me to show them streamgaging.

"Yippee" wasn't my first thought. But Jack had an infectuous spirit and smile, and it wasn't hard to enjoy a morning teaching 30 freshman-sophomore students about streamflow gages and streamgaging. I learned later that he called the office (I had told him the week before I would be on my field trip that week) to see where I was and get permission to interrupt my work. My boss thought it was cool, laughed and said, "Go ahead."

On another field trip, on my time, we took the class to the road end and walked the creek looking at the hydrology and biology of the creek. I don't know what the students thought of the two days in the field, but for me, it was part of the enjoyment of being a streamgager. And all the office hydrology (as many hydrologists are these days) won't change the reality of being there.

I learned sometimes the most ordinary of things can bring some of the best memories.

Big Cr nr Roosevelt Beach

The gage at Big Creek at Roosevelt Beach, Oregon was a gage on a small river basin draining into the Pacific Ocean in the Oregon Coast Range. While all of the major river basins flowing directly into the Pacific Ocean in the Coast Range had one or more gages, there are very few in small basins, which react differently during storm events.

This gage was off Highway 101 on the Oregon coast north of Florence. It's a near two hour drive just to the small dirt road of the highway from the Eugene office. It meant for a long day of driving. And servicing the gage was always a challenge. Once you turn off the highway you drive about an half an hour plus up the creek valley which is heavily forested and damp on good days and soaking on bad days. It was so wet that ferns were so abundant that many people earned money collecting them for florist shop in Florence.

It was a gage that no matter the weather when you left the highway you always wore your rain suit, coat and pants, when you walked to and serviced the gage and made your measurement. It was just a day you accepted as part of the work and job. And besides you got to spend a day in a beautiful place, ok, minus the occasional dumped cars and trucks people would haul in and leave for the State of Oregon to remove.

But the neat thing about this gage after you had finished was that you drove out to the highway. And you were right there on the ocean, just a parking lot away. So, after being thoroughly wet, you got the chance to park the truck, get your thermos out, and sit on the beach for awhile, before you drive the two hours home. That's hard to argue is a bad thing or a bad day, even if the gage work and measurement weren't all the fun that day.

It was here that Jack Mrowka tested an idea. The USGS method to measure the velocity of water in a profile is to measure the speed and direction for about 40 seconds, only less during high flows or floods. The idea is that the speed variation during the 40 seconds will average out to a value within an acceptable accuracy. But this method, developed in the 1950's using measurements on larger rivers, has never retested.

Jack had the idea that the speed in a river cross-section has harmonics, meaning tthat the speed varies over a cyclical pattern where the length for a full cycle varies from about 15-60 seconds, usually 30-45 seconds. He had been testing this using A velocity meter and chart recorder, but he had never tested on a small stream and against the standard USGS metering equipment and method.

He was aware that the variation not only changes in the cross-section, it changes as you move up and down the river, meaning it's a three dimensional characteristic, and it changes with time, so it's a four dimensional characteristic of any river. So it introduces the problem it may be so complex it can't really be determined, and meaning individual station-based method would require consistent updates to ensure it representative.

This may be why the USGS established the 40 second minimum. With all the data they originally collected which determines the optimum minimum time was 40 seconds, it would be impractical to redo the research over a wider number of streams and rivers under varying conditions over time. It's a situation where you can't really disprove it because you could never have enough data to establish the method is inaccurate.

But Jack was taking his shot. He had this spirit that he liked to pursue a lot of ideas. He would collect some data to get an idea off the ground and into some degree of insight, and like a lot of academics, he never collected enough to prove or disprove anything, but just enough to make you pause that it's a realistic possibility and even a probablity. But how much? Well, as all academics write, more research was needed.

So, being friends, and getting permission from my boss, he tagged along one day to service this gage. He got his equipment ready and made some initial tests while I serviced the gage. When I was ready to measure, meaning tagline set, equipment in hand and ready to start, Jack followed me in each section with his equipment. I did a standard measurement and he did his, usually recording the speed for 2-3 minutes to ensure he had several complete cycles in the speed variation.

When we were done I let him copy my notes to his so he could make the comparison later, but he had some initial observations. He discovered that during the measurement I was making the harmonic cycle of the velocity was consistently in the cross-section to be about 30 seconds. This meant I was likely over measuring in some sections and under measuring in other sections.

The questions is, with that thought in mind, did it average out during my measurement, or did I bias the total with too many over or under velocities? I don't know, except that there are many factors effecting the accuracy of a measurement, from the cross-section conditions, equipment, choice of measuring sections, and so on, it seems likely the harmonics of the velocity is lost in the overall error.

It was an interesting day, something few streamgagers get to do, working directly with a professor as an equal, to understand the reality of rivers in the field. Most streamgagers don't really care for this but then a good number like to understand the theory behind what they do. And you couldn't have had a better companion for this than Jack.

And Jack knew where on the drive home there was an ice cream shop that made their own 18% butterfat ice cream.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Naselle R nr Naselle

This is the gage for the Naselle River near Naselle, Washington. The Naselle River is the the far southwest corner of the state and flows into the south end of Willapa Bay, and was the farthest on my field trip for the Tacoma, Washington office, a two and a half hour drive. I used to service one gage on the way, drive to and service this gage and then stay in Astoria Oregon, the closest town, about 20 minutes away.

This wasn't a hard gage to access or service, just tedious. The gage was down a steep, often muddy hill from the parking, on a flat overbank where the ground was almost always soft if not inundated and a small stream flowed through it. The measurements were made wading in the vicinity of the gage, usually upstream - photo looking downstream, or at the cableway about a quarter mile downstream. Non-wading measurements meant servicing the gage, going up the hill to drive to the cableway and driving back and down the hill to check things after the measurement.

I liked this gage because it was the last of the day for this day, and where I scheduled it for the last days of the field trip to just drive back the next day. Sometimes with field trips you have to make your own good times. Streamgagers have 12-16 gages in their network and just doing them one after another wears on you so you have find time for mental breaks on the one or more trips you take.

What I always liked about this gage was the weather and area. It's on the coast so the weather is mild, the terrain mostly hills and forests in a rural area and staying in Astoria afforded the evening to see some sights. While supervisors often pressed streamgagers to do more in less time, most of them don't have the field experience to realize it's about enjoying the job and doing your best. Streamgagers will be efficient and productive if you afford them the latitude to do the job.

Many streamgagers do their work is because they like being in the field, especially in the less populated areas, especially USFS or BLM land and streamgaging. And one of the benefits is having the time now and then after the work to spend their own time while you're already there. Some liked to explore the immediate area, some fished (in season and with a license) and so on. It's the reward for the many times the work is hard and in really bad weather.

This gage is always a reminder of the reality of life. In the fall the salmon come back to spawn. And if I timed the trip right I could not only see them, I would have to make a wading measurement when they were spawning. I can tell you standing in the river with salmon spawning around you is worth the time spent in the river. And I can also say they don't like someone's feet in their area. They will swim by and slap their tail against you.

Along with that, in the fall when the days were getting shorter, it's was a cool place to simply watch the light. What could be better than standing in a river with spawning salmon when the days were waning and the light fading on the horizon?

Big Cr nr Grisdale

This is the Big Creek near Grisdale, Washington gage. It's in the upper Wynoochee River basin, just west of Montesano and north into the southwest Olympic Mountains. Big Creek flows into the Wynoochee River just below the outflow from Wynoochee Lake.

When I transferred to the Tacoma, Washington office from Phoenix I was given the "old man's" field trip which was the network of gages in southwest Washington, from the southern Olympics to the Columbia River and east to the towns of Chehalis and Centralia. I never figured out why except it rarely snowed. It had tons of rain at times, sometimes all week during the field trip. I enjoyed for the time before transferring to data management, which this gage was the reason.

But not for this gage. The gage was a love-hate relationship. On good days, it was the best of streamgaging. On bad days, the worst, and all you wanted to do was go home and get warm and dry. Yes, those days the rain pelted your whole body - the upper Wynoochee river basin averages well over 120 inches of rain per year, and the cold with the dampness penetrates into your bones. And if it snowed, it only added to the misery.

The gage (house in right of photo) was a cinder block building over a stilling well. We later added a manometer and then a sonic ranger trying to get decent stage data from this gage and site. The reason was the problem with the river reach above, at and below the gage.

This is the channel about 100 feet above the gage. The flow during storms literally rips out of this small canyon into the reach through and below the gage and under the bridge over the creek. The top photo is looking upstream (gage on right). The creek flows into this reach from the canyon on the right in the photo. From above the canyon to the gage, the channel is bedrock which contains the entire flow and controls the movement of gravel.

Just past the gage, the creek spreads out into a long gravel reach for several hundred feet before merging with the Wynoochee River a little farther downstream. The continuous erosion and deposition of gravel from the high flows means the necessiity of a lot of measurements, especially low flow measurements to discern the changes in the channel which governs the stage at the gage. This meant more measurements than normal just to keep the discharge data accurate.

That, as you can guess, meant a lot of trips. But that's not really why this gage wasn't all that loved. The gage house was full of equipment. It was always dark and damp, and usually full of spider who made themselves at home. Where in Arizona, the first few minutes after opening the gage house door was spent finding and chasing scorpions out, here it was sweeping the spiders out of the house and still well.

And then there was December 1990. I was on the Olympic field trip,six gages in three days. It was cold and had been snowing several days before. By the time I got to this gage, there was a foot of snow on the ground and a lot more in the air. The sad reality is that streamgaging usually means the minimum or no gloves so you can write. It was here and this day I discovered I had Raynaud's Syndrome.

I waded across the creek to set the tagline to measure the width and sections. I made the discharge measurement, which took about 45 minutes, and when I got to the bank to put the wading rod (being a 4+ foot long aluminum rod used to measure depth and hold the velocity meter) down on the bank I couldn't let go of the top of the wading rod. My gloved hand was frozen in the position holding the rod. The fingers wouldn't move.

When I tried to undo my fingers around my left hand holding the rod I noticed I couldn't move the fingers of my right hand from holding the pencil and clipboard. I was stuck with two hands I couldn't move the fingers. I had to slide the wading rod out of the left hand without hurting the fingers, release and reel in the tagline, and carry everything back to the truck with curled fingers of both hands.

I slowly got the truck keys out and started the heater. After about 20+ plus minutes with my hands over heater vent my fingers would move enough to finish the field work and put everything away in the truck. For the next few days after my hands recovered they were painful to move or hold anything. The doctor confirmed the condition and advised not doing field work in the winter. He said once it's triggered it doesn't go away.

Well, you can't be a part-time streamgager, so I had to continue the field work until May of the next year and transfer into the office when a position could be accommodated. And the condition not only continues but slowly worsens each year. So the gage is a good and bad memory. And my hands remember it too. And in the end, even the worst gage and hardest field work was worth the effort because the reward is being there and the rest is what you do and what happens.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Black R nr Maverick

This (right) is a photo of the gage for the Black River near Maverick in Arizona. I had this gage for the last year of its operation, but it was always an interesting day. It's on the US Forest Service land between the Apache Tribal Reservation (west) and New Mexico (east), southwest of Alpine, see map.

This gage was a 10-12 hour day to drive in, service and measure and drive out to Pinetop, depending on the weather, roads and river conditions. It was one you knew would be a long day when you started from Pinetop without any idea of how long it took and what you would encounter. It was at best a 3 hour drive one way and 4 hours at the worst. And when you got there you had to decide to park at the turnout off the USFS road and hike the 1+ mile to the gage or drive up the river channel (summer to fall only).

You started in Pinetop and drove to the Sunrise ski resort on the Apache Reservation and on to Hawley Lake where they have a fishing resort. If you didn't stop there you wouldn't see anyone again until you drove back. You keep driving south and east, eventually exiting the resevation onto USFS land to New Mexico. Then you come to the Black River bridge. There is a parking area just off the bridge.

After checking things, meaning the river stage was low and the river bed/bank was rocky and solid you could sometimes drop the truck into 4-wheel low and into first (granny) gear, and drive up the river channel, stopping when you run into the river about a hundred yards short of the gage, below. Notice the measuring cableway at the gage where you can see the equipment box on the walkway to the gage.

This is the end of the "road" to the gage, after driving a mile up the river channel. From there it's a walk, either with hip boots up the river to the gage and up the ladder or up the bank and over the rocks to the walkway.

Once you got to the gage, it took about two hours to completely service it where you computed the discharge to see if the rating was the same or not and a followup measurement was necessary, always another day along with the same amount of time. It's the norm of the work to make check measurements if the first one is off the rating and/or off the trend of the shift significantly.

After that you put it all away and took a few minutes to enjoy the place or explore a little bit since your day was done except for the 3-4 hour drive back to the motel and dinner at Pinetop. It was one of those gages that when you left you had a good day and wanted to do it again or you had a hard day and felt satisfied for your effort, and even then wanted to do it again.

But that was what you learned to enjoy, the time spent and the drive out. You had all the time in the world to just drive and see all the wonderful and beautiful terrain of eastern White Mountains. It was one gage I really hated to give up, as we lost funding for it. It made streamgaging worth your time and your life.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

EF White R Ft Apache II

Read part one for the pre-flood story. On Friday September 30, 1983 a storm went through Arizona and especially the reservation which generated record floods. I was told Friday afternoon to go and check the gages and make flood measurements. So another technician and I left Saturday morning and headed to the this gage as we knew it was the first to peak and pass, so it was critical to get flood measurement(s).

The gage was always interesting to service as you can see from the photo in the first part during a normal non-flooding visit. It is a 1980's Arizona gage, with an A-35 graphic recorder and stage encoder linked to a GOES satellite for near-realtime data (every 2-4 hours). The box on the walkway is for the two propane heaters. Each lasts about a month and are used November through April when it's likely to become so cold the water in the small well freezes the float in place, recording and transmitting erroneous data.

I had a third tank and would stop in Pinetop to get it filled. I would replace the near empty tank started at the last visit after switching to the full tank. The line from the control switch ran into the well, spiraled down the float tape and above the float where a nozzle was lit. This heated the float sufficient to prevent freezing. As simple as it was it worked very well. And surprisingly none of the indians messed with it or stole the propane tanks.

Making discharge measurements were a little difficult as the flow was usually over and around rocks and boulders, but could usually be made somewhere immediately above or below the gage and control where you could find or make a good cross-section for a fair or good measurement (you didn't move any rocks or boulders on the gage pool control). It was always time well spent just being and working there.

Anyway, back to the flood. The neat thing about floods in Arizona is that it's only cloudy when it's raining from the storm, often a thunderstorm or a fast moving front. Once it passes, it's always sunny, so you actually measure floods when the weather is good. The storm has passed, dumped it's rain and/or snow, and moved on. And you have the highwater to deal with.

When Harry, the other technician, and I arrived late in the afternoon and the above photo was what we saw. The flow was roaring by the gage. The peak had passed, and left its mark on the propane tank cabinet, just at the three white dots below the numbers. The peak was about 1.3 feet higher than the stage at the time. We made sure the gage and data were ok, since we couldn't do much anyway if there were any damage.

After that we went just upstream to a box culvert bridge. The river was straight above the bridge before making a right turn to flow under the bridge and make a left turn just past the bridge and on to the reach flowing by the gage. In short, a horrible place to measure a flood as the box culvert was nearly full of water and with the faster flows on one side (left bank). But we didn't have a choice since there wasn't any other place.

When we were looking at the situation, this is what we saw upstream heading at the bank before turning and flowing under the bridge.

And his is what we saw downstream. The flow on the left is overflow as the normal stream channel is along the right to the gage.

The bridge had a short rail so I could use a bridge board while Harry took the field notes. This is a long extension where you have the A-reel on one end and the line extending out, over a pulley and down to the velocity meter and weight on the other end. You can either use a two wheel base or a rope to your foot to add balance and keep things from going over the rail or let loosse if you snaggged any debris - yes, it's common but mostly on the rise of floods and only rarely on the recession.

I used a rope looped around my foot I could release quickly if necessary, but it wasn't. But by the time we started to make the meaasurement it was getting dark. So Harry drove the truck to the end of the bridge and turned on the high beam headlights. And we finished the measurement in the darkness surrounding our small world. Afterward we check the gage again, mandatory, and headed to Pinetop.

We decided to come back the next afternoon after checkiing another gage and making a flood measurement at the White River near Fort Apache gage in the morning. This is required to verify the original flood measurement for the stage-discharge rating. We discovered the flow had recessed for while but was rising again with the same stage reading.

We made another measurement under the same circumstances, at the bridge and under headlights. It's the nature of the work. You not just accept it but you have to love it and respect the force of rivers. All streamgagers love their work, but not always under all circumstances. And that's the challenge of it, as well as the beauty and reward.

Months later after we did all the flood work at all the gages which had floods I took photos of the damage when the flow was back to normal, as seen below.

As you can see in the second photo the water level at the peak was at the three white dots, which was at the base of the gage house. When all the records were produced, the flood peaked at 2,700 cfs and our measurements at 985 cfs are the two highest measurements for the history of this station.

The other interesting experience was being on the reservation on a Saturday night. As we drove back to White River and then north to Pinetop, we passed a huge, maybe 40 acres, field with many groups of cars and people standing around bonfires, maybe a half dozen or so. People just hanging out and drinking. What else is there to do when there is no other entertainment and tv reception sucks? Sunday night was the opposite, just the occasional small group and bonfire, but mostly everyone home or somewhere not outside.

Such are experiences over time at gages. It's about the place, the times, and you. The rest just happens.

EF White R Ft Apache

This is the East Fork White River near Fort Apache, station 1209492400). It's typical of a gage on a small stream in the southwest. This one is on the Fort Apache (northern) half of the Apache Tribal Reservation northeast of Phoenix in the White Mountains. The gage is east of the community of White River (map).

I had the Apache Reservation field trip for just over 18 months. It's was always interesting but a long trip, where 80% of the time was spent driving, from the first gage, a two-hour drive from Phoenix, to the farthest gages, four-plus hours one way. I usually stayed in the town of Pinetop just outside the northern boundary of the reserveration or ShowLow just west of Pinetop, depending on the room availability as Pinetop was near the ski resort on the reservation.

The trip was a full week in the area, leaving Phoenix Monday and returning Friday afternoon, and then another day for one last gage north of Roosevelt Reservoir. I did one gage on the way to Pinetop and then spent the next three days on the reservation servicing five gages and the last day servicing one gage on the way home. The following week was the last gage. The middle three days was spent driving the back roads on the reservation to the gages, which was a lesson in reservation life.

For one thing I learned the Apaches don't practice taking care of pets. They let them do what they will and sadly if they have litters they don't want, they simply take them into the backcountry and leave them for the coyotes and other predators. It's a horrible form of pet birth control but it's theirs. In addition they have a problems with packs of feral dogs which are more vicious than coyotes. They used to offer bounties for killing dogs in the packs.

This taught me it's not uncommon to come across wild pets driving or near gages. The cats weren't a problem as they avoided you, but the dogs wanted food and the only safeguard as I learned from contractors was either give them your lunch or carry a gun. Since we couldn't do the latter, you simply made sure the dogs weren't there when you arrived. And I also learned there were cougars and occasional bears. I saw cat tracks but never bear tracks.

In addition they let their cattle and horses roam loose over the entire reservation and conduct an occasional roundup of cattle in some areas to take and sell them. I don't know what they do with the horses they collect in roundups. But it's not uncommon to be driving in the remotest back country areas, round a corner to come face to face with "white face elk", their nickname. It's also why you don't drink from any of the streams as it's where most of the cattle spend their time.

And the last thing to worry about were simply people. The reality is that reservations are soverign nations inside the United States and governed by Tribal laws, not non-Tribal local, state or federal laws with only a few exceptions where the FBI has some authority over non-Tribal citizens. And while the Apaches were easy going, friendly people they had the same problems that all tribes have, high rates of alcoholism, especially among the youths in groups.

On the first field trip to see the gages with the lead technician we stopped for some snacks and refreshments. The Tribal liquor store was inside the general store and two things I learned real quick. First, someones stays in the truck and locks the doors or some of the members loitering outside will try to get in the truck. Second, they don't have any refreshments on display but behind a counter window. You tell them what you want and they get it for you.

And, as I also learned, there always is a long line. Try being the only white guy in a long line of alcoholic Indians. You find yourself surrounded by them and you learn to keep you hands on your valuables and don't do anything stupid. Then you order what you want quickly when it's your turn, pay and quickly exit the store. I'm sorry to write this but it was the reality of life there at the time. But there were some good things and some other bad things.

And this gage was at local hangout as it was on the road into the backcountry east of White River. For some reason they never bothered the gage itself but it there were often debris from parties or people occasionally living there. If there were people I simply drove on, turned around and drove to another gage, and came back later or another day. I simply didn't want to be the one government employee among many who didn't necessarily like government employees.

At the time the Apache Tribes was involved in displutes with the State of Arizona and the Salt River Project over water rights of the Salt River basin. And the USGS having the gage contract paid by their adversaries wasn't appreciated by the Tribe. We accommodated their needs for data and information about the river basin and the reservation, but without additional funds to adequately study things, which they didn't have, we were stuck.

So while we were tolerated, we weren't really liked. I never had any bad exchanges with them but I also didn't go out of my way to interact much either. When I looked at staying at their motel for the week I discovered to prevent people from using the rooms they only have one entrance which is locked at 6:00 pm every night until about 6:00 am the next morning. And they only had one restaurant and grocery store. It's why I stayed in Pinetop.

The good part was the restaurant. The best home cooked food you'll find in all of northeast Arizona. It was awesome. And it's there and elsewhere I saw the inter-Tribe discrimination that happens on this and likley other reservations. All Apaches are paid as members and have jobs if they want. All non-Apache are hired for the lesser, non-managerial and higher service jobs. It was interesting to see the diversity of people.

Anyway, that was the human side of things. Part two has the work side of it.