Friday, December 7, 2007

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?

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