May 1955 to August 1958
Souvenirs of Edmonton Radio
from Milton Watts
My future with DOT was still up in the air when I arrived in Edmonton. I had one week of my leave and then reported to the Regional Office. I had been told I was being transferred to either Yellowknife or Ft. Smith. During a long talk with Des Carty I refused to go to Yellowknife and reluctantly agreed to go to Ft. Smith. My argument was that a year in Cambridge Bay had always been followed by a transfer to a southern station and I did not consider either of those as south. Just as I was leaving, Des asked me if I would accept Edmonton. Of course I would, and so I ended up at Edmonton Radio.
Edmonton Radio had two operators on all shifts with one more during the day shift on weekdays to handle the teletype circuits. There were two positions. The range position was standard, with ILS control. We monitored several local low power holding NDB. One in particular was the same frequency as the Cambridge Bay NDB. On occasion it was almost covered by the high power CB NDB. That position also had the CPA A/G frequency. The C/W position had three HF frequencies. I think they were 2830, 4885 and 9080 Kcs. There was one LF freq 157 Kcs.
Teleletype circuits were the 9384 circuit up the NW staging rout to Whitehorse, DOT regional office downtown, CPA office, Met office. In addition to the normal DOT traffic we handled all CPA radio communications. Later a third position and operator was added strictly for A/G use. This handled CPA and the new PWA air/ground as well as Eldorado Aviation, a mining company. It was a good station with great guys and eventually gals to work with. The teletype traffic increased with the installation of the new Canada wide teletype circuit. This extra work also brought a new addition to our staff, a young lady to handle the teletype circuits on weekday shift. A very efficient and pleasant addition to our staff. The addition of other circuits to the DEW line necessitated the relocation of all teletype equipment to a separate teletype room and more young ladies. Ron Buss, the OIC was strict but very fair.
Edmonton was a change from my previous stations. A large busy station in a busy terminal building. Still there were times for pranks and other bits of humour to keep things interesting. The radio range position had a bank of four telephone handsets for landline communication. If things were quiet and dull you could liven them up by quietly switching handsets when the RO was away. A new ATC B stand clerk was told to look for the key to wind the altimeter. Couldn’t find the key in ATC so they suggested we had it. We didn’t have it but suggested probably CPA did, and away he went.
I was double banking with a new RO one day on the range position. A large muscular fellow who claimed to be an amateur operator. Great, I thought, no problem with mic. fright. After an hour or two I suggested he do the next weather broadcast. I carefully wrote out the preliminary information and turned it over to him. Broadcast time, he grabbed the mic. in a strangle hold, his knuckles turned white from the strain and he screamed into the microphone. I frantically turned down the gain on the mic. amp. I don’t remember ever seeing him again and wonder whether the strain was too great and he quit.
Working shift one fall evening we received information that we were to monitor a frequency around 29 Mcs. (It was Mcs in those days). The USSR had sent up a satellite that was orbiting earth pinging continuously. The word spread quickly through the terminal and we had lots of visitors eager to hear. Having heard that the satellite was visible from earth we were trooping to the roof on every pass watching but never seeing. Later we realized that any hope of seeing the satellite was wrong, it was the booster rocket, somewhat further behind that was visible.
Bob Fraser and I were on night shift. We had a number of pieces of teletype equipment all supplied by CNT. Mounted on the wall was a box of push button switches by which we could switch different pieces of equipment to different circuits. Bob and I were discussing how it worked. Well! Let’s find out. We dug out a few tools and proceeded to remove the box from the wall and open it up. With the box lying open on the floor we looked at each other and realized “we were dead if the boss walked in”. Bursting out laughing, the box was quickly reinstalled.
One slack period with extra staff Arne Bouska gave Bob Fraser and me a small maintenance job. The dials for the AT3 controls were getting rather sluggish. Arne had a good friend who worked for the telephone company. He had arranged for Bob and me to go see him and get a quick course on how to clean them up. When we arrived at the shop and told him what we planned to do, he suggested we really needed a week of training to do it properly, but perhaps there was another alternative. How many dials were we talking about? Probably ten. Okay here are ten dials, just bring me back the ten old ones to keep the stock record happy. A little problem, his dials were all ten digit, ours were four digit. A quick course on how to change the number plate followed. Then a promise to bring in the old dials and we left with ten new ones.
Odd things could and did happen around a busy airport in those days before security was a big thing. One bright and warm Sunday afternoon a car drove out onto the airfield. Drove up to the midpoint of the main runway and slightly off the runway. Stopped and a group of people got out, with some kids. Spread out a blanket and proceeded to have lunch. They didn’t get much eaten before they were shooed away. It would have been interesting had they been there when a DC4 took off. A Western Airlines DC3 was taxing away from the building and heading for the runway. A middle aged lady carrying a suitcase was racing madly after it. We wondered what she would do if she had managed to catch up to it.
Signal condition did strange things at times. One morning a CPA aircraft outside the hanger in Vancouver was calling for a signal check. No response so I gave him a signal report. Vancouver was unable to hear him. For several mornings I had been hearing a station calling another and receiving a weather report. They use standard ICAO procedure. Using their calls and the weather identifier we were able to probably identify it was Darwin Australia getting weather from Port Moresby. One morning I gave Darwin a call and got a quick signal report back. Our old AT3 was doing pretty good.
I was working shift on air/ground one fall evening. Miserable weather, cold, windy, foggy low clouds. I heard a USAF C47 departing Namao Air Base headed on Amber 2 airway to Fairbanks. About thirty minutes later the regular CPA DC3 flight departed Edmonton on Amber 2 headed for Whitehorse. A short while later the C47 was calling Namao requesting clearance to return to Namao with engine problems. Several minutes later he called again. Then I heard something that worried me. The C47 had turned and was headed back on Amber 2 descending to Namao. A moment later a call from ATC, picking up the phone I got a clearance for CPA to “hold their present altitude immediately”, which I promptly relayed to the CPA flight. A few minutes later the CPA flight called, “Who was that, they just passed overhead”.
Early spring in 1958 I learned that Don Dewar, the new head of Telecom. wanted to talk to me. Showing up at the regional office, I was told that I was being sent to Wrigley NWT for two weeks. Wrigley was a very small station and airport. The staff was one radio operator, an equipment operator and the Airport Maintenance Foreman, his
wife and small daughter. There were two houses, one for the AMF and family and one for the two single persons. Meals were provided by the AMF’s wife. Wrigley airport was across the river from and several miles upstream for the HBC post Ft. Wrigley. It had been established during the war by the US military as an emergency airport in support of their Canol project. After the war the airport had been maintained by the NWT and YRS, (Northwest Territories and Yukon Radio System of the Canadian Army). Later the airport was turned over to DOT and the radio station operated by Canadian Pacific airlines, as they were the only ones needing it. Now CPA planned to leave and it was up to DOT. DOT had asked for volunteers to man the station, but no one applied. A newly trained, green operator had been picked to run the station. I was to show him the ropes and how to maintain the equipment and the paper work. Ray Friel was the new operator. He turned out to be an excellent choice for the job. He learned fast and well. There was no weather observing, no navaid monitoring, no regular schedules. He was primarily a communication link for the airport.
Sometime during my stay in Edmonton we became acquainted with Radar. Every operator had to write the test to see if they could make it as a Radar technician. Thinking about the future, all I could see was 24 hour shifts for many years ahead. I did not want it, but the test you must take. Some weeks later I asked Arne Bouska if he had received the results of his test, I had mine. “Yes” he said very happily, “I passed but I am not good enough to be a Radar tech”. exactly what I got and I was very happy as well. About this time the DOT had arranged a correspondence course for anyone who wanted it at a reasonable cost. The idea was to brush up on our skills. I signed up, but after about four lessons I was completely confused and found many others in the same boat. I gave up. Several year later I received a nice letter from the Queen offering to refund what I had paid if I signed the form promising not to sue the government. I happily signed again.
I was getting a little bored with the job in Edmonton, so when I saw an opening for the OIC Teslin Yukon I was very interested. I had always wanted to see the Yukon and here was my chance. Teslin was right on the Alaska Highway, was a small village and only a few hours driving from Whitehorse. No dice; the office decided to send the OIC Aishihik Yukon to Teslin. Okay maybe Aishihik would do. It was in the Yukon and there was a road to Whitehorse. No dice again. The office wanted to send the OIC Norman Wells there. They offered me Norman Wells. That was not quite what I had in mind, but it was a change, so I accepted.
During my years working in Edmonton I worked with a lot of good people. I’m trying to remember all the names. Ron Buss OIC, Arne Bouska and Austin Smith full time maintenance. Curt Hart, my mentor when I first started with DOT. Herb Foxcroft. Alex Brose, Ted James, Harry Bucknell, Harry Kirk, Chum Workman, Bob Fraser, Stan Maslen, Steve Kutash, John Plunkett, Joe O’Conner, Howie Zurbrigg, Jim Semper, Don Royer.
30 June 2012
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