The Weekly Newspaper serving the citizens of Morenci, Mich., Fayette, Ohio, and surrounding areas.

  • KayseInField
    IN THE FIELD—2004 Morenci graduate Kayse Onweller works in a test plot of wheat in Texas. She’s part of Bayer CropScience’s North American wheat breeding program based in Nebraska, where she completed post-graduate work in plant breeding and genetics.
  • Front.winner
    REFEREE Camden Miller raises the hand of Morenci Jr. Dawgs wrestler Ryder Ryan as his opponent leaves the mat in disappointment. Morenci’s youth wrestling program served as host for a tournament Saturday morning to raise money for the club. Additional photos are on the back page.
  • Front.bank.2
    SHERWOOD STATE Bank opened its Fayette office at a grand opening Friday morning, drawing a large crowd to view the renovated building. Above, Burt Blue talks to teller Cindy Funk, while his wife, Jackie, looks around the new office. The Blues missed the opening and took a quick tour on Tuesday. Few traces remain of the former grocery store and theater, however, part of the original brick wall still shows in the hallway leading to the back of the building. The drive-through window should be ready for customers later in the month.
  • Front.carry.casket
    CARRYING—Riley Terry (blue jacket) and Mason Vaughn lead the way, carrying an empty casket outside to the hearse waiting at the curb. Morenci juniors and seniors visited Eagle Funeral Home last week to learn about the role of a funeral director and to understand the process of arranging for a funeral.
  • Front.lift
    MORENCI student Dalton McCowan puts everything into a dead lift attempt Saturday morning during the Wyseguy Push/Pull event. Lifters helped raise more than $1,600 for the family of the late Devin Wyse, a former Morenci power-lifter who graduated last year. Commemorative T-shirts are still available by contacting teacher Dan Hoffman.
  • Front.make.three
    FROM THE LEFT, Landon Wilkins, Ryan White and Logan Blaker try out their artistic skills Saturday afternoon at the Morenci PTO’s first Date to Create event. More than 50 people showed up to create decorated planks of wood to hang from rope. The event served as a fund-raiser for miscellaneous PTO projects. Additional photos are on the back of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.F.office
    NEW OFFICES—Fayette village administrator Steve Blue speaks with tax administrator Genna Biddix at the new front desk of the village office. Village council members voted to use budgeted renovation funds targeted for the old office and instead buy the vacant bank building on the corner of Main and Fayette streets. The old office was sold to Sherwood State Bank. When everything is put into place in the spacious new village office, an open house will be scheduled. Council member David Wheeler donated all of his time needed to make changes in the bank interior to fit the Village’s needs.

Clarence Mast: On the Coast of Antarctica

Written by David Green.

By JEFF PICKELL

Not many people in the area can say they’ve spent substantial stretches of time in both the Arctic and Antarctic, but rural Wauseon resident Clarence Mast is well acquainted with both regions.

And he was part of one of the most comprehensive worldwide scientific collaborations in history.

As an operator of heavy equipment in the Navy Seabees, Clarence spent 369 days spanning 1958 and 1959 at Wilkes Station on the coast of Antarctica. It was the responsibility of his 17-man Navy contingent to maintain a base camp on the southernmost continent while an international team of 11 researchers conducted numerous studies.clarence

The 18-month period between July 1, 1957 and December 31, 1958 was designated the International Geophysical Year, a worldwide scientific effort that included researchers from nearly 70 nations.

The program, designed to occur during an episode of maximum sunspot activity, aimed to answer a variety of geophysical questions, but two areas were of special interest to scientists—the planet’s total ice content, and the aurora, better known as the northern and southern lights.

One of the best places to investigate these issues is the Antarctic, which led researchers to man more than 15 stations around the continent.

But Clarence, who was 20 when he signed up for the duty in 1957, wasn’t very interested in the scientific aspect of the work. He was a recently activated reservist who needed an assignment, so when word of the job opportunity reached the Grosse Ile, Mich., Navy base where he was stationed, he volunteered.

At the time, he didn’t know he was signing up for a year of utter isolation in one of the harshest environments imaginable.

FROM TOP TO BOTTOM—Clarence’s journey actually began in the Arctic, where he and his fellow Seabees went for cold weather training. Afterward, the men were shipped back to Rhode Island before boarding a cargo ship for the trip south.

It took more than a month for the vessel to navigate the path to Antarctica, which included a trip across the Panama Canal and stops in New Zealand and Australia.

The men finally arrived at their new home in January 1958—summer in Antarctica, where temperatures average 32 degrees.

Thanks to modern technology, researchers can now use helicopters and airplanes to travel to and from Antarctica, but that wasn’t the case in 1958.

“When we landed on the continent, they told us, ‘This is your last chance to back out. After we leave, there’s no coming back,’” Clarence said. “But we all decided to stay.”

Within a short time, Clarence learned what it meant to be truly cut off from the rest of the world.

“They say that black is the absence of color,” Clarence said. “But at Wilkes Station, I learned about the absence of sound. If you walked just a few hundred yards from the station, there was absolutely nothing to hear.”

Voluntarily marooned with 27 other men for more than a year, he said it would have been easy to grow despondent if he didn’t have his work to focus on. There was plenty of it to go around.

ROUTINE DELAYS—The Seabees worked Monday through Saturday and rested on Sunday. Clarence said it wasn’t uncommon, however, for a week’s progress to be erased during their day off.

Although it rarely snowed, temperatures almost never reached the melting point. Antarctica’s extreme winds turned the ever-present snow into an ultra-fine powder that  could infiltrate even the most tightly sealed vehicles and buildings.

This led to a lot of digging for the Seabees.

On Monday mornings, they often woke to find their vehicles completely buried in snow drifts. After digging out the vehicles, workers also had to empty out cabs and engine compartments. Then they had to get the vehicles running—the harsh Antarctic environment can take its toll on even the hardiest engines, Clarence said.

As a result, Clarence and his fellow Seabees sometimes spent all day Monday readying the machines for work that had to be delayed until Tuesday.

Tuesday’s work produced snafus, as well. Wilkes Station was powered by five diesel generators, three of which were always in operation. One of Clarence’s responsibilities was to assist in transporting 55-gallon drums of diesel fuel from the station’s stock pile to the refueling area. However, the barrels were often buried in snow and sometimes frozen together—so their chain lift had trouble freeing them from the stacks.

“When we would finally pop one loose, there was no telling what direction it was going to go,” he said.

The Seabees’ other daily duties included digging out the tunnels that connected Wilkes Station’s various buildings, maintaining weather vanes and antenna cables, bulldozing paths through the snow, and raising and lowering the American flag.

This last task proved tricky.

“Navy regulations said the American flag had to be raised at eight in the morning and taken down at sunset,” Clarence said. “When you have 24 hours of sunlight, when do you lower the flag?”

LEISURE TIME—Sixty-seven movies were among their leisure supplies. Many nights began with a few Seabees popping a garbage can full of popcorn before they and the rest of the crew undertook marathon movie-watching sessions. Clarence said he watched John Wayne and Robert Stack in “The High and the Mighty” more times than he cares to remember. Sadly, by the sixth month, the workers had depleted their year’s supply of popcorn and had to move on to more creative activities.

Crew members were free to sign out a weasel—an amphibious sledge used for laying tracks—and drive as far into the whiteness as they wanted.

“You could go out, turn around and come back,” Clarence said.

It wasn’t very enjoyable at the beginning, but then Seabees turned one of the weasels into a convertible by lopping off the roof of its cab. Without the added weight, they could get the machine—dubbed the Flying Purple People Eater—running at a near 20 mile per hour clip. A Dutch scientist had the foresight to bring along his skis, and towing him around was a good way to occupy the time.

In addition, the workers were awarded $50  a month in hazard pay if they kept up their demolition skills. Clarence and the crew accomplished this by conducting what he terms scientific studies of ice thickness. With explosives.

“We tested the ice thickness religiously,” he said. “We concluded that it was thick.”

With all the work and activities to be engaged in, it was easy to ignore the isolation, he said.

“If you allowed yourself to get depressed, it was your own fault,” he said.

But Clarence couldn’t help feeling a little downcast after talking to his family. About once a week, around 2 a.m., weather conditions would be good enough for the radio operator to reach Toledo on his ham radio. The operator in Toledo could patch the message through to Clarence’s family by phone.

“After talking to them, you really started to miss them,” he said.

But he had a hobby to cheer himself up.

SUPER 8—Clarence was a home movie enthusiast, and he had his Super 8 motion picture camera cold-fitted for the excursion to the polar extremes.

Over the course of his year-long stay at Wilkes Station, he estimates he recorded more than eight hours of footage, much of it of local wildlife.

The station was located within walking distance of a rookery where a population of Adelie penguins was nesting. Clarence has several minutes of footage of the penguins marching back and forth in single file lines to the rock crest, as well as footage of them piling sand-colored pebbles to use as nests.

Clarence also caught leopard seals, an elephant seal, an emperor penguin and various other Antarctic birds on camera.

An advantage to being the camera man, he found, was that while he was filming, he didn’t have to work. His co-workers wizened up to the ruse pretty quickly.

HOMECOMING—An ice cutter finally swung by to pick up the crew in January 1959. Aside from his family, Clarence found it was fresh food—meat and vegetables—that he missed the most.

Because there was no mail service to Wilkes Station, the Seabees were all inundated with a year’s worth of communications from family and friends. Clarence remembers a particularly delicious batch of cookies his neighbor sent that he shared with his fellow crewmen. It was only upon returning to home that he learned the cookies were nearly a year old.

“They were still good,” he said.

 

– July 6, 2006 

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