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Wednesdays With Myron - The Air Force (1953-1956), Part II: My Time In Alaska

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B-29 Bombers on the runway

I was then shipped to Fairbanks, Alaska for six months. Thankfully, I wasn’t on the hot stand. I was in the shop. The B-29 was a very large aircraft. The propeller system was difficult. You had to have something sensitive enough to change the planes angle. But you couldn’t do it with a surge of electronics or oil. You had to get these tiny, tiny shifts in the gentlest increments so you could control it. Too much, and you overshoot your goal and everything goes crazy. The pilot set the controls to establish a certain speed. It’s the propeller that changes to maintain that through it’s own governor. So it is continuously adjusting. In the event that the engine breaks down you are confronted with a situation when you are flying into the wind and suddenly the propeller becomes a windmill. You can’t do that. With the engine broken down, you are not pumping oil and as the propeller is moving, the pistons are moving, the shaft is moving and they are not getting oil, they are going to heat and burst into flames. And that’s not such a good idea. The wings of those aircraft are gas tanks. You now have fourteen men whose lives have just stopped.

Working on the propeller wasn’t like going to the nice, clean classroom. The classroom propellers were meticulously clean; no oil in them. You took them apart; you put them back together again. You patted them on the tuckus and everything was fine. And you are suddenly confronted with this hot engine, the cowling, the safety wire, etc. So I opted to leave.

A very young and small Texan youth had gotten married just before being sent to Fairbanks. When we learned his tour was to be extended, and mine was not, I took his tour and they sent him back to Austin. I preferred the cold to the humid Texan heat. He was an orphan. It didn't take much to realize how much he wanted his new young wife. I still had over a year left on my enlistment. Texas or Fairbanks didn't matter all that much. And, those diction lessons with 100 teachers couldn't be matched anywhere else.

I visited an Indian camp outside of Fairbanks where the residents maintained their ancient ways. Water wheels to do their fishing and hunting deer, bear and small animals to skin for pelts and flesh to salt for the months ahead and roast for dinner.

Fairbanks had wooden sidewalks, just like in Gun Smoke, and trade was conducted with silver dollars. I only remember one time, when returning to the base in an Air Force bus, that a Moose ran across the road. Unable to avoid it, the driver smashed into the poor, dumb animal. There were Moose crossing signs along the roads everywhere. Can't Moose read? The driver said he intended to return to collect the venison. Maybe I should think about hunting deer with the bumper of my car.

Alaska was interesting, but not interesting enough. If I could get out of it and do something different, that was attractive. It was then that I was shipped to Korea. 


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