FROM PROMISE TO FULFILLMENT, Part 3.
“God causes all things to work together for good”
This is a continuation of the story of Engineer F. M. Perry’s involvement with the construction and start-up of The World Christian Broadcasting Corporation’s international short wave radio station KNLS at Anchor Point, Alaska:
F. M. and Charlotte finally got off on their vacation trip to Alaska by driving from their home near Strasburg, Virginia to a dear friend’s house in McHenry, Illinois (near Chicago). Then, on Saturday, August 30, 1980, they flew from Chicago’s O’Hare Airport to Anchorage, Alaska. F. M.’s sister, Isabella, and her husband, Floyd Seeley, met them at the Anchorage airport and whisked them to their home on the East side of Anchorage. In the Seeley’s driveway sat their pickup truck fitted with a luxurious camper which was to become F. M. and Charlotte’s on-the-road home during the coming month of September as they traveled over the roads of Southeastern Alaska.
September 1980 -
Following are excerpts from F. M.’s Daily Log of Travel in Alaska -
“Labor Day, Monday, September 1, 1980, dawned in Anchorage, Alaska with the first cold snap of the fall season. There was bright sunshine but the temperature was a cold 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Floyd Seeley, F. M.’s brother-in-law, winced when he saw the reading on the thermometer just outside the kitchen window. He had been hoping to get in some more fishing from his boat on the Kenai River before the weather turned cold.
“The Alaska State Fair was in progress at the fair grounds so we (Floyd and Isabella and Charlotte and F. M.) put on our jackets and spent a good part of the day at the Fair. Happily the temperature warmed up to the 50's and 60's. We marveled at the display of farm animals and agricultural products, especially the unbelievably large cabbages. As we walked about the fair grounds, we were startled by an ‘invasion’ of paratroopers who dropped down all around us silently from the sky, completely unannounced. In the amphitheater we heard an address by the Governor of Alaska.
“Just adjacent to the fair grounds there was an outdoor museum of vintage aircraft in which I (F. M.) was especially interested because I thought I spotted some airplanes I recognized. Sure enough, among the airplanes on display were two in which I had flown during my sojourn in Alaska in 1942-1943, a Waco 4-place biplane, and a Lockheed Electra 10-passenger two-engine low wing monoplane. As I remembered, the airplanes had been used 40 years before by Wein-Alaska Airlines. In 1942 I had been a civilian ‘embedded’ with a Company of US Army Engineer troops working at a site on the Richardson Highway near Gulkana, Alaska. I had been asked by the U. S. Engineer Office in Anchorage to make my way in for consultation to the office from my wilderness work site. My route of travel had been to hitch-hike north to Fairbanks up the highway, then to purchase round trip airplane tickets from Fairbanks to Anchorage. The Lockheed Electra took me from Fairbanks south to Anchorage. The Waco biplane brought me back to northward to Fairbanks. I then hitch-hiked back down the Richardson Highway to my home base near Gulkana. Rides picked up on the Richardson Highway were usually in the back of 10-wheeled Army trucks. In 1942-1943 the Richardson Highway was an all gravel summer only highway with many spots under continuous maintenance. On my vacation in 1980 the Highway was all season and smoothly paved.
“I was especially interested in revisiting and showing my wife, Charlotte, the site along the Richardson Highway where I had lived for one year (June 1942 to June 1943) as a lone civilian embedded in a Company of Army Engineer troops. So we headed our borrowed truck camper to the site, a point where the Richardson Highway crosses a brook called Dry Creek. There we were surprised to find all signs of the old Army camp almost obliterated. There was a State public campground (Drycreek Campground) occupying part of the site of the old Army base we had established. The part of the base in which I had lived lay in the woods about ½ mile to the East of the highway. That part of the base apparently had been completely dismantled, probably very shortly after World War II, for the area had completely reverted to forest land. Actually, when we established the base in 1942-1943 we had done our best to place the small buildings so that they would least disturb the forest and the landscape. The buildings were all pre-fabricated for easy construction. The smaller buildings used for housing were called Yakutat Huts (16' x 16') and Quonset Huts (slightly larger than Yakutat Huts.) They were also easy to dismantle and I suspect that the buildings of the base were dismantled and sold at auction after the war in order to return the land to native Indian tribal ownership.
I was able to identify the exact site of the 16' x 16' pre-fab Cabin in which I had lived, I think, by finding several concrete foundations which were still there and by finding the water-well casing for the mess hall site still protruding from the ground. In fact I found some artifacts enmeshed in the moss, some home made wire coat hangers we had made upon our first arrival at the site in 1942. And I found some completely crushed 55 gallon oil drums (intact 55 gallon oil drums would have been long since been retrieved and used).
Adjacent to the site in 1942 had been a CAA airfield which during the war was used by the military but had no permanent garrison. This airfield is now a thriving airport for the nearby village of Glennallen. This village did not exist in 1942-1943 but came into being at the building of the Glenn Highway which intersects the Richardson Highway just a mile or two South of Drycreek. Construction of the Glenn Highway connection began in 1942 and the first traffic from the Drycreek area to Anchorage began to flow in June 1943. I was a pioneer passenger in a 10-wheel Army truck over the new Glenn Highway when I was transferred away from Drycreek in June 1943. It was an all day trip in which we got stuck numerous times and had to use the truck winch connection to nearby trees to get going again. By the time of F. M.’s 1980 vacation Glennallen had become a busy little village and the Glenn Highway was smoothly paved.
This section of southeastern Alaska is breathtakingly scenic. The Richardson Highway parallels the Copper River beyond which to the east lies the massive Wrangell range of eternally snow capped mountains. Mt. Drum (over 12,000 feet tall) and Mt. Sanford (over 16,000 feet tall) always fill the eastern horizon for the view of people near Glennallen or the Drycreek camp.
“It was at this site that we first encountered and had to deal with permafrost (permanently frozen subsoil beginning at a depth of 5 to 10 feet below the normal ground surface). The spruce forest which covers the Copper River valley area is stunted (generally trees do not grow over about 30 feet tall) due to the fact that the root system is restricted to the top warm layer of soil and cannot penetrate the permafrost. Glennallen and the Copper River valley area is noted for extreme winter low temperatures: a low of 72 degrees below zero Fahrenheit was recorded during my stay there in 1943 and was also recorded there during the winter of 1979/80. (Note: The permafrost prevalent in the Copper River valley and other portions of inland Alaska was not found at the Anchor Point site chosen for the construction of the WCBC radio station. At Anchor Point the Spruce trees in the forest were massive and grew to more than 100 feet tall. The only frozen soil there was found to be that in the top layer during the winter caused by penetration of the cold weather from above the surface. More about this later in F. M.’s account of antenna foundation construction at Anchor Point.)
“Charlotte and I traveled the length of the Richardson Highway (from Valdez on the coast to Fairbanks not far below the Arctic circle) camping with our borrowed truck-camper at lakes and roadhouse sites that I remembered from wartime travel almost 40 years before. Then we traveled the length of the George Parks highway from Fairbanks to Anchorage, a highway which did not exist in 1942/43, camping for several days near the entrance to Mt. McKinley National Park. One night there in early Sepember we had several inches of snow, but it melted mostly the next day, so it just enhanced the scenery for photography. We traveled into the park by bus and got a glimpse of Mt. McKinley itself. But the best view we had of McKinley was from Anchorage on other occasions.”
September 11, 1980 found us back at Isabella’s house in Anchorage ready to start the next day down the Sterling Highway on the Kenai Peninsula portion of our camping trip. It was on this trip that we would visit the WCBC radio station site at Anchor Point.
The following is copied from the log of F. M. And Charlotte’s Anchor Point Visit.
“Friday, September 12, 1980 -
“Raining, low clouds. Arrived Anchor Point in the afternoon. Went on to Homer to find Bob Austin at work at Superior Supply Co. Bob introduced us to his boss, Don Ledger, who is a member of the Anchor Point Church of Christ. Don has lived in Alaska for many years and has broad knowledge of conditions and services available. Bob suggested we park the camper in his yard in Anchor Point and take our meals with his family. We agreed to do so. Going back to Anchor Point we stopped at Norman Lowell Smith’s studio and house and met him and his family. He was cutting up moose meat. He agreed to take me in to the WCBC property the next day. Proceeded to Bob Austin’s house on North Fork Road (also known as North Anchor River Road and as Pioneer Road). Met Bob’s wife Sue Austin, and their daughter Jane. Later in the evening met son Caleb, his wife Betty, and their 2 ½ month old daughter Karen who had just arrived from their home in Anchorage.
“Saturday, September 13, 1980 -
“Still raining, low clouds. Went in morning to the village of Homer with Caleb to show me the sights including the Homer Spit. Had lunch with Caleb and accompanied him to a gunsmith’s shop to conduct some business concerning gun repair. Returned to Anchor Point and drove the camper to Norman Lowell Smith’s house. He and I hiked around two sides of the WCBC property (South boundary which runs E and W, and East boundary which runs N and S). We hiked along an existing road track which lies within WCBC property on the South side and lies outside WCBC property on the East side. Saw a cabin on the property which lies in trees near the South boundary. It is in good condition (as is) but is not finished (or has been partially dismantled). Has 1inch thick spruce boards for vertical siding but lacks battens over the cracks. No glass in window. Has a good door. Has good aluminum roof but there are some holes where chimney went thru. Has plywood floor. Has attic loft in back with ladder to get into loft. Cabin is about 20' x 24'. Needs corner bracing, insulation, and inside wall finish. Sits up high on posts. Could be made into a livable cabin for a couple.
“Met Bill Jones and his three sons who were harvesting trees for their sawmill. They have house and 10 acres immediately adjacent to WCBC property on East side.
“Returned to Austin’s house. Bob took us on a tour of the North Fork Road which makes a loop and returns to the main Anchorage highway (Sterling Highway) as the South Fork Road. Saw numerous houses and farms. Learned that population along North Fork Road is about 2,000 people. This road goes all around WCBC property (at a radius of several miles) but there is no access to WCBC property from it. Bob also took us to the nearby Russian village of Nikolaevsk.
“Sunday, September 14. 1980 -
“Still raining, low clouds. Went to church at Anchor Point Church of Christ. Adult class taught by Norman Lowell Smith. The preacher, Jim Dillinger, is a very dynamic speaker. He asked me to speak at the Sunday night service and give the latest news about WCBC. I agreed to speak. After dinner at Bob Austin’s house had a conference with a possible road construction contractor, Paul Roderick. He was very helpful. We estimated cost of road construction at a maximum of about $75,000. Mr. Roderick said we could use the existing road that climbs up the bluff from the river (same road that goes to studio and home of artist Norman Lowell Smith) ‘as is’ if we desire. It has about a 20% grade. That would reduce cost of the road to about $50,000 or less. However the steep grade and the narrowness of the first section of road up the hill ‘as is’ will probably prevent concrete trucks from entering property and gravel trucks will probably take only partial loads up the hill. Will need about 5,000 cubic yards of gravel at $1.75 to $2.00 per yard. However, cost of trucks to haul gravel up the hill will probably be the greater part of the cost (that is, hauling will exceed cost of gravel). If we first improve the grade on the hill section of the existing road, the cost of building the rest of the road will be cheaper. Estimate $25,000 for gravel and hauling. Greater part is hauling even though gravel pits are nearby, just across the main road from WCBC property. Mr. Roderick suggests we check to see if we have a gravel supply on WCBC property. If we find gravel on our own property and can use it, we may save as much as $20,000 on road construction. Estimates are on 2600 feet length of road. We discussed the problem of getting concrete to the site. Mr. Roderick, as well as Bob Austin and Don Ledger, all three felt certain that ready-mix concrete trucks will not try to climb the hill unless the grade is improved. Before road construction can start, will have to have WCBC land surveyed and the road bed laid out by surveyor. The discussion group (Roderick, Austin, and Ledger) suggested that we have a lawyer check out what has to be done about contacting owners of other property which the road will cross. The road (as then proposed) first goes across private property, then across or alongside state owned land, and finally along the border of WCBC land and Norman Lowell Smith’s land. We already have a good agreement with Normal Lowell Smith. We need to have a surveyor check to see if there are any existing easements across WCBC land. The present track road is an easement established through usage by Mr. Jones and others who own land beyond WCBC land. We can expect usage by a number of people on the new WCBC road. They will have a right to use it because they have been crossing the land on the track road for about 20 years.
“Gave talk at evening church service. Used scriptures from Romans to show need and readiness of people behind the iron curtain to receive the gospel, and to show our responsibility to take the gospel as vessels of God’s mercy. Read part of Bob Scott’s general letter giving schedule to start installation in 1981 and to go on-the-air in mid 1983.
“Monday, September 15, 1980 -
“Weather lifting. Went to Homer Electric Assoc. and talked with Mr. Matthews, Chief Engineer. Bob Austin knows Mr. Matthews and took me over and introduced us. Bob’s office is just across the street from Homer Electric Assoc. I told Mr. Matthews that we would probably want more electrical power than had .been requested in earlier contacts by WCBC. Mr. Matthews assured me that they could raise our electrical service to 1,000 KVA or 1,250 KVA if desired at approximately the same cost as in his letter to WCBC of March 1980. He advised that we should put in large enough service the first time so that we do not have to come back later to request additional power. To increase the original installation would cause an interruption in service at the time of the change and would be very costly. He suggested the best time to start work would be December 1980 in which case the power would be in by March 1981. If we wait until next spring to start (spring of 1981), Homer Electric will not be able to actually start work until late June or July because the land is too wet in spring (can’t do work of placing poles in the wet ground, driving trucks across wet terrain, during spring “breakup.” This same comment was made by Mr. Roderick with respect to construction of the road. If start in fall or winter there is a good chance of finishing the work before spring “breakup.” If wait until spring to start, will lose May and June because cannot work during those months due to the wet ground.)
“In afternoon went to visit station KGTL-FM (103.5 MHZ). Station was attended by only one man, Mr. Tim White. He showed me the studio equipment. It is housed in a mobile home and takes only a small amount of space in the living room of the home. There are three racks of automatic equipment. Three carousel tape units are in one rack on which commercials only are played. In second rack is computer equipment and one 10" stereo tape deck. In the third rack are three 10" stereo tape decks. Also in the living room equipment was a teletype receiver from AP news. News comes over a telephone line from Anchorage. There are also three teletype send/receive machines for communication with the weather bureau.
“In a back room of the mobile home was the control room where the live announcements and live newscasts originate. Also in this room was manual ‘disk jockey’ equipment and controls for the automatic tape machines. The station is considered to be fully automated. A full day’s programming with commercials can be set up on the tape machines. A few 10" tapes have to be removed and changed during the course of a day. The station monitoring is automatic on a ‘teletype like’ machine which puts a record of each tape played along with the exact time of each. This is an acceptable method of logging for FCC purposes and replaces hand methods of logging everything. One man is required at a time to keep automatic equipment operating, do some line break-in announcements, etc. A total of three full time people plus one part time man is needed to stay on-air from 6 A.M. to midnight, 7 days a week. In addition there is a station engineer who is the owner, Mr. Dave Becker. Mr. Becker was out of town at that time so I did not get to meet him. The transmitter was in another building and I did not get to see it. The station is getting ready to go on-the-air with a new 100,000 watt transmitter which will make it the most powerful FM station in Alaska. The antenna tower is 150 feet tall with an 8 bay antenna occupying the upper 40 feet of the tower. The tower is atop Diamond Ridge (near Homer) which is probably the highest point between Soldatna and Homer.
“I then went to the WCBC property and took a long hike along the route of the track road. The muskeg area is a swamp. Had to walk on top of grass hummocks to keep my feet dry. I was impressed by the timber on 2/3 of the property. It could provide lots of sawed lumber and could be sawed by Bill Jones.
“Met Bob Austin and prospective road contractor, Paul Roderick, at the site at 6:30 PM. Mr. Roderick, upon viewing the steep hill again, said he was doubtful that the grade could be improved. He was asked to make a bid on road construction. He said he would prepare a bid, give it to Bob Austin, who would then send the bid to me.
“Called Isabella tonight to see if there was any correspondence from Bob Scott. There was not. Asked Isabella to reconfirm our flight reservations home on Northwest Orient Airlines on September 22, 1980. Told her we would be arriving back in Anchorage on Wednesday, September 17. Plan to see the registered surveyor before I leave Anchor Point.
“Tuesday, September 16, 1980 -
“Day bright and clear with sunshine. Temperature in 50's and 60's. Went to Homer and met the new preacher, his wife, and two boys at the East Homer Church of Christ. Went by Homer government offices to ask about Borough building permits. Was told that there are no Borough offices in Homer. All are in Soldatna. Found Mr.Marquis, of P. and R. Surveying, in the Homer area and talked to him briefly. Asked him to give us a quotation for surveying the boundaries of the property, searching for any easements, and staking out the location of the road. He said he would mail copies to me and to Bob Austin. Then went to Norman Lowell Smith’s studio and visited with Mrs. Smith and their daughter for some time.
“Wednesday, September 17, 1980 -
“Day bright and clear. En route up the Sterling Highway towards Anchorage, stopped at the Borough office in Soldatna to enquire about building permits. Was told that no building permit to build an international shortwave broadcasting station would be required from the Borough. All we need is FCC permission. We should install all septic tanks in accordance with Borough standards. We continued on our journey arriving in Anchorage that evening. End of Daily Log.”
Back at F, M.’s sister’s house in Anchorage, on September 20, 1980, F. M. penned and mailed to Bob Scott a complete report gleaned from the above log, as follows:
First Report to World Christian Broadcasting After Inspecting Anchor Point Site -
“The property will be more difficult and expensive to develop than the usual 71 acre tract in the ‘lower 48' and more than I had anticipated. Even this fall in the relatively dry season the muskeg area (about 1/3 to ½ of the WCBC land) is full of water and can be explored only by foot (with rubber boots) or by tracked vehicle. The larger part of our road will be over muskeg and will present a special road building problem. (Muskeg is really the Alaska word for a swamp!) In the forested area the ground is high and dry but the road will require many trees to be cut and stumps to be removed and finally lots of gravel to be applied.
“The first section of the road already exists up a steep hill estimated to be 20% grade. This section is in use, of course, having been built and maintained by Norman Lowell Smith. In the winter under icing conditions regular vehicles cannot climb the hill. Norman uses a tracked vehicle during these times. In the spring the hill road gets so impregnated with water that it is closed to regular vehicles because usage will ruin the road. Norman and his family and others who use the road usually walk the ½ mile in to their houses, or use special light snow type vehicles from the main road during the spring ‘breakup’ period. So, even after we get our road built, there may be times when we will have to walk or use special vehicles to get from the main road to the property.
“There is a road of sorts (a rutted unimproved track) across the property now which has been in use by tractors and special vehicles for many years. A right-of-way for a number of people, who live behind or alongside the WCBC property, has been established. When we build our road, there will then be a number of people who will use it.
“We have the option of building an all season road for regular vehicles, or to do as has been done in the past, walking or purchasing special vehicles for access over a less than adequate road. In the latter case we will not have many visitors!! We may even have difficulty getting people to work for us if we do not have an adequate road on which they can commute. Also, there will be problems getting concrete to the site to pour foundations and in getting broadcasting equipment to the site if we do not have an adequate road.
“Brace yourself! The ½ mile of road across the muskeg and through the trees will require about 5,000 cubic yards of gravel with a total cost of about $50,000. To improve the grade on the hill may cost an additional $50,000. After the road is built we must budget a goodly sum for annual snow removal and maintenance.
“The first order of business is to have the property surveyed and the borders clearly marked. Much of our road will be on land owned by others: State of Alaska, at least one private party, and along the border of Norman Lowell Smith’s property. Only a surveyor can get our road in the right place.
“Before we do anything at all, however, we should contact a lawyer to get advice about spending money on a road and constructing that road across other’s property. Do we have to get permission of the other owners? Do we have to get legal easements recorded? Only a lawyer can advise us. I did not contact a lawyer for I thought the lawyer WCBC has already used, in Anchorage, might be the one to contact. If we need a lawyer in the Anchor Point area, Bob Austin can recommend one to us.
“Good news! We will not need any kind of building permit from the Borough of Kenai! I visited the Borough office in Soldatna and was told that we can go ahead with the construction as soon as we get approval from the FCC. We simply are requested to make sure we observe Borough standards when we install septic tanks. However, the Borough will not inspect our installation.
“Mr. Paul Roderick, the recommended and prospective road contractor, suggested that we probe our own property to see if there is any gravel there in quantity which we could use for our road. He thinks there is a good chance we will find gravel just under the surface in certain areas. If we can use our own gravel we an save $20,000 on road construction. The ‘scar’ left on property after gravel is taken out can be smoothed over and the land still used for things like antenna construction.
“We have lots of timber; enough to furnish all our framing lumber needs as well as siding for the buildings. However the logs would have to be cut and allowed to dry for about a year before we could saw good lumber from it. So we should probably build our first buildings from store bought lumber. I have wholesale price lists from which we can make material cost estimates. Many building items in Homer are about the same price as in the ‘lower 48' due to the cheapness of barge transportation to Alaska.
“I find that it will not be too difficult for WCBC personnel to find housing in the Anchor Point/Homer area. There are some houses for sale. Houses, apartments, and condominiums can be purchased or rented although there is not a large supply. There are many mobile homes in Alaska and used mobile homes can be picked up cheaper than in the ‘lower 48.’ It will not be unreasonable to have WCBC radio staff employees living elsewhere off the site and commuting to work at the station site. However, we might want to have an employee living on the site so that when all others are providentially hindered from getting up the hill in a blizzard, someone will be present to run the station. Weather at Anchor Point is said to be no worse than in upstate New York - per Bob Austin.
“As you know, the Homer Electric Assn. has indicated it will cost us $158,000 to get 750 KVA service placed on the property. This is mostly due to the cost of the long distance line they will have to run from the present high voltage line source to WCBC property. Mr. Matthews, the Chief Engineer of Homer Electric Assn., said that it will not cost substantially more to run 1,250 KVA service instead of 750 KVA service. We must decide now how much service we will ultimately need if we plan to expand our shortwave service in the future. If we change after the initial electric service is installed it will be expensive and the broadcasting operation will have to shut down while the change is made. If we feel that in the future we may need as many as four transmitters at the Anchor Point station, then at 250 KVA per transmitter, we will need 1,250 KVA service. Perhaps that is the basic electrical service we should install initially. [Note: At this point F. M. was already thinking of transmitters of 100,000 watts instead of 250,000 watts although a decision concerning power output had not been made. A 100,000 watt transmitter requires about 250 KVA of basic input power.] Mr. Matthews said that if he could have authorization to proceed (with all money in advance) by December 1980, he could have service on our property by the end of March 1981. I made no promises! If we wait until later, they could not start work until June or July because of soft ground.
“I met Bill Jones and his three grown sons who live in a new cabin on 10 acres adjacent to the south boundary of WCBC property. He has a sawmill on his property. He would like to do the timber clearing for us along the new road and where necessary on the antenna field. He will probably do all the tree removing in exchange for the logs. Our road contractor would then only have to bull doze out the stumps. In addition we may want to hire Bill Jones to remove certain selected logs for us and store them to dry. He could later saw framing and sheathing lumber for us from our own logs. Incidentally, Bill Jones uses the old road track across the WCBC property for access to his property.
“I visited the local FM radio station, KGTL, and was shown around by the announcer/news editor, Mr. Tim White. They are now installing a new 100,000 watt FM transmitter. I did not see it. But I did see their studio which was my main interest anyway. They are fully automated with tape equipment, 3 racks of equipment similar to that we saw at Harris in Quincy, Illinois. They are on-the-air from 6 AM to midnight seven days a week. With the automatic equipment they are able to get along with 3 full time announcers and one part time. The owner, Mr. Dave Becker, is the station engineer. He and his family live next door to the station.
“Finally, we will never have an ideal situation at the WCBC site because of the unusually steep hill we have to climb to get to the site. However, with an improved road the site will be accessible to any two wheel drive vehicle in the summer time and any four wheel drive vehicle in the winter time except for a few days when winter conditions may be unusually bad.
“We will be leaving Anchorage early Monday, September 22, 1980 and arriving back in McHenry, Illinois that day. We expect to be back home in Virginia by October 1. End of Report.”
(To be continued.)