Saturday, February 14, 2015

Pistin Bully

The warmest times of the year down here is late December through January, when plentiful sunshine can push the daily temperatures into the high 20s.  The winds during these months are usually calm and when this is combined with solar action on the dark colored soil, most of the snow around station has melted out and you can take a normal wheeled vehicle anywhere.

Almost anywhere.

If you've got to go up to the radio repeaters on top of Crater Hill overlooking station, the only option is crawling up a 40% grade of loose rocks and gravel.  And for trips like that, the vehicle we turn to is a steel-tracked Pistin Bully.

Little more than two boxes on a hydraulically driven tread system, Pistin Bullys are the final work on station for ground transportation that will get you absolutely anywhere you need to go (as long as you don't need to go more than 5mph).  If you've gotta be someplace that can't be reached by these guys, nothing else short of a helicopter will get you there..

The driver's compartment in the front is separate from the passenger/cargo compartment in the back.  It's roomy enough, but not what you'd call luxuriously equipped.

In spite of being separated by not more than two panes of sliding glass, there's an intercom phone you can use to call the driver's compartment 18 inches away.  We mostly used it to annoy them.

"Yeah, can I get a large pepperoni, an order of breadsticks, and . . . you deliver, right"
A journey up to the Windmills/Beach Ball at T-Site takes 5 or 10 minutes in a pickup truck, but crawling along in a PB turns that into nearly an hour-long trip.  And it's not an easy hour; it's the roughest ride you can possibly imagine. There's no suspension on these things, and not even a rubber tire of some kind to soften out the jarring from every little pebble along the way.  It's steel treads, along steel wheels, to a steel frame, to your spine.

Once you arrive at T-Site (which can be reached by any vehicle), you continue past the wind generators and start up the hill.  You can just make out the trail, by the line of accumulated snow heading upwards to the large patch of snow at the top.

Once you start the hill climb, the rear compartment passengers have to switch over to the forward bench seat and brace yourself against the other seat, and use the bars on the ceiling as hand-holds to hold yourself in place.  The PBs are so short and the slope so steep that you have to keep all the wight forward in the vehicle, to prevent it from tipping over backwards.

While trying not to get shaken to death, either.  It feels like an army of very angry people is pounding on the bottom of the vehicle with sledgehammers.

Looking back the way we'd came.

Once you reach the top of two intense hill-climb sections, there's a few hundred yards of following the trail along the ridge line before we get to our destination.

And slowly enough that I can pop out to play tourist for a bit

We're trying to get the equipment huts that hold much of our radio transmitting equipment.  It's not terribly dangerous, although the big metal plate that protects a fiber optic line can be harrowing to cross and usually requires a spotter.

We reach Hut #65 a few minutes later, and the Comms techs set about working on their equipment. 

The road ends here, but I've got a little farther to go.  From here it's on foot, scrambling up the ridge to the "Dog House", the end of this communications line.

A view from the ridge heading to the Dog House, with the PB to the left and McMurdo in the background

This ridge is the highest point around McMurdo station that is accessible by the station's hardwired network, and as such serves as the mounting point for many of our long-distance wireless communications.  The actual radios and transmitters are maintained by the Comms department, but my job is still to make sure the blinky light boxes get the data to the radios in the first place.

We don't bother with much high-tech security up here.  I think it's remote enough that we don't have to worry about hooligans.

Inside the Dog House is the usual mess of Telco, Comms and Network equipment.  The larger hut down the ridge line is kept at operational temps just by the heat given off by the electronics inside, but there's not enough of that up here.  What little heat our equipment puts off has to be conserved to try and keep it within it's operational range; a scrap of egg crate foam and some wire seems to do the trick.

It doesn't have to stay "Warm", it just has to stay above -40f.

I wonder if I could get a pizza sent up here...

As much as I enjoy getting off station and doing things that don't involve a desk, I think I could live without too many more PB rides.  The adventurous factor wears of pretty darn quickly, but the bruised shoulders, back and butt remind you of it for at least a few days after.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Fantastic! Thanks for sharing with us. Those tracked vehicles remind me of the snowcats we used to drive to flatten out ski tracks in the early mornings before skiers arrived, many years ago. But those had suspensions!