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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Get off the phone!

I wasn't going to write a blog today, but I just got caught up on my e-mail and decided to give it a try.

The weather for beautiful downtown Fallon is a sunny 64F at present, but the 50 mph winds from the WSW will be blowing in 30 cents worth of rain chances and the clouds to prove it by late afternoon. Look for possible mixed rain and snow tonight and the wind will continue right on through tomorrow. 

Movie time! Gone with the Wind or Wizard of Oz? 

The dogs have figured out that they can't "out bark" the wind, so are just napping in the lee of the house in the sunlight. Napoleon has emptied one of his two water dishes completely, again. I know that he isn't drinking that much and it is embedded in the coconut fiber substrate so it isn't being tilted. I don't see any crack or hole in it. The only thing that I can figure is that he is sticking moss into the water dish and then pulling it back out. 

I am finding that Emperor Scorpions are intelligent far beyond what we humans give them credit for. This follows my life long belief that we humans have been befuddled by our own "superiority complex" and have always been surrounded by intelligent life, but are too dumb to be able to communicate with it. I hope we learn before we destroy everything.

Speaking of dense humans, let me relate a story of learning to do what you are told, the hard way. I know that the story is "dated" but the message is still valid.

Get off the Phone!

Everybody knows that lightning is nothing to take lightly, the stuff will kill you!

Georgia has some of the worst thunderstorms that occur on this planet. It is not unusual to get several inches of rain from one storm and the frequency of lightning has to be seen to be believed.

Fort Benning was the site of one such torrential downpour and fireworks display in 1972, (indeed as it was every year), and it never ceased to be amazing. And for those with any fear of storms, terrifying!

It was common practice to turn off everything that we could do without in the control tower at Lawson Army Airfield, to prevent damage or loss, and even so, we occasionally had direct hits that messed everything up.

Most of us knew what to expect from the storms, having experienced so many of them. I was extremely familiar with them growing up in Florida and Georgia, and I had no fear of them. But I did then, and do now, have tremendous respect for the power and potential of Mother Nature's great displays.

One individual who knew almost nothing of thunderstorms, (how I don't know), was a fellow by the name of Denny, recently returned from that garden spot of South East Asia, Viet Nam, where it rains like the sky opening up, but without the pyrotechnics of Georgia.

Y'all know that I wouldn't hurt anyone's feelings intentionally, and I know that Denny couldn't help how he looked, But... He was the UGLIEST human being that I have ever encountered, live or dead. His eyes bulged so bad we were afraid every time he coughed that one would pop out. Worse than a Pekinese dog! He had a set of lips that a goldfish would be proud of, and snaggled toothed! Add to that the fact that he smoked and drank like he was about to die and didn't want to leave any cigarettes or beer behind. Yellow teeth, bad breath... what a STUD! 

Denny wasn't worth anything as a controller and was out of the service before his training time was up, saving us the trouble of having to force him out of the profession. The boy was late for nearly every morning shift that he was ever scheduled for. We would have to call him up and let the telephone ring until he would come to and answer it, and then call him again in five minutes, because he would fall right back asleep. By the time he got to work half the shift was gone and if I were the supervisor, he would have been working double shifts to make up for the lost time, but I wasn't. The Sergeant who was our boss, was a hopeless sucker for fishing stories. Denny would come in at his leisurely pace and before the Sergeant could even begin to carry out the butt chewing that he had planned, Denny would have him distracted and off on some tale of big bass and where he found them.

One afternoon shift, the navigation beacon 12 miles south of us was encountering some electrical activity, I knew this because we had a monitor for it in the tower cab and it would start going into alarm and resetting itself, every few minutes. This told me that we had some bad weather coming and I started preparing for it, making sure that my backup power was operational, advising the aviation units and the Air Force weather people what I had going on, etc. Just getting ready for the inevitable.

Something that happened with a somewhat frightening frequency, was lightning strikes to the control tower itself. Naturally, metal structures sticking up over 100 feet in the air and all wet, could be considered a kind of lightning rod, it was a fair assumption anyway.

Sure enough the rain started and it was coming down in sheets, so heavy that you couldn't see out of the tower windows, and it was getting stuffy in the cab with the air conditioning off, so we opened the metal door onto the metal catwalk. I told all the troops to get away from the consoles and do not, under any circumstance, go out on the catwalk.

The rain was blowing sideways and it was leaking in around the walls and windows. Not badly, but enough that we kept a mop and bucket in the corner to clean up every once in a while, and the floor was wet all around the perimeter of the cab. The tower cab was a 25' x 25' square room, made of mostly metal and glass, and had miles of wire in it. 

I had a habit of getting a rubber mat out and putting my chair on it and not touching anything else until the lightning was over. The junior folks thought that I was just afraid of the storm. After this day, they would be lined up like so many chimps in a circus, sitting on their stools with their feet up.

Denny had an obnoxious habit of ignoring anything other than what the Sergeant who was our boss said, and today was no exception. I was in charge, due to the Sergeant having an official function to attend, and I was an experienced and qualified supervisor.

I told Denny to get off of the telephone and move away from the wall and he acted like he didn't hear me and sat on the metal window ledge, with one foot on the floor, in the water, and continued talking to whoever it was. And then it happened...

A bolt of lightning hit the tower, right by the open catwalk door and traveled across the metal. You could actually see the blue ball of electricity, rolling around the window ledge and following it all the way around the tower cab. It was mesmerizing, we couldn't take our eyes off of it as it went along setting off alarms and lighting up bulbs on the consoles. And that was when one of the great lessons was learned about doing what you were told, even if you didn't see any need for it.

Remember Denny, talking on the phone, sitting on the metal ledge, with a foot in the water? Well, when you combine a bolt of lightning with all of those wonderful means of conducting electricity, you will get results. Denny was knocked twenty-five feet across the tower and hit the window on the other side so hard that we were afraid that he was going through it. He left a set of lip prints on the glass, that were still visible in the morning. We think he had bruised lips, but with him it was hard to tell if they were swollen or just regular. He still had the handset part of the telephone in his hand and it had the impression of his skin, the fingerprints and all the lines imbedded into the plastic. Inside that handset, and the base unit as well, the electrical parts were melted. He was one lucky guy. We felt sorry for him, (once we were kind of sure that he wasn't blown up or any more fried than usual), and let him go home to his trailer. Where he immediately proceeded to drink a case of beer and return to his normal state; passed out. We really should have taken him to medical.

After that incident, Denny did what ever I told him to do, and so did the others. I didn't cause the lightning fellows, really! Denny would begin to shake if there was a forecast that said "possibility of thunderstorms", and if they were coming for sure, he would go down into the radar room on the fifth floor, where there was no windows and sit in there shaking until the storm had passed.

Once when we had tornadoes popping in to visit, Denny got so scared that he got in his car and took off in the direction of Atlanta, driving in a blind panic. It wouldn't have been nearly as bad, but he had to see the Colonel in the morning and if he wasn't there, he would be considered AWOL and could face court martial.

So we sent a guy after him in a Corvette. Denny was driving an old Chevy II with a little six cylinder in it, that had 150,000 miles on it. You would think that it was no challenge. If Denny hadn't had to stop for gas and cigarettes in Atlanta, it would have been North Carolina before our guy caught up to him. As it was, he had to get him drunk and lock the Chevy up and leave it at a rest stop, in order to make it back to Ft. Benning in time. But he did and everything worked out OK.

Next time the lightning starts to pop, think about Denny and ask yourself, do you want to learn the hard way  when you are told to: Get Off the Phone! 

Usually following instructions first, and asking why later is the best policy to follow. Don't make it take a lightning strike to get your attention.

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