Your essay brought back lots of memories. And, at last I have a picture of the site to show my wife. I was at Thule from April 1962 to October 1963. That's right, I was there the last few months of your tour, and during the Cuban Missle Crisis. I was a transmitter technician on the "A" shift. I worked on every transmitter on the site during my tour, including your Tracker transmitter.
I solved the exploding capacitor problem by initiating regular checks of the capacitor's "Q" during each PR maintance down time. Doing this actually cut the number of bad cap's because the exploding caps always damaged the others in the array. I did this in self defense because cleaning up all that spilt, smelly, (and later I found out, Dioxin laced) oil was such a pain.
Some of those bangs you describe weren't exploding caps. There were some kinds of failures that would leave the high voltage with no load to pull it down after the power disconnected. If this happened, there was a motor-driven switch that pushed a "crowbar" down on the cap array bus bars. The resulting 100+ KV arc sounded like a stick of dynamite. One day that happened at a transmitter I was monitoring. I ran around the transmitter module to look in the little window of the cap room to check for damage and ran squarely into one of Air Force guards that was patrolling the area. He had been right in front of the cap room when the arc happened. He was at port arms with his M16 carbine, knees bent, eyes wide as saucers. I instantly reversed course and ran back around the other side of the Tx module. I thought he might just shoot me. I saw the same guard several times after that, but never on the transmitter floor. He always went through the building on the mezzanine floor, usually in front of the offices, as far from the transmitters as he could get.
Other bangs were arc-overs in the waveguides. If switches weren't moved in the right sequence, the RF reflections would cause arc-over in the combiners right above the transmitter modules. These were also very loud, with the additional feature of reverberating through all the connected waveguide.
There were other spectacular failures possible in the transmitters. As you might know, the bases of those big klystrons were sitting in an oil bath. We had one that arced over at the base, breaking the ceramic seal at the cathode. The base fell off, and oil rushed up into the vacuum. When the oil hit the hot collector at the top, it boiled, pushing the oil back down. The resulting rocket effect broke the transition ceramic at the waveguide and the klystron arose right out of the magnet assembly until it hit the lead shield at the top of the module. Major work.
I did hike down to the shore of Wolstenholmfjord one day during shift change when we had 24 hours off time. I got within about half a mile of the glacier front. Pretty impressive. Every time one of those huge blocks of ice would calve off the glacier, even if it was half way across the fjord, you could surf on the resulting wave that came ashore. On that hike, they were running the site from the standby generators. You could hear those things running in sync from five miles away down in the fjord.
They were running on the generators because a summer "mud phase" had raised a wave in the power ship pool large enough to hit the wires as they came over the side. The resulting power glitch blew out the phase balance caps at the J-site end of the power line. Blew the whole side out the building. Took two months to fix. We ran on the generators that whole time.
Do you remember the rocks hitting the side of the tunnel during a wind storm? Those 100 + mile an hour winds would move some impressive rocks. There were rocks the size of your head wedged into the grid-work on the back of the reflectors after a few years of those storms.
By the end of my tour I was the guy they always called when there was a problem no one else could fix. They wanted me to stay on, working out of Riverton as a Transmitter Engineer, traveling to Thule, Alaska, and the U. K., but I had had enough of the Arctic, and wanted to use my hard earned money to go to college. After two years at the University of Washington I came to work at Tektronix in 1965, and I've been here ever since. It was all those Tektronix oscilloscopes we used at Thule.
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© Copyright 1997, Gene P. McManus, Baltimore, OH