Palmer Station Construction 1966-67

Westwind in Arthur Harbor
Above, Westwind in Arthur Harbor shortly after arrival. Gamage Point (WITHOUT Palmer Station!) is at right.

pumping water from the skua pondThe U. S. Coast Guard icebreaker Westwind first arrived in Arthur Harbor on 8 January 1967. Seabees--the 25-man Platoon Alpha of CBU 201--offloaded compressors, rock drills and explosives, and set up four Jamesways for living quarters. The John Deere 1010 tractor was brought over to the construction site from (Old) Palmer Station. A boat ramp and storage areas were prepared. The first dam was constructed for the glacier meltwater pond, which was then 40x60 feet in size and 3 feet deep. The pond was more than sufficient to provide water for both the camp and the icebreaker...although the fresh water could not be gotten to the Westwind where it was so desperately needed due to boiler failure. A bladder was brought to shore on a LCVP and filled with water, but the ship's company could not come up with a pump to get the water into the ship's tanks... hence 20 days of water shortage until the Westwind sailed to Punta Arenas for parts. At above right, a Seabee gets ready to pump water from the pond on another day.

The Seabees primarily worked at Old Palmer while they awaited the heavy construction supplies to show up...they replaced a generator set and refueled the station bladders. The cargo ship Wyandot was somewhat delayed by an extended yard period, it finally departed Davisville on 6 January and arrived at Palmer on the 27th.

USNS Wyandot at Palmer
The USNS Wyandot shortly after its arrival at Gamage Point. On deck can be seen two LCMs which
offloaded the cargo. Wyandot was offloaded in 6 days and departed for McMurdo on 4 February.

unloading the Northwest crane car bodyThe 750 tons of cargo it brought included materials for the new station Biolab as well as two 955 tracked forklifts, a Northwest 25 crane (left, USCG photo, AJ July-August 1967), and a Universal rock crusher. The Seabee platoon was divided into 2 sections on 12-hour shifts.

The first step on land was extensive drilling and blasting operations to level out a roadway from the boat ramp and prepare the Biolab site. This was followed by pad preparation for the two 37-foot diameter fuel tanks.Additionally, a dive team did underwater blasting to excavate the seawater intake trench using special setting explosives for the seawater intake trench underwater "jet set" explosives (right, USCG photo, AJ July-August 1967) and Bangalore torpedoes (essentially pipe bombs). Pier and fuel tank construction then proceeded. The pier (still in service today, although it is deteriorating and needs replacement) consists of three 27-foot diameter sheet pile rings set in a triangular pattern. Interestingly, the first cell ring had to be reworked, and the third cell also needed reworking after wind, rough water, and ice interfered with the template used to position the sheet pile. The rings were connected with more sheet pile to form a rounded triangle with the apex pointed toward the shoreline. The sheet pile cells were then filled with rock, and a 20-foot wide ramp was filled in to connect it to the shore. Rough seas and wind caused difficulty--the third cell was knocked out of alignment three times before it could be successfully positioned. The pier was fitted with wood fenders to protect docked vessels, as well as with bollards (which don't seem to have lasted very long).

diver coming out of the cold waterthe two Seabee divers

Most of the diving work was done by two Seabee divers--CES3 James F. Vaughn is at left, and in the right photo he is at left in the beret, along with BUL3 Larry R. Parker. They did get a bit of assistance from Westwind divers. They would spend as many as seven hours a day in the water...watched by a steady audience of curious seals.

Notice that these men are wearing wet suits, not dry suits. BRRRR!

By 15 March, the pier had been completed, the fuel tanks were welded out and painted, and the final blasting on the Biolab site had been completed, and the foundation and subfloor erected, as seen in the photos at the bottom of this page. The subfloor work had not originally been scheduled for this season.

a small loader at Old Palmer
Early season at Old Palmer, the loader is about to be loaded onto an LCVP for transport to the new station site. The officer at left is Captain Fred Goettel of the Westwind, observing. The structure is FIDS (BAS) Base N, one reason Old Palmer was located here (more Base N/OP photos).
Another try to load the tractor
Apparently the first loading attempt didn't work, perhaps the ramp collapsed. So...getting ready for another try. The Antarctic Journal describes it as a John Deere 1010 loader, although others have said it looks like either an Allis-Chalmers HD-5 or an International Harvester TD4.
Below...4 photos of the site leveling effort for the biolab etc....not sure of the sequence (CB).
biolab site prep
biolab site prep
biolab site prep
biolab site prep

All did not go well. At one point on about 4 February, that Northwest crane seen in these photos became two-blocked, the boom raised up tight, the cable parted, and the boom fell, crushing the leg of Coast Guard SA Richard E. Hastings. Westwind soon headed north on a medevac mission...upon reaching helicopter range, SA Hastings was flown to Punta Arenas for treatment. He was later seen walking with a cane. Westwind then headed back to Palmer, arriving on about the 9th.

More to come, including the photo credits...continue to page 2!