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Wilkes 1957 - Construction & First Winter Over

This summary is taken from Gil Dewart's excellent book "Journey to the Ice Age", published in 2003 by Ruobei Tang Publishing Company (see separate sub-page review by Darryn Schneider below).

The actual site on Clark Island was found by a scouting party from the Ice-Breaker Glacier, late on January 29, 1957.   The party was led by Captain Charles Thomas and included Karl Eklund, Rudy Honkala, Dick Cameron and Willis Tressler.   Glacier was escorting two heavily laden cargo vessels, Arneb & Greenville Victory, and in the  early hours of January 30, the three ships anchored safely in open water off the southeast shore of Clark Island. 

 Below is a 20 photo montage of the building process from an unknown photographer whose initials were 'RG' (? Ralph Glasgal - Auroral Scientist). Construction was carried out by 92 skilled workers of the "Mobile Construction Battalion -1"  assisted by "MCB-Special"  a smaller group who would be wintering over with the scientists.  Collectively these enlisted craftsmen were known as the "SeaBees".    The civilian Scientists also helped as did about 60 'volunteers' from the crews of the ships.

"The first structure to go up was that ubiquitous feature of military construction sites, the Jamesway hut, similar to the legendary Quonset, which is made of semi-circular wooden arches that support an insulating and waterproof cover to form a semi-cylindrical shelter; the floor consists of wooden panels.  A large Jamesway can be erected in an hour by 4 men.   The Seabees quickly assembled several of these prefabricated houses for use as temporary quarters, warehouses, mess hall and Operational Headquarters.........After the site at the Southwest point of the peninsula had been graded, the first of the 19 pre-fabricated Clements Buildings that were to make up the main base was started on February 3.   The Clements huts were composed of 4X8foot red exterior aluminium and wood panels that could be used interchangeably for wall, floor or roof.   The standard rectangular Clements building was 20feet wide, 8 or 12feet high and might be any length in 4 foot increments.   The panels were held together by metal wedge clips and the joints sealed with cold-weather rubber gaskets.   The roof was supported by metal trusses that fitted into slots in the wall panels.   These structures were designed to withstand winds of 100miles per hour plus a large safety factor.   They were set on foundation trusses that left an air space between floor and ground in hopes (that proved in vain) that wind blowing beneath the buildings would prevent the accumulation of snow drifts.   Finally they were guyed down with steel cables bolted to bedrock (one of our advantages compared to some of the other Antarctic stations up on the ice, was that we did indeed have solid bedrock)......By February 11 the living quarters, mess hall were standing and work had begun on the [auroral] tower......On the 14th we moved our personal gear ashore and took up residence in the barracks........Major construction was finished on February 15.......On the morning of February 16 the new base was officially commissioned "Wilkes Station" at a brief flag-raising ceremony."


Commissioning the station and turning it over to the winter staff. Capt. Charles Thomas at the mikes, Lt. Burnett - OIC of Wilkes Navy personnel in yellow, behind him, with a red cap Carl Eklund, IGY Scientist in charge. Feb 16 1957. Colour photo by Olav H. Loken.  B&W photo by Walter Sullivan, originally published as part of a pictorial summary of the opening of Wilkes in the "New York Times" of March 5, 1957.  Interesting to note that Walter Sullivan must have been one of the two people on the roof of the Auroral Tower in Olav's photo. Complete copies of the article may be downloaded from the NYT archives for $3.95. (Thanks to Liz Chipman for providing this photo).