06 February 2015The good doctor, “Curly” Olds (CDR, USN (Ret.), who was also a Navy P4Y-2, P-2V, and WV-2 aviator; and former ASA XO during DF'63-66), has recalled a memory of the Ice worth sharing – “Antarctic Sanitation.”
We have been complaining about too much snow lately, but let me tell you some of the problems encountered when there is not enough snow. For example, in some places in the Antarctic where snowfall averages about two inches a year and clean snow for melting for water may be a mile or two from town, and when back in 1960 prices cost $5/gallon, many would be happy for a more ready source of water – not only for drinking but for sanitation purposes. For example: take McMurdo Station, which may have a summer population of 1000, more or less. There are strict rules for dumping waste into the ocean, so other forms of disposal are required. While things have improved in recent years, back in 1963, this was how it was done.
In several places in town there was a comfortable heated “head” consisting of a large trough for a urinal with no flushing apparatus. A user of the head was expected to come in and use the urinal first, which simply drained to the frozen ground behind the building. In the course of a winter a sizeable yellow glacier would develop, which in the summer, with partial melting became a nuisance as the melt water drained into the streets making them muddy. This problem was partially alleviated by using a jack hammer to break up the glacier so a front end loader could haul most of it away to a site well out of town (carefully chosen so that fresh clean snow for drinking would not be contaminated).
Now it turned out that I had always wanted to operate one of those jack hammers. So did the Chaplain, so we organized a team of two to get our exercise with the jack hammers in our free time. It was fun, and we actually did some good!
…But as Paul Harvey would have said, this is the rest of the story.
Those patrons with a need for more than the urinal could provide, were offered a booth with the usual hole in the seat which simply led to a 55-gallon drum which had been cut in half. Waste simply dropped into the drum where it would freeze. There were many jokes about freezing those parts of the anatomy uncovered during this process, but I never heard any authoritative story of injury. On a regular basis the half-filled drums were removed via a door in the back of the building, where they were loaded onto a sled and hauled through the town with used paper flying at will.
One day, for some reason it was necessary for one man on the inside to hand the man on the outside a plastic bag of waste. Unfortunately, the passage door became stuck and in freeing it, the outside man got covered with waste. This upset him, so when the inside man came out the soiled outside man took a swing at him, but slipped a little bit so that his fist crashed into the side of the building. I don’t know if he broke his hand but he was at least unhappy at the way the day had started out.
Now “down on the ice” at the air strip the crew had determined to build a head to rival the proverbial brick ****house. They dug a six-foot deep pit in the sea ice (which was about ten feet thick). They then erected a snug little shack over it, much like a smelt house here in Maine. They even included a heat lamp for comfort, and were sure they had the premier outhouse on the ice – and designed to last the entire season.
But as you know by now, in the Antarctic, nothing works.
… Oh, the little shack was comfortable, and when the shack went to sea in the spring as the ice broke up, all would be taken care of. But although the shack was warm and comfortable, the pit was cold, extremely so. Therefore even a little use caused a long slim icicle of waste to form from the bottom to the top of the pit, rendering it unusable – or at the very least uncomfortable to sit in.
Be grateful for snow and melt water.
Corwin Anson Olds, M.D.
51 Mechanic St., Apt 30
Camden, Maine 04843