Alaska 1948: Stove Cold!

Alaska 1948

That stirs up some memories — thinking of my adventures in Alaska in the late 1940’s.  My ham radio station was built in a Quonset hut which I lived in and shared with 3 other guys.  This is a sheet steel half tube some 16 ft across and 32 ft long resting on 4 ft steel walls.  It was insulated on the inside by ¼ inch composition board nailed to the sheet steel.  There was a large door at each end and a heating stove in the middle.  Beds, closets, footlockers for each of 4 men filled the building.

In the tropics they did not have a stove and therefore could squeeze 6 or 8 men into a Quonset hut.  The stove ran on JP-1 aircraft jet fuel (really just high grade kerosene).  We fiddled with the stove to double the flow rate of JP-1 and it ran day and night with the entire structure at a dull red heat.  There were two fifty gallon drums just outside our hut that were filled once a week.

Sometimes the oil ran out before the tanker arrived.  Whoever woke up first in a cold room immediately woke everyone else.  We quickly dressed and put on our Parkas and then flew out of the hut and went screaming up and down the road to the adjacent huts, some 100 to 200 yards away.

Bursting into another, warm, Quonset hut we yelled “STOVE COLD!!!” and wiggled into any space we could find on the floor.

Within minutes everyone was fast asleep.

A serious problem was that the stovepipe filled up with soot very fast.  Then the flame could smother and fill the room with carbon monoxide. Very bad!!!  We could call the chimney cleaning crew but that would take a week or more.  Our chimney cleaner was a Coca Cola bottle filled with JP-1, which I would take up onto the Quonset hut roof. Two men would man fire extinguishers. One would look out for any officers on the road.  Then the lookout would yell OK!!!  And I would dump the JP-1 down the inside of the stovepipe.  Immediately I would curl up in a ball and roll off the roof into the deepest snow.  There was a roar that shook the hut and all the soot blew up into the sky, leaving a clean stovepipe and an acre of jet black snow.

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