Friday, August 5, 2011

Winter Comes To North Dakota

 A typical Winter scene in North Dakota
Hear Pat read this entry 

By the late fall of 1964 we'd moved into the apartment in town, and I was commuting to the base every morning.  Well, hitchhiking was more like it.   There was a place about 2 blocks away called “G.I. Corner” where car less Fly Boys like me could stand, and some Good Samaritan heading into the base would pick them up.  Same deal coming back home.   I'd grab a bite after work, change my clothes and cab it over to the station for the 7-12 shift a couple of days a week, or when someone took the day off.

The program director described the station's format as “Top 40 with an adult approach.”  In later years we'd refer to that as Adult Contemporary.  The night shift though was basically rock, which suited me fine since I got to play all the great new stuff coming in from the Brits.  By now the list of invaders had grown significantly.  There were Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas, Chad & Jeremy, Peter and Gordon, The Animals, Manfred Mann, Petula Clark, Freddie and the Dreamers, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, Herman's Hermits, The Rolling Stones, The Troggs, Donovan, Dusty Springfield, and many others.   I played every one I could get, and usually the “B” sides too.  I began to notice some American groups fighting back.  Groups like The Four Seasons, The Beach Boys, and Paul Revere and the Raiders were recording some seriously great music as well.

One of those groups is particularly memorable to me.  The Shangri Las had a huge hit out at the time with “Leader of the Pack.”  They were appearing in Minot when one of the Ganser sisters came down with a throat infection of some kind.  I was asked to run the lead singer, Mary Weiss, over to the hospital.  After the visit, I took Mary over to a downtown coffee shop to grab a sandwich.   Mary went on to become THE “rock n roll bad girl” icon that 80's punk rockers such as Pat Benetar and Joan Jett tried to emulate.  I get a kick out of telling people about my “date” with her.   They inevitably want to know what she was “really” like . What she was “really” like was a typical 15 year old girl who was worried about her friend's health!

I started to peruse some of the other albums too. I remember being knocked out by “The Wham of that Memphis Man” Lonnie Mack's seminal album, still considered one of the greatest guitar works in history.

I was getting used to being on the air now, but as much as I tried couldn't seem to get much response from the community.  Meanwhile my old pal Terry had become known as “The Sixth Rolling Stone” as a result of his close association with Brian Jones and Andrew Loog Oldham.  He was tooling around Detroit in a red Sting Ray lovin' life, and here I was in Minot, N.D. hitchhiking to the base and hardly making a dent as a radio personality.  No matter what I did, no matter how much I tried to make my show interesting and entertaining, I got zero respect.  The community didn't seem to care one way or the other, and all I ever got from the PD was “play some more Dean Martin and Eddy Arnold, we're an ADULT station you know!”


As Fall dragged on I began to notice the weather changing.  Now being from Michigan I'd seen some seriously cold weather, but there was something ominous about the way the weather changed in N.D.  The winds would start to build, always from the North or North West.  The humidity would disappear, and the sky would take on an eerie appearance.  It seemed as though the sun would get smaller and smaller day by day.  When I'd walk over to G.I corner I'd see the same guys standing there every day, and every day they'd have less and less to say.  One time one of them said to me “The Hawk's comin' I can feel it. Won't be long and The Hawk'll be here.”  I knew what he meant, The Hawk was the Winter wind!

October is the month that winter really sets in in North Dakota.  The first part of the month is fairly pleasant, by the end of the month The Hawk had arrived.  I suddenly learned to appreciate that 50 pounds of gear I was issued.  By mid November it was winter.  I'd suit up in a parka, bunny pants, long johns and gloves.   The snow was starting to fall, or “travel” I guess is a better term since it usually didn't fall in the strictest sense, it flew in a perpendicular path to the ground with 30 MPH winds behind it.  By December it was deep freeze time in Minot.

I don't know if you've ever heard the phrase “Painfully Cold” before, but that's what it was.  Cold so intense it hurt.  And the ever present wind made it practically unbearable.  In spite of all the gear...parka, long johns, mukluks, bunny pants... I might as well have been standing there in my Sponge Bob boxer shorts.  You walked outside you froze your tail end off, that's it!  Working on the flight line in that weather was the worst job in the world.  It could get to 40 below with a 40 knot wind, and there you'd be, trying to upload a missile onto a B-52.  I learned what the satin glove liners we'd been issued were for.  They were to be used when you had to make some minute adjustment to the missile and needed to take the heavy gloves off.  They prevented your hands from freezing to the metal.  We worked no more than 10 minutes outside, and were required to return to the truck to warm up while another crew went out.  To call it miserable is the understatement of the century. 

I'd always been told that Hell was all fire and brimstone.  I can tell you first hand that Hell is standing on a flight line, next to a B-52 in 40 below weather with The Hawk roaring in at 40 knots.

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