Acy "Pat" Patterson

I was with Operation Deepfreeze Two in 56,57 and 58. The whole thing started with a notice being published throughout the U.S.Navy requesting volunteers for an operation in the Antarctic. Now as most people know, you would be a fool to volunteer, something no military person in his right mind would do. I volunteered in late 1955 or early 1956 as an electrician with experience of operating generators and wiring of buildings. The first thing that happened was a medical by a Flight Surgeon to determine if we could handle the forth coming situation. I was passed on the first check up and was requested to do a minimum of three more medicals. At the end of all this, I was accepted as a candidate and received orders to transfer in April 1956. What most of didn't realize was that over 200 personnel had been accepted, from all jobs and previous training. We had no idea where we would be going as none of us had any real knowledge of the operation or the Antarctic.

We trained at the Davisville Naval Base, Providence, Rhode Island, for six months going through the medicals and suitability test. Briefings and lectures were started and continued throughout until time to depart for the ice. More medicals were required and in depth, since medical facilities would be at a minimum. Although each base was to have it's own doctor, each person was made aware of the need to look after himself. Some of us were sent to special schools, I and the other electricians were sent to the Caterpillar Factory for six weeks to learn everything about the generators. Very interesting and what we learned was very beneficial. After six months at the Naval Base we were given our orders to leave and report to various places in the U.S. for further transport to the ice.

I and the lads from Wilkes met in Seattle, Washington on the west coast and reported to the Coast Guard Ice Breaker Northwind for transportation to the ice - 27 of us, 10 Civilian Scientist and 27 Navy men to back up the scientist. Sailed out in early November and stopped in Honolulu for a week. Had a leisurely cruise down the west coast of North America and South America. Took two weeks. Not a bad trip, fortunately the weather was quite good, so no major problems. Stopped on the Equator to see King Neptune. Not many of the Coast Guard had ever been outside the 12 mile limit. We survived after kissing Neptune on the belly. Also, the skipper stopped the ship on the equator so we could all go swimming. The water was freezing. Wouldn't do it again.

Stopped in Wellington, New Zealand for a week to resupply the ship and give the wintering over a chance to see girls for the last time. Sailed from there to McMurdo going through 80 miles of ice to get there. Had a good look at their facilities and talked to the old hands since we were going build our own station. Spent about a week at Mc and then sailed to Cape Hallet, about 600 miles away. Spent two weeks helping them build the base and then moved around the coast for, roughly 2000 miles to build Wilkes. Our closest neighbors were approximately half a million penguins of various sizes.

No doubt you can imagine what we saw and how each of us must have felt. Nothing but a little salt water and lots and lots of ice. However, the Penguins made us welcome, we think, and we had two weeks to build the base because the weather was changing and the two ships wanted out before being trapped. The two ships, USS Arnab, Cargo Vessel and the Northwind. We took about two weeks to get the buildings up and a lot of work was left to us after the ships left. The senior officer afloat decided that the weather conditions were heading for the worse and arranged to make a run for it. We had to agree since there was eighty miles of pack ice and the wind was beginning to blow towards the land mass.

When the ships left, the captain on the Arnab left all the dunnage, timber materials used to store cargo in the holes, which consisted of long pieces of various widths and lengths. This got off the ship, piled high on the beach about half mile from the buildings because the captain wanted his ship under way. As you can imagine, we were very busy trying to settle down, do our own jobs and find our way. The timber was to be used for tunnels to connect all the buildings and in hopes of us staying out of the bad weather. However, to our surprise, we had a storm a few days after the ships left. Very strong winds and to this day most of the timber just disappeared. We did make an effort to find some of it but it was no use.

Arriving at Wilkes before it was built was something else. It would be difficult for anyone to believe what they were seeing. You must remember we stopped at Cape Hallet for two weeks to build the base and gained a large amount of knowledge. As you may be aware, the buildings were all insulated panels about five inches thick, ten feet in length and four feet wide. Tongue and grooved to ensure a wind and water proof connection between the panels. As an electrician, we wired the buildings as fast as we could with the help of the support team. The base was practically completed in about ten days. The next few days were spent making sure everything as in working order and deciding that we were able to support ourselves. I was responsible for the generators and electrical facilities throughout. If I remember correctly, we had less than one per cent power failure for the year. Refueling we knew would be a problem so the plumber and myself designed a fuel system where fifty gallon drums were mounted on the roof of the power house and connected together. Pipework was then run down into the power house with a flexible hose where we could fill each generator tank. Worked extremely well. We filled the drums by using a Cat bucket loader with three drums and hose pipe with a valve on the end. Raise the bucket above the roof of the building and gravity did its work.

Pat Patterson
Pat Patterson working on generators at Wilkes

We produced our hot water in much the same way. One of the pieces of equipment sent down for us was a force draft blower unit with a V 4 Wisconsin engine forcing flame through the tubes. The tank was filled with snow using the bucket loader. We never ran out of water. Hot water was achieved by use of immersion heaters. These in turn helped to maintain stable loads on the generators.

As normal things at Wilkes progressed along. We learned to know each other and made every effort to assist when required. Each of us worked with the scientist if and when required, banding bird life, tagging seals and walrus ( if you could get close to one ). We did a lot of weather reports, soundings were taken daily, even with the wind in excess of 50 knots. All hands trying to hold the balloon until everything was ready. Lots of laughs at times.

We had a team of Huskies with us. One a female, only takes one, was supposed clipped to ensure no pups. Never guess, our doctor turned his surgery into a maternity ward. There was one pup that lived. The huskies were evil though, take your arm off if they had a chance.

As you will be aware, we had Navy radio communications and also ham radio. The highlight of the day was your turn on the radio. KC4USK calling, and we had plenty of traffic. I spoke to my parents about every other week through a third party in Charleston,S.C. Fortunately for them, my calls came in at 0200 in the morning, and the ham operator contacted them by telephone. We had a very strange ham signal one day. Our transmitter was a Collins 1000 watt and we used the Navy antennae system to transmit. The signal was beamed directly to Washington,D.C. However, in this particular case, the signal went straight over amend we had a young Spanish girl on the radio. Unfortunately, she didn't speak English. We had a Navajo Indian with us who was also the radioman, got him out of bed and he spoke to her. Difficult to believe but she was only transmitting on 20 watts. We had lots of enjoyment with the ham radio.

The mess hall had a diesel burning range. Dan the cook was very good and prepared excellent food through out the year. As far as I can remember, I only missed one meal and that was due to being caught in a snow storm at the emergency camp site.

More photos of Wilkes supplied by Pat, including Dan the cook.

We did have a lot of snow, which eventually covered some of the buildings. However, we did have tunnels built between the barracks (scientist and enlisted men) as well as the power house, galley and toilet facilities. Any thing else and you had to go outside. Not very nice in very strong winds and white outs. Never out by yourself, always in pairs.

The wind at Wilkes was something I had never seen before. We lost the wind jammer at 115 knots. Snow never came straight down, always parallel to the ground. Therefore, covered everything in its path.

We had our own doctor with us. Strange as it may seem but he didn't have much to do. Everyone stayed very well. I fell into an ice hole and was soaked to the chest. As I passed through the officers quarters, on the way to change clothes, the doctor asked what happed. I explained and I was put to bed for two days, two ounces of Brandy three times a day and meals delivered to my bed. Couldn't have asked for better care. The only other thing is that we ate almost two years supply of food in the time we were there. We were examined by the incoming doctor and he seemed shocked that we were so well.

On one occasion we asked to assist in counting the penguins at the local rookery. We marked off areas using red tape, made an effort to count the birds, which really didn't really want to be counted but in the end we came up with something like 400,000 penguins as neighbors. These were the little Adele Penguins, we did have some Emperor Penguins about. Quite strange to me one or two in the camp, certainly when you didn't expect it. Interesting to watch them though.

I did have a small island named after me located at 66 13 S  110 35 E. I was seriously thinking of opening for bed and breakfast.

From the Australian Government Antarctic Division Gazetteer.

Patterson Rock

Latitude: 66 12' 50.4" S (-66.214)
Longitude: 110 34' 40.1" E (110.5778)
Altitude: 18 m

An insular rock 0.5 mi W of Cameron Island, in the Swain Islands. This region was photographed from the air by USN OpHjp (1946-47), ANARE (1956) and the Soviet expedition (1956). The rock was included in a 1957 ground survey by C.R. Eklund, who named it for Acy H. Patterson, USN, electrician at Wilkes Station, 1957.

Cheers and regards to the family. Will try to find a suitable joke for you and the staff.

Pat passed away May 2007. Over the previous 4 years I exchanged regular emails with him on a wide range of topics from gardening and golf to comparing the weather in southern England, Wisconsin, and South Pole. I would pester him about what it was like to spend the first winter at Wilkes and he'd remind me "it was 48 years ago and memories tend to die away". When I was working at Pole Pat tended to pick up on when I was tired or stressed and would send a joke or two, and chat about New Forest, life at home, and where he was going to buy me a pint one day. I was inspired to work on the Wilkes History web pages by Pat, and I dedicate them to him.

Schneider family web pages at
Antarctica | Family History | Science
Shop Photos | Atmospheric Optics | Plasma Physics
DAS Bookbinding

Copyright © Darryn Schneider for all content and images unless otherwise noted