This is a continuation of an interview with Bob Bishop on September 9, 2014 by Leslie McCartney and Karen Brewster at Elmer E. Rasmuson Library at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. In this third part of a three part interview, Bob describes a few funny incidents that happened during his time working at the Nike Missile Site near Fairbanks, Alaska. He also discusses alcohol consumption, his experience with the 1964 Alaska Earthquake, trying to make telephone calls, and the military-issue clothing they were given to wear.
Digital Asset Information
Project: Cold War in Alaska: Nike Missile Sites
Date of Interview: Sep 9, 2014
Narrator(s): Bob Bishop
Interviewer(s): Leslie McCartney, Karen Brewster
Videographer: Karen Brewster
Transcriber: Sue Beck
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Some funny incidents that happened while serving in the military
Alcohol use within the military
1964 Alaska Earthquake
Making telephone calls from a remote Alaska missile site
Emergency rations stored in a food cache
Clothing issued by the military
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BOB BISHOP: -- done in shop. And they had -- I know one of the guy's name was Wally. He might have been the station manager or something, and another guy. And they were hawking Maytag washing machines.
So what they would do, one guy would climb into the washing machine and it’d be on the wash cycle, and so the guy would be standing there in the machine and he’d be going like this.
And they’d been doing this for like six months. Now this guy wasn’t a lightweight, you know, I mean he had to be at least a hundred and eighty pounds if not more. And all of a sudden, he’s talkin’ about how great the, you know, Maytag washing machines are.
And all of a sudden, you heard a bang, cloud of smoke, and everything went dead. Of course, it was live TV, you know.
And then there’s -- you know, tryin’ to get around, tryin’ to say something, you know. But I mean, that was just part of the, you know, some of the -- the funny stuff.
And then one morning, got up. I guess there had been ice fog the night before, and the sun was just hittin’ me perfectly and it was all like a rose pink color. Absolutely beautiful.
So I grabbed my camera, went runnin’ up to the roof. I’m takin’ all these pictures of the IFC area with all this beautiful ice fog. Then I sent the film to be developed and it was all black and white film.
I think I had color film in it before, and I said, “I’m just gonna take some pictures of the guys.” Forgot that it was black and white, and of course at that time, I mean, you can’t -- yeah.
That’s one of the problems with film, but that -- that was, well yeah, that was somethin’ else.
Then -- we got paid by cash. I know that. I think nowadays it just automatically goes into their checking account or whatever. And the Air Force, I think, at that time was already paying by check, but we were paid by cash. Not that it was much, but we were paid by cash.
And there was one guy, he’d go in town, get drunk as a skunk, come back, and he’d have no money. So he would be borrowing money all month long.
And the going rate was sort of like, I’ll give you ten, you pay me back twenty. And, you know, you did need a certain amount of money to buy your, you know, soap and deodorant and all that kinda stuff in the PX.
If you smoked, it was two dollars a carton. You know, very reasonable and all that kind of stuff.
So when come payday come, they see him getting in line, everybody he owed money was standin’ right behind him. So as soon as he got paid, "Hey, I want my money." Well, he ended up havin’ maybe five dollars.
He’d go to town, drink his five dollars, come home, and he’d be broke. And I said, “You know, you don’t have to do this.”
Sort of like, next payday pay everybody off, buy all the stuff you need from the PX, don’t go to town for a month, the next time you get paid you’re gonna have like fifty dollars or whatever -- maybe it was sixty dollars, I mean whatever it was, and you won’t owe anybody any money.
And he looked at me like I was the stupidest idiot he’d ever met. ‘Cause he was gonna go down and get drunk, regardless. So, yeah.
KAREN BREWSTER: It does sound like there was a lot of drinking.
BOB BISHOP: Well, a lotta beer drinking. But, I mean at the site, but --
KAREN BREWSTER: That’s what people did for recreation?
BOB BISHOP: Well, I mean if -- even when they went to town they drank a lot of beer. ‘Cause hard liquor was so much more.
And then there was some gambling in the barracks sometimes around payday. Guys would get into these poker games.
I went into one room one night just to watch ‘em play poker for about fifteen minutes and I just walked out. I said I’m not doin’ that. I mean, these guys were -- they knew what they were doin’. They knew how to gamble.
And it’d be like, you know, takin’ candy from a baby if I got into that thing.
And then McGrath was our -- Bob McGrath was our battery clerk. I was talkin’ to him one day and he says, “I’m tryin’ to get a trip organized to go down to Anchorage.”
Top said, first sergeant, he could give us some three day passes as long as it’d be okay with your section chief or, you know, like for me, my security sergeant and whatnot.
So I made arrangements with one of the dog handlers. I would work an extra day for him and he was gonna work an extra day for me ‘cause we were gonna go down to Anchorage for three days.
And the plan was take the train down, go into Fort Rich, go to the transit barracks, have a place to sleep, eat in the mess hall, then the next day go into Anchorage, mess around, come back to the barracks, do the same thing again and then get the heck on out of there on the third day.
Well, we get down there after a very long twelve-hour trip on the train. And this was -- well, there’s still snow on the ground. So I mean, they were gettin’ ready for the big breakup.
And, but we didn’t have that much money on us ‘cause we were gonna, like I say, do it on the cheap. And we didn’t have -- we weren’t wearin’ our uniforms so they wouldn’t let us stay in the transit barracks.
We stayed in a flophouse in Anchorage. It was probably about one of the scariest things I ever did.
There were guys, you know, carryin’ knives and guns and all that kinda stuff and drunk. And, you know, half of ‘em were petty criminals and all this kinda stuff and they weren’t nice people to begin with, and you kinda slept with one eye open, etcetera, etcetera.
And I was never so happy to get back up to an Army barracks.
And then ‘bout two weeks later is when the earthquake hit. So I was here for the -- in Fairbanks here -- for the earthquake. And that was interesting.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Did you feel much? KAREN BREWSTER: Feel it up here?
BOB BISHOP: Oh, most definitely did. I grew up in California, near San Francisco. I know earthquakes, you might say.
And I think I was gonna go on, you know, duty at six and I was like takin’ a little nap beforehand. And it felt like some -- and I was up on the top bunk -- and it sounded -- felt like someone was, you know, kickin’ the bottom of the bunk.
And I’m goin’, “Cut it out!” And I look down and there’s nobody there and I’m goin’, "Oh, I must be dreaming."
Kinda went back to sleep. Next thing you know, everything’s shakin’ all over again. You know, same routine and, nope, there’s nobody there.
And Wilbur comes runnin’ in and we’re havin’ an earthquake and I go, "Oh, no big deal." Then it started shakin’ again.
We ran up on top of the berm and we were watching the telephone poles go like this.
And soon as it stopped, the two rail apes were there runnin’ out to the sections to see if any missiles, you know, went off the rails and stuff. And -- which I think a whole bunch did down in Anchorage.
And, of course, then the rumors started flyin’. They were gonna send all the MP’s, you know, the MP’s at the batteries to go down for martial law in Anchorage. But they didn’t. But that was -- that was pretty scary.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Was there much damage here, then?
BOB BISHOP: Not that much, but it shook. I mean, it shook a lot more than any earthquake I had been in California.
KAREN BREWSTER: So the missiles, there was no damage that you knew?
BOB BISHOP: No, no. Matter of fact, when they had -- when did you come up to Alaska?
KAREN BREWSTER: ’88. BOB BISHOP: Oh, so you --
KAREN BREWSTER: I missed the big one in California.
BOB BISHOP: Okay. I was there for that one, too.
KAREN BREWSTER: The ’89 quake. BOB BISHOP: ’89.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. No, I was already up here.
BOB BISHOP: I’d just sat down to watch the game and the earth started shakin’, and I had a -- had my TV here, and then I had a big -- it was like a china thing, but I used it for books and stuff.
And I’m tryin’ to hold both of ‘em up, you know. And I’m goin’, yeah this is a pretty good quake. Wasn’t as strong as the one up here in Alaska, in Fairbanks, but it was still rockin’ and rollin’ pretty good so --
KAREN BREWSTER: That was the Loma Prieta quake in ’89. 1989.
BOB BISHOP: Yeah. It’s like, I kinda say I do kinda know a little bit about earthquakes and -- yeah, the quake that we felt up here in Fairbanks was twenty times what I felt for the Loma Prieta.
KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, that was the ’64 quake here. BOB BISHOP: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Oh, okay. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yes.
KAREN BREWSTER: What else is on your list there?
BOB BISHOP: Little Bishop’s comin’ back from Fairbanks. Some Air Force colonel picked him up and dropped him off.
They wouldn’t drive us up to the batteries. You had another mile to go up the hill, but they’d drop us off and we could walk up.
And I guess the colonel goes, "Do you guys ever call home?" And Bishop go, "No, I can’t afford to call home," you know.
And so the colonel says there’s a WATS line. Ask around, you’ll find the telephone book. Okay. And so we did.
And Lieutenant Gettinger had a WATS telephone book in his office, of which somebody years before had gotten a key made for, so we could get in there. And what the -- the Army had its own -- I don’t wanna say their own network, but --
KAREN BREWSTER: Their own communication system?
BOB BISHOP: The Army had their own telephone book to get a hold of different installations. And then when you called the installation, you could get somewhere on post.
And they paid a flat fee for that. So the Army bein’ what the Army -- I mean, this was for, not necessarily just Army, for the whole Defense Department.
Well, they don’t want people cloggin’ up the lines is basically what it boiled down to. So I used to call Ames Research down in Mountain View.
They would connect me with an outside line. And so I called my mom, you know, once in a while.
Or a friend or somethin’ like that. Other guys were callin’ girl -- I mean, a whole -- tons of telephone calls.
And you know, I always figured one of these days some FBI guy was gonna come up with a bill for fourteen thousand dollars of telephone calls.
But a friend a mine worked at the telephone company, Pacific Bell, and he said, no it was all flat fees so don’t worry about it.
KAREN BREWSTER: So that’s what the WATS line was? It was so you could call within the military?
BOB BISHOP: Right. You’d call one -- you know, like you wanna call Redstone Arsenal. I had a friend that was stationed at Camp Lejeune -- Marines -- and I know what unit he was, so I called him a couple time.
‘Cause company clerk, then I had my book right there in the desk. And yeah, it was just, you know, a way to make phone calls quickly.
KAREN BREWSTER: Neat. Yeah, fun. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Oh, never heard of that before.
KAREN BREWSTER: I’ve heard of the WATS line, but I didn’t know what it was. BOB BISHOP: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: That’s cool.
BOB BISHOP: Then -- oh, just went in and went out.
KAREN BREWSTER: In the Army? LESLIE McCARTNEY: The Army. BOB BISHOP: No.
KAREN BREWSTER: What is -- went in and went out of what?
BOB BISHOP: The idea. It had to kinda do with this, but not really.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: The WATS line?
BOB BISHOP: Oh, keys. There was an outbuilding in the launching area that was probably ten by ten. And I think it was heated. And they had rations in there.
Well, because some of the guys didn’t get fed, once again I think, you know, to make it easier for these officers there would just be, you know, for as far as needing keys for certain things they just needed one key. It was like a master key.
So the MP’s, we had the key. And I never ate ‘em, but some of the other -- the dog handlers from the other crew and what not, if there wasn’t anything to eat, they just went in there.
Broke in there and took the rations out and ate ‘em. So I’m sure that when they closed the place down over the years, half those boxes were probably empty.
And they had old cigarettes in there that were twenty-five years old and everything else, you know. Gum and chocolate and --
KAREN BREWSTER: That was the emergency rations in case there was a problem at the site?
BOB BISHOP: Yeah. Right, yeah. And then once a month they would cook the K-rations in the mess hall. And a lotta time it was salmon, so they would have like salmon cakes.
Which I’ve always liked, so it was no problem for me. But sometimes it was lamb stew, which was a problem for everybody.
And there was -- when that happened it was like, you couldn’t go anywhere to get anything to eat.
But we sold Vienna sausages in the PX and we sold a lot of them at certain times. I mean, that was -- Fairbanks is so much different than you know it is now.
I don’t think there was even a hamburger joint. It was mostly bars and some of the bars -- when you walked in they pointed at the wall and you hung your gun up, you know, etcetera.
There wasn’t any fine dining, and we couldn’t have afforded it, anyway. I mean, it was kind of a wide open town.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: This the first time you’ve been back? Sorry, Bob.
BOB BISHOP: Yeah, this is the first time. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Okay, right.
BOB BISHOP: And, yeah. I remember -- you know, I get down to Fort Wainwright every once in a while. Once again, because of the, you know, the PX thing.
And they all -- you know, the Army likes you to have starched fatigues and all that kind of stuff, work clothes. And I was regular Army.
But I’m goin’ -- let’s see, you turn in your dirty stuff on a Monday and got it back the next Friday. And -- for clothes, anyway. And I’m goin’ like, why am I starchin’ my own uniforms?
But you needed -- just because you could get it back that next Friday, maybe you weren’t there or weren’t gonna be there for a few more days because, you know, the weekend or whatever the case may be. So I went down and bought, I think, three more pair of fatigues.
So no matter what happened, I would have always fatigues. And then I didn’t have to wash ‘em anymore. I let the Army wash ‘em and starch ‘em.
And then I did the same thing -- the MP’s are supposed to have spit-polished boots. Which you’ll see. And we had a white lacing. Looked pretty fancy, really.
But down in the kennels -- and I think all the dog handlers did it -- we just bought another pair of boots, ‘cause they weren’t that expensive. Spit polished ‘em, put ‘em underneath our bed in the prescribed manner and we never wore ‘em.
But then we had an old pair that we wore when we went in the kennels, so we didn’t mess up a good pair of boots. I mean, because you know, dog poop and urine’s not -- not what you want on your boots for an inspection.
But it took me a while to figure that out. And then I finally did.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Well, Bob, those are great stories. Thanks for sharing them with us.
BOB BISHOP: So, yeah, that’s about it really.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Thank you.
KAREN BREWSTER: It’s fun. It really gives a flavor of what it was like. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yeah. Thank you very much.
BOB BISHOP: Well, I told you about the -- yeah, the inspections when the brass - KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. LESLIE McCARTNEY: Yes.
BOB BISHOP: That was the best. I think I enjoyed that more than anything.
LESLIE McCARTNEY: Well, I’ll just say thank you very much, Bob, for coming in today. BOB BISHOP: Oh, you’re welcome.