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1953-1954

Medicine Hat Radio

Souvenirs of Medicine Hat, Alberta

from Milton Watts

 

Medicine Hat airport was a typical BCATP airport. Three runways in a triangular shape. Wartime administration building with a control tower on top. Very little air traffic, one TCA DC3 flight each way, each weekday. TCA occupied one end of the building and the Radio Range the other end. The control tower was unused except for one floor to hold the VHF transmitters. The main entrance was at our end of the building making it convenient to go out for weather observations and also monitor people coming in. A nice quiet station! Oh!

 

 

Harry Ainsworth was OIC with Gord Cassie, Bob Jones, Bob Hughes, and I. No CW radio here. All land communication was via Met. Teletype circuit or Sked F interphone. Medicine Hat was the connection point between Edmonton and Winnipeg ATC centres, so we heard both sides. One very small aircraft base operator who was also the designer, constructor and operator of an Ornithopter, an aircraft that flies like a bird, by flapping its wings. In this case it didn’t fly very well. It had to be towed behind a vehicle. While being briefed by Harry on my first day the Ornithopter was flying when the rope broke. It managed to fly about twenty feet straight down, to the pavement. Probably it’s last flight.

 

 

A few days prior to my arrival in Medicine Hat a severe windstorm did some damage to the range station. In fact it destroyed all the towers. Johnny Konzuk, the steel crew foreman, and his crew were busily removing the old steel and preparing bases for the new towers.

 

Earl Walker was the technician who was returning the range to normal operation. He was also giving me my first Barrier exam. Remember the Barrier exams? He came into the office while I was on duty and wanted to give me the cipher receiving test. I explained that I would probably have to break for the weather observation. That was okay, so we proceeded with the test. The observation was followed by a call from ATC, the telephone and other interruptions and took somewhat longer than the allotted five minutes. Next was the plain language test. Earl got up saying he was too busy, handed me the test and told me to type it up. I love those hard CW tests.

 

 

The station had the usual amount of equipment. Three VHF frequencies. 3023.5 Kcs. air to ground, Radio range and monitor receivers.

 

Medicine Hat was the relay point between ATC and the military tower at Suffield base. The very few exchanges were done by long distant telephone. Suffield was a restricted overfly area, all flights had to have prior approval from Suffield. One winter day I received a call from Suffield Tower. The very agitated controller wanted to know who was the Canso that had just flown over the base. I checked with Edmonton and Winnipeg ATC and Lethbridge tower with no information, called Suffield with the results. The next day another call, same aircraft, same problem with perhaps different results. The controller advised they were sending a fighter up to intercept the Canso. I never heard anymore about it. Did they shoot it down or just frighten it away?

 

We had very little interaction with TCA. They had their own radio installation and ATC connection. We did provide them with weather reports for the area for a few hours when their flights were arriving. One windy, rainy day with low ceilings and fog I had a call from an RCAF aircraft with engine problems and diverting to Medicine Hat. Shortly after, while doing a weather observation I heard a large aircraft invisible in the cloud fly very low overhead. Back in the office I called the RCAF flight. No response. ATC then called wanting his position again no response. At this time TCA was due to arrive. This event was only a year or so after an RCAF aircraft collided with TCA DC3 over Moose Jaw. TCA advised they were circling well away from Medicine Hat. At ATC’s request I went outside to see if I could see any sign of the aircraft. Yes; some distance away in front of a hanger was an RCAF Canso with someone inspecting an engine. This was duly reported to ATC and TCA and the day proceeded. Eventually the Canso left, again with no radio contact.

 

Our building was just off the highway and the parking lot was a "lover’s lane". Coming on shift one midnight, I noticed a car parked in the lot. It didn’t seem to be the normal type of car for our lover’s lane. There were several elderly people in it. They were still there about an hour later when I did the weather observation. Shortly after, a middle aged lady came into the office and inquired as to when the airplane was going to arrive. I told her I was not aware of any flights arriving that night. She left but returned about thirty minutes later and said they were to meet their son arriving on TCA at two o’clock. I explained to her that it was two PM not AM that the flight arrived. It took a while for here to believe me but shortly after the vehicle left.

 

RADIO OPERATOR DISAPPEARS FROM AIRPORT WHILE ON NIGHT SHIFT

 

What a headline that would be. Could have been me.

 

One night I heard a vehicle drive up and and was surprised to see two men running down to the far end of the hallway and an ambulance standing at the door. Well, that was where the toilets were and probably explained it. They came back to the office and asked me where the patient was. "Patient" I asked, "There’s no patient here, just me." A doctor had called for an ambulance to pick up a patient at the weather office. This was the weather office, but I was the only one here and I was not a patient. With that they left, thankfully without a patient. A few days later I found there is a house on the other side of the airport that used to be the weather office.

 

 

Winnipeg ATC was giving Edmonton ATC, information on a large flight of RCAF Harvards from Portage La Prairie to Calgary with a stop in Medicine Hat. Wondering why they were stopping I called Winnipeg and got the response they were planning on refuelling here. Someone in the RCAF must have forgotten we were no longer an RCAF base. They should have checked. I knew the local IOL agent had only a small quantity of avgas at any time. I called the agent and gave him the information and he arranged to have a tanker of avgas sent out. Eventually the flight staggered in, parking all over the ramp. One pilot kept calling for Medicine Hat tower. I replied there was no tower and gave him the necessary info. Not good enough. He kept calling for the tower, even requesting a green light. Eventually he landed, I think! When TCA arrived they had to park some distance away and the passengers and crew had to wander through the Harvards

 

A new experience for me was the larger contact with the public, than at any other station I had been at. We were the ‘official’ weather station and did receive calls from the public about the weather. At times this became very annoying. One wintery day was particularly bad. A sudden snow and wind storm had blown in and I was busy getting out special weather reports. Several phone calls had come in. I had two aircraft diverting to Medicine Hat, one with a mechanical problem. The last straw arrived.

 

Ring Ring went the phone

 

"Hello, radio range

 

"What’s the weather doing out there?"

 

"It’s doing the same thing out my window as it is out yours. Goodbye"

 

Not diplomatic, but it was how I felt.

 

Medicine Hat was selected to be a test station for the new Nipher Snow Gauge. Harry’s feeling about this was that if they want to test meteorological equipment, send it to a meteorology station not to a radio station. Nevertheless we had it and were instructed to keep two sets of records, one using the old measurement system and one with the new system. The instructions were that the copper tube holding the snowfall was to be taken inside and put on the heat register to melt the snow and then measure the water content. Unfortunately or perhaps fortunately for us our heat source was in the ceiling and we could not use it. Harry suggested we make our best guess but be sure it was not identical to the old measurement.

 

One night shift the ‘boss’ Harry arrived with a buddy. They had been out having a few drinks and Harry was showing off a new piece of equipment we had received. They sat discussing the new gadget and the friend pulled out a bottle of whisky, passed it around. I declined with the comment that I could not drink on duty with the ‘boss’ around. At that, Harry, the ‘boss’, looked around and said he didn’t see any bosses around. What a great guy to work for.

 

The office had a set of windows looking south over the airport and a set looking east over the parking area. This provided a great view of some beautiful prairie sunrises. After about ten months of this "boring" life I decided I wanted to see the north again. A letter to the office brought a quick response with the offer of OIC Cambridge Bay. I readily accepted it and was headed back north.

 

Milt Watts

 

 

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