The Early Years


 

| Home Page | Contents | Index | Comments? |

| Chapter — Adventure |

| Next — Defeat on Popocatépetl |

| Back — Andrew Corry —Utah Pioneer |


 

I suppose the attraction of a distant land has always been a part of me. That is probably, at least in part, a result of my pioneer heritage. My paternal great-grandfather came into Utah the summer of 1847 with Brigham Young. As far as I can tell, the rest of my great- and great-great-grandparents all arrived in Utah before the railroad came in 1869. One of them seems to have been there for sometime before that and I carry her Navajo blood.

Dad was mostly a cowboy and sheep herder on my grandfather's ranches up until they went bust in the Great Depression. After that he worked in the Bingham Copper Mine near Salt Lake City, Utah, and played semi-pro basketball for them up until WWII. One of my paternal grandfather's ranches was at the foot of what is now Cedar Breaks National Monument and Dad spent his summers there as a boy.

During the war, and until he retired, Dad worked on the Southern Pacific railroad in Utah, Nevada, and California.

Mom is also from a mining and railroad background. She was born in Silver City, Utah, now a ghost town near Eureka, Utah. After the mines played out, my maternal grandfather worked on the Union Pacific until he retired, again in Utah, Nevada, and California. At age 13 my mother moved to Salt Lake City where she eventually attended nursing school at the University of Utah after graduating from East High. She then took a nursing job in Cedar City, Utah, where she met my father.

I worked in Zion Canyon at age 13 for a time. At age 14 I would hitchhike from Ogden, Utah to Bryce Canyon and walk the trails until I literally dropped.

A few days after my 17th birthday I joined the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, and went Regular soon after my 18th birthday upon graduation from Ogden High School in Ogden, Utah. The first year of my enlistment was spent in Navy and Marine Corps electronic schools, after which I was stationed with the First Marine regiment on Camp Pendleton for most of the rest of my tour.


 

Fighting forest fires

Top

One of the sidelines of Marine infantry on the Pacific Coast is fighting forest fires in the chaparral of the Peninsula Range along the California coast. On one such fire they caught me, and most of a company, leaving on liberty Friday afternoon. Gave us one day's C-rations and off to the fire lines we went. By Sunday afternoon we had about 4 hours sleep and no additional food had been given us. We were then pulled off the fire line and formed in front of a Red Cross/U.S. Forest Service field kitchen. The people running the chow line then had the temerity to tell our officers that we couldn't be fed. It was obvious our officers were angry, and hungry as well. While we didn't break formation, we were swaying and the low animal growl coming from a company of Marines quickly convinced the civilians that it might be better to feed us what they had. The other choice was being overrun.

While home on leave one summer a forest fire broke out in Weber Canyon, near Ogden, Utah, and the Forest Service was looking for volunteers. At the time I was getting about $100 a month as a Corporal of Marines and thought the extra change couldn't hurt. Got there a bit late in the afternoon to join the main volunteers but the Forest Service gave me a head lamp, some water, and a Pulaski and pointed me up the mountain. I was making steady progress until dusk when the winds changed and blew the fire back down the ridge on to me. The obvious escape route was down into the canyon the fire had burned up during the day. Problem was a series of stairstep ledges between me and the canyon floor. No problem in daylight but in the dark, with the fire chasing me, it was a bit more exciting. I'd point my head lamp down the ledge and if I could see bottom I would jump. My legs cramped along about then from going downhill, so I would rest until the fire was almost on me then scramble. Made it into the burned area after a couple of exciting hours and turned back up the canyon. Joined a prison gang working the fire line about 11 PM and worked with them until late the next afternoon. Picked up about a Marine's monthly wage for my troubles.

I had always wanted to be a forest ranger and after my discharge I went back to Utah State University as a forestry major. At the end of my first year I took a job with the U.S. Forest Service for the summer of 1960 in the Lowman District of the Boise National Forest, Idaho. There I worked the first part of the summer stringing phone lines through the forest. Got to be pretty good with climbing spikes on big trees with a lot of loose bark. Also, some smokechasing plus fire school at Idaho City, Idaho.

After the snow melted in the high country I had pack-in fire lookout on Red Mountain in the Sawtooth Mountains. That went pretty well for about a month. However, the first week in August it began to snow the day before the ranger was to pack in the next couple of weeks worth of food. The blizzard lasted for two weeks and by the end of the first week we were down to eating sourdough hot cakes for breakfast, sourdough biscuits for lunch, and sourdough bread for dinner. Haven't kept a sourdough start since then. Occasionally, though, I still get a craving for sourdough biscuits and bacon grease.

After the blizzard ended in mid-August, there wasn't much of a fire hazard so we closed down the lookout the last week of August. I then went to work on a brush-clearing crew cleaning up after logging companies. Occasional smokechasing, as well, but the fire season pretty well fizzled after the August blizzard.

Never ate so much in my life as while I was working as a faller and clearing brush in the Idaho woods. Breakfast would be a half pound of bacon or sausage, 3 or 4 eggs, a half dozen hot cakes, milk and OJ, and we would be starving by 10 AM break. Carried a full lunch bucket and a large paper sack, as well. Dinner was along the same lines. I think the minimum food requirement was about 5,000 calories per day.

As much as I wanted to be a forest ranger, it was obvious to both the government and I that I was not cut out to be a bureaucrat. During the entire summer I worked on the Lowman District, the District Ranger only got out of the office one time. And this was a major lumber producing district on the forest. That wasn't my idea of being a forest ranger. So not much sense in going back to college as a forestry major.


 

To sail around the world

Top

In the meantime, a buddy of mine from the Marines had the idea that we should get a 30-foot Tahiti ketch and sail it around the world. Sounded great to me, so upped anchor and back to San Diego. Bought the ketch, but it turned out to be full of dry rot. So I learned the value of a good marine, as in boats, survey the hard way.

To pay for all this, I took a position with General Dynamics/Convair - Astronautics out on Kearny Mesa in San Diego. The year I spent in Navy and Marine Corps electronics schools made me well qualified to do final missile checkout on Atlas and Centaur birds. Ended up working on all the Project Mercury boosters, most of the early space launches, and learning how to launch ICBM's, which nearly got me drafted into the Air Force during the Cuban missile crisis. Final missile checkout is, of course, preflight testing of all the missile systems, failure analysis when a bird blew up or shut down on the launch pad, developing test procedures so it didn't happen again, and monitoring all the missile systems via telemetry. The first EKG I ever saw was via telemetry from Col. John Glenn, USMC, when he rode into orbit on one of the Atlas birds I worked on.

Like most government projects, the space program was on again, off again. After a couple of years there I worked seven weeks straight without a day off, and then got laid off the first time. Out six months working on the ketch. Great time. Then back to missiles for another year and a half. Laid off again. Back to work on the ketch.

After a few more months working on the ketch, I was driving home one evening when I spotted a friend I had worked with at Convair. Stopped to chat, and he mentioned that the University of California - San Diego was looking for someone with an electronics background. Unemployment compensation was running a little thin, so I drove out there the next day.


 

On to oceanography

Top

Turned out to be a position under Prof. Victor Vacquier at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. I looked and behaved then, as now, like your prototypical former Marine so they weren't too impressed. But, being desperate, they gave me a bunch of tests.

Nobody else they interviewed even came close, so all of a sudden I was an oceanographer working for one of the most famous geophysicists on the planet. If you go to an airport you still walk through one of his inventions: flux gate magnetometers.

Six months later, my direct boss, Bob Warren, quit. Since I had not yet sunk any of Scripps vessels, Vacquier jumped me up to project manager for his heat flow studies. We pretty well covered the North Pacific with those measurements. For those of you who haven't looked at a globe recently that is about one-quarter of the Earth. Our group was doing pretty fundamental work on sea-floor spreading and plate tectonics. Vacquier got the stuffed albatross during this period, one of the most prized awards in oceanography, for his work with magnetic surveys along the Mendocino fracture zone. So with a year of college and another year's worth of credits from all the Navy and Marine Corps schools, there I was publishing with all the big kids.

However, I was spending so much time at sea, up to 8 months in a year, that the ketch was no longer an option. Sold it at great loss but didn't miss it. Now I was getting paid to see the world and jet planes do cross oceans faster than Tahiti ketches. I don't know that oceanographic ships are much of a step up, though.

Top


 

| Home Page | Contents | Index | Comments? |

| Chapter — Adventure |

| Next — Defeat on Popocatépetl |

| Back — Andrew Corry —Utah Pioneer |


 

Last modified 3/17/16