ack in ’73 Alaska was a very busy place. We had just begun construction on the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline and since there were not enough Alaskans to do the job, the country was overrun with cheechackos and snow-birds. TAPS, as the huge project was called at that time, was the largest construction project ever attempted.
Now you’re gonna have problems with anything that big! Summer was well underway when the company who employed me sent me to Chandalar to rope the new camp that was sprouting up like crabgrass on the barren tundra.
Our crew was roping the camp: that is stringing electrical cables that would eventually connect all the structures together providing service to each building. Not everyone was happy to see our progress. There was the one big toklat grizzly bear, who had been dining out at the dumpster, that refused to go away.
Now grizzly bears are notoriously unpredictable and this guy was no exception. I had the displeasure of meeting him face-to-face one night when, rounding the corner of the rec hall, I “bumped” into him. I don’t know which one of us was the more terrified. We ran in different directions. This bear refused to leave his free lunch-counter and it soon became obvious that something would have to be done. The innkeeper who managed the camp contacted Fish and Feathers and requested that the bear be destroyed. He had so many encounters with the workers that management was afraid someone would get hurt and it wouldn’t be the bear!
The Gamey’s refused to kill, or allow the camp manager to kill, the bear. It would have to be driven away. It was then that the idiot in charge decided to chase the bear away. Mobilizing every truck and chopper within forty miles, they directed the chase from a safe distance. The pickup trucks, each painted that noxious yellow color that Alyeska had selected for it’s distinctive badge of distinction, bounced across the open countryside in chase of the bear.
Only problem was that the bear quickly learned the game and became expert at avoiding the trucks. It didn’t help that the bear was smarter than the truck drivers. Choppers joined in the chase and finally managed to drive the bear over the ridge-line. Congratulating themselves that they had solved the bear problem, the head-shed people went off to dinner. No bear sightings were reported that evening.
The following morning my crew reached the point in our roping where the mess hall was the next building to be done. These “buildings” were not really buildings, but were constructed of trailers connected to form temporary buildings. They were blocked up about three feet allowing access to their “basements”.
My job that morning was to crawl underneath the mess hall and push the heavy cable through the prepared hole to the foreman above the floor. Sounds easy, huh? Well the reason that damn bear hadn’t been seen was that he’d taken up residence under the mess hall! After a full and satisfying dinner at the dumpster, the toklat had crawled under the building and went to sleep. He refused to give up his new den easily.
I had barely entered the basement when the critter growled. That was enough for me. I backed out just in time to get chewed out by the foreman. He never gave me a chance to explain about the bear. Taking the cable, old George entered the den and got about ten feet inside before meeting the bear across the blocking timber which, luckily was several feet thick. George made a record exit from the den!
Thorny problems such as our bear present required professional help. When confronted with this sort of thing we usually called in the laborers. Jerry, the Labor foreman, solved our problem in short order. He took a chainsaw under the mess hall and started it. The noise and the noxious blueish exhaust were enough to convince the bear. Enough is enough. The Fish and Wildlife people were called in and they decided to tranquilize the bear and airlift him away from the camp.
This was done but the weather closed in and the chopper could not return to camp. They spent the night at another camp. Both chopper and bear arrived back at Chandalar Camp at the same time. The gamy’s, angry that their plan had not worked, repeated the procedure with only one change. This time they took the bear fifty miles away from the pipeline right of way. We completed our work and left for another camp.
A few weeks later my crew was working Livengood Camp when the “bear expert” the pipeline company had hired arrived in camp.
Everyone was required to listen to his lecture. Turned out he was dumber than a mud fence! He’d sold himself to the pipeline people as an expert but knew nothing about bears. He instructed the assembled hands, many of which were Alaskans, in frightening off a bear. “Take a can of bug spray”, he said, “wrap several strips of bacon or ham around the can and place it where the bear can find it. When the bear bites the can it will surprise him and he will flee the area.” This guy was NO expert. To prove his point he prepared just such a bear-trap and set it out the back door, on the hood of one of the many putrid yellow-colored pickups. In recent days, a bear had been seen in that area.
After our ten-minute break we dutifully filed back into the class and the “expert” took up where he had left off. He had only said a sentence or two when a horrible racket was heard outside the class. The entire class rushed out to see what was happening, only to see the bear’s tail disappearing through the woods and there, totally trashed, were the remains of the bear-trap and ten or so destroyed pickup trucks. The bear had bitten into the trap with the result that the aerosol can had exploded in his mouth. Enraged, the bear had vented his anger on the closest object, the trucks.
The following day Fish and Wildlife officers destroyed the bear.
Art Barlow the author can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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