Monday, February 23, 2009

Surveying in the Boggy Bottoms

During one summer break while attending EOA&M in Wilburton I had a job with the US Soil Conservation Service.  I was on a crew with four other people and was assigned as a “rodman-chainman”.  Our task was to survey elevation lines in the Boggy Bottoms near Wapanucka to establish the watershed volumes for future lakes.

My summer home was in Atoka at the Jefferson Hotel where I paid $7.00/week for a room with a private bath.  I also ate breakfast in the hotel’s café and had the lady there pack a lunch to take with me each day.

If you have never been to the Boggy Bottoms region (Boggy Depot State Park is there) you probably have never seen mosquitoes, ticks, and chiggers such as live there.  I graduated from rodman-chaiman to to run the levels and transits after a few weeks.  The normal crew was four people (transit-man, two rodmen-chainmen, and a log keeper) but we had a fifth whose only job was to keep the mosquitoes off the transit-man.  The rodmen-chainmen carried the rods and used machetes and axes to clear paths through the thick undergrowth.  We began each day by wading through a cattle dip to infuse our clothes with as much bug repellent as we could.  However, given the climate we usually had sweated everything out before noon.

In my first days on the crew I swung a machete at the nearly impenetrable thickets.  More than once I gapped the blade as I hit a small bois d’arc limb.  That wood was so tough that it would cause sparks to fly when we used a chainsaw on it.  One morning as I reached to pull a chopped off limb free I felt a sharp pain in my hand and, upon looking, discovered I had run a three inch thorn completely through the palm of my hand.  It bled profusely for about five minutes and then my hand swelled to over double its normal size.  Because of that wound I was allowed to return to the truck a few miles away to tend to my hand.

We learned tricks to speed up our progress—for example, when I was carrying a rod and we wanted to make a long shot, I would measure up in a tree and then climb to that point with the rod above me.  We tracked distance with what was called the stadia—two lines across the view in the level or transit.  The distance between the lines on the rod picture gave us the distance.  More than once I stood in creek water up to my chin with the rod above me on my head to continue a line.  In that case we just added five feet and ten inches to the reading the transit-man made.  I got to be pretty good and could read stadia over long distances, sometimes a much as a quarter mile.  That served me good stead when I returned to school and took a course in surveying by allowing me and my school team to complete long runs much more quickly than the other teams.

We saw wildlife of all kinds but probably more snakes than anything else.  In the creek regions there were lots of cottonmouths and on the flats there were some copperheads but most of the snakes were harmless.  Still, it required a fair amount of discipline on those times when a snake swimming in the creek would bump into me while I was holding the rod as described above.  None of us ever got bitten so I guess we were doing the right things.

Sometimes during our lunches we would go to a swimming hole and relax for a few minutes.  The other guys on my crew did not believe me when I told them I could not swim but they became believers one day when I nearly drowned after they pushed me in water about ten feet deep.  It was the only time that I ever had to have water squeezed out of my lungs.

Evenings were spent in Atoka with some of the local young people.  There was no movie theater so we just rode around and talked or played pool.  One of my young lady friends had a brother about seven years old.  He had had a laryngectomy when he was just a baby.  On Saturdays we would go to Durant to a real swimming pool and he delighted in lying on the side of the pool with his head under water until the lifeguard would panic and rush to him.  He would also smoke a cigarette through the hole in his throat as a way to get attention.

My summer came to an abrupt end when I became ill.  When I started the job I was a robust 195 pounds but lost down to 165 in a three-week period.  The local doctor told me it was an allergy to milk but when I returned to Heavener for a check, Dr. Hogaboom informed my Mother that it was hepatitis and that I had a 50-50 chance of dying.  While I was in a quarantined room in the hospital in Poteau Imogene Wyles worked there as a nurse of some sort.  On one occasion she tried to put an IV in my arm but the needle bent and it emerged from my arm about an inch away from where it went in.  Being young had its advantages and I recovered quickly within a few weeks and continued in school.


At February 23, 2009 at 10:55 PM , Blogger John Inman said...

I've heard of the boggy bottoms and how unsafe they can be. Again, you amaze me with all you've done and all the places you've been.

At February 25, 2009 at 4:00 PM , Blogger Bill Hinds said...

No I never went into those boggy bottoms, you are a brave man Glen. Especially since you could not swim. Mercy! We had enough encounters with copperheads and cotton mouths without going into those areas.

We used to swim with the snakes in an old cow pond just south of Poteau on my grandparents property.


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