Day 10: October 28
Prudhoe Bay, Alaska
by Richard Truesdell
Sometimes fate takes a strange turn.
Early Monday morning I made a call down to Anchorage to speak with ARCO’s External Affairs Supervisor, Joan McCoy, about being granted access to the oilfields, which are not open to private vehicles. They are available to commercial tours during the summer months. Joan was unavailable and I left a message to have her call the hotel if we could do a photo shoot around 10. Mark and I left to do some exterior placement shots until then.
Although the mercury was rising to about 10 below, the winds were whipped up over 30 MPH. A front was moving in from Barrow and promised to make conditions difficult, especially at Atigun Pass. Lucy, our host at the Prudoe Bay Hotel suggested that we contact some of the trucking firms to see if they had any trucks heading south, that we might convoy with. After calling around we were able to locate one such trucker and after filling up at the local Chevron dealer (NANA Services), we set out to rendezvous with him near ARCO’s main gate. Thus far we had no word from Anchorage as to if we were going to get on the oilfields.
Finding the trucker in the parking lot, Mark discussed us joining him in the run south. In the strongest possible terms he suggested that it would be best for us to sit it out at least a day. Mark returned and gave me news, saying that the conditions were expected to be so bad that the trucker had loaded his pilot vehicle, a 4WD Ford pickup on the flatbed, and the pilot driver was sharing the comfortable confines of the cab. After a few minutes contemplation, we made the decision to return to the hotel and wait out the storm. This turned out to be a fortuitous decision on two separate levels.
As we pulled into the parking lot, a light green pick-up truck pulled along side us. The driver asked me if I was Rich Truesdell. After I replied yes, he told me he was from ARCO’s security company and Joan gave us permission to come on the oil field.
Ronald Bickford (Oregon) Security Officer for Purcell Security Services gave us a private tour of ARCO’s facility. This culminated at what ARCO refers to as the east dock, seven miles from the main gate which is where public access stops. (It should be noted that under normal conditions, ARCO and the companies that manage operations on the fields do not offer tours or public access. This is offered by private contractors in Deadhorse from May through August). Due to the conditions, our quest to reach the ocean fell 100 yards short as four feet of drifting snow prohibited further passage to the water, even in Officer Bickford’s F-350 4WF pickup. At this point the wind was blowing at close to 40 MPH, providing a sub 70 degree wind chill factor so even a 100 yard hike to the ocean, now frozen over, was unlikely to provide any different photo opportunities. We shot some photos and video to document our far most northern point of our journey and returned to our vehicles for the drive to the main base camp. After spending just 15 minutes out in the Arctic cold, I knew that it would be a long time before I would again complain about paying a $1.29 for a gallon of gas in Albuquerque.
Ron escorted us back about six miles to the main base camp facilities and invited us to join him and his supervisor for lunch in the ARCO dining room. But not before providing us with one last great photo opportunity at ARCO’s facilities. On a turnout out opposite the ARCO landing strip is a couple of gas pumps topped off with a signpost with distances to major world cities. On the top of the sign post is a sign that reads "Future site of an AM/PM Mini Mart" the name given to ARCO’s convenience stores located in the lower 48 states.
After settling in for lunch in the main ARCO dining hall we were joined by Bill Kaufman, (Washington state) the Lt. in charge on this particular shift. We shared a number of stories about other car writers who have made the trek northward as well as an account of someone from St. Louis who had driven a Viper GTS up to Prudoe Bay in September. (At this point I would like to personally thank Joan McCoy, ARCO’s External Affairs Supervisor in Anchorage who was kind enough to grant us access to the oil field.)
We were in for a complete tour of ARCO’s Main Construction Camp (MCC) facilitates, conducted by Kevin Foster (New Jersey). He was my initial contact on Saturday when I called from Fairbanks and chatted with us while we were in the dining room. Kevin told us that requests such as mine, at this time of year was very unusual, to say the least. Actually he started laughing when we first chatted on the phone on Saturday.
Kevin was kind enough, after we explained our difficulties in getting our modem to work, allowed us to send edited updates back to Jeff in California for our web pages. For those computer geeks out there, ARCO maintains a very comprehensive site for internal use that allows for WWW access.
Given that our modem would take a final fry later that night back at the hotel and that it will probably be Wednesday afternoon at the earliest before we will be in a position to upload, we really appreciate his efforts on our behalf. It seems that the farther north you go, and the colder it gets, the more hospitality folks seem to offer. Maybe it is because the folks that work in these conditions enjoy having people from outside the oil and construction industries to talk to. It is a good question that I hope to follow up via e-mail with Kevin, Ron and Bill.