This season I’m working as a Materialsperson, which means basically I work with stuff—and we have a LOT of stuff here at South Pole, warehouses and stockrooms and berms and drawers and airplanes full of it. You can’t get rid of much because if you did, and then someone needed it, it would take two years and a lot of money to get it back. But seriously, a lot of it is junk.
South Pole station has a hoarding problem.
Anyway, we like to keep track of the stuff we have, and we do the best we can given the short season and the high volume of stuff being flown in and going out to work orders. My main project this season has been doing a deep inventory of the C-Berm (one of like 20 berms) which is home to most of the Heavy Shop and Power Plant stuff, as well as Fuels, IT and the greenhouse. To give you an idea of how screwy this berm is, our database, MAPCON, lists about 1000 different kinds of machine engines, CAT track shoes, bolts, cylinder heads, coaxial cable, fuel hoses and other things like that. After taking EVERYTHING off this berm, opening many and recounting all of the crates, researching their contents and shipping documents, putting everything back on, mapping and recording and crosschecking it, I discovered that we are missing 598 kinds of stuff (some of those stock numbers have hundreds of themselves listed in MAPCON but are nowhere to be found). That included three huge engine heaters, two whole snowmobiles and one $92,000 generator for the power plant. It’s not like people put this stuff in their suitcases and took it home, they just used it and didn’t write it down.
There are things that do not belong that we found on this berm, including dumbbells for weightlifting, science equipment and 200 pounds of Ramen Noodles from 2003.
To do this project, we first removed all of the crates and boxes, setting them aside so the heavy vehicle operators could reform and grade the berm, basically carving a neat, 3 foot tall platform that was fifteen feet wide and hundreds of feet long. I took away a lot of things that were obviously trash, and parts for vehicles that we no longer have. I opened lots of boxes that had dubious contents, counted, labeled or laughed at the stuff inside, and if we were keeping it, re-banded and crimped it.
When it was time to start putting things back on the berm, I can use either a 277 or a 953 CAT loader. The 277 is a responsive, zippy little vehicle that is pretty fun to drive. It operates with a joystick and feels like a really big toy with a rollercoaster-like safety bar, and its name is Emma.
The 953 is a huge loader (well, not huge in the world of loaders, but huge next to Emma) named Sundog, and Sundog is a huge, rickety loader that has two speeds: crawly and jumpy (also stabby, as in stabbing boxes with the forks, but that’s not really a speed).
I used whichever loader was available, and sorted and stacked the things into categories as well as I could, leaving as little space as possible to prevent snow drifting, a major challenge when next year’s team (maybe including me) has to inventory the whole berm again, although not to quite the extent as this year. I learned a lot working out there by myself, about operating the loaders and the differences between the machines.
I put lots of track rollers on the berms…
And dropped some of them, which was really frustrating…
And put some things up really high…
And then it was done! Now it’s all ready to get completely drifted in over the winter, and then we’ll shovel it out and recount everything next year, although hopefully it will be much, much easier.