Chapter 4

Generator

When Phil and I arrived at 60th Signal, the trailer-mounted generator to power the radars would not generate. I was powered by a familiar jeep engine and was equipped with an “arctic kit” which included all the equipment needed to get it running and keep it running at 60 below zero F. That included a pan below the oil pan into which one added gasoline from a tube connected to the fuel tank. A match tossed into the gasoline would heat the oil enough to pump. To keep it warm, hot exhaust could be routed through a duct in the oil pan after passing through the air filter to heat the incoming air. To accommodate temperatures 150 degrees warmer than an arctic morning, various adjustments should be made. A brief visual inspection, the first item on the troubleshooting tree we taught every day, showed clearly that adjustments had not been done. I suggested to the ARVN warrant officer in charge of the class that I might be able to fix it but he was having none of that. I was not to touch it.

The warehouse for our classroom had standard 50hz, 240V power as does most of Europe and Asia. Military electronics runs on 400hz, 240V power, which is why we needed the generator. Without the 400hz power the radars would not run, so practical instruction was much too limited. The ARVNs brass hats promised to fix or replace the generator but never did. We Signal Corps types hadn’t mastered the art of bak-shish and didn’t know that such favors required that a fee be paid.

The American office scrounged a motor-generator for us that converted 60hz ac to 400hz. When run on 50hz power it ran hot but produced 320hz power and was close enough to 400hz to operate the test equipment and Phil’s radars but had no where near enough capacity to operate the big radars. Phil taught repair of a much smaller, personnel-locating radar that was much less power hungry.

This work-around kept the class going while we worked out a solution. The original plan was to teach the big radars first because that knowledge supported teaching the smaller units but as composer Frank Zappa pointed out about that time, Mothers of Invention are where you find them so we swapped education modules. This worked to a degree and all was fine for theory of operation lessons but then we got to the practical lessons. Practicum continued until about noon when the temperature in the warehouse topped 100 degrees F. At this point the motor-generators overheated and shut down, leaving us with no 400hz power. So I began teaching theory of operation for the big radars after lunch. Combining the two radars’ lessons in one day was a bit confusing but what else were we to do?

Over watered drinks in a Tudo Street bar one evening after work, I told DB some of my frustrations in getting the classroom up and running. We sat in the back facing the door. DB had taught me to sit at a table toward the back of the bar facing the door and scope out the back door. This served two purposes: It put the bar girls on notice that we were there for business not them. The other and perhaps more important reason was that we could keep and eye on the door. Sometimes MPs would empty a bar in to a paddy wagon because it had become off limits on no notice and sometimes the VC would open the door and toss in a grenade.

Anyhow, hearing my tale of woe DB said he knew a guy, a guy who could help, a guy who worked for PA&E. He would come by the 60th Signal and see me. A couple of days later a 40ish, crew-cut guy in civvies and shades topped by a marine corp jar-lid baseball cap showed up in our classroom. He gave me a card that had his name and PA&E on if. I explained what I needed, he smiled and said “No problem. See you tomorrow.”

Pacific Architects and Engineers, PA&E for short, was one of two consortiums ginned up for the war. The other being RMK, Root, Morrison and Knutson, created out of two contracting giants: Brown and Root and Morrison and Knutson. They supplied the military with technical consultants, obscure hardware and ordinance. PA&E had a fleet of Helicopters and a bottomless pit of equipment.

Tomorrow came and Mr. PA&E appeared with a civilian pickup with a 4 cylinder gasoline generator in the back. It proved just able to power one radar at a time. Way better than nothing and we ran it full-tilt for weeks but eventually the little generator met its match and broke a valve rocker-arm. Practicum came to an abrupt halt. Many long faces among the students— for whom graduating from the class meant more rank, more pay and more status. One of the more enterprising fellows took the broken rocker arm into town and the next day returned with a modified, VW rocker-arm which worked like a champ. We were up and running again.

This whole train of events fascinated the American office. “Where did you guys find Rocky?” Sgt. Pigeon asked. Mr. PA&E was known around town as Rocky and was known to be a fixer for all sorts of problems. Rocky became a very important figure and had many favors to call in should the need arise.

2 thoughts on “Chapter 4

  1. HI Tom, so cool that you started a blog. As always, I really enjoy your stories, especially of your time in Viet Nam. I look forward to reading more of them. Susan

    Like

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