The Bob Rich Collection


Photos posted 26 Feb 2002. Stories updated 3 June 2004

I was at NAVSTA Adak for 13 months, 1973-1974, working as a telephone lineman for half my tour and as a telephone operator the other half. Here's a few of my many memories of that place.


One evening when I was manning the NAVSTA telephone switchboard, the red emergency light and buzzer went off. It was the one light that never went off, but we were told that if it did, we were to drop everything and answer it. It was an emergency and likely the Captain. The buzzer went off, I dropped all of my other calls and plugged into it. It was a Captain from the mainland, and he told me to connect him to the base Captain immediately. I pulled the toggle switch back so I could listen in, and I overheard the Captain say that there was a 7 earthquake that was just about to hit the island. Moments later the brick walls around me began to ripple as if made of Jell-O. I thought the building would collapse, so I disconnected my headset and ran outside. To my amazement, the seemingly endless flat ground that surrounded the Telephone Exchange looked like an ocean. Wave after wave passed and faded into the distance, and I could feel the earth rising and falling under my feet. It must have lasted about a minute. The building hadn't collapsed, so I ran back in to see if any more emergency calls would follow. Soon after I received the 'All Clear'.

One of my favorite jobs working at the telephone exchange was tracing phone calls. The Switch Room was a clean and secured area that we had access to. It was heaven for guys like me who love gadgets. In those days all of the switches were mechanical, and as you walked through the switching area, you could hear and see the clicking of the relays as people dialed their phones. We were taught how to trace the call from one relay to another until we discovered the call's origin. Security would often call us in at night to trace a call for them. It was like a hi-tech game. One of the bennies of the job was that we were able to call home free of charge by connecting to operators all over the world that would put us through to the States. I often ended up waking up my family and friends at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. Sometimes after hours we'd hang out at the TV station, and the guys there would let us take the controls. Boy that was fun!

When I was on the Telephone Line Crew, we used to drive around in this big, gray line truck filled with telephone cable and tools. It was slow moving and we had to double clutch it, but once it got rolling it used to haul. A game we used to play was to drive the truck as fast as we could down a hill, aim for the biggest hole we could find and try to get the passenger to smash his head on the ceiling. No matter how good you got your buddy, he always got you back when it was his turn to drive. Those hard hats did serve a purpose.

Many of the telephone poles on Adak had been standing since WWII, so when we sunk our climber into one, it was as if the pole was made of balsawood. If the chunk of wood didn't come flying out, it sunk in so deep that we had a hard time pulling our spikes out. Due to high winds, half the pole was usually covered with ice and snow. That was the side that you climbed on, so we could wrap our hands around the backside that was usually dry. We'd never belt off while climbing up, fearing that if we were to start burning down, we couldn't get away from the pole and would wind up with a stomach full of splinters. We'd always push ourselves away from the pole and we all burned down from time to time. We would love it when we'd get a call during a storm in the middle of the night telling us that the Captain's phone went out and had to be repaired immediately. We'd have to climb the rotten poles in pitch dark in driving snow with a flashlight in our mouth to see what we were doing. Ya, we loved the Captain...


Remember the Friday nights with the cases of beer stacked to the ceiling? More than once I stood watch, found a guy passed out in the head that was laying face down in his own puke. I was kind enough to turn the guy over so he could breath.

There was a lot of dead time on the island and not a lot for young guys to do. Some hung out every night in the bar. Some were really into drugs. Though there were always drug crackdowns, there was always pot around and blotter acid used to flow onto the island via letters from home that a guy a few rooms over used to receive. One small letter contains hundreds of hits. I remember getting on the bus one night and remembering how strange it was that in the middle of the Aleutian Islands, there was a busload of guys, most of whom were tripping.

One night a bunch of us guys were picked up by an Amtrack and we were driven through really deep snow to the top of a mountain. I had no idea were we were, but it took a long time to get there. In the middle of nowhere there was a water tower all lit up with loud music coming from it. Inside it was filled with guys, and most were smoking pot or tripping. They had a blazing fire in the middle of the tower in an oil drum stove, and they were heating batteries on top of it, trying to give life to their flashlights and tape players. I remember walking outside to get away from the crowd and lying on my back in the snow. I looked up and saw the clearest sky I had ever seen. There was an intensely bright full moon and a sky filled with stars. The air was just so pure and clean. I remember thinking that it was like being on another planet.


Larry Brown was like my brother. We roomed together in Electrician 'A' school at Great Lakes and we went to Adak together. I was so stupid that I lost his address and I never heard from him since. Cliff Garman and Jim Kartes were great friends as well. After Adak, we went everywhere together while stationed at Port Hueneme. Cliff and I went to Gitmo together and I think Jim went to Puerto Rico. I had a roommate from Boston on Adak that we used to call 'Doc'. He was a bit strange, with long straight black hair that he used to slick down for inspection. Dress codes were rather lax under Admiral Zumwalt. I don't know if I ever ironed my uniform. Doc was dating a young, good looking civilian and they started a rock band that was actually quite good. They had the Jefferson Airplane sound down, and my Roommate Lee Roy Cox and I used to be their sound guys. When my tour of Adak was over, I received a call from someone who told me that Doc had cut his wrists in order to get off the island early. I wonder what happened to him?

Jim was a true 'gearhead' and had a great Land Rover. One night we offered to baby sit for a family that we knew. The streets were dry as a bone when we got there, and the next time we looked out the window, the snowdrifts were over six feet deep! I remember getting in the Land Rover that had chains all around and just plowing through the snowdrifts like they weren't there. I bet that Jeep is still on the island.

Jim and I filed a claim for a water tower that overlooked the Crab Processing Docks (What's the name of that place? Answer: Finger Bay). If I remember correctly, you could lay claim to a building until the time you left the island. I had an AR-15, a beautiful Browning semi-auto shotgun and a 44-magnum lever action rifle. The water tower already had a deck, which split the tower into 2 levels, the top for sleeping and the bottom for hanging out and cooking in the oil drum stove. We hung gun racks and added bars to the doors and windows for security because someone was always trying to break through the locks when we weren't there. We usually had enough ammo to fight a small war, and we hunted Ptarmigan and just about anything else that moved. At night we'd hunt rats in the dump. Lee Roy had a car, and I remember painting the face of a girl on the hood with One-Shot sign paint. The car had a huge rack of spotlights in the front that we could turn on with the flick of a switch. We'd slowly and quietly pull into the dump. Each of us would get out of the car on the left and right behind the open doors and someone would throw the switch. Rats would be running everywhere. We'd shoot and reload as fast as we could for about a minute. By then everything was dead or gone. With flashlights in hand, we'd pile up the dead rats and the pile would be about 2' high. When we'd return in the morning, there wouldn't be a trace of them. I was told that the eagles picked them up at night. The fun would start again the following night, and they never seemed to be in short supply.

I was 18 when I went to Adak. I wish I were older because I know I would have made better use of the time and experience. Though I'm not proud of everything we did on the island, we did work hard and did a good job considering we were just a bunch of kids out of High School with no work experience, little or no supervision and huge responsibilities. My friends became closer than brothers and I will always remember them. For me Adak was the adventure of a lifetime. When I was there I couldn't wait to leave. Now that it's been 30 years, I wish I could return to those least for a couple of weeks.

Regards to all who served there.

Bob Rich


Public Works

NAVSTA Adak, AK< br>


These movies have been converted from Super-8 movies. Suggestions for viewing: If you have a high speed connection (DSL, Cablemodem, something on the order of 256 kilobits per second or more) you can simply click on the link and Windows Media Player should buffer the movie and play it more or less at the same time you are getting it. Otherwise, you may wish to download it to your computer and play it once it is entirely in your computer. To do this, click on the link with the right mouse button and choose "save link as" or "save target as" and save it to your computer. Then you can locate it and play it. MAC users: I don't think WMV's will play on a MAC and accessing the save target (save link) is via the menu bar.

  1. The Dock (2.9 megabytes, WMV Windows Media format. Version 8 of Direct X is needed; it should auto-download and install)
  2. Climbing a telephone pole. (5.2 megabytes Windows WMV format) Here's a clip of me climbing a telephone pole. I was told that many of the poles on Adak have been up since WWII, which made them rotten and dangerous to climb. It also didn't help that one side was usually coated with ice.
  3. Bald Eagle (1.7 megabytes, Windows WMV format). An eagle photographed from the top of a telephone pole. It is in silhouette; the sky is spectacular but the eagle is not clearly seen.
  4. Coast (13 megabytes, Windows WMV format). Driving from about the High School, views of the BOQ, then north on the main highway to Kuluk Bay east of Kuluk housing. See the waves and a pan of the mountains surrounding Kuluk Bay. It is also a fine example of a typical Adak day, very bleak with tantalizing bits of almost sunshine here and there.
  5. Crossing (8.3 megabytes, Windows WMV format) People walking and driving in high winds with a few inches of snow, ice, slush and whatnot on the ground. Views from Birchwood Barracks and the Bering Building.
  6. Telephone Exchange (6.4 megabytes, Windows WMV Format).


The guy at the desk is me in the telephone exchange. I was on the line crew.

I think the totem pole was in front of the Navy Exchange.

The switchboard was in the telephone exchange. I worked it nights for 6 months. One night I received an emergency call from an Admiral warning of an earthquake what was about to hit (7 on the rictor scale) and I patched the call into the Captain. Moments later the brick walls turned into Jell-O. I ran outside and the ground was waving like an ocean for as far as I could see. It lasted for about a minute. I'll never forget it.

The old man (I can't remember his name) was a civilian that set up and ran the telephone system. I worked with him from time to time tracing calls.

The last shot is me fixing a downed wire during a storm. We often climbed the poles in the middle of a storm in the night.


Bob Rich