Local man lives, works in Antarctica half the year
POLSON — It took Carlie Reum 41 hours to get home from his job in February. Kind of makes a half hour or an hour commute look downright small, doesn’t it?
Reum flew from McMurdo Station in Antarctica to New Zealand, to Sydney, Australia, to Dallas, Texas, to Minneapolis, Minn. to Missoula. Reum figured he spent 25 hours in the air and 16 on the ground before getting back to Polson.
Reum worked at McMurdo Station from September 20 until the last part of February as he has every winter since 1998.
Located on the southern tip of Ross Island on the shore of McMurdo Sound, McMurdo Station and the sound both got their names from Lt. Archibald McMurdo of the HMS Terror, a British ship. The ship first charted the area in 1841.
McMurdo Station is operated by the United States through the United States Antarctic Program, a branch of the National Science Foundation.
Reum works 10-hour days, six days a week, building and maintaining an ice runway and a skiway, for aircraft with skis instead of wheels, for aircraft landings.
The official name of the runway is Pegasus Air Field, and it is two miles long by 220 feet wide. Reum and his crew put snow on the runway and skiway and compact the snow to protect the runway from the sun.
“A strong wind on the runway turns it into ice,” Reum said.
If it’s icy, it’s hard for planes to land so Reum said they scar the runway with a serrated blade on their Caterpillar equipment. The Pegasus Air Field runway is groomed by crews night and day.
Originally Reum learned about McMurdo Station from his friend Kim Uhde who had a job application. Uhde gave Reum the application instead, and Reum has been going to Antarctica since then.
Before workers can make the trek to Antarctica, they must get a physical and dental checkup. There are doctors at McMurdo, but for most everything support people and scientists have to be med-evaced to New Zealand.
When workers arrive in New Zealand, Reum said they are issued their Carharts, workboots and parkas before they fly into McMurdo. Then when they leave at the end of their work period, they check in the clothing.
Work clothing isn’t the only thing people pick up in New Zealand. When he flies back to McMurdo Station, Reum always picks up 10 cheeseburgers from a McDonald’s in New Zealand for a friend who’s been working the winter shift at McMurdo Station and has a yen for burgers.
Crew quarters are “just like a college dorm” according to Reum, complete with a roommate. Reum’s roommate is from Kalispell and works nights so the men hardly see each other.
Each room has a TV, a refrigerator and dial-up Internet, even though it’s really slow, Reum said. Most people go to the galley, where food is served, to use the computers there. The dorms have big lounges with pool tables as well as laundry facilities.
Meals are served buffet style in the galley. The food preparers go all out for Thanksgiving and Christmas, Reum said, when they serve lobster, steak, shrimp and crab.
A greenhouse at McMurdo provides some fresh food, but when the mid-August crew is flown in, the planes also bring a big pallet of “freshies,” fresh fruit, vegetables and meat, for the approximately 150 employees at McMurdo during the winter.
In January the Swedish icebreaker ship “Oden” breaks the ice in the shipping channel, preparing a way for the fuel ship to come to Antarctica. The fuel ship brings “millions of gallons of fuel to last for a year,” Reum explained. Cargo ships offload building supplies, food and beverages. If the station runs out of something, it can be flown in; but mostly the planes fly in people, cargo for the scientists and mail.
On days off, workers at McMurdo Station can hike, cross county ski, ride mountain bikes, pump iron in the up-to-date weight room complete with treadmills or play basketball and volleyball in the gym.
McMurdo Station used to have a bowling alley, with hand-set pins, but the structure was condemned and torn down, Reum added.