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Eugene Rodgers on: Little America
Eugene Rodgers Q: How difficult was it to set up Little America when they got down to the ice?

ER: When Byrd got down to the ice, and the ice is what Antarctic explorers call Antarctica, Byrd's first chore was to set up the base that he eventually called Little America. And this was really a great undertaking because Byrd had to anchor his ships against frozen sea ice, I believe it was eight miles from the location where his base was. So he had to get his supplies from his ship to the base eight miles away over sea ice. And he did this by dog sled teams. They'd run back and forth between the base and the ship. And having to build a base for 42 men that would last them for a year and a half, he was really building a tiny little city, with nothing there. He had to carry everything himself. So bringing his stuff to the base, erecting it under awful conditions of sub-zero temperatures and fierce winds and snow storms and ice that was as hard as concrete to dig into, it was a great undertaking. And the Byrd had to do it in just a few weeks before winter set in. And he did it. He and his men did, really one of the accomplishments of the expedition was building Little America in the short time that they did.

Q: And what about unloading? Just tell me how difficult the unloading process was?

ER: The unloading process was very difficult because of the, the ships were several miles from the base. And dog teams had to go from the ships to the base hauling the supplies. Byrd only had one professional dog driver. The rest were all amateurs, so they were learning as they were going along. The boy scout, Paul Siple, who was with Byrd was one of the dog drivers. But they learned fast, and managed to get the, the supplies to the base. Sometimes they had difficulty doing so. I remember one story where one of these novice dog drivers had left the ship carrying a load of supplies. And then several minutes later the sledge came back with all the supplies and no driver. The dogs had just turned around and come back and dumped the driver somewhere. So there were incidents like these. It was very tough. It was summertime when Byrd was unloading so the ice was cracking up while they were loading. And Byrd knew they had to hurry and get it done because the ice would soon crack up enough that they couldn't be on it. So it was dangerous, it was arduous. It was really an ordeal.

Q: Can you paint a picture for us of life during the winter at Little America?

ER: The winter on any Antarctic expedition, even today is a harsh, very trying time for the people involved. I mean you've got to picture to yourself that here is a land of perpetual darkness during the winter. It's like midnight for, where Byrd was about four months out of the year. Extremely cold, it got down to a minus, almost minus 75 in Little America at one point. Winds howling, men cooped up in very small cabins. It was a very trying time. They had little to do except plan for the next year. So people get on each other's nerves. They get depressed. People tended not to be able to concentrate. They, they slept long hours. They blew up at each other. They tended to get what they call, the big eye, in Antarctica, even today, where they just stare because they were depressed and had little stimulation. It was a very trying time. Byrd had been warned about this by other polar explorers who told him, watch out for the winter. It's a very dangerous time in Antarctica. It fed Byrd's basic fears of mutiny.

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