Sunday, September 7, 2014

Fort Knox

Quick trivia quiz.  Who was Major Hoolihan's husband on the television version of M*A*S*H?  If you said Donald Penobscot, give yourself 10 points.  As a Californian, I always assumed Penobscot was just a name they made up because it sounded funny but the fact is that this is not exactly true.  Penobscot is the name of an Indian tribe in Maine.  They picked the wrong side (i.e. the froggy side) in the French and Indian war and were relegated to obscurity and near extinction.  About 450 of them still live on a small reservation just north of Bangor.  Their main claim to modern fame is that they opened the first Indian gambling establishment, a high stakes BINGO parlor, back in 1973.  They also lent their tribal name to the Penobscot River.

The old Waldo-Hancock Bridge
At the mouth of the river is a narrows that made a convenient spot to build a bridge across to connect Waldo and Hancock counties between the town of Prospect and Verona Island.  So, in 1931 they built the Waldo-Hancock bridge across the narrows.  It used some new construction techniques, like pre-fabricated, pre-stressed cables and something called a  Vierendeel truss that were  used a few years later in another little project called the Golden Gate Bridge.   But the most significant thing about the Waldo-Hancock bridge was that it came in way under budget and they were able to use the leftover money to build a second bridge from Verona Island to Bucksport, completely eliminating the need for the Prospect Ferry.

The Waldo-Hancock bridge served faithfully for 70 some odd years, but by the start of the new millennia was showing its age and a major project was undertaken to rehabilitate it.  In the process however, they discovered it had more problems than they had realized and could not be satisfactorily repaired.  So they spent about 20 times the original cost of the bridge to do some temporary strengthening, then got to work on a new bridge about 10 feet to the south.

Penobscot Narrows Bridge from the east...
The Penobscot Narrows Bridge was completed in 2006 and we had to drive across it to get from Boothbay to Acadia NP, but it was a hazy, yuk day and stopping the motorhome for pictures and sightseeing is usually a pain in the butt, so we drove on, then picked a nice sunny day and drove back to it in the car later in the week.  The new bridge has some innovative engineering stuff of its own to brag about, but I'm not enough of an engineer to have understood most of it.  Some of what I did understand is that the cables are all encased in steel tubes filled with pressurized nitrogen gas to help prevent corrosion.  And 6 of the cables were made of experimental carbon fiber which is being monitored to see how well it holds up for possible use in future bridges.
... and from the west
It is a striking looking bridge and has one additional feature that makes it definitely worth a visit.  They installed an observation area in the west tower giving fantastic views of Bucksport and the Penobscot River.  It is the tallest bridge observatory in the world, reaching 420 feet, and you get to it via the fastest elevator in Maine.  Vicki, you may recall, is not too keen on heights, so I took the elevator ride up alone and snapped a few pics for your edification.

Bucksport from the observatory

View across the bridge from the tower - you can see the pylon from the old bridge which was demolished in 2013

Fort Knox entrance
For the same reason this was a good place to build a bridge, it was also a good spot from which to defend the river.  The  British navy had sailed up the Penobscot in both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 in order to bombard Bangor and whatever else in the area seemed bombardable.  In order to prevent future recurrences of this, the young US decided to install a granite fort at the narrows which we also visited while we were there.  This is Fort Knox (no not the one Goldfinger broke into, that's in Kentucky).  Both Ft. Knoxes were named after Henry Knox, the first US secretary of war, who retired nearby in Thomaston.

View of the fort from the bridge tower
Construction began in 1844 but because the US was mostly broke most of the time and they were trying to build similar fortifications on every major river along the east coast, funding was inadequate and construction sporadic.  The fort was nearly complete in 1869 but by then it was already obsolete.  It never defended the river, never fired a shot in anger and was never garrisoned until the Spanish American war when a regiment from Conneticut was supposed to be stationed there for a few months.  Since the enlisted quarters had never been completed, a few officers stayed in the officers quarter while most of the regiment camped in tents a half mile away.  When
10 inch gun threw a 100 lb. ball up to 2 miles
that war ended, the garrison was reduced to a single man, "the keeper of the fort" and that's how the situation remained until 1929 when the feds declared the fort "excess" and sold it to the state of Maine for a couple grand.  On the bright side, the fort never suffered much wear and tear so it's in remarkably good shape and makes for a pleasant afternoon's exploration.

As for Hotlips' fictional hubby, I don't think Penobscot was ever actually used as a family name in real life.  The Maine phone directory shows no one named Penobscot and extending the search to New York and Massachusetts still comes up with zilch.  So my original speculation still stands. They just used the name because the writers thought it sounded funny.  After all, the writers were all Californians too.
Civil War era medical transport
Parade ground inside Fort Knox

Last winter we spent three months working on the Navajo reservation in Arizona.  After a few months to sort through her feelings about it, Vicki has written up her impressions of the experience which we will be including in segments over the next few posts 

Working in Chinle
By Vicki Rains

Chinle healthcare facility
The hospital and clinic in Chinle, built in about 1982, is a fairly nice facility.  It has separate Internal Medicine and Family Practice clinics, but in fact they are really one ambulatory care clinic.  They are staffed with doctors and nurse practitioners with Navajo “health techs” covering the jobs that Roger’s office staff did in CA.  All the doctors and nurse practitioners were from elsewhere in the country.  None were Navajo.  Almost all the health techs were Navajo. 

The visits were 20 minutes each, which was fine for straight forward ambulatory patients and follow ups but for patients who were new to us and had multiple medical problems it was difficult.  The reason is the computer program.  It was not a terribly bad program but nobody bothered to orient us on it.  We got about a ½ hour video on it and that was it.  Fortunately we both are pretty computer literate but at the beginning we were constantly having to ask a doctor or NP how to do something.  Since they hadn’t been trained any better, they didn’t always know the answers.  When we went looking for someone, they weren’t always available so we had to wait.  Even after 3 months there were still things we didn’t know how to do. 

Window Rock
We worked from 8 AM to noon and then from 1 PM to 5 PM.  We weren’t supposed to do overtime.  We didn’t always finish on time but on Thursday mornings we had administrative time which we didn’t need all of so it usually balanced out pretty fairly.  Roger covered call, I think twice, and for that he made $ 5 more an hour than I did, but I haven’t worked in a hospital for over 5 years so I wasn’t interested in it and they weren’t interested in me covering it.  We had weekends off.  

A day trip to Monument Valley
Most people took off for the weekend.  We often left for a day trip but we don’t like to travel any more than 90 miles one way in a day trip so we didn't go to places like the Grand Canyon.  However, we have previously been at least once, and often twice, to every tourist destination around Chinle.  We did stop at the Grand Canyon on our way back to CA.

One of my challenges while working in Chinle was to see if I could still work as a general internist.  I started my geriatric fellowship in 1987 and haven’t done pure internal medicine in a clinic since then.  I am happy to say that my skills came back readily.  The drug formulary, in order to have reduced costs, consisted mostly of generic drugs I prescribed way back when.  Yes, I succeeded, but I didn’t really like it.  I remembered why I went into geriatrics and then into hospice and palliative care.  

Before we left for Chinle I interviewed for a job with Vitas Hospice.  Yes, it’s the company I used to work for.  Fortunately, the general manager that I despised had left.  I started working for Vitas again when I got back to California from Chinle.  The job I have now is part of what I used to have to do 2 years ago before I quit.  I can do it anywhere in the country as long as I have access to a phone and internet.  It takes me about an hour a day.  When I am in SoCal I can potentially do patient visits and cover team meetings.  This way I can keep my hospice skills intact.

Spider Rock in Canyon de Chelly right next to Chinle
So would I do it again?  Well, obviously not at the moment since I am working for Vitas again but neither one of us will likely ever want to go back to Chinle.  Yes, there were a lot of negatives and few positives but the prevailing negative was the fact that the doctors that we worked with were not very friendly.  They were nice when they answered our questions, but other than that they mostly ignored us.  I doubt anyone knew we are full time RV’ers because nobody asked anything about us.  There was nothing social offered to us.  They even had a journal club and didn’t ask if we would like to come.  So we felt pretty isolated.

1 comment:

  1. Your pictures of the bridge are really really good. I think I'd have to send Jim up to that lookout to take pictures for me. That picture looking down at the bridge or across the bridge made my stomach turn over. Native Americans are not friendly with "outsiders". When I worked in Billings we had the Bureau of Indian Affairs in our building and even after years of seeing them in the elevators or in the break room there was seldom even a hello. I also remember when I was young in Eastern Montana - the small towns (Class C) would hold their basketball championship games in my town. The Indians didn't cheer for their team and very seldom even showed much emotion when they won. So different from the rest of us who were hooting and hollering.