The antenna tower, being on an exposed hilltop location, was also subjected to many lightning strikes from passing storms, which often resulted in damage to the electronic equipment. This problem continued until we convinced the Southern California Edison Company to tie their grounding system to ours, which they had been reluctant to do. Problem solved.
So it was two days before Christmas that a lightning strike shut down the TV transmitter just seconds before 4:00 PM when the station was to go on the air. The telephone line was also knocked out and we had no communication with the operator at the transmitter from our Glendale studio. This was in the days before cell phones and private radio systems were too expensive for our low-budget operation. The operator, Paul Lindner had minimal experience with the technical maintenance of the transmitter, so I knew I would have to find a way to get up the mountain.
Several times in the past I had hired a grading company run by two brothers in Ontario to clear or repair the road with their bulldozer. I called and got them to agree to meet me that evening at Mt. Baldy village with their equipment. Meanwhile I learned of a snowmobile owned by an acquaintance of an employee of the station. I arranged to borrow this and it was soon in the back of my truck..It was of a strange design; totally different from the snowmobiles of today. It had a wood plank seat running lengthwise down the center. I don’t remember much about the motive power or the traction system, but the long seat would hold at least four passengers, which came in handy later.
The Glendora Ridge road that traverses the east fork of San Gabriel canyon ends at Mt. Baldy village where it joins the Mt. Baldy road. The dirt road into the transmitter site runs off the Ridge road about two miles west of the village. The Baldy road had been cleared of snow but there was no attempt to clear the Ridge road in winter, so it had about two feet of snow on it with more in the drifts. Burt Lehman, one of my assistant engineers and I met the Manske brothers at the village shortly after dark. They unloaded their tractor and Burt and I unloaded the so-called snowmobile from my truck which we then climbed aboard and started on ahead. There is a steep climb out of the village for about a quarter mile to the top of the Cow Canyon saddle, then it is mostly downhill to the beginning of the fire road that goes to the transmitter. Our strange vehicle managed the grade and a fairly fast trip down to the locked gate to our road, but then totally failed to negotiate the soft snow on the fire road. We were stuck there for about forty five minutes waiting for the tractor to catch up.
When the Manske brothers got there we realized that we had another problem. One guy was driving the tractor with the other standing behind him, but there was no room for other passengers, so Burt and I got in the front loader bucket and off we went. Going was OK for awhile. When we came to particularly heavy drifts Burt and I would get out until the road was cleared and then crawl back into the wet bucket.
We continued this way for a couple of miles until we came to a switch-back in a narrow canyon where the road was completely covered with several feet of snow. Burt and I disembarked and watched as they tried to dig it clear. I could see that every time he backed the tractor it slipped further toward the edge of the road. I stuck the full length of a shovel down into the snow alongside the tractor and was very fearful that it might go over the edge if he backed again. The tractor guys agreed and we started our two mile hike back to the gate. There we all got on the snowmobile and rode back to the village. It was 1:00 AM by then but it seemed like everyone in the village was out playing in the snow. As we drove home down the Mt. Baldy road we could see the red beacon on our tower so we figured that Paul Lindner was OK and warm.
The next day, Christmas Eve, Burt Lehman and I flew to the transmitter site in a chartered helicopter and sent Paul Lindner home in it.
(Paul Lindner, transmitter engineer; Byron Mobus, engineer and pilot in helicopter)
I repaired the transmitter in a few minutes, (a wire burned off by the lightning strike) and we signed the station on as scheduled. There was no reason for both of us to be there to operate the station and Burt, still unmarried then, offered to stay, so I sent a message down the microwave link to my son John to meet me on the Mt. Baldy road at the point where the tower light is visible from the road. It is only 8,000 feet down a 40+ degree slope from the transmitter to the road versus 8 miles on the road. I had hiked it a couple of times in good weather, taking about two hours. This time there was two to three feet of snow to deal with. I started out sinking into the snow then experimented with sitting and sliding.
With my legs out in front of me I found I could control my speed by how wide I spread my legs, letting the snow build up in my crotch to slow me down. This worked so well that I made it down to the road in forty five minutes and John was there waiting for me, so I was able to spend Christmas with my family.
© 2010 W. Bernard Marston
SNOW ON SUNSET RIDGE
By Bernie Marston
Recent snowstorms and blizzards in Colorado and elsewhere got me reflecting on my experiences with snow in southern California. One particular incident stands out, although there are others worthy of mention.
We had succeeded in getting UHF television station KHOF-TV on the air in October, 1969, the details of which I have written about elsewhere. To comply with certain regulations of the Federal Communications Commission it was necessary to keep an operator at the transmitter site on Sunset Ridge near Mt. Baldy in the Angeles National Forest. Shortly before Christmas in 1971 a heavy winter storm dumped an unusually large amount of snow in the mountains; nearly three feet at the transmitter site, which was at about 5,400 feet altitude. So our normal access roads were blocked by snow.