National Geographic : 1954 Jul
The National Geographic Magazine turned the car off the road in front of a big red barn. "Come on in," he said, "I want you to see the Sno-Cats." These odd gas-driven vehicles resemble a seaplane, an army tank, and a Toonerville Trolley, all rolled into one. The Sno-Cat's cabin, high and square, rests on four pontoons, each ringed with its own caterpillar tread (page 102). "When the snow comes," Ostrom said, "we ride these up the mountain. Six feet of snow or 60 make no difference to them.* "When it gets deep, we're often the only ones who get through.. We run a regular delivery service for people living along the road. They phone us down in Reno and say, 'You're coming anyway, so would you mind bringing some aspirin?' Once we took a load of hay to feed some starving cattle. Another time we carried two pregnant women down from the hills to the hospital." Back in the car, we drove on to the bottom of the aerial tramway. Here, when the weather is bad, they park the Sno-Cats. "You ought to try this in a blizzard," said Doyle as we climbed into the gently rocking tramcar. "You can't see the ground below; in fact, you can't see anything more than 18 inches away. You just sit in the middle of nothing and hope she keeps moving." At the top of the tramway, Doyle unlocked the heavy metal door of the relay tower and we entered. Bunks for 10-Just in Case I found myself in a comfortable living room. Through a door I could see a kitchen with an electric stove, a refrigerator, and a big food freezer (page 103). There were beds, and even a bathroom with a shower. "Normally," Ostrom explained, "this sta tion is unattended, except for a monthly rou tine check. It does its job automatically, like most of the other relay stations. But when any of the equipment here breaks down, we have to climb the mountain and repair it. "In this country, you never know when you'll get down again. Several of us have been trapped up here by blizzards-some times just overnight, sometimes for a week. So we always keep enough food on hand to last a month. We have bunks and bedding enough to sleep 10 men, and an automatic oil furnace." Adjoining the living quarters, a large room contains the electronic equipment needed to run the station. Steel cabinets hold a com plexity of wires and banks of tiny vacuum tubes. These are the amplifiers and modu lators that control the strength and frequency of the radio signals. Wave guides, square metal pipes of precise dimensions, lead from the amplifiers to the antennas on the roof. The function of the relay station at Mount Rose (and at all the other stations in the chain) is simply to pick up radio waves from one relay station 30 miles away, boost their power, and send them on to the next relay sta tion 30 miles in the opposite direction. The waves may be carrying television pro grams, telephone calls, radio programs, or all of these things at the same time. How a Microwave Relay Works Four hornlike antennas on the roof of Mount Rose station work together in pairs, one of each pair aiming west, one east; one receiv ing, one sending. Between them the two pairs can provide six broad communication channels in each direction. Each channel can transmit a television program or hundreds of telephone calls at once. One serves as a reserve channel for use in emergencies. To understand how the microwave relay system operates, consider a television program being produced in New York. Suppose it is a weekly, hour-long dramatic show, which costs $75,000 to produce and put on the air (some run considerably higher than this). An advertiser is paying the bill; to justify spending so much money, he must reach an audience of millions. So he wants his program not just on one station, but on a network. A sponsor may "buy" a network of almost any size, from a few stations up to more than 100. Suppose, since our program is an expen sive one, he chooses a 64-station coast-to-coast hookup. In this case, approximately $1,800 of his $75,000 goes to the A. T. & T. for transmission. The rest is paid to writers, actors, directors, and musicians, and to the network and its affiliated stations. As our program goes on the air from the New York studio, three or four television cameras are trained on the stage from dif ferent angles. The cameras are mounted on wheels so they can move with the action. Each camera "sees" the stage through lenses, just as a photographic camera does. * See "Sno-Cats Mechanize Oregon Snow Survey," by Andrew H. Brown, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGA ZINE, November, 1949.