Report From The Field

June 19, 1992
By Timothy Vick

Field work can be hazardous; things don't always go as planned. This letter, from Brett Kessler '94, arrived during the summer of 1991 after she and three other students (Butch Dooley '91, Starr Johnson '93 and Emily Darby '94) began a field project in Virginia in which parts of a fossil whale were excavated for reconstruction in the Virginia Museum of Natural History at Martinsville, VA. We thank Brett and Butch for allowing us to share this letter, and wish them better luck in future travels! The project was successfully completed despite 130-degree temperatures in the excavation pit and other logistical woes. Emily traveled separately.

(In May, 2000, Butch, now a professional staffer at the Museum of Natural History, reported that the whale excavated in this project turned out to be a previously unknown genus which they are working on describing and reporting. The 1991 expedition was fraught with logistics difficulties but was very productive nonetheless.)

July 1, 1991

Dear Tim:

Howdy. I wanted to drop you a line to let you know how, once again, you saved the evening while we were camping. First, however, I'll give you background so you can appreciate fully how chaotic our past few days have been.

Starr, Butch and I left Carleton Saturday a few hours after graduation. Things ran smoothly until about 10:00 p.m. when, in I believe it was Davenport, Hwy. 52 was blocked off and we were going to be held up for five or six hours. Butch wasn't too keen on sticking around and so, after some heavy-duty cussing, we back-tracked, went through Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, and back to Dubuque, Iowa. This was two hours later and we expected to be further south by 60 miles or so. It was around midnight and we began looking for hotels, since all state parks had closed two hours earlier. We looked at about six places but they were all full, due to the riverboat gamblers. We finally, after an hour or so and much cursing from Butch, found a place and got two of the last three rooms in all of Dubuque! The reason we could get those was because they didn't have bathrooms in the rooms.

We started out early the next morning and the whole day was rather uneventful. We made good mileage and Sunday evening we stopped at a Red Roof Inn in Lexington, Kentucky.

When we were getting ready to leave Monday morning at 7:00 A.M., Butch noticed that the cooler wasn't there. He soon realized that half the stuff from the car and most of the stuff from the trailer had been stolen. There was much cursing. We reported the robbery to the front desk and they told us the guys had been caught and all our stuff was retrieved. They hadn't contacted us because only stuff with my name and Butch's name was found and Starr had registered us. Anyway, we got everything back. Starr and Butch went to the police station while I stayed in the hotel to guard the rest of the stuff. By 10:00 A.M. we were ready and rolling. At around 1:00 p.m. Butch's car quit after stopping at a gas station. After a lot of swearing and Starr jump-starting it we were going again. Not well, but going. Then about 6:00 p.m. his car quit again on the West Virginia Turnpike and wouldn't start again. He tried all that he could and he and Starr took three trips to Princeton getting parts. I stayed in the car the whole time. After replacing the fuel pump and fuel line at 10:00 p.m. the car was able to move. We were all cranky. I was mad at being left alone for four hours or so; Starr was mad at Butch's yelling and orders; Butch was mad at the world. He, in trying not to hit the car, threw his hat and broke the rear view mirror with the bead from his hat. Well, the car ran long enough to exit the turnpike so Butch could call his father. On the entrance ramp however, it quit again and wouldn't start. Butch pushed the 7,000 lb. car and trailer about 100 yards off the road. There was a hotel a few hundred yards away. We pushed the car into a ditch off the road, wary of being burglarized again. We tried to move the trailer so it would be near the hotel, but that was a dismal failure. Starr and I were holding the tongue and Butch was in back to push it, but it was too heavy and it dropped on two of my fingers. They were swollen but all right. I wasn't able to help anymore and soon Starr and Butch gave up too. In the morning Butch fixed it by turning the gas filter the right way and we made it to Roanoke.

Since then his spark plugs and spark plug wires have been replaced and he needs to replace part of his exhaust system and muffler.

We made it to the quarry on Friday. It was about 110 degrees where we were supposed to work. Then it rained that night. It rained Saturday. And it was cold and drizzly Sunday. (Butch's magic still works!) Well, Sunday night we had Timslop. It was the saving grace of the weekend. Thank you.

I hope your summer has been better than ours so far. See you in the fall.