Hi there! I am Don Martin, occasionally but not regularly a serious person. I am in the midst of writing an ebook, A Tour of Duty, based loosely on a photo album I kept during 1957 while climbing telephone poles in Alaska and elsewhere for the U.S. Army. Usually the poles were thicker and wooden: the support pipe at the right was about the only recreational equipment the Tok bachelor's quarters had to offer1. Before getting the Army job, I had spent 4 years in a print shop (the Silverdale Breeze of Silverdale, Washington); after my discharge I majored in English literature, and at present I work as a writer/editor for the VA2, so I am used to putting words on paper. The photo album contained words as well as pictures, both, at times, pretty dreadful, but I got better. The book was lost to me for 35 years, only coming back in the fall of '05, and this present work started as a way to leave a piece of my past to the grandkids. I scanned the fading, reddening photos and tried to restore them to some semblance of their original selves with PhotoShop, and since there was also text, I strung everything together in HTML so it could be passed on via CDs. As I went along, the book began to take on a life of its own: I defy anyone to look at pictures of himself half a century ago without their prompting memories, reflections, sordid admissions, and all sorts of vanished schemes to spring from his teeming brain (I trust, Gentle Reader, that thy brain teemeth, too3). The project has grown to the point that I cannot see any other format than electronic for it: afterthoughts, sidebars, sidebars to the sidebars, essays on the draft, etc., all live in a nexus of hyperlinks and would be infuriating on paper. I had hoped to have the whole sprawl ready to ooze out the door by the fall of 2007, but a few things, like the death of my wife, got in the way; meanwhile, a sample or three here should let you know whether you are interested in waiting for it.

Samples from A Tour of Duty

Discoveries in the Military:
a sidebar on the surprises one has in the course of becoming a trained killer.

Chapter 3:
the actual beginning of the 1957 album--I am through basic training, in Alaska, and sent to my first job south of Fairbanks. The passages in italics are the ones written in 1957.

The Impact of the Paper Cutter:
a sidebar on adventures in the print shop where I worked from 1951 to 1955.

Cooking for Mobs:
a sidebar on dealing with large quantities for large men (Martha Stewart did not approve this page).


Some Links

The excursion into Canada in 1957 was along what is quite possibly the most scenic railroad in the world, The White Pass & Yukon Route (WP&Y). It was built from Skagway, Alaska to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory during the Klondike gold rush, and is still alive, kicking, and on the internet at http://www.wpyr.com. For a great source of images as it (and the gold rush) was in the old days, the Yukon Archives Images Database http://www.tc.gov.yk.ca/digitization/public/search_subjects.php would be hard to beat. My SO and I treated ourselves to a cruise in the summer of '09, and I have finally seen Skagway. We took the WP&Y's excursion train (highly recommended) and saw some of the poles I climbed half a century ago. They are sad and tiny--almost shrivelled. Their wires are gone, their insulators pilfered (nobody seems to have wanted the transpostion brackets, which remain) and the crossarms are askew. It is a ghost line now, and one feels like a ghost for having been on it when it was alive.

For a broader view of cold, an interesting site, Explore North, http://www.explorenorth.com/index.html covers 360° of longitude at high latitudes.

After the decommissioning of the 505th, I ended up in Tok, Alaska, a place I have always felt to be my home town in the north. How can you fall in love with a place the sole claim to fame of which is the fact that the highway south to Anchorage meets the Alcan Highway there? That question is perhaps best answered by Donna Blasor-Bernhardt who spent her first winter in Tok (with temperatures down to -70°F) in a tent, cutting (and burning) a cord of wood a day to do so (even the Chamber of Commerce proclaims the place "The coldest inhabited community on the North American Continent"). She now has a bed and breakfast and a website: http://www.alaska-wintercabin.com/index.html. Ms Blasor-Bernhardt is a writer and photographer, Poet Laureate of Tok and the Alcan, and contributor to papers and journals. Her site shows you how lovable the place can be.

And speaking of Tok, my favorite thing to do with books I no longer need is send them to the library there. It was going 50 years ago and is still in business, receiving a magnificent ~$6000 per year from the state by way of budget and running entirely through the efforts of volunteers. Obviously, they cannot afford to buy books at that rate, but thrive on donations. Books and DVDs in good condition may be sent to Tok Community Library, Box 227, Tok, AK 99780-0227. Duplicates will be traded with other community libraries, sold, or given to patrons.

If you like old music, may I recommend the works of The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra, a group of Julliard musicians who play the music of the turn of the last century probably a great deal better than most of the orchestras of the last century did. Their leader is Rick Benjamin, who prowled abandoned warehouses and theatre basements in search of music. In 1985 he "discovered the long-lost collection of orchestra scores of the Victor Talking Machine Company, and with it the inspiration for the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra (PRO). Mr. Benjamin gathered Juilliard colleagues to perform these turn-of-the-century treasures, and the PRO was born. Paragon's collection contains 10,000 historic orchestrations spanning the years 1870 to 1930. This remarkable archive includes rare published scores and manuscripts by more than 700 American composers, including luminaries like Scott Joplin, Edward MacDowell, W.C. Handy, Victor Herbert, Jerome Kern, and Irving Berlin. This material encompasses music for the theater (operetta, musical comedy, vaudeville, revue, and 'silent' cinema), concert stage (and bandstand), and ballroom. The works of African-American composers are especially well represented. All of the Paragon Orchestra's concerts, silent film screenings, and recordings are created exclusively using the orchestrations from this world-class collection." In addition to their lovely CDs, they have at least one DVD, the 1920 hit The Mark of Zorro with Douglas Fairbanks the Elder, to which the Orchestra has synchronized the original score for the closest thing you are likely to get for the original experience of this film in a top theatre. All of the quoted material above is from their website, http://www.paragonragtime.com/

If you like really old music, you might try Cylinder of the Month, where you can audition such greats as the Edison Symphony Orchestra whooping it up as the Spanish-American War impends. Considering that the microphone was yet to be invented, you are hearing the actual vibrations of their voices and instruments physically carving the groove.

If you have never encountered Edward Tufte, you have a treat coming. The man is a student of data presentation and will make you a disbeliever in PowerPoint presentations that you formerly only found dreadfully boring.

Another interest of mine is wood carving, for which one does well to have really good chisels. The best source I have found for these and a myriad of other woodworking, gardening, and cooking tools and hardware is Lee Valley Tools. They not only carry the best, they design and manufacture new devices for special applications. They are not, incidentally, paying me to say this. I expect that any of their customers would say the same.

It bills itself as "A Directory of Wonderful Things," and it certainly seems to cover the weird with energy and gusto. I found Boingboing while searching for illustrations for a sidebar on tattoos. I expect one could stumble into it looking for all sorts of thngs, but it seems well worth plain browsing for its own sake.

A Shameless Advertisement

For those of you who share my interest in 18th century British satire (probably a whopping 0.037%) and who own a Kindle, I have a treat in store: the Kindle edition of my dissertation, An Edition of the North Briton was published in April of 2010, and may be had for a trifling $9.95. Just go to Amazon.com, or enter the magic number B003F769FA in the search field of their home page, and there it shall be, yearning to be read.

Why on earth would I do such a thing, you wonder? Certainly vanity plays a role, but strangely enough I started the project because I found my dissertation listed on Amazon already. If they have gone to all that trouble, thought I, I might as well make it available. All of this is explained in my Preface to this edition, included here at no extra cost for the entertainment of the curious.

A Personal Note

My Wife of 42 years, Ann Aves Martin, had been in declining health
for a decade and bedfast for a year. She died April 15, 2007.

My piece on Ann.
Her obituary from The Columbia Flyer April 26, 2007.

An obituary for her also appeared in The Baltimore Sun on April 23,
but not here. The Sun does not grant permissions to reproduce its obituaries:
it rents them by the quarter, half year, and year.


11958: Martin meditates aloft while Don Wing (now two sorts of engineer and an attorney) climbs the wall behind. (Photo by Dick Nyhus, an Old Salt now, but then a carrier specialist.)

2My retirement plan is to drop dead at the keyboard. In the United Kingdom, the phrase "died on the job" has much racier connotations than it does in the U.S., but I'll settle for our paler version: it beats by a mile gasping one's last in a retirement home. Dying on the job in the U.K. beats it by five miles, but it is best not to set one's hopes too high.

3If thy brain teemeth not, thou shalt probably not remain my Gentle Reader very long.

Last revised Mon 04/19/2010.