49 Voices: Jim Thiele of Anchorage

Workers maneuver joints into place to hold up the trans-Alaska Pipeline. (photo courtesy of Diane Schenker)

This week we’re hearing from Jim Thiele in Anchorage. Thiele moved to Alaska in 1974 after graduating with a degree in biology from the University of Colorado. He got a job doing fishery surveys along the trans-Alaska Pipeline. Thiele says that sometimes his fish surveys could create some friction with crews building the pipeline. Jim Thiele now works as a financial planner in Anchorage.

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THIELE: Our goal in traveling the entire pipeline corridor was to survey all of these small streams to find out if there were fish in them. And if there were fish in them and if there was a problem with the pet passage, we could alert the company and say, “Okay you guys need to replace this culvert.” And they were in a hurry to get the pipeline done.

One of the issues was we were these wet-behind-the-ear, cheechako college kids, and we were rubbing elbows with a bunch of grizzled, old construction guys — you know these guys that would lay under the pipe all day and weld. I had a lot of respect for those guys. I mean they were doing an amazing job at an amazing pace. They looked at us and said, “Oh these guys are just trying to cause us trouble. And every time they find fish in this stupid little creek that’s two feet wide, you know, we gotta go dig up the road and put a new culvert in.” And so, they were not happy about that.

They liked to prank us. We had a truck that was assigned to us. Sometimes you’d come out in the morning, and one of the favorite things they’d do is they’d let the air out of one of the tires in the front. Another favorite was they’d smear honey or mustard or something on the door handles. So you’d go out and grab the door handle first thing in the morning and you stick to it. It’s all covered with flies and mosquitoes.

My partner and I came out one morning and I was like, “Man, I know we rolled the windows up in that truck. I know we didn’t leave the windows open because it was supposed to rain, and I know we shut them.” So I walked over to the truck. And I don’t know who jumped further, me or the little black bear that was sitting in the front seat. Someone had taken and thrown a ham sandwich and a bag of grapes into the front seat of the truck and opened the windows wide. And in the middle of the night this little black bear crawled up in there, and he was just happy as a clam sitting there and munching down on the grapes.

I actually thought it was pretty funny after you sat down and thought about it for a little bit— you know? Very clever. But I tell you, after that we locked the doors of the truck every night.

This story is part of Midnight Oil, a new podcast from Alaska’s Energy Desk. To hear more go to Alaskapublic.org or subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.