Interview of Robert H. T. Dodson by Brian Shoemaker
Creators:Dodson, Robert H. T.
Subjects (LCSH):Antarctica -- Discovery and exploration -- Interviews
Subjects (Other):Dodson, Robert H. T. -- Interviews
Ronne Antarctic Research Expedition (RARE) (1947-1948)
MetadataShow full item record
Publisher:Byrd Polar Research Center Archival Program
Series/Report no.:Polar Oral History Program
Robert Dodson got his official start in Antarctic exploration with the Finn Ronne expedition (1947-1948). He recalls an early interest in the Antarctic, beginning at age 6 with the Byrd Expedition (I) and at age 8 (1934) with the viewing of the Gjoa, Amundsen’s North West Passage exploration boat. In the summer of 1942, Dodson worked as a messenger in the Navy Department in Washington, D.C. and it was there that he met Finn Ronne, a lieutenant at the time. The two had discussions about Ronne’s trip(s) with Byrd and Dodson expressed an interest in going on Ronne’s planned expedition after the war. Dodson’s father, a career Navy man, aided Ronne in obtaining a ship for the trip and this gave Dodson a secure spot on the expedition. After the war, Dodson finished college, keeping in touch with Ronne throughout. At Dartmouth (the first college he was sent to by the Navy) Dodson met Viljalmur Stefansson and Trevor Lloyd who would both accompany him on the Ronne Expedition. Dodson helped fill in empty spaces on the expedition, including the geologist, Bob Nichols from Tufts College and William R. Latady from Harvard. The ship left in January 1947 and Dodson had to arrange to take his final exams from Harvard (the college from which he graduated) while on board. The exams were sent back to Harvard from the Panama Canal Zone and Dodson was notified of his graduation six weeks later by wireless message. Dodson was given the unofficial title of supply officer, going through Ronne’s lists of supplies and making sure the quantity added up to two years worth of equipment, food, etc. Dodson traveled to Kelly Field in San Antonio to sign all the paperwork necessary for the acquisition of the larger equipment. There he met the two Air Force officers assigned to the expedition- Captain Lassiter and First Lieutenant Adams. They accompanied him back to Beechcraft. Dodson recalls the loss of the expedition airplane in an accident in Beaumont before departure. The plane was being loaded onto the ship without the supervision of acting Chief Pilot Harry Darlington (later replaced by _________) and was tipped onto its back, with everything being destroyed but the cameras on board. A replacement aircraft came aboard in Panama thanks to the intervention of General LeMay, a contact of Finn Ronne in Washington. The expedition included 21 men and 2 women, Jackie Ronne and Jenny Darlington, wives of two of the expedition members. They were the first two women to travel to the Antarctic, and Dodson recalls the overall feeling of the men regarding their participation in the expedition. Upon arrival in Beaumont, Dodson and Art Owen were put in charge of the dog teams. Between Panama and Valparaiso, the dogs began to develop distemper and nearly half of the 50-60 died. Additional dogs were purchased in Chile, but were not successful as sled dogs in the Antarctic. Ronne and Darlington were the primary authorities on driving the sleds. Dodson goes on to recall the travel through the tropics (Punta Arenas, English Narrows) and the ‘crossing the line’ ceremony that took place. He also discusses their arrival at the Antarctic peninsula on March 12, 1947 and the conditions of the buildings upon arrival. The first members to go on shore and fix the buildings for occupancy included Dodson, Darlington, Latady, and Owen. Dodson, in addition to his other duties, also tested equipment for the Quartermaster Corps of the Army, including clothing, tents, and sleeping bags. He also hunted Weddell seals to be used as food and fuel (blubber) for the winter. Dodson discusses the American interaction with the British explorers stationed in the same area of the Antarctic and what he learned from them about the dog teams, trail equipment, etc. Dodson also describes Ike Hassage, the ship engineer, and his preparation of the ship for the winter months. In July, a group went 500 feet up onto the plateau to get themselves accustomed to the harsh Antarctic conditions. The British helped them to prepare their tents. Dodson and Pete Peterson stayed on to take meteorological readings of wind speed and wind chill. Their tent began to rip and so they decided to head back to base camp on a day of low wind (20-30 mph). During the trip, Peterson fell into a 110-foot crevasse and was trapped for 10 hours. Dodson was able to make it back to camp and bring a rescue team to Peterson. Dodson goes into great detail describing the return trip to the crevasse and the rescue process. He also discusses an incident involving Nelson McClary who fell over the barrier (70-80 feet) and landed in the water, pulled out 20 minutes later. Dodson goes on to recall two other close call/rescue incidents involving airplanes. Dodson discusses the two major trail journeys that were taken in his time at the Antarctic, each approximately 3 months long. The trips began on Stonington Island, and Dodson’s journey was primarily for geological purposes. The second trip was a combined effort with the British to travel to a point farther than the USAS people had gone in 1940-41, about 600 miles from base camp. Dodson mentions many members of the expedition at this point, including Bob Nichols, Ken Butler, Dougie Mason, Art Owen, Mort Rubin, Adams, Peterson, McLean, Chuck Hassage, and Frank Elliott. He also discusses smaller excursions taken by the men including one to Neny Fjord with Ray Adie. In February the team began sending radio reports to the North American Newspaper Alliance, which is how they became aware of Operation Windmill. Other circumstances, including the thickening of the ice sheets and Jenny Darlington’s pregnancy, made it imperative for the expedition members to leave, which they did in the third week of February. Icebreakers enroute to California from the Ross Sea were detoured to assist them. Dodson describes the process of leaving in great detail, including the ships involved. In April of 1948, the expedition members arrived in New York and Dodson spent the month of May writing his concluding report. He now travels on educational cruises, lecturing on exploration history, the story of the Ronne Expedition, dog-team exploration, and life on the trail. Major Themes The Ronne Expedition The first women in the Antarctic Travel and camp conditions in the Antarctic, 1947-48 Seal hunting Trail journeys (traverse) in the Antarctic Rescue operations in the Antarctic
Admiral Richard E. Byrd, pp. 1-2, 14-15 Roald Amundsen, pp. 2 Robert Bates, pp. 2, 20 Finn Ronne, pp. 2-13, 16, 18-20, 26-27, 30-33, 36-37, 44, 51, 53, 57 Vilhjalmur Stefansson, pp. 4 Trevor Lloyd, pp. 4 Edith "Jackie" Ronne, pp. 4-5, 10-12, 27, 50 Kirk Bryan, pp. 5 Bob Nichols, pp. 5, 7-8, 13, 27, 47, 51, 53, 57 William R. Latady, pp. 5, 7-8, 18, 32, 38, 53 Norman Vaughan, pp. 7 Captain Lassiter, pp. 8-10 First Lieutenant Adams, pp. 8-10 Harry Darlington, pp. 9-10, 13, 18 General LeMay, pp. 9 Jenny Darlington, pp. 11-12, 34, 51, 55 Kevin Walton, pp. 13-14, 25, 30-31, 55 Sir Ernest Shackleton, pp. 14 Pete Peterson, pp. 14-15, 28, 32-39, 41, 43, 50-51 Art(hur) Owen, pp. 17-18, 23, 43, 48-49, 51 Georges di Giorgio, pp. 18-19, 50 _____McLean, pp. 19, 27, 50-53 Colonel Lewis, pp. 20 Larry Fiske, pp. 24, 41 Gino Watkins, pp. 25 Bernie Stonehouse, pp. 25 Ike (Chuck?) Hassage, pp. 29, 50, 57 Nelson McClary, pp. 31, 41, 43 Chuck Adams, pp. 31-32, 45-46, 50 Dick Butson, pp. 41-42 Ken Butler, pp. 48 Dougie Mason, pp. 48, 51 Walter Smith, pp. 48, 57 Mort Rubin, pp. 50 Frank Elliott, pp. 52 Ray Adie, pp. 53-54 Vivian Fuchs, pp. 54, 57
Funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.
Other Identifiers:Record Group Number: 56.64
Rights:Restrictions: This item is not restricted.
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