A National Weather Service Publication In Support of The Celebration of American Weather Services
...Past, Present and Future
Personal View of Isaac M. Cline
Editor's Note - Isaac M. Cline is most famous for his actions as Meteorologist in Charge of Galveston, Texas, during the Great Hurricane of 1900. However, Mr. Cline provided considerable information regarding his experiences in the Signal Service beginning in 1882. Excerpts from Isaac's book, Storms, Floods and Sunshine are presented below.
Washington, D.C. was to me the most important place in the world. I arrived early on the morning of July 6, 1882, and got off the train at the depot where President James A. Garfield had been assassinated the previous year. The first thing I saw was the spot and marker where he had fallen and from which he was carried away to die a few days later.
Hotel accomodations were secured near the Office of the Chief Signal Office. I rested during the 6th, and as this was the first time I had ever been in a large city, I was afraid to wander out of sight of the hotel. Promptly on the morning of July 7th, I reported to the Chief Signal Officer for the physical examination. Three other young men reported at the same time, and we were accepted for instruction in the duties of weather observer. The four of us were taken in a two-horse spring wagon up through Georgetown, across the Potomac over the Georgetown bridge, and up through the ridges to Fort Myer.
Fort Myer was named for Brigadier General Albert J. Myer. He was graduated in medicine in 1851, was appointed Assistant Surgeon in the U.S. Army in 1854, and assigned to duty in Texas. His spare time was devoted to devising a system of military signalling by use of flags by day and torches at night. He was appointed to the command of the Signal Corps, U.S. Army, 1858 - 1860, and was named Chief Signal Officer in 1860. He organized the United States weather service as part of the Signal Corps. The first systematic simultaneous weather observations were collected under his direction by telegraph from 24 stations at 7:45 a.m. November 1, 1870.
First Sergeant Mahaney, a veteran of the War Between the States and a fine man, took charge of us on our arrival at Fort Myer. We were fitted out with uniforms and assigned to our rooms in the barracks. Each room had four single beds and thus accomodated four men. There were 30 men in our class but 5 or 6 of the preceding class were retained to help us get started.
Military training in infantry and cavalry tactics formed part of our instruction. The Signal Corps was a cavalry organization and we had lessons in horsemanship. When we went on cavalry drill, we had to groom, bridle, saddle, and care for our mounts and return them clean and nice to their stalls. Some of the men from large cities had never ridden horseback; these men would become badly frightened when we raced around the drill grounds. Some of them would lean forward and put their arms around the necks of the horses, incurring the wrath of Sergeant Mahaney.
Military discipline was such as would impress us with our duties. Our equipment consisted of carbines and cavalry sabres, which we were required to keep in immaculate condition. Inspection was held regularly, and if our buttons were not polished and our shoes shined, including the heels, or if a speck of rust or dirt was found on our equipment, our week-end leave was cancelled.
Instruction was given in military signaling with flags, torches and the heliograph, and also in the mechanism and operation of the magnetic telegraph and the telephone. We overhauled telegraph apparatus to learn what caused the "click," and strung wires over which that click would be heard thousands of miles distant.
Subjects bearing on meteorology, the taking and recording of meteorological observations and the uses to which they could be applied called for study every minute of our time. Good progress in studies meant early assignment as assistant observer on some station, and this was our immediate objective. The instruction was crammed into us so rapidly that many could not keep up and make the required grades. Such distinguished physicists and mathematics as William Ferrel, T. C. Mendenhal, and Cleveland Abbe were among our instructors.
Stations for observing the weather were being opened in different parts of the country. Assistants who had made good records on stations were selected to take charge of the new stations. To meet the demand for assistants at stations, a rigid examination was held. The 16 passing with the highest grades were to be assigned to stations and the others were to remain for further instruction. I passed 16th and was notified that I would be assigned to the Little Rock, Arkansas, weather station where I would have an opportunity to study the influence of weather conditions on the development and movements of the Rocky Mountain locust.
I was 21 years old when I was assigned to Little Rock. Orders were received, and the government furnished railroad transportation, as well as an allowance for en-route meals. I had no sleeping accomodations so an army blanket was swung between two seats to make a hammock. The salary and allowances for the assignment amounted to $60 a month. Medical services were to be paid by the government when no Army Surgeon was available. In addition, there was an allowance for clothing, which amounted to about $120 a year.
The weather observation station at Little Rock was in charge of Sergeant William U. Simmons. The office occupied quarters in the Logan H. Roots Bank Building. A room in the same building, near the office, was available for my use. This proved to be advantageous, as no time was lost going to and from the office. Observations were taken frequently in those days; the first at 5 AM and the latest at 11 PM. My detail opened and closed the work for the day. The official in charge took the observations during the day. Special weather reports were collected during the crop growing season for agricultural interests. Railroad Station Agents telegraphed reports of temperature and rainfall at 5 PM daily. A telegraph instrument in the weather office was connected with the railroad wires and I took the reports as they came in and prepared bulletins for the commercial interests.
The Medical Department of the University of Arkansas was located at Little Rock just three blocks from the office of the weather service. It offered a three-year course and was rated as one of the best medical schools in the country at that time. In my opinion, the field of medical meteorology was a field in which there had been little research; consequently, I enrolled in the medical course and received the diploma making me an M.D. in 1885.
Subsequently, orders were received directing me to proceed to Fort Concho, Texas (near San Angelo), to take charge of the station and complete the transfer of remnants of the military telegraph lines. The assignment increased my pay to $75 a month. Transportation was by railroad from Little Rock to Abilene, and thence by Rocky Mountain Stage Coach the 100 miles from Abilene to Fort Concho. I looked over the latest Rand McNally Railroad Map and there was no Abilene, Texas, to be found. Consultation with the railroad ticket agent revealed that Abilene was a new town which had grown up like a mushroom over night. It was the center of a large and rich cattle industry.
Trains did not run on regular schedules in those days, especially over newly built roadways. Heavy rains had fallen over western Texas, and many of the bridges over the small streams had washed out. We were frequently delayed until repair trains could come and rebuild the bridges, or replace a washed-out stretch of track. Abilene came in sight late in the afternoon, and the first thing I noticed was a large congregation of cowboys with their high boots, large spurs, big hats, and with pistols in holsters hanging from their belts. The stagecoach was not due to leave until the following morning, and the thought of remaining in Abilene all night with such a fierce looking crowd of cowboys was anything but pleasant. I could not get a room in the hotel, but the railroad agent, to whom I carried a letter of introduction, got me a room for the night over a nearby saloon. When I reached the saloon, a porter was washing blood off the sidewalk as a result of four cowboys being killed in a gun fight. My head did not rest easy that night; the tramp of cowboys and the shooting of pistols made it a night of suspense.
Morning finally came, bright with cheerful sunshine which portended a pleasant journey over the plains. The stagecoach, four in hand, pulled up at the depot. Four passengers were waiting, all bound for a through trip.
We were scheduled to reach Fort Concho (San Angelo) late that afternoon, but a stream which under ordinary conditions could be forded by the stagecoach, was swollen by a flood when we reached it, and we could not cross. The driver informed us that we would have to spend the night there, and wait for the stagecoach which would come in from San Angelo the next morning. Then we, with our luggage, would be ferried across the stream in a skiff kept for such emergencies. We had eaten supper at the stage station about 10 miles back, the nearest habitation, but there were no accomodations for passengers at the river side.
One of the four passengers was a woman, and we let her sleep in the coach. The rest of us slept on the ground. About midnight I was frightened by a rattlesnake to the point that I ran and jumped on top of the stagecoach and scared the woman into hysterics. She thought the Indians, who appeared in that neighborhood sometimes, had attacked us. I remained on the coach until morning.
Soon after daybreak, the stagecoach from San Angelo appeared on the opposite side of the stream. We were ferried across in the skiff and were soon on our way to Fort Concho.
Fort Concho, Texas, was on the fringe of a region marked on the maps of that time as the "Great American Desert." The headquarters for that section of the United States Military Telegraph, was located at Fort Concho. Telegraph lines had connected the military posts of that region and formed part of the strategy for combatting the Indians. In addition to my duties as weather observer, I had to complete the transfer of the telegraph equipment to the telephone company or to United States military posts on the Mexican border. A cottage located near the Fort Concho reservation was occupied as the weather observation station and sleeping quarters. I took my meals at the hotel in the new town of San Angelo. Weather observations which were telegraphed three times daily to Washington, D.C., were filed with the telegraph office in San Angelo.
I subsequently was transferred from Fort Concho to Abilene, and in 1889, to Galveston, Texas. On July 1, 1891, weather services of the Signal Service were transferred to the Department of Agriculture and the name of the new agency became the Weather Bureau.
San Angelo, Texas, in the foreground and Fort Concho in the bakcground (1886). Population of San Angelo in 1886 was approximately 50 to 100 people. By 1925, the population of San Angelo had increased to near 14,000.
Quarters for enlisted men at Fort Concho, Texas (1871)