Keeping machinery and vehicles in order, including getting Wilkins equipment ready for the summer season — life as a ‘dieso’ at Casey.

A year as an Antarctic ‘dieso’ at Casey

It was the end of August last year that this far–fetched job finally took shape. It all started with originally meeting some of the guys I would spend the next few months with. Usually on your first day of a new job you feel nervous because you’re the new guy, this job however is a little different. You look around and are introduced to these people like Bloo, Sam and soon to come Nick, that you’ve just met and know you're about to spend the next few months or year living and working with these guys. Luckily if I had had the choice, I would have picked all the guys, I have been lucky enough to share this experience with. Within a few days we were jet setting off the Perisher ski fields with the Davis ‘diesos’ Chris and Paul to learn a little about the Prinoth snow groomers.

After a few days soaking up all the info the guys at Perisher could give us, we returned back to Kingston to commence a week’s training learning about the Hägglunds. The Häggs as we call them, at first appearance are almost comic with their bright colouring, odd design and boxy appearance, but after a week learning the ins and outs of these funny machines as well as taking them out for a drive and finding out they're also amphibious (although they control like a soggy loaf of bread in the water) you gain a high appreciation of the vehicle and how well suited to Antarctic conditions they really are. We then had a week with our friendly neighbourhood sparkies getting our heads around being responsible for the station’s power supply. At first it seemed daunting as I hadn’t much experience in power generation, but Richard (our mechanical supervisor) and Andrew (electrical supervisor) put together a course that allowed us to hit the ground running when we got to station.

Once we were on the continent and after a number of delays, Sam, myself, Bloo and Brenden with help from outgoing winterer Will, had a mighty task ahead of us to de-winterise all the machinery, prepare for re-supply, get our heads around where we were and keep up with the heavy flight season that Wilkins aerodrome now supports. Included in this was the very exciting, (well exciting for the diesos) Cat Challenger, which got to fly back to Hobart for some major repairs before returning back on the C-17 a number of weeks later. Some of the machines felt the pressure of this busy aviation season with Priscilla our Isuzu trooper carrier losing a track on the way back to station.

Just after re-supply we got straight into our main power house shutdown. With Will swapping out with Flinders and Pete (Hoot) joining the team as the wintering Wilkins mechanic, we got into the shutdown where we carried any repairs needed to keep it going for the next year including midlife repairs, changing engines out and alternator repairs. Whilst all this was going on we had another two diesos, Ajax and Glenn come from Kingston to do some needed updates and repairs to some of our older Hägglunds, which now lifted our dieso numbers to seven, so she was a busy little workshop.

At the end of summer, it was time for Bloo and Nick to swap out as SMS (senior mechanical supervisor) as well as saying goodbye to Brenden, Flinders, Ajax and Glenn.

During winter we were kept very busy going over all the returning Wilkins machinery that is serviced and all repairs done so that they are as maintenance free as possible when the flight season starts up again. This procession of Wilkins gear coming and going was briefly disturbed by the first of our midwinter fuel transfers in which we transfer fuel from a number of fuel tanks by our wharf (lower fuel farm) up to the tanks closer to the station (upper fuel farm) which we use to fuel our power house tank and the machinery. We also were involved in a number of traverses to Cape Poinsett and Law Dome to carry out maintenance on the AWS (automatic weather stations).

We’re now getting towards the end of winter programs as our Wilkins counterparts leave today to start getting Wilkins ready. Nick, Sam and myself prepare for another fuel transfer to see the station through until its refuel by the Aurora Australis at resupply and just getting the station and all the gear we look after ready for the next batch of mechanics to take over.

Commencing preparation of Wilkins aerodrome

As we now approach the end of our winter here at Casey station, our four Wilkins counterparts Matty, Hoot, Marto and Steve having spent the last few months preparing for their return, have left us with all they need to get Wilkins aerodrome up and running for the up and coming busy flight season.

They went up Monday with the main generators and some machinery to move their mess and accommodation blocks into position from their winter lay down positions to be alongside the generators to start defrosting them.

They left today with Mick (electrician) and Cam (plumber) to support them getting their buildings back up running. They will now spend the next few weeks moving all the machinery and buildings back into position from the winter boom, removing any excess snow and preparing the runway for the 2016/17 flight season to commence late October.