Sadly, it’s time for another memorial post- this one long overdue. About a year ago we lost one of the all-time most-valuable members of ANSMET’s support team in McMurdo, James Meinert (aka “Butch”, “Speckled Trout” or “Black Bart” back home in Wisconsin). Veterans of our project know a couple of things; first, that snowmobiles are as important to us as horses are to cowboys, and second, that nobody put more care and technical savvy into keeping ANSMET snowmobiles working than James.
Forgive me for making this just a little bit personal- but I definitely had a “bromantic” interest in James. First off, both being Wisconsin boys, I couldn’t talk to the guy without getting homesick as hell from his beautiful accent and the whole humble, pseudo-negative-but-really-positive “things could be worse, eh?” vibe. Second, he had (in my humble opinion) an unparalleled connection to the small engine that I was insanely jealous of. I’ve certainly spent a great deal of time breaking and then repairing (or trying to repair) snowmobiles, mowers, and other smaller gas-powered devices; but for me, it has always been a fearful, knuckle-twisting, low-confidence-it’ll-work endeavor. By comparison, James was the Snowmobile Whisperer. Every winter he would tear down ANSMET’s snowmobiles completely, replacing any part that might cause us issues. And he’d tune the machines, so the engines would run smooth at appropriate altitudes and the suspensions would survive us bashing them agains the blue ice. And yet we never saw an ounce or an iota of impatience from him, or any sense of anger, when the season would end and we’d bring the machines back to his shop, bruised and broken. James got it; these were beasts of burden that we all loved, but that we had to abuse to get our jobs done- and frankly, why not do it with a sense of adventure and caring as well? He gave us permission to fail in our fixes, and try new things, as long as we didn’t lose sight of the basics (fuel, spark and don’t break the pull-cord). There were uncountable times in McMurdo and in the field when our field team members (and especially John and Brian and other mountaineers like Shaun) would work on a mysteriously disfunctional snowmobile with James quietly directing us through careful sage-like wisdom, often guiding us through some complex organ replacement surgery over a satellite phone connection. We were utterly grateful that James joined us in the field several times, literally putting his expertise on the front line to everyone’s benefit.
James was an absolute legend not just in Antarctica but across the world, and I heartily recommend you read his obituary from the Ozaukee County News Graphic to learn more. I’m absolutely sure that the next time we’re in the field, elbows-deep in a broken Skandic during a howling wind, James is going be there on the breeze, quietly guiding a bolt into the right hole that we just can’t see. And on that wind we’ll hear a quiet, chuckling voice muttering, “you know a guy could maybe drive a little slower next time”? We will miss you terribly, James.
–Ralph, from deep within the impending snowpocalypse, Novelty OH.