MSD Concord had somehow managed to acquire a 33 ft. Winnebago Chieftain Motorhome courtesy of the U.S. Marshall seizure asset program. Someone had the bright idea of making it a mobile command post for emergencies, so the inside was gutted and refitted with desks, radios and so forth. Its one claim to fame was the 10 cm marine radar that had been installed with the radar dome and operators’ station. Yep, it was probably the only motorhome in North America with a complete and functioning marine radar setup. In reality it was more or less a giant paperweight that sat in the parking lot.
One evening BM3 Dave and I who were the duty officers, received an after hours call to respond to a sunken pleasure boat. It was a about 10:00pm in November when we rolled out of the parking lot of the MSD in the Winnebago. Normally we would have taken the oversized pick-up truck, but that was in the shop for repairs so we were left with the Winnebago. Down Port Chicago Road, hang a right onto Highway 4 and off to Crockett, CA. BM3 Dave at the wheel and me in the passenger seat.
November to April is Tule fog season in part of California. Now dear gentle reader you may be asking yourself what Tule fog is and why it is an important part of this [true] story. Tule fog forms where there is a high level relative humidity, calm winds, and rapid cooling during the evening hours. Visibility in Tule fog is usually about 600 ft. (200 m) and can drop to 10 ft. (3 m) to near zero visibility. Tule fog has been partly responsible for chain-reaction pile-up car accidents. The other reason is foolish drivers speeding too fast for road conditions. Hey, natural selection is always at work.
Just west of Martinez, CA we spotted lighted signs warning drivers of tule fog ahead. Now normally we would and should have slowed down. BM3 Dave looks at me and says, “Hey, tune up the radar!” So, I jumped out of the passenger seat and walked to the rear of the Winnebago and turned on the radar set and let it warm up. After a few minutes I stuck my head into the operator's cone and got a good picture. I could clearly see the elevated part of Highway 4, the hills on either side and of course any other cars on the road.
A few moments after I got a clear picture on the radar scope we passed the railroad trestle at Alhambra Blvd where we hit the Tule fog. Visibility was near zero. Did we slow down? Hell no! We were on a mission and we had marine radar! I started to call out to BM3 Dave when to make a gentle turn to the right or left to keep us on the road. I also called out any other cars on the road so we could avoid them. We sped down Highway 4 at a clip of 80 mph, all was well. We were going to make this spill response mission in time enough for a decent bed time.
Then the Winnebago started to slow down. Why was BM3 Dave slowing down? My head was in the operators’ cone the entire time calling out directions to BM3 Dave. Our path was clear. I pulled my head out of the operators’ cone and looked around. I could see the reflection of emergency lights off of the interior of the Winnebago. Soon we were at a complete stop on the shoulder of Highway 4, I looked out the window. We had been pulled over by the California Highway Patrol (CHP).
The CHP officer got out of his squad car and slowly walked up to the Winnebago, stopping to examine our federal government license plate. Presently, he walked up to the driver’s window and tapped on the glass. BM3 Dave rolled down the window. The exchange went something like this. “Evening boys, what is the hurry? “Well, sir we are responding to a sunken pleasure boat for the pollution response”. Was BM3 Dave’s reply. BM3 Dave was always his coolest when he was under pressure. “Must be some oil spill you two going so fast in this Tule fog”, responded the officer. “Don’t worry officer” Replied BM3 Dave casually, “We have radar”, he said, jerking his thumb towards me in the back of the Winnebago.
I waved and smiled at the CHP officer as he looked over BM3 Dave’s shoulder toward me. “Radar?” the CHP officer asked. “Yeah, radar” responded BM3 Dave. “We have a 10cm marine radar”, BM3 Dave followed up. “This I gotta see”, was the officer's response. The disbelief was palpable in his voice. He walked back to the side of the Winnebago where the side door was located. I ushered him into the Winnebago and to the radar operator’s station. I pulled away the operator's cone so the officer could see the radar scope.
He looked at the scope where he could clearly see Highway 4, the surrounding hills and a number of other features, all in good detail. He looked at me and BM3 Dave, slowly shook his head and said, “Just you guys be careful. Not everyone has a marine radar in their car”.
Subscribe to our newsletter
Promotions, new products and sales. Directly to your inbox.