Rolling Circle Press

Mill Valley, California

Crazy Money

The 1970’s. Alaska. Seward’s seven-million dollar folly has become the site of a project costing more than eight billion dollars—the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. Snaking 798 miles across the state, it transports up to two million barrels of crude oil a day from Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Ocean to Valdez in the south. The magnitude of its construction was heroic—comparable to that of the Suez and Panama canals—and it employed more than 100,000 workers in various trades from all over the world.

Potter Wickware arrived in Anchorage in June of 1976. After college at Berkeley in the turbulent sixties, he chose a career in a trade instead of going to graduate school, and became a welder. His union card became his passport to the Pipeline—and to crazy money. The atmosphere in Alaska was feverish, a twentieth century Klondike where the rush was over black gold. It was frontier life once again, perhaps for the last time, and money and high spirits abounded. On the day of the summer solstice, with the sun out all night long, Wickware began his journal.

Crazy Money is about life on the Pipeline. It is about people: welders, electricians, teamsters, bullcooks, steamfitters; workers and bosses and their families; Indians and Eskimos, cowboys and vikings. It’s about the romance of welding, for this is a vocation as thrilling to Wickware as is law or medicine or mathematics to his classmates. It is about the magnificent state of Alaska, where Wickware believes there is room for both pipeline and forest preserves.

Wickware captures the spontaneous and uninhibited flavor of Pipeline life as only someone who experienced it can. He is raucous about the camaraderie of the workers and the high living that comes from a frontier atmosphere; witty about the extracurricular activities of the welders—whether it is making belt buckles and maps out of burnished steel to sell to fellow workers or making time with whatever available female; serious about welding; and thoughtful about big business, the march of technology, and ecology.

After nine months on the Pipeline, Wickware makes his last entry in the journal on the plane flight home: “I have made $50,000 on the Pipeline, of which taxes and my land purchase have left me with $20,000. Other returning Pipeliners are whooping it up, yelling about the Gas Line. The next big one. Another billion-dollar roller-coaster ride, another solid gold picnic. Pretty rich fare. It’s really ironical the way a socialist motivation has led me into becoming a good ole boy, not to mention a capitalist, in spite of myself. There’s no explaining these transformations. Fate holds the reins. My buckle, comfortably nestled into my ne shirt, winks at me.” Crazy money!

wickware-pipe

Potter Wickware was born in Massachusetts and grew up in Tokyo, Bangkok and California. He attended school in Switzerland and then studied at Tufts College and the University of California in Berkeley. For the past four years he has worked as a steamfitter, a trade that brought him to Alaska, the locale of Crazy Money. He is now welding pipe at a nuclear powerhouse in the Susquehanna Valley and is at work on another book.