Sunday, April 18, 2010

Maj. Gillham goes skiing for the first time

In today's letter, Maj. Gillham recounts his first-ever skiing experience, and this is something that he talked about a lot later in his life as well.  In this letter he claims to have been skiing at a rate of about 60 mph, but by the time I heard the story as a child, the speed was up to 90 mph.  I mentioned this to Martha later on, and she said, "Everything with Granddaddy was 90 mph."

Nikko, Japan
30 Jan 1946

Dearest Love,

Today has been a very strenuous but enjoyable day.  I went skiing for the first time in my life.  We left here on a bus at 0900 and drove to the cable car and then up it.  At the top the snow was heavy, making it difficult for an ordinary vehicle to operate.  There were 12 of us and we mounted two weasels which were waiting for us there.  Now a weasel is the most versatile of all the Army's versatile vehicles.  It is a sort of amphibious jeep with caterpillar tracks.  It will go anywhere -- in the water, through mud bogs, on a highway or in deep, impassable snow drifts.  The latter was our problem, but we made them in fine style and went about ten miles above the top of the cable car, beyond Lake Chuzenji and Lake Yamoto to what is reputed to be some of the best skiing grounds in Japan.  The hotel maintains a ski lodge there, and the snow was really all you could ask for.

When I signed up for this I didn't know who was going, but this morning I found myself in the company of a group of 20-year-old lieutenants.  However, there were only a couple of them that really knew how to ski, and I think I did as well or better than most of the novices.  I took several good spills, but also made a number of fast long runs of at least 1/4 mie.  One time when I spilled I believe I must have been going 60 m.p.h., but I didn't get hurt or break any equipment, as some did.

Once when I was about a mile up the mountain above the lodge, I had quite an experience.  Due to the exciting situation I got an urgent call from nature.  I couldn't imagine performing on skis, so I took them off.  I took one step and sunk up to my waist in snow.  It was getting to be a very urgent and desperate situation until I located a high stump nearby and got up on top of it.  Afterwards it was a difficult job to get back to my skis and especially to get them on, but I made it.

At the ski lodge I ran into my Japanese friend that I stayed with before up here.  He is the official photographer and a ski instructor up there.

Tomorrow I am going to take a hot mineral bath, which I will probably need as I expect to be sore.

On the way up here I noticed two women get off the train at a certain stop.  One was a strong young woman and the other a feeble old lady.  They stood together on the platform a moment and then the young woman turned around and backed up to the old one, who immediately jumped on her back and rode away piggy-back.

I expect to sleep well tonight.  It is pleasant to be physically tired again.

Lots of love,



The official title of the weasel is the M29 Weasel, which was designed by the Studebaker car company during World War II specifically for use in deep snow.  The vehicle was first designed to battle the Nazis in occupied Norway, where snow would clearly be a factor.  There was also an M29C Water Weasel which was amphibious, and this may be the model that Maj. Gillham wrote about.

A modern photo of an M29 Weasel

Lake Chuzenji is a relatively young lake, formed 20,000 years ago when lava flow from Mt.Nantai dammed the Yukawa River.  The lake reaches depths of over 500 feet, and its main drainage point is the 300-foot Kegon Falls.

Lake Chuzenji

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