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Yankee Classic: US/Canadian Border Crossings 25 Years Ago

Kruhm’s walkie-talkie crackled. A border patrolman watching the opposite side of the ravine said, “They’re coming your way. One of them has a wooden leg.”

“Where are they?” Kruhm replied. “I can’t see them.”

“He’s taking them across the field to the West Access Road.”

“That’s your side,” said Kruhm. “Are you sure?”

“They’re gone.”

Kruhm loped through the snow to his car and fired the engine. Searchlights flared across the snow-covered field.

By then Sam Bishop was herding his five aliens up the West Access Road to the Chalet Motel where he shoved them into a stolen Thunderbird idling in the parking lot. As soon as the doors closed, Bishop’s driver gunned the car up the access ramp to Interstate 87 and headed south. Within seconds, Kruhm was in pursuit. He tailed the Thunderbird until it suddenly pulled’ over to the side of the highway. Bishop jumped from the car and dashed into a field where Kruhm followed his tracks through snow that lay in drifts up to his chest. He had no idea if Bishop was armed, and he told himself to be very, very careful.

A mile and a half from the highway, a copse of pine trees bordered a field. Kruhm lost Bishop’s tracks in the bare ground underneath the trees’ snow-laden branches. Carefully he searched the area. Crushed pine needles, bark rubbed from a tree trunk, a fresh scar in the earth from an overturned rock – something would give him a clue. He found it in the crushed moss and lichen on top of an old stone fence. Like an Indian tracker, Kruhm knew from the marks in which direction Bishop had gone. Every sense alert, he followed lhe barely visible trail.

Suddenly he was right beside Sam Bishop, crouched in the darkness. Kruhm dropped on him and handcuffed him immediately. Bishop’s wrists were so large the cuffs barely fit. Only then, when they stood up, did Kruhm realize he had cuffed Bishop’s arms around a cedar log. Rather than remove the bracelets, however, he pulled the log through Bishop’s arms and led him back to the highway.

As a three-time offender, Bishop was sentenced to ten years and a $12,000 fine on July 23, 1982. He is serving his time in a federal penitentiary. Doug Kruhm is still a border patrolman in Swanton, Vermont, where he has been serving since 1971. It seems a long way from Olney, Maryland, where he was born and from EI Centro, California, where he first served as a border patrolman.

When Doug Kruhm first came to Swanton, he had to learn the territory quickly. “I had to get used to three different cultures,” he remembers, “French-Canadian, English-Canadian, and the New England way of life. I was a little apprehensive, but the people here were extremely nice. They knew I was coming before I arrived, and they helped me to find housing. Then I was given a week’s orientation by another patrolman. He showed me the territory and introduced me to informants. As a matter of fact, I apprehended a Czechoslovakian woodcutter my very first day and a Greek who was wearing a suit and snowshoes my second day.”

Activity in the area was not always so heavy. “There were some nights when I first came,” says Kruhm, “that at two or three in the morning I was the only agent on patrol from Buffalo, New York, to Houlton, Maine.

“The day I joined the service I had been working in construction like my father. I happened to be in Washington, D.C., and I saw a Border Patrol poster of two men sitting in a Jeep, looking across a field with binoculars.” Kruhm pauses. “My job has turned out to be a lot different from what I had imagined it would be.”

Remote control television, an array of sensing devices developed during the Vietnam war, and computers have changed the nature of the Border Patrol’s methods in the Swanton sector. The heart of this new technology is the station’s communications room. It is dominated by a four-foot- high, U-shaped console of electronic equipment and by Raymond Chevalier, the sector’s Supervisory Communications Operator. A large man, he sits on a chair with wheels, pushing himself from one set of machines to another, quickly responding to the sensors’ alarms, agents’ calls, or the computers’ chatter of information.

Chevalier is proud of his setup. Facing the curve of the U-shaped console, a wall of white panels stretches across the room. The panels are milk-white, like illuminated tabletops for viewing slides in a camera store, and are marked with blue lines drawn by a grease pencil, each line representing a road or trail across the border. Every once in a while a tiny white light blinks on behind one of the blue lines. “That’s what we’ve got bugged,” says Chevalier, pointing to the panels. “Our sensors cover about 175 miles from New Hampshire into New York. We also are in constant touch with our eight substations, all our vehicles, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the police in every state we cover, and the FBI. We can even talk with local sheriffs and game wardens.”

The magnetic sensors, about the size and shape of a large Thermos bottle, are buried in the ground near roads and along trails through woods. So sensitive they can detect a belt buckle or a shoe nail 30 feet away, they emit microwave signals when triggered. A thin antenna, which looks like a reed and is the only part of the device above the ground, sends the signal to Swanton’s communications room where it causes a light to flash on the panels. “See where the road forks?” asks Chevalier, pointing to a blue line that branch… “We have sensors along both roads so we can tell which way the subject is moving. If they go away from the port of entry, where they should register after crossing the border, then we know they are trying to sneak into the United States.”

Updated Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

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