During his 20-plus years working on TAPS, Larry Motschenbacher experienced firsthand how critical communication was to safety and success along the 800-mile pipeline.
Now as an Alyeska retiree living in Boise, Idaho, Larry Mots – as he's known to friends – still appreciates the importance of communication between Alyeska workers, present and past, near and far. Communication is at the heart of his website, www.alyeskapipelinepeople.com, where more than 350 members share their stories and memories, photos and videos, obituaries and contact information.
"I just feel glad that I can provide this vehicle for people to connect and touch base," Larry said. "I can tell by the number of people who check the site often that it holds importance in their lives and that what's going on with other people's lives is important to them, too."
Larry, 71, is the site's mastermind, webmaster and lone funder. He spends more than 10 hours a week maintaining it and conversing with its visitors. It launched in December 2013 with just a few close Alyeska friends and fellow retirees like Ben Holeman and Bill Howitt joining him as members. "I thought even if it was just us it would be fun," Larry said.
Today, the site's members include current and former Alyeska staff and retirees who live in more than half of America's states and around the world in countries like Germany, Mexico, Peru, Thailand and the United Kingdom. It's also a place where friends and family members of TAPS workers and Alyeska staff gravitate to share memories and updates, happy or sad, of their loved ones.
"I'm a connector, perhaps," he said. "I've never advertised but people find us. I get letters from people around the world who want to get in touch with someone or commemorate someone who has passed away. It makes me feel much more responsible for doing a great job and getting the information right."
This work is important for Larry, who proudly said he personally worked with some of the site's members during his time on TAPS. In the early days of the North Slope oil boom, he completed geophysical surveys in the growing Deadhorse area.
After traveling Outside, he returned to Alaska in the early 1980s and worked for more than 20 years on TAPS, most of it in Alyeska's Engineering Department. He specialized in controls and provided support that ranged from shutdowns to IT projects.
"I felt fortunate to work with such a fine group of people – engineers, technicians and exceptional people in so many departments," he said. "At that time, a lot of people wanted to work for the pipeline. To get into that work was an honor for me."
Today, he's proud to keep those people connected. He's something of a pro at that. He said the Alyeska Pipeline People site was oddly inspired by his California high school classmates who were struggling to get their 50th reunion off the ground.
"They wanted to have a reunion but the organizer couldn't find anybody," he said. "I woke up one morning and thought I'd make a website for the class. We had one of the largest reunions ever!"
Fueled by the success of www.alyeskapipelinepeople.com, Larry is now creating a home for a different type of TAPS memories: www.alyeskaartifacts.com. The new site features TAPS trinkets and swag, from T-shirts to mugs, belt buckles, buttons, hats and more.
"In the old days, a hat, shirt or decal would show up after just about any project," he said. "I wanted to capture all of that before it disappeared. This little online museum is going to be a place to bring it all together, date them and tell their story.
"When an archeologist looks at artifacts, they get to see what was important at that time, what was celebrated, what the culture was like," he added. "A lot of the stuff on the site doesn’t have much intrinsic value, but these items were important to our people at the time. It was a great company to work for and it went through a lot of growing pains and cultural growing during my time. … And there have already been several things submitted to the site that I haven't ever seen before!"