Nekoma Safeguard Complex

Cavalier County

The Nekoma Safeguard Complex is a unique place in the history of the US military’s anti-ballistic missile effort.  A portion of the Wikipedia entry for this place:

The Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard complex in Nekoma, North Dakota, with the separate long-range detection radar located further north near the town of Cavalier, North Dakota, was the only operational anti-ballistic missile system ever deployed by the United States. It defended Minuteman ICBM missile silos near the Grand Forks AFB, North Dakota.

It had reinforced underground launchers for thirty Spartan and sixteen Sprint nuclear tipped missiles (an additional fifty or so Sprint missiles were deployed at four remote launch sites). The complex was deactivated during 1976 after being operational for less than four months, due to concerns over continuing an anti-missile-missile arms race, cost, effectiveness, and changing political rhetoric.

We took these photos not a moment too soon… we were promptly thrown off the property by an angry man in a black truck.  We went through two gates (they were standing wide open) to get these photos, and we missed one ‘No Trespassing’ sign which was partially obscured by a fence post.  Apologies to the property owner.  We meant no harm.

Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex

Stanley Mickelson Safeguard Complex

Although there were several facilities like this planned, including one under construction in Montana, this facility was the only one like it to go live.

Stanley Mickelson Safeguard Complex

This feature is occasionally referred to as “Nixon’s Pyramid”

Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex

In short, nuclear missiles would have been launched from this facility to intercept and detonate incoming Soviet ICBMs.

Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex

We featured the Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex in our first book, Ghosts of North Dakota, Volume 1.

Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex

Order Ghosts of North Dakota Books

Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex

Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex

This anti-ballistic missile defense facility was linked to other remote facilities in the countryside around Grand Forks Air Force Base.  Terry’s dad took some photos of RSL #3 here if you’d like to see an example.

Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex

Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex

Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex

Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex

See also: Building a Nuclear Defense in Nekoma
See also: More Nekoma, North Dakota
See also: Nekoma in Winter

Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC
Writers/Bloggers: Ghosts of North Dakota intellectual property and photo use guidelines can be found here.

67 Responses to “Nekoma Safeguard Complex”
  1. Wow–I was born and raised in Langdon and these pictures bring back many memories! Thanks for posting…..

  2. Julie Barker says:

    The flag is still flying so somone must be around, right? Do they still man the buildings?

    • Tim says:

      They still clean it and take care of it. They do this so they can reactivate the base whenver.

    • Kaptn says:

      That’s some pretty heavy frost looks like a buaitufel place to take a walk. Do you have any shots of it during spring or summer, possibly fall? I bet it’s gorgeous there year-round.

      • M E McCollum says:

        My husband was a W-4 and we were stationed at this site. It was a great place to be and we thoroughly enjoyed living in North Dakota. There were 100 housing units on the base and we had a 4 bedroom house and it was very comfortable. The Winters were cold, but beautiful and the summers were very mild. My sons started to school in a school house that was built in the 1800’s and was heated by Coal.

        It was a wonderful experience for all of and the people there were the best. Very friendly and helpful.
        We even had a garden at one of the farms and the growing season was from June 1 to September 1 and of course, it was daylight until about Midnight.

        I have never lieved anywhere that I enjoyed more than Nekoma, North Dakota.

  3. Troy Larson says:

    We saw the flag, but whomever was using some of the buildings (several of them were obviously unused) seemed to be using them for agricultural purposes. It is our understanding that the property is privately owned now, as versus by the government.

  4. Janinne Paulson says:

    I thought state historical society owned this now. Wow…eerie. Even on a sunny summer day.

    • Patrick says:

      I understood the North Dakota Historical society was dontated the property also its on their web site anyway

      • Tad says:

        I was doing research on this site recently, out of curiosity as I am originally from Grafton, ND. What I have found was this site was put up for auction and an “Unknown bidder” had won it with a bid of $530,000. What it’s used for, I am not actually sure yet. Though I would love to take a trip out there and find out!

  5. Wow! That thing is going to throw the aliens way off when they come to visit, thinking they are in Egypt… LOL

  6. Joel says:

    there was an article in the GF Herald about a year ago saying that part of this site was being redevloped for use in the UND UAV program. Maybe the building with the flag is part of that. Otherwise, that site has been empty for many years.

  7. jerry says:

    you shoud get a hold of Buzzy Holeman, I believe he is the caretaker for it. He has some pretty good stories to go along with the place. He lives in edmore, he has double h construction.

  8. Ross says:

    Buzzy was probably the angry old guy. LOL The site just south of Nekoma was the original Nelson homestead.

  9. Betty Tengesdal says:

    Wow, fascinating place! Whoever the caretaker is, they sure keep it mowed up and trimmed very nicely.

    • Kris says:

      Caretaker was Buzzy Holmen from Edmore, ND! He was caretaker for 23 years! Put heart and soul into this place! Also, took time to give tours for many people! That was NOT part of his job description!

  10. Dudley Do-Right says:

    Buzzy is a good guy. If he was the one giving you a hard time, it’s probably just because there are some spots around the site where a person could fall in/down and get hurt, and so they like to keep the area clear of unguided visitors. Gotta protect the foolish and/or over adventurous from themselves, at least on state property!

    I’ve had the chance to take a guided tour of the site, including some of the missile storage bunkers. It’s pretty fascinating.

  11. Dash says:

    I wonder what folks will make of this a few milleniums from now…..

  12. Bill says:

    I lived on the base while in 9th & 10th grade at Langdon High School. We eventually moved into Langdon as the base neared completion and civilian workers families were no longer allowed to ive on base. I left ND in 1978 and returned only once in 1986, for my 10 year class reunion. Most, if not all of the housing units had already been removed. It’s sad to think about all the millions and likely billions of dollars our government poured into the Safeguard program only to shut it down shortly afterit became operational.

    • Ren Tescher says:

      IIRC, some of the housing units ended up in Williston, stacked together to form a couple(?) of (shoddy) apartment buildings, I installed a wash machine in one of those units back in the early ’80’s.

  13. You should contact Carol Goodman of the Cavalier County Job Development Agency. She is working on the next chapter in the Nekoma site story. She could give you accurate information about the ownership and proposed future of this site.

  14. Donna says:

    I’ve been there. It’s creepy, to bad they can’t find some use for these empty buildings. I am surprised someone was around to chase you off.

  15. Josh says:

    The place is taken care of By Buzzy Holman who is out there almost every day. He mows and keeps the grounds neat. The government still owns it because they dont want to pay billions to tear it down. It costs less to hire someone to take care of it than fill in many holes and tear down the perimid which would cost billiions to tear down. Langdon is looking at buying the facility but most likely will not beable to get the UAV in because it is heavily based in Grand Forks.

  16. Mark Nies says:

    The site is managed by the corp of engineers. I don’t believe the property has changed ownership although Cavalier County economic development is trying to work with the government and UND for uav training. I worked there in the early 70’s and went to a reunion there in 2010. It was organized by Janet Schiller of Nekoma and was very informational and a good time.

  17. rossmeister says:

    Who said that the U.S. Government can give away millions or billions of dollars worth of stuff. Used or unused. It should have become a museum before selling it for a buck.

  18. Kitty says:

    I worked at this site when it was just a hole in the ground with people scrambling everywhere–it was 1970. I watched this being built and then abandoned. I married a farmer from here who worked at the Remote Sites, MSR and PAR. I still live here and it always makes me sad to drive by and see the remnants of this Government project. I guess it provided a lot of jobs for awhile.

    • Blaine says:

      I was a security guard there until it closed very very sad used to be a lot of hussel and bussel around Nekoma, use to stop at the bar after work and have a couple and then head home to calvin before I worked there as a security guard heard many stories about all of the new equipment buried in the mounds because they didn’t have paper work for the stuff. so sad to see it that way

  19. Don Axtman says:

    Don Axtman: Worked at both sites 1st at PAR site near Concrete ND for Napolean Steel and 2nd for Johnson Control at the MSR site near Nekoma ND. We were preparing for transfer to Montana for the second facility when Nixon shut the progam down.

  20. Darrell Graf says:

    i I was a firefighter there from the fall of 74 – and this place became operational 30 Sep 75 adn salt II treaty with Gerald Ford provided for a closure (missile removal) in 76 and as a reasult I left. This was like something out af a james Bond movie, security, blast doors, 9 ft thick walls of steel/concrete – were told it could take a direct hit form an atomic bomb (500 megaton) and survive, most ofthe stuff inside that was technical was on big shock absorbers hanging form ceilieng (as I recall there were 7 floors) and would then swing and remian intact during a strike ont he bldg. this ought to be a museum. the storyy inthe 70’s (prior to the space shuttles) was the US was going to b uild space shuttles, and with the capabilities of this building and the flatland in the area, a 10 mile landing strip would be built to be the spaeport for the shuttles Met and worked with LOTS of good people there!
    Darrell Graf

    • Blaine says:

      Hey Darrell Graf been a long time you were probably firefighter there with Jeff Gage and Korry Covert I bet

      been awhile Darrell

      Blaine Nichols

  21. Rebecca Johnson says:

    I worked there under the YACC Program in 1978-1979. This was a youth program developed under President Carter. Any other YACC program people out there. We cleaned out the buildings, painted dorms, opened the gym and youth center and did a bunch of other stuff. What exactly was the deal with that program anyway. Now that I am older it really make me wonder.

  22. Eric Donaldson says:

    This facility is listed on the GSA website as “for sale.”

    This would be a doomsday prepper’s dream. Fascinating.

    PS: Like this website and knowledgeable commenters. Thanks!

  23. Mary McCollum says:

    We were stationed there from 1972 to 1976 and thoroughly enjoyed our tour of duty there.
    The people were warm and friendly and it was a great place to be.

    My two sons went to school in Nekoma and never missed a day in the winter because of the weather.

    We had so much fun at Senator Young Dam riding snow sleds down the dam. What wonderful memories I have ot Nekoma and Langdon.

    I haven’t been back but would really like to some day.

  24. Eric Lowell says:

    I am researching the power generation facilities used at Nekoma. I believe they used Cooper-Bessemer engines with GE generators. I’d love to hear from anyone who has information about the power system.

    Thanks! Eric

  25. Noel Narveson says:

    I worked at the MSR site in the 70’s left in 1977. I lived in Edmore. Spent some time in the Nekoma bar lol.

  26. cpeterka says:

    I remember driving past it on our way to Missle Alerts at Alpha-0 ICBM control site. Miss the Dairy Queen at Langdon. Lot’s of memories of North Dakota.

  27. Trevor says:

    With what is going on with Putin and Obama over Syria it seems the Feds should have held onto these places. Oh well, I guess if the USAF needs them they can buy them back then spend billions of our tax dollars rebuilding them. LOL

  28. Kris says:

    Yes, Buzzy Holmen has been the caretaker for 23 years! I even was hired by him for a few summers to mow the site! This is an amazing and creepy site! I saw evey part of this place! Im still in awe when i drive by! Its such a shame that it was sold off and not put in hands of someone involved in historical socety or someone that can make use of it and bring in jobs for this area! In Defense of the man in the black truck dri ving g you out of the site, you and many othershave NO idea of the dangers that lurk this area! People can be killed not knowing where they are going! Regardless of signs not in perfect site, you still obviously saw them, but continued to ignore them! While your photos are great and informational for us all, I saw so many people just come by without properly recieving approval!! Buzzy Holmen was very good about giving tours and taking time from his work! For future adventures, please be a little more considerate of yourself and others! No one wants to hear of accidents happining because of neglegence! With that being said, your photos are very good and bring many memories back to all!

    • Troy Larson says:

      Kris, your comments are well-taken, however please don’t go making accusations about whether we saw the sign or not. The truth of it is, we DIDN’T see the sign until the man who threw us out pointed out where to look. So on the way out, we saw it. We NEVER enter ANY PLACE that has signs posted. Thank you.

  29. Kris says:

    Troy Larson,
    Apologies about accusations! In your post you didn’t state that you saw them on the way out! Just simply defending Buzzy Holmen and his job of keeping people safe! Again, your pictures are fabulous and I enjoy your website!

  30. I was there this past summer. ALL THE DOORS WERE OPEN!! ON EVERYTHING! No kidding. Other than the wood ticks, it was by far the strangest place I have ever been. Here is my flickr set from there.


  31. Seth says:

    Great photo set. I have had this place on my radar for years. I believe I WILL be making a trip there in the near future. What an incredible cold war relic left in plain sight.

  32. Amelia says:

    The place has sold. A Hutterite colony has moved there.

  33. Steve Ellis says:

    I was at the anti-ABM rally that took place there in 1970, along with about 1,000 other people – mostly college students like me. It took quite an effort to get there as I recall. I particularly remember that it seemed like every highway patrolman in North Dakota was in attendance. Also, I have a very vivid memory of an unmarked helicopter circling above the crowd with a man leaning out the open door with a camera and telephoto lens taking photos of the crowd. We all looked up at him, shook our fists, and shouted “Get F***ked” !
    They still built the base, of course…..but it’s good to know it didn’t amount to much in the end.

    • Susan McDonald Krull says:

      After I graduated from college in 1973, I worked at the Safeguard site for a year. My dad was the civilian site manager. I worked underground in the pyramid…..a fascinating experience. I handled logic chassis for the computer systems….computers back then were the size of a room!
      Living in Langdon was quite an experience also….flashback to the movie “American Grafitti”….driving down the one main street through town & to the Dairy Queen!
      Seeing these photos is sort of spooky….it’s a shame that the entire project was shut down. Brings back many memories.

  34. James Kulas says:

    I worked for Federal Electrical Corporation (FEC/ITT) as their Logistics Supervisor from November 1973 to July 1974 go to this web site:

    I worked most of the time at the PAR Site near Concrete, ND,(where I had our main supply storage site, ordering office, and property book office) and some times at the site in Nakoma, ND, (where I had a smaller supply site) lived in an FEC trailer park in Milton, ND, and our FEC main office was in Langdon, ND. You’ll find them all on a ND State map.

    We had to plug our vehicle headbolt heaters (I had a white Mazda pickup) into an electrical outlet at night in order to start them in the morning because it was so cold. My suitcases froze to the walls of my bedroom closet in the trailer house that I lived it, it was that cold.

    I was getting ready to by a house in Walhalla, ND, to bring the family to ND, when in July, 1974, I was offered a job with the Army at Fort Lee in Virginia which I accepted. I gave FEC my two weeks notice and went back to Marina California, loaded the family and our house hold goods into a big U haul truck and we (Lim and I with three kids and a cat, with me driving the U haul pulling the Mazda, and Lim driving the Ambassador, drove across country to Fort Lee, VA,. Those were the days. Once we got to Virginia we lived in a one room motel at the Par 3 golf course for a month while we bought a house and waited for it to be ready. Jim Kulas, “”

  35. steve says:

    hi becky i worked there for YACC about the same time good to hear from someone that was there

  36. alysiapatterson says:

    The reason there is still a caretaker, and a flag flying high out there is because it is still owned by the US government. On an informational site I found that U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command (SMDC) still uses part of the complex.
    From what I know, if you are working utilities and you cut phone service to this place, or any of the missile silos (accidentally of course, since the locators that work for the phone company don’t have the security clearance to know where those lines are), there will be a chopper full of scary guys with guns hanging out with you very soon. in fact, they even show you what dirt tastes like, and how it feels to have a combat boot on your back! such nice guys, and the inside of the barrel of their guns were so nice and clean… if you get the picture.

  37. alysiapatterson says:

    It also makes me wonder, everything you read about is “oh the missile silos are all abandoned and sealed up. RIDDLE ME THIS THEN BATMAN… why is it that there is still a changing of the guard at all these places? why do they guard them, and bring in huge semis with missiles in them out there every so often? for fun?! i think not. pull up so close as to have a tire on the approach to one of these places and you have friends show up very quickly, and they make it painfully clear you are not welcome. I guess my biggest question is, if they claim the silos aren’t occupied, then why not do the maintenance in the silo itself to keep everything out of view, and why guard them so suspiciously then???

  38. alysiapatterson says:

    it was when you were there though, just illustrating what can happen if the wrong person catches you snooping. from personal experience, and from what i know from when i did have security clearance. I’ve only ever been thrown on the ground and had a gun to my back once in my whole life.

  39. Robert Rounds Jr. says:

    My Dad Robert Rounds Sr. was the last one there and was the one that shut the gate and locked it. I have the plaque out of the wall that was by the gate he removed it I also was all over the base when he was stationed there.

  40. Doug Johnson says:

    I lived in Grand Forks from 1966 to 1970 and for at least two years of that time, ready mix trucks delivered concrete to the site 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I don’t recall the number of trucks involved or the yardage delivered during that time frame, but it seemed like every other vehicle coming and going was associated with concrete.

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