Minot Air Force Station
When we ran our Kickstarter campaign to fund the printing of our first book, we offered supporters the opportunity to name a location they would like us to photograph in exchange for their support. One of our supporters asked us to visit and photograph the former Minot Air Force Station, about 14 miles south of Minot.
Minot Air Force Station was the first major Air Force installation in North Dakota, predating the other Minot and Grand Forks bases. It was originally a radar base intended to detect and identify unidentified aircraft in American airspace — a relic of the age before ballistic missiles, when the Soviet threat was from long-range bombers. Several dozen workers were stationed at the base at any given time from 1952 to 1979 — enlisted, officers and families. There were also civilian contractors who worked on the base every day. The base was closed in 1979, but after five years of inactivity, a portion of the base was reactivated in 1984 and used as the Minot Communication Site. It was deactivated for good in 1997 and subsequently sold to a private owner.
I was excited by the opportunity to photograph Minot AFS since I grew up in Minot, in a military family, and I had spent considerable time on the base in the mid-70′s when it was still active. My primary memories of the base were of spending a night at a babysitter’s house watching “Planet of the Apes” on TV, and on a separate occasion, I had a bad bike accident because my kid brain didn’t comprehend that going downhill on a bike with no chain meant I also had no brakes (no handbrakes on most bikes in those days). Formative memories for me, so I was interested to revisit a place I had not been since about 1975-76.
Terry and I arrived at the end of a long day of ghost towning and we were somewhat taken aback by what we found. After the station closed for good in 1997, there was talk of redevelopment of the site. When you hear “housing development” you imagine something other than what actually happened at Minot AFS. I struggle to describe the conditions of Minot Air Force Station without sounding insulting to those who live there, but in the interest of accuracy, I’ll just be straightforward about what we saw.
No “redevelopment” of any substance has occurred at Minot AFS. After years of abandonment, the former family housing units on the base appear to have have been simply rented or sold to low-income families with very little in upgrades or improvements. Most of the homes on the south side are badly in need of a coat of paint. With nobody to maintain the streets, potholes have opened up in many places. Every home appears to be occupied.
Meanwhile, at the crest of the hill on the north side of the base, there are several inhabited housing units sprinkled among a dozen abandoned military buildings. Demolition debris and broken glass litter the streets. There are travel trailers parked in close proximity to one another in one section of the base — possibly housing for workers traveling to the oil patch. We saw multiple groups of children playing in what most would consider a distressing environment.
As we photographed some of the obviously abandoned structures, like the former barracks for the single men who were once stationed on the base, we were surprised to see people occasionally come out of these buildings — places you wouldn’t expect people to be. One woman exited a very rundown structure and came walking down the hill, stumbling a little bit, apparently intoxicated. Her silhouette is barely visible near the left edge of the third photo from the bottom below. Click it, then click it again on the ensuing page to view it full-size.
This building was an interdenominational church which formerly served the base staff. It’s now used for storage.
Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC
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