Steve Sampson is a former airman once stationed at the Fortuna Air Force Station, and he took the photos you see here. He posted a comment regarding one of the photos elsewhere on the site, and it’s such a great story, we wanted to highlight it here.
We contacted Steve to get permission to post these photos, and of his time at Fortuna, he said:
I was a rotating shift worker back then, so the time went pretty fast, because everything was broke all the time. Mostly it was too windy or too cold to do anything worthwhile, ha. As you probably know, most radar sites had additional duties. I happened to always get fireman, so along with a bunch of other people we had to make sure all the fire equipment worked, and had regular fire drills to train the new people. I remember we had a fire drill just because it was nice outside. Nice, meaning it wasn’t snowing, so we had to pull frozen hoses at a balmy 10 degrees, ha. Funny thing, when I flew in AWACS, the radar technician was also the fireman, so I was basically a fireman/radar technician for 20 years, argh…
See also Fortuna Air Force Station, part one and part two, plus video of our visit to the former base. You can see the rest of our military galleries by clicking “Military Installations” in the right side navigation, too.
On the photo shown here, Mr. Sampson says:
There’s a story behind that picture. I arrived at Fortuna in the dead of winter 1976. I enlisted in the Air Force as a prior-service radar veteran, so they gave me orders to report to Fortuna, and a handshake. Uh, excuse me – do I get any money to travel with? – no! So, I sold my car for $200 and flew to Bismark on a jet, then to Williston on a prop job where we had to fly 100 feet off the ground, as it was overcast and snowing. I had $2 to my name, and called Fortuna who sent a staff car for me.
An Airman arrived and looked around, and asked if there was anyone else, and I said “no, I’m it.” He laughed, as I had hair down to my shoulders and a scraggly beard (fit for a Norwegian descendant).
The First Sgt saw me the next day, and told me he didn’t want to see me until I was in uniform, so I brought an old field jacket that had no stripes on it and, pissed-off, he sent me to Crosby for a haircut and shave. I told him I only had $2, and he gave me another $5 after I signed for it. As we were walking to the staff car, he opened the screen door to the orderly room and yelled at the airman “make sure they cut those god damned sideburns off!”
When I came back that afternoon with my levis and field jacket, he told me I was to go to Minot the next day with the Commissary Sgt and buy four sets of uniforms and some blues. He handed me a punched card with all the payment info, and we stopped to get my cold weather gear before driving back. The next day he said I was to report to the 26 tower.
The snow melted in the spring, and I found out there was a photo lab at the hobby shop. So I bought some film, took a bunch of shots and developed and printed them in the photo lab. Anyway, that’s why it’s not in color, as you had to go to Williston for color film processing. 120 miles or so round trip.
My Dad wanted a picture of the place, so this is the picture I sent him. He said “You idiot, they sent you to a God damned prison!” Prison or not, I enjoyed my stay. Thank God for Crosby high school basketball, as that was pretty much my only entertainment. I was just bidding my time until I got back to the real air force. Which luckily I did in 1978 when I got my wings and flew as a radar tech on AWACS.
Now you know the rest of the story…
This is “downtown” Fortuna, North Dakota, as it looked in 1977, just a handful of miles down the road from the base. Today, the area is booming with oil activity.
Read a lot more about life as an airman here.
Photos by Steve Sampson
Original content copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC
Troy Larson is an author, photographer, gentleman adventurer (debatable) from Fargo, North Dakota, and co-founder of Ghosts of North Dakota. @NorthDakotaTroy