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.
The former family housing units on the base are now rental properties (example shown above), and every home appeared to be occupied.
At the crest of the hill on the north side of the base, we saw several inhabited housing units sprinkled among a dozen abandoned military buildings — family residences we assumed, since we saw multiple groups of children playing. Demolition debris and broken glass littered the streets in places. There were travel trailers parked in close proximity to one another in one section of the base — possibly housing for workers traveling to the oil patch.
With the demolition of all but one building at the former Fortuna Air Force Station, and the conversion of the former Finley Air Force Station to a landfill, the Minot Air Force Station is the most complete remaining radar base in the state, a relic of the time when North Dakota’s northern location put us on the front line of the US military’s radar warning network.
It’s an eye-opening experience to visit a place like this. Where once gates were locked and uniformed guards checked your military ID and looked for a government-issued sticker on your bumper as they decided whether to allow you access to the base, now the gates stand open and the guards are long gone. It’s a vivid reminder of how quickly technology progressed in the nuclear arms race, and by the 1980s, made this place obsolete.
This building was an interdenominational church which formerly served the base staff. It’s now used for storage.
Quite a few softball games happened here over the years.
Terry gets a photo from the top of the site.
This little guy pulled his leash free and came over to say hello.
Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright © 2017 Sonic Tremor Media
Troy Larson is an author, photographer, gentleman adventurer (debatable) from Fargo, North Dakota, and co-founder of Ghosts of North Dakota. @NorthDakotaTroy