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Category: Military Installations

Building a Nuclear Defense in Nekoma

Building a Nuclear Defense in Nekoma

Long before the Star Wars Missile Defense Shield was a thing, the US Government deployed a nuclear anti-ballistic missile system in Nekoma, North Dakota. It was the only operational facility of its kind. You can read more about it in our previous post, here.

These photos are from spring and summer of 1971, taken by an unknown government photographer.

Nekoma Safeguard Complex

The silver culvert center-right in the photo above is the escape tunnel, which was later buried.

Nekoma Safeguard Complex

Nekoma Safeguard Complex

A beautiful shot, very reminiscent of something out of Egypt, if the ancients had known about cranes, rebar and concrete.

Nekoma Safeguard Complex

Nekoma Safeguard Complex

Nekoma Safeguard Complex

As mentioned in our main gallery, the Mickelsen Safeguard Complex had reinforced underground launchers for thirty Spartan and sixteen Sprint nuclear tipped missiles. In the photo above, the Sprint is on the left and the Spartan is on the right.

Original content © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media

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Fortuna Air Force Station: 1977

Fortuna Air Force Station: 1977

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.

Fortuna Air Force Station

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…

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna, North Dakota

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.

Fortuna Air Force Station

Read a lot more about life as an airman here.

Photos by Steve Sampson
Original content copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC

Finley Air Force Station

Finley Air Force Station

Finley Air Force Station is an abandoned radar base outside Finley, North Dakota.  Closed in 1979, the site now functions as a landfill.  Similar to the Minot and Fortuna Air Force Stations, Finley AFS was a ground control intercept facility tasked with detecting and dispatching intercept aircraft in the event unidentified aircraft threatened to penetrate American air space.

Finley Air Force Station

Just like what we’ve seen in other abandoned military bases in the state, the salvage rights to the base were sold, and the salvage crews blew holes in the walls to get the boilers and scrap metal out of the buildings.

Finley Air Force Station

Finley Air Force Station

Finley Air Force Station

Finley Air Force Station

A motocross track now exists where the airmen’s housing used to be. The sidewalks are a remnant.

Finley Air Force Station

Finley Air Force Station

Finley Air Force Station

Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC

Exploring Fortuna Air Force Station

Exploring Fortuna Air Force Station

This is just a bit of our exploration and shoot at the abandoned Fortuna Air Force Station which is scheduled for demolition in late-summer/fall of 2013.  According to the caretaker, after asbestos remediation, all the structures above ground will be demolished and scrapped, with the exception of the concrete radar tower which will be left in place.

Click Here to check out our photo galleries of Fortuna AFS.

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Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC

A Last Look at the Abandoned Fortuna Air Force Station: part II

A Last Look at the Abandoned Fortuna Air Force Station: part II

This is our second gallery for the abandoned Fortuna Air Force Station.  It was demolished in the summer of 2015.  Click here to start at part one.

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Stairway to nowhere.

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Terry ventured into the bowels of a structure at the top of the hill and came across this vivid reminder that the men and women who worked here were putting their lives on the line every day and facing a grim future if relations with the Soviets went the wrong way.

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

When we finished photographing the radar facilities at the top of the hill, we proceeded down to the living facilities at the west end of the base.

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

The Motor Pool. Just as we approached this building, a deer came bounding out and quickly disappeared into the distance.

Fortuna Air Force Station

The guard house at the southwest gate stands alone and abandoned.

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

The barracks are on the right, the mess hall and gymnasium are on the left. We went left first.

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

With rusty nails sticking up from the demolition debris on the floor, this warning is more relevant today than it was in the past.

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

One of two clubs we found… this one was inside the fence, the other was outside the security gate.

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

This club was just outside the fence, a short distance from the guard house.

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Troy beginning the hike back to the car. Note to self: bring a bottle of water when you’re gonna spend two hours in the sun.

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Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, © 2013 Sonic Tremor Media

A Last Look at the Abandoned Fortuna Air Force Station: part I

A Last Look at the Abandoned Fortuna Air Force Station: part I

Fortuna Air Force Station is an abandoned Air Force radar station located in Divide County, about 6 1/2 miles from Canada and 8 miles from Montana.  Like the Minot Air Force Station, Fortuna AFS was a GCI (Ground Control Intercept) base designed to detect unidentified aircraft and coordinate interception.  Originally opened in 1952, the mission evolved over several decades to suit changing technology until it was partially deactivated in 1979.  It was closed for good in 1984.

The radar dishes and domes were removed long ago, and the site has since been heavily vandalized and scavenged.  The salvage rights were sold some years back and the team that did the salvage knocked holes in the walls of most of the buildings to remove boilers and scrap metal.

 

Fortuna Air Force Station

Here’s a shot of the base circa 1977, sent to us by a former airman stationed at the base.

We got word that this base was to be demolished in 2013, so we set out to photograph it before it was too late.  We got permission to explore it and directions for how to access the base.  Upon arrival, we were not able to access the base in the manner the owner suggested, so we played it by ear, starting with the former family housing units on the south side of the base and working our way through a gate and up the hill on foot to the former site of the radar tower.  The site is expansive and we got hundreds of photos, so we’ve decided to break it up into several galleries.

UPDATE: Almost all of this site was demolished in 2015. Josh Axt sent us this email with the details.

I took a trip up to Fortuna Air Force Station Yesterday on the 12th Oct 2015 since I was in the area. I am sad to say that demolition is about 90% complete. The residential area is gone as are the steel radar towers and the the underground had been sealed. Piles of scrap steel and some cement pads are all that is left of the station. The generator house is only a skeleton of a steel frame with bits of pieces of wire and sheet metal hanging and swinging in the wind giving off an eerie sound before it is meets it’s final demise in the next week or so. The radio shed still stands but I doubt it has much time left either.

The one thing to survive the teardown will be main 5 story cement radar facility. It has been refitted with power and is currently being used as a server hub and tower for rural wireless internet and cell phone coverage. It is funny to see the technology of today take up three small steel server lockers in a small corner of one on the levels in comparison to the original intent and tech of the day, the structure which was designed to house one gigantic computer that took up three entire floors just to operate one radar dish.

Fortuna Air Force Station

Nature has reclaimed much of the neighborhood where families once lived.

Fortuna Air Force Station

The tower top-center had the radar dish shown in the photo at the top of this page, and the structure on the right was topped by the spherical rubber dome.

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Formerly family housing at Fortuna AFS

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Even though this base is gone, you can still get your hands on many of these photos. We devoted 19 pages of our hardcover coffee table book, Ghosts of North Dakota Vol. 3, to Fortuna AFS.

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

We hoofed it up the hill in wet grass, looking for a gate that would allow us access to the former radar facilities at the top of the hill. We discovered this.

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

After we hiked up to the road, we could see this at the bottom of the hill — barracks, mess hall, motor pool, and more… but we’ll get to that later.

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Troy walks down a heavily overgrown path to the former site of the dome.

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

The stairs and platforms are all of sturdy metal construction, but you still can’t help but get a little uneasy after so many years exposed to the elements…

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

A couple stories up with not much between you and a quick trip down.

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Troy walked up to this door and pushed it open to discover the walkway outside the door has been removed. Another quick trip to the ground awaits.

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

Fortuna Air Force Station

We  took a lot more photos of Fortuna Air Force Station. Click here to see Part 2. 

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Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, © 2013 Sonic Tremor Media

Nekoma Safeguard Complex

Nekoma Safeguard Complex

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.

Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex

When we arrived, we were surprised to find the gate standing wide open. The flag was flying over one building, a white pickup was parked in a parking lot, and there was a light in one of the garages, so we decided to go in and see if we could find someone to talk to and get permission to shoot a few photos.

Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex

Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex

We walked around for a few minutes but nobody appeared to be around, so we shot some photos.

Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex

Although there were several facilities like this planned, including one under construction in Montana, this facility was the only one to ever reach operational status.

Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex

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

Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex

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

Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex

Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex

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

Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex

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

This facility was purchased by a local Hutterite farming operation, and they now farm the land all around the base. We’ve been told the local historical society has been trying to work out the details to turn this into a tourist attraction.

Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex

We took these photos not a moment too soon… after we had spent about forty-five minutes taking photos, an angry man in a black truck arrived and claimed we were trespassing. He threw us off the property, and as we left, we discovered we had we missed one ‘No Trespassing’ sign — it was posted on the gate, but because the gate was open, the sign was partially obscured by a fence post.  Apologies to the property owner.  We meant no harm.

Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex

Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex

Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex

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Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media