The end always comes. As we’ve documented here, here, and here, our historic places are frequently losing the battle with time and the elements. The places shown here, two churches, a school, an Air Force installation, and a Nordic ski jump, were all photographed in the last decade or so, and now — in the blink of an eye really — they are gone. This is why we shoot ’em… because too many of them share this fate. Here are five more lost North Dakota places. …
Stady was founded in 1907 and was a stopping point on old highway 85. The peak population of 60 had dropped to 11 by 1940, after the highway moved. Stady is now a true ghost town — totally abandoned.
MJ Masilko contributed these photos with the following comments:
I’m sending you some pictures I took in May of 2006 of a ghost town called Stady. It’s in Divide County, 16 miles SSW of Fortuna. There didn’t seem to be any people living there, and we only saw 3 structures: a store, a house, and something else (maybe another store).
The photos on this page are another collection of the photos we took when we visited Ambrose, North Dakota in the summer of 2010. Ambrose, in Divide County, is a town of 26 according to the 2010 Census, and we intend revisit again sometime soon. There is a lot to photograph in Ambrose. See the rest of our Ambrose galleries here.
The former hospital in Ambrose was vacant and slowly being overtaken by trees when we took these photos in 2010.
Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright Sonic Tremor Media LLC
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Motor Pool. Just as we approached this building, a deer came bounding out and quickly disappeared into the distance.
The guard house at the southwest gate stands alone and abandoned.
The barracks are on the right, the mess hall and gymnasium are on the left. We went left first.
With rusty nails sticking up from the demolition debris on the floor, this warning is more relevant today than it was in the past.
One of two clubs we found… this one was inside the fence, the other was outside the security gate.
This club was just outside the fence, a short distance from the guard house.
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.
Fortuna Air Force Station was 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.
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. Upon arrival, we started with the former family housing units on the south side of the base and worked 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.
Nature had reclaimed much of the neighborhood where families once lived.
Above: 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. The building lower-left is a former single family home for base personnel.
Inside a former family housing unit.
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.
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.
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.
Above: Looking down on the former family housing units on the base’s south edge. If you look closely, you can see our white car parked in front of the house on the far left.
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 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.
Below: Its big rubber dome was long gone and most anything of value that could be stripped from these things had vanished by the time we visited in 2013. The stairs were still intact though, so we were able to go inside and get some photos.
After the rest of the base is completely demolished, this concrete tower will be the only remaining structure from Fortuna Air Force Station.
Inside the Tower:
Above: Troy walks down a heavily overgrown path to the former site of the dome.
Let’s head up:
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…
Above: About three stories up, looking out. Not much between you and a quick trip down.
I 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 for someone who pushes through here a little too recklessly.