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. …
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. …
For almost half a century, from the end of World War II until the fall of the Soviet Union, our world existed on the precipice of nuclear annihilation. The threat of an instant and irreversible descent into nuclear war hung constant over our heads, the pendulum of power sometimes swinging our way and sometimes back toward the Soviets. It was this race for superiority that led to the creation of this place, the most advanced nuclear antiballistic missile facility ever built.
Check out our new video about the Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex near Nekoma, North Dakota. This video was uploaded in 4K resolution, so if you have the capability to stream it to your largest TV, you should definitely give it a try.
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.
We took a lot more photos of Fortuna Air Force Station. Click here to see Part 2.
Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, © 2013 Sonic Tremor Media
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.
Originally there were to be three Safeguard facilities, with the other two near Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri and Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana. The 1972 Salt I Treaty changed things, however. The United States and the Soviet Union, under the terms of the treaty, were each allowed two anti-ballistic missile defense bases–one to protect the national capital, and one to defend an ICBM installation. As a result, Whiteman was canceled prior to construction, and Malmstrom was canceled with construction underway. Only the Nekoma ABM facility was completed, making it the most advanced nuclear antiballistic missile facility ever built.
The Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex reached partial operational capability on the 1st of April, 1975. It received its full complement of warheads and became fully operational on the 1st of October, 1975. The next day, the House appropriations committee, frightened by the cost of the program and questioning its effectiveness in the face of Soviet MIRV technology, voted to pull funding for the base. The Senate concurred 48 days later, and the base was officially shut down on February 10th, 1976.
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.
We walked around for a few minutes but nobody appeared to be around, so we shot some photos.
The closure of this base had a severe economic impact on the region. Active duty Air Force personnel were reassigned, but civilian workers were left out of work.
Unemployment in Cavalier County rose to 7.5 percent, and Pembina County, 8.6 percent. People who had flocked to surrounding communities for jobs left just as quickly. The population of Langdon dropped by 45%, Walhalla by 23%, Nekoma by 49%, Cavalier by 43%, and Mountain by 55%. Enrollment at Langdon-area schools fell by half. Businesses that depended on the boom failed in the bust.
This feature is occasionally referred to as “Nixon’s Pyramid”
In short, nuclear missiles would have been launched from this facility to intercept and detonate incoming Soviet ICBMs.
We featured the Stanley Mickelsen Safeguard Complex in our hardcover coffee table book, Ghosts of North Dakota, Volume 1.
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.
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.
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.
Photos by Troy Larson and Terry Hinnenkamp, copyright © 2016 Sonic Tremor Media