Cold War ruins

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Not too many farmers own an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile launch control facility, but the Neidlinger family of Hampden, North Dakota, does. When the Grand Forks Air Force Base Minuteman missile field was decommissioned about a decade ago, they bought back the site of the E-0 launch control center. A few days ago, Julie Neidlinger's dad took her for a look inside the building:

It was an eerie experience, walking through the disasterous mess that still didn't hide the evidence of a system dismantled in the name of peace. Today was windy, like all North Dakota days, the wind blowing in hard and cold from the west, whistling through the ventilation system in the kitchen. The darkened interior, only lit by my dad's flashlight and the periodic flash of my camera, mixed with the windy wail.

"It's kind of ghostly in here," dad said. I agreed. I'd been thinking that myself, feeling as if I was walking through some cold war graveyard being overrun by the animals who were already busy reclaiming an area of the country where the people were few and the space was great. I felt as if I was on the set of a horror or disaster movie. It wasn't The Day After. It was The Decade After.

In a re-run entry from summer '05, Julie tells of a tour of the Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex near Nekoma, N. D., an anti-ballistic missile complex briefly operational in 1976:

Though not as large as its still very much functioning counterpart at the Cavalier Air Station, whose pyramid is monstrous with a radar so sensitive in cataloguing space debris that it once overloaded Cheyenne Mountain, Nekoma's pyramid rises from the plains like a prairie iceberg. Most of it's cyclopic structure is buried below ground, leaving only the tip to poke through and be seen. According to our tour guide, one of the few men still taking care of the abandoned site, the interior of the structure has been stripped bare, but is so huge and cavernous that many of the hallways and passages deep inside have their own atmosphere. He told of how, on certain days, some hallways have fog rolling about inside. There is also much water, particularly since the water table in the region has been high since about 1993.

Just to the north of the radar pyramid are bunkers and a flat area of weedy concrete with two types of white hatches. Housed here were the Sprint and Spartan missiles. These missiles functioned as interceptors, one long-range (Spartan) and the other in case the Spartan failed.

Both entries have photos of the facilities and links to information about the North Dakota missile facilities. Beyond the technical details, Julie provides a sense of how North Dakotans felt about having nuclear missiles in their backyards, and how they feel now that those days are gone:

The people in the towns of both Nekoma, and especially Langdon, still talk about the glory days of the missile site. You can hear it during meetings, when someone will carelessly refer to a past event with the tag "that was back when the missiles came."

I still hear of how nice the county road became when a Minuteman went in along it. Good roads are gold here, and to some, if it brought about good roads, there wasn't much to complain about.

For some reason, as I try to motivate you to read these blog entries, I keep thinking about Stuckey's. We spotted a couple of former Stuckey's and Nickerson Farms buildings on our way back to Tulsa on Sunday. These roadside businesses went hand-in-hand with the spread of the interstate highway system. (On trips down the Turner Turnpike, Dad preferred the Stuckey's near Wellston and Bristow, because they served real Coke, not Ho-Jo Cola.) They were modern in the '60s, and who would have imagined a long car trip without spotting a dozen or more along the way? Today, most of the old Stuckey's locations are closed (although Stuckey's is still in business as a franchised convenience store chain), Nickerson Farms is long gone, and the buildings have been "repurposed" as antique malls, pr0n shops, and, mostly, ruins.

In the same way, in the '60s and '70s, it was hard to imagine a world without two nuclear superpowers aiming massive numbers of nuclear missiles at each other, a world in which a good defense was considered an offense against peace, a world in which billions of dollars were devoted to maintaining a sufficient deterrent against a ruthless totalitarian regime that threatened our liberty and our existence. Today, some of that infrastructure for deterrence may be repurposed as a place where trees and vegetables may be grown, unmolested by deer. Today, America can't muster the political will to protect our borders and project power against another ruthless totalitarian movement which threatens our liberty and our existence.

If you lived through the Cold War, or especially if you didn't, read these two articles.

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2 Comments

W. Author Profile Page said:

So how do you propose we project power against China, then?

Sidney said:

I remember Stuckey's on I-35 near the Kansas border.

In Kansas, there was an underground missle site that someone converted into a home. They eventually sold the home/abandoned missle silo and I haven't heard what happened to it after that.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on November 27, 2006 10:49 PM.

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