If you're visiting this web site, you probably have an interest in military bases. There are some people with just a casual interest, then there are those of us for whom the pursuit of "old bases" is almost an obsession. Where do you fit on the continuum?
Updated 28 Oct 2000 with a Real-Life Example
You Might be a Gung Ho Military Base Researcher If...
Your neighbors stared in amazement at all the file cabinets and bookcases going into your house on moving day.
You own more maps than most college libraries.
You've driven your car down an abandoned runway, and smiled for the rest of the day.
You've taught your teenager to drive on an abandoned runway.
You've parked your car on an Atlas F silo door, just because you could.
When a friend asks to see your GPS receiver, you ask "Which one?"
You've ever referred to Rickenbacker Drive as Lockbourne Drive, or vice versa.
You can sense a government issue barbed wire fence from two counties away.
You've used an aeronautical chart -- from W.W.II -- on a driving trip.
Concrete walls make you feel cozy. So do tarpaper walls.
You visit an old base for the first time ever, and you feel right at home.
You want to cry when someone you respect says "If you've seen one Nike base, you've seen them all."
You've absentmindedly asked a video rental clerk for "Radars of the Lost Snark."
You've corrected total strangers who refer to an Air Base as an Air Force Base.
You never believe a local who tells you "Well, there's nothing left to see of the old base."
You've felt genuine disdain for someone who can't interpret an aerial photo or a layout plan.
You've gotten lost in your own town, but can describe the exact route to a radar station 400 miles away.
You always get your money's worth from the unlimited mileage rate on a rental car.
You carry a supply of dollar bills, quarters, and dimes -- because you never know what the copier machine at the library / archives / museum will accept.
You carry your NARA researcher card at all times, just in case.
When on a road trip, you never sit down to eat in a restaurant during daylight hours.
You've ever said to your significant other on a road trip, "Honest honey, I was sure there was a restaurant on this old airport."
You have no qualms about climbing on the roof of your new car to get a better photo over a fence.
You have a compass in your car -- and actually use it.
Your car resembles a cross between an office, a library, a kitchen, and a hotel room.
Local times of sunrise and sunset are important!
Your spouse suggests a vacation location, and before responding you make a mental note of nearby bases.
You can shoot ten rolls of film on a vacation, with no person you know in any of the pictures.
The "Air Force folks in Montgomery" refer questions to you.
You've ever traced a range fan onto a highway map.
You always take a window seat on airliners, so you can I.D. airfields during the flight.
Your neighbors come and watch when the flatbed arrives to unload your "new" F-102A ejection seat in the parking lot. (Only applicable in certain advanced cases. Thx Mk.)
A Real-Life Example of a Gung Ho
I only decided to visit Montauk the day before due to my
It wasn't easy. I was recovering from what I call the "mini-flu" and felt just "so-so" and didn't want to make the long (3.5 hour) drive to Montauk and back. Especially not in the rain and traffic.
But, to make my transit connections, I had to get up at 5AM, catch a 6AM express bus to New York City. From the bus terminal I then had to walk to Penn Station and buy my ticket for the 7:49 Long Island Railroad train to Montauk.
Here's the "funny" part.
While walking around Penn Station, I noticed that one of my Swiss-made hiking boots (my old favorites) started "clomping" against the ground as though something was stuck to it, or as though the heel was coming off. I said to myself something like, "Good grief, are my boots falling apart now?" Sure enough, when I stopped and looked down, the entire back half of one boot was cracked and just hanging there, flopping back and forth.
There was no way to fix it, even though there was a shoe
repair place right there in the station.
At that point, I was ready to head back home and call the whole thing off. I didn't bring "back up" shoes or boots, and that boot wouldn't last but a short time in that condition. I could just see myself arriving in Montauk -- shoeless!
So ... I walked around Penn Station trying to think of a solution.
A few moments later, I spotted one -- K-mart!
I had no idea that Penn Station had a K-mart. But it was a big one. Better still, it was full of shoes!
I clomped through the store and up to the men's shoe department. I quickly found one likely looking pair of shoes, but they didn't feel comfortable in the 5 seconds I tried them on, so I quickly tried another model. The walking shoes seemed good, so, I jammed them back into the box and raced, clomping along in my wounded Swiss hiking boots, to the checkout line.
I had about three minutes to make my train now!
Luckily, I got through checkout in record time. As I re-entered the station, the PA system was making an announcement for the last call for the 7:49 train to Montauk.
I jogged and clomped to the stairs. But the excitement wasn't over, for as I headed down to the track, the heel of the other boot started to come un-stuck!
Now I was clomping on both sides!
Passages from books I had read about flak-damaged World War Two bombers attempting to return to their bases in England came to mind. I had already lost one "engine". Now, "number two" was showing signs of giving up as well!
Incredibly, the boots were disintegrating even as I headed for the train!
My 15 year old Raichle hiking boots had apparently reached the point where the sole compound had simply begun to disintegrate as though their time on planet earth was suddenly up. Just as Cinderella's coach suddenly reverted to pumpkin status at midnight, so were my boots transforming themselves ... into something ... at the very moment I needed to make that train.
But I did make it to the train without having to go barefoot. In fact, I would have walked barefoot through Penn Station to reach that train if I had needed to do so.
Almost as soon as I was seated, the train started up. I quickly removed the boots while ignoring the odd looks a fellow passenger sent my way as I did this. I must have looked just a little bit "odd", removing the now disreputable looking hiking boots and sitting there in my stocking feet while lacing up the new shoes. I was also a bit disheveled, perspired and out of breath from running through the station with a heavy backpack. Most of my fellow passengers certainly seemed to be in a more relaxed state compared with the agitated condition I was in.
Of course, it was far better that the boots decided to self-destruct in the middle of Penn Station in New York City rather than at Montauk. What would I have done then? It would have been still worse had I been out hiking on a woodland trail in some inaccessible area. A blessing in disguise? It probably was.
The boots finished up in a trash bin at the Babylon station where I had to change trains.
They were good boots. They served me well for many years. They probably deserved a better end. Maybe I should have taken them to Montauk and buried them in the ground near the big radar tower.
Those boots served honorably, however. Their loss as "casualties" in the great Save-The-Montauk-Radar drama will surely not be forgotten.
Don Bender is a Cold War historian based in the New York area. Please take a look at Don's web site dedicated to Camp Hero & Montauk Air Force Station. It is full of fascinating information about the site. As founder of the Montauk Radar Preservation Group, Don is a key player in the effort to have the sole remaining AN/FPS-35 radar preserved. He is joined in this endeavor by Radomes, Inc., operators of the Online Radar Museum.
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