Meander to Madison

Copyright © 2003-2010, Scott D. Murdock
20 Jun 2010 - Added additional photos.

Madison, Wisconsin, was my destination on this trip.  I went there for a training seminar on historic preservation (Introduction to Section 106, conducted by the National Preservation Institute).  Naturally, I managed to visit a few interesting places on the drive up and back from Texas.  I'll spare you the boredom of the days that were just highway driving with no site visits (this was a 3,436 mile trip, after all....), and I'll just describe the days filled with roadside adventure.

Sunday, 9 Nov 2003

First stop of the trip was in Washington Park, Illinois (just a few miles east of St. Louis).  The former Air Force Plant #35, 2524, is located at 38-38-35, 90-05-11.  From about 1949 to 1965, Emerson Electric Manufacturing Co. manufactured gun turrets and electronic fire control systems at this plant, on behalf of the Air Force.  The plant was inactivated and sold on 29 Nov 1966.  Currently, most of the plant is abandoned and in disrepair.  The east end of the property is used for outside storage.   On a wall of the plant,  “PLANT No. 2 EMERSON ELECTRIC MFG CO” is still visible in faded letters.  This plant had Navy use during W.W.II.  It was acquired by condemnation and declaration of taking in early 1942, and used until 1945 by the Walworth Company for foundry and forging of heavy armaments for the Navy.

My next visits were farther north in Illinois.  In the town of Wenona, I found the former Nike site CM-55R, one of ten radar sites in the Chicago-Milwaukee Radar Defense Ring.  This radar ring was part of the Nike program, and was unique among the many Nike defense areas.  CM-55R was built on a small hill (actually a mine tailings dump), at 41-03-22, 89-02-55.  The dirt road to the top of the wooded hill is still useable, and the concrete support for the radar remains in place (it’s square, about 11’ on each side).  Some other broken-up concrete is nearby.  This radar site was active in the Nike system for some period of time between 1955 and 1974.

From Wenona, I took local roads east to the former Domestic Main Site of the USAF DEW Line Training Center, near Streator, at 41-04-11, 88-53-52.  This unusual installation -- looking out of place in the cornfields -- was a government facility from about 1952 to about 1984; radar training took place here from about 1956 to about 1975.   When operational, it sported a large white radome and two tropospheric scatter (or “troposcatter”) antennas among its improvements.  The radome is gone, but the tower remains in place.  One of the troposcatter antennas remains, inside the fenced compound.  A second troposcatter antenna, outside the fence, has been removed leaving the concrete supports.  Large high frequency radio antennas were once strung from poles in the field to the east of the facility.  The property was leased by the U.S. Government, and operated by different contractors over its career.  Most of the Air Force buildings remain in place, as do a couple of the Air Force’s no trespassing signs.

Next, I headed back to the interstate highway and drove north to find another component in the DEW line training setup, the troposcatter link near Seward known as the Domestic Auxiliary Site.  I located the site at 42-14-43, 89-21-13, and I was pleased to see a matching troposcatter antenna, still pointing back toward Streator.

Monday, 10 Nov 2003

I don’t mind going a few miles out of my way for a GWEN site, and I certainly added some mileage to the trip by visiting the former North Central Wisconsin Communications Site GWEN 936, NPAU, near Medford, Wisconsin.  This site was among the final wave of GWEN relay node sites, built in approximately 1991.  It has the standard 299’ tower and typical equipment shelters, and was disposed of by the Air Force on 9 Nov 2000.

From Medford I headed south to Sun Prairie, Wisconsin.  First stop was the Truax Family Housing Annex, at 43-11-35, 89-13-47.  This 110-unit housing area was built in 1961, transferred to the Army (who called it Family Housing Sun Prairie) in the 1970s, and closed in 1988.  Currently, it is well maintained, and called Vandenburg Heights.

A few miles east of Sun Prairie, I sought out a piece of farmland that was once intended to be the Truax BOMARC Missile Site, centered approximately at 43-11-27, 89-09-13.  The U.S. Government purchased the site in 1959, and drilled a single water well before reporting the property excess in 1960.  Today, it is still farmland.

From Sun Prairie I drove into Madison, and followed the signs to the Dane County Regional Airport.  During W.W.II, this was Truax Field, and home to a technical school (Radio School #3) from 1942 to 1945.  It was transferred to the Corps of Engineers in 1946, but by 1952, it was back in use by the Air Defense Command, who flew here until the 1960s.  The airfield had an unusual configuration of eight alert hangars (or “alert barns”) on the south end of the main runway; a central group of four prefabricated alert hangars has two additional alert hangars, of a different design, on each side.  The Air National Guard flies currently flies from Truax Field, and has done so since 1946.  Since the 1980s, the Air Force has variously referred to the airport as Dane County Regional Airport or Truax Field.  The full name in FAA records is Dane County Regional Airport - Truax Field (MSN). 

Truax Field is home to three key air defense command and control buildings.  The manual Air Defense Control Center (ADCC) (SM-168) sits at 43-07-28, 89-20-03, and is a modified Type 4 Operations Building.  Just north of the ADCC, sit the adjoining SAGE Combat Direction Center (DC-7), 43-07-32, 89-20-03; and SAGE Combat Control Center (CC-2), 43-07-34, 89-20-03.  (The south end of the control center abuts the north end of the direction center.)  All three of these buildings have been heavily modified.  The control center is the hardest to visualize; in this photo, DC-7 is to the left of the light pole and CC-2 is to the immediate right of the light pole (the area in the far right of the photo is recent construction).  SM-168 started operation in spring 1956, and was a temporary measure until the SAGE facilities were up and running.  Both the SAGE facilities commenced operations in the late 1950s; CC-2 shut down in 1963, and DC-7 operated until 1967. 

A 1952 layout plan of Truax Field shows an area of Civilian Housing at the southeast corner of the field; this is more than likely Civilian War Worker Housing built under the Lanham Act in the early 1940s.  Ten identical buildings currently on this site match the building footprint on the 1952 plan.  I don't know if these are the original housing buildings (heavily modified), or if the old buildings were removed and new ones built in the same spot.

Friday, 14 Nov 2003

Southeast of Madison, near Williams Bay, I visited the former Williams Bay Air Force Station, at 42-37-02, 88-32-17. Many Air Force buildings still stand, including several dormitories, operations building, and others. When viewing the operations area from one angle, a water tower in the background looks a bit like a radome! Known as site P-31 in the air defense system, this long range radar site operated from about 1951 to 1960. In 1960, the main radar site shut down. A gap filler radar building and radar tower were constructed in the southwest corner of the site, becoming Williams Bay Gap Filler Annex. The foundation supports for the gap filler radar tower are visible from the public road, and the gap filler building has been modified into a residence. It is not clear how long this gap filler was operational, if it was operational at all.

East of Williams Bay, near Kansasville, Wisconsin, I visited the former Richard Bong Air Force Base, 3347. This short-lived Air Force base is now called Richard Bong State Recreation Area, located at 42-37-45, 88-09-15. The property, originally known to the Air Force as the Kansasville Area, was redesignated Richard Bong Air Force Base on 1 Dec 1955. Corps of Engineers documents indicate the land was acquired in fee during 1957 and 1958. On 5 Jun 1957, jurisdiction, control and accountability of the installation were assigned, on an inactive status, to Strategic Air Command. The base was declared excess by the Air Force on 23 Aug 1960. By that time, the runway and taxiways had been graded and the subsurface prepared -- they were within weeks of being paved. A few other buildings had been constructed. I was pleased to see that the state maintained the name of the property, and that they describe the base and its namesake in their visitor pamphlet. In fact, the signs refer to the runway area as -- the runway! I was able to drive the length of the park road that now sits on the planned parallel taxiway. On a different day I might have walked on the planned runway, but I had arrived during a special pheasant hunt. Not having pre-registered as a participaing hunter, I had to stay on the paved road and out of the runway area.

Saturday, 15 Nov 2003

The present Rolla National Airport (VIH) is just NNW of Vichy, Missouri, at 38-07-30, 91-46-30.  During W.W.II, this was Vichy Army Airfield.  Early in the war, it was identified as supporting Fort Leonard Wood.  By 1943, it listed as a sub-base of Godman AAFld or Sedalia AAFld.  It was transferred to the Corps of Engineers in 1946.  A nice 184-foot Demountable Type DH-1 hangar (my favorite type) is a prominent feature on the flight line, and I enjoyed seeing a vintage C-47 parked on the ramp.  Several other vintage buildings still stand on the airport grounds.

In about 1959, a small piece of the former Vichy AAFld was reacquired for use as Vichy Gap Filler Annex.  This unmanned radar site, at 38-08-08, 91-46-24, was also known as site P-70C, and was controlled by Belleville AFS, Illinois until about 1962.  This was the first gap filler I've seen with the tower and radome still standing, so I explored from all angles including a look straight up at the radome.