Bases, Buses, and Boats

Copyright © 2004-2010, Scott D. Murdock
6 Jul 2004 - Corrected dates for Snark missiles at Presque Isle AFB -- Thanks M.B.!
25 Jul 2004 - Expanded information for Bradley Field, thanks to Tom Hildreth.
19 Jun 2010 - Added additional photos.

The impetus for this journey was a chance to attend the annual Council on America's Military Past (CAMP) conference in Portland, Maine.  Of course, I wanted to do my own exploration of W.W.II and Cold War military sites.  Plus, it was a chance to see some new scenery with my wife, Nancy.  So this ended up being eight action-packed days of fun and adventure.  One fun aspect of the annual CAMP get-together is bus trips to historic military sites in the area.  This year, in addition to bus rides, the festivities included boat rides to coast defense forts in Portland Harbor and Casco Bay.

Saturday, 1 May 2004

Maine is a long way from Texas.  So we flew from Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) to Bradley International Airport (BDL).  (More about Bradley later.)  Luckily our suitcase arrived on the same flight we did, and we rented a car (Michigan plates -- ack!) for the week.  Today was intended as a scenic drive -- starting in Connecticut, through Massachusetts, briefly into Vermont, across New Hampshire, and then to Maine.  Augusta was our destination for the night, and the hotel was comfortable.

Sunday, 2 May 2004

We started our drive at about 0715.  Taking I-95 north to Fairfield, we then headed north to Bingham and found Moscow Radar Site, QVXP.  It was the transmitter component of the east coast over-the-horizon backscatter (OTH-B) radar system.   This is a huge site, centered at about 45-10, 69-51, and covering 1,274 acres.   The Air Force accepted the facility in 1990, inactivated it in 1997, and conducted an environmental baseline study in 2003, intending to dispose of the site.  The site has three sectors.   Each sector holds an antenna array 3,630' long, with 67 towers up to 135' tall supporting the antenna system.  Unfortunately, we could only see sector 3 from the public road.

From Moscow, we backtracked to I-95 and went north again, before heading south to Winterport and points south.  We managed to find the 299' tower and equipment shelters of Penobscot Communications Site GWEN 895, TAWQ, looking much like it did when it was operational.  It was disposed of by the Air Force in 1999, having served as a Ground Wave Emergency Network relay tower since either the late 1980s or early 1990s.

After this, we worked our way up to Bangor, and found Bangor International Airport (BGR), 44-48, 68-49.  The Bangor Municipal Airport was leased by the U.S. government in 1940, and served as Dow Field -- a 1AF bomber base -- during W.W.II.  At the end of the war, it reverted to the city and resumed operations as the municipal airport.   Air National Guard units were stationed here as early as 1947, and on 13 Jan 1948 the airport became Dow Air Force Base.  It closed in 1968, but Air National Guard use continues to the present time.  A community college occupies much of the former air base.  We could see maintenance hangars, the rear side of former ADC fighter alert hangars (heavily modified), and caught a distant glimpse of the 70-man SAC alert facility.

From the airport, we drove south on a small road that led over the interstate highway to the former Bangor Ammunition Storage Annex (also called Dow Ammunition Storage Annex), 2305, FKNR, at 44-46-35, 68-49-20.  The annex dates to W.W.II, and has several distinct sections, reflecting the changing munitions needs of Dow AFB over the years.  When SAC moved out of Dow in 1968, this annex transferred to the Air National Guard; it was finally disposed of in 1981 and is currently an industrial park in beneficial use.

A couple miles northeast of the base, we found and explored the former Dow BOMARC missile facility (I haven't yet found the official designation of this property) at 44-51-11, 68-47-11.  I was pleased to find open access to the complex that was Air Force property from 1959 to 1965.  We browsed inside two of the 28 renovated missile shelters that now house retail shops.  The heat and power building, a water tank, communications antenna, and other facilities still stand.

A few miles north-northwest of the missile site, I looked for the remote ground-air transmitter (GAT) site (like the BOMARC site, I have yet to find an official designation of this property).  Thanks to information from Dave Larsen, of the New England District, Army Corps of Engineers, I was able to find this facility with no problem.  The site is at 44-54-47, 68-49-32.  The building stands and is in beneficial use.  Two towers, with sturdy supports, formerly held radio antennas.  Each of the BOMARC sites had this type of companion GAT site.  Acquired in 1958, the property was transferred to the Town of Glenburn in 1967.

After all this excitement, we jumped on I-95 and drove to the Canadian border.  Literally.   The former Houlton Army Air Field abuts the international border -- the only Army Air Forces or USAF facility I know of, that borders on Canada.  (A couple of Texas forts, used by the Air Force, border on Mexico.)  Constructed in 1941, this was a transport base during the war.  It was declared surplus in 1945, and had a P.O.W. camp on the grounds at that time.  The high point of visiting this airfield, now Houlton International Airport (HUL) was seeing the W.W.II-era control tower.  Several other buildings and hangars also remain, some a bit dilapidated but some in nice condition.

We settled in a motel in Houlton for the night, dined at a local mom-and-pop restaurant, and got some sleep.  We drove 416 miles on this day, in 11.25 hours.

Monday, 3 May 2004

This was going to be the busy day of this trip, so we made an early start at 0515.  I-95 only goes as far north as Houlton, so we took US 1 north.  Our first destination was Northern Maine Regional Airport (PQI) at Presque Isle, 46-41-30, 68-02-45.  This airfield was known as Presque Isle Army Air Field during W.W.II, and was a transport base.   Construction began in 1941, and the base inactivated after the war.  It was redesignated Presque Isle Air Force Base, on 13 Jan 1948, activated some time soon after that, and closed in 1961.  It held permanent installation number 1481.  We observed the rear of the four-bay fighter alert hangar, including the central command booth and crew quarters.  I was pleased to see these fighter alert "barns," but I was delighted to see what lay just to the east.   Presque Isle AFB was home to the only operational Snark missile site.  The Snark mission was brief -- the first missile went on alert 18 Mar 1960, and the missile wing was inactivated on 25 Jun 1961.  Key parts of the complex were six large missile buildings (hangars, essentially) and twelve round, concrete pads where the missiles sat on their launchers (one pad had a fire department trainer on it).  We were able to drive right on to a couple of the pads, and noticed a system of low berms constructed around them.  From one of the pads we observed different missile buildings, as well as the fighter alert hangar.  The missile buildings all seemed to be in beneficial use, most by Columbia Forest Products. The W.W.II chapel was still standing. 

The 200-unit Wherry housing on Presque Isle AFB had a continued life as an annex of Loring AFB.  In 1961, it became Loring Family Housing Annex, NRCV, and served Loring AFB until 1994, when it was declared excess.  It was disposed of in 1999, and on our visit the units were occupied and seemed in good repair.

Loring also gained use of Presque Isle AFB's laundry steam plant and dry cleaning building. Loring Laundry Annex, NRPL, became an off-base installation of Loring AFB in 1962 and was disposed of sometime in the mid- or late-1970s.  The buildings have been removed, and only an empty field was visible on our visit.

We also visited what I believe to be the site of an off-base housing annex to Presque Isle AFB.  In 1961, an 80-unit off-base housing development was assigned to the base.   A 1957 base plan shows a 20-building housing complex off and adjacent to the base; the buildings are large enough to have been fourplex units.  The location and building size is typical of Lanham act defense housing constructed during W.W.II.  It was not uncommon for a supported base to acquire adjacent Lanham housing after the war, and service into the early 1960s would be feasible.  Based on these clues, I believe that this area of road remnants (the buildings have been demolished) at 46-41-29, 68-01-16 is a former Lanham act housing development that was later an Air Force housing annex.

Now it was time to head even farther north on US 1.  In Caribou, we looked for the first of four Nike sites in the Loring Defense Area.  L-58 was the first Nike battery we sought, and the housing area at 46-52-21, 67-59-40 was the first component we found.   After supporting Nike site L-58 from about 1958 to 1966, the 16-unit housing area was transferred from the Army to the Air Force, and assigned to Loring AFB as Loring Family Housing Annex No. 2, NRCW.  It was inactivated in Jan 1980, excessed in Feb 1980, and then changed back to active status in May 1981.  It was again declared excess in 1994, and disposed of in 1997.  I noted the units were occupied and in nice condition.

Nearby, at 46-53-10, 67-58-16, we observed the former Integrated Fire Control (IFC) site, L-58C.   After serving the Nike program from about 1957 to 1966, the Army transferred this site to the Air Force.  It became Caribou Communications Annex, DCTE, an off-base installation to Loring AFB.  It was declared excess in 1994.

The pointy end of the L-58 spear was the launcher site, L-58L, at 46-53-02, 68-00-33.  This site was acquired by the Army in about 1956, served as a Nike launcher site until 1966, and was then disposed of.  We could not access the site, but could see a couple of the buildings from beyond the no trespassing signs.

Our next stop was a communications annex in the woods a few miles north of Caribou, at 44-56-10, 67-59-40.  Louis Blotner Communications Facility Annex was assigned to Loring AFB in 1968 and in 1983 it was redesignated Louis Blotner Communications Facility Annex No. 2, NSNF.  At some point between 1975 and 1983, this communications annex was transferred from SAC to Air Force Space Command (AFSPC).  In 1987 the installation was redesignated Louis Blotner Satellite Tracking Site 2.  It was inactivated in 1990 and disposed of in 1992.  We found the access road and followed it to the former building area, at the center of the site.  Some foundation remnants were visible, in an area disturbed by logging operations.  (I'm not sure why this site was named after Louis Blotner, but more about that later.)

Okay, time for the next Nike site, this time L-85.  After Army service from about 1955 to 1966, the 16-unit housing area at 47-00-41, 68-01-11 was transferred to the Air Force and became Loring Family Housing Annex No. 3, NRCX.  It was inactivated and declared excess in 1980; but SAC returned it to active status in 1981.  It was again declared excess in 1994, and then disposed of in 1997.  We found the units to be unoccupied and boarded-up, or pickled.

Directly across the road from the housing annex, we found the launcher site, L-85L, at 47-00-30, 68-01-07.  Serving the Army Nike program from 1955 to 1961, this property was excessed to the General Services Administration (GSA) in 1961.  GSA conveyed it to a private owner, Blotner Trailer Sales, in 1962 (Hmm... there's that name again).  Recognizing the gate and a building from the highway, we found open access to the launcher site, and noted that the missile magazines were capped with concrete.  

We found the IFC site, L-85C, at 47-00-06, 68-00-10.  This component served the Army from 1955 to 1961.  It was excessed to GSA, who conveyed it to Blotner Trailer Sales in 1962.  Well, the Air Force decided it needed this land, and in 1963 the U.S. government repurchased this property.  Louis Blotner Radar Bomb Scoring Site was assigned as a detached installation to Loring AFB in 1963.   According to Corps of Engineers documents, when the property was repurchased a promise was made to name the site after Louis R. Blotner.  It was common in W.W.II to name leased auxiliary fields for the landowner, but this practice was uncommon after the war.  And it is very unusual to find two separate Air Force installations named for the same person.  Mr. Blotner clearly had some clout!  (Actually, it was Louis Blotner's son Sam who negotiated the naming.)  In 1983, the site was redesignated Louis Blotner Communications Facility Site No. 1, NSNK, after being transferred from SAC to AFSPC.   In 1987 it was redesignated Louis Blotner Satellite Tracking Site 1. This site was disposed of in 1993.  We found it gated and locked; one building was marked "DET 2, 1000 TH SOG," and I believe that stands for Detachment 2, 1000th Satellite Operations Group.

Then it was time to head north; in fact our next stop would be the farthest north we would venture on this trip.  Nike site L-13C, at 47-02-08, 67-49-06, was Army property from 1955 until about 1967.  The property was gated, but we observed two radar towers from the public road.

The launcher site, L-13L, at 47-01-43, 67-48-36, looked like it was occupied and maintained.  We had a look at two buildings by the road, and glanced at the launcher area beyond a locked gate.

The housing area for L-13 is at 47-01-25, 67-48-24.  We found the units unoccupied and boarded-up.  Acquisition began in 1955, and in 1966 the Army transferred the 16 units to the Air Force.  They soldiered on as Loring Family Housing Annex No. 4, NRCY, until 1994, when they were declared excess, then disposed of in 1999.

Driving south on US 1A, we looked at an example of an Army 75mm Skysweeper anti-aircraft gun site.   Thanks again to Dave Larsen, I learned the Loring Defense Area had 15 Skysweeper sites (4 on base, 11 off base).  These were used for a few years in the 1950s, as an interim defense until the Nike sites became operational.  The gun emplacement and magazines of L-11 are no longer extant, but two buildings still stand, next to Cross Road, at 46-58-30, 67-49-25.   The larger building was the barracks, and the smaller building was the generator shed.  From this location, we could see a radar site to the southwest.  Yup, that would be our next stop.

Caswell Air Force Station, 2202, DFJT, sits at 46-58-15, 67-50-00.  Construction of this site began in 1950, and it operated until 1980, when it was excessed.  At the time of our visit, the housing units were occupied, and the main part of the site was in use by a business.

Next we motored down US-1A to Limestone, then drove east toward Canada.  The IFC and launcher sites of L-31 are closer to Canada than to each other!  The IFC site, L-31C, at 46-55-37, 67-47-47, served the Army from 1956 to 1962.  On our approach, it appeared heavily modified and used for residential purposes.  A radar tower was visible, surrounded by trees.

Backtracking on the access road, we went south to the launcher site, L-31L, at 46-55-04, 67-47-32.   This component also served the Army from 1956 to 1962.

The housing area for L-31 was interesting.  Housing at the other three Loring Nike sites was laid out in a neat line of 16 houses, very easy to identify in an aerial photo.   For some reason, L-31 was different.  The 16 houses are in the town of Limestone, grouped around the T-intersection of Trafton and Lane, at 46-54-31, 67-49-49.   Acquired in 1956, this housing area was transferred from the Army to the Air Force in 1966.  It became Loring Family Housing Annex No. 5, NRCZ.  SAC declared this annex excess in 1980, but changed it back to active status the following year.  It was again declared excess in 1994, and disposed of in 1999.  The homes were occupied and in a good state of repair.

Next stop was the former Loring Air Force Base, 2283, NRCH, at 46-58, 67-53.  Construction on Limestone Air Force Base began in 1947.  It was activated in 1950, and redesignated Loring AFB on 1 Oct 1954.  The base closed in 1994.  Access to the former 70-man SAC alert facility was gated and locked, so we caught only a distant glimpse.   We had a better view of the former ADC fighter alert hangars and nearby readiness crew dormitory, ordnance building, and maintenance hangar.  The "arch hangar," a thin-shell concrete hangar built to house two B-36 bombers, fascinated me.  The USAF built two hangars of this design, and I saw the other one at Ellsworth AFB a few years ago.  Also interesting was the huge double-cantilever maintenance hangar, a steel structure built to house six B-36 aircraft!  This thing is huge -- It makes the arch hangar look tiny.  We also saw several smaller maintenance hangars, the control tower, elevated water storage tank, parachute drying loft, indoor swimming pool, dormitories, and other buildings.  I had to stop and photograph this locomotive snowplow for my pal Mark.  From one vantage point, I could see the arch hangar, water tower and barracks

By this time of day, our heads were spinning from all the sights we had seen.  But I wanted to document one more communications site, for friend Tim.  The Loring receiver site (official designation not known) sits at 46-54-53, 67-55-11.  It's barely a quarter-mile from the boundary of the main base.  My only reference for this site is a 1951 base plan, so I wasn't sure if it had been built or was just a planned facility.   Well, it was built and the building still stands.  A residence is built along the access road, so I just took an angled photo of the facility from the public road.

Time to head south -- back to the same motel in Houlton.  We made better time than I expected, covering 243 miles in 10.5 hours.  We saw 22 sites, and I think that's my personal record for one day of research.  We had time to explore Houlton a bit before dark, and found it to have lots of interesting architecture, with an "Anytown, USA" feel to it.  We even took time out for a drink in The Paradise Club, adjacent to our motel.

Tuesday, 4 May 2004

We only had a few places to visit today, but plenty of driving to get to them. Starting at 0700, after our third meal at the Elm Tree Diner, we took US-1 south. This route too us through Robbinston, and I do believe we've now seen the northern-most point of the east coast of the United States. We took one scenic detour to the coast and stumbled past NCTS Cutler. This Navy site operated an impressive-looking Very Low Frequency (VLF) communications facility from 1961 until 2000. From across the water, we could barely see the antenna array, shrouded in fog.

We continued on US-1 to Columbia Falls, then took local roads north to Columbia Falls Radar Site, EEFK, centered at about 44-47-24, 67-47-24. This was the receiver site in the East Coast OTH-B setup -- the companion to the Moscow site seen two days ago. A road sign, as well as USGS maps, calls this Columbia Falls Air Force Station -- but official orders call it Columbia Falls Radar Site. We had a much better view here than at the Moscow site, as a public-accessible road skirts the site, allowing visual access to all three sectors! Yippee! Each sector has a 4,980' long antenna array, with 84 towers, each 65' tall. Sector 1 had the largest building, a garage, and two large communications towers. It was impressive to see the antenna array. Next, we saw sector 3, complete with sign and large fire protection water tank. The last stop in our counterclockwise tour was sector 2, and we went around the edge of the array.

At this point I was experiencing a base researcher's "double tap," as sector 2 of Columbia Falls Radar Site is superimposed on the eastern part of an earlier Air Force property. Deblois Air Force Range had its start in 1951. It served as a bombing range for SAC aircrews until 1964. The range covered 2,560 acres of leased land, centered at about 44-45-44, 67-49-35. We could observe the range area from the road, but due to muddy conditions I didn't attempt to drive to the range center.

We backtracked clockwise around the radar site, back to Columbia Falls and US-1. Our next stop was Deblois Flight Strip (43B), at 44-43-30, 67-59. This airport had its start in the early 1940s under the Flight Strip program. During W.W.II it served as an auxiliary field under First Air Force. It was intended for emergency use, and was not assigned to any specific base.

From Deblois, we weaved our way back to Bangor and took I-95 south to Portland. We easily found the Eastland Park Hotel, and settled in for the next four nights. The day's drive covered 440 miles in 10.75 hours. Nancy did a fantastic job of navigating for three days: juggling different maps and photos, interpreting and adjusting my driving plan, and working both GPS systems. (She did cringe a bit when I duct-taped my Garmin unit to the dashboard of the rental car....) So, we celebrated three successful days on the road with a drink in the Eastland Park's Rooftop Bar.

Wednesday, 5 May 2004

We spent the day in the local area, doing some shopping and enjoying the scenery. In the afternoon, I registered for the CAMP conference, and in the evening I attended the orientation session.

Thursday, 6 May 2004

The conference started with papers sessions at the hotel. At about 1000, we boarded two buses for the day's road trip. Our tour guides were Dr. Joel Eastman, local arrangements chairman for the conference and outgoing president of Coast Defense Study Group, and Mr. Kenneth Thompson, historian and author. Our first stop was Fort Allen Park, site of the 1814 earthen Fort Allen, at 43-39-56, 70-14-28. Five guns were originally emplaced here; now two Civil War cannon and one Naval cannon (from the U.S.S. Maine) are displayed here. The U.S.S. Portland's main mast with navigational shield is a fascinating feature of the park. From the park, we could see Fort Gorges out in the harbor. We had a brief opening ceremony for the conference, before reboarding the buses.

We rode to South Maine Technical College, the current user of Fort Preble. The fort dates to 1808 and served until approximately 1960. From 1901 to 1946 it served as a seacoast defense. Air National Guard units also called Fort Preble home; the 104th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron from 1950 to 1951, and the 243rd Airways and Air Communications Service Squadron (later, 243rd Ground Electronics Engineering Installations Agency Squadron) and 265th Communications Squadron from 1953 to 1960. In 1953, 1.45 acres of the fort transferred to the Air Force as Fort Preble Annex, used for classroom space. We observed the central building and 6" gun emplacements of Battery Rivardi, as well as the chapel and other vintage buildings and features on the fort. We had lunch in a renovated officers quarters duplex. An interesting feature is the concrete fire control tower that held a depression position finder in the coast defense era. From Fort Preble we could look out over the water and see Fort Gorges and Fort Scammell.

On the buses again, and we rode to Cape Elizabeth to see Fort Williams, now Fort Williams Park.  The fort, at 43-37-25, 70-12-45, dates to 1872 and served until approximately 1960.  The Air Force operated Lashup site L-2 here in 1950 and 1951.  During the 1950s, this installation may have been informally referred to as Fort Williams Air Force Station.  In 1960, the 243rd Ground Electronics Engineering Installations Agency Squadron and 265th Radio Relay Squadron (former 265th Communications Squadron) moved here from Fort Preble.   The photogenic Portland Head Lighthouse is adjacent to the fort, and dates to 1791. Battery Blair had been partially buried and now serves as an interpretive center. From the fort, we could see Fort Scammell in the distance across the water.

The bus then took us to Cape Elizabeth, and the Cape Elizabeth Military Reservation. Our destination was Battery 201, 43-33-34, 70-12-18, now state park property. This was a W.W.II six-inch gun battery; two gun positions with an earth-covered concrete facility between them. By prior arrangement, we were allowed to go inside the bunker-like facilities. The battery had two nearby fire control towers; one was purpose-built and disguised as a grain silo, the other was a modification of an unused lighthouse. The purpose-built tower was not open to us, so we only saw it from the bus. The converted lighthouse is now part of a private residence, and again we only glanced at it from the bus.

Back at the hotel, I opted out of the formal conference dinner in favor of an evening with Nancy.

Friday, 7 May 2004

We had more informative presentations in the morning, and then we loaded back on the buses. The bus ride was short -- to the dock where we boarded the Chippewa. The boat took us to House Island, location of Fort Scammell. The fort, at 43-39-01, 70-12-47, is private property and our tour was courtesy of the owner. The stone seacoast fort dates to 1808 and was still listed as an inactive fort as late as W.W.I, although it was no longer armed at that time. We toured the casemates, magazines, and passageways inside the fort, as well as gun positions and the sally port. From this island, we could once again see Fort Gorges out in the water. After lunch -- a Maine Lobster Bake -- we boarded a smaller boat to visit our choice of Fort Gorges or Fort Levett.

I chose Fort Gorges (pronounced gorgeous) and after a short ride in the Polly Lynn, we climbed a stepladder from the swaying boat up onto the concrete wharf at the fort. That was entertaining! The fort itself, at 43-38-47, 70-13-19, was fascinating. It was built in the 1860s and used until after the Spanish-American War. Now, the city of Portland owns the fort. We roamed through the numerous casemates, cautiously explored powder magazines, and walked through former officers quarters. After touring the fort, we returned to House Island on the Polly Lynn.

Rejoining the Fort Levett explorers, we reboarded the Chippewa for the ride to Great Diamond Island.   The island is home to Fort McKinley, at 43-40-47, 70-11-50. The former fort, which dates back to 1873, is now McKinley Estates, and we were allowed to visit by special arrangement.  We saw one of the gun batteries from a distance, focusing our tour on housing, the parade ground, and nearby buildings.  Many of the buildings on the fort are newly renovated.

From Great Diamond Island, the Chippewa took us back to Portland, and the buses shuttled us back to the hotel.  Shortly after our return, we had CAMP's annual Yount-Windsor Book Auction, where I placed winning bids on a couple of books.  Then it was time to say goodbyes and pack for an early departure.  CAMP activities would continue on Saturday and Sunday, but Nancy and I needed to get home on Saturday.

Saturday, 8 May 2004

We climbed into the rental car at an early hour and drove to Windsor Locks, Connecticut, via New Hampshire and Massachusetts. We had time for lunch and a visit to the New England Air Museum before turning in the rental car (1,760 miles in 7 days) and checking in at the airport.

Bradley International Airport (BDL), at 41-56, 72-40-40, served as Bradley Field, a First Air Force fighter base, during W.W.II. In the 1950s, Continental Air Command, the Air Force Reserves, and the Connecticut Air National Guard all used the airfield. In 1966, the military portion of Bradley Field was redesignated Bradley Air National Guard Station, and it was redesignated Bradley International Airport in 1973. I did not notice any buildings of obvious W.W.II vintage; most airport buildings were of modern design. From our terminal, we could see the Air National Guard (ANG) facilities across the airfield. This current ANG location was built for AFRES in the late 1950s; the Guard moved here in the late 1960s from their former location on the northeast side of the airport. Bradley Field hosted a unit of the Rhode Island Air National Guard in the mid 1950s, due to runway length issues at home base in Providence, Rhode Island.

The flight back to Texas was smooth, and the only snag in our travel was the inter-terminal shuttle bus at DFW airport. We waited nearly 45 minutes for a ride -- but that was a minor inconvenience after a fun week. All in all, this was a great trip.