New England in May

Copyright © 1999-2010, Scott D. Murdock
3 Nov 2002 - Updated format.
3 Sep 2003 - Added "Notch" comments by Wilton Curtis.
27 Jun 2010 - Added additional photos.

Friday, 28 May 1999

Having flown into Bradley International Airport (BDL) CT, formerly Bradley Field, the night before, I was poised to visit several locations in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. 

The first stop of the day was Barnes Municipal Airport, 42-09-19N, 72-42-42W; Westfield MA.  Still Barnes Municipal (BAF), it is also used by the MA ANG.  During W.W.II this airport was briefly assigned to Westover Field (as Westfield Airport), then Rome AAFld (as Barnes Airport).  The ANG has an A-10 on static display inside the gate to their area. 

Then I headed east to find Stony Brook AFS.  Now the Stony Brook Industrial Area of Westover Air Park East, it is home to a variety of businesses including a large power plant and a prison.  I photographed the old triple fence system next to the new prison (42-12-13N, 72-30-53W) at what seems to be a former entry point into the high security area (note the high voltage sign and insulators at the bottom of the center fence posts).  This is not far from the gate linking Stony Brook AFS and Westover AFB.  I also saw some munitions igloos through the old triple fence near the main entrance to the power plant (42-11-34N, 72-30-40W).  The electrified fence system was fairly intact, and the lanes between the fences were in good repair also, not overgrown with weeds as I had imagined they would be.  Also saw some munitions igloos behind another fence outside the high security area, perhaps a former conventional storage area (42-12-25N, 72-30-19W), now operated by a private trucking/storage company.

Next stop was a military reservation shown on USGS maps, which I believe was Westover Comms Anx #1 (aka Granby Tmtr Anx).  One mile northeast of Granby, the map showed it north of highway 202 with access on the east from Deerbrook Drive.  No such access was visible, possibly due to fairly recent housing development.  There was a fairly new residential road to the west of Deerbrook Drive so I followed it north past the houses, where it turned into a dirt road leading to a fenced and gated compound, 42-16-03N, 72-30-05W.  No signs remained, and no structures were visible in the part of the compound I could see.  The barbed wire fence was typical military style.  I didn't walk the perimeter, as the size was unknown and it was heavily overgrown.

Heading back toward Westover, I went east on the main road to the base from the highway.  Taking a right on Access Road, I found the fenced and gated remains of Westover Communications Annex (Transmitter) (aka Remote Transmitter Site, Westover Tmtr Anx).  At 42-11-54N, 72-33-56W, it looked empty and abandoned, with at least one USAF controlled area sign still on the fence.  It does not show on the layout map I obtained from the Westover civil engineers in 1995.

Made a quick visit to Westover AFB, now Westover Air Reserve Base (ARB), known in FAA records as Westover ARB/Metro (CEF), 42-12N, 72-32W.  Since I'm a retiree, I had to visit the BX.  It's the law.

Then I headed for the hills, in search of The Notch (official name not verified in primary sources, but it is sometimes referred to as Westover Communications Annex #3, and layout drawings call it 'Westover Air Force Base Off Base Communications Building, Chicopee Falls MA').  The facility is just west of highway 116 on Military Road, 42-18-24N, 72-32-06W.  (Look close at the front entry, you can see the four large hinges, which held the original blast doors.)  The gate still looks like an entry control point.  A brick security checkpoint still stands in front of the main entrance to the facility. The Notch was a somewhat-hardened facility serving as an alternate command post for Eighth Air Force from about 1958 to 1970. The top of the earth-covered structure has several concrete features that were probably air intake and exhaust structures. A communications tower on the hill served as a relay back to Westover. A secondary entrance to the facility is on the west end. A storage building is at the north end of the parking lot, near a sewage treatment field. 

I had the good fortune of planning my visit in advance, so I was able to go inside the Notch! It is now owned by Amherst College and used for library and archival storage. The college has done significant remodeling to make the structure suitable for their storage needs; so much evidence of the original use is gone.  Some interesting features remain, like the escape shaft.  I was in both the early (1957) and the newer (1962) equipment rooms; which had housed two and three diesel generators, respectively.  Most impressive was the "war room," the large room that had projection screens on the front wall, and the command balcony on the back wall at second story level.  The floor had numerous consoles for intelligence and communications personnel.  The doors leading into the command balcony still had "Senior Battle Staff Members Only" lettered on the glass windows!

Update:  Notch veteran Wilton Curtis was kind enough to offer his recollections on a few of my photographs.

Topside looking northwest over entry:  "Checkpoint two was the small brick building in the center.  It had a fence with a narrow walkway with two gates, one each at opposite ends.  You had to pass through one gate in front of the armed Air Police (AP) inside the glassed viewing area and be identified before they would buzz the second gate open.  Then, you'd walk straight toward the blast doors to enter the facility.   There was a small diner sitting on a grassy slope just beyond the yellow truck near the top of the photograph.  It didn't have a lot of seats, and in nice weather we used a picnic table just outside the diner's door.  It was the only place on site to get food.  Somewhere near the small building at the upper right corner of the parking area was an incinerator that was used to burn classified code documents by my airmen in the Teletype center.  The trees were not as large then, and the view northwest into the valley toward Amherst was especially nice -- particularly in the fall."

Main entry hall:  "If my memory is right, there was a counter along the left wall which was check point three.  An armed AP manned it.  Just beyond his area was a small room on the left for some communications maintenance personnel.  The 8AF Teletype and telephone areas were just down the hall and to the left down another short hall.  The telephone area was relatively small and had, I believe, six switchboard positions manned by female airmen, usually E-2 - E-4.  A lady noncom, E-6, supervised from a nearby desk.  Just beyond this telephone switchboard room was a large area -- the Teletype relay center.  It was always noisy.  The equipment was arranged in rows with all male airmen in the aisles.  Yellow-colored tot tapes [short for Teletype tapes] would spit out of a terminal, perhaps from Pease AFB, NH with routing instructions to go to McCoy AFB, FL.   The airman would catch the tape, sometimes several feet in length, and feed the tape to the machine that would send it to its destination base.  You can imagine the movement, the noise, as well as the efficient and disciplined movement about the area as multiple messages would come in simultaneously.  Both classified and unclassified traffic was handled.  All classified used very secure means.  Behind the Teletype area was an area of AT&T equipment, manned by civilians.  I also recall that the hallway to the right where your shot shows some cabinets and a chair with rollers, I believe, led to a nearby staircase to the second and third levels.  (You can rest assured that the AP at checkpoint three was well aware of who moved to the door leading to these stairs since they provided access to the most sensitive areas of the notch.)  Although I did not have a security clearance for level two -- all notch access areas were on a need-to-know basis -- I do recall there was a new SAC data base system using mainframe computers called the 465L system housed on most of that level which was to eventually replace the older technology of the Teletype system.  I simply continued on up the stairs to the third level, waited to be buzzed into the battle cab area and then proceeded past the senior controller's position to my assigned duty station in CCS."

Command balcony from war room:  "The three rectangular windows to the left of the command balcony was the Command Communications Systems (CCS) booth where I worked from December 1964 to April 1965.  There was a counter and console area approximately 10 feet wide located in front of the windows, and of course I had a view looking down into the war room and the giant screens.  Among the numerous systems at my disposal, I had at my touch access to high frequency radios that allowed me to call any SAC plane worldwide.  I could use the transmitters and antennas at the main base and could dial in compass directions to turn a huge log periodic scale (LPS), V-shaped antenna several stories tall, via servomechanisms, in the direction best suited to contact a B-52 over the Mediterranean Sea.  I could also, if need be, access the system at 2AF, Barksdale AFB, for Southern Hemisphere planes; or the equipment at 15AF, March AFB, for Pacific area planes."

My thanks to Wilton for sharing this information!

Point the car east -- next stop Hanscom AFB.  Still active, similar in look and feel to Wright-Patterson -- lots of research and development facilities.  Runways are shared with the adjacent civilian airport, Laurence G. Hanscom Field (BED), 42-28N, 71-17W.  Billeting was full so I pushed on (yes I stopped at the BX, which is in a former aircraft hangar). 

Heading north to Portsmouth, NH, I followed the signs to Pease AFB, now Pease International Tradeport (PSM), 43-05N, 70-49W.  Part of the installation was retained as Pease Air National Guard Base (ANGB).  The Guard operates one of two control towers, and runs the airfield fire station.  Significant amounts of new construction made it hard to tell the boundaries of the former AFB.  Several roads were blocked off, so exploration was limited.  I saw the same type aircraft shelters as at Plattsburgh AFB (they look like open-ended Quonset huts), as well as typical Air Force maintenance hangars and an entry control building.  Did not find access to the former WSA (sorry RP).  Daylight was fading fast, so I secured a room in Portsmouth.  The day's drive was 280 miles, covered in 13 hours.

Saturday, 29 May 1999

First challenge of the day was finding Rye AFS.   I stopped first at Odiorne Point State Park, where I saw signs for Fort Dearborn.   These led me to Battery 204, a W.W.II era six inch gun battery, at 43-02-42N, 70-42-57W.   The battery had a central, earth-covered bunker with gun positions to each side. A sign indicated that after the war, a rotating radar unit was placed on top of the bunker.  The nearby Russell B. Tobey Visitor Center had a sign indicating it had housed the HQ, mess hall and fire control room for Battery F, 22d Coast Artillery; and had been an airmen's barracks from 1954 to 1957.  A photo of Rye AFS when it was active, available at the Online Radar Museum, shows this building from the top of the bunker.  Without the signs I would never have known this had been an Air Force Station -- not a trace of any typical Air Force construction.  The top of the bunker was quite overgrown with trees and weeds; several bits of concrete were visible but none were identifiable to this novice as radar tower supports.  Here is another view, looking toward the gun bunker from the highway.

Time to head west, to Manchester, and Grenier AFB.  Now the Manchester Municipal Airport (MHT), 42-56N, 71-26W, it has been heavily modified.  The control tower looks like it might be AF vintage, as does one hangar and a few older wooden buildings on the outskirts of the airport.

Now it was time for a scenic change of pace.  New Boston AFS (now New Boston AS) started military service as a W.W.II bombing range (Grenier Bombing Range, a.k.a. Joe English Pond Bombing Range).  In about 1960 it started a new role as a satellite tracking facility, which continues to this day.  There are several large golf ball radomes in the active part of the installation, which is the northeast corner.  Most of the installation is a recreational area, but the roads are lined with Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) warning signs.   There are several camping areas, and if you are into that sort of thing this is probably a great little vacation spot.  (For me, 'roughing it' implies staying at a Holiday Inn with a broken ice machine.)  Along the main road leading west toward the camping areas is an old cable tray; slightly elevated from the ground it gives the appearance of being a raised walkway!  It was empty, a remnant of some former antenna system.  The bulletin board at the main camping area had a notice that Joe English Pond (42-56-10N, 71-38-15W) was "temporarily closed to all recreational activities ... due to an unquantifiable amount of unexploded ordinances (sic.)."

Last tourist stop of the day was the former Fort Devens AAFld, later Moore AAF (AYE), 42-34-30N, 71-36-30W.   The sign called it Regional Training Site - Maintenance.   The gate was closed and unattended, so I only saw this airfield from the road. 

I headed back to Windsor Locks, CT.  Since it was still early, I visited the New England Air Museum, which is on the back (west) side of Bradley International, near the fire department training area.  Very nice, I recommend it if you're in the area.  Their gift shop has a typical selection of books, including several shelves of used books.  I picked up two titles in the Bill Bruce series, which I did not have.  This day's drive was 279 miles, covered in 10 hours.

Monday, 31 May 1999

In north central Massachusetts, I stopped at the Hubbardston AT&T Repeater Hut.   Located a couple miles north of town, at 42-30-11N, 72-00-15W, on the west side of highway 68.  It's now a storage building for an adjacent auto repair shop.  Not an Air Force property, this was a tiny part of AT&T's huge contribution to our Cold War communications infrastructure.