What I do know about is Aroostook National Wildlife Refuge... which wasn't really a part of Loring Air Force Base, but was the former Caribou Air Force Station. These nearly 2,000 acres are adjacent to the Loring Air Base, but, as weird as this sounds... many of the people at Loring didn't even know that this facility existed.
Why? Because this facility was home to the atomic bombs... our nations topmost secret for many years. We are located in the very northeast corner of the USA... less than a half mile from a military airport... and have a separate road and gate that allows us entry right onto the runway. When the USA was concerned about Russia and the "cold war" was on everyone's mind (did you ever have to hide beneath your desk during a simulated air-raid?... did your family have a "bomb shelter"?)... THIS was where the nuclear bombs were housed... ready to be flown over in a B52 and dropped on Russia.
That part is now history... the Cold War is over... things like the Berlin Wall are read about... but what happened to those facilities that existed for our national safety?
Well, since the land "belonged" to the government, I guess the government decided to give it back to the people.
In 1996 the old base closed. There was thousands.. probably millions... of dollars spent in studies to determine things like contaminants (fuel, nuclear waste etc)... and the studies went on and on and on...
This is just a partial section of the reports generated during that time... nearly 500 volumes of books of reports. I recently spend quite a few days preparing an index of these and was astounded at the reports listed as "preliminary drafts" or "drafts" or "Revised Drafts" or "Final Draft" or "Revised Draft #1", until... finally... "Final". When I'd get bored with data entry I'd stop and read some of the reports... actually some were quite interesting. They probably should have made me wonder what in the world we are doing volunteering at a place that stores radioactive waste and stuff like that....
Nevermind all that... there are other reports that are just fascinating...
This book is priceless!
It was compiled from data generated from the beginning of the base through the 1950's. It was once classified as "Top Secret", but is now an historic museum item.
This page in that book is a map of the Weapon Storage Area... or, more succinctly.. where the bombs were stored. The heavy white line at the perimeter of the area is actually where the triple, and sometimes quadruple, chainlink/electric fence was located. While it was relocated 3 times during the escalation (and de-escalation) of the cold war, this area was extremely well guarded and secured. (Bill and I now live almost in the upper center of the heavy white line)
A different view of the same picture above (turned 60 degrees). This one is a map showing all the bunkers, the radioactive waste deposits, all the military buildings etc. Those black rectangles are bunkers (or igloos) where the bombs or other weapons were stored. That double line running around the whole complex was the electric fence.
Since 1998, a lot of demolition has gone on... the fence is now completely gone, all the bunkers in one area have been demolished and buried. All the housing, the recreation facilites... the headquarter offices... all gone. The water and soil contaminants are (mostly... or at least as much as possible) removed. There are ground water monitors ALL over the place... but.... for historic purposes, some of the building still remain.
This is a view towards, at one time, the main entrance... looking towards the weapon storage area. You can see the Main Gate with the 12' high chain link fence on the right.
If a person actually got this far, they would have to stop before entering into the gated area. (The fence was intact on either side at that time)... They's give their ID... and be allowed to enter. Then the gate would be closed (the gate on the far side would also be closed)... further ID.... then the gate on the far side would open and they would be permitted to enter the grounds. That little building on the left held state-of-the-art (for that time) electronics ... as well as slots to sight one's gun at whatever threatened.
A view of the "Mine Shop".
Actually it's the building where different components of the bombs were assembled. As you can see to the left, there are "banks" of earth... apparently these were erected to deflect impact should an accident occur while assembling a bomb.
These 2 buildings weren't part of the original layout. They were built in the 1980's... one to house generators for electric and the other as a place for a security, or alert, crew.
The "School House"
The bombs weren't totally assembled until they were "needed". The ignitors were housed in this building. Called the "school house" because the Air Force hoped that from the air it would look like a school building.... this building is composed almost totally of concrete. The upper story is concrete... the lower story has 9' walls of concrete with a small series of rooms in the center that held the ignitors. The "windows" at that time probably had some kind of glass or plexi-glass inserts... but that was just a covering over a facade.
And look at these "guard houses" in front of the school house! They are each about 8' tall; have a small slot for a gun sight.... they used to have a ladder up the side so a person could climb up and then drop into the thing from the top. Can you imagine being stuck in one of those for an 8 hour shift?
A Tritium Bunker
Another component to make the bomb was tritium. This was a "booster" to make the bomb more potent. There were originally 4 tritium bunkers, but only 2 remain today. We've heard some strange stories from guys who were stationed here about "accidents" at these sites that were never made public. The above is one of the bunkers that held tritium.
Some of the bunkers have a double entry (a big outside door... which, by the way, took 2 people to open... each had a separate key)... and then another entrance into the bomb area.
The larger bunkers are probably close to 100' long and 30' wide.
Now they are empty.
The State Historical Preservation Association has entered the picture... they want some of this area preserved for historical purposes. While I can understand their desire, those bunkers were built (1950's) with a life expectancy of 25 years max...
Can you imagine letting the public loose to wander around an area like this? SHPA doesn't provide any funding to make these building safe... the refuge doesn't have the resources for that... So... a lot of Aroostook NWR is not open to the public. Too many safety issues.
Here's another building that SHPA would like preserved. It had a concrete roof over the outer doorway... (this building also housed ignitors)... but that collapsed last year.
Now... here's a bunker that might be put into use. The refuge got a grant to study the possibility of using old bunkers for "bat caves". This bunker was boarded up with insulation last fall. It had thermometers to monitor the inside temperature and humidity during the winter months. If it is suitable, they hope to use some of the bunkers as a hiberniculum for bats. We'll see how that works out.
This is just another view of the bunkers... looking down the road of the past....
And a view of the gates as we leave.
I drive these roads at least once every day. When I give a tour of the place I'm asked if I don't feel a bit creepy... working and living in a place that housed the nuclear bombs. But, you know, I'm just thankful that we never had to use them.
This is a view from that gate... looking down to the old fire station/mainenance building.... that's our motorhome parked in front. That 12' chain-link fence was at one time just about where that line of spruce strees are.... and at one time it was clear back on the road in the left corner.
Those grassy fields are now home to the Upland sandpiper... a bird that is on the endangered species list. Kind of makes me wonder where that bird lived while this was still a military facility.
Well, I just gave you the 5c tour of the refuge. Sometimes I take a few minutes and look down this road... and think... What If?
Wish I could take you on a real tour...
That's All For Today!
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