During the early decades of the Cold War, President Eisenhower’s administration had concerns that if Russia decided to send all of their bombers over the US at once and drop nukes everywhere that they wouldn’t really be able to do much about it. You see they figured that only so many interceptors would be able to stop so many bombers and the numbers looked bad to them. So began a series of massive projects to build early detection sites and interceptor missiles to go with them. There’s an entire book on the subject: Continental Defense in the Eisenhower Era.
Buffalo and Niagara Falls was considered pretty important back then as we hadn’t had been totally bypassed by the St Lawrence Seaway project yet and, you know, we have that hydroelectric power plant that provides New York City and lots of other places (but not Western New York) with cheap power. That meant we had a few Nike-Hercules installations around here which, for the most part, are still used today but for very different purposes. There’s a park in Lancaster with a welded shut launch door and a radar installation in Sanford that was converted into apartments. I’ve read about one being turned into a car repair business as well. We visited the apartments which were once the home of 763rd Air Force Radar Squadron.
The first building we explored was some sort of generator facility with three large platforms inside. There we found quite a few old breakers, switches, and boilers still hanging around which surprised me because usually these places get stripped of everything metal. We also found a well preserved logo for the squadron which seems to imply they have been exposed to magic lightning which gave them hand-eyes. Oh, and someone copied a poem on to a wall.
Since this was a 60’s era military installation everything is really oversized and spaced well apart. I’m told part of this is because it means one bomb can’t take out everything. Also all the entrances to buildings were obscured by awnings so if you walked out of a door you had to exit to the left or right. This meant there was something keeping a large blast from directly hitting any entrance. They thought of everything.
The buildings that had been converted into apartments seemed to have been barracks and offices at one point and we avoided those because we didn’t want to go walking through anyones’ living room.
We found an open door into the main building and started exploring in a large loading bay/warehouse area. This place had few or no windows, we didn’t see any, and so it was extremely dark once you got about ten feet away from the door. In addition to that parts of the floor in some sections were hollow and dropped about ten feet because they used that to run all the cabling through.
We discovered that one of the staff doors had a decontamination entrance complete with layers of rubber curtains and showers. My friend, being of the military persuasion himself, told me that in the event of a chemical or biological attack they would go through the decontamination area instead of being allowed directly inside. In addition to this there was a large series of air filters that would (hopefully) stop any gas attack from affecting the people inside the facility.
You may have noticed these photos look a little different. For some reason I decided to forget my off-camera flash and in order to get any of these interior photos I had to be a little tricky. I set the camera to bulb mode (which means the camera keeps exposing the image sensor until I press the button again) and ‘painted’ the area with my flashlight. It took a few tries to get right but, hey, it worked and came out better than using the on-camera flash. After a little work in post they don’t look so bad.
The main building was very large and what I’m guessing is the Operations Room was taking up most of the center of the place. It looked like it had seen a nasty fire and most of it was partially buried under a collapsed ceiling but you could still see the elevated sections where the machinery would stand and get an idea of how people might have moved around in there. The weirdest thing we found in this building was the room full of emergency water rations that was left behind when the base was closed. It was just a big room, about the size of a typical suburban living room, filled from top to bottom with metal cans of water.
When we were leaving a few of the tenants came over to talk to us. They mistook us for a pair of urban explorers who had been there before and they made some comment about the explorers taking pictures of each other sitting on a broken toilet making gestures. Classy. After explaining we weren’t them, they pointed us in the direction of the gymnasium and bowling alley. We thanked them for tip but had had enough for one day.
Thanks for this post and photos. I was stationed at the 763rd from 1962 to 1965. I worked as a radar repairman A1C, in the FPS-7 tower and in the large dark building called the Misslemaster. When working in the MM, I ran equipment which fed simulated radar information to the Army scope operators to track. The equipment also simulated jamming signals to add to the realism. The film canister you mentioned might have contained the 35mm film which was used in the equipment to produce the simulated targets.