December 02, 2011

The Battle of Wanat

I am not an American. I am not a soldier. I am not an expert.  I am interested in military history, recent history, and there is a battle that is as important, and just as brutal, as the one depected in "Blackhawk Down". The real life battle in Moganishu, Operation Gothic Serpent, October 3 and 4, 1993 was made into a book and movie - the event is now more commonly known as "Blackhawk Down".  From what I've been told, it shows war how it is. Less black and white, less lines between us and them, it's all grey, and it's all crazy in the firefight. Screaming, explosions, gunfire, death - it's war.

There are hundreds... thousands... tens of thousands of battles that have raged on on Afghanistan between the NATO coalition and the Taliban, and most will never be known, but one sticks out to me, and it's shocking it isn't as famous as Blackhawk Down, it was the Battle of Wanat.
9 Americans were killed in the firefight, the platoon was only made up of 45 men, 3/4 of the platoon was wounded or dead by the end of the battle, and the base they were in was almost overrun.  Apache helicopters were over an hour away.  Predator drones, their eyes in the sky, were diverted to other "priorities" and were not around.  The base was so close to being lost and all Americans killed that Taliban fighters were in the base, looting the base, they made off with radios and equipment from inside the buildings.  The timeline of events has more or less been sorted out, there has been an inquiry, and the American military lost a lot of good men to bad planning that day.  The responsible commanding officers all received reprimands, and the General in charge quit when the administration refused to reprimand him too (Ret. Maj. Gen. JeffreySchloesser; you are a true man of honour).

Here is the CBS News coverage of the event, much after the fact.

Here is the gun-camera footage from the Apaches when they got there over an hour from when the battle started.  By then most of the platoon had hunkered down in a corner of the base and the Taliban was busy making off with whatever they could carry.

ABC News presents Taliban video shot during the very same battle.

Tom Ricks has some fantastic coverage of the issue, over at Foreign Policy magazine, he writes a blog for them, I highly recommend reading it daily.

Tom Ricks on CNN with Fareed Zakaria

I'm not sure why there hasn't been more attention paid to Wanat, maybe someone will make it into a movie and catch people's attention

November 27, 2011

New Flashlight

Stef got himself a new flashlight. It's rechargeable and it has a shoulder strap. You can see the size of it here in the photo. That is a regular sized Reese peanut butter cup package. Basically the light section is the size of a dinner plate and uses an automotive headlight bulb. It's a 20 million candlepower light!

November 07, 2011

My Canadian M100 Trailer

My 1950s M100 Trailer
The new addition to the fleet
I picked up an off-road capable trailer that will fit behind, and be able to keep up with, my new-to-me 1985 Bombardier Iltis!  The trailer is an early 1950's vintage trailer, the same type that was manufactured for both the American and Canadian armed forces of the era.  I believe this one is a Canadian trailer, but it's hard to tell.  

The identification plate is no longer attached, and its most recent owner (and militaria aficionado) is dead; so there's no way for me to know it's history, unless I can find a clue etched into the trailer somewhere.  I'll see what I can find, but so far nothing has given it away.

There is some rot on the left side of the trailer's metal that will require some minor repairs, but it is 100% road worthy right now. 

Brining it back from it's former home to mine was an adventure in Google Maps; once again Google Maps tried to send me into a mud hole, and this time I said No before the point of no return!  Here's the route I took to get home with the trailer in tow... and yes it did take that long.
M100 trailer
Third field Hospital Motorpool
Cheju-Do, Korea, Spring '53
(Credit: MartySoCal)

My plan is to sandblast the trailer at Blast-It-All in Almonte, get the right colour of paint for a 1950's Canadian Forces trailer, get it epoxy primed, and painted.  My hope is the trailer will at least keep it's value, and by properly painting it I will stop the rust.

While the Iltis (which is desert camo now) will eventually be Light Forrest Green, the trailer will be a vintage Olive Drab, so they won't look quite like a matching set, but they're 30 years apart, and I'd like to try and keep the trailer the colour it should have been painted originally, for authenticity.

Being vintage militaria, the demand for information and parts online is huge; there is tons of info out there for me to draw on.  Here is the manual in PDF, in case you were looking for it.

I'm looking forward to getting the Iltis plated, the trailer plated, and both of them on the road... 
Can you tell?!

October 24, 2011

Yes, I *did* buy an Iltis

The hunt is over, and I went for the Iltis which was the closest to me.

1985 Bombardier Iltis
My 1985 Bombardier Iltis
  • 1.7L Volkswagen 4 cylinder liquid cooled VW 049 YX / 75HP
  • Two alternators (24V and 12V)
  • Discrete 24V and 12V systems
  • Three 12V automotive batteries
  • Modified bush bar
  • 6,000lb Warn winch, 12V
  • Auxiliary Lights, front and back
  • Uniden Bearcat PRO 510XL CB Radio
  • Genuine Canadian Iltis "Unstucker" Kit
  • Aftermarket Tachometer
  • VW Rabbit car-key conversion
  • New seats with headrests
  • Spare tire mounted at the rear
  • CF-issue rifle mounts
  • My 1985 Bombardier Iltis
  • Original CF Manuals
  • Fire Extinguisher(not original)
  • 5 additional rims+tires, spare
  • A whole "parts" Iltis, running and has brakes, needs clutch work
  • Several handles and doohickeys.
  • Two spare clutches
  • Spare set of windshield wipers
  • Eight spare brake shoes
  • ...everything else the previous owner has collected that has the name "Bombardier Iltis" on it!

My "parts" Iltis
As the story goes, and per my previous post, the current owner of the Iltis can't get in and out of it easily anymore, and would rather use a 4-Wheeler "Rhino" than the Iltis for his back country hobbies.  His loss, my gain!  For me, this will be the Pinetree Line exploration vehicle.  It is driveable in the winter, it does have a heater, but it is a little drafty - and while *possible* to drive in the winter, I think I'll try to keep cold-weather driving to a minimum.

I'm pretty stoked, and will take possession of it Wednesday :)

If you are interested in purchasing the Thunder Bay Iltis which is for sale, look on Kijiji, or follow this link.  Let him know I sent you.

Buying an Iltis, take two

Every time I buy a vehicle I discover more about the fine art of buying vehicles.  In this case, it's not like buying a minivan that just came off lease; checking body panels for Bondo, scuffs on the leather, etc..  virtually all Iltis' have been abused by Canadian Forces jocks in training, and in theater - all have scuffs and bruises from their escapades. Skipping them across lakes and over ditches was common - but I should note, they took the abuse and usually kept on trucking.

Researching the Iltis, thousands of which were purchased between 1983-1986 by the Canadian Forces, I've seem many people in many forums scavenging for parts to repair their hobby vehicles. I think I've got a good idea what goes wrong on them, how to find the parts, and fix them.

Some of the issues I've run into are far more mundane than exotic 24V fuel pumps (which the Iltis uses...) and can be experienced with any vehicle purchase.

Cost is something everyone runs into.  But after the sale, the hidden costs start to creep up on you.  When buying a 25 year old vehicle, you can bet there are skeletons in that closet.  What do you do?  Anticipate the worst.  Inform yourself on the usual things that go wrong.  Don't believe anyone who tells you the vehicle is in mint shape and runs like a top.  Get a safety check, or at least a mechanic to look at the vehicle before purchase.  If you don't get an expert opinion before hand, be prepared to pay for the worst case scenarios that would have made you walk away from the sale.  There is also a lot of social engineering, economics, sociology and psychology involved in a sale.  Who is it that you're buying the vehicle from?  What's their social situation?  What's their financial situation?  Why are they selling?  How long has the item been for sale?  What is the market for their model like?  How many others are for sale, and what differentiates this one, from the rest?

I'm currently posed with a dilemma, which I don't mind sharing on our blog because both sellers who I'm dealing with know I'm looking at the other one's Iltis.

1986 Bombardier Iltis, Canadian Camo
There's a 1986 Iltis that underwent a restoration in 2007, and today is for sale in Thunder Bay, Ontario.  According to Google Maps, the most direct route from Thunder Bay to Carp, Ontario is ~20hrs of driving away.  That vehicle has undergone a safety check, and found a small shopping list of relatively minor issues, including issues with the wheel cylinder, suspension bushings, ball joints, etc.. It is not repaired, and as the buyer I would need to perform those repairs on my dime, or haggle the seller down.  The vehicle does have a full set of canvas/vinyl doors, camo netting, the standard issue trailer, and many accessories.
A flight there costs ~$300+4.5hrs (or a bus costs ~$250+22hrs).
Driving back would cost ~$300 in gas, and 2-3 days of leisurely driving
Perhaps more worrying, if I were to break down along the way with this new-to-me vehicle, i could be quite far from civilization and incur significant costs for hotels and repairs.  For all the problems and risks that I can list for this vehicle, it is being sold by an honest seller who drove it the same distance from southern Ontario to Thunder Bay in 2007, he knows exactly what I'm considering doing.  With these mounting secondary costs, I had to consider another vehicle closer to home.

1985 Bombardier Iltis, OPFOR Camo Pattern
I found a 1985 Bombardier Iltis less than an hour away, that seems to be in good shape - from the pictures.  The seller is an old-timer who's had his knee replaced, and doesn't want to climb into the tub anymore.  He's been collecting parts for the Iltis for as long as he's had it, and will give all the parts he's accumulated, as well as an entire 2nd Iltis in with the deal.  This made the deal much more interesting, even while there is no trailer.  The spare parts, inclusion of a winch, a separate 12V alternator and auxiliary lights make this deal very attractive.  The "problem" with this one is while it is almost the same price as the above, I am not sure it has had a safety check done recently, therefore it will certainly have some problems that require repair.    How much will those repairs cost?  No idea.

How much does the risk involved in the trip to Thunder Bay, additional time and expense of the trip there and back (4 day round trip) change the equation?  The 1985 Iltis is the devil I *don't* know, and the 1986 Iltis is what I consider the devil I *do* know.  I will see the 1985 Iltis on Tuesday... the seller in Thunder Bay knows I'm looking at one which is closer - and completely understands my reasoning.  I haven't given up on the Thunder Bay Iltis, partially because it's in such fine shape, the seats have been repaired and re-covered, and the trailer matches the Iltis perfectly - right down to the matching stenciled numbers on the sides of both the Iltis and trailer.

I'm really looking forward to Tuesday...

Here we have a perfect example of why the Bombardier Iltis rocks.

October 16, 2011

Thunder Bay to Carp - with a few stops in between

The deal for the Iltis is not sealed, yet.  But with the hope that it does come through, I've planned my return trip in the new vehicle.  For those of you not familiar with time or space, I live near Carp, Ontario - I'm driving from Thunder Bay, Ontario, via Highway 11.  That's 1,424 KM.  Time-on-the-road-wise, that's like traveling from Dallas, TX to Los Angeles, CA...
or from New York City, NY to Miami, FL.
...Minus the good roads!
Any way I cut it, I'm looking at over twenty hours of driving.

There is a major bonus to the trip back from Thunder Bay, and if you've been following along you'll see where the Hwy 11 takes me. 
Think old. 
Think military history. 
That's right - Pinetree Line stations!  Long lost military bases!
Considering the vehicle I'm going to get, it seems only fitting that I'd go see the old military outposts that made up the Pinetree Line along the way.

First Stop:
RCAF Station Pagwa ( 1953-1966 )
RCAF Station Pagwa

The USAF in 1950 started working on construction of the base, and it was operational in 1953.  In 1963 the USAF handed over operation of the early warning radar to the RCAF, who shut it down in 1966 after it became redundant.  Interestingly, the base was not in as high an elevation as many of the others, and was not as high as some surrounding areas.  It was built where it was because there was enough solid ground to build on - elsewhere at higher elevation there was simply too much muskeg to build on, or transport anything to build with.  As such, it was one of the least useful stations (radar wise) and was decommissioned as soon as neighbouring radar stations were upgraded with sufficiently high power radar to render it redundant.

Today there isn't much if anything left.  The base is quite off the beaten track.  The rail line was shut down in 1987 as part of the Progressive Conservative campaign to destroy the railroad industry.  Some reports describe the local Ministry of Transport goons digging up and destroying the base, scavenging the gravel to pave the local roads.  A damn shame.  There were two (if not three) gravel runways which were maintained in the 50's and 60's for flights in and out of the base, as well as a radio transmitter station.  I hope some of the base is still hidden in the woods and hasn't met the bulldozer yet.
USAF B-47 Stratojet

The Dull Sword incident in Northern Ontario in 1959
While looking for stories of RCAF Station Pagwa I discovered while the USAF was manning the station, in December of 1959, there was (reportedly) a "Dull Sword" incident just north east of there.  That's a nuclear incident, but unlike a "broken arrow" it would have been "minor" or "low risk" - potentially with a delivery system, not the nuke itself.  What does that mean exactly?  We don't know.  Did they "lose" the nuclear weapon in the muskeg, and it's "low risk" because no Soviets are ever going to find it, and it can't detonate - so who cares?  Maybe.  Or, maybe it was because they lost the B-47 and it was nuclear-capable, so it had to be reported as a Dull Sword.  Possible.
USAF F-102 Delta Dart
Here's what happened, as far as I can put together.  An F-102 Delta Dagger had a mid-air collision with a B-47 bomber that *MAY* have been carrying nuclear weapons.  Some exercises had the B-47s carrying nuclear bombs without the detonators, so they couldn't "go off", but they would make a mess if they impacted with the ground and broke up, or exploded - but if neither happened... well... they shouldn't contaminate anything, they're sealed.

Reportedly the crash was near 50.30N 84.18W - there's no sign of anything that I can see on Google Maps around there - but I'd love to visit the crash site if it could be found.  What really happened?  Don't know.  I haven't found any official records from that time, and in the usual places I look, the time period is oddly missing.

View Larger Map

Second Stop:
RCAF Station Lowther / CFS Lowther ( 1957-1987 )

CFS Lowther

Lowther was also constructed and operated by the USAF in the beginning, and transferred to the RCAF in July of 1963, it was the last of the Pinetree line stations to be handed over to the Canadians.

From all reports there isn't anything but foundations and roads left at the operational site of Lowther, but the comm station (East of there) may still be, at least partially, there.

Third Stop:
RCAF Station Ramore / CFS Ramore ( 1953-1974 )

CFS Ramore
The USAF built Ramore as well, and transferred ownership to the RCAF in 1962.  Ramore was quite a complex, with 3 gravel airstrips, it's own private lake, a rifle range, and a massive complex of buildings.  The operational site, where the radar was located, was on top of a mountain - an anomaly to the landscape, providing a fantastic view.
The mountain is called; Lava Mountain.

After Ramore was decommissioned it was sold to a local interest as a lodge, which failed and closed.  Today virtually all the buildings are still there, as well as most of the operational site at the top of the mountain, and completely accessible.

View Larger Map

Fouth Stop:
RCAF Station North Bay / CFB North Bay
BOMARC Site ( 1964-1972 )

I have the impression that most Canadians do not understand the extent with which Canada was involved with the cold war, the nuclear arms race, and how many nuclear arms Canada was armed with.  The CIM-10 Bomarc surface-to-air missile sites in Ontario and Quebec were nuclear tipped surface to air missiles intended to disintegrate Soviet bombers as they flew over the Canadian North.  This was essentially a nuclear missile shield - we'd knock out several bombers with one missile - or that was the idea.

A CIM-10 Bomarc surface-to-air missile
on its launcher
The Canadian SAM 446 Squadron manned the North Bay BOMARCs at a small launch site 11km North of the main CFB North Bay location along highway 11.  The location is still there today, I believe that's at least partially because of the robustness of the BOMARC launch pads - it would be incredibly difficult to remove them, as they are heavily reinforced concrete bunkers.

I believe today it is run as a self-storage facility, is fenced, and is not publicly accessible... without some sweet-talkin'.

View Larger Map

As you can see, I do enjoy planning a good road trip.  The key to success on this one will be to not break down with a new-to-me vehicle, taking the northern-most Ontario East-West highway. 
This has the makings of a horror movie - maybe a book?  We'll see.

Th sale fell through, so the trip never happened... but the good news is all these locations are still on my "MUST SEE" list, so the research and investigation I've already put toward them hasn't gone to waste.

October 15, 2011

The Bombardier Iltis - the perfect exploring vehicle

I've got my eye on buying a 1984 Bombardier Iltis; crazy?  Not really, here's why.

In the early 1980's the Canadian Forces needed a small light four wheel drive vehicle for their people to zoom around it.  The request for a suitable proposal went out, and Bombardier won the bid with a licensed Volkswagen "Model 183", the same design being used by several other militaries the world over, with some slight modifications to suit the Canadian Forces requirements.  

The Iltis had a long list of features that made it an extremely desirable military vehicle.  It could drive through solid-bottomed bodies of water up to 2 feet deep without stalling, due to its elevated air intake.  It had selectable 4WD with locking differentials.  The manual transmission had a "ground" gear, which acted as a doubler for 1st gear through an integrated transfer case - giving it a rock-crawling low gear capability for awkward driving situations.  It was built around a 1.7L Volkswagen, 4 cylinder, liquid cooled engine which put out about 75 horsepower.  To me, the Iltis was a resurrection of what made the original military "Jeep" so awesome.
Volkswagen Model 183
(predecessor to the Bombardier Iltis)

Sketch / Diagram
The Iltis, specifically in Ontario, is a tricky beast.  The Ontario Ministry of Transport no longer allows licenses to be issued to them (due to politics, not safety).  Those which are on the road can stay on the road, but no others can get licensed as road vehicles.

I have a daily driver car, and a daily driver truck right now.  The truck costs twice as much as the car in gas, because it's a Dodge 5.9L Magnum V8 which consumes gas as fast as you pour it in - but I love it, and will hate to get rid of it.  The purpose for buying the truck was utility - we live on the outskirts of town, and we're always moving something, usually something you wouldn't want in a carpeted Suburban-like.  The truck was purchased as a "hauler".  The truck does not have to be a daily driver for me - in fact, by being daily driver-able, I tend to drive it more than I should, because I love to drive it - it's my "sports car".  Selling the truck and getting an Iltis will make the vehicle less-of a daily driver.  I don't think I'll be taking the Iltis to work every day (who am I kidding, I'll be taking it to work in the summer FOR SURE).  It will be able to get a Christmas tree, it will be able to tow my welder, it will be able to move any dirty objects I need moved - trees, bushes, whatever.  The interior is military quality - functional, no frills, bare metal, no silly carpet.

Ex-Canadian Forces
Light Utility Vehicle Wheeled (LUVW)
The Bombardier Iltis
Why now?  Well, this past year I started my trek to see all of the Pinetree Line stations - they've mostly been torn down, but some ruins still remain in the bush, partially accessible by car.  I have plans to go to Casey, QC and see the abandoned runway there as well.  Having a four wheel drive vehicle, capable of driving all day, and then going off road to a location in the bush became a requirement.  Just before the last trip to the former site of RCAF Station Parent (in Parent, QC) the truck's brake line blew in downtown Ottawa - fortunate for me, as I would have been screwed if it had blown five hours from home.  I drove the front wheel drive sedan all the way to Parent QC, which was a fun 5hr drive, but the sedan was really out of it's league on the dirt roads.  I needed something with proper four wheel drive to get where I wanted to go, even if I had been driving my truck, it is only a rear wheel drive vehicle.

I've known about the Iltis for a long time, but I never thought it was a practical choice - until a member of the family showed one to me the other day, and a friend of mine sourced one for sale in Thunder Bay, Ontario.  After seeing an Iltis up close, it seemed like the right vehicle for me.  With my interest in Canadian military history, love of militaria, and use case for an occasional vehicle that was sturdy and off-road worthy - it seems to be the right choice.

VW Iltis - 1980 Paris Dakar Rally Winner
Looking more into the history of the Iltis, I found it was used as a Rally car as well - winning the 1980 Paris Dakar rally!  Granted, it was a 110HP version, but the rest of it was pretty much stock!

"Back in 1980, an almost entirely production-based Volkswagen Iltis sufficed to achieve the duo’s victory. The off-road vehicle was only complemented by underbody protection, modified dampers, a roll cage, different seats, additional instruments and a further fuel tank. The standard 1.7-litre engine delivered about 110 instead of 75 hp for the 10,000-kilometre rally distance from France via Algeria, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and (then) Upper Volta, all the way to Senegal."

I'm currently in a holding pattern regarding the purchase; waiting for a safety check by the seller's local VW dealer, and waiting for my insurance broker to come through with a price to insure it.  Wish me luck!

August 22, 2011

Visit to the former site of RCAF Station Parent

I had a lot of people ask "WHY?" make a trip to "the middle of nowhere". Ultimately it was part adventurer, part treasure-hunter, and in part to honour the men and women of the Royal Canadian Air Force who for ten years manned the station, to defend the country, in an isolated and harsh environment. I believe this is a mostly forgotten port of Canadian history, which is a shame, because of the tens of thousands of enlisted personnel who invested sizable chunks of their lives, and the lives in their families who were stationed with them, at dozens of similar bases across the country. At some level I just wanted to stand on the top of the mountain where the base stood, and see what they saw.

Prior to travelling to Parent, QC I researched the commanding officer's logs from the inception of the base in 1950 to it's closure in the 1960s, found all the recent satellite photos that were available, some air photos, and searched for any pictures of the base that I could find; present and past. In so doing, I found an incredible number of photos taken by the men and women stationed at the station. Unfortunately, most of the pictures give no credit to the photographer nor those in the pictures, so I will be re-posting them (unfortunately) as such.

As a bit of background, there were several sites of significance which I wanted to see. Several of the names of these sites change between sources which I have found them mentioned in, therefore I am not sure if some are actually the same.

- The Dam (unknown location)
- The septic processing facility (at "Disposal Lake")
- The "Domestic Site" (residences of the stationed personnel of RCAF Station Parent)
- The "Operational Site" (the radar station at the top of the mountain)
- The back-up site (separate from the main site?)
- The VHF transmitter site / COMM Site  (not the same as the back-up site?)
- The airfield (just outside of town)

The trip to Parent took far less time than originally expected. 2hrs from Ottawa to Mont Saint Michel, and 3hrs from Mont Saint Michel to Parent, QC. Along the way we stopped 3 times for bio-breaks, and snacks. Janet had provided wonderful home made sandwiches (made with love, xoxo)

(NB, I am writing this first draft to the tune of a pack of wolves howling and getting some local dogs very riled up.)

Between Mont Saint Michel and Parent, QC (on the dirt road) we hit a torrential downpour, the dirt road turned to slop since the water had nowhere to go, and I became religious ("oh god! oh god!)... as we almost spun out. I regained control and pointed the car in the correct direction making good time to get to Parent, despite the weather.

"Tower Road"
On Sunday August 21st 2011, we visited the main site. The main road up to the top (then called "Tower Road", now "Chemin de la Tour") was dirt, with some wash outs at the sides, but the sedan was able to make it all the way to the top without difficulty. I had worried that I'd need a 4WD vehicle to make it to the summit, and that with the 2WD sedan we'd have to walk - luckily that wasn't the case.

"Upper Lake"
We found the "Upper Lake" half way up the mountain without any issue. I believe this is the lake which the main site drew water from.  The domestic site drew water from a well.  I'm not sure if the water drawn from the upper lake was for toilet facilities, cooling, or for some processing to become drinkable water.  I believe there was a pumping station, which we assumed would have been somewhere around the lake on the North side. I had read that they had to blast through a significant amount of rock to run the pipe, so I was sure something was around the lake.  We gave up looking after inspecting what we could from the roadside.  In hindsight, from the 1961 air photo, it looks like there is a cut in the treeline which corresponds to the gap in the trees we could see - but we hadn't seen any buildings... the building could be located on the domestic-site side of the lake rather than the operational site side, and then have run the pipe around the lake and back up the hill. Either way, we missed that one.

The tetanus shot hole
Once at the top we found there wasn't much left of the "operational site", which was expected.  Short of using a concrete saw to open up a hole in the leftmost concrete structure (which is hollow) or the main site (to see if there is a partial basement), there is only one way into any of the structures, which required a rope ladder and a tetanus shot.  The hole into the building's floor is a man-sized entrance, large enough to fit yourself into the basement. There is metal and concrete debris, and an unknown quantity of water in the bottom. I didn't and wouldn't go down there myself. I do not think a ladder would be realistic, but a rope ladder would likely work. Have your best ninja skills handy and a hard hat if you try this!  I suggested a hammer drill from the outside would be a nice bonus - as you could let the water out before entering from the top. Smart eh?

concrete lid, to nowhere?
Down a path, we found a circular/octagonal concrete platform which looked like a foundation. However, there is a "lid" of concrete on it, which made us wonder if this was a reservoir or other entrance below. We did not have sufficient equipment to move the concrete, nor put it back, and left it alone.

no shortage of scrap metal
There is no shortage of steel ducting and wreckage, which I don't quite understand, as the vast majority of the base was clearly demolished and carted away. Why would they leave so much junk on the top of the hill, but cart so much away?

There is a massive microwave antenna at the top of the hill, as well as some repeater antenna for presumably SQ or other emergency vehicles.  It may also act as a repeater station for telephone service (land line, not cell).  As an aside, there is no cell service, from anyone, at all, for 200km in any direction.  This is the land where CB and SSW reign supreme.  Every truck has one if not two antennas for UHF/VHF/CB radios; and also, all the locals have trucks or big SUVs.  Cars are in the minority, by a long shot.  The giant antenna is set into the centre of the foundation of the Operational Site, and a perimeter fence is set up around it.
clean bathroom!
Funny enough, partly outside the fence is clearly where one of the Operational Site bathrooms were, since the tiled floor and plumbing holes are still visible.  After scouring the main operational site for any trace of anything, and not finding any more than expected, I was slightly disappointed. 60 years since it's construction, and ~50 years since it was decommissioned, I shouldn't expect relics just sitting around.  To have *something* I nabbed a chunk of tile from the bathroom.  What?

Nice view at ~1800ft
We headed back down the mountain, and stopped near the new smaller antenna and generator (Marked NavCan) which seemed to be about where the path to what I believe the COMM site was had been.  The car wouldn't fit down the trail, so we walked. We walked past the antenna, until the well kept maintenance path stopped, and the barely visible path through the woods continued... we followed the trail through the very dense overgrowth, over trees, and under overgrown shrubs until we saw the COMM site - not just a foundation, the whole freakin' thing!

The COMM site - JACKPOT!
The COMM Site (aka VHF Transmitter Site?) was in a severe state of deterioration, and half of the building had already collapsed (I think).  Without clear "before" pictures it is hard for me to say how big the building had been.  A couple of vintage photos may show the COMM site's wing which had already collapsed.  Clearly there was rubble on the far side of the structure, but I couldn't tell if it had been a walled structure or a chassis which additional equipment may have been mounted on top of.

not sure what this room was...
There was a steel building which looked like an outhouse on the far side of the collapsed building as well, I couldn't tell what it had been from where I stood, and couldn't safely get any closer.  Huge chunks of concrete block wall had fallen outward from the building, light streamed in, only some pipes, insulation, and ducting remained of the equipment which was there.  No plumbing fixtures remained.  Only electrical conduit and other building material lay strewn about.

NB: collapsed bldg through the arch
 Channels in the floor showed where thick electrical cables ran under the equipment and underfoot. Of note, not a scrap of garbage or any sign than anyone had been there in 50 years was found, and we left it exactly as we had found it.  I thought the amount of lush foliage around it was extremely impressive considering we were up at an elevation of 556M (1800ft).  Raspberries, blueberries, and all sorts of weed trees has engulfed a site which was once completely devoid of vegetation.  I was also extremely impressed that through our prior research we had successfully found a "lost" site that had missed the wrecking ball.  I don't think this find will be repeated at many other sites, and I feel very lucky to have found this one.  Aside from the bathroom, and maybe the machine room where AC conduit seemed to be plentiful, there were no indications in the other rooms regarding what they were for.

I've never seen concrete block "go"
We also could not find a way into the basement (if there was one - there seemed to be).  The exterior of the building showed how the other walls had crumbled; water damage has been eating away at the concrete with freeze/thaw for 50+ years, it's a good example of the power of nature to reclaim the land; even from a concrete and steel structure.  I've never seen concrete block crumble the way it did there.

"Disposal Lake"
I had read that the effluent from the domestic site flowed into the "disposal lake", which was situated north of the "Domestic Site", so naturally there should be some kind of septic facility on the edge of the lake, no?  Well, we headed to the lake and found it past the town.  We could hear running (trickling) water through two drains that were headed along side the road we were following, so it only made sense that the town's effluent was likely still going in that same direction.  Unfortunately we didn't find the septic facility, but suspect it is located along an ATV trail to the west of where we saw the lake.  There was no smell, no residue, or any sign that the lake was polluted in any fashion.  Mind you, I didn't go for a swim...

"Domestic Site"
The residential part of the base, known as the Domestic Site, had a hospital, mess hall, gym, etc.  All buildings that were not Primary Married Quarters (PMQs) were (sadly) torn town.  The PMQs which remained varied in upkeep wildly.  Some were clearly very well kept, others were burnt out husks.  Most were somewhere in the middle, and clearly not upscale.  The neighbourhood could use with a little urban renewal, but without a new industry coming to town, I think that's highly unlikely.

The Beach, when it was huge
The beach that was once a focal point of the community doesn't look like it's used by anyone anymore.  It's a shame, since so much enjoyment seemed to have been derived from that area when the station was active.

If you were wondering why it's called Rainbow Lake (Lac Rainbow), I am too.  I presume it is because of the lake trout which they sewed in ~1954, after poisoning and wiping out all indigenous fish the previous year.  It was a different time.  Did I mention the DDT fogging and oiling of the local swamps within a 3 mile radius to control the insect population?  Again, it was a different time, and that's what you did to control insect pests.

1961 Air Photo
It was a great trip (and had good company - Thanks D.A.!) and I believe I'll need to visit the site again, to capture the sites which I missed, and better document what I've seen. :)


Rainbow Lake, and the Operational Site
I don't recall if this tree is still there...

Operational Site, from the Domestic Site side

Operational site, viewed from COMM Site

COMM Site, viewed from Operational Site


Operational Site viewed from COMM Site

Operational Site, from the air

The view from the Domestic Site

The view from the Domestic Site

Operational Site before Radome install


Undated Topographic Map

View Larger Map

August 16, 2011

Road Trip to RCAF Station Parent (Parent, QC)

For the past decade or so I've wanted to do a cold war road trip through the southern states and west coast; hitting most of the national labs, test sites, aircraft graveyards, and other historically significant places to do with the cold war and nuclear weapons programs. Unfortunately, due to the increased level of paranoia in the US, I don't think a foreign national coming into the country to take pictures of missile bases and such would be terribly popular, and might even end me up in jail. So, what's a guy to do? Well, what do we have IN Canada that's interested? Beavers, Moose... we have the Diefenbunker! But... the Diefenbunker is a hop skip and a jump away from my house, there's no fun in that. What about the radar stations from the 1950's which protected CAN/US interests from the Soviet bomber fleet? I knew there was one in Foymount ( a nice day trip if I went there ) but I didn't know how many other sites there were across Canada. According to Wikipedia, 44! Then I found out about the BOMARC program, that adds at least another two sites. With a little digging I found the locations of all these sites; they stretch from coast to coast, and then up the coasts! I don't know that this idea is quite the same as the cold war road trip that I'd originally went looking for, but it sure started to look interesting.
Looking for information regarding the current state of these sites, I quickly discovered something. Some of these sites have been razed to the ground and totally wiped off the planet. Others have been re-purposed and are inhabited ...But many were re-purposed, then abandoned - and the radar sites that are the most remote, are the most intact. Radar stations which are close to urban centers (I'm looking at you Montreal) have been burned out, grafiti'd, and generally abused. The bases I'm most interested in are those which look as they did, or even if the buildings were razed, I'd like the area to look as they did. I realized that I wanted to get up there, and take a lot of pictures. I wanted to chronicle what it looked like today, and by being there, understand some of what the people went through when they were stationed to these remote stations. I want to get to the top of each hill, stand where the radar station was, and take pictures of the view - as the first people stationed there would have 60 years ago. 

I settled on a radar station that was located near Parent, Quebec; RCAF Station Parent (1950-1963).
By doing my research, I found many family pictures of people who were stationed there, the winter carnivals, halloween, christmas parties... you name it. The bonus; many of the pictures had the station or it's buildings behind those who were posing!

Looking at how far this trip would be, I didn't think ~400Km would take *that* long, and I'd pack a lunch, and probably a sleeping bag. Google suggested that the trip would take ~9hrs. WHAT? Well, after the first two hours of travel gets you to Mont Saint Michel, the road quality drops off. What's the good news? I found pictures of the roads around there:
irt road, yes, but not so bad! Google has no idea how quickly people can travel on an unpaved road, so I hope it's just a very conservative 9hrs. Also, the road is *THE* road and realistically should be beaten down by the trucks, as it is the ONLY road that heads south from town, and there is a heavy lumber industry in the area.

I was kicking around the idea of camping vs. Motel, but once I found out that only one of four motels in town gave you your own bathroom (all 1 star I might add), I figured camping sounded pretty good. With the bears... Sleeping with a shotgun... The camp site also has toilets and showers; civilization! I tried calling ahead to reserve a spot; they were quite surprised I even called, and insisted they would have lots of space.
I get the idea nobody in their right mind goes to Parent, Quebec to camp...


The national archives have copies of all the commanding officer's logs from the ten year period the station was in service, as well as the years preceding that when it was being built. It is incredible how much information is contained with them, including reference to the Cuban missile crisis and elevating their threat level to DEFCON 3A!
I have lots of stories from the commanding officer's log regarding the very interesting and colourful beginnings of the base (including Canada Goose and UFO stories...) but here are two of my favourites:

"the combined mess building was taken over by the RCAF and to relieve the boredom for those on the scene, a combined canteen was organized on 18 Mar 53. To mark the opening of the canteen and also as it presented the first opportunity for those present to reciprocate for the hospitality extended by the local inhabitants, a party was arranged for the night of Saturday, 21 March. This party was intended as only an informal "do" and would be by written invitation. However, the local inhabitants, isolated as they are from what is going on in the "outside world", let their imaginations run wild as to what an Air Force function would be. As a result, the number of people invited steadily grew in order not to offend anyone and word came back to the RCAF personnel of elaborate purchases of evening dresses, etc. Rather than disillusion those who were going to such great lengths, the small party of RCAF personnel kept adding to the programme for the evening. As a result, the final party and the free dinner that went with it would have done justice to any of the large messes in the RCAF. The food for the party was prepared and given free by the firm of Crawley & McCracken, who were mentioned earlier as catering contractor for the project. The company spared no expenses in preparing a wonderful spread. The next morning a great deal of food remained and all the members of the RCAF Detachment dined on it rather than the rugged bill of fare they were accustomed to daily in the camp cook house. Afterwards a quantity of food still remained, and so it was decided to parcel it up and donate it to an encampment of Cree Indians situated halfway to Parent. This was probably the best food the Indians had had in many a moon as they had been scavenging the garbage dump for food from the contractor’s camp. From that time on until the Indians broke camp with the coming spring, the RCAF vehicles passing through their camp were treated as "the great white fathers" and received the joyous shouting and waving of all the "braves". This one episode has been recounted in some detail as it can serve as a criterion of the many pleasant experiences enjoyed by the Detachment in the early stages of 14 ACW Squadron."
    - CC Underhill, Wing Commander, Commanding Officer, 14 ACW Squadron
        November 30th, 1953

"of interest for the record to note the social and economic side effects that the construction of the radar station invoked. Prices of commodities and services in the town of Parent immediately soared, especially those services catering to entertainment and relaxation of a large body of construction workers. The peak work force was in the neighbourhood of 1,000 men and with the high rate of pay and a cost plus project, money was plentiful. The purveyors of alcohol and hotel operators in particular, found their income exceeding their fondest expectations. In a town where previously only one ancient taxi cab operated, now a fleet of thirty modern taxis roared uninhibited on the gravel roads making a small fortune for their operators. Under such conditions it was inevitable that social dislocations would occur and the writers of this chronicle have heard the stories of impromptu battles when gangs of lumberjacks and construction workers met head-on in the town of Parent. The high point of this episode was the night in Parent when a hundred men were involved simultaneously in one huge free-for-all on the main street."
    - CC Underhill, Wing Commander, Commanding Officer, 14 ACW Squadron
        November 30th, 1953

I get a lot of people asking what I want to do up there. Well, it's like a treasure hunt really. To the casual observer, the base is a bunch of razed buildings, and some Primary Married Quarters buildings still stand. To the treasure hunter and amateur historian (um, me) I have found out where the pipes run, how much rock had to be blasted, where the septic facility was, that there was a 100,000 Gallon reservoir buried at the top of the hill, and potentially a 2nd 10,000 Gallon reservoir. Those holes weren't filled in, so they're still there - vast caverns buried underground. The basements of the facilities are likely still intact as well, although some deterioration of the concrete can be expected and has been photographed by previous adventurers. Someone mentioned welded doors leading to a tunnel, where are they, and where do they go? No, I'm not going up there to break and enter, but I will photograph the entire area and try and put together an idea of how the base was laid out, back in the day.

The Village of Parent has a large lumber mill which employs at least 150 locals. The village is (at most) 250 people, so it's a one industry village; but they have a gas station, corner store, post office, churches, etc. They are a hub of outfitting come hunting season, as they are in the middle of nowhere Quebec - I bet the hunting is pretty darn good up there (too bad I don't hunt). I just hope the locals are as friendly in person as they have been on the phone. I suspect they'll like a little influx of cash at the local resto/bar.

As well as the Main Site (at the top of the hill) and the Domestic Site (at the bottom of the hill, where they slept), there is a small landing strip, an antenna I'd like to check out (for the view), a derelict hydro electric dam somewhere which looks very creepy, and a fire station which is begging for me to photograph it!

No, sadly I know I will not. There is a cold war airbase east of there with a ~14,000+ foot CONCRETE runway, but inaccessible to a two wheel drive pickup (mine). I need at least a 4WD truck or jeep. Anyone want to lend me an H1 for the weekend? No? Bah.
To the best of my understanding RCAF Station Casey was built (or seriously upgraded) in the 1950s by the American Army Corp of Engineers, who blasted a channel around the airstrip to divert a significant amount of water traveling along a stream/river, and installed the massive runway to service fully laden nuclear bombers, en route to the USSR. B-52 bombers, to be exact, needed that long an airstrip to land/get up to speed with their full payload of ordinance. If there was a B-52 doing maneuvers in Canada's North, the US wanted to make sure they had a few emergency airstrips dotted around to service their planes. Well, that's the official story, so far - I think the base was used for more than that, but I have more digging to do.
I know with certainty that the base was located near the rail line, so any heavy equipment, fluids (gas), or ordinance could be easily shipped in. The airstrip was extremely remote, and invisible from the rail line. I know for a fact the base was capable of refueling planes up to and including the 1970's (as the below plane crashed on takeoff). The RCAF Designated Base was officially closed in 1960.
Since that time, there has been at least one crash (in 1972 killing all three aboard). That crash was a Lockheed L-1049H, the same type of plane that was used by The Rolling Stones, and frequently flown by Air America... you remember them, right? The airfield was also the site of the biggest coke bust in Canadian history, performed by an RCMP interdiction squad, after four CF-18s gave chase. I believe the aerodrome ceased to be operational in the 1980's for anyone's use, but I'm looking into that.

"Captain Jim Carlin and (it is believed) Flight Engineer Rick Riccatelli lost their lives in the crash of another Connie ... On 9 June 1973, Lockheed L-1049H Super Constellation N173W (c/n 4674) was taking-off from Casey, Quebec in Canada when it crashed into trees soon after take-off and was destroyed by explosion and fire. The third crew member, First Officer A. Condey, was also killed in the crash. The aircraft had been modified for spraying pesticides on forests and it was engaged in these operations on the day of the crash. The investigation revealed that the flaps had been retracted prematurely after take-off. N173W was previously owned by Lance Dreyer's Unum Inc."
"1992 Casey Quebec - RCMP seize record 4,323 kilos of cocaine with a street value of $2.7 billion. The Canadian military, with the help of the US DEA, track the plane from South America, then chase it with jet fighters and military helicopters over New Brunswick, forcing it to land at a remote Quebec airstrip; on Nov. 20 they close a processing lab in Laval and arrest 4 Quebeckers, 3 Columbian nationals."