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. 
No? 
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.


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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.





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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'.





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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.

UPDATE:
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.

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