July 18, 2012

A Pinetree Line pit-stop: Graham, Ontario

(updated and reposted)

Between CFS Armstrong and CFS Sioux Lookout there was supposed to have been a "gap filler site", filling in where the two station's radar couldn't quite reach in the 1950s.  From my understanding, there wouldn't be a full base, just a tower with a Radome on the top.

This is an even more "forgotten" part of the Pinetree Line, as this was one of the few gap-filler sites which were built, then cancelled before the project went operational.  I believe this was because the radars on either side were upgraded, and the gap-filler program was no longer needed - there wasn't a blind spot to be filled anymore!  There were gap filler sites planned across the entire Pinetree line, this isn't the only site by any stretch - I just happened to notice it while researching Northern Ontario.

From my best guess, the gap filler site was slightly Northwest of the green arrow on the highest elevation.  From my other adventures, I know that 50 years of foliage fully covers even terrain that had been razed to the ground - so I don't expect finding anything is going to be easy.  But it will be an adventure!

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Further to the Southwest there were two gravel airstrips 50+ years ago; I don't have any information about them other than what I can see on the Topographic map of the area.  Indeed, from the satellite photo, those gravel airstrips haven't been used in a long time.  From the topo map, it was "Graham Airfield" - did it have other names?  Was it military?  Was it built as a great depression make work project, like so many airstrips in Northern Ontario?

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Conveniently, Graham Ontario is along the road less travelled between the former site of CFS Armstrong and CFS Sioux Lookout.  How convenient!  I hope to see what's left, if there's anything at all, when I pass through.

While the land may have been surveyed or selected for a potential site for a gap filler radar site no development at all is recorded in the archives.  Graham is only ever mentioned as being in the "planning" phase, there isn't anything there to see.

Is an ex-Canadian Forces MLVW a better camping vehicle than an ex-CF Iltis?

 The Canadian Forces Medium Logistic Vehicle Wheeled (MLVW) "Short Wheelbase" version
(Photo: Steffan Watkins)

How does this fit in?
There were both shortfalls and advantages to having a small vehicle (the Iltis) in Parent/Casey this spring.  The Iltis can get into tight spaces, and I didn't care if I scratched the paint, but the soft top is extremely expensive to replace, so I didn't drive it like a bull into places where it could be damaged.  There was one spot through the bush that I would have shoved a vehicle through with a hard top, a zipper of tree branches had formed across a straight gravel road.  The bushes from either side had grown up, over, and then hung down blocking the road.  We pushed our way through on foot, but it was quite unpleasant.  An ATV might have been painful, but something with a windscreen and bush bars would have been perfect.

(Photo: DND Combat Camera)
The Iltis is a 3200lb vehicle, with a towing capacity of 1200lbs (on a good day); that's not enough to tow an ATV on a trailer to get into the spots the Iltis can't fit into; but it can tow a 1/4 ton trailer. The Iltis is nimble because it is small; but because it is small, it can't fit very much cargo.  Camping for an extended period of time with one+ tents, one+ sleeping bags, food, water, etc. enough for one+ people is tight.  Yes, I know I could pack lighter.

Using the Goldilocks method of vehicle shopping, I've tried out the Iltis, and am not dissatisfied with it, but think going in the "other direction" is worth a look.  Something like an MLVW or Deuce and a Half.  That big a truck may be "too big", but let's go over it for the sake of argument.

Based on the American M35 chassis that has been around since the Korean War, the MLVW (short wheelbase version, as shown above) has a 8' X 12' box, and can carry 5,000 lbs of cargo off-road, or 10,000lbs of cargo on the highway.  It has a maximum speed of 90km/h, uses an Allison Automatic MT-643 automatic transmission, and a 50Gal / 189L gas tank.  It is powered by a ~160HP Detroit Diesel 8.2L "Fuel Pincher", which will get you ~400-600Km on a tank.  It has a 10,000lb hydraulic winch on the front bumper, and rides on six Michelin "Super Singles" (Michelin 11.00R20's) rather than the American ten wheel configuration.  The cab is solid, doesn't have a soft top like some of the American versions, and has roof racks to store more stuff above the driver.  It has a 24V (standard NATO style) power setup, with 4 batteries for deep cold starting power.  It weighs ~13,000-17,000lbs (depending on configuration, as they can add an entire communications or other box on the back rather than the open troop bed and canvas top as shown above).  Like the "VW Iltis", the American M35 design was licensed to Bombardier, and after 1500 improvements were made (for Canadian winters and changing other things that didn't make sense) 2,765 units were made for the Canadian Forces in the early 1980s.
(Photo: DND Combat Camera)

For my use, I could fit a couple of ATVs, fuel, lockable secure storage bins, and a bunch of camping gear in the back of an MLVW, take it to somewhere like Parent, QC, dismount the ATVs and go exploring on them.  OR, I could make a ramp and drive an Iltis in the back of the MLVW, keep that Iltis licensed only as an ATV, and use it the same way up north.

The major obstacle to getting an MLVW for my Cold War road trips isn't solely the cost (they run from $5,000.00-20,000.00 CDN), nor the parts (they're plentiful down south, you just need to know the right wrecker!), it's licensing and storage.

I don't have a barn or massive "RV" sized garage to store one of these in, and work on it in the winter.  I can barely fit the lawn mower, snow blower, and car in the garage at once as it is!  I'm not the most skilled shade-tree mechanic, but with the right space I can disassemble something and take my time re-assembling it.

(Photo: DND Combat Camera)
Licensing is somewhat of a mystery in Ontario - there are lots of people who claim to know what needs to be done, but I find litle common ground, and a lot of FUD (Fear Uncertainty Doubt).  Part of the equation is the Ontario Ministry of Transportation.  Rumour has it that Transport Canada doesn't want any Deuce and a Halves or MLVWs on the road due to fears about public safety; The bumpers are too high, they didn't pass Federal standards for highway vehicles, and other, frankly, bullshit.  These vehicles were built to transport our men, women, and equipment into battle, and take the highways to get there. Rumours about the brakes being unsafe are also, bullshit.  Depending what vehicle we're talking about, there is some speculation that the air-assisted brake system is unsafe and if it fails you're dead.  Well if it was that unsafe, how could it have ever been used in a military vehicle?  I have an idea; make sure the brakes work and are properly maintained like any other vehicle, and stop worrying about ways to keep this vehicle off the streets.  Then there's insurance... insurance companies don't know what to make of me when I call and ask for a 2.5Ton 6x6 truck to be insured.  Actually, they don't even return my calls. :-\

I guess my point is, even if I could have one, space and money permitting, the bureaucrats would make it as difficult for me as possible to have a vintage military transport truck as a hobby weekend warrior camping vehicle.  Why?  I don't know.  People build cars from kits with less trouble.  People rebuild cars from the early 20th century and drive them around town to car shows.  I'd rather be in an MLVW on the highway than a vintage car, thankyouverymuch!