May 10, 2015

Reviewing the Casey Emergency Airstrip 1964 air photo

I already went over the Casey Emergency Airstrip domestic site in a previous blog post, but wanted to do a similar blog post regarding the other air photo I purchased from the National Air Photo Library.

I've been to Casey on two occasions, so this post is built on what I saw on the ground, as well as what I've put together from air photos, satellite photos, the site plan for RCAF Station Casey that Dave St-Laurent acquired from the National Archives, and some common sense derived from how other bases and stations of the time have been laid out.

From the best of my understanding, the airstrip was requested by National Defence to be built by Transport Canada, in support of the Pinetree Line project, like many other emergency airfields across Canada.  I have a document that proves that much.  Then, it seems from air photos at the National Air Photo Library, that the initial construction of the airstrip didn't have the alert apron, but by 1964 it did.  Does this indicate a 2nd phase or upgrade? Or was the first air photo I saw just mid-construction?  I'm unsure, but I believe the airstrip was upgraded in the late 1950s to accommodate emergencies with larger planes, like the B-52, rather than just air-defence interceptors like the CF-100, as I believe they had originally intended.

Dave St-Laurent retrieved from the National Archives a site plan showing a further planned expansion, but I'm unsure of the date it was drafted up.  One of the other documents I found shows that further expansion of the Casey air strip (to be called RCAF Station Casey) couldn't proceed because they couldn't find sufficient solid ground to put the buildings.  If you've been there, or look at a topographic map, you'll see the area is very swampy.  Luckily the site plan for the expansion shows the names and types of buildings that were already there, as well as showing what they planned to add.  This really helps decipher the air photo from 1964.

The full resolution TIFF image can be downloaded here (over 100Mb) so you can draw your own conclusions.

"U/S Explosives Storage"  per Site Plan
I originally thought the label of "U/S Explosives Storage" on the site plan meant United States Explosives (aka Ammo) Storage... but I now think this was for "UnStable" explosives, maybe dynamite or other such explosives that would have been used to construct the airstrip.  The location is over 500 meters from the runway, which I presume isn't a coincidence.  The same temporary structure on a cement pad with high berms around it could have been used for ammunition if a plane made an emergency landing and needed to offload munitions.

Control Tower and Bridge
It isn't clear to me what the other buildings are in this photo, but the control tower is clearly visible.

"Gravel Pit" per Site Plan
In the proposed site plan the above was shown as a "Gravel Pit", right near where the future PMQs would be, as well as a drill hall and churches.

"Old Borrow Pit" per Site Plan
I was not familiar with the term "Borrow Pit" but after looking it up, it makes sense.  I walked along the trail (shown) that goes from the runway to the NW of the picture in 2012; while quite overgrown it is passable.  Walking back, through the bush rather than the same trail, I didn't notice anything unusual, the area was relatively flat, had lots of trees, shrubs and moss, and no hint of what it had previously been used for.

"New Borrow Pit" per Site Plan
This "New borrow pit" I didn't actually get to when visiting the Casey air strip, the woods are pretty dense around there.  I guess this would have just been where clean fill would have been taken from to fill in where other uneven areas were, probably to do with the construction of the alert apron, I would guess, based on proximity.

Bridge , which isn't there anymore
Centered in the middle is where a bridge used to be, but has been washed away over the years.  The lake comes to a pinch at that spot and the crossing doesn't look to me to be possible in an ATV.  Either side is too steep, and the water looks deep.  The picture makes it look like the bridge may have been a dam; I'm not sure, since it has all been washed away.

Water well and supporting buildings
The site plan explained what this cluster of buildings above are; it's where the fresh water well that the domestic site drew water is located.  I'm unclear how many buildings were there, and how it was powered, but I see at least 3-4 buildings - perhaps they had their own generator to power the pumps?  Due to the aforementioned bridge being gone I didn't make it there.

Remote RX Site for VHF and UHF
The site plan clarified that this site is the remote VHF/UHF receiver site for the air strip.

Remote TX Site for VHF and UHF
The site plan clarified that this site is the remote VHF/UHF transmitter site for the air strip.

Alert Apron with space cleared for Alert Hangers
This space looks like it was made for upcoming development, it was where on the site plan alert hangers were supposed to be built, and makes sense since the alert apron was constructed there.  Perhaps the plan had been underway to upgrade the Casey site when the plug was pulled because of a lack of solid ground.  I dont have a date for when the Casey Air Strip was officially decommissioned, or the buildings which were there were razed, but it would have clearly been after this picture was taken in 1964.

On the RCAF Station Casey site plan (never completed) the buildings were described in the following manner.  Their labels on the map sometimes were slightly different.

No.Builidng TypeBuilding Reference
28 Bed HospitalS15-1013
3Control TowerS42-1002
4Central Heating PlantS23-1019
5Ration DepotS17-1002
6Supply DepotS17-1003
712 Bay M.T.GarageS32-1011
8Bulk Fuel StorageC57-21-1000
9Electric Power PlantC57-22-1001
10Combined Mess (300)S31-1030
11Officer's QuartersS30-1030
15O.R.Quarters (Future)
17(not allocated)
18Sewage Disposal PlantC57-24-1001
19Main Supply Pump HouseC57-25-1000
20Explosives StoreS20-1015
21Water ReservoirC57-25-1001
22Well Pumphouse
27VHF/TX RemoteS13-1037
28VHF/RX RemoteS13-1037

May 09, 2015

Reviewing the Casey Emergency Airstrip domestic site 1964 air photo

Originally I posted this blog entry armed only with an air photo, what I saw with my own eyes while I was there, and some common sense based on what I've seen at other Canadian Forces bases and stations.  Just recently I met the acquaintance of Dave St-Laurent, who had made the trek to the National Archives and checked out the Casey file.  Based on the Site Plan for the proposed expansion for the Casey Emergency Airstrip, which would have made it a full fledged "Station", I can now definitively state what the uses were of the buildings in the 1964 air photo from the National Air Photo Library below.

The full resolution TIFF image can be downloaded here (over 100Mb) so you can draw your own conclusions.

Casey Domestic Site - Garage, Boiler, Generator, other

In the above image you can see (bottom right) the 12 bay garage which is visible from the East-West road (the road still exists today).  The SW/NE road at the left of the picture is overgrown and is not realistically passable. You'll notice the top left square building has a smoke stack, and a big pipe, suspended in the air and held up with telephone-poles.  That is the steam/heating plant fueled with diesel from the tanks off the right side of the picture.  That pipe network is the same as you'd see at any Pinetree Line site with a central heating plant.  You'll notice the top right building has at least 3 smoke stacks along the peak of the roof, and no heat/hot-water going to it - it is the diesel powered generator building, and makes its own heat!  The bottom leftmost building was Ration stores, and the middle building between it and the garage was just general storage.

Casey Emergency Airstrip - Mess Hall and other unknown buildings
The cross-shaped building is the mess hall, built to hold 300 people.  The leftmost long building was the headquarters of the base.  The top left building was an 8 bed hospital.  There are transformers on telephone polls at the bottom right of the picture, and in all of the pictures you can see telephone poles which are actually carrying power.

Casey Emergency Airstrip - Barracks
These are typical 1950s era barracks.  Each is connected to the heat pipes, as they wouldn't have their own furnaces. The top right barracks would have been for officers.  The middle section of all of them would have housed common facilities (showers, bathrooms), and each barracks is speculated to have a capacity of ~160 men.

Casey Emergency Airstrip - Diesel storage, and unknown bldg
The berms from these Diesel storage tanks are still there, but the tanks are long gone. I believe I walked over or right past where that little white building was, but I didn't see it at all.  On the site plan it is labelled "pumphouse".  I assume that's to pump the Diesel?  It doesn't seem to have any heat going to it, which is interesting; as a machinery-filled building I guess that makes sense.

Main supply pumphouse

This is labelled the "main supply pumphouse" on the site plan; the main water supply to be precise.  It is heated, clearly so the water wouldn't freeze.  It is built on a reservoir and pumps uphill to another fresh water holding tank.  The water is drawn from a well across the river on the south shore.  I didn't know what that well building was (not pictured), but so far haven't been able to get to it due to the bridge leading to it being out.

CE Building
This is labelled as the CE Building.  Unfortunately I don't know what that is, but maybe it's the Communications and Electronics building?  You'll notice it doesn't have steam pipes leading to it, so it must be making it's own heat.

Intersection to Radio Bldg
Above is the mystery intersection.  I've stood in the middle of this road, and tried to find the North (up) facing road.  I cannot.  Others with GPSes in hand have tried to find that road.  They failed too. How the N/S road up the hill to the radio site has vanished so thoroughly I have no idea.  Along the West side of that road there were telephone polls, which might help in the road's identification.  I can see on the Google and Bing satellite imagery that the road does have different vegetation on it, eventually, but it seems difficult to find the entrance to!

Casey Emergency Airstrip - VHF/UHF/ADF Bldg
This is the "gold" at the top of the hill.  Nobody has seen this building in decades.  Locals can't even find it.  It is the VHF/UHF/ADF building. This is still a major priority of mine for the next trip. 
As best as I can figure the building is at (47.94184, -74.10999).  there were also separate RX and TX buildings for UHF and VHF Northeast of the domestic site.

View Larger Map  |  Get Directions  |  View Bird's Eye

The above is what the site looks like now; overgrown.  Thankfully, the soil isn't very fertile, is mainly sand, and not a lot of serious vegetation has grown up in the area.  It could probably be cleared up and the foundations exposed with a few days of clearing operations and a team of people who are willing to get dirty.