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The Nevada Test Site--Sam's nuclear playground


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#1 El Bibliotecario

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Posted 07 March 2009 - 11:32 AM

Reading the post elsewhere about the army's nuclear power program made me wonder if any correspondents on this board would be interested in the Nevada Test Site. Rather than divert that thread, I began a separate topic.

http://www.nv.doe.gov/nts/default.htm

The above link tells about the Nevada Test Site, an expanse of desert NW of Las Vegas where nuclear testing was conducted for forty years. It is run by the Dept of Energy, and bureaucracies being what they are, the place is still in business, even though its been over fifteen years since they popped the last nuke.

I was dumbfounded when I learned FREE TOURS were available. Go to the website above and click 'tours' to get the details on how to apply. Tours depart from the Atomic Testing Musuem on Flamingo Boulevard in Las Vegas; the group is bussed to Mercury, NV, which is closed to the public, and into the test area. It's an all day tour involving a two hour round trip bus ride--bring your own sack lunch.

The tour brought home to me the stupendous amounts of monies poured into nuclear weapons--at one time the NTS was one of the biggest employers in Nevada. The guides--in my case a retired DOE employee who'd spent his career at the test site--are extremely knowledgable, and make the trip a very informative experience. Included is a visit to a low-level nuclear waste processing area, with a very good briefing--abeit intended to reassure the visitor-- and a stop at one of the surviving houses of Doom Town, the village vaporized to study what would happen to an American city subjected to nuclear attack. I'm sure many correspondents on this board have seen the film of a house that _didn't_ survive--first charred black for an instant from the heat, then a moment later blown into toothpicks.

If your idea of a Las Vegas vacation is limited to gambling, gals, and gin and you wonder why anyone would want to spend a day looking at craters, this might not be your cup of tea. But for those of us old enough to recall the daily possibility of being vaporized because someone in Moscow had a grievance with someone in Washington DC--or vice versa--there's a macabre sense of fascination looking at a place where so much energy and treasure was expended on figuring out how to blow up the world.

Edited by El Bibliotecario, 07 March 2009 - 11:36 AM.


#2 gwb123

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Posted 07 March 2009 - 04:36 PM

Fascinating. Apparently there is a whole sub genre of the tourist trade devoted to seeking out former and present "forbidden and classified" areas. I've always had an interest in former Nike Missile sites myself, some of which were in highly populated areas.

I think that image of a house bursting into flames during an atomic test is forever burned into the psyche of everyone who was alive during that period. It sure made you pay attention to those "duck and cover" drills. It's surprising that there is anything left on those sites at all.

Edited by gwb123, 07 March 2009 - 04:37 PM.


#3 El Bibliotecario

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Posted 07 March 2009 - 05:12 PM

GWB--if you like Nike sites, read Gordon Liddy's memoir WILL. Liddy was an ADA officer and regardless of your politics, his experiences on a Manhatten ADA tac site are priceless. (I'm assuming you've already read Max Shulman's RALLY ROUND THE FLAG

One of the road trips on my list is a visit to a site immediatelly north of the Golden Gate Bridge in, I believe, Marin County, part of the San Francisco defenses which is open to the public.

By any chance were you in ARADCOM and/or 32d Arty Bde?

Edited by El Bibliotecario, 07 March 2009 - 05:13 PM.


#4 gwb123

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Posted 07 March 2009 - 05:22 PM

No, my interest comes from being a kid in the 1960's. I grew up outside of Philadelphia, and there were a number of sites around us. Even as a kid it made me nervous when I saw those radars turning... what were they looking for?

With our Cub Scout Pack, I even got to go and see the inside of one of those control vans while they were doing live radar sweeps. Heavy stuff when you are 10 years old!

There was another site near my uncle's farm outside of Niagara Falls that we drove past several times.

Later when I was in the Army myself, I had the chance to see missiles live on the pad in New Jersey and later in Germany. These were massive weapons and without revealing details, highly accurate. While I was colocated with Nike and Hawk units in Europe, I was not in Air Defense. One time I was surprised to see missiles in battery raised above the tree line next to the autobahn I was driving on! Kind of a shock considering the Cold War was still ongoing... one never knew what to expect from day to day.

I'd like to see the site in San Francisco myself... reportedly it has been fully restored by pulling in surplus parts from all over the country.

Edited by gwb123, 07 March 2009 - 05:27 PM.


#5 El Bibliotecario

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Posted 07 March 2009 - 05:24 PM

GWB--if you like Nike sites, read Gordon Liddy's memoir WILL. Liddy was an ADA officer and regardless of your politics, his experiences on a Manhatten ADA tac site are priceless. I'm assuming you've already read Max Shulman's RALLY ROUND THE FLAG

As for seeking out forbidden areas, I guess that might be me. I've visited Trinity Site at WSMR in NM (another story) and hope to visit the preserved ADA site immediatelly north of the Golden Gate Bridge.

This next is embarrassingly self-analytical, but perhaps I'm dealing with the major denial which helped me deal with cold war angst. As a young troopie, I once got astride a nuke-warheaded Nike Herc, getting some laughs from my buddies by slapping the side with my cap and yelling "Yahoo!", mimicking Slim Pickens in DR STRANGLOVE. It took me decades to realize that if a war had started, in all likelihood I would have become a very small part of a very large mushroom cloud.

By any chance were you in ARADCOM and/or 32d Arty Bde?

#6 hawkdriver

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Posted 07 March 2009 - 06:14 PM

So, what do you want to know about site 25? Been there, done that.

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#7 hawkdriver

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Posted 07 March 2009 - 06:19 PM

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#8 Wailuna

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Posted 07 March 2009 - 10:37 PM

...I once got astride a nuke-warheaded Nike Herc, getting some laughs from my buddies by slapping the side with my cap and yelling "Yahoo!", mimicking Slim Pickens in DR STRANGLOVE...

This seems a good place to post this picture of a friend of mine "riding" an Honest John missile when he was assigned to 2nd U.S. Army Missile Command at Ft. Hood in 1957. That was a good five or six years before Major "King" Kong rode his nuke into oblivion at the end of "Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb." My guy should be getting royalties.

Marty_on_Honest_John.jpg



#9 Bluehawk

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Posted 08 March 2009 - 05:30 AM

There is a famous contemporary artist, Michael Heizer, who lived out there for many years, and did some remarkable huge earthwork sculptural stuff that can be seen from outer space...

Link:
http://doublenegativ...e_negative.html

#10 ordnance

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Posted 08 March 2009 - 01:05 PM

Interesting topic and I had no idea there was an organized tour offered or even that the museum in Las Vegas existed. Thanks.

I have a curious connection to the Nevada Test Site in my collection. In the late 1970s, I heard of a 1918A2 BAR available in my local area. After considerable searching and negotiations, I managed to buy the piece and had several interesting discussions with the previous owner. He had personally registered the BAR during the 1968 Amnesty. It's a standard New England Small Arms (NESA) WWII production M1918A2, which are fairly rare as transferrable guns in the NFA Registry.

When I asked him how he had acquired it, he said he'd been a soldier at the Nevada Test Site in the 1950s. Part of his duties involved inspection and security of areas surrounding the blast sites. One day he and another soldier had driven a 2 1/2 ton truck into one of the shanty towns built to be blown down in testing. I don't recall if he said these were pre-blast buildings or ones that survived a test. In any case, he was walking through a wooden building and discovered a BAR just leaning against the wall. No reason for it to be there, nobody else around, just an unaccounted-for BAR free for the taking. His partner was off looking at other buildings so he wrapped it up in canvas and slipped it behind the seat of the truck.

No questions were ever asked or searches made for a missing weapon so he never turned it in or mentioned it to anyone. .It eventually found its way to Oregon and legitimacy via the Amnesty program. Unfortunately, I missed the first sale for lack of money and had to wait a couple years for it to pass through the hands of two other local collectors. But eventually it was offered to me again and I was able to buy it.......and still in the collection today.

#11 J_Andrews

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Posted 08 March 2009 - 01:16 PM

Trinity Site is (was?) open to the public twice a year, in April and October.

Instead of just driving out to it and walking around, I went on a guided tour hosted by the National Nuclear Museum at Kirtland AFB. VERY GOOD.

The Bad News was that the buses left the museum at about 5:30am !

BUT the Good News was that we happened to be along for the ride with a reunion of a USAF F-84F low-altitude bombing course -- 40-50 former pilots and their wives, plus a few of their grown kids and some grandkids. Several were retired General Officers, both active USAF and Air Natl Guard and most had served in Southeast Asia, on Phantoms, Skraiders, Thunderchiefs, AC-47s and AC-130s, and even Jolly Green helis. Two were Air America vets (AT-28s in Laos, and utility types in RVN). The museum was very good and the reunioneers would gladly fill in whatever was on the placards with more info and "color".

#12 jgawne

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Posted 08 March 2009 - 01:44 PM

As a kid I went to an elementary school litteraly 200 yards down the hill from one of the Nike Sites ringing Boston. Never thought abut it until I got ot goon a tour, then it was go so amazingly cool that to this day if I had the money I would be living in an ld misle bunker.

At some point they scrapped it and there is now a senior citizen's home on the site

#13 El Bibliotecario

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Posted 08 March 2009 - 02:41 PM

RE the BAR story--its refreshing to hear the unvarnished truth that someone simply stole a GI weapon instead of some whitewash about buying it. (I would have done the same as that guy) A lot of military stuff was nuked at the NV Test Site just to see what would happen--an adult version of putting a cherry bomb beneath a tin can to see what would happen to the can. Possibly this included small arms--who knows. The tour guide said that for years a B17 sat derelict on the dry lake at Frenchman's Flat. where it had been placed for a test shot. DOE finally certified it clean and sold it to someone who restored it and flew it out.



As for Trinity Site, five years ago I found myself in the area on the first Saturday in April (I _think_ that's one of the two days they are open; interested parties should verify) I believe anyone who wants can enter via Stallion gate, between Carrizozzo and Socorro; I entered thru Tularosa in a convoy organized by the Alamogordo Chamber of Commerce and took the scenic route.

I can best describe the place as a human zoo. There were literally thousands of people there--the portapotties were overflowing. DOE cleaned up the area in the late '40s and the ground zero site is nothing more than a fenced in bit of unremarkable desert with a foot-high pylon that is all that remains of the tower from which the device was detonated. With the mob scene, there was little sense of history--WSMR was selling souvenier T-shirts in the parking lot. I'm glad I saw it--but there wasn't really a lot to see. The most interesting thing IMHO was a late '40s nuclear aerial bomb (hopefully deactivated) that had been trucked in for a static display. It was an implosion type, the protype having been field-tested at Nagasaki.

While leaving I was approached by an attractive woman who asked to interview me for Swiss Public Radio. Don't know how kosher this was, but at my age, one doesn't pass up opportunities to talk with sweet young thangs. She asked a few question about how I felt about nuking Japan, then quickly segued into questioning if George W's invasion of Iraq had been justified since there had been no weapons of mass destruction. I replied that we'd invaded the wrong country--at Nanking the Japanese had killed three times as many folks with rifles and bayonets as had died at Hiroshima, so the conclusion was obvious--since every Swiss reservist had a rifle and bayonet at home, we should have invaded Switzerland.

Edited by El Bibliotecario, 08 March 2009 - 02:55 PM.


#14 evstringer

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Posted 08 March 2009 - 05:33 PM

This brings some old memories. I worked for Sandia Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico from 1966 to 1970. My brother worked there from 1962 until he died in 1993.

The group I worked in supported tests made at the Tonopah site. I did not visit the site myself but my brother spent a lot of time there.

#15 El Bibliotecario

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Posted 08 March 2009 - 07:37 PM

The group I worked in supported tests made at the Tonopah site. I did not visit the site myself but my brother spent a lot of time there.


Could you elaboreate your refernce to the Tonopah site? Tonepah is a recurring destination on my NV road trips because of the superlative cheese rellanos at El Marques--but the only things of military interest I know of there are the good local mueuem and Tonepah AAF.

#16 evstringer

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Posted 08 March 2009 - 08:54 PM

For fairly detailed information you can download Sandia Report SAND96-0375 “Tonopah Test Site – Outpost of Sandia National Laboratories” at this site :

http://www.osti.gov/...dp/webviewable/

Follow the instructions under the words “View Document”

#17 ItemCo16527

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Posted 09 March 2009 - 01:34 AM

So, what do you want to know about site 25? Been there, done that.

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"Ta-da!" :lol:


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