September 29th, 2009
I recently made a pilgrimage to the summit of Mt. Hebo in the Oregon coast range to see if there are any signs of the old Cold War Air Force radar station. It was a lot easier to get to the top of the mountain than I thought — you just follow Mt. Hebo road on up after turning off of 22 (near the 101 junction). The route is well maintained, yet extremely twisty; so much so, Emily got car sick during the drive. From 22, it’s about 30 minutes to the top. Unfortunately, my first trip was a disappointment due to poor weather. I was hoping to shoot some 16mm footage with Tony’s fancy Bolex using Kodak’s 50D, but typical coastal cloud cover had reduced visibility to around 50 - 100 yards. Eric and I did find signs of old infrastructure, like the foundation of one of the radar buildings and a buried electrical vault (see photos below), but that was about it. There are a couple of newer communications towers maintained by Verizon, the Oregon State Police, and one of the railroads, but nothing military related. The second trip up was far more productive from a filming standpoint. There was still some cloud cover, but I had enough sun breaks to manage a couple of panoramic shots using a really wide prime lens on the Bolex. I’m a little worried about the exposure since I had trouble reading my light meter, but I’m hoping the 50D has similar latitude to Kodak’s other motion picture negative film.
After coming down from the mountain, I also met with Bill Pollard, who served on Mt. Hebo during the Cold War. He now lives in Pacific City and had plenty to say about his time in the Air Force. There were a couple of interesting comments he made I though worth posting:
- When the Air Force station closed in 1980, it took two years for contractors to remove everything from the site
- The family housing existed about 2,000 feet below the summit. When the station closed, this site was dismantled as well. Some homes were sold to members of the community and can still be found — although heavily modified.
- When Mt. Hebo closed, some of the radar equipment was given to the FAA and used on a mountain top outside of Salem
- Some of the radar equipment was pretty jerry rig. For example, the hydraulic system on the height finder radar was crafted from modified landing gear scrounged from a T-33 fighter jet.
- The reason there were so many makes and models of radar systems across radar sites was not intended to drive technicians crazy. Rather, it was intended to make it harder for the Soviets to jam our radar sites.
- There were never any Soviet incursions or unidentified aircraft during the site’s operation according to Bill. Pretty much day-in-day-out routine for the most part.
- Encryption was not used for data transfers over Long Lines from Mt. Hebo to Adair, the SAGE site in Corvallis. I guess encryption was pretty much pointless those days, since only the US military had the primitive modems used for transmitting data over the phone lines.
- The Long Lines data transfer between Mt. Hebo and Adair was actually two-way. The SAGE system could also send back instructions to the radar.
Entry Filed under: The Cold War