Visiting Yet Another Cold War Site

July 22nd, 2011

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A couple of months ago I took a trip up to North Bend, WA to explore a former AUTOVON site from the Cold War era. AUTOVON, an abbreviation of Automatic Voice Network, was a military phone system built to operate under¬†apocalyptic¬†conditions, like an all out atomic war. AUTOVON was world wide and during its height of operation there were sites in the UK, Asia, Central America, and the Middle East. By the early 1990s, advances in digital technology and the end of the Cold War lead to the abandonment of AUTOVON and its replacement, the Defense Commercial Telecommunications Network (DCTN). The site I visited was a switching center — possibly the only one in the Pacific Northwest — and opened in November of 1970. Some AUTOVON switching centers were underground and hardened for nuclear attack. In the case of the North Bend AUTOVON site, everything is above ground, but it looks like it was designed to ride out a nuclear exchange between the old superpowers. Why do I say that? Because when I went inside the building, there is a decontamination shower just past the steel blast doors. Also, there is still a massive fresh water tank in the mechanical room. I didn’t see any sleeping quarters, but those could have been removed when the site was sold decades ago. A kitchen and bathroom facilities are still intact though. All the switching equipment was removed years ago, so there wasn’t really much to see in the operations room.

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During normal Cold War operations, 17 technicians would have worked around the clock to keep the switching equipment running. This particular site would have handled all military communications for Washington, Alaska, and Idaho (and probably Oregon as well). The site was built by the Cascade Autovon Company at a cost of four million dollars and was managed by Larmar Gaines, the white-shirted civilian featured in the photos below. Century Link was kind enough to allow me to tour the facility and they also provide scans of the photos below. I have no idea what the future of the building will be — I think Century Link is trying to sell it.

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Entry Filed under: The Cold War

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. david e johnson  |  August 29th, 2011 at 5:43 am

    I engineered the NB site for casade I think it was in the 80s.
    The system was northern telcom DMS digital multiplex system
    200.

  • 2. Tim  |  November 10th, 2014 at 6:20 pm

    Just FYI, AUTOVON was replaced by the DSN — Defense Switched Network.

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