Sept. 15-16, 2012
We’re on the road from Bismarck to Valley City, ND. Along the way is the National Buffalo Museum in Jamestown. The museum is filled with all things buffalo related and there is a small buffalo herd right on the site.
But the real draw for this museum is a rare white buffalo, named White Cloud. The buffalo was born on a nearby farm. The owners recognized its significance to the native peoples and made sure it could be shared by all. The town of Jamestown is very proud of its white buffalo and even throws it a birthday party every year.
Unfortunately for us, the museum has a very buffalo friendly policy for their herd and they are allowed to roam unconstrained on the property. This means, you only get to see them when they feel like wandering near the viewing area. And today was not one of those days.
So while we didn’t get to see White Cloud, there was still Dakota Thunder, The Worlds Largest Buffalo! Need proof, here it is.
And here’s the great beast. Its no Salem Sue, but still impressive.
There was a old frontier village outside the museum, which was pretty much closed for the season but you could still walk through. Reen was insisting that we go to more quilt shops, and I was tired, so drastic measures were needed.
If only we had a spare room at the townhouse…
We pulled into Valley City on the late side, and campground options were limited. We ended up at a small campground attached to a local motel. Not pretty, but cheap and convenient.
The real reason we stopped in Valley City was to visit the Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile Site. A large part of the state of North Dakota (and South Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming) is peppered with nuclear missile silos. Since the missile sites would be targets in a nuclear confrontation, they put them out in these less populated states. Great for most of us, not so much if you are a local farmer.
This site was part of the 321st Strategic Missile Wing which encompassed an area the size of New Jersey. This wing was deactivated as part of the START treaty. This is the only launch facility (out of 15) that remains in its original form as an historic site. The rest have been filled in with concrete below ground and the buildings sold off.
Here’s what the site looks like from the outside, not much.
This facility was the control center for a flight of 10 missiles. A small crew lived and worked above ground right in the building. A rotating crew of 2 missileers worked 24 hour shifts below ground at the missile launch controls. The center was designed to remain operational through anything other than a direct nuclear missile hit. It is completely self-sufficient if necessary.
The below ground facilities were two small steel and concrete capsules connected by a passageway. One contained the machinery and the other contained the missile controls. Both were accessed by very large doors.
Door to the machinery room.
Door to the control room. The hydraulics for this door were hand-pumped from the inside. So you had to be real motivated to open or close that door for anything other than an emergency or to change shifts.
Everything in the capsules is on a platform supported by giant shock absorbers to minimize damage in an attack.
This is the control panel for the lower ranked missileer. It contains all the status readouts for the 10 missiles under their control.
The actual launch key hanging next to where it would be inserted for launch. Under normal conditions, the key would be stored above the console in a red padlocked box.
This is the commanders console around the corner. He has his own key.
Everyone knows that both keys need to be turned simultaneously to launch the missiles. However, that was not actually enough to trigger a launch. A missile launch command would be applicable to a set of 50 missiles distributed across 5 launch control facilities. In order for the launch to proceed at least two crews in two facilities needed to complete the launch sequence. Sorry Hollywood, you can’t actually break into a missile facility and launch nuclear missiles.
If all goes to hell and the missileers need to get out of the facility, they have a way but its not easy. First they go through a hatch in the floor, crawl under the floor toward the outside, and then climb a ladder to the escape hatch shown here.
But that doesn’t get you out quite yet. The hatch leads to a tunnel that only gets you about 5 feet from the surface at some unknown point outside. If you wanted to really get out, you had to dig your way through the last five feet of earth with your bare hands.
The 10 missiles controlled by the site were scattered for miles in the surrounding fields. If it wasn’t for the sign and displays, you would be hard pressed to notice them. All the missiles have been removed and the silos destroyed. There is one site nearby to visit.
This is the business end. In the event of a launch, that door would be blasted open along those rails in seconds so the missile could launch.