A little background on Wendover Airbase, during the Second World War this was one of the primary locations for training heavy bomber crews that served in the war. Thousands of personnel came through the base to train in B-17’s, B-24’s and finally, the B-29’s of the 509th Composite Group; who dropped the atomic bombs on Japan to ultimately end the war. Wendover is unique in that having been so far away from a major population center, after the war ended it was more or less abandoned in place. It wasn’t converted into a municipal airport, and it wasn’t seen as a logical place to maintain a large, peacetime airbase. So it sat.
Over the decades the weather has eaten away at its buildings. Its been used on and off by the military for various training exercises and experiments. Movies such as Con Air and Independence Day had parts shot here, but by in large, it was ignored and forgotten. This may sound sad, but it now provides us with a rare opportunity to see the most intact example of a WWII era airbase anywhere in the world. A group of dedicated individuals called the Historic Wendover Airfield Foundation headed by the father and son team of Jim and Tom Petersen have been working diligently at piecing together the history of the base and restoring many of the buildings that are left.
Expedition Utah’s tour of the Wendover Historic Airfield on June 2nd started with what anyone planning on spending several hours out in the desert hopes for: mild weather! The sky was mostly clear and the temperature was perfect for being outdoors. We had about 30 people show up for this very unique opportunity to tour all of this historic base.
We began with a short movie giving an overview of the bases history in the museum before we headed into the under restoration Officers Club just across the parking lot. Tom acted as our tour guide for the whole day and was quite passionate about the base and the work going on. The Officers Club is going to get a full restoration and will have a café in it and will be rented out for events. It’s quite an impressive building, and the work that is happening is top notch.
From here we loaded up into what many people said was the coolest part of the tour, a fully restored 1942 Ford GPW and a GMC CCKW, or Deuce and a Half… and a Ford tour van… but lets focus on the first two!
From the Officers Club we bounced around until we made a tailgate jump at one of the enlisted mess halls. During the height of the war there were four of these to serve the 20,000 or so enlisted personnel on the base, this is the last surviving one. It was abandoned at the end of the war, but then renovated slightly in the 1980’s to be used by the US Air Force’s Aggressor Squadron. All along the walls are the painted insignia’s of the various detachments that were based here during that period.
We remounted our rigs and headed over to what is left of the base hospital and got to look around at what had been the surgical ward, and then wandered around looking at what is stored there now.
After the hospital we made for what was one of the more interesting buildings on the base, the bombsight storage building. During the war one of the most closely guarded secrets was the Norden bombsight. So before and after each training flight the bombsights were checked out and into this building, which had large concrete reinforced safes, air conditioning and heaters to keeps the bombsights in perfect condition. And a nifty 7up vending machine!
From here we stopped off at a hanger on the flight line to see a F-86 Super Saber that the base recently acquired and is slowly working on restoring. And you know how in most museums they tell you to not touch anything? Well here Jim and Tom encouraged us to hop on the wings for a group photo! Awesome!
After the hanger we went back to the museum for lunch and then took off for the most exciting part of the tour. The south side of the base where all the munitions were stored, and the secret components were for the 509th. To get there we had to cross the active runways and traverse several miles of dirt roads. As you approach you get the feeling of how desolate this part of the base really is now. Nothing appears to really have been touched in more than half a century. The observation tower still stands stoically over the compound, watching; making sure nothing that isn’t supposed to get in does.
Inside the barbed wire fence behind Tom is where the prototype atomic bombs were constructed. These were inert bombs designed to test the ballistics of the actual atomic weapons, but their design was so secret that the crews building them and the flight crews dropping them never interacted. After the war all the buildings associated with the 509th, including the ones here, we broken down to the foundations and shipped to Los Alamos.
Down the road from where the prototype bombs were constructed are the munitions bunkers. Large concrete vaults covered in tons of dirt. Impressive, imposing structure to say the least. And very cool inside, both temperature and otherwise.
From the bunkers we headed out to part of the bases more modern history. During the Apollo program in the 1960’s, NASA used Wendover to test the capsules for resistance to direct lightning strikes. They did this by mounting a capsule nose piece packed with electronics on a dolly and suspending a large wire grid above it. They then electrified the grid and simulated a lightning strike. Very fascinating and the dolly and one of the nose cones are still sitting out there. Ironically, this was the only part of the trip that it rained!
Not far from the Apollo test site sits what looks like an unassuming hole in the ground. In fact, this hole has significant historical value. This is a bomb pit. Since the atomic bombs of the day were so heavy, and so large, they couldn’t be loaded the way conventional bombs were. So this special pit was dug and the bombs we first loaded into the pit with a hoist, then a B-29 was backed over the pit and a hydraulic lift moved to bomb into the bomb bay. There are only two such pits uncovered in the world. This one in Wendover, and the one in Tinian that actually loaded the bombs for the attacks on Japan.
After reflecting on the importance that that hole in the ground represented, the tour found us at what is referred to as the “Enola Gay” hanger, the hanger built specifically to house the larger B-29’s, such as the famous Enola Gay. It was a impressive building. Large enough to fit two B-29’s if need be. But rather than those old warbirds, it had a beautiful T-33 done up in Blue Angel livery and a prototype de Havilland jet.
After poking around the hanger for a bit, we completed out loop back at the museum and up in the beautifully restored control tower.
It was an amazing tour. Such history to behold, and we are so lucky that so much of it is still around and that there are people like the Historic Wendover Airfield Foundation working to preserve it. Wendover Airbase truly is a national treasure.
Thanks to all who made it out! We look forward to seeing you at the next summit!
All photos courtesy of Stephen Nielson and Jason Goates
So you just got your new Pie Iron and you’re all ready to start making savory Ruebens and sautéed mushrooms. But wait! The Pie Iron looks a little strange, its silver not the dark, glossy black that you expected. Whats going on here?
Well, your Pie Iron hasn’t been seasoned yet. That silver coating is the paraffin wax put on at the factory to keep the cast iron from rusting in transit and storage. Before you start cooking with your Pie Iron you’ll need to burn that off and then “season” the cast iron. What is seasoning? Basically it’s applying an oily coating to the cast iron so that food doesn’t stick. As cast iron is used it will become seasoned by the oil from the food cooked in it, but it’s very important to season it properly before first use as well. So how does one season a Pie Iron properly? Follow the steps below to find out!
First things first, remove the Pie Iron from its packaging. For demonstration purposes I’ll be using a Double Pie Iron, mostly because I’ve been wanting to make a cheesesteak sandwich, but the process is the same with any cast iron Pie Iron.
Once you remove the packaging you’ll notice the film of wax over everything. There are two ways to remove it. Either take a scouring pad and hot water and scrub it off, or place it over heat and melt it off. Since I’m lazy, I’m going to melt it off. This requires taking the two halves of the Pie Iron and placing them concave side down over a heat source. I’ll be using my charcoal grill, but it can be propane or a fire pit as well. I highly recommend doing this outside, as the whole process is very smoky.
You’ll leave it over the heat for about 15 minutes, flipping it over half way through.
Once the wax has been melted off the Pie Iron will have a slightly dull grey color still. Wait for it to cool to the touch and then wash it in warm, soapy water. Scrubbing thoroughly with a scouring pad or bristle brush to get any of the remaining wax off. This should be the only time that the Pie Iron sees soap. The reason being that soap will remove the seasoning, which kind of defeats the purpose of going to all this trouble in the first place.
Once you are done washing the Pie Iron, you must immediately begin the seasoning process to prevent rust from developing. Dry the Pie Iron thoroughly and apply a thin coat of quality vegetable oil or solid shortening. I’ve heard of some people using bacon grease, which would work, but that’s an expensive prospect. I’m using Crisco because that’s what is in the kitchen cabinet.
With the coating applied, place the two halves of the Pie Iron back onto the grill concave side up. You’ll put it on for ten minutes, flipping it halfway through.
When the first coating has cooked in, the Pie Iron should start to take on a blackish hue. There might be a little bit of brown in it, but generally it should be blackening over the entire surface. Once the Pie Iron has cooled to the touch, apply another thin coating of shortening. You will need to do this a total of four times to get a good, solid coating.
After the fourth round of shortening has cooked into the Pie Iron, it should take on a glossy, deep black finish all over. This is what you want to see!
So now you’re set! The Pie Iron is all seasoned and ready for serious camp fire cooking! As long as it is used regularly, you’ll likely never have to reseason it again. If it sits for a few seasons unused, or starts to develop any rust, you may want to add a few new layers, but otherwise you’re good! Start cooking!
I’m excited to announce the launch of Iconic Camping!
Recounting our childhood camping trips my friend Jeff and I decided to start looking for some of the gear that we remember our families using back then. As we hunted around we got the idea to start our own camping gear company specializing in these classically styled goods. And so Iconic Camping was born!
Iconic Camping is a full Optimus stove, Rome cookware and Benchmark maps reseller. We carry all of these manufactures “classic” equipment such as Pie Irons and Svea stoves in stock and can generally ship same day or are available for local pickup. We can also fulfill special orders for any of these manufactures other products.
Friday started off by meeting up with Joseph at about 10:30am and making the journey to Moab where we stopped for lunch at Pasta Jay’s. After topping off our tanks at the edge of town we continued on until we hit dirt off UT 211 at the beginning of the Cottonwood Canyon Road around three in the afternoon. Here we aired down and took one last look at pavement for the next few days. Always an enjoyable thing!
We blasted down the Cottonwood Canyon Road and the beginnings of the Beef Basin Loop as we worked our ways to the Beef Basin wash and our first campsite. Both my copilot Scott and I reflected that the Pathfinder was pure luxury on these rutted/washboard roads in comparison to the Samurai. I knew it would be so, but wow. Getting out of the car after a while on these roads didn’t feel like hitting solid ground after a bombing run over Berlin!
Anyway, the wash road was fine until we hit the first creek crossing. Here the heavy rains we’ve been having had made for an interesting crossing. All the tracks stopped here and there was no evidence of traffic on the other side. Well, since we were “gangsta expo” as Joseph noted, we didn’t view this as much of a hinderance. So I popped the Pathfinder in 4-low for the first time in anger and headed down the relatively steep, very soft sandy hill into the creek bed and up the other side with no issue. Joseph followed with the Ultimate KJ idling like a turbo diesel should and we headed off into the overgrown trail to find camp.
The trail had a few other sections that had been washed out a bit by the rains, but nothing too bad. It was fun to finally have the Pathfinder in 4-low and using it for what it was designed to do. We eventually made camp at about six or so and set about making ourselves comfortable. For Joseph this entailed setting up his slick ARB awning. For a rugged Australian this takes but 30 seconds. For Americans, two people and a bit longer.
After setting up camp we just relaxed, took in the scenery and enjoyed a campfire under the clear night sky.
Morning broke bright and warm and we lounged in the sun for a bit before getting underway around 10.
We worked our way back out through the wash to the first creek crossing and I dipped into it like it was no big deal. Well I quickly found that the sandy hill was much softer than I had expected and the boulders at the bottom prevented me from first getting the downhill momentum I needed and second from backing up. This is one of those moments when you think about those parts you have sitting at home that could have made this a non-issue. Like the Limited Slip left uninstalled that would have aided greatly in getting back over the boulder…
After a few attempts to get out on my own, it was time to throw the recovery strap back to Joseph and the diesel beast of his. With a little tug and some tire spin the Pathfinder was free, moved the offending boulder out of the way and we were in business again.
We spent the rest of the morning exploring the Beef Basin Loop, some spurs off it and looking at ruins.
The second camp was planned to be at a location in the Butler Wash area that was a short hike to a spectacular overlook of the Needles District of Canyonlands. We spent several hours going up and down every spur road in the Ruin Park area looking for the right one to get us there. We could see the spot we wanted to be from the main road, but the only road that seemed to head to it was also the only one with a “Road Closed” sign. According to my BLM map of the area, that road skirts the edge of the Butler Wash WSA and I guess since the last time I was there in 2009 the BLM has decided that the road is now in the WSA. I was disappointed, but the camp we chose did have some nice ruins up in the cliff surrounding it.
We spent another pleasant night around the campfire and had a lively discussion regarding how “expo ready” our gear was. Personally, I think our hot dog sticks are just as good as any titanium and leather handled ones on the market today! ;)
I awoke Sunday morning excited about getting to the “hard” part of our trip through Canyonlands via Bobby’s Hole and out Elephant Hill. So after tea and breakfast we broke camp and bid farewell to Ruin Park. Bobby’s Hole is a moderately steep hill made up of some ledges, boulders and loose dirt. Nothing too technical, but certainly entertaining to crawl down. I was throughly impressed with the Pathfinders gearing as it idled down with no issues.
From Bobby’s Hole we continued on to the Canyonlands boarder and into the always stunning Needles District. Along the way we stopped for some “expo ready” poser shots and to check out some petroglyphs.
After our stop at the petroglyphs we quickly came upon SOB Hill. Now SOB Hill has been in various states over the years. Way back in 1994 with my dad it was considered an optional obstacle on the Elephant Hill trail during the Easter Jeep Safari. Now being in a stock Samurai at the time my dad wanted to show off. But of course, had no issues getting over the ledges, boulders and making the very tight turn. The second time a few years ago the Park Service had filled in most of the hill and the only difficult part was tight turn. This time around the hill had returned to presenting a bit of a challenge with a climb up loose dirt and rocks to the sharp turn through the cut in the rocks. I had a few points where I again regretted no installing the LSD before I left, but nothing that couldn’t be over come with backing up and changing my line. Again, I was very happy with the Pathfinders stock gears and grateful for the OME suspension.
Joseph, demonstrating that true players only drive diesels, idled over the whole thing without an issue.
From this point we were on the Elephant Hill loop and with moseyed along over small ledges and creek crossings.
When we finally reached Elephant Hill I forgot, for some reason, how extreme the switchbacks are. Practically parallel in some spots. My mind always remembers the first time in my dads Samurai and how it wasn’t even an issue to make the turns. Now in a Pathfinder what had been a three point turn in the Samurai turned into a five or six pointer at some spots. Nothing hard, just a few more forwards and backs. The hill is a fairly steep climb heading up a few hundred feet over ledges and a bit of slick rock at the top. Since you need to keep your momentum up, it pays not to stop for photo ops I only have one picture of Joseph at the very top. But hey, what a way to close out the photos! The Ultimate KJ rumbling up the famous Elephant Hill:
And that was it. We dropped down the other side into the parking lot, aired up and headed back into Moab where we stopped at the Moab Brewery for the obligatory bread bowl of beer cheese soup (don’t ask Joseph about the service though). It was a great trip and a great way to break the Pathfinder in as my new expedtion/overlanding/camping vehicle. I can’t wait to get out again.
Photos courtesy of Stephen Nielson and Scott Curtis
Car & Driver has launched an ambitious campaign to Save the Manuals! And since I am a proponent of the manual transmission and all it merits, I wholly endorse it.
Having chosen to build my Samurai for expedition use one of the most pressing issues I had to deal with was that of storage space. The obvious solution to this dilemma was to get a roof rack. After looking at the available racks on the market for the Samurai I decided to have one custom built.
The man I turned to for this project was the venerable Carl Whitmore. I envisioned a very simple rack made out of 1″ DOM tubing. The only thing special that I wanted was a way to secure two Scepter cans. Carl’s imagination led him to build a much more exciting rack than I had hoped. With dimpled side braces and a raked front it reminds me of an updated Con-Ferr rack.
For mounting the rack we picked up some Kargo Master gutter mounts for Cherokee’s rather than trying to build custom gutter mounts for the Samurai. They are a little big, but I think that they look fine.
The most unique aspect of the whole rack is the Scepter can holder. It’s basically just a box, but with the dimpled bottom and the way that it mounts with the two hooks on the back and tabbed mounts on the front it is pretty clever.
I’m very pleased with it and can’t wait to use it on my trip to the Arizona Strip next week. If you want to check it out up close and personal it will be at the Expedition Utah booth during the TeraFlex show at Miller Motorsports Park this Saturday.
Thats right! A typewriter! Amazing, huh? So here’s the story. As many of you know I do a lot of 4-wheeling. One of the trips that I take is called the Relic Run. This is a multi-day expedition done only with vehicles aged 1979 or older and camping gear that is in the spirit of the 1970′s or older. Last year, 2009, was the inaugural run of this event. We circumnavigated the Great Salt Lake and had a blast. This year we are heading to the High Unita’s.
So what does the typewriter have to do with this? We’ll I’ve been tasked with trying to stir up some media interest. One of the ideas that I had was to contact these various outlets with an authentic, type written letter in conjunction with our more modern techniques. Strange, perhaps, but also make us seem like a fun group.
So I asked my mom if I could borrow her old electric typewriter. What we have here is a Smith-Corona Coronet Automatic 12.
This is original ’70′s. My mom got it for her high school graduation in 1971 and took it with her to college and business school. It is mint, not a scratch or dent on it. Perfect working order. The only thing I had to replace is the ribbon. Even the carrying case is perfect. And it needs a carrying case, because it weighs a solid ton!
I haven’t typed too much on it yet, but all I can say is that it is satisfying. The weight that you have to use to push down the keys. The reverberation you feel as the arm strikes the paper. And of course, that sound. The wonderful typewriter sound. It makes typing on my Apple Slim Keyboard just feel, well, fake.
Part of me wishes that I could use a typewriter all the time to write. But it’s just not practical in todays world. It will be fun to use for this project, and probably future Relic Run‘s. As with so many things, I just have a problem with nostalgia. A typewriter is just so simple and reflects a simpler time.
Thanksgiving weekend and beef. Not the usual combination, normally it’s turkey or tossing the pig skin (some sort of sports reference I’m sure). But Thanksgiving weekend 2009 was tied with Beef Basin.
We departed Salt Lake at 7:30 on Friday morning with the goal of making our camp by 3:00 that afternoon. Our caravan linked up along I-15 as we headed towards Spanish Fork canyon. Kurt and I in his Tacoma were quickly joined by Greg and his son Oakley in his awesome HZJ-75, Sully and Erica in their Tacoma and Cody caught up after hitting some Black Friday sales in his Grand Cherokee.
We made some excellent time on our way down to Moab, reaching our lunch stop at Smitty’s Golden Steak before noon. After indulging in the deliciousness of that greasy spoon we hit the road again.
After another hour or so on pavement we hit dirt on the turn off for Beef Basin. We stopped for a few minutes to air down.
The road out to Beef Basin was a typical BLM graded road, quite smooth and lended itself nicely to some high speeds. We hit some shady areas that still had a fair amount of snow from the last storm.
As we descended down towards Beef Basin we were greeted with the spectacular vista so common in South Eastern Utah. No matter how many times I’ve been there I don’t think I will ever tire of these scenes.
We hit camp up Beef Basin Wash around our target time of 3:00pm. As usual everyone spent the next little while finding that perfect spot to pitch your tent or park your vehicle. Greg and Kurt had the luxury of rooftop tents, Sully and Eric were smart enough to hole up in the shelled bed of their truck while Cody and I camped like real men in our tents.
Our campsite was nicely situated about halfway up the wash and right below the ruin of a cliff dwelling which we intended to hike up to the next morning.
The weather for Friday night was quite agreeable as well, clear, fairly warm for late November in southern Utah and not much wind. Contrary to most trips we had camp set before dark and had time to make dinner with plenty of light.
After a relaxing Friday night around the campfire Saturday dawned clear with a slight breeze but definitely a bit more of a chill in the air. Much to Kurt’s chagrin, our start to the day was a bit later than we had anticipated with most of us rolling out of our sleeping bags sometime after 9:00am.
The first order of the day was to cook up some breakfast, which Kurt and Cody did with gusto in Greg’s enviable camp kitchen setup.
Once we had eaten heartily (well aside from me and my oatmeal) we began our hike up to the cliff dwelling. One can quickly see why the Anasazi chose this location. There was no way to approach the dwelling without being seen from it. And once you got to it, there was only a narrow path to get to the entrance.
The ruin was remarkable. Still had some of the wood that formed the second floor and the stairs, the mortar holding the stone was still there and the view was incredible.
We hiked back down from the cliff dwelling, finished breaking camp and headed out. Our next destination was an area called Ruin Canyon. As the name suggests, there were several ruins up the canyon.
The most spectacular being about a quarter mile from an overgrown portion of the trail. We attempted to hack our way through, but decided it was just as easy to walk.
The ruin was a couple hundred feet up from the canyon floor on a fairly narrow shelf. We hiked up and poked around it for a bit. Its amazing that even though the elements have washed away all the mortar that held the stones in place it still stands.
As we looked around this ruin we found one up above us.
It is in remarkably good condition. Cody managed to climb up to it and found that it was very small, probably just a grainery. But the condition was just incredible.
We hiked back to our vehicles for lunch and pondered the rest of the day. The plan was to head out into an area called Ruin Park. We knew that there was the potential of a storm that afternoon, so high on our list was also finding a good camp spot as well.
We exited Ruin Canyon and got back onto the Beef Basin loop road. Now, since the area is called Beef Basin, there are a number of corrals. These can make for some fun pictures.
After our impromptu photo shoot, we headed into Ruin Park and found what is probably one of the coolest ruins I have ever seen. It is called Tower Ruin, and it’s awesome. A two story ruin that has a near perfect right angle. Very neat. There is some speculation that there may have been a number of these towers to be used for signaling each other and perhaps the inhabitants of the previous ruins we visited.
Greg and Oakley decided that they would head out and try to make it back to Salt Lake that night, so we parted ways with them. The rest of us could see the storm coming in and split up to find a good, concealed camp spot. Ultimately we found one up Butler Wash and we hurriedly began setting up before the pending rain…
…Which didn’t come. No the storm split right over us and aside from a strong breeze, we didn’t get anything. So we sat around the campfire to stay warm and argued the merits of cast iron versus aluminum for camp cooking. The final verdict being that cast iron is the only way to go.
Sunday dawned windy, cold and with a slight dusting of snow. I woke up early and hiked out a ways from our camp to a beautiful overlook of Needles. Unfortunately I only brought my medium format camera and have no pictures to share. I will tell you that it was spectacular in the crisp morning air.
As everyone else woke we stoked up the fire and made some breakfast sandwiches and indulged in Sully’s delicious peach/pineapple cobbler from the night before. With breakfast complete and camp broke, we headed out. Our route took us down Bobby’s Hole and into the Needles District.
Cody decided to take a quick detour and run Impossible Hill.
We headed towards Needles on a narrow two track and were greeted by spectacular view over every hill.
Through what remains of SOB Hill.
We finally made it to Elephant Hill. It’s been years since I was last on Elephant Hill, but it is much easier to make those tight switchbacks in a Samurai than it is in a Tacoma! But up we went.
And then back down.
And that was it. We had made it to the parking lot of Elephant Hill and pavement. We jetted out to the Needles Outpost for some fuel (fortunately without incident this time!) and then made a quick stop at Newspaper Rock.
The day ended with Kurt, Cody and I stopping at The Moab Brewery for Beer Cheese Soup and a cold one before trekking north and home. Aside from the cold, and even that wasn’t that bad, it was a great trip.
All pictures courtesy of Stephen Nielson and Kurt Williams