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
When I came home from my Krav Maga class the evening of February 13th, 2012 I found my wife, Tomi, sitting at the dining room table. I gave her a kiss and said, “Love” in our traditional greeting and headed to the bedroom to change out of my gym clothes. When she didn’t respond with “Love”, I stopped and asked if everything was OK. She shook her head and said, “No.” So I came to the table and asked what was wrong, she said this wasn’t working anymore. By “this” she meant the marriage. She proceeded to list out all the reasons that she couldn’t be with me anymore. Some were legitimate issues, some seemed like stretches, but none of them, none of them were reasons to end a marriage. Things to work on, yes, but bailing on a life commitment, no.
Abbreviating this tale significantly, she had already rented an apartment the prior Thursday on the day I left for a trip and was moved out of the house we had shared for five and a half years on the 16th of February. It was quick and brutal. The night she told me she was done, she showed some level of compassion. There were tears, some semblance of regret. But starting the next morning it was pure venom. Saying such things as the last eight years were a waste of her time, that every minute that she was with me was killing her; that she hated me and everything we had ever shared. When she left, she took nothing sentimental about the eight years we spent together. Just her stuff, that’s it. She cut and ran. We agreed to one counseling session on the 27th, which she attended but wasn’t really there. She did it just to placate me. While there, she continued with the venom. Just spewing the most hateful things I’d ever heard come out of her mouth. She did reveal one thing of interest, though; that she felt I needed too much validation from her. We’ll get to that more later.
After the counseling session I was devastated, but I managed to convince her of a 90 day separation rather than divorce. But she didn’t want to talk to me regularly. I agreed and I spent the next month dwelling on what I had done wrong. What I could do to fix things. What I could do to get her back. I didn’t call, e-mail, text, I did write her two letters saying that I loved her, and was working to try and fix things to make her happy again. I imagined her trying to figure out what to do now that she was alone. She never had any really good friends, so I just figured she was going to work and coming home to watch TV. I missed her and wanted to go to her and say that things would be OK. To comfort my wife in what I perceived was a terribly difficult time for her.
So I pinned. I started seeing a counselor twice a week. I took Krav Maga as much as I could. I went to yoga. I started having anxiety attacks and physical twitches due to stress. I stopped sleeping and eating. I lost 17 pounds in less than a week. After a month I had lost almost 30. I talked to everyone I knew. I tried to gather information from other peoples experiences in a hope of applying it to mine. I was, in clinical terms, fucked up.
Then came March 23rd. I went to meet a friend at the Poplar Street downtown next to Redrock Brewery. Redrock was always Tomi and mine’s favorite restaurant and as I walked to Poplar Street, I had a massive anxiety attack. The kind that stops you in your tracks. I stood there for a moment saying, “No, not now. I need to get it together.” After a minute and some deep breaths I kept going. And as I passed the entrance to Redrock where 30 or so people were waiting I saw her there… with another guy. Holding hands. And I knew the other guy, his name was Chris Kareis and he was a grad student in the chemistry department on campus where Tomi worked. This wasn’t the first time I had seen them together, exactly a month before I had run into Tomi at a coffee shop and she was there with another girl and two guys, including Chris, from work. She refused to talk to me that day and I just wrote it off as a work outing. But this, well, it was different.
I caught my breath and approached them. And first she didn’t notice, but when she did, she quickly pulled her hand away from his and put it to her mouth in a shocked, “Ohhh!!!” then collected her cool again. I asked what was going on, she said “Same old.” To which I responded, “I don’t know what old is, anymore.” She clearly didn’t want to talk. So I looked at Chris, who was looking the other way, stuck my hand out and said, “Chris right?” To which he said, “Uh, yeah.” and took my hand (which, by the way was the limpest most pathetic handshake I’ve hand in a long time). I then replied with, “I’m Stephen, Tomi’s husband.” He looked at the ground, “Uhm, yeah, I know.”
I then gave Tomi a look of, ‘What the fuck is going on?!?’ She looked at me with a, ‘What?’. I asked if she would come and talk with me for a second, she refused. So I hugged her and said I loved her and walked into Poplar. At that exact moment, my friend sent me a text saying he was running late. So I sat in Poplar for a few minutes and then decided, no, I was not going to stand for this and stormed out. Fortunately they were still out waiting to be seated. I walked right up to Tomi and demanded that we talk. She said no, to which I said, “Either we do it here or in the parking lot.” She rolled her eyes and walked with me to the parking lot. Things get a bit hazy here as I was so heated. But basically I asked how long it had been going on, she said, “It just happened!” I called bull shit and asked how long, she replied, “I don’t know, a few weeks.” I said, “Well that’s interesting, you moved out a few weeks ago! So this was the reason, huh? How long have you been having sex with him?” She didn’t reply to that. I continued to push, she wouldn’t talk about it. I changed direction and said, “OK, how about us?” She blew up and said, “There is no ‘us’. There is just you and me! And I can do whatever I want!” I stopped, looked at her, and said, “I think you’re throwing away a good thing for a fling.” She rolled her eyes. I then hugged her, tried to kiss her, which she said, “I don’t want to kiss you, Stephen!” I let her go, then walked towards Chris.
At this point Tomi starts screaming, “No, Stephen!!! No! Don’t!!” Obviously she was afraid that I was going to hit him. And I almost did. I don’t think that piece of shit will ever really know how close he was to getting his ass completely kicked. My adrenaline was running so high, I have no idea what I would have done. No idea. But I managed to stop myself from hitting him and instead stuck my hand out again, which he took after a moment, and I said, “Chris, good luck, be safe, you’re an asshole and remember, she’s a married woman.” I then turned and left for Poplar.
Monday, the 26th I served Tomi with divorce papers on the grounds of an extra martial affair. The next day we signed them, with no dispute from her. When I walked her back to her car (which in retrospect, I really never should have let her take. Oh well) I stopped. Looked at her, she said with no emotion, “Thank you.” To which I replied, “I wish I could say the same.” I then choked back some tears and said, “You will always be my Tomi. You will always be my first true love.” I then hugged her for what seemed like forever. All she could muster was a limp arm to pat my back once or twice. When I let her go, she just looked at me and said, “Good bye.” and went to get into her car. And that was the last time I saw her. I don’t know how I got home.
And that was the end. Eight years, gone. Just like that. I’ve spent the past two months battling regret, remorse, anger, stress, anxiety, and all sorts of other problems. But I recently realized something that she said was very true. Even though most of her initial reasons for wanting to end the marriage were bull shit and simply projections of guilt to hide her affair and convince herself that what she was doing was right, there was one thing. In the past few years, I had made Tomi the center of my world. I did rely on her for most of my validation. And that’s something I’ve been struggling with recently. Who am I? What do I want? Well… that’s what I’m going to find out.
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.
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.
I frequently get the question, “What are you reading right now.” Not an uncommon question, but of late I have gotten a few odd looks and have had to explain myself. You see, I’m reading The Second World War right now. No I’m serious. See:
I was recently gifted a complete, first edition printing of Winston Churchill’s The Second World War, his memoirs of the war which he played such a pivotal part in. To say the least, it is riveting. If you enjoy British Parliamentary intrigue, air power figures, defense maneuvering, and reading correspondences between Churchill and various figures of importance then I highly recommend picking these up!
I’m sure many of you think I’m joking, but really, I’m not. I just finished volume one and immediately started into volume two. It is just fascinating to read. Churchill kept meticulous records and his writing is just candy for the brain. Certainly, if you have even the remotest interest in WWII, this is a must read.