Observations While Stationed At Opheim AFS, 1965 - 67
& FPS-90 Tower Fire

Contributed by Richard Konizeski.

Opheim AFS was typical of those radar sites situated on the prairie, with above – ground (6 to 10 feet above the ground as I recall) steam lines serving the towers and buildings. During the winter, the steam lines sometimes looked as if they were sitting at snow level. All buildings were located in the same complex, unlike the ‘split-site’ configuration found on peaks and bluffs. The GATR site was off in one corner, as I recall, with the radars located at the other end of the base.

The winter of 1964 65 was brutal, especially so when going from Keesler to Opheim in February, a rude change in weather to say the least! I had just gotten married and we left Bremerton, Wa, and headed east, greener than anything about the rigors of cold weather living. We quickly found what was needed to survive! We saw several sheep and horses frozen stiff as we headed east past Cut Bank, Havre, and Malta towards Glasgow, about 30 below not counting the wind chill. Crystal clear, blue skies, with snow and frost everywhere. Chillingly beautiful. Snow stayed on the ground till April.

The next winter wasn’t so bad, not nearly as cold or long as the last one. In the summer, the facilities group shut down the steam line to the FPS-90 tower for maintenance purposes, and never got it on-line for the next winter. The weather was cold by that time, and a B52 gas-fired heater was brought in from Glasgow AFB, with corrugated hoses leading to the lower and upper decks. A tank of fuel would last approximately one 8-hour shift, so it was the duty of each shift to shut the unit down and refill for the next shift coming on. A real pain, because with the heater down, it got cold inside the tower in a hurry!

As can be readily seen, this was a disaster waiting to happen; one of the shift workers didn’t allow the heater to sufficiently cool, and it lit off as he was refilling the tank with gas. The airman got off lucky with superficial burns, but the 90 tower wasn’t so lucky. The entire lower deck was burned, including the large power distribution cables leading to the rest of the radar, causing it to be off the air for a long time. This left the FPS-26 as the only active height finder, and we were busy from then on out.

I spent my time in radar maintenance on the FPS-26a Height Finder, on Transmitters, Antenna system, and ancillary equipment. I wore the badge of the Antenna System mechanic: fatigues stained with red HD-515 hydraulic fluid from leaking hydraulic lines.

Gapfiller sites were located at Whitewater, north of Malta, and Whitetail, north and east of Scobey, both far enough away that the crew stayed there most of the week and came back to the site only when required. It wasn’t uncommon to drop out to the gapfiller site and see a deer hanging, was it, guys?

Our FPS-26A had one Tx chain that regularly consumed SAC-42a Klystrons. The other chain was didn’t, and we could never figure out why.

We worked crazy shifts, a common one being a 9 & 3; 3 mids, 3 swings, 3 days, and 2- ˝ off. That just about killed me, as I was always tired, my body having trouble oriented around those changing hours of sleep.

Time off was spent either visiting and playing cards, eating and drinking at the NCO club, and hunting birds, deer, and varmints.

Colonel Bevins(our Commander) was big into shooting then, and had everyone he could convince join the NRA, which most of us did. We spent lots of time out in the Badlands and prairies sightseeing, plinking, and looking at the golden eagles, ground owls, deer & antelope, skunk, badgers, and of course the plentiful gophers. This area was where Sitting Bull and many other Indians passed through, as the buffalo routes were here, following the streams and grasslands wherever water was present.

Gerry Bain, the Avco tech rep, was an avid hunter, and brought home plenty of wild game, which his wife Jackie would prepare into delicious meals. He loved it, she was sick of it!

Shopping was done 35 miles or so to the south at Glasgow AFB, of several miles further south to Glasgow town.

Movies were shown on the trampoline mounted to the wall near the Orderly Room.

While living conditions could sometimes be difficult, site duty was excellent with many strong friendships and working relationships made and maintained over the years.

Dick Konizeski