February 23, 2010

Murphy Dome - From Someone Who Was There

Filed under: Interesting Things — Susan Stevenson @ 7:45 pm

In my last blog entry, I posted a few photos I took while up on Murphy Dome with my friend Lori. The information I posted about the radar station, was found online. While the internet offers us the opportunity to expand our knowledge base, not everything we read online is accurate.

Mr. Henry (Hank) Brand, a gentleman who actually served on Murphy Dome, commented to my last entry with additional information and corrections to what I found online. I am quite appreciative of this, and wanted to share his information in this blog entry, along with several photos that Hank took while he was stationed up on Murphy Dome.

Here are the comments he left on my last entry:

Susan…I continue to admire your work. Murphy Dome! 744th AC&W Squadron (Murphy Dome Air Force Station) Was stationed there 1963-64 when it was much larger with 250 Air Force and some Army personnel (Nike Hercules Missile). To find much more images & stats, check out http://www.radomes.org/museum/ insert 744 for the Unit/Squadron search and then you can search for photos of the Radar Station, as well as rosters of personnel stationed there. I have a number of images posted from my stay and my visit in 2002. Included are photos I shot ‘63-’64 of Mt McKinley 154 miles in the distance.

I drag some out there, dragging & screaming, to come and rejoice in your imagery. Beautiful!

Hank Brand

and:

Parting shot….I worked on the old (1963) equipment inside the tower you portray in your photos of the Dome.

Hank

Here is information he sent me via email:

I am making a few corrections here to your comments. Murphy Dome was not named for a Capt Murphy (I believe Murphy was actually a LT), rather, for a gold prospector by the name of Murphy, who also is the namesake of a 2 foot wide creek in the valley on the north side of the Dome. Also Murphy Dome AFS was not an actual part of the DEW Line, the DEW Line was primarily radar stations along the US and Canadian shores of the Arctic Ocean, including the Aleutian Chain.  We had about 250 personnel on the site with some Army who supported a Nike Hercules Missile Battery a few miles closer to Fairbanks on the (Old Murphy Dome Rd).

and:

There were several thousand of us who served on that Dome over the years. The basic tour of duty there was 365 days….exactly. It is owned by the Air Force and operated by the FAA. It is scheduled to receive a FAA webcam sometime this year.

Regarding Lt Murphy, I was led to believe, while I was stationed there, that indeed he was the sites’ namesake. I was corrected by a History of the Alaskan Air Command website at Elmendorf. The site was very important as the back-up command center for the Alaskan Air Command, and served as the AAC Command Center for a period during 1964 with the Good Friday Earthquake (while I was there). I am not sure, but I think the Army Nike Hercules Missile Site down the road was known as “D Battery” attached to Ft Wainwright.

Unfortunately, I did not see too much of the Northern Lights, although I did take some photos with Ektachrome 200 and Anscochrome 500 film (Ansco left the long-exposure images with a brown cast). I would go outside during my midnight shift to capture the images. Many of the images were damaged due to improper storage over the years.

BARRACKS AT SUNSET:

MT MCKINLEY FROM MURPHY DOME (154 MILES DISTANT)

MCKINLEY AT SUNSET

LT. MURPHY’S HELICOPTER WRECKAGE AS IT APPEARED IN 1964

THE RADOME YOU SEE IN THE BACKGROUND IS THE SAME DOME YOU SEE NOW (WITH NEW EQUIPMENT) ATOP MURPHY DOME:

Thank you so very much, Hank, for the information and the photos! They are beautiful, and I appreciate you taking the time to share with me - and my readers - your knowledge about Murphy Dome.  I find it very interesting, and I’m sure many of my readers will too!

66 Comments »

  1. Thats very interesting. I mentioned before that my husband was born and grew up in Fairbanks but I found out that his mom worked at Murphy Dome sometime in the 60s or 70s not sure when…I’ll have to ask her.
    Its a small world :)

    [Reply]

    Comment by Liz McCollough — March 3, 2010 @ 6:34 am

  2. Check out out http://murphydome.tripod.com/index.html and the subpages/links there for many more old photos of the Murphy Dome site. In addition to lots of outdoor pics there are other interesting photos of old electronics, an abandoned cabin the air force folks rehabilitated, etc.

    During random web surfing I’ve found other websites like this that have been set up by folks that used to work at sites, most now abandoned, across Alaska. Every time I do I think how cool it would be to have a central website/directory to all of these. They capture a part of Alaska that is largely getting lost to history. Not as well known or preserved as the gold rush/pioneer days but very interesting in their own right.

    My wife and I grew up in Fairbanks, and still consider it home even though we left over 20 years ago now. Murphy Dome is particularly interesting to me because of a minor connection I have to the site. Back when I was playing city league basketball in Fairbanks, we went up to the Murphy Dome site a couple of times to scrimmage the air force personnel that worked/lived up there. Pretty nice place; in adddition to a gym they had their own bowling alley (with 2-4 lanes I recollect, although it’s been a lot of years). Think this was around 1974-1975, since I was driving a Dodge Colt at the time that I bought in 1974 and I’ve been told the site was switched over from air force personnel to a civilian contractor or the FAA around 1975.

    The reason I remember driving the Dodge Colt up there was because of the ride back to town I gave one of the air force folks after one scrimmage. Nearly put him and me in the hospital (or worse) when I came down to the end of Murphy Dome Road, which t-bones into Goldstream Road. You can’t see this intersection until you’re nearly on top of it because of the hilly terrain. So I came up over a rise probably going 35 mph or so and saw the intersection close ahead down the hill…which was very icy at the time. All I could do was hit the brakes, twist the steering wheel hard to the left and slide through the intersection, probably still going 20-30 mph. Somehow we managed to stay on the road.

    Even 30 years later I’m still amazed given the road conditions and how fast we were going; must have had an angel riding in the back seat with us. Ever since I’ve been a firm believer in front wheel drive cars…and am much more open on the subject of whether angels are real. The Colt was not front wheel drive, which makes it even more amazing I made it through the intersection.

    I sometimes wonder what the air force guy said about the ride to his buddies…he was very quiet the rest of the trip before I dropped him off in town.

    [Reply]

    Susan Stevenson Reply:

    Hi Richard and thank you for your very informative comment. I’m sorry for the delay in responding; my husband and I were out of town.

    I completely understand the fear you must have had coming down that hill and hitting the intersection on a sheet of ice. I always put my car in low gear to come down from Murphy Dome as it’s easy to pick up speed quickly!

    Whenever I go up to Murphy Dome (more frequently in the summer months to hike), I wonder what it must have been like up there when it was still active with personnel. Thanks for sharing your story.

    Regards,
    Susan

    [Reply]

    Glenn Carter Reply:

    Susan,
    I was stationed there from October
    1976 to October 1977. It was a terrible experience at first since I had just gotten married and had to leave my bride in Virginia for a year. I was a radar operator with the additional duty of site photographer. I used to hike to John & Marilyn’s cabin on the Chatanika River at the Livengood trail. we called it 15 mile. A Master Sargent Wes Bently retired from the USAF and built a cabin near there. It was a wild time. My wife & I have two daughters now and 3 grand children. We made it through the forced separation.

    Glenn

    [Reply]

    Alan Papenheim Reply:

    I was stationed at MD 12-76-77 I also new Wes and helped him as well as John
    Marilyn build their 2 nd. cabin. That for me was a memorable year. I still have communications with Russell McCarthy and Mike Keenan.
    Best regards. Dr Alan Papenheim

    chet gates Reply:

    Hi susan i was stationed at Murphys Dome from AUGUST 1954 TO dEC 1956. THE TOUR THEN WAS 18 MONTHS and believe it or not my pay was 37.50 cents on 1st and 15th. It was much smaller in those days we had a game room and a beer bar that opened on friday nites till midnight. there were only 3 barracks at that time. we had atruck that rand daily to ladd afb at that time i was a radar operater. nice talking to u u cane email me anytime chet1034@yahoo.com

    [Reply]

    Mike Soukup Reply:

    Hello Richard –

    It’s odd. I was stationed at Murphy Dome in the Air Force in 1979. After I left, I cared but only a bit about my experiences there. But after 32 years, that part of my life has become important to me. I learned a lot at Murphy I did not previously realize. And, yes, the role of the remote military sites in Alaska during the Cold War has faded rapidly from history. It’s good that some have provided a forum to remember these places via old fogeys like me. Regarding your comments, the USAF was still there after your time there, until 1983 when the site was decommissioned. The USAF performed all the operational missions of the site, while the RCA Corp. contractors had been brought in to do all the support functions (supply, dining hall, radar maintenance, laundry, etc.). I don’t recall (but my memory here is poor) the Murphy “Domeheads” basketball team playing any Fairbanks city leagues, but I know the team occasionally would play the Air Force team from Clear AFS (a ballistic missile warning site), in the direction of Mt. McKinley. And, yes, the road to and from Murphy was not for the fainthearted in winter!

    [Reply]

    Comment by Richard Joy — April 22, 2010 @ 10:01 am

  3. Was stationed at Murphy Dome 1973 to 1974. Was part of the powehouse group of guys both civilian and Air Force Civil Engineers. Murphy Dome was a great place and these pictures bring back a lot of memories.It has been a long time now. Was in Fairbanks June 2008 and went to Murphy Dome and found all gone but the fantastic view was still there. My time was a great experience as Powerhouse work is what I did for a career after getting my degree.

    [Reply]

    Susan Stevenson Reply:

    Hi Jim, and thank you so much for sharing your story about Murphy Dome with me.

    I do love going up there, and I agree that the views are astounding, especially on a clear day or starry night.

    I know it must have been so different back in the 70s, and I imagine being stationed up there, especially in the middle of winter, had to feel like you were in the middle of nowhere.

    It’s such a quiet and peaceful place to go, and generally I only run into one or two other people up there (if at all), when I take my pup up for a hike in the summer months. I haven’t been up there yet since our snow has melted. I need to though… the first glimpses of alpine wildflowers is sure to be any day now (if not already).

    Thank you again, for taking the time to comment.

    Warm regards,
    Susan

    [Reply]

    Jim Barnhart Reply:

    Yes the winter was brutal but really beautiful. Worked in the powerhouse and worked in the fire station. drove the pumper to the helo pad for in coming choppers. that was fun. It must be really great to live in the area. I wanted to when I got done with my tour but I needed to get home to my young wife and start a life in michigan. Alaska is an awsome place. Such beauty and serenity. I miss it alot.

    [Reply]

    Comment by Jim Barnhart — April 30, 2010 @ 4:20 pm

  4. I was stationed at E Battery (not D battery)down the road from Murphy Dome. Attended some parties at the dome.

    Let me know if you want some folklore and stories about about the dome and its role in defending Alaska in the 1960’s.

    [Reply]

    Susan Stevenson Reply:

    Hi Bob! Sorry for the very long delay in responding. I really don’t know much about Murphy Dome, as I mainly go there to hike in the warmer months. However, there is a Murphy Dome website here:

    http://murphydome.tripod.com/index.html

    You can find more stories from those who were stationed there over the years.

    Happy 2011,

    Susan

    [Reply]

    Comment by Bob Raichle — May 16, 2010 @ 11:44 am

  5. Sites like this bring back many memories. I was stationed at Murphy Dome in 62-63 and was there when Kennedy was shot. I can remember it like it was yesterday. There was a raging Blizzard going on when I was awoken from a sound sleep with the news. We were put on alert and (pretty funny now) assigned security posts. Only problem was we couldn’t see the end of our noses and some super bright individual had us tie rope around our waist and go into the storm. That didn’t last long I can assure you. All in all it wasn’t a bad assignment and I spend many a night at the old miners cabin and hiking the area. When I got there we left Anchorage on the Alaskan Railroad and it was a fun trip. Stopped at a siding about 5 miles from the Radar Site and pretty much said; And I have to stay here how long ? Beautiful place though and the trip to Fairbanks was long and cold in the Winter months riding in the back of the mail truck. Also use to be many bubble checks by B-57’s and any other A.C. that happened to be passing my. Quite a thrill standing on the real steps of the barracks and looking down at the planes coming up the valley. Thanks for letting me share and I’ll keep checking back for any further memories. Herb Wild Retired MSgt USAF….

    [Reply]

    Susan Stevenson Reply:

    Here’s a Murphy Dome website. Not sure if you knew of its existence.

    http://murphydome.tripod.com/index.html

    I enjoyed reading about your memories of your time at Murphy Dome. I continue to get comments on this entry, and point them to the Murphy Dome website above.

    Hope your holiday was nice. Happy 2011!

    Susan

    [Reply]

    Comment by Herb Wild — June 18, 2010 @ 2:32 pm

  6. stationed at murphy dome feb 67 to feb 68. I am interested in names of airmen i served with purely for social contacts and would like to talk of old times and wonder where they are today. Is there a website to go to? They sure were a good bunch of guys and I have lots of good times and memories.I was the civil eng clerk lt. ra connors was our boss. we had the big flood in fairbanks and of course a small earth quake also. Hello out there… if you remember me.

    [Reply]

    Susan Stevenson Reply:

    Hi Donald, and thank you for commenting. I wish I could help you with more information about Murphy Dome, and how to contact those who served there, but the only link I have (which was mentioned above in another comment) is this one:

    http://murphydome.tripod.com/index.html

    Perhaps someone there can point you in a direction that will lead to you reconnecting with some of your old friends.

    Good luck to you, and thank you for your service!

    Susan

    [Reply]

    Comment by donald holston — August 22, 2010 @ 7:08 am

  7. I was in advanced Independent Duty Medical School at Sheppard AFB, TX. with orders for assignment to Murphy Dome as your Medical Tech in 1975 . Their was a female I believe who was covering your site in TDY status from Fairbanks and she elected to do another tour for credit for a remote tour. So my orders were changed for a Radar Dome in Turkey. However before I graduated my orders were change again for Puig Major, Soller, Mallorca in the Med. It was a 15 month tour and it was a one man shop and it was a great tour. I know you guys at Murphy had a good group but am glad I wound up in Mallorca.
    I enjoyed your site and the place is beautiful but not my cup of tea. I also did detached duty in Germany, Italy and Vietnam.

    [Reply]

    Susan Stevenson Reply:

    Hi Phillip and thanks for commenting. There is a Murphy Dome website here: http://murphydome.tripod.com/index.html

    I don’t know much about Murphy Dome *back in the day*, as I only arrived in AK in 2003, with my husband who was active duty army at the time, assigned to Fort Wainwright.

    I’m glad you enjoyed your tour in Mallorca. I do agree that it can be a bit cold here in winter. *grin*

    Best wishes,

    Susan

    [Reply]

    Comment by Phillip Thomas — December 27, 2010 @ 6:49 pm

  8. Murphy dome was my first assignment coming out of tech school in 1975.wow.I was 19 and green.I really grew up the one year i was there as a control tech.I will never forget that place.

    [Reply]

    Susan Stevenson Reply:

    Hi Waverly and thanks for sharing your experience. I love going up to Murphy Dome for hikes and walks with my dog - or for viewing the aurora in the winter months.

    I’m not sure how you found this entry, but if you didn’t see it, there’s a link to a Murphy Dome website where folks who served there can submit photos and look for people they served with: http://murphydome.tripod.com/index.html

    I imagine it was something to be stationed at the highest point in Fairbanks. The views from up there are fantastic!

    Warm regards,
    Susan

    [Reply]

    Comment by waverly — December 29, 2010 @ 12:40 pm

  9. Hi Susan,
    As you suggested in your email, I posted a link to this blog on my Murphy Dome 56-57 site so visitors can also check out your many wonderful photos of AK.
    For those who served there in other years I repeat Hank Brands suggestion to goto:
    http://www.radomes.org/museum/ insert ‘744′ for the Unit/Squadron and search. It will link to entry for 744th and then one can view photos as well as a self entered roster of personnel who were stationed there. (many entries include email addrs)
    It was fun reading the entry in your blog from Herb Wild Retired MSgt USAF from 62-63 who said he spent many a night at the ‘old miners cabin’. That cabin was discovered in 1956 by one of our AF Radar Maint. personnel who returned to Fairbanks in 58 as a civilian and he and his whole family still live in Fairbanks. Marv is well known for feeding the ducks on the river who decide not to migrate south in the winter. Marv and several of us cleaned up that old 4 bunk cabin, installed an oil burner and stocked the cellar with WWII C-rations being dumped by the site. The cabin was put to good use by the Radar Maint guys for days off when working the crazy 6-9 on/3 off schedule.

    Thanks again,
    John
    ps: I just posted a lot of hi rez pics I received from a Hughes Tech Rep who was there in 63-64

    [Reply]

    Roy Bowers Reply:

    I was stationed at Murphy Dome in 1963 and 1964. I was worked iun the power plant as a power porower production tech. I remember Mr. HJohn Grass who was thye Duty Engineer for the power plant, and there was also a civilian who worked in the heating plant who we called Stew Captian Barnes was the oifficer in charge during that time. I have lots of photoes of the site. Would enjoy hearing from anyone that we could share info with.

    [Reply]

    Comment by John Falk — December 31, 2010 @ 12:36 am

  10. Hi Susan,

    I was amont the first group of Military to be stationed on Muprhy Dome. I worked in the Power House and operated the Boilers for Steam Heat etc.

    We were trained on Ladd Air Force Base in Fairbanks, and were shipped to the Dome in March or there abouts 1951. I left for Ellington AFB in June of 1952.

    Have you ever heard from any one that was there at the time that I was.

    Would be great to hear from someone.

    Norman

    [Reply]

    Susan Stevenson Reply:

    Hi Norman, and thanks for commenting.

    Perhaps you can get in touch with others who were there with you through these two websites:

    http://murphydome.tripod.com/index.html

    and

    http://www.radomes.org/museum/

    Good luck!

    And thank you so much for sharing your story. I really love going up to Murphy Dome to hike.

    [Reply]

    Jim Barnhart Reply:

    Hi Norman, I too worked at the Powerhouse operating boilers and generators. What an experience. Murphy Dome was a great place. I remember when the boilers were maxed out and pressure dropping outside temps were 40 delow. But we made it through. Was there from Feb 73 to March 74. Got my training from the Navy at the CB base at Port Hueneme California. Home of the SeaBee Training center.

    [Reply]

    Comment by Norman Matticks — January 30, 2011 @ 1:41 pm

  11. Hi Susan,
    I was stationed at “the dome” in 1957-58 and appear in a number of pictures on the murphydome.tripod.com website. Returned to Minnesota after my AF duty was complete vowing to return with my wife so she could enjoy the beauty of the great state (including Murphy Dome)of Alaska also. We did just that in 1999 and then when I retired in 2001 we took our entire family (4 children, 3 daughters/son-in-law and 5 grandchildren)up for a 2-week vacation which included a caravan of 4 motorhomes to the dome to see where dad/grandpa served so many years ago. One significant change from 1957 was the new access road!

    About 2-years ago I learned that a neighbor of ours, whom I’ve known for over 30 years, worked on construction of the site around 1950. He had to leave the job prior to its completion when he was drafted into the US Army and went to fight in Korea so he was anxious to find a website where he could see what it actually looked like after it was complete. A great place with many wonderful memories.

    Best wishes,

    Denny

    [Reply]

    Susan Stevenson Reply:

    How exciting that you were able to come back to AK with your wife and then again with your entire family! I can imagine that caravan of motorhomes. The access road makes getting there so much easier. In the winter, snowmachiners head up there, and in the summer months, the 4-wheelers tow their machines up there to enjoy the trails. The only thing that bugs me about that is that the main trail from the dome out to the Tors rocks gets very muddy and rutted from the vehicles, which makes hiking harder. But all in all, a spectacular walk with the most amazing 360 degree views. I love it up there!

    Thank you for commenting and sharing your experience. I would love to look around more at the site, but I don’t think I can get in there. I heard that there are building ruins visible, as well as old equipment? I’ve only stopped at the top of the dome, and not approached the station itself - photographing it from the open parking area.

    [Reply]

    Comment by Denny Reber — February 4, 2011 @ 6:36 pm

  12. I don’t know if anything has changed in the interim as for getting up close to the existing station but in 2001 we approached right up to the secure gate and security fence encompassing the site. At the time, I didn’t give any thought to looking around for remains of the buildings or equipment which had been there so many years ago. There is a rather large and colorful sign at the security gate identifying the site and which I have several photos of.

    By the way, I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you how much I enjoy your beautiful photos. You have a superb photography talent and I thank you for sharing it with all of us. God bless you, stay warm and love Alaska!

    Denny

    [Reply]

    Susan Stevenson Reply:

    Thanks Denny. I’m glad you enjoy my photos. It’s not hard to get good photos living in such a gorgeous place. I love getting out and about, exploring, and sharing my photos with my readers.

    I think I’ll have to do a lap around the fence the next time I’m up there and see if I can find anything of interest to photograph.

    Take care,
    Susan

    [Reply]

    Comment by Denny Reber — February 10, 2011 @ 6:47 pm

  13. I lived on Murphy Dome for 4 years and left in 1967. My dad was stationed there as a radar technician with the FAA. It was unforgettable. I remember playing around the helicopter wreck and picking blueberries. We took a ‘weasel’ down to the Chatanika and camped in a cabin. I still think it’s one of the most beautiful places (and coldest) in Alaska.

    [Reply]

    Susan Stevenson Reply:

    Wow, Diane. That sounds very interesting! How old were you? Were you only a child?

    I love the view from up there, especially on a clear day. 360 degree views of the beautiful mountains. I can’t even imagine living up there.

    Thanks for commenting. :)

    [Reply]

    Belinda Tilger Causey Reply:

    Hello, I lived on Murphy Dome in the late to early 60’s. My father was a radar technician for F.A.A. Ray Tilger. We lived in the barracks with 10 other families. We used to pick berries and play on the wrecked helicopter. I was in Jr.High. I remember the school bus coming to get us and that long drive back and forth, how our dad’s would take turns digging tunnels out to catch the bus in the dark. I remember the air force guys playing baseball on the landing strip…that was entertainment to us. I remember they had a ONE LANE bowling alley, an officer’s club, and a PX (Military Store). Daddy worked in the dome. It was great adventure and some of the happiest times in my life.

    [Reply]

    Comment by Diane — February 24, 2011 @ 2:28 pm

  14. Hi! Susan
    I was stationed there in 1951 & 1952 just after it was built with the 143rd AC&W Sq.I probably have some pictures taken then with my bolsey B-2 camera. {Kodachrome slides} I realy enjoyed my time there.Got out a lot With a friend who had set out a trap line down below the Dome and he was quite sucessful. We used the old style snowshoes to get around.One picture I took is of an F-94 All-Weather Jet flying level with the top of Murphy Dome and the pilot is very visible. Occasionaly they would come in then turn on end going straight up over the Dome. I enjoyed seeing the pictures here. I wil be returing for the first time this Summer on a Cruise/Tour to Fairbanks. Hope you get this as there no comments going that far back. OOps there was one comment by Norman that was there in 1951.

    Take Care

    Bruce

    [Reply]

    Mike Soukup Reply:

    Hi Bruce –

    Great to read your input from a guy who was at Murphy at the beginning! I was there in 1979 as a nearly greenhorn 2Lt. The site was now nearly at the end of its life then, yet we were busy and continuing on as though it was going to be around for another few decades. I recall a couple of times when B-57s that were used as “target” and jammer aircraft during live exercises would do a “bubble check” over Murphy. Impressive! Doubt that was allowed much longer. I am curious to learn of any other memories you might want to share about Murphy. You can email me at: msoukup6791@gmail.com

    Mike

    [Reply]

    Comment by Bruce Mecklenburg — July 18, 2011 @ 1:54 pm

  15. I was stationed at Ft Richardson with the 87th Artillery Group (AD). We were Group HQ for all the Nike Sites in Alaska. The Army staff were all accounted for on the Group Morning Report. I was in Alaska 1969 to 1971 and visited the Dome a couple of times…A different beautiful view every night! Thanks for the great website! brought back a lot of old memories!

    [Reply]

    Comment by Vince LaRosa — September 5, 2011 @ 7:17 pm

  16. Sorry! The Army staff at the Dome were on our morning report!

    [Reply]

    Comment by Vince LaRosa — September 5, 2011 @ 7:19 pm

  17. I was stationed at the dome from aug 1955 to jan 1956 the tour of duty was 18 months at that time. There was onl a game room with a ping pong table a pool table and a small bar nothing else it was wonderful duty ant the quarters were 2 to each room. I was 19 then i didnt go to fairbanks much there wasnt anything there except a drug store and lots of bars but i never did drink. there was an entertainer there we called 88 keys everyothe tooth was missing no more said

    [Reply]

    Comment by Chet Gates — September 18, 2011 @ 5:50 pm

  18. I was there 1958-1959 before alaska became a state. The only thing that I dont understand is why there is not much said about the army that was there on with the af we worked togeather every day 24-7 . lots of things going on back then with the cold war and etc.We backed the AF every day with missles and etc we fired about 20 of them right there in those days.

    [Reply]

    Mike Soukup Reply:

    I agree. When I was a USAF guy at Murphy in 79, nothing was ever said about the Army folks who had been there. Site Love was shutdown around 71, with the others gone by 79, when I arrived. I was supposed to be a PLC Officer at Murphy, but when I got there, all the batteries had been shutdown.

    [Reply]

    Comment by robert crouch — October 10, 2011 @ 11:27 am

  19. I was part of the Hughes Aircraft crew that installed the army/AF integration equipment at all Nine Nike sites, Murphy and Fire Island in 1960. During my nearly two year stay in Alaska I spent most of my time at Ft. Richardson and Fire Island but was up to Murphy three or four times. Before then I assembled de-bugged, re-designed and coaxed the equipment into working at Fullerton, Ca. before the eleven sites of equipment went north with the Air National Guard. Met the equipment on 6 June, ‘60 and worked at all of the loactions. The displays at Murphy and Fire Island had AF and Army (Nike) displays at the same time to aid in air defense. The integration equipment was an advanced version of missile control used at locations other than the continental US (Europe, Far East, Greece, etc.). The equipment was under the direction of the signal corps. (Ft. Richardson) and the Missile Command. It was co-located with AF at Fire Island and Murphy. Nike digital data was transmitted via microwave to the control centers where the missile status and targe information was displayed along with AF interceptor data and radar. The missile and target tracking data from the Nike batteries was “painted” as synthetic markers for the command center commander and staff on three consoles in the plotting room dias area.

    [Reply]

    Comment by DARYL BUTCHER — November 19, 2011 @ 1:50 pm

  20. Hi Susan! I am very pleased that you have this website of yours with comments about Murphy Dome AFS. I was stationed at Murphy Dome as a 2nd LT in the USAF from 6/79 to 12/79 (I then was transferred to Kotzebue AFS). I’d like to write a few scratchings of feeble thought. Murphy in my day was in decline as part of a plan to shutdown the manned radar sites and replace them with automated sites. Murphy was finally decommissioned in 1983. Murphy originally had about 200-250 people assigned there, but in my day there were about 100. The site had a good reputation stateside as a “soft” remote assignment due to its proximity to Fairbanks. If you had to do a remote in Alaska, Murphy was the place to be. But the truth of this depends, though, on your rank. I’ll voice an opinion (and shared by others in the day) that will probably get me flamed and flayed alive. Murphy and Kotzebue were the only stations I was at in my USAF time where the officers had it worse than the enlisted. Manning was declining, but the duties remained largely as earlier when there were more people. In particular, officers, who were mostly the ground intercept radar weapon controllers, were in short supply. To meet minimum on-site manning requirements at any given time, the officers very rarely got to go to Fairbanks, or go hiking, fishing, and the other things Murphy was known for. We were pretty much chained to the site. The enlisted folks could occasionally escape for a day or so. One Sergeant I worked with even moved his wife to Fairbanks, and worked the system so he got to be with her fairly often. This was a real morale buster to the other guys. The commander should never have let this happen. Ancient history now. I remember being warned about the voracious mosquitoes up there in the summer — all true, but I thought the little black flies that showed up around August were a lot worse. Their bites smarted and bled. The first snow to fall and stay on the ground occurred in early September. It rapidly got colder and snowier! Windchill temps were extreme. Social life for me was minuscule. There were a few female contractors on site, mostly rather matronly gals. The first female USAF person ever assigned there arrived a few months after I did. I think she was a 1st Lt. But I wasn’t interested. Free time for the officers involved sleeping, going to the on-site Officer’s Club (but not an officially sanctioned one; that one had closed down a few years before) or the NCO Club if invited (about always true). Watching movies each week was a big deal. We received five movies a week from Stateside, and amazingly, they were recent releases. Jobwise, I was the Senior Weapon Director for Alpha Crew, a job usually reserved for at least a Captain or Major. But manning issues pushed down the rank required. It was a big job for me, but I survived it and so did everyone else on Crew. When I was sent to Murphy I was also supposed to be a Positive Launch Control Officer for the Nike missile batteries with nuclear warheads in Alaska (Site Love was the closest to Murphy, but it was decommissioned around 1971). Others remained active until 1979, about the time I got there. In Dec. 79 I was sent to Kotzebue AFS to be the Operations Officer there. I note you posted comments about the history of Murphy Dome, and how it got its name. My recollection is that your correspondent is correct: it was named for a gold prospector, not the lieutenant Murphy who crashed his helicopter there in the 50s or 60s. I saw the photo of the wreck taken in 1964 on your website. As of late 1979 the wreckage was still there, though I’m sure it was removed when the site was razed soon after.

    [Reply]

    Comment by Mike Soukup — December 29, 2011 @ 4:35 pm

  21. Just a couple more comments about life at Murphy Dome AFS. During my time there all support duties were performed by civilian contractors working for RCA Corporation (and true at all the other radar sites in AK). They did everything from the cooking to maintaining the radars. The USAF guys did the operations stuff. Every Sunday dinner offered prime rib. We actually complained “oh no, not prime rib again!”. Later, when I was at Kotzebue AFS we got a huge shipment of lobster tails for the kitchen. We ate lobster in every possible recipe, and complained about that, too! But we ate it all. Human nature can be odd. During the summer at Murphy we would pick blueberries by the bucketfulls, and give them to the kitchen staff. Once again, we ate blueberries in every dessert recipe known at every meal for perhaps a few months. Because of the almost 24 hours of daylight in the summer, and the same of night in the winter, plus our rotating day-night shift work on crew, most of us had serious sleep cycle disturbances. I remember alternating from not being able to sleep at all for 2 or 3 weeks at a time, then experience narcolepsy for 2 or 3 weeks. Being at a remote site, even a fairly “soft” one like Murphy brought out the best and worst in people. Morale was always a hair-trigger affair. The tiniest thing could destroy it. At a meal one time I found a small piece of wire in my steak (or whatever it was). I mentioned this to the guys around me, and showed them the wire. By the next day everyone on site knew about the “poor quality food” being provided to us. People were upset. The Ops Officer, an experienced officer and old hand at being remote, called me to his office and “educated” me about being extremely careful what I said, no matter how trivial I thought it to be. Nearly all the military guys counted the days and even hours to their DEROS, the date when their year was up and they could go home to wherever. The civilians, on the other hand, were there by choice, and they made really big salaries. The dishwasher, a friend of mine, made $45K a year, a grand sum in 1979. Interestingly,more than a few of the civilians took jobs at the remote sites because they were fleeing bad situations down in the lower 48. Failed marriages, money problems, failed businesses, even criminal records, caused some folks to want to get away from it all. Most of these people were at the even remoter sites, like Kotzebue. A lot of the contractors, though, had a good plan: go to Alaska, make a lot of money, save it (not much to spend it on at the sites: no rent, meals, etc. to pay for), work at the sites for 5, 10, 15 years, then go back to the CONUS. Though rare, I did know a few military folks who chose to separate from the USAF and stay in Alaska, even to become contractors at the site they were assigned to originally. In any case, my time at Murphy and at Kotzebue taught me more about myself and other people than any other experience in life. And I could never argue about the beauty of Alaska.

    [Reply]

    Comment by Mike Soukup — December 30, 2011 @ 12:35 pm

  22. For those who want to try to contact old acquaintances from their Murphy Dome days, try the link below. I have found some of the email addresses to be defunct, so it’s a bit of a crap shoot.

    http://www.radomes.org/museum/showroster.php?site=Murphy+Dome+AFS,+AK

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    Comment by Mike Soukup — December 30, 2011 @ 9:20 pm

  23. Apologies to others for my being “loose of the mouth” on this site, but I need to make a correction. I stated earlier that the first military female assigned to Murphy occurred while I was there in 1979. That does not appear to be true. Earlier, there seems to have been a few USAF women assigned to Murphy - just not more than a few. These women were apparently NCOs, and not youngsters out of high school and basic/tech training. But, I do not know. Supposedly, the woman officer I mentioned was the first female officer ever assigned to Murphy. I knew her from a previous assignment. I do recall hearing from higher ups, including site commanders, that the USAF was VERY reluctant to send women to the Alaskan sites. Interestingly, it was thought OK to send women to remote sites such as Wallace AFS in the Philippines, though, but not the “manly” tougher sites like in Alaska. Indeed, only the “softer” sites like Murphy, King Salmon, and Campion ever got women that I heard about during the last few years these sites were active. I think it would be interesting to hear from women who did go to the Alaskan sites.

    [Reply]

    Comment by Mike Soukup — December 30, 2011 @ 9:50 pm

  24. May 1963-May 1964 Army, Signal Corp, Maintance supervision AN/FSQ-34 Missile Control System. Five of us maintained the system on the air 24-7. This system controlled the five Nike Hercules missle sites that circled Eielson AFB . The system at Murphy Dome was operated by Army Artillery personal; counting my Signal Corp five, Army totaled about twenty. The Air Force computers supplied the Army radar display with search radar and the Airforce interception patterns. We displayed the Airforce fighter, the enemy aircraft and the point of interception. If the interception point was at the Nike Lock On Ring, the Air force fighter would be called off and a Nike Site would be assigned the target. This could all be done without voice commands. All data and voice was via the microwave network called White Alice. The southern Alaska control center was Fire Island near Cook Inlet by Anchorage. Some interesting times were had with the earthquake March 27th 1964 and JFK November 1963.

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    Comment by Larry Smith — January 16, 2012 @ 2:11 pm

  25. Murphy Dome is still occupied by a single tower/radome housing an FPS-117 MAR Long Range Radar under 611th AF. There is also a generator shack with it. It is manned on a daily basis by one technician currently contracted by Arctec Alaska JV.

    I am the current technician there taking over for the last permanent assigned employee back in February of 2012. Other than a brand new microwave tower and FAA’s GAG radio antennas behind the dome, nothing else remains.

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    Comment by Michael T Simmons — October 2, 2012 @ 12:17 pm

  26. I was a weapons director ( aircraft controller) at Murphy Dome from May 1967 to May 1968. Back then it was a remote assignment. No leave to see my wife and new baby. Never could figure out why. We were famous for our ” midnight sun” party on June 21. All daylight, all the time. WE had the governor, other politicians and dignitaries come, mostly by helicopter to enjoy the wild game meats and fish of Alaska. King salmon, doll sheep, elk, king crab, moose and bear. It took a good chef to make some of his stuff chewable.

    The work was real. We intercepted many Russian Bear and Bison bombers who flew along our air defense identification zone. Our pilots got very close in order to read tail numbers etc.

    At the time I was a 1st lieutenant . Worked with some wonderful people up there but list touch with them when all left he Air Force in 1969. If any of you are out there, please contact me rgullotti@aol.com

    [Reply]

    Rick Hendricks Reply:

    I was there February 68 - Mar 69. The infamous Midnight Sun party ranks as one of the top events of my stay–even better than the Tornado’s visit.

    [Reply]

    Rick Hendricks Reply:

    I remember you! We have a 744th page on Facebook.

    [Reply]

    Russ gullotti Reply:

    I can’t find the Facebook page. How is it labeled? I’d love to see it. Thanks.

    [Reply]

    Rick Hendricks Reply:

    I’m not sure of the name. Search my name and you’ll find a link to the group. Earl Shaffer and Carl Wise belong. We have many photos.

    Comment by Russ Gullotti — February 2, 2013 @ 6:14 am

  27. The typos in my recent blog are courtesy of my iPad. Those of you who own one understand the problem. We sure did not have iPads when I was at “the Dome”

    [Reply]

    Comment by Russ Gullotti — February 2, 2013 @ 10:38 am

  28. I served at Murphy with Donald Holston who commented back on August 22, 2010. Could you send him my e-mail address please - jfhughes378@gmail.com - please? I’d like to reconnect with him.

    We both worked for LT RA Conner. I was the NCOIC of Civil Engineers at the time.

    Thanks.

    [Reply]

    Susan Stevenson Reply:

    I passed along your information to him! I hope you hear from him and enjoy catching up with each other!

    [Reply]

    Russ gullotti Reply:

    There was a LT Dick Conner there when I was there May 67 to May 68. Same guy? Do you know how to reach him?

    Russ Gullotti

    [Reply]

    Comment by John F. Hughes — February 20, 2013 @ 6:59 pm

  29. I was stationed there 54 to 56 it was a small site at that time and tours were 18 months. i liked the duty there it was quiet except when we asked some fighters to buzz out tower. and they did

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    Comment by chet gates — April 25, 2013 @ 9:32 pm

  30. I was stationed in Alaska in 1954 and 1955. I was in the Air Force doing maintenance of communications equipment. This included teletype, some crypto, and radio at various sites. We had no road except for some that were all mud, where you had to drive fast to make it to where you were going. We saw from 1 -10 bears eating from the trash dumps. During the winter we put food for them. I believe Charles J. Harris and Bill Lott were there when I was. There was also a man we called Brunner.

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    Comment by Charles Umbarger — June 22, 2013 @ 1:06 pm

  31. Murphy Dome was a great assignment if you didn’t let the weather get you down. The temperatures ranged from 65 below with a wind chill of -125 to 96 above. The northern lights appeared about a dozen times, but you had to be outside at night to see them. I enjoyed seeing your blog.

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    Comment by Rick Hendricks — July 19, 2013 @ 11:24 am

  32. I was stationed at Wainwright from 66 to 68. I had a rock and roll band and we played the honky tonks in Fairbanks. We were hired to play for the Dance of the Midnight Sun on June 21, 1967. It was an officers party with a wild game feed. Huge Moose, Bear and caribou roasts were on the tables.

    We walked out at midnight to take a break and were brought to our knees with a deafening roar. The Thunderbirds did a surprise aerial show. They cruised up on four sides then spiral straight up over our heads full power. Sometimes we were looking down at them from the top of Murphy Dome as the did the rolls and maneuvers. It’s an aerial show that can never be duplicated elsewhere.

    [Reply]

    Comment by Greg cornish — August 19, 2013 @ 11:14 pm

  33. Does anyone remember Mike Colby. About 5 ft tall. He was my bass player. He was in Bobby Vee’s band and was from South Dakato.

    Did the Thunderbirds do the aerial show in 67 or 68?

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    Comment by Greg cornish — August 19, 2013 @ 11:46 pm

  34. I lived on Murphy Dome in the 60’s. My father worked inside the dome as a Radar technician for Federal Aviation Agency. I was the oldest of four children, we rode school bus to Fairbanks to school unless we got snowed in Fairbanks and arrangement had been made that in that event, “The Murphy Dome Kids” (that’s what we were referred to as) would stay with their teachers. I recall staying with my teachers for weeks until we could get up the mountain. We lived in a barracks down the way from the Air Force barracks, their were 10 families that lived in the barrack. We were from Texas. On the mountain, they had a PX or BX which was a military grocery store, a one-lane bowling alley, an Officer’s Club (bar for the officers and their guests). Barracks for all the air force men, the domes, and a landing for helicopters which was used for baseball games every weekend by the air force guys. The helicopter in your picture was actually something we used to play on, or imagine we were helicopter pilots, or nearby we picked blueberries. If we got bored with that sometimes the Air Force guys would allow us to play ball with them. Summer was great for us, building forts, playing in the tundra, hiking and spelunking for MRE’S. We would find these green packages filled with food and necessities and you would have thought we had found a real treasure. They had been left in and around the mountain by Air Force guys playing war games. Thanks for sharing such an awesome blog.

    [Reply]

    Susan Stevenson Reply:

    This is all so fascinating. I have heard from folks who were stationed there, but I think you’re the first family member who has commented here. I can’t even imagine what it was like for you to live up there.

    I love the views from up there, so I imagine you had regular awe-inspiring moments from your perch high above the city. The aurora had to be amazing from that elevation, as well as the views of the surrounding mountains on a clear day. I really love the rolling hills.

    Murphy Dome is still a popular place to go for berry picking. The blueberries are quite abundant up there and there is plenty to go around. Some days you’ll see dozens of people up there (entire families) with their buckets picking.

    I also love that the first wildflowers of the season bloom up there in early spring (late winter). Wooly lousewort, arctic willow, and so many beautiful groundcover plants. The tors rocks up there are a favorite to climb on.

    There are several four-wheeler paths up there now, and unfortunately they can get pretty torn up in spring when the snow starts to melt and everything turns to mud. But once the mud solidifies, we like to hike up there with our dog.

    Have you been back to Alaska recently - especially Fairbanks? It has changed so much just in the ten years I’ve been here.

    Thank you so much for sharing your story and memories. Amazing!

    Warmest regards,
    Susan

    [Reply]

    Comment by Belinda Tilger Causey — September 22, 2013 @ 9:57 pm

  35. I am so glad to have found this site. My father, Jim Nicol, was stationed at the Dome from Dec 1967-Dec 1968. He proposed to my mother at home in Philadelphia before he left and they were married two months after he got home. I heard the stories of flying in for the first time with an inch-thick sheet of ice stuck to his boots on the transport aircraft, the northern lights, wolverines and bears and trips into Fairbanks for $16 pizzas. My father passed away from pancreatic cancer in March 2012 so this site is very interesting to me. Thank you all for your service, those who have served and thank you to the admin of this site for remembering a place that has been lost to time. The memories haven’t been lost on those who served, of that I am sure.

    [Reply]

    Susan Stevenson Reply:

    Hi Josh, and thank you for commenting here. I am happy that this particular blog entry continues to get comments from those who served up at Murphy Dome, and their families.

    I am so sorry to hear of your father’s passing. My condolences to you and your family.

    Philadelphia is my hometown (born and raised there, and lived there for 32 years), but I’ve been here in Alaska for more than 10 years. Murphy Dome is a favorite place of mine, as the views from up there are 360 degrees, and gorgeous. There is also good blueberry picking up there in the summer.

    I was just up there on New Years Day to view and photograph the aurora. You can see photos from up on the dome if you scroll down the blog entry ( http://susanstevenson.com/blog/2014/01/ringing-in-the-new-year/ )to the aurora photos. The second group - 6 of them - were taken up there. I included the dome in a few of the images, and the ugly cellphone tower that they must have installed just over the last year and a half or so. Still, the views from up there are amazing!

    I didn’t serve up there, but I knew a wonderful man (Hank Brand - the man who provided me with these photos) who used to share stories of his time up there. I loved reading about his experiences with the winter and the cold and the solitude. But also the good times he had with those he served with, and the trips into Fairbanks for a little R&R. Things have changed quite a bit since those days.

    My husband is retired army, and we were brought here to AK via Uncle Sam. We love it here and hope to live here a long time.

    Thanks again for writing and sharing your story.

    Susan

    [Reply]

    Comment by Josh Nicol — January 4, 2014 @ 7:34 pm

  36. Not many posts from guys who were the first assigned to the dome in 1951. From tent city Ladd AFB to the dome was like going to a new hotel. The 143rd ACW SQ who operated the dome was from Washington Air National Guard in Seattle WA. comprised also with Bainbridge Is, Bellingham plus one other (can’t remember) city/area. Sent to camp Stonemen CA for basics then shipped out of SFO on the Lt. Bedoin Liberty ship. A huge storm out of SFO then debarked at Seward to Anchorage to Fairbanks by train. In 1951 Fairbanks was pretty small town a lot of bars and a few houses of ill repute. Supplies to the Dome came by “beer” truck and train, the train trip to Anchorage was always nice, winter and summer. The game then was magnificent to see, many times stopping for moose and caribou. Most of the radar operators were called “scope dopes” and were kept busy scrambling on old “Loon Dog” (B-29) sent in to keep the “dopes” awake. Even had some sightings and scrambles on UFO’s, that was exiting as well. It was an experience for me keeping busy, hunting, trapping, skiing and gold panning. Got chased away by a shotgun guard at the old gold mine close by. A bunch of memories now 61 years ago but as I look back Alaska was beautiful country but oh so unforgiving if you were not properly prepared.

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    Comment by Jack — February 20, 2014 @ 2:51 pm

  37. Thank you Susan for giving us old veterans of Murphy Dome a place to share our stories! I was there from October 1979 to October 1980. From Roanoke, VA. I remember at the time being involved with intramural sports (volleyball and basketball) and playing teams from Eielson AFB and Fort Wainwright, with maybe a couple of remote sites thrown in there, too. Spent a lot of down time in the NCO club watching pro football at 0700 on Sunday mornings, playing foosball, sharing adult beverages and stories from home. We all looked forward to “Midnight Sun” party, when the sun stayed up nearly 24 hours at a time and we played softball and grilled moose, bear, ptarmigan, grouse and northern pike till all hours. I was on “Charlie” crew and was an E-4 Buck Sgt. and Senior Weapons Director Tech. working midnights and days on a rotating shift. A bunch of us would hike down to Wes’ place on the river about 17 miles away. Wes was from Bedford, VA and decided to stay up there after retiring and squatted out some land and built him a cabin. We’d fish and hunt and have a great time! One fond memory I have is getting calls from kids on Christmas Eve while working wanting to know if we had seen Santa yet (not sure how they got our telephone number). Last story, I was about 7 days from DEROS (short-timer) and a 2LT buddy of mine from Texas got an International Scout 4WD and had driven it up to the site. He begged me to go four-wheeling in the tundra with him at night. This was in late September and we had already gotten our first snow. So off we go and get about 5 miles away and he gets it stuck in the tundra. With tennis shoes, t-shirts and a light jacket, we go hiking back to the site in the middle of the night (also, no weapons). We eventually made it before the dining hall stopped serving breakfast. I’ll never forget you CJ and The Murph!

    [Reply]

    Comment by Tom Willard — March 23, 2014 @ 11:34 am

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