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!

67 Comments »

  1. 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.

    [Reply]

    Comment by Rick Hendricks — July 19, 2013 @ 11:25 am

  2. 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 Russ gullotti — July 20, 2013 @ 5:18 pm

  3. 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

  4. 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?

    [Reply]

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

  5. 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

  6. 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 Belinda Tilger Causey — September 28, 2013 @ 1:57 am

  7. 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

    [Reply]

    Comment by Glenn Carter — October 18, 2013 @ 10:24 pm

  8. 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]

    Comment by chet gates — October 20, 2013 @ 9:26 pm

  9. 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

  10. 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.

    [Reply]

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

  11. 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

  12. I was stationed at Murphy Dome in 1969, was Chief Clerk in the orderly room, worked with TSgt Curtis Reynolds and 1st Lt Veeder. Attended church on Sundays at First Baptist of Fairbanks, the folks there “adopted” several of us and usually fed us lunch on Sunday.

    [Reply]

    Comment by Harold Lemley — April 28, 2016 @ 12:43 pm

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