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Constructing a Missile Field

On February 28, 1963, the US Army Corps of Engineers selected Morrison-Knudsen and Associates as the general contractor for the sixth and final Minuteman missile wing to be constructed. (Although the Corps was responsible for coordinating this massive project, the end product would be operated by the US Air Force). Like the five missile wings which preceded it, Wing VI would be configured with 15 launch control centers and 150 missile silos (each silo containing one nuclear-tipped Minuteman missile).

The Launch Control Equipment Building (left) and the Launch Control Center (right) are clearly seen in this image. Between '64 and '66, 15 such facilities along with their above ground support buildings were constructed in the Grand Forks missile field.

A year later, on March 5, 1964, Morrison-Knudsen broke ground and construction was underway. At the time, the Grand Forks Herald correctly asserted that the project “will go down as eastern North Dakota’s most colorful and largest construction project.” The project had a tremendous social and economic impact on the area. Anybody living in the construction area could not escape its presence—the area covered 7,500 square miles (running east-west from Grand Forks to Devils Lake and north-south from the Canadian border to I-94). During the peak of construction, nearly 7,000 persons were employed. Sadly, the sometimes dangerous work took the lives of 7 of those construction workers. While many employees were local North Dakotans, many others came from across the nation. Schools quickly filled to capacity (many schools have never surpassed their enrollment numbers during those years). The Herald reported that the project injected over $35 million into the local economy in 1965 alone. The project cost the nation nearly one billion dollars ($600 million for structures and equipment and another $255 million in missile hardware). Incredibly the project was completed in just over two years and on December 7, 1966 the 321stStrategic Missile Wing became fully operational.

The supporting equipment building (left) and the top of the cylindrical missile silo are seen in this photo. Water naturally inundated many of the sites and needed to be constantly pumped out to allow construction to proceed.

Charles Parkman was a civilian construction worker that was employed in the project. Charles was the foreman of a de-watering crew. Perhaps one of the greatest struggles during construction was against the flooding waters of breeched groundwater tables, spring snow melts, and regular rains. De-watering crews kept up the struggle in order to keep the deep excavations dry enough that work would not be delayed and concrete could be poured. Today, Charles is a tour guide at the Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile State Historic Site and regularly relates his first-hand stories to guests. In 2010, we interviewed Charles as part of our on-going oral history project (“Memories of the Missile Field”). Click below to listen to Charles discuss his earliest experiences as a foreman on a de-watering crew for the Morrison-Knudsen construction company. 


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2 Comments

  1. Vince Dicks says:

    Nice Mark. Good Job!! Put me down on your list for extra bodies this summer.

    vince

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