Tracker Pixel for Entry

The pyramid of the prairie

by Sabrina Hornung | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | Culture | August 18th, 2017

Nekoma tactical area purchased by the Cavalier County JDA

Photos by Sabrina Hornung

“These have all been cleaned and filled with sand and concrete,” said Randy Mehlhoff, who serves on both the Langdon Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and the Cavalier County Job Development Authority (JDA), as we walked along the former nuclear launchpad that once reinforced underground launchers for sixteen Sprint and thirty Spartan nuclear-tipped missiles. The missiles were once nestled 75 feet underground. He went on to say, “One of the things we were worried about while considering buying this was if there was any pollution or nuclear reactive waste.”

The site itself was eerie, despite the blue skies, and massive wind generators moving lackadaisically in the breeze among fragrant canola fields. The site looked like a post-apocalyptic movie set, the pyramid a monolithic Cold War relic looming amidst sprawling prairie of rural North Dakota. Prairie grasses made their way through the cracks and crevices in the 40+ year old concrete between the disarmed white missile pods neatly lining a large part of the tactical area.

The grounds were once meticulously maintained by “Buzzy” Hollmann. We met Buzzy as he was circling the grounds. He approached us shortly after we got through the gate and were greeted with a direct no-nonsense stare from his icy blue eyes. Once we established that we had permission to be on the grounds his demeanor lightened up and he invited us into his pickup, giving us an exclusive tour of the grounds.

Buzzy has maintained and kept an eye on the grounds since 1992. “Our job was to keep the grounds in good shape--so if the government decided to use it they could just come back,” he said.

The Nekoma Pyramid, sometimes referred to as “Nixon’s Pyramid” is actually called the Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard complex. It was built between 1970 and 1975. The initial plan was three Safeguard facilities, one near Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri and the other at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana. The 1972 Salt I Treaty changed everything, and the only one that was completed was Nekoma.

The total cost of the site was $6 billion. It was operational for a matter of weeks and was activated the same year it was deactivated in 1976. The initial intent of the Safeguard complex was to defend the Minuteman ICBM missile silos near the Grand Forks AFB. North Dakota’s was the only operational anti-ballistic missile system ever utilized in America.

The site takes up 447 acres. The acreage included the tactical sites, roads, the lagoon, and various buildings, including a church and bowling alley. In 2012, the site went up for auction and was purchased sight unseen by the Spring Creek Colony based in Forbes, North Dakota, in hopes of farming the acreage, but they were only able to break up 170 acres.

This summer an opportunity to buy arose yet again, but this time the Cavalier County Job Development Authority (JDA) stepped in and are currently closing on the purchase. “We are looking to purchase this tactical area -- the historic part of it -- and there’s not too much we can do with this area other than to someday make it into a tourist attraction. The rest of it is being negotiated.” Mehlhoff said.

At press time Mehlhoff stated that a purchase agreement had been signed with a company that processes hemp and flax fibers for consumer products.

“We had a meeting here one time with the Corp of Engineers, they were trying to figure out how much money it would cost to knock this building down. They came up with $155,000. One of the geniuses said--couldn’t we just take a saw and cut this top off?” said Hollmann, “I said I want to see that saw!”

Hollmann finds the thickness of the pyramid to be the most fascinating part of the Nekoma site. He pointed to the top of the building and said, “Right there it’s five feet thick but it goes down to 25 foot thick. This was built to brave a nuclear attack. The building could tilt and every floor in there was put on a rotating floor.”

He went on to say, “They all had shocks on so if the building would tip everything could still function. When I say five foot thick they had four in rebar. It was so thick you could hardly see through it. So this could really take a hit!”

He drove us past the “Heat sink.” “That was full of water and there were six big engines in there [powering the] generators and it took 1100 gallons of oil per one to change oil.” Buzzy went on to explain, “That water kept them cool and then it ran through the engines and then through the radiators of the building--that’s how they kept it warm.”

We drove past one bunker that looked like a garage door in the side of a hill. Buzzy pointed out, “This one is where they would service the chassis of the missile -- there’s a big crane in there that would pull it in, I suppose, like a car. That bunker there is where they would service the nuclear warhead.”

That day Buzzy was eagerly awaiting a wedding party. They had a string of classic cars and were looking for a photo op. He also says that the former owner gets about 20 calls a week from curiosity seekers hoping to get permission to experience the pyramid.

With the new ownership, Buzzy will continue to mow the grounds and take care of the snow removal. “I was so very proud of it; now it about breaks my heart everytime I come out here,” Buzzy said as he looked at the deteriorating buildings on the grounds.

As a tourist stop, the Nekoma pyramid will have new life breathed into it. This time it will be much less defensive.

Recently in:

FARGO – The National Weather Service has predicted widespread flooding from the Great Lakes to Devils Lake to the Red River of the North River Basin, saying the risk is elevated because of packed snow, deep frost, and…

By Gabrielle Herschgabbyhersch@gmail.com“North Dakota (and Minnesota) nice” is an attitude, a stereotype, and a way of life that has permeated our region, as well as perceptions of the Midwest, since as long as people have been…

March 19-23Fargo Theatre, 314 N Broadway, FargoThe Fargo Theatre will be opening daily at 9am during the Fargo Film Festival and will be screening 90+ submissions! Add director Q&As, 2 minute movie contest and extra special guests.…

It is possible, even ethical, to stand behind Israel and criticize the nation at the same time. No country, no man or woman, is without fault. While we at the High Plains Reader believe the U.S. House of Representatives’…

The Battle Between Extreme Capitalism And Democratic SocialismAfter Vice-President Mike Pence representing racial and extreme capitalism ended his scathing rant about democratic socialism at the Conservative Political Action…

The eighth week of this year’s HPR Cocktail Showdown was another tripleheader for our panel of judges. On this particular week, we found ourselves focused on a trio of downtown dining and entertainment establishments to visit…

In rural Minnesota, outside of Park Rapids, Amy Thielen was attempting to light her wood-fired oven. It is in her brand-new kitchen that she hopes to teach cooking classes out of, which is a far cry from what it was when she and…

The Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra has had its fair share of guest performances headlining its concerts over the years. They all have impressive resumes, their fair share of awards, and worldwide recognition. However, bringing…

With the 19th annual Fargo Film Festival underway this week, film lovers and filmmakers are flocking to the Fargo Theatre to catch screenings. One local filmmaker, Steven Warkel, got to see the short film that he wrote and…

Though Harvey North Dakota based photographer Lew Ableidinger has switched from film photography to digital photography and back he couldn’t avoid the analog.“I returned to film because I wanted to start shooting large format,…

To many people unfamiliar with the wide range of the musical genre, the word ‘opera’ conjures up stereotypical images of people in period costumes and large women in Viking garb singing in foreign languages. The truth, however,…

Stand-up comedy is traditionally a one-way exchange. Outside of the odd question addressed to a random audience member, the limit of the spectators’ contribution to the conversation is their laughter at the comedy stylings being…

By Gabrielle Herschgabbyhersch@gmail.comThink & Drink is coming to Fargo! Organized by Humanities North Dakota, Think & Drink is a happy hour series that hosts a facilitated public conversation about big issues and ideas. Lead by a…

I’m a big man, I’m tall and powerful, but this also causes some issues in the body department. I suffer from acute scoliosis in my lower back, and pain radiates from this area on a daily basis. I have only ever had one massage…

by Devin Joubertdevinlillianjoubert@gmail.comIt’s that beautiful time of the year that’s filled with seasonal decorations, sparkly lights, warm family gatherings, and delicious feasts. I love everything about this time of the…

I’ve got a problem. I need to write a column that is going to be kind of critical of three people I like, and I’m trying to figure out how to do it without making them all angry at me. Their names are Sara, Doug and Marvin.…