Photos and recollections by Gene Sanders

Gene Sanders wrote me in 2006, after he came across certain subjects (C-133, Alaska) on my website.

"Really have enjoyed your website, brings back a lot of old memories...
It was interesting to read about the crashes at Sparrevohn, AK where I spent a year in l958-59... At that time there was a wrecked C-119 and a C-47, which had been bulldozed off the runway and were laying under the trees on the east side of the runway.
We could always tell when a new pilot was landing at Sparrevohn as they always cut the power on the C-123s or C-47s, as I'm sure to the pilot that runway was a real test of their skills: after clearing the hill at the lower end of the runway they had to drop it in real quick and cut power, but then the runways goes uphill about 2/3 the way to the flightline and at that point they had to give the engines full power to get up to the flightline... they creating a cloud of dust that could be seen drifting over the hills for a long ways! There was no "go around" at Sparrevohn, it's one shot and only one shot to get in there...
Since Gene is obviously a person who has seen and done interesting things in aviation, I invited him to tell more and to send some photos along...
Nolan wrote me in May 2007:
"For your info: there has been a go-around at Sparrevohn from very short final. A C-130 did it, back in the 1960s.
We had a "not-so-smart" aircraft commander who gave his co-pilot, Jock Schwank, a go-around and he would not let him pull the throttles back... He made it...barely... !"
Nolan Bailey,
Webmaster and Historian - The Firebird Association (www.firebirds.org)

Here are some of the photos which I took when I was at Sparrevohn-SVW, back in 1958-59:
B-18
Douglas B-18; this old plane brought the heating oil out to the site, it was flown by a civilian contractor.

Douglas B-18 Bolo on wikipedia.org

Sparrevohn on Airnav.com

B-24 B-24, actually identified as an L30, owned by Morris-Knudsen Constructions Co.
I rode the plane into Anchorage one afternoon. This aircraft crashed about 10 days later killing everyone on board...

B-24 Liberator on Wikipedia.org

USAF C-47 wreck
USAF C-47 wreck

C-119 wreckC-119 wreck; much more of the C-119 at that time laying beside the SVW runway, seemed to have been bulldozed off the strip (as was the C-47).
C-119 wreck at Sparrevohn
C-119 wreckage
C-119 Flying Boxcar on wikipedia.org

Contractor's camp
Sparrevohn tent city, where the civilians lived.
Click here for larger image
I can't imagine living on those tents at Sparrevohn in the winter.

Click here for larger imageThis photo is of the old original road from lower camp to the hilltop, where the radar facility was.
This road is now abandoned for a different round, but as you can see beyond this weapons carrier vehicle, that the road switchbacked back and forth and it was a very dangerous road; it was very narrow and the trucks were 6-bys carrying water up to hilltop; imagine making the switchbacks with snow and ice!
If you go on Google Earth you can see lines on the hillside where this old road used to be!
There was also a tramway, which ran straight up the mountain, from lower camp to hill top, however it usually had some problem and was often out of use.

C-123 Provider

C-123 Provider, typical of the cargo aircraft used by the Air Force in Alaska at that time, for carrying men and supplies to the many DEW-line radar sites all over Alaska the C-47 was being used less and less at that time.
C-123 on Wikipedia.org
DEW-line information

C-124 GlobemasterC-124, parked on the flightline at SVW.
It was always an experience to watch a huge C-124 coming in at Sparrevohn, the sheer size of that aircraft on a gravel, narrow runway..!
The runway was relatively flat at the lower end but went uphill, which required applying full power to get up to the flightline.
If it last speed half way "up the hill" to the flightline, huge clouds of dust and noise would accompany an aircraft like a C-124 from dead stop to taxi up the hill....
C-124 Globemaster II on Wikipedia.org
hungry mouth of the C-124...
I always had great admiration for one particular pilot, a Captain, who was able to drop that big plane in there like he had been doing it a thousand times!
He was able to bring that plane in right up onto the flightline, turn it on a dime and off load and then get the heck out of there; that guy was always all over his airplane and he was "THE BOSS", clearly in command, knew what he wanted and was an artist in his flying abilities.
I've always wished I could talk to him and reminisce with him of those days.
C-124 on take off at Sparrevohn
The C-124 thundering down the runway at Sparrevohn,AK
In Nov.2007 I received following email:
"That C-124A has the 4th Troop Carrier Squadron Insignia and paint scheme of the days when the 62nd Troop Carrier Wing (H) was at Larson AFB,WA prior to the 1960 move to McChord AFB,WA - where it was, shortly thereafter, re-designated as the 62nd Militairy Airlift Wing, with the 4th, 7th,and 8thTCS's becoming Military Airlift Squadrons...
Had the absolute best time of my life flying C-124 with the 4th, from 1957 thru 1964.
I had the honor of being on extended TDY at Elmendorf AFB, on Operation Shoehorn, when we squeezed "Charley One-Two-Fer" in too many support runways at Dewline Sites scattered throughout Alaska!! Needless to say, Sparrevohn was not a 'piece-of-cake', but definitely was a 'fun-challenge'..."
Gene A. Millspaugh,
Lt. Col. USAF-Ret.

Location of Sparrevohn (PASV) in Alaska.
Fred Wohosky wrote me in Feb.2007:
"Thanks for the very interesting webpage about Sparrevohn. I am an old Air force weatherman and worked for RCA after separation from the Air Force. I was at Sparrevohn from 1980-1986, for a total of six years as a contract weatherman for RCA.
From the pictures on your website, it looks like it changed little from the time that you were there!
The weather station can be seen in one of the photos, behind the C-123 sitting on the ramp. It's the building on the hill right at the base of the Omni directional navigation antenna.
Six years is a long time to spend at one of those sites... We had 2 weeks vacation every 3 months and that made it almost bearable. Still, I had dreams, almost nightmares (like being stuck there all alone without being able to get out, or a variation on that theme ), at least every few months for probably 4 or so years after I left !
Here are some pictures that I took of the weather station and some regular visitors I had while I was there."
Photos: (c) Fred Wohosky
Sparrevohn by (c) Fred Wohosky
Weatherstation at Sparrevohn, (c) Fred Wohosky

Daniel Lopez wrote me in June 2007:
"I went on a hunch tonight and started looking for any information on Sparrevohn AFS, Alaska. I was stationed there in 1972 when the radar station was still in service.
It brings back all the memories of the switchback road and the tram (that never worked at full capacity). My room was at the end of the barracks where it landed at top camp. I was a radar technician and was on site from May 1972 to Nay 1973. That runway was a trip."

Kenneth Varenkamp Sr wrote me in Dec.2007:
"I was there at Sparrevohn from July 1958 to July 1958, I believe.
It was quite an experience and I only can thank my "lucky stars" that I was 19 and could deal with it!
We still had the tarpaper barracks on the hill with the roofs that blew up in the winter and the snow blew in on top of us... They were just starting to build the new building and water tank when I left for the Lower 48. It's great to know that it is still functioning."

During Jul08 I received following message from Larry Smith:
Hello to Gene Sanders and everyone (military and civilian) who served at Sparrevohn Air Force Station past and present.
We have an All-Alaska Radar Site Yahoo Group which invites new members to come and share their stories about their tour(s) at any of the Alaska Radar Sites from Day 1 up to the present time.
You may go to:
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/ColdBayAlaska
and click on "Join this Group." Let me know that you served at Sparrevohn and I will admit you to our Group.
We have photo folders of all the sites and we tell stories about our days in Alaska.
We are the "last" of the breed of folks who served at USAF radar sites in Alaska and maybe you will meet up with someone whom you served with at our Group.
The group is called Cold Bay because that is the site that "I" served at. However, membership is open for folks who served at all the sites. We are just the host site.
Welcome!

Larry Smith
SMSgt, USAF (Ret.)
Radar Maintenance
Cold Bay Alaska '73 - '74

 

Art Christensen sent his memories, plus a few photos of his days at Sparrevohn, which can be read HERE...

 


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