By Barbara Mellon and Tom Page
It’s funny how things happen. When folks wrote to identify the structure shown in the January 2009 issue of the Gazette (“What Is It?”) as some type of radar tower from the Cold War days, I spent hours doing online searches on my computer trying to locate relevant information, with little success. Articles and photos about radar towers and the Cold War abounded, and the terms GAP fillers and SAGE and NORAD were sprinkled throughout. Try as I might, I couldn’t find any mention of such a site located here in Andes. And yet there it was, up on Herr Road, and plenty of people remembered it. Throwing in the towel, I published a rather generic description based on the stories I received from our readers and some supposition from the descriptions of this type of tower.
Some months later, again in front of my computer, I was searching for information of a very different type. It was current news I was after, wondering about the outcome of a local accident. I quickly entered the date of the incident and “Andes, NY”. Nothing about the accident in question appeared, but an article titled “April 2004 Site Visit Trip Report” caught my eye. Opening it up, I found the gateway to all of the information I had been seeking back in January.
The article I found was written by Bernie Radigan of Herkimer, NY and was a full description, with current photographs, of a visit he made to the old radar tower in the Spring of 2004. With permission of the owners, David Bartlem and John Manzi of New York City, he had unfettered access to the site for research he was doing for the Online Air Defense Radar Museum, which can be found at www.radomes.org/museum and is a project of Radomes, Inc., the Air Defense Radar Veterans’ Association.
The online museum includes quite a bit of information about the site, including a partial roster of personnel assigned to the site, photographs, aerial photographs and maps. According to the information available, the Andes GFA (Gap-Filler Annex) went operational in December of 1958, and was deactivated 10 years later in June 1968.
I was so excited to find this online museum that I contacted them to ask for permission to use their photographs and information. Not only was permission granted, I received a wealth of additional information from Tom Page, the co-founder and historian of the museum:
“You mention that many of the locals know little or nothing about the old Cold War radar tower up on Craig Hill. Not surprising, actually. The continental air-defense mission had many classified aspects in the beginning. The typical cover story in the 1950s was that these air-defense radar stations (long-range and gap-filler) were “weather stations”. That usually kept the locals from prying much deeper. As a consequence, many locals did not know what went on up on the hill (there at Andes … and elsewhere).
“Note that the Andes radar facility was one of three “Gap-Filler Annexes” under the operational control of the long-range radar site known as Saratoga Springs Air Force Station, located north of Albany near Ketchums Corners, NY. … The gap-filler radars were short-range radars that were used to detect low-flying aircraft where the long-range radars could not “see” due to hills, mountains, valleys, and the earth’s curvature in general; that is, those short-range radars filled the gaps in coverage.
“There were several other air-defense radar stations (long-range and gap-filler) located in New York State, both upstate and on Long Island. In the early days, there were also two manual air-defense control centers in New York State which received the radar information by telephone or teletype that was displayed manually on Plexiglas plotting boards. … Those manual ADCC facilities were replaced by computerized command-and-control centers under the then-new SAGE System in the late 1950s. In New York State, SAGE Direction Centers were located at Stewart Air Force Base (Newburgh) and at Hancock Field (Syracuse), NY. There were others all across the country, as well as many other radar stations coast to coast and overseas.”
Tom also corrected some of the misinformation I included in the February issue: “The Andes Gap-Filler Annex radar was not part of Civil Defense. It was part of the U.S. Air Force’s Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) and Air Defense Command (ADC), which supported the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD).”
I can’t thank Tom enough for the information he shared with me. In return, he has asked that anyone in possession of photos of the Andes GFA from the 1950s or 1960s share them with him. ~