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Montana MSR > Montana MSR Trip Report

Restored Montana MSR Complex
Restored Montana MSR Complex

Montana MSR Trip Report

Mark Morgan
8 July 2004

From the ridge I dropped back into Great Falls and went around town on the Northwest Bypass to I-15, then headed north towards Conrad. At exit 235 I turned east on Midway Road, fired up the GPS and drove down 7.73 miles of dirt and gravel to the next stop.

Great Falls Safeguard/MSR - When I came through this part of Montana in 1997, I managed to locate and get photos of the shell of the Great Falls Perimeter Acquisition Radar (PAR), some 30 miles east-northeast of Conrad. The site, abandoned in mid-construction following the 1974 signing of the ABM Protocol between the United States and the Soviet Union, is immense and I'd always assumed it was the sole surviving component of Montana's planned Safeguard complex.

Ah, but over the intervening years I read an article in the Association of Air Force Missileers newsletter - I'm still looking for it - where a former member of the 341st Strategic Missile Wing wrote about observing the construction at the Missile Site Radar facility. Like the Stanley R. Mickelson Safeguard Site near Nekoma, ND, the fac would've contained the MSR as well as the primary Sentinel and Sprint missile fields and support installation. The key item in the description was a bar which some enterprising individual erected across the road; when construction ended, he apparently moved the joint into Conrad proper but the foundation remained in place.

Using Terraserver and the old Army diagrams I looked in the appropriate location, and doggoned if I didn't turn up several slabs of concrete and other evidence at 48-07.837N/111-45.185W. And slabs of concrete are what I found when I pulled up...

The indicators? The north-south road out here is paved and the large parking lot at the northwest corner has curbs as well as block heater connections for each parking space. Otherwise the central portion of the lot has a pre-fab steel building marked for M-K Distributors, Incorporated, which apparently deals in farm equipment. A large, man-made earthen with cinderblock structure at the base stands to the northwest and the facility of Intercontinental Truck Bodies - still more paving and prefabs - stands a few yards to the northeast. Throw in two power distribution sites and based on what I've read and what I've seen, this is the place...

An article from the 18 February 1973 edition of the Great Falls Tribune in Jane Willits Stuwe's East Base, 1940-1946 (Great Falls: By the author, 1974) appeared to back up my analysis of the location. Unfortunately, the photo wasn't worth duplicating but it showed a fairly complete facility well into construction. The caption stated:

From Production to Abandonment - About 1200 workers were employed on ABM construction near Conrad in early spring of 1972. By late spring the project had been curtailed in accordance with Strategic Arms Limitation talks. Federal and local programs are being studied and some have been implemented to ease the unemployment strain. Below, crews were installing reinforcing steel at the Missile Site Control Building site nine miles east of Conrad. Above, the same location appears abandoned as encroaching weeds and drifting snow obscure the Missile Site Radar installation on a cold wintry morning.

Having said that, the location and status - or extent of completion - of the four Remote Sprint Launcher (RSL) facilities remains a mystery. There may be something out there but between the PAR shell and the MSR paving, I expect this is all that remains of the cx'd Great Falls Safeguard.