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Cheyenne, Wyoming, has never known a day without the military as a part of the community.
As the railroad construction crew rolled into town, Fort D.A. Russell set up camp too, to protect the new development and the railroad’s march westward. With Cheyenne designated as a repair stop along Union Pacific’s main stretch, the military installation also built up in a lasting fashion. Today, known as F.E. Warren Air Force Base, brick buildings (many still from the 1800s) sprawl over an enormous footprint on the west edge of the city. The ongoing mission of the base continues to be protection – but the Airmen now protect the entire country and our allies from potential attacks with intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM).
Various iterations of the ICBM program have moved through the region, but a discerning eye can spot evidence of bygone eras in and around Cheyenne. While not all are accessible to the public, we’ll give you a peek behind the scenes to the repurposed pieces of our history.
Eagle’s Nest Bar
Known as the biker bar on the West Edge, the dark-hued A-frame building doesn’t send off a distinctly “military” vibe. Upon closer look, however, the dive bar’s sign sits high above the Lincoln Highway (US Hwy 30/Lincolnway) on what appears to be scaffolding culminating in a ring at the top. This piece of scrap metal once stabilized an Atlas missile inside a silo! Side-by-side comparisons of old military photos of the Atlas missiles confirms that this metal “missile cradle” once embraced a payload with Russia’s name on it, if need be.
Abandoned Missile Sites
The cows don’t seem to mind the vacant, concrete ruins in the middle of the ranch land around Cheyenne. Like a scene straight out of a post-apocalyptic movie, shells of control buildings and vaults that were home to the enormous missiles echo with the slightest sound inside them. These previously government-owned islands stand in the middle of privately-owned ranch land. The remnants typically aren’t accessible without knowing the right guy, but the fact they are out there tantalizes the Sci-Fi fans inside us all.
Home, Sweet… Silo?!?
Not all the missile silos were abandoned to the free-range bovine and wildlife of the plains. Some properties were purchased and renovated into something completely different – in this case, a house! North of Cheyenne is one such dwelling.
Purchased with the main intent of testing rocket elements, the owners of Frontier Astronautics took advantage of the fact they could live on-site. A Cheyenne resident procured the property by auction after the Atlas program was decommissioned. He then converted the former living quarters of the missileers at the Atlas E launch site into a livable home, complete with a dining room chandelier. Lacking windows, the current owners decked out the space with full-spectrum lightbulbs. Instead of the 1960s-era computers of the Command Center, a fireplace burns for heat in the corner of their living room where wall-to-wall bookshelves support dozens of tomes on the Cold War, the space race, aliens, and villainy instruction books (really).
The dining room chandelier, the approach tunnel from the living space to the outside world, and the workshop fit for a rocket scientist king (note the lunar lander prototype in the background!)
In a world of cookie-cutter subdivisions (another child of the mid-20th century), why wouldn’t you opt for something different? Heavy airlock-esque front doors that used to only open one at a time, a 47-ton hand-cranked garage door, a fifty-foot tunnel leading to the house, and the biggest workshop space you’ve ever seen – this home has it all.* Is it for everyone? No. Is it cool? Absolutely, without a doubt, yes!
*Lunar lander prototype not included
The Real Deal
May to October, Quebec 01 Missile Alert Launch Facility State Historic Site is open to the public and allows you to descend below ground 50 feet to the capsule where the Missileers would receive the codes to launch the nukes if the president so chose. The decommissioned US Air Force site is the only recreated Peacekeeper launch site in existence and has an above ground walking tour, a small topside museum, and of course, the descent into the capsule. Boeing has loaned an Advanced Inertial Reference Sphere (AIRS) guidance system to the site to get a peek at the 19,000-part piece of high-tech navigation equipment.
If you happen to be in town the first weekend of Cheyenne Frontier Days in July, take advantage of Fort D.A. Russell Days at F.E. Warren Air Force Base. They have a fantastic ICBM & Heritage Museum open to the public. If you have a valid military ID, you may be able to visit the museum at other times of the year. Be sure to call ahead, as availability has shifted.
The missile program faces yet another evolution in the coming years; no doubt we will see remnants of today’s program in the community in the decades to come!