THE BRICEVILLE AIR FORCE BASE
Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan. This article was
published in the Volunteer Times.
Bogan's historical features now in Volunteer Times
Editor's note: Volunteer Times is honored to present Dallas Bogan
as a weekly columnist. Mr Bogan is one of East Tennessee's foremost
The Federal Government, in the late 1940s,
deemed it necessary to install an early warning system for Oak Ridge.
The solution for this plan was the organization of the 663rd Aircraft
Control and to install a radar facility as a warning in case of an enemy
Construction began in 1950 and was finalized
in 1951. And so, the 663rd Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron (AC&W)
was conceived and moved into its new facility on Cross Mountain above
Briceville in Anderson County, Tennessee.
The road to this facility was in an atrocious
state. Apparently some Air Force person painted a sign which read, "Speed
Limit, Eighteen holes per hour." Another read, "Bridge Not
Out, Just Going." Major Lockwood, base commander, stated that he
was authorized by the United States Government to spend money on the
road if needed. It was further stated that a road be built from Vasper
to the base, nearly all of it in Campbell County. This never happened.
The base, after a shaky start, was finally
established. To reach the top of Cross Mountain and the radar base,
a "bucket system" was used by way of a 10,000-ft. (nearly
two miles) tramway. (The radar tower reached a height of nearly 1,000-ft.
above the mountain.)
In February 1958, Guy Easterly, former
"LaFollette Press" reporter, wrote a short story concerning
the "bucket" transportation. The account goes:
"The Bucket is swung to
a cable, which trails off up the mountain, dotted here and there
by steel towers. Between the towers the cable car sways down
toward the mountain side, and approaching the tower it rises
and sways, and dips as it crosses, giving the feeling of hitting
an air pocket.
"The trip down was interesting
but uneventful. It was crew change time now, whereas some ten
people had ridden to the top, about twenty-five were going down.
When we were pretty well stashed in, like sardines in a can,
the thing began to move toward the edge of the cliff, slowly
at first and then faster, it seemed, as we swung out over a
snowy void. The ceiling was zero. Snow was peppering down on
"The 'bucket' did not fall,
and no one jumped or fell from it. We landed safely and were
led away to officer quarters and a briefing on the operation
of the 663rd AC&W Squadron.
"Ordinarily when we have
ridden such contrivances, we have had to sign release papers,
for Army and Navy, but as Major Lockwood explained, for self-assurance,
there had been no fatal accidents on the cable car, and release
Stationed at the base at this time were
14 officers, 227 airmen and 26 civilians. From January 1, 1958, to June
30, 1958, the payroll was approximately $442,000. This meant a total
of $884,000 for the entire year.
Of the families represented on the base,
61 lived in Lake City, 37 in Clinton, six in Norris and twelve in Campbell
County. This large expanse meant that the adjoining communities/cities
merchants benefited greatly.
The estimate for the entire value of the
base and property was $3,500,000; the radar equipment itself was valued
at $909,000. Food and supplies at the base during fiscal year 1958-59
was estimated at $230,000. Project appropriations expenditures for the
upcoming year were set at $516,000, which would include modernization
of the tower operations building. A new access road, costing $24,000,
was to be built which would run to the operations tower, which at that
time was only accessible by cable car. Other new improvements would
be the repair of the tramway car at a cost of $13,000; construction
of 18 new housing units at a cost of $350,000, and repair of the present
roadways and the water system.
The radar station was believed virtually
doomed from the start. It was too high to pick low flying aircraft while
lower units picked up too much ground clutter from the surrounding mountains
to be operative. Accordingly, such things as drought on the radar was
another incident which was a negative approach.
As for Campbell County, it was pointed
out that the station bought some supplies here, and that they used the
LaFollette Municipal Hospital and the LaFollette Country Club, with
the green fees being reduced. The Air Force personnel also donated blood
for the local hospital. The County also had about four acres incorporated
into the base.
Many servicemen married local ladies and a few returned to the area
after leaving the service.
During the 1950s and early 1960s decreases
in military spending brought about the closing of many bases, which
included the radar base at Briceville.
Comments from one of our readers:
across your posting about the 663rd AC&Wron whilst surfing the
'net, and was swept by a wave of nostalga. I was stationed at Briceville
AFS for three years from 1957 thru 1960. Your article was pretty
much "right on the money". The Arial Tramway ("Bucket") was indeed
a different experience for all of us. Nothing to do for 30 minutes "up" and
30 minutes "down" every day. Wouldn't be bad for me now that
I'm 67 years old, but for a 20-something human male it
was the longest trip in creation. Especially when the "bucket" built
for twelve had more than twenty aboard, and doubly tiresome
when winter forced the door to be shut. I must have played
ten thousand games of Hearts... don't like playing cards to this
thrill in winter was ice building up on the cable causing
it to lose its grip on the traction drum at the tramway drive
building. I know this sounds strange, but the system was designed
end of the cable attached to "uphill" end of the the
car, stretching up the mountain, around a "turnaround" pulley,
thence back down the grade PAST the car to wrap three times
around the traction drum (drive wheel) before going back UP the
hill to attech to the "downhill" end of the car. Sort of like
an old fashioned clothesline with a pulley by the back door and
another out on a tree or something so you could hang your whole
wash whilst standing in one place. Any way when the cable "iced
up" the tram operator
at the drive building couldn't control the speed. Just like your
brakes on glare ice. Let us say that a few times the ride "home" got
pretty ex-HILL-erating. (Sorry... just couldn't resist) Anyhow,
was pleased to read your report. It brought back many fine memories
of Lake City, Norris Lake, Lafollette, and all the rest. Thank
you, and Kindest Regards
posted with permission of Bil Turner - thanks Bil!