Infrastructure Overview

Infrastructure Overview

Like many of the other early warning and Ground-Control Intercept (GCI) radar stations built during the Cold War, the Calumet Air Force Station was established in a fairly remote, isolated location. The station was a half-hour by car to the nearest large town. This meant that the station needed to be largely self-sufficient with housing for personnel and their families, their own shops, gas station, entertainment, and maintenance facilities. All told, the Calumet Air Force Station was virtually an entire town of its own with its own infrastructure - and this presents some very unique opportunities and hurdles for us as we begin work on restoring the property. This page is only an overview, and we will dive into further detail for each area as we begin the work of surveying, repairing, and testing the infrastructure.


The original power station (right) and above ground storage tanks (left) with the active power lines coming up the hill in the back.

Originally, the Air Force had both a connection to the local power grid as well as a secondary backup power plant that could run the radars, communications equipment, and other facilities. The primary power was supplied from a substation built at the bottom of the mountain for the sole use of the radar station. The backup power plant consisted of four 200W Nordberg diesel generators situated in a large building near the top of the hill. They were fueled from a stack of three large diesel storage tanks nearby, and power was run through underground trenches and vaults to the radar towers and fortified communications building at the top of the hill. The rest of the facility used above-ground power lines. In 1962 a new, larger generator building was constructed just to the west of the original. When the station closed down in 1988, the diesel generators were removed and the fuel tanks emptied. The Keweenaw Academy that moved in during the 90s converted the power station to a gymnasium with a basketball court, and relied on the connection to the public grid for all power. Sometime after the Academy closed down, all of the original power lines throughout most of the station were removed and the tops literally cut off of all the power poles. It's unclear if this was done by scrappers, the power company, or maybe the county as some sort of safety issue, but it has meant that there is no easy way to reconnect power to most of the buildings. The only remaining power on the property was a three-phase line coming up the hill for the cell tower on radar building 154. The three-phase power was converted to single-phase on one remaining line that ran from the top of the hill down to the motorpool building, which is conveniently right where we planned to start with our restoration work. We contracted a local electrician and worked with the power company to get a line connected to a new panel in the motorpool building, and with that we had our first energized building! We only have a few outlets for tools and work lights right now, but once we have a more detailed plan ready we can get the electrician back out there to start wiring up the entire building.

The next step from here is going to require a lot of planning and research. It's going to be incredibly costly if we want to run power in a similar manner to every other building on the property. New poles and lines will need to be installed to reach virtually every other building, and it would require us to crisscross lines all over the place. A more appealing option to us would be to run everything underground, but this will also be incredibly expensive. And if every building is hooked up to the power grid individually, that will require a meter on every single building. Even if we start small with just one building at a time, the cost is going to be quite an obstacle. One possible option we are actively researching would be to create our own microgrid for the property with just a single connection to the main grid, similar to what the station originally had when it was active. It would require a lot more work on our end, and a lot more expense, but it would make it much easier to interface with the local power company. Plus, we are really hoping to incorporate some green energy plans into the restoration of the property. There is a lot of rooftop space that would be perfect for solar panels, and having our own microgrid would make the logistics for that much easier to build and manage.


The fire pump inside the main pump house. Most of the other equipment, piping, and controls are damaged or missing entirely.

With the Calumet Air Force Station located atop the highest peak in Keweenaw County, getting enough water up to serve the entire facility would not be an easy task. Original blueprints show there were at least two small wells on the property, but it appears they were only meant to serve individual buildings that were not connected to the rest of the facility water supply for some reason. They certainly could not have provided enough water for all of the residents, the steam plant, and the other facilities at the station. Instead, the primary water supply was actually a pair of high capacity water wells located roughly two miles away at the base of the mountain near Gratiot Lake. At the time of the Keweenaw Academy, the wells could draw a combined 150 gpm of fresh water and pump it to the top of the mountain through a 4" water main. The enormous 27-stage submersible pumps in the wells provided enough power to push the water all the way to the 65,000 gallon water cistern at the top of the hill. From here, a pair of domestic pumps and a compressor in the nearby pump house would feed the water to a hydro-pneumatic tank connected to the pressurized water mains that supplied the entire station. The water mains provide water to the domestic systems like sinks, toilets, and showers as well as fire suppression systems in several of the barracks (likely installed for the Keweenaw Academy). Fire hydrants are located throughout the property as well, and an emergency fire pump in the pump house could provide additional water pressure if a hydrant was ever in use and the pressure in the main line dropped. Conveniently placed valves around the property allow individual areas or entire sections of the station to be isolated for repairs if necessary.

Building 99, one of the two off-site well houses that provided fresh water to the station.

When the Keweenaw Academy closed down in 2004, the entire water system was still operational. In the time since then however, scrappers have hauled off virtually everything from the pump house, including the domestic pumps, water treatment system, and pressure tank. The only pump that remains at the top of the hill is the fire pump. The plumbing in the well houses has been dissembled, and it's unknown if the original well pumps are still present or what condition they might be in. The cistern seems to be in good condition still, and some low pressure tests of the underground water lines going to the buildings give hope that they might still be in usable condition. The next steps for us will be to do a full pressure test of the lines to check for leaks, sanitize the lines and the cistern, and install new pumps, pressure tanks, compressors, and treatment systems. We will need to have the wells inspected at the bottom of the hill, verify the pumps are still there and in operational condition, and repair the plumbing and control systems for them.


Inspecting one of the sanitary sewer manholes on the property.

Just like the water infrastructure, the wastewater system was built to be entirely self-contained on the property. In the early days of the Calumet Air Force Station, it was simply a septic tank and drain field system in the center of the facility. Plans were drawn up to expand this system to an even larger drain field, but this was never completed and instead the station switched over to using their own water treatment facility. The sewer system takes advantage of the fact that the entire station is built on the top of a hill and simply uses gravity to move wastewater downhill to the north-west corner of the property. Here, they constructed a water treatment plant complete with aeration tanks and sludge drying beds. The plant would process the incoming wastewater and release it as clean, safe water out onto the hillside. When the radar station closed down in 1988, the plant was decommissioned and a single septic tank was installed near the motorpool building for the last few personal remaining behind to shutdown the facility. At some point either during the closure in the years following when the Air Force was cleaning up the property, the water treatment plant was entirely demolished and any contaminated soil was removed. All the remains now is a single block building and the scrap from the two aeration tanks.

One of the nearby sewage lagoons, constructed by the Keweenaw Academy and currently owned by Keweenaw County.

When the Keweenaw Academy took over the property, they needed a new system to handle the wastewater. Their solution was a pair of 5000 gallon septic tanks to the north of Building 45 that fed into two large drain fields built in the outfield of the original baseball diamond. Since the original sewer system was gravity fed and these tanks were uphill from many of the buildings, they added a collection basin between the main facility and the housing areas with a duplex pump to move the sewage up to the tanks. Strangely, this entire system was only meant to be temporary though, and even while it was being installed construction began on an even larger treatment system just north of the main property. A set of three massive sewage lagoons was constructed downhill from the radar station, and once they were complete all wastewater returned to a gravity feed system that simply flowed into the lagoons. The septic tanks and drain fields were switched to a supplementary role and it is believed they were largely unused. When the Academy closed down, the tanks were pumped out and cleaned and the lagoons were retained by Keweenaw County. They continue to be used to this day as a dumping point for local septic haulers, though they now see only a fraction of the volume they were originally designed for.


Mount Horace Greeley experienced over 325" of total snowfall during the winter of 2021-2022.

The top of Mount Horace Greeley is consistently one of the snowiest locations in Michigan, likely in the entire Midwest. Winters up here can be absolutely brutal, with 300+ inches of snow drifting up past the roofs of some of the single story buildings and howling winds that never seem to stop. So how do you go about heating so many different buildings scattered around the radar station in these conditions? The Air Force chose to use a central heating plant that provided steam heat in insulated above-ground pipes to all of the main buildings. In the photo above, the steam plant can be seen on the right with the steam heating lines running between the buildings down the center. The steam lines ran to all of the buildings in the center of the station as well as the radar towers and communications buildings at the top of the hill. Only the family housing areas and the distant GATR buildings were too far away for steam, and instead relied of fuel oil heating for their needs.

The station's original steam heating plant (right) and the above-ground steam pipes. Picture from MTU Archives.

When the Keweenaw Academy took over the property, it is likely that the steam plant had already been decommissioned. All of the buildings were switched over to propane heating, with photos from the time showing numerous large propane cylinders throughout the property. Many of the gas connections for these propane lines still remain as well. The heating plant was converted to a library, and all of the above-ground steam lines were removed. When the Academy closed down, the propane tanks were all removed as well, which leaves us with a blank slate as far as heating options go. We are still researching all possibilities here, but returning to propane may be the most logical solution for now.


Culvert from storm drains at the top of the hill

With the entire facility at the top of Mount Horace Greeley, planning for the proper drainage was a simple but crucial part of the construction. The massive amounts of snow melt in the spring as well as the fairly shallow bedrock means that it is important to keep the surface water moving so it doesn't pool anywhere on the property. Starting at the top of the hill, the water flows along the roadway and under driveways through a shallow drainage ditch before dumping back out onto the road surface and flowing down the hill. At the bottom of the main slope, the water combines in a large collection basin with the storm water from the central area of the facility, where it is collecting in a series of shallow storm drains. From the basin, it flows north to Horace Greeley road, meets with some more collection drains from the central base, and flows west along the main roadway before simply dumping out into the woods. A second drain which seems to be mostly coming from the outlying parts of the central area and anything draining down the side of the main hill flows out to the south-east along a trail down the hillside. The middle and lower housing areas each have their own, separate storm drain systems that both flow out to the north of the property, again simply dumping out into the forest through large drain tiles. Initial inspections seem to show that all of the storm drains are in good condition and unobstructed. Some may need to be cleaned out a bit, but otherwise there do not appear to be any drainage issues on the property and only a few low spots where water pools up in the spring or after a heavy rain storm. A few additional storm drains or even just some fill dirt to level out the landscape should be enough to address these issues.

One of the storm drains emptying into the woods from the housing area.