Remembering the Red Rock radar facility

This is the first part of a three-part series about the Red Rock radar facility in northcentral Pennsylvania. This first part originally was on my blog, Unfinished Rambler, in a slightly different form.

As a youth, I grew up near the Red Rock radar facility in the hills of northcentral Pennsylvania that had long since been abandoned by the military. You could see the remaining radome (of which there had been several in the 1960s), or “golf ball,” as the locals called it, for miles around, even in the next county where I lived, and everybody and his grandmother had a theory that it was still in operation. Mostly the theories revolved around the Air Force using it for a radar facility for UFOs, hence the Men In Black. Occasionally, locals would say they also had seen “black choppers” hovering in the skies in the county where the facility was located.

After college, I got a job as an intern at a daily newspaper in my home county. I pitched the idea to my editor to visit the facility and see really what was going on there, if nothing else but to debunk the myths the locals had been perpetuating for years. After he agreed, for which I’m forever grateful because technically the facility was on the fringes of the paper’s coverage area, I contacted the Job Corps center, which was on the same property as the dome, to see who could tell me about it.

The folks there put me in contact with the FAA, who still had a radar system in operation in the dome at the time. A facility technician met me at the base of the “golf ball” and then gave me a tour of the building. The tour included showing me the “inner sanctum”, where there were rows and rows of outdated radar equipment, mostly unused, like this:

He even showed me the inside of the radome (no, not a euphemism):

which, yep, was every bit as exciting as that.

He told me the facility was still used to provide information for air traffic control center near Boston, Washington and New York City for flights at higher altitudes. He said the facility didn’t provide information to local centers in the Northern Tier of Pennsylvania and the Southern Tier of New York as some might have thought, but only to flights 25,000 feet or higher.

When I told him about what some locals thought of the site, he said at one time the Air Force had used the site in the 1960s up until 1975 when it left. On the subject of “black choppers,” he said the only place a helicopter could land was in a ball park, owned by the Job Corps or at nearby Ricketts Glen State Park. However, he noted they only landed there if there was a car accident on Red Rock Mountain.

After going to the site, during which I took photos to document the visit and include with the story, I went to a general store in the village at the bottom of the mountain where the “golf ball,” which also was referred to at one time as “Ike’s Golf Ball” because it had been built during the Eisenhower administration, was. I tried to talk to an employee at the store, maybe even the owner although I’ll never know since she refused to give me her name, saying only she was glad to see the military leave, but that:

“It’s still the government.”

And then she spit a wad of chewing tobacco at my feet and shut the door on my face, or so I remember it in my mind’s eye.

No way could I not use that quote, so when I wrote up the story, I included it, as “one local resident says.” I don’t remember if I included the part about the chewing tobacco, probably not because where I grew up, chewing tobacco was as sacred as a cow was to an Indian. After all if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my 40 years of life in Pennsylvania, you don’t spit into the wind, so to speak.

Tomorrow, I learn more about the site after finding photos online of the remaining radome through two unexpected sources, let’s call them Jim and Slim for now.