White Sands Missile Range Trip Report
and Red Canyon Reunion

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What was/is Red Canyon Range Camp?

Place: White Sands Missile Range (& Red Canyon)
First Red Canyon Reunion. May 2, 3, 4, 1999 at Las Cruces, N.M.

Other on-line coverage of the reunion includes

Annotated reunion dinner photo (324 K bytes). Vets attending reunion but not at banquet are Don Digison, Jerry Tipton and Robert Stevens. Photo courtesy Hank Weber.
Map of north part of White Sands Missile Range, Red Canyon and Oscura RCAT in red in the north east, and the Trinity Site in the north west. (624 K bytes). Provided by "Mac" McCabe

Donald Bogges & JP Moore organized a wonderfully successful First Red Canyon Reunion. About 30 Nike and RCAT veterans attended, along with wives and special guests. Among the special guests were the daughters of Col. McCarthy (well respected Red Canyon commander) and grandchildren of (at the time) Captain Mendheim. Don Bogges (co-organizer) had developed heart trouble and had emergency heart surgery the previous week, and was not able to attend.

Jim Eckles (White Sands Missile Range Public Relations) arranged two days of touring Red Canyon, Oscura RCAT Launch site, and White Sands Missile Range (including the Trinity Test Site - first atomic bomb test).

I arrived a day early to look at Ft. Bliss and McGregor Range

Saturday - My pre-reunion visit to El Paso area
Sunday - Initial Reunion meeting
Monday - TACMS launch, Trinity, Red Canyon
Tuesday - White Sands Range Control and vicinity, Dinner

Saturday May 1, 1999 - My pre-reunion visit to El Paso area

I flew into El Paso, Texas May 1, (a day ahead of the reunion) to visit the ADA Museum in Fort Bliss, and to locate the "elusive" McGregor Test Range.

In my rented car, I drove the half mile from the airport onto Ft. Bliss. I asked at the Forrest (east) gate how to get to the ADA Museum. The first guard was unaware of it. The second guard said it was on Sheridan Drive (wrong, it is on Pershing drive - one street away but the museum is invisible from Sheridan).

Driving west along Forrest - WHAT? Nike Equipment? A quick U-turn brought me in front of what must be German barracks. And there were 2 Nike Hercules Tracking Antennas, a LOPAR and a HIPAR Acquisition Antennas! Hey - this is going to be great!

I continued on to Pershing and the ADA Museum. (I had done my research at the ADA web site and did in fact know where the ADA Museum was.)

The front of the musuem has the rather famous collection of Army missiles. In side I found a Nike diorama. WHAT? Tracking Antennas just back of the missiles? I got a bit excited about the gross errors! The following e-mail has been sent and re-sent in May 1999 - no reply has been received yet. (I have also sent this to the following address - ADA Museum, ATTN: ATSA-MM, Ft. Bliss, TX 79916-3802.)

To:      info@emh10.bliss.army.mil
Subject: ADA Museum

Dear David Ross, ADA Museum Curator Greetings, I visited your ADA Museum May 1, 1999, special interest was Nike. I was very disappointed with the Nike diorama and display. I left my name and e-mail address with Sgt Alex Gonzolas. a) The Nike diorama is so incorrect that it is hard to find anything good to say - lets try - Yes - the missile shape and color (white) was about correct, - Nike tracking radars had reasonable shape and color OK - the blood and gore! Who ever did the diorama had no clue about the Nike system. 1) The acquisition radar is bogus - similar to the antenna towers in the 1940 Battle of England. 2) There should be no tracking radar just behind the missiles where it will be blasted by the booster exhaust. All the Nike radars were in a separate area no closer than 1000 yards from the nearest launcher - the missile tracking radar cannot keep up with the missile boost if it is closer. 3) Nike missiles are always launched almost vertically, not at a lower angle (as your diorama or a HAWK or PATRIOT). ...) and on and on for many many basic points ... b) The Nike Hercules model next to the diorama depicts a liquid fueled rocket - all Nike Hercules sent to the field had solid fuel sustainer motors. (A few early prototype Hercules were liquid fueled - but the explosions were so devastating and so common that none were sent to sites.) c) And I am sure that you know that the labeling of the items outside the museum is (there is no kind word). Those labels that do exist are unreadable. What to do? - I am aware that funds are likely "short" to nonexistent. Maybe I can help figure something - like help to fix Nike stuff. Suggestions: 1) Please get back to me - maybe I can arrange help - I live in California and help with another Nike museum. 2) Get informed about Nike Hercules from my web site. http://ed-thelen.org Sincerely Ed Thelen

The 2nd floor of the museum has a large (floor to ceiling) map of White Sands Missile Range - including McGregor Range. The reason that I had never heard of McGregor "Range Camp" is that McGregor is in easy commute distance of Ft. Bliss barracks. No need to sleep in the dust and cactus. :-)

To get to the McGregor Range Control Building, leave Ft. Bliss on Highway 54, head NNE, about 50 miles, turn east at the McGregor sign, go east a few miles, through the guard station, east a few more miles looking for a building with communication dishes on a hill about 400 meters south of the road, go slightly past and turn south, and there you are. :-) GPS N 32º 04.417 W 106º 09.149

It was Saturday mid afternoon, nothing happening. There was one car at the Range Control Building. I opened the car door to look about and WHAMMM The wind took my cap, and tried to rip the car door off the car. Welcome to the windy desert.

There was an unlocked door, and I strolled through - there was a guy in uniform engrossed in some TV program. I attracted his attention - and he gave me some of it. No - no action today. Yes - there is action next Friday, a TACMS missile will be fired. Yes - I can probably watch it. Yes - there is a viewing stand just on top of this building for visitors. No - I probably do not need special permission. He really wanted to get back into the TV program so I left.

What to do? OK - let's (me) go to Alamogordo, New Mexico - about 40 miles further NE. Got there about just too late to:

1) get into the Space Museum (closes at 5 PM)
2) the IMAX theater - can't get in after 7 PM and it was 7:05 PM
so checked out the town a bit.

There are two main streets in Alamogordo,

There is not much in between - wide open space available for future development. I found an inexpensive motel and "turned in".

Sunday May 2, 1999- Initial Reunion meeting

Time to go to Las Cruces and the Red Canyon Reunion. Leave Alamogordo, New Mexico, heading SW on Highway 70, past more than New Mexico's share of dusty used car lots, auto salvage lots, for almost 5 miles. And here is the turnoff for Holloman Air Force Base. And another 50 miles across "waste land", past a turnoff for "White Sands Missile Range Control", over a ridge, past a road to a "Johnson Space Center NASA" facility and into Las Cruces and the reunion base hotel.

Into the hotel about noon, and there at a large table were smiling people having a good time and wearing badges. I sat down after being equiped with my name badge and started looking at photo albums of Red Canyon scenes. Ken Fraser or was it Gil Pate had lots of photos of Oscura RCAT scenes.

More and more gathered, and here comes my ex-classmate Mac McCabe. His memory is better than mine - with his prompting people and events started appearing out of the mist - "Oh Yes - I remember him ..."

At four o'clock we moved into a meeting room with large tables, saw a home movie of life at Fort Bliss. Jim Ecles (of White Sands Missile Range Public Affairs Office) then briefed us on the planned events.Guest Passes to gain easy access to White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) were distributed. Albums of photos of Red Canyon and RCAT launchings were passed about. Hayden Moody showed Red Canyon home movies (converted to VHS)

Monday - TACMS launch, Trinity, Red Canyon

Monday starting at 8:00, White Sands Missile Range Public Affairs Office with greetings by Jim Eckles (our host) and Debbie Bingham (WSMR, tour guide in second bus). We signed release forms and saw a 20-minute movie about White Sands activities. We then boarded two buses and:

Tuesday - White Sands Range Control and vicinity, Dinner

Tuesday starting at 9:00, White Sands Missile Range Public Affairs Office with greetings by Jim Eckles (our host) and boarded one bus (some wives and veterans were not there) for tour to White Sands central area including,

"Mac" McCabe (who had worked at WSMR for 18 years) said that he saw many new things on this tour. We then returned to the hotel to freshen up for dinner (like get rid of several layers of wind blown dust.

The buffet was great, much better than average. Jim Eckles then told the story and gave a slide show of "Doc" Nosses. "Doc" was a con-man who convinced a number of people that he had seen great wealth in a cave in Victorio Peak on WSMR. A number of people gave tokens of appreciation to Jim Eckles and J.P. Moore.

Visiting was great. I believe everyone had a great time.

A list of Reunion attendees which includes veterans, invited guests (permission to post e-mail addresses being requested). Accompaning wives, friends, children are not included ;-)

Name e-mail address
Corsi, Bob .
Digson,Don .
Felin, Joe JOfromMO@aol.com
Fields, Johnson .
Fraser, Ken (RCATS) knfrsr@yahoo.com
Graham, Alan agassoc@ma.ultranet.com
Graydon, Bruce BIXPIX@aol.com
Hall, William (Bud) .
Hedlund, Jim (RCATS) hedlund@iname.com
(son forwarding e-mail)
Jensen, Bob .
McCabe, Mac MACNODAK@aol.com
McKinstry, Homer .
Mendheim, Bill .
Miller, Vernon ..
Moody, Hayden hhmoody@juno.com
soon to be hhmoody@earthlink.net
Moore, J.P. here
Parks, Paul .
Pate, Gilbert ..
Stevens, Robert C. .
Thelen, Ed ed@ed-thelen.org
Thienes, Curtis curtt@execpc.com
Tipton, Jerry miztip@peakpeak.com
Versaw, Robert J. .
Weber, Hank .
Wolff, Gary .
Young, Wallace .
-- special guests -- .
Elliott, Mary McCarthy ..
Hart, Margaret McCarthy .
Hoeve, Jennifer Mendheim .
-- guest speaker -- .
Eckles, Jim fiddlebike@comcast.net
-- unable to come -- .
Bogges, Don
emergency heart surgery
Nale, Johnnie E.
very feeble

Other interesting material includes:

Comments by others

From: Jim Hedlund hedlund@iname.com

Dear Ed,

Received a notice from JP asking for information on the RCRC/ORC reunion for your newsletter. Here are my memories of the RCAT rotary launcher at Oscura.

It was a little sad seeing the launch track unused and overgrown with weeds. When I was stationed at Oscura in 1956 it was one of the busiest places at White Sands. Mostly I saw the launch area through the optics from our M-33 radar van which was near the camp and several hundred yards from the track.

The RCAT was on a wheeled rack which was hooked by cable to a post in the middle of the track. After getting up to speed the RCAT would take off, flown by a sergeant with a remote control box. Then the control of the RCAT was switched to a sergeant in our M-33 while we locked on to the RCAT with our track radar. The whole operation was done very quickly.

Sometimes they'd be a malfunction on lift off and the RCAT would go cart wheeling across the desert, much to the amusement of us watching from the radar van. "Well, there goes some more of the taxpayers' money."

After lift-off the controller would fly the RCAT in wide circles, getting it up to a high altitude. This was the boring time. The track radar would be locked on to the RCAT so we didn't have much to do.

The hum of the radar unit and the rising heat inside the metal van would start to make us sleepy. Too much beer from the night before didn't help the situation. Then the controller would call out "altitude!" and we'd all snap back into action. The controller would then fly the RCAT north to Red Canyon where the Nikes were waiting.

The word would come from Red Canyon the Nike was ready to fire. This was pucker up time. Looking into the optics we could see nothing but blue sky because of the distance. Then there would be an explosion in the middle of the cross hairs. Nice kill! We'd have to scramble to lock back on to what was left of the RCAT. The Army wanted to know where it went down before sending out the recovery crew.

If there was a miss the controller would try and fly the RCAT back to Oscura. Sometimes he'd wait too long to pop the chute and the RCAT would come in low and fast over the camp, scaring the hell out of everyone.

After the RCAT crashed or returned near camp we would swing the tracking radar back down to the track for another launch. So it went all day. Hours of boredom and moments of pure excitement.

After climbing back into our buses we drove into the camp at Oscura. I couldn't believe it was still there after all these years. Now it was so neat and tidy. Mostly all new buildings. Where were all the young GI's that used to walk around the area with sun-tanned fatigues, shirt tails out and sleeves rolled up? We were a scruffy looking bunch of desert rats. Nothing but memories now. You can go back to a place but you can't go back to a time.

I wonder if anyone still spends the night at Oscura. If they do, maybe over the sound of the wind they can hear a ghost RCAT flying north to Red Canyon, and maybe at Red Canton there are still phantom Nikes streaking into the night sky.

It's a nice thought anyway.


Jim Hedlund
Questa, New Mexico

If you have comments or suggestions, Send e-mail to Ed Thelen

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Last updated July 6, 1999