Being interested in history like I am, when I pull into a town big or small, I always want to know how it began. What was here that made people want to stop and set down roots. Many times it was out of necessity I'm sure, but some times it was because the government forced you to live in Smallville, out in the middle of nowhere.
That's the town that is closest to me, Smallville USA! It used to be MUCH bigger, a thriving metropolis populated with handsome airmen from nearby Castle Air Force Base. There's nothing like a man in uniform!! Built in 1941, it was the United State Air Force Strategic Air Command until it closed in 1995.
Opened as the Army Air Corps Basic Flying School, over 30,000 pilots and WASPS (Women Air Service Pilots) were trained at this location. With the end of the war, three B-29 Squadrons were stationed here, all of whom were eventually relocated to Davis-Monthan Field in Arizona.
The name changed to Castle Field when the 93rd Bombardment Group was located at this site. They flew Boeing B-50 Superfortresses until 1948 when the entire wing was sent to Okinawa, the first Strategic Air Command Bomb Group to be deployed in full strength to the far East.
Since closing, the Castle Museum has come about, originally having only one or two planes. Over the years however, it has collected many of the old flying fortresses, still adding to the collection with the arrival of a Chinook helicopter that FLEW in two days ago. When I heard there was a car show at the museum, I had to grab my camera and take a look, hoping it would improve my mood after paying my taxes.
The Wing began air refueling operations in 1950, allowing the first jet fighters to cross the Pacific Ocean during the Korean War. KC-135's were the plane of choice until the jet propelled B52B Stratoforce arrived. From 1968-74, training replacements took place here for the Vietnam War.
I think there are five planes you can enter, with docents in every one to answer questions. I sat down with every one of them and asked for stories about "their" plane. The gentleman in the Hog Hauler spent many hours being transported around the world in this beast.
The volunteer in Honey Gal is a pilot who flew her for 33 years before retiring. He comes from Fairfield every time there is an event, just to show off his baby to visitors.
All my years growing up on the ranch were spent with these behemoths flying overhead. I never could understand how they stayed up in the air. Their wing tips almost touched the ground as they landed going so SLOW I was sure they would just fall out of the sky!
The most interesting part about these planes that seemed twenty times larger when I was a kid, is they really aren't that big inside at all. I took several images with a fish-eye lens, which gives a great perspective of the actual size. VERY small, considering all the people and supplies they carried.
Still flying in 1991, B52 bombers flew men and supplies to Saudi Arabia, bombing chemical, nuclear and industrial plants in Desert Storm. Being one who likes to drive heavy equipment, I got the feeling I would LOVE to fly one of these huge planes. No telling where THAT came from, because I don't like to fly AT ALL!! Maybe I was picking up feelings from an old pilot ... they say several of these planes have ghosts!!
Same goes for this KC-135 ... just not as big inside as I expected. With many of the pilots and crew still living in the area, most planes have pictures inside and out in different locations around the world. Fascinating, to say the least!!
Closed for good in 1995, all those gorgeous airmen moved away. Everyone then threw their hands up in the air, not wanting anything to do with so many buildings and so much jet fuel in the soil. When I was in the construction business, we bid on the cleanup contract ... probably the only ones brave enough.
It didn't take long however, for the D-9 cat driver to be overcome with fumes after the first ten feet of digging near the refueling station. With nothing available short of scuba diving tanks to provide fresh air to the operators, the project was shut down. Interestingly enough, nothing else was ever done. The hole was covered up and not mentioned again, except for that lawsuit over water contamination.
At any rate, it's a GREAT museum to check out if you are ever in the Central Valley/Atwater area. Even in Smallville, there are things to see and interesting history to discover!!
What about the car show? Yes, there was a car show ... a BIG one. I'll show those pictures tomorrow!!