AT&T Troposcatter Relay Station, Buckingham County, VA

AT&T troposcatter relay station, Buckingham County, VA

Having seen the photographs of the Safeguard backscatter radar installations in North Dakota, I’m reminded of something closer to my own backyard: AT&T’s “Project Office” tropospheric scattering communication network, or troposcatter for short.

No, they’re not pyramids, per se– more like inverted trapezoids– but their purpose is no less shady and, in some cases, is still extant.

The general idea of the network is to provide long-range wireless telecommunications over distances greater than what can be covered by conventional microwave transmissions. Their purpose can be implied from looking at their locations on a map– the range of transceivers stretches from Chatham County, North Carolina, to a site just west of Hagerstown, Maryland and the continuity of government installation of Raven Rock. 

Project Office was part of the larger military AUTOVON network, which was developed in the mid sixties– and superseded by the Defense Switching Network in the early nineties. But Project Office and those troposcatter stations are still in use and are still protected by deadly force.

As comprehensive as coldwar-c4i seems to be, they are unfortunately extremely compliant to requests from AT&T to remove information from the site, so you won’t easily find information about, say, the “LEESBURG 5” station on top of Short Hill (oops). But you will find information about “BUCKINGHAM,” which can be considered a prototypical Project Office installation, even though it’s been decommissioned.

I became interested in all of this after taking a drive through the Great Falls area one winter afternoon, and came across a conspicuously “average” house in the middle of a field surrounded by a large parking lot. A fair amount of digging netted this, the evocatively named [VA-2]. Which, you know, is not that difficult to find elsewhere. Anyway, [VA-2] turned out to be a hardened switching station for something called “Long Lines,” which are, as you might expect, long telephone lines. The reasons why a phone company would need to operate a nuclear hardened bunker were completely foreign to me, so down the rabbit hole I went.

Further digging netted me ARTNVACKT20, which is something I’ve passed by for decades without knowing its true purpose. This is what you get when you live in the periphery of what was and probably still is ground zero in a nuclear war. Fascinating stuff. And terrifying, considering that all of these emplacements are intended to be used when the world around them is drowning in atomic fire. Given that you’re probably going to be lectured, arrested and/or shot if you do any extensive poking around these places, lots of folks still think there’s a need for them.

by the way, none of these photos are mine, given the remoteness of some of their locations and the complete lack of humor and comprehension of what constitutes an “art project” by the security forces that protect these sites.