Sunday, August 26, 2018

Photo Essay: A Tale of Two Ghost Towns in Daggett, CA

Daggett first caught my interest as a ghost town along Route 66—one where silver mining had been replaced by solar farms.



But when I went five years ago, I knew I was missing out on something.



I knew there must be something else to see—I just didn't know where to look.



It turns out that Daggett isn't just one ghost town but two—and the other one, a former company town and military base—can be found at the airport.



Barstow-Daggett Airport was officially built in 1933, but its beginnings date back to 1930—when air flight wasn't so common, so it was outfitted with a radio beacon and used as a Desert Airways Communication Station to help pilots navigate. The next year, a 40-foot tower followed; and in 1932, three runways were built as flight activity began to increase.



In the late 1930s, it operated as a municipal airport and civil air field, a "designated landing area" for civilians, and expanded greatly through the end of the decade, thanks to funds supplied by the WPA as part of FDR's New Deal.



In 1942, the War Department chose it as a Modification Center, which Douglas Aircraft Company established as the Daggett Army Air Field later that year. As a tenant, Douglas continued to operate it—and modify as many as 4300 existing aircraft for special military needs (mainly Douglas A-20 Havoc light bombers and C-47 Skytrain transport airplanes)—until 1944.



Fighter pilots received advanced training here in 1944. The flying weather was reportedly excellent.



U.S. Army Air Force operations were suspended in 1945, and the Navy took it over from the Army in 1946. In 1958-9, San Bernardino County took over jurisdiction, and it continues to oversee it today.



But the Army presence didn't disappear completely from Daggett Airport. Its proximity to Barstow (only a dozen or so miles west of the airport) and the Fort Irwin installation makes it a likely candidate for Army-owned UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and LUH-72 Lakota helicopters to operate out of the airport—especially since the Barstow airport closed in 1961.



Supposedly, there are 46 aircraft based at this field, three-quarters of which are military-owned. The three-sided, redwood hangar sheds were built to accommodate up to 36 aircraft at any given time. (Only Hangar Shed No. 4 remains.)



And Barstow-Daggett Airport has been called "one of the busiest small airports in the country."



But when I visited last November, I didn't see any aircraft at all—neither on the ground nor in the air.



I didn't see any people, either.



Between headquarters and flight operations buildings, hangars, barracks, utilities, storage, and fuel operations, there were about 65 buildings and 20 other structures at one time in what became known as "Douglas Town."

Nearly 1000 people could have been housed in those barracks and family cottages—though since being declared surplus in 1945, many of them are now gone. The few remaining are derelict.

And the residents who once lived in the 1940s-era housing built for civilian crew and military personnel were evicted in 2012.

I think I've now seen most of it, though I didn't really understand what I was looking at while I was there. And although I saw signs for a swimming pool, I didn't find it.

But I know it's there.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Route 66's Daggett, From Silver to Solar
Photo Essay: A Fake Iraq in the Middle of the Mojave Desert
Photo Essay: George Air Force Base, Abandoned & Consumed
Photo Essay: George Air Force Base, Under Blockade & Demolition