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Friday, October 14, 2011

Submarines in Idaho

Great googly moogly!  Thar's a SUB in them thar fields!!

I'll post about EBR-1 in a few, but after we visited the first US atomic reactor used for civilian power, Dad drove us into little ol' Arco, Idaho.  We blinked and missed the town before it, but none of us missed the sail of a submarine sticking up from the grass as we came into Arco.  To understand this oddity, it's best to give you a bit of background.

Up until ten years ago or so (I'm too lazy to check the exact year), the US Navy had a base in Idaho Falls.  Yup--everyone does a double take when I say that, but they used the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory (now INL) to train their nuclear personnel.  I met my husband while he was going through this training there--didn't even know the Navy was there until the summer before we met.  The Site, as it's affectionately/not-affectionately called by locals, has civilian companies and government departments researching and creating nuclear power and Arco was the first city (we use the term loosely here) in the world to be lighted with nuclear power--the LIGHTBULBS were lighted, people, NOT the residents nor by a glow from the Site!  Once the Navy was able to use nuclear reactors in their vessels, they needed to train their personnel to safely maintain and utilize these reactors so IF became one of two sites in the US where the Navy sent these sailors to be trained. 

You may have noticed that the Navy has a habit of naming ships/boats after places and people.  Fast attack submarines are usually named after places--my husband was on the USS San Juan 751, the prototype for the short-lived Seawolf-class submarine.  Due to the importance that Arco had played in naval nuclear history, the US Navy named a ship after Arco.  Arco, subsequently, has a great little memorial/museum in town to honor the USS Arco as well as the USS Hawkbill and other Naval odds and ends that you can go and check out for yourself.  All of this doesn't explain why there's a submarine sail in the ground there, though, does it?

WELL.  Forgive me the lack of important details, but a man, ex-Air Force, working with the Navy out at the site, became fascinated with the whole Navy involvement and started creating the memorial with the help of ex-Sailors and Navy ROTC from ISU.  They couldn't get any of the USS Arco beyond pictures and history but I'll be darned if he didn't learn that the Navy was decommissioning and scrapping the Hawkbill and yes--he could have the sail!  The only catch--he had to get it from Bremerton, Washington to Arco, Idaho by himself and he had only a few weeks to do it.  How in the world do you get a SUBMARINE SAIL across Washington State and half-way through Idaho?  Our founder is a clever man and he found a way to haul it via truck.  Everything went just fine until it hit the Idaho border and suddenly Idaho State Police had an issue with it sailing down our highways.  Fortunately, our founder made one profitable call to a senator, Larry Craig, who made it happen.  The sail showed up--in pieces--in Arco.  All ready to be put together and displayed.  Yikes.  The man who started the whole party enlisted volunteers from ISU's Navy ROTC and ex-sailors living in the area and over the course of a few weekends they were able to put the sail together and in place and it became one of the most unexpected sights to see along a rural highway. 

I don't know if I can convey the awesome feeling you get standing next to a sail from a nuclear submarine.  I am always in awe whenever we tour old subs, either from WWII (the USS Pampanito is docked in San Francisco, the USS Nautilus in Groton, Connecticut, just off base) or the modern ones but standing next to an actual sail, knowing where it's been (in water, not coordinates-wise), and thinking of everything it's done--it really does make your heart beat a little faster and your mind freeze for a minute. 

The memorial/museum itself is small but packed with really great things to read/look at/experience.  Our boys, my husband, and my folks all had a great time checking it out and visiting with the curator/founder and if we hadn't had to be back in Idaho Falls, we would have easily spent another few hours there--checking out a chunk of Naval history, unique to our little ol' state. 

If you ever find yourself cruising through Idaho on I-15 or I-84/86--you're only an hour or so away from this wonder and it's well worth a stop.  Spend an hour checking out the USS Hawkbill site then go 15 miles down the road and tour EBR-1.  Both are free, both are unimaginably awe-inspiring, and the tales the kids can share when they get back to school?  They'll be the hit of the playground!


Anonymous said...'s about...freakin...time.

Melanie said...


kent said...

You get an "a". Content @ delivery. I'm glad you wrote it.

Anonymous said...

Well hello Melanie how are you and Matt doing? Do remember me from the good ole USS San Juan? drop me a line at

Melanie said...

RON!!!!!! O. M. G!!!! I missed this and finally found my way back to my blog!! I doubt anyone else has been here, so here’s our email: We were in Pennsylvania last month, and the boys and I went into NYC where I met up with Collier’s wife. It seems our Navy peeps are starting to reappear! 😁. Hope you’re well and hope to hear from you soon!