Kings of the Castle

by J Pinsent


Across from the railway station area and just beyond where the apartment buildings  and Goodyear Dry Good’s  Store were located, alongside of Runway 14-32, was a white 3 story  building, H shaped with a control tower on its roof. To us kids, this was a “castle”. Unexplored.

 The building was constructed in 1938 and originally used as an Admin Building that housed the airport’s administration personnel, a metrological office and overnight accommodations if required by pilots. This was the first terminal building at the new civilian airport in Gander, owned and operated by the British Air Ministry. The control tower at the top of the building was never used for ATC purposes as intended.  Then came the out break of WWII and it’s use was no longer required, because of military construction and occupation. Since then it had become vacated and in a state of disrepair. It was just an unoccupied, unused building that intrigued the imagination of children..

 From the time I had first seen this building, it became an obsession of mine that some day I would be able to explore the place. My next door neighbors, Mr. Scott and Mr. Cornick, worked in the control tower, down by the terminal on the RAF side. They had invited me, along with my parents, for a visit a couple of times and I was so impressed. You were up so high and could see so far. What I noticed most was that maybe you could see into the windows of the tower on the Admin Building I so wanted to explore. I was allowed to look through their powerful binoculars and of course, checked out the tower a top of that old building. It was only about a half a mile away but you could see everything. You could certainly see if anyone was in that old tower.

Right from that moment I knew getting into the building and up into the control tower had its draw backs. Something to keep in my mind, just in case the occasion should arise.

 By the time I was 12 years old, the subject of infiltrating the old admin building was a continuing discussion amongst us boys. Some of the older boys had told us they had been inside the building and that it was amazing. Rooms, corridors and stairs, just going everywhere. But no one had found a way to the control tower or at least so they had said. Also no one was prepared to show us the way to enter.

 From where the building was located, just about every one who worked at the airport could see a bunch of kids fooling around trying to enter the place. This was a dilemma, until one day at school, Betty Jenkins tells us, she knows how to get in. She lived in that area and seen the older boys going in and out.  A plan started to materialize. A couple of us boys would go with Betty after school and she would show us the way.

 Finding a day when we would all be free finally arrived. Most of us were always in detention. So we left school and started to walk down to the admin building area. It was in the fall of the year. Daylight savings time was no longer in effect which meant it started to get dark shortly after leaving school. We reached the admin building where Betty showed us the window that we could push open and climb through, it was pretty close on  being dark. We entered through the window and found ourselves in a kitchen type place, with stainless steel tables and sinks. It is dark but we find a door that leads us into a large room. It is much lighter here. The runway lights are lit and they shine in through the windows. It is really spooky and it is getting darker outside Then, all of a sudden the runway lights go out. Now it is really dark. Without much discussion we all decide it might be a good idea to leave and come back another day, during daylight.

 The initial penetration of the “castle” has been completed. Now for the occupation. A team of us boys, the only one I can remember is Roy Rideout, select this Saturday afternoon. The weather is perfect. The sun is shinning  which means dark and spooky places should be minimal. Also my father, who worked at Goodyear’s, across the road, was not working that day. I know the way out of the kitchen area, into the main ground floor area and I lead the group into a new world. Just endless corridors and rooms.  Completely void of any furniture. We just didn’t know where to start. I knew where I was going. I was going to the top floor and find that control tower. I wasn’t used to buildings with more than 1 level, just some of the buildings where my friends lived on the Canadian side and my grandmother’s house in Ladle Cove. This was at least 3 stories plus the tower.

Getting to the stair wells wasn’t a problem. By this time the group had all split up and moving about the buildings. Roy and I just kept climbing till we ran out of steps. This was the top floor so the tower had to be here somewhere. We started to explore those long corridors and empty rooms. Expecting any minute to see someone jump out at us. I am not very confident we will find our objective. The older boys couldn’t find it so what chance did we have.

 We must have been looking and exploring for a half hour or so. I think I know what I’m looking for. I had been in a control tower before and knew the stairs were different then what we took to get us up to this level. Finally we go into this one very large room. It is different than the rest. It seems as if there was another room in center of the room we just entered. Like a giant column. We walk around the square walls of this column. There is a narrow door on the side towards the windows. I open the door to look inside. There are these narrow steps that seem to go up and around in a circle. We start to climb the stairs. It is completely enclosed with shinny wooden walls. Inside the odor of the varnish on the walls was overpowering. To this day, when ever I smell varnish it reminds me of our trek. It just seemed like you were walking in circles forever but I see daylight above me. Eventually the stairs come to an end.  I peer over the edge into the unmanned  control tower. There was nothing there, just a complete empty space surrounded by windows. I slid across the floor on my belly, warning Roy to do the same. I knew the people working at the control tower across the airport, could see if anyone stood in front of the windows. Detection would mean our peril.

 We crept around keeping below the windows, just raising our heads enough to peep out onto the runways. We had done it. We were the first to find our way into the tower or at least felt we were the first. Mission accomplished, objective achieved, so now we were free to descend to the other parts of that building to explore and play our games in the corridors and endless rooms. Bragging rights were ours. We were the 'Kings of the Castle'

 We used that building for the remainder of that year playing our imaginative games. Being very careful, not to be too destructive that would create any investigation by the authorities and be reported to our parents for the appropriate  punishment. But alas, good things must come to an end. The following fall the building was demolished because of airport expansion.  Time to move on to explore more interesting places that were off limits to young boys.

 A very nostalgic memory, every time I see that building in a photograph.

 Morley & I