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
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
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
Morley & I