Trinity Site — the McDonald Ranch


The Schmidt-McDonald Ranch House

The Schmidt-McDonald Ranch House

In 1913 German immigrant Franz Schmidt built a piece of military and scientific history, although he didn’t know it at the time.  He built a ranch house.  That ranch house, and the 640-acre ranch upon which it sat, were acquired in the 1930s by the McDonald family.  In 1942 however the McDonalds were ordered out of their house and off their ranch as the land was “leased” from them and “temporarily” incorporated into the Alamogordo Bombing and Gunnery Range, which would later become the White Sands Missile Range.

Scrubland surrounding the McDonald Ranch House

Scrubland surrounding the McDonald Ranch House

So much for temporary, because in 1945 the Manhattan Project came to the ranch.  The water storage tank became a swimming pool for project personnel, and the house became something else altogether.  It became the site of the plutonium assembly room for The Gadget, and it was a mere two miles from Ground Zero.

Schmidt-McDonald Ranch House plaque

Schmidt-McDonald Ranch House plaque

This plutonium assembly room was previously the master bedroom of the house.  Workbenches were brought in.  The former bedroom was meticulously cleaned, and then sealed off with plastic and tape to prevent dust contamination.  Signs were posted admonishing all who entered to wipe off their shoes.

The master bedroom and plutonium assembly room

The master bedroom and plutonium assembly room

Plutonium Assembly Room

Plutonium Assembly Room

Despite being only two miles from Ground Zero the McDonald Ranch House suffered very little damage, mostly broken windows.  The damage came later as the house fell into neglect and disrepair.

Alas, the ranch was never returned to the McDonalds.  Even though the force lease ended in 1980, along with the payments being made to the McDonalds, the land was not returned to them.  But if the government thought it was going to end there, they were wrong.  In 1982 David McDonald and his niece staged an armed takeover of the ranch house.

Adobe and stone construction dating back to 1913

Adobe and stone construction dating back to 1913

In the end the armed standoff ended after only three days, and the McDonalds were finally compensated for the loss of their ranch, but not by much.  The ranch house, land, related structures, and grazing rights were valued at around $1,600,000.  The McDonalds walked off with only $60,000 in their pockets.

Oscura Mountains

Oscura Mountains as viewed from the McDonald Ranch

The ranch house has been restored and is today under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service.

Here are some  more ranch views including the bunkhouse, livestock pens, and the Aermotor Windmill tower:

McDonald Ranch House closeup

McDonald Ranch House closeup

Remains of the McDonald Ranch bunkhouse

Remains of the McDonald Ranch bunkhouse

Livestock pens

Livestock pens

Oscura Mountains and livestock pens

Oscura Mountains and livestock pens

Water tower for Aermoter Windmill

Water tower for Aermoter Windmill

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Filed under Photography, R. Doug Wicker, travel

One response to “Trinity Site — the McDonald Ranch

  1. Pingback: Trinity, Jumbo, and The Gadget - Page 2 - WaltherForums