Elmer Barton with one of the signs courtesy of the Gemini astronauts, Date estimated at 1964
Practice rescue in the area between LC19 and LC16 that was cleared for pad abort landings, 24 November 1964
Astronauts Young and Grissom exiting the Launch Complex 16 suitup building at the south terminus of Barton FREEway, 17 September 1964
South terminus of Barton FREEway at LC 16, 18 August 2013
North terminus of Barton FREEway at LC 19, 18 August 2013
The Barton FREEway sign in the old Cape Headquarters building
1979 facility engineering plan showing the location of Barton FREEway
Aerial view with Launch Complex 16 in foreground, Barton FREEway runs from left center up to Launch Complex 19 perimeter road, April 1965
The legend of the Barton FREEway dates back to 1964 and the Gemini program. Elmer Barton was the Launch Complex 19 facilities engineer for which he received the unofficial title of “Mayor of Pad 19.”
Launch Complex 19 was the launch site for the Gemini-Titan vehicle, but the astronauts would suit-up in a temporary building placed next to the blockhouse at neighboring Launch Complex 16. This was a departure from the Mercury Program when astronauts suited up in Hangar S, several miles distant in the Cape industrial area.
The suit up building at Launch Complex 16 was considerably closer than Hangar S, but it still required an indirect trip of about one mile via ICBM Road in the transfer van, a modified delivery step van. Completely suited in flying uniforms, the astronauts found even that short distance uncomfortably hot (remember this is Florida). The astronauts, reportedly none more than Gus Grissom, wished for a shortcut and let Barton know their feelings on the matter.
There were no programmed funds to build a shortcut, but there was a need to clear all the underbrush between LC16 and LC19 for use as a potential pad abort landing area for the astronauts’ ejection seats from the Gemini spacecraft. As part of the clearing operation, Barton created a road on which trucks filled with underbrush were required to exit. That road coincidentally began immediately next to the suit up building on LC16 and doglegged north and east to intersect with the Pad 19 perimeter road. In effect, it was the shortcut for which the astronauts had always wished and very much appreciated.
In appreciation for this unofficial “free gift”, the astronauts had three signs made and installed them on the new FREEway. Apparently a number of the astronauts were aware of the signs, but the actual installation was executed under cover of darkness reportedly by astronauts Grissom, Schirra, and Stafford.
One of those original signs was donated by Elmer Barton and his family to the Air Force Space and Missile Museum. Barton later put his signature on the sign to identify it as the original he donated. The sign is not on display at the museum. It has been located in the old Cape headquarters building.
As related his own words in the Johnson Space Center oral history dated 14 April 2000, Elmer Barton’s work at the Cape dates to a time well before the Gemini Program. The oral history can be viewed with Adobe Reader. The story behind the FREEway begins on page 23.