Army scooters that dropped out of airplanes, the Battle of the Bulge in miniature, cages in the attic where scientists conducted top-secret work, black boxes that played a key role in jamming German radar — even a ’60s-vintage Hasbro Think-A-Tron toy, “the machine that thinks like a man.”
There are unending wonders at Camp Evans in Wall, a former Army base that now houses what may be the state’s coolest, yet least-known, museum, InfoAge.
Amidst all the gee-whiz World War II technology on display at InfoAge, the most singular if not strangest exhibit is in a basement — where four rows of wooden benches face a cinder block wall, and tins marked “All Purpose Survival Cracker” are neatly arranged on a shelf.
“This is the nation’s only fallout shelter theater,” says Fred Carl, InfoAge’s founder and director.
Here, under spooky fluorescent light, you can watch films such as “Duck and Cover,” “Radioactive Fallout” and “Surviving Under Atomic Attack,” all products of the 1950s Cold War panic.
“Joe McCarthy was in this very room,” Carl says at another point in his impromptu tour, referring to the Wisconsin senator known for his anti-Communist crusade in the 1950s.
There is so much history on the peaceful, tree-shaded grounds you didn’t know where to start.
“Camp Evans is a very important place in the history of (wartime) technology,” Carl says. “Many important inventions were made or applied here to protect the nation.”
Radar. Communications and electronic intelligence systems. Jamming equipment, laser range finders and more. The secret history of World War II.
InfoAge is open three days a week — Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday — but you could easily spend a couple days digesting everything.
There are rooms devoted to the development of radar. Displays on communications satellites and hurricane tracking. The MARCH Vintage Computer Museum, with massive vintage mainframes and early computer-inspired toys.
During World War II, Camp Evans was the Army’s radar home and Fort Monmouth’s “secret laboratory,” according to Carl, where engineers and scientists worked in top-secret anonymity to protect the country against the German and Japanese forces.
But the complex was vital well before then. In the early 1900s, Camp Evans was the site of the Marconi Telegraph Co.’s Belmar Station, the largest and last intact station of the first world-encircling wireless network. Nearly 100 years ago, on April 12, 1914, a man who lived on a nearby farm rode out on his horse to take photos of the station. There are the photos, on a wall.
During World War I, the base played an important role in trans-Atlantic communications. In 1946, Camp Evans’ Project Diana opened the space age, according to a display, by reflecting radar signals off the moon.
In 1960, it became the birthplace of satellite-based hurricane tracking. After a while, your head may swim with all the “firsts” and “notables” accomplished here. Just drive to Marconi Road, walk into the InfoAge complex and prepare to be amazed.
In the late 1990s, Camp Evans was shut down, and an effort was launched to preserve 16 buildings on a 37-acre portion of the 200-acre site.
“This part was moldy, infested with fungus,” Carl says, walking into a 1940s-vintage classroom that looks it would be great stage set for a wartime movie.
An all-volunteer grassroots group of individuals went about tearing up floors and tearing down ceilings and walls in a restoration effort.
“This is where the alpha geeks come,” a volunteer said back in 2007, the year InfoAge opened. “People who are technies who are also willing to carry 200 pounds of concrete or plaster a wall.”
InfoAge is not all tech-geek stuff; there is a World War II miniatures room with toy soldiers and tanks and a Battle of the Bulge re-creation. In another room are helmets and rifles, models of early jeeps, and one oddity, a Cushman Model 53 airborne motor scooter from World War II. The scooter didn’t fly, but was dropped from planes and became a handy, go-anywhere vehicle with a max speed of 40 mph.
World War II bomber radios and telephone repeaters. Antenna tuners and dynamotors. Wartime posters, including one with a giant finger labeled “radar” pointed at cowering German troops, and an Army poster titled “Resolution for 1945” showing a soldier and the words “Whatever this boy needs — he GETS” and “From US — more RADAR equipment.”
There’s even a shipwreck museum, with cannons from the 1880s and a life vest from the SS Morro Castle, which ran aground in 1934 off Asbury Park, and the gyropilot from the Andrea Doria, which sank in 1956.
Carl and other InfoAge staffers make for entertaining tour guides, endless founts of facts and filler.
What was Nazi military leader Hermann Goering’s response when he was asked, after his capture, why the Germans lost the war? Radar.
What were the “top three secret weapons” during World War II? The atomic bomb, radar and proximity fuses, which made artillery shells dramatically more lethal.
InfoAge is now seeking anecdotes and memorabilia from women who worked for the wartime effort as the basis of a “Rosie the Riveter” exhibit.
“Here in New Jersey, the Rosies were making radios and radars,” Carl says.
There were 200-plus factories in Jersey alone supplying the wartime effort.
“People all over the state built innovations that helped win the war,” he says.
At Camp Evans, and InfoAge, a top-secret chapter in that effort is on full, fascinating display. The nation’s only fallout shelter theater alone is worth the modest price of admission. “Duck and Cover,” by the way, is about protecting yourself against The Big One — and a turtle.