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Main Tunnel Junction Part II (TJ #10)

Theseus Is That You?

To a first-time visitor entering a Titan I site, the complex can indeed appear very labyrinthine-- especially when you have no information whatsoever about it.  Such was the case when I arrived back in the early '90's: I had no map, no drawings, sketches or directions-- no idea it was even a Titan I.  It would be fair to say I had no insight, no inkling and no clue.  I didn't know my elbow from an antenna silo.


We had already circumvented some rudimentary measures to prevent entrance to the complex: concrete blocks and dirt in the personnel entrance had actually aided in our infiltration and we descended the long staircase to the bottom of the entry portal without further obstacles.


After marveling at the entry portal, we passed through the beckoning blast doors into the complex proper; the foyer of the Titan I.


Lowry 724-C, August 2005: Looking through the open blast doors at the bottom of the entry portal into tunnel junction #10.  Beyond lies the entire Titan 1 complex.


In this photo, Army Corps. of Engineers photographer Harry Weddington can be seen setting up a shot of the tunnel junction as part of the ACoE effort to document the Titan 1 system for the National Archives.  Harry captured a series of large-format black and white photos for this project.


At the time this picture was taken, Harry was the last ACoE photographer still in the field as the emphasis on documenting projects sadly seems to have waned.  Harry had worked as a photographer for the Corps for many years documenting ACoE construction projects such as power plants and dams and many other assignments in the US and abroad.


Actually, what you see here is quite a bit different from what I saw that first time.  The pictures I took are of Lowry 724-C, but that first time I was at Lowry 725-A.  There are many differences  between how these two sites were salvaged and how each spent its post-operational time.  One difference between the two sites is readily apparent in tunnel junction #10.


After its closing in 1965, Lowry 724-C saw a sporadic presence of researchers on site and inside the complex that continues to this day, though only on the surface now.  Ballistics and explosives testing were carried out both above and below ground.  Evidence of this work remained at the site in the form of film canisters, roughed-in electrical work, a retro-fitted facilities console outfitted with firing controls, scattered papers covered with complex physics equations, and-- most striking of all-- thick steel plates with large holes blown through them by some type of projectiles. 


Lowry 724-C, August 2005: Looking from inside tunnel junction #10 toward the entry portal at one of the 8 foot tall, 4 foot wide blast doors that protect the complex when the portal silo doors were open.  These doors were rendered useless at some point when the locking mechanism was partially disassembled.  


Lowry 725-A, like most of the other Colorado Titan I sites was initially not sealed up, or at least not very effectively, and before long a queue of the curious and the bold either found a way inside or forced their way inside.  Looking around, it would seem that many were careful to bring along their spray paint.  Many it would seem, had something to say, and say it they did using aerosolized paint from a can.  Lowry 725-A suffers from a veritable plague of graffiti: vulgar, nonsensical, topical, political, racist, confessions of love and hate, the ever-present drug-culture iconography of marijuana, random cartoony artwork and even condemnations of nuclear weapons.


Every sort of statement can be seen on the walls of the 725-A complex-- voices of the young and inquisitive visitors to the dead weapon system and the thoughts foremost in their minds: peace, war, sex and the human condition.  Times never change.


Lowry 724-C was more protected from explorers, but not completely.  There were times when access to the site was easy and the signs are there, proclaiming loudly of their passage, but far less often than other sites.


Once truly inside, I quickly became disoriented once we left the main junction.  There are few signs along the route and with this first glimpse there was only mystery.  I think we went down the launcher tunnels first, or maybe the antenna tunnel.  I cannot recall exactly, but I do know I was quickly lost and utterly bewildered.


A view from T.J. #10 looking towards the portal and the 8x8 foot entrance and blast doors.  These doors open outward and are heavily shored with concrete and steel to make them incredibly resistant to being blown inward by a blast.


Note the immaculate appearance of the fresh, new site.  The freight elevator is just behind the blast doors.  This photo also shows the removable floor sections typical of the larger tunnel junctions.  This is probably the best this area ever looked.  From this point on it was all downhill.

Photo courtesy of Fred Epler


Lowry 724-C, 1999: Next to the portal silo blast doors.  Yellow paint gives in to the hands of time and post-operational conduit and electrical work expands on the industrial theme of the complex.


Blundering about in the dark we did our level best to guess at what we were seeing, but we were often way off the mark.  We thought that the the propellant terminals were missile silos because we couldn't see the bottom through the water.  Was it 2 feet deep, or 200?  There was absolutely no way to tell without going in there and I certainly wouldn't do anything that crazy would I?  (Yes, it turns out that I would, years later at a different site.)


Lowry 724-C, August 2005: Another view looking from tunnel junction #10 into the entry portal.  You can see the yellow gate on the freight elevator in the background.  Past the blast doors you can also see another set of doors that look very out of place and which are obviously taken from somewhere else in the complex-- in this case from the control center.


Lowry 724-C, August 2005: A bit worse for wear, the 8'x8' opening from the portal here has been fitted with a plywood doorjamb and ordinary office doors just beyond the blast doors.  This was done long after decommission and salvage, presumably to prevent intrusion after the blast doors were rendered inoperable.  I doubt like hell they did much good.


Some lighting had been restored in some areas as you can see here, but mostly construction lighting was the only illumination outside TJ#10 and the antenna tunnel.


A Beale Titan I site, circa 2007: A much-cleaner tunnel junction at one of the 851st SMS sites in California.  Shots of sites outside of Colorado are a great study in comparative anatomy for me as a multitude of structural and architectural differences jump out at me.  Here for instance, you can see 2 small dark openings in the back of the tunnel.  Each of these leads to one of the raw water tanks which at Beale were housed behind a steel wall.  Lowry sites had the tanks exposed as you'll see in the photos later in this section.
Photo copyright of Jonathan Haeber.

For photos and more on missiles, history and architecture, visit his blog: Bearings.


Tunnels led off in all directions going who knows where.  Rust tinted the walls, floor and even our shoes a pale red.  Water could be heard dripping somewhere in the distance and the strange odor we'd encountered when we first entered was so strong and so pervasive that it overpowered everything else.


We breathed uneasily knowing that the place was full of asbestos and we wore no masks or other protective gear.  The thought that each breath of the air down there brought us just a little closer to a serious and potentially fatal pulmonary illness made me breathe more shallowly and less often.  I kept catching myself holding my breath, often not noticing until my lungs burned urgently from depravation.


Larson 568-A: Peering through the portal blast doors into the gloomy vestibule of TJ#10.  You can see there's been a lot of traffic through this site over the years, but aside from the graffiti it looks to be fairly clean and in relatively good shape.  It also has some meager construction lighting routed down from the surface.


Looking closely you can seen that like the Beale sites, the raw water tanks at Larson were also tucked away behind a steel partition with a "Lolipop Guild" access door/hatchway.

Photo courtesy of Walter Silva


Larson 568-A: Another view of the entrance to TJ#10.  The spray paint is pretty bad at this site indicating that it was left open for many years.

Photo courtesy of Walter Silva


Dark as the tomb and often just as claustrophobic, the complex was a completely alien environment inside with its curved metal walls and industrial furnishings.  Even familiar objects were strangely altered to the site's purpose: light fixtures and pipes hung by springs to protect them from shock.  Not even the toilets were spared and were mounted on rubber dampers and connected with flexible plumbing.


Lowry 724-C, August 2005: Army Corps. of Engineers photographer Harry Weddington at work setting up a shot in tunnel junction #10.  Myself and another contractor spent the weekend assisting Harry with power, lighting and the schlepping of equipment up and down the stairs and into remote areas of the complex.  I have fond memories of balancing on narrow beams with both arms full trying to negotiate my way down the dark launcher tunnels and over their treacherous gauntlet of pipe supports and steelwork.


You may have noticed that the web-like steel pipe supports prominent in this and other photos at the Lowry sites are absent in the preceding 3 photos of Beale and Larson.  Perhaps the supports were done away with in favor of additional external support on the yoke beams, stronger beams or maybe the Lowry sites were found to be "over-engineered" resulting in design changes at later sites?  Whatever the reason, these reinforcing structures appear to be peculiar to the Lowry 724th and 725th sites.


Lowry 724-C, August 2005: Still a work in progress, this is a quick proof photo by Harry Weddington to check the set up for a large format shot.  This shows a nice shot of one of the raw water tanks nestled in its bulkhead.

Photo by Harry Weddington


It quickly became obvious that the site had not been left simply abandoned as though it had remained untouched since the airmen left decades ago.  Pieces of the complex were missing...     everywhere.


Everywhere we looked we could see that salvage work had been done: piping was removed, wiring reclaimed, steel flooring pulled up, beams and supports cut and hauled away, insulation-- much of it asbestos-- was torn loose and strewn about or piled up in corners.  The further into the site we went, the heavier the salvage seemed to become until some areas seemed stripped to the bare tunnel walls.


Lowry 724-C, August 2005: This is my photo of Harry's work in progress during which he produced the previous image.  The camera you see here probably cost more than my car-- without the lenses, tripod and other accoutrements!  That camera has the accordion-style adjustment in the front and a hood in the back to keep out light when checking the view. 


Lowry 724-A: Here's a great example of a thoroughly abused site.  It doesn't appear as though it was left open, but the salvage operations appear to have been anything but delicate.  It is a bit hard to tell, but this is the view looking toward the control center.


You can see sections of cable tray and electrical conduit laying all about and there is a large green cabinet from either the antenna terminal or the control center discarded in a large hole in the floor.  Everywhere there appears to be corrosion and damage.  724-C had a lot of junk laying about in the main tunnel junction when I arrived, but it was nowhere near as bad as what you see in this photo.  What a mess!

Photo courtesy of Fred Epler


Apparently the salvage operations at the 18 Titan 1 sites was anything but uniform and I would later be told and there were reports of a site, nearly pristine, all equipment still in place with no hint of a scrapper that quickly flooded and had remained a watery tomb ever since.  Still others had most of the equipment left behind or the gargantuan structure of the silo cribwork yet remained.  After seeing the stripped and tattered husks of 725-A and 724-C, it was incredibly tantalizing to think that somewhere a site, untouched by cutting torches or demolition workers might yet exist.


A construction-era photo showing a view towards the Control Center.  There's a lot of activity still going on here as the installation phase of construction progresses.  I am not sure which site is shown in this photo.


To the left is the tunnel to the antennas and on the right (not visible) is the tunnel to the launchers.  The wooden box marked "IW" belongs to the Iron Workers union crew, one of the trades that was "tapped out" at times by the sheer scale of the Titan I project.

Photo courtesy of Fred Epler


Another unknown site: Construction photo showing a view towards the Control Center.  The large fan on the right was most likely to draw air from or force air into the launcher tunnel.  Work looks to be a bit further along in this photo.  Another Iron Workers' tool box, apparently a standard fixture, can be seen in this shot.

Photo courtesy of Fred Epler


Slowly the layout became more familiar to us as time and again we returned to this main tunnel to explore another route and the unknown curiosities it held.  When we headed to the launchers however, we quickly found the many twists and turns very disorienting.  Each tunnel looked the same as did the junctions connecting them.  More than once we had to follow a tunnel to its end just to see what was there and then double back once we'd regained our bearings.


The panic of being lost in the complex was always in the back of my mind.  What would you do if someone got hurt down there and you couldn't quickly find the right way back out?  There would be almost no hope of getting someone out of there if they were unconscious.  You could try the fireman's carry and you might make some good distance that way, but there is no way anyone save Mr. Universe is going to carry another adult human up those portal stairs without help.  Forget it!


Lowry 724-C, August 2005: Another proof by Harry Weddington looking down the tunnel junction toward the control center.

Photo by Harry Weddington


A Beale Titan I site, circa 2007: Nearly the same view as the previous photo to show the differences in construction and placement of landmarks.  Not much was left behind at this site as you can see, however the paint is in excellent shape.  Impressive!

Photo copyright of Jonathan Haeber.

For photos and more on missiles, history and architecture, visit his blog: Bearings.


After a hour or two in a place as strange as a Titan 1 complex, your fascination may well get the best of you and your tendency to worry about the physical hazards such as tripping, slipping, falling, hitting your head, and the invisible hazards like asbestos, lead, arsenic, PCBs and other chemical bogeymen fades away and is replaced with wonder.


Down in the dark, my imagination ran wild inventing purpose for the things I saw and personnel to operate the complex.  The desire to really see it as it was consumed me and the seeds of an obsession were planted-- one that persists to this day and I doubt I'll ever shake.


Back then I could have no idea that I would find myself in the Titans' lair once again 6 years later, and I could never have foreseen the improbable circumstances that would bring about such good fortune.  Nor could I guess that this web site could ever come to be-- at least not by me that is.


Larson 568-A: Another view toward the control center, but here you can see another example of architectural diversity.  The steelwork of the tunnel junction where it meets the smaller tunnel into the control center is completely different than that of the Lowry sites.  Instead of a horizontal construction, the steel radiates out from around the opening.  It is also surprising to note just how completely scoured this particular site is (save for most of the floor).  Take a look, there's NOTHING LEFT in there!

Photo courtesy of Walter Silva


The next section further explores TJ#10 and the other branching tunnels and where they go.


From here you can continue to Main Tunnel Junction Part III, or you can select another location from the map below or go the Main Map:


Current Location: Main Tunnel Junction (TJ #10) Part II

Power House Control Center Fuel Entry Portal Power House Air Intake Power House Air Exhaust Main Tunnel Jucntion Main Map To Antenna Tunnel To Blast Lock #2

Where would you like to go next?


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