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Main Tunnel Junction Part III (TJ #10)

Lost to Time

Down here in the dark, it is often impossible to tell how much time has passed.  It's rather like a Vegas casino where all references to time and its passage have been carefully removed.  The normal cues of sunlight or perhaps a clock or length of shadow are all absent and before long one's sense of time (if possessed of it) begins to skew terribly.  This is compounded by curiosity and as you are pulled ever deeper into the mystery and history of such a strange place, the distractions can cause time to become completely lost to you.


Lowry 724-C, August 2005: View of the tunnel junction at the intersection of the antenna, control center and launcher tunnels.  A keen eye will note that this photo is a victim of blatant Photo-shoppery and that someone has been rather unskillfully edited out of the image and the resultant void filled back in rather hastily.


Lowry 724-C, August 2005: Another view looking toward the entrance to the control center.  Once again, Photoshop has worked its magic on this photo to remove completely and forever any trace of my countenance that might otherwise offend the eye.  Lucky you!


Of course this effect of chronological disorientation is at its worst the very first time you enter a Titan 1 site, but I can tell you from experience that even after 20 visits to 724-C, I could not reliably predict how long I'd been down there.  Sure I knew it had been hours since I trundled down the stairs, but it always seemed as though any estimate I might make as to how much time I'd been underground was always short by about 2 hours.


Lowry 724-C, August 2005: ;Another of Harry Weddington's test prints made as he was setting up for a much larger photo.  To the left is the antenna tunnel and to the right, the control center.  In the antenna tunnel you can see a couple more of the steel rigs used by defense contractors as part of their ballistics testing.  The white blotch at lower right is just a defect common to Polaroid instant film.


Lowry 724-C, 1999: The mouth of the antenna tunnel.  There was once a steel door here but you can see that the door jamb has been cut away on the left to remove piping that passed through the steel bulkhead.  Makeshift steel targets, cobbled together from bits and pieces of the site rest on the right in the tunnel.  The following photo is better lit and gives a clearer view.


Lowry 724-C, August 2005: Another shot looking straight down the antenna tunnel.  Once again you can see the target rigs complete with steel plates and duct tape standing in the tunnel.


Lowry 724-C, August 2005: Some commercial power has been brought down into the site in order to bring electric light back to the underground complex.  A major boon, this was a great relief from being in complete darkness and using batteries by the gross.


Lowry 724-C, August 2005: This is the short section of tunnel that connects the main junction to the control center.  This passage was once jammed on both sides and above with cabling and conduit, all of which has been removed.  The conduit that is there was added later by Falcon Research during their occupation of the site.  Flanking this passage were rows of cable trays carrying lines connecting all the equipment and the launch, guidance and facilities consoles as well as the Athena computer to the silos, equipment terminals and all other areas of the complex.  In short, this tunnel served as the spinal cord to the entire Titan 1 missile site.


The tangle of conduit and creative electrical work in the preceding 2 photos and a number of those which follow always appeared to be a bit out of place.  It was generally accepted that the conduit and junction boxes had been added later and that much of it was scavenged from around the site and used by the defense contractors occupying the complex after its closure.


During Summer of 2001, I traveled with the owner of 724-C* to visit a Nike site just north of the Golden Gate Bridge that is open to the public and is funded by the National Park Service.  Run by retired AF missileers and volunteers, the site was wonderfully maintained and they had restored most of the equipment to working condition, although at the time, the work was still ongoing.


After the tour, we took the opportunity to speak with the guys who worked at the site and talked about the history and operation of the Nike installations in California.  They told us fascinating tales of running military exercises and the diabolical trickery sometimes employed by security inspectors to catch airmen off guard.  The dreaded inspectors (or even civilians working for them) would often take advantage of their fatigue to test them under harsh conditions to see if they would make mistakes.  Penalties for mistakes involving security could be severe, ranging from reassignment, being demoted or even discharged.  Some airmen were caught by these surprise inspections to the permanent detriment of their military career.


With most of the visitors gone we continued talking about missiles and brought out our photo albums of Lowry 724-C to show them what a Titan I site was like as none of them had worked with a Titan system.  Paging through the albums, they talked excitedly about the size and overall layout compared to the Nike sites and the construction methods used.


When we came to the photos of the electrical conduit shown in these pictures you see here, they all simultaneously cried out "Who did that?  That's definitely not military work!"  They could immediately see that work like that would never pass muster.  We all had a good laugh over that.


If you're in the neighborhood, I would highly recommend a visit to the restored Nike site.  The cost was about $4 or so and definitely worth the trip.


* Of course that was back in 2001.  724-C is now owned by someone else, but hey, it's for sale!  Maybe the next owner could be YOU!


Lowry 724-C, August 2005: Another view of the tunnel connecting the main junction and the control center.  You can see the steel floor panels here.  Many times these were removed in other locations since they were easy pickings.  


Off to the right you can see some of the clumsy wiring and reused conduit re-purposed and routed down the tunnel.


Lowry 724-C, August 2005: Here you can see the heavy I-beam reinforcement around the tunnel opening.  They really didn't want this area to cave in during an attack, and who could blame them?.


Lowry 724-C, August 2005: Close up on the Mickey Mouse wiring.  A rat's nest of cable runs through a re-used junction box.  You'll notice that the outlet sprouting from the top is labeled with a piece of paper tape that reads: FIRE POWER ONLY ==>


On the side you can see two buttons labeled: FIRE POWER ON and NO GO GATE OPEN.  I cannot say exactly what all this was for, but it sounds serious!


Lowry 724-C, 2000: This is the entrance to the launcher tunnels, more or less as it appears today.  You can see that at one point it had been covered over with plywood.  When I took a closer look, I found that it had also been outfitted with an alarm system.  How very interesting.  


Now why would someone do that I wonder?


This stretch of tunnels leading to and between the blast locks and the launchers typically finds one in areas of greater and greater peril.  The floor is wet with water and slick with mud, footing is uneven and strewn with jagged metal debris or even flooded completely with dark water of unknown depth forcing you to cling to the walls and balance on narrow beams to avoid it.  Metal projects out from the walls and floor and there's always a rich supply of hidden trip hazards or low obstacles to stub your feet on.


The further back you go, the wetter the tunnels become at 724-C with small areas of dryness in between as the tunnels slope and then level out before sloping again.  In the low spots, fetid pools of water of indeterminate depth wait for the careless to take one misstep and plunge in.  Beneath the water, other dangers lurk in the form of ragged steel and other discarded metal along with submerged beams, exposed but hidden by the water and very unyielding.  Dead animals float in some tunnels, victims of the open escape shaft their corpses liquefy leaving nauseating clumps of matted fur floating on the surface.  Trust me, you do not want to fall in that water.


Mountain Home 569-C, January 16th, 1962: Construction photo looking down the launcher tunnel.  Cable tray and cabling alike await installation on either side of the tunnel.  The electricians out there viewing this will recognize the tripod pipe stand vise/rig at the right side of the photo as one of the standard tools of the trade.  It's interesting to see that it has remained completely unchanged after decades and decades.

Photo courtesy of Fred Epler


Lowry 724-C, August 2005: Almost the same view as the previous photo showing the nearly gutted launcher tunnel with the floor panels, plumbing, cable trays and conduit removed.  Nasty red mud full of iron oxide lines the bottom and a trickle of water from tunnel junction #12 just ahead seeps downhill into the main tunnel and toward the power house.


We had just added some bare 100-watt bulbs along the tunnels all the way to launcher silo #1 before this photo.  Turns out we overloaded the circuit and had to unscrew some lights along the way to avoid tripping the breaker.  It takes a lot of bulbs to reach silo #1 from here!


Where is Thy Boatman?

At 725-A, the water was much worse and planks and other junk were lain across gaps in the floor to bridge the water and near feats of acrobatics were needed to pass through some of the tunnel junctions.  Some sites are so flooded that canoes and inflatable rafts have been brought in creating a bizarre scene that evokes (perhaps just ever so slightly) passage across some small tributary of the River Styx.


Networks of scavenged detritus ford the flooded expanses in the blast locks at 725-A in an unsteady and unnerving trail that half floats on other junk and half teeters on the edges of submerged beams.  It took nerve to get through some of those tunnels and often blind luck saw me through somehow.


Lowry 724-C, 1999: Mr. X routing temporary power along the tunnel junction in order to extend much-needed lighting into the control dome.  This view is from the connecting tunnel leading to the control center and looking toward the power house on the opposite end with the black diamond on the doors. 


Of course, I'm getting ahead of myself, we're still back here in the relative safety of good ol' TJ#10 where the floors are dry (mostly) and the way is clear (results may vary) and there is ample room to move freely (usually) without obstruction or imminent threat of grievous bodily harm.


And so you can relax here as there is little to push the envelope of your comfort zone while you wonder under the vaulted steel ceilings about all that went on here.


Lowry 724-C, 1999: More creative electrical work can be seen in this dismal shot of the tunnel junction.  Note the steel plate with the hole in it at center.  That's a holdover from the defense contractors that once occupied the site.  The plate appears to have been a ballistics target.  Other similar rigs were located in the antenna tunnel and control center.


The shadowy figures of 2 silo gnomes can be seen ambling about in the darkness.


Lowry 724-A, sometime in the 1970's: Looking toward the power house past all the garbage and rust at a thoroughly abused site.  Of course, the only difference between this site and 724-C is essentially that the latter had most of the junk cleaned up later on.

Photo courtesy of Fred Epler


The next section looks at the last nooks and crannies of the main tunnel junction, peering into the power house (just a tad) and even under the floor (where, it turns out, Tad lives).


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


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

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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