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Missile Silos Part 3


Silo Construction


The silos at the 724th and 725th SMS were 150' deep and 40' in diameter and were constructed in multiple parts and pours of heavily reinforced concrete.


The top 35 feet or so was excavated using earth moving equipment such as bulldozers and backhoes, and the remaining 115 feet were excavated using a tractor with a front-end loader and a ripper on the back (see photo below).  As earth was excavated, a crane with a clam-shell scoop removed the loose dirt.


PLEASE NOTE: The images in this section are very high resolution and may take a while to load.  The images are much larger than they are displayed here, so if you save and view them you can see them at full resolution.  Please be patient and enjoy the details.


A bulldozer excavating a silo.  Loose earth was lifted out by a crane

Photo courtesy of Fred Epler


The raw dirt walls of the newly-excavated silos were sprayed with concrete to prevent collapse until the complete depth was reached, at which point slip forms were used to pour the permanent silo walls.


A photo showing deeper excavation of a silo at the 724-A SMS.  The walls of the excavated silo were coated with gunite-- a spray-on concrete, and then lined with steel ring beams to support the silo prior to pouring the concrete walls.

Photo courtesy of Fred Epler


Below is a photo showing the steel reinforcement complete and a form being lowered into position.  As the lower pours were completed, the forms would be raised to pour the next section.


A section of the concrete forms being emplaced for a pour at 724-B.  These forms were about 15 feet tall and after curing, the whole set of forms were raised up for the next pour.

Photo courtesy of Fred Epler


The silo consisted of the solid lower portion and the top 35 feet, or cap, which was a series of separate pours which were actually physically separate from the lower portion of the silo.  This was to both prevent transfer of forces from the ground through the entire silo to avoid damage and to allow some movement of the 2 sections relative to each other in the case of a near-miss.


Scaffolding and work platforms in place within an incomplete launcher silo.  As work was completed on the lower sections, other workers were able to begin work on pipe hangers, fasteners and other structures and hardware installed inside the silo.

Photo courtesy of Fred Epler


Another view of work platforms and scaffolding in launcher silo #1 at Lowry complex 724-B.\

Photo courtesy of Fred Epler


To keep pace with the very demanding schedule, all silos were under construction simultaneously.  With all the workers on site, there were few fatalities at the Lowry sites during construction.  The launcher silos were very dangerous areas to work, but the installation of netting in the silos reduced the number of fatal accidents by two-thirds.


In all there were 3 fatalities during construction at the Lowry sites:

  • On December 4th 1959 a steelworker was killed on route to 725-B when his truck was struck broadside by a rural postal truck and he was trapped in his vehicle through the resulting fire.

  • A pipe fitter went into shock following a crush-injury to his thumb and suffered a fatal heart attack as he was being transported to the hospital.

  • On July 15th 1960 a falling plank struck a worker at the bottom of a silo on the head, killing him.

These 3 tragedies underscore the hazards involved in projects of such scale, however it should be noted that the human toll of the Lowry Titan I construction efforts were very low when compared to other such projects.  In fact, after July 15th 1960 there were no further serious injuries and the safety record of the Lowry construction projects was the best of the 5 areas where the Titans were built.  Over the entire project-- 1959 through 1961, there were only 27 injuries that resulted in lost work hours at the Lowry sites.


Installing safety netting in the silo.


At the 6 Lowry complexes, this netting saved the life of 2 workers: a carpenter who fell 90' and received only minor bruises, and a pipe fitter who fell 70' receiving only an ankle injury.  Both incidents surely would otherwise have been fatal.

Photo courtesy of Fred Epler


As you can see in the following pictures the job of bending and assembling the reinforcing steel was a massive one.  Thousands of tons of steel re-bar went into the construction of each silo.  Obviously, steel was crucial to a construction project of the size and sort comprising a hardened underground missile facility.  From a scheduling standpoint this would become an insurmountable obstacle early on.


The greatest delay for construction of all the Lowry sites was due to a nationwide steel workers strike lasting 114 days that began on July 14, 1959.  Due to the unforeseen nature of this delay however, the prime contractor, Morrison, Knudson & Associates was granted a time extension to account for the lost 114 days where steel could not be obtained at all.


As a side note, the result of the 1959 steel workers' strike ushered in the demand for foreign steel which had a profound negative effect on the US steel industry.


Forms and reinforcement for the cap section of 724-C silo #3

Photo courtesy of Fred Epler


The forms being placed for the final few pours.  The concrete and steel at the top of the cap are over 15 feet thick in places.

Photo courtesy of Fred Epler


Preparing for the final concrete pours comprising the silo cap.  Note the density of the steel reinforcement rods in the cap.

Photo courtesy of Fred Epler


Pouring concrete at 724-A silo #3

Photo courtesy of Fred Epler


A completed silo cap prior to backfilling

Photo courtesy of Fred Epler


In the next section, we'll look at just how insane the author of this site can be when it comes to curiosity and defunct Cold War era military installations.  Click below to view my utter madness.



Missile Silos Part IV


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