On arriving in the compound, the first thing that came to mind was what a beautiful location it was; surrounded by forests of spruce, poplars, white pine, cedars, birch, and snow-capped mountains in every direction. For a bush-bleeder like myself, it was a Disney fantasy, and not unlike Disney, there was an undercurrent of creepiness about the place. Now I’ve never told anyone this, but aside from all that was right about the property I was about to inspect, I almost pissed myself with fear, and was full apprehension when I finally saw what I had travelled so far to see.
On the surface of the compound was a large dark green Quonset hut (or Nissen Hut for us Aussies), a pump house, and various towers and vents poking up out of the four-foot of snow, but it was the howling wind, the Chill Factor of minus a million, and my desperately ill prepared ego telling me not to get back into the truck. The enormous steel and concrete doors of the silo had been left wide open, exposing it to the elements, and my greatest disappointment. As we got closer to the makeshift guardrail, the huge void beneath opened up before us, and I, who never suffer vertigo, had to fall on my fanny for a minute. The silo just seemed to go down forever. In fact, the hardened concrete cylinder was 185 feet deep, equivalent to an eighteen-story building, and 52 feet in diameter. From the top, we could clearly see the structure inside, which Jim said was called the Crib. “Nothing in the silo was attached to the concrete walls,” he explained, “Everything was mounted on the Crib,” which in turn was suspended off the walls by four gigantic suspension struts. It was unbelievably impressive, but its condition wasn’t at all what I was expecting.
The enormous silo doors which were towering twenty feet above our heads would normally lie flush to the ground, but instead, were left open for years allowing water, rust, and God knows how much ice and snow to built up on every level of the Crib. If I leant forward enough, I could just make out the frozen pool of water about three-quarters the way down, and I could see everything was covered in forty years of neglect. It just looked like a disaster down there, and the end of my fantasy. I was about to tell Jim that it was all a terrible mistake, and I really wanted to go home, but then he said “Lets check out the LCC,” (the Launch Control Centre.) As we were trudging across the snow towards a giant block of concrete, I was already thinking about what I was going to tell my friends and family; all the stupid excuses as to why my rocket-man mission was such a fizzer.
Piercing the snow at a forty-five degree angle, the concrete Portal was the only way into the silo complex. There was no power connected inside, but for our convenience, Mr Plastique had run a chain of lights down into the LCC.
I downloaded this wonderful drawing of the LCC from the web, but I don’t know who’s responsible for it. Please forgive me for any copy-write issues. In any case, it makes the whole thing look more glamorous than it, and you’ll understand this when you see the following photos of what the site actually looked like when I first saw it.
The LCC was the heart of the silo complex. It too was underground, and connected to the silo by a forty-foot cylindrical tunnel. The Portal stair lead down to a passage that twisted and turned through a series of security locks, two giant blast doors (that were an engineering feat in themselves), and then into a space poetically named the Entrapment Vestibule. From there, the passage led to a stairwell that connected the two levels of the Control Centre, and also the Utility Tunnel that led off to the silo. Although we were well underground, it was no warmer in the stairwell with the wind howling up through the tunnel from the snow filled silo. The noise alone was enough to keep me shaking.
From the top landing of the stairwell, I noticed a sign over a door just below us; Designated Smoking Area, it read. “That leads into the living quarters of the LCC,” said Jim. I instantly felt at home and pulled out the tobacco.
I let Jim go through while I was trying to light up in the wind tunnel. Us smokers do that sort of thing: lighting up in expectation. When I followed him in, I realised how wrong I had been. It was wonderful in there, everything I’d imagined it to be, and much more. The upper level was virtually untouched by the salvagers, the vandals, and the souvenir collectors who so often hunt down and pillage the silos.
Although worse for age and horribly dirty, most of it was there; just the way the Army Corps of Engineers had left it fifty years earlier. I felt like the Candy-store Kid. In the centre of the 42 foot diameter space was an enormous vaulted concrete column that came up through an opening in the steel floor and spread out across the concrete ceiling. Fanning out around the column were a series of rooms, kitchen/dining area, air conditioning room, the fully equipped bathroom for three, and even a janitor’s closet. Everything was built on a massive steel platform that was suspended by four pneumatic rams designed to cushion the LCC from a near hit nuclear explosion. Jim had already noticed my change in mood. “You ain’t seen noth’n yet,” he said.
We headed back into the stairwell and down another flight, to the real “business centre” of the LCC. And there it was, the actual Launch Control Console, countless switches and indicators, black phone dial, and yes, the red button! I was sold, hook, line and Launcher, although I wasn’t going to let on, not even to Jim who was acting for Agent Dorothy.
Well, after Jim and I spent a couple of hours exploring the silo and its grounds, I gave thanks and said my goodbyes to Mr and Mrs Plastique, and then
Jim delivered me back to Montreal International.
Five months later, after endless negotiations, countless contamination reports from the USAF, and the sale of my only property in Sydney, I was now the proud owner of an actual Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Complex from the heady days of Khrushchev, JFK, and the Cuban Missile Crisis.