It was another three months before I saw the silo again, and only a few days after that, I could answer that second question people would inevitably ask:
“What the hell are you going to do with it?”
December ‘97, saw a killer ice storm ravage the Provinces of Quebec and Upstate New York. Fortunately the damage to Bouquet was minimal, and although I’d lost fifty or so poplar trees (or popals as the locals call them), the forest looked as if it was going to recover, but again, it was hideously cold.
Although I lived in Sydney, my first eighteen years were spent in the high-country town of Armidale, and where I always resented the cold.
The atmosphere that day in the silo compound happened to remind me of that strange cold loneliness I so often felt after having done something really stupid, and standing on the surface while looking down into the Missile Well, I was again wondering what I had done, how long it was going to take, and how much money was going to be needed to fix it. That’s when a guy hurtled through the gate in yet another giant F350.
Without missing a beat, the stranger jumped from its cab and shouted, “Any ice?” I must have looked like the proverbial stunned mullet because he apologised, introduced himself as Dennis, and then asked again, “Any ice in the silo?” “Sure,” I answered, “but why?” “Would you mind if I practice some ice diving in there before the season comes round?” Although summer had come and gone, the ice in the silo remained, and unless I lowered the massive doors to seal it against the elements, it seemed it was going to stay forever.
I promptly denied Dennis his dive, but we soon got to know each other anyway, and we became the best of friends. It’s always amazed me how two people could have so little in common, and yet our mutual fascination with this place has always held us together, not to mention his numerous talents for doing stuff. Not only was Dennis an Ice Diver, but he was also a long time local with some knowledge of the silo, a licensed builder, plumber, electrician, cabinetmaker, and all-round godsend.
It wasn’t long before Dennis saved me from the tobacci-chew’n rednecks who were overcharging me for anything, had moved his joinery workshop into the Quonset hut, and was hard at work with my plans for the Launch Control Centre. For me, it was an enormous undertaking, and I had to beg, borrow and … borrow some more, mostly from my partner, to get the job done in the time I had allotted. I was living and working in Sydney while Dennis did the hard yakka deep underground, but as it turned out, my time frame was unreasonable, the money was short, and my expectations were far too high. Needless to say, ten months later I was winging my way back to the Adirondacks and Bouquet 556-5, ready or not.
I was travelling a week ahead of my twelve dearest friends, ready to celebrate the first-stage completion of the LCC, my 40th birthday, and the 25th wedding anniversary of our close Sydney friends, Steve and Joan Bowers. After such a long absence, I was anxious to check out the work in progress, organise the party, and was especially excited to see the forty mature pines that Tony (my partner) had given me as a 40th pressie. So, with everything under control, I then organised everyone to be waiting at some godforsaken hotel in a place called Jamaica, near JFK airport. The plan was simple; I was to drive down to New York in a bus I had hired, pick them up, and then drive back to Adirondacks in time for two days of celebration. Well, the rocket scientist got lost in Jamaica, and like it’s Caribbean namesake, not everyone spoke English. Eventually I did find my way to the hotel, and it wasn’t long before we hit Interstate 87, were enjoying the autumn colours of Connecticut and Upstate New York, not to mention every outlet store Margie Block (Up Your Street) and Terry Sissian (Freelance jurno) had spotted on the way.
The following day, the Simpson’s bus returned to the Deer’s Head to pick up the losers, a picnic hamper prepared by management, and then delivered them back to Bouquet. I was as nervous as hell, but anxious to see the faces of my bewildered friends when we finally arrived at the base. Some of them looked about with trepidation, others jumped from the bus like excited kids. I just felt like the school matron trying to organise the disparate group.
After a full tour of the complex, we spent the rest of that day touring some of the one-million square miles (or acres) of the wondrous Adirondack Park.
It was quite late by the time we arrived in Elizabethtown, the closest town to the Base, and where we off loaded the faint of heart at the Deer’s Head Inn (“Established since 1810”). Over time, the once great and sprawling cedar-clad hotel was reduced by fire, demolition, and dilapidation to a tiny inn of just four double rooms. However, the Deer’s Head did have an extraordinary restaurant considering its location, and it served not one, but two fine Aussie wines, plus it had a fabulous library with even a copy of “Bedtime with Dame Edna”. For those that couldn’t face bedding down in a missile silo, the Deer’s Head was almost like home. We had a wonderful meal that night, starting with risotto a la fungi, followed by spatchcock over a bed of red cabbage, or was it seared onions and pine nuts, can’t remember. Anyway, Mr Wolf Blass helped wash it all down, but only before that disgusting coffee ruined the meal. After congratulating the chef, whom the locals call Friar Tuk (for obvious reasons), we left half the party at the Deer’s Head, and the diehards headed nine miles north to the Silo.