Titan I Exposed
At 5am I rose very reluctantly and proceeded to gulp coffee wherever I could find it. My fatigue rapidly gave way to the feverish mania of one possessed of missiles and their history. An actual complex-- a missile site-- is like a cathedral or holy ground to the devoted. How could I possibly be tired while visiting a sacred shrine to the Titan I? It was impossible!
Resonating with a new energy, I went about my morning routine swiftly and with great purpose, meeting Walter outside my cut-rate motel, fresh and ready for action, no matter what might confront me.
With a cache of chocolate donuts we hit the road heading west, talking excitedly of missiles and mayhem, of launch failures and silo explosions, of cold war bunkers and communications installations.
Outside Walter's rental car the scenery vied ever harder for our attention as the ground rose up in hills and mountains and a huge and majestic lake appeared. I forget the lake's name though Walter told me what it was. I fumbled for my camera missing all but the worst views of a breath-taking scene observed through an insect-spattered windshield.
We arrived at some greasy-spoon diner-- Ruby's I think it was, located just outside of the agriculturally dominated and economically depressed Royal City, Washington. Groves of almonds and fields of grape vines blanketed the landscape.
It was at the diner our liaisons from Undersea Adventures were to meet us. The time was just before 7am so we were a bit early and encroached on the margin of Royal City to get provisions from a convenience store: more coffee, water, salt-encrusted chips and a pony keg's worth of soda. All that and the leftover donuts would have to sustain us for far longer than I would have guessed.
We headed back to Ruby's and after a few minutes three men appeared. Our hosts? We waited a few minutes until I spied the tell-tale red-and-white diver down flag on their vehicle which vanquished any doubt.
Introductions and pleasantries were brief: Walter. Pete. You the web site guy? Yes I am. Good enough, let's roll.
Epic Journey (not really)
We embarked in our tiny caravan, driving from Ruby's to a spot that seemed to be about 10 yards distant from the enigmatic eatery. Literally we were just moments away and didn't realize it. How could we not have noticed?
As the familiar gate came into view, so too did a lot of other scenery, which bore no resemblance to the usual flora and fauna common to sites I'd seen up close before: junk. Lots of junk-- the surface was covered, no-- inundated with a solid layer of scrap metal consisting of a surprising array (or disarray in this case) of rusting machinery and obscure detritus dating back decades. Everywhere, scrap blanketed the ground in random clusters. No wonder we couldn't see the site until we were on top of it; all the junk provided effective camouflage hiding any and all distinctive landmarks.
As we drove further into the junkscape I spotted a few tell-tale signs and started to get my bearings a bit. Then I noticed that the ground all around us was scarred with large holes and random excavations. Some of these holes were practically chasms going down 20 feet or more. We'd have to watch our step out there.
We pulled in near the entry portal and I wasted no time getting my gear unstowed and began taking pictures. The portal doors stood open and were tethered with rusted cables and held by steel beams scavenged from the portal itself which were then welded to the doors to keep them open. Despite all that and a railing over one end to prevent falls, the opposite side was WIDE OPEN. Watch your step folks!
As everyone was getting unpacked and ready, I scurried about (yes, I scurried) trying to photograph as much as possible. Each site can be so different and have such a varied history, it is important to me to document as much about it and its condition as I can and I have learned not to trust my memory one damn bit.
Looking around the site I noticed that large areas had been dug out near the power house and towards the launchers. Half-buried concrete was visible in places. What the hell had been going on here?
We assembled on the sheer edge of a deep ravine cut into the ground overlooking the partially excavated power house exhaust structure. Down below, thick vegetation obscured the depth of the rift. What was the reason for this giant hole?
After some pondering on the digging, we all agreed it was time to head below and so we returned to the entry portal where I spotted the remains of the instrument tube array. Like most of the place, it too had been assaulted. Two of the instrument tubes were missing revealing a deep hole down into the dark space below. (the 2 missing tubes would later be discovered laying at the bottom of the entry portal)
The personnel entrance was rather unnervingly propped open with a large timber of questionable integrity. Although it was monolithic, I could not help feeling a bit nervous passing underneath it.
As the others descended I lagged behind haphazardly snapping away. At my feet I could see an almost inordinate number of spent shell casings (12 gauge mostly) littering the walkways. I thought as I descended: What a noise that must have made! and: Why all the gunfire in such an enclosed space? That must be horribly dangerous, so why?
A solid theory would present itself only moments later.
There was an absolute befouling of pigeons present in the portal silo. Everywhere you looked they were flapping about stupidly and soiling everything with their vile excrement. Stalagmites of feces were piled high on every ledge and perch, and every vertical surface was smudged with crap. I don't need to tell you the smell wasn't much to my liking either...
Looking at the scarred and bullet-ridden concrete, it was pretty clear someone had been waging war on those flying rats for many years. It is a testament to their intense loathing of the birds that whoever had thrown caution to the wind to fire deadly projectiles in an enclosed concrete ricochet tube in an attempt to destroy them.
Almost all equipment was gone from the entry portal: no rams on the silo doors or the personnel entrance; the hydraulic gear and most plumbing was absent. Fortunately, the stairs were intact although carpeted with a thick layer of dried bird dung which kicked up in worrying clouds of dust which really makes one pine for some sort of breathing protection.
It was clear that a lot of heavy hauling had gone on in the entry portal from the bent and twisted supports on the elevator crib and stairway. Very stout beams had sustained some impressive damage over the ensuing decades after the site's closure. The elevator car and motor were both gone and some very large debris had been dropped into the silo in a jagged heap.
Oops! I was taking too long. The group had already disappeared into the musty darkness below. Time to move my ass.
I moved on reluctantly, aiming my camera every which way, snapping pictures as fast as my flash could keep up. I made my way past a large hunk of metal partially blocking the walkway as the stench from the birds went up a couple notches. Ugh!
Cautiously I edged past the elevator doors which stood open to catch the unwary and send them plummeting 50 feet to certain doom. The air was filled with fluff and dander kicked up by the nervous pigeons and the scattering of shell casings increased. It was not the most welcoming place but I moved on, curious to see what I would find below.
The bird crap only got worse and worse the further in I went. Pigeons exploded from their hidden perches at odd intervals and flapped about trying to escape the deadly menace I surely presented... crapping all the way.
Finally I must have flushed most of the filthy pigeons out and I felt a bit safer looking around without fear of being dive bombed. Peering down the open elevator shaft I saw a scene of devastation laying at the bottom where a jumble of wood, cable tray and other discarded junk had accumulated.
It's always a shame to see the sorry state to which some of these sites have fallen. Really, it's to be expected and though it can't be helped, it is always sad to a missile historian to see the places we obsess over so much suffer such damage. Deep down, I hold out hope that some (or even just one) of these sites will one day be renovated and find purpose again. In fact, I can think of nothing I would like more than to see a Titan I museum like the Titan II museum in Arizona. However, looking at the condition of the sites and the sheer size of them, such a dream seems very unlikely indeed.
Over half-way down the portal, I could see the usual pool of water at the bottom where a space roughly 10 feet deep provided access to the bottom of the elevator car and to the elevator motor and logic rack (all of which were gone in this case). This time the water was different.
Instead of the usual, slightly cloudy pool with ghostly shapes of rusting steel below, I beheld a sickening, toxic soup of dead rodents, dead pigeons, fluff and feathers all rotting together in one nauseating, slimy black slurry.
Before day's end, I would see (and smell) far worse. Much, much worse than I was prepared for.
As I hurried to catch up and I neared the bottom of the silo, I heard an odd sound. At first I took it to be the sound of voices modulated by the unique acoustics of the tunnels and warrens of the Titan complex, but as I reached the very bottom I knew I was hearing something else. The sound was very distinct but I was sure I must be imagining it. Certainly I wasn't hearing what I thought I was hearing?
I stepped through the blast door opening and into the main tunnel junction and there it was, unmistakable now: the sound of running water.
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Intro/Rant 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14