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Portal Part III

To properly introduce the entry portal, I have to begin at the surface.  You can't naturally get to the subterranean tunnels, domes and silos without first arriving at this area and so I shall begin, quite logically, at the beginning.

 

The surface, once every bit a military installation and easily identifiable as such, has been transformed by time.  The concrete and asphalt at Lowry 724-C are cracked, eroding, or just being steadily hidden beneath plant life.  Signs are faded or taken by the wind, and rust attacks every speck of steel where paint has long peeled away.  Concrete spalls and cracks from the Winter cold and freezing, and all around evidence of decay and reclamation by natural forces are rampant.

 

Lowry 724-C, circa 2002: The entry portal viewed from a nearby tower about 15 feet tall.  The silo and its door are obvious in this westerly view.  At the right center, the concrete circle is the television camera tube and at the lower right you can see the four circles of the instrument assembly tubes which measured wind speed, radiation, temperature and other important surface conditions.

 

The personnel entrance is on the far side of the silo where, if you squint really hard and use your super keen super vision, you can see me there mooning the camera.

 

I don't know where the tank came from, but it seems to be fairly recent and not from inside the site.  I think it had a date on it saying it was manufactured in the 1990's.  

Photo courtesy of Sean Malloy

 

Lowry 724-C, 1999: A shot of the entry portal taken by a man with one leg a foot shorter than the other.

 

This used to be all pavement here, but as you can see, it has become seriously overgrown with scrubby Colorado plant life.

 

Lowry 724-C, 1999: Portal and tower.  The tower is actually constructed from parts taken from the launcher silos.  The bulk of this structure is made up of the flame deflectors that were designed to re-direct the exhaust from the missile to protect the missile platform and silo during launch.

 

 

Lowry 724-C, 1999: Entry portal showing the silo doors, old and new personnel entrances and the tower.  Actually there are 2 such towers at 1-C; the other is located near launcher #2.  These towers appear to have been used to photograph testing done on the surface by contractors after the site's closure.  The testing conducted was unrelated to missile defense. 

 

My experience of first arriving at 724-C in the Fall of 1999 was one of delight.  Yeah, I find this stuff endlessly fascinating to the extreme.  The most minute of details which most people would never care to know, I would likely find very interesting.  So when I arrived at the vast complex I was surrounded by mysteries, strange structures and forms-- some completely obvious, and others completely enigmatic.

 

I spent several hours looking at everything I saw with the sort of curiosity you'd expect from an alien who'd just landed on the site as part of an anthropological study.

 

Lowry 724-C, 1999: A better view of the current entrance.  This is a somewhat northeasterly view. 

 

Lowry 724-C, 1999: Settling and erosion around the portal silo.

 

Even as the underground beckoned me with its fantastic sights, I found it hard to tear myself away from the silo doors, the unexplained shafts leading into the darkness and lined with reflecting pools of water, and the myriad other things I saw.  Of course, when the site was opened up and everyone was ready to go, all distractions on the surface were forgotten.

 

Lowry 724-A: Construction-era photo showing General Lymen Lemnitzer, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman (first on the left) and a contingent of high-ranking AF personnel exiting the entry portal. (In spite of it's dual usage, "Entry/Exit Portal" was undoubtedly discarded as too unwieldy a title.)

 

Behind Gen. Lemnitzer in the glasses is Army Chief of Staff Gen. Decker and Gen. White.  Looking over toward Gen. Decker is Colonel Proctor who is followed by Chief Naval Officer Admiral Arleigh Burk, making this quite the group of heavy hitters in US military figures.

 

A temporary surface building has been constructed over the portal silo during construction.  Looking more closely, two of the lights in the elevator car can be seen through the doorway just above the officers' heads near the top center of the photo.

 

When I was at 724-C, I found the very same hand-painted sign as the one shown at right in this photo lying in the grass near the antenna silos; faded, peeling and riddled with bullet holes of course.

Photo courtesy of Fred Epler

 

Mountain Home, 1989: The entry portal silo doors standing open.  You can see here the sheer enormity of the doors' construction when viewed from the side.  Sections of the perimeter fencing appear to have been scavenged for makeshift safety barriers for the open sides of the silo.

Photo courtesy of Fred Epler

 

My very first look at a Titan 1 complex was quite different from what I would see at 724-C .  Years before I arrived at 724-C I was lucky enough to get a look at 725-A, both inside and out.  725-A looked quite different, and standing at the entry portal it looked positively barren.  Most of the landmarks of a Titan 1 site (unbeknownst to me) seemed to be hidden, though at the time I would not have known where to look for them.

 

Lowry 724-C, 1999: The instrument tube array, flush in the closed position.

 

A closer view of the instrument tube array at 724-C: You can see some power lines were routed into the facility by the contractors at the site.  After 724-C closed, a company occupied the site and conducted testing both on the surface and in the underground complex.  At some point, they used the instrument tube to run commercial power into the complex-- something which was not available inside the site after salvage operations.

 

The instrument array tubes fully deployed.

Photo courtesy of Fred Epler

Lowry 724-B: Partially deployed instrument array tubes.

Photo courtesy of Fred Epler

 

Lowry 724-B: It appears that the other two tubes are missing-- and that cart is a long way from Safeway.

Photo courtesy of Fred Epler

The Descent of Man

 

The Impetus for heading underground-- beneath the Earth's surface-- was obvious.  As always, most developments in Man's history are driven by war.  With the advent of the Nuclear Age, it suddenly became incredibly difficult and impractical to build a surface structure that could survive an attack.  When I say difficult and impractical, that really translates to expensive beyond measure.  Certainly solutions existed but they were stupendously costly and required far more money and time than anyone was comfortable with.  To alleviate this problem, the simple solution was to use the earth itself to help shield men and their ability to conduct war from the dreaded new menace from which there seemed-- duck and cover notwithstanding-- no defense.  The solution was still stupendously expensive, but just affordable enough to come to fruition.

 

And so it was that bunkers and bomb shelters of old were found woefully inadequate in terms of survivability once the genie was out of the bottle and we were no longer the only kids on the block with the hottest new toy.  The game had changed, as it always does, and it seemed quite lucky that good old soil and stone was fairly difficult to displace even with the most destructive weapons ever devised; just put enough of them between you and your hardened facility and your chances for survival and/or counter-attack greatly increased.

 

To survive, you had to go deeper underground and use far more concrete and steel-- even then a direct hit would cripple or kill just about anything.  Going underground was just part of the game.  You also had to play the numbers and spread yourself around hoping your enemy would miss or not be able to target you in many different places at once.

 

Thus the underground missile complex was born, and early in the history of missile defense, the Titan 1 would emerge in the furious tennis match between nations as yield, accuracy, distance and clever methods such as decoys, MIRVs and other innovations would trim the narrow margin for strategic advantage again and again.  This solution seemed quite adequate for a time, or at least it was all that could be done on short notice.  In a few short years, projects of incredible scope and cost would consume labor and raw materials, often outstripping supply in the race to protect ourselves from the weapon we had so hastily developed.

 

It is this stage you are borne to immediately when you enter one of these missile sites.  Your imagination cannot help but conjure scenario after scenario as you are literally engulfed-- submerged even-- in history itself.  It is impossible not to wonder about the people who manned these weapons:  what was it like to command such power, and in contrast, to perform the mundane everyday tasks required of a missile crew with their terrible responsibility?

 

What was it like?  How did it feel to be on a missile crew and to tend to such forces, held deceptively in check?  What could it have been like to be on alert during the Cuban Missile Crisis when the two most destructive arsenals on Earth could have been loosed upon one another?

 

Only the missile crews could ever know for sure.

 

To everyone else, it seems impossible to understand; those days are gone, the game has changed, but as you enter this concrete sarcophagus, you'll get as close to knowing as you ever can.

 

Let's go down deep into history and enter the lair of the Titans...

 

Construction photo of the Titan I personnel entrance, circa 1960-61.  Senior Master Sergeant Abraham McMillan is shown here leaving the complex via the original hatch.  SMSgt. McMillan was a BMAT (Ballistic Missile Analyst Technician) on launch crew R-01.

 

I quickly discovered that the insignia the SMSgt. is wearing is now obsolete and it took me a good hour to nail down what rank it represented.  I went on to state (quite incorrectly) that the insignia was changed in the 1960's-- a conclusion reached from sources on the internet.  Live and learn it turns out.  

 

SMSgt. McMillan's insignia, a chevron with one stripe pointing up, and six pointing down, fell out of use somewhere in 1991 and was replaced with the current design bearing two upward stripes and five downward stripes.  Details on how this change of insignia, which came about through the creation of new "supergrade" ranks occurred was graciously provided by Mike Jackson, SMSgt, USAF (Ret) through his citation of the following linked document from the Air Force Enlisted Heritage Research Institute by SMSgt. Michael L. Stewart, dated 22 July 1997.  Read it here.

Photo courtesy of Fred Epler

 

Unknown airman entering via the hatch and wearing completely different khaki fatigues known as 1505's.  Could be an officer-- after all, he's got those shades on.  Any info on the man in this photo would be greatly appreciated.  Contact me.

 

There is still some construction going on here as evidenced by the wires running down the portal and lumber, etc. in the background.

Photo courtesy of Fred Epler

 

The original hatch at Lowry 724-C, Winter 1999.  In an attempt to stem the flow of infiltrating water, the portal was covered in plastic, and any crack, crevice or suspect cranny was filled with expanding foam insulation.  This proved futile of course as both plastic wrap, and especially expanding foam, are very susceptible to the elements.  Wind and cold shredded the plastic and blew it away, and ultra-violet light utterly disintegrated the foam in about a year's time.  If you look at the first image in this section you can just make out what few tatters of plastic remain.

 

This hatch has probably not been open since 1965 or earlier.

 

Lowry 725-A, Winter 1986: Propped partially open, this site saw many, many visitors over the decades after salvage.  There is far more graffiti inside it than perhaps all 5 of the other Lowry sites.  

Photo courtesy of Jim Despres

 

Lowry 725-A, 1986: For many many years, this entrance remained wide open.  There were a number of attempts to close up all entrances into the site, the most recent being in 2005.  The earlier efforts were largely unsuccessful, but now this hatch is sealed and buried along with the other routes into the complex.

Photo courtesy of Jim Despres

 

Lieutenant Colonel Robert F. Simpson emerges from a Titan 1 complex on the cover of This Week Magazine, a supplement of the New York Herald Tribune featuring an exposť on the inner workings of the missile system.  Lt. Colonel Simpson was the first commander at Lowry 724-B.

 

This photo is a nice view of the entry portal showing the non-skid metal steps of the spiral stairs.  Near Lt.Col. Simpson's left hand is the limit switch that contacted with the closed hatch to detect if it was open or closed.

Photo courtesy of Fred Epler

 

Color photo of the This Week Magazine cover.  This article came out shortly after the Lowry sites became operational.  Click here to read the full article.

Photo courtesy of Fred Epler

 

Captain Don Smith makes his way up the steep and confined stairs of the entry portal personnel entrance wearing his stylish flight jacket.  The rather cramped and unsafe nature of this entry would bring about its eventual abandonment early in the sites' history.  A larger entrance with a set of regular steps and a new heavier cover would be hastily retro-fitted to the sites, putting an end to the "gofer hole" experience.

 

Captain Smith was a GEO (Guidance Electronics Officer) with launch crew R-01.

Photo courtesy of Fred Epler

 

Originally, entrance to the Titan 1 complex was through the round hatch shown in the previous photos and down a set of spiral stairs.  This was later modified to the configuration shown below for safety reasons.  Apparently, the change came following a fatal accident in 1961 at 724-C when a civilian worker slipped at the bottom of the steps and was fatally injured by the revolving door.

 

Apparently he was preceded by another worker that had just passed through the heavy revolving door which was still moving when he fell into it.  Certainly a gruesome end, which would be more than enough justification for a design change.

 

Blueprint of the personnel entrance at one of the Mountain Home sites in Idaho showing the re-worked, safer and much roomier design.  This replaced the decidedly more cramped and apparently dangerous design used at the Lowry sites, which were the first to be constructed.

Photo courtesy of Fred Epler

 

Looking northwest: The newly-installed personnel entrance at one of the Lowry sites.  The new design used a concrete slab about a foot thick, encased in heavy steel.  The new stairs dispensed with the spiral design and were much wider.  The doors of launcher silo #1 are visible in the background.

Photo courtesy of Fred Epler

Lowry: Looking southwest: Pristine asphalt and a clean new look about a very new Lowry complex. 

Photo courtesy of Fred Epler

Looking east: another look at the modified entrance and a glimpse of the freight elevator peeking above the silo doors.  

Photo courtesy of Fred Epler

Looking southeast: one last look at the personnel entrance and entry portal silo doors.

Photo courtesy of Fred Epler

Lowry 724-A: Old and new personnel entrances 

Photo courtesy of Fred Epler

As these photos clearly show, at some sites, gaining entrance wasn't exactly challenging.  Attempts to secure the sites were made, but often proved inadequate or underestimated the lengths to which the curious will go.

 

Time and time again, despite concerted efforts, teens, partiers, transients and the aforementioned curious and missile-obsessed, thwarted just about every obstacle placed before them and the Titan I complexes.

 

Around 1986, a kid broke his leg while exploring 725-A and finally, crews were hired to try and batten down the many hatches of the Titans: entrances were covered with concrete and steel; holes were filled in with earth; steel was welded across openings; concrete blocks were emplaced to hold hatches closed.

 

For a while perhaps these things may have worked, but before long (and after some careful thought perhaps) people came back and found new ways in or worked on the new barriers with pry bars, sledge hammers and hack saws until they failed.

 

Lowry 725-A, circa 1994: Site was opened up during an environmental survey.  You can see a large concrete block on the right that had been down the hatch, and a concrete pad on the left that had been used to cover the hatch opening.  This very hatch was where my first glimpse of a Titan 1 began.

Photo courtesy of Fred Epler

 

Lowry 725-A, circa 1994: A closer look at the old personnel entrance.  The newer cellar stairs entrance is nearby, partially buried and covered with the original steel and concrete lid.

Photo courtesy of Fred Epler

 

Lowry 725-A, circa 1994: Replacing concrete blocks following an environmental survey.  When I arrived, the blocks were still in place but the concrete pad had been moved.  You can see the cellar stairs lid partially visible on the lower left protruding from under the dirt.

Photo courtesy of Fred Epler

 

Lowry 725-A, circa 1998: A bigger, tougher concrete pad blocks entry.  How long would this one last?  You can see the edges are chipped and broken, giving the appearance that determined forces have been hard at work trying to dislodge this barrier.  No matter, other ways were found to gain entry, requiring further work to seal up the site in 2005.

Photo courtesy of Fred Epler

Lowry 724-B: Steel and concrete hatch cover rests askew over the entrance.  That's a grain bin on the left-- this site has been used for cattle grazing for many years.  Part of the instrument array can be seen next to the wooden shed in the background.

Photo courtesy of Fred Epler

Lowry 724-B: This entrance has probably been more effectively closed since this photo was taken.  You can see that this dog could squeeze in there, but a grown man of average size would probably find it very difficult if not impossible to fit through there.  However, a woman of slight build from the Colorado Dept. of Health and Environment (CDPHE) apparently could indeed fit through there.  She encountered water just a few feet down below.

Photo courtesy of Fred Epler

 

Lowry 724-C, 1999: The heavy hatch cover lays some 50 feet away from the entrance.  A newer steel cover has been made to replace this much heavier one. 

I never even saw the launcher silo doors during my visit to 725-A.  I saw tall grass and weeds surrounding a rather unremarkable hole in the ground.  There was a cover for the hole which was propped open with a wooden fence post.  Looking down the hole I could see dirt and large concrete blocks-- obviously placed there for the express purpose of keeping curious folk like myself and my companion from getting inside.  These efforts were dreadfully unsuccessful as the concrete blocks, which were too small to fill the opening and left a gaping hole, did nothing to prevent our invasion, and in fact, made descent much easier.

 

Handholds and footholds galore were provided by the concrete blocks giving precious purchase to aid in our exploration.  We arrived at the bottom without incident and confident of our ability to climb back out again later.

 

We stood on the vestibule of the great portal, our eyes adjusting, our ears straining in the silence.  A strange odor never before experienced filled my nose; we were inside, but what was down there?.  I had no idea what I was in for and no clue how it would profoundly change my life.

 

We turned on our flashlights and began to descend...

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Next: head into the underground complex and re-trace my steps as you explore the dark depths of a nuclear missile's warren.  Click the link below or you can go to the Main Map to explore elsewhere.

 


 

Entry Portal section IV or Go to Main Map

 


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