October 20, 2008

Atlas missile silo gains industrial elegance


Reclaiming the bunker has been a grueling challenge of scraping military-gray paint and sandblasting pitted iron.

Bright-orange trusses gleam now against walls wrapped in gray quilted fabric. A bank of three flat-screen televisions broadcast news images from CNN, the sound muted.

Designer chairs imported from Europe collect around a round living-room table with a Geiger counter centerpiece.

"I though it would be fitting," Michael smiled, taking the metal wand in hand.

The top floor of the silo quarters has a kitchen, storage area and a bathroom that Michael kept pretty much as it was built.

Label-on numbers still designate military part numbers on the bathroom sinks, faucets and soap dispensers.

Making coffee in the kitchen, Michael described 12 years of industrial-sized labor. How he fought to unfreeze eight-inch hinges on giant blast doors of the entrapment vestibule, an entrance designed to protect the missile launch crew. How he researched details of the bunker's layout, even meeting one of the men who lived here and corresponding over time with several others.

BOQUET 556-6

The bunker is suspended on four pneumatic jacks meant to automatically re-level the place after a missile blast.

"It was a stupid system that never worked right. The airmen told me they would be sitting at the control station, and the whole room would suddenly tilt backward. They had to get up and adjust it manually," Michael said.

But he used the pneumatic suspension system to raise the floor about four inches, making it level with the stairwell coming down 40 feet from the surface.

Michael retrofit the control room on the floor below into a bedroom. While removing old paint, he discovered the missile silo number, Boquet 556-6, and left it on the I-beam.

The original missile launch console minus the knobs and display panels (that someone took after Michael bought the silo) sits like a pianoforte in the corner of the round room.

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