A California Titan Missile Base


By Jonathan H

Titan Silo
Looking down into the 159-foot high, 40-foot wide Silo #1 of a Titan intercontinental ballistic missile base in California. Experiencing this is nothing short of religious (photo copyright Jon Haeber)

Lately, I’ve committed myself to a number of professional projects, and am in the midst of writing a few theses, so please forgive the lack of posts lately. But, I had to pull myself away from prior obligations to bring you breaking news. I recently was one of a privileged few to see the interior of a Titan 1 ICBM complex. We at Bearings have written about these governmental behemoths borne of the Cold War. But it’s worth noting that our previous entry on a Titan 1 ICBM covered the bare bones stats — the fact that they travel at 5-6 times the speed of sound, carried a 4-megaton nuclear payload, and that there were 54 such missile bases dotting the Continental U.S. (I don’t believe there were ever any in Alaska or Hawaii, but please do correct me if I’m wrong).

Missile Silo Junction on Kodak T-Max 4×5 Large Format (photo copyright Jon Haeber)

This time, I’m going to give you the experience. I’m going to tell you what it’s like to be walking in the interior of a Cold War-era, underground complex that includes over a half-mile of underground tunnels and access portals, where tanks of liquid oxygen and RP-1, Diesel, and Water Glycerol were sent through a snake-like web of pipes and apparti, from tunnel to tunnel, silo to silo (there were three for each base).On a previous trip to the Titan silo outside of Denver (this one’s in California), I was with a group. On the first trip in California, I was alone. For the sake of saving my own toosh from being sued from here to Timbuktu, I do not — under any circumstances — recommend going alone. However, if one should find oneself, in their yearning for a moment of solitude, sitting in front of a 150-foot high, 50-foot wide tube constructed to house an intercontinental ballistic missile, one should not underappreciate such a moment, a moment which few people are privileged to have.

Silo Number 1 on Kodak T-Max 4×5 Large Format (photo copyright Jon Haeber)

For those of you who wish to know what such an experience feels like let me describe, in as best a manner as I possibly could using the highly imperfect lexicon of the English language in describing an experience that ostensibly transcends words:

You walk 1,500 feet through a corrugated, quonset-hut-like tube constructed entirely of steel. Asbestos litters the ground, and steel trestles traverse the junctions and blast doors where stainless-steel walkways once resided (but were since removed). Wearing a respirator to protect your precious lungs you soon come to realize that the smell is not a factor in the experience. The few moments you are required to remove the mask due to space constraints or for photographic composition purposes, you recognize a pervasive smell akin to paint thinner, black mold, and feces all at once. Schlitz beer cans (no longer an offering in your local market) litter the sides of the tunnels — eerie reminders that people toured these tunnels over 30 years ago, much in the same manner in which you are today. When you reach the T-junction, you are faced with two choices: Straight ahead, or to the left. The left passage takes you 30 feet to the an opening that looks directly down into the dark abyss of a hardened nuclear missile silo. You peer down — your feet inches away from 16,000 cubic feet of air, enclosed in a cylinder, sealed off from the outside world, dripping water, full of VOCs, alone, quiet. If you are a soul who knows the proper way to appreciate such moments, you know that it would be an advantageous time to remove all extraneous (and foreign) influences on your senses. At such a moment, you decide to switch off your flashlight, sit on the edge of the access tunnel that leads straight into the deadly abyss with no safeguards or caution signs, and take in the moment. Surface sounds seem to seep in from the launch door despite it being closed. You hear what seems to be the echoes of ghosts, but may very well be the reverberation of passing 747s acting much like the skin of a drumhead inside of a drum.

It is a moment that I can’t say I’ve ever had in my life. It is a moment that I will probably never have again. I wondered if this was the same experience that recent recruits had over 40 years ago. What did they feel and think of the world? How did they feel about holding the fate of a Nation in their fingertips? Did they ever consider the possibility of sending the entire city of Moscow into a nuclear winter?

It’s a mere place, but it tells so much…

101 comments on “A California Titan Missile Base

  1. Dennis m on said:

    Sean- you wont sneak into the Chico site- Chris lives 30 feet from the only entrance, the pictures above are actually from the Live Oak site(851-B),
    With that said ,im with You, i would LOVE to Visit the Chico site, as i am local to it

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