Brian M. Kelly: Great Plains missile silos
In this episode of Great Plains Anywhere, we spoke with Brian M. Kelly, licensed architect and Associate Professor of Architecture at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, on his research into the design and construction of the decommissioned, underground vertical Atlas-F missile silos in the prairies of the Great Plains during the 1960s.
This talk is part of the Paul A. Olson Great Plains lecture series.
Special thanks to Margaret Huettl for providing a video land acknowledgement for this episode. To listen to the podcast version, visit: https://anchor.fm/gp-lectures
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[00:00:00.160]Welcome to Great Plains: Anywhere,
[00:00:01.990]a Paul A. Olson Lecture
[00:00:03.770]from the Center for Great Plains Studies
[00:00:05.420]at the University of Nebraska.
[00:00:08.160]In this episode, we spoke with Brian Kelly,
[00:00:10.560]licensed architect and Associate Professor of Architecture
[00:00:13.750]at the University of Nebraska Lincoln
[00:00:15.940]on his research into the design
[00:00:17.690]and construction of underground vertical missile silos
[00:00:20.750]in the prairies of the Great Plains during the 1960s.
[00:00:26.320]On behalf of the Center for Great Plains Studies,
[00:00:28.480]I would like to begin by acknowledging
[00:00:30.297]that the University of Nebraska is a land grant institution
[00:00:34.020]with campuses and programs on the past, present,
[00:00:37.130]and future homelands of the Pawnee, Ponca,
[00:00:39.280]Oto-Missouria, Omaha, Lakota, Dakota,
[00:00:43.860]Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Kaw Peoples,
[00:00:46.860]as well as the relocated Ho-Chunk, Iowa,
[00:00:49.570]and Sac and Fox Peoples.
[00:00:51.540]Please take a moment to consider the legacies
[00:00:53.770]of more than 150 years of displacement, violence,
[00:00:58.170]settlement and survival that bring us here today.
[00:01:01.590]This acknowledgement and the centering of indigenous peoples
[00:01:04.610]is a start as we move forward together
[00:01:07.100]for the next 150 years.
[00:01:09.760]Hi, I'm Katie Neland.
[00:01:10.593]I'm the Associate Director
[00:01:11.820]at the Center for Great Plains Studies.
[00:01:14.830]Hi, I'm Dylan Wall.
[00:01:15.960]I'm Education and Outreach Associate
[00:01:18.180]at the Center for Great Plains Studies.
[00:01:21.230]And I'm Brian Kelly,
[00:01:22.150]Associate Professor of Architecture
[00:01:23.540]with the College of Architecture
[00:01:24.820]at University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
[00:01:27.363]It's a honor to be able to share the work today with you
[00:01:30.640]and on this research that I've been working on.
[00:01:32.770]I'm grateful to UNL's College of Architecture
[00:01:35.500]for supporting the work and also
[00:01:37.170]a former research assistant of mine, Geneva Sunkula.
[00:01:41.090]She did some of the work with me over the last,
[00:01:45.160]really over the last academic year.
[00:01:50.220]So ever since the invention of flight,
[00:01:52.100]the normative way we understand
[00:01:53.310]the configuration of landscape is through the aerial image
[00:01:56.350]according to James Corner's 1996 book,
[00:01:58.617]"Taking Measures Across the American Landscape".
[00:02:02.320]particularly aerial vision,
[00:02:03.740]not only a reflects a given reality,
[00:02:05.660]but also constitutes a way of seeing
[00:02:07.480]and acting in the world.
[00:02:10.750]In addition to identifiable agricultural patterns,
[00:02:13.680]the Midwestern plains are also characterized
[00:02:15.820]by a vernacular, which rises from a generally flat plain.
[00:02:19.240]Examples of these utilitarian structures
[00:02:21.060]serve as wayfinding devices,
[00:02:22.930]marking towns and farmsteads from the distance view.
[00:02:27.930]The silo has served as a point of inspiration
[00:02:30.920]for several artists, photographers and architects,
[00:02:33.080]including the Beckers couple,
[00:02:35.040]the photos you can see on the left there,
[00:02:37.010]Walter Gropius and Aldo Rossi.
[00:02:39.480]Modernist architect Le Corbusier referred to them
[00:02:41.970]as the first fruits of the new age,
[00:02:43.890]and Erich Mendelsohn drew a sketch below
[00:02:46.360]after experiencing the American silos for the first time
[00:02:48.650]in Buffalo, New York, describing them as, quote,
[00:02:50.907]"stupendous verticals of 50 to 100 cylinders."
[00:02:54.500]The top right is the first experimental concrete silo
[00:02:58.030]built in Minneapolis, Minnesota,
[00:02:59.980]by F. H. Peavey & Company.
[00:03:02.210]Noted scale and proportion was cylindrical,
[00:03:04.730]a single cylindrical tube measuring 125 feet,
[00:03:08.430]which predates the ubiquitous bundling strategy
[00:03:11.170]seen in the Beckers' photos on the left,
[00:03:13.240]and that proportion of silo becomes important
[00:03:16.630]for the narrative of the forthcoming discussion.
[00:03:21.020]The Midwest is also stereotyped
[00:03:22.870]as being home to people who are considered nice,
[00:03:25.440]even nice enough to become a catchphrase for local tourism.
[00:03:29.780]But this landscape is occupied,
[00:03:31.420]and on that surface is where life takes place.
[00:03:34.040]Evidence of this inhabitation exists at various scales.
[00:03:39.750]And moving from the surface to the subsurface,
[00:03:45.480]the Midwestern plains tells a story
[00:03:47.710]which is important to sustaining daily life.
[00:03:49.940]Here we can see the size of the Ogallala Aquifer in gray,
[00:03:52.360]with its relation to the Midwest.
[00:03:54.160]The story existing below the surface is vital
[00:03:56.640]to the livelihood of the places like Nebraska,
[00:04:02.781]where 90% of the water that's pumped
[00:04:04.350]is used to irrigate crops.
[00:04:07.160]But if we dig a little bit further,
[00:04:08.550]we can find some rather interesting stories
[00:04:10.340]below the surface.
[00:04:13.760]Hiding secret or unwanted things underground is not new.
[00:04:16.900]We've been doing it for years with landfills,
[00:04:19.170]and you can see a diagram
[00:04:20.003]of how that layering starts to happen.
[00:04:23.960]History has shown that sometimes we create
[00:04:25.460]artificial representations of the ground plain
[00:04:27.410]to hide things underneath.
[00:04:28.490]Shown here is a famous example of the camouflage netting
[00:04:31.330]used at a very large scale
[00:04:32.610]at the Lockheed plant in California during World War II
[00:04:35.610]to protect from a bomber's view overhead.
[00:04:38.270]And you can see the scale of that.
[00:04:40.170]This is actually an vent for the factory below,
[00:04:43.390]just to give you a sense of scale.
[00:04:47.950]The military has been using
[00:04:48.840]subterranean protection for years,
[00:04:50.340]from battlefield foxholes to underground structures,
[00:04:52.830]and the Nebraska prairie has been perfect for this strategy.
[00:04:56.250]Out of all the places
[00:04:57.083]President Bush could have gone after the 9/11 attacks,
[00:04:59.410]his staff determined that withdrawing
[00:05:00.860]to subterranean Nebraska would offer the best protection.
[00:05:04.280]The image here shows him and his staff
[00:05:05.800]entering a secret entrance,
[00:05:07.240]which would lead, quote "pretty far underground,"
[00:05:10.120]in the words of one of his staffers.
[00:05:14.440]Sitting below the peaceful agrarian fields in Nebraska
[00:05:16.990]is a unique and sometimes odd history.
[00:05:19.310]My research project, titled Nebraska Underground,
[00:05:22.160]is working to unearth some of those artifacts,
[00:05:24.060]which support the narrative.
[00:05:27.500]Here again is the Nebraska state border
[00:05:29.610]and the Ogallala Aquifer for reference.
[00:05:32.010]I've already mentioned the Strategic Air Command
[00:05:33.963]at Offutt Air Force Base outside of Omaha.
[00:05:37.520]Lincoln also had its own Air Force base,
[00:05:39.180]although it's no longer active.
[00:05:40.930]Hastings has a field of ammunition bunkers from World War II
[00:05:43.620]tucked under a blanket of soil
[00:05:45.470]to protect them from the aerial view,
[00:05:46.850]as well as accidental internal explosions.
[00:05:49.420]Hallam hides an experimental nuclear plant gone wrong,
[00:05:52.050]which is forever entombed underground in solid concrete.
[00:05:55.140]The proposed route of the Keystone Pipeline over the aquifer
[00:05:57.930]has been highly debated.
[00:05:59.460]And in 1963, the Roberts Dairy Company
[00:06:01.610]conducted a two-week survival test for 35 cows,
[00:06:04.200]one bull and two student cowhands.
[00:06:07.107]They were housed in a prototypical
[00:06:08.300]purpose-built concrete shelter
[00:06:09.830]constructed under the dairy facility in Elkhorn
[00:06:12.470]in an effort to protect the production of milk.
[00:06:15.100]If successful, the test conditions were planned
[00:06:18.680]to be scaled up for larger production
[00:06:20.450]should it become necessary.
[00:06:24.470]In 1961, the United States was awakened
[00:06:26.470]to the threat of another world war
[00:06:27.770]via President Kennedy's address
[00:06:29.030]regarding escalating relations in Berlin.
[00:06:31.490]Warfare had changed considerably after World War II,
[00:06:33.800]and the security of the continental United States
[00:06:35.670]offered through distance had vanished.
[00:06:38.060]The interior of the US had become the frontline
[00:06:40.580]of a seemingly imminent war
[00:06:41.990]as new forms of defense ushered in
[00:06:44.060]the intercontinental ballistic missile.
[00:06:46.180]The Midwestern prairie was geographically strategic
[00:06:48.530]with its active military bases and open fields.
[00:06:52.770]The US responded quickly in the 1950s and early 1960s,
[00:06:55.970]arming the Midwestern plains
[00:06:59.161]with the most recent technology in global warfare,
[00:07:01.740]the Atlas missile.
[00:07:03.300]Underground vertical missile silos were built
[00:07:05.500]in remote agricultural fields,
[00:07:07.950]yet were largely unknown to most
[00:07:09.480]who lived in adjacent communities.
[00:07:11.530]The evolution of the US ICBM program
[00:07:13.760]is a story of continually increased blast protection
[00:07:17.480]that slowly moves further underground.
[00:07:19.800]Ultimately I'm focused at this point on the Atlas-F silos
[00:07:23.070]you can see in the bottom row there.
[00:07:28.260]The cast-in-place concrete complex
[00:07:29.820]consisted of 175 foot-deep silo to house the missile,
[00:07:33.410]and a two-story launch control center or LCC
[00:07:36.460]for a crew of five missileers,
[00:07:38.030]all connected by an eight-foot diameter utility tunnel.
[00:07:41.000]The launch sequence of the Atlas-F missile
[00:07:43.160]involved lifting the missile on a steel platform
[00:07:45.500]to the ground surface and launching from there.
[00:07:47.760]The process would take approximately 10 to 15 minutes,
[00:07:50.100]and you can see on the right there
[00:07:52.380]the sort of blast happening,
[00:07:54.750]and they had a diverter that would extend that out
[00:07:58.100]beyond where their, you know, for safety reasons.
[00:08:04.600]The urgency of providing defense from a growing threat
[00:08:07.380]forced the US military into a strategy of concurrency,
[00:08:10.380]which developed the metaphorical barrel
[00:08:12.240]at the same time as the bullet.
[00:08:14.130]This resulted in significant changes
[00:08:15.870]over the duration of construction.
[00:08:17.270]There's a whole other presentation worth of content here,
[00:08:19.900]which I'm not gonna get into today.
[00:08:24.410]The activation of the bases
[00:08:25.440]was an incredibly interconnected process,
[00:08:27.640]although several tasks could happen simultaneously
[00:08:29.730]throughout the bases.
[00:08:31.020]This staggered Gantt chart was developed
[00:08:32.700]to orchestrate the movement of a single team
[00:08:34.450]responsible for the final stages of completion,
[00:08:36.920]assuring consistency across all launch complexes.
[00:08:41.850]Nebraska had 12 Atlas-F missile launch sites,
[00:08:44.570]which were by Lincoln Air Force Base
[00:08:46.077]and their 551st Strategic Missile Squadron.
[00:08:49.550]They were located around the base in all directions,
[00:08:51.770]with access to highway transit for construction,
[00:08:54.160]weapons delivery, and ongoing support
[00:08:56.330]while being separated enough
[00:08:57.840]to allow for protection under attack.
[00:09:01.610]Although there were some instances
[00:09:02.800]of missiles moving through populated areas,
[00:09:04.640]which you can see on the left here,
[00:09:06.360]they were largely hidden from the the public.
[00:09:09.110]Over years, conspiracy theories
[00:09:10.370]and urban legends have been developed,
[00:09:11.990]some more humorous than others,
[00:09:13.760]like the idea that the Nebraska state capital
[00:09:16.000]designed by Bertram Goodhue
[00:09:17.310]houses a secret missile launcher.
[00:09:21.810]The five acre secure sites consisted of a series
[00:09:24.910]of temporary structures on the surface,
[00:09:26.910]which were not meant to withstand an enemy attack.
[00:09:29.280]The remainder and ultimately most important
[00:09:30.980]portions of the complex were under the prairie.
[00:09:35.900]This cross-section from the 1960s construction documents
[00:09:38.400]shows the configuration, as well as the excavation,
[00:09:40.640]which would be required to complete the unprecedented build,
[00:09:43.620]moving 180 feet vertically into the soil.
[00:09:46.320]Once completed, the nine-foot fit concrete cap
[00:09:48.510]with 45 ton blast doors
[00:09:50.430]installed flush with the agricultural fields
[00:09:52.800]was only visible from above
[00:09:54.360]for those who knew what they were looking for.
[00:09:58.680]Western Contracting Corporation developed these diagrams
[00:10:01.320]for the military to explain the process,
[00:10:03.180]what they would undertake to excavate
[00:10:04.660]and pour the concrete silo tube and LCC.
[00:10:07.550]This process allowed for movement of equipment
[00:10:09.800]and materials, as well as the opportunity
[00:10:11.450]to build the two-story LCC from the ground up.
[00:10:16.680]We can see in the following series of historical photographs
[00:10:19.770]the process of construction
[00:10:20.820]with regards to the ground plain.
[00:10:22.650]This photo shows the excavation and terracing
[00:10:24.590]of the site for access to be able to build the LCC
[00:10:26.960]on the temporary ground.
[00:10:30.280]The silo and LCC area was an open cut,
[00:10:32.620]using tractors and scrapers to scrape
[00:10:35.010]approximately 35 feet below the natural ground.
[00:10:37.790]At this level, excavation of the silo shaft
[00:10:39.840]and construction of the LCC could commence.
[00:10:43.570]Ring beams and lagging were installed in the silo,
[00:10:45.860]and the LCC is nearly topped out in this photo.
[00:10:50.550]The last 50 feet of the silo tube above ground
[00:10:52.810]was built with traditional concrete formwork
[00:10:55.580]and to achieve the nine-foot-thick side walls
[00:10:58.050]that you can see on the right hand side there.
[00:11:02.510]This photo shows the concrete construction being buried,
[00:11:05.060]along with support infrastructure,
[00:11:06.300]like the diesel fuel tanks in the foreground.
[00:11:10.900]The LCC is completely buried
[00:11:12.210]under six and a half foot of soil,
[00:11:13.580]while the completion of the silo tube
[00:11:15.450]continues from above.
[00:11:18.840]Shaft excavation was accomplished using a tractor
[00:11:21.550]equipped with front end loader and ripper on the rear.
[00:11:24.870]In some cases, limestone and shale were so hard
[00:11:28.010]that the frequent drilling and blasting was required.
[00:11:30.700]The clamshell was usually used at a depth of to 50 feet,
[00:11:35.290]and then the muck bucket used for the remaining depth.
[00:11:38.550]As excavation continued,
[00:11:39.840]ring beams were installed to support the shaft walls.
[00:11:42.670]The spacing of ring beams vary
[00:11:44.020]from two foot through to four foot,
[00:11:45.410]depending on the type of walls.
[00:11:47.090]Wire mesh reinforcement was placed behind the ring beams,
[00:11:49.550]and the entire surface was covered
[00:11:51.260]with two inches of pneumatically-placed concrete.
[00:11:56.660]Difficulties were encountered almost immediately.
[00:11:58.540]Builders continually battled sandy soils,
[00:12:00.680]which kept caving in, and the high water tables
[00:12:03.040]presented nearly constant flooding problems.
[00:12:05.470]Utilization of a cut-and-cover method
[00:12:07.260]ultimately allowed for progress at all 12 sites.
[00:12:12.740]Slip forms allowed for vertical concrete construction
[00:12:15.730]after reaching the final depth,
[00:12:17.390]which you can see happening here.
[00:12:22.130]The scale of the construction was massive.
[00:12:23.910]Each complex required approximately 15 million dollars
[00:12:26.610]for concrete and steel.
[00:12:28.210]That translates to nearly 140 million dollars today.
[00:12:31.563]3,850 people for the construction and activation,
[00:12:35.180]3,200 cubic yards of concrete
[00:12:37.130]and 600 tons of steel reinforcing.
[00:12:41.210]This is where the Atlas ICBM story
[00:12:42.930]begins and ends rather quickly.
[00:12:44.980]After significant investment and four years of operation,
[00:12:48.450]the US military decommissioned
[00:12:51.130]the Atlas-F underground missile silos in 1965
[00:12:53.780]as newer technology and solid fuel rockets
[00:12:56.420]rendered them obsolete.
[00:12:57.860]The vertical silo configuration of hardened concrete
[00:13:00.050]and steel reinforcing was abandoned
[00:13:01.970]under the agricultural and grazing fields in the Midwest.
[00:13:04.600]The roughly five acre sites were sold back to the public
[00:13:07.150]and the history of the silos was left to folklore.
[00:13:09.720]Although some are back filled,
[00:13:10.990]many remains today in a state of ruins as cold war relics.
[00:13:17.650]I've been working on documenting these structures
[00:13:19.570]through redrawing them,
[00:13:20.403]referencing 1961 US Corps of Engineers
[00:13:26.400]These drawings serve as a manifestation
[00:13:27.940]of the 1960s design intent and give me vector files
[00:13:31.190]for subsequent phases of the work,
[00:13:33.730]which includes scanning the silos
[00:13:35.470]with contemporary imaging and modeling techniques.
[00:13:38.510]The goal of the project is threefold.
[00:13:40.430]Number one, to offer visual access
[00:13:42.060]to a piece of Cold War defense architecture,
[00:13:44.230]which is largely unavailable to the public.
[00:13:46.490]Number two, to document
[00:13:47.410]the unprecedented construction process,
[00:13:49.150]and number three,
[00:13:50.320]to compare the existing edifice
[00:13:51.690]with the 1960s construction documents
[00:13:53.530]to trace the impacts brought on by concurrency.
[00:13:58.100]I have access to two of these Atlas-F silo complexes,
[00:14:01.530]and as part of my recent sabbatical,
[00:14:03.100]I used photogrammetry to scan and develop
[00:14:04.910]three point clouds and mesh models of the underground ruins.
[00:14:07.920]The models capture the entry sequence, LCC,
[00:14:11.590]utility tube, and as much of the silo as possible,
[00:14:14.060]since the concrete tube currently houses
[00:14:16.400]over six million gallons of water from years of neglect,
[00:14:18.860]and that's just groundwater and rainwater
[00:14:21.260]that have collected in it.
[00:14:22.800]Various manifestations of the models
[00:14:24.340]include the dense point cloud,
[00:14:26.650]with over 250, sorry, 242 million discreet points,
[00:14:31.430]a triangulated mesh and a material mapped mesh model.
[00:14:35.440]The ground plain can be seen above
[00:14:36.960]in this dense point cloud.
[00:14:42.910]of careful digital imagery of the existing structure,
[00:14:46.250]with over 1,700 images collected.
[00:14:48.750]This animation shows a Jellyfish render
[00:14:50.510]of the complete photogrammetry model.
[00:14:54.820]Digital models were cut and rendered
[00:14:56.080]to offer unprecedented views of the silo complexes
[00:14:58.530]in their current state of decay,
[00:14:59.660]and you can see here the 3D model cut in half.
[00:15:03.390]So you're seeing through the utility tube,
[00:15:05.030]the stair access and the LCC.
[00:15:08.700]And the photogrammetry model,
[00:15:10.710]because of the way that it renders this,
[00:15:12.420]the floor becomes kind of glitchy.
[00:15:13.680]It is a complete floor that's there,
[00:15:15.240]but you can see that it's in a pretty rough state right now
[00:15:20.120]after being neglected for several years.
[00:15:25.535]Mesh exports were overlaid with developed section drawings
[00:15:28.440]to compare the two, 1961 design intent again
[00:15:32.240]versus the 2021 reality.
[00:15:34.080]And you can see moments here
[00:15:35.960]where the mesh model is what was captured on site
[00:15:39.380]from the photogrammetry,
[00:15:40.710]and then the dashed line shows
[00:15:41.970]what the 1961 construction documents were intended to be.
[00:15:45.250]A pretty close match.
[00:15:48.560]This is a testament to the accuracy of the photogrammetry
[00:15:50.650]and highlights slight variances
[00:15:51.820]between the two representations of the silo,
[00:15:54.000]for example, the difference
[00:15:55.700]in the locations of the egress stair
[00:15:57.050]from the LCC to the ground surface noted at the arrow here.
[00:16:00.190]So this is what the photogrammetry model captured,
[00:16:03.170]and then this is where the construction documents
[00:16:05.300]showed that that stair actually would exist or should exist.
[00:16:11.070]Ultimately, I aim to make
[00:16:11.930]these Cold War ruins more accessible
[00:16:13.600]and tell the story of their unprecedented
[00:16:15.220]and challenging construction.
[00:16:16.760]If built above the ground,
[00:16:17.840]these silos would've been the second tallest structures
[00:16:19.830]in Nebraska at the time they were built.
[00:16:21.900]In the US, remnants of 20th century defense architecture
[00:16:24.530]don't exist as spectacles for the public.
[00:16:26.860]Ruins like those of the ICBM program
[00:16:28.620]remain largely hidden to the general public
[00:16:30.480]and continue to degrade over time.
[00:16:32.740]Significant resources and effort
[00:16:34.240]were invested into these structures,
[00:16:36.050]and they're part of the local history.
[00:16:38.220]I argue that they shouldn't be lost to time,
[00:16:40.020]treated as if they never existed.
[00:16:43.520]To unearth and expand this story,
[00:16:45.130]I'm currently continuing to publication
[00:16:47.070]by positioning these Cold War ruins
[00:16:48.780]relative to several texts that have either theorized
[00:16:51.370]the historical role of infrastructure
[00:16:53.110]or industrial architecture,
[00:16:54.730]or used precedent as a catalyst for deployment of technology
[00:16:57.840]in the pursuit of extended comprehension.
[00:17:00.350]I look forward to forthcoming manifestations of the project
[00:17:02.630]as I continue to unearth the story
[00:17:04.540]of the Midwestern Cold War infrastructure.
[00:17:08.550]And with that, I will close.
[00:17:11.570]Yeah, that was super interesting.
[00:17:13.240]Do you think that the surrounding community,
[00:17:15.960]did they have any idea of what was going on at the time?
[00:17:20.570]It kind of varies.
[00:17:21.570]There's a lot of different stories.
[00:17:22.760]So as an example, there were,
[00:17:24.260]because this was built in a time
[00:17:26.260]when we were in a recession in the US,
[00:17:27.870]and so the amount of jobs that were developed
[00:17:30.060]out of this was pretty considerable,
[00:17:32.120]and so there were a lot of people
[00:17:33.060]that were moving from further out, you know,
[00:17:35.650]further out of the Midwest to be able to build these.
[00:17:38.750]There's stories of people opening up their barns
[00:17:41.610]as kind of an Airbnb really.
[00:17:43.900]They used it as a place for people to able to sleep
[00:17:45.620]and just have a place to stay.
[00:17:48.600]There was also one of the articles
[00:17:50.950]that was done by Nick Batter
[00:17:52.090]talks about there was newspaper publications
[00:17:55.540]that made it clear about what was going on
[00:17:57.950]and even offered their support,
[00:17:59.070]almost as an underwriting of the project.
[00:18:01.740]And so while I think it was generally known
[00:18:05.060]it was happening,
[00:18:05.940]I've got a series of newspaper article clippings
[00:18:08.310]from the Journal Star or the World-Herald
[00:18:11.910]that described the project,
[00:18:12.910]I think people knew it was happening,
[00:18:13.950]but the specificity of it,
[00:18:15.430]and even the exact location of these
[00:18:18.280]was not necessarily as clear.
[00:18:21.630]Do you have any idea about why Nebraska
[00:18:24.610]and why the Great Plains?
[00:18:25.890]Is it because you can dig far down
[00:18:29.380]or is it just because of the central location
[00:18:31.870]of the Great Plains in the US?
[00:18:35.750]Part of it had to do with,
[00:18:37.600]well, actually the World War II bunkers in Hastings
[00:18:41.860]were set up there because of the distance
[00:18:44.064]an aircraft could fly based on the amount of fuel
[00:18:47.280]it could carry in World War II.
[00:18:48.870]So they just couldn't reach those.
[00:18:51.050]That wasn't the case in the Cold War.
[00:18:52.550]We obviously had technology
[00:18:53.770]that could fly further than that,
[00:18:56.760]but the major reason for it in the Midwest
[00:18:58.520]was because of the fact that it was pretty open.
[00:19:01.750]There was plenty of fields and things like that
[00:19:03.540]to be able to do it.
[00:19:04.373]And also, the vector for the flight path
[00:19:08.130]was good from this area, which is why a lot of the them
[00:19:10.740]now are in North Dakota, South Dakota.
[00:19:12.760]It's the shortest distance from the north pole.
[00:19:16.630]And it also had a large number of,
[00:19:19.200]I mean, all of these are situated,
[00:19:20.500]there's typically 12 around different Air Force bases,
[00:19:25.900]so I think it's called Dyess in Texas has 12,
[00:19:32.786]there's one in Kansas, as well, that has another 12,
[00:19:35.010]and so they're kind of situated around these
[00:19:36.740]because they were typically controlled by the Air Force.
[00:19:43.210]Building them in the Midwest was a problem, though,
[00:19:45.520]because when you have a water table
[00:19:47.390]that's about 75 to 80 feet
[00:19:49.800]and you want to dig down 180 feet,
[00:19:51.410]you can just imagine if you were digging, you know,
[00:19:53.040]like if you dig in the sand at the beach,
[00:19:56.640]you go down far enough and water starts to just seep in,
[00:19:58.980]and that's exactly the problem they had,
[00:20:00.530]is that they were going down far enough
[00:20:02.000]that the water table was providing
[00:20:04.490]significant problems with the sandy soils
[00:20:06.660]and it would just keep caving in on them.
[00:20:09.490]When you visit these, the scale of it
[00:20:11.960]is just something you can't understand
[00:20:13.840]until you get into it.
[00:20:15.027]And so I've had students helping with the project,
[00:20:17.910]and I've also brought the silo as a site into design studios
[00:20:21.040]and brought students out to it,
[00:20:22.230]and it's something they never forget.
[00:20:25.060]You know, I've had students still come back
[00:20:26.600]and say that it's just something that they,
[00:20:29.727]it's a fond memory of their school experience.
[00:20:34.040]And I know your particular focus
[00:20:37.420]is on the Atlas-F, correct?
[00:20:39.830]And I know that in Western Nebraska
[00:20:43.097]and the kind of the southwestern part
[00:20:47.062]of the Panhandle near Kimball,
[00:20:49.088]there's some different models.
[00:20:50.850]And I think it was just two years ago,
[00:20:53.960]they were talking about some kind of replacement project.
[00:20:57.300]Is anything like that happening with the abandoned Atlas-F?
[00:21:02.510]They're pretty much unusable, especially now
[00:21:07.090]because of the amount of water that's in 'em.
[00:21:09.980]You know, they're about half,
[00:21:12.350]approximately half full of water.
[00:21:14.560]The water's actually very toxic,
[00:21:17.655]or actually, we theorize that it's very toxic.
[00:21:20.540]There is the environmental, EPA is still testing the sites,
[00:21:27.150]like the one that I've been to near Wilber, Nebraska.
[00:21:32.120]They're still going out every year to test
[00:21:35.170]to make sure that everything is still within
[00:21:37.585]a certain range of safety.
[00:21:40.500]I don't think there's any problems with it,
[00:21:41.830]but it's actually from what I understand,
[00:21:43.840]it's the cleaning solvent that they used
[00:21:46.264]that's causing the toxicity problems,
[00:21:48.580]because they would basically,
[00:21:50.400]they would, you know, clean things
[00:21:51.580]and then they'd just go dump it on site.
[00:21:53.420]They didn't worry about where they were dumping the water,
[00:21:55.060]and so it's left a pretty good tracing of that
[00:21:58.270]within the soil.
[00:22:00.140]I would've thought that it would be something
[00:22:00.973]that had to do with more nuclear materials
[00:22:03.830]or something like that,
[00:22:04.663]but it actually has very little to do with that.
[00:22:06.740]If you know close to where they're at,
[00:22:08.480]you can just through Google Earth,
[00:22:10.140]they haven't even blurred them out or anything.
[00:22:12.670]They're just a kind of a circle
[00:22:14.930]and you can see the square doors on the top.
[00:22:17.470]And again, if you know what you're looking for,
[00:22:19.274]you can know exactly what it is and where it is.
[00:22:23.650]Most of them, there's a lot of novice or amateur sites
[00:22:27.210]that are super interested in this stuff,
[00:22:29.330]and they've got GPS coordinates,
[00:22:31.050]so they're pretty easy to find now
[00:22:32.120]on Google Earth if you really want to locate them.
[00:22:36.360]And there's a lot of enthusiasts out there
[00:22:37.980]that, you know, as you can imagine,
[00:22:40.080]the owner of the one in Wilbur
[00:22:42.750]said that there's a lot of graffiti and things like that,
[00:22:46.470]just maybe from, I don't know if it's kids
[00:22:49.020]that are breaking into it and doing things like that.
[00:22:51.027]And if you hear that there's a missile silo,
[00:22:53.070]you might be interested in trying to do something like that,
[00:22:55.330]but I think each of 'em have their unique stories.
[00:22:58.190]I've heard even a story of the one
[00:23:00.350]that I think it's closer to Omaha
[00:23:01.850]that was for years, they've stored tires in it, old tires.
And, and again,
[00:23:10.660]I don't know if this is true or not,
[00:23:11.760]but you supposedly you're able to toss a tire
[00:23:14.970]down into the silo for a certain fee
[00:23:17.150]if you wanted to, just as a form of entertainment, I guess.
[00:23:20.160]So they all have their own unique sort of story to them,
[00:23:22.940]and again, maybe that's just folklore.
[00:23:24.460]Maybe that's not even true.
[00:23:25.996]It's just something I've heard
[00:23:28.040]as I've been talking to people
[00:23:29.980]and just hearing more and more stories about these.
[00:23:35.700]If people wanted to find out more about your work,
[00:23:38.250]where should they go?
[00:23:40.800]There's not really a website for it right now,
[00:23:42.810]because the project is still in such development.
[00:23:46.260]Probably the best thing is just to reach out
[00:23:47.524]to me through email.
[00:23:49.620]Great, sounds great.
[00:23:50.480]Was there anything else that we didn't ask about
[00:23:52.970]that you'd like to share?
[00:23:55.690]No, I think we covered it pretty well.
[00:23:57.530]I think, I'm trying to just get
[00:24:00.270]different categorical things about the project.
[00:24:02.750]One of 'em, like today was about the idea of it
[00:24:04.510]being hidden underground and unknown from certain aspects.
[00:24:08.120]There's some major technological things
[00:24:10.244]that were interesting about it.
[00:24:11.860]As an example, the LCC itself was,
[00:24:15.020]all the floors in it were completely suspended
[00:24:16.890]from these, like, large shock absorbers,
[00:24:22.330]and so the construction of that
[00:24:24.170]is just unprecedented, as well.
[00:24:25.470]It's pretty fascinating stuff.
[00:24:27.150]And so I'm trying to categorize the story
[00:24:30.310]into these different pieces,
[00:24:31.300]which again is heading towards,
[00:24:33.180]I think towards publication.
[00:24:34.390]So lots more of the story to tell,
[00:24:37.505]and I think it's just an addictive thing to me that I just,
[00:24:41.300]I'm just fascinated by it so I keep digging
[00:24:44.090]further and further into it.
[00:24:45.650]So I appreciate your interest in it
[00:24:48.300]and your willingness to feature it as a story.
[00:24:52.220]We'd like to thank Professor Kelly
[00:24:53.540]for speaking with us today.
[00:24:55.220]Find all of our short Great Plains talks and interviews
[00:24:58.330]as videos and podcasts at go.unl.edu/gplectures.
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