Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Return to the Titan

Of all the well known urbex locations in Colorado, none can compare to the sheer size and power that is the abandoned Titan 2B missile base.  This location will rank in the Top 5 of anybody's lists of favorite places to explore in Colorado, it is that good.  This last week I made my third trip to this location, and I am still blown away by it.  And man, what a history behind this location.
The Titan missiles were developed during the Cold War as a show of U.S. military might. The Titan 2B missile based housed three mighty Titan 1 ICBMs.  These were one of the first strategic, intercontinental ballistic missiles developed by the United States.  Each Titan was 98ft long and weighed in excess of 200,000 pounds.  They were two-stage missiles, powered by kerosene(RP-1 fuel) and liquid oxygen and had an effective range of 6,300 miles.  They were designed to carry nuclear warheads as a counter to the growing Soviet military threat.
The Titan missile had a relatively short career.  The Titan program began in January of 1955 by the Martin Company, parallel with the Atlas ICBM program.  The Titan mission was two-fold, first as a back-up should the Atlas program fail, and secondly to be a larger, two-stage missile with a larger payload and longer range that could be used as a booster for space missions.  The first successful launch of a Titan missile happened on February 6, 1959, and the final launch happened a short six years later on March 5, 1965.
There were six squadrons deployed throughout five states.  Two in Colorado, one in California, one in Idaho, one in Washington and one in South Dakota.  Each squadron was deployed in a 3x3 pattern(that is, three bases each equipped with three missiles/silos).  Each base had three missiles along with one that would be kept in reserve.  This meant that a total of 60 Titan 1 missiles were in operation.
Each base was built entirely underground.  The bases included everything the crews and missiles would need for operation and survival.  They were built to be able to withstand a nuclear blast(fun fact- even the bathrooms were built to be entirely shock proof!).  The major downside to the Titan, was that it was slow to be launched.  The missiles would be fueled inside their silo(a 15 minute process in and of itself) and then had to be raised out of the silo for launch.  The missiles relied on radio guidance, as full internal guidance had not been perfected at the time.  This meant that a precise target had to be located by radar, and then adjustments would be sent to the missile as it was in flight to make sure it stayed on track.  The Titan carried an AVCO Mk 4 re-entry vehicle containing a W38 thermonuclear bomb.  The bomb had a 3.75 megaton yield and could be fused for air burst or contact burst.
Though deployed in 1961, the Titan 1 had already been eclipsed by both the Atlas ICBM and it's replacement, the Titan 2.  The Titan 2 was a bigger and more powerful ICBM that was fueled with storable hypergolic propellants.  After a brief period as an operation ICBM, the Titan 1 missiles were decommissioned in 1965.  While decommissioned Atlas and later, Titan 2, missiles were recycled and used for space missions, the Titan 1 missiles were simply scrapped.
The Titan 2B missile base was part of the 725th  Strategic Missile Squadron.   The 725th is currently an inactive unit and was last assigned to the 451st Strategic Missile Wing, stationed at Lowry AFB.  The 725th was activated in WWII as a B-24 Liberator heavy bombardment squadron in May of 1943.  Deployed in Italy in January of 1944, the squadron entered the war that same month as part of the Fifteenth Air Force.  An excerpt from Wikipedia: "The squadron also flew support and interdictory missions and helped to prepare the way for and participated in the invasion of southern France in August 1944. It transported supplies to troops in Italy during September 1944 and supported the final advance of the Allied armies in northern Italy in April 1945." The squadron returned home shortly after and was inactivated on September 26, 1945. The squadron was reactivated in 1961 as a Titan 1 ICBM launch squadron.  It was assigned to the 451st Strategic Missile Wing.  The squadron would be short lived, however.  The Titan 1 missiles were phased out of service in 1964.  The squadron was taken off alert status on February 17, 1965.  The last missile was shipped out for scrapping on April 15, and the Air Force subsequently inactivated the squadron on June 25, 1965.
Wow.  The history to the location is almost as incredible as the location itself.  Many times I have thought back on my visits, and every time I fail to find the words to accurately describe the amazingness, vastness and pure darkness that makes up a Titan base.  Once you step inside, you completely leave behind the world you knew.  There is no light down here.  There is no sound down here.  I dare you, if you visit, to shut off all your lights at one point and stand motionless.  You will be overwhelmed and blown away by the purity of the darkness and absolute silence you find yourself in.  I have been three times.  Each time I struggle to comprehend and fully appreciate the base.  Wandering the maze of tunnels, I cherish the fact that I am able to experience the location and be inside.  My mind wanders as I try to imagine what life was like working here.  I try to imagine a nuclear missile sitting ready inside one of the enormous silos.  I try to imagine the workers running through the corridors to wherever they are headed.  This is one of my absolute most favorite places on the earth(or should I say, under).  My photos barely do justice to capturing the beautiful black monster that is a Titan missile base. 

The generator room. This was the "heart" of the base. 

To cap off the post I want to give a quick shout out to another excellent blog, I Love Colorado History.  Please check out this blog! Filled with great historic information, fun stories and excellent photos.  

Friday, January 15, 2016

Exploring Strasburg

Strasburg, Colorado. This was my second location of the day. It is a small, out-of-the-way town east of Denver on I-70.   Many people have heard of it, many people have driven by it, but few know the two hidden gems it holds for urban explorers and history buffs.
Strasburg was originally named Comanche Crossing.  And this little town has a rich and surprising history.
Most people remember the "Golden Spike" ceremony, just outside of Brigham City, UT, as the completion of the first transcontinental railroad in the United States, but this is where Strasburg jumps into the picture.
Here is an excerpt from the Comanche Crossing Historical Society and Museum:
"On August 15, 1870, the last 10¼ miles of track were laid by two crews, one working from the east and one from the west in a record-breaking nine hours.
Fifteen months earlier, the golden spike ceremony had been held in Utah, to note the joining by rail of the eastern United States with the west. But the tracks joined at Promontory Summit connected only Omaha and Sacramento in a continuous chain. 
With the completion of the rails at Strasburg it became possible, at last, to board a train in New York and travel all the way to San Francisco by rail."
Strasburg(Comanche Crossing) is the actual location of the first TRUE transcontinental railroad in the United States.
The transcontinental railroad formed by the Union Pacific and Central Pacific had one small flaw, it had a "gap" in Omaha.  There was no bridge that crossed the Missouri River. Instead, passengers and freight had to disembark the train and cross the river on ferry before boarding another train on the other side.  Though back in those days the ferry was considered part of the rail line, but that still means the UP&CP railroad was not a true, continuous circuit. Instead, the honor of the first true transcontinental railroad goes to the Kansas Pacific Railroad. 
The Kansas Pacific Railroad completed the first transcontinental railroad at 3:00pm on August 15, 1870, at an obscure town then known as Comanche Crossing. 
This is from rgusrail.com "The first rail crossing of the Missouri between Kansas City, MO, and Kansas City, KS, Hannibal Bridge, was finished in July 1869, It joined the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad and points east through the Kansas Pacific to Denver. From there, the Denver Pacific connected to the Union Pacific at Cheyenne. So, when the "last spike" was driven at Comanche Crossing in August 1870, the first truly transcontinental railway was completed."
The settlement of Comanche Crossing was shortly after renamed Strasburg in honor of a Kansas Pacific official. 
Wow!!!! I did not expect to find that information out as I was researching for my blog post on my exploration of this out-of-the-way town in eastern Colorado! 
With this information and history, you may find yourself asking, 'Why do we not celebrate this? Why is the May 10, 1869 celebration of the transcontinental railroad completion in Utah the one we celebrate?' Well, Cliff Smith, curator at the Comanche Crossing Museum, may have the answer.
Smith said the May 10, 1869 celebration in Utah was a political exhibition for former President Ulysses Grant.
"President Grant had taken office earlier that year and wanted that as one of his accomplishments. It's a fraud," Smith told the Deseret News of Salt Lake City.

Greg Smoak, a historian and professor at the University of Utah's American West Center, also had a comment on the subject. He states that the ferries at the time were considered part of the railroad, and that the railroad running through Kansas City did not play as significant a role as the rail line running through Utah did of carrying people and freight across the continent. 
Quite the interesting and controversial history to such a small little town, isn't it? Who knew that right here in our Colorado backyard was such an important little town.  For anyone wanting to visit this site for themselves, it is marked by a marker(imagine that!) placed by the Comanche Crossing Historical Society and Museum.  The Museum is also open to the public but it's hours only run July 1 through August 31. 
When I stopped by earlier this week, I had no idea the amazing history behind this town.  I had read online about some old train cars sitting around and that was the point of my visit.  Pulling up to the location, my group and I did not see any "No Trespassing" signs so we pulled right on up to the abandoned grain elevators and got out.  A few train cars and engines sit around, but be careful, there is an active railroad track that runs through the property.  We checked out the Farmers Elevator(which dates back to pre-WWII!) but there was no access to the inside, only to a smaller outside room and one of the grain bins.  As we were walking back to the car, a red truck pulled out from the grain silos and drove up to us and stopped.This was the first time I have been caught on a location by(whom we assume to be) the owner. Here is the transcript of what followed: 
"What are you guys doing here?" he asked.
"Taking photos of the train cars." I replied as I lifted my camera to emphasize my statement. 
"Is that your white car parked up there?" he asked. 
"Yes sir." I replied. 
He pauses for a moment, looking me over before he says, "ok. Have fun."
And drives off. 
"That was slightly terrifying!" exclaimed my buddy Zach(from Hanging Negatives Photography)
"Yes it was!" I replied back. 
Wow! I had not been expecting that! Needless to say, we gave the grain silo another look over but found no way in, so we left.  
For more reading on Strasburg, follow these links: 

The owner driving up on us. He had been parked in between
the silos when we pulled up but the truck was unoccupied. 
Needless to say, when we saw him pull out we were all hoping
he would just drive by. Didn't happen. But we didn't have to worry.
Turned out he was totally cool with us taking photos. *phew!!*

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Sweet Sugary New Year

That sums up my start to the 2016 urbex year.
A couple years back, I hit up this location with a couple friends, but we had to beat a hasty escape as our exploring time was cut short when we ran into the owners.  How we were not seen or caught is beyond me, but we got out.  Ever since that day, I had always dreamed of returning and fully exploring this magnificent piece of Colorado history and of Colorado's urbex scene.
This is the Longmont Sugar Mill.
You cannot drive through eastern Longmont without noticing this beast.  The sprawling complex is easily seen from I-25, miles away.
Let's go back in time a bit, shall we?
Ground was broken for the mill in January of 1903.  A massive $1,000,000 investment kicked off construction.  This was an astronomical sum of money for the time, seeing as to how sugar beet mills only operated four months out of the year.  Longmont had very rich soil, making it an ideal location for sugar beets to be grown. Before the construction was even started on the mill, over 4,000 acres of sugar beets had been planted around the proposed location. There was some controversy surrounding the construction of the mill initially, as there was concern that there would be an over saturation of sugar factories around Longmont.
Once a compromise was reached, construction started on the Longmont Sugar Mill.  Here is an interesting piece of information concerning the construction of the mill from longmontian.blogspot.com, "The Longmont factory was the first in northeast Colorado to be funded exclusively with out-of-state capital, leading local factory organizers to remind Longmont citizens that the factory would not cost them a single penny."  The mill was built to handle 600 tons of processed beats daily, but there was a catch.  The mill was designed to be over built so that it could handle twice the initial capacity of sugar beats should it be necessary for the following seasons.  The mill was constructed by the Kilby Manufacturing Company of Cleveland, Ohio.  Only a couple years after construction, the mill was acquired by the Great Western Sugar Company, a company that would eventually own 15 sugar beet mills along the Front Range.
By 1920, sugar was the mainstay for Colorado, with harvest value almost 20 times what it was in 1900.   The Longmont Sugar Mill, in its heyday, was processing an unthinkable 2,500 tons of sugar beets DAILY. By using the simple equation of 1 ton of sugar beets = 300 pounds refined sugar, the mill was outputting almost 750,000 pounds of refine sugar a day. Wow!
To keep the refined sugar from sugar beats profitable, the Dingley Act of 1897 put a tax of $1.95 per 100 pounds of imported sugar.  This is effectively what kick started the building of sugar factories around Colorado.
The Longmont Sugar Mill employed 600 workers who worked around the clock to keep the mill flowing.  The mill also employed a 3,000 horsepower steam system. The steam system was harnessed through the entire mill via a complex system of pipes, levers, pulleys and more, and was the backbone that kept the sugar flowing out.  The mill also had it's own chemistry and assay departments, which would measure the sugar content of incoming beets.
Eventually, the sugar beet mills fell victim to imported cane sugar, and all but one of these great mills were shut down.  The Longmont Sugar Mill in particular closed it's doors for the last time in 1977.
All that remains now is but a ghost of it's once magnificent past.  Empty buildings sit abandoned, the machinery housed withing, idle and quiet.  A eerie silence perforates the entire complex, as all that can be heard now are the echoing drippings of water, flapping of pigeons and the occasional creak as a breeze weaves throughout the maze of pipes and walkways.
My return trip to kick off this year was incredible.  I was finally able to explore the vast maze of pipes and walkways in the northern building.  This is the closest you can get in Colorado to the famed factories of the eastern U.S. Walking amongst the silent machinery, I couldn't help but imagine the controlled chaos and noise that the mill produced on a daily basis.  It is sad that this is one of only four sugar mills that remain standing in Colorado.  This place is one of the most incredible and awe inspiring locations I have ever visited.

Historic photo of the Longmont Mill: 

Map of the mill:

Photos from my exploration: