Mine the Harvest

Toorcamp: Taking the Hack Underground

by on Jul.04, 2009, under IT Adventures, Linux, My Life

(You can find the first post here with a bit more info.)

After the Toorcamp officials negotiated it out, the owner (collectively known as Mr. Ass-Wee-Pay) finally allowed access to the missile silo today. This made a huge difference in the whole experience at Toorcamp. Otherwise, as my brother so perfectly put it, the event was a bit like:

“Come to a hacker fest at an abandoned nuclear silo!*”

(*Silo not included)

Fortunately all this changed today, and the site was fully opened to workshops, talks and tours. Way to go Toorcamp guys!

It was utterly awesome. While camping on the surface was pretty un-enjoyable with the extreme dust and heat, the silo was completely different. The temperature was easily 25-30 degrees F less in the silo. In fact you could only stay about 2 hours before you would become uncomfortably cold and want to return to the surface. Good thing I thought ahead enough to bring a fleece pull over to the desert!

I took many, many pictures of the silo and will cull a few of the best for this blog post, and others can be found on my gallery.

The Titan Missile Silo:

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The entrance was a steel and concrete hatch easily a foot think. It was propped up (literally) on supports, themselves not bolted down. The ingress / egress safety briefing included strict instructions not to touch the hatch in any way. Think of a rabbit trap made out of a box and you get the idea.

You then proceeded down a very narrow passage and flight of stairs, forcing a single person to enter. This was engineered to allow a guard to be able to hold back any number of people attempting to infiltrate the entrance. A 10 year old with a slingshot could defend this entrance.

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After this, at about 20 feet down you entered the main lift tower. The elevator of course was long since removed, so you descended the five flights of stairs – sturdy and steel plated until you arrived at the bottom of the lift and the main entrance. Here tunnels ran off in four directions. Two lead immediately into the control and power domes.

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The power dome (above) was massive, originally housing the generators. A section of the ceiling of this dome had been opened (after being excavated) to allow access to the facility and removal of the generators and other equipment. All other parts of the facility are still completely buried. The moss growing is due to the ceiling being open to the sky.

(Just click below to read more.)

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The control dome was used to host workshops, as were various rooms and tunnels. It was great to look into a room to see a

maker-bot being constructed, or see a crypto workshop being delivered at the end of a tunnel.

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Graffiti, all dated from 1982 to 1986 proliferates in the domes and main entrance sections, the silo having been broken into during this period and subsequently resealed. Affirmations of “AC/DC Rules!” and “Black Sabbath Rocks!” were amusing.

The Tour:

Understand: This was not like any tour you have likely taken. There were sections of missing plating, and open pits you could fall into. There were no safety rails, etc. It was definitely pretty raw. I’ve been in several underground mines, abandoned and in production, and this place was every bit as dangerous.

We were extremely fortunate to get guided tours of a considerable portion of the facility. This place was HUGE, far more extensive then I anticipated. Bobbie, the head security guy for Levitate, was kind enough to conduct hour long tours, back to back, for hours on end most of Saturday and Sunday. This guy rocked and really went out of his way. I can say for sure my group appreciated this, every person of which thanked him – what an awesome guy.

The tour included showing us the power dome, the radar silo, one of the three missile silos, the machine and living quarters, blast valves, and the various connecting passages. Some deserve special description.

Radar Silo:

The radar silo, approx. 30′ in diameter contained a platform which would be used to hoist the radar above ground, thus keeping it underground and shielded from EMP. The entire platform was shock protected – you could manually shove it around with several feet of clearance around the perimeter. The radar itself, and its huge counter weight had been removed.

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The Missile Silo:

Definitely a highlight of the tour. This was unlike any tour you have taken: Bobbie stood at the brink of the huge pit, supporting himself by grasping a large shackle in the corridor roof with his left hand, and holding his right arm out to grab the wall. Each person, one at a time, would then step forward and grab his shoulder and the wall. No guard rails, no harness, no tie off, no platform or net. This was dangerous as fuck man. You could then peer 110′ straight down and look another 50 or 60′ up. The silo was huge. He would shine the light to show the depth markings on the silo wall and various features. Very cool.

Titan’s where actually raised to the surface on huge carriages, they were not launched from within the silos. I can only imagine seeing three nukes being hoisted to the surface.

Passages:

There is a network of connecting passages, most very safe and a few with missing sections of catwalk, etc. They connected the three missile silos to the heart of the complex. It was interesting to see the marked decline of graffiti the further out you went.

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The passages where all 10′ circular construction made from steel rings bolted together – most likely encased in structural concrete on the other side. The passages leading to the missiles where about 200 feet or longer.

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Mechanical / Crew Facilities:

This consisted of five stories of various rooms. The mechanical shops, crew facilities, etc. were located in this section. Again, this had been partially demo’ed to allow extraction of equipment, etc. and you could look straight down through all the floors through an access pit. Again Bobbie would have people come up one at a time so you could see down to the bottom of the facility.

Nuclear Winter Party

Saturday and Sunday there were parties. The main stage both nights hosted techno in a dome and stage constructed for this atop one of the missile silos . There was plenty of room in front of it for dancing. The bars where open, and when you stepped up you would be greeted with a friendly “Beer or Booze?”

Yes, indeed: Free as in beer.

The music both nights when on until 3 or 4am. Though honestly we turned in usually around 11pm or midnight. But it was fun to walk around the camp at night and visit.

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Apocalypse Camping

At night the camping area looked like a cross between something from “The Road Warrior” and some sci-fi movie. The the tents, domes, electronics, etc. all in a primitive camping area looked like some post-apocalypse community on the fringe of a wasteland.

Saturday Night Keynotes:

Emmanuel Goldstein (Founder and editor of 2600) gave a speech, which I’ll try to find the link for. imag0123

Next up was Monochrome. Wow – this was pretty trippy. It was this non-sequitur talk, delivered by this really quirky Russian guy. I’m a bit at a loss for words to describe it – he pulled off this hour long skit that seemed to bash capitalism and promote his fictitious tiny isolated Soviet country with a satiric humor that is difficult to explain.

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Ambassador Nikita Perostek Chrusov representing hisbeloved Soviet Unterzoegersdorf

It was pretty good though – especially with a bit of croud volunteered participation (“Groaning out “BRAINS!” in zombiesque voice when Zombies where mentioned, encouraging the speeker with chants of “VGA! VGA! VGA!” when he encountered difficulty with the projector.)

And with that Saturday night ended. More workshops followed on Sunday, which I will describe in thier own post. But I hope you got a feel for what Toorcamp was like. Hopefully it will be held again – perhaps again at the Titan silo, perhaps at a new venue. If so, I will try to attend again. The people you meet are great, and the environment and culture awesome. Here is to a great time and hopefully to many more.

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