Monday, August 2, 2010


This guy lives in an abandoned nuclear missile silo in Texas.

Bruce Townsley in the corrugated steel quonset hut that is one of the few above-ground structures on the site.

Head south of Abilene, Texas, cross a couple of intersections, look for a small lump in the road with mailboxes sprouting out of the ground, and you’re there. At the end of the driveway, an American flag and array of solar panels provide the only evidence of habitation.

Bruce Townsley built his house in an abandoned Atlas F missile site. During the Cold War (a.k.a. "The Good Old Days" - S.L.) Atlas missiles were stored vertically in their underground silos, with attached living quarters for the missilieers. More than 30 years after it was deactivated, Townsley bought the property in 1997 for $99,000; a 2,200 sq ft. fixer-upper.

A missile heads down the ICBM highway in central Texas on it’s way to a silo. During the early 1960s it wasn’t uncommon for motorists to pass these weapons of mass destruction on America’s interstate highways.

Construction of an Atlas missile silo. Circa 1960.

Two giant overhead silo doors cover the 185-foot hole in the ground where a missile armed with a nuclear warhead used to be. Townsley managed to get one of these massive doors up and running; with a lot of helping hands and a rented crane, he finally cracked it open.

Living in a missile silo means lots and lots of stairs:

Townsley takes the stairwell down to the first level of his house; the old crew quarters.

A set of 6,000-pound blast doors keep occupants safe during a nuclear attack. The doors curve inward to offset the vacuum effect of a blast – keeping everything inside from being sucked out:

The white “latticed” debris door is an added safety feature to keep whatever an explosion carries into the tunnels from making it to the control room.

All four of the doors are still fully functional – impressive in their size and precision, they take little more than a gentle shove to swing open.

Townsley’s living space is about 1,100 square feet and completely round. The room is essentially a concrete bubble suspended from the large column in its center.

When the site was an active missile base, this room “floated” on massive springs. This let the room move both up and down and side to side, which would absorb a bomb blast in the event that the Russians managed to get a shot off.

Every room in the structure revolves around the center pillar like a clock — kitchen, living room, office, bedroom — all separated by short partition walls built by Townsley.

Townsley has a clean aesthetic. His tastes in furnishings have a simple, feng-shui vibe.

Clutter disturbs the chi when you live in a round, totally open room.

“The hardest part was learning how to drywall on a curve.” It took some time adjusting to the subterranean lifestyle; “You have to get used to living without windows,” he says. “But I have a TV monitor [hooked up to] an aboveground video camera.” Another thing he didn’t expect was quietness. “It’s intensely quiet,” he says, “and I’m a quiet freak. But there was a time when I had to keep a fan on all day just to have some noise.”

Townsley’s James Bondian home includes a much, much larger feature – the 185 foot-deep missile silo.

To get to the silo requires navigating another set of blast doors and a corrugated steel tunnel.

When the silo was operational, this tunnel led to a fully fueled, nuclear warhead equipped Atlas F missile:

At the time it was being lowered into its silo, this Atlas F was the most advanced missile in the U.S. arsenal.

Some men tinker in the backyard shed or putter around the garage. Townsley has strung lights up in a 185-foot hole in the ground and has enough space and tools to tinker for the foreseeable future.

Seen from below, the giant silo doors give little hint that there’s a blue sky beyond. Such substantial doors required Townsley to get a little creative to prop it open:

“It’s your standard hydraulic lift,” Townsley says. “It’s just really big.”

Decades ago the lifts were a crucial part of the operation. Before the missile could be launched, the multi-ton, three-foot thick doors had to swing outward and allow an elevator to raise the missile toward the sky as quickly as possible. If an enemy attack was really underway, every second counted.

An Atlas F missile, flanked by the massive silo doors, is fully raised and ready to launch.

Concrete slabs and giant doors cover very deep holes in the ground, somber mementos of a time when many Americans felt that the end of the world as they knew it was just the push of a button away.

Many of the Atlas missiles were eventually launched, but instead of weapons for the Cold War they became tools of the space race, carrying satellites into orbit.

Photos: Jim Merithew/

Read more about converted Cold War nuclear shelters



  1. Sean...last time I was "back home" in AZ, we took a tour of the Titan Missile Silo just south of Tucson.

    Eye opening to say the least. I highly recommend it. They've completely restored it, the Docents are former AF guys that manned it, and it gives a really up close and personal glimpse at life in the Cold War.

    Don't know if I'd want to live in one though.....

  2. They've a minuteman missile control center for sale south of Cooperstown, ND

  3. Um ... one way in, sturdy yeah, but only one way out? Not for this boyo.