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Cold War Bunker Becomes Modern Mansion: ”
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In 1982, schoolteacher Ed Peden drove out to investigate a decommissioned nuclear missile bunker that was up for sale near his hometown of Topeka, Kansas. He found 34 acres of grass in need of mowing and, deep below ground, an 18,000-square-foot warren of concrete tunnels, most of it flooded with rainwater.

Peden stripped to his shorts and dropped a rope ladder into the flooded base. Most of the rooms were three-quarters flooded, and the water had stagnated for nearly two decades. Holding his nose to dive under doorways between the flooded rooms, Peden took his first tour of what would soon become his family home.

At the height of the Cold War in the early ’60s, the United States built dozens of missile bases across the Midwest to launch salvos of Atlas and Titan ICBMs. Typically, the sites were enormous underground bunkers, built to withstand a direct nuclear hit. Some resembled underground cities in their scale. The government spent millions of dollars building each of the sites but evolving weapons technology made them quickly obsolete. Most were shuttered after only a few years of war readiness.

The Topeka base, opened in 1961, housed a gigantic Atlas E missile armed with a 4 megaton thermonuclear warhead — a weapon 200 times more powerful than the bomb that obliterated Nagasaki. By1965 it was declared outdated because it took too long to open the missile bay doors. Nearly 20 years later Peden bought the base — which had remained abandoned all that time — for $48,000.

Today, retired from teaching, Peden is one of the Midwest’s leading missile base brokers. So far, he’s sold 48 of these forsaken sites, often selling the same site more than once when new owners become overwhelmed with the commitment needed to overhaul and live in an enormous government facility.

Join us as we tour Peden’s missile-base home and take a look back at the time that spawned these supersized structures.

Photo (above): Jim Merithew/

In 1961 America’s nuclear muscle was flexed, paraded down the streets of Topeka, Kansas. The United States wanted the entire world to know it was ready, willing and able to respond to any threat.

Photo: Courtesy of SiloMan at

The I-70 interstate skirts downtown Topeka. It stretches past miles of Kansas farmland, occasionally interrupted by a rest stop or filling station.

Heading west out of town you travel the same open road Ed Peden often drives to pick up groceries and visit civilization since moving into his nuclear missile base some 15 years ago. He has owned the place since 1983, but it took him 10 years to convince his wife to live there.

As the miles pass it becomes obvious why the government decided to build a cluster of missile sites where it did. If you think Topeka is in the middle of nowhere, then Missile Base Road is nowhere.

Off the exit, south 7 miles, left at the T, follow the curve to the right but not onto the gravel road, another couple of turns and you find yourself on Peden’s mile-long driveway.

Photo (above): Jim Merithew/

An ICBM arrives in Osage, Kansas in 1961. The missiles were often displayed in public squares for a while before heading out to the bases.

Photo courtesy: SiloMan at

The one structure Peden added to the property is a sunroom containing a hot tub. He built this small structure over the entrance to his living space and in the shadow of a castle turret. Friends built two faux castle turrets over the bunker’s escape hatches.

Peden is a former Topeka high school teacher-turned-real estate mogul, who specializes in selling off these abandoned missile bases. He is also media savvy, as evidenced by the dozens of newspaper and magazine clippings taped to a hallway wall. He glorifies living underground, but carefully measures his words.

Photo (above): Jim Merithew/

The landscape of Peden’s Atlas missile bay is similar to this historical aerial photograph of a similar site, except most of the outbuildings were removed years ago, and his parking lot is completely empty.

Photo: Courtesy of SiloMan at

Peden’s missile base is an early design. The Atlas E missile it housed was stored horizontally in a missile bay. (The entrance to the bay can seen in the background).

To ready the missile for firing, the bay’s roof was retracted and the missile lifted into a vertical position. It was then fueled and prepped for launch. This design didn’t last long, as it became apparent that too much time was lost preparing the missile for action.

Photo (above): Jim Merithew/

After being paraded through the streets of nearby towns and cities, the missiles were delivered to their respective bays and silos. In the cavernous bay that once housed a nuclear missile, Ed Peden now stores his lawnmower and other toys.

Photo courtesy: SiloMan at

Peden, who often gives tours of his missile base, likes to start them in the garage. Walking down the ramp to his garage door you can understand why: It’s huge.

The massive motorized bay door, which measures 18-by-20 feet and weighs more than 47 tons, gives you some idea of what lies behind it. Beautifully engineered and made from the finest steel, the door still works like a charm, even after spending years submerged under eight feet of water.

Even before all the water was pumped out, even before the electricity was working, Peden cleared out the missile bay with a wheelbarrow, a shovel and a miner’s cap. He removed the sludge one trip at a time. It was a mess, but he was determined.

Today the missile bay houses Peden’s Winnebago, a tractor and various other vehicles, including an old MG Midget with a For Sale sign in the window. His Winnebago is parked right on top of a massive exhaust pit — now covered by a huge steel plate — that would have expelled the missile’s flaming rocket plume as it shot out of the bay. There’s also a workroom next door where Peden has built airplanes. (Yeah, full-sized airplanes. Not models). It’s a tinkerer’s paradise.

Photo (above): Jim Merithew/

AIT-3 Tapes

A contemporary photograph shows the missile bay as an Atlas is backed in through the garage door. The 47-ton door at the end of the bay is still completely functional at Peden’s base, but the retractable roof is no longer operational.

Photo: Courtesy of SiloMan at

The first of two tunnels out of the missile bay leads to a platform. A second, 120-foot tunnel leads to the Peden’s living space. ‘Not many houses have tunnels,’ said Peden. ‘We have one. We like it.’

Peden says that he and his wife inhabit only 6,500 square feet out of the base’s 18,000 sq ft. Their two daughters grew up here, learning to ride their bikes on the extensive driveway, but have since grown up and moved out.

Photo (above): Jim Merithew/

This 1965 photograph taken in Worley, Idaho, shows an Atlas missile bay tunnel, lined with hardhats. The government ripped out all of the hardware when the site was decommissioned.

Photo: Courtesy of Eldon Wilford via

Peden shines a light on a photograph of an Atlas E ICBM, the type of nuclear missile stored at his house in the ’60s. Peden, who has given countless tours of the facility, has also put a lot of effort into collecting photographs and other items from the time.

Photo (above): Jim Merithew/

Another 1965 photograph of an Atlas-E ICBM inside a missile bay much like Peden’s. This one was in Worley, Idaho.

Photo: Courtesy of Eldon Wilford via

Ed Peden’s tunnels lead to his living space, on the left, and into his cavernous garage, on the right.

Photo (above): Jim Merithew/

Blueprint of an Atlas E missile bay.

At the entrance to the living quarters is a control panel, very similar to the one that was originally housed here. Peden, shown here, had to buy a replacement since the original was long gone by the time he arrived.

Photo (above): Jim Merithew/

The operational technical manual must have been fascinating reading. This one put a deputy missile combat crew commander to sleep in front of his Atlas F launch console.

Photo: Courtesy of SiloMan at

Historic photographs line the walls at the entrance to Peden’s living quarters. Pictured is a photograph of an Atlas site from 1964. The Atlas E site he lives in was operational from 1961 to 1965, then decommissioned. It was home to a 4-megaton warhead.

Photo (above): Jim Merithew/

The crewcuts meet to discuss a looming missile erection demonstration at an Atlas E missile bay, sometime during the early ’60s.

Photo: Courtesy of SiloMan at

Peden remodeled part of the base into a residential area, adding, among other things, two kitchens for his wife, who loves to cook. He also built an office for himself and a bedroom for each daughter, both left untouched since they flew the nest. At his wife’s request, Peden keeps the master bedroom off limits for tours.

The highlight of this portion of the house is the spiritual room, formerly the missile control room. Three men manned the controls 24/7 between 1961 and 1965. Now, very deliberately, it’s filled with spiritual artifacts from all over the world.

Peden had the room checked out by some of his more spiritual-minded friends. ‘The room had some heavy energy,’ he says. He thinks it’s ironic that someone with his liberal political views lives in a structure built for such an ominous purpose. ‘We think we are the antithesis to the American military,’ he says.

Photos: Jim Merithew/

The final stop on the tour takes you through the upstairs dining room, where the diesels that powered the site used to live. The room’s glass doors lead to a balcony overlooking the largest and most impressive room in the ‘house.’

Now it is lit with chandeliers, hung with delicate fabrics and covered in richly colored carpets, a gathering place for the Pedens and their friends.

Up the spiral staircase to a sunroom, the tour ends. After an hour below the surface in Peden’s castle one can appreciate seeing the light of day and relaxing in his above-ground hot tub.

Photo (above): Jim Merithew/

The power room of an Atlas E missile bay in Worley, Idaho, in March 1965. First Lt. Eldon Wilford, S-16, left, and Arthur Huber, S-16, stand next to the diesel generators.

Photo: Courtesy of Eldon Wilford via

(Via Wired: Culture.)


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