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Cozy Living in a Kansas Cold-War Relic : Lifestyles: Couple fashioned a three-level home in an abandoned missile silo outside Topeka. There are no home security worries, but the front door takes some getting used to.

December 10, 1995|JOHN HANNA | ASSOCIATED PRESS

MAPLE HILL, Kan. — The garage door of Ed Peden's workshop weighs 47 tons. It's steel, painted gray, 20 feet wide and 18 feet high.

Visitors to his home have to wait a good 30 seconds for him to answer the doorbell. The front door sits at the end of a long and cramped underground tunnel with curved walls and a curved ceiling of ribbed steel.

Peden lives in what used to be a nuclear missile silo.

In what once housed an 82-foot Atlas-E rocket and a command center where two officers sat ready to push launch buttons that would bring about nuclear doomsday, there is a three-level home with an antique piano, comfortable furniture and all the other accouterments of civilized living for Peden and his wife, Dianna.

The Pedens have been living in their Cold War-era home for 18 months. Heat is provided by a wood stove, and there's no need for air conditioning: The summer's top inside temperature was 76 degrees. The chances of getting inside uninvited--whether you're a burglar or a tornado--are slim.

"This structure was built to withstand a one-megaton blast within a mile," Peden said. "It's the ultimate underground home."

In the 1960s, a right turn off Kansas 4 onto this lonely paved road 20 miles west of Topeka would have brought you into a secured Air Force area--and into a world of trouble if you didn't have the proper clearances.

Now, the only air force here is a fleet of light recreational planes under construction in Peden's workshop and ready for test flights on the small airstrip on the ground above.

The kitchen, living room and study have a cozy, rustic feel, mostly because of the white cement walls and unfinished wood floors, which are waiting for carpet.

Sunlight filters through a greenhouse-type window that covers the 6-by-10-foot opening once used to lower equipment inside.

The silo--actually an underground trench 15 feet deep, 90 feet long and 40 feet wide--was one of 118 Atlas sites built by 1961 in Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Washington, Wyoming and California. By 1965, all were abandoned, rendered obsolete by better missiles such as the Titan and the Minuteman.

The government left the bases behind to cities, school districts and private citizens. Some were neglected. Peden said his silo had become "kind of a party zone. I think young people liked to come here and drink beer and have fun."

The hole now covered by the greenhouse window was open to the elements for years. More than 8 feet of water accumulated in the missile bunker and the command center.

Peden marveled at the size of the missile project, as well as the sheer waste involved. The government poured about $33 million into the nine sites around Topeka, abandoning them after only four years.

"It's tremendously overbuilt," said the 48-year-old Peden. "Money--it didn't matter."

Peden and several partners, whom he later bought out, paid a salvage dealer $40,000 for the silo in 1984.

Peden was a teacher in Topeka for 19 years. When he tired of the job in 1992, he bought a small Tulsa, Okla., company that manufactures ultra-light airplanes and moved his workshop into the bunker and its adjoining rooms.

He said the overhead for his home and business are reasonable. Electric bills have run as high as $240 a month, but that's for lighting and outlets for 16,000 square feet.

Many of the 450 missile sites under control of the federal General Services Administration have been or will be destroyed under the terms of two arms treaties with the former Soviet Union.

Peden and another partner have formed a new business, 20th Century Castles. They hope to broker other sites in Kansas and have options to buy two.

Jerry Moore, a realty specialist with the GSA in Fort Worth, said converting a missile base makes some sense. Each Atlas site sits on about 25 acres and has a paved access road and thousands of square feet of space in two giant underground, concrete bunkers.

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