John Sims moved to Tucson, Arizona, hoping to live a more quiet life. He never expected it to become one of the most unforgettable moments of his life. It all started when the former owner of his new home told him about a disturbing rumor.
The house with a mysterious backyard
According to the elders in the town, they believe there was something mysterious buried somewhere in it. His friend never solved the mystery but maybe John would. As it turned out, John would uncover something and it will get the whole Arizona state talking.
Curiosity got the best of him
X marks the spot
Opening the hatch
John, later on, uncovered what seemed to be the entrance to a hatch. He bent down to clear away the dirt and pried the metal lid open. As a precaution, John made sure he did not inhale too much as there was a high possibility of mold spores or toxic gas fumes.
John left the lid open for about a day to let any air coming from down there waft out and give time to let fresh air into the structure. He also knew the air had to be tested for mold before he could go into the confined space.
It was not safe
The next morning, John took a look inside the hatch. He found a spiral staircase that was headed downwards. While most people would be so excited they would start heading down immediately, John was not that foolish.
He knew better. As a captain of the Rural/Metro Fire Department, he needed someone around in case the lid fell back in. He was home alone at the moment and there was no way he would be able to lift the lid on his own from underneath.
Forming a team
With all the training and experience John had rescuing people trapped in tight spaces, he knew all the risks. He could tell that the staircase was not stable and there were too many risks if he were to enter the shaft by himself.
So, John decided to form a team. He called some friends over to help him out. They could help him proceed with the excavation and some of them could be a spotter for when it was safe enough to explore what was inside the shaft.
Setting up a plan
When the group came together the next day, they sat down and made a blueprint. They also discussed how they should proceed. One of the first things they did was to repair and reinforce the concrete structure surrounding the stairs.
They set up Sonotube cardboard around the entrance to ensure that they do not damage anything as they worked. John and his team worked to set down layers of concrete and secure the rebar inside the hatch.
It was hard work
John had to put up a tarpaulin cover over the hatch not only to protect it but the team as well. The Arizona heat was starting to become a problem. During their breaks to cool down from the heat, they made guesses on what could be down there.
There was a lot to be done to find the answers. An electrical line had to be installed so that they can have proper lighting inside the shaft and they can use power tools if needed. A black pipe was also installed to funnel fresh air into the shaft.
Finding a way in
At last, their work around the structure was done. But the spiral staircase posed another hurdle. The steps were so rusty that there was no telling if it could sustain any weight. They had to find another way inside without using the stairs.
The team used a ladder and John had to climb down carefully, making sure he does not get any cuts from the rusty stairs. John was buzzing with excitement. He was going to be the first person to solve the mystery. This was the moment he had been waiting for.
There was more work to do
John was able to reach the bottom and was pleased to see that they did not have to do any more digging. But there was still more work to do. The ceilings of the tunnels were covered in fiberglass, which was slowly falling apart. This meant the structure was still not secure.
John explored around carefully and he could not believe that despite nearly half a century of neglect, the structure was mostly in good condition. The structure was bare but it became clear later on what it was – John had a nuclear bomb shelter in his yard!
Dating back to the Cold War
Suddenly, it all made sense. The shelter was built during the Cold War when tensions between the USA and the Soviet Union had the threat of an all-out nuclear war. Whitaker Pools turned out to expand their business to bomb shelters at the time.
In fact, there were several properties in the Tucson area that had bomb shelters. Back then, it was the best thing a responsible family man would do to make sure that their loved ones would be safe in case a nuclear war happened.
As it turns out, there was a lot of history when it comes to Tucson and bombs. Tucson was once a rocket town as it held 18 ballistic missiles that were capable to travel across continents and destroy an area of 900 square miles.
The missile silos were kept top secret by the government and when the Cold War was over, almost all of the rockets had been disabled. Most of the nuclear shelters were destroyed or sealed during the early 1980s as well.
When John posted about his backyard discovery on Reddit, his story immediately went viral. The post had hundreds of comments in just a few hours. Local newspaper articles and TV shows started calling to get interviews about it.
The story even spread to international publications like the Daily Mail. John’s story had also reached Japan. It was definitely a big find. And Tucson residents started to wonder if they had one in their yard too.
What is next?
All the attention allowed John to connect with other people in the area who also have fallout shelters on their land. He was able to ask them how they cleaned it out and get ideas from them about what to do with it.
While most people turned theirs into wine cellars or man caves, John plans to make a Cold War museum. John did a lot of research on the Cold War period and started collecting memorabilia like Geiger counters, water supply barrels, HAM radios, and sanitation kits.
His thoughts on his find
“I was really hoping it was going to be a little microcosm… a time capsule full of civil-defense boxes, radiation detectors, and cots and stuff like that,” John shared during an interview. Unfortunately, the bomb shelter did not even have furniture in it.
John also shared that he had been reading a lot about the Cold War. He believes that the Cuban Missile Crisis was probably the major cause for residents in Tucson to build bomb shelters in their backyards during the 1960s.
Advice for Tucson residents
For Tucson residents who are curious whether they also have a bomb shelter in the backyard, John suggests looking up records of the City of Tucson or Pima County for information. The information is most likely to be included in the building permits.
John also gives advice for everyone not to dive in too quickly once they find a bomb shelter in the yard. “Jumping into holes in the ground is generally not a good idea,” John continued to explain that toxic air in a tunnel or a cave-in can easily incapacitate anyone.
Asking for financial help
John has all the intentions of restoring the bomb shelter. But he did not have that kind of money. He set up a GoFundMe shape to help restore his bomb shelter from the 1960s. He planned to rebuild the entryway and work on the inside as well.
One of John’s major priorities was to replace the staircase so that people can enter it safely. With the funds that he was able to collect, John was just able to do that and now he and the team doing the renovations can safely go in and out.