The night we finally got into the Ford tunnels did not get off to a smooth start at all. First, the two gals that had promised to go with bailed out at around 11:00 PM, leaving us without a ride and with two people. So we were faced with the prospect of sitting home all night drinking with my roommate and his band … which would be fun, except that we were keyed up to give the Ford tunnels another attempt (we'd tried to find the entry point before and failed).
So, we decided we would ride our bikes from my home in Minneapolis to the Ford Plant in Saint Paul. When we arrived quite awhile later, we hid the bikes and started to look for a hole in the barbed wire fence that stood between us and the area that seemed most likely to feature an entrance to the tunnels. We strove to be stealthy as we scaled the fence and began to walk along in the woods. Yeah, right.
The woods were fucking full of vines that wanted to trip us, thorns specially bred to tear up our exposed arms and faces, and dead sticks that broke with huge cracks if you so much as looked at them. Oh yeah, and let's not forget the avalanches of rocks that would start if you went near the edge of the small drop off … they were so loud it was ridiculous.
Add this to the fact that we really had no good idea of where the entry was, and we were not sitting pretty at all. In disgust and frustration, we decided to abandon Plan A. Of course, we had to think up a Plan B.
The area we were trying to sneak into was well lit, had people coming and going pretty steadily, and also featured security cameras. We decided to hide our more incriminating gear in the woods and to ride our bikes in past the security cameras and such. The theory, as I recall, was that if we went really fast, we would be less likely to get caught. Well, it worked.
We zoomed in and started searching for a tunnel entrance, feeling very exposed in the open with our bikes in the bright lights. The first thing we found was what we immediately dubbed "The Disappointing Hole." It was a former entrance to the mining tunnels, but was caved in completely about 4 feet inside. We found another door that almost certainly led into the mine tunnels, but it was padlocked, well lit, and right across from a well-windowed and active building (the Hydro Plant).
We lifted up a drainage cover in the road, but it only led to a shitload of spiders and bugs and a dead end. We were feeling almost beaten by this point … but of course, Goonies never say "die," so we decided …
* (this section censored to prevent stupid people from ruining everything) *
"Holy shit," I heard myself whisper involuntarily. We'd made it: we were in the tunnels. And damn, it felt good.
Of course, having ditched most of our gear, we had only my headlamp and Urban's camera, but that would have to do. The initial tunnels were sandstone, with soft sand floors that were clearly the result of the ceiling falling in piece by piece. These first tunnels we explored were not mining tunnels, but power cable tunnels. Almost immediately, we found a vertical shaft with the rustiest, nastiest, and most unsafe rungs I've ever seen, sunken into two of the walls.
I started up, but the rungs got even worse higher up (over half their thickness was crumbling off when I touched them), and Urban did not have his own light. I came back down and we went back to the intersection, where we took a different branch. This brought us to a place where there were tunnels below us, and huge concrete tunnels ahead of us. I mean huge. I'm going to let the photos we took describe this part.
It was awesome down there. We found huge freight elevator shafts at least 20 feet across and about four stories high. Every time we turned around there were more tunnels: branching off, above us, and below us. The concrete tunnels gave way to sandstone with rotten wooden floors.
As we progressed, we started hearing a sound ahead of us that, to be honest, was scary as hell. It was loud, irregular, and impossible to describe. I thought it might be someone rolling a rusty old cart along some mining tracks, if that helps. There were only two of us, we had one little light, and it sounded like there was a fucking demon ahead.
After waiting awhile to be sure whatever it was wasn't getting closer, we moved cautiously forward. Anti-climatically, the demon turned out to be just the pipes. There was some weird system that sent irregular pulses of water racing through a pipe, and there was a place where the pipes took some crazy turns. The water crashing through the twists made the noise.
Down a different tunnel we found a ladder and stairwell that descended into what we thought was a subsystem of tunnels that were completely filled with water. The metal equipment down there was heavily corroded, in the manner of the Titanic wreck.
By now it was four AM, the batteries in my headlamp were fading, and we decided to head out before either the light died or we got so exhausted that we were unable to ride our bikes back home. We vowed to return the next night with more people and more lights.