The fourth time I went to the Ford Sand Mines was not an exclusive Action Squad trip, but a part of "Mouser Week 2," the second biannual conference of Midwestern urban adventurers; it was time to share our find.
Mouser, a native Minnesotan, returned from MIT's vadders, Jim and Ben came up from Iowa, and Peter and Mike are members of the team responsible for the Minneapolis Drain Archives.
The weather was not pleasant at all; it was about -25 degrees with the windchill, and there was about 18 inches of snow on the ground. We decided to take a different route to the tunnel entrance, which involved walking 3/8 of a mile through the woods. We sustained our first injury of the night when Ben, who is tall and was wearing a hood that limited his visibility, walked right into a large tree that was bent over the path.
He was last in the line, so no one saw it happen. Instead, we heard a heavy, meaty "SMACK!," followed immediately by a grunt of pain. We turned around and found Ben lying in the snow on his back, not moving. Just when we realized he wasn't kidding and might be unconscious, he rolled over, cursing. After a moment ot two of rest to regain his sight, he was ready to continue.
We made it the rest of the way to the lighted area outside the plant and near the tunnel entrance without incident. Then we had to make a mad dash through a well-lit area, which was a bit chancy as we'd seen several vehicles driving up and down the road we had to cross, including what appeared to have been a Ford security truck.
No one stopped us, however, and we dove down into hiding by the door to the tunnel system. Inside, it was blessedly warm, and we went down to the main tunnel system (only Jim and I had been there before, and he'd only been a very short distance in, due to a noisy and frightening collapse of part of one of the giant freight elevators).
Nothing new to report about the mine shafts, other than that we took some time to make some little sand castles in the pile of sand next to the water pit, near the equipment room. Oh yeah! We also went down a shaft that was the parallel twin to the big entry shaft, which dead ended in the same green sliding doors and ladder to a sealed trapdoor. But at the end of it, we found a cross bearing several Ford Motors patches and plaques, with an epitaph reading, "Paul Moriaty: He loved it here so much that we buried him here." Creepy. This was also where I found Bugs, a fully articulated rabbit skeleton.
Anyway, we did the tunnels for awhile, and then headed toward the super rusty ladder rungs of doom, which we assumed from the sounds above, led up into the Ford Plant. Jim scaled the plant-side rungs to see if they went anywhere, and when he reported that they seemed to do so, we all made the treacherous ascent. This had to be done one at a time; the rust was so heavy on the rungs that every time a person went up them, a shower of rust flakes and chunks rained down. In fact, when Jim was climbing up, poor Ben got injured again, by a falling chunk of rust that cut his hand, even though he was standing well back from the rungs.
At the top, a small area featured a short ladder going up into a fan, which we pushed aside like a motorized manhole cover. We found ourselves in a very large room filled with electric equipment and high voltage signs everywhere. We quickly realized that we were in the main power transformer center for the entire Ford Plant. We would have been in very deep shit if they caught us there, the most sensitive area in the sprawling complex. It was awesome.
The only way out was a set of doors leading up into what looked like a vast assembly area. Since fleeing from a security guard would take so long due to the condition of the ladder rungs back into the tunnels, we opted not to continue into the plant, and went back down. It would have been perfectly possible to go home right then, and still have had one hell of a successful mission under our belts. But when I suggested we go down and also infiltrate the hydro plant on the dam (which is connected to the tunnels as well), everyone was up for it. We were un-fuckin-stoppable.
On the way there we saw the same mouse (I assume) that Action Squad had spotted the last time we'd been in the tunnel, and trying to get a photo of the speedy critter captured our attention for awhile. It was Mouser Week, after all. The Hydro Plant was a freaky place to sneak into, because it was mostly well lit up and we knew from the vehicles outside that there were at least a few people working in there.
The tunnel led into an electrical room, and from there, we crept into a large basement area that housed the Hydro Plant's four giant turbines, 2 of which were spinning like dervishes at the time. Spiral stairways went down around each turbine, there were devices and machines and shit everywhere, and it ruled. We tried to avoid the lighted areas as much as possible, since we had no idea where the workers were stationed.
Jim found a trapdoor at the base of a stairwell. We opened it up and descended a dilapidated staircase so steep that it was basically a ladder. It was freezing in the cavernous space we wound up in. It had cement walls, and was littered with piles of rotten and rusted equipment. The ceiling 20 feet or so above our heads had several grates which led to outside.
After exploring the entire space, we found no other way out, so we headed back up into the turbine room of the hydro plant. The only ways to explore from there were up staircases into lighted areas where the workers were. We had been exploring for about 5 hours by this point, and were tired as hell (not to mention that Jim, Ben and myself had also been up the whole previous night exploring the Nicollet Tunnels & Caves and the U of MN Steam Tunnels).
We decided to head back out through the tunnels while our legs still worked (walking through deep snow and loose sand is a killer). We had no way of knowing what an unexpected workout our abused bodies were about to get ...
When we got back to the tunnel entrance, Mouser went up to the top of the ridge to serve as a lookout while we put the entryway back to its original condition. This completed, we prepared to head back to the cover of the woods. It was snowing pretty heavily, and we were optimistic; it would even cover our tracks for us. We'd pulled it off perfectly. Heh.
I was right behind Mouser, and heard him when he gasped; "oh shit!" "Look over there," he whispered to me. To our right, lurking behind some trees at the edge of the road with its lights off, was a Ford Security SUV. It was right next to us, and the engine was idling. There was nothing nearby except for the tunnel entrance, so we knew it was no coincidence. We were fucked.
"Should we run?" "Yes!" "We're going to run?" "Let's do it." "We're running?" "Go!" We came up out of the woods running through the snow like madmen, and I am sad to say I abandoned poor Bugs the rabbit skeleton in my haste to escape.
I saw the headlight come on, and heard the truck come after us. I did, I swear … but only in my adrenaline-soaked imagination. We made it all the way across the road and behind the plant and into the woods and down the bluff on our asses and along the river, and no one came for us, no one yelled out, nothing. The truck hadn't moved.
Someone suggested that whoever it was had just called the police on their radio when we came out, and as we trudged through the snowy woods back toward where we'd left the cars, we ran over our options for cop evasion. We also discussed what we'd seen of the truck, and we all agreed it had an inch of fluffy snow on it, indicating it had sat at the tunnel entrance idling for at least an hour or two. We could not recall with any certainty if the windshield had also been covered with snow, which would make a difference in evaluating the situation.
As it turned out, no police were waiting for us back at the car, and we made it to the car alive and unapprehended. At Perkins afterward (we found one still open 24 hours!), we reviewed what had happened. Clearly, the truck was there due to us; there was nothing else around. We had no way of knowing, however, if they had actually seen us going in, or if they had just seen that the tunnel entrance door was open.
Where had the security guys been, though? Weighing the evidence, three options seem possible:
1) They had gone into the tunnels after us and missed us while we were infiltrating the assembly and hydro plants
2) There had been a guy in the truck waiting for us to pop out, and he'd fallen asleep or something while we were in there for hours
3) The combo platter: they'd sent one or more guys in after us and left one out in the idling truck, who had fallen asleep or otherwise missed it somehow when we ran away into the snowy night like bats outta hell.
I personally think #2 is most likely, but no matter what, it is hilarious. You see, putting the entry back to its original condition included taking steps that make it impossible for anyone to get back out the door from the inside. So if anyone had been in there looking for us, they would have to go all the way through the Hydro plant to get back out again.
Even if no one had been after us inside, the poor guy in the truck would feel like quite the idiot when he realized that someone, somehow, had replaced all the shit on the doorway and vanished without him seeing a single thing. No matter exactly what happened, one thing seems reasonably certain, and that is that there are some very, very pissed off and confused Ford security guards wondering how the hell we escaped. They must know that somewhere out there, somehow, someone is laughing at them.
Sorry, guys ... we were just doing our job.