Minneapolis / Saint Paul / Twin Cities urban exploration
CUBICLE COMMANDO: Action Squad in a Dilbert World

Members: Max Action
So I had this job in downtown Minneapolis near the old Soo Line Railroad Building. Office job: working in a cube, dressing office casual, hating every moment. You know, the stuff Dilbert cartoons are made of. It was boring, my bosses were complete and utter shitheads, and my coworkers were almost all the kind of uninteresting morons you have to expect to find working in a cubicle environment. But hey, they paid me to do mostly nothing, and I got to read a lot. Every day we had a couple of 15 minute breaks. Some people smoked on their 15 minute breaks. Others sat around and ate and got even fatter. I bought disposable cameras from a skyway gift shop and explored every nook and cranny of the Soo Line building, more often than not returning to my cube afterward with my stupid polo shirt and khaki pants streaked with dust and grease. It made my day g o by faster. Once I had run out of places to explore, I quit my job.

White water tanks in the attic
The Soo Line building has 18 "real" above ground floors. In addition, there is a basement, a subbasement, a 2 floor, an elevator room, and a 19th floor known as "the attic." The five regular elevators do not go up there: access is limited to the stairwells or the freight elevator. The whole floor was originally built as one large open area without dividing walls, but over time they've partitioned it off into storage areas using plywood, padlocks, and chickenwire. Most of the attic is unfortunately just full of boxes and file cabinets full of not-old-enough-to-be-interesting papers, but there were a couple of points of interest. If you scale one of the 2x4 and chickenwire walls in one corner, you get to hang out with some large white tanks of some kind with pipes and gauges and such bristling out of them. I don't know what they were. In this same area was a small door which led into a particularly pipe-clogged vertical pipechase that ran the height of the building. Other than this area and some rather boring modern equipment in the opposite corner, the only other point of interest was the large metal trapdoor in the ceiling, which I'll be getting to shortly.

A winch thingy for each elevator

There were two ways into this place. One of the building's stairwells went all the way up past the attic to a landing where there were two locked doors. One went to the roof, and the other led into the room that houses the computers and winches and other machinery necessary to move 6 elevators up and down over 20 stories. A small locked metal box next to the elevator room door contained the door's key. A little bit of prying could get it open, but then afterward I'd replace the key but be unable to relatch the metal box. I don't like leaving signs of entry like that, so I found a new way in.

In the ceiling of the attic was a large metal trapdoor that led up into the elevator room through its floor. By moving a ladder from across the attic, going up and through the heavy trapdoor really fast and pulling the ladder up after me, I could get into the elevator room in a risky but satisfying manner. The elevator room was in two levels: the main elevators all ran from the main level, while the freight elevator, which went to the attic just below the main elevator room, was another level higher, up a metal grate staircase.

Close up elevator machinery

Modern elevators are computerized

A view from the roof

I lusted after the Soo Line Building's roof for a long time. It was my ultimate workplace adventuring goal. (Well, other than finding access to tunnels, but those were unlikely to exist, whereas I was reasonably certain that the building had a roof.) I'd test the locked doors to the roof pretty regularly, but they always remained stubbornly locked. I'd find building keys in various places and test them out, but they never opened the roof and I'd put them back where I found them. I was getting really sick of my assfaced manager and the job in general, and knew my time there was short. I guessed that the elevator room would be the key to accessing the roof, since it was more or less on the roof. Finally, I found a vent that was hinged and held in its frame by a simple hook and eye latch. By popping it open and crawling through a greasy, filthy vent, I was able to drop down and find myself on the roof at last.

It was the middle of winter, and it was fucking cold as hell exploring a rooftop 20 stories up while wearing only khaki pants and a thin button-up dress shirt. I ran around like a maniac taking pictures with my disposable camera. I wondered how many people in the taller adjacent buildings were witnessing my triumph and of those, how many would alert the authorities. After satisfying myself that I had seen everything (the thing I hate about roofs is that, unlike basements and tunnels, there are definite, known, and implacable boundaries limiting both exploration and imagination), I got the flock out of there.

After two crawls through the vent, I was filthy, and had a hell of a time coming up with a story to explain my disheveled state to my coworkers.

A view from the roof 2

A view from the roof 3

A view from the roof 4

Looking down from the attic

Running vertically from the subbasement to the top of the building are several vertical shafts filled with plumbing, electrical wiring, phone lines, fiber optic cables, gas lines, etc. These were accessible through panels in the stairwells (you could open the screwhead latch with a nickel); however, people were constantly going up and down the steps, so speed was important. The shafts also had access panels that opened out into the backs of janitor closets on most floors. I used these pipechases both to try to access off-limits areas of the building and as places to explore in themselves. One of these was quite unique, as far as my modest experience of pipechases goes, in that it featured windows. The stairwell itself had no windows, but the adjacent pipechase, which only rats and roaches and me hung out in, was blessed with natural lighting via thick frosted glass. Weird. I did not get a picture of this, sadly.
The 2 1/2 FLOOR

The door to 2 1/2

This is the one place that thwarted all my efforts to gain access. This level was where all the building's ventilation machinery was. There were two ways in: through a locked metal door in one stairwell, or using the freight elevator, which you needed a key to make stop at the 2 floor. I was constantly hoping to find the floor left keyed on in the elevator, or the door unlocked. At one point I crawled into one of the pipechases on the 4th floor and crawled down amongst the pipes, fiber optic cables, phone lines, and power cables hoping to find a maintenance hatch that opened into the ventilation floor. There was no such hatch, and I had to slide all the way down to the 2nd floor before finding a hatch I could open to get back out of the damned pipechase. I guess you can't win them all, but damn, it pissed me off that I couldn't get in.

A back room in the Catacombs

There are a couple of these down in the basement and subbasement levels. The first set of these, the Catacombs, are found behind a heavy sliding metal door. Inside, there is a dark, musty maze of book shelves reaching all the way up to the 15 foot high ceilings, crammed with yellowing records, files, and correspondence from the Soo Line Railroad going back to the 1940's. In some places, boxes had burst and tipped, leaving aisles choked with historical debris.

The Blueprint room is a usually locked room in the basement which was once left unlocked for a couple of days. The space was less interesting than the maze of the Catacombs, but the contents of the file cabinets that it was full of were far more interesting than the financial records and such found in the Catacombs. The main records here are blueprints and building plans for railroad stations, bridges, and other railroad structures, most of them brittle with age. There are also newspaper clipping that crumble if you touch them, antiquated surveying equipment, and a dead body.

OK, so I lied about the dead body. But there should have been one. I've been doing this for six years now and I've yet to find a single dead body, god damn it.


Too many ladders

This is a disused and abused room featuring peeling paint, several ladders, falling plaster, a small bathroom, and an open hole allowing access to the bottom of the pipechase between the room and the nearby stairwell. There's not a lot to see here, but I wound up hiding in it from workers on two occasions, so I like the place.


Lean green machines

While the Soo Line building is not all that big by downtown standards, it still a good-sized structure, and plenty old to boot. So, it should come as no surprise that the boiler room for the place is christly immense; it's about two and a half stories from floor to ceiling, chock full of machinery and catwalks. The place was a bitch to get to. The door from the building's two stairwells were locked at the subbasement level, and the passenger elevators did not go down there. The freight elevator opened up right across the hall from the building's maintenance office where building security and the maintenance workers were based. To get from the elevator to the door to the stairwell that led down to the boiler room (in the sub subbasement, if you're keeping track), you had to go down a hallway in plain sight of anyone who came out of the office. Just to make things even more fun, the boiler room door was usually locked. It made for a tricky little operation.

On one occasion, I had to hide behind a fake plant that someone had put in the hallway for some reason. Another time I convinced a guy who left the office as I was walking down the hall that I was confused and looking for the mailroom (which was in the basement one level up). This worked because I had thought to fish a big envelope out of the trash as a prop just in case I got caught. However, that kind of thing only works once, so I had to be extra careful on later visits.

The first time I succeeded in infiltrating the boiler room, I did not have a camera with me, which sucks because I did the most in depth exploration of the space on that trip. I found a filthy, disused old bathroom with pages from a 1970's Playboy in a cabinet over the toilet, which was pretty amusing. I also found a padlocked chain link gate that separated the boiler room from the transformer vault that is carved out of the bare rock down beneath the sidewalk outside the building. I played Sherlock Holmes and found the key to this tacked to a bulletin board in a small office type room near the gate, but when I returned later with a camera to document it, the key had been removed. I did not find any sign of Freddy Krueger.

Mo' machinery

Pipes, etc

Gauges and shit


At the subbasement level of the building, there are spaces under the stairwells closed off by forbidding metal doors. They were stick to open, but not locked. Inside was a lot of dust, records of boiler room maintenance from the 1970's, a few random motor components from the same era, yellowing boxes of filters, and not a heck of a lot else.


The Gate!!! Aaiiie!

So one of the stairwells in the building had a gate at the top of the basement stairs, at the first floor. Below that point, the paint was falling off the walls in huge, thick chunks, and it was just generally a mess not meant for the public to see. In that stairwell, on the landing between the basement and subbasement, there was a door. The door was padlocked shut, and apparently led outward from the building. It was an old metal door with a heavy duty latching/locking mechanism, and form the moment I saw that son of a bitch my imagination was set afire. Could this lead to the utility tunnels or old pedestrian tunnels rumored to be under downtown Minneapolis? Why was it such a heavy, metal door? The padlock was not going to go away on its own, so one day, after weeks of mounting suspense and curiosity, I helped it do so. Headlamp on, fully prepared to jump in and mount an exploration of some sort of abandoned tunnel system, I swung the door open.

As you can see, my amazing mystery door led to a passageway all of 2 or 3 feet deep, with a cinderblock wall at the end of it. Fuck.

Beyond the Portal