Underground Survival Shelter Construction and Security–Learn from My Mistakes, by B.B.

In the summer of 1995 I decided to build an underground multipurpose survival shelter. I purchased the book Nuclear War Survival Skills by Cresson H. Kearney and went to work. If you want to know about shelters and what it will be like living in one, then purchase his book. My brother helped me for a while with the construction, but I did the majority of the work alone and it took me two years to complete the project. Let me say up front that I’m an amateur who used a brilliant book to build a shelter. Along the way I made many mistakes and had some unanticipated problems. Hopefully if you decide to do something along these lines you can learn from my many mistakes.

I purchased used 40 foot x 12foot diameter and 20 foot x 8 foot [galvanized steel ] road culvert pipes. The 20 foot long culvert would be used as the entrance to the larger pipe. The first step of my project was to enclose the ends of the 40’ pipe. In the back I used heavy angle iron to frame the end then 2x12s to enclose it. Welding on galvanized metal was a problem for me so I also bolted the braces to the pipe. When I finished enclosing the end it didn’t look right so I placed black roofing felt over the 2x12s and covered it all with a layer of plywood, painted it and then tarred it. I cut a hole in the back at floor level and inserted a 12’’ plastic pipe into the hole and ran the pipe up to the top for airflow. In the front of the pipe I framed it in with angle iron and just used 2x12s. I used 2x12s so that my front solid core entrance door would be right.

I used metal channel iron to enclose the floor of the pipe. I cut the floor frame channels to the proper length so that the floor was about 8ft in height so that I could walk and not hit my head. I installed a plywood floor and placed 4 foot square inserts in the center that would pull up and out for easy access to the lower level. This lower level gives me 4 foot x 40 foot storage under the floor with 8 feet of headroom on top. Along the sides I used two 2x12s wide for bench seats the entire length of the pipe on both sides. This is more than enough seating and is not in the way when you walk around in the pipe. I don’t want to gloss over this part but it took about a year for me to complete the inside.

After I completed the construction of the pipe I was ready to bury it. To accomplish this I rented a 988 Cat[erpillar brand wheel loader with a excavation bucket] and dug a hole for the 40 foot long section. I then buried it to the proper height so the 8 foot piece would match the door and then buried the whole thing. The 20 foot x 8 foot piece extended out the end far enough to prevent the soil from burying the front door. From the bottom of the pipe to the top of the soil is about 22 feet. After burying everything the front didn’t look right. There wasn’t anyway to secure the entrance to the pipe so I then I built a 20×20 wooden shed on the end to secure the entrance. I placed the pipe west to east so the airflow would work and buried the pipe with about 10ft of earth on top of the main 40-foot pipe being sure to protect the plastic air pipe on the end. The book says you only need three feet of compacted earth to protect you from radiation but 10 feet works for temperature control. [JWR Adds: In my experience, only foot depth of clay or loam soil is required to take full advantage of the ambient ground temperature, at least outside of permafrost zones.] The temperature is constant summer and winter and it is pleasant inside. I checked the level of the ground for drainage and adjusted the drainage away from the entrance.

Alongside my buried pipe shelter I placed a Santa Fe Railroad boxcar for storage. This was the real deal and made of solid metal. I filled the boxcar with lots of stuff that could be used for barter or just be used to keep us comfortable. After loading the boxcar with stuff, as a precaution, I welded the two large solid metal doors shut. The doors slid sideways to open so I felt it wouldn’t take much to prevent them from opening.

After I finished construction, my pipe complex was 80ft long, with a storage boxcar alongside. There was water, food, bedding, clothes, everything I could think of that I might need, I stored in the pipe shelter. There is water close by and I also had 8 – 55 gallon. used white plastic Coca-Cola syrup barrels filled with water inside the pipe. When I open the entrance door and the 12’’ plastic air flow pipe you can feel the air flow but according to the book that isn’t enough air for [very] many people and the book tells you how to increase the airflow for more people. On the right side of the pipe there is electrical plugs for 12 volt DC power and 2 Heavy equipment 12 volt DC batteries for power. On the left side of the pipe is 120 volt AC power [conduit and outlets] to be plugged into a generator.

The boxcar was for extra, non-essential items. My family and I could go to my pipe shelter without bringing anything with us and stay there for at least one year.

Lessons I have learned:
My first and biggest mistake was in believing that my property was secure. There is no possible way to secure property if you aren’t there to secure it. I have 120 acres fenced in and the pipe location is out of sight of the main road. I thought the location was secure but it only took the druggies a couple of years to find it. Once the word got out what was there everything went down hill fast. Now the property is always being broken into and trashed. They will steal anything and everything and then trash the rest. I live in the city and the [unoccupied] pipe [shelter] is 200 miles away from my home in the country. The pipe is located in the middle of my land but it doesn’t matter. (Hindsight) When you use wood to enclose your shelter eventually the Prairie dogs and druggies will find a way into it. 4 Wheeler [ATV]s can go anywhere and they do. Not only did they break into my pipe [shelter] and destroy and steal everything, they used a bumper jack to attach to the bottom of my metal door on my boxcar, jack it out and steal everything they wanted. Then when they had everything worth something they burned the boxcar. The interior walls and floor of a boxcar are lined with heavy wood and burns real hot.

So here is where I am now: I had to rebuild the front of the entrance to the pipe. I originally had some windows in front of my pipe complex to help add a little illumination so I used crusher screen cloth to cover the windows and doors. After the druggies broke into the pipe they left it open and the prairie dogs ruined everything left inside. I have cleaned out everything in the pipe and threw it all away. Now the pipe is empty but at least it is still usable, but my boxcar is a burned-out shell and unusable.

If you want to have a place in the country to escape to Good luck. You have to be there to be able to protect it.
I also buried some plastic 55gal barrels with some extra #10 cans of food in them. They have been in the ground for about 10 yrs and I have learned another lesson. There is enough moisture in the barrels to rust through many of the #10 cans. The barrels didn’t leak water but many of the #10 cans still rusted through. If you want to do something like this dip your cans in wax and that will protect the metal #10 cans from rusting. You can buy lids for 55 gallon barrels that snap on to the top of the barrel. They are thin but if you place a piece of rolled plastic on top of the lid and then some ¾’’ plywood over the top of the barrels they will be fine. Mine were buried on end with about two feet of soil on top. You can bury 8 barrels with a single piece of plywood over them and have a lot of #10 cans of food safely stored in a cool temperature. 10 yrs. of storage isn’t a problem if you store wheat, rice and beans as you can fill in the gaps later with storage easer to get to.
I find that this type of storage in 55gal plastic barrels buried in the ground works for many different things.

[Some information on another topic deleted, for brevity. It will eventually be posted separately.]

I hope this information is helpful. – BB

JWR Adds: I’ve heard may similar tales about unoccupied retreats being ransacked. BB’s experience underscores the oft-repeated need to either:

1.) Live at your retreat year-round, or

2.) Have a retreat caretaker, or

3.) Have a trustworthy year-round resident neighbor that lives in a house with line of sight to your retreat buildings.

Anything less than that cannot be relied on! There is some utility in motion-queued web cams, but there is no sure substitute for the Mark I Human Eyeball. I consider web cams just a good backup, and a means to capture images of would-be burglars and their vehicle license plate numbers.

If it is an underground shelter, then you might get away with a completely hidden entrance. Typically, this is done with a large scrap/junk pile. (Two of my consulting clients have done this, thusfar with several years of success.) Although it is labor intensive to remove, the “scrap pile camouflage” technique is fairly practical for a property that you visit only infrequently. But all it takes is just one untrustworthy person that knows about the shelter’s existence to make this approach ineffective. (The goblins will keep looking until the find the entrance.)

Given enough time, miscreants can reduce just about any obstacle to entry to an unoccupied and unobserved structure. They will come back with a cutting torch or even a backhoe, given enough time!