Never Judge a Book

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Yes, but the whole point of the doomsday machine is lost if you keep it a secret! Why didn’t you tell the world?

– Dr. Strangelove

On the north side of one of the many gravel “mile roads” crisscrossing Bates County, Missouri, this simple run-down shack sits unobtrusively, fooling passersby into assuming it is just another farm building. In truth, it is so much more than that: it is a relic of a time of great fear and uncertainty, a time when global civilization stared into the face of mutual assured destruction. Inside the walls of this plain structure, the fate of the world once hung in the balance.

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Welcome to “George’s,” otherwise known as Launch Control Facility K-1. From the early 1960s to the mid-1990s, K-1 and its eastern counterpart, J-1 (just off State Route W, near Rockville), part of the 351st Strategic Missile Wing out of Whiteman AFB, oversaw a flight of 17 Minuteman nuclear missiles, scattered across Bates County in 90-foot underground silos. One of these, K-10 (nicknamed “Virgin”), although I didn’t realize it at the time, lay just beyond the southwest edge of my family’s farm.

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Capture

I had the privilege, while researching a book in 2012, of visiting the site, guided by current owner Terry VanSandt. It was a surreal experience, somewhat post-apocalyptic: when the facility was closed in the ’90s, it was stripped of computer equipment and not much else. The living quarters, minus the bedding but still boasting the original curtains, suggest that the residents simply vanished into thin air. In one of the bathrooms, a small sign instructing the men to clean up after themselves still adheres to the mirror. It is a ghostly place, an appropriately haunting reminder of a very frightening period in American history.

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This relic of the Cold War is a prime example of the intriguing experiences we miss if we fail to pay attention, and the quintessential expression of my personal travel philosophy. Often, it’s the little things, the outwardly unimpressive things, that hold the greatest promise. If this is the sort of thing that makes you want to take a detour through the western Missouri back country, then you are my kind of person.

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To reach the facility, drive west on Highway F out of Passaic, situated 60 miles south of Kansas City on I-49. When you reach Highway FF, turn right (north). Proceed two miles, to County Road 9002. Turn left (west) and drive 1.8 miles. K-1 will be on your right. And what the heck–give Terry VanSandt a call. You never know; he might be willing to give you a tour, as well.

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Happy travels, my friends!

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