Infrared Camera

As discussed at the Lone Star lunch with the visitors from California, digital cameras can record infrared light. I was wondering why my fireplace photos turned out blue instead of red - that's how my camera records heat. Here's what the infrared light from a remote control looks like:
[Infrared Light from a Remote Control]

Diefenbunker Tour

There's a slight pause at work (I got the weekend off) so I can squeeze a few words past the event horizon of my personal work-related black hole and onto this web page. I've been overly busy working on the Time Troopers DVD history trivia game for the last few months, but was able to escape for part of last Saturday (April 17th), after promising to come back in the evening to start the over-night DVD build process. In those precious few hours between work shifts, I left town on a bus tour with the Friends of the Library and Archives of Canada to that weird and wonderful place known as The Diefenbunker.


The tour started off easily enough, meeting the bus at the National Archives building.
[Early Morning Bus Loading]

We had to wait inside for a while, though they did leave a few minutes early before 10am.
[Bus Driver's Console]

The short drive went through town, past the new war museum buildings, along the Queensway (highway 417) and through Kanata and then down some smaller roads to the town of Carp.
[Near Carp at March Road]

Unfortunately the driver was unfamiliar with the site and drove past the entrance, then down a side road and as a bit of a bonus, past a Canadian Space Services receiving dish in a giant white bubble. A bit of deft maneuvering in someone's driveway turned the bus around and got us back on track.
[Road Side Entrance Sign]

The other bonus about the wrong turn route is that I got a couple of blurry photos of the top and side of the bunker.
[Bunker Top and Side]
[Bunker Air Vents]

In the Parking Lot

After passing a library (formerly some sort of military building), the entrance road ends up in a parking lot with a couple of adjacent nondescript buildings. Of course, the giant helicopter landing marker on the parking lot gives it away.
[Parking Lot and Heli-pad]

Outside the small garage-like entrance are a few air raid sirens. This is where you start seeing concrete, and soon you'll see much more.
[Air Raid Siren and Bunker Entrance]

Before we went in, the tour guide (from the Diefenbunker museum - they only offer guided tours) pointed to some distant farm silos (about a mile away). They mark the spot where a nuclear bomb impact wouldn't destroy the bunker. Nowadays, the bunker could be destroyed by conventional bombs, since their accuracy and other aspects have been much improved, thus making the bunker obsolete. However, I wonder what they were planning for, since the bunker seems to have been designed to sustain multiple near misses. Putting restraining clamps on the telephone handsets seems redundant if they only have to survive one blast.
[Closest Survivable Blast Silos]

I don't have photos for the tour inside the bunker since they don't allow them (something about misinterpretation and misuse problems in the past, plus they have a gift shop where you can get postcards). This was a blessing in disguise, otherwise I would still be there taking photos of all the nifty things inside.


Past the garage door is oddly enough a garage with a few exhibits.

Rad Sniffer

The most unusual exhibit in the garage (besides the mannequins in radiation hazard suits) is the "Rad Sniffer". This table sized metal box with six cylinders sticking up vertically (kind of like a small weather station) is used for sensing nearby nuclear blasts, or in other words, it's a dangerous radiation detector. When in use, it would sit outside, connected to the bunker control systems. When it detected a nuclear detonation, the control system would close all the doors and air vents in about a third of a second. The detector has several different kinds of radiation sensors and a light sensor (obvious from the glass components visible inside one of the metal tubes). The guide also mentioned an automatic elevator system that would lift up a replacement radiation sensor if the active one was destroyed. Hmmm, that's another data point in my theory of a design for multiple blasts.


At the back of the garage is another garage door, this one leads into a giant corrugated metal culvert (just like the usual stream drainage ones), with a flat concrete road poured into the bottom. Nothing too special here, just a few pipes, wires and incandescent lights. But then they were expecting the blast to rip through this tunnel, so you wouldn't want to install much hardware inside it. It continues for a fair distance, sloping downward, then angles up again after the half way point and exits to the outdoors at another inconspicuous spot.

Interior Entrance

At the halfway point in the tunnel are two door sets, one for people and a larger one for freight. Besides the conspicuous bank vault construction of the doors (heavy and automated), I noticed that all the pipes and wires on the ceiling went into some unusual pressure seals over the doors - sort of round pipe flanges with a smaller hole for the wires and something packed in between the cables to fill the gaps between them. Knowing this place, it might be concrete :-).


There are actually a couple of doors, forming an air lock, with an intercom to talk to the people inside. Once you get through there, you're in the entrance in front of the bunker control station and guard area. Off to the sides are some small twisty passages with decontamination showers - shower with cloths on in the first one, dump the cloths into a bin which leads into a lead lined room (nice thick lead doors too), shower again, then put on clean cloths.


Conveniently, the medical area is next to that - equipped with 1960s fixtures like a dentist's chair with a mechanically driven drill, a trim operating room, and a couple of rooms with hospital beds. Most of the lighting was originally incandescent, but they've added lower false ceilings and put in fluorescent light in the 1970s style. Or maybe it was like that originally? Anyway, the 110 volt AC power outlets seem original - they've got a bayonet style latch to hold in the plugs, presumably in case they get jolted loose by explosions.

Fire Stations

Besides the ubiquitous incandescent light fixtures, and PA speakers, I also noticed the extensive number of fire hose stations, each with a freshly painted red pipe with a brass pressure gauge on top (reading 75 psi). If you look close to the floor, you'll see a decently thick grounding wire bypassing a couple of inches of the pipe separated by flanges, where under the red paint it's apparently made of rubber.

The fire fears continue, with asbestos or concrete used for interior walls. Every few feet it seems like there's a stencil on the wall describing which fire zone you are in. Of course, lots of alarms and emergency phones are there too.

Men's Room

I snuck off from the group for a bit of relief in a nearby men's room. Nicely enough, it hadn't been remodelled for tourists - it was the original, down to military warnings stencilled on the walls. There too the toilets were connected with rubber pipes, and sat on half inch thick rubber pads. Obviously a vital piece of equipment that must survive repeated nearby nuclear blasts.

Were the contractors making extra money off cold war paranoia? I wonder if anyone ever built a bunker and tested it to destruction, to see what features were actually useful in a shaking building. Though I'd expect they'd also look at warship fittings to get a good idea. How are military shipboard toilets hooked up?

Shock Mounted Ventilation Fans

Another frequent sight in the corridors were fire proof doors with giant gravity and spring held latches, much like the ones you see in school boiler rooms. Except that they look almost brand new, with a clean paint job and the manufacturer's nameplates visible. One of the bigger ones was open and our tour guide showed us the ventilation fans inside.

This is just the same as a normal building ventilation system, but with everything shock mounted and more flexible than usual. The heavy machinery is installed on concrete bases (almost a foot thick) held above the floor by large springs much like car springs. The extra inertia from the concrete pad helps absorb the shock and lets you have shorter springs. One of the postcards has a nice photo of a fan assembly where you can notice that the equipment is nicely painted, with the springs in bright orange, machinery in dark blue and off-white for the stencilled warnings. The sinuously shaped metal pipe arms which join the low lying concrete pads to the tops of the springs are unusually elegant. I guess they must have had a lot of idle personnel on hand to do the painting while the base was in operation.

Bunker Model

Another interesting thing on the top level is the Plexiglass model of the bunker, made long ago when it was being designed. It's quite large and shows you how the building is laid out. The major pipe systems are also there, demonstrating the 3D maze that's any building's environmental system.

Rad Sniffer Control Box

On the floor near the model is the control box for the Rad Sniffer. Between the neatly mounted and metal encased vacuum tubes, there's a small motor driven set of cams and switches. My hunch is that it controlled the door and vent closing - triggering signals for each closure in the appropriate order. The control room has a more modern system, using a 1980s era computer to control it.

Too Much More

This is taking too long to write, so I'll leave it to you to go and see for yourself. Still on the top floor is the emergency escape hatch filled with gravel (and an empty pit below the hatch with the silver lever, "accidentally" pulled by some hapless technician who got two weeks wheelbarrow duty shortly after).

The other floors have many points of interest: the main machine room, the optically striped pillars, the bank vault and gym, the cafeteria and morgue (with trash compactor). There are a large number of government offices - teleprinter maintenance (makes you appreciate transistorised computers), CBC shock mounted studio, prime minister's office, map and planning room, cabinet room with remote control of the map room. Other places to look for are: the Faraday cage computer room, telephone network tap room, several radio rooms, the women's quarters, the weapon locker where Denis Lortie got his gun before shooting up the Quebec National Assembly, several exhibits about the cold war, the air filtration room (wish I could take a photo of the filters - the geometry is quite striking from close by).

Anyway, after a too short two hours underground, we were escorted to the exit and took the bus down to The Swan at Carp for lunch. The publican there was shocked when I asked for water; he's quite a British character. I found their bangers and mash quite tasty.
[Swan at Carp Sign]

Looking up at The Swan from the bottom of their lane, near the very steep Fall Down road. Wonder how it got that name - steep and close to a tavern, hmmmm.
[Swan at Carp Building]


After lunch, there was a bus tour to Fulton's maple syrup farm, passing through Almonte both ways (nice water falls, which I missed taking a good photo of).
[Fulton's Panorama]

Heading Home

Finally, we headed back to Ottawa. This was before the Senators got eliminated by the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey club, so you'd see a few of these flags flying on cars all around the city.
[Senators Flags]

And at last, the Ottawa skyline appears over the hills.
[Ottawa Skyline]

- Alex

Copyright © 2004 by Alexander G. M. Smith.