Harder Homes & Gardens – Volume I: Harry Bennett’s castle and cabins

Sure anyone can build a home out of concrete to keep the zombies at bay. What really throws you into Omega Man territory are the little personal touches that give the homeowner the advantage and gives the bad guys a Very Bad Day. One such fellow was Harry Bennett.

Bennett was a longtime high-level employee at Ford in Michigan. He had absolutely no background in engineering, automobiles, business, or finance. What he did have experience in, however, was boxing, guns, slavish devotion to Ford, and moral flexibility. Hired on a handshake from Ford himself, Bennett put together the Ford Service Division….a division of Ford that did absolutely nothing to fix cars but did everything to fix union problems. Mr. Bennett, for all intents and purposes, was Ford’s top union-busting goon. Given the green light to build what was essentially a private army, Bennett employed “football players, boxers, wrestlers and even Detroit river gang members as Service Department employees”.

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Harry Bennett conducting a business meeting with union representatives in his usual style.

With a history of fights, brawls, and machine gun exchanges with union organizers, Mr. Bennett, as you might well imagine, made some enemies. To keep himself whole and intact, Bennett built himself a ‘castle’ in Ypsilanti, MI. He also built a weekend cabin, also out of concrete, with features similar to what he did at his castle.

Here’s a video tour of the castle as it stands today:

Gun ports? Yes. Trick staircases? Absolutely. Hidden tunnels? Naturally? Tunnels patrolled by fearsome jungle cats? Of course! Bennett spared no effort, or aggregate, to build structures he thought would keep him safe. (Yet, he still managed to get shot in his own living room.)

His weekend cottage was similarly designed with staircases with steps of random height to trip pursuers, escape tunnels to a dock and getaway boat, airfield, pillboxes on the roof, a moat with sharpened stakes, and a bridge over said moat rigged with dynamite. Bennett was full Burt Gummer before his time. The lodge, like the castle, still stands today and is owned by the Boy Scouts of America. Here’s a fascinating photo gallery of a tour that shows off the many hardened features.

Bennett’s buildings had quite a few features that we would find highly desirable for our own needs. I am most impressed by the stairs with steps of differing heights. This plays on an observed oddity:

Bennett would, as the story goes, practice running up and down the uneven stairs so he’d have an advantage over pursuers who would, presumably, go tumbling down the stairs as they encountered the uneven steps. It’s little details like that that separate the good from the great.

If you read all the links above, you’ll see Bennett had the usual assortment of hidden stairwells, secret gun compartments, false bookshelves, and other gimmicks we come to expect. He’s also the only person I’ve read about, in somewhat modern times, who actually incorporated a moat into his bunker plans. (Being ready to dynamite the bridge over the moat on a moments notice? Thats a baller touch.)

So there you have it, a brawling union-buster from the Prohibition-era could show us a trick or two when it comes to building our fortified homes. Note that it’s dang near 80-some-odd years later and those concrete homes are still standing and still in good enough repair to be occupied. Here to stay, built to last.

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(“Harder Homes and Gardens” is a neologism that is attributable to ,Rawles in one of his books. I’m clever, but not that clever.)

Tilting Cabins

I was trolling through Craigslist and found this interesting tidbit. It’s one of those forehead-slapping moments where you think “Why didn’t that ever occur to me?”. Here’s a link to a manufacturer: https://www.tiltcabins.com/design

Floorspace is necessarily small, but I love the vertical element. It has a sort of fire-watch-tower look to it. I couldnt see living in one full time, or for any long length of time really, but it would make a nice weekend cabin for fishing and hunting. I suppose the floorspace is limited by how big a load you figure you can get on the road. Since you’re hauling the thing in a horizontal position, the width of your widest wall will be determined by what you can get away with in terms of a ‘wide load’ on the road. Hmmm.

I do find ‘tiny houses’ interesting from a technical and logistics standpoint, but I could never live in one full time. The only way i could do that is to have it sitting on top of the access stairs to my cavernous underground bunker.

Nonetheless, I really do admire the ‘out of the box’ thinking. I doubt ccargo containers are designed to be stood up vertically, but that was the first thing I thought about when I saw these.

Real Estate – Expensive, but pretty sweet…

The description is nice, but the video at the link is pretty awesome. Nice looking place. I don’thave enough internal organs to sell on the black market to afford such a place, but if I did…

At 120 Acres, this property is truly one of a kind. A sanctuary away from the hustle and bustle and a little slice of heaven. Rock Springs is turn-key, off-the-grid living. All the comforts of home, including Satellite TV, Internet, abundant wild game, and the best views and stargazing you will likely ever see. When you are up this high, the sky seems to wrap around you and the milky way is clearly visible with absolutely zero light pollution. There is ample room to land a small aircraft or a helicopter for those who would prefer not to drive up to the house. The elevation at the house is 6600 feet. The annual property taxes are about $2500. The nearest town is Hyattville, Wyoming, but the property is a fifteen mile drive up a logging road to get there. The road is not maintained by the state, so it can be challenging during or after a snowstorm. There is deeded access to the land, a permanent access to the property owner through Wyoming state land that cannot be revoked so long as you pay the annual fee of $150. The well is almost artesian, down 400 feet, with 1 part per million of dissolved solids, and a flow rate of just over 12 gallons per minute, and it tastes delicious with no odors or contaminants. There are no restrictions on the water from this well.

Article – Panic, Anxiety Spark Rush to Build Luxury Bunkers for L.A.’s Superrich

Given the increased frequency of terrorist bombings and mass shootings and an under-lying sense of havoc fed by divisive election politics, it’s no surprise that home security is going over the top and hitting luxurious new heights. Or, rather, new lows, as the average depth of a new breed of safe haven that occupies thousands of square feet is 10 feet under or more. Those who can afford to pull out all the stops for so-called self-preservation are doing so — in a fashion that goes way beyond the submerged corrugated metal units adopted by reality show “preppers” — to prepare for anything from nuclear bombings to drastic climate-change events.

My first thought is that if the L.A. ‘Superrich’ are really concerned about surviving the apocalypse, they’d get more bang for their buck by buying a helicopter and having it on standby to leave LA.

I still love the idea of a nice, hardened, ‘second home’ somewhere. But the more I think about it, the more I start to think that if that second home is so nice and desirable, why not just make that your primary home?

Of course, real-world factors come into play…your job may be in San Francisco and your ‘second home’ in, say, Kingman AZ. You aren’t going to live in Kingman and have a job that pays what you were getting in SF. (The exception to this are those lucky sould who can telecommute and have the freedom to live anywhere.)

If I had the money, I wouldn’t bother with a super-secret underground bunker….I’d just buy the land outright and build my subtle-but-secure dream house. I mean, if you’re making $20m per movie, why wouldn’t you just do a couple movies, call it a day, and go retire to your nice, quiet estate in the mountains?

Articles on shelters for the ‘elite’

Two articles on ‘elite’ shelters on the same day. Makes me think their marketing people must have sent out press releases or something. I maintain that the Vivos thing is like buying a timeshare on Mars – it’s yours..on paper.

Anyway, my skepticism aside, heres the articles:

As we roll down US Highway 41 in Terre Haute, Indiana , my guide insists I give him my iPhone. Then he tosses me a satin blindfold. The terms of our trip were clear—I wasn’t to know where we were going or how we got there.That’s because we’re on our way to the undisclosed location of an underground bunker designed to survive the end of the world, whatever form that apocalypse takes.

And this one:

When the end of the world comes, even wealthy people will not be spared.

Unless, of course, they’ve managed to buy themselves a spot in a massive underground apocalypse bunker.

Whilst is handy, because the super rich have been invited to buy up a place in a five star shelter in Rothenstein, Germany, which is designed to allow them to live underground for a year and then emerge “when the worst is over”.

Just 34 “high worth” families will be welcomed into the European doomsday den, with prices only available on application.

If you can afford to, essentially, throw away that kind of money on a heavily-armored timeshare, you can afford to simply have your own built and maintain your privacy, safety, and control.

They’re nice to look at, but when the zombies are roaming the streets, the last thing I’m going to care about is if the floors are Italian marble or Brazilian zebrawood.

Article – Father buys £20,000 Cold War bunker

A father who is so determined that his children do well in their school exams has splashed out £20,000 on a nuclear bunker in the Essex countryside so they can revise in peace.

Raymond Sturgess purchased the bunker, which is 12 feet under ground, so that his four children aged between seven and 16 are free from distractions when it comes to studying.

The Cold War relic, which only measures 13 feet by nine feet in size, was part of a former army base but is now a nature reserve in Chigwell.

A 13’x9’room ain’t a whole lotta space. Matter of fact, its about the size of your typical bedroom.

I’ve seen articles from time to time about tiny little observation bunkers coming up for sale in the UK. Usually they’re rather tiny affairs that don’t amount to much more than this one.

The more I read about military bunkers and shelters, and see what is being done by other countries, I’m becoming less a fan of the underground ones and more a fan of the partially-buried, and the above-ground varieties…especially as done by our friends the Swiss.

Bunkers of this sort don’t come up in the US very often, although I did read about some organization that did a land swap with the feds and wound up owning some awesome NSA-grade bunker facility out in the woods. The closest thing you might find to these Swiss style above-ground concrete bunkers are the old AT&T relay bunkers that dot the countryside. But, thats another post altogether…………

Link – Bunker for sale

A superbly preserved piece of WWII history, an untouched Normandy German Gun Battery has been put for sale.

The huge gun battery and complex at Querqueville / Amfreville (Stp 277) is up for sale – as of this week.

It is well documented and its history is well known as it defended the port of Cherbourg from the hills above the city. Battery York as it was locally known, fought an artillery duel with USS Texas before being over-run after a land battle with the US army.

I would imagine the problem with buying any ‘survival bunker’ that you find on the internet is that, by virtue of being on the internet, everyone knows about it.

While the feasibility of converting such a structure into something more practical and useful may be questionable, these sorts of structures are fascinating to me. I have a book here, Fortress Europe: European Fortifications Of World War II, which is basically a guidebook to some of the more elaborate and complex bunkers scattered across Europe’s battlefields. There’s a lot of concrete under those green hills.

I don’t think I’d necessarily want to live in something like that, but I do see more and more concrete houses that are very attractive, cozy, and still offer the degree of invulnerability that makes them attractive to me.

The fact that many of these flaktowers, bunkers, submarine pens, and whatnot are still in, essentially, undamaged condition after almost 80 years is pretty good testimony to what poured concrete, rebar, and an immense budget can accomplish.

Speaking of concrete, did you know that one of Thomas Edisons less-successful ventures was selling kits and forms to build concrete houses? They even had concrete fixtures in the houses such as bathtubs. The technology has improved since then and there’s actually a local business here that does concrete-log homes….pretty neat. A log home that would be impervious to pretty much everything.

Anyway, while an old WW2 bunker would be nice to play in, I suspect it’s real merit comes from examining it and learning more about how such structures should be built and designed.

Article -10-story missile silo for sale outside of Roswell

“It might be the safest home for sale in all of New Mexico. I say come out and look, make an offer, and you can have your underground castle right away,” said realtor Jim Moore.

40 feet underground lays an old missile silo in Roswell with a lot of history. It’s a home where you don’t have to worry about curb appeal.
All you can see from above ground is a door to the stairwell. From there, it’s straight down four stories in pitch black.
“If the lights happened to go out, you can’t see anything beyond your nose,” said Tom Edgett.
Once at the bottom, there’s a series of tunnels. Then, it finally opens up into a big room – an underground cave.

Its my understanding that these things are, in the unfinished stages, a mass of stagnant water, toxic byproducts, and endless hours of repair and restoration….but there is still something just really, really cool about them. How cool would it be to have your quaint and cozy ‘tiny house’ of 200 square feet and trapdoor in the floor leading to your zillion square foot basement?

But, yeah, unless its already been done for you, turning it into habitable space is gonna be an adventure.

Article – Underground home was built as Cold War-era hideaway

I’ve seen pictures of this place before,  but this is the first article I’ve seen with this much detail. But I admire the kitschy over-the-top attempts to make an underground concrete room look like a green backyard. Then again, isn’t Vegas home of fake Eiffel Towers, Stutes of Liberty, and enormous fake boobs?

The underground house at 3970 Spencer St. was built for comfort, too, with two hot tubs, a sauna and an in-ground pool in a room larger than some houses in the valley.

It was also constructed to withstand a nuclear blast. It had to be. Girard “Jerry” B. Henderson, who had the home built in 1978, planned to wait out the end of the world inside the structure. Now it’s on the market for $1.7 million, which includes the two-bedroom underground house, the one-bedroom underground guest house, the two-bedroom, two-story caretaker’s house, a four-car garage and more than 1 acre of surface property.

“I’ve been told when he built it, he had a million dollars of marble imported from Italy,” said Winston King of Kingly Properties, which is handling the sale of the house. “It’s here on the fireplace and around the pool now.”

When it was built, the only signs of the house on the surface were an unusual number of ground-mounted air-conditioning units camouflaged by clusters of large rocks. A few larger rocks concealed stairways and an elevator. A caretaker’s house was added later, and the main entrance to the underground house now runs through it.

When visitors reach the ground level, they’re in the front yard of the house looking at the entrance to the 40-foot-by-46-foot room. To the left are the dance floor and the stage. The décor still greatly reflects the original owners’ tastes, from the indoor fountains and waterfalls to the abundance of pink in the kitchen and bathroom.

“They had it all down here,” said King, opening up an artificial rock to reveal an underground outdoor grill. “This vents through the tree behind it.”

Article – Mussolini air raid shelter opens to tourists

Seventy years old and it appears in better shape than many more recently made bomb shelters I’ve seen.

ROME (AP) — A Roman villa’s wine cellar, which was converted into an air raid shelter for Benito Mussolini and the Italian dictator’s family, is opening its anti-gas, double steel doors to tourists.

The shelter was quickly constructed in 1940, after the outbreak of World War II, in what had once been the wine cellar of a noble family who lived there before Mussolini took up residence during his Fascist rule.

Visitors at a preview Saturday saw the iron-rung ladder used for emergency exits and a rusting contraption to purify air in case of a gas attack. A label on the apparatus was dated November 1940 in Roman numerals, in keeping with Mussolini’s style of evoking the ancient Roman empire’s glory days as inspiration for his own rule.

I enjoy seeing these older shelters when they turn up. Part of the attraction is that many of them were quite effective but were built, necessarily, using materials and techniques of the time. With modern techniques, materials, and equipment you could build something better, faster, and probably cheaper. But if all you have is 1930’s technology you can still build something like that. I find that a bit reassuring.