John Sims relocated to Tucson, Arizona, in search of a more peaceful existence. He had no idea it would become one of the most memorable moments of his life. It all began when the previous owner of his new home informed him of a disturbing rumor. Something was rumored to be buried somewhere on the property. Because he couldn’t get it out of his head, John began digging in the backyard. He was taken aback by what he discovered.
He most emphatically did not sign up for this. When John Sims learned that a friend was selling a house in midtown Tucson, Arizona, he jumped at the chance. He knew he’d be in good hands because the owner was a friend. However, once the paperwork was completed, his friend informed him of a rumor about the property. The elders of the town believe there is something mysterious buried somewhere in it.
His friend never solved the mystery, but John might. As it turned out, John would discover something that would have the entire state of Arizona talking. As John began to pack his belongings for his new home, he remembered what his friend had said. He was both curious and intrigued. He became determined to discover what secrets were hidden on his new property. John began digging in his backyard after exploring it.
He ended up digging four holes across the backyard and finding nothing. If he couldn’t find anything beneath the grass, it had to be beneath the bricks. John obtained municipal records and discovered the record of his house’s construction. It revealed that a strange structure was built in 1961 by a company called Whitaker Pools. John was even more determined to solve the mystery now that he had proof that something was buried on the property.
He hired metal detector consultants to assist him in locating the exact location. A team arrived with the necessary equipment and searched John’s backyard. The metal detectors soon began to sound. With a large X chalk mark, John marked the two locations that triggered the metal detectors. After sending the consultants home, John eagerly grabbed a shovel and began digging. It didn’t take long for his shovel to hit something metallic.
He eventually discovered something three feet beneath the grass. Now that he had made some progress, John decided to take a break and reflect. What if this was a sewage system? What if he accidentally damages or breaks a pipe? He had to be very careful. But as he dug around with care, he began to suspect that this was something else. He was on his way to solving the mystery in his yard. Later, John discovered what appeared to be the entrance to a hatch.
He knelt to clear away the dirt and pry open the metal lid. As a precaution, John took care not to inhale too much due to the possibility of mold spores or toxic gas fumes. John left the lid open for about a day to allow any air from down there to waft out and allow time for fresh air to enter the structure. He also knew that before he could enter the confined space, the air had to be tested for mold.
The next morning, John peered inside the hatch. He discovered a spiral staircase that led down. While most people would be so excited that they would rush down, John was not so foolish. He should have known better. He needed someone nearby as a captain of the Rural/Metro Fire Department in case the lid fell back in. He was home alone at the time, and there was no way he could lift the lid from underneath on his own.
With all of his training and experience rescuing people trapped in tight spaces, John was well aware of the dangers. He could tell that the staircase was unstable, and that entering the shaft alone would be dangerous. As a result, John decided to form a team. He summoned some friends to assist him. They could assist him with the excavation, and some of them could act as spotters when it was safe to explore what was inside the shaft.
When the group got together the next day, they sat down and sketched out a plan. They also talked about how they should proceed. They began by repairing and reinforcing the concrete structure surrounding the stairs. They placed Sonotube cardboard around the entrance to protect it from damage while they worked. John and his crew worked to lay down concrete layers and secure the rebar inside the hatch.
John had to put up a tarpaulin cover over the hatch to protect not only it but also the team. The Arizona heat was becoming unbearable. During their breaks from the heat, they speculated on what might be down there. There was a lot of work to be done in order to find the answers. An electrical line had to be installed so that they could have adequate lighting inside the shaft and use power tools if necessary.
In addition, a black pipe was installed to bring fresh air into the shaft. Finally, their work on the structure was completed. The spiral staircase, on the other hand, presented a new challenge. The steps were so rusted that it was impossible to tell if they could support any weight. They had to find a way in without taking the stairs.
The team used a ladder, and John had to climb down carefully to avoid cuts from the rusted stairs. John was giddy with delight. He was going to be the first to crack the case. This was the moment he had been looking forward to. John made it to the bottom and was relieved that they didn’t have to dig any further. But there was still work to be done. The tunnel ceilings were covered in fiberglass, which was gradually deteriorating. This meant that the structure was still unsafe.
John looked around carefully and couldn’t believe that the structure was mostly in good condition despite nearly half a century of neglect. The structure was empty, but it was later revealed that it was a nuclear bomb shelter in John’s backyard! Suddenly, everything made sense. The shelter was constructed during the Cold War, when tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union threatened an all-out nuclear war. Whitaker Pools later expanded their business to include bomb shelters.
In fact, there were bomb shelters on several properties in the Tucson area. Back then, it was the best thing a responsible family man could do to ensure the safety of their loved ones in the event of a nuclear war. As it turns out, there is a lot of history surrounding Tucson and bombs. Tucson was once known as “Rocket City,” as it housed 18 ballistic missiles capable of traveling across continents and destroying an area of 900 square miles.
The missile silos were kept secret by the government, and by the end of the Cold War, almost all of the rockets had been deactivated. During the early 1980s, the majority of nuclear shelters were also destroyed or sealed. When John shared his backyard discovery on Reddit, it quickly went viral. In just a few hours, the post received hundreds of comments. Local newspaper articles and TV shows began contacting me for interviews.
The story was even picked up by international publications such as the Daily Mail. John’s story had also made it to Japan. It was an incredible find. Tucson residents began to wonder if they, too, had one in their yard. Because of all the attention, John was able to connect with other people in the area who also have fallout shelters on their property. He was able to ask them how they cleaned it and get suggestions from them on what to do with it.
While most people converted theirs into wine cellars or man caves, John intends to turn his into a Cold War museum. John began collecting Cold War memorabilia such as Geiger counters, water supply barrels, HAM radios, and sanitation kits after conducting extensive research on the era. “I was hoping for a little microcosm… a time capsule full of civil-defense boxes, radiation detectors, and cots and stuff like that,” John said in an interview. Unfortunately, there was no furniture in the bomb shelter.
John also mentioned that he had been doing a lot of reading about the Cold War. He believes that the Cuban Missile Crisis was most likely the primary reason that Tucson residents built bomb shelters in their backyards during the 1960s. If Tucson residents are curious whether they have a bomb shelter in their backyard, John recommends looking up records from the City of Tucson or Pima County. Most likely, the information will be included in the building permits.
John also advises everyone not to rush in once they discover a bomb shelter in the yard. “Jumping into holes in the ground is generally not a good idea,” John added, explaining that the toxic air in a tunnel or cave-in can easily incapacitate anyone. John is determined to rebuild the bomb shelter. But he lacked the necessary funds. He created a GoFundMe shape to help restore his 1960s bomb shelter. He intended to rebuild the entryway as well as work on the inside.
One of John’s top priorities was to replace the staircase so that people could safely enter it. John was only able to do that with the funds he was able to collect, and now he and the renovation team can go in and out safely.