I thought I’d finish my series of stories about the Caltech steam tunnels and hacks with an old article from the California Tech published slightly after the Cuban Missile Crisis that the Politician and I found while he was reading through its archives.
“Steam Tunnels Prove Useful to Techmen;
Lend Interest to Exchanges and Parties”
by Walt Deal
The war scare this week has once again focused the Techman’s attention on the steam tunnels. Everyone plans to get his girl and disappear into the tunnels until the radiation goes away. The steam tunnels, it is felt, would, or rather will, make excellent bomb shelters. Unfortunately, they won’t. Air leakage and collapse will make them hazardous, if not deadly. The geology building, advertised by the department as quake-proof, will be relatively safer.
However, the steam tunnels do have their uses, as many frosh will find out as they wend their soggy way from soggy food to classes in January, while their more knowledgeable compatriots travel fast and dry via the underground. After a few drenchings, the frosh will stop wondering why the campus east of Throop was built with no provision for shelter from rain and start using the steam tunnels.
Steam in Steam Tunnels?
The tunnels were originally built to carry steam, and a lot of hot air goes through them, some through the pipes. They run the length of the campus, branching off to Keck and the Grad Houses. One student-made tunnel reputedly led to the women’s room at the PCC Library, but it hs since been closed by ever-vigilant B&G.
There are two easily accessible entrances to the tunnels: one by the stairs between Throop and Kellogg, the other to the right before one goes east out of the Old Houses basement through the Fleming gameroom. The first involves climbing down a ladder about six feet, crawling over cables and pipes, opening an invisible door, and fumbling around for the light switch in the presence of 2300 volts. Needless to say, entrance is easier when a flashlight is used.
The second is much more accessible. Go through the Fleming gameroom to the basement, turn left, go in the door around the corner and to the left, and walk through the storeroom.
Turning right from Fleming, one can go to Ricketts and the Athenaeum. The Athenaeum exit exits into the basement, close to the pool room, which is convenient. Unfortunately, undergraduate presence in this area is frowned upon, so it is not wise to linger.
Just to the left of the Fleming entrance is the New Houses exit. Anyone who really wants to use it is advised to wear old clothes that wash easily.
Walking west along the tunnel, one next comes to the Winnett exit, which opens into the game room. At this point, an unshaven old geezer usually appears, begging for food and directions, swearing that he has been lost since 1939. Don’t believe him. He went in no earlier than 1952.
The next exits lead to both Guggenheim and Thomas, neither of which are friendly to after-hours visitations.
Next, to the right, is the tunnel leading to Keck, the future Beckman, B&G, and the Grad Houses. Don’t go under the Grad Houses, because the doors have very ingeniously been fitted with spring locks.
The main tunnel forks under Throop. At this point an exit to Throop leads to a storage closet. Branching off to either side are tunnels leading to the north and south sides of campus.
To the right, the tunnel leads to Dabney Hall, exiting at the foot of the stairs, Gates in the fan room by room 22, and Kerkhoff at several points in the basement. The tunnels are used for storage along here, not for disposal. To the left of the fork is the tunnel leading to Bridge and the Geo buildings. The entrance betwen Throop and Kellogg points here. Exiting at Bridge entails a filthy crawl and a lot of noise distinctly audible above, so it is not recommended.
Both Arms and Mudd have exits on corridors. The tunnel has a left fork at Arms, which leads to a locked door in Robinson.
Take a little time out and find out about the steam tunnels. They come in handy during the rainy season, and they’re fun to wander through during exchanges.