read the newspaper every day. Well, I read the main section,
the Metro/State section, and the Variety section, anyway.
Fuck Sports. Anyway, the local news is an excellent source
for places to explore: there are always blurbs on some historical
landmark being slated for demolition, or on plans to renovate
some presently abandoned institution. So, one day I was reading
an article about the construction of the Xcel Energy Center
in downtown Saint Paul, when I found a gem amidst the crap;
a mention of how "the project was nearly disrupted by
the discovery of a labyrinth of abandoned sewer and utility
the time, I did not think too much about it, but I did clip
it and stick in on my desk for later research. It circulated
through the heaps and piles for months, and eventually resurfaced
and caught my eye while I was online. By this time, I'd done
much more exploring in the Saint Paul area, and was much more
aware of the other Twin City's potential for underground adventuring.
shuffled through the internet for awhile, trying out different
combinations of keywords and following links to mostly useless
information. The little I was able to dredge up, however,
intrigued me mightily. I found several minor references to
mazes of utility tunnels beneath the city, and one great article
Make New Wild Arena Project Wilder."
interest in these tunnels skyrocketed when I read this passage:
tunnel story starts in downtown St. Paul in the 1840s, when
the city began to carve a network of utility tunnels into
its underlying sandstone bedrock. These subterranean structures
usually followed the streets above, and offshoots or drifts
extended to the buildings along the streets. As time went
on, this system grew to be a complicated maze with more and
more drifts constructed in order to service buildings. Tunnels
are present under most of the downtown area, are often many
stories deep, come in all sizes, and are in various states
that was all I was able to find out. Somewhere under downtown
Saint Paul, there were a whole bunch of tunnels. But how to
get into them, or what specific streets to look near, or anything
similarly useful was lacking.
old local explorer who had been in a few of the utility tunnel
systems in the 80's told us about his old entrance: a door
under the Wabasha Street Bridge, which had usually been locked
up with chains. Well, a bit of checking turned up that the
whole bridge had been rebuilt in 1998; where the old entrance
door had been there was now only an unbroken cement wall.
was fine with me, actually
I like it better when there
is a thrill of the hunt to be had. Really, how boring would
it be if beforehand we knew how to access places and what
we would find there? We'd be robbed of the profound satisfaction
and amazing thrill of victory that comes with gaining access
to forbidden places, the "holy shit! Holy SHIT!"
rush of excitement that the discovery of wholly unexpected
course, in this case there was a chance that we'd never succeed
in gaining access, since the route used by explorers of previous
decades was newly buried behind a layer of cement several
feet thick (and in plain sight right next to the new County
Jail's parking lot for employees, no less). But come on. We're
Action Squad. How long could an extensive tunnel system hope
to hide from us?
made two attempts early on. First Agent Wop, Sherpa and I
wound up finding a short segment of power tunnel that ran
into the bluff along Shepherd Road but then dead-ended. The
next trip, Agent Wop, Hound and I just wandered around looking
for openable things in the ground. It might sound hokey, but
this is a surprisingly successful way of finding places. We
got into some drains, got into some fiber optic vaults, and
got behind a small bluff retaining wall, and, after a while,
we also got good and bored. We wound up sidetracked and on
the wrong side of town, planning on how we could climb the
scaffolding to the top of the Saint Paul Cathedral's dome,
which was being re-coppered at the time.
passed, and spring became summer. I was at a punk show.
A pretty big punk show: the German punk band Oxymoron (the
guys with the mohawks pictured on the main Labyrinth
page) was headlining an impressive line-up, including the Casualties, the
Forgotten, and the Boils - who're one of my favorite punk bands.
was drunk as hell, and must confess that I was maintaining
my state by picking up random drinks left in the bar
area and slamming them down before their owners returned.
What can I say, I was broke! And, I'm a scumbag.
wound up at a table with Jimmy (not to be confused with Action
Squad's "Slim Jim"), a local punk who has been around
the scene since the early 1980s. He's a big bald guy, covered
in tattoos, with a shaved head, a studded coat, and a friendly
personality at odds with his intimidating visage.
Agent Wop brought up Action Squad, and I mentioned how we
were currently trying to find a way into some rumored utility
tunnels under Saint Paul. Jimmy then recounted finding a tunnel
about 15 years earlier
a tunnel beneath downtown Saint
Paul. I realized from his description that this was likely
one of the utility tunnels that we'd been seeking, and asked
him for details. Shouting over the noise of the bar and the
punk band rocking out in the next room, Jimmy said:
we were drunk as shit, walking around after bar close. And
we see this opening in the ground, over by (location censored),
with road cones around it. So we go into it, and we go down
this ladder for like a hundred feet, into this weird tunnel.
We don't have a flashlight, of course, but we've got my Zippo
lighter. We check this thing out for at least an hour, it
must have been, with just this lighter that kept going out
to see by. Then the lighter goes out for good, and we had
to feel our way back out again in the dark, drunk out of our
skulls. It took forever, but we got out OK. Next time I saw
it, though, it wasn't open anymore."
now we had the 15 year-old hazy recollection of a drunken
discovery to guide us. He couldn't recall where this access
point had been, only that it had been near a certain place,
and that it had been in the road. He told me he might be free
to come look for it with us in a week or two, and gave me
next morning, I woke up with more than a hangover and clothing
that reeked of smoke. I woke up with the knowlege that I could
not wait a week or two to go look for an entrance to the utility
tunnels. No way. I had plans with a female friend ("Muse")
that night. I called her, convinced her it would be a ton
o' fun to come scouting with me. I called up Dag Jefferson,
and he was game.
picked me up just after nightfall. On the way to pick up Dag,
I had her swing by a construction site and pick up some road
cones. I brought along my construction worker costume, complete
with reflective orange vest; if we found a promising manhole
in the street we'd in theory be able to gain access without
getting killed, arrested, or causing someone poor motorist
to break an axle.
parked near the location Jimmy had mentioned, and started
working outward in concentric circles, noting possible entrances.
We found some promising-looking manholes, but they were bolted
down and on the side of a very busy street. We went off to
find easier possibilities, but knew we'd be back if nothing
else panned out.
almost an hour of walking, probing, and prying, I saw the
way in. I just knew it was it. I felt it in my flippin' marrow
the signs all pointed to this being the access point
we needed. We took the necessary precautions, and then figured
out how to gain access (yes, I'm being annoyingly vague: we're
not in the business of publicizing access points). Minutes
later, my belief was confirmed, as we descended into the earth,
and found ourselves in an amazing tunnel.
was in my warped idea of heaven; the Labyrinth had been a
dream for years, and we'd made it! Damn, it's frickin' great
when the thrills of victory, discovery, fear, and anticipation
coincide at moments like that.
tunnel system was insanely extensive, and the places to explore
seemed endless. And it just kept getting better
next night we returned, and were amazed to discover a whole
new tunnel system above the first. Within an hour of exploring
that system, we'd found another connection to yet another
completely distinct tunnel system.
It was then that I knew
that Action Squad had found something we'd be exploring for
a long, long time to come.