It was an exceptionally warm winter day as I parked the car in the small town’s little plaza. I had positioned myself a short distance away from the location and as I got out of the car and turned toward the back of the lot I could see the delapitated rooftops through the bare trees. I looked around and saw that no one was paying any attention to me so I slipped into the woods before any eyes turned my way. The well worn path twisted and turned around aging trees climbing slightly into hills and falling back into place until I came to a thick line of trees marking the abrupt end of the wooded area. I peeked through and found myself at a set of railroad tracks with the coveted chain link fence resting just beyond. On the other side lay the guard shack sitting on the outskirts of the abandoned Jet Engine testing Facility and I was anxious to cross the tracks and begin my explore. Staying in the cover of dwindling foilage I scanned the area looking for options. To the far left of the shack, a large hole in the fence beckoned me and I listened one last time for the sound of trains and looked for any sign of others. When I was confident I was alone I fell into a quick pace, over the bed of gravel surrounding the tracks, listening to it clink against the metal as I closed the distance between me and the entrance. I slipped through, quickly dusted myself off and looked up to focus on my surroundings.
Resting eternally outside the shack was a forlorn looking Jeep. Rusted out and stripped of its doors, it sat amongst an explosion of glass from what had once been its windows and its fading paint had been accosted with the use of multiple spray cans. All hope for a way out had deflated with the dry rotted tires as the rims sank heavily to the ground. I approached the driver’s side for a closer look. Old papers, pop cans, torn seats and sparkling piles of sharded glass. There was something curious about the shards. It almost looked as though they were moving. Were my eyes playing tricks on me? I crouched down next to the driver’s seat and saw that they indeed were moving and as I watched as they went from a slight movement to a slow and steady bouncing motion. How was that possible? My other senses kicked in and I noticed the low rumbling sound of something on the tracks. A train! It was very close and would be appearing past the line of trees at any moment and I was out in the open. I looked toward the door to the shed and saw that it was obstructed by the office furniture laying in shambles just beyond. I would not have time to fight my way in to the safety the walls would offer so I looked around and twirled into position against the front tire and brought my head down below the top of the fender just as the train broke into view. I sat motionless until I knew the engine carrying the operator had passed and then I peeked through door’s frame to watch the long line of freight cars rumble along the tracks. It seemed like forever before the last car disappeared, tagging behind the others to its unknown destination. It was time to do some disappearing of my own so stretching out of my uncomfortable postion I scanned the area and took off running for the first door I saw which stood a fair distance away.
Trading the light of the day for the darkness that consumed this building, I took a moment to catch my breath as the echoes of my footsteps reverberated off the metal and the silence slowly devoured them. I brought out my flashlight and made my way into the depths of what once had been the biggest aircraft facility in America during its time of operation. Founded in 1929, these grounds were used in the making and testing of airplane engines during World War II and the four decades following until it closed its doors in 1983. As I walked past huge pieces of machinery, ducking under metal piping that had given way over time I wondered what a typical day’s work had been like for the men who had reported for duty each day. Many well known planes had their engines built in the very place I was wandering in with the machines I was climbing around on. Knowing that the Enola Gay, which dropped the bomb on Hiroshima, was among those numbers added a surreal mood to my step as I descended the metalic grated catwalks in search of the safest route to the building next door. It was convienantly positioned between a busy road to the left and the still-active airport to the right so spying my entry point I waited for a break both in traffic and clear skies from the runway and then fell in to a quick sprint through waist-high grass and crumbling blacktop. This time when I stopped just inside the walls to catch my breath I watched a set of offices come into view as my eyes adjusted. A quick peak inside showed nothing left but bare rooms so I followed the hallway until I came to a wall boasting what lay beyond: Small Engine Testing.
Once I rounded the corner I found myself in the shell of the warehouse-type testing area. I followed the walls with my eyes and watched them rise six or seven stories high and marveled at the scale needed for “small” engines. What looked to be another empty room proved interesting when I spotted a cell of some kind at the far end. Watching my step I moved over fallen pipes, electrical lines, piles of garbage and empty garbage bags. The irony of seeing empty bags among the garbage made me shake my head but my attention quickly turned back to my objective. A chair stood positioned in front of a test window with a small control panel for easy operation patiently waitiing for a push that would never come. I was tempted to take a seat and peer through the window just as countless people had done in the past but the thick layer of fine powder covering everything curbed my curiosity. To my right stood the entrance to the cell and the one-foot steel door stood slightly open, beckoning me to look inside. I pulled on the door, first with one hand but then bracing myself as I added my other, working in opposittion of years of rust as the heavy door grinded open only slightly more. Wiping my hands on my jeans I slipped through the crack and inched my way in.
This space had been chosen to toss mounds of garbage bags that had actually been filled but a split-second glance brought something to my attention. These were not ordinary garbage bags, as they do not ususally come with warning labels. I leaned in for a better look and saw that the tags revealed the disposal of asbestos were contained within the plastic. The room closed in on me in a matter of seconds and even with my mask, I pulled my shirt over my face and hid it in the crook of my arm. The thought of just how much asbestos I had been exposed to on the day’s explore began to cross my mind and there was nothing I wanted more at the moment than a nice hot shower. Being at the tail end of the trip I decided there wasn’t much more to see so I backed slowly out of the test cell, careful not to succumb to my clumsiness and fall into an early death. Once I was safely back out into the open I brushed myself off and fell into a rather quick pace, crossing the facility in record time back to the guard shack, past the Jeep, through the fence, over the tracks, through the woods and back to the safety of my car. Usually I’m excited at the thought of returning to a location but this one I will not soon be returning to.
© Olivia Wolfe~2012