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Barry Schrader
Columnist

 

I currently have columns running in 3 newspapers;

  • Tri-Valley Herald : Looking Back
  • Valley Times : Do You Remember?
  • The Independent : Do You Remember?

The Articles appear in the Herald and Independent on Thursdays,
and the Times on Sundays.

They will also be found on this page each week as well.

 

If you've missed any please follow the links on the dates to catch up.

Archive Page

Underground shelters abound in valley Part 2

By Barry Schrader.................................February 16, 2006

Former Livermore City Manager Bill Parness remembers the Rincon Avenue city bomb/fallout shelter well—he says proudly it was the first of its kind in the nation and consequently was federally funded.

Parness, currently a Modesto resident but soon moving to a Walnut Creek retirement complex, talked on the phone about the concrete bunker designed for both blast and radiation protection below the fire station at Rincon and Pine, built in the early 1960s but recently demolished when a new fire station was constructed on the site. What made it unique was it doubled as living quarters for the fire crew that operated out of the station as well as being the city’s Civil Defense command center. It had food supplies for two weeks, a power generator with fuel tank, and an underground well nearby that could supply occupants with an unlimited supply of water.

Parness explained the entrance was designed so people had to go through a water spray to decontaminate their skin and clothing, then proceed to a shower facility for a more thorough scrubbing.

Talking with one of the firefighters who worked at the Rincon Station for 12 years, I learned what they thought of the living quarters—not much. Tom Bramell, recently retired deputy fire chief, spent many shifts underground where they lived, ate and slept. There were Murphy-type bunks for 10 or 12 people, he recalls, a fully equipped kitchen, and two staircases. It was well stocked with C-rations. Bramell also helped operate the Civil Defense warning system for the community down there. The setup included loudspeakers on poles located every few blocks around town. He would broadcast a test at noon starting with “This is a test of the emergency broadcast system…” that was kept up for years in the Sixties. But firefighters were more worried about earthquake damage than anything else, so kept picks and shovels in the shelter in case they had to dig their way out of the rubble when “The Big One” hit. Bramell said he experienced a few shakers while at work, but none that ever damaged their quarters.

In addition to this city command post, in 1963 the city council proposed an extensive shelter network for its citizenry that included seven shelters each housing 3,000 persons. Each underground bunker was to have a two weeks’ supply of food and water, filtered ventilation systems, self-contained sanitation, bunks, medicine and surgery capabilities. The shelters were to be designed to protect occupants from the heat of a 100-million ton nuclear weapon exploded over the Bay Area and withstand the shock wave from that sized bomb detonated as close as 7.5 miles from Livermore. The council contemplated forming a shelter assessment district city wide, then decided they probably couldn’t afford to build the seven 31,000 square feet shelters outright so would incorporate them into the design of future schools and community buildings being constructed over a period of years around town. But the plan never got off the ground.

Other shelters were designated, at the high school, and at the Livermore Post Office where the faded yellow and black Fallout Shelter sign still shows on the side wall on Second Street. A 40-year postal employee Olga Mullins told me she remembers the concrete basement shelter that included barrels of dried foodstuffs and water. The postmaster at that time told workers they could bring their families along in case they needed sheltering. Now the basement is just a storage area, classrooms, and break room for employees.

The two national laboratories were reluctant to get into the shelter business but Sandia did create one in the basement of Building 912, complete with dried foods and water containers. When I first went to work there in 1980 my curiosity caused me to ask for a tour of this sub-basement. All that was left were stale crackers in tins, some hard candy and some outdated office furniture stored down there over the years. Soon after that the basement area was excavated, enlarged and the Lab’s new Cray supercomputer network was housed there. I don’t know what Lawrence Lab did in the Sixties as far as providing shelters.

The city also received a complete portable 200-bed hospital setup from the feds in the summer of 1964, to be stored at the old rodeo grounds in the warehouse. A plan drawn up by Major Marie Callori of the local VA Hospital had the field hospital moving onto the grounds of Livermore High School in case of a disaster. This included three complete surgical units, a 15-killowatt gasoline engine-driven generator, a second generator for an X-ray unit, all the necessary pharmaceuticals and sterilized tools. The school library would be taken over for a triage center, the girls gym would be reserved for radiation casualties, an inoculation center and contagion ward, while the boys gym would be turned into a burn treatment center, medical and X-ray labs, plus pharmacy. The music building would house the surgical cases. And the plan went on and on.

Back in 1961 the Alameda County Board had already done a Civil Defense needs study. An Oakland Tribune clipping from October 1961 sent to me by Nancy Hargiss reported that abandoned coal mines were being studied for possible mass shelters. The story reported most of the old mine shafts in the county were near Mendenhall Springs, Cedar Mountain, Midway, and Tesla. According to old county records some 130 mines were registered, going back as far as 1870. Captain Bud Tari of the sheriff’s office was dispatched to go out by Jeep to locate and inspect the mines for possible use. Obviously, that proposal did not go anywhere. All the mine shafts in the eastern side of the valley have been sealed off or filled in.

 

The columnist can be reached via email at :

Historian2sbcglobal.net

or by snailmail at:

Barry Schrader
PO Box 446
Livermore, CA. 94551

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