We had a super-marathon exploring on Saturday which coincidentally ended up covering three sites frequented by vagrants. Remarkably, we never encountered any directly, but there we learned a lot about their lifestyle from the physical evidence found on these expeditions.
Part I: Return to the Ruins
I met up with Mike in the FW stock yards first thing in the morning (okay, 10am... early for me) in spite of only getting a few hours of sleep the night before, and we went to the ruins of the Swift meat packing plant. Dani and I had been to it twice before, but only one of those times was to photograph it, and even then we had to abort that mission because we were thought a homeless person had us cornered (long story; see the gallery for that trip). I thought that we had explored everything, but this trip proved I hadn't.
Mike's a big history nut, so he had a lot a lot trivia squireled away about the place and the nearby stockyards. Since he was as interested (or possibly even more so) than I was, we spent probably four hours *thoroughly* checking out each building, photographing everything, and questioning what it was all about, why things were designed the way they were and what they were there for.
During this time we were waiting to meet up with Brei and her friend Josh were in town for business that morning. I had Dani's cel phone with me so when Brei called I gave her directions to Wal-mart to get boots for Josh and then to get to the ruin. Of course, by the time she got there we were pretty much finished exploring. The phone rang saying she was at our meeting place down the street literally as we were walking toward her. She asked where we were as she pulled to a stop sign on the corner and I waved at her a couple hundred feet in front of me.
Part II: The Warehouse
Next we went to the old T&P warehouse, which is an abandoned 10-story highrise. In the past it has been a haunted house for Halloween and a paintball facility. Now it just sits there as an illicit residence for homeless people. I had been by there once before with Ben (who had found the entrance the residents used: a bent-up metal screen that no longer barred one of the first floor windows), and we shone a flashlight into the place. You could see the belongings of the homeless people in bags against the wall, but we didn't see anyone there at the time. Given that it was dark the night Ben and I stopped by the place, we didn't bother to go in.
However, there was a partially open manhole just behind the building. We slid it open the rest of the way and looked in. It looked like it led to part of a system of utility tunnels, but it was *full* of water. Not that there was an easy way down there to begin with (the hole was in the middle of the room, not close to a wall or ladder), but the water looked like it was at least four feet deep, although it is always hard to get a sense of scale when there is nothing to provide a frame of reference. It reminded me a lot of the scene in the new Dawn of the Dead movie where the characters go under the streets to avoid the zombies.
This time around, the four of us took it pretty slow. We started out by looking around the old train station and then the just-as-old post office that were on the same street, all three buildings right in a row finishing with the warehouse. When we exited the PO, we stopped across the way from the warehouse and looked it over from a distance. For one thing, a homeless guy was heading right to the place. He went right past the window, however, and instead stopped in the field behind the building. Apparently, he was just sorting through his many bags full of belongings for something, because he left a few minutes later. Still, before he left, another guy came from across the street and went around to the back of the warehouse and right up to the window. We were all sure he was going to go in, but he just stood there for a minute, then doubled back and returned the way he came. I guess he was just looking for someone.
We waited for another couple minutes and didn't see anyone, so we headed across the street to give it a go. I was feeling a bit apprehensive, and I'm guessing the rest of the group did as well, so we just looked in and then decided to circle the building looking for additional entry points in addition to (if not instead of) the narrow space between the bent metal screen and the window frame. We worked our way along the back of the place and found that there was a basement loading dock. There was no longer a door but a huge screen was still present (picture what they pull down over store entrances at the mall when they close for the night). We could't get in that way, and we definitely would not have wanted to. There was up to six inches of water across the floor as far as we could see.
With the other options ruled out, we headed back to the only entrance and made our way inside. The place reeked of urine (and worse, I'm sure), but there was no one in sight at least, so we pressed on. Since the building had previously been used as a haunted house, there were terrific spooky drawings all around the room. Most were of skeletons made with white paint on a black background. There were some belongings of the homeless people in that room, but we didn't examine them very closely. Instead, we continued toward the back. The only other room accessible was a bathroom at the back, from which the powerful smell was eminating. All the rest of the floor was sealed off from that room.
Next we headed toward the stairs. There was an elevator, of course, but certainly no power. In fact, the elevator was open and the car was set to rest at the ground floor. This was apparently the official trash repository and, as such, was filled with debris of all sorts, mostly food wrappers. We started up the stairs, but I realized that if you went around the side to another set of stairs, these would lead to the basement. However, you only had to go a few feet down it before you were almost into the water. I couldn't gauge the depth, but it was at least three feet and likely much more. Just estimating from the path of the stairs, it could easily have been six feet deep. The water was so murky, however, that a precise estimate was impossible without something to probe it... like scuba gear perhaps? This end of the building was opposite that of the basement entrance we examined from the outside, so it is possible that the whole thing slanted toward this end. We'll likely never know.
After that dead end, the only way was up, so we took each floor at a time and covered it as thoroughly as possible before moving to the one above. As with the first floor, there were sometimes areas that were inaccessible, although we generally were able to see most of each. The notable exception was the far end of the building from where we entered which held one of the freight elevators. Strangely enough, this one was knocked out, and all that remained was a huge hole in the floor, one that went up and down the building from the top to the basement. It was pretty incredible.
Most portions of each floor were basically wide-open spaces without even walls (just pillars, much like those in some of the buildings in the Swift meat packing plant ruins also in Fort Worth). However, toward the end where we entered, there were areas that were either offices or possibly even residential in nature. A few rooms looked as though they were used for living rather than working. Of course, it was extremely hard to tell what anything was for given that there weren't even bathroom fixtures in most cases. Everything was stripped bare.
As we progressed through the place, there were ever fewer "camp sites" of homeless people as we had seen on the lower levels. On one maybe the second floor was a living area with a few belongings such as scattered articles of clothing, a piece of fruit (Chinese pear; thanks to Brei for the identification), and a bottle of lithium (a commonly prescribed mood stabilizer). We found fresh fruit in a couple other places throughout the place as well (oranges on both other occasions), so one might guess that they had a source somewhere such as a food bank or other charitable organization. The pictures in the galleries will hopefully give a better account of these spots than my words will, so refer to those.
Finally, we made it up to the roof. There were odd structures on top, such as little rooms with seven or eight foot high shelves that looked like they were for storing paperwork. But why on the roof?! They weren't in the weather, but anyone would be if they wanted to access them given that there were no stairs to these structures. It was very strange.
Part III: The Hermit Tunnel
Since we had assailed the Mt. Everst of urban exploration (well, the ten floors we had to work with), we were thoroughly worn out and very hungry. We headed back to the stock yards where the rest of the group had parked their cars, and we got something to eat over there. In thinking about where else to explore, I remembered another tunnel (Josh had just bought a pair of boots, after all) that Dani and I had tried to explore but ended up avoiding because we ran across a homeless person's belongings and didn't want to risk getting jumped. I didn't have the coordinates for it, but I called Dani (who couldn't go exploring with us since she was on call this weekend) and had her look up my "to do" list for the coordinates. I programmed those in, and we drove over there after we ate.
When Dani and I first spotted this set of tunnels, it seemed pretty inviting. We discovered it just after checking out the tunnels under the NE mall a few weeks earlier. It's a row of nine tunnels that are all 10' high and 10' wide, so it's an impressive sight/site. We started in with the left-most of these (i.e., the one closest to us). I was pleased to find a short way in that there were no stashes of homeless people's belongings in the same spot (on the ledge of a wall between adjactent tunnels) as were there last time, so I thought we were safe.
We continued along the tunnel and didn't see much else. It opened out and started up again, which was unusual but not unprecidented. There was some pretty good graffiti in one spot (i.e., real artwork, not just tags), and we checked out a few side tunnels, but there really wasn't that much to comment on. We doubled back and took the opposite tunnel (i.e., #8 of the row) for the return trip.
We had gotten almost back to where we had started from when we spotted a bunch of clothes, blankets, and other items on another ledge in this tunnel. It seems our mysterious resident hadn't left the place after all! The other items included a grocery bag with food in it and a candle as well, which was strange. I didn't get a better sense of what was in the bag because I make it a policy not to touch anyone's belongings in these sorts of encounters because I don't want to offend whoever they belong to. Also, lying on the floor were a couple bags of bread rolls, which were obviously from the Golden Corral (a popular buffet restaurant in the area) that was just next to the canal where these tunnels emptied into (we parked in their lot, incidentally).
Just a little beyond the clothes and food was a rare dry patch on the floor on which there sat several large beer bottles, additional bags of groceries, several men's magazines (2 issues of Maxim; one issue of Stuff), and a package containing a whole cooked chicken. The latter item was already opened and there were wet footprints nearby. I checked all our boots to see if ay of us had made them, but they didn't match our treads. In fact, this was confirmed when I took the lead as we approached the end of the tunnel and noticed more fresh prints in the mud which, obviously, we could not have made. Also, just outside the tunnel were more wet footprints up the side of the canal where our guy had made his escape. There were still more belongings there as well, including another blanket laying up against the concrete incline and a variety of other items (clothing and possibly groceries; I didn't get a good look) that were nestled behind a vertical pipe to keep them from sliding into the canal.
It wasn't a typo when I said earlier that there were nine tunnels and we headed back via #8. The farthest tunnel went in its own direction. This is the one that the ledge opened into, making a "window" between tunnels #8 and #9. In spite of what was likely a close encounter with this guy, we headed down this last tunnel. After all, there were four of us, and he seemed pretty reluctant to be seen, let alone make contact with any of us.
Unlike the other eight tunnels, this last one turned to the right and grew smaller just a short distance in. We went quite a ways back, but it just grew ever smaller without revealing anything interesting. We doubled back and, when we came across the ledge again, there was a new item there: a styrofoam drink cup. I confirmed that this was a not there on our previous pass by checking it against an earlier photo which showed everything else but the cup. Clearly this guy was there and had gone again between our visits, but we were finished so we left the place for good having never seen him.
I was never so exhausted when it was over. I guess I've gone longer a few times, but this was a full twelve hour day of exploring... and between the Swift plant and the warehouse, we went up and down more stairs than I think I ever have in a single day.
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