Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Your $1.25 million dream house? Home sweet silo

Property comes with aquarium, pool, history

By Justin Fenton
Enquirer staff writer

DILLSBORO, Ind. - During the Cold War, the U.S. military set up hundreds of Nike missile stations as part of a national defense against hostile Soviet aircraft carrying nuclear weapons.

Little did the government know, but it was also getting into the real estate business.

These days, a 14.5-acre Dillsboro site serves as a home for Harold Whisman, who transformed the station into an underground home complete with a swimming pool, waterfall, 9,000-gallon aquarium and storage area for his antique car parts.

And it can be yours for $1.25 million. Whisman has been looking for buyers for the unusual home on the online auction site eBay since late June.

Named after the Greek goddess of victory, Nike missile sites were first set up in the 1950s, with about 250 sites ringing major cities. Nike veteran John Braun said there were 12 in Ohio and six in Indiana, manned with nuclear weapons.

Braun, 61, of Indianapolis, served three years on a station in Munster, Ind., as an electronics technician.

"We were there 24/7, 365 days a year, and never released any missiles at any of the 200-plus sites," Braun said. "These were top-secret military installations, with gate guards at both ends and German shepherds roaming the inner fence down at the launching area. We had mock drills - B-52s flew at us like they were invading Cincinnati, and we'd track them and do everything but launch the missile."

Heavy duty

The missile stations had two components: the ground-based radar and computer systems, which tracked hostile aircraft, and the "launcher area," where missiles were stored horizontally within heavily constructed underground missile magazines.

The Nike Ajax missile carried three explosive payloads that were capable of maximum speeds of more than 1,600 miles an hour and could reach targets as high as 70,000 feet, carrying the force of a ton of TNT.

The larger type, the Nike Hercules, could be armed with nuclear warheads that could deliver a two- to 30-kiloton blow - twice the power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

As the Soviet threat waned and priorities shifted, the need for the sites disappeared. In 1974, all operational sites were deactivated.

Throughout the country, Nike missile historians and veterans have been trying to track down defunct sites. Most were razed and either remain as grassy vacant lots or have been developed into businesses, school district offices, storage facilities or parking lots.

CD-63, the Dillsboro site along Ind. 262, was set up in 1958 to protect Cincinnati and Dayton and was shut down in 1969.

Creative remodeling

Whisman bought the launching area and its three "silos" in 1979. It is thought to be the only missile station in use as a residence.

Whisman, who worked in the used Corvette parts business, cut the giant missile-transporting elevator of one of the silos in half and built a swimming pool that's anchored by a 9,000-gallon aquarium.

The home also features a fireplace, waterfall and goldfish pond, hot tub, sauna and a family room with a carpet made of artificial turf from the Bengals football field, according to information on the eBay auction page.

Whisman did not return repeated phone calls and e-mails seeking an interview.

The concept of living underground in a missile silo conjures up a cavelike image. But pictures of the home on the eBay site show typical residential features such as wood paneling, windows, carpeting and furniture.

Above ground, the station could best be described as a "fixer-upper" - used car parts are piled high behind abandoned storage facilities and the only thing not rusted over is the grass, which neighbors say Whisman returns to cut, from his 50-acre farm in nearby Aurora.

In Dillsboro, a rural town of 1,400 located 40 miles west of Cincinnati, the missile station-turned-residence is just another house.

"I think everybody's basically impartial about it," neighbor David Miller, 44, said. "I'd like to see it, just to see what it looks like. [But] as far as Harold's concerned, we wave as we go by, and that's as far as it goes."

Braun stopped by the station a few years ago in hopes of taking a peek at what Whisman has done with his former place of work. But he hasn't gotten further than a phone conversation. With the eBay listing, he's finally gotten a glimpse inside.

"The pictures, they're quite interesting," he said. "It's really neat what he did down there. That was just a big concrete bunker."

One-of-a-kind property (really)

For sale: 1950s-era Nike missile site.

Cost: $1.25 million.

Where: Ind. 262, Dillsboro, Ind.

Previous use: Set up in 1958, one of 250 manned with nuclear weapons to defend major U.S. cities in case of a Cold War attack.

Demise: All operational sites were deactivated by 1974 as the threat of Cold War waned. The Dillsboro site was shut down in 1969.

More information: eBay.com, item No. 4308246626.

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