As soon as the new Kennedy administration took office, it began working on a program to encourage the building of fallout shelters. It was thought that communities far enough from ground zero might have a significant number of survivors, if they could be sheltered from the initial explosion and if they could stay underground long enough for the radiation to return to safe levels.
It didn’t take long for the marketplace to respond. That year a huge collection of backyard fallout shelters was the main attraction at the Heart O’ Texas Fair, held annually at the Waco Coliseum. Most of the time the big draw was a variety of Air Force and Army weapons–fighter jets, bombers, army tanks and personnel carriers–but not this year.
The shelters on display ranged in size from small one- or two-person quonset huts to massive family-sized affairs. The idea was to bury them in the back yard under enough dirt that radiation wouldn’t penetrate that far, stocked with enough food and water to last for at least the two weeks or so it supposedly took for the radiation to dissipate to non-lethal levels. Then the family would emerge to find out what was left of the world.
They were designed to be entered from a narrow opening at the top, but the display shelters were cut open so that the curious could see what they looked like inside. Helpful salesmen were on hand to demonstrate the advantages of each model to prospective buyers and to sign up anyone who wanted one.
Never mind that most homes in Waco were built in places where the bedrock was mere inches below a thin layer of soil. None of the houses in my neighborhood had basements; Excavating them would have required tunneling through solid rock.
Of course I wanted one. My terror of another tornado hitting Waco had by now been replaced by the fear of a nuclear war, which was beginning to seem inevitable.
You’ll have to wait a little while to read the story about it, though. I’m on vacation this week, so there will be no Sleeper Ave. posted this Wednesday. I’ll be back next week, though.