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Nuclear Family

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EDWARD AND DIANNA PEDEN DON’T WORRY MUCH ABOUT break-ins. The only entrance to their recently renovated home near the northeast Kansas town of Dover is through a 120-foot tunnel, the house’s concrete walls are a foot and a half thick, and there are no windows—just a skylight above the 54′-by-54′ future family room. Unusual as it is, their house is much cozier now than when it was abandoned 30 years ago by its previous occupant: an Atlas E intercontinental nuclear missile.

“This place was built on a fear-based theory that the world needed a destructive force to remain free,” says Edward, 48, a former high school history teacher who now manufactures ultralight aircraft. “It’s very different now.” Indeed it is. Eleven years after they bought the missile launch site for $40,000, Edward and his wife, Dianna, 41, a speech therapist in the Topeka school system, and their two daughters, Heather, 10, and Ashley, 12, are comfortably ensconced in the once-cavernous space. So far it has, among other things, a kitchen, dining room, TV room and four bedrooms.

It was not, obviously, your typical fixer-upper. First the Pedens had to pump out 8½ feet of rainwater that had collected on the floor of the installation. They caulked the roof—a 400-ton concrete-and-steel retractable ceiling panel—placed a few lawn chairs and a barbecue grill on top of it and called it a patio. In lieu of windows, they built a 128-square-foot skylight. They also added two towers, accessible from inside the home, that give them views that a more conventional above-ground house would have.

The interior, with 18,000 square feet and 15-foot ceilings, was an even greater challenge. So far they have carved out 2,300 square feet of living area, some of it loft space. Along one wall, near where the children plan to set up a trampoline, runs a 6′-wide, 3′-deep trench that used to function as a cooling bath for the Atlas engines. “I think this could be a nice little wading pool,” says Peden. The couple left the bathroom as it was, with two toilets—”his and hers,” says Peden. The adjoining missile bay is where Ed builds ultralight planes—which can be flown from a mile-long airstrip that came with the property.

Although electric bills run between $140 and $270 a month, the home is fuel-efficient. Being underground, it stays comfortable during the summer, and the Pedens get by with a wood stove for heat in the winter.

The Pedens’ home is one of nine launch sites built—at a cost of tens of millions—in eastern Kansas in the 1950s. The missile that used to live here was put on alert only once, during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. By 1965 the Atlas E had become obsolete, and the installations were decommissioned.

Some of the silos were sold to farmers or salvage companies. One is now a school. The Pedens believe they are the first to complete a residential conversion. To make sure the silo’s aura was peaceful, says Dianna, the couple enlisted the help of a tribal medicine woman to purge any “bad or negative energy” that might have been left behind by the Atlas.

These days, the Pedens, who have taken options on two other silos, receive visitors “from all across the world interested in this property,” says Ed. “We have people who want to use this place to raise snails and one lady who thought it would be perfect for breeding parrots, because of all the room. I like to think,” he adds, “that we are kind of like pioneers.”


TIM DRAPE near Dover