As I scanned the hallway left and right I saw other similarly paired sets of large garage-style doors mated with smaller people doors. Each set was spaced at least fifty feet apart before the next pairing of garage/people doors. Each additional pairing had a wall sign -- all too far away for me to read. The length of the hallway in both directions indicated it stretched as far as my football field many stories below.
“Hello?” I shouted, and it echoed back. I only half expected an answer. As before, I got none.
I again eye-balled the Blackberry. It was still out of signal range.
I walked past the useless elevator doors and headed for the Munitions Room. I took hold of the knob on the people door and turned: it wasn’t locked. I entered and found a huge and mostly empty warehouse far deeper than it was wide, so its dimensions were similar to a railroad boxcar. But the actual measurements made it ten times larger than a true rail car, making me a tiny mouse in the corner beholding its far wall spanning more than fifty yards of absolute emptiness.
If this had been a true munitions room, it would have held rack upon rack of guns, grenades, bombs, and ammunition. And access to those racks would have required getting past more than one heavily secured door as well as several guards and a ton of paperwork. But I only saw three meager racks of the sort one might expect to find in a private home, standing side-by-side in a straight and unbroken line, just to one side of the nearby garage door. All three racks sat draped with plastic dust cloths, blurred by a grayish yellow haze of dust. Through the blurry plastic I made out a fair number of hand guns, rifles and knives, all military grade, although I didn’t see any ammunition. I walked a circle around the racks and found an end-cap of drawers. I deliberately didn’t touch the drawers, but I suspected they held caliber-appropriate ammunition for each firearm.
I contemplated the danger of getting caught taking any of it, or of even being there. So after glancing around and spotting no phones, I decided it might be best to simply leave. But before exiting, I held up the Blackberry, again seeking a signal. (I got none.) I left that room and closed the door.
Back out in the hallway, I continued from door set to door set, not bothering to actually open the doors. I just read their many placards, hoping to find either a phone or another human being. No people presented themselves, but as for the names on the rooms, they bore such odd labels as “Millwork,” “Hardware,” “Electrical,” “Glass and Mirror,” “Metal Shop,” even one marked “Plumbing,” which peaked my interest.
I entered the Plumbing room. It was identical to the massive railroad boxcar dimensions of the Munitions room, except this room was actually full. Rack upon rack stretched through its whole length, every rack crammed full of supplies and covered with plastic sheets, and the plastic sheets covered with dust. It was like walking into a forgotten Home Depot, but just for plumbing. Pipes and valves and joints and faucets, all neglected for years. And then I found pipefitting equipment similar to what I saw in the workroom back down in the tank array. I also found one entire aisle full of small drawers, their exteriors labeled with content-descriptions: they all held small parts like washers and pipe caps and “O”-rings of assorted sizes and thicknesses. As I progressed toward the back of the room, I even found hundreds of dust-covered cardboard factory shipping containers full of brand name, high end, civilian bathroom fixtures: porcelain toilets, porcelain sinks, porcelain bath tubs -- all of which had at one time or another been the most expensive brands on the market. And lastly I found heating supplies including more factory shipping cartons of brand name home water heaters, home oil storage tanks, and home gas furnaces. Through the dust I recognized the brand names, and I also recalled that a few of those companies had either changed their logos since these boxes had been shipped, or else weren’t even in business anymore.
I checked the Blackberry, still got the “No Signal” warning, then tore myself away from this spectacle and returned to the hallway.
The very next set of doors was marked “Telecom” and that gave me hope. I quickly entered and found yet another dusty warehouse, also full of many rows of heavily stocked, plastic-draped racks, but this time it was all telecommunications equipment. I peeled back a few plastic, dust-fogged sheets to behold the myriad raw parts underneath, but no completed units -- just lots of wire and speakers and circuit boards. I also quite strangely found an entire aisle stocked with case upon case of many thousands of glass vacuum tubes -- I didn’t think anyone even used vacuum tubes anymore.
Toward the back I discovered hundreds of huge wooden spools of different grades of wiring, some insulated, some exposed. Next I found another aisle full of case upon case of small steel bells like an old fashioned windup alarm clock might have mounted on its topside in a matching pair, except these bells all sat loose and tumbling inside the cases. As I picked up one case to inspect it, the bells within all rattled and jangled on top of each other.
The final spectacle I came upon was a row of six massive heavy-duty wooden shipping crates, each large enough to hold a small automobile. They were all marked with the same label: “SWITCHBOARD.” I feverishly clawed at one and pried it open. A small avalanche of foam packing peanuts tumbled out and revealed a finely crafted and very old-fashioned looking wooden telephone switchboard. I had never seen a real switchboard in my life outside of an old movie. And here I was gazing upon the genuine article. But it wasn’t connected to anything, just sitting there in this packed and useless state. Mounted against the side of the crate I spotted an old and yellowing clear plastic pocket for documents. Folded up inside it I discerned an old pink shipping invoice. I fished it out, unfolded it, and read the details:
CUSTOMER: J. Warren
ADDRESS: 1892 Front Street, Philadelphia, PA
CONTENTS: SEE COMMENTS
COMMENTS: 4 of 6 Kellogg telephone switchboards, circa 1928, Chicago, Illinois. Broker Jeffrey Beaumont, Philadelphia, PA.
I pocketed the shipping invoice and turned to leave.
I exited this room with both my mystification and frustration mounting in equal measures.
-------------------End of Chapter 9-c--------------------