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Chris G. Williams Beware: I mix tech and personal interests here.
Mission: Pet Food Mill
Status: Abandoned, at least 10 years

We got together shortly after dark, with no clear plan on where we wanted to go. Piling in the car, we stopped at a convenience store to grab some snacks and batteries. I have a ridiculously bright LED flashlight but it eats batteries pretty fast. After that, we took a ride and briefly (without getting out of the car) scouted a couple locations of interest. One in particular looked interesting, but was sealed up tight, with concrete slabs blocking every entrance. This is a common tactic used to deter urban exploration (and squatters, taggers, crackheads) in abandoned buildings, but most companies don't bother doing this until there's been a problem.

So that location was out, at least for tonight, but there were other options. Driving around a little more, we saw the perfect place: an old mill that had been abandoned for at least 10 years, possibly longer. It was an interesting shaped facility, with multiple high elevations and a nice long loading area. Hopefully perfect for easy access. We drove past it a couple times, getting a rough idea of the neighborhood (not great) and the lighting/traffic situation.

Eventually, we parked the car a few blocks away in a residential area and started walking. It took about 8-10 minutes to get from the car to the mill. Risk factor on this one was pretty much the same as the drains, if caught we would definitely be arrested and most likely prosecuted. The chances of being caught were probably also higher here than the drains. Being aware of this, and the possible physical risks that go with any abandoned mill made for that familiar feeling in the pit of my stomach.

As we approached the mill, we did a couple things wrong that seem obvious now (the next morning.) For starters, we came at it from the wrong side. There was a fairly active intersection and road / railroad crossing within plain sight of where we left the road and made our way towards the mill. We also hesitated (due to the traffic) before heading in. We looked pretty damn suspicious (imo.)

Once there was a break in traffic, we walked down the railroad tracks into the darkness. We were actually out of casual observation range pretty quick, although we weren't sure of that at the time. There were also a couple of motion triggered lights further down at the other end of the building. Not really a problem since we were well out of their range, but worth noting.

By the time we got to the loading docks, it was pretty damn dark but we didn't risk using our flashlights without muting them, since that would have been pretty obvious. The loading dock was covered so we didn't get much benefit from the moon either. The good part is that there was no way anyone at the road could see us at this point.

We climbed up on the loading dock and checked a few of the possible entrances. Working our way down to the end, we found a door that had been recently sealed (within the last week.) Surprisingly, the door next to it was not sealed, and was actually open about a foot.  (We knew the one door had been recently sealed because one of our group had done a recon here not too long ago and the door was accessible then.)

Not one to question our good luck, we stuck our brightest flashlight (mine) in through the open door and checked the outside windows for signs of light. We were in luck, no light pollution outside, so we slipped in through the door.

Two things struck me immediately about this place. The first was that it stank. It smelled a lot worse than the mill we recon'd last week. The second thing I noticed was a truly incredible amount of spiderwebs. This was nearly enough to end my part of the mission, but upon closer inspection, I couldn't actually find any spiders anywhere. Believe me, I looked.

The floor of this room, and it was basically a large room with several exits, was covered in some type of meal and there was meal dust floating in the air. It's part of what made the webbing so visible, and it also made us very aware of all the nasty crap we were sucking into our lungs. There were huge piles of the stuff everywhere.

Checking out the first room didn't take long, mostly because there wasn't anything terribly interesting in it. A few pipes and tubes through the ceiling, some random pieces of machinery that had been stripped of anything valuable or serviceable, and a fairly light amount of trash... mostly soda cans.

Off of this room, was a small office area with filing cabinets that appeared to be a shipping and receiving area. A quick glance in there and then moving on. The first room also had some holes in the floor that revealed lower levels full of machinery, more meal and sludge.

Moving out of the first room into a tight passage, with more cobwebs, and then a much larger open area, we got an appreciation for just how big this place actually was. The next room we entered was easily 200 feet long and 50 feet across. There was a very sticky sludge on the floor that meant we had to keep moving or run the risk of going home barefoot. I paused for a moment and nearly lost a shoe. This room was interesting because of its size, and the presence of still more unidentifiable machinery and the first of several pieces of graffiti. This place didn't have near as much as the first mill we visited, but higher levels did contain more, including a piece tagged as 2008.

Given the wide open nature of the first floor, it didn't take us long to explore it. We found three different sets of stairs, all leading up and down from the current floor. What we glimpsed of the sub-levels through the holes in the floor told us we weren't ready to go down there without waders and possibly gas-masks. Besides, we really want to explore the elevations, and get up on the roof. So we went up.

Coming up the stairs to the second floor there were two open doorways near the landing. One led into more rooms and the other was a quick step into darkness and a 20 foot drop to the sludge covered floor below. Taking that turn without paying attention could definitely ruin a mission and possibly kill someone. Any time I let myself doubt or dismiss the safety hazards in a place like this, seeing stuff like that reminds me pretty quickly.

The second floor was pretty much more of the same. A little more graffiti and a lot less cobwebs, oddly. Most of the meal dust and piles were all on the first floor, with this upper floor being fairly clean and sludge free. (Clean is probably a stretch. I wouldn't have a picnic in here, but it was definitely less disgusting than the first floor.) Mostly we saw various pieces of stripped down equipment, empty shelving, random operators manuals and soda cans. Some of the windows on the floor were open or broken, so it wasn't stuffy at all, but we did have to be careful of hitting the windows with our lights.

Occasionally, we'd see a flash of light or hear a noise that gave us pause. Thinking back to the open door made me wonder if there were some taggers or squatters somewhere else in the building. Most of the time though, it turned out to be a reflection from one of our flashlights, or the glow of a street facing window. The noises were most likely echoes of our own voices and movements.

Having explored the second floor somewhat, and really wanting to get up top, we skipped the rest and cruised up the stairs toward the roof access. Somewhere between the 4th and 5th floors, we all froze when we heard the singing. Looking out the window next to the stairs, we had a clear view of the (well-lit) road and sidewalk on the other side. The singing was coming from a guy riding his bicycle down the sidewalk, oblivious to our presence. We waited until he was completely out of sight, and continued up to the roof access door. Trying the door, it was unlocked and pushed open.

Not wanting to get trapped on the roof (thus ensuring our eventual arrest and misdemeanor charges) we checked the door from both sides to make sure we could get back down. No worries there, so we started looking around. The first thing I noticed is that this roof was in much better shape than the one from the first mill I visited. That's the difference 20 years of neglect will make. This roof was also covered in stones, which was kinda nice and yes, once again, there was a tree growing on the roof. Trees, while cool looking, are still a cause for concern. As they grow larger, their root systems will dig into the roof and destroy the structure, making it very hazardous to get too close to one. This one was really small though, so not anything to worry about yet.

Visibility from the roof was really good, and we had a clear view of the other half of the building (which had much higher elevations and very interesting features.) We also had a clear view of the road below and the surrounding area. Fortunately there was a wall, about chest high, around parts of the roof so we had enough cover that we could avoid being seen unless someone was specifically looking for us.

We spent a little time up there, taking pictures and looking around, before deciding we had pushed our luck about as far as we wanted to for one night. We'd only explored about 25-30% of the mill at this point, so we resolved to return at a later date and try to get through the other end and explore that, and get to the other roof.

By this point, my sinuses were packed from all the nasty stuff I'd been breathing in for the last couple hours, although the fresh air on the roof helped. I was definitely ready to go. Climbing back down wasn't a problem, and we made it back to the ground floor in just a few minutes, working our way back across the length of the building, and watching for holes and other hazards.

It still strikes me as curious that the higher/further in we go, the (mostly) better the graffiti gets. It was the same way at the first mill. It seems like the better taggers (artists) go for the degree of risk as part of showing off their skill. I'm really interested in seeing what we find on the 3rd, 4th and 5th floors. The roof was devoid of any significant artwork. I'm betting the sub-levels will be too. Some things just aren't worth the effort/risk.

Once we were back to the first room, I got a vivid reminder of the stench and spiderwebs that greeted us when we first arrived. Fortunately the rest of the place had little in common with that first room.

Making our way outside, we decided to leave from the opposite end of the property from where we entered. There were a few train cars on the tracks, and plenty of shadows to move around in, so we walked along the tracks until we hit the side road and made our way back to the main street. Much less traffic and potential observers on this end.

Circling back around, we discussed the mission on our way back to the car. Definitely an interesting place that we plan to revisit soon, before the one remaining easy entrance gets sealed up.  The rest of the night was uneventful, going out for a couple drinks and then going our separate ways. Posted on Saturday, August 23, 2008 2:21 PM General Interest , Urban Exploration | Back to top

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