Remember the man who buried 42 school buses on his land to build an underground doomsday bunker?
Well, now it’s finished and he’s finally ready to show the world what’s it’s like inside.
But, things haven’t been plain sailing for the Ark…
The man who buried 42 school buses
September was a cruel month for Bruce Beach and his wife, Jean.
Somebody stole the chainsaws out of their garage, and rats gnawed their way into the bags of wheat they had stored out back of the house.
Then they had a small fire and a flood and, worst of all, the rats — now fattened on wheat — invaded their home on a quiet stretch of road in the village of Horning’s Mills, about two hours northwest of Toronto.
“There was a rat right there,” Beach says, gesturing at the top of the fridge.
“He was staring at me, and our cat, Ginger, was staring at him.”
Fires, floods, thieves, rodents: The elderly couple has survived all manner of calamity in recent weeks, except for the one disaster they have actually been preparing for over the past 50 years — a nuclear war.
Beach is the founder of Ark Two, a privately owned, 10,000-square-foot nuclear fallout shelter, sunk beneath several meters of concrete and soil on a 12.5 acre parcel of land near his home.
He built this bomshelter by burying 42 school buses.
And, yes, the 83-year-old is accustomed to being dismissed as a “kook.”
But maybe he’s onto something.
The Atomic Doomsday clock, which counts down to a hypothetical midnight of nuclear catastrophe, is currently set at two and a half minutes to 12 a.m. — the closest we’ve been since 1953.
Recently, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said this is “the most uncertain moment in international relations since the end of the Second World War.”
None of which is lost on Beach, who believes “now more than ever,” people need to be thinking about their options in the event of a war instead of frittering time away on their smartphones.
Beach, mind you, is choosy about who gets into his shelter.
To gain access to the facility on an unseasonably warm October afternoon, three National Post staffers first had to chop and stack firewood at Beach’s home.
Once satisfied, he promised us the “two-dollar,” as opposed to the “25-cent” tour.
Beach, who has the wild white beard of a Bible prophet, is originally from Winfield, Kansas.
His father owned a grocery store and his mother worked in the courthouse.
He was an only child and a target for bullies, chiefly a kid named John Dunn, whom Beach reluctantly agreed to fight in elementary school, declaring after he had won that he would never fight again.
And he hasn’t.
He was always more interested in survival, anyway.
Beach was living in Chicago and working as a general contractor and electrical engineer around the time that President John F. Kennedy was advising Americans to stock up on canned goods and build backyard bomb shelters.
He figured a better approach to ride out the coming nuclear war was to abandon the city entirely.
So he moved to Canada in 1970.
Beach eventually settled in the village where Jean was born.
Now 90 and practically deaf, though sharp, she responded quickly when asked why she fell in love with her husband.
“I’ve often asked myself that question,” she said, laughing.
“I almost married another guy but my Dad broke it up, and I am glad he did. Bruce takes care of me — and I take care of him.”
She made him a peanut butter sandwich (on white bread) for lunch the day we visited.
He cut it into three sections, washing it down with a Dr. Pepper, a beverage, he noted, that was invented in Texas.
Jean’s family also had land that was perfect for a bomb shelter, and over time Beach’s idea blossomed beneath the ground in a field bordered by a stream, and neighbors who aren’t interested in discussing Bruce Beach.
“People think, ‘What a nut,’ and I know that, but I don’t mind,” he says.
“I understand the world looks upon me that way.”
Burying 42 school buses
Construction began in 1980.
Beach started buying 42 school buses – for $300 a piece — and excavated the property, eventually planting 42 school buses in the earth and covering them with concrete and soil.
(all 42 school buses have reinforced steel roofs, and make for good bomb shelter molds).
All was ready by 1982.
Thirty-five years later, the Ark still is ready, sort of.
Beach fired up the generator.
Down we went, past a locked door and two locked gates and into a reception area with cubbyholes — “for firearms” — said Beach.
The air was damp, the lighting poor.
Moisture beaded off the ceiling.
In one room there was a rusted exercise bike that, once upon a time, was rigged up as a pedal-powered-grinding-mill for wheat.
There were several storage bins of toilet paper.
“Those aren’t for use, but for bartering,” Beach explained.
“We have all the comforts of home.”
There is a brig, mortuary, dentist’s chair, decontamination room, several chess sets – to teach the kids — and a box marked “radiation suits.”
The scope of the Ark is staggering; it is a moldy museum to the atomic age.
Alas, at its present age, it appears better suited to filming a horror movie shoot than sheltering humans.
“We got to get things tidied up,” Beach said.
One of the challenges of preparing for the end, and not having it come, is that technology keeps changing.
The shelter’s three security monitors are from old Commodore 64 computers.
There is a working landline, with a rotary phone, and a jar of pickles from 1987.
“I don’t know how many tons of food we have had to throw out over the years,” Beach says.
He holds work weekends at the site, for like-minded souls.
Most volunteers only come once, and so he has winnowed the list of invites to the 50 semi-regulars, all of whom are guaranteed a spot in the Ark Two, originally built to accommodate 350.
“I’ll probably have trouble getting people to come in,” Beach admits.
His two adult children are no longer interested in hearing their Dad prattle on about a nuclear war.
Even Jean, sweet as she is, gets tired of her husband’s apocalyptic monologues.
“It wears on my wife,” he says.
Officials in nearby Shelburne have threatened to permanently seal the Ark on multiple occasions, citing public safety.
But Beach soldiers on.
The shelter needs mopping.
Somebody needs to clamber down into the well and dig out the sediment.
The generator could use updating.
There is work to do.
“I used to always say the end of the world was going to be two years from now,” Beach says, cackling with glee.
“But now I say it is going to be two weeks from now — and if I am wrong, I will revise my date.
“I’ve done it before.”
The only thing that concerns Beach is the fact he’s had to throw out “tons of food” over the years.
Beach said his adult children are fed up of hearing him rattle on about nuclear war, and his explanations have taken its toll on his wife Jean, 90.
“She’ll thank me when the end comes,” he says cackling gleefully.