Tunnel Hacking:

> For that matter, tunnel hacking. Etler?

etler: Oh lordy lordy. This will be a long story.

Exploring Madison
or
I'm Amazed I Never Got Caught


Disclaimer: Kids don't try this. I don't care if you're at home or not.

You get caught and you're likely to either get expelled or arrested. Used to be we'd say "Ah, if they see us, just run. What are they going to do? Shoot at us?" Turns out these days they might. I take no responsibility for anyone's stupidity.

Warning: I don't know much about OSHA rules for asbestos or roaches, but both are plentyful in these locations. There's the chance of getting burnt too.

That said, let's see what I remember.

To keep it clean (and to not show off how much my memory has deteriorated) I'm not going to mention any names.

I've always been interested in infrastructure. Probably the reason I ended up doing networking and telephony. Physical infrastructure is just as cool. My freshman year, before I knew any of you schmucks, a guy who lived in one of the dorms told a couple friends of mine that he knew how to get into the steam tunnels which run all over the underbelly of campus. So of course we went along with him and the adventure began.

Turned out he was an idiot and the first time we went we didn't see much. But I went back with one of my friends and ended up exploring nearly the entire network.

In the beginning, the only way we knew how to gain entry was to find one of those red iron grates in the sidewalk that was unlocked. There were precious few that didn't have master locks on them but there were a couple. We also learned later that those weren't the only ways in. There are much more non-descript ways to enter the tunnels, but we only found them by accidentally exiting through them.

The first common method of entry we discovered was a wonderfully hidden grating located behind the Family Sciences building on Lindon I believe. This was unlocked and gave direct access to the tunnels that went down Lindon St. and then up the back side of Bascom Hill. You could also access the tunnels that went down towards Engineering and University Ave. There were plenty of interesting things to be seen down in the tunnels. Much of the campus telephone, data, and cable wiring goes down there. There's also the pipes. Oh glorious pipes. This is where the asbestos comes in as they are coated with them. We also found the place where the foundation for Bascom Hall juts out into the tunnel and the fabled American flag spray paint mural on a wall.

Another interesting feature of the tunnels is the ability to enter various building sub-basements. I'm not going to guess which ones we got into, but there was always a table with some chairs (often on a dirt floor) with a few decades old porno magazines on them.

This sub-basement connection almost screwed a couple people I knew. They were being less than stealthy on a tour I didn't attend while they went past the Facilities building which is near CS&S. Apparently there were some facilities type people in the basement who heard my friends and pursued them down the tunnels. My friends were able to get away from them, but we found that the Family Sciences entrance was locked after that. This incident freaked out a few people so tours and exploration were disbanded for a while.

I'm pretty sure we covered the vast majority of the system. We made our way nearly to the Lakeshore dorms. Then down over to Engineering and Camp Randall where the tunnels are much newer (and more infested with roaches).

I believe one can gain access to the control room of the Engineering fountain from the tunnels around there. From Linden St. we were able to go up the backside of Bascom Hill and then down the front. Very interesting sloped tunnels at this point. There's an exit point we popped out of one evening while lost that turned out to be smack dab in the middle of Bascom Hill. Good thing it was 2am. The sight of two black clad young men climbing out of the bowels of Bascom Hill in the dead of night must have been interesting.

Unfortunately, some of the newer parts of campus, while still using steam,are not connected with tunnels, at least that we could find. For instance, Dayton St. has a lot of the red iron entrances, but they seem to give access only to a bunch of small rooms that have pipes entering them. The rooms themselves aren't connected very well.

At one point Dave Devereaux-Webber had a Java applet linked from his webpages that contained a CAD drawing of all of campus. They were using it for the old dorm CATV project. If you knew what to look for, you could find the steam tunnels all laid out on there. I recall seeing a few branches that we never found but by that point I wasn't too interested in going back. Not sure if that's still up on his webpages or not.

One of the challenges of exploring the tunnels is that it's extremely warm down there. But you don't want to wear shorts and a short sleeve shirt due to some very hot pipes and excess steam shooting into the corridors at some places. So the hot summer months were pretty much right out for exploring. Mostly we had to do it during winter which posed a problem for getting to the entrances when it was 10 degrees out. Never really stopped us though.

So after my friends almost got caught we sort of gave up exploring for a while. Not much more to see and we'd probably inhaled more asbestos than recommended for healthy young adults. However, one day a couple years later I was sitting near a steam tunnel entrance and happened to glance over at the masterlock. To my amazement I noticed that the key number was printed on the bottom! Being an enterprizing individual I came into ownership of a few of these keys and thus the tunnels were opened again.

I think by this point I wasn't very interested in the tunnels. This was probably due to an employment situation which required I have access to the wonderfully named UT or Utility Keys. For those unfamiliar with the UT Key concept, the UW campus has something like 4 different UT keys for the entire campus. These keys will give you access to nearly every utility closet you can find. Very useful. CS&S uses two of them. Within CS&S there's quite a few interesting places one can get to with a UT key. I believe I gave a few tours of the highlights. There's the obvious IDF closets located throughout Units I, II, and III. There's a few less obvious places. In the basement near the junctions of Units II and III, right near the entrance to the DOIT platform there's three interesting rooms. The first is called the CNI, Common Network Interface.

This is the room that many of the telephone circuits come into. Very impressive if you go for the whole rows and rows of 110-blocks thing. The two other rooms are called MDFs, Main Distribution Frames. Old telco terms. Anyway, the MDFs have tons of fiber that go all over campus and to various parts of CS&S. Also copper. And DOIT used to have a Fore ATM something-something in the newer room. No idea if it's still there.

(Pictures: http://www.cs.wisc.edu/~etler/cslpics/)

It was from the CNI that I discovered the Muzak feed I mentioned earlier.

I was wiring something up one fine afternoon and saw a red and white pair of wires going through the normal yellow and green pairs. Anything out of the ordinary has to be interesting so I traced it out. I found it went to a splitter so I plugged in and to my amazement heard christmas music! It was very surreal and unexpected. I was able to trace it up to the 8th floor of the building where it disappeared into the locked CATV headend gear (see below). This was interesting so I traced some more. I found it went from that splitter off into Ameritech's network (to god knows where) and another branch over into the MDF where DOIT had just installed somenew on hold call center gear. It was Muzak! As a matter of principle the CSL had to have some of it too. So I was able to, by going through something like five different IDFs and the MDF get the signal over to a pair near the CSL's small PBX system. Didn't end up using it though since we soon after installed a CD player for the hold music (on a PC).

Probably still there though.

Other interesting parts of the CS&S building can be reached via the basement. There was a door right across from the now deceased DOIT InfoLab that let you into the bowels of the building. From here you could reach all of the electric distribution panels (big mothers) and the best, the emergency lights generator. It was rather large, though I've seen much bigger for powering datacenters. It took up a decent sized room though. There were various other rooms that had electrical stuff in thatarea, and also some of DOIT's data equipment.

One place not accessible with a UT key is the DOIT platform. A very interesting place if you can get a tour or work for DOIT. Though it was more interesting before Yucky was replaced. It has a very interesting smell to it. Makes you think you're in the 1970s (and I'm not talking pot). Sort of a musty old equipment smell. Made me sad. There was a lot of old IBM stuff down there. Yucky and the Hospital mainframe took up a lot of the space. Not sure what it's like these days.

Possibly the best part of the building was the 8th floor, unreachable via elevator. This floor was where all of the building's utility stuff took place, like ventilation and air conditioning. It was pretty wide open, though there was and probably still is some old cable headend gear from an ill conceived cable TV situation the university go into. Has fiber going all over campus though, and I think is hooked up to the satellite dishes on the roof still. From the 8th floor you could go through a small door out to a sub roof that has fans for all the environmental controls. This was neat, but it got better. You could then climb up a ladder that went up about 20 feet along the side of the building (terrible for people with vertigo) to the real roof.

The view from up there is quite spectacular although parts are a bit obscured by the Atmosphereic and Oceanic Sciences building. One of the things I learned was that you might not realize it, but Madison is a very green city. Lots of trees. You can see very far from up there and it was always fun to take a hand held ham radio up there for better reception. One of the jobs I created for myself was the semi-random check of the CSL's GPS based NTP antenna. A bit of justification to go up there, though I wouldn't do it during winter. Too cold and dangerous. I once entertained the idea of stringing a bunch of christmas lights around the top of the building, but never actually did it. Would have looked cool.

On one of the last days I was in Madison before I left there was a huge storm. A few of us stood under the overhang that looks out towards Union South watching it come down. At one point it was coming down so hard that all we could see was a white wall of water. It quickly passed over and we noticed that Johnson St. was flooding. At least a couple feet of standing water. So we quickly ran up to the roof to check things out. It was probably amazingly dangerous due to the storms nearby but hey, you only live once. The view was great. The soaked city below us and dark green storm clouds moving across Lake Mendota. We watched cars try to navigate the flooded street for a while and saw some poor soul who was walking on the sidewalk get soaked head to toe when a large truck plowed through the small pond that had formed.

It was a very good way to say good bye to Madison.

Good times.

wonko: What's interesting (or maybe not) is that my cousin, class of 1965, tells a similar story of sneaking into the tunnels, exploring around, and finding tables-n-porn and stuff (and booze).

And then I also found out from my grandfather, who attended the UW from 1926-29 (he was the first class to stay in Tripp hall) did pretty much the same thing. Although his story was a bit funnier becasue everyone was trying to use the tunnels to sneak over to the girls' dorm.

hartmann: Actually, the tunnels were mentioned in the alumni magazine a couple of years ago:

http://www.uwalumni.com/onlinewisconsin/2001-11.html
*************************************************************
THE TRUTH ABOUT TUNNELS
Nancy Goodmonson '91 asks Abe, "What's up with all the steam tunnels under
campus?"

Answer: While a great deal of campus lore surrounds this century-plus-old
system, it exists solely to supply steam heat to most of the buildings on
campus. The tunnels contain big steam pipes wrapped in insulation, bundles
of wires running along the wall and cockroaches running along the floor. In
case you're entertaining rebellious thoughts of subterranean activity the
next time you're on campus, keep in mind that the pipes inside are 430
degrees, and if they're damaged, steam will shoot out at nine thousand feet
per second! Not even "Tunnel Bob" can run that fast!
*************************************************************
Another article:
http://www.news.wisc.edu/view.html?get=3486

I knew I paid the alumni association for something.