Digging a Pirate’s Cave (Dec, 1929)

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Digging a Pirate’s Cave

By HI SIBLEY

WHILE excavating for a new house in the weed-grown lot next door, workmen unearthed a surprising maze of caves and trenches. Evidently they had been dug many seasons before because bushes and weeds were growing luxuriantly from the soil spread over the roofs. Considerable grading and no end of fancy language were required before the lot was in shape to build on. But it proved that a well-made cave is about as substantial a clubhouse as a boy can make.

With cold weather coming on this type of rendezvous is timely. Properly constructed, the disadvantages common to the ordinary-cave—poor ventilation, dampness and danger of cave-ins—are entirely eliminated. Mothers need have no fear about letting their boys join such a neighborhood underground organization. If constructed as shown here such a cave is safe, dry and warm.

An important feature is the roof construction. This is of semi-trussed design and can be built from old lumber collected in the club members’ backyards. It will drain well and keep the cave warm and dry in the meanest kind of weather.

If you have any choice of location, select a site on a knoll, preferably where there is shrubbery but no large trees, since it will be a hard job to cut through the roots. Besides, that isn’t fair to the trees. In addition to good drainage at the start, the knoll assures a commanding view of surrounding territory.

Grade the excavated dirt away from the hole in an even slope. This helps to conceal its location. Piles of dirt would give you away in a hurry, and scouts from that tough gang over on Boiler Avenue would soon have your stronghold listed for future attack.

Save all the flat stones for the fireplace, unless bricks are available. The latter will make a better fireplace, however, without mortar. The roof or ceiling joists should extend at least a foot on each side of the excavation. The ridge support is made up of two two-by-fours laid one on top of the other, as shown in the diagram. The roof boards should be covered with tar paper or old canvas, or in a pinch, several layers of newspapers. At one end of the roof, tack heavy wire screen under the gable, and further protect this with a row of slats set at an angle. These are to partially support large stones placed against them to conceal the vent. If the stones are big enough they will not impede air circulation to any great extent. A trench is dug for the stove-pipe and, when this is laid, covered over again with dirt. Of course, it will be an advantage to have the chimney as far away from the cave as your supply of stove-pipe will permit. However, be sure that the top of the chimney is one or two feet higher than the stove. Otherwise your draft will be sluggish. Stones should be piled around the chimney to hide it, and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to throw over the chimney itself some old junk, such as rusty washboilers, etc., that will not interfere with draft. In case a potential enemy sees smoke rising he naturally would assume it to be a rubbish fire.

Cover the roof with soil and then spread leaves and brush over it in a natural manner. Next spring new growth will spring up from the seeds thus sown. Dig a drainage trench around the “eaves” and fill with loose brush to hide it.

29 comments
  1. Rick Auricchio says: April 20, 20118:31 am

    Sadly, 35 years later they probably modified this article to apply to fallout shelters.

  2. Charlene says: April 20, 20118:47 am

    Fancy language, hm?

    “Forsooth, yon lad: this pertaineth to thee!”

  3. kedamono says: April 20, 201110:02 am

    That reminds me of my old Boy Scout Handbook, circa 1970′s. That edition had instructions on how to build wood truss towers and shelters, using nothing more than rope and trees that you cut down yourself. It also had instructions on how to cook fish, wrapped in foil, in a pit full of red hot embers. You bury the fish and wait. None of that stuff is in the current editions of the Boy Scout Handbook.

    I look at this “Pirate cave”, and see trapped kids, after the “cave” collapses because a dozen kids climbed on top the roof and dad didn’t follow the plans to spec. It’s a potential lawsuit waiting to happen.

    That said, I would have killed to have something like this when I was a kid!

  4. Judas Gutenberg says: April 20, 201111:25 am

    Dear Modern Mechanix–

    Do you not see the huge crime you are committing against the children by placing this on the internet? Our only hope now is that Netnanny and other filter software will filter out this page and keep the youth of today from seeing it. Otherwise, they might attempt to build a pirate cave and thus come to an untimely end. Children — if you stumble upon this page, let me assure you, cave building is very boring. Go back to your Ninetendo Wiis! And to help Netnanny filter this page, I will now include some obscenities. Booby. Breast. Sex. Poo Poo.

  5. Hirudinea says: April 20, 201111:33 am

    @Rick Auricchio – Actually 35 years later, while buliding a fallout shelter, somebody found several small skeletons dressed as pirates!

  6. Chris says: April 20, 201112:18 pm

    This is great stuff. I can’t tell if Judas is being sarcastic or not.

  7. John says: April 20, 201112:34 pm

    Chris: Neither could Jesus and look how that turned out.

  8. Bruno Cattivabrutto says: April 20, 20113:28 pm

    When I was a boy our local public library had a book from the 1930′s full of plans for things like this. I can’t tell you how annoyed I was that I didn’t live in a world where boys could build their own caves!

  9. Bruno Cattivabrutto says: April 20, 20113:56 pm

    Found this Hi Sibley article on Google Books: http://books.google.com…

  10. Mcubstead says: April 20, 20114:39 pm

    This must be one those web sites for conspiracy theorists. I have to admit for an off the grid bunker it has a potential, it just needs some added filters for gas attacks and a heavier roof to obscure the IR satellites trying to monitor us, I mean them.

  11. John says: April 20, 20115:30 pm

    Mcubstead: Great deduction Colonel Mustard! Its a scan of an article from 1929. Conspiracy theorists don’t get a lot of slack on this forum.
    Some of us make a point of scoffing at them (along with Mayan Order types).

  12. Doug says: April 20, 20116:01 pm

    The first and last thing this plan makes me think of is carbon dioxide/monoxide poisoning. These gases are heavier than air and will nicely fill up a hole. I wonder how many parents wondered where Billy had disappeared to…

  13. dkeil says: April 20, 20119:47 pm

    wow. did it. when i was 19. it had a tunnel entrance and a fireplace. plus it was totally camouflaged. it was awesome- till it washed away in a flood. lesson learned= location, location, location.

  14. van says: April 20, 201111:01 pm

    @dkeil When I was 19 I was getting laid.

  15. chawke says: April 21, 20111:27 am

    @van why else do you think @dkeil built it?

  16. JMyint says: April 21, 20118:17 am

    When I was 19 I was married and had children, going to college and working full time. But when I was 12 me and some of my friends did something like this without the fire place and with flashlights for lighting.

  17. John says: April 21, 20118:46 am

    JMyint: But according to Doug you died of combined carbon monoxide/carbon dioxide poisoning!

  18. Shannon says: April 22, 20114:50 am

    Thank you for this. Is there anymore to the article?

  19. Mike Brown says: April 22, 20117:14 am

    > That edition had instructions on how to build wood truss towers and shelters, using nothing
    > more than rope and trees that you cut down yourself. It also had instructions on how to cook
    > fish, wrapped in foil, in a pit full of red hot embers. You bury the fish and wait. None of that
    > stuff is in the current editions of the Boy Scout Handbook.

    I’m not sure what edition you’re looking at, but pioneering towers are on page 395 and cooking fish in foil is on page 340 of the current edition of the Boy Scout Handbook. And, yes, there’s an app for that – you can now buy the Handbook for your iPod.

  20. kedamono says: April 22, 20117:38 am

    That’s interesting. I remember looking through a couple of editions from the ’90s and ’00s and they didn’t have that information. Hmmm. Interesting. Thanks for pointing this out Mike!

  21. Hirudinea says: April 23, 20116:27 pm

    @JYMint – “When I was 19 I was married and had children, going to college and working full time”

    When you were 19 you had kids going to college and working full time, man you must have gotten married young!

  22. JMyint says: April 23, 20116:33 pm

    Yep Hirudinea, and I have been married to the same woman for 32 years.

  23. Kvothe says: April 25, 20116:10 am

    When I moved in to my first house in 1999, I found a full set of 1963 (?) Popular Mechanics hardcovers, about 20 books in all. I went through them and one of the projects said to “…go down to your local Apothecary and procure an ounce of Mercury.”

    Needless to say that went I found my “local Apothecary” (no mean feat) that the 19 yr old behind the counter stared at me blankly when I attempted to procure my Mercury. He failed to see the humour in it. Oh well.

  24. Stan says: April 27, 20118:48 pm

    @ Kvothe: I’m guessing he thought it was funny how you were trying to buy an ounce of a car and didn’t want any of the medical marijuana the establishment sold.

  25. Paul says: July 21, 20115:44 pm

    As a little kid, I wouldn’t have gone near that thing.

    You only have to look at the ventilation (or lack thereof). There’s one chimney and that’s it. Once the two hatches are closed, you’re in big trouble. I’m not sure that even if the hatches were open, enough oxygen would get in to keep you alive. Add to that those candles and the fireplace burning up the oxygen that is in there. This thing is a death trap.

  26. JMyint says: July 21, 20116:58 pm

    Paul if’n you had read the instructions you would know that the plans call for the gable to be open and covered with heavy screen to provide ventilation.

  27. Paul says: October 18, 20112:45 pm

    Big deal. Not only is it surrounded by rocks, it’s covered with thick wiring and slats. How much ventilation would it provide to prevent a child from suffocating?

  28. Jari says: October 19, 20112:59 pm

    Paul: Plenty, judging from the size of it. It’s not an airtight container. At rest, human uses only about 0.3 litres of oxygen per minute. Fireplace draws the same amount of fresh air from the intake that it uses. Which you can breathe (and candles can burn) before it goes to the fireplace.

  29. Blairolina says: April 11, 20134:46 pm

    I would have LOVED this when I was young. We used to go down the giant storm drain culverts that our itty bitty creek ran through. There was a little “room” where three of them connected right under a gutter drain on our street. The little room was big enough for 2-3 people to stand up in. We used birthday candles to light the tunnels and we used the smallest of the three connecting culverts for a small fire. We never had any trouble with not having enough air. The only thing we had to watch out for were spiders and snakes. Never saw any snakes down there but there were a few spiders – not enough to scare us off. We had some great times down there just chillin’:)

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