"The Abyss" (March 2003)

OK So a friend of mine named Chris Scott swore on the Bible that the set to the movie The Abyss by James Cameron was located in a half-constructed, now-abandoned nuclear power plant in Gaffne South Carolina... 2 hours up the road from where I live.

Needless to say this is pure insanity, but Chris kept insisting it was true and would not stop bugging me about it until I agreed to race up there in my Corvette with him to check it out. Normally I never waste time on fool's errands and instead stay home working on X-Plane, but with CNN piping this damnable war into my TV just 20 feet from my computer, I cannot concentrate on anything here anyway, and with the weather here in SC being rainy for 10 days straight, and finally getting a beautiful sunny weekend, I decided it was time to stretch our legs (mine and my car's) and go for it, so that we could poke around Gaffnee, find nothing, and race back, having had a nice day of wild-goose-chasing to "get out of my head" for a while. (Note: This gets harder and harder for me every year... it used to be that "CNN-War" was almost "fun" (remember the COMEDY ROUTINES ABOUT OUR SUCCESS around the time of the first Gulf War?), but each year as my travel log increases in size, a death in the opposite corner of the globe is more and more like a death next door... I mean, what is the real difference? None.

Anyway, off we went to Gaffnee, me and my buddy Chris in my wonderful Corvette (http://www.x-plane.com/me.html). Our trip got off to a bad start as we took off in the wrong direction and did not figure it out until we had gone 45 minutes off-course down I-20. A map-consultation showed that the best route back up to Gaffnee was NOT to meander back along the huge, monolithic interstates but instead take the smaller back-roads through the real "Deep South".

And this is where the trip began to be worthwhile.

Incredibly, I am barely familiar with the network of old small towns that form the background of my own State. You have these tiny little towns with perfect "MainSteet USA" main roads, maybe a dozen roads coming off the main street that evaporate almost instantly into neighborhoods, and maybe a laundromat and a tiny car dealership with a dozen Ford pickups out front, and that is almost the extent of the town! All of the the architecture seems to be from 1950. Rusty steel poles supporting rusty slanted metal roofs and faded dirty windows in brick walls, with old faded blue or green metal doors. Concrete and asphalt parking lots with 50 years of patches and assorted plants finding their way in from every corner... pickup trucks that seem to have been there since the construction of Rome, and even a drive-in Movie Theater! Unlike the drive-in movie of X-Plane, forever playing my beloved Apple propaganda, this theater actually has changing attractions! "The Piano Player" being the current one, as indicated by the white plastic letters hap-hazardly arranged on the dingy black sign out front. with The restaurants and other stores are actually local names, not any of the two-dozen corporate names that the rest of us find synonymous with civilization! A restaurant called "Anns". A drugstore called "Palmetto Drug". Businesses that are actually local! Although this seems very strange to me, I suspect the people that work there actually know their customers! (gasp!)

In between these tiny towns that dot the wonderful state of South Carolina like tiny isolated flakes from 1950, lie miles and miles of farm fields, and the occasional dilapidated shack by the side of the road that once held tractors perhaps, or a long low brick building with a local convenience store built into one end and one or perhaps even TWO cars outside.

Eventually, after some wonderful sprints on the desolate back-roads (engine screaming merrily), we found ourselves coasting into Gaffnee. The VERY FIRST convenience store we stopped at (on I-18) knew exactly where the "abandoned Duke Energy power plant" was, though we were quickly told by bystanders that we had no chance of getting in. ("Y'all have got ta have key er ya cain't get in!"). Chris and eye eyed each other... it would take more than that to keep us out I think!

Back into the 'Vette and down the road, to the stop sign, right turn, and down another 10 miles. Suddenly Chris realized that this adventure would run us afoul of the law, and began to question the need for this mission, but we decided not to be deterred. Soon enough, there it was: A big chain-link fence blocking an entrance. An old abandoned guardhouse at the entrance, and DO NOT TRESPASS, PRIVATE PROPERTY signs all over the fence. We got out of the Vette and checked out our obstacle: The fence was tall, locked, and a barbed-wire topped fence ran along as far as we could see in either direction. And say we did find a way in... our car left at the entrance would be an obvious sign to any passing law enforcement that someone had crossed the boundary and was currently on the other side. The cop need only wait for our return. My idea was to "ditch the car" in the parking lot of a TINY nearby church where it would "blend in" with the other Vette-Driving-Deep-South-Church-Goers, thus allowing us the freedom to penetrate the fence without leaving any clue of our passage. We did it, and approached the fence again between passages of cars on the highway so that we would not be observed. The fence had already been pried open just enough for us to squeeze through, so squeeze through we did, and then DART to the other side of the guardhouse so we could not be seen from the highway.

Now we were on the entrance road to the plant, an old asphalt road with nothing but trees and tall grass and hills on either side, curving around into who-knows-where. So off we went at a run to minimize our exposure time on the open road until we came over the crest of the hill about 1 or 2 miles later to see the Containment Building: A huge concrete cylinder with no roof yet. The cylinder had steel bars sticking vertically out of the top all the way around: The Reinforcement bars or "Re-Bar" that is embedded in the concrete of all nuclear Containment Buildings. This is where (had the reactor been completed) the nuclear fuel would react, heating water within it to unimaginable temperatures.

There was no hint of any movie ever having been made there, but the site was still interesting. There were no other people visible or audible for any distance. It was complete silence, with the hills and trees of waist-high grass going on for miles in every direction. Silent and barren natural except for this hulking concrete building, a bizarre series of concrete pools with steel trusses rising up out of them, and a dozen or so hangars scattered around in the untamed wild grass. The steel re-bar was all rusted and red-brown. The steel trusses around the building all now dull gray with rust and streaks on every bit of surface. The concrete streaked and dirtied from years of neglect. The numerous concrete pools were filled with brackish black water, thus their depth being completely unknown to us. But we could tell it was rainwater that filled them, the stains all around the concrete sides showing the water levels changing randomly over the years.

And complete silence save the sound of the wind through the trees.

It was as if there was no civilization left on Earth, the Planet reverting to it's wild and untamed state, a few concrete and steel markers left behind, all that remains of our work. Like being here 100 years after life-ending World-War-III, stepping out of a Spaceship onto the planet to see what had once been, and seeing only these decaying traces of what had once been.

None of the arrangements of steel or concrete or pools or trusses made any sense to us... only it's long gone designers knew the method to the madness.

As a final touch, a giant circular opening was built into top of the wall leading off at an angle, strange steel spikes circling around it, giving the reactor a very "Borg-Like" appearance.

Re-bar sticks up in hundreds of vertical spikes, just exactly like bamboo spikes in the bottom of a pit-trap in an Indiana Jones movie, so we decided to be careful where we walked. Finding access to the containment building was a bit tricky, as it was mostly surrounded by water, but soon enough we found a land-access to a giant door into the Core. This is where the reactor components and nuclear fuel would ultimately have been inserted. Today, though, we just inserted ourselves and there it was. As God is my witness, I swear to you: Within this incomplete, abandoned reactor sits the undersea station from The Abyss. Right there. Rusted. Decayed. Collapsing. But right there.

It was like what I imagine it would be like if O.J. suddenly admitted he did it, the idiots that acquitted him suddenly admitted they were racist, or Bin Laden suddenly turned himself in. Great, but very difficult to believe.

But there was no denying it! There it sat right in front of us: The station from the movie with all it's tanks and trusses, and even more trusses supporting it all from above. The bottom of the containment building was filled with black water, and it was obvious that a fall from the walkway around the edge would result in a 50-foot tumble down the concrete sides of the of the building into the brackish water below. This could be fatal since there is another ledge closer to the water that you would hit pretty hard on your way down, which could K.O. you for your swim.

A rotting old wooden stairway led down into the bowels of the building... bowels all flooded now. Chris and I cautiously crept up to the stairway and listened in the silence... SUDDENLY WE HEARD SOME BUBBLING AND FROTHING IN THE WATER BELOW! I snapped my head around to Chris who was behind me, wide-eyed and frozen. "What was that?!?!" I gasped. "I don't know!" came the only possible response. At this point we might as well have been in that seen from Star Wars where our heroes were in the water in the Garbage Compactor and see something moving around in the water with them. Undeterred, I crept down the rotting stairs into the dark passageway that wrapped around in the flooded bowels of the Containment Building, Chris following a way behind so we would not both put our weight on the stairs at the same time. Again, for a second time, some motion could be heard in the water, as if something were alive down there. In the belly of the beast, I said "Shut down all the garbage compactors on the detention level!" and got back an echo you would not believe. The building is maybe 100 yards across, but it's shape (think of it as a cereal bowl inside a vertical cylinder slightly wider than the bool... we were in the area under the bowl,and inside the cylinder.. a dark ring running maybe 300 yards around in circumference) so whatever you said came back to you after a trip around the ring in either direction almost un-attenuated, giving a strange double-echo effect. We came upon a small room down there with a thick glass window looking into the depths of the pool... the window through which James Cameron had directed much of the movie! Wow.

We climbed out of the bowels and around the entire perimeter of the reactor core, admiring the giant undersea station from all directions, and being very careful not to slip on the slimy grime that filled the walkway around the perimeter.

A few more photos, and we were beginning to think that if we were going to get arrested, it would have happened by now, so we decided to check out some of the big hangars in the distance.

It was now well late into a lazy South Carolina spring afternoon, with the sunlight adequate but the shadows getting long across the tall grass and rusted metal. The hangars were the model of decay, with trashed administrative offices, broken windows, busted walls, and scattered furniture. But with some persistence and ability to climb 7-foot fences we found our way inside... and into the set of the INTERIOR of the station. (The station in the reactor was used for the EXTERIOR shots as our heroes swam and marched around the OUTSIDE of the station, and the set here was used for the drama on the INSIDE).

The hangars were all dim and shadowed, long shafts of light reaching in from various holes clear plastic roof-panels. Various heavy equipment, airlocks, and pumps filled one of the hangars, all plainly evident from the movie. The hatch where Ed Harris caught his ring-finger in the door was built into a giant trench in the floor, giant water tanks set up to fill the trench at will, thus allowing Ed and others to frolic in the flooding trench, pretending to be in a flooding undersea station.

And, on the floor of the hangar, WERE PILES OF FILM AND FILM REELS! All developed and ready to hold up to the light for inspection! I am not kidding. Chris and I eagerly pored over it, hoping to find "The Lost Abyss Footage Where Darth Vader Is ED Harrises's Father" but could only see images of people in 1970's dress operating old telephones and film-editing machines. Chris insisted the film was out-takes from the movie, but I am dubious.

By now it was beginning to get dark, so we decided to head back. Nobody spotted us during our "Mission Egress", though Church had gone into session, the churchgoers probably wondering the origin of the bronze spaceship in their tiny grass parking lot, but being polite enough to park by the side of the road so that I could still get out.


Austin’s Adventures: OPERATION: FALCON PUSH (We Came)

Most of you get to read the Austin’s adventures from Austin’s point of view- the simplistic one. HOWEVER, you don’t hear about all the stupid, ridiculous stuff that happens before and after the ACTUAL adventure. This is a recount of our journey to Gaffney, South Carolina to visit the set of The Abyss, a late 1980’s film about an undersea oil mining platform.
My name is Chris Scott. I do some work on Austin’s simulators, though I am principally affiliated with Space Combat Sim. I had seen the making of The Abyss many times prior to this trip. When I saw it was in GAFFNEY, roughly 126.71 miles from Columbia, South Carolina, my ears raised. I had wanted to go for quite a while. BUT I had not yet found anyone STUPID ENOUGH to go with me. Enter Austin Meyer. In an attempt to win an internship with an undisclosed company in California (other offers welcome), I promised a collection of high resolution pictures from the set. Appealing to Austin’s inability to do anything sporadic, I asked him exactly TWO DAYS before. And, after several weeks of constantly reminding Austin about the trip, we departed.
Austin likes any vehicle that goes fast enough to do something stupid in. Since an airplane would not be an effective way to get around once we arrived in Gaffney, we drove in Austin’s 1998 eight-cylinder 345 horse power pewter-silver Corvette (Austin is selling his car to replace it with a newer, fiftieth anniversary edition, though I am of the firm belief that it should stay not only in the city in which it was christened, but also within the company. So, this was to be the last adventure in the vehicle). So, we started off at 12:30 PM in attempt to arrive roughly two hours later. So, WHAM! Austin drops right on to the interstate and immediately hits a buck twenty (or 120 mph, for those less socially inclined). (NOTE FROM AUSTIN: WE DIDN’T ACTUALLY DO THIS UNTIL WE WERE ON BACKROADS WITH NO OTHER TRAFFIC) With the top down and the vehicle flying, we made great time for the first hour.
In the wrong direction.
Now, I am an exceptional directional navigator. (NOTE FROM AUSTIN: THIS IS A LOAD OF CRAP) But Austin, who we can only assume neglected to hear me say, “Turn at I-26” continues driving damn near into Georgia. So, in an edit to our original plans, we corrected and drove in a veritable triangle. SO… we proceed to Gaffney and arrive THERE, surprisingly, without error. The small, back water cities seemed to pose no challenge to the mighty brains of Laminar Research.


Now Austin is a very cynical person (note: read- Austin’s Adventures; any, THINK THIS AND DIE). He believed ENTIRELY that we would NEVER make it there, and, baring that we DID make it, we would NEVER be able to get past the two solid steel gates. I, myself, never expected to make it, either. But I didn’t let HIM know that. So, we stopped at a gas station for directions to the nuclear reactor core WITHIN Gaffney. Ah. The Abyss set. Duke Power Plant. BINGO. Apparently there isn’t much to do in Gaffney because everyone knew exactly where it was. We quickly found it. HOWEVER, when we pulled up, we discovered for ourselves this incredible gated set WITH a security post at the very front (vacant, of course).
So, here we are, two computer nerds in the sticks of South Carolina. At this point, I realized my first error: we had driven to a poor section of South Carolina in a Corvette and parked it out of a giant perimeter that would be of great interest to outsiders literally plastered with signs that say NO TRESSPASSING. Since anything other than a pickup truck would have stuck out like a sore thumb, we parked our car across the street at a church in a feeble attempt to deter police officers. We then proceeded to BOLT across the street and through a TINY crevice of the fence. Thankfully, we are both skinny, tiny computer nerds. We both BARELY made it through. So, our hearts racing like a top fuel car, we ran about a mile down to the set at which point we came to…
Another gate. We AGAIN slipped through (I don’t recommend this trip to anyone in pants that are GREATER than 34 in diameter) and left the paved road for the gravel road. After another MILE long hike, we arrived at the nuclear reactor core, a beautiful concrete and steel artifice designed for the purpose of housing a massive power plant- roughly a football field around. Again, this was quite interesting in its’ own right. Once we hiked up to the tank/reactor, we proceeded to become United States Special Forces as we walked pressed against the wall around the set. Why, you may ask, did we do this? The walkway around the set within the tank was roughly five feet across. In some cases, there were very flimsy, rusted metal handrails. Between the walls and the hand rails, water had collected to make this thick, filmy black slime. One wrong step would have sent you careening into this bowl like tank with a big metal otherworldly tank. You would tear your skin up, possibly breaking bones until you hit another short ledge, which, due to the angle of the first drop, you would quickly hit, thereby blacking out and rolling into a dark, murky pool of unknown depth (which, after later watching the “making of, we determined to be much deeper than we were comfortable with). So, we had our backs pressed against the back wall of the tank, on top of the fact that we would stop to look in every which way, then use hand signals to silence each other so we could listen for approaching helicopters. After we had jumped out of our pants about eight time for squadrons of geese, we determined that they MUST be spy geese, like the crows in “The Lord of the Rings” movies. There was simply no other explanation for why we were so jittery, and we refused to admit to our trembling hearts that it was anything less than spy geese.
So, content with our relatively high rush of adrenaline, special-forces commando Oz (Austin’s nickname) and recon officer OrkinMan (myself) found a rickety, possibly hazardous and unsafe wooden flight of stairs heading down into the darkness. As we approached, we heard the sound of something LARGE moving in the water down below in the darkness. So, naturally, we walked straight down to investigate. We discovered that the water level had risen so the water nearly met the stone walkway below. This led to a small observation control room which WOULD have been underwater during the filming of the movie.
We left the giant tank. I was itching to leave and avoid any entanglements with authority figures. But Austin wasn’t quite done. We proceeded to two gargantuan buildings that looked somewhat like airplane hangers minus the semicircular ceiling. They were at least as long as they were far to walk to. (Really, really, really friggin’ far). They were gated off and had Authorized Persons Only. So, naturally, we climbed right over. We discovered that other people had been there, shooting at things, playing paintball (imagine a gigantic field with lakes, partially built structures, and hangers filled with underwater, heavy duty piping- paintball utopia) and generally tearing up remaining set pieces.

OPERATION: BIRD FLIGHT (We Ran Like Frightened Animals)

And so, after oohing and ahhing over lots of big metal… things, Austin and I left to go meet the waiting police S.W.A.T. team we KNEW must be waiting for us. There had been no question as to WHETHER they were there… we had been possessed of the thought that they were. After we SHOT out of the hole in the gate, we RAN to the car, jumped right in, and, after making sure no one at the church would jump out and lynch us, VVVVVVVVVRRRRRRRRRRAAAAAAAAAAOOOOOOOOOMMMM we were off again. The corvette hit a buck twenty right of the bat. Obviously, the catch line from Douglas Adams’ book- DON’T PANIC- was quite lost in the moment. We didn’t even get a concerned look from a suspicious Gaffney native.
Now, since we had planned on arriving at around three and arriving BACK around seven, I was very anxious to return. It was now six, and we still had more than two hours drive ahead of us, not to mention the stops most of us need for long car rides, i.e. food, bladder relief, etc. etc.. In any case, I was supposed to meet with some brothers from my fraternity, Phi Sigma Kappa. (The aforementioned placed in this text as an apology for missing a meeting I was scheduled to attend…) After we stopped to get something to eat, we accidentally took a wrong turn, which was easily corrected. I informed Austin that this was O.K. because we didn’t know the territory. I also informed him that if he screwed up in COLUMBIA, our home town a SECOND time, he would be an UTTER DUMBASS. Can you see where I’m going with this?
So, I decided to tempt fate. Austin, like all good computer nerds (including myself) always had a strong propensity for the Star Wars Trilogy (which, of course, is why were willing to spend a DAY in pursuit of this set). Appealing to this, I played Austin’s favorite piece. Tie Fighter Attack, knowing it would put him into a Corvette Driving Mood.
This was a very bad idea. Playing this music for Austin is kind of like giving Popeye his spinach. He accelerated, decelerated, weaved in and out of traffic, without once noticing anything accept the thick layer of asphault below and just in front of his tires. Once arriving in Columbia, we drove AROUND the city for a good, say, thirty minutes until we FINALLY arrived at my place of dwelling after missing exit after exit.
Austin and I had been out rather late the night before. I was fairly tired, and did NOT want to drive Austin home, then return to my place. So, I asked him to drop me off at my place then drive himself home in my car. I would pick up the car later, since, of course, I would see him the next day so we could take the ‘vette to Gaffney.
I told you that so I could tell you this:
Austin left my house after watching the one hour long ‘making of’ video. As he was driving home, I realized my car was still at his place. SOOO, as Austin sped away at some unreasonable speed, as corvette drivers often do, I called him and had him turn his ass around and come get me. It was finally over. *I say this, two hours later, as Austin calls, fairly LATE at night, to inform me that the pictures turned out… well, to use his words, “they suck ass.” Even as it ended it wasn’t over.
I collected several war prizes for my efforts; I felt they would do me justice. For myself, I had a tin in which old film was stored, as well as a snippet of film cut (and spliced) I discovered in the complex.

As for Austin… Well, he’s an engineer at heart. And like all good engineers, I bestowed upon his person two rusty….old….bolts.

I hope to provide you with more, honest to goodness TRUE accounts of Austin’s Adventures in the future. (The aforementioned placed in this text as a suggestion to Austin that, in the future, he bring SOME level of creative intelligence with him, namely myself). Austin usually goes on his adventures alone. Little does he realize that two panicked, stupid nerdy computer programmers are far better at panicking than just one.
So, in closing, here is my recommendation: read the articles; enjoy the adventures. I would usually say listen to the signs that say “DO NOT TRESSPASS” but those are utterly useless. I, therefore, leave you with my own, far more useful sign: DO NOT ATEMPT.

*If you enjoyed this article, please e-mail Austin and ask him to take The Official Laminar Research Documentation and Research Officer with him. And tell him to get a better camera.
-Chris Scott, 3D modeler