News Center

News from the Reed College public affairs office

Sweating It out in the Steam Tunnels

By Nisma Elias '12 on June 07, 2012 12:35 PM

heating_tunnel chris.jpg

Ne'er-do-wells infiltrate tunnels in mid '80s.

Dimly lit pathways, dusty pipes, graffiti, and intense humidity. At Reed, that could mean one place on campus—the steam tunnels.

One of the attractions during Reunions: Reedfayre '12 was a tour of Reed's mysterious steam tunnels by the Physical Plant's own Steve Yeadon. The labyrinthine route, which made one feel like Indiana Jones on a dangerous mission, started from the basement of Physical Plant, where two gigantic boilers (usually fired by gas, but sometimes by oil, if gas is too expensive) generate the steam that gives the tunnels their purpose.

The tour then wound its way through the depths of Reed, as visitors took care not to bump into the cobwebbed walls or pipes. The abundant graffiti on the pipes, preserved through the years (because as one alum mentioned, the pipes were the only things not whitewashed over for commencement every year), proved highly entertaining.

Names and dates, complex math equations, one-liners like "Simeon Reed's country club," and "f**k vandalism," and enigmatic clues to the location of the Doyle Owl are all imprinted on the pipes that have kept Reed warm (more or less) for 100 years. Handprints on the ceiling, and a couple of fake skeletons strategically placed at high-voltage locations also sparked laughter and a few good stories about Olde Reed shenanigans.

A wave of cool air and a patch of light signalled the end of the tour as we emerged into the basement of Eliot Hall, which is built directly on top of the steam tunnels (and which explains why the basement of Eliot is always so warm). So, if you're ever on campus on a cold day and need to thaw out, you know where to go.