Chapter 30

Chapter XXX

The Hoosac Tunnel

North Adams is so hidden among hills, that coming down the Hoosac Valley from Pittsfield or up from Albany one glides into the city almost without premonition. At its doors the north and east branches of the Hoosac River unite to form the main stream. The east branch has a green, open, fairly wide valley, with the towering mass of Greylock on the west, and is followed by the North Adams branch of the Boston and Albany Railroad in approaching from Pittsfield. The north branch, however, has no valley, only a gorge, and breaks through the rugged mountain barrier, just by the town, in a series of pretty cascades. A few yards below, it forms a pocket in the hills in which, and up the valley, and on the sides of the hills, the town is picturesquely built. Wherever there are cascades there is water-power, and wherever the Yankee and falling water meet, there in due course rise the mill, and workshop, and thriving community. This fact explains why North Adams is, with her great factories of boots and shoes, cotton and woollen fabrics, and minor industries.



The Hoosac Tunnel

The city is of more interest, however, to the tourist as being the point where the great tunnel can be most advantageously viewed. Directly above the town, on the east, rises the main spur of the Hoosac range, a black mass of slate 2,OOO feet high. Cut directly through its base five miles, and you emerge in the Valley Of the Deerfield, and may proceed across the Connecticut and over plateaus of light grade to Boston 186 miles distant. On the west there opens another natural highway, down the valley of the Hoosac to the Hudson, and thence up the Mohawk westward. But planted squarely in this natural highway, between Boston and the prairie grain-fields, is the huge mountain described, forbidding obstacle. There are really two mountains or detached peaks, one, the loftiest, on the Hoosac side, and the other a very respectable mountain warding the Deerfield Valley; between the two is a wide plateau seamed by water-courses and dotted by mountain farms. As early as 1825 the State engineers had surveyed this route at the instance of Boston business men, the project being then a canal to the Hudson River to connect with the Erie. "The hand of Providence has pointed out this route from the East to the West," remarked the pioneer engineer, Loammi Baldwin, to which a practical associate is said to have replied by pointing to the mountain. Baldwin had, however, already decided that it must be tunneled. year later the introduction of railroads caused the



 The Hoosac Tunnel

canal project to be dropped, and when, in 1842, the Boston and Albany Railroad, twenty miles to the southward, was opened, the route as a highway was abandoned. But the Boston and Albany Road was constructed on heavy grades with short curves, and could not put Western grain on Boston wharves at a rate satisfactory to Boston shippers, and in 1848 the proposal for a direct route again began to be strongly agitated. The project assumed shape in 1850, when the Troy and Greenfield Railroad Company obtained a charter to construct a road from Greenfield on the Connecticut River up the Deerfield, and through the Hoosac Mountains to the Vermont line, some seven miles west of North Adams. On January 7, 1851, the Board of Directors agreed to break ground for the tunnel the next day, and this vote, it is said, was carried into effect, a small excavation to the eastward of North Adams being still pointed out as the scene of the initial step. The authentic record, however, places the event a year later, in 1852, and the location at the east end of the tunnel. Twenty-one years elapsed before the huge work was completed.

It is not necessary to give in detail the operations of those years, the trials and mishaps, the failure of one contractor after another, and finally the assumption of the enterprise by the State, and its successful completion by the contractors, Messrs. Walter and Francis Shanley, in November, 1878. These were



The Hoosac Tunnel

given formally in the newspapers at the opening of the tunnel. An account of the appearance of the great work and of the tourist’s personal observations made in 1885 may not be uninteresting.

A mile east of North Adams station, in a deep rock-cut, one approaches the gloomy western portal. A few yards from the entrance is a tall signal station with men in it watching the little indicator, which tells when a train enters or leaves the tunnel. The block system is in use here. Nothing is allowed to enter while a passenger train is within on the same track, and freight trains may follow one another only under a caution signal. A strong granite arch forms the opening, bearing on its face the simple legend "Hoosac, 1874." Looking in we see in the darkness bright lights dancing and sparkling, and are told by the watchmen that they are the torches of a gang of workmen repairing the brick arch a quarter of a mile in; so we enter, making the dancing points of fire our goal. It is dark, damp, gloomy, sulphurous one compares it with the descent into Hades, only the flight of the spirits was vastly easier than is our progress, for the space between the ties is filled with "ballast," small pieces of broken stone, and the wayfarer finds them indeed "stones of stumbling." At the other end, five miles distant, a freight train has just entered, and the ear is strained to catch its approaching roar. A bat’s wing brushes the face in a ghostly way; water drips



The Hoosac Tunnel

and splashes from the roof; strange echoes and sulphurous smells fill the space. As you go on you calculate in a dreamy fashion how many thousand tons of earth and rock may be above you by this time; meanwhile the lights draw steadily nearer and nearer, until at last they are beside you. What a strange, Plutonian scene. A score of men, black and grimy, are lighted by flaming kerosene torches, the black smoke from which give a truly Avernian turn to the atmosphere. Looking around by the dim light, we found that the workmen had "bunched" several construction and observation cars on the track, had taken down a fifty-foot section of the brick arch, propping the roof with iron supports, and were now from the cars relaying the arch.

The section boss was intelligent and gentleman-like, notwithstanding his coating of mud and soot; thoroughly familiar, from fifteen years’ service in it, with every nook and cranny of the tunnel. "The frost is the great agent in getting the tunnel out of sorts," he remarked. "Here at the west end for some 2,5OO feet the mass above us is loose earth and ‘porridgestone,’ and to keep it from caving in while working we had to roof it with a brick arch, averaging seven courses in thickness. Water forces itself through the brick in quantity, and in winter freezes, forcing them out of place. Then the arch has to be taken down and replaced, as we are doing now. Water percolating



The Hoosac Tunnel

through, too, has a tendency to disintegrate the mass, and undoubtedly does that. The tunnel, as you will perceive, is a vast conduit, a score of artesian wells in one. Very often in digging it we opened veins that threatened to flood us. Its outflow through a central drain beneath us is 725 gallons of water per minute."

"how many feet of earth may there be above us?" we ask, peering up at the slender-looking props under the roof. "About 700; loose earth and stone too, the most treacherous material the miner has to deal with," is the assuring answer. "Getting through it was one of the main problems in digging the tunnel. Several times it caved in, burying the workmen, before we struck the solid rock which forms the core of the mountain."

At this juncture a hollow roar and rumble, prolonged by a thousand echoes, fills the cavern. A fiery eye comes in sight, bearing down upon us, and with a hammering and grinding of wheels and a flurry of smoke wreaths about our heads, the heavy "freight" rolls by on the other track.

A rather more interesting trip was that up the mountain to the central shaft of the tunnel, some five miles from the city. It is ten miles over the mountain from North Adams to the little village of Hoosac, in the Greenfield Valley, and before the tunnel was completed a stage made the trip daily. A good broad highway doubles and twists up the mountain, afford-



The Hoosac Tunnel

ing wonderful views of the valley and lower hills as one ascends. On the summit, nearly two thousand feet up, one passes over a bare, bald rock a feature of most of these peaks and then the road descends gently into the secondary valley of which we have spoken. The lowest part of this valley is 800 feet above the tunnel. "Take your second right and foller it ‘bout two miles," were the directions a bronzed young man on a load of wood gave us for reaching the central shaft. We took the "second right," and presently emerging from the forest came to a great pile .of black broken rock heaped around a wall of masonry eight or nine feet high the central shaft. Light clouds of smoke and steam were ascending from it, for it is the great ventilator of the tunnel. To toss a stone over the balustrade, one might suppose would be to throw it directly into the tunnel. Not so, however, for away down at the bottom the falling stone would strike walls of solid masonry twenty feet thick, and if it could penetrate that, there would still remain a brick arch four feet thick between it and the tunnel orifice. This central shaft is one of the finest examples of engineering skill in the country. It was sunk in 1868 to expedite the work by giving the men two additional headings to work from, and also to afford ventilation. The problem before the engineer was not only to sink the shaft to the proper level, but also in alignment with the east and west headings in the valleys. The prob-


lem was given to Mr. Carl 0. Wederkinch, an engineer of Danish birth, and his calculations were so nicely made that on the meeting of the different headings in December, 187f2, it was found that the alignments were in error but seven sixteenths of an inch. The tunnel has been the scene of many a tragedy. One hundred and ninety-two men in all were killed in constructing it. The most fatal accident of all occurred in October, 1867, at this central shaft. A tank of gasoline near the mouth of the shaft, in some unexplained way, took fire while the men were at their work beneath. The flames at once leaped to the shaft, seizing on everything combustible, and, in a few moments, the burning timbers, with tons of steel drills and shaft machinery, were precipitated to the bottom, killing thirteen unfortunates who were at work there.