Hoosac Tunnel: Abode of the Damned?


 

An Exploration of the "Bloody Pit"

 

  Article & Pictures

 

 

Site Visit: October 14, 2002 by Daniel V. Boudillion & Andrew T. Bowers

 

 

 

 

 

   Introduction:

The Hoosac Tunnel, a railroad tunnel beneath the Berkshire Mountains in Western Massachusetts, is said to be one of the most haunted places in New England.  It was an engineering marvel of its age, completed in 1875, and nearly five miles in length.  Yet, it would cost 195 lives in various fires, explosions, and tunnel collapses, hence earning its name among the crew at the "Bloody Pit."  It has been the scene ever since of hauntings . . . and even murder.

 

West Portal

 

   History:

The Hoosac Tunnel was first proposed in 1819 as an underground canal beneath the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts as a way of providing the through traffic of goods and raw materials between Boston and points West.  A specially appointed Legislative Commission of 1825 reported: "There is no hesitation, therefore, in deciding in favor of a tunnel; but even if its expense should exceed the other mode of passing the mountain, a tunnel is preferable, for reasons which have been assigned.  And this formidable barrier once overcome, the remainder of the route from the Connecticut to the Hudson presents no unusual difficulties in the construction of a canal, but in fact the reverse; being remarkably feasible."

 

Profile of the Hoosac Mountain and Proposed Tunnel

 

The situation of the day was that there were no direct means between the finished goods coming out of Boston and the raw materials of the West.  The Berkshire Mountains were a decided barrier to commerce.  With the advent of steam locomotion the tunnel plan was revaluated and re-proposed for railway traffic.  Work was officially commenced in 1851 by the Troy and Greenfield Railroad Company, "to build a railroad from the terminus of the Vermont and Massachusetts, railroad, at or, near Greenfield, through the valleys of the Deerfield and the Hoosac to the State line, there to unite with a railroad leading to the city of Troy."  It was to take 24 years and $21,241,842 dollars to complete.  There were innumerable problems encountered, and new technology, both successful and unsuccessful, was employed to meet the challenge. 

 

Cutting the Tunnel & Construction Facts

 

Initially the tunnel was to be constructed using a 70-ton steam-driven boring machine "designed to cut a groove around the circumference of the tunnel thirteen inches wide and twenty-four feet in diameter, by means of a set of revolving cutters.  When this groove had been cut to a proper depth the machine was to be run back on its railway; and the centre core blasted out by gunpowder or split off by means of wedges."

 

The South Boston built $25,000 machine cut a very smooth and beautiful hole into the rock for about ten feet, and then it stopped forever.  This failed original tunnel opening can be seen to the right of the East Portal. 

 

Failed First Attempt on the Left

 

Following this failure, the work was for a long time done by means of hand-drills and gunpowder.  But it was found that the most rapid progress that could be made with hand-drills, under the most favorable circumstances, would not exceed sixty feet a month at either Portal.  This problem led to the introduction of the compressed air Burleigh Drill, invented by Mr. Charles Burleigh, of Fitchburg Massachusetts. 

 

Burleigh Drill

 

The Hoosac Tunnel was the first commercial application of Nitroglycerine.  Nitro proved to be a very powerful and extremely unstable explosive that resulted not only in successfully blasting the length of the tunnel, but in killing dozens of men in its use. 

 

At Work in the Hoosac Tunnel

 

The tunnel was constructed by driving two headings, one from the East and one from the West.  The total length of the tunnel is 4.82 miles long.  The precision of the work was such that when the headings met after  approximately 2.5 miles of drilling each, the offset error was approximately Ĺ inch.  The original finished size of the tunnel was 24 feet wide and 20 feet in height.  However, recent work was begun in 1997 to grind an extra 15 inches to the height.
 

Grinding Equipment

Photo by Tom Freeman

 

The extraordinary job of aligning the tunnel and keeping it on track to within 1/2 inch was due in part to the erection of alignment towers on the East and West peaks above the proposed route of the tunnel below.  The below pictured tower is from the west peak area, recently visited and photographed by noted regional expert Jim Moore.  A second tower is said to exist in the east peak area.

 

West Peak Alignment Tower

Photo courtesy of Jim Moore

 

The tunnel, epically in the Western portion, was run through disintegrated mica schist,  which dissolved readily in water (of which there was plenty), and was "utterly unmanageable."  This horrible mixture of disintegrated rock and water was referred to as "porridge."  So much of the tunnel was beset with soft rock and water problems that the only solution was to brick the tunnel in long tubes of brick-work.  In the end, over 30% of the tunnel was sheathed in six foot thick brick walls and arches that required the use of over 20,000,000 bricks.

 

Due to the difficulties of "porridge" at the the West Portal, a second shaft was sunk about a half mile further up the proposed line of the tunnel.  This shaft, known as the West Shaft, bypassed most of the gravel and water and allowed tunneling to advance from the west at a steady pace.  The depth of the shaft was 318 feet, and was elliptical.  The dimensions of the ellipse were 14 feet east/west, and 8 feet north/south.  The site of the shaft head was located behind and up from a spur created of refuse rock dumped from tunnel.

 

Hoosac Tunnel Final Specifications

 

The average depth of the tunnel is about 1400 feet beneath the Hoosac Mountains, with the deepest point being beneath the Western summit at 1718 feet - approximately 1/3 of a mile.  There is a slight grade to the tunnel resulting from an incline angling up from both Portals to an apex at the middle near the opening of the Central Shaft.  The grade is very minor, rising only about twenty feet over 2.5 miles to facilitate the runoff of water, which is omnipresent in the tunnel.  Were it not for the slight grade, you would be able to see pinpoints of light at both ends of the tunnel from the middle point of the tunnel.  The construction manpower in creating the tunnel was supplied almost entirely by Irishmen supplemented with some Cornish miners for a typical work force of about 800 to 900 men. 

 

East Portal Work Camp

 

 

Central Shaft & Disasters:

 

The Central Shaft was built somewhat of an afterthought, as a means of ventilating the anticipated heavy coal exhaust expected to be built up in the tunnel from locomotive traffic.  The shaft is 1028 feet deep and elliptical in diameter, the ellipse being 27 feet east/west, and 15 feet north/south.  The shaft reached the tunnel in August of 1870. 

 

Central Shaft Head

 

When it was finally connected to the tunnel, the shaft was used to hoist rock and ferry workmen in large copper buckets.  The buckets were attached to cross-bars of wood, which slide in a frame-work, of timber, thus preventing it from swinging back and forth in its passage.  A steam engine was used to hoist the bucket at a rate such that the 1030 foot descent was a matter of but two minutes.  The miners "ride to and from their work, sometimes sitting in the bucket, and sometimes standing on its rim, or on the cross-bars, and holding on by the cable. Most of those at the central shaft are Cornish miners, and their life-long experience in such holes in the ground has made them reckless of danger. The fatal accidents that frequently occur among them have no effect to in make them more cautious. When the whistle blows for the 'shift' of hands, every man at the bottom wants to come up in the first bucket, and generally the whole dozen of them do all come up at once, two or three sitting in the bucket, and the rest standing on the rim and the cross-bars, and clinging fast. If a man can get one foot on the cross-bar and one hand on the cable, he had much rather come up in that way than wait three minutes for the bucket to return for him."

 

Descending the Central Shaft

 

A second description of descending the Central Shaft is from N. H. Eggleston witting in the March 1882 Atlantic Monthly: "At every descent of the bucket it seemed as though those in it were being dashed down the dark pit to almost certain destruction.  Speed was necessary, and the machinery was so arranged that the descent of over a thousand feet was made in a little more than a minute.  The sensations experienced by those who descended the shaft were peculiar.  First, there was the sensation of rapid, helpless falling through space in the darkness; then, as the speed was at last abruptly arrested, it seemed for a moment as though the motion had been reversed, and one were being as rapidly elevated to the surface again."
 

The Central Shaft was the scene of some the worst accidents in building the tunnel.  On October 17, 1867, an ill designed lamp called a "Gasometer" leaked Naphtha fumes into the hoist house where it subsequently exploded, sending the building up in flames.  Thirteen men from subcontractor Dull, Gowan, & White were working in the then 538 foot deep shaft at the time.  The first thing to things to fall on them were more than 300 newly sharpened drill bits, followed by the hoist mechanism and burning sections of the structure.  With the collapse of the structure, the air-pumps ceased working and, "Öthe poor fellows all perished there in the darkness. Nobody knows how soon, or by what means they became aware of the danger they were in; nor is it certainly known in what manner they died, but the more probable conjecture is that they were suffocated."

 

Destruction of the Central Shaft

 

A fifty year old workman named Mallory who had superintended the timbering volunteered to be lowered into the shaft.  At 4:00 a.m. a rope was fastened round his body and three lanterns were attached to him.  He passed out near the bottom of the shaft, but reported on recovery that there was no hope for survivors as he was able to see nothing but water and burnt timbers.

 

Within a few days the shaft filled with water and it was not until a full year later that the shaft was fully emptied and bodies were recovered.  It was discovered that not all the men had been crushed by the falling debris, some had managed to build a raft but died from asphyxiation from the fumes.

 

Open for Business


When the Hoosac tunnel was officially opened on October 13, 1875, with the transit of a passenger car of tourists, it was the one of the longest tunnels in the world at 4.82 miles, second only to Mont Cenis in the Swiss Alps which opened 4 years earlier and was 8.5 miles long.  It was, however, the longest tunnel in North America from 1871 to 1916, and is still the longest transportation tunnel east of the Rocky Mountains.

 

 

   Ghost Stories:

Hoosac is a Native American word for the region meaning "a stony place," and was considered by them an area of sinister reputation.  So many were the deaths involved in its construction that the Hoosac Tunnel that it was referred to among the crew as the "Bloody Pit."  After the accidents began piling up many workers came to feel that the tunnel was cursed and many of them refused to enter it again.  Some of the crew members simply walked off the job and did not return. 

 

Murder?

 

On the afternoon of March 20, 1865, three explosive experts named Ned Brinkman, Billy Nash and Ringo Kelley decided to use nitroglycerine to continue their work on the tunnel.  They placed a charge and then ran back toward a safety bunker that would shield them from the effects of the blast.  Brinkman and Nash never made it there however.  For some reason, Ringo Kelley set off the charge before the other men could make it to shelter.  The two men were buried alive under tons of rock.

 

Soon after the accident, Kelley vanished without a trace, leading many to believe that the "accident" with the nitro may not have been an accident after all.  He was not seen again until March 30, 1866 [almost exactly one year later] . . . when his body was discovered two miles inside of the tunnel.  It was found at almost the exact spot where Brinkman and Nash had been killed.  The authorities quickly deduced that Kelley had been strangled to death.  Deputy Sheriff Charles F. Gibson estimated that he had been murdered between midnight and 3:30 AM that morning.  The death was thoroughly investigated but no suspects were ever found and the crime went unsolved.

 

Restless Spirits?

 

In 1868 Mr. Dunn of the Hoosac Tunnel construction company reported that workers "complained constantly of hearing a manís voice cry out in agony" and refused to enter the half-completed tunnel after sundown  Dun and associate Paul Travers investigated: "Dunn and I entered the tunnel at exactly 9:00 p.m..  We traveled about two miles into the shaft and then we stopped to listen.  As we stood there in the cold silence, we both heard what truly sounded like a man groaning out in pain.  As you know, I have heard this same sound many times during the war.  Yet, when we turned up our the wicks on our lamps, there were no other human beings in the shaft except Mr. Dunn and myself.  Iíll admit I havenít been this frightened since Shiloh.  Mr. Dunn agreed that it wasnít the wind we heard. ... I wonder?"

 

Glenn Drohan, the correspondent who had first covered the 1867 Central shaft disaster for the Transcript wrote: "During the time the miners were missing, villagers told strange tales of vague shapes and muffled wails near the water-filled pit.  Workmen claimed to see the lost miners carrying picks and shovels through a shroud of mist and snow on the mountaintop.  The ghostly apparitions would appear briefly, then vanish, leaving no footprints in the snow, giving no answer to the minerís calls."

 

On the night of June 25, 1872 Dr. Clifford J. Owen and James R. McKinstrey the drillings operations superintendent traveled about two miles into the tunnel and then halted to rest in the light of their lamps.  Owens later described the tunnel as being "as cold and as dark as a tomb."  As they rested they heard a strange and mournful sound.  It sounded to Owens like someone in great pain.  "The next thing I saw was a dim light coming along the tunnel in a westerly direction.  At first, I believed that it was probably a workman with a lantern.  Yet, as the light grew closer, it took on a strange blue color and appeared to change in shape into the form of a human being with no head."  The light moved so close to the two men that they could almost touch it.  It remained motionless, as though watching them, then hovered off toward the east end of the tunnel and vanished.  Owens later wrote that while he was "above all a realist" and that he was not "prone to repeating gossip and wild tales that defy a reasonable explanation" he was unable to "deny what James McKinstrey and I witnessed with our own eyes."

 

On October 16, 1874 a local hunter named Frank Webster vanished near Hoosac Mountain.  Three days later, he was found by a search party, stumbling along the banks of the Deerfield River.  He was in a state of shock, mumbling incoherently and falling down.  He explained to his rescuers that strange voices had ordered him into the Hoosac Tunnel and once he was inside, he saw ghostly figures wandering around.  He also said that invisible hands had snatched his hunting rifle away from him and that he had been beaten with it.  He couldnít remember leaving the tunnel.  Members of the search party recalled that Webster did not have his rifle when he was found and the cuts and abrasions on his head and body did seem to bear evidence of a beating.

 

In the fall of 1875, a fire tender on the Boston & Maine rail line named Harlan Mulvaney was taking a wagon load of wood into the tunnel. He had gone just a short distance into the shaft when he suddenly turned his team around, whipped the horses and drove them madly out of the tunnel. A few days later, workers found the team and the wagon in the forest about three miles away from the tunnel. Harlan Mulvaney was never seen or heard from again.

 

1936.  One former railroad employee, Joseph Impoco, worked the Boston & Maine for years.  He firmly believed that the tunnel was haunted but he was not afraid of the place.  In fact, he credited the resident ghosts with saving his life on two separate occasions.  On one afternoon, he was shipping away ice from the tracks when he heard a distinct voice telling him to "run, Joe, run!"  He looked back and saw a train bearing down on him! "Sure enough, there was No. 60 coming at me.  Boy, did I jump back fast!"  He looked around for whoever had called out his name, but there was no one else nearby.  Later, he would recall that he had distinctly heard the voice before the train had appeared.  He also added that he had seen a man pass by, waving and swinging a torch, but he hadnít paid attention to anything but the shout.  The voice, wherever it had come from, had saved his life.  Six weeks after the incident, Impoco was again working on the tracks.  This time, he was using a heavy iron crow bar to free some fright cars that had been frozen on the tracks.  He was prying at one of the steel wheels when he heard the loud, familiar voice again call out to him.  "Joe! Joe! Drop it, Joe!" the voice called frantically.  Impoco immediately released the bar and it was instantly jolted and thrown against the tunnel wall by more than 11,000 volts of electricity!  The charge came from a short-circuited overhead power line.  The unseen friend has saved Joeís life again

 

In 1973 Bernard Hastaba set out to walk through the tunnel from the North Adams entrance.  He was never heard from again.

 

In 1976, a researcher from Agawam, Massachusetts claimed to come face-to-face with one of the local denizens. He described the figure of a man in old-fashioned work clothing, backlit against a brilliant white light.

 

In 1984 while in the tunnel with a railroad official, professor and part-time ghost hunter named Ali Allmaker had the uncomfortable sensation of someone standing close to her.  She reports: "I have only been in the tunnel once accompanied by a railroad official, and can attest to the claim that it is an eerie place. I had the uncomfortable feeling that someone was walking closely behind me and would tap me on the shoulder at any moment or worse pull me into some unknown and unspeakable horror at any moment."

 

In 1994 Kevin from Boston reported that while in the old control room opposite the ventilation shaft he heard "whisperings" and a "shape" about three feet tall and completely black staying just outside of the edge of his flashlight beam. "It always stayed just outside the beam about 20 feet distant, I have to conclude it was the light that kept it away from me. What I saw was real and moved with deliberation and I didn't have reason to believe it was friendly."

 

Locals in the area still claim that strange winds, ghostly apparitions and eerie voices are experienced around and in the daunting tunnel.  Some researches have left tape reorders in the tunnel and have reported hearing what seems to be muffled voices when they play back the tape.  There is also rumor of a "hidden room" in the tunnel.  The room is said to be bricked up and house unspeakable horror.  Balls of bluish light and "ghost lanterns" are also said to haunt the tunnel, and legends abound of "ghost hands" both pushing people in front of oncoming trains, as well as pulling them to safety.  (Make up your minds!)

   Field Investigation:

"This ride into the tunnel is far from being a cheerful one. The fitful glare of the lamps upon the walls of the dripping cavern,óthe frightful noises that echo from the low roof, and the ghoul-like voices of the miners coming out of the gloom ahead, are not what would be called enlivening."   - The Hoosac Tunnel, Scribner's, December 1870

 

Indeed, the Hoosac Tunnel in not an inviting place.  On October 14, 2002, Andrew Bowers and I walked the length of the tunnel in hopes of seeing a spook or two, and perhaps get pushed in front of a train.  The usual shenanigans. 

 

East Portal

 

It was quite the adventure.  We entered he tunnel from the East Portal around 9:00 a.m., walked the length to the West Portal, stopped for a "non-lunch" (more on that later) and then walked back again.  We did not arrive back at the East Portal until around 4:00 p.m.  The entire trip was a little over 6 hours underground.  And, we emerged grimed by over a century of soot. 

 

East Portal ~ June 2002

 

It was a sunny day, and we made the surprising discovery that a little sunlight goes a long way in a tunnel.  After your eyes adjust to the dark, even the small amount of sun from the tunnel's opening was entirely enough to light our way, at least dimly.  In fact, we did not even bother with flashlights until we had progressed well over a mile, and then it was simply to have a look at the architectural features of the place rather then a need for lighting.  This is not to give the impression that it was well lit, it is just to say that in my experience, you can walk this tunnel on a sunny day without a flashlight.  I do not recommend this, however. 

 

     

Going, going, gone. . .

the third photo was taken after walking an hour

 

First, there are electrical cables running the length of the southern wall.  These are waist height, and conveniently placed in such a way that if you were to hold them like a had rail you would also be standing in six inches of water.  Not a good idea.  Second, 9.5 miles of railroad tracks is brutal on the feet.  And you really do have to walk on the tracks.  The berm to either side is either crushed rock or inches of muck.  The only relatively dry and stable ground were the tracks themselves.  Also, walking between the rails keeps you from falling off the berm and into the water.  We stumbled a lot.  Third, the bricks are collapsing from the bricked sections of the tunnel.  Individual bricks jumping out of the ceiling.  Sheets of brick collapsing out from the walls.  Not that a flashlight will stop them, but you might feel safer. 

 

According to IRONFIST: "Although not a particularly difficult mission to prepare for, the threat within the tunnel is real.  Large freight trains pass through at random hours, leaving behind them a potentially lethal amount of diesel fuel, one hundred year old bricks and archway supports fall onto the tracks at will, and live electrical wires dance in the dark."

 

Inside Tunnel ~ Note Brickwork

Photo by Jeff Sumberg

 

There were many interesting features we noticed as we went along.  Every 200 yards or so there were old field telephones set in the wall for emergency train use.  These were set in alcoves and lighted.  The electrical cables were everywhere, especially on the south wall, and had the nasty habit of often lying in pools of water.  The brick sections of the the tunnel were particularly interesting. 

 

Central Shaft

 

After about two hours in we began to hear a mechanical noise and see a spark of light far ahead.  We debated for some time whether it was a train not.  Thing is, there really is no place to go in the tunnel in the event of a train.  It is a press-up-against-the-wall and hope for the best situation.  The light appeared to be bobbing, but we eventually realized that this was only a trick of the eye.  (Same thing when you stare at a star at night - it appears to jump around after awhile due to the optic nerve getting tired.)

 

After waiting awhile, and noticing that the light was not getting any brighter, we resumed our journey.  The mechanical noise became louder, and was accompanied by an ever stiffening breeze.  We soon realized we were approaching where the Central Shaft opens down into the tunnel.  There is a large fan situated 1000 feet up the shaft in the shaft house that draws air out of the tunnel at great velocity.  Both the breeze and the noise were from the fan. 

 

Black Hole of the Central Shaft

 

The opening to the Central Shaft was a dark hole curving up into the south side of the tunnel.  I have heard that some technical climbers have tried to climb the shaft, but having had a good look at it, I would doubt even the nut-jobs at IRONFIST would try it.  Across the tracks from the Central Shaft opening is a small brick room built into the rock.  There were various old pieces smashed electrical equipment in it.  It had a window overlooking the tracks and perhaps it was a manned station at one point in the tunnel's history.  At the moment it seems to be a destination for the heartiest of partiers.  The graffiti crowd had discovered it too, and mementos of many a dark journey had been carved in the woodwork and painted on the walls.  One such memento proclaimed that "Ozzy lives here," presumably this was before his recent return to stardom and the purchase of that mansion. 

 

West Portal as seen from Central Shaft

 

The light we had been seeing turned out to be the spark of sunlight glinting in from the West Portal opening.  Because the track has a slight grade to each end, with the apex at the middle, we did not see the West Portal light until we had risen high enough on the grade. 

 

Ghosts

 

Interesting as all this was, we were here for spooks, and spooks we demanded.  We literally walked the first two hours in the dark hoping that would be conducive to spook attraction.  After that we lit candles and walked with those.  It was great ambience, those candles - but no spooks.  We had heard there was a place in the tunnel referred to as the "Hoosac Hilton."  This was supposed to be an area where a large section of the tunnel collapsed killing dozens of workers.  It was supposed to be obvious because the tunnel opens out in a cavernous chamber there.  We never found the Hilton.  Of course, we were walking in the dark, but even so we were still able to just make out the tunnel walls on either side, and I swear we never came to an area where the tunnel opened out into a large chamber area. 

 

 

Spirits of the Damned?

 

Several times during the first two hours I took pictures in the dark to see if anything spooky would like to show itself on film.  Nobody that I am aware of decided to pose, but I did get one photo of some interesting specks and globes of light that appear to be floating in the tunnel.  Are these souls of the dearly departed?  Still haunting the site of their gristly and untimely demise?  Or just . . . specks?

 

West Portal

 

The walk from the Central Shaft to the West Portal seemed to take forever, and I have since learned that indeed - it is a longer walk than the East Portal section.  And, the West half is the wet half.  Water everywhere.  Water gushing out of the walls, water raining out of the ceiling, water filling both sides of the tracks.  And of course the mud.  Not just any mud, but disgusto-mud mixed with decades of soot and cinders.  It dried on my boots like cement. 

 

We slogged our way to the West Portal.  This end has an interesting feature - a huge garage door.  I kid you not.  This door is such that it can roll down and completely cover the West Portal opening.  I have since heard it had something to do with snow getting in or "keeping the bears out," but it seems rather unlikely.  Frankly, I have no idea why it is there. 

 

However it does bring to mind an entry from a ghost-hunting website that has long since died of shame.  Apparently four intrepid ghost hunters, two men and their girlfriends approached the West Portal in broad daylight one winters day.  They felt "chills" from the "bad vibes."  After much coaxing by the girlfriends, the two men entered the West Portal and went several dozen feet.  It was there they heard the sounds of "body bags falling from the ceiling", and ran back to the womenfolk.  What body-bags falling from the ceiling sound like, I don't know, but perhaps they had prior experience with this.  All of which brings to mind the wife of friend who walked part of the old RR tunnel in Clinton, and who also reported "body-bags."

 

Andy at the West Portal

 

I was starved and had been looking forward to lunch at the West Portal.  Andy had promised to bring lunch.  We climbed up on the granite foundations of the portal and opened our packs.  Andy took out a candy bar and ate it.  Then he had some water.  That was it - no lunch was forthcoming from the pack.  I watched him eat the candy bar.  I thought hard bitter thoughts.  I wondered if a train came through if he would get pushed in front of it.

 

More Ghosts?

 

The walk back was a cold, wet, and hungry one.  After about several hours on the return walk we noticed that the light from the West Portal seemed to have a different gleam to it - it didn't seem right.  After some observation we finally realized that it was incandescent and coming towards us - and entirely silently.  Was it the spooks at last?

 

We looked for a place to hide in the event it was a train.  Somehow I had the feeling we probably were not supposed to be in the tunnel, and felt it was probably best not to be seen.  There really was no place to hide though - just tunnel.  However, where the brick sections butted up against the non-brick sections, there was a slight recess into the wall of about a foot.  We decided to scrunch back into the recess and await events.  Events turned out to be one of those railroad company pickup trucks - the kind that are adapted to ride on the tracks.  It had its bights on and seemed virtually silent.  We pressed into the recess and watched it glide by, barely an arms length away.  I can't imagine they didn't see us. 

 

Comin' Through!

 

We continued our journey back, quickening the pace.  We passed the Central Shaft section and after awhile could again see the spark of light from the East Portal.  We also noticed a red light.  At this point neither of us equated lights with spooks, but with railroad personnel.  We watched and waited and found another recess.  Our efforts were rewarded with the realization that we had a freight train approachin'.  It came on real slow.  They must not go any faster that 10 or 15 miles per hour in the tunnel.  The entire tunnel began to vibrate hideously long before it got to us.  When it did get to us even the rock was shaking and I wondered why the bricks didn't all fall as I pressed up against the wall.  After the engine went by it was completely dark, and quite a sensation hearing car after car slam and rattle by only an arms length away in the pitch dark. 

 

Once the train passed, we had new developments - we could no longer see the light from the East Portal.  It was like something was blocking the end of the tunnel.  As we continued walking we gradually began to see the portal light again and realized that there was so much black diesel exhaust fumes from the train that it completely blocked all the light. 

 

To quote again from N. H. Eggleston in the March 1882 Atlantic Monthly (about how a perpetual cloud of smoke from up to forty trains a day made it impossible to see more than a few yards in the in either direction when in the tunnel): "No artificial light, not even the headlights of the locomotives, can penetrate the darkness for any considerable distance.  The engineer sees nothing, but feels his way by faith and simple push of steam through the five miles of solemn gloom.  If there is any occasion for stopping him on his way through the thick darkness, which may almost literally be felt, the men who constantly patrol the huge cavern to see that nothing obstructs the passage, do not think of signaling the approaching train in the common way.  They carry with them powerful torpedoes, which, whenever there is occasion, they fasten to the rails by means of screws.  The wheels of the locomotive, striking these, produce a loud explosion, and this is the tunnel signal to the engineer to stop his train."

 

Our final adventure over for the day, we walked out of the tunnel about an hour later, grimed from head to toe.  Those walls were as sooty as a chimney. 

 

Footsore and Hungry

Photo by Andy Bowers

 

   Observations & Mysteries:

The tunnel is a gritty, dirty, cold and muddy place, and physically taxing.  Freight trains blast through on regular basis.  Electric cables lie in pools of water.  There is no lunch anywhere.  If you enjoy such adventures, you are there.  It is not for the timid or casual hiker.  The brave lads from the Ghost-Hunters website only got 30 feet, in broad daylight, before scampering off in fear. 

 

Some things remain mysteries.  We were unable to locate or verify the Hoosac Hilton.  There were certainly many fatal cave-ins involved in the making of the tunnel, but it seems odd that one of this supposed size and loss of life has gone unrecorded.  Neither did we find any trace from the inside of the tunnel of the old West Shaft.  Nor have we located the exact site of the shaft head on the mountain side.  Was the shaft entirely filled, or simply capped and bricked off at both ends?  Also, the "Hidden Room of Hoosac" remains a mystery.  Its unspeakable horror still remains unspeakable. 

 

As for spooks, I was quite disappointed.  I guess evil had the day off.  Even walking most of the tunnel with no light whatsoever was not enough to entice the damned for a picnic in the crypt.  I guess they knew there would be no lunch. . . .

   Helpful Tips:

First and foremost, any trip into the tunnel should be approached as a spelunking adventure, and with all the necessary precautions.  The tunnel is like a cave that at its deepest point is 2.5 miles from an entrance - not a good place to be if things go wrong.  According to the camy-clothed para-wieners of IRONFIST: "Despite what many believe about the Hoosac Tunnel, it is not as simple an operation as it seems.  The IRONFIST expeditionary team has had years of practice in the most difficult of situations and questionable locales such as the Hoosac Tunnel and has therefore honed their skills like none other.  Their classification of the Hoosac Tunnel as 'easy' should not be taken literally, as the group has encountered many dangers within, including trains, noxious gases, and unfriendly locals."

 

If you go round trip, expect the journey to take at least 6 hours.  Bring a small "AA" Mini-MagLight style flashlight.  You don't need a big one and it will only strain your arm carrying it for 6 hours.  Bring a spare Mini-MagLight and several sets of reserve batteries.  Be careful about your light - railroad personnel in trucks and on foot can see a flashlight real well in the tunnel.  Wear a hardhat.  One falling brick could possibly kill you.  And falling bricks are a real hazard.  Its cold in there, bring an extra sweater for your pack.  Wear waterproof footwear - and remember, whatever you wear you will be wearing for a jarring 10 mile hike.  And, the diesel exhaust fumes could be life-threatening in that confined space.  Of course, you won't need any of my advice if you are one of those nut-jobs from IRONFIST.

   Links and References:

East Portal: Head west on Route 2 (Mohawk Trail) to the center of the town of Florida.  One half mile before the Eastern Summit, take a right on Church Road, a steep dirt road.  At the bottom take a right onto Whitcome Hill Road.  Take a left on River Road at the Deerfield River.  About one half mile or more on the right is a railroad crossing.  The East Portal is up the tracks on the left.

 

West Portal: Head west on Route 2 (Mohawk Trail) past the Western Summit.   West Shaft Street is on the left about 1.5 miles past the hairpin turn.  The West Portal is not observable from the road.  You will need to park on the right just before where the road bends right and goes down into North Adams.  The West Portal is 3/10ths of a mile due west through the woods. 

 

Central Shaft, Shaft Head & Fan Building: Head west on Route 2 (Mohawk Trail) through the town of Florida.  Central Shaft Road is on your left about 2 miles past Whitcomb Summit.  The shaft-head fan building is about 1.5 miles on the left. 

 

 

Central Shaft Head & Fan Building

Photo by Jeff Sumberg

 

 

Websites:

 

   Jerry "Ringo" Kelley presents The Hoosac Tunnel: Now and Then

      The most comprehensive Hoosac Tunnel website.

 

   An article from Scribner's December 1870 issue: Building the Hoosac Tunnel

 

   Hoosac Tunnel Vintage Postcard Picture Gallery: Hoosac Tunnel

 

   History and Haunting of America: Ghosts of the Bloody Pit  

 

   Facts & Stats about the Hoosac Tunnel  

 

 

Books:

 

   A Pinprick of Light:  The Troy and Greenfield Railroad and Its Hoosac Tunnel

      by Carl R. Byron

 

 

 

About the Authors:

Neither Dan or Andy are nut-jobs from IRONFIST.

 

 


 

To boudillion.com Home Page

 

Field Journal

 

 

Copyright © June 2003 by Daniel V. Boudillion