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As It Was: Railroad Leaves Two Empty Holes in Siskiyou Mountains

Not far from Ashland, Ore., there are two deep, dead-end holes in a Siskiyou mountain.

It was September of 1883 when Chinese railroad workers started blasting a 1,600-foot-long tunnel through Buck Rock Mountain that would allow a railway headed south from Oregon to link with a  railway being built toward Oregon from Redding, Calif.

The Chinese crews started blasting holes toward each other from opposite ends of the mountain.

History writer Bill Miller described their progress in these words:

“Winter snow brought water into the tunnel and slowed work.  Then, in February 1884 and without warning, all work on the uncompleted tunnel stopped … In fact, the railroad was out of money.  The tracks (from the north) ended at Ashland, just a few dozen miles and a mountain away from the California real line.  With two unfinished holes on each side of a mountain, the Buck Rock Tunnel would never see a train pass through.”

Stage coach travel over the Siskiyous continued from Ashland until three years later with the driving of the Golden Spike in Ashland that connected the Oregon and California lines and, more significantly, completed the first railroad network around the United States.

Sources: Miller, Bill. "Two Holes in a Mountain." The Manifest, Jan. 2013, p. 1, www.soc-nrhs.org/manifest/2013-1.newsletter-1.pdf. Accessed 19 July 2018; "Ashland's Golden Spike." nps.gov, National Park Service, www.nps.gov/nr/travel/ashland/spike.htm. Accessed 19 July 2018.

Kernan Turner is the Southern Oregon Historical Society’s volunteer editor and coordinator of the As It Was series broadcast daily by Jefferson Public Radio. A University of Oregon journalism graduate, Turner was a reporter for the Coos Bay World and managing editor of the Democrat-Herald in Albany before joining the Associated Press in Portland in 1967. Turner spent 35 years with the AP before retiring in Ashland.