Today, the Massachusetts State Quarter Coin remembers the blast that opened the Hoosac tunnel on November 27, 1873.
From the New York Herald of the following day:
The Mountain Pierced After Tears of Toil.
Opening Ceremonies Yesterday.
Another Triumph of Engineering Skill — Boston’s Hole in the Wall, Through Which She Proposes to Tap the Trade of the West.
North Adams, Mass., Nov. 27, 1873.
At seven minutes past three o’clock this afternoon the final blast was fired between the two headings of the Hoosac Tunnel, and an opening eight feet square was made between the central and western sections.
Thus an uninterrupted passage was effected through Hoosac Mountain.
Long years or weary toil, untiring perseverance and extraordinary engineering skill were to-day crowned with success. As the deafening thunder from the explosion died away a shout announcing the successful opening between the headings rang out from the crowds assembled in the two sections.
The wildest enthusiasm prevailed.
Great, burly Cornish men grasped one another eagerly by the hand, and each seemed as joyous over the result as if to himself belonged the glory of the achievement.
A headlong rush followed, each eager to be the first who should step through the opening.
An event of such importance, both from a commercial and engineering point of view, deserves a more careful and extended account.
The Herald reporter arrived at the engineer’s office, central shaft, at noon, after a cold ride in the snowy weather of a Berkshire winter.
There he was met by Messrs. Wederlainch and Bond, assistant engineers, to whom our thanks are due for many kind attentions.
We donned the necessary water proof suits of oilskin, and, with miners’ lamps, prepared for the descent.
From the engineer’s office we ascended a flight of wooden steps leading to the platform, and, stepping into the cage, we were lowered rapidly down into the heart of the mountain.
A jolly crowd of William’s College students, who were of the company, enlivened the two minutes’ descent with college songs, which produced, under the circumstances, a peculiarly fine effect.
As the cage gradually slackened its speed and brought us below the roof of the tunnel a weird scene presented itself, which will never be forgotten.
A hundred miners, with their faces strangely lighted by the flame of the flaring lamps, stood in groups, waiting for the final preparations to be completed.
We mingled with the crowd and listened for the blast, which was momentarily expected. We had not long to wait.
A thundering crash and a rush of air announced the firing of the blast.
A barricade of heavy timbers had been erected at the distance of 160 feet from the heading, behind which the miners took refuge.
The blaster, Mr. Hancock, connected the wires of the electric fuse to the circuit of nitro-glycerine cartridges, and, retreating a few hundred feet farther, he seized a pickaxe and kept back the anxious crowd till it should be certainly ascertained that all the cartridges had been fired.
As soon as this was known with certainty a double line of miners was formed in the central section, through which Mr. Walter Shanly, the contractor, accompanied by Mr. Robert Johnson, chairman of Legislative Commission, passed, they being the first to go through the opening.
These gentlemen and other prominent visitors being through, a grand rush followed.
The distance between the headings, when the final charge, which consisted of 190 pounds, was put in, was about 13 feet; and, in order to make clean work, 12 or 13 drill holes were made on each side.
It was expected that Mr. Shanly would make his exit at the western portal, and accordingly a band was in waiting to serenade him; but for some reason Mr. Shanly found it necessary to return by the central shaft, and thus the intended congratulatory ceremonies did not take place at the west end.
The distance of the opening from the western portal is about 10,500 feet. So heavy was the blast that at the distance of 300 feet the gates of oak timber, 12 inches in thickness, were shattered, and a Burleigh drill carriage, standing 600 feet distant, was completely demolished by the flying masses of rock.
It is thought that careful measurement will show an almost exact meeting of the headings.
This cannot, however, be accurately ascertained till the enlargement has been made. At this point the rock blasting of the tunnel will be completed as soon as the 2,000 feet of enlargement which remains to be done between the west shaft and opening is finished.
The tunnel, when completed, will be drained by a channel lying between the two tracks and covered by flagging stones already contracted for. East of the central shaft draining will not be necessary, as the tunnel is almost dry in that section.
It is expected that the tunnel will be open for travel by the 4th of July next if the work of grading and track laying between the west portal and North Adams, for which McClallan, Son & Walker, of Springfield, Mass., have the contract, is finished.
We understand that the masonry involved in their contract is completed and the grading nearly so.
At the east end about 500 yards more of rock grading remains to be done between the portal and the depot.
In the contract of Mr. Shanly, it will be remembered, there was a provisional extension of six months, on account of unavoidable delays which he suffered.
He will derive no advantage from completing his contract within that time. Since to secure the bonus he must have the work done before March 1, 1874, which will be impossible.
That every exertion has been made, not only by the contractor, but also by the corps of superintendents and engineers under him, to have the tunnel opened at the very earliest possible date, no one acquainted with the facts doubts for a moment.
But, aside from his peculiar constructive powers, Mr. Shanly is vastly popular as a man. Kind and ready to help, he has endeared himself by a thousand little things to those who work under his guidance.
Besides this great undertaking of the Hoosac tunnel, Mr. Shanly has also a contract made for building 208 miles of railroad between Wheeling and Toledo before the 1st of September, 1874.
On account of competition and the local interest of other roads, much difficulty has been encountered in the construction of this line, but Mr. Shanly tells us that the proposed road shall surely be put through on time.
He requests us to say that if all goes as he has a right to expect, he can and will put an excursion train over that road on the 4th of July, 1874.
About the same time, probably, the first train will run through the tunnel under Hoosac Mountain, and this great work, which has attracted so much attention for so long a time, will be finished.
Besides the Commissioners and contractor who were present we noticed also several prominent gentlemen from North Adams, Rev. Messrs. Pratt and Holmes, Mr. Putnam, of the Putnam Machine Works at Fitchburg; Mr. Hunter, under whose superintendence most of the machinery used at the tunnel has been constructed; Mr. Austin Bond, the State financier of the tunnel; Mr. Mowbray, the manufacturer of the nitro-glycerine used in blasting, as well as the superintendents and assistant engineers of the several sections of the tunnel.
A marvel of engineering skill has been put on record by the opening of this tunnel through Hoosac Mountain, which has seldom if ever been surpassed.
On December 12, 1872, when the headings westward from the east end and eastward from the central shaft were connected, a wonderful degree of accuracy was shown in the fact that the two headings coincided within eight inches, and this it must be remembered, was done in spite of great difficulties.
The only reliable means of guidance in the direction of the headings was such as could be obtained at the terminal points, and one of these was itself to be determined beforehand by the skill of the engineer, it being situated more than 1,000 feet below the surface of the earth.
The long distance between the terminal points being also considered, and allowance made for slight unavoidable errors, it will be seen that the highest praise is justly due to Mr. B. D. Frost, the chief engineer, and also to Messrs. Carl O. Wederlainch, E. A. Bond, F. D. Fisher and A. W. Locke, assistants.
A question of very practical bearing will present itself to the people of Massachusetts as soon as this new route is completed and open for use—namely. What they shall do with it and how they shall manage it?
Indeed, the question has already been broached, though no action has been taken as yet in regard to it.
Three propositions were laid before the Legislature at the last session.
The first of these was that the tunnel and road should be sold to the Troy and Boston and Vermont and Massachusetts railroads.
The second, that it should be sold to the Boston, Lowell and Fitchburg Railroad, with authority to buy also the Ogdensburg Railroad and connections to the tunnel, thus putting under one control a line 1,500 miles long, and of vast importance.
The third proposition was that the State should itself hold and manage the road directly.
Much might he said, and doubtless will be, in favor of each of the proposed plans, but probably no ultimate action will be taken till the work is completed.
Several roads have been projected and discussed as being more or less possible lines of connection between the west and of the tunnel and the Hudson River.
Among these the two most prominent are one connecting the tunnel directly with Albany and another running nearly parallel with the present line of the Troy and Boston road, as far as Schaghticoke, N. Y., and thence across New York state to some point on Lake Ontario.
The legislative Commission, who have been inspecting the work and the opening between the headings of the tunnel today, were serenaded this evening at the Arnold House by the North Adams Brass Band.
The Massachusetts State Quarter Coin shows with an image of the Hoosac tunnel, circa 1877.