05-10-2009 the Old Tunnel

oldtunnelsignIn the early 1800’s the site of what is now Fredericksburg was settled by German immigrants. Being mainly farmers and craftsman, they needed a market for their fruits, vegetables, and goods. San Antonio was the largest and nearest market being only 75 miles away. Unfortunately, 75 miles through the Texas Hill Country by ox or horse took about 10 to 11 days in good weather and things didn’t arrive so fresh. So it was decided a railroad was needed in Fredericksburg.

old-tunnelhorizonAfter 25 years and 30 failed attempts to gain rail funding, a deal was struck with the SA&AP. A contract was drawn to construct the grading to Llano by way of Fredericksburg. Under the contract Fredericksburg was obligated to provide $7,000 for each five miles of completed grade and assume half the cost of the survey. After surveys of the area, it was found that funds were not available nor would it be possible for a railway to be built over the “Big Hill.” The “Big Hill” is a ridge of hills just south of Fredericksburg near Grapetown. It separates the Pedernales River drainage from that of the Guadalupe River and rises to over 2,300 feet. So… after a cost of about $85,000 and seventeen miles of grade, the plan was abandoned. But in January of 1913, a charter was taken out in the name of the San Antonio, Fredericksburg & Northern Railroad Company and work finally began on a railroad for Fredericksburg

oldtunnel-topThe tunnel was to be a straight bore through the “Big Hill” about 920 feet and work began simultaneously at both ends. The labor was performed with blasting powder for the solid portions of the rock and with many shovels, picks, scrapers, and narrow gauge dump cars to haul the material out. When work began on the north end of the tunnel it was necessary to dig a cut 500 feet long and 40 feet deep up to the entrance. This made it difficult to remove debris from the bottom of this cut. This problem was solved by erecting a derrick on the mouth of the tunnel which would lift small railcars to the top and dump them out on the sides of the cut. Work was performed 24-hour day, split into three shifts. Late April saw the passage reaching about 90 feet in. A report of May 24 stated that the depth was now 450 feet, so a month’s worth of work produced phenomenal results.

oldtunnelrimThe train operated for almost 29 years, but eventually the horseless carriage caught up with the Fredericksburg & Northern. In 1941, the owners of the line petitioned the War Department to sell the line. This petition was granted and the line was sold in 1942. In some ways though, the line lived on as many of the rails, trestles and timbers went to such locations as the Alcan Highway (Alaska Highway), various rail spurs feeding Army camps, and even some rails going to Australia.

oldtunnelShortly after the removal of the railroad tracks in 1942, bats moved into the tunnel. In July and August there are over three million Mexican Free-tailed bats. On summer nights, the Old Tunnel bats usually emerge within an hour before or after sunset. Most bats exit through the south end of the tunnel, spiraling in a counter-clockwise direction in order to gain altitude over nearby trees. The Free-tail’s diet includes agricultural pests such as the cutworm, cornborer and webworm moths. Each can eat its weight in insects nightly, and the whole colony may devour over 25 tons of moths per night. The bats return to the tunnel between midnight and daybreak, having traveled an average 25 to 30 miles to forage.



~ by myVelleity on May 10, 2009.

One Response to “05-10-2009 the Old Tunnel”

  1. Watch it now creepy creatures come out of caves, scary movie pics

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