Boston: Nose to the Water

by kfrego

The tunnel in Boston required horseshoe shaped support steel in many areas. Blocky, heavy, and wet conditions of the rock had to have adequate support to keep the ground in place as the tunnel was mined. The eight inch steel beams were bent for the configuration of the tunnel. Two of the beams bolted together at the crown formed the horseshoe shape. Boards, timbers, and wedges were used to cap off the ground above the steel sets. Normal spacing of the steel sets was every four feet. In bad ground it wasn’t uncommon to have the steel sets on two foot centers. As the tunnel advanced the air, working water, and discharge water pipes were tied off to the steel sets.

The two inch diameter cable for the 440 volt electric Conway mucker was rolled on a reel on the side of the machine. The 100 foot cable was hand spooled off and back onto the reel as the mucker loaded the blasted rock at the tunnel face. The cable tender wore heavy rubber gloves and placed the cable in temporary hangers along the steel sets as work progressed forward. It wasn’t uncommon to get a little trickle of shock when handling the cable in wet conditions. If the cable received damage or excessive wear it was replaced with a new cable.

The crew was taking a lunch brake while myself and Elmer Finch prepared everything to drill at the tunnel face. We had an air C-P Whirley pump running while mucking the face for the bottom holes to be drilled. The pump was extremely noisy and condensation from the air line exhausting from the pump created a lot of fog. We were in an area where air lights provided a dull illumination in front of the drill jumbo. The air started slowly decreasing to the pump and lights. We had our flashlights and tinkered around while waiting for the air to come back on. Slowly we started getting the smell of smoke. As we looked behind us there was a wall of dense, black, putrid smelling smoke. The mucker cable 200 feet behind us had burned out against a steel set and the insulation continued to burn after the breakers tripped. The air being used in our work area had kept the smoke from encroaching on us. When some idiot turned off the air it allowed the smoke to engulf us. We could hear faint hollering behind us, but couldn’t comprehend what was being said. We didn’t know the tunnel ventilation was holding the smoke in the end of the tunnel.

One side of the tunnel was used for drainage and the ditch had about three inches of water running in it. The smoke was laying just above the water. We decided the only way out was to put our noses just above the water and belly crawl through the smoke. We crawled very slow to avoid stirring up the dense smoke. We had no idea how far it was to safety, but the air was sustaining us along the water. It was a huge relief to see lights then clear air as we belly crawled out of the smoke.

The crew thought we were dead…………………..and we wanted to find and kill the idiot that shut off the air.