Thread: Shepaug RR tunnel...
February 20th, 2008, 12:10 AM #1
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Shepaug RR tunnel...
Totally Into This Railroad Tunnel
Peter Marteka | Nature's Path February 15, 2008
I'm a trainiac.
I've loved everything about trains since I was a boy running up Main Street from my grandparents' house in Dunkirk, Ind., with my brother and sister. As soon as we heard that lonely horn at some distant crossing, we would race up to the tracks and watch a 100-car-long train slowly pass before a quick wave to the man in the caboose.
At my childhood home, my miniature train set and town once took up half the attic.
The last time I visited a train tunnel and wrote about it in this column wasn't exactly a success. The 300-foot-long Taft Tunnel in Lisbon is considered the "oldest existing train tunnel in America." It is also "home of the first railroad tunnel in America." It is also a still-active railroad and trespassing is not only dangerous, but also carries a stiff fine.
There's no such problem when you visit what is known as the Shepaug Tunnel in
Washington, a picturesque, stuck-in-time town in the Litchfield hills. This tunnel is nearly an exact replica of the one in Lisbon. But visitors don't have to watch for train headlamps or listen for distant horns. The tracks and trains that once ran along the 32-mile-long Shepaug Valley Railroad are gone. The railroad bed is now a hiking trail within the 750-acre Steep Rock Reservation nature preserve.
And it's one beautiful journey to get to the tunnel, even on a winter morning when temperatures hover around 10 degrees. My journey began at the junction of Spring Hill Road and Tunnel Road. During the winter, Tunnel Road is closed to vehicular traffic. The journey to the tunnel is more than a mile, so be prepared to walk, or run, depending on your excitement level at finding the tunnel.
Tunnel Road parallels the Shepaug River, a serpentine waterway that twists through on its way from the Mohawk State Forest and the Shepaug Reservoirs to the Housatonic River. With the water and ice flowing over large boulders, it's easy to see how the Shepaug — which means "rocky river" when translated from the Native American language — got its name.
About a half-mile down, visitors can hop on the old Shepaug line, a narrow, gravel path that once took passengers from Washington Depot or The Hollow to places like Litchfield,Roxbury or Hawleyville. With the line wandering for 32 miles to cover a route 18 miles long as the crow flies and with approximately 200 curves in the line, it was known as "the crookedest railroad east of California."
"No stretch of imagination could call its route direct," wrote George J. Flynn in an article about the line found in the archives of the Gunn Memorial Library's Connecticut history room, "or its gait a run. It meanders through the green fields here and there with a luxurious indefiniteness. Now and then it stops for the conductor to discuss the crops or the weather with the rustics.
"As it climbs the high hills, it pants ominously," he wrote. "After a while it give unquestionable indications of weakening. Finally in much labor and travail, it ends, through sheer exhaustion not far from the main street of the village."
February 20th, 2008, 12:40 AM #2
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rest of story...
In 1948, the trains stopped running and now only the tunnel and a few culverts remain as proof of a railroad that once shipped fine cheese and milk to New York City and rock from quarries in Roxbury used for the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. At the peak, the line consisted of three tired locomotives — Shepaug, Weatinaug and Waramaug — three passenger cars, two baggage and mail cars and 23 freight cars.
After about another half-mile down the abandoned line, visitors can finally see a black hole up ahead — the tunnel's maw. It's even more pronounced in winter with snow on the surrounding hillsides and evergreens lining the old bed. As one gets closer, the black hole opens even more and it appears to swallow half the hillside.
At first, it appears the tunnel cavern is endless. But once your eyes get accustomed to the darkness, you can see light at the other end of the 500-foot-long tunnel. The tunnel also seems very narrow and it's amazing a train could fit through it.
The interior of the tunnel is cold and damp, and it feels even colder inside than it does outside. Huge icicles, temporary stalactites, hang from the ceiling of the tunnel and your footsteps echo in the chamber. Drill holes where dynamite was placed by tunnel workers dot the sides of the wall.
It takes only 30 seconds or so to walk through the tunnel, but for those with claustrophobia there are trails that run over the top of the tunnel. But those who make the journey will be able to return to a time when a train made a crooked journey through a picturesque valley and into the maw of a hillside.
The preserve is on Spring Hill Road. Take Exit 9 off I-84 and follow Route 25 north. In Brookfield take a right on Route 133 to Bridgewater and Route 67 toward Roxbury. Take a left on Route 199 and a left on Spring Hill Road.
Column ideas and suggestions are welcome. Peter Marteka can be reached by phone at 860-647-5362; by mail at The Courant, 200 Adams St., Manchester, CT. 06040; and by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
February 20th, 2008, 05:24 PM #3
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Certainly an interesting tale. As he has some interest in trains, the history as written comes across well.
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December 31st, 2008, 06:51 PM #4New TrainBoard Member
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Dear Peter, I am a newcomer to this site as of today (Dec 31, 2008) and read your post. I joined the site because I wanted more info on the Shepaud Tunnel -- and I got it in your wonderful video and text pst. I'm a former news director at i-95 FM adn WINE radio stations in Brookfield and gave lots of air time to the Housatonic RR folks when they were rebuilding the line north of New Milford. Would love to chat more some day and compare notes (which I am trying to assemble). I trust you have seen the awesome tunnels here in Newtown. If not, let me know (email@example.com) and I can get you more info. Best regards for the New Year, Michael Cech
December 11th, 2009, 05:20 PM #5
Enjoyed your thread about the Shepaug Tunnel, John Barnhill! I live in Bethel, CT, not far from the Hawleyville-Bethel Branch ROW of the Shepaug Valley RR.
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