Sunday, November 22, 2009

New Moon

What's with all the vampire movies and television shows nowadays? Don't get me wrong, I love vampire movies. Like every other girl in the world, I like horses and the sexy undead. However, I prefer the Anne Rice/Brad Pitt sort of vampire. Eric Northman on True Blood is pretty hot too. (Getting the idea that this girl likes bad boys?) The Twilight movies and the Vampire Diaries TV series are a little too teen crush for my tastes, what with all that "noble young vampire wanting to be good" story line. (Gag!), but then again, the books were written for a juvenile audience. Still I feel that to truly appreciate the full scope of vampirism, one needs to check out the earlier vampire flicks: Bella Lugosi and later, Christopher Lee. Now those dudes were truly horrifying as well as compelling. Here's the thing, the idea of eternal life, and the severe costs that come with it: the monstrous acts they are forced to commit to sustain themselves, the long lonely eons stretched out before them, never again to feel the sun warm their face, to feel love, be loved, these are the things the story line is getting at, not just about finding the one true love that will save the creature. Maybe that's what teenage girls find so compelling about these sorts of movies: the idea that love, their love, can save the creature; that someone needs them above and beyond all else. That they alone are special. Whatever the case may be, Mariah is bugging me to take her to see New Moon, and I will oblige her. Ever young girl deserves her fantasy, and let's face it, Edward Cullen is hot.

Ghost Hunt - Summit Tunnel No. 6, Donner Summit

My friend and fellow ghost hunter Mona grew up in Truckee, California. She has interesting (and eerie) stories to tell. Truckee began as a supply stop along the transcontinental railroad that was being built in the 1800s. It has a compelling history. Many buildings built back in the 1800s still stand today, and ghost stories abound. Mona had caught some interesting pictures while exploring the Summit Tunnel No. 6, one of the most difficult portions of the railway built. She asked if Paula and I were interested in joining her to investigate the tunnel further. Not knowing much about the history of this area, I went online and found out more about this incredible feat of engineering.


Constructing a railroad 88 miles over the rugged Sierra Range between Newcastle and Truckee, California, took 12,000 men 3 years and 2 months (February 1865 to April 1868). The Sierra crest, the most challenging section, required 14 tunnels to maintain a maximum grade of 105 feet to the mile. The longest and most difficult tunnel was tunnel number 6, Summit Tunnel, under Donner Summit. It was 1659 feet long.

Working conditions near the Summit were extremely hazardous. The Central Pacific Railroad (CPRR) imported Chinese labor to do the work because of their fortitude, endurance and willingness to work for a far less than normal pay. The Chinese laborers worked in shifts around the clock from August 1866 until November 30, 1867. When not working the Chinese had to live in tunnels that they'd carved into the snowdrifts during the winter; makeshift shanties on site during the warmer months. Many of them died.
Despite non-stop digging and 300 kegs of black powder a day, the rock was so hard that the laborers could advance only 8 to 12 inches per day. To expedite the work on Tunnel No. 6, a vertical shaft seventy-five feet deep was sunk so that crews could work four headers, two from the middle out and two towards the shaft. Workers were lowered into the shaft by rope. (There is now a historical marker near the cap on top of the tunnel).

Many laborers lost their lives while setting charges to blast a road bed out of the rock solid cliffs. Chinese railroad workers, assigned the task of blasting tunnels through solid granite, died in untold numbers from black-powder explosions and in avalanches triggered by the blasts. After a year of using blasting powder quite ineffectively against the unyielding Sierra granite, the CPRR deployed a new high explosive called nitroglycerin; probably the first to do so in the United States. Nitro had a nasty reputation for exploding at unexpected times. After several fatal accidents while transporting the explosive, the decision was made to manufacture nitroglycerin on site.

The winters of 1866-7 and 1867-8 were severe in the Sierra. 44 storms dumped nearly 45 feet of snow and generated deadly avalanches. The biggest storm produced 120 inches in 13 days. An avalanche in 1866 wiped out an entire work camp; when the bodies were discovered the following spring, work tools were still clutched in their frozen hands. A slide near Tunnel No. 9 swept twenty Chinese laborers to their death. The following winter was no better. Sub-tropical storms dumped more than 40 inches of rain in December 1867, causing extensive flooding. In early March 1868, a fierce blizzard dumped 10 feet of snow in five days. The Virginia City Territorial Enterprise newspaper stated, “This winter has been pretty rough on the Chinese along the line of the railroad, and a great number of them have been killed and crippled by similar accidents at various points on the road.” Despite the  harsh weather conditions, work continued.

By the spring of 1868 the great railroad tunnel east of Cisco (between Emigrant Pass and Norden) had opened. Only nine miles remained to be built to connect with the rails previously laid at Coburn's (current Truckee). Four thousand men worked continuously for twelve days to complete it. In June, 1868 the CPRR made its first run from Sacramento to Lake's Crossing (Reno, nowadays) at the eastern foot of the Sierra in Nevada Territory. Coburn's burned down the same year and residents quickly rebuilt, renaming the town, "Truckee". The final link in the transcontinental railroad was completed the following year, 1869, at Promontory, Utah. In comparison, the railroad from Truckee across the desert to Promontory, Utah, a distance of 571 miles, took only 5,000 men just one year and 27 days.
The Summit Tunnel was closed down in 1993, after some 130 years of use. The tracks and water sheds are gone. The temperature of the tunnel remains cool year round, and there are standing puddles of water along the floor. Water seeps in from the roof and walls. Dripping water constantly echoes throughout the dark tunnel. Although our investigation was in the late afternoon  and the weather warm, we wore light jackets, sturdy shoes and carried flashlights.

The walls along the tunnel still bear blast marks, and bore holes where explosive charges were set. I got an eerie feeling here, especially when I thought of the countless men who lost their lives here due to explosions. As we advanced further into the tunnel, I marveled at the thought of these same men toiling in the darkness with only candles and lanterns to light their way.
The sound of dripping water, and the crunch of gravel underfoot contaminated my digital recordings. I heard only our footsteps, voices, and an occasional passing car. While we were at the halfway point, just under the vertical shaft, my digital recorder picked up a loud bang. Mona, Paula and I were the only people in the tunnel during this time, and none of us had dropped anything. Directly above us, the vertical shaft is capped by a large metal sheet. I could not rule out something hitting the metal cap and the sound traveling down to us. The noise was picked up on Paula's equipment also, followed immediately with her losing power to her camera. She headed back toward the west entrance, while Mona and I continued east.

Mona's camera kept picking up some unusual light anomalies. There appears to be colored auras around the east entrance and along the nearby walls. I took several pictures of the same area. My pictures show light from the tunnel entrance and reflections off the water, but no auras.

Mona and I headed back toward the west entrance and were met by Paula. Paul's digital recorder had picked up the sound of whispers near the entrance, but we have been unable to make any words out.

As the sun was beginning to set, we decided to end the investigation. Because we did pick up a few sounds we haven't been able to explain, I would really like to return to these tunnels and spend some time just sitting quietly in one spot and record.