Wow, what a few weeks of work will do for a project! The main structure of the tunnel is now complete. The wrapping of the tunnel with rubber roofing material was competed on December 6th with a group of four getting together to complete the task. Kudos go out to the dozen plus individuals who came out at different times over the last six weeks to help in the construction. The tunnel project could not have been completed in the timeline we were targeting without you!
Assembly of the tunnel components began on October 28th, after completing the excavation of the hole, the drainage and floor prep was complete. You can read more about the prep on the October 27th, 2022 blog found here.
For several months this past summer we went back and forth on how we were going to construct the tunnel. The three main ideas we were considering were building it out of wood, some form of culvert, or using a method that we've used before, constructing them out of old used oil tanks. There was an initial desire to construct it out of wood but after examining the cost of wood versus used oil tanks we initially went with the oil tanks. We were able to locate sufficient tanks to complete the project until we determined, on a final survey, that the tunnel needed to be 100 feet, not the 60 feet we had originally estimated. While we would have likely been able to acquire additional tanks, each of them were 8 feet in diameter and in lengths of 10 to 15 feet. The tanks would need to be transported to the track, a major task in itself, and then we would need to be able to get them to the tunnel site. The road to the tunnel site, located on the back of the property and in the woods, is not the greatest and trying to move these tanks to the tunnel site would require removing a significant amount of trees, not to mention how in the world would we move them in the first place. The tanks would also require us to torch the ends and, due to the curve in the tunnel, we would need to torch the 15 foot tanks in half. While we thought that this was doable, it was certainly fraught will numerous risks and difficulties.
We then looked at finding culvert piping that we could use, similar to what Bill Bryan has used at his Canton, St. Paul & Pacific track in Georgia. We were able to locate a couple of suppliers but ran into three issues, availability in the timeline we would be constructing it, the cost of the culvert pipe and the biggest issue, the inability to effectively curve the pipe to match the track route in the loop.
So again we looked at using a wooden structure. Luckily, lumber prices had come down significantly from when we had originally evaluated those costs, the bad news was we now had 100 feet of tunnel and not the 60 feet we had first evaluated. But the beauty of wood is that it is workable, it could be designed for a change in grade and curved, the component sizes are manageable, the transportation to the track and onto the tunnel site in the back of the property was quite doable, and, in the end, Coshocton Lumber agreed to sell us the lumber and materials at cost. These benefits and the opportunity to acquire the materials at cost led us to move toward constructing it out of this material.
The next decision was what would the structure look like, knowing that it would have to handle significant loading, both on the sides and the top. Jim Henry got on a couple of forums asking how wooden structures had been constructed in the past and Bob Vanderkarr, who was visiting several tracks that had wooden tunnels at that time, grilled the owners, asking them pertinent questions about their tunnels. Load calculations were completed, based on the depth of the tunnel from the surface, with Tom, Jim and Dick went through a couple iterations before coming up with an acceptable design that had an acceptable footprint to support it on softer ground as well as the structural spacing needed to maintain the opening. In the end, the structures would be constructed with 4"x6" ground treated lumber, with the base timber being treated for marine use and each of the structures would be a maximum of 16" on center. The structural supports would be wrapped with ground treated 2x6's, the same used for our wooden ties, and then the completed tunnel would be wrapped in rubber roofing on the sides and top. With the proper drainage now completed to keep the water away from the base of the structure and the assembly of the 76 structures in late September and early October by Dick, Jim, Brody and Bob, we were ready to go!
We were originally planning to use the large Kabota to move each of the structures into the cut to start assembly but due to the weather, and the fact that we didn't want to track mud into the cut, we decided to take a different tact. You see, the stone that we were constructing the tunnel on was actually being used for its drainage and leveling of each structure so bringing mud into the site could negatively impact our leveling and drainage design, So as an alternative, it was suggested that we use the Case backhoe to drop the structures into the cut, which worked great! The picture of the first installed structure and the addition of some of the subsequent structures are shown below.
So the tunnel is 100 feet in length but on the east end of the tunnel there is an area that historically is very wet and there is also drainage from the pond at the back of the property that creates a stream that normally runs 9 months of the year. So we weren't sure exactly where we were going to end the tunnel on the east side. Therefore we started in the middle of the tunnel, at the top of the grade and worked our way out, in both directions. The tunnel, from the west (clockwise looking down) is on a 63 foot radius and is climbing at a 2% grade. The grade helps with drainage, getting the water out in a reasonable amount of time without softening the base, and adding to the fun of climbing in the tunnel as well. Around 30 feet in the tunnel the track moves into a 30 feet straight section that continues to climb at 2%. Nearing the end of the straight of way the tunnel levels and begins to drop at a 2% grade and at roughly the same time enters into another 63 foot radius for the remaining 40 feet, exiting right near the drainage for the pond. As stated in the prior update, the tunnel cuts through the Kittanning Coal Seam, which is constantly seeping water and draining into and around the tunnel area. Bob V. and Dick worked hard developing an appropriately graded ditch to get the water moving away from the site. Final grading will happen next year or maybe a pipe might go in to eliminate the large ditch. The pipe you see in the ditch is for the road crossing that had to be removed to correct the drainage that we had initially done. This was done using the level in the picture.
Each of the 76 structures had to be leveled and tamped, along with ensuring that the tunnel was following the correct grade and the curved parts of the tunnel were appropriately spaced. While the outside of the curves and the straight of way are on 16" centers, the inside of the curves were actually at less than 16". In order to compensate for this Jim calculated the spacing of the inside of the tunnel curve then built spacers that would fit between the vertical columns of the structures, both outside and inside, to properly space the supports. This worked out great with each of the supports pointing toward the center of the radius of each of the two curves (which each have a separate radius point). You can see the spacers in some of the pictures below. The spacers made the installation so much easier. The crew just placed a spacer at the top and bottom on each side of a newly added structure and screwed the spacer to the support and voilà, we had the spacing we needed. As far as determining the distance away from the radii, we surveyed the distance and then anchored 1/2" plastic conduit to the ground representing the outside edge of each of the supports. All the crew had to do was make sure that the outside edge of each support they placed was touching the conduit. During the support installation the track would like to thank Luke Anderson, Dick, Bob V., Jim Henry II, Brody and Mark Betlem for coming out during the days we were installing the supports. Not everyone could make it every day but we had the help we needed, when we needed it, to get them in place before the siding crew came in.
The video below is a time lapse that shows the process that we went through for setting the initial supports. After the ground dried up the second day we reverted to hauling the supports in using the large Kabota.
The installation of the supports continued on for around five days as we were able to get in around 16 per day. Here are a few more pictures of the progress.
Almost a week later, after the start of the installation of the supports, on November 4th and 5th, we had over a dozen volunteers out to help finish the installation of the supports and to start to place the siding on the structure. On Friday we had two crews running, one led by Jim, with the continued installation of the supports and the other, led by Tom Gano, installing the siding on the top. On Saturday we actually had 3 crews running, one completing the installation of the supports and the other two finishing the roof siding and then moving on to the vertical siding. OMG, the work that got completed by the volunteers those two days was amazing!!!! By the end of the day on Saturday the remaining supports were in place, the roof siding was in place, one of the sides was 80% complete and the other side was 50% complete! That weekend I'd like to thank Dick, Noelle, Jim, Bob V., Luke, Fred Mapes, the Gano's (Tom, Nate & Tyler), Brody, the Broehl's, (Susan, Rob and Jacob), Mark B. and Dan Cinowalt. Here are a few pictures of the progress on that weekend.
Over the next week we were able to complete around 80% on both of the sides. The next difficult thing came the interface between the top siding and the siding that was on the side of the structure. Since the siding boards were recently treated we were able to bend them around the curve using clamps but as we got near the top we had no good way of attaching the clamps to the support structures due to the 45 degree structural members blocking the clamps on the inside, not to mention the roof siding blocking the clamps near the top as well. So the decision was made to trim the top siding boards so that we could add the remaining siding up the remainder of the structure. Tom G, came out one evening after work (and in the dark!) and with the help of Nate, proceeded to trim out the top boards so that the remainder of the siding could be completed.
During this time we also worked on completing more of the drainage work around the base of the structure. Jim, Luke and Dick worked on cutting out the boots from rubber roofing material purchased from the lumber company while Dan and Noelle worked on placing the rubber boots on the feet of the structure, that stuck out 1 foot on the sides (152 of them). Jim and Nate then followed up and proceeded to cover the base and feet up with #4 stone. This design will prevent the feet from getting wet from rain or ground water peculating through the soil and into the stone and by sloping the stone away from the structure, will allow the rubber roofing material to lay across it and direct water away from the structure. This area would first be wrapped by Jim and Kelley Henry with geotextile a week later and before placing the rubber roofing material, which would complete the drainage at the base.
As this work was being completed, the years first serious cold front was working it's way into the Ohio Valley, with temperatures well below freezing. When it starts to freeze and thaw the sides of the cut begin to sluff off, causing issues with our drainage work. You see, until the rubber roof is on we are not able to completely finish the drainage work. The cold remained for nearly 8 days before anyone was able to get back to the project.
About a week before Thanksgiving, which was the date targeted to have the rubber roof on the structure, we resumed by completing the geotextile work and beginning the tie in of the siding on each side of the structure. Since we had no leverage to bend the remaining boards we were forced to cut board each roughly 16" so that they would fit between the support structures and then trim the top boards to match the roof siding. This work took us several days with us finally completing this work two days before Thanksgiving.
The day prior to Thanksgiving, Jim and Dick went to Coshocton Lumber to try to determine how we would manage the 20' x 100' rubber roofing material that we had purchased and that was stored at the lumberyard. The roll was 20' in diameter and weighed over 600 pounds and we really didn't want to cut it if we didn't have to. How in the world would we install this thing? The roof of the tunnel is only 5', and with the curve we would need to overlap some of the material to get it to cover the entire structure. There had been numerous discussions about how we would install the cover and we found no other reasonable way to install the cover other than to cut it in sections.
Coshocton Lumber agreed to allow us to lay out the material on their property where we could cut it. Earlier in the day we had determined what lengths we would cut them in. Also, as we unrolled and cut the material we made sure to fold it in such a way that would allow us to unfold it on the roof without the cover falling off the sides of the structure until we were ready for it to. The largest piece would cover the 30 feet straight section, which at 180 plus pounds, which in the end, proved to be difficult to manage. Also, due to the overlap needed to glue them together, the track would need to purchase some additional material, but we wouldn't know how much until the first 100 feet of material was on the structure. Luckily the lumber company helped us load the material on a pallet and helped us load it into one of our trucks for delivery to the track.
The week after Thanksgiving Dick and Jim were able to get the cover to the tunnel and place the pallet on the west end of the tunnel. Jim then proceeded, using a roller, to move each of the pieces to their approximate locations on the roof. Jim then foamed all of the gaps in the lumber to ensure that when the dirt was placed against the structure that the rubber wouldn't be forced into the gaps, damaging it in the process. In order to protect the cover where the the rubber cover interfaces from the top to the sides Mark had suggested applying used carpet to the corners. Bob V. happened to be replacing some carpet from his home so he provided the track with enough to complete that task. Jim and Dick were also able to place the first piece where it belonged but determined that additional help was needed.
The next couple of days were a little concerning due to the weather generating heavy rain and winds, some as high as 50 mph. We placed a few weights on and around the cover but the concern was that the rubber cover would catch the wind and be pulled off the structure, possibly even damaged. Luckily, the material effectively stayed in place with no damage occurring. The weather was watched closely and Dick and Jim determined that there was only one day warm enough available during the next week that could possibly work to complete the installation. On Friday, the 2nd of December Jim, Dick, Dan and Mark got together to try to complete laying the rubber and gluing it together. The crew choose to start around 9:30 in the morning as the temperature started out in the low 20's but was supposed to get to the mid 50's by the end of the day. Also, both Dan and Mark were coming in from the Pittsburgh area, so they both had a couple of hour drive each way. The crew was able to get the rubber cover down and properly placed by noon and Mark began prepping the seams while Jim ran to the lumber yard to purchase the final piece needed to complete the installation.
After placing the final piece on the end the crew began gluing each of the sections together. There was one person on each side and another on the top to glue each of the sides and roll the material into place. While sloppy, it proved to work quite well.
The crew had to bring two pairs of shoes so that they wouldn't track mud onto the rubber roof. The ground was excessively muddy and sometimes it felt like you had 20 pounds of weight on each shoe! The team was successful in getting the rubber roof glued down, screwed onto the each end of the tunnel and material was placed on the base of the structure by the end of the day so that wind would not be able to get into the cover.
So what's next? In the spring we will determine how we want to finish the entrance and exit out of the tunnel to minimize any material from coming into the ends of the tunnel and on to the right of way. We will also attempt, over the next few months, to fill in the hole, at least a few feet, if not more, as we have a lot of dirt to get rid of within the loop (weather and conditions permitting). We may place some dirt on the roof, not more than a foot, to minimize damage to the rubber cover. When the track crew gets to the tunnel we will add the track, which should finalize the construction.
It's been a HUGE project and this expansion would not have been possible without the financial support and large number of volunteer hours provided by so many. If I missed any volunteers I am very sorry as it was overwhelming but there was no intent of ill will. Getting this tunnel completed to this point was critical and should allow the track to have the extension open for the 2023 Buckeye Limited next August. There is still much to do before then, including track to lay and ballast to be added. So if you can next spring, come out and give us a hand, we'd very much appreciate it!
Mill Creek Central Crew
PS - Here are some of the pictures (with comments) from the start of this project!
Looking toward the west out to the state wildlife area from approximately where the tunnel entrance is today (as if you are looking out of the tunnel).
Another picture of roughly the same spot and direction as the picture above. The tunnel is on the north end of the loop.
looking in the same direction as the two pictures above but from the center of the new tunnel. This was the second lift of material taken. Three lifts were taken in all. Notice the standing water.
This picture is looking to the east, opposite of the pictures above, about 20 feet to the east of the first two pictures (and from the west entrance) as the material is starting to be removed.
This picture shows Clee on the dozer looking the same direction as the first two pictures with the back of the dozer at about where the entrance to the west entrance is now.
This picture is looking east and up the future right-of-way that will head back to the loop entrance. Note that the backhoe bucket is just to the right of where the east end of the tunnel now exits. This is the area that was a mud hole due to the water coming from the pond above and the coal seam seeping into the ground in this area. Absolute mess. In the end we had to remove all of the material in front of and to the right of the backhoe.
This is where the water comes in underneath the Y at Whitaker, near Randy Coal Sidings. Jim is trying to clear the debris so that the water flows in a certain direction. If you look closely you can see the muddy water draining over the edge. An absolute mess! In the spring this 12" pipe can flow 3/4's full.
This picture is located on the southwest end of the loop looking toward the future tunnel. The west entrance will end up being in front of Dick, who is standing in front of the red side-by-side in the background. You can start to see the start of the tunnel cut beside and behind the dozer.
The first lift looking east. Note how the first evidence of the coal seam is showing up in the back, it's the black material. The original surveyed radius was modified to this, the final location, to minimize the impact of the surrounding trees.