Wednesday, November 11, 2009
The Only Railroad Tunnel in Oklahoma
When last we left you, DH and I had turned off of a state highway onto a dirt road somewhere in eastern Oklahoma near the Arkansas border. We were in search of the only railroad tunnel in the state of Oklahoma. A work colleague some years ago had told DH about this tunnel, but DH had never taken time out of his busy schedule to find it.
DH is an engineer and as such, has access to quad maps of the state of Oklahoma. He knew he’d found the tunnel on the aerial map when there was an inexplicable “gap” in the track. He then plugged the general location into a map on the Internet, accessible by the Internet connection on his iPhone.
Right before turning onto the dirt road, we had crossed the railroad track at grade. The railroad tracks were now on our left. Soon, we came to a washed out low-water crossing that good judgment told us not cross, but we did anyway. My job was to keep an eye on the railroad tracks while DH kept his eye on the iPhone to track how close we were.
Now, if all of this seems too serendipitous, too good to be true – starting with the idea for the blog, the search for the tunnel on the quad maps, the plugging in of the tunnel’s general location, and our movement towards the prize – let me assure you that it wasn’t. First of all, we were in a minivan, which is not the best choice for off-roading on dirt roads. Second, I was wearing a pair of Born flip-flops because DH hadn’t alerted me to the fact that we might be hiking the countryside like we used to when we were younger. Last – and most frustrating of all – was the fact that DH’s iPhone is connected to a cellular phone service (which shall remain nameless) that has extremely spotty coverage out in the tiddledy-sticks, which is where we were. This caused DH no small amount of upset and a few choice words that I shall not repeat here.
Eventually, we came to another at-grade crossing and the tracks began curving away to the north. We backed up and went down another dirt road which we thought would continue following the tracks, but ended in a fork in the road. The right-hand fork was someone’s home place. The left fork was more dirt road with grass growing up pretty high down the middle. It hadn’t been used in a while and the van was wholly unfit for the job.
DH decided to approach the problem from the other side, so we drove over to a county road, paved this time, and continued to the Arkansas state line. When we found the back road we were looking for, we turned, but hit a big dead-end in the form of a gated lake community with signs posted “Private” and “No Outlet.”
At this point, DH was ready to throw in the towel. He’d had enough.
But I was not finished. Not by a long shot. Something told me that if we would go back to the at-grade crossing where the tracks began to curve, DH could walk along the tracks until he came to the tunnel, which according to DH’s calculations, couldn’t be more than a half-mile away.
We went back. DH parked the van, grabbed his camera and got out. I watched him walk along the track until I couldn’t see him any longer. He was gone for at least 45 minutes. Long enough for me to read “O Magazine” and part of my book. The only bad part about the wait was the knowledge that the track was live and listening with supreme vigilance for the clackety-clacking of a train.
Eventually, I saw DH’s ball cap bobbing down the overgrown dirt road where the road had forked. And this is what he got:
Apparently, the tunnel was built in 1886 by the railroad. The rocks from which it is constructed are hand-cut and hand-stacked. DH said the tunnel is approximately 300 feet in length, but he didn’t want to go through to the other side without knowing what time the train runs.
Because the train track is live, DH and I don’t plan to reveal the exact location of the tunnel. We care about you, and we don’t want you to get hurt. Suffice it to say it’s out in the boondocks right on the border of the Oklahoma/Arkansas state line. And because of DH’s camera work, you get to enjoy it, too.