East Portal in Mineral County, Montana — The American West (Mountains)
St. Paul Pass Tunnel
The Milwaukee Road faced the daunting task of drilling a tunnel 23 feet high, 16 feet wide and 1.7 miles long into Idaho.
It was a damp, dark, dirty dig. After the approaches were prepared in 1906, and a faltering start in 1907, work began in earnest in 1908. East and west crews toiled around the clock in wet, miserable conditions, and at their best could tunnel 20 feel a day. A company official remembered that:
“Men were hard to keep as the work was disagreeable and hard. Several large veins of water were encountered and at times the working conditions were almost unbearable.”
It took 750 men--400 tunneling inside, 200 outside removing the dirt and rock, and 150 running the dig’s power plant yards--two and a half years to complete.
The steam-driven electric power plant set up four miles away in Taft, Montana powered both ends of the dig. Compressed air provided safe, smokeless power to the giant steam shovels that loaded the blasted, broken rock into electric rail cars for removal.
Location. 47° 23.782′ N, 115° 38.133′ W. Marker is in East Portal, Montana, in Mineral County. Marker can be reached from Rainy Creek Road (Federal Road 506) 2 miles south of Exit 5 (Taft) (Interstate Touch for map. Located at the Route of the Hiawatha Trailhead. Marker is in this post office area: Saltese MT 59867, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. The Trail Follows the Trains (here, next to this marker); The Wickedest City (a few steps from this marker); The Route of the Hiawatha (a few steps from this marker); Douse the Flames and Climb Aboard (within shouting distance of this marker); An Unlikely Safe Haven (within shouting distance of this marker); Building From the Ashes (within shouting distance of this marker); When the Mountains Roared (within shouting distance of this marker); A Battle That Could Not Be Won (within shouting distance of this marker). Touch for a list and map of all markers in East Portal.
More about this marker. On the right is a "Cross-section drawing of tunnel showing the original wooden tunnel lining with cord-wood filler between structure and rock face."
On the upper right is a photo with the caption, "East Portal, St. Paul Pass Tunnel, September, 1907"
On the lower right is a photo with the caption, "The first ladies to go through the St. Paul Pass Tunnel are suitably attired in “sou’westers” and slickers for the damp February 10, 1909 trip. Water continues to flow out of the tunnel at up to 1,500 gallons per minute." Photographs courtesy: Montana Historical Society
Also see . . . Route of the Hiawatha Rail Trail. (Submitted on August 4, 2011, by Bernard Fisher of Mechanicsville, Virginia.)
Categories. • Man-Made Features • Railroads & Streetcars •
Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. This page originally submitted on August 4, 2011, by Bernard Fisher of Mechanicsville, Virginia. This page has been viewed 572 times since then and 26 times this year. Photos: 1, 2. submitted on August 4, 2011, by Bernard Fisher of Mechanicsville, Virginia.