Hancock, MA. Sept. 18
Friday dawned clear and warm and Chris and I had a few hours before Deb and Rebecca arrived from Boston. We drove to North Adams. Like many New England towns, North Adams was a manufacturing center, helped by water power. By the 1980s, the last large employer had left town, leaving a major manufacturing site vacant. Through the efforts of many, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MassMOCA) opened on its grounds and is a major attraction. However, we did not go to see it. The museum was hosting a major Blue Grass Festival and our goal was the Western Gateway Heritage State Park.
This park in the city of North Adams was previously a railroad yard. The primary exhibit relates to the building of the Hoosac Tunnel. This 4.75 mile long tunnel was to be Boston’s answer to shipping goods to the Midwest. The Erie Canal was making New York a better port. Boston wanted to build a railroad to Troy NY but the Hoosac Mountains stood in the way. A five-mile barrier, made of hard rock, it took from 1851 to 1875 to complete the tunnel. It was a landmark feat in the use of hard rock tunneling.
One major difficulty was the skill needed to make sure that the two tunnel shafts being built, one on the east and one on the west, met precisely when they joined somewhere in the middle of the tunnel. The engineers set up a series of transits that aligned with scoping towers outside the work area and then lined up those with internal test marks as the work progressed.
Second, the rock was composed of schist and granite quartz that resisted drilling and blasting. A newer version of nitroglycerin and new drilling machines were used, but even those improvements still made for a long, slow slog. The state of Massachusetts provided funding but the project defaulted on the bonds. Owners of a southern Massachusetts railroad succeeded in stopping more funding. Defaulting on the bonds led to the state assuming responsibility for its eventual completion. At one time, this project assumed the majority of all the indebtedness of the state of Massachusetts.
The tunnel was completed successfully and is still in operation today. When first completed, 100 trains per day went through the tunnel. Today less than 15 trains per day go through the Hoosac Tunnel. The construction methods used and advanced here led to improvements used in later tunnel building. Towns in northern Massachusetts experienced growth spurts and the tunnel, by carrying 60% of the goods exported through the port of Boston, enhanced the Boston port’s viability. Unfortunately, the tunnel’s western entrance is deep in the forests and not readily accessible for viewing.
The North Adams Historical Society has a museum next to the state park and the docent was most helpful. He provided us with a narration about the model railroad he constructed for the historical society. Lunch was at a pub in the old railroad yards and dinner at a local restaurant just down the hill from the Wyndham Bentley Brook. Dessert was strawberry shortcake back in the unit.
Saturday got off to a relaxing start and then the four of us went to Mount Greylock. Mount Greylock is the highest point in Massachusetts at 3,491 feet. After a stop at the visitor center, we hiked Rounds Rock trail. The trail led to two overlooks and one site of a crashed plane. The plane crash occurred in 1948 as a twin-engine Cessna used to deliver late editions of the New York Daily Mirror to Albany. The crash site was in rugged territory and not found for four months.
The summit of Mount Greylock is reachable by car. The monument at the top is currently under construction but we were still able to enjoy the view that the summit provides of the surrounding states. There were probably 30-40 people lounging on the grass and enjoying the weather and the views. Bascom Lodge at the summit provides meals and lodging. We tested out their lunch menu and were satisfied.
After resting back at Bentley Brook, we spent 2.5 hours at the ski resort, Jiminy Peak. During the summer season, Jiminy Peak offers a summer adventure park with zip lines, elevated rope climbing courses, mountain slides on a rail or a luge type course, etc. Even Chris participated and enjoyed it. All four of us rode the chairlift close to the top of the mountain and rode the sleds down. Since you can set your own speed, Deb was usually the fastest. Chris and Rebecca tended to bring up the rear; I think Chris had a few sledders backed up behind her.
The ropes course in the air was a new event for us. Chris volunteered to take photos while the three of us tackled the course-the basic version. We got our harnesses on, had a very brief training session and were set loose. A participant has two carabiners that attach to the safety ropes; I of course took the longest to figure out how to attach them correctly. One time the two eight year olds behind us helped me. Another time I had to have one of the staff climb up and show me how to do it properly. But, by the end, it was working fine. We were glad we took the easiest course and the one closest to the ground for our first time. We only did the one; the alpine slides were more fun and easier to do so they were repeated several times.
Ed and Chris