Stretching over half a mile through solid rock, the Burro Schmidt Tunnel seems infinitely longer when you consider the fact that it was built entirely by hand.
The Burro Schmidt Tunnel was named after William H. “Burro” Schmidt, who built the tunnel himself starting in 1906. Schmidt had chosen a dangerous ridge to mine for gold, but refused to use his two burros to haul ore to the smelter on the available treacherous trail. Determined to find his own route, he decided to punch right through the mountain.
With a pick, shovel, a 4-lb. hammer and the occasional carefully-placed stick of dynamite, Schmidt took on the ambitious and seemingly foolhardy task of digging his own tunnel. He braved falling rock and precarious traps, and despite the construction of a road in 1920 that eliminated the need for a tunnel, he continued to dig. Claiming to be obsessed and unable to stop until the job was done, Schmidt chipped away while others shook their heads, assuming he was crazy.
Schmidt was crazy, but he was also clever. Keeping everyone rolling their eyes at his fool’s errand and playing up his “pointless obsession” with the tunnel that took decades to dig distracted from the true motive behind the lofty project – a substantial vein of gold he was following through the rock.
The tunnel still stands today as a memorial to the crafty miner who feigned obsession and kept his treasure to himself, but it also stands as a memorial to unbelievable grit and determination. That grit is exactly what it took to dig this impressive tunnel with no automated machinery, regardless of his motivation. More than that, it took over 36 years – itself a mind-bending fact to consider.
Visitors can tour the property, walk through the tunnel and find a memorial plaque commemorating Schmidt’s achievement.
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