Charlie Fore is interviewed by Kevin DeHart. (RGHS 96)
Kevin: I'm Kevin DeHart, and I am talking with Mr. Charles Fore. You are Superintendent of this tunnel?
Kevin: Mr. Fore, how long have you been working hear at the East River Mountain Tunnel?
Charles: I've been here since 1973. I've been with the Department of Transportation since September of 1971. The other years I was at Big Walker Mountain Tunnel.
Kevin: What exactly do you do here?
Charles: I'm a maintenance supervisor. I supervise all the daily activities. I schedule all the work loads. I supervise all those.
Kevin: How long do you work per day?
Charles: I come in a 6:30 in the morning and leave about this time in the day.(3:30 p.m.) Sometimes I get called back.
Kevin: Could you please describe a typical day here at the tunnel.
Charles: A typical day... it's a twenty-four hour day so it never shuts down. We never have any sunshine or rain to stop us. We come in and check our equipment. We got various maintenance duties to do each day. We come in and check all our equipment and emergency equipment, and our wreckers. And that's basically it. Each shift has certain things to do. But that's basically a typical day.
Kevin: How much did the tunnel cost to build?
Charles: In 1973, 1 saw the final figures, and it was like $40 million dollars.
Kevin: That was a really high price at that time?
Charles: That was a really high price at that time.
Kevin: How has the tunnel changed over the years you have been working here?
Charles: Traffic. We had a lot of traffic and a lot of increases. When we first started we were getting like 1500 cars a day. Now it's averaging about 18,000 today. And on weekends, it's averaging about twenty-five to thirty thousand per day.
Kevin: Have there been new computers, lights, vehicles or any other things added to the tunnel?
Charles: Yeah, we've done . .we're in the middle of a renovation project that started in 1987.. .when we first started. We're getting some things together like the new lighting that you see.. .the new lighting that you see here, and the video equipment you see back here. There have been some modifications on this
ventilation console.. .the message boards here are not quite functional yet. The video monitors that I told you about. That's the biggest safety asset that we had it seems like. It's about $13 million dollars worth. Following this contract, there's going to be a structural contract and a contract on the high wall. There's going to be a contract later this year to replace the roof. It's twenty-one years old.
Kevin: It's like a house.
Charles: It's like a house, only it's bigger. I like to compare this as a ship. You're always painting and doing stuff like that.
Kevin: Have there been any major accidents inside the tunnel?
Charles: We consider all accidents major, because it upsets the flow of traffic. I just went through our daily logs and got forty- two logs or so... fifty logs over twenty years. We done a count from all.. .We've had twenty-five tractor trailer accidents since I've been here. They done some major damage to the old lighting system. If you rode through here, you're familiar with the fluorescent lights and sometimes
you would see a great big long string out because the tractor trailers hit the wall and done some major damage.
Kevin: How quickly can you respond to accidents when they happen in the tunnel?
Charles: It depends on where we're at in the buildings.. .we can get there in about four minutes. That's pretty quick. With the video monitors now we can get right on an accident within a matter o f minutes. Now the fire that we had in June, we responded to it pretty quick. We didn't have the capability...
Kevin: Yes, I read in the paper that since you didn't have the cameras, you didn't know it
Charles: We had guy come out right here. A delivery truck came out. Well I sent the two men down, and I saw the delivery truck guy get out a fire extinguisher . I didn' t waste any time, and I called the fire department right then, because I knew it was a fire then. The engineer from town... in fact he had just left here. And the car came out and motioned down the tunnel. He thought it was a breakdown. That's normally how we know there's a breakdown. And he was giving me hand signals up here. So I got two people to go down there. And we found out later that it was a motor home and was burned before he came into the tunnel.
Kevin: So did you stay up here while this was going on?
Charles: Yeah. I stayed up here because this board over here was gone. All this over here with the flashing lights.. .that's was just a blank space. In fact we had two pieces of plywood over it. We had to go out here and turn the ventilation on manually, and it took a few seconds.. .a matter of minutes. And you do things.. .I got a report on it where I wrote it up. I wrote down things on what I did, on what I remembered. You do things that sometimes you don't remember what you do. We were very fortunate that nobody died. We had two people that went in there and got the traffic stopped. We were very fortunate.
Kevin: Without the tunnel, do you think this area would ever have grown as rapidly as it did?
Charles: No, we live in an ideal location. We live like an eight hour drive from any major city on the east coast. We live like two hours away from Charlotte.
Kevin: You can go down there shopping and come back the same day.
Kevin: Is there anything you would like to add to anything I've said?
Charles: No, I don't know if there's anything else I would like to add or not. We do try to make it safer for traveling folk. We are about ten years ahead of renovation work. Tunnels usually get renovated about every thirty years. We're about three years behind on this regular contract. It's a voluntary thing, because Virginia Is short of funds, so we're a little bit behind. All in all we try to make it safe for the traveling people. Things like the lighting system.. .some people say it is hard to get used to. But it's actually great because you can see a whole lot better once you get used to it. I've got some brochures on it that I can let you borrow and you can bring it back when you're done with them. I've got a whole folder that I can let you borrow.
Kevin: Thank you Mr. Fore. It has been nice meeting the man behind the tunnel. Thanks again.
Perhaps the most powerful parts of the tunnel are the huge fans located on each side to the tunnel. Polluted air can be taken out of the tunnel and fresh air can be put back in its place in about two minutes. The fans that replenish fresh air to the south bound lane do not need as much horsepower to run them. Since cars are going down and inclined slope inside the& south bound lane, less carbon monoxide is produced. This requires less horsepower to take the polluted air out into the atmosphere. Since fans are located on both sides of the tunnel, fresh air is only supplied half way on either side. Fans on the other side will take over in supplying the other half of the tunnel with new air. The passageways inside the tunnel are locked off by strong metal doors. These doors are much like what submarines use. Once the fans are turned on, a person can feel the decompressing of the chamber take place.
New technology has helped the tunnel become a safe place to drive through. A new radio system, costing $75,000, was installed recently. This radio system will help the men on either side of the tunnel communicate faster in time of need. A new vehicle has been purchased for use inside the tunnel. This big "Tonka Truck" can turn around inside the narrow lanes of tunnel. New electrical supplies have been added to the inventory also. These highly advance machines regulate all the lights throughout the tunnel. These new machines do all the work by themselves in regulating all the lights. Before the new technology, the workers had to do some things manually. Another advancement in technology is the cameras located inside and out of the tunnel. The cameras can locate wrecks immediately after they have occurred. One other added feature to the tunnel was the carbon dioxide meter. This machine measures, calculates, and tells the carbon dioxide levels in the tunnel. .
All these features have added safety and dependability to the tunnel. If something happens inside or outside of the tunnel, the personnel. will be there quicker than they had in recent years.
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