Nancy and Thurman Conley
In the fall of 1969 I started working on the tunnel. I had several jobs at the time. First, there was loading steel and making up steel for inside the tunnel. I also worked at the Cement Plant where the cement went into concrete in the tunnel. I night watched on the weekends and worked down at the Silk Pond sometimes, in other words I was going back and forth working in bridges and the temporary bridge up at the tunnel was my first job. It crossed over 52 which was bolted together with steel and backfill with large 12x12 timbers to cross it as a floor. My first day of work was “crazy”. The tunnel was being cut… the brush and stuff away from the face of it, and the dozers were cutting roads around it so they could get the vehicles in there to do the work that supposed to be done. My job was to work down there on the bridge at the time, putting the portable bridges across the 52. A time or two when those athia wagons would come along pretty close give you a shave or two or maybe some of them would slide into each other and dozers and stuff around. You had to keep your eyes open pretty close because everybody seemed like they were in each other’s way. In other words they had plenty of help. When the tunnel started there were several accidents, I think two was killed. The budget at the time was twenty-two million dollars, but after they run in so far and hit the caves I think it went up another two-million which made it at least another forty-four on up to sixty. I don’t know just exactly what it was. You had people from Rocky Gap, Bland, Bluefield, Princeton, and the two combined unions from West Virginia and Virginia out of Roanoke and they furnished men as far as Roanoke to come up here to work on the tunnel. They dug the tunnel from the south side going north on both sides which they had a crossover in the middle to cross over in case they had to stop it somewhere along the line. It was a very neat working job. Their were some hilarious things happen while i was working in the tunnel. One time when a six inch air line blowed apart. It hit the portable Johnny and the labor foreman was in the inside- which he was in bad shape to be frank with you. . Before they started building the tunnel they put some infa-red lines to show where to dig the tunnel to keep it on a straight arrow, but in the mean time up on top of the East River Mountain Tunnel they had stakes up there where they could zero on with their apparatus they had to do it with, but the deer kept tearing it down, so what they done was they sent off and got some lion manure and spread it out there to keep the deer from tearing the stakes down. Putting the grout in the caves for thirty days and nights twenty-four hours a day and after you get in there in the winter time going back in there with salamanders and keeping the heat inside was a pretty good job. A lot of times it would get pretty scary back in there just by myself. Thank you for listening to me.