During intense rainstorms, runoff from desert mountains often suddenly flood the flat and expansive areas below the mountains. Consequently, these areas require water diversion channels to prevent the ruin of infrastructure, like the railroads and roads. The Carson & Colorado Railroad Company built culverts, which are tunnels under infrastructure, to divert water under infrastructure to prevent floods from washing away infrastructure. Near Montgomery Pass Tunnel, Chinese laborers built two, finely-crafted stone culverts.
The Carson & Colorado Railroad Company enlisted Chinese laborers to build sturdy stone support walls and culverts. Fortunately for the company, the Chinese already had a long history of stone masonry. Studies suggest that Chinese stone masons first used composite mortar made from sticky rice some 1,500 years ago.
The rounded opening to the culverts stand at about 6 feet high. The inside of the tunnel is smoothed with concrete, and the bottom is tile-lined with stone blocks. Although little is known about masonry construction techniques in the 1880’s, the rocks must have been cut by hand with a chisel. Both ends of the culverts have a rectangular rock wall support to prevent the hillside under the road from collapsing over the edges of the tunnel. The rock wall supports display the remarkable stone masonry work with tightly-fitted square and rectangular stones.
Despite the integral services Chinese laborers provided, especially towards the building of transportation infrastructure, white labor unions resented the Chinese because they believed that the Chinese were undercutting wages and taking their jobs. In the nearby Tonopah, Nevada, where silver was discovered at the turn of the 20th Century, anti-Chinese sentiments came to a boil in 1903 during a time of economic downturn. In a letter from the Chinese community in Tonopah, Nevada, they recalled with horror how rioters “[descended] on [them] like a swarm of bees,” ransacking their houses and businesses, shooting at them, and beating them. Chinese in this community did not take the harassment and violence sitting down and invested vast amounts of time and money in legal fees seeking justice for the victims of the riot. Although they received support from some non-Chinese members of the Tonopah community, especially local merchants, few rioters ever faced charges, and even fewer were found guilty of their crimes. Despite this, Chinese continued to resist, and some Chinese businesses continued to operate in Tonopah. In 1905, the Chinese government boycotted U.S. goods to support the Chinese in Nevada.
Submitted by: Olivia Flechsig, USFS
Chinese labor site, Culvert, Masonry