By 1873, the Southern Pacific (SP) Railroad reached southward beyond Bakersfield and by 1874, the Los Angeles and San Pedro Railroads reached the town of San Fernando northward from San Pedro. Soon, the Los Angeles and San Pedro Railroads would be gobbled up by the Southern Pacific Railroad. The northern barrier across the Tehachapi Mountains had been surmounted by the famous Loop, engineered by SP designers and built perfectly by the Chinese bringing the rail into the Antelope Valley in the Mohave Desert, and down the Santa Clara River canyon to the vicinity of today’s Santa Clarita and Newhall. The greatest barrier remained the westerly extension of the San Gabriel Mountains.
The final connection would be solved carving a northbound tunnel from the San Fernando Valley toward the Santa Clara River. The plan was to dig through a mountain of solid rock, or so they thought. The project started in March 1875 and what they thought was solid rock was actually fractured rock with seamsfilled with water ready to gush out. The passage was approximately 16’ wide, over 22’ tall, and 6,940 foot long which was good enough for a single track. To expedite the job, the decision was to start from both ends: from the north, just south of today’s Hart County Park, and from the south, in the vicinity under the Highways 5 and 14 interchange. The excellence of SP engineering and the perfection of Chinese road builders allowed a meeting in the middle with an error barely half an inch, in the days before lasers! SP work boss Frank Frates assembled about 1,500 mostly Chinese men(Pollack declared around 1,000 Chinese in his research) and the work went on 24/7 with the Chinese doing the lead hole boring. The Chinese received a lowly pay rate at $1 a day. Side shafts had to be dug for air, ineffective cooling, and debris removal. The inside was a hot, wet hellhole where cave-ins of the fractured rock injured many and was thought some were killed although that statistic is not documented. Louie, quoting Nadeau, indicated, “Oriental workers fell in regular succession…and had to be carried out…” The punch through was July 14, 1876 and the first engine chugged through a month later on August 12.
It was only a matter of days before the Mini-Golden Spike celebration signaling the completion of the San Francisco to Los Angeles Line occurred on September 5, 1876, at Lang on the Santa Clara River. The roadway and the tunnel entrances were upgraded in 1920. Since then, little was done to change the original tunnel and the line remains a single track. The sharp eyed hiker on the right path may be able to spot the southern façade, with “1875” and “1920” imprinted above the arch. As usual, the great historical works involving Chinese are not readily accessible. Today, intensive use has revived the area as the Antelope Valley Metrolink speeds through in both directions several times daily. Southern Pacific freight still uses the track as well.
North portal: State Highway 14 to exit at Newhall Avenue to left, head west to Pine Street, left to dead end which will still be about 0.5 mi. from portal; then go to W.S. Hart County Park and Santa Clarita Historical Society.
South portal (c 1920): get on Old Road north under the Highway 5 State 14 interchange.
City: Santa Clarita
Submitted by: Munson Kwok, Chinese American Citizen Alliance