Quarterly Report

In one of the first reports to the Board, Claudius Crozet explains the dangerous conditions in the construction and advises against using sink shafts on the project. Crozet refers to Col. Randolph, probably Thomas Jefferson Randolph, grandson of Thomas Jefferson and contractor of slaves to the project.

Quarterly report.

To the President and Directors of the Board of Public works,

Since my report of October last, the work has progressed all along with the same spirit: A short interruption only has taken place on the contracts of Mr. Sizer and of Col. Randolph, who employed negroes. Operations have now been resumed everywhere; and Col. Randolph has increased his force, which, together with the new contracts on the 9th, 10th, and 11th Sections, west of the mountain, will produce a considerable addition to the work executed, though not beyond the amount of funds available for the year.

As there is no doubt that the open railway will be completed some time before the section of 8 miles, between Woodville and Blaire park, the principal subject of inquiry and interest is, at this moment, the main tunnel.

The heading, on the west side has now penetrated to a distance of 178 feet, which is very nearly a progress of 36 feet per month; though, the same reason, as mentioned in my last report, operated to prevent the action of a night shift, viz, the accumulation of excavated materials at the mouth of the heading; the bottom outside and the working railroad being still too far to assist in the removal of those materials. Toward the end of this week, however, the flooring being now even with the breast of the tunnel, and all the necessary bracing, to secure this dangerous roof against the concussions from below, having been completed, the work will be prosecuted steadily day and night; and, if the rock does not become as hard as at the eastern end, we may expect a progress of from 60 to 70 feet per month.

The progress made here speaks favorably of the energy of the contractor, Mr. Larguey, who conducts the operations. I know that persons unacquainted with all the facts have drawn different conclusions, from a bare reference to the widely spread report of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, by which it appears that the heading of the big tunnel on that line has advanced 2100 feet in 7 months, that is, 300 feet per month. But a few words will set this matter right and through your honorable Board I beg to reply to anxious inquiries, that, on the Baltimore and Ohio r. road, not only the excavation is represented to be more favorable than expected, but they operate, by means of 3 shafts at Eight different points at the same time, so that the 300 feet amount to an average of 37 feet at each point they [?] working night and day, which is even less than our progress at the western end as must be expected; operations not being as rapid through shafts as at the open ends.

At the eastern extremity, the bottom being close to the heading, the whole size of the tunnel has been excavated and presents a fine appearance; the roof is so solid that not only an arch will be unnecessary, but I even doubt the propriety of a portal of masonry. This is an advantageous feature as regards the work itself, but not so to the contractor; here the rock is of excessive hardness, wearing out steel very rapidly, and repaying but indifferently the labor of the miners: the progress has been only 58 feet in three months, or but little over 19 feet per month, though the work has been carried on, without interruption day and night. The immense difference between 19 feet at one end and the equivalent of 72 at the other, shows how uncertain calculations in regard to progress are on such a work: All I can say with certainty about it is that the contractor is alive to his interest and remarkably energetic and skilful in this business.

From what I have observed of the stratification, I am inclined to the opinion that this hard rock will not extend very far: But, even if both halves should continue to exhibit such a vast difference we may expect a progress of not less than 80 feet per month, which would complete the heading in 4 years and the whole excavation in less than five.

The inquiry is also made, why we do not also sink shafts. Those who have visited the work have no difficulty to answer this question: shafts are in all cases a clear additional expense, incurred generally with a view of accelerating the result in view; but here the sacrifice of some 50 or 60 thousand dollars would not even have the advantage of accelerating the work one single month: the mountain is so high and steep that the heading would reach the site of any shaft probably before the shaft itself.

I am sorry to report that the rock at the western extremity continues to be full of [?] and very dangerous: large masses are occasionally detached from the roof, leaving sometimes cavities as much as 6 feet above the roof and wide in proportion. Timbering here is indispensable and so will arching, of course, be as regards water, very little [baling] out is necessary; more water is found at the eastern end: but here it runs off of itself down the grade of the road.

You have been informed that the contractors have been somewhat discouraged by the difficulties they have encountered, which have been proved greater than they had expected. They have so far expended largely, without getting a proportional return. I am not satisfied, however, that their contract will prove as unfavorable as they seemed to apprehend; Indeed, I believe that they themselves begin to entertain somewhat the same opinion: it is only when they remove the flooring at both ends that a correct judgement can be formed of the character of their undertaking.

One consideration suggest itself on this head, which I by respectfully to submit to the Board. It would seem that in a work which involves some $200,000 of expenditure, if a reservation of 20 percent is made all along, it will amount at last to a sum too considerable for the contractors to dispense with, if the rotation of monthly estimates, produced a gradually increasing deficit; that is, if the reservation is greater than the profits of the contract; in that case, the contractors, who have already advance large sums, may find it very difficult to meet their expenses, especially if their contract is reported not to be profitable and in view of this difficulty the question arises whether some measure of relief would not be sound policy: such, for example, as reducing the amount of percentage reserve. It may not be amiss to add that I make this suggestion unknown to the contractors, who, I fear, are short of funds.

The driving of the heading of the 2d tunnel has been resumed: it has been necessarily suspended to secure the roof, which exposed to the air fell down in large masses to such a dangerous extent that the men had refused working on it. I have urged the contractor to carry the heading through first, and not to take away the flooring before he is ready to construct the arch; but he seems averse to this course, which in my opinion would be safer and less costly, though probably not as speedy, a consideration of little moment in these short tunnels which can be finished in time anyway: it appears to me inexpedient to leave rock which is affected so much by the air, exposed to its influence any longer than indispensably necessary it must prove a cause of danger and of consequence of additional expense. But, as the work is carried on at the cost and upon the responsibility of the contractor, I doubt my right to interfere with his arrangement.

At the Third tunnel the same difficulties will exist: the heading has just been opened.

There is nothing very important to be noticed, besides the tunnels, along the line: The costly culvert in Dove Spring hollow has been completed; the work is good and creditable to the contractor, Mr. Kelly. We have two others to construct, for which we have neither good brick, nor building none, though surrounded by rocks on all sides. The viaduct over the turnpike is finished, it is a good piece of masonry.

In general the work is pushed with activity, and well done.

As regards the timbering of the tunnels, the contractor has applied to have it allowed him and I have had the honor to recommend the measure, if not as a matter of right, as one of equity. It is evident that the contractor, in bidding low, expected such excavation as he had been used to, when the roof supported itself long enough to allow of constructing the arch, without previous timbering. But, unfortunately some difficulty about the settlement has arisen, and it will be necessary to submit the matter for separate consideration to the Board.

Agreeably to your instructions, I have in connexion with Mr. Ruggles, the Engineer of the Central railroad, located the crossing of the river and short section near Waynesboro, from the excavation of which the embankment just over the river must be formed: The necessity of this measure has been proved still more indispensible, since the location, by the details of the leveling which show the bottom, close to the river, to be only 2 or 3 feet above it for some 1200 feet in length, while, owing to the necessity of assuming a high level in order to pass over the ground near and beyond Waynesboro, the embankment rises from 20 to 25 feet, for which no materials are at hand: indeed the cut at Waynesboro itself will fall considerably short of the requisite amount of cubic yards.

Relative to damages, irregular proceedings have been in progress for sometime under the direction of a lawyer of the neighbourhood, who probably expects a contingent fee from the owners of land for whom he employs himself, who are generally unable to pay him, except from the proceeds of the assessment. Commissioners have acted, made assessments and without calling on us for the statement of the amount of land occupied or any other information; so that, though informed by common rumor of the act, I have had no opportunity to enter a formal protest as advised by the Attorney General. Some action would appear necessary to stay proceedings, which raise expectations and are calculated to give trouble and lead to useless expenses.

A force sent by the new contractor for the 9th and 10th Sections has made its appearance on the line; this promptness augurs well for an energetic prosecution of the work.

As regards the 11th Section and bridge, I have understood that the contractors meant by bidding $1.90 a hundred for timber for the bridge that they would merely deliver it for this price; so that, in fact, it is not a contract for the bridge itself. I had called upon them for an explanation before it could be admitted that their contract was the lowest: if such is in fact their understanding, they cease to be the lowest bidders.

Very respectfully Submitted
C. Crozet
Engn. Blue ridge r. road

About this Document

  • Source: Letter from Claudius Crozet to the President and Directors of the Board of Public Works, January 15, 1851
  • Source: Letter from Claudius Crozet to the President and Directors of the Board of Public Works, January 15, 1851
  • Author: Claudius Crozet
  • Author: Claudius Crozet
  • Extent: 5 pages
  • Extent: 5 pages
  • Citation: Archives, The Library of Virginia, Richmond, VA, Virginia Board of Public Works, Entry 125 "Blue Ridge Railroad", Box 215, Last Folder, Box 215, Last Folder
  • Date: January 15, 1851