restoman: (Little Jimmy)
restoman ([personal profile] restoman) wrote2017-02-19 08:10 pm

Bucket Line Tunnel

The weather this weekend was glorious with plenty of bright sunshine. On Saturday the temperature got up to around 60 and today it got up to about 50, so much of the foot of snow that had been on the ground melted away. Winter had me feeling a bit cooped up, so I talked Josh into going exploring with me. I grabbed my camera and a flashlight and we headed to Solvay to see the "Bucket Line Tunnel".

The tunnel is a long abandoned piece of industrial history hidden in the underbrush on the side of a hill in a neighborhood of 1950s houses in Solvay, NY. The village of Solvay, on the shore of Onondaga Lake, grew up in the late 19th century around the soda ash plant built there by the Solvay brothers. The plant turned two local commodities: salt water, and limestone, into soda ash, a basic building block of many chemical processes including glass making, paper making, making baking soda, detergents and medicines. The salt water initially came from the local salt springs around Onondaga Lake, later it was piped in from a more concentrated source in Tully, NY. The limestone was quarried at the Split Rock Quarry, 5 miles west of Solvay. To get the limestone to the soda ash plant they built the "bucket line", a 10-mile loop of steel cable, with buckets attached at regular intervals, supported on steel posts that ran between the quarry and the plant. It looked and functioned very much like a ski lift, but instead of transporting people it transported buckets of crushed limestone. The quarry was at a higher elevation than the soda ash plant, so the weight of the full buckets of stone was enough to power the whole system and bring the empty buckets back to the quarry. The line had operated for 18 years, but one problem area was the high hill just west of the plant in Solvay. In 1908 they decided to build a tunnel and run the bucket line through the top of the hill, saving 86 feet of elevation on the line, to eliminate the problem of buckets slipping on the cable and piling up at the west slope of the hill, causing damage to the system. The 834 foot long tunnel was built, and the whole system improved, but the tunnel would see less than 5 years use before it was decided to use limestone from the Jamesville Quarry instead. Jamesville was farther away, but adjacent to a railroad line. The bucket line, a unique engineering fete, became obsolete and was abandoned.

Stories from the time include accounts of how the employees of the company could be seen every day riding the buckets to and from their work at the quarry. Other accounts tell of the wreckage that would occur when the cable would break, spilling many buckets of stone all at once over the 5-mile route.



"1908" is cast into the concrete arch over the tunnel opening.

Fog from our breath and bodies as we enter the tunnel.

In many places, water dripped from the tunnel's ceiling or ran down its walls.

Josh and I only ventured less than 200 feet inside the tunnel. Even with a flashlight, the tunnel was treacherous, with water, ice and years of trash on the floor, plus chunks of concrete, stone, and random pieces of steel.

That point of light in the center of the picture is the other end of the tunnel, which curves slightly as it goes through the hill.

8. Josh, inside the tunnel.


[Borrowed from Wikipedia] A 1910 postcard of the Split Rock Quarry, showing the limestone buckets on the bucket line overhead.

[identity profile] 2017-02-20 04:22 am (UTC)(link)
Wow, that's extremely cool! Just the sort of place I'd love to explore.

I just went Googling for some more info on the tunnel, by the way, and one of the hits I got was a post from LJ's old Rural Ruin community, written by my favorite Syarcusian! How about that? :)

[identity profile] 2017-02-20 06:14 am (UTC)(link)
Hah! I remember that post, Mark! :-) Apparently it has been 13 years since I last explored the tunnel, and wrote about it here. It is too bad that all the photos that I took back then are lost. Today's photos would be pretty similar, though.

Yeah, there are a number of places around here that you would love to explore. The Split Rock Quarry, where the bucket line originated is another one. After the quarrying operation was discontinued, the company used the remote location to build a group of buildings to manufacture TNT, picric acid, nitric acid, and other components of munitions that were used by the US and European nations during WWI. In July of 1918 there was a fire and explosion in the TNT building that leveled much of the complex and killed 50 men. The ruins of the complex, and the quarry itself are a great place for exploring. I wrote about the quarry in the Rural Ruin Community too, same year, I think.


[identity profile] 2017-02-20 04:56 am (UTC)(link)
Very cool, and just a tad spooky. lol...
That bucket line they used is very cool. :o
Hugs, Jon

[identity profile] 2017-02-21 07:20 am (UTC)(link)
You're right, Jon, the tunnel is both cool and a little spooky. I am glad that I wasn't there alone.

The whole idea was a clever bit of engineering!


[identity profile] 2017-02-21 02:47 pm (UTC)(link)
Have you ever walked through the whole thing?

[identity profile] 2017-02-22 06:43 am (UTC)(link)
Yes, Jon! The first time I went there, about 25 years ago. I went alone and was ill-prepared: no flashlight or camera. I was feeling bold and adventurous and walked through the entire thing, in the dark, feeling my way along the wall. I was terrified! ...but I kept onward. When I got to the other end I discovered that there was a 6-foot chain link fence around the tunnel entrance. I was too spooked to go back through the tunnel again, so I climbed over the fence, found my way to the nearest road and walked back to Solvay. In retrospect, that trip was a foolish and very dangerous thing to do.

[identity profile] 2017-02-22 09:37 am (UTC)(link)
No flashlight? YIKES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

[identity profile] 2017-02-20 08:39 pm (UTC)(link)

[identity profile] 2017-02-21 07:30 am (UTC)(link)
The bucket line & tunnel was a very clever idea, Scott. It was unique in its day and a marvel of engineering. Ultimately the cost of maintaining the system and the poorer quality of limestone at the Split Rock Quarry doomed the bucket line. It was cheaper, safer and more practical to load boxcars full of crushed limestone at the Jamesville Quarry and send them by rail to Solvay.

[identity profile] 2017-02-21 11:16 am (UTC)(link)
I just think how flabbergasted I would be if I had stumbled onto that tunnel in my travels without knowing the background.

[identity profile] 2017-02-22 06:54 am (UTC)(link)
Yeah, to look at it, Scott, you would never figure out its purpose. It is way too small for a train tunnel. At 18 feet wide and about 8 feet to the steel beams at the ceiling, it is too small to be a car tunnel too. One could fit a car inside it, but it is too narrow for more than one lane of traffic. There are no roads or embankments that lead up to it at either end. Also, it seems to go from nowhere to nowhere. Very Curious!

[identity profile] 2017-02-21 07:35 am (UTC)(link)
Thanks, Mike!
It was a fun place to explore, and also fun to research and read about the history of the quarry, soda ash plant and the bucket line.

BTW, I found Root Beer Pop Tarts at my local Wegman's. I bought a box and tried them. They are pretty good, but blueberry is still my favorite.

[identity profile] 2017-02-21 04:00 pm (UTC)(link)
haha, that's amazing! i find of all the fruit ones, blueberry tastes the most natural, so your favorite is a solid call!

[identity profile] 2017-02-21 03:18 am (UTC)(link)
Oh, fantastic! I've wanted to see that place ever since you told me about it!

[identity profile] 2017-02-21 07:43 am (UTC)(link)
You would have enjoyed exploring the tunnel, Chris. If you are back here again sometime, come with me and we can explore the Split Rock Quarry. I have not found the natural caves that are somewhere on the quarry site.


[identity profile] 2017-02-24 04:03 am (UTC)(link)
Very interesting!

[identity profile] 2017-03-13 02:22 pm (UTC)(link)
Thanks, Troy!

There's nothing like a little historic exploration to spice up a dull winter day.