Tunneling Toward Tacoma
Snaking its railroad down the western side of the Bitterroot Mountains, the Milwaukee Road burrowed 16 tunnels to maintain a uniform grade down to Avery.
These tunnels were dug largely by hand using sledgehammers and hand drills. In some cases steam-powered drills and steam donkey engines were hauled to the work site to speed the digging. It took three years, and the toil of hundreds of men before the massive job was completed and the St. Paul Pass Tunnel was opened in March of 1909.
Hiawatha Tunnel Lengths
Between Roland and Avery there are 16 tunnels varying in length from 178 to 1,516 feet long. The total length of all these tunnels is 8,557 feet, or just short of the length of the St. Paul Pass Tunnel alone. Nine of these tunnels are on the Route of the Hiawatha.