History hunting: Ashland couple has unusual hobby
Flashlights illuminated a cavernous railroad tunnel dynamited through mountain rock — and leading nowhere.
Peter and Linda Kreisman, a retired Ashland couple, picked their way across the rough, jagged floor of Buck Rock Tunnel, then scrambled up a rocky ledge to examine the tunnel’s sudden end.
Growing up in Ashland in the 1950s, they’d heard stories about historic sites, including a mysterious tunnel somewhere in the mountains southeast of town.
“Buck Rock Tunnel was another place that we’d heard of as kids. It was kind of a myth,” Linda Kreisman said.
The high school sweethearts moved away. Peter Kreisman ran a woodworking business, and Linda Kreisman was a research food scientist in Minnesota until they retired and moved back to Ashland.
They decided to start tracking down some of the historical sites they’d wondered about as kids. The couple searched through the archives of the Southern Oregon Historical Society, looking for hints about Buck Rock Tunnel.
“They had articles about it, so we knew it was real. It wasn’t just a myth. But it didn’t say anything about how to find it,” Linda Kreisman said.
In 1883, the Oregon and California Railroad hired Chinese workers to begin the exhausting and dangerous work of excavating the Buck Rock Tunnel for a route over the Siskiyou Summit. They started from two ends, hoping to blast and dig through a third of a mile of rock and dirt. The tunnel was abandoned in 1884 when the railroad exhausted its capital, according to the Bureau of Land Management.
A railroad line over the pass was later completed, but followed a different route.
“So they just left this one sitting where it was and bypassed it totally,” Linda Kreisman said.
Mark Lawrence, a BLM forester, rediscovered the largely forgotten tunnel in 1966. In 2014, the federal government purchased the surrounding land and added it to the BLM-administered Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.
It took the Kreismans years of wandering the hillsides before they zeroed in and found both the east and west ends of the tunnel. The east end has caved in, while the west end still offers plenty of room for exploring for those who think ahead and bring flashlights. Each end has a metal post sporting a historical marker.
“The best way to find the tunnel is to go with someone who’s already been there,” Peter Kreisman said, only half-joking.
The tunnel is now one of their favorite historical sites — even though they’ve since found 97 historical sites and markers scattered throughout Jackson County. They’re in the midst of tracking down even more markers.
The Kreismans will give a talk about their history-hunting hobby from noon to 1 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 5, as part of the Windows in Time lecture series. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the talk will be held online through the video conference app Zoom, rather than in local libraries.
To register for the free talk, see jcls.libcal.com/calendar/jcls_event/WITAug2020.
A recording of the program will be posted later on the Jackson County Library Services YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/user/JCLSN2K.
The Kreismans will talk about many of the sites they’ve visited, including wagon and stagecoach roads, covered bridges, ferry crossings, forts, Native American sites, cemeteries and old trees.
“It was really interesting to find these markers. Some of them were very difficult. A lot of them are available. You can see them from the road from your car,” Peter Kreisman said.
He said people don’t need to be historians to enjoy tracking down historical sites. The outings can make for a fun day trip, especially during the pandemic when people are looking for new outdoor activities away from crowds.
For the Kreismans, history hunting dovetails with another of their hobbies — birdwatching. They bring along a camera and binoculars on their excursions. If they don’t find a historic site on the first attempt, at least they’ll spot birds.
“They’re both treasure hunts,” Linda Kreisman said.
If you want to take your chances and try to explore the west end of the Buck Rock Tunnel yourself, head east of Ashland on Highway 66 past Emigrant Lake, then turn right onto Buckhorn Springs Road. After a quarter-mile, turn right on dirt road 39-2E-34 and go about 2.5 miles until you see a parking lot with a Buck Rock sign on the left.
Park in the lot and walk across the road past a yellow barrier gate up an old, weedy logging road. Stay to the right each time when the road forks twice. The road will sometimes narrow to an overgrown single-track trail. About 1.5 miles up, you might be lucky enough to notice a very slightly trampled area with tall grass and wildflowers to the left of the road. Off on the side, look for an arrow made out of rocks on the ground pointing toward the beginnings of a short trail to the Buck Rock Tunnel.