Tunnel Camp boasts short life but long history
While some of Nevada’s mining camps were bestowed with elegant or optimistic names, such as Belmont (meaning “beautiful mountain”) or Midas (named for the legendary king with the golden touch), Tunnel Camp’s name was pretty literal. It had a tunnel.
Tunnel Camp is located about 14 miles north of Lovelock. To reach it, head into the town of Lovelock, then head north on Western Avenue (State Route 854) for about a mile. Turn north on Sand Hill Avenue and continue another 1.5 miles. Turn west on Pitt Road (State Route 399) for 11.9 miles, then turn right onto a dirt road leading into the camp ruins.
According to ghost town historian Stanley Paher, Tunnel Camp (originally just called Tunnel or New Seven Troughs) was developed in 1927 when the Nevada State Mining Co. formed to build a cyanide mill and dig a tunnel into the shafts of the old Seven Troughs mining district.
The idea, similar to that of Sutro Tunnel near Virginia City, was to tunnel about two-and-a-half miles (horizontally) into the old mines to drain water and allow for easier hauling of the rock and ore.
To support this effort, a company town formed, which boasted more than two dozen buildings including a store, bunkhouse, powerhouse, bathhouse and several homes.
The project initially showed potential as the tunnel encountered several gold veins but then bogged down when the company realized the tunnel’s alignment was askew and correcting the problem proved cost prohibitive.
As a result, the company decided to abandon the camp in 1934. Small scale mining restarted later in the ’30s and again in the 1950s but Tunnel proved to be more of a money pit than a golden opportunity.
According to several historians, Tunnel Camp never became a true town but was always more of a “well-equipped” company camp. Some of its structures, in fact, were relocated from another, older mining town, Vernon, which was about two miles to the south and east.
According to former Nevada State Mining engineer Hugh Shamberger, who authored nearly a dozen exhaustively researched books about various Nevada mining towns, in early 1929, after reaching a length of about 7,500 feet, the tunnel’s diggers realized they’re calculations were off so they dropped back several hundred feet to compensate.
By November, when they had reached 10,000 feet, they intersected several ore bodies and began digging drifts to follow the veins. However, after tunneling another 1,000 feet, they discovered they had not dug the tunnel at the proper angle, so they failed to reach the proper level of most of the old mines. The project proved to be an expensive failure, according to Shamberger.
Despite the camp’s dismal past, a visit to Tunnel Camp is worthwhile. Apparently, people resided in the area until about a decade or so ago so some of the buildings are fairly well-preserved.
An old miner’s house is largely intact (albeit with no windows and decaying wooden flooring) as is the impressive brick powerhouse. Several other wooden structures, also in fairly good condition, are scattered around the hillside, which affords views of the beautiful (and appropriately-named) surrounding Sage Valley.
Peeking through the sagebrush and high grasses are concrete foundations and other reminders of the camp’s rich but short history.
About two miles southeast of the camp site is a small cemetery with wooden markers that appears to be maintained by locals. During a recent visit, Mardi Gras beads festooned the graves along with artificial flowers and other objects.
Rich Moreno writes about the places and people that make Nevada special.