Burro Schmidt Tunnel
|Location||Kern County, California|
|Length||0.8 mi (1.3 km)|
Burro Schmidt's Tunnel
|Nearest city||Ridgecrest, California|
|Area||11.5 acres (4.7 ha)|
|Architect||Schmidt, William Henry|
|Architectural style||Earthen tunnel|
|Governing body||BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT|
|NRHP Reference #||03000113 |
|Added to NRHP||March 20, 2003|
The Burro Schmidt Tunnel, located in Kern County, California near Garlock, is a half-mile long (0.8 km) tunnel dug entirely by hand, constructed over a 32-year period by William "Burro" H. Schmidt (1871–1954). The tunnel is near the summit of a 4,400 foot (1,340 m) mountain in the El Paso Mountains of eastern California.
Schmidt, who was mining gold, was faced with a dangerous ridge between his mining area and the smelter at Mojave, California. Schmidt said that he would "never haul his ore to the smelter in Mojave down that back trail" using his two burros. Thus, he began his tunnel in 1906. The tunnel was about six feet tall and ten feet wide, but it cut through solid granite and required little shoring. The path was not straight, but took several turns.
Schmidt was trapped many times by falling rock and injured often, and eventually installed a cart on rails. In 1920 a road was completed from Last Chance Canyon to Mojave, eliminating the need for the tunnel, but Schmidt claimed to be obsessed with completion, and dug on.
In fact, it was not a desire to punch through the mountain that motivated his digging, but a vein of gold extending in that direction. Schmidt simply claimed an irrational desire to dig through the mountain to prevent others from moving in on his find.
By 1938 he had achieved his "goal", having dug through nearly 2,500 feet (762 m) of solid granite using only a pick, a shovel, and a four pound hammer for the first portion, and carefully placed dynamite with notoriously short fuses for the majority. It was estimated that he had moved 5,800 tons (5,260 metric tons) of rock to complete his work.
Interestingly Schmidt never used the tunnel to move his ore. Instead, he sold the tunnel to another miner and moved away. A Ripley's Believe It or Not cartoon celebrated the feat, calling him the human mole. Schmidt's cabin in Garlock has been largely abandoned and stands as it was in the 1930s, preserved by the dry climate.
The Bureau of Land Management states that they own the Schmidt Tunnel and associated surrounding land because it is an unpatented mining claim under the General Mining Act of 1872 (i.e., ownership of the underlying land always remained with the U.S. government under the management of the Bureau of Land Management with only mining rights transferred to the mining claim owner) where no mining operations are underway, meaning that all rights revert to the BLM under the Federal Land Policy And Management Act of 1976 upon the death of the grandfathered claimant Evelyn A. (Tonie) Seger who had possessed the claim prior to 1976.
This is in dispute as Seger is claimed by heirs to have maintained the claim legally under the terms of the Mining Act and properly transferred the mining claim upon her death to Dave Ayers, her caretaker for the last years of her life. As of 2003 David Ayers and Mr. F. Schmidt claimed to be legal owners of the mining claim containing the Schmidt Tunnel. The historic buildings on the mining claim site were transferred by Tonie Seger's will to her granddaughter Cheryl Kelly. The BLM assumed ownership of the historic buildings via publication of an abandonment notice after multiple attempts to contact the former legal owner, Cheryl Kelly, by both BLM personnel and private parties in order to preserve the site failed. According to the BLM, long-time caretaker David Ayers was offered the opportunity to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the BLM to be the full-time caretaker of the site, but refused to sign unless he was paid to be the caretaker  and instead chose to leave to work elsewhere after being informed he had no legal right to remain at the site without that MOU. A small group of history buffs and outdoorsmen, The Friends of Burro Schmidt Tunnel, are actively preserving the site but ongoing disputes about ownership of the mining claim and historic structures continue to interfere with preservation efforts. As a result the site has fallen prey to vandalism.
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2009-03-13.
- McLellan, Dennis (June 15, 2003). "Evelyn 'Tonie' Seger, 95; Keeper of Tunnel in the Mojave Desert That Became a Tourist Draw". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 9, 2012.