One of the finest guitar builders in the whole country
lives an hour east of me. Bruce Petros has that amazing combination of talents
for bothâ¦being a great engineer, and also, being a great artist/designer. But
donâ™t just take my word for it. ACOUSTIC GUITAR magazine, this
year, named him the gold medal winner in the independent builderâ™s category.
Last year, he emailed me, out of the blueâ¦and made
me a once in a lifetime offer. Seems he had come across some
amazing old-growth redwood (see THE HIDDEN TREASURE OF TUNNEL 13 storyâ¦just ahead),
which was also connected to some amazing history...namely, the last train
robbery in the USA, October 11th, 1923.
He had decided to build a limited edition series of TUNNEL 13 guitarsâ¦all
with tops (soundboards) made from these old beams.
His offer wasâ¦if I would write a song about that
rich combination of wood and history, he would make me a very good
deal on the first one off the line. When I came out of shockâ¦I
For the next six months, when I came home from my
carpentry work, Iâ™d go straight to his website, and his photo gallery.
It was the place heâ™d show the progress, stage by stage, of this (my)
guitar being built. Iâ™ve
added a link to that gallery here, so you too can follow
the processâ¦from charred 14" by 16" beamâ¦to beautiful and ornate (both
visually and aurally) guitar.
I was researching in the evenings, google-ing my
way through the Siskiyou Mountains, and google-ing back through time. The redwoods that
were used for those beams (and now, my guitar), had been around since
before the great wall in China. I had no idea that an adult redwood
tree transports hundreds of gallons of water, EVERY DAY, up though itâ™s
trunk. The only thing that pulls the water up the tree is the power
of transpiration that itâ™s crown exerts from above.
When I read about the train robbery itself, it seemed
like the replay of so many tragic historical events: the dream of notoriety,
the mistakes, the poor planningâ¦the loss of life for no reason other
than greed. Most
of the articles and books focused on the robbers, but I was more interested
in what actually happened in the local community. How did they
heal and go on?
After coming up with a musical arrangement with my buddy, Justin Rothâ¦I
wrote the lyrics to THE SISKIYOU LINE: which lies within. Bruce also
made a YouTube video of the song, with images that tie
in with the history and the luthier connection.
If youâ™d like to see more of the amazing guitars that Bruce and his
son Matt put outâ¦visit their website. The TUNNEL
13 is only a partial view into the amazing work they do.
I wasnâ™t unhappy with the guitar Iâ™ve had for the
last ten years. But
my new guitar is the one I travel with now. Itâ™s tonal range is
rich and expressive in ways that go beyond explainable, for me. And,
the surreal thing that I can say now, when people askâ¦is, âœI got it for
Thanksâ¦to the Petros.
The HIDDEN TREASURE OF TUNNEL 13
1880-1890 â¡กใ The Treasure is Hidden
As Southern Pacific Railroadâ™s Tunnel 13 at Oregonâ™s
Siskiyou Pass is completed in 1887, a treasure is hidden inside. The treasure is
unseen. It is unseen because no one yet realizes it is a
treasure. The railroad men, still laboring to open the Western
regions of a vibrant, young United States, drenched in the riches of
its own, incredible, natural resources, take the treasure for granted. It
is the 1880â™s and the country is intoxicated by the spectacular growth
that treasures, like the one âœhiddenâ in Tunnel 13, are making possible.
As the construction of Tunnel 13 was underway, history
was being made across the land. The West was being tamed. Sheriff Pat Garrett
kills the infamous Billy the Kid, charged with 21 murders. The Earps
shoot it out with the Clantons at the OK Corral. Jesse James is
shot in the back by Robert Ford. Geronimo and Sitting Bull surrender
to the U.S. military after years of courageous resistance. In the
space of just twelve months, white buffalo hunters virtually eradicate
the North American bison. Vaudeville comes into vogue. The
Statue of Liberty, a gift from France, arrives in New York. Franklin
Delano Roosevelt is born. Coca-Cola is a brand new soft drink hit. The
first phonograph and incandescent lamp are invented by Thomas Edison.
The countryâ™s railroads played a key role in the
great expansion of the U.S. By the end of the 1880â™s the journey
Lewis and Clark made from St. Charles, Missouri to the mouth of the
Columbia River that took two and a half years could be done by train
in nine days.
It was in the midst of this exciting decade that the Southern Pacific
Railroadâ™s Tunnel 13 at the Siskiyou Pass was completed with a treasure
placed within that lay hidden in plain view for nearly 120 years.
The Treasureâ™s Origin
Construction of Tunnel 13 on the
Siskiyou rail line was started in 1884 by Henry Villardâ™s Oregon & California Railroad. But when the
O&C fell on hard financial times, the Southern Pacific Railroad took
over, completing the tunnel in 1887.
The chief engineer for the Southern Pacific Railroad
was William Hood. Hood
was the architect of the 3,108 foot long Tunnel 13. He specified
tall, heavy, timber shoring to safely support the roof of the tunnel.
In the 1880â™s, virgin, slow-growth Redwood was still
400 saw mills operated on the northern California and southern Oregon
coasts to cut the massive, 2,500 year old, Redwood tree trunks harvested
there into usable wood. The gigantic trees were turned into incredibly
fine lumber, timber beams and, as inconceivable as it seems today, even
railroad ties. Coastal California Redwood (Sequoia Sempervirens) was
selected for the shoring timber of Tunnel 13. Each timber was milled
into 16â x 14â beams.
The Treasure Witnesses The Last Great American Train Robbery
Tunnel 13 was made famous when it became the site of the so-called Last
Great American Train Robbery. On October 11, 1923, Southern
Pacificâ™s Train 13, the Gold Special, pulling 13 cars, stopped at Tunnel
13, as was the standard practice at the time, to test its brakes before
heading down the steep slope that lay on the other side. There,
the Gold Special was boarded by the three DeAutremont brothers - 19
year old Hugh and 23 year old twins Ray and Roy.
The DeAutremonts had lived in the forest nearby for
nearly two months refining a plan to rob the Gold Special of the $50,000
rumored to be on board. Jesse James was a hero for these three young men. They
had voraciously read accounts of Jamesâ™ train robberies and aimed to
place themselves along side Jesse James in the annuls of American folklore.
Their carefully laid plans went completely awry when
U.S. mail clerk Elvyn Dougherty, locked inside the mail car of the
Gold Special, refused to let the would-be robbers in. After Dougherty ignored several
warnings, Roy set a dynamite charge to blow open the mail car door. Owing
to Royâ™s complete inexperience with dynamite, the charge he set was much,
much too large. The resulting, massive explosion demolished the
mail car, killed Dougherty and destroyed most of the contents. If
there had been any money on Southern Pacificâ™s Gold Special that day,
it was destroyed by the DeAutremonts themselves.
In the ensuing fire, smoke and confusion, their plan
completely in shambles, no money to be had, the panicked DeAutremonts
killed the Southern Pacific veteran engineer Sidney Bates, 23 year
old fireman Marvin Seng and brakeman Coyle Johnson. The brothers then raced off into the mountains on
foot. Their painstakingly crafted plan to pull off the Last
Great American Train Robbery had turned into cold blooded murder
committed in a badly botched hold up. The DeAutremonts got away
without a penny. They were running for their lives, fleeing in
the face of the stark reality that the posses pursuing them, largely
made up of railroad men, would surely lynch them if they were caught.
The brothers managed to elude capture for 4 years
despite what was described at the time as the largest, worldwide manhunt
in U.S. history. In
1927, all were caught and sent to the Oregon State Penitentiary.
The Redwood timbers of Tunnel 13 were there to hear it all.
The Hidden Treasure Discovered
Eighty years later, on November 17, 2003, transients
huddle in Tunnel 13 trying to stay warm. A fire is built. It gets out of hand. Some
of the timbers are set ablaze. Part of the old tunnel collapses
two days later.
The Siskiyou rail line by now only serviced a couple
of freight trains a day. The colorful years of countless, picturesque, steam locomotives
pulling untold numbers of passengers through Tunnel 13 were gone â¡กใ the
era of the âœGreat Iron Horseâ passed. But the Siskiyou line was
still valuable. Freight could be moved south 5 to 8 days faster
through the Siskiyous than via the longer, Eugene route. So, the
decision was made to rebuild the tunnel.
The Coastal California Redwood timbers of Tunnel
13 were put up for salvage. They were replaced by steel reinforced, concrete pillars
to support the roof of the old tunnel. One by one the Redwood timbers
were pulled out, covered with 120 yearâ™s worth of soot and dirt. They
had served well for those 120 years, but now, their time standing silently
in Tunnel 13 was at an end. They were not much to look at. The
hidden treasure of Tunnel 13, unceremoniously piled in an ungainly heap,
still went unrecognized.
Then, an enterprising instrument wood sawyer who
heard about the Redwood taken from Tunnel 13 had a hunch. One of the timbers was cleaned
up and a section was sent to luthier Bruce Petros, founder of Petros
Guitars. What Petros discovered was absolutely remarkable. A
cross section cut revealed incredibly fine-grained, virgin Redwood -
Redwood that was alive when the Roman Empire ruled the world, alive even
before the Chinese began building their Great Wall. The timbers
of Tunnel 13 were discovered to have been hewn from native, slow-growth, Sequoia
Sempervirens (Sequoia â¡กใ from the Cherokee Indian chief
Sequoyah, and sempervirens - from the Latin meaning "always
greenâ). The trees were most likely harvested on the southern coast
Trees that grow slowly produce closely spaced rings
that result in very fine, straight-grained wood. Native, old-growth, Redwood forests,
which are very shady, force new trees to grow slowly, straight up toward
the soft, shimmering light that barely seeps through the forestâ™s canopy
hundreds of feet above. Trees growing in young, open forests, on
the other hand, grow more quickly, thus producing trees with widely spaced
rings. This is typical of the Redwood available today. Wood
milled from new-growth Redwood trees, therefore, generally has much coarser
It was immediately clear that the Redwood taken from
Tunnel 13 was truly remarkable. Nothing like it exists any more outside of the few,
remaining, native Redwood forests protected from logging. This
extraordinarily rare wood, that stood silently in Tunnel 13 for 120 years,
air drying, absorbing the sounds of the thousands of trains and hundreds
of thousands of people that passed beneath, was ready to have its voice
released at last.
view Petro's photo gallery |