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This website is a constant work-in-progress, with articles updated regularly throughout the site. Much of the information comes from local railroad fans such as yourselves. If you have information regarding local railroads, photographs or railroad documents, or you feel a mistake has been made or information omitted from an article, leave a comment on the appropriate page or email me at This site would not be possible without your help and support. Thank you! – Derek R. Whaley

Friday, January 18, 2013

Mountain Charlie Tunnel

Mountain Charlie Tunnel – South Portal,
2008 (Courtesy Brian Liddicoat)
South Pacific Coast Tunnel #4 went by many names, but its two most common were Mountain Charlie Tunnel or Clems Tunnel. Formally under the Southern Pacific, it was known as Tunnel #3, though they also confusingly referred to it as the Glenwood Tunnel (this name also applied to the mile bore between Glenwood and Laurel under Highway 17). It was built between the future sites of Tank Siding and Clems under Mountain Charlie Road, one of the oldest stagecoach roads that travelled over the Santa Cruz Mountains. It served to connect the Bean Creek basin with the Zayante Creek basin. The tunnel was 910 feet long, making it about the same size as the Mission Hill Tunnel in Santa Cruz.

Like the other tunnels along the route, the goals of the Southern Pacific Railroad mixed with the damage of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake to replace this tunnel. Construction began to broad-gauge the tunnel in around 1905, but work was delayed until 1908. Service between the Zayante Creek basin and Glenwood was only briefly interrupted during this time, however, suggesting the old tunnel was successfully broad-gauged prior to 1908. No extant photographs show the pre-1908 tunnel, but it can be assumed that it was a wooden structure built around 1879. The current tunnel was built of concrete portals that went about 30' into the mountain on either side. This was followed by a short length of bricks stretching no more than 15', and then simple tar-soaked timber support beams inside the tunnel itself.

Mountain Charlie Tunnel – North Portal, 2010 (Photo by Derek Whaley)
View from the Mountain Charlie Tunnel's north portal, showing the right-of-way (as a driveway)
heading toward Glenwood, 2010. (Photo by Derek Whaley)
 It's fate was the same as the Summit and Glenwood tunnels: it was dynamited by H.A. Christie's salvage firm in April 1942 by order of the Southern Pacific Railroad. Officially, the tunnel has been abandoned ever since. It's northern portal sits near the entrance to a private property south of Glenwood just before a concrete bridge.

View from inside Mountain Charlie Tunnel's south portal, showing the overgrown right-of-way
heading toward Tank Siding to the south, 2008. (Courtesy Brian Liddicoat)

The siltation debris pile at the top of Mountain Charlie
Tunnel's south portal, 2008. This was one of the ways to
access the inside of the tunnel. (Courtesy Brian Liddicoat)
It's southern entrance lies in the Zayante Creek basin just beyond the end of a Santa Cruz Water District service road that once served as the railroad's right-of-way. This road is most easily accessible via fire road before crossing a bridge on East Zayante Road in Felton. Siltation from rain at both tunnel portals has caused the ground level to rise closer to the ceiling of the portals than with the other tunnels along the route. Unlike the much longer tunnels further north, however, Mountain Charlie Tunnel had a second life.

Mountain Charlie was made of lighter soil and frequent earth movements reopened the tunnel sometime in the late 1990s or early 2000s. The dark interior of the tunnel was accessible until 2011 by climbing through the south portal and over a sand pile, then down the other side. Numerous explorers have photographed the inside of the rotting tunnel. Pilings and tar-laced timber still hold up the ceiling of the tunnel in places, though other sections have collapsed. Despite rumors that rolling stock and entire steam engines were buried in the tunnels, this tunnel, at least, seemed to have none of that.

Inside Mountain Charlie Tunnel as accessed from the south portal, 2008. Most of the wooden timbers appear to be gone, suggesting they either rotted away or the stone itself was deemed stable enough to not require wood support beams. It's relatively stable state 100 years after it was constructed suggests the latter. (Courtesy Brian Liddicoat)
A view deeper inside the tunnel, 2008. Pieces of charred and tarred wood debris litter the ground, though the roof of the tunnel seems strong and there doesn't appear to be any wood supporting the ceiling. (Courtesy Brian Liddicoat)
In 2011, an especially rainy day collapsed this entrance to the tunnel, leaving its eventual reopening for future generations to discover.



  1. This is great. When we get good scans of Duncan Nanney's 1940 photos of the tunnel entrances just after closure the line, that will be a great addition to the page.

  2. What are those white stuff at the end?
    I know that scientist putting gadgets up in the mountain to monitor the mountain lions...perhaps that was it...

  3. Thanks for the explanation about the tunnel getting sealed in 2011. I visited this tunnel entrance last week and it was sealed. I remembered coming for the first time in 2009 or 2010 and being able to climb a ways in, but now that doesn't seem possible.

  4. I was just talking to a friend of mine. His parents lived off Hiway 17 west of the summit and the house was built with timbers from the tunnel off glenwood road.

  5. I'm wondering why the Mt. Charlie Tunnel's east (Glenwood) portal is herein called the "north portal". That portal is well to the south of the Zayante side of the tunnel. (I'm nitpicking - this is a great site.)