A disturbing piece of Southern Oregon history continues to haunt Tunnel 13, a railroad tunnel near the Mount Ashland exit off Interstate 5.
Though it's private property owned by the railroad, it often draws adventurous teenagers and train buffs because of its notoriety as the site of the West's last great train robbery.
On Oct. 11, 1923, three brothers — 23-year-old twins Ray and Roy D'Autremont and their teenage brother, Hugh — attempted to rob the Gold Special train after hearing rumors that half a million dollars in gold was on board. They jumped aboard as it slowed into Tunnel 13 and ordered engineer Sidney Bates to stop the train.
But the gun-toting brothers had an extreme misconception about how easy it would be to rob a train. They blew up the mail car with dynamite, killing the mail clerk but finding no gold. They shot and killed three other railroad employees, including the engineer, before fleeing into the woods. A massive manhunt ensued that included the federal government, Oregon National Guard troops, local posses and angry railroad workers, but they failed to find the brothers.
Hugh was caught in 1927 while serving in the Philippines in the military. The twins were arrested a short time later in Ohio. They were brought to justice at the Jackson County Courthouse in Jacksonville, where they drew national attention over their botched train robbery.
All three were sent to prison for life. Roy had a mental breakdown and died in the state hospital in Salem. Hugh died from cancer shortly after he was awarded parole in 1958. Ray, whose sentence was commuted by then-Gov. Tom McCall in 1972, died in 1984.
You can imagine the ghosts of the victims still haunting the tunnel, which is more than half a mile long.
"I hate the feeling that you get when you walk in the tunnel," says Max Longshore, a 13-year-old who recently explored Tunnel 13 for the first time. "When you walk through it, you can't help but look back. You can't help but pull your jacket a little bit snugger around you. It literally feels like there is somebody watching your every move, a silent pair of footsteps trailing you as you balance in between the train tracks.
"I don't even trust my own shadow in that tunnel. And the worst part is, even after all those creepy supernatural feelings, you look back and there's nobody there when you could swear that somebody was."
The 90th anniversary of the tunnel robbery is on Oct. 11. To see the tunnel, follow Interstate 5 to Exit 6 toward the Mt. Ashland Ski Area. Park at the large dirt area to the right and look toward the hill, where a path takes you to the top. There you'll find a mini ghost town — the ruins of Siskiyou Station, once a community of railroad maintenance workers.
Be aware, the tunnel is private property and a train could always come rolling through. You can experience the thrill of the tunnel by just standing near the entrance and peering toward the light at the other end, imagining the horrors of 90 years ago and the macabre claim to fame of Tunnel 13.
Amelia Covert Zeve is an Ashland High School student and freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.