A Collection of Stories from the 
Pennsylvania Turnpike's Abandoned Sections

All stories appearing here are used by permission of their authors.
These stories have all been submitted by visitors to the abandoned tunnels and roadways.  
 
Some authors have asked that their original correspondence not be quoted exactly 
or their names identified.  This website respects those authors' requests.  

This website will not answer questions regarding anonymous sources.  
Please note that all anonymous sources are deemed highly credible.  

RAY'S HILL TUNNEL, 1973:

I discovered the Rays Hill Tunnel in the summer of 1973. I was in college then, and had written to the Turnpike Commission about visiting the site. They said "it would be trespassing to find the tunnels."  So, in July 1973 I dared to go onto the old road. I walked from the old Breezewood interchange to the tunnel. The road had only been closed 5 years and there were still billboards along the stretch. I took Super 8 color movies of the trip. I got to the tunnel and discovered workmen taking stuff out of the old building. I thought they would throw me out but they allowed me to take movies, and they gave me an old fuse holder which I still have. They even took movies of me walking around the tunnel site. Since it was a hot day they gave me a ride back to my car at Gateway. There was no time to drive down to Sideling Hill -- I left that for November of 1973. I have pictures of the tunnel from the South Penn days to the conversion to the turnpike tunnel, new in 1940.  I was there last spring.  Maybe someday the tunnel portal can be repaired, the glass paneling can be put back up, and the stainless steel letters that spell out RAYS HILL!

    Mitch Dakelman, 7/13/2005

[Webmaster's Note:  read Mr. Dakelman's book -- it is very well-written and contains a lot of pictures.   
You will find it on
www.amazon.com.  It is worth reading.  Thank you Mitch for sharing with me!]

MEMORIES OF THE ABANDONED SECTIONS, 1960s:

My memories of the abandoned sections of the turnpike are when they were still open. I traveled it several times a year back in the 1960's to visit family. The tunnels are what I remember most. Your website contains a great deal of information and you are to be congratulated for all of your efforts. I especially liked the archival pictures. What I remember (and the memories may be a little foggy) is that every year more and more traffic used the pike. I do remember long jams of vehicles for around 1-2 miles prior to the tunnel entrances. If the traffic wasn't real heavy the thing to do would be to see how many cars and trucks you could pass prior to the tunnel entrance so you wouldn't get stuck behind them in the tunnel. You could get behind a truck that wouldn't go faster than 20-25 mph and you would be breathing all of that aromatic diesel fume until you got out. Plus the lighting inside was not as bright as what we have now. Also as the trucks got larger and larger in the 60's I remember witnessing a lot of near misses inside the tunnels when they met from opposing directions. So it was a good idea to do away with the one lane tunnels on the practical side but I sure did miss them from the adventurous and romantic side. The other memory that sticks out in my mind were all of the warning signs in the last half-mile leading to the tunnel entrance. I don't believe that anyone could have read all of the instructions on the signs and kept their minds on their driving at the same time. But it was all of these factors that made the tunnels so much fun! I'm so glad that restoration is under way and hopefully in the not too distant future I will return and visit the area.

    Pete Bukeavich, 8/7/2005

LAUREL HILL VISIT:

Hello, just stumbled across your site this morning. We set out to visit Laurel Hill over the weekend and took the difficult woods approach to the eastern portal. Parts of the roof of the vent building have collapsed, however the building is still accessible from the ground. A structure has been built into the tunnel, there are various items stored there, and the tunnel has been locked down. You can get into the vent building, but door to actually enter the vent shaft has been chained shut. It would be nice to find out who is actually using this property and what it's being used for.  Obviously they aren't letting anyone view the property, but I would think it's possible to get them to disclose the tenant. I have pictures from all over and around the eastern portal of the tunnel and will post them to my website later today. We did not try to find a different approach to the western portal or follow the roadway out of the eastern portal, but plan to revisit the site in the future.

Photos of the different tunnels as visited this year are at:
Ross Sieber's Photo Albums 

Yes, by all means feel free to share the email and the photo links. I did file a right to know request shortly after sending you that story and got a reply from them saying my request was too vague and some of the request wasn't public info. I can share the 2 page letter with anyone who cares (and will probably throw scans in my galleries anyway). Basically I tried to find out who the tenant is and what's going on. I guess I need to play the game and get them to disclose the "who" before poking around at the "what".

As soon as I come up with any additional information I will be sure to let you know.

    Ross Sieber, 8/8/2005

LAUREL HILL TUNNEL - the county line:

I had posted a question on the Laurel Hill Tunnel statistics page that I had read somewhere on the Internet that the county line between Westmoreland County and Somerset County crossed the inside of the tunnel.  I was not sure if the "line" was an actual painted line or if perhaps a sign which marked the county line.

A very reliable source revealed to me today the answer to the question of the county line inside Laurel Hill Tunnel.  He said that there was indeed a sign did hang on the wall inside the tunnel and identified the crossing of the county line.  The sign is gone however.  A worker from the turnpike was given the sign when the cleaning out of the tunnel began, approximately October 1964.  The current owner of the sign has sent me a photograph of the sign.  It is still in very good condition.  The photo will be posted on the Ray's Hill website, with privacy respect given to the sign's owner.

    Anonymous Source, 8/16/2005

LAUREL HILL TUNNEL - a legal visit:

[I have lost the original e-mail that was sent to me to, but I recall some of the key points.]

A reliable source wrote to tell me about a legal visit he was allowed make to Laurel Hill.  I am unsure how long ago this trip occurred.  I do not know the circumstances in which my source was allowed to make the visit.   I am also not at liberty to describe how the visit was made.  No pictures were taken:  neither outside the tunnel portals, nor inside the tunnel or the adjoining buildings. 

These are the key points my source observed:

bulletThe floor of the tunnel was rather rough and bumpy because the P.T.C. had been using the tunnel to store rock salt
bulletThe portals of Laurel Hill Tunnel  were indeed boarded up at one time, following it's closure to traffic
bulletThe boards were placed inside the portals where the tunnel changed from an arch to a flat concrete roof
bulletThese boards blocked direct tunnel access but did not stop vandals from doing their work
bulletConcrete "jersey" barriers were not stored in the tunnel, probably due to the cranes needing a lot of height to move them
bulletThe P.T.C. would not reveal what the tunnel was being used for at the time of the tour
bulletYou CAN very faintly see light from one end of Laurel Hill Tunnel to the other

PLEASE NOTE:   the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission does NOT give out permits to visit the Laurel Hill  right-of-way or the tunnel any longer.  It has been noted on the Internet that people have been chased off the property by P.T.C. workers in the past.  Visiting Laurel Hill is not permitted and could result in trespassing charges being filed by the authorities.  This website does not condone trespassing at Laurel Hill or on any private property along the turnpike.

    Anonymous Source, 7/15/2005

LAUREL HILL TUNNEL - visits in 2002 and 2005
and visits to Sideling Hill, Ray's Hill and Cove Valley
:

I came across your website today and was pleased to find so much new information about the abandoned 
turnpike. I've visited both sections several times.

I visited the Laurel Hill area a few times in 2002, both portals.  I walked up to the western portal, which had 
piles of asphalt fill outside.  At the time, I could see the light at the eastern side.  I got back in the car and 
drove to the eastern end of the bypass.  Seeing the gates to the abandoned roadway open and the lack
of a "No Trespassing" sign, we decided to drive to the eastern portal.  The eastern portal was in better shape
than the western portal.  We looked around for a few minutes before leaving.  We did not enter the tunnel or
the portal building.

In July of 2005, while on a trip to Washington, D.C., we decided to stop for another look at Laurel Hill.  This time the
tunnel had been sealed.  The fill was gone from the western end and a state police trooper was sitting at
the entrance to the abandoned roadway that leads to the eastern portal.  I got out to stretch, put some
Coke in the cooler, waved to the trooper and then got back in the car and continued on.  Obviously, whoever
the tenant is does not want to be disclosed and does not want to be disturbed. 

I'm looking forward to seeing your update, although from the photos, I'm willing to bet it is Sunoco who is leasing 
the property, especially since they operate the stations at the service plazas.

I've biked the Sideling Hill-Ray's Hill section twice, once in 2004 and the other in the spring of 2005.  I was bold 
enough once to drive from the eastern end to the Cove Valley Plaza when the gate was open in 2002.  I figured 
that was far enough and visited another time on foot from Oregon Road before bringing my bike.

Nice website - I was laughing though when I read "but so far I have found no one who has risked fines or jail 
time to follow it" in regards to the eastern approach to Laurel Hill.  Well, that would be me - with my car! 
I wouldn't attempt it now though after seeing that trooper there!  [Webmaster's note:  Brendan -- I have officially 
changed the text on that webpage to reflect your visit!]

You can post my story on your website if you wish, just let me know so I can check it out!

Thanks,
Brendan Farley
Pittsburgh, PA

    1/6/2006

Hello. As a native of Pittsburgh and a civil engineer, I have been fascinated with the abandoned section of the Turnpike and the tunnels since finding out about them when I was in college in the early 1990ís. In August of 2006 I finally stopped at the old U.S. Route 30 overpass site and trekked up the hillside to take a peek at the old highway.

The pictures attached are from my October 2006 visit to the former Cove Hill Service Plaza and Sideling Hill Tunnel eastern portal.  My wife and I walked the mile from Cove Hill to the portal pushing our 1-month old son in his stroller. It was an eerily quiet hike, but the colors of the autumn leaves added a certain serenity.  We took a picture of me holding our son in the tunnel, so I think he may be the youngest visitor to Sideling Hill.  Hope you enjoy the pictures and I definitely plan on making more visits to the abandoned pike in the future.

Rob Tomcanin
Belcamp
, Maryland

    4/19/2007

This page was created on:  July 15, 2005.  
Last updated on:  August 09, 2014.

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