YouTube’s Jeff Williams tours the Sutro Tunnel with Chris Pattison

Video

Chris Pattison, historic site manager for the Sutro Tunnel restoration project, gives a tour of the property to Jeff Williams, a popular YouTube blogger who specializes in history, gold mining and geology.

  • To learn more about the Sutro Tunnel restoration project — as well as to donate to the effort — please be sure to visit the Friends of Sutro Tunnel.
  • To learn more about Jeff Williams, please visit his website.
  • To read Dennis’s July 4, 2022 update on the project, please visit the Nevada Appeal.

A backhoe with a history

The backhoe for Cassinelli Landscaping and Construction has had a long history, and it’s been used on a wide variety of projects.

After I retired from the Nevada Department of Transportation, I started my own business as a contractor, calling it Cassinelli Landscaping and Sprinklers. (The business is owned and operated today by my son, John, under the name of Cassinelli Landscaping and Construction.) I soon found that I would need some construction equipment for the business, so I bought a 1979 Ford truck from my father and a new John Deere backhoe.

With this equipment, my sons and I started our construction company. One of our first jobs was a contract with the Glenbrook Homeowners Association at Lake Tahoe. For eight years my sons, Tim, John and I with our crew performed snow removal with the backhoe. We also used it for landscaping and construction work at Glenbrook. One of our customers at Glenbrook was the entertaining duo, Captain and Tennille.

Using the backhoe to plow snow in Glenbrook, Nevada.

One day the Homeowners Association brought up the old Locomotive “Glenbrook” that had once hauled logs from the Glenbrook pier to Spooner Summit where they were sent to a mill at Carson City down the canyon on a V- flume. This was done as a fundraiser to restore the locomotive.

Due to donations from the homeowners and others, the locomotive has been restored and can be seen at the Nevada State Railroad Museum.

One of the projects we did for the Homeowners Association was constructing a retaining wall using the pier pilings from the old Glenbrook pier near where the steam ship SS Tahoe was launched in 1898, using our backhoe to dig the footings. While we were working at Glenbrook, I brought up my 1926 Dodge to use for doing estimates and working with my crew.

At the Sierra Nevada Golf Ranch in Carson Valley, I was planting trees using the backhoe alongside the road approaching the clubhouse one day when I started digging up some small rusty horse shoes. (This course is now called Genoa Lakes, the Ranch Course.) Also alongside the road was a sign that said that this was where the Pony Express route crossed the road leading to the clubhouse. Since I knew the people at the Nevada State Museum, I took the rusty Pony Express horseshoes to donate to the museum.

The backhoe onsite while working on the Sierra Nevada Golf Ranch project. This golf course is now called Genoa Lakes, the Ranch Course.

After we left Glenbrook, we started doing work in Carson City and other locations. I used the backhoe to dig the plant holes at the Carson City Main Post office. I also dug the plant holes with the backhoe for the Carson City Court House. We used it to do snow removal at many locations around Carson City, Lakeview, Franktown and Timberline.

In 1999, we were using the backhoe to dig the footing for a dumpster enclosure at the Nevada State Museum in Carson City. My equipment operator informed me he was digging up a bunch of “rusty old bearings.” When I went over to see what he had found, I realized they were not bearings at all. What they were was a cluster of coin dies from the old Carson City Mint that had been disposed of by burying them in the ground alongside the mint building.

The backhoe at the Carson City Museum project in 1999.

I notified the archaeologist at the museum, Dr. Gene Hattori, who came out and conducted a search of the area. 

By the time he had finished, he had recovered over 900 of the dies. He then told me to bury the area with my backhoe so it could be studied further in the future.

In 2010, Nevada State Public Works called for bids to relocate a row of graves at the Northern Nevada Adult Mental Health cemetery in Sparks. My crew and I used our backhoe to remove the remains from 18 graves. We were then required to store the remains and later re-inter them in a new area where a memorial obelisk was being installed with the names of over 600 former patients of the asylum who had died over a long period of time. In addition, we were given several other sets of remains that had been discovered alongside 21st Street by the main historic cemetery dating back to the 1880s.

After the memorial obelisk was installed, we used our backhoe to bury the new caskets that had been provided to us in the area surrounding the obelisk. Like me, the old backhoe has now been retired and is in pretty bad shape after so many years of hard work.

John C Fremont’s original cannon

Everyone loves a treasure hunt. The treasure I am talking about in this article is the elusive mountain howitzer abandoned during a snowstorm in the Sierra Nevada mountains in 1844 by John C. Fremont. Otherwise known as the Fremont Cannon, this priceless artifact has been sought by treasure hunters, archaeologists, Forest Service employees and others for 170 years. By Nevada Day (October 31st) of 2013, we were finally able to see the remains of the lost Fremont Cannon at the Nevada State Museum.

A special Exhibit of artifacts from the Fremont expedition of 1843 – 1844 was opened and remained on display for over a year. Being a tour guide at the Museum, I spent many days taking visitors to see the displays. Archaeologists have determined that the bronze cannon barrel that has been on display at the Museum for many years was the same barrel abandoned by the Fremont Expedition in 1844. The barrel was mounted on a replica carriage built for the display, similar to the original. Also included were many other artifacts, including three of the iron carriage wheels and parts of the original carriage that were found in Deep Creek near the West Walker River where Fremont said he had abandoned the cannon.

According to Col. Paul Rosewitz and Nevada State Museum Archaeologist, Eugene Hattori, the metal parts and iron tires recovered from Deep Creek could have come only from one of the 13 original model M1835 Cyrus Alger mountain Howitzers. These were the carriage parts from the Fremont Mountain Howitzer.

The following is the St. Louis Arsenal Requisition for ordinance stores, by John C. Fremont for his expedition into Oregon Territory: Required May 8, l843, mountain howitzer, 1; (gun) carriage complete with harness, 1; pistols, 4; pairs holsters, etc., 2; carbines, 33; kegs of rifle powder, 5; pounds of artillery ammunition, 500; tubes, filled, 200, Signed by: J.C. Fremont, 2d Lieut., Topographical Engineers.

John C. Fremont had political backing for the things he wanted to accomplish on his expeditions, (Senator Benton of Missouri). He also had definite ideas of the things and personnel, including his guide and friend, Kit Carson, who he wanted to take along with him. Fremont knew he would be traveling through largely unexplored and uncharted territory. Being a military man, Fremont wanted to be sufficiently armed to defend his expedition from any hostile activity they might encounter. Fremont followed the Oregon Trail and originally had planned to return to Missouri by the same route he had traveled.

After arriving in Oregon, however, Fremont made the decision to return by a different route that would take him south into the Great Basin of Nevada in search of the legendary Buenaventura River believed by many to cross the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. He was thus the first person to prove that no such river existed and coined the term Great Basin to describe the area.

In addition to plenty of small arms and ammunition, he wanted to take along a mountain howitzer similar to those of French design familiar to him. The reasons for this choice included the ability to impress native people he encountered with the superior military capabilities of his group as a deterrent against hostile activity. Another reason was to show that a wheel mounted vehicle could be taken through the mountain and desert trails where none had ever traveled before.

The mountain howitzer delivered to Fremont to fill his requisition was known as a model M1835 bronze cannon (mountain howitzer), cast by the Cyrus Alger Iron Company in South Boston, Massachusetts. This became the largest foundry in the country and produced many of the munitions later used for the Civil War. Only thirteen of the model M1835 mountain howitzer barrels were cast and of these, it is believed only one still exists today.

The mountain howitzer used by Fremont during the 1843-1844 expedition was known as a “12 pounder.” This means that the maximum charge to be loaded should not weigh more than 12 pounds. This could be either a cannon ball, or more likely, a shell such as a hollow projectile containing either an explosive bursting charge with a fuse or canister tubes filled with musket balls.

The 223 pound barrel of the cannon measured 37.2” in length with an inside bore diameter of 4.62 inches. The wooden carriage for the cannon was made to be towed by a horse or mule. It had iron rimmed 12-spoke wooden wheels approximately 36 inches in diameter. The cannon barrel was attached to the carriage with iron straps that were forged to fit snugly around the trunions (round bronze extensions protruding from the sides of the barrel). The barrel or tube rotated on the trunions when firing to achieve the desired elevation. Ammunition for the howitzer was carried separately on pack frames loaded on pack animals.

There is no doubt the howitzer was used during the expedition according to the following written accounts: Theodore Talbot, June 15, 1843: “Our cannonier was very successful in practice with the Howitzer, striking a post 4 feet high at nearly a quarter of a mile with a bomb shell.” Charles Preuss, August 10, 1843: “Shooting buffalo with a howitzer is a cruel but amusing sport.”

Fremont, December 10, 1843: “I directed the howitzer to be fired. It was the first time our guides (Walla Walla Indians) had seen it discharged; and the bursting of the shell at a distance, which was something like the second fire of the gun, amazed and bewildered them with delight.”