Tunneling

John Henry told his captain
“Lord a man ain’t noth’ but a man
But before I let that steam drill
beat me down
I’m gonna die with a hammer
in my hand, Lord, Lord
I’ll die with a hammer in my hand”

Bruce Springsteen‘s version of John Henry

All they found of him was a muddy set of prison clothes, a
bar of soap, and an old rock hammer, damn near worn down
to the nub. I remember thinking it would take a man six hundred
years to tunnel through the wall with it. Old Andy did it in less than twenty.

–“Red” from the The Shawshank Redemption

Many years ago, I bought some Märklin trains. Well, a bit more than some. In any event, when my ex-wife and I had the house in Sunnyvale, I used a sheet rock saw to cut holes when I needed to run the trains though a ocassional wall.

I brought my set to Beijing soon after I moved here, but mostly had it packed-up.  Just didn’t feel right setting it up in a rented space.

When we bought our apartment, Shanshan and I thought that it was still too small to dedicate a room to my train set. (Shanshan had visions of a train falling onto our still as of yet unconceived child. As a general rule, anything with a remote possibility of causing harm to  a child –unconceived or otherwise– in China will lose.)

When we enclosed our balconies, the wife said it’d be okay for me to setup a layout on the one nearest my office. I put the platform for it in place (1m x 1.5m), but still thought it was too small. I then thought of running it into the office.

The problem with this is that most walls (interior and exterior) in apartments like I live are made of concrete and can be quite thick. Since I was looking at two holes 40 cm deep and 10 cm in diameter –and I thought that a sledgehammer might be too big and didn’t wanna see if I could beat the record set by old  Andy Dufresne, I called in a specialist.

So, we called in a husband and wife team who had done work on our hose before (when we move the air conditioner compressors during the process of enclosing the balconies).

Here he is drilling the first hole.

And, just to give you a perspective on the thickness of the wall.

In this shot, his wife… who looked more like she was dress for the (Beijing) Opera rather than do heavy drilling, watches. She was actually quite involved in the process… and,  also handled the payment negotiation after the job was complete.

Although the dog and cats initially ran off when the drilling started, Xiao Mao eventually came back to watch… or, in the language of the KCNA, “give on-the-spot guidance and field supervision”.

Here’s the start of the second hole.

And, both holes tunnels punched through the wall.

Here’s an interior view of one (with steam from the water that was in use still rising).

And, the mess that was left.

I also had him drill a smaller hole to re-route my internet line (the installers had created something of labyrinth on my walls when installing it the first time). Thankfully, no water was needed for such a small hole.

While he was drilling this hole, his wife cleaned-up the balcony.

More pictures when I get some of the track setup.

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3 comments

  1. Don’t forget Edmund Dantes, tunneling in the Chateau d’If, in “the Count of Monte Cristo.”

    One of my younger cousins was very involved with model trains. You would have envied the large room devoted to his set up in the basement of his home outside Xenia, Ohio.

    I didn’t know you were into model railroading, Rob. I didn’t see any telltale traces the one time I visited your Sunnyvale house. Good luck!

    1. Of course! I also moved it into the attic at one point. But, had to take it down entirely when I was getting the house ready to rent out.

  2. i’m so glad you’ll finally set up your train set again. should be beautiful when you are done. you had described the process well but it really adds a lot to see it in action. those are big holes. love, mom

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