Devotion to St. Barbara, a tradition that dates back to the earliest days of tunneling

While technology is at the heart of today’s tunneling techniques, tradition still courses through the veins of underground networks everywhere.

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hen tunnel workers began their Euclid Creek Tunnel shifts by brassing in — a safety practice of moving a small brass disc from one side of a signboard to another to signify they are heading underground — they passed an unassuming paragraph of text masking-taped to the corner of the painted plywood.

Oh dear St. Barbara, bring us grace and bless us with your everlasting devotion. Protect us from danger and accidental death, and protect us from the evils of this world.

The text is a traditional prayer of Saint Barbara, a third-century Christian martyr who is considered the patron saint of underground workers. Devotions to St. Barbara date back to the “earliest mining traditions” which continue even today.

“December 4th is her feast day,” said our Senior Construction Supervisor Ryan Sullivan who is working closely with the Dugway Storage Tunnel project. “The contractors usually find some way to mark the day.”

Other traditions are more recent but remain prevalent in the tunneling community, including the practice of naming tunnel boring machines. Just as a boat is christened and named, these large drilling machines that burrow deep underground are traditionally named after a female as a sign of luck and respect.

Our Euclid Creek and the Dugway Storage Tunnels were actually completed by the same TBM. Named Mackenzie for the Euclid Creek project and renamed Fulvio before Dugway, Mackenzie weighs 1,500 tons and is a towering 27 feet in diameter.

Updated March 23, 2018

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