Man Digs Tunnel Through Mountain With Hand Tools

Man Digs Tunnel Through Mountain With Hand Tools

Thursday’s Column: Dale Mail

Dale Pollard

In the El Paso Mountains of the Mojave Desert, there’s a strange and mysterious tunnel. This tunnel cuts a half-mile into solid granite— but goes nowhere. William Henry Schmidt, or “Burro” Schmidt, began digging this tunnel by hand in order to provide a shortcut through the mountain. 

This solo construction project began around the year 1902 while Schmidt was hauling iron ore around the mountain to get to a railroad which would then take the ore to be smelted. 

This strenuous trip around the mountain proved to be a dangerous and time consuming journey. At some point, Schmidt decided to burro straight through the mountain which would, in his mind, save him time. With a simple pick axe and other various hand tools, he began to dig. 

And dig. 

And dig some more. 

For roughly thirty eight years he alone would continue to chisel and bore into the mountain. When he was sixty eight years old, he finally saw rays of sunlight shining through cracks in the rock wall in front of him. He finally emerged on the other side of the mountain— but his efforts were all for nothing. 

Not only did his tunnel end at the top of a steep cliff in the middle of nowhere, but unbeknownst to him during the years he had been digging, a construction crew had built a road providing the more convenient route he had been working so hard to create.


With four hundred men, Esau marches towards Jacob. The two brothers had parted ways years earlier under strained and deceitful conditions. Jacob, with the help of his mother, had taken advantage of his aging father and stole the birthright belonging to his older sibling. Now Jacob is filled with fear and an overwhelming sense of desperation he cries out to God.

Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.” 

Gen. 32.11-12 

Jacob, like so many others since his time, had spent his life carving out his own path. He attempted to create shortcuts to his own success and he suffered great losses on account of it. His family relationships were shattered, his finances took unnecessary blows, and his standing with God was turbulent at best. 

Instead of waiting on the LORD to deliver or even answer him, Jacob operates in a predictable manner. He creates a plan and sets in motion without counsel. Hundreds of cattle, servants and goods are collected and prepared as peace offerings for Esau. 

“I will pacify him with the gifts I am sending on ahead; later, when I see him, perhaps he will receive me.”

Gen. 32.21 

Let’s take a moment to assess the tense situation as it’s unfolding. 

Jacob was desperate when he didn’t have to be. Esau wasn’t angry. 

To make matters worse, the night before Jacob is to meet Esau we read that Jacob wrestles with God— when he didn’t have to. In the process he lost sleep, spent all of his energy, and then limps away with an injured hip (Gen. 32.22-32). 


How many times in our personal lives do we make matters more stressful than they have to be? We do that when we’re determined to find our own solutions and we leave God out of the crucial planning process. We’ll carve into metaphorical mountains thinking that we’ll solve a problem and emerge victorious only to discover that the efforts put forth were futile. 

God’s waiting for us to wait on Him. Let Him lead and let Him be the guide. Pray and wait in a ready state. When God answers and we follow with action, life is less stressful and we’re more successful. 

Burro Schmidt’s Tunnel 

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