For contractor William Slater, this was the unkindest cut of all.
To reduce the Loop's grade, the B&O decided to pierce the ridge
at the top with a cut through Mr. Bussard's land about a half mile
long and 50 feet deep.
Such a task would be no big deal with today's machinery, but in
1838 with little more than hammers and pickaxes, it was quite
For the job Slater employed more than 750 men and projected he
would complete it within 5 months. However apparently the heat
of the summer of 1838 was particulary fierce and many of Slater's
crew began to get sick, then die. They encountered rock ledges
then springs, and after the 5 months had elapsed, were barely
Under time pressure, Slater resorted to blasting, a dangerous
proposition in the narrow cut. As author James Dilts described
it in The Great Road: "Except for the invention of the safety
fuse in 1831, the techniques of blasting had not changed much in
the 50 years since James Rumsey's happy-go-lucky crew of
brawling ex-convicts 'used the power Rather too Extravagent' at
the Great Falls of the Potomac" during the construction of a
Slater's crews ended up working through the winter of 1838/39, and
the $130,000 5-month task took 12 months to finish. Apparently he
went $10,000 over budget, but the railroad, citing the delay did not
reimburse him. Incidentally, the B&O hauled material excavated from
this cut downhill to Elysville (now Daniels) and used for the
construction of the bridges there.
Our sense of perspective has been changed by huge modern construction
projects so this cut seems not particularly impressive. In this view
it's also obscured by fallen trees. An old railroad tie acts as a bridge
across the runoff from the springs that still gush forth. Up ahead in
places the steep sides of the cut have
fallen in, and further ahead discarded tires and old appliances dot
the landscape. Near the top, a plumbing contractor now uses the cut
as a storage area of sorts.