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Friday, March 14, 2008 - Page updated at 04:34 PM

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Former railroad tunnel for sale

For sale: one gently used railroad tunnel, natural air conditioning, excellent storage possibilities.

A Tekoa, Wash., company is selling Sorrento Tunnel No. 41, where Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad trains once passed through a timbered hillside south of town. Asking price for the half-mile-long concrete tunnel and 54 acres of commercial property is $650,000.

"We think it's time for someone else to own it," said Don Parker, a partner in Prairie Grain Inc., which purchased the tunnel from the defunct Milwaukee Railroad more than 20 years ago.

A Coeur d'Alene real estate company is marketing the property for Parker and a business partner, pointing out its potential for enterprises that thrive in cool, dark places, like commercial mushroom production or wine storage.

Even on hot summer days, temperatures in the 21-foot tall tunnel stay at an even 50 degrees.

"You can feel the cold air coming out about 100 yards away," Parker said.

The tunnel was built in the early 1900s, part of the Milwaukee's Railroad's 2,300-mile route linking the commerce centers of the Upper Midwest with emerging markets in the Pacific Northwest.

Prairie Grain's partners bought the Sorrento Tunnel in the mid-1980s with plans to store 3 million bushels of wheat. Prairie Grain received state and federal licenses for the project, but then the market for new grain storage facilities dwindled in the region.

The Sorrento Tunnel stayed on the company's books as a nearly forgotten asset.

Over the years, Prairie Grain looked for potential buyers.

"We tried selling it to the Air Force," Parker said.

Government engineers came out to evaluate the tunnel as a potential missile storage site, but money dried up when the Cold War ended, he said. Others wanted to lease the tunnel to store medical waste or shredded tires.

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Parker, 59, grew up in Tekoa, where he and his friends defied their mothers' orders and sneaked off to explore the hobo camps that sprang up along the tracks.

The Milwaukee Road had a railroad agent in town into the 1960s. When telegrams and messages came for the train, the agent stood by the tracks, holding the papers up on a long pole.

"If the engineer didn't grab it, the conductor did," Parker said.

Parker said he's confident that the tunnel could again be part of a viable commercial venture.

"I believe that it's the most unusual property that we've dealt with," said Thomas Tagen, the listing agent with Tomlinson North Idaho Sotheby's International Realty.

Tagen also has contacted companies that provide site locations for film studios.

"It would be an incredible asset for someone in the film industry. The tunnel itself has a deep psychological meaning, that's why you see so many films with tunnels," Tagen said. "There's an element of mystery and intrigue."

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Information from: The Spokesman-Review, http://www.spokesmanreview.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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