Is Seattle Tunnel-Boring Machine Secretly Named After Grateful Dead Song?

Is WSDOT’s tunnel-boring machine is not named after a Grateful Dead song. Or is it?

The name of Washington State DOT’s five-story-tall tunnel boring machine is also the title of a famous Grateful Dead song. Is it a coincidence, or the work of a secret Deadhead within Wash.DOT?

The official reason for choosing “Bertha” is to honor former Seattle Mayor Bertha Knight Landes (learn more about her from Wikipedia). She was the first female mayor of a U.S. city, running Seattle from 1926 to 1928.

But we prefer to suspect it’s the work of a secret Deadhead within Wash. DOT. Bertha” is a Deadhead favorite since its debut in 1971.  One phrase in particular fits the Wash. DOT tunneling machine:

“It was all night pouring, pouring rain
But not a drop on me”

And ironically, the song IS about a machine: it was the name given to a large fan in the Grateful Dead’s office which apparently would walk itself across the floor when activated.

Alas, the name “Bertha” was submitted by school-children in a contest.  Still…maybe a parent and Dead head suggested the name to their child?

Wash. DOT’s news release notes that “Crews in Japan are putting the finishing touches on the machine. On Friday they installed its 57.5-foot-diameter cutterhead. Bertha will officially become the property of WSDOT’s contractor, Seattle Tunnel Partners, in late December. She’ll then be disassembled and loaded onto a ship scheduled to arrive in Seattle next spring. Tunneling will start next summer to the west of Seattle’s stadiums, where crews are currently building the massive pit down which the machine will begin its underground journey.”

For more information about the SR 99 Tunnel Project, visit”

Until we have a video of the WSDOT Bertha, we’ll have to settle for a video of the Grateful Dead’s Bertha. And you can read the lyrics and view one expert’s list of the best versions here.