The Iron Goat Trail is a fascinating historic artefact, as well as a wonderful hiking trail located on the western slopes of the Cascade Mountains in Washington State.
The trail follows the original Great Northern Railway grade that zigzagged up the southern flank of Windy Mountain from a station originally named Madison (renamed Scenic in 1906) on the Tye River valley floor to Wellington, one thousand feet above. Wellington was renamed Tye after an avalanche there took ninety-six lives on the night of 1st March 1910.
I hiked the trail from the entrance at the interpretive site just off US Highway 2 about six miles east of Skykomish so, on this page, the mileage markers start at 1720 and decrease to 1711 just before reaching Wellington. The page also includes some views of remains at the east portal of the First Cascade Tunnel.
Remember, you need to obtain a pass from the US Forest Service either on line or at a Ranger Station before you hike, and leave it clearly visible through the windscreen on your dashboard before starting out.
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Below, views of the grade cutting back and forth across the side of Windy Mountain could be seen as trains approached Deception Creek about a mile and a half west of Scenic.
It is just over three miles between Scenic and Wellington as the crow flies, but the line, completed in 1893, took nine miles to cover the distance. This part of the grade was abandoned after the Great Northern completed the 7.8 mile long Second Cascade Tunnel in 1929. Built at a lower elevation, the new tunnel eliminated six miles of winding track with a 2.2% ruling grade.
Above left, a postcard view of an east bound freight train crossing the rail viaduct over the upper reaches of Deception Falls. Above right, the original viaduct is still in place, although it is difficult to get a comparable view because of vegetation regrowth and the relatively rough surrounding terrain.
You can easily get to the lower reaches of Deception Falls on a short interpretive trail located at the clearly signposted rest area just off US 2. However, you can't access the rail viaduct from there.
Left, a postcard view from south of the railroad
viaduct over Deception Creek.
The line was on the Great Northern's Cascade Division, which then ran fifty-seven miles between Skykomish on the west side of the Cascades to Leavenworth on the eastern slopes.
The Cascade Division posed some of the greatest challenges faced by the Great Northern.
You reach the viaduct from Deception Creek Road (Forest Service Road #6088) off US 2.
The Cascade Range was a formidable barrier for any railroad seeking to traverse the continent. In the early 1880s, the Northern Pacific chose to detour to the south along the Columbia River until Stampede Tunnel was completed in 1887, and the Great Northern's would be the northern most transcontinental railroad route in the US.
In 1890, the railroad's locating engineer, John Stevens, surveyed the area and determined the best railway crossing at what is now Stevens
Pass. Work started west from Leavenworth and east from Skykomish in 1892, and the last
9,000’ of rail in the St. Paul, MN-Seattle, WA, line was laid at Madison on 6th January 1893. The last spike was driven by lamplight in deep snow at 8.00 pm that evening by Superintendent Cornelius Shields
and District Superintendent J. D. Farrell.
Until the Cascade Highway was completed in 1925, there was no automobile access to Scenic except across very rough roads, and the well-heeled
visitors would disembark from Great Northern passenger trains and cross a short wooden bridge to the hotel.
The new hotel had sixty rooms, including six suites with ensuite baths. There was electric lighting, steam heating, service bells and high quality dining. As well as the hot baths, guests could enjoy hiking, fishing, skiing, billiards, lawn tennis, croquet, handball and basketball.
About three miles east of Scenic, there is a natural hot spring, geothermal evidence of the volcanic origins of the Cascade Mountains.
In the late 1890s, a lodge known as the Great Northern Hot Springs Hotel, was built by Joseph V. Prosser beside the Tye River at Madison with mineral baths tapped from the hot spring. The original fifty-person hotel was extended in the early 1900s to accommodate a hundred occupants and renamed Scenic Hot Springs Hotel (above). It burned down in 1908 but was rebuilt in a mock Bavarian style (right) and reopened in 1909.
Above, a view looking down towards Scenic and Scenic Hot Springs Hotel from near Windy Point (photo from the Skykomish Historical Society). The hotel survived as a going concern until 1928, when it finally had to make way for tracks being laid to the west portal of the second Cascade Tunnel.
To recompense Joseph Prosser for the loss, the Great Northern deeded the forty acres of railroad land that encompassed the spring. Ownership and use has changed hands since but, today, the spring is on private land and, at the time of publishing this page, was not open to the public.
Above, an eastbound train approaches the Scenic depot.
Note the extent of tree felling. This was a major contributor to the instability of winter snow cover.
In the distance just above the water tower, the line rounds Windy Point.
Above, the short foot bridge visitors used to get to Scenic Hot Springs Hotel from the Scenic depot.
With completion of the new Cascade Tunnel in 1929, the Scenic depot was moved about a half
mile east along the new grade. Today, the original area is private property, so it's not possible to locate historic remnants of Scenic. However, above, there are restroom facilities and
information signs nearby at the Iron Goat Interpretive Site just off US 2, as well as GN steel cupola caboose #294. Built in 1951, it was moved from storage in Skykomish to the current site in August 2006.
The site is also a trailhead for the Iron Goat Trail. Hikers can set out along the old grade from Milepost 1720 to Martin Creek, or climb a zig-zag trail up to join the grade at Windy Point.
Above, one of the many interpretive signs along the grade. This one gives some information on the “combination” (concrete and wood) snow shed shown in the next few photos.
When completed, the entire Scenic-Wellington grade had only one snow shed, but the number of avalanches along the route quickly led to the addition of others. The massive avalanche on an unprotected stretch of track at Wellington in 1910 killed ninety-six people, and further avalanches in 1912-13 prompted a major building programme in 1913.
Top, looking west towards Milepost 1720 a short distance from the Highway 2 interpretive site. Lower photo, looking east from further along the grade.
The signs are replicas of the type used by the Great Northern and mark the distance in miles from the railroad’s headquarters in St Paul, MN, measured over the original route.
Top, looking west just past Milepost 1720 and, lower photo, looking east.
While the route was in use, the right of way was kept clear on either side of the grade. Fires caused by cinders from locomotives’ coal fires also stripped the mountain sides of vegetation. Today, the forest has reclaimed the landscape.
Above, a photo from 1917 showing construction of a concrete retaining wall at another site on the grade. Note the narrow gauge track and wagon running across the top of the wall.
Right, a view of workmen tying steel rebars for the retaining wall butresses. These would be boxed in prior to the concrete pour. This photo was also taken in 1917.
Heavy timbers were laid in line with the mountain slope to the top of the retaining wall. These were then supported by braced vertical timbers set in horizontal timber cribs anchored to the downhill slope. This arrangement minimised horizontal pressure on the retaining wall.
Above, weep holes were located at the bottom of the retaining wall to release seeping water that would otherwise build up pressure behind the wall. Drains then carried the water away. A sloped roof of 12” x 24” wooden beams ran from the top of the retaining wall to form a continuous line with the mountainside to allow snow to slide downhill over the top of the tracks.
Below, the roof beams were supported by
12” x 12” timber struts that were anchored on concrete footpads. Much of the wood that was used had been cut and milled locally.
Above, three photos showing roofing over the track.
Building the grade through here was made more difficult by the high snowfall during winter. Snow starts in October and continues through April. It sometimes falls at a rate of 8”-12” an hour and can drift as high as 75’
Above, on my first visit in early June, there were still places where the grade was impassable because of snow slides. This is about three-quarters of a mile west of Milepost 1720. I doubled back to Highway 20, drove to the Martin Creek Trailhead and went back down the grade from there. Below, the other side of the slide.
Left, a view looking
east just past Milepost 1719.
Below, a little further on, the first of the “Twin Tunnels”. These were part of several improvements made in 1916 (the date is still visible on the left hand side of the arch in the bottom photo).
The arch provided added protection for the tunnel entrance against snow slides.
Top view, looking east inside the arch.
The middle view is looking west toward
the entrance to the eastern tunnel. The collapsed timbers are
all that remain of a wooden snow shed between the concrete arch and the tunnel entrance.
The two tunnels replaced bridge #402, which had been crushed by a snow slide that winter.
You can’t hike through the tunnel here as the original timber lining has collapsed. Instead, the path skirts along what was the original open grade.
Above, a view of the east abutment of a bridge on the old grade and, left, the west abutment.
Left, a cut along the old grade and, right, approaching the first tunnel exit.
Top photo, on the left, the entrance to the western tunnel. The timbers on the right of the photo are
all that remain of a wooden snow shed built to protect the line for the couple of hundred feet across the gulch between the eastern and western tunnels.
Both tunnels were blasted out of solid granite by labourers using hand tools, black powder and pneumatic drills. As granite expands and
contracts with extremes of temperature and is prone to cracking, the tunnels were lined with timber, the collapsed remains of which you can see in the view looking back down the eastern tunnel in the lower photo. The tunnels were single track width.
Right, a little further on, a signposted “adit”. This short tunnel ran to the western tunnel at a right angle, allowing workers to excavate from the centre as well as both ends. When the tunnel was finished, it became a ventilation shaft.
Below, looking into the “adit”. It's very narrow!
Above, looking down the western tunnel from the western portal.
Left, another view of the western tunnel portal.
Below, a 96’ long concrete arch was connected to the tunnel by a narrow wooden snow shed (the buttressing timbers are still in place on the far side of the gap). When it was built, the arch would have had sloped timber roofing to allow accumulated snow to slide off readily. Also, note the weep holes on the side.
Right, looking west along the arch.
Unlike the tunnels, this arch, like the one at the other end of the “Twin Tunnels”, was built wide enough to accomodate two tracks, although the Great Northern never double-tracked the grade.
Even the Second Cascade Tunnel was built as a single track tunnel in 1929.
Above, approaching what was once the site of the Corea depot and workers’ campsite.
The railroad sustained a large body of workmen, and camps were established along the line to feed and house hundreds of them. They maintained the right of way and rebuilt or constructed new snow sheds during summer, but the harsh winters made it a real challenge to keep the line open. Bridges and snow sheds were battered by the elements and snow slides could trap trains for days at a time until snowplows and labourers were able to shovel the way clear.
Above, as the grade continues to climb from Milepost 1718, the forest gives a few glimpses across the Tye River valley.
The Great Northern engineer and surveyor of this route, John F. Stevens, had already charted a route for the railroad through Marias Pass over Montana's Rocky Mountains in 1889. On the Cascades, the most direct route would have been to tunnel under Nason Ridge but the enormous cost was initially too daunting. Instead, a series of switchbacks with 4% grades were built east of Wellington to lift trains over the ridge. The First Cascade Tunnel was finally completed in 1900 after the cost of operating and maintaining the switchbacks had proved very costly.
Above, a postcard view of the Oriental Limited struggling up the grade. The outlook and presence of double tracks suggests it may be entering Corea. The absence of snowsheds also indicates the original photo was taken before 1913.
Below, a photo taken in 1928 from a nearby location. By this time, shortly before the new Cascade Tunnel opened, the Great Northern's constant battle with the harsh weather, snow and rock slides had led to the construction of over 6.7 miles of tunnels and snowsheds along the 9 mile grade between Scenic and Wellington.
The photo above is from the Library of Congress Collection.
Top view above, looking west across Corea from the lower grade some time in 1916 (photo from the Washington Sate Historical Society Collection). Near here, in January that year, an avalanche took two cars from the Cascade Limited down the embankment. Martin Creek bridge runs across the left of the view about a half mile west of Corea. Trains swung from there through 170° in Horseshoe Tunnel and re-crossed Martin Creek, travelling another two miles before reaching the upper line in this view.
Lower two views, looking up from the lower grade to
the upper. The mix of rock and timber forms the
remnants of the original snow shed on the upper
Starting with just a single snow shed in 1893, the Great Northern continued to build new sheds and extend existing ones throughout the 1910s with costs escalating each year.
Every year, work crews would strengthen and renew existing timbers, lengthen snow sheds and construct new ones to prepare them for the tons of snow they would have to carry. In 1913, the railroad hired 1,800 workers to make improvements along the track and, in 1917, it used over 35 million board feet of timber on this work at three times the cost it had paid just eight years
The type of all wood snow shed at Corea was anchored into the mountain side. The 1917 photo above from the Denver Public Library Digital Collections shows the early stage of construction.
Initially, a series of steps was excavated into the uphill slope. Horizontal timbers were then laid on each step and filled with stones to stabilise and hold the cribbing in place. More timber and stone cribbing was built to support the downgrade side of the shed, along with concrete footings to support vertical timber roof supports. Lastly, the vertical supports were raised and the sloped timber roof was added.
Above, a postcard view of a freight train emerging from the lower portal of Horseshoe Tunnel and crossing the trestle over Martin Creek on its way down to Scenic. Inside the tunnel, the track had a constant 10° curve.
The trestle has long gone and, at the time of publishing this page, the tunnel entrance was blocked by a rock fall. Although there were plans to extend Iron Goat Trail to allow hikers to climb to the lower portal, when I visited, access was limited. Below, a switchback trail leads down to the western abutment of the trestle.
Top, an apparently contrived postcard image of a train on the bridge (note the oddly oversized wheels on the last two passenger cars).
Lower photo, a freight train on the bridge taken from the west portal of Horseshoe Tunnel around 1928. The 768' long trestle stood 157' above Martin Creek. Emerging from Horseshoe Tunnel, the train travelled across another 318' trestle in the opposite direction nearly parallel to the first. Only 65' above the creek here, it had an elevation about one hundred feet higher than the previous trestle.
Above, a passenger train, probably the Oriental Limited, powering up the lower Martin Creek bridge to Horseshoe Tunnel in the early 1910s.
Passenger motive power on Stevens Pass at this time was usually the H Class Pacific
(4-6-2) type, although older Ten Wheeler (4-6-0) type E Class locomotives occasionally lent a hand. As the view above shows, they often double-headed.
The Oriental, like the earlier Great Northern Flyer, was GN’s crack transcontinental passenger service. Normally an eight car train, it included a smoking car, a thirty seat dining car and an eighty-six passenger day coach.
Top left, back on the east side of Martin Creek, further north of the first trestle abutment. Top right and lower photo, two views of the remains of the eastern abutment of the smaller trestle that once connected the upper Horseshoe Tunnel portal with the grade now climbing east towards Embro. According to Ernest Spencer, an early engineer on the division, the train crew could look out the locomotive window from the second trestle and see the tail of the train still crossing the lower trestle and entering the tunnel.
Original Milepost 1717 was inside the tunnel. The grade from here is inaccessible until it reconnects with the hiking trail just above Corea.
The view above is looking north from where a pedestrian crossover (coming in from the lower left) connects the lower grade just north of old Corea to the upper grade. The upper grade ran directly ahead from here through what is now overgrown underbrush towards the upper trestle across Martin Creek.
Below, looking down (due west) from the upper grade. The crossover is the lower path. The lower grade, now paved, is just beyond. This view shows how close the two grades could come as they crisscrossed the mountain side.
There were spectacular views from here.
The view of the freight train above on the lower trestle some time in the 1910s may have been taken near the entrance to the wooden cribbed snow shed, the remains of which are shown in the photos on the right and below. Note the helper on the rear end.
Top two views, further west on the upper grade. Lower view looking down across the remains of the snow shed footing shown from the lower grade earlier on this page.
This type of all wood snow shed was originally anchored into the mountain side. The first stage was to excavate a series of steps into the uphill slope. Horizontal timbers were then laid on each step and filled with stones to stabilise and hold the cribbing in place. More timber and stone cribbing was built to support the downgrade side of the shed, along with concrete footpads to support vertical timber roof supports. Lastly, the vertical supports were raised and the sloped timber roof was added.
Above, what remains of the approach and entrance to Tunnel #14. Tunnels were numbered sequentially on the Great Northern’s route west from St. Paul, MN. This was consequently the fourteenth in existence when it was built in 1892. When the line opened, it was the only tunnel between Scenic and Wellington. Trains moved down from Corea through a set of switchbacks until Horseshoe Tunnel was completed.
Right, the timber snow shed that once abutted the 312’ long tunnel and protected the track from snow and sliding debris fell apart long ago.
The angle of view in the top postcard of the Oriental Limited coming down the upper grade suggests the original photo may been taken from a temporary track like this one.
In the middle photo, the eastern end of Tunnel #14 has completely
Lower right, a short distance from the eastern portal, we reach Milepost 1715.
Above, culverts built into the crib wall channelled water under the grade, from where it seeped down the hill side.
A timber show shed was built over the crib wall and grade to protect the track and stop debris getting into the drainage system.
Bottom photo, underneath the foliage on the left, remains of the snow shed.
This 518’ long combination snow shed was built in 1917.
Lower photo above, Milepost 1715 near the eastern end of the retaining wall. Travelling from St. Paul to this point by a Great Northern passenger train in 1893 would
have taken about two and a half days, assuming there were no delays.
Above, looking west to Milepost 1715.
Right, information sign for the spillway spur. It leads to what was once a water reservoir located behind the snow shed tapping water from a ravine stretching almost to the summit of Windy Mountain.
Above, the spillway and reservoir are now clogged with debris washed down the ravine.
Timber show sheds became very dry in summer and were at risk of catching fire from sparks released by passing trains. The GN had two water systems to address this problem. One was in Wellington, the other at this reservoir. Water was gravity fed through wire-wound wooden pipes to snow sheds down the line where standpipes were connected to fire hoses inside the snow shed and on the roof. The system was built in 1910 and reconstructed in 1914.
Above, two views of where the tiny settlement of Embro once was, top view looking east, lower view looking west. A depot with a telegraph station, workers’ shacks and a water tank were located here. First known as Alvin, the site was renamed Embro in 1914. Engines paused here to replenish water before continuing their climb.
The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 sharply reduced the availability of Chinese labour, which had been so important in building earlier western railroads like the Central Pacific. So the Great Northern turned to Japanese labour contractors, who recruited workers from Japan and supervised their work in exchange for a commission taken from each worker’s pay.
Above, three views of construction at Embro.
Top, the carcase of a wheelbarrow, middle view and left, cooking pots, remnants of the life once lived here.
Fuki, a Japanese variety of coltsfoot, has been found along the grade, apparently descended from root stock brought here and planted by labourers.
Labourers also came from Finland, Sweden, France, Germany, Norway and Denmark.
Top view, the depot building under its own mini-snow shed while it was still known as Alvin.
Lower photo, a view of Embro in 1917 from the Denver Public Library Digital Collections. The depot building is on the bottom centre, on the left side of the tracks. It's not clear why the name was changed from Alvin to Embro. There is an Embro Lake about a mile north of the location on the northern flank of Windy Mountain but no direct connection exists between the two: the small stream that flows from the lake joins Martin Creek well to the north.
Above, the remains of a snow shed built to protect the entrance to Embro tunnel just east of Embro. The 193’ long combination snow shed (concrete and timber) was built in 1916 to replace an earlier all wood shed in need of repairs. It was another shed built to be able to accommodate double tracks.
The harsh Cascade Mountain winters were extremely hard on the original wooden snow
sheds and, as the cost of timber rose, the Great Northern turned to these combination concrete back wall and wooden shed designs. They were much more stable than all-timber structures, but were not as expensive to construct as the all concrete design.
Above, approaching Embro Tunnel. The combination snow shed is just out of view to the right. Right and below, looking east into the tunnel.
This 462’ long tunnel was built at the same time as the old wooden snow shed was replaced in 1916.
The trail skirts south of the tunnel along what was, until 1916, the original upper grade.
Below, it then reaches the western abutment
of a short bridge that, prior to completion of Embro Tunnel and connecting snow
sheds, crossed a narrow gulch.
Top, the 39' long double track concrete arch at the east portal of Embro Tunnel. Lower photo, the remains of the retaining wall for the double track combination snow shed running east. When I visited in early June, I was unable to hike east of this point because of the debris covering the trail deposited by winter snow slides. Right top and middle photos, when I returned in early July, the debris had been cleared and I was able to continue east.
The higher elevations along the trail clear of snow later than the lower ones, and slips like the one above need to be cleared by US Forest Service workers. Before setting out, check the weather, access and avalanche conditions.
Left, approaching the 225' retaining wall of the next combination snowshed. This was also built during the 1916 season.
In 1917, a 61' timber shed completed coverage of the 444' between this and the eastern end of the Embro shed.
Above left, the concrete footing on the outer edge of the shed and, right, one of the metal brackets used to hold the wooden bents.
By the time this shed was built, virtually the entire distance from Embro to Tye was covered with timber, combination or all-concrete sheds. These held in the smoke from the locomotives, reducing visibility, fouling the air and creating a fire hazard. To deal with this problem, from about 1913, the six middle rows of planks were designed as hinged shutters which could be opened during good weather.
In these three photos, the remains of another metal flume and the supporting 12" x 12" timbers that carried water over the wooden roof of the shed.
Water was also drained on other sheds through culverts run behind the retaining wall and under the road bed.
Above, approaching milepost 1714, about one eighth of a mile further east.
A 32' timber shed was built here in 1910. This was extended west by 413' in 1913 and then,
in 1916, the remaining 260' was connected when the combination shed shown in the previous set of photographs was constructed.
Left, looking west at milepost 1714.
Below, the western end of the retaining wall of a 267' combination shed built in 1915. This extended west from an existing combination shed built in 1913 connecting to the newly constructed Windy Point Tunnel.
Above, the retaining wall butts to the western portal of Windy Point Tunnel.
During the first couple of decades of operation, trains crawled round Windy Point on an exposed section of track at 5 mph, any faster and they
apparently risked derailment. Construction
started on the 1,221' tunnel in April 1913. Completed as a single track tunnel, the first train traveled through on 17th December that year. The following year, the tunnel was widened to accomodate two tracks, although the second track was never laid.
Above, a view looking west from inside the tunnel. Left, a view looking east into the tunnel.
As with the other tunnels along the old grade, the original timber lining running through the central part of the tunnel has collapsed.
Above, from here, the trail skirts around the tunnel, initially
following the original grade around Windy Point.
Right, a little further along, the junction of the Windy Point Crossover connecting the old grade with the US 20 trailhead.
Above, approaching Windy Point Viewpoint. A one hundred man work camp was established at Windy Point in 1915 by the Henry and McFee Contracting Company of Seattle, WA, to build the 267' combination shed west of the tunnel shown earlier on this page. The crew also built the 537' combination shed east of the tunnel shown later on this page.
Below, looking north-east up the Tye River Valley from Windy Point Viewpoint. The western portal of the new Cascade Tunnel is visible in the lower middle of this view.
Above, looking east through the concrete arch tunnel entrance to the combination shed retaining wall. Left looking west into the tunnel.
Because of the cost and time involved, combination sheds were only built at double track locations.
Above, one of the weep holes at the base of the 1915 extension retaining wall.
Placed at regular intervals along the wall, these weep holes permitted water to drain from behind the wall, which might otherwise build to a considerable pressure.
Above, looking west back to milepost 1713.
Over half a mile of timber sheds were built from Windy Point to milepost 1713 from 1910 to 1913. The earliest timber sheds were built to withstand 900 lbs per sq ft, but could not always take the pressure.
From milepost 1713, the longest section of open track on the grade ran east for nearly half a mile.
Above and right, contemporary views of smashed wooden snow shed cribbing graphically demonstrates the power of the avalanches.
From 1911, improved designs gave new wooden sheds added strength. Vertical support posts were placed closer together and greater care was taken to ensure cribbing was properly filled and stablised.
Above, the 1,532' combination shed running east from the single track timber shed was built in three stages.
The first 778' was constructed in 1913, the second 334' in 1915 by Henry and McFee and the third 420' section in 1916.
Above right, the eastern end of the combination shed joined a 692' single track wooden shed.
Above, the trail passes where a timber snow shed once ran. Nothing remains of it now.
Built in 1918, this was one of the last new snow sheds built along the grade. By then, the construction of combination sheds had ceased. They cost
three times as much as wooden sheds and
took much longer to build.
Above, this 1,301' long combination shed was built in 1913.
Timber sheds lasted between eight and twelve years, and maintenance costs were reduced as second hand timber salvaged from other shed tear-outs could be used for repairs.
Above, approaching milepost 1712 about half way along the 1913 retaining wall.
The Henry & McFee Contracting Company located a camp at Milepost 1712 in 1915 to work on replacing snow sheds between there and just west of Windy Point.
Sixty men were based at the camp, who built the 132' extension to the east of this shed.
Above, the western end of the 300' double track combination shed built by Henry & McFee in 1916 after 180' of the original shed was carried away in a snow slide on 21st December 1915.
Starting with one snow shed in 1893, the Great Northern built new sheds and extended existing ones throughout the 1910s with costs escalating each year. In 1913, the railroad hired 1,800 workers to make improvements along the track. The winter of 1915-16 was one of the most severe experienced on the division, and remedial work was not finished until May 1917.
The 1911 shed was built to a slightly different design, with butress pillars but thinner retaining walls.
In 1917, the railroad used over 37 million board feet of timber on this work at a cost of $1.3
million, three times what it had paid just eight
years earlier. By that time, snow sheds and
tunnels covered more than six and a half miles of the nine miles between Scenic and Wellington. In 1916-17, 14,198' of snow sheds were built across the division, including east of Cascade Tunnel on the Tumwater. On completion, an estimated 82 million board feet covered the division, not including older sheds that had been repaired earlier.
Above, approaching the double track all concrete snow shed built in 1910-11 following the Wellington avalanche. Up until then, all wood sheds had been built to withstand pressures of 900 lb per sq ft but could not always do so. Stronger designs were therefore introduced.
Snow drifts topping 30' could accumulate in the Wellington yard at the height of winter. Large crews were stationed at the town and snow plows worked around the clock. Coal pockets were also installed at various locations in the sheds to fuel plows and locomotives.
Top two views, looking east along the northern track from two points just inside the western end
of the concrete shed. Lower two views, looking west from two points further along the northern track.
The shed was built by Grant Smith & Company, a Seattle based contractor who carried out much of the work on the division during the 1910s. Originally planned to be 3,900' in length, only 2,462' of the concrete shed was built, 1,450½' of a buttress type backwall in 1910 and a further 981' anchor type backwall in 1911 at the same time as the 488' combination shed to the east. The roof of the shed formed a continuation of the mountainside above.
Above, a wooden causeway has been built at the site of the avalanche that took ninety-six lives at 1.42 am on 1st March 1910, and which was the impetus for building the concrete snow shed. It remains the worst avalanche in US history.
Two trains had been stranded here for nine days as a series of storms dumped up to a foot of snow every hour. The avalanche appears to have been caused by a lightening strike that dislodged the snow and swept boulders and trees down the slope, destroying two buildings and hurling the two trains into the gulch.
The locomotives embedded in the snow.
Top view, looking east back towards the entrance to the shed. Lower image, a postcard view of train emerging from the shed. It is an articulated compound, possibly a
Note the track to the left, which was used during construction for main line and passing traffic.
Above right, Milepost 1711 is located just before reaching Wellington.
Below, just to the north of Milepost 1711 are the remains of the runaway track.
With a ruling grade of 2.2% down from Wellington to Scenic, it was important to have some means of arresting trains that may have lost braking power.
Right, looking west up the runaway track.
The switch was set so that trains were automatically diverted onto the runaway track. Engineers had to signal that they had control of their train when emerging from Cascade Tunnel or working in the yard.
If a locomotive did not signal, it was automatically routed onto the runaway track.
Above, a photo of workmen surveying the scattered remains of a freight train wrecked on the runaway track some time in 1909.
Below, a panel mounted beside the trail gives some information on the runaway track. The original had been constructed between 1899 and 1900 but was swept away by the 1910 avalanche. The 1,800' long grade that remains today was built
in 1911, a year after the avalanche occured.
Because of reconstruction after the avalanche, subsequent alterations, the abandonment of the town in 1929 and significant regrowth in the decades following, it can be difficult to identify the remains that still exist. However, the top view appears to be the base of a water tower. The lower view is probably the western foundation of the pre-1910 Engine House.
The town started as a construction camp in the early 1890s. It was named Stevens City in 1893, but was subsequently renamed Wellington after one of the investors in the Great Northern. Although the depot was renamed Tye following the avalanche, the town itself, and post office, officially remained Wellington.
Left, looking east along the trail towards where the new depot building was located, about a half mile east of the original depot.
Below, looking north from the site of the new depot. An eating house, bunk house and school would have been visible from here.
Top two views, the massive concrete footings of a wooden coal tower constructed after the avalanche in 1910.
The coal tower was near the end of a 530' long spur line running to the south of the main line from Milepost
Above, an information panel shows how the coal tower appeared while in use.
Above, the footings of a water tank built in 1925. Water was gravity fed to stand pipes in the yard.
Above, a view of Tye some time after 1925. On the right, the coal tower; to the right of the coal tower, a small engine house and sand house; to the left of the coal tower, the Rotary and Motorshed; opposite the coal tower, the new Tye depot building. Immediately in front of the depot in this view, a combined eating and bunk house. The school house is to the left of the depot building. Note the covered walkways connecting the various buildings. These obviated the need to clear the heavy snow after each fall.
Cascade Tunnel is just out of view to the left of the string of freight cars.
Above, the western entrance to the old Cascade Tunnel. Before this tunnel was opened, trains had to climb an additional thousand feet over a series of five switchbacks 5¾ miles to Stevens Pass with grades of close to 4% in places, followed by another three switchbacks 6½ miles down to Cascade City, later renamed Cascade Tunnel at the site of the tunnel's eastern portal.
John Stevens was the principal engineer, and work started on 20th August 1897. The tunnel was opened on 20th December 1900, but it quickly exhibited a troubling problem. It had been built with a 1.7% gradient eastbound and locomotives, already in full steam on the climb from Scenic, entered the tunnel belching smoke and gases. With no ventilation, pockets of noxious fumes accumulated inside the tunnel.
In 1903, one hundred and three passengers narrowly escaped asphyxiation when their train was accidentally uncoupled from the engine and stopped in the tunnel. Fortunately, a fireman riding the train was able to release the brakes and let the train roll out of the tunnel to Wellington. By then, Great Northern engineers had already started to think about electrification. Started in March 1907, the work was finally completed on 10th July 1909.
Below, a postcard showing the western portal of the tunnel. There are no catenary wires, so it is obviously before electfification.
Above, a view looking up at two of the switchbacks in use before the tunnel was completed. Two locomotives with an additional helper at the rear hauled the typical seven car passenger train, edging forward and then backward up the mountainside. As well as the steep grades, some of the curves were as tight as 13º.
Completed in 1892, each switchback "Y" had a sub track extension of at least 1,000' to accomodate the trains. As a result, freight consists greater than that length had to be split and go over the top in two segments.
Today, Tye Road winding down from Stevens Pass to the Wellington trail head of the Iron Goat Trail follows parts of the original switchbacks. The sub track extensions have been eliminated, however, resulting in some very tight curves!
Elimination of the switchbacks reduced the maximum operating elevation from 4,059 feet to 3,383 feet, eliminated 2,332º of curvature and lopped 8½ miles off the trip. It also eliminated the time, effort and cost of keeping the switchbacks operating, as well as the time taken to travel the 12¼ miles from Wellington to Cascade City. With time taken crossing with other trains and delays caused by slides, a trip over the Cascades could take anything from five to twenty hours.
The eastern portal of Cascade tunnel is still accessible at a location that was once designated Cascade Tunnel.
The best access is from N Nanson Rd off Yodelin Pl, which is a turn to the west off US Highway 2 three miles east of Stevens Pass.
Above, looking west towards the tunnel entrance from what was once the Cascade Tunnel yard. The bridge runs over a tributory that joins Nason Creek just to the right of this view.
The location was also known as Tunnel City and, prior to that, as Cascade City during the laying of the switchbacks.
Construction of the tunnel was a twenty-four hour operation employing roughly five hundred labourers. Turnover was high, ocasionally reaching 50% a month, due no doubt, to the isolated and inhospitable location. The transient, mainly male population attracted prostitutes, and drinking and fighting were a problem.
After the tunnel was completed, however, the township quietened down. By 1910, the shops, bars and brothels were gone. There were two houses for the more senior Great Northern station staff, a large bunkhouse for work crews and an Eating House that also served passing trains.
Above, three views of Cascade Tunnel after electrification.
Above, concrete footings for what is described on plans for the site as an 11' high steel trolley tower that ran across the yard. It's not clear what purpose it served.
In the background of the top photo, the foundations of the Heating Plant.
Above right, the concrete powder magazine to store explosives for use in clearing avalanches.
It's not clear what the foundation shown above at the eastern end of the site is from. It is possibly a tool house shown on plans, although it appears a bit too large for that purpose.
The rising cost of maintaining the right of way between Scenic and Tye prompted the Great Northern to investigate alternatives, including a seventeen mile tunnel that would also have eliminated the grade through Tumwater Canyon. Eventually, a decision was made in 1925 to build a tunnel from Scenic to Berne that would spell the end for the Tye and the Cascade Tunnel depots.
Click this link to view a swf panorama
of the old Cascade Tunnel site:
Above, the eastern portal of the New Cascade Tunnel today.
At 7.79 miles, it is the longest in the US. The checkered door is part of a ventilation system used
to reduce problems with fumes. It was installed in 2000 after the original vertical roller door installed in the 1950s was damaged by a collision. After a train has left the tunnel, the door closes and fans operate for 20 to 30 minutes to clear the tunnel of exhaust fumes before the next train is allowed to enter. The structure on the left of the portal is the fan power house.
Above, two views of the eastern portal at Berne during construction. The original line from Tye can be seen in the lower part of the top view.
A. B. Guthrie & Co., won the contract to build the tunnel and work started on the 8' high by 9' wide pioneer tunnel on 14th December 1925 simultaneously at Scenic and Berne. The pioneer tunnel was completed in May 1928. That month, a 622' vertical shaft was completed at Mill Creek two and a half miles east of Berne. It was used to haul out rock excavated during construction.
Above, Scenic during construction. The siting of the new line would spell the end of the Scenic Hotel.
Up to 1,790 workers were employed at the height of construction. Workers camps were established at Berne, Mill Creek and Scenic. As well as service facilities, the camps had cookhouses and recreation buildings for reading, card playing and regularly scheduled movies. There was also an elementary school and hospital at Scenic.
Work was completed on 24th December 1928, three days ahead of schedule. Ballasting, track laying and installing the catenaries for the electric engines was then carried out, and the first work train passed through the tunnel on 6th January 1929. The official opening was scheduled for six days later on Saturday, 12th January. It had cost $14,000,000.
Below, Great Northern officials opening the Cascade Tunnel gate at Scenic on 12th January 1929.
Above, the demise of the Scenic Hotel.
Left, the Great Northern published details of the dedication and opening.
The proceedings included addresses by President Herbert Hoover and John Stevens, engineer for the original grade built in the 1890s.
Right, another booklet published by the GN gives details of construction.
The new tunnel cut 8.9 miles from the old grade, eliminated 3,674 degrees of curvature, reduced the ruling grade by 0.13% and the summit elevation by 502'.