|Exploring the Washington Cascade
Exploring mines, ghost towns, and abandoned railroads.
|June 27-30 2003
|Last Update: October 1, 2005
|For Four days, my friend John and I, using my truck, explored several mining areas of the eastern
Washington Cascades as well as ghost towns, abandoned railroad tunnels, tracks and trestles, and
one fire lookout. This trip was one of the most interesting so far.
|Day Four - June 30, 2003
|Hwy 2, outside of Leavenworth, Washington
|The next morning we got up and began our final day of the trip. The camp was packed up for the last time and we
drove back out to Highway 2. Today, we would be exploring mostly railroad history. And the Western Washington
Cascades is full of railroad history. Far more than had originally imagined.
|Packing up the campsite
on the final morning.
|Our first stop for the day was what first appeared to be the remains of a very elaborate bridge that carried a pipeline
over the Wenatchee River. Turns out this was originally a railroad bridge built in 1907 to provide access across the
river and about 2 miles up stream to a dam site that was being built. When the dam was finished, a wooden flume
was constructed from the dam to the bridge. The railroad tracks were removed and a large metal pipe was
constructed across the bridge to a power plant on the opposite side. Today, only the bridge with the metal pipe and
the dam upstream remain. The metal pipe has since been cut in half to create a walkway across the bridge. The
powerhouse originally provided power to the Great Northern Cascade Railroad tunnel, where electric trains were
used through the tunnel and over the pass to eliminate the exhaust fume and smoke problems of steam locomotives
in the extremely long tunnel.
|The old railroad and pipeline bridge across the Wenatchee River near Leavenworth. This pipeline supplied water from upstream to a
powerhouse on site. Today, the powerhouse is gone and the pipe has been cut in half to make a walkway.
|About two miles up the road, we found the site of the original dam. This was the dam built to feed the powerhouse.
The drop of two miles of river was enough to power an entire town and an electric railroad for many years. Today,
the dam remains, but it doesn't power anything. A modern day fish ladder has been constructed to allow fish to move
upstream once again.
|Pictures by John. The remains of the dam that powered
Leveanworth and the Great Northern Electric Locomotives through
the tunnels. Note the modern day fish ladder. This fish ladder did
not exist when the dam was in operation.
|A picture, taken much later of the
remains of the pipeline inside a
rock tunnel. Picture sent by
Richard H. Hackinson, PMP
|The Tumwater powerstation, bridge and pipeline between 1907 and 1929. Picture
sent in by Richard H. Hawkinson, PMP
|After leaving the dam we continued down Highway 2 on our way to even more interesting abandoned railroad site.
Along the way, we noticed this old ex-military 4X4 truck from the 1940s turned into a water tanker truck near a saw
mill. The area is heavily forested and the truck appeared to be an old logging company fire truck.
|The abandoned Great Northern Cascade Tunnel
|In 1893, the Great Northern railroad finished construction of a mainline railroad over Stevens Pass in the Central
Washington Cascades. This railroad over the pass was a maze of switchbacks and small tunnels and took many,
many hours to traverse. In some cases, days. By the mid 1890s, plans were underway to construct a tunnel more
than 2 miles long under Stevens Pass to shorten the route and increase the safety. By 1900, the tunnel was
completed. Almost 9 miles of hazardous switchbacks were eliminated. However, the new tunnel and railroad was
still hazardous. At one point hundreds died in one of the world train accidents in history, but more on that later. By
the mid 1920s an even newer and much longer tunnel was in the planning to eliminate the remaining switchbacks and
snow sheds on the old line. The new tunnel was completed in 1929 and is located a few miles south of the old tunnel.
The new tunnel is almost 8 miles long and is still in use today on this very highly used mainline railroad. Electric
trains have disappeared from the lines. Today, diesel electrics rule and even an occasional excursion steam engine
has found it's way through the new Cascade tunnel. To solve the same problem found in the old tunnel, exhaust
fumes and smoke, the new tunnel is extremely well ventilated. After each train passes through the tunnels, huge
doors are closed on one end and giant fans suck out all the fumes. Then it's ready for the next train to pass through.
The old Cascade tunnel and a few miles of switchback track were completely abandoned in 1929. Today, some of
the old railroad grade is part of a very well built interpretation trail. This trail contains many artifacts, and very well
designed signs giving you great pictures of what the railroad used to look like. Including on the trail is amazingly
large 1/2 mile long concrete snowshed just south of the old west Cascade tunnel portal. A snowshed is basically a
building built against a cliff along the railroad, usually out of wood, that prevents avalanches from closing down the
rail line. This rare concrete snowshed has some very grim history that we'll discuss further down. The old Cascade
tunnel is not officially part of the trail, but it is open and there are no signs indicating that visitors can't walk through
it. It is quite long, over 2 miles, but you can actually see the other side of the tunnel as a very tiny pinhole if you
|The west portal of the old Cascade tunnel. Built in 1900
and abandonded in 1929. It is 2 miles long. The inside is
quite wet, so bring good waterproof boots. The metal
structure just above the tunnel portal was part of the
electric power lines for the electric locomotives that ran
through this tunnel.
|This is the west portal to
the currently used 8 mile
long Cascade tunnel. The
east end has giant doors
that are closed after a
train passes through and
fans that duct the fumes
out of the tunnel.
|We later drove around to
and examined the east
portal. This is the end of
a trail. The tunnel is not
an official part of the
trail, but is open.
|The Wellington Disaster and Concrete Snowshed.
|About 1/2 mile southwest of the west portal of the old Cascade tunnel lies the remains of a 1/2 mile long snowshed.
Most snow sheds were built out of wood and were much smaller. This snowshed was made out of concrete and is
over 1/2 mile long. It's size and materials can be attributed to the grim reason it was built here in the first place. In
1910, one of the worst accidents is U.S. railroad history occurred on this very spot.
It was deep in the winter and snow was piling up on the line just west of the tunnel. Two passenger trains were
released from Leavenworth to head over the pass and through the tunnel, just as a major blizzard hit Steven's pass.
The trains were held at Cascade tunnel on February 25, waiting for the line ahead to be plowed. The next day, the
trains continued through the tunnel, but were again held at Wellington. As crews worked to clear the area at Windy
Point (three miles west of Wellington), they, and their rotary snowplows were buried.
A larger plow was available west of the train, but was trapped on the line by another slide. Without additional fuel, the
plow was unable to dig itself out. Efforts to get a plow in from the east also failed. Passengers began demanding to be
taken back up the hill into the tunnel to avoid any further danger of slides, but GN management would not allow it
due to the dangers of asphyxiation within the tunnel. Food was growing scarce, both on the trains and in the town of
Wellington. By February 26, telegraph communication had been lost. The next day some GN employees, as well as
passengers on the train, set out by foot down the mountain. February 28th saw still more passengers deserting their
train in an attempt to save themselves. The terrain was steep and treacherous, and the men marveled at the amount
of snow that remained poised above the train. Merely climbing through the snow was impossible, and many could only
slide down the mountain until something stopped them. Many were injured, but all who attempted to get out made it
to Scenic. At 4AM on March 1st, a monstrous slide came down the mountain and buried the trains. Both trains were
carried down the mountain hundreds of feet, and arrived twisted and some parts unrecognizable. Over the next few
days, tremendous efforts were made by GN to try to get the survivor's out, but in the end, 96 had perished. Many
were GN station men, postal workers, and construction workers that had been in the area at the time the trains slid
down the canyon. GN was ultimately absolved of any blame in the disaster, though one of the causes was the
elimination of trees along the GN right of way near the tunnel. Construction crews unfamiliar with northwest
conditions, did not think removing the trees would have any impact, but they had actually created the precursor to the
Passengers were deathly afraid to ride the line after the disaster, so to quell fears, the Great Northern did two things.
First, they built this very long and very sturdy snowshed. Second, they changed the name of the town so it wouldn't
be recognized by the average passenger on railroad time tables. Today, many decades after the tracks were
removed the snowshed remains much like the tunnel a 1/2 mile to the east as a monument to the railroad and
reminder of the disaster that took so many lives.
|I originally thought this
was a mail delivery system
part of the railroad. A
reader pointed out it's
actually an old cannon
mount for controlling
avalanches. Not sure if it
dates back to the railroad
times or was used to
protect the nearby
|Standing on top of the
snowshed. A lot of
concrete was used to build
this thing. Today, it's
slowly decaying away to
|Looking through the
snowshed where from
1910 through 1929 trains
drove through daily.
|It's quite a drop from the
top of the snowshed.
Water and snow have
taken their toll.
interpretation sign located
at the Wellington town site
near the snowshed.
|After leaving the Steven's pass area we continued down the highway, several miles to the west. Here you can
continue to hike the old railroad grade that was abandoned in 1929 when the new 8 mile long tunnel was built. You
can visit the grades that made up the switchbacks, visit the old show sheds and even see a few shorter abandoned
tunnels. This hike looked very interesting, but we were limited by time.
|The abandoned spur line of the CMSP (Milwaulkee Road)
|On our way to Snoqualmie to visit the hometown of John, we stumbled upon one of the most interesting abandoned
railroads we've seen yet. In the town of Monroe, Washington, at Monroe Junction, an abandoned line splits off the
currently used Burlington Northern and heads south to Snoqualmie and a lumber mill located there. This used to be
one of the spur lines of the old CMSP. The CMSP is the railroad that we discussed on page one when we visited
one of it's tunnels further east. All of the CMSP lines were abandoned or sold in 1980. I believe this spur line was
bought out by Burlington Northing and run for several years. It was probably abandoned in the mid to late 1980s.
The area near the Monroe Junction and surrounding one of the largest and oldest intact abandoned bridges that
we've seen yet, is a heavily wooded country park. Again, time was limited, but after finding the bridge by accident,
we tracked the abandoned grade to Monroe Junction and tried to follow it over several smaller trestles to the main
trestle. We were extremely surprised to find remains of not only the grade, but trackage as well. Most abandoned
railroads, especially those have been abandoned for more than several years, are long bare of track and railroad ties.
The first mini-trestle was cut short in an apparently attempt to prevent people from climbing aboard. We found that
someone had left some old signs that allowed us to climb onto the trestle. We walked for about a 1/4 mile along the
tracks deep in the woods in the hopes of reaching the main trestle. However, some cut out a section of one of the
trestle to prevent people from reaching and walking along the old trestle. We were extremely surprised to see these
old trestle trestles still in existence. For liability reasons, trestles like these, which are so easily accessible, are
usually torn down. However, despite the dangers, I was very happy to see that they survive, at least for now.
|Update: September, 2005
Unfortunately, this bridge and possibly the wood trestle were both removed in August, 2005. The reason given was that the
pilings had deteriorated to the point that the bridge could collapse, blocking the river and causing a major flood problem.
Another historic structure is lost.
|A view of one of the
smaller trestle north of the
larger trestle from ground
|The huge abandoned
trestle near Monroe,
|A closure view of the
trestle. The wooden base
indicates that this trestle is
extremely old, perhaps
dating to the 1920s or
1930s, if not older.
|The signs left behind
allowed us to climb on the
|Walking along the
remains of the first trestle.
|The beginning of the
abandoned line. This
trestle marks where the old
line splits off from the
current line at Monroe
|On the first trestle.
Looking back you see the
trestle of the currently
used Burlington Northern
line crossing the same
|As we crossed the trestle,
we found that the grade
was a mixture of just
railroad ties and track.
|Here you can see, large sections of track were left
|The same trestle from the
|This cut out portion of the
trestle ended our hike of
this line for the day.
They obviously were
attempting to prevent
access to the main trestle.
|It's odd that the tracks were left behind here. They were removed from the trestle and
part of the line, but it's like they began to remove the tracks and then suddenly stopped
for some reason, but never returned to finish the job. A rare find indeed.
|We followed the abandoned railroad south of the large trestle that crosses the Skykomish River. The grade was
surprisingly intact and we even noticed what appeared to be some tracks and even a few more abandoned trestles.
Time limited me from examining each trestle, but I took a few pictures along the way. I'm really hoping to return
and document this very rare and very intact abandoned railroad spur line.
|Two of several more abandoned trestles along the old line. I was
extremely surprised to find such an intact grade and especially the
|Snoqualmie and the tourist railroad.
|The abandoned railroad discussed in the prior section used to run to Snoqualmie, Washington where it supplied direct
access for the lumber mill in town to the mainline. Today, the original rail yard, several buildings and several miles of
track survive in town and are used by a tourist railroad operated here. It was getting late, but we decided to stop
and take a few pictures of several old steam locomotives in the rail yard. I've never seen so many locomotives,
ranging from large steam engines to smaller Shay type logging engines. I never counted them all, but I estimate
there were more than a dozen abandoned steam engines, most in a rather poor deteriorating shape, but still
preserved for public display.
|This concluded our four day trip to the Central Washington Cascades. We headed home from here. I was one of
the more interesting trips I've been on yet. Washington is full of mine history, but is especially full of railroad
history. Far more than I had expected. I hope to return to better document some of the extremely interesting areas
that we missed.
|Copyright © 2003 Brian McCamish, All Rights Reserved
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