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Steven Pass Railfan Trip and Beyond! 6/23/2011

by Chris Guenzler

Bob, Elizabeth and I all arose on Day 6000 of my sobriety and after a quick and good breakfast, I posted the Northwest Railway Museum story before we left for Stevens Pass. Our first and only goal today was to get Amtrak coming out of the Cascade Tunnel. The three of us drove north up Interstate 5 to Everett and turned east onto US Highway 2; I had never been on this road so was looking forward to it. It was raining but nothing was going to stop us from completing our goal for today.

When we reached Baring there was a BNSF track foreman whom I asked about Amtrak. He said "It is about an hour away right now". "Do I have time to get to the Cascade Tunnel?" "Yes, you will have plenty of time to get there." So we headed straight to Scenic and took the road that took us near the Cascade Tunnel where we parked then after repositioning the car, had a green westbound signal so we crossed the track and waited.

Looking west towards the siding at Scenic.

The westbound portal of the Cascade Tunnel. Train travel over the Cascade Mountains began in the late nineteenth century when the Great Northern Railroad laid tracks over the 4,000 foot summit of the Stevens Pass. The grade was so steep they had to build switchbacks on both the eastern and western slopes. A thousand-foot spur line for each switchback was needed for the train to stage while the switch was thrown to continue the climb to the next section. The trains would travel thirteen miles of track to move three miles toward its destination.

In 1897, construction of the Cascade Tunnel began. Its goal was to eliminate the complicated and time-consuming switchback system. The original tunnel was 2.6 miles long and entirely lined with concrete. There were also seventeen "snow sheds" constructed over the rail line as it climbed toward the tunnel which were designed to deflect avalanches over the rails. While the tunnel eliminated the steepest climb over the pass, there was still an incline especially for the eastbound train. Thick smoke would fill the tunnel with deadly fumes, and after reports of passengers and crew becoming ill, a new solution was proposed: the trains would be pulled through the tunnel by electric locomotives.

In 1929, the new Cascade Tunnel was constructed, less than two miles to the south and at a lower elevation than the original tunnel. It is 7.8 miles in length and still in use today. About this same time Great Northern built another rail line through the Chumstick Valley from Leavenworth to the current Cascade Tunnel entrance. This became the main route and the Tumwater Canyon was no longer used for freight or passenger trains. Beginning in 1956, locomotives became diesel powered, so the hydro-electric power was no longer needed. The power plant was dismantled and the rail lines were removed. Much of Highway 2's Cascade Loop Scenic Highway which runs through the Tumwater Canyon follows the old railbed.

The rain started to come down more heavily so I went back to the car and got the umbrellas. On my return, I spotted a headlight miles away in the Cascade Tunnel. Railfannning is standing in the pouring rain under your umbrella waiting for the Empire Builder to pop out of the Cascade Tunnel.

The full backward Havre-to-Seattle Empire Builder coming out of the Cascade Tunnel heading west to Seattle.

The west portal of the tunnel.

From here we decided to return to the car, warm up and drive east over Stevens Pass in search of unknown attractions and dry air. So we crossed Stevens Pass and dropped east, seeing the ventilation system for the Cascade Tunnel at East Portal. We enjoyed the rapids in Tumwater Canyon before stopping briefly in Leavenworth and passed the Amtrak Leavenworth Icicle Station platform then continued to Cashmere, the geographical center of Washington to find their train station and museum.

The view down the railroad westbound at Cashmere.

The former Great Northern Cashmere station built in 1910. From there we followed the museum signs in town to take us to our next stop.

Cashmere Museum and Pioneer Village

The Chelan County Historical Society, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that operates the Cashmere Museum & Pioneer Village, began in 1955 as a collaborative effort between local collector Willis Carey and local businesses, led by John McDonald and the Cashmere Chamber of Commerce. Carey was terminally ill with cancer and wanted his large personal collection of Native American artifacts, historical relics, antiques and curios, famous throughout Central Washington, to be displayed together and preserved for posterity. The community leaders and citizens of Cashmere agreed.

Incorporated in 1956, the building opened in 1959 housing and highlighting Carey's renowned collection and what would become known as the Pioneer Village acquired its first structures, the blacksmith shop and Mission church. Ultimately growing to include 20 original structures, the Pioneer Village showcases a carefully restored Great Northern Railway caboose and a one room school house, originally located in Brender Canyon. It was officially opened in 1967.

We went in, paid the admission fee and the lady gave us guides and more information than we really needed. They have a large gun collection, arrowheads, Native American pictographs (paintings) and petroglyphs (carvings) and paintings by local artist Walter Graham. After seeing the unique exhibits, we went outside to see the reason we stopped here, which were, of course, the railroad exhibits. On the way there we stopped at something unique.

The Stoffel waterwheel/Burbank Homestead waterwheel, which was moved from the Wenatchee River above Monitor. The original waterwheel was made of wood and from 1897 to 1914, lifted water to an orchard and cattle farm. Then a Columbia River sternwheeler captain, Paul Stoffel, brought part of the orchard along with the waterwheel. He decided to enlarge it as a steel structure, partly with salvaged materials from old burned steamboats rusting in Wenatchee. The new 29-foot-high wheel had 24 buckets that could lift 400 gallons of water a minute.

Over the years, even this larger and stronger wheel began to suffer damage, especially during the devastating flood of 1948. As the museum expanded, Karl Stoffel offered the waterwheel if a way could be found to move it. Taking it apart and reassembling it would be expensive and difficult. At that time, the Schmitten Lumber Company of Cashmere was engaged in helicopter logging. Rollie Schmitten suggested using a helicopter and the Rotary Club underwrote the project. As Karl Stoffel said in 1973, "The wheel was moved and put into working order and has been a wonderful new attraction at the museum".

The station one mile sign.

The Great Northern station from Mission, which was the original name of the town of Cashmere.

Great Northern caboose X494 built by the railroad in 1922.

A semaphore signal.

Great Northern 12 section-1 double roomette sleeper 1099 builder and year unknown.

The truck of this passenger car.

A unique wig-wag crossing signal.

Railroad crossing sign.

Track indicator signal.

Track gang cart and re-railer.

Views of track repair equipment.

The section house came from Leavenworth.

A Great Northern trainorder signal.

The famous Rocky the Goat, mascot of the Great Northern Railway.

Railroad Crossing 300 feet.

The Train Board.

Displays inside the Great Northern section house.

A Great Northern crossbuck.

Great Northern Milepost 1656.

A Great Northern telephone box. Now I will show you most of the buildings at Pioneer Village.

Views of the buildings Pioneer Village.

Replica of a dug-out canoe of the Wenatchi Tribe.

Railway Express baggage cart.

Two views of the grounds.

This log, dating from 1300, is older than America and its presidents.


The three of us left the museum and drove east to Wenatchee, stopping for lunch at Arby's before we went into town to look around.

Great Northern freight station built in 1909.

West and east views down the tracks from the Wenatchee Amtrak platform. From here we filled the car with petrol and headed west, starting the trip back to Lynnwood.

Views west along US Highway 2.

The Pinnacles.

Another view looking west down US Highway 2.

A 24 foot knight statue in Leavenworth on our return trip.

The Great Northern station originally from Chiwaukum, built in 1911 and moved to Winton in 1928 when the railroad was rerouted. It is on privately-owned land. From here we crossed Stevens Pass and went from clear weather back into the rain but stopped at the Iron Goat Trailhead where we had spotted a Great Northern caboose on our way east this morning.

Great Northern caboose X294 built by the railway in 1951 and was stored in Skykomish until 2006.

The Iron Goat Trail display boards, at the head of the Iron Goat Trail which is a hiking and walking trail along the old Great Northern railroad grade built over the Cascades in 1893. At the time it was built, it was considered the best engineered of the transcontinental railroads. It also includes one of the intricate switchbacks that once started trains up the Cascades Mountains.

We then made our way to Skykomish.

The Skykomish Great Northern Station built in 1898 which would later look a lot different when the Great Northern and Cascade Railway was formed and flourished.

The town is proud of their Great Northern heritage.

The street signs are in the shape of cabooses. We continued back to Lynnwood, but had to stop in Maltby.

From the highway we caught the Eastside Rail Freight train on a rare move.

Eastside Rail Freight at Maltby returning to Woodinville. From there we returned to the house, but there is still more to come.

Click here for Part 2 of this story