Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Iron Goat Trail: Wellington

259159742 Iron Goat Trail Milepost 1711 at Wellington in 2002
Milepost 1711 in 2002. Photo by Cliff West.

Located at Milepost 1711, Wellington, originally named Stevens City, was a small mountain railroad town at an elevation of 3,136 feet above sea level, built by the railroad to serve as a base for maintenance operations, a terminal for helper locomotives and snow-fighting equipment and to provide coal and water for the locomotives of trains crossing the pass. Despite its relative isolation, the people of Wellington lived their lives like those of any other small town, until the winter of 1910.

Historical Photos:
Rotary Plow & Crew at Wellington, March 1899 (WSHS)
Electric Locomotives at Wellington, circa 1909 (UW)
Wellington, circa 1910 (UW)
Wellington in snow, 1910 (UW)

The winter of 1910 had brought record snowfall to the Cascades, and by February 23, the summit of Stevens Pass was topped with 30 feet of snow. Two westbound trains, the #27 Fast Mail, pulled by an E-14 or E-15 class 4-6-0 locomotive, and the #25 Spokane Express, powered by an early H class 4-6-2 locomotive, were ordered west out of Leavenworth at 1:30 AM on the 23rd and started up Stevens Pass with a rotary snow plow escort sent ahead to clear the tracks. A snow slide at Windy Point trapped the rotary plow, and as the trains had no dining cars, they were stopped at Cascade Station. There were only limited facilities and provisions at Cascade Station, and the next night the tracks were clear enough for the trains to move to Wellington, where more services were available for the trains and their passengers. Shortly after the trains departed, an avalanche hit Cascade Station, blocking the tracks, destroying the cook shack and killing two people. The two trains were now stranded at Wellington, where they had to sit out in the open as the snowsheds were too short to cover a complete train, and the tunnel would have filled with fumes if the trains were moved into it with their locomotives, which provided steam for heat and light.

Meanwhile, Tumwater Canyon to the east had also been blocked by hundreds of slides. Two Mallet locomotives started west from Leavenworth on the 23rd to attempt to smash through the slides. After 12 hours of hopeless attempts, they returned to Leavenworth to await the arrival of a rotary plow from the Rocky Mountains, which would not arrive until the 27th.

In the next few days, additional massive slides came down in the area, but the people of Wellington were unaware of many of them. On February 26th, a slide 88 feet long and 35 feet deep came down between the rotary and its coal supply at Wellington, and without the rotary to plow the tracks at Wellington, it became impossible to move the trains. At any rate, there was little anyone could do, although some attempted to hike down the mountain to Scenic for help; the 4 miles of distance required 9 miles of track to drop the 1,000 feet of elevation. Superintendent James H. O'Neill and two brakemen left on the 26th, and five passengers set out on the 27th, sliding down the ravine from Windy Point on their coat tails. Another group of 11, including 5 trainmen, set out on the 28th. Wellington still had telegraphic communication, and the rotary plow from Leavenworth had reached Merritt, 15 miles east of Wellington.

The weather began to warm and brought rain, saturating the snow that had already accumulated on the hillside above Wellington. A forest fire the previous summer had destroyed the trees that would have helped anchor the snow and mud in place. At 1:45 AM on the morning of March 1, an avalanche 2,000 feet wide, a half-mile long and 14 feet deep swept down the mountain above Wellington, narrowly missing the Wellington depot and Bailets Hotel, but struck the two trains and sweeping them and seven additional locomotives (all four electrics and three steam engines), a rotary plow, the inspection shed (one of the electrics was inside), timber snowsheds, catenary, telegraph lines, and part of the town into the ravine 150 feet below, killing 96 people. A yard man used a telephone at the tunnel portal to contact Cascade Station at the other end and learned that at about the same time another avalanche destroyed nearly every building at Cascade Station. Word was passed to Scenic and relayed by a roundabout route to Spokane and Leavenworth. When the rotary crew at Merritt lost contact with Wellington, they learned of the news from Leavenworth. Other avalanches stranded six additional trains across 30 miles of the railroad.

It took another two days for the rotary plow from the east, pushed by two large Mallet locomotives, to reach Cascade Station. It brought with it a crew of 250 men led by General Manager Gruber. They found every building destroyed and many people severely injured, but no deaths. But when they reached Wellington, they found a different story. It took until March 7 for all the wreckage at Wellington to be found, and for bodies to begin to be transported by sled to Scenic, where a relief train from Everett was waiting.

It was not until March 9 that a train was able to reach Wellington from the east. A rotary from Skykomish finally reached Wellington on the March 11 and on March 12 the line west to Scenic was reopened. Steam locomotives temporarily returned to the Cascade Tunnel, as it was not until summer that the electrification was returned to operation.

Historical Photos:
Bailets Hotel in Wellington after the avalanche, 1910 (UW)
Hotel Bailets in Wellington, March 10, 1910 (WSHS)
Emergency Hospital in Wellington, 1910 (UW)
Remains of cabin where four were killed, 1910 (UW)
Locomotives wrecked by Wellington avalanche, 1910 (UW)
Locomotives wrecked by Wellington avalanche, 1910 (UW)
Locomotives wrecked by Wellington avalanche, 1910 (UW)
Locomotives at Wellington, March 10, 1910 (WSHS)
Wreckage of train 27, March 10, 1910 (WSHS)
Railroad Car #8201 wrecked by avalanche, 1910 (UW)
Rotary Snow Plow wrecked by avalanche, 1910 (UW)
Wrecked Rotary Plow, March 10, 1910 (WSHS)
Avalanche wreckage 700 feet from track, 1910 (UW)
Slide at end of snowshed near Wellington, 1910 (UW)
Slide at snowshed at Wellington, March 10, 1910 (WSHS)
Wellington after the avalanche, March 10, 1910 (UW)
Wellington after the avalanche, March 10, 1910 (UW)
Wellington after the avalanche, March 10, 1910 (UW)
Wellington after the avalanche, March 10, 1910 (UW)
Wellington after the avalanche, March 10, 1910 (WSHS)
Wellington after the avalanche, March 10, 1910 (WSHS)
Motorman's Bunkhouse, March 10, 1910 (WSHS)
Superintendent James H. O'Neill, March 10, 1910 (WSHS)
James O'Neill inspects wreckage, March 10, 1910 (WSHS)
James H. O'Neil inspects avalanche wreckage, 1910 (UW)
Workers searching for survivors, March 10, 1910 (WSHS)
J. L. Macky, March 10, 1910 (WSHS)
View out end of Cascade Tunnel, March 10, 1910 (WSHS)
Bodies being transported by sled, March 10, 1910 (WSHS)

Wellington is still the worst avalanche disaster in history, and while it was ruled an act of God, the event prompted the Great Northern to build the concrete snowshed, and to begin considering building the 7.79 mile Cascade Tunnel between Scenic and Berne. In the meantime, however, Wellington was rebuilt. The disaster had been well publicized, and Great Northern renamed the station Tye to disassociate the railroad from the disaster. Tye remained in operation to 1929, when the new Cascade Tunnel opened and the town was abandoned.

Historical Photos:

Electric Locomotives at Tye, May 25, 1913 (WSHS)
Electric Locomotives at Tye Depot, May 25, 1913 (WSHS)
Steam Locomotive #1917 at Tye in 1913 (UW)
Steam Locomotive #2502, circa 1925 (WSHS)
Steam Locomotive #2510 at Tye, 1928 (UW)
Freight Train at Tye, 1928 (UW)
View from above of Tye after abandonment, 1929 (UW)

For more information about the Wellington disaster, read The White Cascade by Gary Krist or visit the following websites:

Unsettling Events: Wellington Avalanche
The Wellington Avalanche
The Wellington Scrapbook
Train Disaster at Wellington kills 96 on March 1, 1910
Take an eerie trip back in time on Iron Goat Trail
Walk into the past on Iron Goat Trail
Stevens Pass avalanche still deadliest in U.S. History

At the Wellington trailhead, a short trail leads east through the remains of the town.

Coaling Tower Foundation at Wellington on the Iron Goat Trail in 2000
Coaling Tower Foundation in 2000.

This picture is of the foundation of the coaling tower at Tye. The original Wellington coaling tower was destroyed in the avalanche. This foundation is from the new coaling tower that replaced it. The top of this foundation was originally at ground level. It has since been exposed by recent excavation in the area.

Rotary Shed Foundation at Wellington on the Iron Goat Trail in 2000
Rotary Shed Foundation in 2000.

This is the foundation of the 300-foot rotary shed. This shed was used for the storage of rotary snow plows and locomotives. The original shed was destroyed in the avalanche, and this foundation is from the shed that was rebuilt in the same place.

Water Tower Footings at Wellington on the Iron Goat Trail in 2000
Water Tower Footings in 2000.

Water Tower Footings at Wellington on the Iron Goat Trail in 2000
Water Tower Footings in 2000.

These footings are from the 100,000 gallon water tower at Wellington. This tower not only provided water for the steam locomotives, but also supplied a gravity-fed fire protection system for the timber snowsheds which were in danger of catching fire in summer.

View from near Water Tower Footings at Wellington on the Iron Goat Trail in 2000
View from near the water tower footings in 2000.

This photo shows a view from the trail near the water tower footings. Visible in the valley below is some sort of pipeline or flume. I do not know if it has any historical significance or connection to the railroad.

Tye also had an 1,800-foot runaway track for westbound trains. Before the Windy Point Tunnel was built, a westbound trainload of apples suffered a frozen brake pipe just behind the engine while in the Cascade Tunnel. The crew jumped off the runaway at Tye and the train derailed on the sharp curve at Windy Point and rolled down the mountain. A safety switch was installed at the west portal of the Cascade Tunnel that led to a runaway track. The safety rules required that the engineer carry the staff for the switch from Cascade Station, and stop his train at the west portal to unlock and set the switch for the main line. Just before entering the concrete snowshed, the staff was dropped off with the Tye agent, who had it returned to Cascade Station by an eastbound crew.

Continue to Switchbacks and the First Cascade Tunnel

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