At Scenic (originally called Madison), the current railroad main line diverges from the Great Northern's original right of way. The original route through Wellington and Cascade Station was completed on January 6, 1893 when the last spike was driven by Great Northern officials at Scenic. The Wm. Crooks becoming the first Great Northern locomotive to arrive in Seattle on January 8, 1893. The first freight train arrived in Seattle from the east on February 28, 1893. This route was plagued by heavy snowfall and avalanches. In 1929, a new tunnel was opened between Scenic and Berne, and the original route was abandoned. For many years, this route was all but forgotten. Today, however, it has been transformed into a hiking trail called the Iron Goat Trail leading from Scenic to Wellington.
Driving the last spike at Scenic to complete the original line on January 6, 1893 (UW)
Wm. Crooks, the first Great Northern locomotive to reach Seattle, circa 1905-1915 (WSHS)
Scenic depot, circa 1910 (UW)
Scenic depot, circa 1913 (UW)
Scenic, circa 1929 (UW)
Passenger Train at the Scenic depot, circa 1930 (UW)
These pictures show a view of Scenic from a point on Highway 2 east of Scenic. The highway begins to climb steeply just east of Scenic, and sort-of doubles back on itself as it climbs, thus the highway overpass in the pictures is also Highway 2. The train in the pictures is about to enter the west end of the Cascade Tunnel, which is in the trees at the bottom of the pictures.
These pictures show Scenic from Windy Point on the Iron Goat Trail, and illustrate a westbound freight train emerging from the west portal of the Cascade Tunnel.
The concept for this tunnel originated as early as 1917. World War I caused a delay in any work being done toward building such a tunnel, but after the war the idea resurfaced. In 1925, John F. Stevens was consulted, and recommended a tunnel be built between Scenic and Berne, on the east side of the pass, bypassing Wellington and Cascade Station entirely. The new tunnel would eliminate 500 feet of elevation, 1940 degrees of curvature, 8 miles of mainline and about 40,000 feet of snowsheds. On November 26, 1925, Great Northern President Ralph Budd accepted the proposal and by the end of year had awarded construction contracts for the new tunnel to A. Guthrie & Company of St. Paul, Minnesota. The project was to be completed in the winter of 1928-1929, three years after the start of drilling, with a three day grace period. The construction program was worked out by company Vice President J. C. Baxter and was under the direct supervision of Great Northern’s Assistant Chief Engineer Colonel Frederick Mears.
The Cascade Tunnel Commission of Washington considered a number of other tunnel locations, as shown on this 1927 map from the Washington State Historical Society.
Construction began at both ends of the new tunnel on December 28, 1925. The tunnel would be 18 feet wide, 26 feet high and 7.79 miles long. It would be the longest railroad tunnel in the Western Hemisphere. In order to speed the construction of the tunnel, the vertical Mill Creek Shaft was dug 622 feet down to tunnel depth, 2.41 miles from the east end of the tunnel; construction of the shaft began on January 30,1926 and it was completed in August 1926. Measuring 8 feet by 24 feet, the shaft allowed work to progress east from the shaft as well as from each end. The bore between the Mill Creek Shaft and the east portal was holed through in September 1927.
The Mill Creek Shaft was located at the lowest surface elevation between the portals, but the distance between the west portal and the Mill Creek Shaft was 5.38 miles, more than twice the distance from the shaft to the east portal. Between the Mill Creek Shaft and the west end of the tunnel, an 8 foot wide by 9 foot high Pioneer Tunnel was dug 7 feet above and 66 feet to the south of the main tunnel, with 45-degree cross shafts approximately every 1,500 feet to the main tunnel. This allowed additional crews to work on the tunnel, and provided a way for equipment and debris to be moved in and out of the tunnel. Drilling of the Pioneer Tunnel began on December 28, 1925, the same as the main tunnel, but its smaller size made its progress much faster. On May 1, 1928, the final blast that connected the Pioneer Tunnel and the Mill Creek Shaft was set off by President Coolidge from Washington D.C. Later, the floor of the Pioneer Tunnel was lowered so it could drain water from the main tunnel, and it remains in place today.
The 41,152-foot Cascade Tunnel was holed through on October 20, 1928. The center line was off by only 9 inches horizontally and 3 inches vertically. The tunnel had been drilled at a record page of 4.8 months per mile, in comparison with 7.2 months per mile for 12.4-mile Simplon Tunnel, 8.2-months per mile for 5-mile Connaught Tunnel, and 8.7 months per mile for 6.1-mile Moffat Tunnel. 6 feet per day was the average digging time. The crew drilling from the East Portal at Berne set a world’s record, drilling a 984-foot long tunnel 10 feet by 10 feet in 31 days. At one time, there were 1,793 men working underground. In order to speed up the work, bonuses were paid to members of crews exceeding 650 feet per month.
The Cascade Tunnel, with its concrete lining, was completed December 24, 1928. Five million pounds of dynamite and 750,000 blasting caps were used in the tunnel's construction. Track was placed and the tunnel opened for service January 12, 1929.
The opening ceremonies were broadcast by N.B.C. over a network of 36 radio stations reaching an estimated 15 million people. Two new electric locomotives pulled a train of dignitaries and reporters through the tunnel from east to west, stopping first at the east portal for the opening ceremonies, which included a speech by President Herbert Hoover, a song by Madame Ernestine Schumann-Heink, and a dedication of the tunnel by Great Northern president Ralph Budd to James J. Hill, who had died on May 29, 1916. The special train was to then proceed through the tunnel and burst through a sheet of paper stretched over the west portal 20 minutes later, but the sudden change from the cold air outside the tunnel to the relatively warm air inside created condensation which caused an arc-over on the transformer of the second electric locomotive. The first unit could not move the train alone, and another electric was brought in to push from behind. Meanwhile, at the west portal, the reporter who was waiting for the train to emerge began running out of things to say as the 20 minute trip stretched into 35, and N.B.C. had to fill time with band music.
Officials outside the West Portal, 1927 (UW)
Bridge over Tye River under construction in 1928 (WSHS)
Workers inside the tunnel, 1928 (WSHS)
Workers drilling dynamite holes in tunnel, 1928 (WSHS)
Scenic & West Portal, circa 1929 (UW)
West Portal, circa 1929 (UW)
Gravel Train entering tunnel, December 31, 1928 (UW)
First Train at the West Portal, 1929 (UW)
First Train at the West Portal, 1929 (UW)
First Work Train through tunnel, January 6, 1929 (UW)
First Work Train through tunnel, January 6, 1929 (UW)
Official First Train, January 12, 1929 (UW)
With the opening of the new Cascade Tunnel and its electrification, steam locomotives disappeared from Stevens Pass, replaced by two classes of electric locomotives. Baldwin-Westinghouse delivered five Z-1 class units between 1926 and 1928, each of which was a semi-permanently-coupled pair of 1,830-horsepower 1-D-1 boxcabs. General Electric delivered eight Y-1 class units (Nos. 5010-5017) between 1927 and 1930, each of which was a single 3,000-horsepower 1-C+C-1 boxcab. In addition to the locomotives built specifically for this service, a small interurban freight motor (No. 603) was borrowed from the GN-controlled Spokane, Coulee City & Palouse and converted for use on the 11,000-volt system for use as a work train engine during tunnel construction. The locomotives from the original electrification were scrapped.
Originally, the new electric locomotives operated with all their pantographs raised. This posed a risk that if one of the pantographs snagged on the wire, it could damage all of the pantographs and leave the train stranded. Around 1940, high voltage power bus shoes were installed on each end of the Y-1 class locomotives, and groups of electrics operated with only two pantographs raised and power fed to other units through the power bus shoes.
By World War II, the Great Northern had purchased FT road diesel locomotives from the Electro-Motive Corporation. With the increased traffic of the war, Great Northern began operation freight trains of 120 to 125 cars weighing 6,000 tons over Stevens Pass. These trains ran with three Y-1 electrics on the head end, a 5,400-horsepower A-B-B-A set of FT diesels in the middle, and an R class 2-8-8-2 Mallet steam locomotive pushing on the rear. The Mallet cut off before entering the Cascade Tunnel, but the diesels stayed with the train. These trains could climb the 2.2% grades at 17 miles per hour. The Great Northern claimed this was the only instance of its kind where steam, diesel and electric locomotives were used on the same train at the same time.
During the war, Y-1 No. 5011 derailed on the curve at the east end of the Foss River Bridge near Tonga. The locomotive’s carbody was heavily damaged, and was rebuilt at Great Northern’s St. Paul shops as a Y-1a using two streamlined FT cabs from Electro-Motive. A power bus shoe was mounted on the rear end.
In 1947, General Electric delivered two W-1 class streamlined 5,000-horsepower B-D+D-B electrics, Nos. 5018 and 5019. These would be the last electric locomotives delivered to the Great Northern. At the time they were the most powerful single-unit electric locomotives in the world, and could pull a 1,900-ton train up the 2.2% grade unassisted. They were painted in the Omaha Orange and Pullman Green colors of Great Northern’s flagship passenger train, the Empire Builder. After the arrival of the W-1 units, the Y-1s were slowly repainted in orange and green, while the Z-1s remained in their original solid dark green.
Electric #5011 exiting tunnel at Scenic, circa 1929 (UW)
Electric #5012 exiting tunnel at Scenic, circa 1929 (UW)
Electric #5011 exiting tunnel at Scenic, circa 1930 (UW)
Electric #5012 exiting tunnel at Scenic, circa 1930 (UW)
Train entering tunnel at Scenic, February 12, 1931 (UW)
Train leaving tunnel at Scenic, February 12, 1931 (UW)
Electric #5017 at Scenic, 1955 (Dave's Electric Railroads)
Diesel freight train exiting tunnel at Scenic, late ‘50s (UW)
Diesel train exiting the west portal, c.1970 (gngoat.org)
Here are some pictures of trains at Scenic.
BNSF SD75M #8229 leading an eastbound container train at Scenic in 2002. This photo was taken from the top of the west portal of the Cascade Tunnel and the train is about to enter the tunnel. Photo by Cliff West.
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