Saturday, June 26, 2010

Heritage: The Milwaukee in the Watershed

The bridge which once carried the Milwaukee Road over the Cedar River just west of Cedar Falls, Washington was observed during a Seattle Public Utilities tour on 26-June-2010

BELLEVUE, WASHINGTON - The Milwaukee Road has always been a sentimental favorite in the Pacific Northwest. The Pacific Coast Extension of what was then called the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railroad was completed across Washington state to Tacoma and Seattle in 1909. By electrifying most of its mountain sections starting in 1914, it became more interesting in many ways than its competitors, and it would offer such named trains as the "Columbian" and the "Olympian Hiawatha." It was a sad day in the minds of many when the Milwaukee abandoned its Pacific Coast Extension under bankruptcy in 1980. Subsequently, most of the abandoned line from Montana west became part of public trails, with one of the exceptions located not far from Seattle.

In order to connect its crossing of Snoqualmie Pass with the existing Pacific Coast Railway for a route into Seattle, the Milwaukee had to apply to the city of Seattle to cross the city's Cedar River watershed. Thus, when the line was abandoned, the twelve-mile section of the line from between the historical sites of Cedar Falls and Landsburg along the Cedar River became part of the publicly-inaccessible watershed.

A comparison between an old photo and the contemporary reality revealed some of the same trees at the Cedar Falls, Washington town site on 26-June-2010

Seattle Public Utilities, which runs the Cedar River Education Center near North Bend, Washington remedies that situation with occasional "Treasure Tours" of "Railroad History of the Cedar River Municipal Watershed." This morning, one of these tours provided a chance to see these lost miles.

Tour leader Clay Antieau stood at the site of the former Cedar Falls, Washington station of the Milwaukee Road on 26-June-2010

Much of the interest focused on the Cedar Falls town site, where the Milwaukee switched trains for the Everett and Enumclaw branch lines, and had one of its power substations for the electrification. The tour began by inspecting the substation foundation, as well as former housing sites and the station site. The station, which appeared as the stand-in for Essex, Montana in the movie "Continental Divide" has been moved to become a private home in Covington.

The Taylor Creek Trestle of the Milwaukee Road's Enumclaw Branch was viewed from the mainline at Bagley Junction, Washington on 26-June-2010

The tour ventured farther into the "western watershed," visiting the site of a bridge over the Cedar River, Bagley Junction with the Enumclaw Branch and a Northern Pacific branchline to Taylor, and exploring a portion of that Northern Pacific branchline as it climbed away from the river. Being a wilderness area, a fair amount of wildlife was encountered, including a number of deer and a pair of elk.

A deer assumed a very unusual pose as it kept its eye on the railroad history tour in the Cedar River watershed on 26-June-2010

The railroad history tour is just one of a number of special tours that afford opportunities to explore protected areas of the watershed for a nominal fee. See the Seattle Public Utilities web site for more details. As one of the railroad enthusiasts on today's tour put it, "It's not quite the Olympian Hiawatha, but it's pretty close."


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