The deadliest avalanche in our nation’s history took place along the Tye River in central Washington’s Cascade Mountains. The Great Northern railway had run tracks from Seattle to the Midwest in the 1890’s. Logging and forest fires begun by coal-fired stem engines had denuded the hills, increasing the chances of avalanches. The biggest obstacle for the railroad was Washington’s winters, where up to 25 foot high snow piles often immobilized trains for days. Workers would have to shovel the rails out by hand, leaving passenger trains to wait at the Wellington station. In March, 1910 a passenger train going east, and one headed west, sat for a week, waiting for the tracks to be cleared. After snowing for days, with up to a foot of snow an hour at times, rain and lightening began and the snow slid down the mountain, pushing both trains 150 feet into the Tye River in the middle of the night. 96 people died that fatal day. Bodies had to be pulled out by sled over the next 12 days, and it was late July before the last was recovered.
In an attempt to conquer nature, the railway began building snow sheds. A 30 foot high wall was constructed in 1916, stretching 1/3 of a mile long. Drains for snow melt were built into the bottom of the wall, allowing moisture to run into a culvert, and away from the hill above the train tracks.
Tunnels were also constructed to increase safety for the trains traveling through the Cascades.
By 1929, this portion of the tracks was abandoned, as newer, safer routes were established. Left to disintegrate, the tunnels and snow shed can be viewed along the Iron Goat trail. Nature has taken hold, and the eerie appearance of the wall and tunnel embellish stories of this haunted area.
by Diane Moore
photos by Diane Moore