Monday, July 20, 2009
THE IRON GOAT TRAIL
Gold Bar, Sultan, Startup, Index, Skykomish, and Barrington are small towns between Monroe and Stevens Pass over the Cascades on Highway 2. Its a scenic drive with rivers, waterfalls and glades of alders, maples, ferns, and giant evergreens. Our goal was to check out the Iron Goat Trail which guides visitors to the remains of great black walls that once held up the timbered roof of the longest train tunnel in the world, then, at 7.8 miles long, in the 1850s.
The rebuilt tunnel is 581 feet shorter and is the longest tunnel in the U.S. part of Burlington-Northern- Santa Fe.
A more southerly train route through the cascades, with multiple switchbacks, followed the river and brought goods to Washington in the 1800s. A Great Northern Engineer by the name of Stevens decided a more direct route to Seattle would be competitive and timely. He decided he could conquer the winter snow that covered the Cascades by building a tunnel over the worst part of the mountains. An amazing engineering feat for its time, the tunnel clung to the sides of the steep mountain pass. Once in use, new problems had to be solved. The tunnel would accumulate fumes and steam from the engine and foul the air so badly that great fans were installed to clear the fumes. Once a car jumped the track and was dragged through the tunnel where it scraped away electrical wiring and necessary appendages. The portal doors froze shut and the train crashed through the portal on another occasion. But the worst accident happened when the train was holding inside the tunnel for a storm to pass and an avalanche wiped out a section of the tunnel carrying the train down with it into the Tye River. 96 people were killed, still the most deadly avalanche disaster in the U.S.
After that tragedy, a lower tunnel was built that still carries freight by rail today.
Remains of the wall, with wonderful hiking trails to various sections of the old tunnel, (1300 feet in one section), and part of the West Portal are visible from the Iron Goat Trail Interpretive center east of the town of Skykomish.
The picture below shows trees that have grown on the edge of the wall and flopped over, giving a perspective of the height of these walls. This massive concrete wall was four feet thick in one section that we could see.