Alpenglow Ski Mountaineering History Project Home
Kurt E. Armbruster - Orphan Road
This book tells the story of the development of railroads in western Washington, with a special focus on Seattle.
p. 1: Arthur Denny and his family disembarked from the schooner Exact on November 13, 1851 to found the city of Seattle. From the beginning, Denny saw that the future of the city was to connect to the East: "I came to the coast with the belief that a railroad would be built across the continent to some point on the northern coast within the next fifteen or twenty years, and [I] located on the Sound with that expectation."
p. 5: In 1853, Congress appropriated $150,000 to fund reconnaissances of potential rail routes from the Mississippi to the Pacific. Isaac Stevens, a young army officer and assistant director of the U.S. Coast Survey in Washington, D.C., was a strong supporter of the dream to build a railroad to the Pacific. Stevens applied to his friend and newly elected President Franklin Pierce to become governor of the new Washington Territory. Stevens got the job and was also given command of the northernmost of the railroad surveys. Among the surveyors working for Stevens were George McClellan and Abiel Tinkham. Stevens favored Seattle as the western terminus of the railroad (p. 12).
p. 10: Map of George McClellan's routes in Washington from July 1853 to January 1854.
p. 15: In 1857, the Washington territorial legislature proposed that the railroad from the east have two branches, one down the Columbia River to Fort Vancouver and the other over the Cascades to tidewater. A national recession that year delayed action on the proposal. In July 1862, Congress approved the Pacific Railroad bill, which authorized the Union Pacific/Central Pacific line from Omaha to San Francisco as the first transcontinental route. Major General Isaac Stevens died on September 1, 1862, fighting for the Union at the Battle of Chantilly.
p. 16: Photo of Northern Pacific Railroad survey officials in 1869, including William Milnor Roberts, chief engineer.
p. 17: On May 23, 1864, Congress approved the Northern Pacific Railroad bill to build a line between Lake Superior and "some point on Puget Sound."
p. 20: On June 1, 1869, two surveys set out to evaluate the Northern Pacific route, one starting in Minnesota and the other in Washington Territory. The latter party included Thomas Canfield, Samuel Wilkeson, Wiliam G. Moorhead, and William Milnor Roberts, the Northern Pacific's new chief engineer. They reached Portland on July 1 and concluded that the Columbia River was unfavorable as a seaport. After visiting Puget Sound, the party identified several potential terminus sites. Canfield and Roberts recommended that the route from the Columbia be preferred over a more direct route over the Cascades (p. 23).
p. 24: On February 15, 1870, the first spike for the Northern Pacific was driven in Minnesota. The Columbia River was designated as the main line and the Cascade route as the branch line.
p. 27: The author describes expeditions into the Cascades in 1870 to locate the best route for a railroad crossing.
p. 29: On May 19, 1871, the first railroad spike in Washington Territory was driven at Kalama, on the Columbia River northwest of Portland. Construction would advance northward toward Puget Sound. This chapter is devoted to "Terminal Fever," the competition between Puget Sound communities, particularly Tacoma and Seattle, over the railroad terminus.
p. 33: Map of actual and proposed lines for the Northern Pacific between 1870-1884.
p. 37: On July 14, 1873, the Northern Pacific Railroad announced that Tacoma would be the Puget Sound terminus. This marked the beginning of Seattle's "war" with the railroad.
p. 42: During the financial panic of 1873, the Northern Pacific Railroad went bankrupt, not the last time this would occur.
p. 43: In November 1873, the first train traveled from Kalama, on the Columbia River, to Tacoma. (The final spike ceremony was on December 16, 1873.) At this point, 1500 miles of railroad remained to be completed between Kalama and Bismarck in the Dakota Territory. Scheduled service on the Kalama-Tacoma line began on January 5, 1874 (p. 44).
p. 47: In the spring of 1878, W. Milnor Roberts surveyed a railroad line over White Pass (also known as Cowlitz Pass) from Tacoma to Yakima. In 1879, railroad crews began building west from Bismarck. In Washington Territory, crews began working northeast from Wallula Gap (on the big bend of the Columbia River) toward Spokane Falls.
p. 52: Left high and dry by the Northern Pacific's choice of Tacoma as its terminus, Seattle began construction of its own railroad in 1874. Completed in 1877, the line ran to Newcastle, southeast of Lake Washington, a coal mining site.
p. 62: In 1879, Henry Villard began laying track on the south side of the Columbia River eastward from Portland. In 1880 and 1881, Northern Pacific president Frederick Billings sent W. Milnor Roberts to survey Snoqualmie Pass and also sent engineers Isaac Smith and Virgil Bogue to investigate other alternatives. Smith and Bogue found a promising pass at the head of the Green River, later called Stampede Pass (p. 69). In 1881, Villard took over the Northern Pacific Railroad and refocused efforts on the Columbia line rather than the Cascade branch.
p. 72: In 1882, R.M. Armstrong succeeded W. Milnor Roberts as chief engineer of the Northern Pacific.
p. 76: In August 1883, the Northern Pacific Railroad was completed. On September 8, Henry Villard presided over the Golden Spike ceremony at Gold Creek, Montana. In April of that year, Villard had announced that the Cascade crossing would be made at Stampede Pass (p. 75). Shortly after the Golden Spike ceremony, Villard rode the train to Tacoma (via the Columbia River and Portland) to continue the celebration. In Seattle on September 14, 1883, Dr. Thomas T. Minor told Villard (p. 78), "Sir, we have waited long for this day--for years we have waited! Isolation is the severest of prison discipline, and isolation in a community active and industrious, enterprising and aspiring, is as it is in solitary confinement, the severest punishment it can undergo ... You have opened to us the doors of new life, and new liberty!" The author notes that the line from Portland to Kalama was far from ready for regular service at this time and the orphan link from Seattle to Tacoma was still unfinished. On September 12, 1883, regular service began from St Paul, Minnesota to Portland (p. 80).
p. 80: Throughout 1882-83, the Northern Pacific's immigration agencies lured thousands of German, Scandinavian, and British settlers onto its land grant. The tide was so great that San Francisco bemoaned the "strange fondness of immigrants for the wet slopes of the Cascade Mountains and the solitary banks of the great Columbia." By September 1883, the Northern Pacific was broke again and by January 1884, Henry Villard was out (p. 81-82).
p. 85: In June 1884, Seattle completed its "orphan road" to Tacoma, but there was nobody to run it. The first standard-gauge train reached Seattle from Tacoma on June 17 (p. 91). The Orphan Road remained unused during 1885 (p. 100).
p. 105a: The Canadian Pacific Railroad was completed from Montreal to Port Moody, British Columbia in November 1885.
p. 105b: In January 1886, the Northern Pacific announced that the gap over the Cascade mountains between Ellensburg and the Green River would be closed as soon as possible. The line over Stampede Pass (via switchbacks) opened in July 1887. Seattle celebrated with "jollifications" that almost eclipsed 1883's. The author writes: "A great bonfire blazed on Front Street, skyrockets whooshed into the night, revolvers were emptied with abandon, and a long Victorian conga line snaked uptown to the Post-Intelligencer office." The Stampede Pass tunnel opened to trains on May 17, 1888.
p. 110: The Great Seattle Fire erupted on June 6, 1889. Railroad facilities were destroyed, but quickly rebuilt. Soon, scores of boxcars began descending upon Seattle, loaded with brick and sandstone to begin rebuilding the city using fireproof materials.
p. 116: Map of railroad lines in the Seattle-Tacoma area in 1890, including the Seattle Lake Shore and Eastern Railroad (Burke-Gilman) to North Bend.
p. 133: Map of actual and proposed rail lines in Washington between 1890-1893.
p. 138: Black Friday (April 5, 1893) marked the beginning of a nationwide depression.
p. 140: The Klondike gold rush began in 1897.
p. 154: In November 1899, James J. Hill convinced Midwest lumber baron Frederick Weyerhaeuser to purchase 900,000 acres of Northern Pacific timber land in Washington at $6 per acre. This transaction would have profound economic and environmental consequences for the Pacific Northwest. It may have been illegal under the terms of the land grant act of 1864.
p. 160: On December 26, 1908, a massive railroad bridge opened over the Columbia and Willamette Rivers between Portland and Vancouver. This bridge replaced the Kalama ferry crossing, which had proven inadequate as train volumes increased.
p. 163: In 1886, James Jerome Hill began building the Great Northern Railroad westward from Devil's Lake, Minnesota. The Great Northern was designed for low operating costs, taking a straighter route with lower elevations and gentler grades than the older Northern Pacific route. The route was finished on January 7, 1893 at Deception Creek, 13 miles west of Stevens Pass (p. 173). The Stevens Pass crossing was made by a spectacular series of switchbacks. Hill declared that he would carry Puget Sound lumber east at 40 cents a ton. This began the era of large-scale logging in western Washington. In August 1897, construction began on the 13,000-ft Cascade Tunnel. It opened to trains in December 1900.
p. 182: Seattle's elegant King Street Station opened on May 10, 1906. In May 1909, James J. Hill returned to Seattle to address the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition (p. 184). He said, "This exposition may be regarded as the laying of the last rail, the driving of the last spike, in unity of mind and purpose between the Pacific coast and the country east of the mountains." The Seattle Times wrote that Hill was "the greatest empire builder that the United States has ever known."
p. 185: The author provides a brief account of the Wellington avalanche disaster on March 1, 1910. Oddly, he says that the disaster claimed the lives of only 44 people. (Most accounts place the figure at 96 deaths.)
p. 241: In November 1905, the Chicago, Milwaukee and St Paul Railroad announced that it would build a line from Evarts, South Dakota to Puget Sound via Snoqualmie Pass. On p. 242 is a map of the Milwaukee Road and North Coast Railroad from 1905-1910. Construction was slowed by the national recession of 1907. Tracks were laid over Snoqualmie Pass in September 1908 (p. 245) and on April 4, 1909, the first Milwaukee train crossed Snoqualmie Pass from eastern Washington to Seattle. The final spike was driven a Gold Creek, Montana on May 19, 1909. Regular service began on June 14, 1909 and the Snoqualmie Tunnel was completed in 1914 (p. 247). The Milwaukee road struggled financially for decades. The Pacific extension was closed on March 15, 1980 and the line over Snoqualmie Pass was eventually converted to a recreational trail (p. 249).
p. 248: The Milwaukee Railroad began service to Mt Rainier on July 1, 1910 in conjunction with the Tacoma Eastern Railroad. The Tacoma Eastern line was built from Tacoma to Ashford in 1902-1903. Trains left Seattle daily at 8:30 AM and arrived at National, gateway to the park, at 1 PM. Motor limousines took over for the ten-mile drive into the park.
Return to the Alpenglow Ski Mountaineering History Project home page