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Gary Krist - The White Cascade

Chapter 1 - A Railroad Through the Mountains

p. 15: "Unlike most places in the world, where railroads were built primarily to connect existing centers of population and industry, in the American West railroads had actually created those centers."

p. 16: With the coming of the railroad, the population of Seattle grew from 10,000 in 1880 to 237,000 in 1910. Several smaller cities grew even more dramatically. "Everything seems to have happened within the last ten years," journalist Ray Stannard Baker said of the Northwest in 1903.

Chapter 2 - The Long Straw

p. 32: Mail clerk Alfred B. Hensel described the heavy snowfall at Wellington "[as if] somebody was plucking a chicken."

Chapter 3 - Last Mountains

p. 37: Major Isaac Stevens was given command of the northern railway survey, which began in 1853. Major George B. McClellan had the task of surveying the Cascade Mountains. He did a poor job of it.

p. 39: The Northern Pacific Railroad bill was enacted in 1864. The nation's second transcontinental railroad was to extend from Lake Superior to Puget Sound. The line was completed through the Cascades at Stampede Pass in 1887. Initially the track included a "ridiculously steep grade" of 5.4 percent in one section near the pass.

p. 40: "Give me enough Swedes and whiskey and I'll build a railroad to Hell." --James J. Hill

p. 42: John F. Stevens, for whom Stevens Pass is named, is better known to posterity as the chief engineer of the Panama Canal.

p. 43: The Great Northern Railroad over Stevens Pass was completed on January 6, 1893 near Scenic Hot Springs.

Chapter 4 - A Temporary Delay

p. 52: On Wednesday morning, Feb 23, 1910, Superintendent James O'Neil ordered that trains scheduled to depart for Stevens Pass were to be held at their stations of origin. Six trains already on the mountain were blocked by avalanches and would have to stay where they were until the line was clear. The Seattle Express (No. 25, stopped on the east side of the Cascade Tunnel) was moved into the mouth of the tunnel for a short time to allow the Fast Mail train (No. 27) to pull forward (p. 54).

p. 55: The author describes the original switchbacks over Stevens Pass. The Cascade Tunnel was constructed from 1897 to 1900. The tunnel was electified in 1909 (p. 57).

Chapter 5 - Over the Hump

p. 71, 74: During the evening of Thursday, Feb 24, the Seattle Express and Fast Mail trains were moved from the east side of the crest, where they had been stalled for a day and a half, through the Cascade Tunnel to Wellington, on the west side of the crest.

Chapter 7 - First Loss

p. 85: Early on the morning of Friday, Feb 25, just hours after the trains had been moved through the tunnel, an avalanche struck the station east of the tunnel, killing two men.

p. 87: The hillside above Wellington was sparsely forested. "Wildfires in the area had been allowed to rage unchecked for years, leaving the woodlands around Wellington little more than a forest of charred stumps tangled in huckleberry brush and cedar seedlings."

Chapter 8 - Closing Doors

p. 102, 137: For reasons of safety and practicality, moving the trains back into the tunnel was not considered a practical alternative to leaving them on the passing tracks at Wellington.

p. 104: During the morning of Saturday, Feb 26, a large avalanche came down west of Wellington on the previously plowed line, blocking any movement of trains for at least another day.

p. 107: During the afternoon of Feb 26, foreign snow shovelers began walking off the job, mostly due to poor wages. Around the same time, the dense snowfall began to turn to a driving rain.

p. 110+: Sixteen pages of photographs of the Wellington area and of people in the story.

p. 111: Toward evening on Feb 26, as the rotary plow working west of Wellington started back for more coal, a large slide was found blocking the plow from behind. Low on fuel, the plow was now stranded. The two trains at Wellington were stuck until outside help could arrive.

Chapter 10 - Ways of Escape

p. 129: On Sunday, Feb 27, two lawyers and another passenger hiked out to Scenic. During the hike out they encountered two young passengers who joined them. Upon reaching Scenic they telegraphed back: "ARRIVED SAFE. DON'T COME." During the previous night, most of remaining snow shovelers walked off the job (p. 131).

Chapter 11 - Last Chances

p. 141: Around noon on Monday, Feb 28, after a night of avalanches, a group of passengers and railroad employees hiked out to Scenic in just an hour and a half, one-third the time required by the previous group. They composed a telegram recommending that the other passengers follow them, but the message didn't go through.

p. 147: The author discusses whether Superintendent James O'Neill should have attempted to get the passengers off the mountain on foot.

p. 151: On Feb 28, thirty-four passengers signed a petition to O'Neill requesting to meet him to find a way to get off the mountain. Occupied with the one remaining rotary plow, O'Neill did not come. A number of passengers made plans to hike out the next morning (p. 153).

Chapter 12 - Avalanche

p. 159: In the early hours of Tuesday, Mar 1, heavy rain turned into a fierce thunderstorm. At 1:42 a.m. an enormous wet-slab avalanche released on the side of Windy Mountain. John Wentzel, a railroad crewman, recalled, "I saw the whole side of the mountain coming down, tearing up everything in its way (p. 161)." The author relates the testimony of survivors about the avalanche and its immediate aftermath. On the Fast Mail train, a voice in the darkness was heard to say, "My God, this is an awful death to die."

Chapter 13 - "The Reddened Snow"

p. 174: "The story is written in the torn mountain, in the reddened snow." --Reverend W.E. Randall, First Baptist Church of Everett

p. 180: A.B. Hensel, the only mail clerk to survive the wreck of the Fast Mail train, sent a telegram to chief mail clerk in Spokane. This was the first message from Wellington itself to reach the outside world.

p. 192: On March 6, crews working east of the pass encountered a tremendous slide at Berne. The snow was 100 feet deep on the tracks.

p. 197: On March 10, the first engine reached Wellington after the avalanche (from the east). On Saturday, Mar 12, the line was finally cleared from the west (p. 198). Sometime after midnight Sunday morning (Mar 13), another avalanche hit a rotary plow, hurling it down the mountain, killing one person (p. 199). Passengers in a train trapped on the mountain were ordered to evacuate the train and hike out to Scenic.

Chapter 14 - Inquest

p. 202: During the coroner's inquest, the Great Northern Railroad was criticised for failing to suppress forest fires on the slopes around Wellington (destroying trees that might have prevented the avalanche), for the lack of snowsheds, and for penny-pinching labor practices.

p. 215: The coroner's jury found that the cause of the Wellington avalanche was "beyond human control." But the verdict also contained criticism which left the railroad open to lawsuits.

Chapter 15 - Act of God

p. 220: In October 1910, the railroad quietly changed the name of the station at the west portal of Cascade Tunnel from Wellington to Tye.

p. 234: In Topping vs. The Great Northern Railway Company, the court ruled in favor of the plaintiff, the father of Ned Topping, one of the avalanche victims. The railroad immediately appealed the decision to the Washington State Supreme Court. In August 1914 the Supreme Court overturned the lower court, stating that the avalanche was an Act of God.

p. 236: The author writes that the Great Northern Railroad case showed that the tide of history was shifting from laissez-faire attitudes toward a balance of power between Big Business and the public. That plus competition from automobile and truck transportion marked the beginning of end of the supremacy of the railroads.


p. 240: On January 12, 1929, the new 7.8-mile Cascade Tunnel was dedicated. It was the longest tunnel in the Western Hemisphere at the time. Both James F. Stevens and James H. O'Neill were present at the dedication ceremony. Great Northern founder James J. Hill died in 1916.

p. 241: During the legendary winter of 1915-16, at least four slides killed at least 15 people on the Stevens Pass route and closed the line for an entire month. (The book provides more details.)

p. 250: Review of weather records revealed that the late-February storm leading to the Wellington avalanche was actually not a single storm but three separate weather systems that passed through the area in close succession.

The slope angle of the avalanche starting zone was 32 degrees.


p. 253: The official death toll compiled by the Great Northern Railway for the Wellington avalanche was 96 persons. The number rises to 100 when other deaths that occurred between Feb 25 and Mar 13, 1910, are included. The appendix includes a complete roster of the victims.

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Last Updated: Fri, Dec 28, 2012 11:06:17 PM