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theonquered the Cascades
Courtesy of the Wenatchee Daily World.
Switchbacks forced Jim Hill
D. W. MC LAUGHLIN
PICTURE, if you can, a transcontinental railroad to which the mighty Rockies were a mere stumbling block, yet which needed 4 per cent grades and switchbacks to get its main line over a range less than half the height of Union Pacific's Sherman Hill or Santa Fe's Raton Pass. This was Great Northern in the early '90's when Jim Hill pushed it through to the Coast.
The destiny of the nation's northernmost transcontinental was plotted by James J. Hill, its construction was guided by the master engineer John Frank Stevens. Three times Stevens conquered the Cascades: once in '93, with switchbacks and 4 per cent grades to get over the 4000-foot Stevens Pass; again in 1900, with a 22-mile tunnel 600 feet under the pass which eliminated the switchbacks and reduced the ruling grade to 2 per cent; and finally in 1925, with his recommendation to the Great Northern's Board of Directors (he was then one of the most respected engineers of the day and had pushed the Panama Canal through to completion) for construction of the 8-milelong Cascade Tunnel which, at one fell swoop, hacked another 500 feet of height, 6 miles of snowsheds, and 8 miles of main line off the Great Northern's troublesome Cascade Division.
Cascade Division, the last section of the Great Northern's St. Paul-to-Seattle main line to be completed - where the motive power grew from 20,085-pound-tractive-effort Moguls to 70,000-pound-tractive-effort Mallets in the short span of 13 years; where the never-ending search for bigger and more powerful motive power led the GN to steal a 60-year march on EMD by sending Consolidations back to Baldwin to be rebuilt to 80,430-pound-tractive-effort Mallets with an unlikely 2-6-8-0 wheel arrangement; where in a tunnel a locomotive once ran at full speed for 10 minutes without moving its train a foot; whose electric locomotives could run at only 15 mph (and at no other speed) whether running light or with full tonnage; where electrics hauled steamers and their trains for 20 years but where the last steamers hauled the electrics.
Cascade Division - where a passenger train entered a tun
THOSE aboard inspection train are looking down on 157-foot-high trestle that led into Horseshoe (Martin's Creek) Tunnel, 5 miles west of switchback.
In 1890 Stevens, pushing his surveyors hard, was 565 miles to the west of Marias when he ran into a barrier. Far more formidable than the 1100foot higher Marias, the 4000-foot pass that would bear John Stevens' name was to be a thorn in Jim Hill's side for the next seven years
a thorn which all but made a mockery of his favorite slogan, “Maximum ton-miles with minimum train-miles," for with the motive power then available the average train over Stevens Pass was to consist of but a half dozen cars.
Good engineer that he was, Stevens had exhausted every other possibility of penetrating the Cascades. His crew surveyed its way up Tumwater Canyon without exceeding 2.2 per cent gradients until at elevation 3382 feet they ran into what looked to be an insurmountable barrier for an adhesion railroad. Obviously a tunnel was called for, but the transits told them that a tunnel would be 214 miles in length, something that might take years to bore. Jim Hill couldn't afford such a delay, so it was switchbacks over the top or nothing. Stevens' decision was expedient, but as history proved, it pushed Great Northern through to the coast perhaps as much as seven years earlier than would have been the case had they waited to finish the tunnel. The railroad history of the Pacific Northwest tells us that Jim Hill was the dominating force in the '90's and the early part of the present century. This was primarily because he had so solidly entrenched himself that he acquired control of the Northern Pacific and later the Burlington, something he obviously could not have done had Great Northern not been a completed railroad. Perhaps but for Stevens' decision to throw a series of switchbacks over the mountain and make GN a complete through line to the Coast, Jim Hill might never have become the great power he later was in American railroading.
Stevens brought the east slope grade from Leavenworth up to what was soon to be known as Cascade Tunnel Station at 3382 feet elevation and the west slope grade from Skykomish up to what was then called Wellington at 3136 feet elevation, with neither grade exceeding 2.2 per cent. Then one of his engineers, C. F. B. Haskell, surveyed a route over the top of the range. Although Haskell held the maximum grade to 4 per cent, the 414, direct miles between Cascade Tunnel and Wellington required 12 miles of rail, eight switchbacks, and a climb to 4059 feet at the summit. Up in the gap Haskell blazed a large tree and marked it
Westbound trains would face 13 miles of 2.2 per cent
grade before reaching the 4 per cent slope. Eastbound trains from Seattle would have fairly easy going until reaching Skykomish; from there they would face 21 miles of 2.2 per cent grade up to Wellington where the switchbacks and the 4 per cent grade began.
The last spike was driven on January 6, 1893, in the town of Scenic at what is now the West Portal of the present Cascade Tunnel. Stevens wasted little time in celebration; he started work on the 212-mile Cascade Tunnel immediately. None knew better than he the great difficulties of operating railroad economically when tonnage had to move over 4 per cent grade and switchbacks.
As his slogan — "Maximum tonmiles with minimum train-miles" indicates, Jim Hill was a believer in big motive power. He bought the best he could get for Stevens Pass, and the best was none too good. He had anchored his push westward on some 250 locomotives, of which 60 Rogers 2-6-0's had been used for heavy freight work. It became apparent even before the 1.8 per cent grades of Marias Pass were encountered that heavier motive power was an absolute necessity. The 20,085 pounds tractive effort and 87,000 pounds weight on drivers of the Rogers Moguls just couldn't handle tonnage such grades, so with the sure knowledge of the heavier grades yet to come in the Cascades, Hill turned to the Brooks Works and asked for the best they could give him in tonnage haulers. In 1892 the Dunkirk builder came up with 26,080-pound-tractive-effort Consolidation with 120,000 pounds on drivers and 180 pounds boiler pressure. These had been preceded by an even heavier 4-8-0 in 1891, good for 28,925 pounds tractive effort, with 132,000 pounds on drivers. Not only were these engines designed for heavy mountain service — the Consolidations for road work and the 4-8-0's for pusher as well as road work — but they also introduced the Belpaire firebox to the Great Northern Railway. The road was to standardize on this type firebox and become the largest user of it next to the Pennsylvania Railroad.
opened in 1893 and through service established, these engines became the backbone of freight power in the Cascades.
On a typical Cascade Division freight movement, one of the Consolidations would arrive at Skykomish from Seattle with 25 cars, some 600 tons tied to its drawbar. Skykomish was a crew and engine change point. A 4-8-0 would be assigned as a pusher, a fresh 2-8-0 put on the head end, and the two engines would roll the train out of Skykomish Yard. Right at the yard limit the battle began, for they went right into the 2.2 per cent grade which extended all of the 21 miles from Skykomish to Wellington. The best the little engines could make was 5 to 6 mph. What with meeting trains, stopping for water, running into rock slides, and so forth, they might be any time from 5 to 15 hours beating their way up to Wellington. After stopping for water and maybe coal at Scenic, they'd sweep around the long left horseshoe curve and the eastbound engine crews would find themselves heading due west directly away from Wellington, still on the steady 2.2 per cent grade. Climbing up out of the Tye River Valley, there would be another stop and maybe a meet at Corea, then they would proceed across a long curved timber trestle over Martin Creek and right into a hole in the side of a rock-walled mountain. This was Horseshoe Tunnel and immediately after entering it they would move around a long right horseshoe, coming out into daylight on a second and smaller trestle, this time heading back east again. They were still climbing the same mountain, but this time at a higher level and in an easterly direction. Soon came another stop at Embro for water, then 2 miles farther west they passed Scenic again, this time 250 feet up in the air and clinging to the side of the mountain.
The rails headed on up Stevens Pass, dug in on the hill on the north side of the Tye River Valley. The grade held a steady 2.2 per cent for 3 more miles, and finally the two engines, by this time badly in need of some enginehouse attention, slowed for the Wellington Yard limit. If space was available in the yard -- and that depended almost entirely on whether the line over the pass was blocked, thereby meaning that Wellington Yard would also be full the engine crews might or might not get to put their train away and go home to the bunkhouse.
Since the line had been opened for traffic over the pass, the switchbacks had been lengthened to the point where they could hold 10 to 12 cars. A train of this length would be made up in Wellington Yard with one
The new engines came to Stevens Pass in time to help complete the switchbacks and to replace the old Rogers Moguls which could handle but two or three cars on the 4 per cent grade. The new engines were good for four to five cars, but since the switchbacks could hold only seven or eight cars, the full benefit of pusher engines could not immediately be realized. When the line was finally