Tag Archives: Transportation

Cora Blake Endures

The wreck of the Cora Blake lies beneath the shallow waters of this Lake Whatcom bay.

The wreck of the Cora Blake lies beneath the shallow waters of this Lake Whatcom bay.

I have one of the most beautiful commutes in the country, I’m pretty sure. My drive is around fifteen miles long, winding through precipitous hills clad in dark and overgrown forests of hemlock, Douglas fir and Bigleaf Maple. Most of the route follows the south shore of Lake Whatcom on a road that is thinly traveled. The drive I make is a relatively recent road, though.

Since American settlers first visited this lake in the mid-1800s, boats were the favored mode of transportation. Native Americans taught the earliest settlers how to build shovel-nosed canoes made of a single hollowed-out cedar log. Row boats followed, then sailboats. The first of the steam-powered boats was launched in the late 1800s, and it contributed its muscle to burgeoning industries of coal-mining and the lumber trade.

By the early 1900s several steamboats traveled the twelve-mile length of Lake Whatcom, visiting docks of settlers and nascent communities along the way. Other steamboats dragged barges loaded with coal or with train cars loaded with coal. Still others nudged rafts of huge logs toward several lumber and shake mills that dotted the perimeter of the north end of the lake. Continue reading

Waiting for a Train

Taunton’s red brick substation from the middle of the abandoned Milwaukee Road main line, looking west in July, 2012.

In the 1940s the Milwaukee Road provided an important means of transportation in Central Washington. Gasoline rationing meant that much travel took place by train.Whether they were traveling out of military duty or seeking work on farms or at the burgeoning Manhattan Project south of Saddle Mountain, travelers might at some point be stranded in the middle of nowhere, waiting for a train.

I grew up near the red brick substation of Taunton, a minor stop on the line. It’s hard to imagine why strangers from Virginia or Ohio might find themselves waiting for a train at Taunton. Perhaps their train had to pull onto the siding to get out of the way of another, more important train. Nonetheless, in my intimate knowledge of the Taunton substation, I knew of several occasions when stranded travelers left evidence of their visit in the form of scrawled pencil lines on the red brick.

Travelers’ graffiti that remains of the walls of Taunton’s substation is usually found on bricks that would be in shaded areas in the heat of an afternoon. With no air conditioning, it would quickly become unbearably Continue reading

The Pass

Skiers dressed more casually in the late 1940s. A line forms for the rope-tow to the top of the Snoqualmie Pass ski hill in the background.

Wilderness skiing at Snoqualmie Pass began in the 1920s, and as it gained in popularity, the Seattle Parks Department sought a permit to open a designated ski hill at the summit. Tourists took the Milwaukee Road trains to the summit for picnics and hiking in the summertime, and the railroad provided transportation to the ski slopes in the winter. The convenience of automobile access to the summit led to a decline in reliance on the train for transportation. A private enterprise applied with the Forest Service to construct a rope-tow, and by 1937 the Snoqualmie Summit Ski Resort was in operation.

Walls of snow line the shoulders of the highway at the summit of Snoqualmie Pass. The state rest area and the ski areas were constructed in the 1930s.

The pass got a lot more snow in those days. Plowing the highway created canyons of icy snow. Intrepid skiers lined up shoulder to shoulder as they waited for the rope-tow to the top of the slopes. Continue reading

The Forgotten Train Wreck

News of the wreck was suppressed. It is not known how many GIs lost their lives when this troop train derailed.

News of the wreck was suppressed. It is not known how many GIs lost their lives when this troop train derailed.

World War II brought many changes to the bucolic way of life people were used to living in Eastern Washington. A huge chunk of sandy real estate south of Saddle Mountain had been condemned and occupied by the government, and nobody knew what they were doing there–and if you got too nosy, they’d shoot at you. On the north side of the mountain, the Yakima Firing Range had been extended into the Lower Crab Creek valley. Fighter and bomber pilots flew missions in the skies above the canyons and scablands that used to stand silent in the blistering heat.

Yet below the mock combat, farmers and ranchers continued to plant crops and herd livestock to feed the country. Oscar Danielson died early in the war, leaving the running of his Crab Creek ranch to his eldest son, Walter. Because he had a job farming, Walter was excused from serving in the armed forces. Not so the next younger sons.

George, the second son, joined the Army and received training as an engineer. His unit was shipped off to North Africa in 1942. Years later, George would tell me that he had “passed through Kasserine Pass about an hour before Rommel took it.” A year or so ago I read Rick Atkinson’s book about Americans in North Africa, An Army at Dawn. In it, I learned that the engineers had been left to defend Kasserine Pass against Rommels Panzerkorps. My uncle was too modest to admit the role he had played in buying extra time for the American retreat through Kasserine Pass.

Lawrence, the third son, also served in the Army in Europe in World War II. His stories I never heard, and indeed, his own family heard little about what he witnessed in Italy until very late in his life. War is hell, so they say.

Even the only daughter, fourth child in the family, was fated to marry a man who served as a Chief Petty Officer in the Navy during the war. But somehow, they all came home alive and whole.

My father told me once about the problem Crab Creek ranchers had with the flyers during the war. Bomber pilots trained with dummy bombs–casings filled with powder (flour, most often) so that their strikes could be noted from the air. But the fighter pilots used live fifty-caliber ammunition, interlaced with tracers so that they could see what they hit. Some of the pilots used to strafe cattle along the creek. Ranchers, howling their protests at Moses Lake Army Air Base in Moses Lake (later, Larson Air Force Base), were told that the pilots would be disciplined as soon as their plane’s tail number was reported. Of course, by the time ranchers Continue reading