Iron Goat: Wellington Ghost Town
Iron Goat: Wellington, King County, Washington, USA
Follow a gentle path along the eastern portion of the Iron Goat Trail, the original path of the Great Northern Railway. Visit the townsite of Wellington (later named Tye) known for the first Cascade Tunnel and as the site of the worst natural disaster in US history.
At A Glance
TRAIL LENGTH: 2 miles, round-trip
Elevation Gain: 20 feet
HIGH POINT: 3,000'
BEST TIME TO VISIT: Summer or Fall
POPULARITY: Very popular
GOOD FOR: wheelchairs, kids, leashed dogs
WATCH FOR: water quality, road conditions, no cell reception
FEES & PERMITS: Northwest Forest Pass or America the Beautiful Pass
NEAREST RANGER: Skykomish Ranger District Office
COORDINATES: 47°44'58"N 121°07'10"W
LOCATION: In King County near Stevens Pass on US Forest Service land.
HIGHLIGHTS: Tunnel portal, foundations, concrete snowsheds, Vietnam era tank
HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE: The Great Northern Railway, also called the Iron Goat, was the northernmost route of the transcontinental railroads of the late 1800s. The area just west of the Cascade Tunnel was notorious for harsh winters. In order to operate year-round the railroad devised numerous engineering feats, including long concrete snow sheds. In 1910 the weather won, and the town of Wellington became the site of the most devastating avalanche in US history.
FROM US HIGHWAY 2:
- Just west of Stevens Pass Ski area turn north onto Tye Road, also known as the Old Cascade Highway.
- Follow the rough but passable pavement for about 3.5 miles.
- Turn right into the parking lot for the Iron Goat Trail
FROM THE PARKING AREA:
- Explore the parking area, which is where the town of Wellington was located.
- Check out the Vietnam era tank, which is used to control avalanche snows.
- Walk to the information kiosk.
- Go left on the trail, past the pit toilets.
- Follow the trail about .4 miles past foundations to the western portal of the first Cascade Tunnel.
- Backtrack to the parking lot kiosk, and continue on the trail.
- At about .11 miles past the parking lot, cross a bridge.
- Enter the tunnel-like snowshed.
- Walk through the snowshed for about .16 miles. Turn left to the viewpoint and the site of the avalanche tragedy.
- Go back to the snowshed and continue west.
- After about .3 miles emerge from the covered snowshed and follow the path along the remains of other snowshed walls.
THINGS TO SEE:
- Wellington Townsite and Vietnam era tank
- foundation of power plant
- foundation of motorshed
- Cascade Tunnel
- Railroad milepost replica
- intact snowshed
- Wellington avalanche disaster overlook
- snowshed wall remains
Researching primary materials is just as exciting as finding the actual places where the history took place, but it's a slow and challenging process. Exploring History in Your Hiking Boots will be including gems below as we find them.
This article is Essay #5127 from HistoryLink.org, Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History. Written by Greg Lange
During the early morning hours of March 1, 1910, an avalanche roars down Windy Mountain near Stevens Pass in the Cascade Mountains, taking with it two Great Northern trains and 96 victims. This is one of the worst train disasters in U.S. history and the worst natural disaster (with the greatest number of fatalities) in Washington.
On February 23, 1910, after a snow delay at the east Cascade Mountains town of Leavenworth, two Great Northern trains, the Spokane Local passenger train No. 25 and Fast Mail train No. 27, proceeded westbound towards Puget Sound. There were five or six steam and electric engines, 15 boxcars, passenger cars, and sleepers.
The trains had passed through the Cascade Tunnel from the east to the west side of the mountains, when snow and avalanches forced them to stop near Wellington, in King County. Wellington was a small town populated almost entirely with Great Northern railway employees.
The train stopped under the peak of Windy Mountain, above Tye Creek. Heavy snowfall and avalanches made it impossible for train crews to clear the tracks. For six days, the trains waited in blizzard and avalanche conditions. On February 26, the telegraph lines went down and communication with the outside was lost. On the last day of February, the weather turned to rain with thunder and lightning. Thunder shook the snow-laden Cascade Mountains alive with avalanches. Then it happened.
On March 1, some time after midnight, Charles Andrews, a Great Northern employee, was walking towards the warmth of one of the Wellington’s bunkhouses when he heard a rumble. He turned toward the sound. In 1960, he described what he witnessed:
"White Death moving down the mountainside above the trains. Relentlessly it advanced, exploding, roaring, rumbling, grinding, snapping -- a crescendo of sound that might have been the crashing of ten thousand freight trains. It descended to the ledge where the side tracks lay, picked up cars and equipment as though they were so many snow-draped toys, and swallowing them up, disappeared like a white, broad monster into the ravine below" (Roe, 88).
One of the 23 survivors interviewed three days after the Wellington train disaster stated:
"There was an electric storm raging at the time of the avalanche. Lighting flashes were vivid and a tearing wind was howling down the canyon. Suddenly there was a dull roar, and the sleeping men and women felt the passenger coaches lifted and borne along. When the coaches reached the steep declivity they were rolled nearly 1,000 feet and buried under 40 feet of snow" (Roe, 87).
A surviving train conductor sleeping in one of the mail train cars was thrown from the roof to the floor of the car several times as the train rolled down the slope before it disintegrated when the train slammed against a large tree.
Charles Andrews would not make it to the bunkhouse warmth for many hours. Along with other Wellington residents, Andrews rushed to the crushed trains that lay 150 feet below the railroad tracks. During the next few hours they dug out 23 survivors, many with injuries.
In the days that followed, news of the tragedy that reached the rest of the country was inaccurate. On March 1 there were reports of "30 feared dead." On March 2 there were "15 bodies ... recovered ... [and] 69 persons missing. One hundred and fifty men, mostly volunteers, are working to uncover the dead." On March 3 a headline stated, "VICTIMS NOW REACH 118."
The injured were sent to Wenatchee. The bodies of the dead were transported on toboggans down the west side of the Cascades to trains that carried them to Everett and Seattle. Ninety-six people died in the avalanche, including 35 passengers, 58 railroad employees sleeping on the trains, and three railroad employees sleeping in cabins enveloped by the avalanche.
Cause: Rain, Thunder, Fire, Clear Cutting
The immediate cause of the avalanche was the rain and thunder. But, conditions had been set by the clear cutting of timber and by forest fires caused by steam locomotive sparks, which opened up the slopes above the tracks and created an ideal environment for slides to occur.
It took the Great Northern three weeks to repair the tracks before trains started running again over Stevens Pass. Because the name Wellington became associated with the disaster, the little town was renamed Tye. By 1913, to protect the trains from snow slides, the Great Northern had constructed snow-sheds over the nine miles of tracks between Scenic and Tye.
In 1929, a new tunnel was built, making the old grade obsolete. This 1929 tunnel is still today (2003) used by the Burlington Northern Sante Fe Railroad.
The old grade is now the Iron Goat Trail, a hiking trail through the forest and past various examples of railroad archeology. The name Iron Goat was taken from the Great Northern Railway corporate symbol -- a mountain goat standing on a rock. "Iron goat" was applied to Great Northern locomotives climbing mountainous rail line in the Rockies or Cascade mountains.
JoAnn Roe, Stevens Pass: The Story of Railroading and Recreation in the North Cascades (Seattle: The Mountaineers, 1995), 84-90; Don Duncan, Washington The First One Hundred Years: 1889-1989 (Seattle: The Seattle Times, 1989), 50-51; Iron Goat Trail website (http://www.bcc.ctc.edu/cpsha/irongoat/default.htm).
By Greg Lange, January 26, 2003