October 2, 2008 · Updated 1:42 PM
The tracks are gone now, their beds serve as trails. The houses have long since been torn down, and the depot has been dismantled and trucked to another city.
But the memories are still alive, and Bill Walker hopes to preserve them before they, too, vanish.
He is putting the finishing touches on the second installment of his Milwaukee Railroad video series, set to debut Sunday, March 17, at the North Bend Library. Entitled "The Milwaukee Everett Branch: Its People," the 30-minute documentary will have two showings, 2 p.m. and 3 p.m., at the library, located at 115 E. Fourth St.
This video and the once preceding it, "Life Along the Tracks: The Milwaukee Railroad in the Snoqualmie Valley," tell the story of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul Pacific Railroad and the stories of those who lived and worked for the company.
The first documentary premiered in October 2000, four years after Walker began the Milwaukee Railroad Video Project. Over those four years, he spent countless hours interviewing railroad families and collecting pictures, home movies and other artifacts. Four former Milwaukee employees, Allen Miller, Cecil Geelhart, Jim Irvin and Dan Sprau, became involved with the project, volunteering their knowledge and experience to the endeavor.
After the first video was completed, Walker found there was still a wealth of information to be presented, specifically about the families who worked for the railroad, sometimes living in ramshackle, company-built houses with their families.
"A lot of people kept talking to me and saying you should make a second video, you've got a lot of good material," Walker said.
Like that of Marion Morris. Her father was the first station agent at the Milwaukee depot in North Bend, and she described what life was like in the Snoqualmie Valley in the early 1900s. She died in 2000.
"I feel that the preservation of her interviews is really great because she had a lot of stories," Walker said.
"Our goal was to tell it the way it was, show it the way it was."
The Milwaukee Railroad's history in the Pacific Northwest stretches back to 1906, when the company began building a track from the Midwest to Seattle and Tacoma. Of the major railroads, the Milwaukee line had the lowest grade and elevation. As it raced west, the line descended from Snoqualmie Pass to Cedar Falls near Rattlesnake Lake.
From there, the line split in two, with one route running north, through the Valley, to Everett, while the other continued west to Seattle and Tacoma.
"We were the fastest route," said Irvin, who was the freight agent at Cedar Falls. But the railroad's technical superiority was muted by an agreement by the major railroad companies to make their trips from the Midwest in the same amount of time.
"If one did it in 45 hours, we all did it in 45 hours," Irvin said.
The company offered passenger rail service on the Everett branch until the 1930s, and maintained the service on the main line until the 1960s.
The demise of the Milwaukee Railroad has been blamed on company mismanagement. It ceased operations in 1980.
Even though the tracks are gone, the Milwaukee route stills transports people. The state-owned John Wayne Pioneer Trail, spanning Cedar Falls to the Columbia River, was once Milwaukee ground, as is the Snoqualmie Valley Trail, maintained by King County Parks and Recreation.
As freight agent, Irvin shared the Cedar Falls depot with a clerk and three telegraph operators. A 38-year veteran of the Milwaukee Railroad, he recalled how his company-built house, in which lived his wife and three children, paled in comparison to those found in the town of Cedar Falls.
"We had shacks while they had nice homes," he said. "But our wives made those shacks into really nice homes for us." Irvin donated his 8 mm home movies from the 1950s and '60s to the project.
The town of Cedar Falls and the Milwaukee depot are gone, although the depot has been restored after being moved to Covington. To ensure that more people know the railroad's history, Walker is working with Camp Waskowitz so the documentaries can be used as educational tools.
"I am surprised how many young parents with children come to me and say, 'I never knew this,'" Walker said of the railroad's history, adding that this will probably be his last documentary about the Milwaukee Railroad.
"This provides future generations with a window of how life was like in the early 20th century, and that's why I did it."
The Snoqualmie Valley Historical Society sponsored "The Milwaukee Everett Branch: Its People," and the documentary received funding from the Casey T. O'Neil Foundation and Wilderness Glass in North Bend.