Railroad documentary shows life along the tracks
October 2, 2008 · Updated 2:33 PM
When Valley residents meander along the Snoqualmie Valley Trail, picking blackberries or
throwing stones in the river, they are unknowingly walking in the ghost
tracks of a long-gone railroad.
The railroad, named the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, Pacific
Railroad, is commonly known as the Milwaukee, and is the subject of a
documentary that will be shown at 10 a.m. this Saturday at the North Bend Theatre.
There is no charge for tickets, as the non-profit venture is sponsored
by the Snoqualmie Valley Historical Society.
The 30-minute documentary is called, "Life Along the Tracks:
The Milwaukee Railroad in the Snoqualmie Valley," and was
the brainchild of Valley resident Bill Walker.
"The stories you will hear in the video are the personal stories of
the working people and how they felt about the Milwaukee
Railroad," Walker said.
As project director and researcher, Walker has run into many people
who often confuse the Milwaukee with Northern Pacific, which ran on
the tracks that the Snoqualmie Valley Railroad Museum's train now graces.
The tracks are different from those of the Milwaukee, which run along the
river near the town of Snoqualmie.
Walker explained that the purpose of the video is to preserve the
voices and images of the railroad's working people as a historic legacy.
"That was their income, their dedicated life's work," he said.
Unraveling the past
Walker, 77, hatched the idea for the video project about four years ago
after he met Valley Resident, Tana DesRossiers, who told him that
she had raised her family in a boxcar that traveled west while her husband
was working for the Milwaukee Railroad in the 1930s.
Walker later took his dog for a walk along the Snoqualmie
Valley Trail and met a group of bikers.
"They thought the trail had something to do with a railroad, but
outside of that, did not know anything about the Milwaukee," he said.
Eventually, Walker met several ex-Milwaukee employees,
including Cecil Geelhart and Allen Miller, and heard their stories of how the
railroad's demise affected their lives.
There are more than 45 personal interviews on the video, which
reveal the turmoil caused by the railroad's abandonment.
Walker, a retired mechanical engineer and Navy World War II
veteran who's had a lifelong interest in trains, then formed the Milwaukee
Railroad Video Project and sought out a company to do the filming, Byrd
Productions, and organizations to fund the documentary.
"I decided then that their voice and their image should be preserved
for future generations and to publicize their life stories," he stated.
The railroad's history
The railroad was originally called the Chicago, Milwaukee and St.
Paul, and was very successful at the turn of the century.
However, railroad management feared losing business to other
railroads and a takeover by larger railroad companies, and decided to expand
to the Northwest, Walker said.
Construction began in 1906 to form a track from the Midwest
"The line was (a) superbly civil-engineered design," Walker said.
"It was an outstanding construction because it was the shortest distance
from Chicago to Puget Sound and had the lowest track elevation compared
with other transcontinental lines."
The Snoqualmie tunnel was completed in 1915, and in 1920,
"Pacific" was officially added to the
For decades, the Milwaukee operated in competition with the
Northern Pacific, which eventually became part of Burlington-Northern. Parts of
the Milwaukee ran until March 1980, when its officials filed for
bankruptcy. Its western lines were abandoned and the Soo Railroad later purchased
its Midwest lines.
"The reason for the demise of the Milwaukee Railroad is a
complicated and intriguing story of economics, politics and the personal
idiosyncrasies of the officials involved,"
Many railroad experts have said that the Milwaukee's competition
with other railroads rivals the battles of high-tech companies today.
From tracks to trails
Besides the Snoqualmie Valley Trail, which is owned by the
King County Parks System, another branch of the tracks also exists in disguise.
Washington State Parks owns what is now called the John Wayne
Pioneer Trail, which runs from Cedar Falls to the Columbia River.
The line that's now the Snoqualmie Valley Trail used to
run to Everett, snakes from Cedar Falls to North Bend, past the Mount Si
Golf Course to the Snoqualmie River, where the old steel railroad bridge
still stands. The trail bypasses Weyerhaeuser property, picks up
again at Tokul Creek and goes all the way to Duvall.
Walker said Valley residents would benefit from watching the video
because it reveals local historical events that are important to know and
understand, especially since these trails still exist.
"Those who don't know about history do not have the advantage of
a valuable opinion on today's events," he said.
Besides the North Bend Theatre showing, the video will soon be
available for check-out at Valley libraries and for sale at the Snoqualmie
Valley Museum and the North Bend Train Depot for $29.95. In addition,
local school districts are considering the video's inclusion in their
curriculum, as is Camp Wascowitz, and Walker might present the documentary to
PBS in the future.
The Washington Commission for the Humanities, the Casey T.
O'Neil Foundation of Minnesota, and King County were organizations that
sponsored the project, along with local companies Wilderness Glass,
Optiva, Sterling and the Whitaker Foundation.
All grants and donations went toward the documentary's
production costs of $21,000.
The Snoqualmie Valley Historical Society sponsored the project by
handling the donations and providing support.
"By sponsoring this project and retaining the archival support
footage, the Museum is meeting one of its goals, namely the preservation
of Snoqualmie Valley history and the availability of this historic data to
researchers," Walker said.
Walker spent 1,533 volunteer hours on the project and drove
over 7,000 miles doing research, tasks, errands and presentations.
Thirty-five people also volunteered their services to the project, 38 individuals and
organizations made in-kind donations and countless others
contributed money and support.
And Walker appreciates them all.
For more information, visit