Railroad documentary shows life along the tracks

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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

to Tacoma.

"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

railroad's name.

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,"

Walker explained.

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

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