Bygone Railroad Days At Cedar Falls, Washington

By Andrew Craig Magnuson

Cedar Falls, WA Cedar Falls, WA
1953 USGS Map (Rev. 1968) Showing Cedar Falls, WA. Cedar Falls Depot, Photographed About 1915.

In the summer of 1979, at the age of 20, I worked on the Cedar River Watershed as a “Forest Guard” on a nine person initial attack fire crew. Our fire crew was responsible for providing initial attack on any wildfires that occurred within the 141 square mile Cedar River Watershed. I lived upstairs in the main watershed headquarters building, located just a few minutes walk down the road from the Cedar Falls Depot.

The Cedar Falls Depot was located just east of the entrance to the grounds of the watershed headquarters. The transcontinental main line of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad ran along the back (north) side of the grounds of the watershed headquarters. The Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad was also known as the Milwaukee Road and prior to 1928 was known as the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railway.

The summer that I worked at the watershed, Burlington Northern trains also used the main line track behind the watershed headquarters where I lived. I remember sometimes I would wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of a passing freight train rumbling onward through the darkness. That summer I often walked past the old circa 1911 wooden depot to go fishing or hiking at Rattlesnake Lake, just a short distance up the tracks. Sometimes I would walk along the tracks and pause in the railroad yard in front of the old depot and marvel at how it was like walking back in time to another era, 50 or 60 years earlier. Although the Milwaukee Road discontinued passenger service in Washington State in May 1961, they continued to use the old Cedar Falls Depot as a station for their freight operations through the 1970's.

Cedar Falls (aka Moncton) was located 39.4 track miles from Union Station in Seattle, on the lower western portion of the grade up over Snoqualmie Pass. By 1979, Cedar Falls had the last remaining siding, between there and the summit, where trains traveling in opposite directions could pass. The depot and railroad yard at Cedar Falls had been a base for operations on the mountainous Snoqualmie Pass grade, ever since the days of steam locomotives. I remember that somewhere across the railroad yard from the depot there was an old building containing a stock pile of sand, which many years ago may have been used to fill the sand domes on old steam locomotives for trips up over Snoqualmie Pass (see map). At the east end of the railroad yard, almost to where Cedar Falls Road S.E. used to cross the tracks, a Milwaukee branch line veered off to the northeast from the end of the railroad yard, before curving back to the northwest through Edgewick, Tanner, and North Bend, to Snoqualmie. The summer that I lived at Cedar Falls, Burlington Northern trains also used this branch line, once known as the Everett Line, to go to the Weyerhaeuser Mill near Snoqualmie.

The Everett Line was built in 1910 and 1911 and at that time it continued on down through the Snoqualmie Valley past the towns of Fall City, Carnation (aka Tolt), and Duvall, and then on through Monroe. At Monroe, the tracks originally crossed on a trestle over the Great Northern tracks, and paralleled them almost to Snohomish, and then continued on the north side of the Snohomish River for about five miles before crossing the river into Everett.

I remember that just east of where Cedar Falls Road S.E. used to cross both the branch line and the main line, at the east end of the railroad yard, there was a big brick building, which was Substation No. 26. I also remember that up the tracks, just east of Substation No. 26, there were some old houses, which were owned by the railroad, where railroad workers used to live. Substation No. 26 and the railroad houses were all located between the branch line and the transcontinental main line. Substation No. 26 dated back to the days when the Milwaukee Road used electric powered locomotives connected to trolley-like overhead power lines. Substation No. 26 was one of many substations located along the railroad, which used to convert 100,000-volt AC current to 3,000-volt DC current to power the electric locomotives, which began operating on the Milwaukee Road, Coast Division, in 1920. Other nearby substations were located at South Cle Elum ( No. 24 ), Hyak ( No. 25 ), Renton ( No. 27 ), and at Tacoma ( No. 28 ).

An interesting feature of the electrified railroad was that when a train was on the way down from the top of Snoqualmie Pass the locomotive engineer would slow the train by throwing a switch, engaging regenerative braking in which the locomotive's electric motors worked as generators, sending power back into the overhead power lines. The Milwaukee Road eventually changed to diesel powered locomotives, partially because there was a non-electrified “gap” in the railroad between Avery, Idaho and Othello, Washington. The use of the last electric powered locomotives in the Coast Division was discontinued in 1971 and removal of the trolley wire from Cedar Falls on up over Snoqualmie Pass began in 1973. Substation No. 26 was torn down during the summer that I worked at Cedar Falls, in 1979.

Now many years have passed since the summer I spent at Cedar Falls. The Milwaukee Road is now long but a memory, with their last diesel powered trains having rolled through Cedar Falls in March 1980. Now the depot and other old railroad buildings are gone. The railroad yard and grades, where the tracks once were, are now overgrown and about all that remains is the concrete foundation of old Substation No. 26. The section of Cedar Falls Road S.E., that used to wind along the shore of Rattlesnake Lake, has now been relocated, partially to the former route of the old main line grade, where the transcontinental main line used to run along the south side of Substation No. 26. The main line grade, from Rattlesnake Lake on up over Snoqualmie Pass, is now part of the John Wayne Pioneer Trail / Iron Horse State Park corridor. The Cedar River Watershed Education Center opened in October 2001, on the site where the old houses that belonged to the railroad used to be located, just east of Substation No. 26.

Because of its scenic location and nostalgic appearance, the Cedar Falls Depot and railroad yard was where some of the closing scenes were filmed in the 1981 movie “Continental Divide”, staring John Belushi and Blair Brown. In the movie, the Cedar Falls Depot had an added Amtrak station sign (a movie prop), which said Victor, Wyoming. The final scene of the movie, just as the credits begin, is a view from beside the Cedar Falls Depot, looking to the northeast across the railroad yard to Rattlesnake Ledge looming behind Rattlesnake Lake and of Mt. Si farther off in the distance.


Home Andrew Craig Magnuson
Forks, Washington
December 10, 2001