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Operations on the Chumstick River and Tumwater Northern RR
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Author:  SteveF [ Fri Aug 07, 2015 3:52 pm ]
Post subject:  Operations on the Chumstick River and Tumwater Northern RR

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Growling up the grade at BS Junction.

Every railroad has a history. If you don't know where you have been, you won't know where you are going. Here is mine.

The Chumstick River and Tumwater Northern Railroad

A History

Steven Featherkile


The golden spike on the Chumstick River and Tumwater Northern Railroad was driven on July 4, 1884, near what is now Cole's Corner, Washington, after more than three years of carving a roadbed out of the basalt rock in the Tumwater Canyon. Originally established as a thirty inch narrow gauge road serving the mining and timber interests in the Cascade Mountains north and west of Wenatchee, Washington, bringing the timber and mining products down to the steamboats on the Columbia River at Wenatchee, the CR & TN became a major contributor to the economic health of North Central Washington, and a source of pride to the early residents of the area, carrying freight and passengers for over sixty years.

Because of grade problems, the CR & TN was a one-way loop from Leavenworth to Lake Wenatchee following the Chumstick River. The return route was laid down following Nason Creek, and then through the Tumwater Canyon along the Wenatchee River to serve the mines in the canyon. There was a branch line that went to the head of Lake Wenatchee along the North Shore, and then part way up the White River to White River Falls, to serve the mining and timber interests in that area. The CR & TN never did push beyond the falls as it was not economically feasible to get above the Falls. The falls was just too high, and the “way around” was too long. There wasn’t much timber beyond the falls, and what mines there were could bring their ore down below the Falls by wagon.

The route through the Tumwater Canyon was an engineering marvel. The Wenatchee River makes some rather precipitous (for a railroad) drops as it courses through the canyon, necessitating a series of switch backs and tunnels, some of which can still be seen today. These same switchbacks created a 3.5% grade in some places, making the trip through the Tumwater a one way venture. While a one-way track may not seem to make economic sense, the mines around Lake Wenatchee and in the Tumwater were very prolific, allowing the CR & TN to show a profit until the mines played out in 1910. Other cargo besides timber and ore included a failed experiment that tried to import and domesticate the Rocky Mountain Goat for meat and for milk, and wealthy passengers wanting to access the rich fishing experience of Lake Wenatchee. In later years, daredevils in small rubber rafts challenged the Wenatchee River as it dropped through the Tumwater Canyon. Almost every train in the summer months included an ambulance car to carry the injured to the interchange at Leavenworth. The rafters pain paid handsomely for this early form of medevac. All things considered, the CR & TN paid its investors quite well during its life.

In 1889, the Great Northern Railroad leased trackage rights through the Tumwater Canyon. In the agreement, the GN was required to maintain it, but the right-of-way remained the property of the CR & TN. Included in the agreement was the stipulation that any changes made would allow the CR & TN to use the Tumwater Canyon, resulting in a rather strange, but not all that uncommon, three rail arrangement. As engineering techniques improved, the GN was able to do away with the switchback and tunnel method employed by the CR & TN, replacing it with track that had a maximum 2.2% grade. In 1929, with the opening of the Great Northern's Cascade Tunnel, the line through the Tumwater canyon was electrified.

By 1912, it became obvious that with the mines closing and the timber almost gone, a new cargo had to be developed if the CR & TN was to survive. In September of that year, borrowing a page from Jim Hill’s playbook, two hundred acres of apple trees were planted near Plain, Washington in the Chumstick River valley. This was marvelously successful, and by 1920, additional acreage had been planted such that the entire Chumstick Valley was covered with fruit trees. With the maturing in 1916 of the original trees that had been planted in 1912, the continued success of the CR & TN was assured.

In 1925, the thirty inch narrow gauge track was replaced with standard gauge track so that other railroads’ rolling stock could be used in the Chumstick Valley, and the third rail that had existed in the Tumwater Canyon was removed. During the Depression years following 1929, business along the CR & TN slowed somewhat, but unlike most small railroads of that era, it survived, due to good management, the apple and a large measure of luck.

During World War II, the Chumstick River and Tumwater Northern merged with the Great Northern Railroad. There was a minor squabble among the principals of the two railroads as to which name would be used. History shows that the Great Northern finally won out, but what is not reported in most texts is that a game of Ship, Captain and Crew played over several six packs of Olympia Beer in the Bar of the Squirrel Tree Resort at Cole’s Corner decided the issue (and now, you know The Rest of the Story). The CR & TN passed into history on July 21, 1944. The Great Northern Pacific, Burlington and Santa Fe Railroad (usually called the BNSF) still uses the original roadbed along the Chumstick River. The roadbed through the Tumwater was used by the GN until 1954 for its electrified Empire Builder, Oriental Limited and Western Star passenger runs, primarily for the exquisite scenery. Later, the tracks were pulled out, and the roadbed through the canyon was abandoned. US Highway 2 now occupies what was the CR & TN and the GN roadbed through the canyon.

Visitors to the Wenatchee, Washington area can still see remnants of the CR&TC, and the later GN; the switchbacks and tunnels in the Tumwater Canyon, the apple orchards in the Chumstick, the dam in the Wenatchee River as it passes through the canyon, and the remains of the aqueduct and powerhouse near Leavenworth that supplied power to run the trains over Stevens Pass, and the restored freight and passenger station in Leavenworth. Information can be obtained by inquiring of the Greater Wenatchee Area Tourism Commission at 124 North Chelan Avenue, Wenatchee, Washington 98801.

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The Wye about half way.

Author’s notes for historians: The Chumstick Creek (not River) flows through the Chumstick Valley and joins the Wenatchee River at Leavenworth. The Wenatchee River has its headwaters on Glacier Peak in Whatcom County, Washington, as the White River and the Little Wenatchee Rivers. These two rivers flow into Lake Wenatchee and the outflow of Lake Wenatchee is then called the Wenatchee River. Initially a meander, midway in its journey it flows through the Tumwater Canyon, usually as a raging torrent (usually a Class V, and sometimes a Class VI, unrunnable river), and then slows down at Leavenworth, Washington, where it enters the upper Wenatchee Valley, a fertile fruit growing region, on its way to the confluence with the Columbia River at Wenatchee, Washington. Cole’s Corner and Plain, Washington are real place names in the area of discussion.

The Great Northern used the Tumwater Canyon until 1929, when it replaced it with a better grade through the Chumstick Valley. Electrification ended in 1956. The Leavenworth passenger depot is now the Leavenworth Grange Hall, and on Friday nights the place is hopping to some great acoustic music. Admission is by donation, but get there early if you want a seat, certainly before 8:00 PM. The rugged, but handsome red brick GN depot in Wenatchee is gone now, fallen to iconoclasts (suits in the Burlington Northern). The Burlington Route, Northern Pacific and Spokane, Portland and Seattle merged with the Great Northern in 1970 to become the Burlington Northern Railroad. The BN merged with the Santa Fe to become the BNSF in 1995, and still uses the track through the Chumstick on its way over the Cascade Mountains from Chicago to Seattle.

The story of the CR & TN is a product of my fevered, flea-bitten, retired Navy mind and exists only there, in my garden and in my basement. The railroad is designed as a Point to loop to point, for operations, and for those times when I just want to sit and watch the locomotive pull its train. All myths are based on fact. As the reporter said to the man who did not shoot Liberty Valance, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” Put another way; never let the facts interfere with a great story.


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World's best Brakeman, Gunny.

Author:  paulrace [ Fri Aug 07, 2015 8:18 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Operations on the Chumstick River and Tumwater Northern

Steve, thanks for the great post.

My RR's history is slightly less complex. :-) "New Boston and Donnels Creek" was an Ohio short line that was absorbed into PRR in 1929 (MANY were), but it was the "western division" after all, so PRR ran whatever old pieces they could couple togther. :-)

Ops-wise, I had a bunch of turnouts and possible operations, but I take them out for the Christmas open RR, so actual operations are curtailed until I put the turnouts back in each summer. :-)

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