Edmonds was once a very noisy town, trains included | History Files

By Tim Raetzloff | Aug 02, 2019
Photo by: Brian Soergel The new, quieter train horn system in place on Main Street in Edmonds.

As you may know, Edmonds has installed a "quiet zone" on the BNSF railroad.

The idea is that trains no longer signal for street crossings at Main and Dayton streets. Warning horns at those two locations signal instead. As someone who has a business in Harbor Square, I can tell you that the crossing signals are noisier than the trains ever were, but that isn't the point of the story.

The point is that our gentrified areas along Puget Sound (Salish Sea) want quiet. But there was a time that this was a very noisy area, and just about everyone liked it. Steam trains ran along what is now the BNSF right-of-way. Steam trains also pulled logging trains.

You would have been able to find those in Meadowdale, and near Norma Beach, as well as Keeler's Korner and all along the Merrill and Ring right-of-ways. There were also steam donkeys working with the logging crews in the woods, and steam boilers running the saws at the mills.

Quiet? Nobody wanted quiet. Quiet would mean that there was no work being done and no money coming in. Quiet was a bad thing.

And if you want to get an idea of just how noisy it could be, fortunately there are several steam engines still running in the region. My favorite is the Chehalis-Centralia Railroad. It isn't the most scenic train I have ever ridden, but it has one unique feature – at least I hope for a few more years.

Engine No. 15, retired from revenue service in 1956, has a unique relationship to its engineer. The last engineer was a young man named Harold Borovec, who was vocal about saving the engine in a park in Chehalis.

There, No. 15 rusted for 30 years until Chehalis decided it couldn't afford to continue to maintain the engine any longer – not to mention increased liability on a rusting hulk.

Borovec and friends organized a group to acquire No. 15 and start a tourist railroad. They had the engine rebuilt, and now the engine pulls tourists from Chehalis to Milburn or Ruth on summer weekends. On Saturday mornings, Borovec is often the engineer.

There are more scenic locations where you can ride behind a steam engine. Mount Rainier comes to mind. From Elbe on the Paradise side of the mountain, the Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad steam train leads tourists through the woods to Mineral Lake.

The last time I rode, a deer jumped across the tracks behind us. It knew to stay away from the front end of the train.

There is a route on the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad in Yacolt, Washington, that is very pretty and ends near Lucia Falls on the Lewis River. But I can't guarantee that the engine will be steam. If you get to that region, be sure to stop at the Cedar Creek Grist Mill.

It is an 1886 mill that grinds grain into flour using water power. It is a lovely stop, and recently the county replaced the bridge over Cedar Creek with a faux, but pretty covered bridge, designed to look like a bridge from 1886.

I didn't mention the Northwest Railroad Museum in Snoqualmie. The location is lovely, and the depot is authentic, built in 1890 by the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern Railroad Company, but they haven't had an operational steam engine for years.

They do have one in the rebuild process, but until it is operational, you won't be able to hear the powerful noise of a steam engine. And that was the point of all this – to hear a steam engine running in its natural environment, making lots of noise just as you would have heard along Puget Sound 100 years ago.

I didn't mention that Edmonds has memories of its steam past along the waterfront. Near Bell Street on Sunset is an interpretive sign that shows the mill heritage. Along Railroad Avenue at the bus stop near the ferry, embedded in stone and concrete, is the story of the last steam engine that ran through Edmonds and Mukilteo.

At least that was the last steam engine that has run through on the Great Northern. More recently, Southern Pacific #4449 has passed along Puget Sound on special excursions, though I think it has been a decade since the last one.

No. 4449 lives on at the Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation in Portland, and occasionally it is allowed to go out and make some noise.



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