Six and a half miles east of the town of Granite Falls you can find some of the most spectacular railroad ruins in the state of Washington. Lower Robe Canyon on the south fork of the Stillaguamish River is still a wild and scenic place. In this canyon, the newly organized railroad would make a great blunder.
This monument marks the trail head for the Robe Valley trail.
July 4th, 1889 saw the first mining claim staked in Monte Cristo starting a gold rush. Named for the Alexander Dumas book, the mining towns founders hoped that the town and vicinity would also produce fabulous wealth. The area is still remote, and at the time, the only access was by pack trails that followed the Sauk River. Movement of supplies to the gold camps by pack team was slow and expensive.
Charles Colby and Colgate Hoyt, founders of the City of Everett, realized the need, and potential profit, of a railroad running from Everett to the mining camp. The Northern Pacific had its terminus in Tacoma, and The Great Northern was surveying routes across the Cascades and railroad fever was everywhere. Where the railroad went, growth, and opportunity followed. Only with railroads could the regions timber and mineral resources be economically developed.
Hoyt convinced his friend John D. Rockefeller to put up the money and the Everett and Monte Cristo Railway (E&MCR) was incorporated on March 11, 1892. Construction began almost immediately.
Long time residents of the area warned the railroads surveyors of the rivers capacity for sudden and violent flooding. They ignored the advice, dismissing the river as a little trout stream. Words theyd soon regret. Three bridges and six tunnels in lower Robe Canyon were completed by November 1892, just in time for the largest storm in 20 years.
The storm washed out the grade at many locations, and covered it with landslides in others. The Railways board of directors dismissed the storm as a 100 year storm and ordered the line repaired, beginning a pattern that would repeat itself continually for the next 40 years. The decision of the board of directors of the Railway to route the railroad through the lower 5 miles of the canyon is acknowledged as their greatest blunder.
At tunnel #6, the river at flood stage would
frequently flow through the tunnel, washing out the rails and ties. Debris
would lodge in the tunnel and undermine the tunnels supports causing
them to collapse. The NPs solution was to embed over 1000 feet of the
road bed upstream, and through the tunnel, in concrete!
For a time, the railroad enjoyed growth in freight revenue by transporting miners, supplies and machinery to the mining camps. In turn they carried the ore concentrates from the mines to smelters in Everett. Logging operations followed the railroad into the valley providing additional business transporting logs to the mills along the railway. The line also became a popular tourist destination.
By 1897 it became apparent that the mineral deposits in Monte Cristo were not of high quality and shipments of equipment and ore concentrates declined. The expense of repairs to the line after every storm exceeded revenue. The railway was unsuccessful in attempts to renegotiate higher rates with the few mines still operating, and the decision was made not to rebuild the line east of Granite Falls.
The roadbed washed out repeatedly at the
west portal of tunnel #5. Here it is gone for good. A portion of the
concrete retaining wall built by the NP is visible in the lower
right of the picture, leaning out over the river.
By 1899 the mines and railroad were in receivership. John D. Rockefeller decided that the best way to cut his losses was to rebuild the railroad and sell it. In February 1903 The Everett & Monte Cristo was taken over by the Northern Pacific.
By 1915 the Northern Pacific had given up on what they called the Monte Cristo branch. The NP leased the branch from Hartford east to Monte Cristo to the Rucker brothers who owned a sawmill in Lake Stevens and needed continued rail access to their timber camps east of Granite Falls. The Ruckers operated the railroad as the Hartford Eastern. They were chartered as a common carrier and required to provide rail service to the lumber camps, towns, and still operating mills on the line, all the way to Monte Cristo. This requirement would place a large strain on the brothers as the line began to deteriorate.
The turntable is still in place in the ghost
town of Monte Cristo.
The Rucker brothers also built the Inn at Big Four Mountain. Guests were transported from Everett to the Inn (several miles east of Granite Falls) in gas cars (rail busses). The gas cars were more economical to operate than passenger trains. The Inn was quite popular and many notable people of the day signed it's guest book.
The main fire place is almost all that remains of the Inn at Big
Four Mountain (visible in the background).
By 1925 the Rucker brother's lease was due to expire. The Northern Pacific had no interest in renewing the lease and insisted that the Rucker's purchase the line. They were left with little choice as it was still their only access to their timber camps.
The collapse of the stock market in 1929 gave the Rucker brothers the opportunity they needed to sell their timber assets, including the Hartford Eastern and lease the Inn to another operator.
Auto roads began to penetrate the area around 1919 and by 1933 construction of the Mountain Loop Highway signaled the end of rail service to the area. By 1936 the rails had been removed and sold for scrap to Japan.
|Lower Robe Canyon Pictures||Monte Cristo Pictures|
Bibliography and Suggested Reading:
Woodhouse, P., Jacobson, D., & Petersen, B. (2000) The Everett a nd Monte Cristo Railway. Oso Publishing, Arlington WA ISBN 0-9647521-8-2
Woodhouse, P. Monte Cristo. (1996) The Mountaineers, Seattle WA ISBN 0-89886-071-7
Roe, J. Stevens Pass. (1995) The Mountaineers, Seattle WA. ISBN 0-89886-371-6