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Railroads In The Forest

Darrington Logging And Their Railroads

Sound Timber Company, photo from Darrington Historical Society

Often when one thinks of  a railroad the picture comes to mind of a quaint depot with people arriving and departing, the shuffling of luggage and cargoes.  The logging railroad did not travel from coast to coast nor city to city, it served a community, sawmill and their logging camps.  The railways were carved deep into the wilderness, traversing steep mountains and crossing canyons and rivers.
  Many of the hiking trails and roads that we travel today were once the railroad grades off the logging railroads.

A Railroad In The Forest

The logging trains reached deep into the timberland bringing logs to their mills.  The Irving log pond, photo Phil Berquist

In the year 1907 during President Theodore Roosevelt's administration, National Forest Reserves were being cautiously opened up for timber harvest.  Only selected mature trees in limited quantities were made available for sale.  The first contract for timber harvest was made with the Hazel Mill Company in 1908 at the French Creek area.  The contract consisted of 320 acres estimated at 7,860,000 board feet of mixed hemlock, fir and cedar.  This is when a logging railroad needs to be constructed and by 1909 the length of track reached 8 miles into the woods, this railroad grade is now where you start your hike on the Boulder River Trail.  The logging railroad was not only built to move the logs to the sawmills and connect to the mainline, but also to move the equipment in, transport the working men back and fourth and bring in the cook house and bunk houses to establish a logging camp.  It was typical in these days that a logger might work a 10 to 12 hour day, 6 days a week with the occasional visit back to town to see their families and loved ones.

Sauk River Logging Camp, photo from Finas Skeers

The Arlington-Darrington tracks were completed in 1901, referred to as the mainline.  This is where the Whitehorse Rails-To-Trails is today.  Many logging railroads would later connect to the mainline.  Danahur later Sauk River Logging Co. came to the area in 1922 and proceeded to build the most modern state of the art mobile logging camp including 26 bunkhouses with hot and cold running water, kitchens, toilet facilities, a large cook-house, a blacksmith shop, etc.  All of the buildings were constructed on railroad flat cars and moved several times in the course of history.  They started near the confluence of the Sauk and White Chuck River in 1923, then to the Falls Creek area in 1925, then to Dan's Creek in 1929, Bedal in 1936 and then back to White Chuck in 1952.  Several of these buildings are still being used in Darrington today as dwellings, churches and businesses.  The White Chuck Bench trail and Beaver Lake trail both start on one of the old Sauk River Logging railroad grades today.
 Sound Timber crossing the Sauk River going up Suiattle River,
 this is where the current bridge going to Forest Service #26, "Suiattle Road" is today. Photo USFS

By 1952 Sauk River Logging Co. accumulated 35 miles of track, by 1944 Sound Timber Co. laid 38 miles to the south of town and into the Suiattle River area, and Dannehar Logging Co. laid 18 miles of track north of town in the North Mountain area. When hiking the Darrington area or driving the Mountain Loop Highway,  you will see the old grades, subtle reminders of railroads of bygone days.   

Waiting For The Train

Tragedy hits Darrington in 1926-27 when a Sauk River Logging Train derails as it was bringing the men back to town.
Loss of life and several wounded, a time of mourning for the town's people and a memory that was felt for generations.

The returning and departing locomotives whistles could be heard all over the valley connecting the community with their loved ones working in the woods.  You could hear the whistle blow as the men were returning home, and all stopped and listened as they counted the whistle blows.  Three sounds of the whistle meant a man was returning injured and 20 long whistle blows meant someone's loved life had been lost in the woods and the town came together to help and support the family.

History Shapes A Community

Today the community still comes together when a member of the community passes away.  Usually they meet at the Darrington Community Center for a large pot luck and time is spent sharing photos and memories.