The Railroad at Cedar Falls: Dorothy Graybael Scott's Story

  • By HistoryLink Staff
  • Posted 1/01/2000
  • Essay 2454
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This account of life at a Cedar Falls railroad camp (in east King County) was originally recorded on June 15, 1993 as a part of the Cedar River Watershed Oral History Project. Dorothy Graybael Scott moved to Cedar Falls in 1922, as a young girl. Her father, Carl Graybael, worked for the Milwaukee Railroad in Cedar Falls, as a substation operator. Cheryl Meyer conducted the interview at Mrs. Scott's North Bend home.

Excerpt From the Interview

"Dad went to work for Milwaukee (the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad, also known as Milwaukee Road), at the Cedar Falls substation. He was second trick operator up there for years. There were three operators, each provided with a house. Dad went to work at 4:00 in the afternoon and worked until 11:00 at night.

High Pressure and No Weekends Off

"It was a seven-day-a-week job for all three operators. If they wanted a day off, somebody else had to split the six so a person could get a few days off. And at that time it was a very good job. The house was furnished. They provided your coal, ice, electricity, and water. I don't know what Dad made, but, I mean, I guess we did pretty well, being as it was the Depression. We had the best houses on the Milwaukee Road.

"(At work) he had an office-type room, and they had all these generators. They had to communicate with the trains and if the power went off ... You see, it was an electric railroad. They had to keep it going, and if a line would cut out, they had to be there to deal with the switching. I've been down there when the switches would blow, making a terrible noise! Dad would help me with my schoolwork in the office.

"There was a big switchboard back there with lots of equipment on it -- I don't know what it was -- but I was down there when it kicked out. Dad used a long pole to go up there and put those switches back, hoping to Pete they went in and didn't blow out in his face again. It was just like putting a fuse in your house, only many times larger. It was quite a responsible job. Awfully monotonous -- I don't know how ever he stood it, really.

"He had to be very careful or he'd get electrocuted. They (the operators) were expected to help repair the equipment, too, and I know several men -- in fact, the first trick operator, after he quit he went on the maintenance crew. He just happened to raise up and hit his head, or cap, on a hot wire and was electrocuted. I think it was at the Renton substation that he worked, at that time.


"We had four passenger trains a day, two each way. Two Columbia and two Olympian. The Olympian were the crack trains -- they wouldn't stop for pass passengers, the Columbia would. One each way. We had logging trains through there, and lots and lots of freight trains with hobos on, at that time. My mother fed many, many people. She never turned anybody away. They'd wait on the back porch and she'd make them something to eat.

"They had a beanery there later, but a lot of these men would come up, like train crews. Mom was always cooking for somebody. Old coal stove in the kitchen. We had an electric refrigerator after the ice chest. It's just like now, our kids think we were real primitive; it's just that things progress and times change.

"The Galloping Goose came through North Bend by the school. It went from Everett to Seattle. We always called it the Galloping Goose. I don't know what the legal name was. It went to Seattle in the morning and came back in the evening around 4 o'clock. It had a baggage car and a passenger car, I believe.

"We used to go to Seattle on it. It would get into Cedar Falls about 10 o'clock, and we'd get back about four (p.m.). A lot of people shopped. I can remember catching it at North Bend and coming up so I could go ice skating, because I could beat the school bus home, that way. Of course, we had passes so we could ride it, (the train) for nothing.

"We could ride anywhere. We had to apply for a special pass if we wanted to go out of state. That's why when somebody says "train ride," it doesn't ever sound very exciting to me.

"Oh, the bipolars for passenger trains, mallets for helpers, freight motors for freight, and steam for logs. I've marked the things to do with Cedar Falls. I was trying to remember if this bridge is still across the Columbia. They had these substations at intervals all the way from Tacoma to Montana. It was a wonderful railroad! It was the last railroad to go through the mountains, and they got the best grade of any railroad. It was the smoothest, cleanest riding train there was. There was some skullduggery pulled to get it out of business.

Ski Trains, Silk Trains

"It was wonderful construction done by steam shovels fired by wood or coal. My husband saw it put in. They used a ram down at Twin Falls. It was done with water pressure, and these big old steam shovels. He tells about it. He was there when it was electrified. The railroad used to go around the mountain, there, at Rockdale until they bored a tunnel through to Hyak. The Milwaukee had the first ski slope in the country. They'd run a ski train from Seattle. It tells about it in the history of the Milwaukee Road.

"My brother skied. He was one of the first skiers, and in those days you didn't have harnesses like you do now. I had skis, but I don't like snow. But he was jumping and everything at Beaver. The Mountaineers had their first ski lodge up there. I think it was Beaver Lake we went up and watched them jump. It was really very interesting.

"We had the Silk Trains. It tells about them in this book, too. The silk came in from the Orient -- I guess it had to do with the insurance -- It would come right from the dock and go on the Milwaukee. They had a contract, I think. Everything was cleared for the silk train.

"We had a buzzer between the three houses. When Mom would make the dinner when Dad was on shift, she'd ring him when the meal was ready and he'd come up and take a tray back with him. When the silk train was just about in the depot, he'd ring us and we could just about get out on the front porch to see that thing "whhhhht," like that! Hell bent from Seattle to Chicago."


Excerpt from Cheryl Meyer Interview of Dorothy Graybael Scott, North Bend, Washington, June 15, 1993, Cedar River Watershed Oral History Project. Transcripts housed at the Cedar River Watershed Facility in Cedar Falls, a department of Seattle Public Utilities.

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