Stampede Pass tunnel opens on May 27, 1888.

  • By Heather M. MacIntosh
  • Posted 2/22/1999
  • Essay 931
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On May 27, 1888, the Stampede Pass railroad tunnel, located in the Cascade Mountains about 50 miles east of Tacoma and roughly 20 miles northwest of Cle Elum, is completed. The tunnel, which crosses from King County into Kittitas County, opens a new railroad gateway from Puget Sound to the East. The tunnel is 1.8 miles long, at the time the second longest in the country. The 28-month process of building the tunnel began on February 13, 1886.

The contractors, Nelson and Sidney Bennett, offered a prize of $1,000 for the first man to go through the bore where the two ends of the tunnel met, and for the crew on the winner's side, a steak dinner and whiskey. Shortly after noon on May 3, 1888, a blast opened up the hole and the man on the west side butted heads with the man trying to get through from the east side. The west side man, battered and bleeding, was the winner.

Before the Stampede Pass tunnel, the process of scaling the Cascades by train was an ordeal involving a series of switchbacks. The completed tunnel allowed for relatively easy passage.

The tunnel, initially serving the Northern Pacific Railroad, made Seattle and Tacoma primary contenders for economic dominance of the Pacific Northwest.


Carlos A. Schwantes, Railroad Signatures Across the Pacific Northwest (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1993), 70; Murray Morgan, Puget's Sound (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1979), 211; Clinton A. Snowden, History of Washington: The Rise and Progress of an American State, Vol. 4 (New York: The Century History Company, 1909), 312.
Note: This entry was corrected on March 1, 2019.

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