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The Train is Coming to Eatonville Again...

(photo by Bob Walter)

     Passengers who took the train from Freighthouse Square in Tacoma  to Eatonville last week stretch their legs and get some fresh air at the Eatonville siding along Lynch Creek Road, as the engine uncoupled and prepared to return to Tacoma.

Historical Tales...

                                                                                                         (photo by Bob Walter)

     Historian Andy Anderson, author of a new book, "In the Shadow of the Mountain," regaled train riders with his wealth of knowledge about the area.

      by Bob Walter
      January 13, 2008

     Tacoma Rail, which owns the old Tacoma Eastern Railroad line from Tacoma to Eatonville and points south, has approached Metro Parks Tacoma about running a monthly, round-trip excursion train for visitors to Northwest Trek Wildlife Park, beginning in April. 
     The last leg of the trip would be a shuttle bus from the Eatonville siding on Lynch Creek Road and 412th Street E., through town and on to Trek. Passengers would visit the Hellyer Center, and board yet another vehicle - a Trek Tram - for a ride through the free-roaming area. The destination stop would include lunch and a behind-the-scenes look at the park's exhibits. The cost per person for the day-long excursion would be about $70.
    Tacoma Rail was ready to offer a trial run. Metro Park's John Garner, Director of Conservation and Environmental Education, called me as South Pierce County Historical Society president the week before the planned trip, to ask if a couple of people familiar with south Pierce County history would come along and offer some historical narration along the way. 
    I called Jackie (Van Eaton) Parnell, granddaughter of T. C. Van Eaton, and emailed Andy Anderson, early historical society president, local historian and author of the book, "In the Shadow of the Mountain: A History of Early Graham, Kapowsin, Benston, Electron and Vicinity," to ask if they could join in the rail trip. Both were eager to do so. Metro sent their marketing staff. From Northwest Trek were Gary Geddes, Dave Ellis, Chip Heinz, Donna Powell and several members of the naturalist staff, ready to record - and time with a stopwatch - the sights, stories and legends to be encountered along the way.
     So on an overcast morning, January 9, about 25 people boarded three silver and red Tacoma Rail  coach cars at Freighthouse Square in Tacoma, to get a glimpse of the past and future. 
    Once we'd taken our seats and been introduced, just prior to departure Jackie related some typical scenes from her family's early days in Eatonville. I brought along a copy of "Rails to Paradise," by Russell H. Holter and Jesse Clark McAbee. The authors refer to brothers John and George Hart, successful businessmen with considerable land holdings, who, in 1890, established a six-mile-long logging railroad - the Hart Road, leading from the head of Commencement Bay south into the forests of Pierce County. This would be the beginning of the Tacoma Eastern Line.
     As we headed up Tacoma Eastern Gulch, and through Tacoma's East Side, Andy's wealth of knowledge soon became apparent. He pointed out the sidings and junctions, explained how the heavy loads of logs had to be uncoupled into two sections to be pulled up the steepest grades, and told the legend of the herd of wild cattle. This herd was believed by some to be remnants of those tended in the early 1800's by the Hudson's Bay Company, roaming for decades in the woods, grasslands and swamps of Pierce County. Andy's book describes accounts of the herd being led at one point in the 1890's by a 2,000 pound, white bull.
    We talked of neighborhoods, industry, geology, wildlife, the seemingly never-ending forests, local characters and the numerous logging camps that had sprung up all along the rail line.

Ohop Lake from the Train...

                                                                                                       (photo by Bob Walter)

     Ohop Lake and the homes on its bank are a blur as the train goes by.

    Collins, Salsich Junction, Kirby, Harding, Graham and Thrift...On we went, past former logging camps and pioneer settlements at Morgan's Lake, Tanwax Junction, Kapowsin, Lakehead and Holz, past where the brick kilns at Clay City once burned, high above the eastern shore of Ohop Lake, past the Rimrocks, and on into the Eatonville siding along Lynch Creek Road.
    There we all embarked for a stretch while the engine uncoupled, rode a half mile or so down the line, switched onto the siding, then reversed and rolled on past the coach cars, switching again to the main line to be re-attached for the long pull back to Tacoma. Jackie Parnell had arranged to be picked up at the siding by a friend, so we said our goodbyes and boarded the train for the return trip north back to Tacoma.
    "History of Tacoma Eastern Area," the 1954 book by Jeannette Hlavin and Pearl Engel, states, "In 1913, the railroad had three passenger trains a day going through Eatonville, with observation cars. The tourist special was taken off in September 1924, competition from buses and automobiles having interfered."
     As we navigated the many highway crossings, the train's whistle - a sound once heard many times daily - echoed off the surrounding trees, hillsides and buildings. It's a sound rarely heard these days. If all goes as planned, by this spring we will all again be reminded, at least monthly, of the bygone era of passenger train travel, logging camps and boom towns.
     For information about ordering a copy of Andy Anderson's new book, "In the Shadow of the Mountain," email
andyshirley@comcast.net or call 253.847.6182. Hurry; they are going fast.

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