Friday, December 18, 2009

The Wellington Avalanche: Most Deadly in U.S. History

1910 was the year, February was the month, the Washington Cascades was the location. The last 9 days of February, Wellington, Washington, a Great Northern Railway stop high in the mountains, was drowned in snow, falling as much as a foot an hour.

On the worst day 11 feet of snow fell.

Two trains were trapped in Wellington, a mail train and a passenger train, both bound for Seattle from Spokane. Avalanches and the continuing snow prevented snow plows from reaching the trapped trains.

Then on February 28 the snow was replaced by rain and warm temperatures and wind. One hour into March snow broke loose from Windy Mountain, sending a 10 foot wave of snow a half mile long and a quarter mile wide, straight to Wellington.

The avalanche missed some of Wellington's buildings, but slammed directly into the train depot and the trains, sending the trains downhill into the Tye River Valley. 96 was the total killed. Of those, 35 were passengers. 58 Great Northern workers on the trains were killed and 3 in the depot. 23 passengers survived, pulled from the wreckage by those who had escaped the avalanche.

It was not til late July that the remaining bodies were able to be retrieved. I believe the picture above is of some of the victims and rescuers soon after the disaster. By July there would not be so much snow on the ground.

19 years after the Wellington Avalanche the 7.79 Cascade Tunnel under Stevens Pass was opened. After the 1910 disaster snow sheds were built to protect the train track from avalanches. You can see those snow sheds to this day when you take Highway 2 over Stevens Pass.

The Wellington Avalanche and it being the worst of that type disaster in American history is not a well known piece of our history.

But, renowned Burlington, Washington Historian, Farmer, Photographer and Author, Martin Burwash, has made it his life's work to make sure the story of the heroics at Wellington gets told.

For decades Burwash has been accumulating massive amounts of information about what happened in 1910 at Wellington, and its aftermath.

Using this vast fountain of knowledge, Burwash has written an historical novel called Vis Major: Railroad Men, An 'Act of God'---White Death at Wellington.

Vis Major has received glowing reviews and is climbing the Best Seller lists. It's been reported that Burwash has been negotiating for screen rights to Vis Major, with Brad Pitt playing Burwash as the story's narrator.

I usually don't go to movies, I wait for them to come out on DVD, but with Vis Major I may make an exception.


Anonymous said...

From what insider's have told me, Sam Elliot has agreed to play Burwash in the movie, that is if he can grow his mustache long enough.

Durango Northwest said...

Sam Elliot is too old and not good-looking enough to play Burwash. My sources tell me it's going to be Brad Pitt. But, with no handlebar mustache. The screenwriters feel that creates way to much of a Snidely Whiplash image.

Cheap Tricks and Costly Truths said...

Oh, I don't know...Sam Elliot is sorta the staple for sexy and he's so manly and towering, reminds me of another sexy older manly towering guy...

Durango Northwest said...

You would need to meet Mr. Burwash to understand how wrong Sam Elliot would be for the part of Mr. Burwash.