The Hiawatha Trail or Where my Great-Grandfather Survived the Big Burn

So we finally got to go to the Hiawatha Trail to find the locations behind the story of the melted coins and my great grandfather’s escape from the 1910 firebomb. I posted a previous account of this here.

So my step-dad, Mom and I headed to Wallace on Monday. We checked into the Ryan Hotel. It had survived the fire.

We walked around town checking out the sights. Here is the old depot. It survived the fire but was moved to a different location since then.

Here is a window display with more information about the fire.

And here is the center of the universe. Apparently the initials between the N, E, S and W are initials of local mining companies.

We then had dinner at the Blackboard Cafe. This was great. I had eggplant parmigiana.

This is the view down our street and a view of the electrical wires outside our window.

Tuesday morning we headed up to Lookout Pass and picked up my rental bike. Mom had brought hers.

Then we drove to the Hiawatha trailhead. This is the sight where the town of Taft used to be. It was a pretty raucous town that the park rangers repeatedly tried to close the saloons and brothels. When the fire came the local drunks refused to help in the efforts but ultimately 400 people were save by the Taft tunnel nearby.

Per the Spokesman-Review there was one death from the fire in Taft. One drunk man’s clothes caught fire as he was trying to get him on the train. His clothes were extinguished by the rangers, but he was burned pretty bad. Later they wrapped his burns with cloth and oil. A drunk friend then visited him on the train, lot a cigarette and caught the oiled fabric on fire killing him.

Here are information signs near the tunnel entrance.

Here is a map of the area that burned.

Here in the story and a photo of Pinkie Adair ( who was also featured in the Big Burn book but there was no photo of her).

Here is a table with the lengths of each of the tunnels and trestles as well as there distance from the Taft tunnel entrance.

Finally here is s copy of one of the maps we used. It will hopefully orient you to the route.

And here is the east entrance of the Taft tunnel. It is almost 2 miles long and quite dark. It is straight and you can see the light coming from the west entrance as a tiny dot. Unfortunately the light that came with my rental bike did not work and my headlamp batteries gave out too. Fortunately Al had given me a strong light just before we left that I could hang from the handlebars. It was some muddy in there with water running through it so we were sprayed with some mud too.

This is the west entrance with nearby signs.

Here is information and a photo of the incredibly tough surveyors that I thought Tom might like.

Next is Tunnel 21.

Apparently during the fire from this view just after the tunnel, everything was ablaze. All but two of the bridges (Kelly Creek and Clear Creek bridges) were wooden and burned in the blaze. Many after Tunnel 21 were replaced with rock fill but others were replaced with steel after the fire.

This is Tunnel 22. This tunnel saved 47 people. Per the Spokesman Review an engine and boxcar had left the town of Roland at the west entrance of the Taft tunnel trying to make it to Falcon 11 miles away but were blocked by the burning trestles. They picked up railroad workers and miners between tunnels 23 and 24 and went back to tunnel 22 where they waited out the fire.

Tunnel 23:

Tunnel 24:

Small Creek trestle:

Barnes Creek trestle:

These signs have more information about the fire. Below is a photo near Falcon where my great grandfather was rescue just after the fire. You can see the power of the winds that flamed it and how scary it must have been.

So here is the Gandy Dancer’s grave. Gandy Dancer per Wikipedia is a slang term for the workers who laid the tracks. Per the Spokesman-Review this immigrant worker jumped from the above mentioned train as it approached a burning trestle. I cannot tell if it was the terror of the Small Creek, Barnes Creek or another burning trestle that cause him to jump down the mountain into the fire.

Per a list of the 1910 Burn victims his name was Francisco Gaglia and he was 24 years old and from Italy. Per this article it was WE Lanning, Engineer Blundell and Conductor Vandercook who had taking this train on this rescue mission picking up people all the was to Adair.

This is the Kelly Creek steel trestle that presumably survived the fire.

Then we came to the town of Adair which also housed and entertained railroad workers. We believe my great grandfather was staying in Grand Forks when the fire arrived, but he may well have visited Adair. And as he liked bourbon he may have had a drink at the Loop Saloon from this photo. There was nothing I could find that predated the fire in Adair.

One thing I do not understand is why the people close to Adair did not just use Tunnel 25 to save themselves rather than take Lanning’s train over burning trestles to Tunnel 22. Per this article a horse, 2 cows and some chickens survived the fire at Adair. Maybe they used Tunnel 25?

This is Tunnel 25.

Tunnel 26

Turkey Creek trestle:

Russell Creek trestle:

Bear Creek trestle:

Clear Creek trestle ( the other steel one that likely survived the Burn):

This bridge was particularly dramatic.

And this is the east end of Tunnel 27, the object of our search. So per this Spokesman-Review article Engineer Mackedon hooked an engine and flatbed cars up and rescued people at Falcon. He brought them over burning trestles to Tunnel 27 where 168 people ( including my great grandfather!) survived the fire. Per this article they remained in the tunnel for eight days until the bridges could be rebuilt.

This is the west end entrance where my great grandfather would have been dropped off. My mother and I toasted his survival memory with some bourbon. If he had not have escaped the fire neither mom or I would exist.

This is Tunnel 28 which they would have traveled through on the flat bed car in their rescue.

These are the signs at Falcon, where my great grandfather would have been picked up by the rescue train. He and other had left Grand Forks hurriedly and hike up a pack road to Falcon, a train depot. There were no signs of Falcon left now.

And here is the final tunnel #29:

So this sign describes the history of the Milwaukee Road company. My great grandfather was working as a “cut and fill estimator” for the Chicago, Milwaukee & Puget Sound railroad then.

We loaded up our bikes and drove to the location of Grand Forks. He believed he was staying at the time of the fire. We believe this because he had sent a postcard to his mother postmarked September 17 1910 which pinpoints him working near the Kelly Creek bridge and another postcard that was not mailed had a photo of Grand Forks after the fire and a map drawn by him on the back prominently featuring Grand Forks and Falcon but not Adair.

So this is what is left of Grand Forks. Again I could find no remnants of the town. But this is where GGF left the coin can. He said “That was my pocket change that I put in the can when I went to bed. That is all that was left when we got back.”

We walked over to Loop Creek which was quite pretty,

and looked up the hill on the other side to where they climbed up to Falcon on the harrowing night.

We then dropped off my rental bike and headed back to Wallace. We got back in time to check out the Oasis Bordello Museum. The Oasis Rooms operated for almost 100 years here. They left in a hurry in 1988, leaving everything behind and that is how it still sits. So it was fascinating but they did not allow photos. So all I got was a photo of the t-shirt with a copy of their price list.

We then looked at the Carnegie Library. Inside was a painting of the Wallace fire we found interesting.

Next we had a great dinner at the City Limits Pub and Grill. They had Scotch Eggs on the menu plus I had grilled pork tenderloin.

After we got back to the Ryan Hotel

I hung out in the lobby for better wifi to download these photos. I then noticed a cool neon sign advertising Chippewa woolens.

We headed out of Wallace this morning and ate lunch at the Red Horse Diner in Ellensburg.

We had a great trip. We accomplished our goals of finding Tunnel 27 and Grand Forks. The weather was beautiful and the trail was not crowded. I would highly recommend this trail for everyone. It is an easy down sloping grade. The scenery is beautiful. The tunnels and trestles are dramatic. Plus there is Pacific Northwest and railroad history. It was amazing!



I found another account of the rescue to Tunnel 27 that my great grandfather as in.

The Idaho Press   September 1, 1910
Page 3




    Jules LeDuce, a Wallace music teacher, arrived in Missoula yesterday after a trip that has been full of adventures for him. He arrived at Falcon in time to join Superintendent Marshall in his flight for tunnel 27 and was with him during that night, says a Missoula report. LeDuce’s story confirms the horrors of the afternoon and night as expressed by Superintendent C. H. Marshall and Conductor Vandercook. Mr. LeDuce passed three burned bodies and 14 dead horses on his walk into St. Regis and assisted in covering one of the bodies. The bodies were all partially burned, but his belief is that the dead men were Italians.
A copy of a telegram from Chief Engineer E. J. Pearson of the Puget Sound to President Williams was received at the local Puget Sound office yesterday. An excerpt from Mr. Pearson’s telegram reads as follows:
“Nothing could live last evening unless in tunnels. Fires of yesterday and last night have swept practically all the country from Avery to St. Regis. Nothing could have lived on the mountains last evening except for the tunnels.”
Superintendent C. H. Marshall is in a position to corroborate this statement and he does so most emphatically, according to the Missoulian. Superintendent Marshall and Superintendent of Bridges and Building W. R. Lanning walked to Avery Sunday morning. Mr. Lanning started back on a work train to pick up some bridge material and Mr. Marshall had a fire train and was engaged in putting out fires that had started on the bridges. At Falcon Mr. Marshall received a telephone message from the girl operator at Kyle, saying: “A big fire is sweeping down upon us; what shall we do?”
Mr. Marshall attempted to tell her to get into a tunnel, but before he could answer the wire went down. Mr. Marshall immediately started his train on a run for Kyle to pick up four families that he knew were at that place. He had proceeded but a short distance when he saw that it would be an impossibility to get through the fire, which was closing in on both sides. They turned and made a run a run for tunnel 27. Mr. Marshall told the engineer to stop for every man that he saw along the right-of-way and several were picked up. Tunnel 27 was reached after a run through fire on each side of the track. The heat was so intense that it was impossible to stand up and during the greater part of the run the people were lying down. When tunnel 27 was reached the cars were smoking and would probably have caught in a short time. Tunnel 27 is a short one, being but 365 feet in length, but it is located on a 10-degree curve and this is what undoubtedly saved the 167 people that were on the train with Mr. Marshall. It was impossible to stand outside the tunnel and observe the flames, as they were whipping past both entrances of the tunnel and rendered all passage suicidal. Mr. Marshall said: “I will never forget that ride. Six or seven trees would fall at a time and every minute I expected one to roll across the track and cut off our only avenue of escape. The scene beggars description. The roar of the fire was deafening and the heat terrific. We stayed in the tunnel until the next morning and the way that different nationalities and different classes of people mingled and fraternized shows what a leveler is danger.
“Mr. Lanning had forgotten that we had a fire train at Falcon and made an attempt to get back to us through the fire, but it had swept in between us and cut off any possibility of reaching us. Mr. Lanning took refuge in tunnel 32.
“Conductor Kintz made a run to the St. Paul pass tunnel that was even worse than ours. He started with 100 men from Bates & Rogers’ construction camp and ran through flames and over bridges whose flooring was one large blaze. He managed to reach the tunnel in safety, but had only a few minutes to spare. There is no doubt but that our tunnels saved scores of lives.”

This entry was posted in Trips. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Hiawatha Trail or Where my Great-Grandfather Survived the Big Burn

  1. Jeanne says:

    That is quite a story you told here! We have friends who live in Wallace. It’s a lovely little town. How long were you gone?

  2. Pingback: Morton Reigart Stone | Schoonover Farm Blog

Leave a Reply