The Wellington Avalanche
By Mike Stevens
Jerrod Johnson gazed out the window of The Great Northern train trying to make it to Stevens Pass, high in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State; on this white-out day in February, 1910. There, Great Northern had a depot where the weary passengers and the weary train could seek shelter from the storm. Man, the snow was really coming down! It looked to his snow-blinded eyes to be somewhere around a foot or so every hour. He was glad the trip was nearing an end. He was trying to make it from Spokane, back home to Seattle. He’d gone over to Spokane on a grain-buying trip, and now he was getting close to home. The store he worked for had just saved a lot of money by sending Jerrod over to Spokane. But he hoped the weather conditions weren’t going to cause a delay in him getting home to his family.
At last, they were pulling into the tiny town of Wellington, and the Great Northern depot. As they pulled into the depot, Jerrod saw another train was already here, through the raging snowstorm. They had been told that the snowplows used to keep the track clear of snow was unable to reach the site of an avalanche that had come down across the tracks. They were stuck here. Jerrod cursed, loudly. It was just as he’d feared; so close to home, but it may as well been a million miles away!
On February 28th, the driving snow turned to driving, warm, rain. At last, we might be able to get out of here, thought Jerrod.
Unbeknownst to anyone, at 1 am the next morning, March 1st, a bolt of lightning lit up the storm-ravaged area, and struck a slab of snow clinging to Windy Mountain; causing snow to start to travel down the mountain. As it travelled, it dislodged more snow, which joined with the already-moving snow to create an avalanche. A ten-foot high wall of snow, 1/4 of a mile wide, and 1/2 of a mile long, rumbled towards the sleeping town of Wellington.
A recent forest fire had swept the hillside above the town and stripped the trees away which would normally slow and help break up the avalanche, so the town was helpless against the mountain of snow careening towards it.
Aboard the Great Northern train, Jerrod was having a heck of a time sleeping. They we expected to sleep on the train. Good luck! thought Jared, just before he heard an ominous rumbling coming from outside. He was just about to raise the shade on his window, so he could see out, when a terrible impact of something sent the heavy train flying though the air, and throwing Jerrod back on his mattress.
The next thing that Jerrod was aware of were arms pulling him free, from what? Then he remembered, sort of. There had been a roaring, then nothing. Now they were pulling him free from wreckage, and there was water flowing through the train car. He asked his rescuer,
“Where am I?”
The man answered, “Oh good, you’re awake. Your on board your train, which is in the middle of the Tye River.”
“But that’s impossible! The Tye River must be 150 feet from the depot.”
“Well, that’s where the avalanche sent it.”
“Really? Is everyone else okay?”
"I’m afraid not. You’re the last of the 26 people we found alive; everyone else has been killed.”
23 survivors? But there had been many more passengers, not to mention a bunch of railroad employees.
It had been 21 weeks since the disaster, and Jerrod Johnston was gazing at his Post-Intelligencer on this clear morning. He knew he was one of the lucky ones who had survived, but still, what he was reading shocked him. Just yesterday, the last of the dead bodies had been recovered. In all, 35 passengers and 58 railroad employees had lost their lives. He hoped that it would lead to some kind of barrier in avalanche-prone areas. He wasn’t sure exactly what, but it was 1910; there must be some way to create protection from avalanches.