Originally published in the Voice of the Valley, April 30, 1980
Maple Valley’s first railroad station, built in 1887 for the Columbia and Puget Sound Railroad Company. The Milwaukee Road did not come through Maple Valley until 1907. Hence the station was evidently in a considerable different location than the two which replaced it.
At the time this photograph was taken, the track was narrow gauge, probably three feet between the rails, as compared to the standard gauge of 4 feet, 8 ½ inches in use on American railroads today. The Columbia and Puget Sound was purchased by the Pacific Coast Coal Company about 1897 and renamed the Pacific Coast Railroad.
It remained as such until the Burlington Northern merger in 1970, despite the face that in 1952 the Great Northern purchased the railroad and operated it as a separate company. (Photo courtest Maple Valley Historical Society.)
(Editor’s note: The Milwaukee Railroad ran its last train through Maple Valley on March 15 and a significant historical era ended. In this series of articles, beginning below, Dave Sprau, Burlington Northern train dispatcher, recalls the often turbulent past and, to many valleyites, the sad present.)
By Dave Sprau
At 4 p.m., Friday, April 4, 1980, Burlington Northern Agent Ralph Ozura locked the door on the Maple Valley station and went home for the last time.
Unlike other days, no “night man“ showed up to relieve Ralph and keep the station operating on its previous 24-hour, seven-day-per-week basis. An era had ended.
“When the Milwaukee Road ran their last train on March 15, the handwriting was on the wall for this place,” explained Ozura, who has been continuously employed by Burlington Northern and its predecessor, the Pacific Coast Railroad, for 41 years.
Stations in other communities such as Kent, Kanaskat, Kirkland, Enumclaw, Ravensdale, Sumner, and Puyallup had been closed for years, and one might wonder how the station at Maple Valley survived until now.
The Maple Valley station, it was pointed out, was more than your average, run-of-the-mill railroad depot. The other stations previously mentioned, when they were open for business, contained agents and telegraphers whose duties were supervised by dispatchers in the division headquarters, such as Tacoma or Seattle. The dispatchers were responsible for the safe movement of trains, making sure they didn’t run into each other.
At Maple Valley, however, the employees themselves were the dispatchers, responsible for all train movements on the former Pacific Coast Railroad. During the final few years the only territory left for them to supervise was from Maple Valley to Seattle via Black River junction near Renton.
In its heyday, circa 1900–1950, the railroad had lines for Kummer to Franklin, Franklin to Maple Valley via Black Diamond, from Black Diamond to Bruce, from Maple Valley to Taylor, from Renton to Newcastle, and, of course, the mainline from Maple Valley to Seattle which survives today.
The rest are all history, the line from Renton to Newcastle having been abandoned in 1934, the Bruce branch in 1921, the extensions from Black Diamond to Kummer and Franklin being lopped off in 1934, the Taylor line getting the axe in 1944, and finally, the last train from Maple Valley to Black Diamond ran on Sept. 22, 1970.
When the entire Pacific Coast line was in operation, it was possible to ride a passenger train anywhere along it and one could travel by train to many places nearly forgotten—Elliott, Indian, Cedar Mountain, Stevens, Atkinson, Sherwood, Walsh, Danville, and Henrys among them. Most passenger service ended in the 1920s, except for a miner’s train which ran between Black Diamond and Indian until 1931.
The practice of employing dispatchers rather than telegraphers at Maple Valley for the purpose of supervising the operation of trains on the former Pacific Coast line continued until the day the station was closed, at which time the responsibility for this territory was shifted to the dispatchers already employed at Tacoma.
The only other railroad station anyone could think of in the entire United States where the village depot employees, rather than people at the terminal headquarters, are dispatchers for the entire line is at Newport, Minnesota, which now apparently holds the singular distinction it once shared with Maple Valley.
The Pacific Coast Railroad didn’t run a lot of trains, although in better days, when the coal mines at Franklin and Newcastle and the lumber mills and industries along the Taylor branch were running full tilt, service was always available.
The busiest part of the Pacific Coast’s train operation came from its “renters”—technically a “trackage rights” agreement by which the transcontinental Milwaukee Road used Pacific Coast tracks between Maple Valley and Seattle.
Famous name trains operating between Seattle and Chicago, such as the Olympian Hiawatha and the Columbian plied these rails daily at speeds up to 80 MPH until discontinued in 1961. The Milwaukee continued to operate freight trains over this trackage until its operations folded last month; and now one train per day, a Burlington Northern local from Auburn enroute Snoqualmie and return operates on weekdays through Maple Valley.
From 1970 until 1978 the existing line enjoyed considerable use when the Milwaukee Road was doing fantastic business, the dispatchers say. Sometimes a dozen or more freight trains per day passed through Maple Valley.
A notable period during early 1978 is worthy of mention. A washout on BN’s Stampede Pass line resulted in numerous BN trains being rerouted via Milwaukee tracks between Easton and Maple Valley, including Amtrak passenger trains. These trains, plus the trains already being run by Milwaukee, resulted in an unprecedented train operation.
“Some days, traffic through here was just fantastic,” the dispatchers say.
But all was soon to change—the Milwaukee went bankrupt and the number and size of trains dwindled; the Stampede Pass route was restored and the detours ended; and, finally, the Milwaukee collapsed entirely, its last train passing through Maple Valley at 9:40 p.m. on March 15, its cars laden mostly with its own property enroute Chicago.
“It’s kind of like a derelict ship feeding the boilers with planks from its own deck,” said one dispatcher. (To be continued)
POSTERITY SHOT – Train dispatchers at the Burlington Northern’s Maple Valley station, the community’s third and presumably final railroad depot, lined up on the morning of April 3, the day before the station was permanently closed, to be photographed for posterity.
Left to right, D.L. Vernor, retired, A.J. McFarland, afternoon shift, D.T. Sprau, relief dispatcher, Ralph E. Ozura, Chief Dispatcher, J.B. Goodman, relief dispatcher, and W.I. Haug, graveyard shift. After closure of the station the building itself will be taken over by the local BN Section crew.