INTO THE WILDERNESS
A Family History of Scenic, WA and the surrounding area
by Charlotte McLeod
The year 1927 was a momentous one for the Faulkner family. In the spring of that year the decision was made that all of us (my mother, two sisters and I) were to spend the summer in the Cascade Mountains at Scenic, Washington, once known as Scenic Hot Springs. What excitement! We had been born and reared in the High Desert country of Eastern Oregon, and when I was ten years old we moved to Portland. We loved all the new experiences of city life, but going to Scenic was like going on an extended summer vacation with all the fun and freedom that we associated with Eastern Oregon. There was also an unknown wilderness to be explored! Our father, Charles M. Faulkner, was a civil engineer working for A. Guthrie and Company, prime contractor for construction of the new eight-mile railroad tunnel, which was planned to replace a much shorter tunnel, several miles of snow sheds and numerous switch-backs.
Our dad had been at Scenic for some time, and his letters home stimulated our interest further. He was living in the old Scenic Hot Springs Hotel, a rustic log structure, where he also took his meals. The headquarter offices too were located there, a convenient asset-I guess! The fact that he shared his quarters with an assortment of rats, mice and other critters did not dampen our enthusiasm and we enjoyed his written accounts of battling these nightly visitors. Just how long he had resided there prior to our arrival I can't recall. But work on the tunnel was well under way by the time of our appearance on the scene. And our newly built home had been ready for some time.
Back in Portland my mother had spent a busy spring preparing for our anticipated migration. Among other tasks, she made each of us a pair of tweed knickers that buttoned just below the knee, the latest fashion, I suppose, for the young lady hiker. I remember those knickers with no great affection because the all-wool tweed was scratchy, something of a punishment to wear. But wear them we did, for hiking soon became our favorite pastime.
When school was out in June our father arrived in Portland in a shiny black Model "T" Ford. It must have been loaded to the breaking point on its long trip north with five passengers and all their accoutrements. That it did hold up speaks well for Henry Ford and his Model "T". I do remember, however, that it no longer looked new or shiny upon arrival in Scenic, encased as it was in a thick coat of dust.
Traveling the Stevens Pass highway today, I myself tend to forget that it was a narrow dusty trail 74 years ago. But traffic was blessedly sparse!
Anyone trying to locate the town of Scenic today must be very alert. Three buildings are visible from the highway, but they are set so far back among the trees that they are easily overlooked. Only after you turn off the highway at the intersection do you see a rather unofficial-looking sign saying "Scenic". It is just about midway between the West Portal of the tunnel and Deception Creek Falls.
The school and the teacher's residence, set a little apart from the string of houses, were built after we arrived. With the exception of the hotel and the railroad station, the buildings were of raw wood, unpainted. But Scenic was definitely alive and thriving, with its own post office and grocery store. Flowers were blooming in window boxes and children's voices could be heard in the distance.
As one entered the town from the highway two houses stood alone on the left. These were occupied originally by the two chief engineers, one representing the Great Northern Railroad and the other representing A. Guthrie and Company. (One of these homes burned down many years ago.) The six other smaller homes faced the Tye River, about equal distance from one another, a little like a string of beads. They were of simple construction and basically alike, but adapted to individual family needs. Because we were slated to occupy ours only in the summer, we expected the plain accommodations and the odds and ends of furniture that we encountered. We did have electricity and very cold running water; and a big cast-iron stove graced the kitchen. I am not sure, but I think that stove also supplied us with hot water. I know that its cozy warmth was very welcome on cool-to-nippy mornings. A space heater in the living area was our only other source of heat.
A wood range was no novelty to my mother, and she did not seem to mind this austerity. She not only cooked the family's meals, but would entertain at dinner and bridge with apparent ease. She never seemed to miss her best china and silver. Perhaps to her it was akin to playing house.
We did have one luxury that none of us anticipated; air conditioning! We needed only to open the front and back doors, and the draft, which accompanied the Tye River in its course quickly and thoroughly cooled the house. And it didn't cost a cent! It also stopped all but the most urgent conversation. Competing with the Tye was not always easy.
To complete a rather complicated picture, I must mention that work on the tunnel occurred simultaneously at three different locations: the West Portal, near Scenic; the East Portal at Berne; and Mill Creek, about midway between the two, where work proceeded in both directions. Access was gained by way of a vertical shaft. This was a very complicated engineering feat in the days before computers and remains today something of a marvel. I feel privileged to have been a spectator during these historic times. I wonder how many others can still recall the excitement of that era! It is good to realize that seventy-five years later the Cascade Tunnel is alive and well, serving the purpose it was designed to serve.
In addition to the eight houses at Scenic, there was a large group of homes about a half-mile to the east-perhaps forty buildings. And beyond this settlement, closer to the tunnel mouth was an assortment of barracks and offices, a cookhouse, a hospital, etc.
Berne, at the East Portal, boasted only a few structures, a dozen at most. It was located in a canyon and construction could not have been easy. On the other hand, Mill Creek was situated in a broad valley and was a fair-sized community with about 20 houses, barracks and a cookhouse. These statistics are largely guess-work. Looking back seventy-five years is not easy or accurate, but I wanted to give the reader some idea of the scope of operations during construction. The needs of many people had to be met in an area almost devoid of population and facilities.
Aside from the excitement of construction, life was serene at Scenic. We stepped right into an active social life, and at the same time became entrepreneurs. At fourteen years I had never heard that term before! We learned in a hurry about the "Law of Supply and Demand". As far as I know, we were the only candidates for the position of babysitter. Thus we could afford to demand the magnificent sum of twenty-five cents an hour for our services, inexperienced as we were. We became wage earners in a hurry. I can't say that I loved my work, but I did love my wages, and thus returned to Portland in the fall with a comfortable little nest egg.
Strangely enough, a lack of teenage companionship did not seem to be very important at the moment. The adults, all fairly young, often included us in their activities and our hiking expeditions were open to all ages. With both our mother and father at home regularly, we became family oriented in a way we had not experienced during our years in Portland. Anyway, we were well accustomed to providing our own entertainment; and an assortment of board games and playing cards had been an important part of our luggage. Included was everything from Parcheesi to auction bridge. And both our parents joined our threesome at one time or another. Books, always a staple in our lives, were there in abundance, ordered regularly from the State Library in Olympia. And then there was the great outdoors which we exploited to the limit of our endurance.
Extra events, too, kept popping up. Dances were held several times a year at a the hotel, with live music. Normally my father would have said NO with a capital N! A fourteen-year-old girl was too young for such an affair. For some unaccountable reason he allowed all of us to go, including my twelve-year-old sister, knowing, I suppose that he would be there to keep an eye on things. I was glad to be included, but mostly I felt ill at ease and awkward around all those well-seasoned "veterans". Much more to my liking were the annual picnics at Lake Wenatchee, hosted by the contractor, A. Guthrie & Company. Cougar Inn, familiar to so many Wenatchee Valley residents, catered our food. It was a fabulous spread served on a large screened porch overlooking the lake. Although my memory is unreliable, it is certain that we did justice to everything. The rest of the day we spent running in and out of the icy lake or circling about in a large sail boat, driven by a strong wind, for which Lake Wenatchee is noted. What bliss!
Then there were other expeditions, which defy classification. Steve, the cook at the West Portal camp, was the instigator of at least one day-long trip that I recall. Steve merits a paragraph or two simply because he was unique. Both in size and reputation, he was impressive-with a heart that matched his size. He was a tyrant in the kitchen, but as mild as a lamb outside. A native of Sweden, his speech was a mixture of Swedish and English, which to us was highly entertaining. He liked young people in particular, so we were always welcome at the cookhouse. We liked going, too, partly because he was sure to have a good stock of pastry on hand, usually "yelly rolls". The mere mention of "yelly rolls" would send us into a fit of suppressed laughter. I myself did not really like jelly rolls, but I never turned Steve down and managed to consume a good-sized slab in a masterly fashion to demonstrate my appreciate.
In the kitchen nobody ever dreamed of crossing Steve. His shopping list was rarely altered, and he believed in both quantity and quality. Above all, he kept the workers happy and on the job. So he was king of the realm! He was rumored to have a goodly sum of money stashed away, and my father believed that he was financing a college education for a young friend. Steve probably enjoyed his own food too much, and his health suffered accordingly. He died at a fairly young age. I wish I could remember his last name!
I remember vividly one excursion with Steve. We spent an entire day with friends of his in Monroe. I do not recall any details about our host and hostess, other than the fact that they were very hospitable. But I do remember their huge cherry tree, because we spent a good part of the day feasting on ripe cherries; and then we topped it off with big slices of watermelon. Rest stops were few between Monroe and Scenic and the trip seemed endless.
Looking back on those days, I feel that we experienced Scenic at its best. In comparison, it seems dead today, to have no real excuse for being. In addition to the fun and excitement of the late 1920's, it lent us a kinship with the mountains and the forests, and a deep appreciation for lakes and meadows never seen from the highway. Hiking became a way of life, which we pursued in later years whenever the opportunity presented itself. I think my mother enjoyed the experience as much as my sisters and I did. She kept in touch with several of her Scenic friends for many years. Our stay in Scenic probably influenced our lives more than we realized at the time; and it certainly gave us an outlet for a lot of pent-up energy. That was probably a major benefit after several years of apartment living. What a memorable time it was.
Today, I cannot say for sure how many of the original houses still stand because a chain across the road deters me from walking far. Two homes appear to have new siding, so they are hard to identify. It is likely that seven out of eight buildings are standing, and used at least part of the year. On my rare visits I have never seen a single person, or even a parked car, in the area. Our house stands brightly painted and inviting. Maintenance seems to have been good and the vegetation has flourished. The Tye River still rushes by noisily, but beyond the Tye lay masses of rubble (tailings from the tunnel) on which railroad tracks were permanently laid after construction of the tunnel was complete. For years this dike or tressie was an eye sore, but nature finally took pity, and today dense vegetation completely conceals the rubble. The hotel, railroad station and bridges are only memories. I sometimes wonder how much peace and quiet exist there at train time.
The trail to Lake Surprise has been completely rerouted and now connects to the Cascade Crest Trail. I would be hard-pressed to locate the trailhead. Berne appears to be uninhabited, and Mill Creek is so overgrown with vegetation that it would be difficult to find even a foundation. It is possible to climb up to Lake Josephine from there, and I am told that a ski lift has been installed in recent years, so quite a few people must visit Mill Creek some times of the year. Power lines have intruded on the landscape for many years, and they do little to enhance the beauty of the surrounding mountains. But that is progress, I presume. All the hustle and bustle of construction years have evaporated long ago. Only at Scenic have the houses remained intact; a blessing, I guess! It is certainly a monument to a past era, worthy of a little recognition.