When the Milwaukee Road ceased operations in Washington in 1980 it sold off some of its assets in South Cle Elum, including the bunkhouse which is now a B&B, and three operator houses built in 1920 which are now private residences. But the bulk of the land including the depot and the substation were transferred to the state in compensation for taxes owed. Most of the length of the main route through Washington went to the state as well and became known as Iron Horse State Park on the west side of the Columbia, and the John Wayne Pioneer Trail to the east of the Columbia. Today the entire length of the publicly accessible right-of-way is known as the Palouse to Cascades Trail. With some connecting trails, it is possible to walk the old railroad bed (or ride a bike, or a horse) from the Seattle area to the Idaho border.
The Milwaukee Road was using coal at the time the South Cle Elum yard was built in 1909. But they started converting to oil powered locomotives in 1910. And then started experimenting with electric powered locomotives in 1912. This section through the Cascades was fully electrified by 1920. The Milwaukee Road ended electrification along this section in 1972, and completely abandoned electric locomotives along its entire route in 1974. That year the Milwaukee Road also stopped using South Cle Elum as a division point and the yard was virtually abandoned. It was only a few years later that the Milwaukee Road, in bankruptcy, abandoned its Pacific route altogether.
Today, while the state owns the property and buildings, it heavily relies on local volunteers to tell the story. The Cascade Rail Foundation has been instrumental in ensuring the history of the Milwaukee Road in Washington is not forgotten. They have spent thousands of hours restoring structures, providing interpretation, and operating a museum in half of the restored depot. The yard and extant structures were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.
The substation is normally closed to the public. But they occasionally open it for guided tours which is why we chose yesterday to visit. If you're interesting in seeing the inside, they'll likely have another tour day in August—check their website for details.
|A view of the south side of the substation, showing where DC power would have left the building headed for the catenary over the tracks.|
|A view inside the north room of the building, looking east. In the lower center part of the building is where high power wires came in, and you can see the wall angled out.|
|A close-up view, showing original wires that are still in place!|
|These large doors allowed a railroad flat car to be pushed in, so heavy objects could be transferred directly from the flat car using an overhead crane.|
|This is a small transfer vehicle that could be pushed along rails between the two large rooms. It's shown on a small turntable allowing workers to rotate the vehicle to go around the corner.|
|The remains of the 85-foot turntable can be seen here, with the pivot foundation on the left, and part of the pit wall on the right.|
|And to the north of the turntable are the remains of the eight-stall roundhouse where locomotives would be serviced. What you see here were the tops of concrete pits where workers would inspect and work underneath locomotives.|
|These concrete footings are all that remains of the water tower. The wooden tank that sat above this foundation would have held about 50,000 gallons of water.|
|A view inside the depot of the waiting room at the west end of the building and ticket office on the left.|