The White Cascade

Written by Gary Krist
Review by Cindy Vallar

In 1910, the Great Northern Railway crossed the Cascade Mountains in Washington State. Two trains loaded with passengers and mail headed west toward Seattle. A late winter storm began soon after, and no matter what James H. O’Neill and his men did to keep the tracks clear, the snow kept falling. Temperatures warmed then dropped repeatedly, creating dangerous conditions on the mountain above. Halted by snow drifts and slides, the trains halted at Wellington and sat on tracks above a precipice for almost a week. Some passengers, tired with waiting, trekked back to the previous town, but women and children, as well as invalid passengers and railroad workers, remained. Early on the morning of March 1st, an avalanche toppled both trains into a ravine.

This riveting account details the events before, during, and after the avalanche killed 100 men, women, and children through the use of primary resources, including passengers’ letters and diaries, railroad archives, and court documents. Krist demonstrates how technology outpaced safety standards, just as they did two years later when the Titanic sank. He brings alive a time long past and captures the awesomeness and essence of railroads and nature.