Rubble marks site of train crash 78 years ago

The Tiger Mountain train crash must have been spectacular.

Even now, 78 years after the 1925 accident, twisted rails, tie rods, old train wheels and odd hunks of metal litter the Iverson/Artifacts Trails near Holder Creek east of Issaquah. Nearby are the remains of an old logging camp.

It is a jarring sight after hiking along a fern-lined trail that weaves through tall, second-growth trees. One expects to see animals, not train wheels with the date 1909 forged into their sides.

This month nature is already adding its annual protective cover of underbrush.

All but the most determined souvenir hunters have been discouraged by the four-mile hike's steady gain in elevation and the weight of the bulky iron pieces.

Today the site is a few miles and decades away from the growing subdivisions outside Issaquah, May Valley and Renton.

The relics date back to an era when loggers were harvesting Puget Sound's vast forests. Intensive logging on Tiger Mountain began early in the 20th century, and timber mills popped up around the perimeter.

Railroad lines were the highways that connected everything. Logging companies built temporary rail lines into the forest to haul out the timber. When all the trees were felled in one area, workers would pull up the track and lay it in the next area to be logged.

Even camps for the workers were hauled in on rails. Bunk houses, built atop railcars, were moved from site to site.

Today, hiking trails follow many of the old railroad grades, including the Iverson/Artifacts route. Standing on the rail bed, about a quarter mile from Holder Creek, local historian Eric Erickson pointed out where the train began to pick up speed on that final downhill run.

"Imagine being the engineer and knowing your brakes had failed and you can't do anything about it," he said. "There's a sharp curve and then the bridge over the creek and the train is going faster and faster."

When he was a boy, growing up outside Issaquah, he heard about the wreck from old-timers. He served as a consultant when a retired Issaquah High School teacher, Ken Schmelzer, documented the wreck based on interviews, old records and historical photographs in his book "Wood & Iverson: Loggers of Tiger Mountain."

It isn't the only heap of artifacts on the mountain.

Less than a half-mile from the Holder Creek train wreck, twisted bunk-bed frames, a bottomless old washtub and pieces of stoves used to heat the bunk houses are strewn around a knoll. A forest fire destroyed a logging camp there in 1923. A moss-encrusted and rotting footbridge — built and used by the loggers, according to Erickson — is next to Summit Creek between the railroad grade and the camp.

He and Schmelzer recall seeing broken dishes, a giant oil drum and even discarded boots at the site.

The two wrecks are related.

Workers had been salvaging rails, tools and other reusable materials from the burned-out camp, loading them onto the train cars in February 1925.

The train was loaded and headed down the mountain to Hobart, where the Wood & Iverson head offices and mill were located.

Pulling the load was a 40-ton Climax locomotive, the workhorse of the Wood & Iverson logging operation on Tiger Mountain. According to Schmelzer, there was at least one and possibly more heavily loaded flat cars and an 1890 passenger/coach car, used to haul workers and equipment. There also was a Clyde track layer — a separate car used to lay railroad track. (Today it is the largest piece of wreckage left, much of it wrapped around a tree.)

Two men jumped to safety from the flat cars in the rear as the locomotive hit the bridge at high speed.

The locomotive fell over, careening into the gully and creek bed.

Nick Karis, 35, was pinned under the wreckage of the coach and died. (Until at least the mid-1990s, one side piece of the passenger car was still visible. It may still be visible in the gully during winter months when underbrush has died down.)

Four others were injured and transported by railroad car to the nearest hospital, in Renton.

In the following months, workers salvaged what could be used again from the accident site. The biggest piece pulled out was the locomotive, built in the Wood & Iverson shop at Hobart.

The train wreck was the end of the logging trail for the Summit Creek/Holder Creek area. The forest fire had wiped out the standing timber, and the loggers moved on to other sites on the mountain.

"What remains wasn't worth the effort to bring out," said Erickson, pointing out twisted bunk-bed frames. "In a few years, even all this will disappear."

Sherry Grindeland: 206-515-5633 or

Train-crash site

Park at the Tiger Mountain Summit trailhead, a few miles south of Interstate 90 off Highway 18. Follow the West Side Road to the second Iverson Trail sign. Expect to take several hours to reach the site.