home Pacific NW Magazine home

Cover Story Plant Life On Fitness Taste Northwest Living Now & Then

Now & Then
Riding on Memories


One of the last steam locomotives to run along the Seattle Lake Shore and Eastern Railroad right-of-way heads toward North Bend on June 29, 1957. Part of a gas holder at the old Lake Union Gas Works can be seen behind it. Joggers and cyclists have been using the old line since it was converted to the Burke-Gilman Trail beginning in 1978. This part of the trail opened in 1989.

LIFE — THE LEISURE PART of it — is a relatively simple affair for rail fans. Perhaps the one conflict that can add distress is whether to be on a train or off it.

On Dec. 1, 1956, super rail fan Lawton Gowey was one of the nearly 1,300 joyfully crammed into the 13 cars behind Northern Pacific steam engine No. 1372 for the first Casey Jones Special to Snoqualmie. The route followed the old Seattle Lake Shore and Eastern Railroad right-of-way. Seven months later Gowey chose not to ride the train but chase it. Here, on June 29, 1957, he has beaten the same engine to the north side of Lake Union. Gowey made a snapshot of the Special that, with the smoke and steam escaping it, we can almost hear. In a moment more he was stepping on his own car's throttle to catch the train crossing a concrete trestle nearby on the University of Washington campus. He made it in time.

For 12 years the region's rail fans were engaged with nearly 50 nostalgic excursions out of Seattle. The pianist Carol Cornish was 71 when she started promoting these trips. Actually, as her assistant Tom Baker notes in his "Memories of the Casey Jones Excursions," Carol Cornish was a stage name. Her actual name was Edna Baker.

While no relation to Tom, Carol Cornish treated him as such. Calling him her "Train Host," she encouraged the garrulous and handsome Baker to walk from car to car sharing his good will and broad smile with the passengers. Baker and his kids also sold box lunches, and printed programs.

More often than not they needed more cars, and would borrow them if necessary to get everyone aboard. The last Casey Jones came to North Bend on June 9, 1968. It was also the day Carol Cornish died.

Paul Dorpat specializes in historical photography and has published several books on early Seattle.

Cover Story Plant Life On Fitness Taste Northwest Living Now & Then home
Copyright © 2002 The Seattle Times Company