last update: 8/2/16

One: Milwaukee Gulch,
my first solo railfan excursion

Photo : August 6, 1979 by Brian Jennison; slide in Wx4 Collection

Twenty five years before Brian Jennison shot this photo in 1979, I watched trains as a four-year-old from this very same spot, the East 43rd Street bridge spanning over what Tacoma, Washington locals called "Milwaukee Gulch". Railfans knew the spot as "Tacoma Hill"; Milwaukee men as the "T&E Hill". T&E was short for Tacoma Eastern Railroad, the outfit that standard-gauged an idle narrow-gauge lumber company line up the gulch in 1890, and subsequently struggled along until Milwaukee Road assumed control early in the Twentieth Century. Ultimately, the T&E 'main' extended south to Frederickson, where it split - one branch went to Hoquiam; the other to Morton.

Milwaukee Gulch's variously (depending upon whom you talk to) 3.3% to 4.0% grade insured that the bridge was a great spot to watch trains. In steam times, the Milwaukee relied upon its 2-6-6-2's (see page bottom) to slog up the gully at walking speed. These apparently gave way to EMD F's equipped with low speed gearing at the time of my nearby tenancy in 1953-54. My several recollections are of the F's; absolutely no steam, though steam certainly still must have been a frequent presence. The F's made a regular midday assault on the hill, a convenient time for me to whine my mother into accompanying me for the two blocks over to the bridge to watch the show. More often than not, mom was "too busy" to chaperone me, so one day when I heard the train coming, I took matters in my own hands and ran to Milwaukee Gulch on my own - my first solo railfan trip. As the train was still aways off, I elected to climb down the bank and place some stones on the railheads, with the hope, I emphatically remember, that the train would derail. I was a bad, bad, precocious child, already a veteran of derailing and ultimately trashing two Marx train sets. I merely was scaling up my activities. About the time the train arrived, so did mom, and I'll bet that, over the clamor of 567's, the engineer could hear me yelping my way home. That was the end to my solo railfan journeys...for a short while.

By the time of the photo, T&E Hill was Milwaukee's main track between Tacoma and Portland, courtesy of a stipulation in the Burlington Northern merger that gave Milwaukee trackage rights south from Chehalis Junction. Early on, Milwaukee Road hauled three, or so, trains north from its SP connection in Portland. I have no idea if the railroad still sustained that level of business in 1979, the last full year before the retrenchment eastward. In any event, here we see worn out locomotives beating up equally marginal track in the finest Milwaukee Road tradition. Mid-train there likely was another set of hill units, or maybe the Tideflats Yard goat. Those B-units are actually slugs, two of three F7B's (along with a single RS3) converted earlier in the decade (see below). The last Milwaukee Road train left Tideflats early next year, on March 15. The slugs were retired en mass two months later.

After Milwaukee's departure, the T&E line went through a succession of operators. Today (2016), city-owned Tacoma Rail dispatches movements up Milwaukee Gulch.
- E.O.

August 3, 2012: My first visit to Milwaukee Gulch in 38 years (58, since living nearby) found no Tacoma Rail trains. The place is more overgrown. The original rickety East 43rd Street bridge has been replaced. My old house has lost its garage. It was 100 degrees later that day (all that I remember from childhood is chilly, overcast gloom and pulpwood / copper refinery stench - The aroma of Tacoma, as it used to be called). Nevertheless, I swear that I could hear the whining/clattering beat of F's starting their climb far down the hill.

Further investigation:

  • John Crosby has considerable info and stories about working on Milwaukee's T&E & Coast Division here.
  • Martin Burwash took some nice photos of Gulch trains in 1972-73, which appear here.
  • A map of the present-day Tacoma Rail appears here.

Two: The Tideflats

above: E-25 at the house; July, 1970
above: one-half of Milwaukee Road's slug roster: SG-1 (ex-RS3) and SE-1 (ex F7B) in August, 1974
above: the SG-1 again, with the 81A & 81C; August 1974
Kind reader Bob Miller forwarded these images of an earlier era's Hill power. At left is a company diagram of the N3-s 2-6-6-2 (click on it for a 1200 pixel version), while below, #64 rests at the Tideflats during my tenancy in Tacoma, on March 28, 1954. She may have been set aside for retirement by then.

(photographer unknown; Bob Miller collection)

Milwaukee Road