When the Train Crossed Avenue D

THIS IS THE STORY OF JOSEPH McNULTY who broke his wooden leg protecting the citizens of Snohomish from being hit by trains.

But first some background. When the Milwaukee Road came to town in 1911, on tracks laid high on a wooden trestle running alongside the north bank of the Snohomish River, it agreed to provide a flagman where the tracks crossed Avenue D. According to Darrington resident and historian, Allen Miller, whom we introduced to you last month, two watchmen provided 24/7 coverage of the intersection. Their headquarters was a tiny guardhouse that can be barely made out in our faded historic image, nestled up against the utility pole.

It wasn’t long before the first incident was recorded in this newspaper of record, but not between an automobile and a train. According to the September 6, 1912, issue of the Snohomish County Tribune, eyewitnesses saw a speeding auto knock the (unnamed) flagman, who was guarding the crossing for a passing train, “to the ground insensible.” He was rushed to Snohomish General Hospital (yes, here in town), where the attending physician set his broken ribs back in place. The driver of the auto did not stop, but as the article reported, “the Milwaukee detectives will undoubtedly be on the parties trail.” Allen never found a follow up to this story in the paper.

Then there is the McNulty incident. Less than a year later, June 17, 1913, an article reported, “Joseph McNulty, flagman for the Milwaukee Railway, has brought suit against F. K. Folliott for $8,000 damages claimed by the plaintiff to be due him as a result of a broken wooden leg and injured feelings.” Folliott attempted to go around the flagman in front of an approaching train, when McNulty was struck and thrown on the tracks, breaking his wooden leg. The broken member was repaired for $125 and the balance of the claim, $7,875, was for injured feelings. Again, no follow up story was found in later editions.

And the headline for a story in the April 8, 1926, issue of the Tribune reads, “Bell Replaces Watchman Pat.” Pat Gannon’s job as guard at the Avenue D crossing was eliminated by city ordinance. “The council has decreed that the Milwaukee must install a wig wag signal at that point, which will probably mean that Pat moves elsewhere,” the story explained. “Pat’s little cabin near the crossing and his waving cane and lantern are familiar sights.” A well-known character around town, “Pat the Watchman, faithfully guarded wagons, buggies, then autos and trucks from the oncoming trains for 16 years.”

The wig wag signal was most likely a blinking red light and bell mounted on a metal pole anchored in concrete and located in the center of Avenue D. The signal was left behind when the railroad company abandoned the right of way in 1940, and over the years its badly chipped base bore witness to the rapid increase of automobile traffic in Snohomish.

Many thanks to Allen Miller for bringing this story to my attention, and for sharing his photographs. Please contact me if you have a story or historic photograph to share.

Published in the Snohomish County Tribune, February 17, 2010


Looking east up First Street with a horse drawn cart heading toward the Avenue D Bridge, dated 1912. To the right of the horse and cart, nested up against the utility pole is the Milwaukee Road’s flagman booth. The large structure left of center is currently the American Legion Building, but back then it was the depot when the train ran on tracks laid on a high wooden trestle alongside the north bank of the Snohomish River. The dark object behind the cart appears to be a boxcar parked on a siding. (Photo courtesy Allen Miller.)

Milwaukee Road Depot

ALLEN MILLER, visiting from Darington, parked his pick-up truck in front of the American Legion Building on First Street where we met to talk about the time when the building was a depot and visitors could arrive in Snohomish by train.

The Legion building at 1201 First, built with 19th Century drug money by Lot Wilbur, was the depot for the Milwaukee Railroad from 1911 until 1930 when railroad passenger service to Everett was replaced by an eight-cylinder Studebaker bus. The company moved its freight operation to the Great Northern tracks on the other side of the river, and in the1940s, the unused steel tracks were pulled up and sold for scrap to Japan. But that’s another story.

Allen once worked as an agent/operator for the Milwaukee Railroad and is now an avid collector of company records, photos, memorabilia and a historian with a head full of fascinating stories.

For example, on the second floor of the Legion building where Post Commander Pat Guyot (pictured above on the right), was showing us the Post’s restoration progress, Allen went immediately to a section of wall with leftover wallpaper. This was the kitchen area of the agent’s living quarters, he explained, and Mrs. Kent Gill could have been the one who put it up since her family was the last one to reside in the upstairs living quarters when her husband was the station agent.

Then there is the story of the great James Hill’s failed negotiations with the prosperous young Snohomish City business leaders in the 1880s to build a trestle on the north side of the river for his Great Northern Railroad, which was following Wall Street money to Everett. In response, Mr. Hill’s tracks were installed on the south side of the river with no station for Snohomish.

Our historic image of the trestle passing behind the former depot shows only the parallel lines of preserved wood where the tracks once ran. The railroad company simply abandoned the massive wooden structure, which eventually became an eyesore and hazard that had to be dismantled by the city struggling to find extra wartime dollars, I imagine.

Next month I will share with you Allen’s story about the time when the railway flagman at the Avenue D intersection had to hire a lawyer.

Published in the Snohomish County Tribune, January 27, 2010



The abandoned railroad trestle pictured here around 1940 was built by the Milwaukee Railroad in 1910 along the north bank of the Snohomish River. 1201 First Street, currently the American Legion Building, was the depot and passengers would use the elevated wooden walkway on the right leading to the front of the building. The station agent and his family lived on the second floor. Photo courtesy Allen Miller.

View of the backside of the former depot as it appears today with the wooden trestle replaced by a concrete walkway as part of the Riverside Trail completed in 2006. The American Legion Post #96 has owned the building since the 1950s.