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Edition #121, March 1, 2010

Defiance

Photographer: Martin Burwash

                                                                                                      Photo by Martin Burwash

Defiance

For 100 years this coupler has jutted from the cold water of Tye Creek. Its knuckle is clenched in the closed position, frozen by rust and time. Rising from the creek bed, it remains clenched in absolute defiance of time; and in absolute defiance of the very force that put it there. 

It was 100 years ago a wall of snow, nearly mile wide descended on two Great Northern Railway trains stalled at the town of Wellington, Washington. In an instant, the trains, all those aboard, and this coupler were swept into the canyon below. Of the 116 passengers, mail workers and railroaders crowded onboard Trains 25 and 27 that night, February 28, 1910, 96 died. Fifty-five were rails. The bodies of the dead, the memories retained by those who lived, even the wreckage of the trains themselves have long since passed, but the coupler remains.

I happened upon this great artifact of the Wellington Disaster literally by accident.  On a freezing day in November, I was attempting to photograph some other minor debris near the edge of Tye Creek. I stumbled into the icy water and came face to face with the coupler. Now knee deep and soaking wet, I grabbed my camera and took a few shots before the chills made it impossible to hold the camera steady.

To know the story of the Wellington Slide is to learn defiance. It is to learn how the men of the Cascade Division of the Great Northern Railway did their utmost to try and defy a force that was so much greater than they could have imaged. It is the story of defying unending snow until the very end, for no other reason than it was the right thing to do.

For 100 years this clenched iron fist has risen from the waters of Tye Creek, in defiance of all that might try to destroy it. 

Defiance; it is what turns tragedy into triumph.

Martin Burwash

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