Saturday, January 26, 2008

Death on the Hartford

In the days of the Northern Pacific Railroad, it was called the Hartford Branch. It was a line that skirted the eastern edge Seattle and Lake Washington and ran through the northwestern Washington interior all the way to the Canadian boarder at Sumas. The formation of the Burlington Northern made large portions of the line redundant and thus they were abandonned. One reminant survived however, the two mile stretch that ran from the junction of the Burlington Northern east-west mainline, up into the town of Snohomish.

Central Feed, a longtime provider of milled grain for the dairies in the Snohomish Valley is what kept the Hartford alive. Twice a week in the late afternoon, one of the Burlington Northern locals would cross the old Snohomish River swing bridge and switch the mill. It's work done, the train would back down they way it came and continue into Everett.

Then came 1998. With the local dairy economy crumbling, rumors began to circualte about the fate of Central Feed. The longtime family ownership dissolved and the facility was taekn over by Co-op giant Harvest States/Land-O-Lakes. In as much as they already had a mill in the area, we all knew it was just a matter of time for Central.

The time clock ticked down to zero on May 7, 1999. The mill used the last of its inventory and closed their doors forever.

Two days later, the last train on the Harford made it's way into Snohomish and picked up the final empty car from Central Feed. The Hartford Branch saw its last train.

Through the winter of 1999 and into the new millenium, the mill sat vacant. Those of us in the feed business hurried from farm to farm like a group of vultures, trying to pick up what little business Central left behind. All of us were thinking,"better them than us", but all of us knew, Central would not be the last mill to close its doors.

Sitting on valuable real estate, it wasn't long before the property was bought. The mill had to come down. The talk in the Red Barn Tavern now turned to how long would it be before even that watering hole would see the same fate as the mill. It lasted the summer...

With the old machinery having little value beyond scrap, the mill came down without even the dignity of a part by part dismantling. Cranes with wrecking balls tore at the structure, exposing it's inner workings and scattering it like road kill.

As the mill came down, the weeds grew up around the now useless rails of the Hartford Branch.

The last step was the paving over of the rail crossing. The sections of rail were lifted out, ties and all and cast aside so the black toppers could insure a smooth road where once cars bumped across the tracks. It was finished. The last of the Hartford Branch was left to be forgotten.

There's a new library and shops where the old once stood. Whenever I pass by I wonder, when will the last car be pulled from the spur behind my employer, Conway Feed? We all know it's not a matter of if, but when. I have a feeling I'll be there to record the last of the siding at Fir as well.


SDP45 said...

Great essay. I really felt involved in the story.
This historic stuff is what needs to be published. Who else would tell this story?


michael said...


Caught a message about your blog on the Great Northern Yahoo list. This is excellent writing and photography. Thank you for sharing.


Misko said...

Such a sad story so splendidly presented. Excellent text, excellent photos! I wonder how many people and families were affected by these events and how is their life today...


James Berg said...

Thanks Martin. Living is Snohomish since 2000, I knew some of the history and defi not at his level of detail. I didn't realize the bridge was a swing bridge, even though there is a control house sitting on top of the structure. I will look closer next time so I can see how it operated. Thanks, Jim