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(Seattle & Northern 1890)

Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
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When the Lake Shore & Eastern is Done

Snohomish Historical Society quarterly bulletin, 1982
      It would be difficult to overstate the importance of the coming of the railroads to the growth and development of the Pacific Northwest. For Snohomish county, the arrival of rail service in 1888 was a milestone whose significance was grasped and elaborated upon and at the town of Snohomish the joy and exuberant optimism found expression in a song, which, unfortunately, seems to have vanished from regional oral tradition.
      The Snohomish Eye [newspaper, Clayton H. Packard, publisher] carried the following story on page one of their Saturday, Sept. 22, 1888 edition:

      Railroad Spikes — That long expected "first train" crossed the bridge last Saturday (September 15th) at 9:30 a.m., and consisted of seven flat cars loaded with iron and ties. It was pushed by the 45-ton engine H.L. Yesler, in charge of engineer W.H. Gregory and fireman Robt. Anderson. A large crowd was present to witness the event — a memorable one in the history of Snohomish. The scene so affected The Eye's agricultural editor (Geo. W. Head) that he commenced to warble: "At the sound of the whistle of the cars. . ."
      The verses that followed captured some of the anticipation and enthusiasm of Snohomish townsfolk on that momentous day. The reference to Head's "warbling" seems to indicate quite clearly that the composition was intended as a song rather than simply a poem. It was a common practice of the day to set topical lyrics to a popular tune and Head's verses fit the chorus of an 1882 song hit by Edward Harrigan and David Braham called, When the Clock in the Tower Strikes Twelve.
      The Eye printed eight verses, some of rather strained meter. In 1906, when the Interstate Publishing Company issued the first county history [Illustrated History of Skagit and Snohomish Counties], six revised verses were published on page 333 of that volume and the same revised version appeared twenty years later in Whitfield's History of Snohomish County (Volume 1, page 730). In a number of cases these minor revisions seem an improvement, correcting awkward phrasing and making the song more easily singable.
      A slight conflict of present and future tenses will be noted in both versions, resulting from the fact that while the rails had reached Snohomish and the line was, in that sense, "done," the rest of the railroad was yet to be completed north of Snohomish. Rail service between Seattle and Snohomish actually began when the line reached the south bank of the river over two months prior to the event that inspired Head's song, but the crossing of the bridge into Snohomish proper obviously had great symbolic significance. Head describes the railroad as "done" only in the first verse. The Interstate version alters three more verses to indicate completion, leaving only a pair of anticipatory verses and twice using "has come" instead of "is done," apparently to achieve a closer rhyme with "rum" and "hum." It seems that by 1906 some of the fervor of the occasion has worn off — six verses were felt adequate to convey the message of the original.
      The tone of the piece is, of course, unabashed boosterism, taking potshots at "old bummers and drones" while gleefully anticipating the transmogrification of a sleepy village on the Snohomish river into a humming metropolis. Civic progress and prosperity are the themes, with a delightful verse honoring E.C. Ferguson (Emory), the "moss-covered 'mayor' " who platted the townsite, predicting glory for this patriarch in the form of fancy headgear, rum and an increase in the selling price of his townsite lots.
      It is a pleasure to re-introduce this special piece of musical history, the earliest indigenous Snohomish county "folk song" yet traced.

When the Lake Shore & Eastern is Done
(with musical notes in sheet form)
      At the sound of the whistle of the cars on the bridge,
The men, wo-men and chil-dren did run;
— Screaming a-loud at the top of their voice:
"Oh! the Lake Shore & Ea-st-ern — is done!"

A place that for years has been counted as dead,
To new business and life it will come;
We all can have 'wealth' to go where we please
When the Lake Shore & Eastern is done.

Our moss-covered "mayor" can live at his ease,
He can wear a plug hat and drink rum,
And raise another fifty on the price of each lot
When the Lake Shore & Eastern is done.

Old bummers and drones can take a back seat;
Give way to the new ones that will come
They've had their day and 'goose will be cooked,'
When the Lake Shore & Eastern is done.

New side walks and bridges our village will have,
And all business will go with a hum;
Quick change from a village to a city we'll have
When the Lake Shore & Eastern is done.

We also will have a new court house and jail,
So we can take care of the tramps if they come,
It will furnish some work for the marshal you see!
When the Lake Shore & Eastern is done.

New hotel, stores and new shops we will have.
And street cars will then be on the run,
Electric lights will illuminate our streets,
When the Lake Shore & Eastern is done.

and this you will see at no great distant day,
And our people can take trips for fun —
All this you will see in the 'sweet bye and bye'
When the Lake Shore & Eastern is done.

      This story above is excerpted from the Snohomish Historical Society quarterly bulletin, two volumes of which from the late 1970s and early 1980s are available for sale at the Blackman Museum in Snohomish, and can be read in the Northwest Room of the Everett Public Library. The complete article also has the 1906 version of the song.
      The full name for the rail line in question was the Seattle Lake Shore & Eastern, organized in 1885 by Judge Thomas Burke and other leading lights in Seattle to counter the choice of Commencement Bay at Tacoma for the Northern Pacific Railroad. The original line headed around what is now Golden Gardens in Seattle, headed along the north shore of Lake Washington, and east towards the coal fields of eastern Skagit county. The line north to Snohomish, which eventually extended to new Sedro in 1890 and a junction with the Canadian Pacific Railway at Sumas in 1891, was the West Coast Line or Branch. When Northern Pacific gained control of company stock in 1891, the line's name was changed to Seattle & International. Then, around the turn of the century, the line took on the name of Northern Pacific and kept that line until it stopped operating as an independent line when Burlington Northern took it over in 1970. John Boykin, who has studied the SLS&E for 30 years, notes this, regarding the bridge over the Snohomish river in 1888:

      Eight weeks later a log boom on Pilchuck Creek let go and swept much of the bridge away. It is reported that two of the spans were recovered, floating in Port Gardner Bay. The present bridge, erected in 1910, is the third on that crossing.

      For more examples of both booster songs and favorite songs from olden years, as well as more railroad and Snohomish county history, see these websites:

Story posted on Feb. 13, 2005
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