“The best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry, and leave us nothing but grief and pain, for promised joy!”
— Robert Burns, “To a Mouse.”
Feb. 2, 1906, was intended to be a momentous day for the city of Sunnyside.
The Northern Pacific Railway had built a spur into the Lower Valley City, bringing with it the promise of prosperity and more direct access to the world.
But due to a miscalculation in laying the tracks, the event was almost derailed when the first train into the city literally went off the rails.
The Northern Pacific was a major influence in the development of the Yakima Valley. Before its arrival, the only way in or out of the Valley was on long wagon rides either south to the Columbia River or northwest through the Cascades to Seattle and the coast.
Rail travel made it easier, faster and cheaper to move people and goods to and from the Valley, as well as provided a link between the Valley and the rest of the nation.
Its arrival also led to the creation of cities throughout the area, most notably today’s Yakima, where the railroad decided to build its depot, snubbing Union Gap, which was then the county seat.
The Sunnyside area, though, did not have direct rail service. Farmers and growers wanting to move their crops out of the area had to go to the nearest spur at Mabton. Sunnyside incorporated in 1902, after building its population up to the 300 minimum required by law, a move that gave the people a bit more leverage in getting a rail line into the city.
In 1905, the railroad agreed to put a spur into Sunnyside, going off the line in Toppenish and crossing the Yakima River near what is now Granger and running along the North side of Snipes Mountain through Sunnyside to Grandview, where the train could turn around for the return trip.
The line was set to be formally opened Feb. 2, 1906, and the people of Sunnyside planned for a grand celebration. The Yakima Morning Herald described it as the “day of days,” with enough barbecued ox to feed 3,000 people.
The paper promised that it would have a representative there “to do his part to help everything along that is in his power.” Bear in mind, the journalistic standards of objectivity were still in their formative stages at this point in history.
There was also going to be a brass band to hail the arrival of the first train at the new depot, which would carry Gov. Albert E. Mead, members of Congress, railroad officials and other dignitaries to the event.
The train pulled on to the new line from Toppenish and proceeded down the recently laid tracks toward Sunnyside and the festivities.
But things went sideways — literally.
A mile west of the new depot, the train turned over on its side as the rails sank into the ground. Fortunately, nobody was seriously injured, and everyone was brought over to the barbecue, where the celebration continued, with speeches from Walter N. Granger, whose company built the Sunnyside Canal, and others.
It turns out that the rail line was on marshy land, and the water table was low. When the rail line was built, the ballast had not been packed down firmly enough to support the weight of the special train, causing the rails to sink into the mire.
While the Herald did not note the mishap, the Yakima Daily Republic said that a train would not be heading from Yakima because the road was not in any condition for a train.
The rail line was subsequently stabilized and continued to serve the area.