The Great Northern Railway & Navigation Company is an imagined narrow gauge railroad operating in the North Cascade Mountains of Washington State and British Columbia..
It is purely of my imagination and reflects my interests in steam trains, ships and the business that they would conduct in the Pacific Northwest in the late 1930s and early 1940s. The following is the “backstory” of the “history” of the railroad, giving tribute to my maternal grandfather, Wilmer Siegert, who sparked the interest in model railroading in Dad and me:
The narrow gauge railway in the North Cascades of northwestern Washington
and southern British Columbia was founded by Captain Wilmer Siegert in 1895.
Siegert had been the Master of square rigged ships running from the East Coast
around Cape Horn and to the West Coast for 15 years. On one such voyage to
San Francisco the Captain developed a friendship with a passenger who was
involved in building narrow gauge railroads. That passenger was none other
than Otto Mears, "Pathfinder of the San Juans", and builder of the Rio Grande
Southern in Colorado. Siegert was inspired by the railroader, the subject of trains and the railroad as a form of transportation. As many of Siegert’s voyages were to the Pacific Northwest he began to learn the region well. With the expansion of mining, fishing and the timber industries the Captain saw the opportunity for a narrow gauge railroad to service the northwestern corner of Washington State. In the spring of 1895 the Captain decided to leave his seafaring life, come ashore and, with the guidance of his good friend Otto Mears, build the North Cascade Coastal Railway.
The railway originally developed by connecting some of the local port cities with the logging and mining industries located in the North Cascades of Washington and British Columbia. An additional railroad was developed, the Island Railway and Navigation Company that serviced the island communities on Whidbey and San Juan Islands. A small fleet of passenger vessels was also built to help connect people and commerce throughout the northern Puget Sound. The growth and success of Captain Siegert’s little narrow gauge empire attracted the attention of Louis Hill and the Great Northern Railway. Hill and Siegert met on numerous occasions in Seattle and Cascade to discuss railroading and the Pacific Northwest. In the fall of 1918 the two men reached an agreement and the North Cascade Coastal Railway merged with the Great Northern Railway and became the Great Northern Railway & Navigation Company.