Working and Living at the Cedar River Watershed, 1916-1929

  • By HistoryLink Staff
  • Posted 1/01/2000
  • Essay 2453
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Randall E. Rydeen's (1906-1998) account of work and life at Cedar Falls was recorded on May 20, 1993 by Marian Arlin. The following is an excerpt from the Oral History Project of the Cedar River Watershed sponsored by the Seattle Water Department (later Seattle Public Utilities).

Excerpts From the Interview

"I went to Cedar Falls I was 16 years old. I grew up in Seattle. I was in Cedar Falls from 1916 until 1929. My step-father was a city engineer on the project up there. He was sent up there originally to not only do the engineering, but at that time the City was in a suit with Edgewick because Christmas Creek came flowing out of the mountain there on Christmas Eve and engulfed the City of Edgewick.

Why The Flood?

"They claimed it was the water behind the masonry dam that caused this. My dad was up there to prove that this was not true. They put dye and everything in the water, and they could never find out exactly what happened that way, but he proved when they logged off the land up there and then the rains came and so forth, it couldn't handle it any more and it just washed out because of the saturated water.

"He measured all the streams coming out of there with instruments and kept track of them for years to prove that it was not from the dam but it was from the regular streams that was behind this thing. I worked with him besides working for the City Light and the Water Department up there. [With] Logg[ed] off land ... there is no way to hold the moisture back.

Logging the Land, Shaping the Land

"When he arrived, they were clearing the logs and trees behind the dam. The dam was finished but they hadn't done anything. There was just a little river coming down from Camp 1, so they had to go to work and cut all those trees and take all those trees and logs and stumps out, and we piled them up and burned them. We used a steam donkey and we piled this stuff up maybe two, three hundred feet high, and we burned it. We had to clear all this land.

"After we cleared the land then they had these guys go in with sluice guns and sluice the side down and made a basin. There was no lake there. They made a lake. The sides were steep but narrow. It was just a creek coming down through there. They had pipes, too, some of the pipes that took it out. They had pumps.

"They had a big pump house down there. They pumped the water out of the lake to run these big sluice guns. The lake behind the dam. There was no lake there then. It was just a stream came down from Camp 1. So they had to make a lake, and the only way they could do it was by water power which was the easiest way because they could move tons of dirt a day. They had four or five of those things going all the time.

The Drowning

Browns lived there [at Seattle Water Department Camp I], and they had a farm and they had a cow. I used to go up there for milk. Then low and behold Brown and Willhight were working together behind the crib dam. They went over the dam and they were drowned, both of them.

They were working behind it and the water was high back there and they lost control of this boat they were in and it just washed over the dam and out into the big lake [Cedar Lake]. We had to go out there and find those guys. They were gone. There was nobody around. They just went under. That was about 1922 or 1923.

Life in a Water Department Camp

Well, we had a city house. They were on both sides of the road, those houses. Then they used the bunkhouses where the men were, later on for the people up there. Now Francis had to move in a bunkhouse because of the size of the family. My brother-in-law lived in a bunkhouse.

"I slept in the garage. What happened was in the summertime I could sleep on the front porch, it was screened in, but the snow blew in on us in the wintertime so they fixed me up a bed in the garage. It was a one-bedroom house. They were just three room houses. They were never meant for a family, just for workers up there. That's the way they all looked, all the same houses.

Forest Fire

"We went to school [that day]. We looked up there at the mountain. When we left Camp 2, the wind was blowing and lightning was starting this fire up on Mount Washington, crown fires, and we got to school. We just got settled in school and Emmett came back and said we have to go up to camp, they need you up there to fight fire. So we took off for Cedar Falls.

"By the time we got up there the fire had gone all the way from Mount Washington clear down through all that area and it was burning those houses on Cedar Falls.

"Those was along the railroad tracks at Cedar Falls, just above Rattlesnake Lake. That fire jumped because of the snags there, and the wind was blowing and the fire spread like wildfire. We went into Rattlesnake Lake on the way up and wet gunnysacks and put over our heads, and Emmett drove on up to the power house in Cedar Falls and we got out and we walked over the pipeline all the way to Camp 2. That's the only way we could get up there.

"They had drilled holes in the pipeline walls, they went over wooden trestles and everything, and they would have burned, too. That is what saved them. We walked over that pipeline all the way to Camp 2, but it was easy to walk on because it was seven feet across.

"It burned all over, but they did save the pipeline and that was wooden.

"All they had at Camp 2 to fight the fire with was buckets to keep the ground damp around the houses. But they moved all their stuff out. We saved [Camp 2]. The women and children went down in the dam. There was an entrance on the back side. They went in there.

"We fought that fire about two or three days."


Excerpt of Marian Arlin Interview of Randall Rydeen, May 20, 1993, Cedar River Watershed Oral History Project. Transcripts housed at the Cedar River Watershed Facility in Cedar Falls, a department of Seattle Public Utilities.

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