I first drove over Snoqualmie Pass in the winter of 1960, headed home to Spokane for Christmas break. It was snowing hard, and we were riding in the car that was later deemed unsafe at any speed: the Corvair.
Like the old Volkswagens, Corvairs were terrific snow cars, as long as you didnt have to turn. Because the engine hunkered in the trunk and the rear wheels provided the traction, you could straight-line them on arena ice.
But turn? Youd be less likely to crash in a bumper car.
As many of you know, I-90 over Snoqualmie Pass has many turns. And in 1960, it had many more, some two-lane stretches, a bunch of snow sheds that arent there anymore, and significantly less protection and parental concern from our dear Washington State Department of Transportation.
So in 1960, in the middle of a blizzard and snow so deep you couldnt possibly slide off the road, we drove from North Bend to Ellensburg in about two hours.
No chains. No "traction devices required." No signs flashing "Variable Speed Limit" or "Tune Radio to 1610 AM."
No road closed for "Avalanche Control."
The only car we passed and this is the truth was one marked "Washington State Patrol."
I last drove over Snoqualmie Pass about two weeks ago. It wasnt snowing and we were piloting a 4-wheel-drive truck and camper with some of the best Toyo all-season radials Ive ever owned.
It took us five hours to crawl from North Bend to Easton. I could have skied it faster, if thered been enough snow.
The first stop was just outside of North Bend, where we were informed by a flashing sign that chains would be required on all vehicles (except 4WD) 14 miles ahead. At least one-quarter of all the motorists in that traffic jam played it safe and put their chains on right there, driving 14 miles on bare pavement, clanking and clanging.
The second stop was a two-mile traffic jam at Denny Creek, where Washington State Patrolmen had occupied one of three lanes to check all cars (except 4WD) to see if they were equipped with chains for the daunting bare pavement. Most chains had broken by that time, but it didnt seem to matter because the troopers werent watching cars as we drove by.
The third stop was about two miles east of the Snoqualmie summit, while Department of Transportation workers were engaged somewhere ahead in "Avalanche Control." Im strictly an amateur observer, mind you, but you couldnt have started snow sliding that day with a limited nuclear device.
No, my guess is this dedicated group of plowpeople just wanted to get the road clean and pretty without the hassle of dodging all those motorists in a hurry to get somewhere on one of the busiest interstate highways in Washington.
I know, I know: Ill get letters.
Maybe Im just getting old and cranky, but Id gladly trade the whole damn Department of Transportation for one winter drive in 1960.