Wreck of the Coal Cars in Lake Washington

During January of 1875, the stern-wheeled steamer Chehalis was pulling a barge loaded with wooden coal cars across Lake Washington when  she ran into a gale north of Mercer Island which upset the barge.  The cargo of eighteen coal cars sank into the dark waters of the Lake Washington as a forgotten bit of local history.

The Chehalis was a small sternwheeler that was built in Tumwater in 1867.  She was sold to the Black Diamond Coal Company and spent most of her life towing barges on the Lake until she was put onto the Seattle to Olympia run.  In November of 1882, she was caught in a gale that beached and destroyed her off of Ten Mile Point.

The Black Diamond Coal Mine in Renton was providing a steady stream of Coal to the busy locomotives and Steamboats in the Puget Sound area.  The wood coal cars used to transport the coal were about eight feet long and four feet high, with sides about two and half feet tall.  The ran on rails using the iron wheels of a classic miner's cart.  The cars were run down from the mine fully loaded with coal and then put onto barges to be towed to Seattle.

Rediscovered by Robert Mester (Underwater Atmospheric Systems) as a submerged cultural resource, the Coal Cars make a fascinating dive back into history.  About a dozen of the cars sit upright on the bottom, still holding the coal they never delivered.  They are preserved so well by the cold, dark waters that it is hard to believe they actually sank more than 135 years ago.

The coal cars are located in the middle of Lake Washington, just South of the 520 floating bridge.  They are just shy of 200 feet deep, and are very, very small targets that are difficult to see on a fish finder.   However, for those adventurous wreck divers that love history, they are definitely worth the extra effort that it takes to make this excellent dive.

Large Chunks of Raw Coal fill most the cars.  The coal from this car spills onto the lake bottom. 
Amazing Craftsmanship in these old Coal Cars.  Release lever that is used for brakes or dumping.