Cle Elum offers history, art and delicious food

The wheelbarrows marched up the tree, each one set on the next in a slightly out of plumb line-up of rusty brown, blue, red and yellow.

Stephen Ristine’s whimsical tower is just one reason to stop in Cle Elum, off Interstate 90 east of the Cascades.

The collection started a couple of years ago with his family’s wheelbarrows – “I just had a wild hair,” he said – but climbed to new heights when people dropped off more.

Garage sales netted additions.

“I just tell them that their wheelbarrow would be number 17 if they’d let it go for a buck,” Ristine said.

His longest ladder allowed the placing of the 21st wheelbarrow. There are two more waiting their turn but Ristine first has to get a longer ladder.

“If I had enough, I could make a wheelbarrow arch to the next tree, like a rainbow.”


Cle Elum’s a mix of small downtown, some residential areas and a determinedly rural character.

Coal and railroads were instrumental in the initial growth of Cle Elum before a disaster changed the town’s landscape. A 1918 fire wiped out 29 blocks of mostly wood structures, destroying 30 business and more than 250 homes. Residents rebuilt, often with brick.

The easy 4.7-mile Coal Miners Trail runs from Cle Elum through Roslyn and on to tiny Ronald, with benches every quarter-mile. The trail often goes over a honeycomb of mine tunnels and past old building sites, offering a glimpse of the area’s mining history.

As for the town’s railroad history, in its heyday the Milwaukee Railroad ran through South Cle Elum and the competing Northern Pacific through Cle Elum.

The restored 122-foot-long 101-year-old South Cle Elum Depot is now a museum and small café, with interpretation signs outside and a good view of Mount Peoh. Inside, artifacts include a telegraph office, oil cans for steam engines, blacksmith tongs, and a diorama of a train crossing a trestle.

There’s also easy access to the John Wayne Pioneer Trail and Iron Horse State Park, the latter a 100-mile stretch on the original Milwaukee Railroad roadbed.

On a recent visit, Iron Horse Inn B&B owners Mary and Doug Pittis’ granddaughter Abigail Grace, with her red hair in pigtails and wearing a delighted expression, was on the floor repairing her train of brightly colored blocks.

Sitting down for breakfast choices of apple zucchini muffins, fruit bowl, omelet and delicious ricotta cottage cheese pancakes, we soaked up more railroad ambience from shelves of large-scale trains and Milwaukee Road tableware place settings, including oval peacock plates once used in dining cars.

The inn – once temporary housing for railroad crews and four cabooses – has much more memorabilia scattered throughout the house. Outside the inn is a railroad crossing that warned vehicles of trains on the Milwaukee Road Line, Coast Division.

The renovated cabooses, named after railroads, are novel overnight accommodations, a history-and-TV- microwave combination.


But Cle Elum is more than its history. Downtown Cle Elum’s surprises are worth a short walk, especially if you’re hungry for something special.

The Cle Elum Bakery, in business for 103 years, is owned by Ivan and Claudia Osmonovich. Ivan hails from Croatia. One draw is the torcetti, an Italian pastry that is a twisted biscuit. A customer once shipped three-dozen to Russia.

Also popular is Dutch crunch, with rice flour on top providing the crunch. It’s usually sold out by the end of the day. Or try the cinnamon crisp, an 8-inch oval cousin to an elephant ear that’s baked instead of fried.

If you want lunch, The Bakery House around the corner serves soups, salads and sandwiches.

The main culinary attraction is Glondo’s Sausage Co. & Italian Market, both for its unusual offerings and the wonderful smell when you walk in.

It’s owned by Charlie (also the mayor) and Randine Glondo.

“We don’t use junk meats. We use our own recipes, no nitrates, no filler and make it in small batches,” the mayor said.

It’s mouth-watering just to read the large chalkboard menu with its three dozen cheeses, including England’s Huntsman and Gloucester yellow (a cheddar) and blue Stilton’s cheese in bands like a layer cake.

Even more unusual (and expensive) is Fontina Val D’Aosta (cow’s milk Italian cheese), made since the 12th century and now $20 a pound; and Chimay ($23.63 a pound), made by monks and beer washed with a smell akin to, well, sweaty socks.

Also on the board are about 18 fresh or cured meats, including Salsiccia, cinnamon-flavored port sausage (fry it with cabbage); bratwurst, a mild German sausage with pork (boil it with beer and onions and serve on a bun), and kielbasa from a 50-year-old recipe.

Also consider blood sausage (link sausage of pig’s blood, diced pork fat and other ingredients), Swedish potatoes and Easter sausage.

Popular choices are jerky pepperoni, dry salami, and head cheese, an Italian sausage of meaty bits of the head of a calf, pig, sheep or cow. It’s made in small batches and cured for months, then seasoned, combined with a gelatinous meat broth and cooked in a mold. When it’s cool, the sausage is thinly sliced.

It sounds like an acquired taste.

Back in history mode, we visited the Cle Elum Telephone Museum next to the public restrooms. It started in 1966 when Pacific Northwest Bell deeded the building to the local historical society.

The museum packs a lot into limited space, tracing the history of the telephone and exhibiting displays of manual and telephone exchange panels. Cle Elum’s last call on the three-bank exchange on Sept. 18, 1966 ended the “Number, please” era.

The gem may be the working innards of a relay exchange mechanism. Dial a number on one phone, watch the pieces move that leads to a ring from a second phone.

Another interesting site is the 1914 Carpenter House Museum and Art Gallery with its third-floor ballroom and High Country artists displays.

Railroads and telephones, food and art, Cle Elum is worth a stop.

Travel writers Maggie Savage and Sharon Wootton are authors of “Off the Beaten Path: Washington.”

Cle Elum

What: A town of fewer than 2,000 off Interstate 90, east of Snoqualmie Pass. The Native American name means swift waters.

Who’s who from Cle Elum: John Bresko, in 1921, was the first to start organized skiing west of Denver; freestyle skier Patrick Deneen, U.S. Olympic Team skier, 2010 Winter Olympics; and astronaut Dick Scobee, killed in the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion.

Lodging: Iron Horse Inn B&B, 509-674-5939

Dining: Glondo’s Sausage Co. & Italian Market, 216. E. First, 509-674-5755; Cle Elum Bakery, 501 E. First St., 509-674-2233.

Stops: Cle Elum Telephone Museum, 221 E. First, noon-4 p.m. summer weekends; South Cle Elum Dept, 801 Milwaukee Road; Carpenter House Museum, 302 W. Third St., 509-674-9766.