Elbe woman who shot trap, fought fires and served burgers near Mount Rainier dies on dream trip

Cora Adams met her husband, Gayle, when she was a teenager. They married shortly after she graduated high school. Adams family Courtesy

Cora Louise Adams believed in things like community, self-sufficiency and hard work.

The 84-year-old demonstrated that daily in her life.

She worked nearly every day at the popular burger joint she owned in Elbe, started a volunteer fire department, raised four children and never complained while fighting breast cancer.

“She was a very fierce, independent woman,” said her daughter-in-law, Nancy Adams. “One of the strongest women I knew, and one of the most loving.”

Adams died Dec. 19 with her daughter Monica Adams Carlson, 61, after they were struck by a tour bus while walking in a crosswalk in Washington, D.C.

Mother and daughter had just visited the White House to see the Christmas decorations when they were hit. Both died at a hospital afterward.

Carlson was mayor of Skagway, Alaska.

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Visiting the White House at Christmastime was a longtime dream of Adams, who delighted in the holidays.

Adams grew up in Pierce County and met her husband, Gayle, when she was a teenager, at a logging company picnic where both he and her father worked.

Gayle Adams would drive his logging truck beside her school bus to wave at her everyday. As soon as she graduated, they married.

The young couple lived in Northern California for a time, where Cora Adams earned a reputation as one of the best clay trap shooters in the region.

She regularly surprised male competitors by shooting 25 out of 25 birds and taking home hams, turkeys, bacon and an occasional $25 purse.

Eventually, she and her husband moved back to Elbe, and Adams opened Scaleburgers, known for its milkshakes and burgers among tourists heading to Mount Rainier National Park.

It wasn’t unusual to see her behind the counter, flipping burgers with a long white braid down her back.

One of her best friends, Rosie Trujillo, recalls that she once was fired because Adams was less than impressed with how slowly Trujillo counted change back to customers.

“The first time I met her, I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, this lady scares me to death,’” Trujillo, 81, said. “I don’t even know how we became friends, but all of a sudden, we were the best of friends.”

In 1967, Adams helped start a volunteer fire department in the region now known as Pierce County Fire District 23.

She worked as an EMT and helped drive the big trucks to fires and medical emergencies.

When one of the trucks broke down, which was often, Gayle Adams would hook it up to his towing rig and pull it to the fire so the crew could douse the flames.

Her family believes Cora Adams was the first female volunteer firefighter to retire in Washington state after a 25-year career.

“She took the lead when the lead needed to be taken. She had the biggest heart in the world, and she wasn’t happy unless she was making other people happy,” her son, Rick Adams, said.

Cora Adams always put her family first.

She carted her kids around to swim-team practices and meets long before “Soccer Mom” was a household word. She learned to downhill ski at 55 so she could take her grandchildren.

She sent weekly care packages to her grandson when he deployed overseas. She made all her food from scratch and insisted it tasted better when eaten off fine china.

When she was diagnosed with breast cancer eight years ago, she refused to slow down or let others worry about her.

Adams kept working, kept taking care of her family, kept up her involvement in the community.

She loved NASCAR, learned how to fly, could show off on water skis and was deeply patriotic.

“She was the type of person that loved life with a passion,” Trujillo said. “She didn’t miss an opportunity, and she wanted this for everybody she knew.”

Adams is survived by four children, six grandchildren, five great-grandchildren and her brother.