As the old main vanishes into the private lands that are out of bounds for the old truck and I, our venture turns south along Dry Creek Road and towards the bigger Montana city of Belgrade and a meet with I-90. The gravel road winds through the arid Montana landscape as the shadows grow longer and the sun dips ever lower in the summer sky. As years drift onward, even the memories of that turn south and gravel road seem to slowly fade away. But planted firmly in my minds eye is the arrival at Menard, Gallatin County, MT.
At Three Forks the Milwaukee branched from the mainline and headed east toward Belgrade along what is now the I-90 corridor. The NP mainline to Butte did the same (and still does) though the Milwaukee branch has long vanished. Heading north and into some agricultural areas, Menard stands as the furthest most point on this long abandoned branch. Decades upon decades have passed since the last 40 foot boxcars filed out of the few elevators located on this line.
The sun is just high enough that the elevator at Menard catches the last few rays on this peaceful day in 2003. It's another quiet end to the daylight hours, and stars above will soon take center stage in this drama that is the West and the Milwaukee's far-flung empire. The truck and I will stop quickly to take one last look back at Menard, and then Accola which awaits just down the branch.