Don't let it end like this

Location:  Mount Pleasant, Iowa
It was just a cold winter day in the early 2000s.  The ceiling above was unlimited and the blues were showing vivid on yesteryear's slide film.  Running east like a wind itself, the California Zephyr is seen streaking across the flat eastern Iowa landscape with its sights set on the Mississippi River crossing.  Once safely through the winding and narrow passages of Burlington, the small towns of Illinois will flit by the large windows, just for an instant, as the cars gently rock along the double-tracked transcon.  Then, a final run into Chicago on the Race Track.  All along the way, the stainless steel will glisten in the low winter sun.  Maybe - just maybe - I see a little of that old panache of America's famous trains showing through.  
So much has changed so quickly in the pandemic era.  The Zephyr and its long distance stablemates will retreat like many of us to a different way I wonder, will we ever have these daily runs again?  Will dining …

Kingdom of Idols II

Milepost:  1519.8    Butte, MT

In 2009, I first wrote an entry titled "Kingdom of Idols" and wondered at the passing of eras. Of the era of 2009, I wrote: ... We rest in .. [an era].. of entitlement and gratification, one that quickly moves beyond past accomplishments for which we have no personal use. Our current idols have plotted an interesting course that is just now coming into clearer focus. The destination does not always seem appetizing, but the howl of radials along the Clark Fork remind us of its coming. And so we continued in that era until something changed.  Indeed, since I last wrote on these pages, the entire world has changed.  All around us institutions that marked western civilization and the world at large remain shaking.  Dear reader, consider that in a matter of days education systems, government systems, healthcare systems, economic systems, transportation systems, and many personal freedoms that we lay claim to in the West lay closed all about us.  In …

Morning is coming, but also the night

Photo Above:  Blacktail Viaduct
On March 3, 1970 the Burlington Northern merger became reality, and shortly after, access to Western "Gateways" for the Milwaukee Road.  These would prove to have great effect on the railroad, and perhaps, more than just a bit of hope for the transcon.  Though it was surrounded on all sides by a larger BN, there was evidence to suggest that a new day was actually at hand.
By year, the results in operating health were obvious (numbers from Annual Reports): 1969 - Net earnings:  -$5.6M (loss) 1970 - Net earnings:  -$8.9M  (loss)1971 - Net earnings:  $2.9M1972 - Net earnings:  -$.4M (loss)1973 - Net earnings:  $3.7M Some of the details from these annual reports show the effect more directly:  1973 Report:  Motor vehicles, carload increase of 5% in 1973 ... long haul movement of motor vehicles to the railroad's automobile marshaling yard at Kent, WA increased 12%.  Carloadings increased in general by 5.9% over 1972 and revenue ton miles that re…

The Long Shadow

It could be said that misery lives in the moment, but lingers in the moment's long shadow.  
Blacktail Viaduct, MP 1510

It's not hard to look at the stately symmetry of the Milwaukee's trestle at Blacktail and wait, expectantly, for Boxcabs to grind across it on their way up the hill to Pipestone.  Or perhaps sets of SD40s working hard to handle increased traffic from the BN Merger's opened gateways.  

The opened gateways of 1970 provided a reason to hope,  hence the misery is not just the collapse and removal of America's final transcon, but the failed promise that seemed ever so close.  C.S. Lewis penned that "part of misery is .. the miser's shadow or reflection. [1]"  Blacktail casts a long shadow.
1)  CS Lewis, “A Grief Observed”

Love and Hate

Trains of thought can haunt the mind.  These are thoughts and memories of places gone and people known.  They carry with them acute awareness of time's endless assault upon the works of men, the lands, and perhaps especially ones own self - all captured in haunting trains of thought.

What sets these trains to rolling?  Sometimes it is a glimpse of a red sunset that starts their parade, or an accidental look to the West, or a seemingly inexhaustible heat on a long summer day with unlimited ceiling.  Whatever the cause, they come ... and with them love and hate.

Cresting the Rockies and the Great Divide the transcon starts the grade down to Butte.  With the grade come the trestles, and what is today, bike trail.  Along the way houses and driveways encroach and use the old mainline in ways that surveyors and track gangs never foresaw.  Manifests and passenger trains, electrics and orange bay windows are now simply relics of different eras.  Below, Butte herself offers a vista to tho…

Across the Great Divide

The Rockies have loomed on the horizon for the Milwaukee Road for miles and miles.  Glimpses of them could be seen coming and going even as the mainline approached the Missouri heading for Three Forks.  At Three Forks, helpers were added for a looming battle, but even then, miles would pass before Vendome and the sweeping curve that seemed to formally announce the strain to come.  

Now, after churning through the engineering feats of a different time, the transcontinental pushes to the top at Pipestone Pass, more than 1500 miles form Chicago (1505.4 by Milepost).  Above, the remnants of an old trolley pole stands as a watchful sentry on the western approach. Its guy wire still holds faithfully, resisting a missing and long vanished catenary pull force.  This is the final approach to the tunnel, the peak of the Rockies, and the Continental Divide.  Elevation:  6348ft.  Tunnel length:  2290ft.

Peaking out of the trees on the eastern side, the eastern face of Tunnel 11 shows its face, a…

The Great Paradox

"You look at once happy and sad.  You see something that I can't see.  Your eyes are haunted.  I've a feeling that if I'd look into them I'd see the sun setting, the clouds coloring, the twilight shadows changing." Zane Grey, "Heritage of the Desert"

To explore Lines West is to explore a great paradox: like a joy in finding lost treasure, and sorrow in the tale of Wisdom that has spread out across these landscapes.  The treasure is great and priceless, pointing to a time forgotten and a hope from times long past.  It speaks of depths of history and tales of those who went before and if you could look only into its face there would be haunting, sun setting, twilight shadows advancing and restless quiet.  The Wisdom calls aloud from above where the paths meet, imploring the explorer to look closely and learn, to watch a sunset over the Rockies and consider, and see the advancing grade to the top and know of the former things that no longer come this w…