Hidden Past

In the waning hours of a hot July day, I parked the truck next to I90 on a small fisherman's access to the Clark Fork River. Drexel, was the name listed on the exit sign and after quieting the large Suburban and letting it rest in the shade, I wandered down the short distance to the bank of the River. I had arrived at my destination, but saw nothing except forrest and some power lines that were still strung through the area, paralleling I90 just a short distance away. 25 years ago, on the other side of the small river America's final transcontinental railroad packed up its bags and went back to the Midwest, where it had come from 70 years before. It had left behind it a thousand miles of towns, people, and history that now appeared to be overgrown in the Montana woods that surrounded me. I could feel the history as the sounds of the rushing water filled the air and I knelt down and prayed. I thanked God for bringing me to this place, seeing me through nights with little sleep, smashed middle fingers, and broken cruise controls to end me up here at a place The Milwaukee Road named Drexel.

As I arose, still in disbelief about how little of Drexel was left apart from the bank on the other side of the river which marked the old Milwaukee right of way, my attention was focused on a small trail that wound down toward the water. A trail I had previously over-looked but now followed through the trees atop and brush beneath until I reached its end on a bank above the river. At my feet lay two timbers, moss grown and rotten, left from a time when Drexel was home to one of the Milwaukee's electric substations that powered their large locomotives up and over St. Paul Pass to the west. The substation was gone, the houses of those who worked there were gone, the people were gone, but these timbers that held the walking bridge over the river remained as silent history.


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