Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Tie that Binds

What is the fascination with The Milwaukee Road? Here on this Lost Rail blog, I've talked at length about my own fascination with the old road, recalling times as a small child where our paths crossed, relating the feelings of a cold and dark tunnel atop the Columbia River grade, and pondered the mystery of abandoned towns in Montana. But that's just me, or is it?

There exists a large group of true fans that follow the railroad through history and cross terrain, relating stories and encounters of how the old line affected them. There's an even larger group who at least wonder at The Milwaukee's lengthy stretches of electrified mains and love to see pictures of orange and black diesels rolling across flat plains or snowy mountain passes. An editor of CTC Board magazine once answered the question, "why do another issue on The Milwaukee Road" with the response that if you asked railfans what their favorite line was, many of them would list a couple of lines and then say, "and The Milwaukee Road."

"And The Milwaukee Road." Is it the shear scale of what was left behind? Lines vanished across 5 mountain ranges but leaving behind intriguing scars cut along cliffs, old stations in small forgotten towns, and all of those high-tension AC power lines that fed the old electric substations. The occaisional tilted emblem that still emblazons an old bridge like the one above in Rosalia, WA? Perhaps it is the tales of people who kept the line running to the bitter end. Left with locomotive rejects that were parked instead of maintained and deferred track maintenance that ended Lines' West fast freight schedules, somehow the band of people who worked the line kept it going. What about the mis-steps of management who were bent on destroying what they no longer wished to maintain and pushed to justify their aims even to the extent of double-counting maintenance expenses on Lines West? Maybe also the thought that had it survived beyond 1980, there would be a lot of traffic coming off of container ships from the Eastern Rim?

Yet we live on without The Milwaukee and its following continues. People who knew the real thing pass along stories and information to those like myself, who never saw a single train operate over the Pacific Extension but pursue its ghost across the west as though it still holds a secret worth finding. I think it does, and I'm not the only one.

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