Friday, September 15, 2006

In the High Desert

On the high desert of Central Washington one of the last remaining stretches of Milwaukee Road mainline still runs toward the Cascade Mountains and the West Coast just as it did when laid in 1910. The 1970s images of Dead Freights in frigid cold and blowing snow roll through my mind as I stand at an old place named Corfu. Those were images captured during the last winter the Milwaukee operated here, and by all reports it was a brutal winter.

Today, though, it's a brutal sun that bakes the desert country and the steel lines that still ply the landscape. Images and stories in books tell of a time when Corfu had a passenger station and was the sight of great jack-rabbit hunts. Passenger trains pulled by Bi-Polar electric engines rolled through here in the orange, red, and black colors of their owner and the nation marveled at "America's Resourceful Railroad."

Then the long decline, the management mis-steps, the bankruptcy, and the brutal winter of 1979. This piece of railbed was saved because it connected to the nearby agriculture of Royal City. A rockslide closed the line years ago, however, and this piece of the Western Extension's future is probably no different than the empty right of ways that exist to the east and west of it. Corfu itself is best known as the name of the road through the adjacent wildlife area.

What is it about these places that even in the heat of desert sun, they somehow feel cold? That the years of history cry out across the decades and demand attention. Is it simply the imagination that brings these things out in the deserted places like Corfu, or is it something else? Something greater?

3 comments:

Ryan said...

While I was working for UP in Hermiston and living in the Tri-Cities, I would occasionally go for a roadtrip to explore the mainline from Othello to Beverly. I would park my pickup at Corfu and then walk west/east for a few miles and then return...looking for artifacts and/or remnants of the Milwaukee's 'Glory Days; and taking the occasional snapshot.

The solitude, the wind blowing through the sage and the abandoned nature of the r-o-w all come together to drop the temperature a few degrees below the ambient temperature at Corfu. The same goes for countless other locales along the silent r-o-w.

Several years ago I found myself passing through the area on a moonlit night around 2am. I'm not sure what motivated me to do it but I made a brief sidetrip to Corfu. I got out and walked the r-o-w east to the aptly named 'Corfu Slide'. It was cold (mid December), silent (except for the occasional coyote) and yet surprisingly inviting as I trudged along with my trusty Star lantern which illuminated the ties and the occasional rogue spike. As I got back into my pickup I wondered if I had been the first person to walk the r-o-w with a trainman's lantern since 1980.

In summary, excellent prose with accompanying text. Cheers.

LinesWest said...

Thanks so much for the feedback and story, what a neat experience nightime on the old r-o-w must have been. Thanks again!

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