Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Darkest Hour


The electrics had been gone for nearly 6 years, the other big and reliable diesel locomotives had been forcibly returned to points east in November of the previous year, and the harsh winter of 1979 had brutalized everything that remained. Locomotives were parked instead of fixed, the increasing burdens of the car fleet rental drained the company's pockets, and the amount of deferred maintenance to the tracks and right of way was showing itself in the slow orders and derailments. On average a train derailed somewhere on the western extension once every day. These were the Road's darkest hours.

Occasional bright spots were quickly blotted out. The state of Montana's interest in purchasing the line was quickly abated by the many strings management and the lenders tied to the sale. Interest from other rail lines like Southern was documented, but came to nothing. And the traffic continued to fall, travel times continued to rise, and the company started double-counting maintenance costs across its Lines West. Then the final days of dead freights, only one each direction every day. And then it was over with the rails sold to scrappers and the land sold to ranchers or the government. Day laborers living in RVs began disassembling by hand what was America's final transcontinental.

In Ringling Montana, the old station still stands as a memory of the better times. For now the old building manages to hold herself up in the shadows of the nearby power lines. Like a few other leftovers scattered across the west, her memories are long enough to remember the darkest hours too.

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