Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Pandora's Box

On a beautiful early summer, beneath an amazing sky of blues and whites, surrounded by rolling wheat fields still in their spring coats of green, by a lone pine tree and an old concrete foundation lies Pandora.

Pandora has a marred history, although from the quiet breezes that blow through the grasses on this summer day, you'd never know. It is located at MP 1866 on the Pacific Extension and the site of a lengthy passing siding used by the Milwaukee's transcontinental freight trains. This piece of the transcon existed in the "gap" between the electrified portions on the Rocky Mountain Division to the east and the Cascade crossing to the west. It also existed in the gap of block signals. This was dark territory where trains moved on the authority of written instructions only, without the safety net provided by signals along the line.

On February 19, 1977, in the days before bankruptcy, the westbound train #200 ran through its designated point for a meet with an eastbound. The two met on the mainline near Pandora with fatal results.

Now, thirty years later, the tragedy and chaos of that day seems surreal. Grasses and wildflowers cover the railroad, slowly taking back the old right of way and covering its history. The tracks are long gone and the peace of early summer stands in stark contrast to the grey days of a winter so many seasons ago.

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