Thursday, June 07, 2007

Naturally Beautiful


The Milwaukee Road built through some rough and pristine country when it headed west to the coast. Its route was, arguably, the best and fastest from the Midwest to the Pacific Northwest. It was engineered to the highest standards of the day, and among the first lines to adopt block signals to protect the movement of trains. Its electrification of vast sections of mainline are storied, even today. The railroad was proud of its technology and its powerful electric motors that hauled trains across the Cascades and the Rockies. Tall and spindly trestles were built to vault the line across huge expanses. Long tunnels burrowed under the tallest peaks on the line. Yet it was a late comer, and surrounded by legendary competitors like the Great Northern and the Northern Pacific. The markets were unkind to the line, and its multiple bankruptcies stand in contrast to the magnificence of the initial vision to build the best line to the west. So delapidation set in, schedules faltered, and derailments soared. In 1980, it was over and the following couple years would see the finest engineered railway removed from the face of the west. No more mountains to climb, no more valleys to traverse, no more high deserts to cross, no more prairie winds to run with.

But the story hasn't ended because what the railroad was built into survives. The serene and beautiful lands it crossed exist still, many just as they were when the first rails were laid. I guess that's what keeps the Milwaukee Road so beautiful so many years after its demise. Although the old line is gone, a new day brings fresh and beautiful life to blossom. It stands in sharp contrast to the graveside it grows along, but somehow, they're both beautiful.

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