Black and Whispery

In my mind, I can see them: the pictures taken so many years ago of snow-blown dead freights struggling across the Central Washington desert. Some with lashups of tired old GP-30s and U-boats. Others stopped short of their goal when crews ran out of hours to be operating the train. The cold wind seems to blow right out of the pictures along with the icy needles of the driving snows.

Here at Taunton, you can find old pictures of trains sitting and waiting for a relief crew to arrive and ferry them to Othello. Sometimes they'd sit for a long, long time. These photos come from the Milwaukee's final winter in the west. It has been rumored that the winter of 1979-80 was a harsh one. The Railroad had been in bankruptcy since late 1977 and the gradual slippage of its condition throughout the early seventies had worsened considerably. Perhaps that winter felt all the more cold and heartless because of the railroad that ran through it and the sad and dilapidated state it found itself in. Somehow, operating with junk, the people made the line run until the early spring of 1980 but then it was over for good.

A few decades later, there's a lot that looks the same around Taunton. The rails are still here amongst the weeds and the old substation still stands as one of the few that remain. The skyline hasn't changed - the dry Saddle Mountains still dominate the horizon line. And while it seems that not much has changed, in some sense, everything has changed. The quietness of the line can attest to that as can the ominous clouds that have rolled off the Cascade range in the skies above. The clouds are black and whispery, just like the scene they overlook below.


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