Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Other Wheat Country

While many Milwaukee road enthusiasts, myself included, think of Northern Montana as the Milwaukee's foray into the wheat fields of the west, there was another. In the center of the state of Washington, the Milwaukee plotted a course through the Rocky Coulee and up onto the grain producing lands of the Evergreen State. Occasionally called the "Wheat Line," it was small rail, 40 foot boxcars, and sagebrush to the very end. And, unlike some other wheat branches, it lasted to the very end.

The boxcar unit trains that plied the weeds through the coulee in the late seventies must have been a site to behold. A few pictures remain in some publications, but overall, the line seems to have lived in relative obscurity. Like the central part of the state itself, it was largely ignored by fans of mountains and electrification.

At the end of the line stands the elevator of Marcellus, WA. At one point, Marcellus boasted a locomotive wye and water tank. Now, it is almost impossible to discern the right of way that comes into this old place through the sagebrush of the coulee. There's one resident who still calls Marcellus home, but apart from a nearbye road named for this old town, it has slipped into the past just like the railroad that founded it. All around, the fields of grain that beckoned to the Milwaukee in the first place still produce the wheat that is shipped out of ports on the coast. Even though the yields are higher today, and the prices higher still, the wheat is shipped out on trucks and the strings of old forty foot boxcars have been relegated to scrap.

A mile or so from the elevators at Marcellus stands another monument to the changing times along the Wheat Line and along Lines West in general. From gaping windows and darkness beyond the front door, this abandoned homestead still resides with a view of the Milwaukee. This was a place where families lived, screen doors slammed, and life moved forward. The old kitchen, center to so many homes, is hardly discernible through the haunting black windows. The days of watching a GP switch boxcars from out a bedroom window are over but I wonder if anybody still remembers them? Do the people who came from here still remember the Milwaukee's other wheat country, or have they, like the railroad itself, been gone for too long?

This was the Milwaukee's other wheat country.

2 comments:

Dan said...

It was quite a profitable branch. I'm very surprised the BN did not pick it up.

It seems that all the elevators are still operating to this day.

The crew pulling up the rail had a little surprise. Mt. St. Helens ash was spewed all over the line, hampering operations.

LinesWest said...

It is a bit surprising that BN wasn't more interested in the line. Perhaps they looked at its condition and decided, "no thanks?"

I've run across figures that show it was profitable pretty much up to the very end.