Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Armour Yellow in Hiawatha Land

There are few pieces of the Milwaukee's Western Extension that exist beyond the huge stretches of barren rights of way that run across the landscapes of the west. Small pockets do linger, like the logger operation in St. Maries, the Central Montana Railroad north of Harlowton, or the bit of mainline that still serves old shops in Miles City. But with few exceptions, the rails and ties are simply gone from the vistas of the west. In their place stand eerie bridges and concrete viaducts that loft over rivers and coulees.

Spokane has a few interesting pieces that are the exception. Expo '74 did its damage to many of the structures that graced the downtown (although it did do its part to help clean-up the city), but if one looks closely, the ghosts of the Milwaukee's extension to the west are still there -- and some are still being used.

To the east of downtown, behind a large Home Depot and Costco store, lie the Union Pacific Railroad yards. Trains come and go, freight cars are shuffled and in the cool sun of a Northwest winter day, locomotives in famous armour yellow paint rest between jobs. But the armour yellow hides a secret; these yards are the Milwaukee's former Spokane yards. Still used every day, just as they were intended, this piece of the western extension holds on and plays an important roll. It's been many years since orange and black colors were flown across the west, but the Milwaukee's system lives on in a select few places nonetheless.