Friday, May 18, 2007

Standing in the Gap

Location: Near Rock Lake City, in The Gap

Far from the prying eyes of railfans and the glamour of Little Joes. Between the hundreds of miles marked for their bold electrification and beautiful mountain passes. Away from the passenger trains that veered north to Spokane. In a place where the only signals were for rock slides. Welcome to the Gap.

Once the place to find big 4-8-4 locomotives pulling freight, then in later years SD40-2s and flared SD45s, and finally a last resort for whatever junk could be assembled to pull a train. Railroading in the electrification gap between Othello, WA and Avery, ID was, if nothing else, off the beaten path. Look through a book on the Milwaukee, chances are good you won't find too many pictures from the gap. From Avery? Sure. From Three Forks? You bet. Othello, Seattle, Tacoma? Yep. Revere? Ewan? Seabury? Malden? You won't find many. There weren't very many trains, and there were even fewer people who ventured out to capture them as they rolled across the continually changing face of east-central Washington and the Idaho Panhandle.

As with the rest of Lines West, today there's quiet in the beautiful places like Rock Lake. The right of way is mostly owned by the state, and it survives its run through the gap in the same obscurity its always enjoyed. Near the plotted town of Rock Lake City, evidence lies by the side of the roadbed, left alone after all of these years. With seven trains left before all was done, a dead freight derailed and left two boxcars behind. What was useful and easily taken was removed, the hulks that still read "The Milwaukee Road" were left in the quiet to tell the tale to those few who might venture into the gap.

If you go into the gap, enjoy the beauty of the rolling landscape, the seclusion of Rock Lake, and the quiet of a few lone elevators scattered along the line. Marvel at what always seemed to play second fiddle to the electrified mainlines that were the concert masters. Take a couple of pictures, in time we'll appreciate having them around even if there are no trains to photograph. Welcome to the gap.