Transcontinental. For some, the word conjures up visions of black and white photos at Promontory where the CP and UP met, linking the nation by rail. For others, its mention recalls the big cities of the west coast like San Francisco and LA - destination points of a country increasingly on the move.
These are just a couple of things that might come to mind when thinking about transcons. What doesn't come immediately to mind for many (myself included much of the time), is what the transcontinental lines actually crossed to join the nation together. For every glistening end-point like LA or Seattle, there are thousands of small little towns clinging to the same steel link. Between these small towns are miles and miles of open space.
Out in these spaces, time takes on a different meaning. There's no escaping the vast distances that these transcon lines crossed, nor the time it takes to move through them. As we journey the wilderness these lines traversed, little towns flick by quickly as only minor outposts. In places like Seabury (above), the Milwaukee's transcontinental line rolls through the green hills of Washington's Palouse country far from the glitz of port cities or grandeur of mountain crossings like the Cascade Range. Even today, the line is dwarfed by the vastness that surrounds it just as when rails crossed these rolling hills. I think it's a vastness that is cause for reflection and one that characterizes the Milwaukee's transcontinental link. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that its abandonment in 1980 remains so shocking - how much was taken away and the sheer vastness that was left behind. For me, it's a vastness that seems all the more poignant simply because of the silence of this old transcon.
1917 AFE Fence Near Almira
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