Sunday, May 25, 2008

Loweth and the Belt Mountains

The sweeping compound curve of the Milwaukee's attack on the Belt Mountains is as obvious today as it was 30 years ago when some of the last trains passed this way. In better times, telegraphy and catenary poles dotted the right of way through here while Little Joes and Boxcabs plied the rails between them. At the crest of this, the first of five mountain ranges, the ancient substation at Loweth still stands watch over the now silent right of way. Cows quietly munch the grasses at its feet as they pick their way carefully through the foundations of the crew houses that remain here as well.

Loweth, and the crest of the Belt Mountains, stand in the quiet Big Sky country of Montana. Here the rainy season is short and the summers are hot and dry. This is rattlesnake country. Track crews would often walk the line with snake sticks to fend off the wildlife. Even without the ghosts of an abandoned transcontinental railroad nearby, there is an undeniable loneliness to the landscape. The railroad has indeed left its share of hauntings through here though. The right of way still sports occasional track side signals. Now with their lenses shot out, they seem hollow and sad. As the wind gently blows through this hot summer day, the faint electrical hum of a substation can be heard as well. It's eerie to imagine it comes from the old brick structure with its broken windows and gaping dark interior. Its source, however, is across the two-lane asphalt road where a more modern substation sits behind a decidedly modern chainlink fence. Loweth is one of those places where it's easy to feel small and lost.

On this summer day in 2003, there are no friendly Milwaukee crews to wave to or substation operators to chat with. The struggles of westbound freights up the compound curves is lost to the past. As this was never helper territory, their struggles were at times quite heroic. This was mountain railroading -- the roars of superchargers and traction motor blowers would have been amazing, especially compared to the silence that rests here now. To the west of the summit the line begins its decent toward Ringling and 16 mile canyon. A lone ABS signal peaks through the cut in the photo as the giant Rocky Mountains lay waiting in the distance. This is the next crossing the Milwaukee would have to make on its way to the Puget Sound. Beautiful on this day, but tall and challenging. Here we leave the Belt Mountains behind and set our sights, just as the Milwaukee did, on the Rockies that lie beyond.

3 comments:

Oil-Electric said...

What a lonely place ... without the railroad.

LinesWest said...

Lonely indeed. Like a lot of places that this old road left.

Patty said...

I grew up in Loweth where my dad was a substation operator from the early '40's to the Milwaukee's demise. I recently visited there and felt that same desolation that the author speaks of. What an insightful description the author has given and the picture of the substation is indeed, poignant. I'm curious as to what this author's connection to Loweth is.