Nestled in the Idaho Panhandle, along the Milwaukee Road's old western extension mainline, lies St. Maries, ID. St. Maries isn't so far from the famous Milwaukee Road 'hotspot' of Avery. Today, however, St Maries is a very different place from Avery. As the electrification ended in 1974, Avery withered. The engine facilities became unused and the yard was gradually pulled up for scrap. Trains no longer added Little Joe locomotives for their climb up St. Paul Pass and Avery was no longer a designated crew change. The formal abandonment and dismemberment of the early 80s saw all tracks gone across the pass and through Avery. The high iron that had been nestled in the Bitterroots was replaced by a blacktop highway. Where the substation stood, a simple memorial now rests.
The old crew change at Avery moved to St. Maries, just a few miles down the St. Joe river, for the final years of the Milwaukee Road's western operations. Unlike the yard and facilities at Avery, St. Maries still bustles with the activity of railroad operations courtesy of the St. Maries River Railroad. Even more interesting is the prevalence of old Milwaukee rolling stock, locomotives, and employees who can trace a seniority date back to the days of orange and black SD40-2s. The mainline from St. Maries to Plummer still exists to serve the local forestry industries and the connection with the UP at Plummer remains as a sole connection to the outside world.
South out of St. Maries, the Milwaukee line to Clarkia still exits under the STMA RR. Today's railroad carries logs for Potlatch Corp on ancient flats that boast 'R'age markings - cars too old to be interchanged off home rails. Like the classic log hauler it has always been, the trains head south full of empty flats with journal boxes, clanking down the jointed rail as they head for loading at Clarkia. Once dropped in the yard at Clarkia, loads head slowly north, back to the mill at St. Maries. Power is supplied by a pair of ex-Milwaukee GPs that ply their old home rails every trip.
The St. Maries River Railroad is an amazing operation through magnificent mountain country. It is appropriately known as the last full logging operation left in the US. With the mill and log reload still operating, the STMA continues to operate as the Milwaukee intended. As has been the case with other logging operations, however, one can't help but wonder how long this can last. Hopefully it lasts for a long time as it remains one of the last Milwaukee outposts in the West. The abundance of old Milwaukee equipment makes it even more special.
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