Blowing Desert Winds
There are a few places along the Milwaukee Road that seem to hold special significance in the hearts of Milwaukee fans. Places like Harlowton, where the famous Rocky Mountain Division began, as did all of those amazing mountain passes. Places like East Portal, where the enormous substation and Bitterroot Mountains are etched in so many Kodachromes of the day. Places like Othello.
Today, there's not much Milwaukee Road to see in Othello. Rails come in from Warden, stopping along the way at a few local industries, then head out of town under state route 26 before finally disappearing from view, rolling west into the dry desert lands. Large and vacant plots of sagebrush are scattered to the west of downtown where the Road once had an expansive yard and engine terminal. Here in Othello, in the days of electrification, trains would swap their steam or diesel power that assisted them across the electrification gap between Othello and Avery for Boxcabs and Bipolars headed to the coast. Switch jobs like the Mosey Local called Othello home, as did employees who were based out of the old depot long after the days of the Columbian and Olympian.
Othello survives today without the jobs of a transcon or the continual sounds from a working rail yard. Quiet is the order of the day around the foundations of the roundhouse and a few old spurs that cling to the Central Washington dust. Othello holds a special place in today's Milwaukee Road, however: in a rare occurrence, the mainline is preserved through town. Though the majority of the yards are gone, the path of the main artery still exists, curving ever so gently on its way out of town beneath Route 26. Ground wires still bond the rails together here and its easy to find oneself stepping back in time, imagining the way things were. As a final nod to what has been, old rusting signals stand like sentinels along the mainline. Their targets long removed, they wait quietly for whatever will come in the blowing desert wind.