Location: Ruff, Wa.
It's the end of a warm fall day in Central Washington and the heat of the day belies the cold night that lies ahead. It has been a day of wandering the old Marcellus Branch of the Milwaukee Road, and as the sun sets at Ruff, I think about how it has been a day filled with sagebrush, coulees and ghost towns. These are common occurrences in the land of Hiawathas, although it seems as though I never quite get used to the feeling. The quiet invites time for reflection, while the vast openness of the dry plains makes even the biggest of us feel very small.
Progress seemed to come slowly, or not at all, along this old line. When the line was removed after the final bankruptcy, the rails were still original 65lb material and it seems as though more than a few ties never saw a tie plate. Vintage 40' ribside boxcars roamed the rails here to the bitter end even in places like Ruff with its high capacity elevators. Unit trains were common on the line, but trains of weathered ribside boxcars and not today's high capacity hoppers. Despite this, it seems the line contributed significant revenue to the Milwaukee's struggling balance sheets even in the final years of operation. The grain harvests were large and outbound loads would sometimes have to double or triple the grade out of Ruff on their way to Othello and the coast.
With night falling along the Wheat Line, it brings this day to a close. The elevators at Ruff are slipping into another cool night of quiet out on the Washington plains and soon darkness will envelope them. The drive out of the Milwaukee's wheat country will be under a full array of stars. Such is days end on the Wheat Line; quiet and beautiful, memorable, and more than a bit humbling.