The Recurring Question
What really happened out there? In 1974, at the peak of traffic on Lines West, what really happened? In the waning years of the seventies, what really happened? I'm not sure, I wasn't there.
My first brush with the Milwaukee Road came in the early 80s, from out the backseat window of an old red Suburban that occasionally crossed the Cascade Range on the way to Sand Point. I knew nothing about it, except those trestles sure were neat. One trip, I remember the trestle at Renslow had ties strewn about its approaches and I wondered 'why?' even as a small child.
The question still remains and remains unanswered - why? From my chair in front of the computer, now a few thousand miles and a few decades away I try to imagine all of the forces that played on the fallen transcon. Double-counted maintenance expenses in the last years of operation. Maintenance left undone in 1975. Electrics scrapped whose value to operation was well established. A marathon of derailments in the Bitterroots. An unfriendly and corrupt politician in Seattle. Derelict lines of locomotives in the cold winters of '78 and '79. Reports that showed the promise of the line for modest repair costs that were never invested. Unsuccessful attempts at mergers. Poor accounting. Political positioning. And still, at the very end, it seems Lines West actually made some profit in spite of this list of sufferings.
So we're left with a whole lot of nothing. No silver-bullet answer and a 1200 mile scar across 3 western states where an American icon used to roam. There is a depth to the death of this line that makes it difficult to understand while my own passions make it difficult to stomach. I can only imagine what it was like for the people who actually were there and saw it happen. The brief periods of hope when rumors of government bailouts or interested buyers surfaced. The encouraging reports of rehabilitation costs. But in the end, it's gone and the question remains.
Today, there is a sadness out along those lines. I've noted before in other posts the restlessness you can feel in the gentle breezes that accompany the quiet of the old line. The feelings of anxiety and unresolved tension. The story that comes from out along this line begs telling, but the story has no clear outline and the resolution is disquieting and concerning. And always that one question remains. Always.
So much potential, so much quiet. Why.