Showing posts from 2009

Silent Snows

Snowy mornings have a special kind of quiet. Grey clouds above roll along with only the lonesome sounds of a wintery breeze pushing them forward. Standing near a field or line of bushes, little rustle is heard -- just the silence of of a new snowfall. As snow fall covers the ground and sticks to the roads, even the passing cars drift by silently.
It's a snowy winter morning along Lines West, the location is Rosalia, WA. The old tilted rectangle of America's Resourceful Railroad still clings to the bridge side -- just barely. Located on the south side of the old structure, it has been subject to direct sun for many many years and they show. Just out of frame to the left is the old electrified interurban from Colfax. At one time Rosalia hosted the transcontinental Milwaukee Road, the electrified Great Northern (who purchased the interurban), and the Northern Pacific line from Spokane to Lewiston. The three big northwest players all in one small town, out amongst the hil…


It's all in the details.
The Milwaukee Road's Little Joe is an amazing collection of enormous castings. The shear amount of metal that encompasses the running gear and supports the carbody is something to behold. The design and manufacture dates back to a time when American foundry work was second to none, the country manufacturing base healthy, and the infrastructure of the country alive and growing. General Electric clearly built these locomotives to last in a harsh environment that saw frequent extremes in weather, loading, and speeds. In their lives as front line Western power, they encountered all of these.
In the details of an old machine like this Joe, much is learned about old processes and standards, previous ways of thinking, previous ways of problem solving and, just as important, the problems that were solved. The details are a history lesson in themselves. In amongst all of the details of Milwaukee's only existing Little Joe is a detail that harkens back…


In my many years away from home, travel by train has always held an excitement as part of the holiday journey. In November, thoughts turn to Thanksgiving and the end of autumn weather. Cool nights and warm days give way while the colors of foliage drift from their lofty perches to a sea of browns on the ground.
A Thanksgiving trip many years ago brings back memories of a speeding California Zephyr under the care of three Genesis locomotives, number 1 running point. It was a cool day in 1997 and the low southern sun gave the train an unparalleled look at a beautiful sight occurring to our southwest. It glistened as far as the eye could see on the distant, and flat, Illinois horizon. West of Sandwich, the train kicked those fallen leaves into the orange sky of the November sunset as old line-side poles flipped by outside the Zephyr's windows. The train ran a losing race that day, into the low and setting sun. Just one memory of Thanksgiving travels from times past.

The Romance

It’s almost midnight in Pittsburgh this brisk November evening in 1996.My breath hangs in the air as I step out of a cab and walk quickly into Penn Station.The single escalator is moving the wrong direction so I take the stairs up to the old platforms.A lonely Amtrak diesel, number 310, is idled peacefully on a spur, retired for the night.As I wait on the platforms of Pittsburgh’s Penn Station I stare eastward, looking for the late Capitol Limited.Snowflakes slowly drift down through holes in the old train shed. The Capitol pulls into the station one hour late lead by a new Genesis locomotive.838 is its number and it leads a set of double-decked Superliner cars on an 800 mile sprint from the nation’s capital to the capital of the heartland.The stop in Pittsburgh is just one of many scheduled throughout the night before arrival in Chicago.The Capitol is nothing like an airplane or bus.You never meet the engineer, reasons for delays are guarded secrets, and the passenger is usually wron…

The Sun Rises

One of the oft remarked places of note on the Milwaukee's line through Eastern Washington was the large wooden trestle near Pandora. It was a hidden treasure for those who ventured the Pacific Extension beyond the bounds of the electrified districts. This was dark territory and history recounts the accident here when two freights met head-on. These were the final months before the resourceful railroad became part of lore and legend.
Today, the large trestle near Pandora is gone. It has left a large cut in the sweeping curves and large embankments of the Pacific Extension's travels through the Palouse. Fading are the memories of that fatal accident now many years in the past. Recollections of the last runs of orange and black across the rolling Palouse fields are fading as well. Only the abandoned right of way is left to hint that something larger was here before.
These last runs and old sights that now seem so faded point to a larger, disconcerting truth. The things that…

Kingdom of Idols

In the shadows of the old U.S. 2 lane highway, a portion of the Milwaukee Road's Lines West sits basking in the hot summer sun. The nights are frigid here, but the days are hot and dry.
In many places, it seems one could simply relay the rails of America's final transcon. At Cyr, however, this bridge over the Clark Fork River is gone. One of the victims of the scrappers and the bankruptcy of days past.
The thoughtful quiet of Cyr pales in comparison to some of the remote sections of the Rocky Mountain division. Although US 10 has been relegated to a service road, its replacement is not far away. A few hundred feet to the south, just out of eyeshot but never out of earshot, lies the modern transcon: I-90. While in many ways a symbol of American success and personal freedom, it remains a reminder of the price of the Milwaukee's failure. The continuous noise of all season radials on concrete echo along the Clark Fork River while the best engineered railroad to the We…

Montana Skies

Skies tell a remarkable story in their ever changing features and moods. Sunsets in the summer often speak of a long day's field work in hot weather. Wintery moon rises in a clear sky speak of cold infinities. At one point the sky seems happy and celebratory, at another, somber and moody. The skies over the Milwaukee Road's west have revealed all of these and more.
Few remaining stretches of Lines West show their ties to the Milwaukee's unique early 20th century signature. While all of the western roads can boast of high bridges and long tunnels, the Milwaukee created a unique calling card in the form of its catenary. While the Northern Pacific was never far from the Milwaukee's western extension, it was never difficult to tell the two lines apart. As they made their way across Montana's ever changing landscapes, the wooden poles supporting the electric lifeline to Milwaukee power were a clear sign and symbol of the Resourceful Railroad. Railroad legend ofte…

4 Years of Memories

From the archives, now four years back:In the late winter of 1977 (December 19 to be exact), the last transcontinental railroad that was built in America filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protection. Its lines across the mid-west and west lay in ruins as a result of a complicated and inter-twined series of events that, at best, are difficult to understand. The winter of 1979 would be its final winter and in 1980 The Milwaukee Road sold its Western Extension to scrapers from Terry, MT to Tacoma, WA. The company that emerged (with track only in the Midwest) would last only five more years before being sold to The Soo Line, thus completely ending the granger railroad that never really came to grips with being a large transcontinental route.

As a matter of fact, the 1970s weren't a happy time for railroads in general. At least up until the Enron fiasco, the record for most money lost in a single day by a corporation was held by the Penn-Central Railroad. The Rock Island Railroad would, l…

Fading to Quiet

I remember well my first trip to see the logger in operation on the Milwaukee Road Elk River Branch. It wasn't so long ago, just a few years. Leaves on the bushes and deciduous trees were turning to shades of orange and red. The tamaracks adopted brilliant yellows against the green canopy of evergreens around them. The sky was blue and crystal clear and the crispness of a fall day was at hand.
The outbound train to Clarkia that day glinted off the St. Maries River as empty log cars made their way south to be loaded. It was a small, out of the way railroad located in beautiful Idaho wilderness on an amazing fall day. My slides from the day still show the brilliant colorful hues of the West at its finest.
The railroad itself was in immaculate shape. Heavy rail, rescued from the original Milwaukee mainline along the St. Joe River, was placed on the line's many curves. The trestles and bridges looked fantastic. This was a railroad that dripped Milwaukee history as well: …

Interesting Time

It is an interesting time we find ourselves in. Consider this: we are still able to look back at some of the things that defined the nation's growth and see them as they were. In another 50 years, these relics of past people, past towns, past lives will be truly gone. Another generation, perhaps two, will grow up in these old places and move out into the rest of the world. This movement has been ongoing for decades, but it has an accumulating effect. Little by little, many a bustling little town slowly becomes a quiet field of memory across America's frontier.
In 50 years, a trip along The Milwaukee Road and its Western Extension may still run along US 12, but how many more bridges will be missing? How many more miles of right of way tilled into the fields? How many old grain elevators will be left to mark an old settlement? How many will remember what was?
The photo shows the Handel elevator as it looked in July of 2003. Located near the town of Musselshell, MT the e…

And the One that Remains

Only a block or so away from the old yards and station of Deer Lodge, MT rests one of the few tributes to the Milwaukee Road and its Lines West electrification. Resplendent in freshly painted orange and maroon, Little Joe E70 sits in the shadow of the old Deer Lodge prison, welcoming visitors from nearby I-90.
The Joe still reflects the power of the Milwaukee's electrification. The lead pantograph is raised and it looks ready to apply 5000 HP to the point of a transcon freight bound for the mountain crossings of Pipestone Pass or perhaps the Bitterroot Range.
This Joe is the only Milwaukee Joe to escape the torch, although examples of this design still exist in Brazil and Illinois from the other lines that acquired them. The spoked drivers are evident on the unit as are a few nods to its original Soviet Union destination. If one looks closely, the mount points for the bumpers that are so prevalent on European rolling stock are still there, nestled behind the large snow plow on…

The Joe that Never Was

The Milwaukee Road was famous for its Western electrification. The wires were strung between wooden poles much like an interurban line and images of Boxcab electrics and Little Joes can be found all over the web. Especially photos of the Little Joe electric locomotives. These 5000+ hp monsters plied the Rocky Mountain Division from their purchase in 1950 until the wires came down in 1974.
The story of their arrival on Milwaukee property is well known, but interesting. Originally destined for the Soviet Union in 1946, they found themselves stranded state side due to mounting Cold War tensions. Legend has it they were named "Little Joe" as a reference to the dictator they almost knew. They sat for 2 years at GE's plant in Erie PA before finding homes. Some were taken to South America, 3 others to the South Shore Electric Line, and the remaining 12 to the Milwaukee Road in 1950. It is ironic that one of the problems the Milwaukee faced with its electrification in 1…

Powder Blues and Old Emblems

The Milwaukee Road had a couple of impressive crossings of the Missouri River. One, located on the Western Extension at Mobridge. The second, located a bit to the south at Chamberlain, SD. These are but two examples of the impressive engineering that went into this old railroad's westward progress.
Chamberlain is a small town in South Dakota in the lands of rolling prairie and tall grasses. Not too far away, a famed author would later recount her days growing up in De Smet as her father worked on building the railroad west in a little house on the prairie. This is that country.
Memories of the Milwaukee are found out in this sea of grasses as well. The old line across this part of South Dakota still rolls along with the gentle hills, but train movements are exceptionally rare.
In Chamberlain rests the remains of many Milwaukee relics from years past. On this day, a pair of old SD-9 locomotives rest silently by the old depot on the outskirts of town. Keeping company are an …


It is an unsettling feeling to look back at life and ponder the passage of time. It is unsettling to wonder how or why things worked as they did. It has been said that life is a mist, here and then gone. Perhaps the key is to live in such a way that every day is made to count, that every day is meaningful in some way?
In the grasslands of Central Montana, in a small town named Roundup, the mist of the Milwaukee Road's life is slowly dispersing out across the curve of time. The grasses sway and the trees rustle in a warm summer breeze, but the sounds of America's Resourceful Railroad have been gone for many many years. Like the cattle drives that preceded the railroad, lending Roundup its name, quiet is here and life is moving on.
In the tall grasses an old signal stand sits alone with the remnants of a few electrical wires at its base. The insulation is cracked and crusty and their connection to a national lifeline has long been severed. Like other tombstones spread out…

Between Mountain Ranges

Location:  Ralston, WA
The lands east of the Cascades and west of the Bitterroots are remarkable in their variety and beauty.  Between these two ranges lie high desert country, rolling wheat fields, foot hills, massive rivers, tumbling sage, abundant wild flowers, rain shadows, endless skies, and a long, long right of way plotted by America's Resourceful Railroad.
To this land between mountain crossings the Milwaukee Road journeyed.  While other parts of the Western Extension existed in near infamy, this land existed in relative quiet.  Like the lands east of electrification, it existed out of the spotlight and away from many photographer's cameras.  The summer heat is harsh and the treeless plains offer little relief.  The winter is cold and the winds have little to break their howl as they roll across the undulating landscape.
The small town of Ralston sits along the right of way here.  It rests beneath Washington skies as the clouds that break apart over the Cascade Range roll…

East of Electrification

Kamm, MT The end of a hot day in 2003, in the lands east of electrification.  

The Sun Sets West

There was a time, not so long ago, out in the high deserts of Central Washington when the lonesome sagebrush and eerie sunsets weren't quite as alone. Nestled high above the Columbia River in a place named Boylston a railroad built a small station, planted trees, and went about the business of running trains to the West Coast.

The station at Boylston was small and modest, like many others scattered along the rails of The Milwaukee Road. Old photos show Boxcab electrics and infamous Bi-polars climbing the grades here through the Saddle Mountains where Boylston marked the apex. Later photos show SD40-2's pulling hard up these same slopes, the electrification deactivated in the early 70s. The trees are bigger in these later photos and stand in obvious contrast to the desert landscape that surrounds them. This was an outpost on America's Resourceful Railroad, and much like the railroad itself, seemed to exist in spite of the obstacles around it.

Summer in the Saddles still…

Under a Watchful Gaze

In the Pacific Northwest, the Milwaukee Road had an interesting collection of branch lines with equally interesting histories.  Some were not connected to the rest of the system via Milwaukee rails, but with ferries.  Among these isolated lines was the old Bellingham Bay and British Columbia.  This was purchased by the Milwaukee to increase its footprint in the lush Pacific Northwest.  The line operated 25 miles from Bellingham to Sumas on the border with Canada.  Merger conditions that resulted from the Burlington Northern allowed the Milwaukee to do away with its car ferry and access these lines directly.  Despite the light rail, this line was known to be home to some of the Milwaukee's heaviest diesel locomotives as the fleet wore down and the seventies wore on. 
The BNSF still maintains a presence here along these old Milwaukee Lines.  Now that the paint on their locomotives has adopted an orange and black motif, perhaps one could say that not much has really changed.  Compared…

Intervening Years

It's a warm July day in the Idaho Panhandle.  In the yards of the St. Maries River Railroad sits a collection of old cars that could easily be at home in a museum.  Old snow plows are lined up with an old ribside caboose and Hiawatha baggage car that still faintly reads "The Milwaukee Road."  A few ancient log cars are stored here in the yards as well.  They're old beyond the point where interchange is allowed and are restricted to St. Maries track as a result.
Other relics sit about the yards as well - in various stages of livelihood.  What makes them so unique is that they have not journeyed very far from their original stomping grounds.  These yards go back to the time of the Milwaukee Road's western extension and its vision to access the west coast.  The original mainline through town is still used several times a week as forrest products from St. Maries, ID make their way to Plummer and interchange with the Union Pacific.  Large mainline trestles, like the on…

A Look Back

There are few places west of the Dakotas where the rails laid as part of the Milwaukee Road's expansion to the coast are still in place.  When found, they tend to be in small segments like the small portions found across the Idaho panhandle or around Othello, WA.  Out in the grain fields of Montana, the story is much the same.  
In this "Golden Triangle," where the Milwaukee pulled a great deal of traffic in its times before retrenchment, most of the old lines are relegated to photographs and memories.  There are, however, a few segments left in operation.  The Central Montana Railroad operates part of the old line that linked Lewistown and Great Falls.  The line now stops well short of Great Falls at Geraldine.  West of Great Falls, the BNSF operates a few miles of old Milwaukee trackage as well.  It is here, just south of a small town named Fairfield, we find some remains that look back at what the Milwaukee left behind.
Broken ties and frost heaves are common on this li…

Legacy in the Canyon

Under wire since leaving Harlowton, the Milwaukee Road mainline to the Pacific Coast began working its way through a series of mountain passes and river crossings.  The Belt Mountains were the first to be crossed and from there the old Pacific Coast Extension dropped south and west toward Three Forks and the Rocky Mountains that lay beyond.  
The country in this part of Montana is stunning.  From the Belt Mountains, the Rockies rise solemnly in the distance as the mainline bends and twists its way down toward the Missouri River.  The old line follows (for the most part) the path laid out by Montana's Jawbone Railroad that was purchased as part of the Milwaukee's push west.  Small towns like Lennep and Ringling are plotted along the line before it turns into 16 Mile Canyon.

16 Mile Canyon is famous for some of the Milwaukee's publicity shots.  It is here in the canyon that Eagle's Nest tunnel is located.  This was often a favorite photo location due to the close proximity…

41: The Untold Story

Someone once said (and many have repeated it), that "it's got to be about the going there and not the getting there."
While my last post focussed on tunnel 41, there's an interesting backstory about the going there.  Back in Februrary of '07, a friend and I set about photographing some of the abandoned lines of Eastern Washington.  The Milwaukee Road was included in our plan, naturally.  What started off as a clear and sunny day in the Palouse quickly turned to fog and wet sloshy snow as my buddy's trusty Jeep headed us up into the Idaho panhandle and the resting place of the Resourceful Railroad.  We accessed the old right of way near Plummer, ID and boldly pushed our way through the sticky stuff towards the mouth of tunnel 41.  When the snows grew too deep, we hiked the last half mile and recorded the image that you see below in the previous post.
Our journey out was more interesting than our journey in.  We un-stuck the jeep several times before we successfu…


I don't do a lot of black and white photography.  My first experiences with it were in a high school photo class and since then I've pretty much always shot color.  I migrated from print to slide film when I found the colors were more vibrant and the detail of a 50 speed film hard to beat.  More recently, I picked up digital photography.  It has great detail and excellent sharpness - although it does lack that artistic slide-film quality.  
On a cold spring day back in 2007 I ventured out into the mountains near Plummer, ID.  Plummer was a famous spot for the Milwaukee Road.  At Plummer the connection to Spokane splits from the main transcon and heads north.  Meanwhile, the freight-only transcon continues its westwardly migration out into the rolling wheatfields of the Palouse.  
Before its arrival on some of the world's most fertile soil, the Milwaukee road makes one more pass through the mountains of Eastern Idaho with tunnel 41.  On the western side of the tunnel a small …

Small Towns, Big Railroad

The hustle and noise of big cities seems a far cry from the lonesome quiet that pervades the vast spaces between. Perhaps one of the greatest ways to experience this today is to ride one of the few remaining passenger trains across the great expanses of the West. Chicago bursts with activity on a early afternoon weekday departure. By next morning, trains like the Empire Builder find themselves out in the great seas of open prairie. The expanse under big skies is incredible, broken only by grain elevators and the small towns they stand over.

The Milwaukee Road's journey across the West had all of these elements as well. Long and unbroken expanses of prairie grasses that were separated by small collections of houses and buildings. These little groupings, like Lennep, MT as seen above, made up the prairie towns on the Western Extension. Lennep had a small industry track for the collection of livestock, a school, church, and a few people. The snarl of large electric locomotives…


There's a sign at the airport in Spokane, WA that welcomes travelers to the "Inland Northwest."  Spokane must be the heart of this country as it's by far the largest city in the region.  It's a major stopping point for today's travelers along I-90 and a fascinating focus point for a great deal of the area history.  
Spokane seemed the logical waypoint for many of the western railroads on their way from the Midwest to Seattle.  Among many other things, Spokane became a cross-roads for these companies.  The Northern Pacific, Great Northern, Union Pacific, and SP+S all had a presence here at one time.  That doesn't even take into account the various lines that were absorbed into the larger companies (like the interurban 'Spokane and Inland Empire' which became GN or the 'Spokane International' which rolled into the UP).  Railroad history is thick here in the heart of the Inland Northwest.
There was a late entry into the city of Spokane as well:…

Working on a Dream

The Milwaukee Road is famous for a number of things, not the least of which is its bold electrification, famous electric locomotives, and that wonderful slogan, "America's Resourceful Railroad."  Huge trestles and long dark tunnels remain through the mountain passes to this day, reminding the 21st century of dreams from 100 years ago.

Not as famous, but breathtaking in its own right is the Milwaukee's crossing of the great plains - the lands east of electrification.  
The lands east of electrification are lands of Big Sky and open plains.  These are the lands of crystal blue skies and deepest black nights where grasses sway in summer breezes or stand stiffly in a frigid January coating of snow and ice.  Here on the plains the Milwaukee also rolled its trains across the Western Extension.  ABS signals stood in place along the single-track mainline to the bitter end, when dead freights were the order of the day and derailments averaged 1 per day across Montana.  
Earlier …