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 days saw the Olympian and Columbian race beneath these same unending skies, through small outposts like Vananda as seen in the photograph. Like the railroad that once pierced the landscape here, today this small Montana town exists more as a memory. It is a memory of dreams and high hopes from those who came west with the Milwaukee into these big plains. Today, in Vananda, the nights are long and the days are lonely, but there was a time when there were people here who believed in something and dreamed of a different future than the present reality.
When the Milwaukee Road pushed west with the people who would settle the great plains, they were all working on a dream.