Monday, January 19, 2009

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.  

10 comments:

John said...

It may be that the winter of '79 was brutal. Actually it was, I remember ice on the Fraser River as we crossed on B.N. 183 (Balmer - Vancouver). In fact the Seattle temperatures in January were mostly in the teens.

But the Milwaukee Road was finished before that winter. It died because of a lack of locomotive power. And this was the reason I was the first Milwaukee to go to the B.N., in August 1978. If you are interested I will explain to you how that came to be, because it was all human error and was not inevitable.

John Crosby
Milwaukee Road trainman
Burlington Northern trainman/Conductor
Seattle, Washington

LinesWest said...

Mr. Crosby, thanks for taking the time to leave the note. I'd appreciate your perspectives on what went wrong any time you'd like to share them. Contact me off-line if you wish: r67northern@hotmail....

Incidentally, I've enjoyed your collection of photos for sale on DVD. I encourage anybody else who might read this to check it out. Some great shots of the Milwaukee in action in its last seasons alive.

-Leland

Dean said...

Hi Leland, just checking in.

Dean

LinesWest said...

Howdy Dean, thanks for stopping by.

-Leland

Anonymous said...

As usual, another nice comment and a wonderful picture. That old schoolhouse at Vananda certainly captured the dreams. Where else, on this planet, did people invest so much in the potent symbols of progress, their courthouses and their schoolhouses, as the "Giants in the Earth," described by Rolvaag in the settling of the Upper Midwest?

And, your comment about the future summarizes that nicely: the future for them was in the success of their democracy and the success of their children. There is nothing like it in the history of this planet symbolized so succinctly by the "dreams," set in stone in schoolhouses, as in the prairies of Eastern Montana.

A nice essay and a perfect photograph for it.

Best regards, Michael Sol

LinesWest said...

Michael, thank you for the nice comments. "Dreams set in stone schoolhouses." What a nice way to put it.

Best to you as well,
-Leland

John Crosby said...

Leland,

Michael Sol will remember the MILW@onelist thread "Suicide or coup de gras" wherein I introduced the subject of the catastrophic motive crisis starting the winter of '77-'78. It was at this time that the Road lost a third of its motive power to human negligence. I am working up an essay on this and will post sometime soon. It seems to me that this subject should be preserved somewhere on the internet, and since I lost control of the site which bears my name, your site looks like the most appropriate place

John Crosby
Seattle
8 February 2009

LinesWest said...

John, I would welcome your work on the site and be pleased to post it. Mr. Sol may have another suggestion as there is also a Milw RR Archives site out there.

Best,
-Leland

Anonymous said...

John Crosby's original comments, posted many years ago, on the locomotive fleet as well as the Portland Entry traffic, is what focused me on "what went wrong." And changed my mind. Literally, they sent me on a re-evaluation of the traffic flows and revenues, as well as equipment distribution, that has been able to confirm what John observed "on the ground." John, I am slowly digitizing my working papers on the Milwaukee -- source documents. I am putting them at milwaukeeroadarchives.com. I would be glad to put anything you had to offer there.

Best regards, Michael Sol

LinesWest said...

Michael, quick note to say your milwaukeeroadarchives.com site is fantastic. I've found piles of amazing stuff there - thank you for taking the time to make those rare and insightful things available.


Best,
-Leland