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 and the clickity-clack of transcon freights on jointed rail were what broke the quiet here, but quiet would always return.
Today, old signals stand along parts of the old right of way near Lennep. They have dark faces and unlit lenses that stare blankly at the gravel path left by America's final transcontinental. The Church still stands in Lennep and the remains of the old stock yard and industry track remain as well. The snarl of electrics is gone though, as is the sound of steel wheels on jointed rail. Now the quiet remains unbroken in this small little town and the stark difference of life on the prairie and those big cities is all the more dramatic. Despite the noise and action of the big cities, I feel the pervasive quiet of these small and forgotten towns along Lines West is of greater depth and great reality. It is a reality that is challenging to come to grips with simply because it is so encompassing and so vast. It is a reality that we don't control, one that seemingly exists without us and that, in itself, is difficult to grasp.
Lennep, MT. A small town on a big Railroad.
14 hours ago