Tuesday, March 31, 2009

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 successfully turned it and photographed it for posterity beneath the US95 overpass shown in the photo above.  We were within a couple of miles of Plummer at this point, but it would take us the better part of 5 hours to make that short trip.

Coming down off the old right of way on the "jeep trail" the vehicle broke through a thick layer of ice that had overlaid enormous potholes dug after many jeeps before us had made a similar trip.  The cold winter had frozen the water in these miniature lakes and our way in gave no warning of the problems that lay beneath.  We found half the jeep lodged in the deep wheel ruts.  The other half was still up on the frozen puddle that covered the similar trench on the passenger side.  Hours of digging and help from some generous locals with a tow chain passed.  Nothing would dislodge the jeep as its front differential was now dragging against the ground, a victim of not enough clearance.

A tow truck was summoned and a hydraulic winch attached to the front axle made short work of the problem.  Our trusty jeep popped right up and out of the offending hole.  Tired, wet, muddy, and $150 lighter the day ended in darkness with dinner at one of the local US95 cafes in Plummer.  We looked quite the mess, but Plummer didn't seem to mind.  The french fries were hot, and the burger was good.  

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


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 town was plotted named Sorrento, lending its name to the 2500 foot long tunnel as well.  

Overgrowth and undergrowth have become synonymous with the Milwaukee's western extension in the years since abandonment and here, at tunnel 41, that remains true.  The tunnel is long and dark and on this cold spring day the water that slowly drips from the roof collects in stalagmites of ice resting on the old roadbed floor.  Unlike so many of the other long tunnels on the western extension, 41 shows no signs of electrification as it was always located in the "gap."  Trains through here always relied on steam or diesel to wind their way through the treeless Palouse country that exists just beyond the western portal.

The view above is out of the eastern portal, looking back towards Plummer and all of those amazing places that exist between MP 1840.5 (tunnel 41) and Chicago.  On this cold and wet spring day, with the snows still in place and trees bare, the image is essentially a black and white.  One of my few.