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 of tunnel and trestle:
As the canyon and railroad wind south toward the Missouri the foundations of the old substation at Francis can be found. Further south the small town of Maudlow appears around a bend in the creek and the railroad.
Like many other places along America's final transcontinental railroad, Maudlow is a quiet place without easy access to the world that lays beyond. An old two-story school still stands here along with a collection of other old buildings that remember better times. A small general store and gas pump remain in the weeds while a few fly fishermen work their way up and down the old right of way and 16 mile creek. The AC power lines that still traverse much of the old Rocky Mountain Division still wind their way through Maudlow as do a few remaining catenary poles. Both remind us of the Milwaukee's bold vision - but also serve as testimonies to the reality that befell it. From growling motors of boxcabs and little joes to the uninterrupted, quiet burbling of 16 mile creek. From the sounds of gas pumping and activity at the old general store to peeling paint and broken windows. The demise of America's Resourceful Railroad was more than the loss of a transportation corridor and industry giant.
On a beautiful summer day like the one in the above photo, all seems peaceful. The sun is warm and the creek wanders through the canyon like it has since long before the Milwaukee Road arrived along its banks. In places like Maudlow, however, there's an unmistakable tension and need to remember what has happened here. As we watch the unfolding and dismemberment of other industrial giants in the current recession, the lessons and outcomes of the past seem especially relevant. This is the legacy that exists in the canyon, the legacy of Lines West.