A Look Back
There are few places west of the Dakotas where the rails laid as part of the Milwaukee Road's expansion to the coast are still in place. When found, they tend to be in small segments like the small portions found across the Idaho panhandle or around Othello, WA. Out in the grain fields of Montana, the story is much the same.
In this "Golden Triangle," where the Milwaukee pulled a great deal of traffic in its times before retrenchment, most of the old lines are relegated to photographs and memories. There are, however, a few segments left in operation. The Central Montana Railroad operates part of the old line that linked Lewistown and Great Falls. The line now stops well short of Great Falls at Geraldine. West of Great Falls, the BNSF operates a few miles of old Milwaukee trackage as well. It is here, just south of a small town named Fairfield, we find some remains that look back at what the Milwaukee left behind.
Broken ties and frost heaves are common on this little used section of the old empire. BNSF has made some repairs to the line north of Fairfield, but here, on this section that is relegated to overflow storage for the local grain elevators, there has been no such effort. We see a line that, in many ways, echoes the final conditions of the Milwaukee itself. The Golden Triangle lines were some of the most important sources of online traffic along the entire Western Extension. Like everything else, however, the final few years of neglect and deferred maintenance are easy to see in the old steel ribbons. These were the stomping grounds of ribside boxcars and decrepit SD7s. Using these old rails to look back, it's easy to imagine the conditions that existed at the end.