Monday, May 25, 2009

The Sun Sets West

There was a time, not so long ago, out in the high deserts of Central Washington when the lonesome sagebrush and eerie sunsets weren't quite as alone. Nestled high above the Columbia River in a place named Boylston a railroad built a small station, planted trees, and went about the business of running trains to the West Coast.

The station at Boylston was small and modest, like many others scattered along the rails of The Milwaukee Road. Old photos show Boxcab electrics and infamous Bi-polars climbing the grades here through the Saddle Mountains where Boylston marked the apex. Later photos show SD40-2's pulling hard up these same slopes, the electrification deactivated in the early 70s. The trees are bigger in these later photos and stand in obvious contrast to the desert landscape that surrounds them. This was an outpost on America's Resourceful Railroad, and much like the railroad itself, seemed to exist in spite of the obstacles around it.

Summer in the Saddles still brings hot and dry winds that suck the water out of any creature who braves the midday sun. Tumbleweeds roll across the landscape as they make their way to destinations unknown. The trees planted long ago by a small station named Boylston are tall and remain defiant creatures in this land of sage and sand. But those are the only constants from those old photos. The depot and the railroad have been relegated to memories and that thick feeling of history that beckons from this high outpost above the Columbia River. The sunsets and lonesome sagebrush have returned to the way things were before the railroad got here and that lonseome quiet has returned as well.

But we've got some memories and pictures of a once upon a time, when the sun sank in the west on the old electrified line.

4 comments:

Oil-Electric said...

The Saddle Mountains, technically classified by the US Geological Survey as a “range” which is further defined as a “chain of hills or mountains; a somewhat linear, complex mountainous or hilly area” were one of five named mountain ranges crossed by the Road.

The Indian name for the range was Swalla-la-Hoost. The name La-cos-tum was given to the mountains near Priest Rapids, south of Crab Creek. This present name comes from the saddle-like shape of many of the elevations indicating the area is quite old geologically.

Of the five mountain ranges strung with wire, only the Bitterroots are etched in history:

President Warren G. Harding operated an electric locomotive for a stretch, occasioning the installation of a plaque on the side of the cab that read:

“Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Ry./To Puget Sound—Electrified/July 2, 1923/Warren G. Harding/President of the United States/Operated Locomotive No. 10305/Westbound Sappington, Mont./to Avery, Idaho.”

I wonder where that plaque is?

SDP45 said...

I just talked my wife into bicycling the line from Renslow trestle to Beverly!

Should be nice to finally get a good look at the area.

Dan

LinesWest said...

Good question about that plaque O-E. I suspect it's either scrapped or sitting in someone's personal collection of "stuff." Probably next to a few mileposts taken from the old telegraphy poles.

LinesWest said...

Hey Dan,

That's a neat area to bike. It was a pretty amazing trip when I made it a few years ago - you've probably stumbled across my account of tunnel 45 (at the summit of the Saddles) in the archives. It's still a pretty vivid experience for me.

Best,
-Leland