Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Under a Watchful Gaze

In the Pacific Northwest, the Milwaukee Road had an interesting collection of branch lines with equally interesting histories.  Some were not connected to the rest of the system via Milwaukee rails, but with ferries.  Among these isolated lines was the old Bellingham Bay and British Columbia.  This was purchased by the Milwaukee to increase its footprint in the lush Pacific Northwest.  The line operated 25 miles from Bellingham to Sumas on the border with Canada.  Merger conditions that resulted from the Burlington Northern allowed the Milwaukee to do away with its car ferry and access these lines directly.  Despite the light rail, this line was known to be home to some of the Milwaukee's heaviest diesel locomotives as the fleet wore down and the seventies wore on. 

The BNSF still maintains a presence here along these old Milwaukee Lines.  Now that the paint on their locomotives has adopted an orange and black motif, perhaps one could say that not much has really changed.  Compared to other parts of the western extension, I suppose that not much has:  the rail is still in place here, and the sounds of freight trains can be heard echoing across the corn fields as they roam the small north-south line.

On a beautiful summer day like the one pictured, the watchful gaze of Mt. Rainier watches over the cornfields and old Milwaukee rails.  All along the Western Extension, it is the elements that exist beyond the Milwaukee that remain truly constant and seemingly unchanging.  Where rails have been pulled, towns have vanished.  In many places there remains very little evidence that the railroad was ever there.  In many places there is even less evidence of the people who lived along side it.  Nonetheless, constants like Mt. Rainier continue to dominate breathtaking scenery with which the Milwaukee shared space.  Some have argued that the Milwaukee Road traversed the most beautiful scenery on the continent.  Even off the mainlines and away from the haunts of the old electrics, scenes like this seem to bear this out.

1 comment:

Oil-Electric said...

Advertising copy of the 30’s and ‘40’s brings a hearty chuckle. Faced with competing Northern Pacific and the Great Northern for passenger revenues, artistic liberties were often pushed to lure the gullible passenger.

Scenery visualized in the brochure was not always precisely as one would find it riding on the train; more of an enticing approximation.

Imagine the look of the disillusioned pilgrim when the Conductor said, “Oh, there she is! Mt. Rainier! Oh, I would imagine that’s a good 60 miles south of here.

“Getting off in Seattle? Or Tacoma?”