Between Mountain Ranges

Location:  Ralston, WA

The lands east of the Cascades and west of the Bitterroots are remarkable in their variety and beauty.  Between these two ranges lie high desert country, rolling wheat fields, foot hills, massive rivers, tumbling sage, abundant wild flowers, rain shadows, endless skies, and a long, long right of way plotted by America's Resourceful Railroad.

To this land between mountain crossings the Milwaukee Road journeyed.  While other parts of the Western Extension existed in near infamy, this land existed in relative quiet.  Like the lands east of electrification, it existed out of the spotlight and away from many photographer's cameras.  The summer heat is harsh and the treeless plains offer little relief.  The winter is cold and the winds have little to break their howl as they roll across the undulating landscape.

The small town of Ralston sits along the right of way here.  It rests beneath Washington skies as the clouds that break apart over the Cascade Range roll out and across this land.  The grasses sway in the summer winds and the grain elevator watches over the small town.  It's a scene that's played out in thousands of places across the West, and many places along the old Resourceful Railway.  The old station has been removed and placed nearby in a farmer's field.  Half of the building is now collapsed and the paint has been missing for many years.  The grasses have taken over much of the old right of way here as well.  Although it remains part of the John Wayne Trail, maintenance is uncommon and use is light.  Much like the days when orange and black locomotives plied the rails, visitors to Ralston are rare.

For those who travel with the Milwaukee Road between the mountain ranges, places like Ralston are a quiet place to stop and ponder.  Apart from the occasional farm truck that rolls by with a wave, this is a lonely journey in a large world.  There is no safety in numbers here - no constant noise from a nearby interstate, no lights to chase away the darkness of long nights.  Now, all of these years beyond the bankruptcy and abandonment, there is no lonely railroad either - just the traveler and that thick feeling of depth that goes beyond what is simply seen.  This is the land between mountain ranges and between electrifications.  In life, and along the Resourceful Railroad, all part of an incredible journey.   


joshua said…
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Oil-Electric said…
It is interesting to study the track profile through this area. Westbound traffic is running loose, downhill all the way to the beginning of catenary at Othello. If you lived through the double nickle days, you will appreciate that train crews must have felt like a snail on the grass traversing this country. And it only got worse with the electrics with their 35 mph top speed. Probably not so bad with steam since there was a lot of fussing around to pass the miles away. Ralston, peaking out at about 250 souls and mutts, was named in honor of Ralston-Purina, probably an important customer, yes?
LinesWest said…
I would agree, Ralson-Purina was probably quite important. Reminds me of the town of Pullman renaming itself to attract attention/money from Pullman and the Pullman corp. In the end he donated $50 to the town for a 4th of July one year as I recall. Previously it had been named Three Forks - a name I actually prefer but probably just because of the Milwaukee link.
SDP45 said…
The town is one of the few in the area to have gotten a zip code, but then have its post office closed, about 1975. I believe that was just when the MILW PCE was starting to fall apart, so there would be no connection with the demise of the town and the railroad going to crap.

Anonymous said…
does this still have rail?
LinesWest said…
Hi there,

No rails left here, but starting in Warden and working to Othello they are in place. From Othello to the spur to Royal City the old mainline rails are in place too. You can even find the grounding wires along the rail joints there too.

Take care,
SDP45 said…
The rails between Othello and Royal City could be used, though at a very restricted speed, except for a minor spot near Royal Jct where the rails have sunk a bit.

There were numerous railroad ties with date nails from the mid 1930s in them last week.

Anonymous said…
Dan and I were out there on June the 24th. Amazing for this east-end guy and his son, even tho' we've been out here plenty of times on the past. I hear that there's a business guy at Royal City who wants to start the line up again. I wish him well. I hope he does get the old line a -running' again. We did note what appeared to be some marks on the rail indicative of some kind of hi-rail activity. What this so? We both wondered.

Fred Hyde
LinesWest said…
Hi Fred,

Sounds like you had a nice trip. The West-end of the Milwaukee really is amazing, the high Washington desert is among my favorite sections.

I myself haven't heard anything formal about restarting the line to Royal City, but like you, wish them luck. The ties out there look like they could use some work, but you couldn't ask for nicer mainline rail for a shortline operation.

Best -Leland

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