Thursday, June 25, 2009

Mists

It is an unsettling feeling to look back at life and ponder the passage of time. It is unsettling to wonder how or why things worked as they did. It has been said that life is a mist, here and then gone. Perhaps the key is to live in such a way that every day is made to count, that every day is meaningful in some way?

In the grasslands of Central Montana, in a small town named Roundup, the mist of the Milwaukee Road's life is slowly dispersing out across the curve of time. The grasses sway and the trees rustle in a warm summer breeze, but the sounds of America's Resourceful Railroad have been gone for many many years. Like the cattle drives that preceded the railroad, lending Roundup its name, quiet is here and life is moving on.

In the tall grasses an old signal stand sits alone with the remnants of a few electrical wires at its base. The insulation is cracked and crusty and their connection to a national lifeline has long been severed. Like other tombstones spread out across the Milwaukee's West, these that remain in Roundup are the fading mists of a line and people who have moved on. A few still stop and take notice of them, but how many? Off the beaten paths, places like Roundup and the Milwaukee Road are where we've been, but somehow, no longer wish to go.

Undeniably, however, these fading signatures of different times still make a difference. I can't explain it, nor even understand it, but I know days I've spent along the route of the Columbian were meaningful and counted for something. I wonder if we would live life differently if we asked ourselves at the end of the day, "what counted today?" It is ironic that even in its life after death, the Milwaukee Road still counts and makes a difference. It fulfills no purpose ever envisioned by those who sent it west, but it remains a difference maker for a few of us nonetheless. On that warm summer day in Roundup, on that day, it made a difference to someone. Now, many years and many miles away, it still does. I guess that's a day that counts for the old girl.

7 comments:

Oil-Electric said...

Well, you were indeed fortunate to have seen these historic ports-‘o-call along the Road. At its peak, Roundup’s coal mines flourished, employing about 3,000 miners, with the Road providing transport for the black gold. Another form of black g old was neigh unto Roundup with Montana’s first proven oil field.

In addition to oil and coal, copper was on the menu. A cynic may speculate as just what fickle finger of fate brought the Milwaukee Road through this area in the first place. Probably not influenced by the fact that the early Board of Directors counted members of the Rockefeller family, no?

On the darker side, the Roundup area was infested with Ku Klux Klan and there was a city ordinance forbidding Black porters on the Milwaukee varnish from billeting overnight.

Enjoying your odyssey along the fallen flag – makes one aware just how little we really know about the history of our own states, yes?

Anonymous said...

The timing of this post could not have been better. I was just packing for a family trip to... Roundup Montana! How fitting! My wife's great grandfather, a young newspaperman, followed the Milwaukee west and bought one of the first lots on Main Street where he established the Roundup Record. One hundred years later it still exists as the Roundup Record Tribune & Winnett Times. We're told it is the oldest newspaper in the state still owned and operated by the original family. My wife's parents live across the road from the old main line. I look forward to spending the holiday celebrating the 100th birthday of Roundup and the Western Extension. Thanks!
John Blau

Anonymous said...

"The last time I went home to Roundup, crews were ripping up the ties of the Milwaukee Railroad. I could have wept. The Milwaukee took
us "back east" to visit our grandmother in Minnesota when I was eight. I will never forget the splendor of the dining car, seeing my first Negro, the porter, the astonishment when the berths appeared.

"It was the Milwaukee that took me to Missoula to the university
with a wardrobe trunk, the only one in my class to go in that depression year. The Milwaukee took me to Chicago en route to New York City to a job the year I graduated. It was the Milwaukee that brought people to Roundup and it was the Milwaukee that was our way out. Now it is gone."

Wetzel, Betty, "Coming Home to Roundup," Montana Magazine, 60, July-August, 1983.

Best regards, Michael Sol

LinesWest said...

Hey Everyone - thanks for the comments as always. Always great to see some of these blogs "fleshed out" some by some other memories and perspectives.

O-E, you bring up an interesting question about "how much do we really know" about the history of the places we're wandering through? Sounds like a good topic for a future blog (I'm not proud, I'll take ideas from wherever I can).

John - thanks for sharing and have a good trip. That's a neat tie-in to some of the local history, that's quite a unique local paper. Great stuff.

Michael - thanks for the stories as always.

Best to all,
-Leland

Anonymous said...

Betty Wetzel's father, A.W. Eiselein, was the man I talked about above. I'm happy to say she is in her 90's and doing well in Bigfork. She hosted a family reunion up there earlier this month. Thank you Mr. Sol for including that passage.

I went on a bike ride along the right of way to the depot tonight with my oldest son. It's nice to be back here!

Thanks again Leland and all,
John Blau

LinesWest said...

That sounds like a nice ride John, thanks.

-Leland

Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh, it is a small world indeed. I am glad to hear of Betty Wetzel; I thought she wrote a great article; it remains one of my favorites.

best regards, Michael Sol