Friday, September 18, 2009

Montana Skies

Skies tell a remarkable story in their ever changing features and moods. Sunsets in the summer often speak of a long day's field work in hot weather. Wintery moon rises in a clear sky speak of cold infinities. At one point the sky seems happy and celebratory, at another, somber and moody. The skies over the Milwaukee Road's west have revealed all of these and more.

Few remaining stretches of Lines West show their ties to the Milwaukee's unique early 20th century signature. While all of the western roads can boast of high bridges and long tunnels, the Milwaukee created a unique calling card in the form of its catenary. While the Northern Pacific was never far from the Milwaukee's western extension, it was never difficult to tell the two lines apart. As they made their way across Montana's ever changing landscapes, the wooden poles supporting the electric lifeline to Milwaukee power were a clear sign and symbol of the Resourceful Railroad. Railroad legend often links the electrification with the health of the railroad in general. Many associate the Milwaukee's ultimate demise with its decision in the mid seventies to eliminate electric operations. A review of fuel economy and fuel prices adds significant credibility to this argument: the electrics posed a significant cost savings compared to the diesels that replaced them. This author has noted the correlation in the past, referring to the Little Joes as Orange Canaries.

On a cool summer day, unlike may of the hot afternoons felt across the wide plains of Montana, one of the few catenary poles still stands. 35 years have passed since the last Joe passed beneath it. Almost 30 have passed since the railroad passed. With the old lineside poles keeping it company, it stands still as a signature left behind. The skies above on this cool day take a somber and quiet tone, fitting well the events that have transpired here.

2 comments:

LinesWest said...

Proof that even though I threatened, the Milwaukee never goes far from this blog...

Anonymous said...

What's also amazing is the fact that quite a few of the old block signals still stand their ground between Lombard and Harlowton.

http://www.lightsourcephoto.com/Photographers%20Railroad%20Page/Archives/3-01-06%20Fred%20Hyde%20-%20Milwaukee%20Roads%20Gravestones.html