In my many years away from home, travel by train has always held an excitement as part of the holiday journey. In November, thoughts turn to Thanksgiving and the end of autumn weather. Cool nights and warm days give way while the colors of foliage drift from their lofty perches to a sea of browns on the ground.
A Thanksgiving trip many years ago brings back memories of a speeding California Zephyr under the care of three Genesis locomotives, number 1 running point. It was a cool day in 1997 and the low southern sun gave the train an unparalleled look at a beautiful sight occurring to our southwest. It glistened as far as the eye could see on the distant, and flat, Illinois horizon. West of Sandwich, the train kicked those fallen leaves into the orange sky of the November sunset as old line-side poles flipped by outside the Zephyr's windows. The train ran a losing race that day, into the low and setting sun. Just one memory of Thanksgiving travels from times past.
Passenger trains have run a losing race for many years in the U.S. Where travelers used to line trackside and await the coming of the holiday trains, stations are closed and rails are gone. In Miles City, MT, those closed and locked doors stand beside America's final transcontinental railroad, the Milwaukee Road. The old platform on the far side still rests next to the remnants of the old double track mainline, but the presence of the rails is deceptive here. They end just west of town, and extend only to the old shops to the east. The rails are rusty, weed grown, and quiet.
Another year is upon this old gateway in Miles City, and another season of holiday travels will pass without the rush of anticipation that is a coming passenger train. The Columbian and Olympian have not called here for decades, and it seems likely these locked doors will not open for holiday travelers any time soon. The quiet in these old gateways, bereft of holiday bustle, seems especially pronounced in a season of family memories and travels.