Thursday, December 24, 2009

Silent Snows

Snowy mornings have a special kind of quiet. Grey clouds above roll along with only the lonesome sounds of a wintery breeze pushing them forward. Standing near a field or line of bushes, little rustle is heard -- just the silence of of a new snowfall. As snow fall covers the ground and sticks to the roads, even the passing cars drift by silently.

It's a snowy winter morning along Lines West, the location is Rosalia, WA. The old tilted rectangle of America's Resourceful Railroad still clings to the bridge side -- just barely. Located on the south side of the old structure, it has been subject to direct sun for many many years and they show. Just out of frame to the left is the old electrified interurban from Colfax. At one time Rosalia hosted the transcontinental Milwaukee Road, the electrified Great Northern (who purchased the interurban), and the Northern Pacific line from Spokane to Lewiston. The three big northwest players all in one small town, out amongst the hills of Palouse country.

But the year is 2004, not 1934, and the sights and sounds of interurban travel and transcon freights are matched in silence only by the fresh snow fall. The NP line was in place, but only as far as Moscow, ID when this photo was taken. Today, it ends at the Idaho border. Times change, but the quiet of fresh snow and its tranquility in places like this seem unchanged.

Even though snow and Christmas seem tied inexorably together in Western culture, Peace and tranquility don't always seem to play an important role. The noise of shopping mall parking lots and scream of continuous entertainment do a fair job blocking quiet and thoughtfulness. But on that snowy December morning five years ago, surrounded by history and the deep quiet of a snow storm, tranquility and quiet seemed so very important.

May you find some Peace and quiet of your own this holiday. Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


It's all in the details.

The Milwaukee Road's Little Joe is an amazing collection of enormous castings. The shear amount of metal that encompasses the running gear and supports the carbody is something to behold. The design and manufacture dates back to a time when American foundry work was second to none, the country manufacturing base healthy, and the infrastructure of the country alive and growing. General Electric clearly built these locomotives to last in a harsh environment that saw frequent extremes in weather, loading, and speeds. In their lives as front line Western power, they encountered all of these.

In the details of an old machine like this Joe, much is learned about old processes and standards, previous ways of thinking, previous ways of problem solving and, just as important, the problems that were solved. The details are a history lesson in themselves. In amongst all of the details of Milwaukee's only existing Little Joe is a detail that harkens back to the days of a Cold War and a growing Soviet Empire.

The detail in question is located on the "b" end of the Joe, the end where the cab was removed and windows plated over. There, an obvious outcropping exists from the massive casting that supports the rear half of the locomotive and drivetrain. It can be seen in the above photo, supporting a nicely painted grab iron. It's original purpose, however, would seem to be related to the locomotive's original destination. While the Americanized railroads never had much use for bumpers between equipment, the European and related lines used them extensively. The Soviets had specified bumpers for their fleet of GE electric locomotives and indeed, the mounting platform was in place -- and still is.

Montana became the home for Milwaukee's Little Joe, but it was never the original destination. The European elements of these fantastic locomotives still show through in a few of the details and are a good reminder of the importance of details.