Showing posts from 2010

Bleak of Winter

In winter, snowfalls and low temperatures are normal throughout the Milwaukee Road's West.  Single digits and negative numbers are common across Montana and the great plains as snows blanket plains and mountain pass alike.  Small towns that dot America's final transcontinental line take shelter in this weather.  They seem more silent, more deserted, and more isolated than at any other time.  The few people who inhabit these places hide behind walls and curtains that try to seal out the cold and the bitter winds that blow just beyond.  

In the final years of the Milwaukee Road's Pacific Extension, the quiet of these blistering winter nights was shattered, on occasion, by the passing of a Dead Freight or the descendant of a fast hotshot like the Thunderhawk or XL Special.  Time and weather took their toll on these fast trains, and the names were dropped in favor of numbers as the economic slump of the time made itself known across the industry as a whole.  These were cold …

The Other Way out of Town

In Seattle, the Milwaukee Road called Union Station home.  The famous trains named Columbian and Olympian called there until 1961 when the passenger trains were cut back to Deer Lodge.  Eventually the last Hiawathas would never make it further west than the Twin Cites.  Union Station still served the Union Pacific, but there was another way out of town as well.

Just across the street from Union Station, the NP and GN called King Street Station home.  Famous trains called here as well, and to some extent, at least one still does.  The North Coast Limited and Empire Builder were just some of the top of the line passenger trains that left from the sheds of King Street.  Unlike the Milwaukee Road, UP, and NP, the GN left town heading north out along the Pacific coast.  At Everet the line to the Midwest turned east and headed over the Cascades and Stevens Pass.  It was there that the GN had a small electrification project of its own, and varnish like the Empire Builder was headed by powerf…

Trans Missouri

Miles City, Montana was a point of activity for the Milwaukee Road's line to the Pacific Coast.  Company shops were located here as was the division headquarters for the line's Trans Missouri division.  The Trans Missouri linked the Milwaukee's famous electrified Rocky Mountain Division in the west with Mobridge and the crossing of the Missouri River in the east.  Here, in the Trans Missouri, the line plied the plains of the great American West.

Comprised of both fertile ground and desolate badlands, the Trans Missouri wrestled directly with the vast distances and big skies that greet westward travelers to this day.  While many seem appalled at the boredom of traversing this land, it offers unique opportunities to witness the true scale of the world in which we live.  Out on the Trans Missouri, it is difficult to hide from the sobering reality that we are, in fact, quite small.

Trains arriving in Miles City were subject to 500 mile inspections.  Great hotshot freights wi…

I've Missed You

There has been an expanse of decades that have passed since the last wheel turned on Lines West.  America has been without her Resourceful Railroad, without her best engineered path to the Northwest, without orange and black in a sea of Washington wheat or mountain green.  Others, employees and observers, share their memories of the last days while pictures of dilapidated locomotives and a torturous winter in 1979 tell their own story.
But I missed all of that.  My first memories of the Milwaukee Road's west involve the ever changing scenery of I90 as viewed from the second row of an old suburban.  The seats were vinyl and sticky on hot days, but the old truck always made the trip.  The cascades offered brief glimpses of high black trestles on the west slopes, then the occasional bridge on the east side of Snoqualmie.  The massive Renslow trestle near Kittitas spanned the 4 lane and loomed large outside the confines of the suburban, especially for this 6 year old who strained to se…

Hangman Creek Trestle: Brownfields Part 2

After a little prodding from Lost Rail's good friend, Oil-Electric, I've put together a link to the bridge abutment's location on the western edge of Spokane:

View Larger Map

The abutment stands, more or less, at the point where W. Ohio Ave and N. Summit meet and points south-east in the above photo.  From here, the old trestle in question would have crossed the Spokane River and Hangman creek on its way across the valley.  A walking bridge now spans the River in the approximate location of the old trestle piers.  When the water level is lower, these are still visible just east of the walking bridge, however, seem covered in the image above.

Also of interest, to the north and east of the abutment are the remains of the old UP round house, still visible from above.  Spokane was quite the railroad town...

Brownfields and Open Spaces

There's a term used to describe abandoned industrial sites:  brownfields.  Across the expanse of the United States these places exist as reminders of hustle, industrial might, and a growing country flexing its industrial muscles.  In Pittsburgh the old steel mill sites dot the river banks that make the city famous.  In Birmingham, it's old iron works and furnace sites.  The remains of old industry are scattered out across the Midwest rust belt with empty fields or rusted and mangled machinery dotting old sections of small and large cities alike.  The West has its share of brownfields too.  The city of Spokane has extensive stretches of land once occupied by a bustling railroad yard that stretch from near downtown west to the canyon that marks the city's western edge.  

A massive trestle spanned the Spokane River here, carrying trains from the shared UP/Milwaukee Road trackage across the chasm and into the heart of the city.  The leftovers today consist of a few embedded f…

Answers to Questions

In the years that have spanned the Milwaukee Road's "retrenchment" from the Pacific Coast, there have been more than a few questions posed.  There have been more than a few answers offered.  There have been more than a few arguments started, and more than a few facts misinterpreted.  The common thread is the quest for answers to the question, "What happened out there?"

Although it was Lines West that seems to be the most memorable scar from the Milwaukee tragedy, perhaps because of its seemingly inherent value, all across the Milwaukee empire things were not well.  Travel times across the Midwest were high, slow orders abounded.  Harsh winters reduced the locomotive fleet to the point where Canadian National and Baltimore and Ohio units made guest appearances.  Out on the Pacific Extension, worn U-boats old GPs trudged through the snows and dilapidation of what was left of a modern engineering marvel.

I don't pretend to have the answers to the questions the…

The Haunts of Shadows, Great Rivers, and Hiawatha

Ye who love the haunts of Nature, Love the sunshine of the meadow, Love the shadow of the forest, Love the wind among the branches, And the rain-shower and the snow-storm, And the rushing of great rivers Through their palisades of pine-trees, And the thunder in the mountains, Whose innumerable echoes Flap like eagles in their eyries;- Listen to these wild traditions, To this Song of Hiawatha! From:  "Hiawatha," Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
'Fleet of foot was Hiawatha.'  America's Resourceful Railroad had a stable of Hiawathas that ran through the Midwest; in the shadows of the forest, out across the rushing rivers.  In late June of 1947, the Milwaukee added a transcontinental Hiawatha to its passenger streamliners:  The Olympian Hi'.  Initially pulled by iconic FM diesels, later by Little Joe electrics on the mountain passes of Montana, and then sets of streamlined boxcabs and rebuilt Bi-Polars.   Armour yellow E units marked its final days of transcon running.
Grand st…

Building Forward and Onward

Often, it is the things just below the surface that make a history or place interesting.  Old stories of personal sacrifice or challenge that make up the big history are often quite special.  These things lie just below the surface of what is normally seen, weaving the fabric of history into what is now casually observed as "current."

The piles of rock and filler that abound in the picture of Deer Lodge, MT lie atop one of those intriguing old stories.  In the distance, a few poles jut into the sky between the trees.  They are a reminder that this is a special place.  This is a place where America's final transcontinental railroad pushed west toward the mountains in the distance.  This is a place where Little Joes pulled time sensitive Thunderhawk and XL Specials up for crew changes at the nearby depot.  They rolled out beneath those old poles, from between the trees and into the rails of the Milwaukee's Deer Lodge yards, now home to large piles of DOT filler and de…

Summer Times

One of the things that often strikes me is the cost of growing up.  We move from a child's simplicity to an adult who is full of stress, strain, and the burden of too much information.  From relaxed summer days of fun and few cares to gripes about heat and humidity, the endlessness of yard work, and the ever present journeys to and from our 'real' jobs.  As another summer unfolds in the Northern Hemisphere, allow me to journey back in time to a few fond memories of summers many years ago.  Perhaps it is the lack of adult work loads and stress that makes these memories stand out and seem so pleasant.  
I haven't always been an avid photographer.  My real love for the hobby started in high school, but my first pictures come from the summer of 1990.  As with many summers through the mid 90s, I spent a couple of weeks in Lafayette, IN with my grandparents.  That summer an old Brownie camera was unearthed and film scrounged from a local photography shop.  In general, summer …

Long Standing

As the days drag into weeks, oil continues its rush from the Gulf floor to the ocean above. The politicians point fingers, the residents along the Gulf Coast question response times and commitment, and the coastline waits for the slick to make landfall.
Amidst the chaos and noise, the economy of the region hinges on the effects and success of the spill containment. Oyster beds dot the area, shrimp fishing is common place. These are the economic realities that coexist with the environmental impacts.
The world economy thrives on readily available oil products that move cars, heat homes, even form the backbone for the many plastics that are relied on every day. In 2008 the U.S. Department of Energy reported that 28% of the U.S. energy use was consumed by the transportation sector alone [1]. Much of the transportation sector consists of internal combustion engines operating on the Otto or Diesel cycle. The staggering consideration is that many of these engines are only 35 to 40 % ef…

Rock-a-bye bye bye?

There are footnotes to history and there are chapters. Dependent on your perspective, sometimes those footnotes deserve a book unto themselves.
As the economy sagged in the seventies, railroads were hit hard. The East saw a general collapse in the form of Penn Central. As the seventies wore on, the PC would be combined with several other bankrupt roads to form Conrail, a government backed corporation who's sole goal was to save rail transportation in the eastern half of the country. Collapse worked its way through the western lines during these years as well.
The Milwaukee Road pulled out of the West just over 30 years ago at the beginning of March. Bankrupt and reeling, its retreat to the Midwest would last only a few more years until its absorption by Soo Line. Its competitors in the West and Northwest managed to hang on, but healthy balance sheets were not to be found in the board rooms of the Cascade Green lines in those years.
The Rock Island had a long flirtation with…

Those Magnificent Quads

It was the electric motors on the Milwaukee Road's Lines West that received them: those beautiful quad headlights.
The original lamps that adorned the famous electrics, from the Bi-Polars to the Little Joes, seemed average enough. Pictures posted across various pages on the internet show a single headlight centered in a larger reflective housing, just like the steamers and diesels of the same era. Somewhere along the way, however, during the rebuilding that kept those electrics in service for decades and decades, a modification was made. A 4 sealed beam headlight was installed, making the electrics instantly identifiable. Even the Little Joes received them, and their slightly smaller headlight housing made them all the more distinctive. The photo of the Joe shows the quad light arrangement, slightly truncated on the edges.
But then, it wasn't just the electrics that got this treatment. On a beautiful sunny summer day, tucked away in the back of the yards in St. Maries, ID…

Firsts and Lasts

The year was 1827, the date February the 28th. American railroad history was made with the incorporation of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad through an act of the Maryland Legislature. It was a date that would begin an era of expansion and industrialization in the New World. With the explorations of Lewis and Clark only two decades before, the entire country was opening before an onslaught of settlers and progress moving west.
For its part, the B&O would remain one of the dominant forces in the railroad and transportation industry for more than a century. In the era of streamliners and profitable eastern lines, its slogans proclaimed its stature with memorable lines like, "Linking 13 Great States with the Nation" or, "Timesaver Service."

The era of expansion across the American frontier would eventually see the construction of several transcontinental railroads spread out over key northern, central, and southern corridors. Famous lines like the Central Pacifi…


On a quiet Sunday afternoon, a small group of worshipers gathers in a small traditional looking church. The A-frame design bespeaks years of expectation and American church culture. The singing inside follows a tune that is familiar to some, albeit mostly those from older generations. Words ring out with a chorus of, "This is my savior, this is my song. Praising my savior, all the day long." The old hymn's title: "Blessed Assurance."
The small group concentrates on the harmony of the old hymn and memories of Sundays that have played out over the many years before. "This is my song," they sing as the chorus again rolls around. It's a scene from countless churches sprinkled out across the great landscape of the American countryside. It recalls similar gatherings sprinkled back across the years of the small American churches as well. Little has changed in many of these places. Change seems reserved for a few added creases in the bindings o…

Great Plains and Big Sky

The world is a big place...but on some levels it doesn't seem so large any more. Communication has made contact with other cities, states, and countries unremarkable. Yet 100 years ago, the system we take for granted today was unthinkable and unheard of. In 1910 roads were poor, autos were for the wealthy and well-to-do, and telegrams were a normal means of fast communication. Many rural stations had Western Union offices for that very reason. 100 years ago, the world was a very big place indeed.
Interestingly, the world itself hasn't changed all that much. The wind blows across the plains of the West, the tall grasses whisper and bend beneath its howling, the clouds still roll quickly across the big skies. While much of the country has connected itself to everything, the land it inhabits still shows many of the constants it always has. We've done our best to carve it up and parcel it out but that original beauty of what was is still there somewhere. Somewhere b…

A Joe Photo Study

I had a special request for a few more detail shots of the Milwaukee Road's only surviving Little Joe. If you can, she's worth a visit in Deer Lodge, MT, but plan on spending some time around her. She's loaded with interesting features and dripping with stories. I could write something for each of these shots, but for now, I'll let them speak of their own accord. Enjoy.