Thursday, November 25, 2010

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 powerful electric locomotives until the advent of dieselization.

Amtrak's Empire Builder still leaves King Street on a daily basis, still in close proximity to Union Station and the haunts of old Olympians.  Just like the original Builder, she heads north and the modern streamliner rolls through the ever expanding Seattle area and small coastal towns along the shores.  In the photo above at Mulkiteo, a beautiful winter morning is at hand along the old GN main.  The air is crisp, the leaves have turned, and fresh snow tops the distant mountains.  This is still the other way out of town, although for rail passengers heading to the Midwest for holidays and family, it is also pretty much the only way out.  How times change.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

Author's note:  it is possible to leave King St. on a southbound Coast Starlight or Cascades for points south, and eventually east, if desired. 

Monday, November 01, 2010

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 with names like Thunderhawk paused here in Miles City as they made their sprint across the plains.  Miles City saw the Milwaukee Road's passenger power show true grit across these plains:  a single locomotive held point on the line's varnish for the entire distance from St. Paul to the start of wires over the Rocky Mountain Division.  Miles City was also a home to the rival NP, and the two railroads left town heading east within a stone's throw of each other.  Miles City was a real point of activity.

Today in Miles City, much of the old Milwaukee Shops still stand.  Via their connection with the old NP (now BNSF), they're even in business as a private corporation, Transco.  The salvage of the shops has led to another interesting remnant here on the Trans Missouri:  mainline.  From the crossing of the Tongue River on the west side of town, to the shops and connection with the old NP on the east, the mainline rails of the Pacific Coast Extension still hold ground.  Standing on the Tongue River bridge and staring west, it's not difficult to imagine the rails continuing out across the flatlands ahead.  It would be another 200 miles to electrification and the Rocky Mountain Division.  200 miles out across a vast landscape looked over by the big skies of the Trans Missouri.  Although famous for its electrics and mountain ranges, this too was Milwaukee Country.  Land of the Resourceful Railroad.