Tuesday, April 12, 2011
The pages of many books are filled with images of America's final Transcontinental railroad. They show high mountains and electric locomotives from the West, or perhaps vast corn fields and grain trains from the Midwest. Streamlined Hiawathas that were photographed at speed through Wisconsin countryside are reproduced faithfully. Little Joes engaged in an assault on the Bitterroots show the grittiness of a heavy mountain railroad as sand flies from around the running gear. Wherever the locale or whatever the subject, most of the images recall a Milwaukee Road that doesn't look anything like this: the Badlands.
The Badlands are a harsh environment. Filled with dry sage and dry hills, these inhabit eastern Montana as part of the Milwaukee's journey west. Shown in the above photo, the Resourceful Road crosses the Yellowstone River at Kamm, MT into a big sky beset with the pastel colors of a dipping summer sun. Soon the cool of night will engulf the badlands and the scorched earth will yield its heat back into the night sky.
Like other forgotten places on the transcon, there were few who journeyed with the Milwaukee to this remote river crossing. Ahead, beyond the large bridge, lie the more famous Milwaukee haunts and electrified Rocky Mountain Division. Behind, the path back to the corn belt of the Midwest. On this evening the bridge stands as an imposing reminder of what was and the grand scale of that vision. The bridge is seemingly ready and able to host a Dead Freight or XL Special at any moment should the need arise. But as it has for more than 30 years, time will again slip by and another night will fall away silently without the rumble of large locomotives. The next night will as well. Only the occasional rancher will pass this way, or perhaps a fisherman looking to drop a line into the Yellowstone. Silence is a constant companion of Lines West. The Badlands amplify it to a full crescendo.