The day was July 4th, the year was 1909.
The Milwaukee Road had been working on its Pacific Coast Extension since 1906 and by 1909 had finally achieved its goal: the PCE was connected end to end. On July 4th, regular freight service started across the West on the newest, and for America the final, transcontinental railroad.
The Milwaukee did its part to spurn a new round of western settlement. Small towns were generated along the mainline and out along the branches as well. This settlement and renewed interest in farming coincided with other parts of the country: the prairie lands of Kansas and Oklahoma were experiencing above average rain falls and the price of wheat was increasing dramatically. It is interesting to consider all of these events actually playing out at the same time across different parts of the country. The booming economy would crash 20 years into the future, but in 1909, the West raced onward and upward.
The picture shows Choteau, a small farming town out on the Montana Golden Triangle. In this 2007 picture, thoughts of an Independence Day 98 years in the past are hard to come by. Still, the events of that day provide some foundation for the remnants at hand. Many of the Milwaukee rails are in place through town and even a Milwaukee standard switch stand rests colorfully by the rails. In times past, ribside boxcars would roll out of Choteau heading south and then east to Great Falls. From Great Falls, it was a trip out across high coulee trestles and rolling grasslands to Lewistown, then south to the mainline at Harlowton. Like the mainline, much of this feeder network is gone, even the existing remnants have been ravaged by floods and their future is uncertain.
July 4th marks a significant day in the life of America's Resourceful Railroad, but it is a harsh world where the things that were meant to last forever prove to be as transient as everything else.