Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving and Nothing Could be Finer...

In the years of railroading's past, holidays and holiday meals were something of an event.  Those were curious days by today's standards:  dining cars employed chefs who cooked on stoves and ovens using fresh ingredients from along the way.  The Northern Pacific, for example, restocked dining cars with fresh fruit from Central Washington as trains made their way through.  Railroads had their own recipes that made their dining cars famous and specialties that set them apart from competitors.  Moving people was important, and the business of railroading reflected that.

The holidays had their own menus in many dining cars, reflecting the best meals for travelers who found themselves out on the rails.  For many years, even Amtrak changed its regular meal plan to offer special holiday turkey for Thanksgiving.  The picture above reflects one such holiday specialty: Alaskan Railroad Cranberry Pie.  It is a thing of beauty, and has become a tradition for our friends and family many years after it first pampered travelers in dining cars long forgotten.  To compliment this rare cranberry delicacy, a Fred Harvey apple pie is sure to round out a Thanksgiving meal.

I hope you find reason for Thanks this holiday season - and try some of your own railroad recipes if you feel so inclined.  They are a unique way to look back to times when things were just a bit different, and truly, nothing is finer than some old forgotten recipe from a diner.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Spring Creek Sunsets

Location:  Spring Creek Trestle, near Lewistown, MT.  2005

Big events change things quickly, but the accumulation of small changes mark the years and decades just as effectively.  The sun comes up and the sun goes down: one day leads to the next as a mix of change.

Every so often, there appears just a few years of stability when the reliability of the status quo seems unshakable.  Recently the expectation of burgeoning productivity and expansive wealth have been questioned, though for years they marked the American Dream.  Cheap energy was a hallmark of the U.S. as was its ability to manufacture products for domestic and global consumption.  For years the railroads owned the landscape and mail was always delivered by RPO car.  Today the RPO is long gone, and the unique Saturday delivery that as marked the USPS seems destined to follow it into history as well.  Many of the towns that were served by these institutions are depleted or vanished.

There was a time, during one of those periods of stability,  when a sunset along Lines West marked the end of the day across the Milwaukee's extension to the West Coast.  It foretold the dawning of another with the usual activities spread out across the system.  The coming day would see locals and patrols out along the lines exchanging grain cars in the Golden Triangle, or serving the railroads and industries of Butte.  It would be another day of pace-setting manifest trains burning miles from the big ports of the coast to the central U.S.  A day of electrified power across the mountains, of sleek passenger trains that rivaled any in the West out amidst scenery that was second to none.  There was a time when a beautiful sunset promised another day out along America's final transcon.

Today the changes have accumulated, and the perceived stability is benched in quiet abandonment.  Above, the Spring Creek Trestle bears witness to another end of day - but is listed as unusable and the lines that it connected in Lewistown are gone anyway.  One day, probably not in the distant future, it will share the same fate as all of those other institutions that litter the historical landscape.  A sunset over Spring Creek promises another day, but merely edges ever closer to an obvious conclusion.  It is always tempting to gaze at the span of only a few years and feel secure in the stability that surrounds us, yet there are quiet places that shout out the opposite is true.  A sunset on Spring Creek Trestle is one of them.