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Showing posts from 2012

Elevators and Gateways

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December 19 has recently past, another day of the year that has come and gone as quickly as all the others.  It marks a significant day for the Milwaukee Road, however.  On December 19, the Road filed for its final bankruptcy, just before the holidays in 1977.  35 years ago now.  Just like the days, the years seem to slip by too quickly as well.

This is Ryegate, MT - 1306 miles from Chicago's Union Station.  Throughout the past year the wanderings posted on this blog have slowly moved across the state of Montana from Terry, at MP 1080, to the small little town of Ryegate.  Elevator row still stands here, and it's not hard to imagine a mainline of heavy rail running through the grasses that lie just to their north.  The picture looks west toward the next division on the Milwaukee's Lines West: the Rocky Mountain Division.  The next Milwaukee stop made on these pages will be Harlowton itself where the famous electric locomotives roamed.

Extensive attention has always been l…

Old Time Elegance

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On November 28, 1905 the Milwaukee Road Board of Directors approved the the Pacific Extension to the West.  98 years later, a hot summer day finds Lavina, MT situated 1290 miles from Chicago out along the approved extension.
The remnants of that extension remain scattered on the ground at Lavina as the concrete signal base attests.  But like the other miles and miles of this reach west, the grasses have overtaken and now blow gently in the breezes of a hot summer afternoon.  No smell of baking creosote or hot ballast on this summer day.  This little town is actually "New" Lavina after being moved to the present location when surveyors for the Milwaukee Road plotted the mainline through this part of Montana [1].  The old town and its stage coach stop were left behind to welcome the station calls of trains traversing the Pacific Coast Extension.
In the background of the Milwaukee's mainline rests The Adams Hotel, an interesting story in itself.  Built as a center of eleg…

They Return Once Again

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2189:  The miles from Chicago's Union Station to Seattle, WA.  At one time, 656 of them electrified and served by two transcontinental passenger trains, the Olympian and the Columbian.  In 1948 The Columbian, train 18, departed Seattle at 22:30 every evening and arrived in Chicago at 8:45am, the morning of the third day.  The Olympian Hiawatha operated on a more limited schedule and completed the same traverse in only 45 hours [1].  Between the two end points of the line were 5 mountain ranges, two sections of electrification, and ever changing geography.  Leaving for the big eastern cities, the trains traversed the the sub-tropical rain forests of the Cascades where precipitation amounts climb toward 100 inches per year [2].  Then to the rain shadows of the Central Washington desert where small outcroppings of people had settled when the new rail line built west.  The Palouse and the Bitterroots followed and were chased by the Rockies of Central Montana and the rain shadow that …

Pieces of a Story

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Just about 1265 miles from the bustling Union Station, Chicago the middle of Montana reveals a few more pieces of a story.  This is Roundup, a town named for yearly cattle roundups from the surrounding ranch lands. 
The Miles City Mercantile outpost still stands in Roundup.  Like so much old industry, the Mercantile was built to last and stands straight and level throughout.  The company was founded in 1916, soon after the Milwaukee traversed these parts.  As a company, its present status is listed as 'inactive' but  memories from a few employees interviewed over the years shed a bit of light on the old company and its breadth [1].  The mercantile had locations in many of the Milwaukee towns that dotted the Central Montana plains.  Towns like Winnett,  Grass Range, Roundup and others.  The times were different: where wild grasses grow today, boxcars were spotted on steel rails that represented a figurative and literal unbroken connection sea to sea.  "Men of the road&q…

Musselshell Graveyard

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Slowly, ever so slowly, the dry and harsh plains of eastern Montana begin to yield  to a new land that will soon reveal itself to westbound travelers.  The Musselshell river makes its appearance rolling west - and the cuts that it has made in the landscape introduce a rockiness that was missing through the plains of Ingomar and Vananda.

The journey west has been filled with the solemn feeling of an industrial graveyard.  It is a feeling of a missing 'hustle' or purpose that seems so close, and at the same time, so distant from the present.  Time continues to erode this graveyard in real and figurative ways.  Through the summer of 2011 massive rains to this part of Montana did heavy damage to the old Resourceful Railroad.  Bridges are missing and fills are washed away.  Further north along the Milwaukee's wheat lines to the Golden Triangle, the large trestle over the Judith River now lists across the center spans.  Its foundations have eroded and it awaits funding for rep…

Living in the Promised Land

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The long, sweeping curve into Ingomar, MT highlights the Milwaukee Road's entrance into this small town out on the Montana plains.  The photo above looks east, back toward the places and spaces already traveled, and to those beyond the start of abandonment at Terry.  Ingomar itself is one of the few survivors that exists out along an old US highway and this abandoned transcon.  The streets are gravel and the shops few but nonetheless, Ingomar holds on.
Ingomar was one of the towns plotted by the railroad as it headed west in 1908.  As with many of the other small towns plotted by the Milwaukee Road, it was to serve as a hub for the local settlers and an access point to the railroad's growing empire that stretched to the east and west.  Looking south along the main street, the US flag still flies high on this hot summer day in 2003.  It marks the Jersey Lilly - one of the local watering holes left over from a time of grander intents.
The station still stands at Ingomar as a co…

Losing the Fight

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Location:  Vananda, MT
MP:  1181.5 Miles from Chicago

The same hot summer day that has accompanied the journey west continues at Vananda, MT.  Here, there are two things that bear witness to the old town - the house above and an impressive brick school just out of photo to the left.  The dry weather of Central Montana has aided in keeping them  standing but it's clear they are losing the fight.  Also out of picture and behind the camera is the Milwaukee's right of way through Vananda.  Of course the Milwaukee lost the fight many years ago and has hastened the demise of places like Vananda ever since.

Is it a long road to obscurity or a simple, straight path? The Milwaukee existed out on these plains for almost 70 years, a lifetime.  Its building ignited a new interest in railroads and a final run of settlers out onto these great expanses of grassland.  What would follow were hard times.  The drought of the 1930s, the Dust Bowl, and the collapse of institutions across the nati…

Walking in Old Ways

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"Stand in the ways and see, And ask for the old paths, where the good way is, And walk in it" Jerimiah 6:16
On August 12, 1978 the Milwaukee Board of Directors announced their intent to abandon the Pacific Coast Extension. The final abandonment would come after an initial embargo in 1979, a brief reprieve, and then a final shutdown in 1980. Moving west only slightly from the previous photo brings us to the high summer sun of a 2003 day, 25 years after that regrettable announcement. US 12 has been working west with the old mainline since leaving Forsyth and the sun is climbing higher into the skies, yielding unfriendly lighting and harsh pictures of this old way west.
The small girder bridge that still links east and west in this photo is all part of a line that looks as though rails could simply be relaid and trains could run in a matter of weeks. It's interesting to compare this thought to the numbers being thrown around by states like California and companies lik…

Day from Night

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The separation of light from dark is a daily event, marking the beginning and end of  daylight hours and the transition into the darkness of night.  The two never truly cross paths, but transition with the entry and exit of the sun into the skies overhead.  Days full of sunshine seem to instill some bit of hope, especially after long periods of rain or unbroken cloud.  By contrast, nights seem unshakably dark.  The moon occasionally rides high and illuminates the landscape in eerie blue shadows, but for the most part, nights are dark -- an uncomfortable thing compared to the light that chases it away.

So fundamental is this balance and our appreciation of light our vernacular includes expressions like, "dawning of a new day" or "age."  And despite the presence of darkness for half of a 24 hour period, we yet refer to these as a day. 

It is also true, however, that not all dawns bring with them hope no matter how brightly the sun shines.  These are days when a &qu…

In the Shadows of the NP

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Location: MP 1164    Forsyth, MT 

With the exception of just a little rail left within the limits of Miles City, the journey west has been marked with dirt.  Often simply a rise in the ground, or a brace of tire tracks like those here on the north shore of Yellowstone River.  Across the river is Forsyth, MT, but it is here on the relatively quiet north shore the remnants of the Milwaukee have left the now recognizable and sprawling signature.

The linked map reveals the situation well:  Forsyth.  The city is nestled nicely south of the river with I-94 running in close proximity.  Also present are the significant yards of the old NP, still in use today.  The Milwaukee's travels west were never far removed from the NP, at least through the western states.  From the current end of track at Terry to Forsyth, they are particularly close, often within earshot of one another.  Forsyth, however, marks the beginning of the Milwaukee's more northerly trip into central Montana while th…

The Voice that Calls

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Location:  West of Sheffield, MT
MP 1142

There are so many ways to look backwards through the lens of time.  As I write this in 2012, I look back through almost ten years to this small point out on the big plains of Montana.  The year was 2003 and there was a voice that had called me out here, to pursue something bigger than myself.  Perhaps it is strange, but the Lord has always been quite willing to speak and walk with me through history and trains. 

As I stood here in 2003, the look backwards was to 1980 when some of the last trains rolled this way.    The world was a different place then, back when the trestle piers that peak just above the tall grasses supported America's final transcontinental.  Or perhaps the look back went even further to the early 60s when the last passenger trains bound for Seattle passed this way.  Today's Empire Builder captures some of the feel of the Montana Plains at speed, but I can only imagine that the Hiawathas and Columbians were an expe…

Forgotten Memory

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In the rustling tall grasses of Montana prairie the trek west continues.  The civilization of Miles City, with its offices, restaurants, and Wal-marts, briefly blotted out the empty feelings of this land - but here near MP 1140, the expanse is inescapable.  In different times, this was a place named Sheffield, but like so many other locations across the Milwaukee's West, it is now more a name with no place. 

The old corrals here certainly date back to Milwaukee times.  Feed pens and loading ramps still dot the site but it's not hard to see the general decay of decades.  In the West, some elements of the Milwaukee are simply gone, but others paint a picture larger than that of the railroad itself.  Here, the reflection painted is one of a changed culture and changed economy as well as the vanished transcon.  Like a forgotten memory that tugs at the mind but will not rise to the surface, the days of cattle by rail exist only in places like these.  The grasses are tall and the …

Division Points

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Like its name suggests, the Trans Missouri Division of the Pacific Coast Extension crosses much of the territory defined by the large, meandering river.  1118 miles from Chicago, the Resourceful Railroad enters Miles City, MT.  In better times, it was the location of division offices with large yard and maintenance complex - the first encountered out along the PCE.  In other times, it was the original start point for the Lines West embargo of 1980.  Never far away in these parts of the plains is the old NP, the first line to strike out for the Northwest Coast.  It is still active today and lends the sounds of diesel prime movers and whistles to the local community despite the Milwaukee's lasting absence.  Below, west bound coal rolls through the eastern edge of Miles City behind a quartet of EMD products that reveal the continually changing landscape of railroading in general.


 Years ago, machinists and blacksmiths worked here in Miles City, rebuilding and maintaining the Road'…

Sunset on the Badlands

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The journey west continues as setting sun puts a finishing touch on this day in Eastern Montana.  The journey west began near Terry, MT at MP 1080 on the Pacific Coast Extension (PCE).  Now, near MP 1105, the ball is dropping, and what had been the heat of the badlands will quickly turn to a desert cool.


The Yellowstone River has been crossed once by the time trains made their way to this location.  A second crossing at Calypso (MP 1108) lies ahead before arrival at the Division Point of Miles City. 


It is impossible to escape the enormity of things out along the old PCE.  The line runs across incredible distances of vast emptiness and the Badlands only magnify that reality.  Passing through the Yellowstone crossings emphasizes something else as well:  the enormity of what was removed so many years ago.  This was not a small back-woods logging road, or a grain line rolling through Iowa countryside.  Everything the Milwaukee did here was big and intended to last.  Though Superdomes an…

Scars of an Embargo

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March 1, 1980:  Milwaukee's Pacific Extension embargo approved by the ICC

"On  February  25,   1980,   the   court   authorized a third embargo request by the trustee.  The Milwaukee ceased operations over a large portion of its lines (including the northern tier mainline and appurtenant trackage west of a point near Missoula, MT) effective March 1, 1980."  From "Interstate Commerce Commission Reports, CMST&P Reorganization, Docket 28640)

In the aftermath of the embargo, the scrappers would come and operations not considered as part of the new Milwaukee "Core" would be terminated.  Across the Milwaukee's West the remains of these actions are still seen, and the effects are far reaching.  Ghost towns dot the landscape, and conditions persist that promote monopoly.  There has been a legacy associated with the Milwaukee's collapse and it is not one of renewal and prosperity.

The trip west along the Milwaukee continues in the above picture, taken n…

Away and Westward Bound

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The day is ending out in the Eastern Montana Badlands - another day is over on America's Resourceful Railroad.  Dry grasses rustle along the lineside poles that still trace the path of the Milwaukee Road here, but scavengers and scrappers have long since removed anything of industrial value.  It is July 2003 near Terry, MT and the end of rails on Milwaukee's Pacific Coast Extension.

In 2003 I first found myself out along the Milwaukee's far reaches under the big skies of Montana.  Summer days were long and the weather was hot.  Over the next five years I would return to the state several times to trace further the roots of this unforgettable, yet fading, relic of America's past.  My traveling companions were an old Suburban, a Pentax LX loaded with Fuji slide film (later replaced by a Pentax digital body), and the Man upstairs who put these travels on my heart in the first place.  The old truck and the Lord were reliable - the primary LX had occasional problems that r…

Into Dust

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Mainline on the Pacific Coast Extension.  It's a rare thing to find the old 112lb rail still in place, but it remains in a few scattered places across the West.  That makes this place a special one for many reasons.  It exists in the Central Washington desert and that bodes well for preservation of historical markers like this one.  Though cold winters and hot summers are common, the rain and moisture that does damage to long standing elements of man passes on this landscape.  Memories here last for a long time, and the Milwaukee mainline west of Othello is full of them.

The rails themselves reflect the electrified service of the Resourceful Railroad across the Cascade Range.  Though the overhead catenary and lineside poles are gone, the rails hold a key signature from this effort:  they are forever electrically tied together with thick metal wiring at the rail joints.  This served to create a continuous ground, or return loop, for the electrical motors that drove the BiPolars and…

Early Morning Gold

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Location:  Choteau -- somewhere with big skies and big spaces.

This is Choteau, MT on a clean and clear summer morning in 2007.  Rain had passed through the night before and the built-up dirt and haze that accompanies summer had washed away.  Only unlimited ceiling and light blue remains on this start to a perfect summer day.  This corner of Montana was home to a number of railroads, and this little town hosted the Milwaukee and Great Northern lines that came up from Great Falls.  Grain poured from this little town, and others like it along these far flung branch lines, and filled Milwaukee's decrepit ribside boxcars right up to the end. 

In the quiet morning, there are a few holdovers that are worth mentioning and thinking about.  Here in Choteau, one relic is the old grain truck.  This C60 can trace its design back to 1973 when the models were refreshed as part of GM's truck redesigns.  They would be produced in similar style through the mid-80s along with related vehicles …