Into Dust

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 Boxcabs out across this desolate landscape. 

Along this old line, a Milwaukee style cross-buck guards the right of way.  It represents an unmistakable older-style that still stands,  alerting traffic to trains that will no longer pass.   Type-R block signals still dot the right of way here as well, though many have become subjects of target practice.  These were placed early in the life of this line and represented some of the first signals with improved lenses for long-distance viewing.  They now stand with a vacant and haunted look, well suited for the land and the rails that still pass through.  It's a dusty and lonely part of the Resourceful Railroad, but the memories are nearer the surface here than many other places. 

The wind blows sand and dirt out here as the sage brush rustles along the rusty rail.  These are mere shadows of what came before: a sea of grays and browns along a line that knew bright orange and crimson.  It's easy to see the "dust to dust" on this mainline to the Northwest Coast, haunted by all of these marks of past glory.


Anonymous said…
Yes, indeed. Even at the end, in 1979, the Milwaukee Road freights were able to move at 50 MPH over much of eastern Washington. The track was not decimated by moisture like it was in the Cascades and Coast.
SDP45 said…
There has been a slip-out or two near Royal Jct, and some sagebrush needs to be cut down, otherwise it looks good enough to run trains on. I found many ties out there with date nails from the 1930s that still seemed to be in good shape.

Anonymous said…
I enjoy reading this blog, it is excellent.

I wonder who owns these old abandoned 112 pound per foot rails these days. With the economic situation as it is these days, I bet some salvagers would eye this steel.

When Soo Line bought out the Milwaukee back in 1985, did it include the remnants of the Lines West as well? Does Canadian Pacific now own these rails and ties since they bought out the Soo Line stockholders in 1991?

On another note, during my travels home to west central Minnesota, I sometimes drive the scenic route from Ortonville through Wheaton. Of course, one can see the remnants of the old branch line to Fargo and Wheaton, Minnesota along U.S. Highway 75. This was the old Fargo and Southern Railroad that was brought out by the Milwaukee.

I listed below a nice hyperlink to a nice picture of the Milwaukee Road depot at Fargo, North Dakota. No doubt the Milwaukee interchanged probably a wee bit with the NP and GN back in the day.
Anonymous said…
The State of Washington owns most of the line across the state. I would think the state owns this as well. Guaranteed the Canadian Pacific/Soo Line does not.
oamundsen said…
Leland, once again your writing conveys all the emotional content needed to bring the mind back to that time and place. Tony Hiss has just written a book, In Motion, about travel, he is a train writer/advocate and explores just how our thinking can be altered as we engage in "deep travel" or at least aware travel which many of us do as we go by train. Your writing parallels this active way at experiencing the past. Thanks again.
LinesWest said…
Hi Folks - thanks for the comments as always. Specific to the track ownership, in general the lines west of Terry, MT were sold to scrappers before the Soo purchased the MILW in 1985. There were a few attempts to save them (Montana notably) but they fell short in the end. This particular piece out of Othello was retained to access the fruit industry in Royal City. It was part of the main saved west of Warden, WA that kept Othello on the RR map. Central Washington RR has been the carrier for Warden-Othello. The specific ownership of this line west of Othello has changed in the last few years though, I believe, and Dan may have the most up to date info on the line as he lives in the general area.

There is a slide or two (as he mentioned) but in general, things are still in place.

SDP45 said…
I found out yesterday that someone is interested in restoring service to Royal City. The slipouts have been fixed and the brush removed from the rails. They are getting measurements of the ROW and I will be providing them a condensed profile and a 1977 ETT of the line so they can see what the Milwaukee saw. They said that some adjacent landowners have strung some electric wire across the ROW making it hard to highrail the line. I hope this effort works out.

Atticus Maximus said…
A beautiful shot, a perfect black and white. Can you please tell me how to find this location?

LinesWest said…
Hello Atticus - it's near Othello, WA so follow the railroad west a few miles and you'll see it. Thanks for the comments, it is a beautiful spot.

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