Losing the Fight
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 nation represent what author Timothy Egan titled, "The Worst Hard Time." Though the dust bowl of Kansas and Oaklahoma didn't quite reach the plains here, the hardships of the time did.
By the early 1980s, the railroad and small towns like Vananda had seen two World Wars, several conflicts and economic downturns, and were weathering the realities of an energy crisis and another malaise economy. In the end, the Milwaukee's 70 years seems like a long time - until those years become a lifetime and the road to obscurity reveals itself as being all too short. In some ways the quiet that is out on these plains, nearly 1200 miles from a bustling Chicago Union Station, is a peacefulness that marks defeat.