Thursday, August 23, 2012

Losing the Fight

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 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.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

when i first found this blog, i went through the archive and found that post with the picture of the school... it's so eerie. and in the comments Michael Sol talks about the commitment the settlers made to education and order - which was true here in Iowa, too. the old maps show many country schools and churches, and a drive on the side roads will lead to the few remaining ones. i consider myself truly fortunate to have grown up a beneficiary of that commitment.

a question prompted by his presence in those same comments: what became of John Crosby?

thanks, as usual

jim, from iowa (where, this year, the corn grew short where the rails once ran)

Anonymous said...

From what I understand, Vananda proved to be in a poor location for agriculture. It was in a remote and arid landscape.

The only reason for its existence was the Road. A station, water tank and reservoir were built for the railroad in 1908. Within a decade, Vanada began fading because of the arid and inhospitable landscape.

Vananda townsite has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


Robert in Port Townsend.

LinesWest said...

Jim and Robert, thanks for the notes. I haven't heard from John Crosby for awhile on the blog here - but I think he's still around. I do have a link to some wonderful pictures he's posted from the Milwaukee's late Pacific Northwest Days:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/41969891@N07/