Monday, February 20, 2012

Away and Westward Bound


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 required the use of a backup LX that was taken along 'just in case.'  Miles and years faded under foot and rolling wheel of the suburban.  Sunsets were magnificent and the scenery changed continuously from these dry scenes of Montana to the wet foliage of the Cascade Range.  

Recently, I have revisited the idea of compiling some of the best of these images, perhaps in an informal book.  Over the next several months I will present some of these here on Lost Rail, tracking the line from east to west across the three western states it left behind so many years ago.  Join me as we are off and westward bound.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

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.