Showing posts from 2013

Good-will to Men.

The works of Longfellow have been referenced before on these pages.  In particular, the epic poem of Hiawatha from whence the Milwaukee Road named its passenger trains.
"Swift of foot was Hiawatha"
Passenger trains and holidays seem to share a special bond.  The winter paintings of Howard Fogg, or the enumerable Christmas cards of snowy nighttime scenes and disembarking travelers come to mind.   Some memories of the season seem as fresh and wonderful as though they were from just a day ago.  Others equally sharp, but melancholy.  Old stations like the one below embody both the happy thoughts of travelers arriving home amidst fresh snows as well as times that are slowly fading, ever losing to the growing span of years.  Time, it seems, is compressing and accelerating.
Christmas is a powerful time for memories and thoughtfulness: some seem sad, some wonderful.  Longfellow penned the poem below specific to the Christmas day, amidst war, sorrow, and the bells.  Wherever the da…

Still, Still at 1371

The little town of Lennep, MT lies at MP 1371.1, almost 1400 miles from the bustle of downtown Chicago along the Western Extension of the Milwaukee Road.  Lennep has appeared in these pages before, albeit under different skies.  On this day in 2003, the sun is baking the small town under high blue skies while the grasses crisp in the dry Montana summer months.  
The Lutheran church still stands in Lennep, along with a small collection of other buildings and homes.  Though the railroad is gone, the old station sign has been saved and the Milwaukee font is unmistakable. Behind the camera one of Milwaukee's Type R signals remains standing as well - with that blank stare that is so common.  Lennep was, and is, a quiet place out on Lines West.  
Tracking the Milwaukee Road westbound visits places where we've been, but no longer wish to go.  The country has a different soul in these places:  Twitter seems unimportant, 24 hour NFL coverage seems excessive, and fights in Walmart park…

Rest in Peace

Increasing train speeds meant something to the Milwaukee Road, and the Feds.  In the late teens, a few years following the completion of the mainline to the Northwest Coast, the railroad was required to invest in a signalling system to maintain its increasing passenger train speeds.  The signals selected were some of the first to successfully use new lens technology that focused the lights for long distance viewing.  Called "Type R" signals, these Automatic Block Signals (ABS) were manufactured by US Switch and Signal and remained in operation along Lines West from their installation to abandonment.
Near Lennep, MT these Type R ABS devices were in continuous use from 1917 until 1980 when the rails were pulled and vandalism began to take its toll.  The original investment for the signals that spanned Harlowton to Lennep was $72,173.31 as reported in November 1917.  96 years have passed now, and the equivalent (inflation adjusted) 2013 dollars is $1.3M.  Clearly, speed meant …

A Moment in Time

"The cattle industry gives The Milwaukee Road a considerable amount of revenue: Cattle are hauled to feed lots and markets; fresh and processed meats are shipped all over the nation; other by-products are hauled, as well as goods related to the raising of cattle … This fall The Milwaukee Road will haul a lot of steers bearing the reverse L D Bar [of the Cottonwood Ranch near Harlowton, MT] and the Milwaukee family at many places will eat steaks from the Cottonwood Ranch's yearly crop of good steers." -- D. Rue, "The Mark of a Good Steer."  Milwaukee Road Magazine, July, 1950 
In 1950, the Milwaukee expected to haul a good amount of cattle to markets around the West and Midwest.  In that year, 5.4% of the revenue was generated via livestock and animal products.  That was almost the same amount as contributed by the passenger services which generated 4.3% in coach and 2.6% in sleeper and parlor sections [1].  Cattle movements by rail would steadily decline over t…


There is a place where the great plains begin their recession to the east and the first mountains rise into the big Montana skies.  On long and hot car rides many, many years ago the first sight of mountains rising from endless plains marked progress for a young boy on family vacations.  Dual a/c units that aided the front seat and the rear were not considered mandatory then, neither was 'in flight' entertainment.  Instead, entertainment was the view outside the square windows of vehicles from another time.  But mountains meant progress: national parks, changing scenery, destinations.  Years later, the arrival of the mountains still marked progress riding the Empire Builders across the Montana Plains.  Though only small and in the distance, they meant an end to 79mph and the start of Glacier National Park with its verdant forests and long snow sheds.  
Through the mid 1960s the view above greeted similar travelers who had ripped across the Great Plains of Montana and were now…

Train to Nowhere

Location:  Martinsdale, MT
Milepost:  1359.7 miles from Chicago

Watchman, what of the night?

Heading west from the ironies of Two Dot, the grade steepens and the railroad begins a climb toward the summit of the Belt Mountains.  This will mark the first of five mountain ranges for the Resourceful Railroad, a hallmark of its pathway to the ocean.  
Several small outposts exist along this rising plain, the first is Martinsdale shown looking east in 2005.  It is a classic scene of railroad abandonment and the small towns that are left behind in the wake of progress.  This is old Montana Railroad country, purchased by the Milwaukee as it pushed westward and included in its mainline routing across the Belt Range and through 16 mile canyon yet to come. 
AC power lines are never far away in this land, and the old train order signal still stands watch above the grasses at its feet.  Decades have passed since a westbound headlight climbed the grade to Martinsdale, yet captured within the scene is a seeming anticipation that at any time, beneath the huge granite sky, through the swayin…

The Milwaukee Road's Goodnight

"As a cloud vanishes and is gone, so one who goes down to the grave does not return."  Job 7:8-9
The year is 1972.  GE has released a proposal to the Milwaukee Road to close the electrification 'gap' between Avery, ID and Othello WA while supplying new electric locomotives to handle trains across the expanded Harlowton to Othello electrified lines.  Perhaps the most intriguing part of this arrangement is GE's offer to finance the deal itself.  Significant unknowns lie ahead for the nation, a fuel crisis looms and an economic downturn as well.  The best of Milwaukee's electric locomotives in service entered their roles more than two decades prior.  The oldest date from the teens.  Out on the mainline, away from the decision makers, the trains continue to move, benefitting from the port and operating agreements spawned by the BN merger conditions.  But back in the midwest, far from places like Two Dot or Harlowton, decisions are being made, future directions de…

The Varnish Vanishes

In "The Milwaukee Road Olympian - a Ride to Remember," author Stan Johnson recalled the transition from steam to electric power of the Milwaukee's varnish in the Harlowton Yards:  the train glided silently away from the station and yards, under the quiet pull of the electric locomotive.  Feeding the electric lines that ran above the train were the brick substations located at intervals along the line west of Harlowton.  Here at Two Dot, MT was Substation One, 1347.5 miles from Chicago.
Two Dot (or Twodot as it is known by some sources) was named for a local cattle ranch and first established as a station by Milwaukee Road predecessor, the Montana Railroad.  Following the acquisition by the larger transcon, the location was selected for the first of the railroad's substations that would accompany the line from here to Avery, ID and the termination point of the Rocky Mountain Division electrification.  The Two Dot substation suffered a fire prior to the abandonment of…

Down the Yard Throat

The view above is the last one of Harlowton, for now.  The image looks east, down the throat of the large yards that once held the lands here.  The old station and signal stand just to the left of the plow and Deer Lodge's yellow mule.  The skies overhead are gray, and the day is one of a cool spring where the sun struggles to break free, highlighting just a few square feet for only seconds a time.  
Railfans and photographers traveled from near and far to this place to capture the 'lasts' that included the Little Joes and western electrification.  Then there were the last Dead Freights, and the last of the salvagers that passed this way.  On this day there is only one photographer here though, looking down the yard throat and gazing backwards at what was, wondering what could have been.

Before Erie

In 1953, a partnership between Alco and General Electric was ended and GE began the development of their first independent diesel locomotives.  The partnership had produced some memorable products like the Alco PA and FA as well as a number of the famous Alco road switchers.  The builder's plate on one of the first 'independent' GE products shows the build location of Erie, PA.  The U25B plate represents just one of thousands of locomotives manufactured within the Erie facility, destined for service at locations around the world.
Before these plates read "Erie," however, they read "Schenectady."  Such is the case with the last electric locomotive to operate on Milwaukee rails.  This is boxcab electric, E57B.  She rests in a small lot by US 12 on the way through Harlowton, MT.  She isn't styled like the famous GG1s that ran for years in the Northeast and she lacks the streamlining of the Milwaukee's own Little Joes.  By contrast, rivets are easy…

Ghosts and the Darkness

I remember well the first time I laid eyes on Harlowton.  The old horse and I (although at that time, we were both about a decade younger) rolled into town on US12 and stopped at a convenience store that overlooked the flour mill shown in the picture below.  The Montana day had heated well through the morning hours but I had learned years before that the best way to spend time outside was to avoid a/c completely.  If you never get used to being comfortable, then you never realize how uncomfortable you are.  So the old Suburban and I had opted for down windows and no compressor even as the day heated.  We shared the pain of the rising mercury together.
I reckon we were both a little different looking back then.  I seem to remember the silver paint on the old girl was just a little more glossy and had a little less wind and sun burn.  The engine had a few less miles on it too, and by that same token, so did I.  My hair was a bit thicker, there weren't funny lines around my eyes, and …

1335: A First Look

While hundreds of miles of Milwaukee's Pacific Coast Extension languished in relative obscurity, there were a few places of great fame.  1335 miles from Chicago's Union Station must be considered as one of those. 

This is Harlowton, MT - a site of large yards, engine facilities, connection point to the Northern Montana Lines and Golden Triangle, and start of the Western electrification.  Here the Little Joes flipped on their magnificent quads and headed west into the mountain ranges that lay ahead while eastbounds dropped off their electric motors and pushed east towards the plains and Badlands.
Harlowton was a town of great significance for the Milwaukee Road and the Milwaukee Road was of great significance to Harlowton.  This is the first look at MP 1335 where the trek west continues, this time 'under wire.'

Blue Shadows

In the lands of the western big sky, away from the mountains and the beautiful forests, just between ranges or out along the expanses of prairie, are lands where the sky hosts an unending play of constant change. No day is like any before, no night like any other to come.  When the explorers Lewis and Clark gazed out upon the vastness of the western prairies they remarked upon their beauty and wondered how God could have failed to put them in Virginia.
As the railroads bound the United States together, to these lands they also came.  The first through the Northwest was the Northern Pacific, followed by the Great Northern and then the Milwaukee Road.  The NP was built in stages that matched the ups and downs of the post Civil War economy.  Although it was the first to the Northwest coast, it did not have the advantage of improved materials or engineering practises like those afforded the Milwaukee Road, the late comer to the party.  Following its entry to Spokane, the NP turned southw…

Choice Mercies of Yesterday

Go back, then, a little way to the choice mercies of yesterday, and though all may be dark now, light up the lamps of the past, they shall glitter through the darkness, and thou shalt trust in the Lord till the day break and the shadows flee away. -- C. Spurgeon

The choice mercies of a yesterday, the fond memories that surface from the depths of times past.  These are special moments that go ever forward.  Included here are just a few of such memories from the summer of 2002.  The location is Central Illinois along the BNSF mains that radiate from the Chicago hub, the subject is Milwaukee's own 261, a 1944 Alco returned to service in 1993.

The Milwaukee Road 261 was born as a coal-fired 4-8-4 Northern in the midst of World War.  A few siblings of 261 were oil burners that spent their years running the 'gap' out in Eastern Washington and the Idaho Panhandle.  This bridged the two electrified components of the Milwaukee's Western Extension.  The 261 was held closer to …

Silver Rails and Dark Territory

There was time in the early 1980s that the costs of the fuel crisis had been counted, the costs of failed mergers had run their course, and the deferred maintenance had overcome the original mainlines.  It was a dark time.  The end for the Rock Island was 1980. 
The end was not without its drama as even the bankrupt Milwaukee Road played a part.  In order to serve the steel industry at Wilton, the Milwaukee operated daylight hours over the eastern Iowa main.  A local operation, the Iowa Railroad, operated the nights.  The Iowa Railroad played a large role in preserving the mainline across the state as it helped maintain a continuous link from Omaha east.  In addition to farm commodities, this preserved service to the all important customer at Newton:  Maytag.  Many have speculated that it was Maytag more than anything else that saved this mainline from total abandonment.  For many years the company even owned rights to the old Rock Island corporate logos.

In 1984 the Milwaukee Road w…