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 . Cattle movements by rail would steadily decline over the coming decades, however. By 1960 "Animal products" contribution was 2.9% with cattle only .4% of that total . Even in the 50s and 60s, the transition to haulage by truck was well underway. Today the system has completely transitioned to modern feed lots and massive production facilities that use techniques that would probably have made members of the Cottonwood Ranch shudder.
Just like grain shipments and other commodities, the modern livestock and meat markets concentrate on bulk to achieve efficiency. Just like forty foot grain boxcars, the small sidings with stock pens spread along the mainlines of the Western railroads have vanished as well. But like the old wooden grain elevators that can occasionally be found in the heart of small Western towns, every once in a while, a lonely stock pen emerges from the tall grasses. This old pen is near Lennep, MT, just about 1370 miles west of Chicago's Union Station. The old gates are still in place and it's easy to imagine a set of boxcabs making a quick set-out or pickup from the siding that existed here. Indeed, fabulous photos exist of Little Joes operating the industry tracks in this area, doing just that.
No Little Joes to photograph on this day though, that was a brief moment in time like the livestock trains they pulled and the industry they served.
1] Milwaukee Road Annual Report, 1950
2] Milwaukee Road Annual Report, 1960