Saturday, November 09, 2013

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 something to the Resourceful Railroad.  Similar investment was taking place all the way west, wherever passenger trains plied the rails.

Interestingly, this did produce one left-over piece of unsignaled mainline.  Known as "dark territory," the mainline went dark from Plummer, ID to Marengo, WA.  Passenger trains left the main at Plummer and veered north to Spokane on joint Milwaukee-Union Pacific trackage.  They rejoined the Milwaukee main at Marengo.

This is another one of the places along Lines West where it's easy to imagine the orange and black of the old railroad splitting the signals.  The remains of these Type R's dot the old mainline through this section of Montana.  They cast an eerie, industrial shadow of times past out across the modern day.  Where a high green signal used to welcome the mighty electrics and diesels of years ago, sky blue now stares unrelenting down the old right of way.  As Mr. Fred Hyde has observed, these are lasting gravestones of the Milwaukee Road.

Rest in Peace.

3 comments:

Kirk said...

Hi, I love your blog and have a few questions about this section of track. Which railroad actually pulled up the track through MT? Was it the Milwaukee or BN? Also, what year was this done? Finally, why did they leave the signals in place? Surely they would have been worth scrape metal?

LinesWest said...

Hi Kirk, thanks for the comment. It was the milwaukee that actually pulled the track. As part of their retrenchment to the Midwest, they sold most of lines west to scrapers who came and removed the useful parts. The BN was never an owner of the line through Montana, though they did, and perhaps still do, maintain an option to go back over snoqualmie if they ever want to.

The abandonment was 1980, as for the specific section of track being pulled, I'm going to guess 1981 but stand to be corrected.

My thought on the signals is that they probably pulled all of the useful items like batteries for power backups and lights, then just left the rest in place because it was easier. Even in the early 80s these were pretty old. I've noticed the same thing on other abandoned lines too: masts left in place but all of the guts taken out.

Hope that helps,
-Leland

Anonymous said...

The signals were largely intact in 1982, and the ones you show here are at ESS Lennep. The last remaining one at WSS Lennep (MP1371) I think still has all the guts in the signal head. i was going to ask the residents of the little three-house subdivision there whether they planned on lighting the signal (wouldn't be hard) but the weather was rotten and no-one appeared to be home. Nice houses, by the way. When I go that way again in 2015/2016, i'll stop in and maybe ask again. FYI Jay Lentzner was selling all MILW block signals removed and staged at the division points for $50 each, cash and carry. one of my friends in Minneapolis brought one home in 1981 after loading it onto an Old sedan. I have a US&S H-2 searchlight head from the Trans-Missouri east of roundup and it today stands in my backyard and is suitably lit (as it has been for the last 7 years when it was used with my G-scale outdoor railway. - Fred Hyde