Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Long Road to Ringling

Leaving the mountain pass of the Belt Range behind, the Milwaukee begins a slow descent toward a meeting with 16 Mile Creek and the Missouri River in the miles ahead.  While the old transcon has closely followed two lane highways for most of its trip west of Miles City, it now veers South, working down the side of the Belt Range and through sparse grazing country typical of this part of the West.  In the photo above, only a thin, straight line laid out along the hillside speaks to the old railroad that claimed the land as an active mountain pass.

Coming off the Range itself, the line approaches the small town of Ringling, MT.  US 89 travels north-south by Ringling, the picture above looks east from the crossing.  Times have changed the view significantly: US 89 used to pass over on a small bridge while electric wires and Little Joes passed beneath.  Today, the old AC power lines that mark the electrified railroad still show a rising profile lofting up and over the ghost of the old elevated crossing.

Ringling itself lies at MP 1392.8, almost 1400 miles from Chicago's still busy Union Station.  While the passage of years seems to have compressed the time, nothing can compress the expanse of miles.  Out beneath the big skies, so far from towering skyscrapers and distracting noise, the magnitude of what was done and then undone is inescapable.  Each step west along the old railroad seems more difficult than the one before, adding more miles and places to the list of "what used to be."  To continue west will yield only more names with no places, forgotten stories, and cold wind.  Out in this land, along the Resourceful Railroad, there is no shelter from it.