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Showing posts from 2016

Night Moves

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In the pre-dawn darkness of the last day of 2016, the rain is falling as I wander the quiet streets of a small town in the Southern US.  It's the sort of morning that feels cold even when it's 50F ... it's a damp and soaking cold and that clings to a person's body and sends chills through them as though it were much cooler than it is.  
The streets are glistening with the reflected lights of lampposts and  Christmas decorations that are hanging for just a couple more days.  Through the dark comes the haunting call of the KCS on the Meridian Speedway.  Very soon, 8000 horsepower of diesels will split this small, dark town in two.  The sounds of the approaching manifest are clear through the wet air ... and my mind casts back to the Great Lakes, an eastbound Capitol Limited on a winter night, and the tinted plexiglass windows of modern American rail travel, now two decades past.... Night time had fallen accross the flatlands of the midwest and with it had come the pelting …

On the trail of Lewis and Clark, Willow Creek MT

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With the high tension AC lines and the NP as backdrop, the mainline arrives Willow Creek, MT.


Now 1456.2 miles from Union Station in Chicago.  The Jefferson River and Vendome Loop lie ahead.  The boxcab electrics added as helpers at Three Forks stand ready to make the push across the Rockies one more time.

Eternity in the Heart of Man

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It's early morning in the small town of Three Forks, MT.  The clatter of a Dead Freight is running through town just a short way across the State Highway.  It's about to make its stop in town for switching and crew change.  A small cafe sits on the southwest edge of town and a collection of hard and gritty looking trucks is collecting outside the front doors.  Working and retired veterans of the plains are gathering at the start of another day as the sun rises again and begins its race across the boundless western skies.  
The people gathered inside show the solidarity of those familiar with the land and the daily work that is required.  Their eyes are sharpened and harrowed by years in the sun, their skin is cracked and dry from the blowing of the hot winds that roll the plains.  Though the Rocky Mountains paint a backdrop, there will be no relief from them on this summer day.  They cast a rain shadow that extends from their peaks out to their east and the little towns that …

Threatening Days Under a Leaden Sky

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There are many places in the country that quickly cover the tracks of the past.  The effects of annual rains or growth and regrowth of nature quickly hide and dismantle the evidence of what used to be.  Quickly it seems that old logging roads are forever gone, interurban lines tilled into farmland, and schoolhouses dismantled by nature growing from within.  
There are places, however, where the rains fall more slowly and arid lands make tilling more difficult.  These are places where symbols of eras past still cling - "reminders of the glory, the mystery, the sadness of life." [1]  Under leaden skies, the past meets the present in Three Forks, MT.  The station reposes as it has for almost a century, but now next to the blowing grasses of a dry open field and not the waiting presence of boxcab helpers for a push over the nearby Rockies.  


Nearby the Sacajawea Inn stands, still beckoning travelers who seek the mysteries of the West.



Three Forks in 2003 still claimed a weekly …

Timeless Hues in Big Sky Land

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A close look at the old photo of ribside caboose 991847 reveals all of the caveats of photography from a previous generation.  No autofocus to help achieve a modern camera's clarity; slide film that saturates and leaves a tell-tale grain; no hyper-sensitive digital chip to rescue the contrasts of darks and bright whites.
But like other old photos from ages past, there is something striking.  The colors are robust and speak of a grand summer day from years ago.  The orange caboose, though faded, still captures the imagination of passersby.  Perhaps it is on its way out of town, bound for the summit of the Rockies as the tail to a westbound XL Special?  
Though the image is flawed, it seems to be timeless - at least to the one who shot it all those years ago back in Three Forks.

Chasing the Windstorm

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Milepost 1449.7
Three Forks, MT

With the headwaters of the Missouri behind, the Milwaukee mainline finds aptly named Three Forks, MT ahead.  For the Milwaukee Road, Three Forks was a gateway to Yellowstone Park.  The more grand Gallatin Gateway Inn was constructed by 1927, however, which moved the formal Yellowstone destination down the branchline that departed the main here at Three Forks.  
Three Forks is also the location where the NP rejoins the Milwaukee with their own line over the Rockies.  This NP line itself is of note.  The line exists today, departing from the preferred mainline over Mullen Pass and rolls through Three Forks on its way to many of the same small towns the Milwaukee mainline touched.  The Montana Rail Link operates the line out to a local gravel pit, and formally to Spire Rock, MT.  From there, the line is mothballed and owned by BNSF for the remainder of the journey up and over the Great Divide at Homestake to Butte [1].  This was once the path of Amtrak…

The Headwaters and Hope

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Crossing the Missouri at Lombard, the Road turns and rolls down the west bank of the mighty Missouri River.  The mainline finds a much smaller river here than its mainline crossing at Mobridge, or even its secondary line crossing at Chamberlain, SD.  The river length itself is over 2500 miles long.  It begins here at the feet of the Rocky Mountains and heads east, through the open grasslands that awed Lewis and Clark, down amongst the fertile fields of America's breadbasket, and into the Mississippi at St. Louis.  The railroad itself is more than 1400 miles into its own journey, but where the river stops, and the waters no longer flow towards the Mississippi, the old transcon will push further up and further in.
The headwaters of the Missouri lie now at the very doorstep of the mainline as it makes its way to the small town of Three Forks.  The land is already more rocky and arid, approaching the rain shadow cast by the Rockies.  Three Forks was named for the three rivers that co…

Lombard: Views for a Super Dome

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In 1952, the Milwaukee Road enjoyed a Net Revenue of $47M, basking in the the glow of a postwar boom in economic activity [1].  This was the era of the Little Joe and a time of prosperity for the rail industry as a whole.  But hidden in the glow of the era was this note, "Revenue passenger miles showed a decrease of 5% (over the prior year)," with total passenger income of $18.8M [1].
In 1952 the entire passenger train market in the United States was changing.  New pressures were coming to bear on the industry that included more accessible air travel, the expansion of automobiles and the interstate highway system.  Passenger train profit, following a wartime peak, would begin a precipitous decline that culminated in the formation of Amtrak in 1971.  In 1961, the Milwaukee would pull its own transcontinental Olympian Hiawatha.  The company gave it the following epitaph it is 1961 Annual Report [2]:

The Interstate Commerce Commission approved the discontinuance of Olympian Hia…

A Last Look at the Bozeman Branch

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Sunset along the branch.  A final look before returning to the Milwaukee's mainline.