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 rest at their feet.
While the Milwaukee Road vanishes with the sounds of scrappers in the early 80s, for decades the rest of the scene plays itself out again and again. The faces inside the cafe change with time, as one collection of people is slowly replaced by another and a few more paint chips are added to the well worn door. Outside, the fleet of well worn but hard working trucks changes too. The 60s and 70s variety giving way to the blockiness of the 80s then 90s. In the kitchen, the menu remains mostly untouched and decades after the final Dead Freight heads east, real home made gravy and biscuits can still be ordered for for a buck or two.
In 2003 the Long Horn Cafe was one of the few of its kind, a small spot on an old two lane highway that had witnessed generations of change but somehow managed to hold on. Already as the 80s became the 90s, fast food restaurants were making the small cafe hard pressed. By the time I began my wanders across The West, the early morning crowd had switched from the local cafe to the local McDonalds. But not quite yet in Three Forks, though the end was coming. When I ventured back to Three Forks in 2005, the cafe was closed and a small "For Sale" sign was hanging in the window. A look at Google Maps shows the view across several years from 2008 and on.
Time has played the same game here as other places along Lineswest. Sometimes the difference of even a few years is evident in a collapsed signal or missing depot roof. Eternity rests in the heart of man, and decay in the hands of time.