Posts

Showing posts from 2018

It Lies where it Falls

Image
As 1979 drew to a close and 1980 loomed, different parties were negotiating and debating the future of the transcontinental line across the west.  It had long lived under the "understanding" of being a money pit, losing dollars to the corporation at large, and worth more dead than alive.  The ICC would later uncover accounting practices that double-counted maintenance expense across Lines West, and that contrary to the narrative, the mainline to the West Coast was one of the few pieces of the Milwaukee Empire that added positive cash to the beleaguered carrier.  
In 1980 the state of Montana was desperately trying to secure funding to save the mileage from Miles City west.  The prospectus report authored in the early part of that year offered this look at the future operation and fate of the line, with a cost to the State of Montana of $55M payable to the Trustee:
"On February 29, 1980 the reorganization court ruled to allow an immediate embargo on Montana lines west of…

Not Here Long

Image
Approximate Milepost:  1491

Many years ago, I knew a child who gazed out the windows of an old Chevy Suburban at the passing landscapes of the West, straining to see tracks and trains.  Big bridges and trestles, old brick buildings, little towns, and massive coal drags heading east with Cascade Green monsters pulling at them.
Then I knew a young man, and a different Suburban.  He pointed it west, slept in its back in parks beside the Missouri River in Montana, and traversed the old trails of Hiawathas.  There were the abandoned brick buildings, high bridges, little towns forgotten.  A gravel path that extended across the Big Sky country, grain elevators standing in fields, and moments that were a gift.





One day there were no more Suburbans, no more mountains crossed, and a lot of memories.  Then I knew a man who wasn't so young anymore.  
So I close my eyes and think about this and I know that we're not here very long.

Hard Climb

Image
With the day gone and sun setting, blue shadows start to filter across the mainline in its climb to the top of the Rockies.  It is a relentless climb up a mountain grade that to this day has never changed its standard.  The view from the climb is best captured in the images themselves - a view that looks across the wide expanses left behind and the hurt of a pass sheltered from rain but never from the hard memories.  
Approximate milepost 1489.7



Sagebrush and Sky

Image
Relentless is the climb around Vendome Loop and the Rockies as the transcon continues its push west.  Above, the skies show signs of nighttime and the end of day, and the valley floor is increasingly left far below and behind.  The Great Northern crests the Rockies near Glacier National Park, with high peaks and evergreens that are draped in thick blankets of white during winter months.  But to the south, the Milwaukee plies a high desert with Butte still on the far side of the ascent.
This is full scale, serious mountain railroading.  Heavy rail marked these grades accompanied by the hum of hardworking traction motors and whoosh of cooling fans that pulled power from overhead catenary.  In later years, it was the deep throb of EMD 20 and 16 cylinder 2 cycle diesels that reverberate in your chest that ruled these grades.  It is too easy to forget the scale of what was done here.  The sage now encroaches all around the transcon and its assault on the Rockies.  Only where wheel ruts ha…

Making the Turn

Image
A fight awaits the push west as the long sweeping turn at Vendome comes into view, showing the rise that will take the transcron around Vendome Loop and to the crest of the Rockies and Continental Divide.  These are not the Cascades, and the grandeur of the land is different.  In the Cascades, a sub-tropic rainforest covers snow covered cliffs and magnificent edifices that separate the West Coast from the inland.  By contrast, here the vegetation is sparse and marked with sage brush and summer heat that yields a thirsty land, scorched by blistering sun.  
The Milwaukee's course across the Rockies is less visible than the NP's Homestake Pass which closely follows the well-traveled I90 to Butte.  Old trestles and rusted rails still mark that line.  Still, its fate seems little different than the Resourceful Railroad's own ascent.  Homestake pass seems chained and destined to be a question mark in the minds of those that choose to look from the 4 lanes of concrete.  In-vehic…

The Long View

Image
A summer day in 1956, and it's a long road from Chicago to the West Coast.  The Olympian Hiawatha covers 2189 miles to reach Seattle, then 38 more to reach Tacoma.  Total time:  45 hours and 45 minutes.  If on schedule, it reaches this location, Vendome Mt, at about 3:45 in the afternoon of the second day.  Behind it lie the foothills and smaller ranges already crossed as it makes it way west.  In front, a sharp turn and attack on the Rocky Mountains directly.  On this summer day, the Oly Hi is in classic Milwaukee Road colors of Orange and Black, the UP Armour Yellow will come later. I've got the camera set up, it's ready.
I know the train should have pulled at Three Forks on-time, 3:00pm.  It should only be a matter of minutes before the headlight of the approaching streamliner comes into view, still many miles distant.  It will approach silently, born westward by electric power.  The shear scale of the distance makes judging its speed difficult, but it will arrive with …