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Stranger at the Gate

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  MP 1544.8 - near Morel, MT As the last transcon built in the United States bisected its way across the mountainous state of Montana, not far from Deer Lodge, it arrived here near Morel.  Just about 1545 miles from the imposing granite of Chicago's Union Station it is found littered with the decaying evidence of something gone wrong.   How frustrating to wander the halls of great and massive railroad stations or sit in the small waiting rooms of others and know without doubt that there used to be 'a way.'  There used to be a ticket to be purchased, a train to catch, and a place to go.  It wasn't hard to head to places with names like Harlowton, Miles City, Three Forks, Butte, Deer Lodge, Spokane, Othello, Seattle, Tacoma and all of those intermediate stops.   But here near Morel, in this run of mainline miles between mountain ranges where speeds could be high and great open expanse of Montana and its huge skies surround the Resourceful Road the ever present reality hit

Before the Cord is Snapped

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  The date was Friday, November 7, 1919 and at the GE plant in Erie, PA a new electric locomotive was undergoing demonstration in front of railroad reps assembled by GE [1].  The viewers included representatives from multiple US Railroads, two Canadian lines and a variety of others.  The locomotive in question was one of the first Milwaukee Bi-Polar types, 10251.   The EP-2 Bi-Polars were monsters, with a total weight of 530,000 lbs and up to 86% of that weight atop the drivers.  That compared very favorably to steam locomotives of the time.  A Mohawk of the same vintage achieved only 68% of total weight on drivers.  10251 effectively bested one of these famous 4-8-2s plus another 4-6-2 coupled together that day.  Most of their lives were spent on the electrified Coast Division of the Milwaukee Road, running the line between Othello and Tacoma across the State of Washington.  In their charge were the passenger trains that ran across the Cascades, utilizing electrical power to advance a

Sweeping Curves and Great Expanse

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 Milepost:  1535.7  Finlin, MT Heading west from Butte we parallel the Butte Anaconda and Pacific and then keep pushing further west as it drops away behind us.  Looking back, the Rockies are seen as a compilation of layers forming the horizon line.  The varying shades of darkness give depth and great expanse to the scene from the old right of way near Finlin, MT.  We are nearly 1540 miles form Chicago's Union Station, have crossed multiple mountain ranges and found ourselves in the shadows of old stations and substations both large and small.  In these fields near Finlin, the old telegraphy and AC power lines seemingly fortify the old transcon on either side.  Look carefully in the distance of these two photos and you can see them sweep slowly away in broad curves as they fade in the distance.  The photo above looks south on this small stretch of north-south running, the photo below looks north. It is only a small stretch of north-south mainline that ends in sweeping curves at eit

Right Place, Wrong Time

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  Sometimes it's not hard to imagine the way things were as we stand in the presence of what remains.  It's an uneasy feeling: to know that  everything  is set and right - but for the timing.  The location is right: the corn grows in the fields as it seemingly always has, warm summer days roll across the lands and in the distance, the Erie Railroad RX Round Lake Interlocking stands against the sky.  The only thing wrong is the year on the calendar.  Right place, wrong time. Standing above these cornfields of a late summer in Indiana, near the town of Laketon, rise these remains of the RX Round Lake Interlocking.  It's the haunt of old passenger trains like the Lake Cities and Phoebe Snow, the place where 20 cylinder SD45s hauled piggybacks with supporting E8s that were kicked down from passenger service when that ended.  Instead of an east-west mainline beneath the great signals there are only weeds, trees, and a familiar empty feeling. It's not just the tracks and trai

Of Semaphores and Streets

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Decades ago, it was a time when a large and powerful few were still a small and local many.  These would consolidate, merge, and slip away until what is found today are huge and encompassing.  In communication they are the AT&T and Verizons.  In retail they are the Amazons and Walmarts, the Lowes and the Home Depots.  In railroads, the Norfolk Southern and CSXT in the east, Union Pacific and BNSF in the west.   A few others exist in and around these behemoths as well, like Kansas City Southern, Iowa Interstate and numerous short lines, although KCS has grown aggressively in and out of country.  Even now it looks to a merger with CN and has already assimilated the Meridian Speedway and works closely with Norfolk Southern moving containers across the I20 corridor between Shreveport and Atlanta.   The bigness of what we see about us today hide the stories of the smaller and unique things that came before them.  Indiana was known for an impressive network of interurban lines and was a

Fade Away

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With the Rockies as backdrop, Butte begins its fade from view as the transcon heads west.  The tower of the station is framed by the lone railroad structure that still marks the way out of town.   Another perspective below shows the tracks of the Butte Anaconda and Pacific still marking the path.    In the dry heat of a 2003 summer day, when this set of photos was taken, the fade of America's last transcon doesn't seem all that irreparable.  Surely it wouldn't be hard to get some steel relaid?  Two decades on, 20 more years of fade, and the cruelty of life is setting in with increasing finality: once we've lost something, it's not coming back. When the Milwaukee started its grand enterprise west, it was the Chicago Milwaukee St. Paul and Pacific.  Following one of its several bankruptcies, it emerged as the Milwaukee Road.  The tilted rectangle was always the symbol, but the graphics and lettering would change through the years.  Hidden in plain view, and fading on

Timeless and Timed

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  What can weeds and platforms tell us?  In the weeds are relics of an old empire of electric power.  The stubs of catenary poles peak out just above the wild flowers and brush.  On the ground, a path of concrete still defies the ages and arcs out and away from the old Butte station whose tower rises against the Rockies.  Adventures and journeys started and ended here, the fears of men and women and the courage in their face played out daily in the lives that intersected those old days.   Though we spend much of our day acting as our own gods, signs like these remind us that the world has kept spinning forward.  We are not gods at all, but mortals who spend but a few days beneath the sun.  Though we think very highly of ourselves, we forget our weaknesses.  The relics here remind us of those fears and weaknesses, while the mountains look on in a timeless pose that is always present.   Unlike the mountains, the named passenger trains have come and gone from this place, electric locomoti