Showing posts from September, 2008

Times of Optimism

It's easy to think of the Milwaukee Road and its Pacific Coast Extension as the place where the Little Joes toiled on Montana mountain grades, or as the stomping grounds of Boxcabs and Bipolars.  Images from the line's glory years reveal a cross-country mainline and company that seems undaunted in the face of famous names like Great Northern and Northern Pacific.  There's an optimism associated with these photos and memories.  Perhaps the passing of time has added a veneer of romance to the entire affair - maybe the BiPolars weren't always shiny or the Joes always ready to head a freight up St. Paul Pass, but it's hard to see that in those amazing photos of Olympian Hiawathas and freights like the XL Special.   This optimism could be found off the beaten path of the mainline as well.  Hopes were high when the Milwaukee built its Northern Montana line.  Its east-west line from Lewistown to Great Falls was envisioned as a second mainline to parallel the original.  A l

Majesty of the Cascades

Some of the most famous Milwaukee Road photos have come from its beautiful crossing of the Cascades via Snoqualmie pass. Like most everything else on the Western Extension, the workmanship remains second to none and the lasting power of the old line in this wet climate is a tribute to those who built it nearly 100 years ago. Old catenary supports still grace many of the trestles on the west side of the pass, recalling old publicity photos with new Bi-polar electrics or box-cabs pulling varnish east toward the big cities in the Midwest. Even though it's been more than 45 years, it's easy to imagine some of the last Olympian Hiawathas behind yellow e-units making their charge up the hill here as well. Like the Bitterroot crossing, Snoqualmie pass is popular with mountain bikers and is not nearly the lonely outpost that are places like Boyleston and the Saddles. The proximity of I90 on the far side of the valley offer continual glimpses of "civilization" from the lin