Sunday, January 18, 2015

January 18, 2015: The Last Train

It was the summer of 1976.  Janice and I had spent a week-end photographing trains crossing both the Milwaukee Road line across Snoqualmie Pass as well as the rival Burlington Northern's Cascade crossing, Stampede Pass.  The sun was high and we were on our way home.  As it turned out there was one more Milwaukee Road train coming westbound.  I had never photographed the Humpback snow shed on the west slope, so that became the goal for the last set of photos of the trip.

We made the hike up the hill with little time to spare.  Within a few minutes of setting up at the west end of the shed, we could hear the train dropping down the hill.

It turned out to be a trailer train "hotshot."  Unfortunately, even in 1976, few used the term "hotshot" and Milwaukee Road in the same sentence.  The evidence was there.  Ties were set on dirt more than ballast.  There were more slow orders due to bad track than clear running.  Earlier that day, while photographing a train at Hyak, a section man told me I should title the photo, "Where's this one going off?"  Yes, even in 1976 the Milwaukee Road in the west was on the downward slide.

Even as the trailers and caboose inched past, even with the evidence there, it never occurred to me all of this would disappear.  Railroads don't just cease to exist.  They merge then reappear in a different form, but a transcontinental doesn't just pull up stakes and leave.  Mainlines are revamped under new ownership, different colored engines roll across the routes, just like what happened to the Northern Pacific and Great Northern.  That was my point of reference in 1976.

I took the obligatory shot of the caboose rounding the bend.  Janice and I returned to the car and headed for home.  On that summer afternoon in 1976 that this was the final Milwaukee Road train I would ever photograph was the farthest thing from my mind.  A year later, we were starting our own farm causing me to enter a nearly 10 year moratorium on photography.  When time and circumstances allowed me to once again take up my camera a resume railfanning, the Milwaukee Road was gone forever.


James Berg said...

Martin, love your real life stories. Thanks for taking the time, effort and skill to capture the moment.

Gary P. said...

Great work as always Martin! Always enjoy your stories.

Kevin said...

Enjoy your photography and your writing. My friends and I hopped Milwaukee freights at Black River on a few summer weekends back in the 70's. One time I brought my camera but was stingy with film. We viewed the Milwaukee from your same perspective, except that I somewhat felt the railroad had already left when the coast electrification was abandoned. Thank you for sharing your photos, many appreciate the gesture.