|Powder River Basin -- Wyoming
Because of the lack of contextual images, this drag line appears reasonably sized, but that is an illusion. If you look beneath "Antelope Coal Co." you will see a catwalk with railings almost as tall as a human. That gives some idea of this behemoth's size. Because it strip-mined coal for another behemoth to haul away, shovels like this always seemed at home on the endless, treeless badlands of eastern Wyoming.
It is not my intent to focus exclusively on Wyoming coal. I start there because of the metaphor. This post will explore various facets of the Burlington Northern up to its merger with the Santa Fe. I have published three previous posts on this railroad, involving Nebraska's Sand Hills; Crawford Hill; and the line in southern Colorado from Trinidad to Walsenburg. That information will not be repeated:
Also, the following images are not presented in any particular order. They appear randomly as my computer has generated them. The intent, if successful, is to create an impression rather than a discussion, something like a thought that occurs early in the morning when one is neither fully asleep nor fully awake. If, on the other hand, I am unsuccessful, you will no doubt grow bored quickly and stop reading. Either way, I will not have wasted much of your time.
|Mullan Pass, Montana
We are in Montana now, at the famed Mullan Pass, the line across which (when this image was taken in 1994) was not owned by the Burlington Northern. The line was originally constructed by the Northern Pacific and became part of the Burlington Northern upon approval of the merger in 1970. However, the railroad later sold the trackage to a new company -- Montana Rail Link -- totally dependent on the BN for interchange traffic on both its eastern and western terminals. This line ran through some of the most beautiful parts of Montana. I include images from MRL trackage in this post, because many trains across that railroad were hauled by Burlington Northern motive power.
Like so much of 19th century American history, the story of the Northern Pacific involved greed, anger, high finance, bankruptcy, controversy, disaster, triumph, then more disaster. Since construction began only a short time after the original transcontinental line along the 42nd parallel, one might wonder about the need for a second line across the western mountains. Well, even though the country was engaged in a horrific civil war, there was still money to be made and politicians to aid in the making. The push to build a second transcontinental railroad was led, not surprisingly, by Northern senators and especially by Josiah Perham, an Eastern railroad promoter. He lobbied Congress like a small dog in search of a meal and eventually secured a federal charter for the Northern Pacific Railroad Company. This bill later passed both houses of Congress and was signed into law by President Lincoln on July 2, 1864.
While the Northern Pacific never gained the notoriety of the Union Pacific, the former was unique in one very special way. It was the first railroad built across the West without government financing. The noted banker Jay Cooke initially obtained several million dollars in private financing, and the gateway from Lake Superior to the Pacific Northwest seemed primed to open. However, like so many 19th century railroad enterprises, this one ran up against the cold reality of the Rocky Mountains. Construction across Minnesota and the Dakota Territory was one thing. Even the first third of Montana was relatively tame. But at some point the railroad faced the same dilemma as the Lewis and Clark expedition, the path of which the Northern Pacific followed closely.
As Lewis and Clark discovered, when you cross one mountain range in Montana, you find another. Then another, as though God created Montana solely to frustrate and ultimately bankrupt all railroad construction. And that's what happened to the Northern Pacific. Montana was like a razor-wire fence. You could not dig under it. You could not slide around it. And you could not climb over it without significant effort and injury. The railroad went bankrupt before completion but was ultimately rescued by private financiers looking to buy low and sell high. The locating engineers marked a route across Bozeman Pass, then turned north and followed the Missouri River through Lombard Canyon, still today one of the most magnificent railroad locations in North America.
The line continued north, eventually turning west again to reach Helena, past which lay the Western Continental Divide, surmounted at Mullan Pass. The railroad then followed the Clark Fork River to Missoula and beyond to St. Regis, where the tracks and river turned north, avoiding the Bitterroot Mountains, trending northwest all the way to Lake Pend Oreille in Idaho, crossing the lake at what later came to be called "The Funnel" when the Great Northern several years later also crossed at the same point, then heading to Washington through a gap in the mountains created by flooding from the ancient Lake Missoula. (For a more complete discussion on this geological feature, go to: https://www.waltersrail.com/2018/08/lake-pend-oreille-or-importance-of.html. .
|Same Location -- Southbound Loaded Coal
|Palmer Lake, Colorado
A southbound coal train struggles into the grade at Palmer Lake, Colorado. In the mid-1980's, it was not unusual to see MKT run-through power on Power River Basin coal trains.
|Mississippi Palisades State Park, Illinois
A loaded coal train powers south near Weston, Missouri. The second unit is a White Knight from the Kansas City Southern.
|Helper Set at Palmer Lake, Colorado
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