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How The West Was Done: Part 2

How The West Was Done: Part 2

August 2019Last month, we followed the adventures of Jim Boyd, Richard Dean, and author Mike Schafer from their native Illinois clear across the country to Utah. The trio briefly paid their respects at Promontory Summit before continuing on to Butte, Montana…

By Mike Schafer/photos by the author

July 8, 1969
Our first look at Milwaukee electrics was a “Little Joe” EF-4 and four GP40s screaming west through Butte at 3:00am. We followed up with night shots of a set of ancient box-cab helpers, and then we all dozed in Jim Boyd’s Volkswagen Squareback until daybreak. Our first bit of action in bright morning sun was Milwaukee Road “one-armed bandit” center-cab switcher E-82 switching the yard. The E-82 was one of three Milwaukee center-cab electric switchers of this series, built, I think, during the Pleistocene Era, and I was fascinated by it. Alas, a check with the operator confirmed what we feared — there were no road freights in our near future.

Nonetheless, the timing was right for a lull. The car needed front-end work, so Jim dropped Richard and me off at the Northern Pacific passenger station while he found a repair shop. The NP station was full of activity. Union Pacific’s Butte Special was already in, ground personnel was moving baggage and express wagons about the platform, and passengers were milling about awaiting the eastbound North Coast Limited. The majestic domeliner swept into the station, on time. Boyd returned from the repair shop just as NP Train 26 departed for the Twin Cities and Chicago.

We struck west again, but with a short side trip to Butte, Anaconda & Pacific at Anaconda, where a visit to the friendly office netted us a permit to enter the property. Here, we found the entire fleet of BA&P electrics, stored pending disposition. The electrification — which had predated (and inspired) The Milwaukee Road — had ceased, with EMD Geeps taking over the freight duties.

Butte, Mont.

We were able to photograph the eastbound Northern Pacific North Coast Limited arriving at Butte while Jim Boyd’s car was in the shop. Hidden by the arriving NP train, Union Pacific’s Butte Special from Ogden — which made nice connections with the NCL — is parked on its own special track on the other side of NP Train 2.

The rest of the day was spent following Milwaukee’s electrified main line westward, sans trains, but with an extended stop at Deer Lodge, Mont., where the railroad had extensive servicing facilities. This is where I photographed, for the first time, one of those famous “Little Joe” electrics, a dream come true for me. I recall many a day sitting in ninth grade science class at Lincoln Junior High School, staring at a Milwaukee Road publicity photo of a Little Joe leading a freight out of a tunnel and onto a trestle in Montana’s Thirteen Mile Canyon. Could such things actually exist?

I say this because I grew up with The Milwaukee Road as one of my four hometown railroads (the others: Chicago & North Western; Chicago, Burlington & Quincy; and Illinois Central) in Rockford, Ill. The Milwaukee Road I knew and loved was a typical Midwestern granger road with the usual conglomeration of Geeps, F-units, and new second-generation power, largely four-axle, such as GP30s and U25Bs. Electric locomotives? No way! But of course, we knew this strange, almost dreamlike side of Milwaukee existed. In fact, it was one of our main goals of the trip.

We continued westward, catching a nice series of photos of a late-running westbound North Coast Limited near Missoula. At this point, we decided we should cut and run for a lonely Milwaukee Road outpost at Avery, Mont., the west end of the Rocky Mountain Division electrification. It didn’t seem to look very far on the map…

Maupin, Oregon

In the small hours of July 13, we were on hand at Maupin, Ore., for the arrival of SP&S mixed Train 102 out of Bend, which arrived more or less on time about 3:00 a.m. We were astonished at the number of passengers that clambered off the combine, most of them campers and fishermen who gathered their equipment from the baggage compartment and disappeared into the night.

July 9, 1969
Following the Milwaukee in darkness became frustrating. We were seeing all these incredible scenic areas with no trains and no light. So, at about 1:00am, we stumbled into a small town named Alberton, and Boyd said, “This is it! I don’t want to drive all night past all this great scenery just to get to Avery. We’re staying here…” and he pointed at a ramshackle, two-story rooming house just up the street from the Milwaukee main line. Oh, and there was a depot and an operator on duty.

We checked into a room. Richard and I crashed, but Boyd was now focused on heading down to the depot to get a line-up from the operator. Sure enough, westbound Train 263 would be in town at dawn for a crew swap. Not only had we stumbled upon a division point, but our rooming house was also The Milwaukee Road’s crew quarters. The operator promised Boyd the call boy would wake us up as well as the crew…

August 2019Read the rest of this story in the August 2019 issue of Railfan & Railroad!

This article was posted on: July 19, 2019