Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Last spike ...

For much of the twentieth century, Montana had three transcontinental railways that traversed the state from east to west. The last to be completed was the Milwaukee Road, which held its Last Spike ceremony exactly 100 years ago today, near the town of Gold Creek. For my money, the Milwaukee was by far the most fascinating of Montana's railroads, with its brightly-colored trains, vintage electric locomotives, handsome depots, and spectacular engineering. Unfortunately, the Milwaukee was also Montana's shortest-lived transcontinental, shutting down most of its Montana trackage in 1980.

Today's photo is an historic shot of some of the dignitaries at the 1909 ceremony. For years, a railway-built monument marked the site, and the marker was re-erected in Deer Lodge a few years ago. I'm proud to say that a number of years ago, I had a very small role in the monument's preservation.


  1. Hi Mark, great photo. What was your part in the momument's preservation? I worked for the Milwaukee in her final years and I can tell you there was nothing handsome about her depots and they had pulled any $/profits and slid them into the Milwaukee Land Co. and had neglected their tracks so bad that it made riding them pretty scary. Lots of wrecks on the Butte hill.

  2. Hey, Jeff -- Well, the thing about the Milwaukee was that it built this amazing railroad a hundred years ago, everything absolutely first-class -- and then never had any money (or maybe interest) to take care of it properly. So by the time we came along, the whole thing was about to fall apart. But I still think the MIlwaukee depots in Great Falls, Missoula, and Butte were the most handsome railroad buildings in the state.

    As for the spike monument, when the Milwaukee was pulling everything up back in the early 80s they removed the monument and shipped it east to Wisconsin. I was working at the Deer Lodge museum a couple years later, and along with Jay Lentzner and some others we managed to get the spike back to Montana. But then it sat for years in storage (and part of it was lost) before folks started a project to restore it.

  3. I'd agree those depots in GF,Zoolo and Butte were and are still great buildings. The ones I guess I was thinking of were the ones Deer Lodge, Three Forks,and Harlo. Ones that I worked out of. Kudos to you for getting the spike back. Don't know if you know of the Old Jaw Bone that the Milwaukee followed thru Sixteen Mile Canyon but that was an interesting RR. Thanks for the reply.

  4. Yeah, I would have thought that Deer Lodge and Harlo, at least, would have merited some more substantial stations than what they got. I'm glad that at least they're still around.

    And yeah, I've read about the Jawbone ... I guess there are still some places in Sixteen Mile where you can see the old Jawbone grade down below where the MIlwaukee was. Be fun to look for someday.

    And thanks for reading!

  5. Hi Mark,

    I've got 20 acres near the Milwaukee R of W near Pipestone Pass. I agree about the depots, at least the larger ones like Butte. The one in Three Forks was still standing, used as a pottery shop, the last time I was there.

    I'm really enjoying your blog. Keep it up!!!


  6. Nice country up by Pipestone! And there are a surprising number of MIlwaukee depots left in the state ... I suppose mostly because the railroad never got around to tearing them down before it went under.It seems like there's a Mexican restaurant or something in the Three Forks one now. And of course, the Sacajawea Inn is still right across the street.

    And thanks for the good words. I have every intention of keeping this up for a while!

  7. Doing some family history research, I found my great uncle John 'Jack Millard in the 1910 census as being a RR operator living as the head of his single household in Maudlow. He was the son of Patrick John Miller, but a few of the sons changed their names to Millard. Lot of RR men in the family, and even today my brother George is an Eng in Chi. Thanks much.
    Pat J Miller