Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Road Trip to South Dakota and Back

Greetings Earthlings!  Have you missed me?  We were forced by the SD drivers' licensing department to actually go to SD to renew our licenses instead of using the online system.  I was so pissed about this that I was unable to post before our departure; snakes and poisonous spiders would have erupted from my fingertips while typing, I was that mad about the whole thing.  We debated flying, but I hate flying out of Seatac due to the crowds.  We debated taking the RV, but it would have added several days to the trip.  So Sunday we just up and drove to Butte, Montana (579 miles, 931 km).  It was a long day.  The second day was Butte to Rapid City which was also long (542 miles, 872 km).  Coming back we added a day of driving, so it wasn't so painful.

Parts of the drive are bucolic.  Here we have trees, hay bales and water.  Unfortunately, I have no idea where this was taken.  But it was pretty.

On the way east we saw many parts of wind turbines being transported.  There were blades and bases on many trucks.

Much of  I90 through Idaho, Montana and Wyoming are under construction.  I think every bridge deck in Montana is being reworked east bound.  Apparently they've finished them west bound.  When we did this drive in 2013, I was complaining about the amount of freeway that had been taken down to dirt.  They're not done, five years later!  Traffic gets shunted onto the other side of the freeway, and it's single file for miles.  Getting behind an oversized load or a big truck really slowed progress.

This is the Wyodak facility in Wyoming.  It converts coal into electricity.  As we all know, our current president is a big fan of coal, it's a national security issue for him.

On the other side of the freeway is where they mine the coal.  It's placed on a conveyor belt to take it to the electrical plant.  They're mining right up to the side of the freeway.

Near the Black Hills in SD there is a lot of red dirt.  It's eroding sand stone formed a gazillion years by an inland sea.

It's really pretty out there.

They grow a lot of yellow stuff.

The western side of Montana is just gorgeous.  Lots of trees and rock formations.

Here we have a giant mine, that is no longer being worked.  I believe it was for copper, or maybe silver.  Anyway, look at the size of that thing.

The Anaconda Smelter Stack has been preserved as a state park.  You can't get close to the stack because of ground contamination.
The old Anaconda Copper Company smelter stack, completed in 1919, is one of the tallest free-standing brick structures in the world at 585 feet. The inside diameter is 75 feet at the bottom, tapering to 60 feet at the top. In comparison, the Washington Monument is 555 feet tall.
That's the old mine off to the left.  The smelter closed in 1981.

Jim's Dad was a Vice President of the Pacific Division of the Milwaukee Railroad.  Jim spent much time on trains when he was young, which I wrote about here.  When we are near train displays, we must go and see them.  Our first stop was in Deer Lodge, Montana.  They have two old engines on display.  It's well done.  They're on tracks, with ballast applied around the rails and the power poles are up.  The question I have is when rail lines are dug up, what happens to all the ballast?  Does it get shoveled up?  Do they leave it?  What?

Here we have one of two surviving Little Joe engines.  They're called that because originally they were built for Russia, when it was ruled by Joseph Stalin.  President Truman embargoed the engines as strategic assets due to the beginning of the Cold War.  The Milwaukee bought 12 of them.  They had to go into the shop and have their wheels put closer together, as the Russian track gauge is wider than that of the US. The engines were immensely powerful.  In the early 1960s, controls were added to the Little Joes so that diesel helper engines could be added to the consist to pull heavy freight loads over the mountains.

This engine was more comfortable for the engineers, as the box was mounted on bushings.  Older engines beat the staff unmercifully.

They also have an E9, which is a 2,400-horsepower (1,790 kW) diesel engine.  It was used for freight and passenger service.

The electrified railroad had a lot of moving parts.  Besides the dammed water turning turbines creating electricity and transmitting down the wires to transformers kept in oil baths, there were substations.  These were spaced between 30 and 40 miles apart. The substations converted power to 3000 Volt DC by means of motor generator (MG) sets before passing the power on to the overhead trolley.  DC power can't be transmitted over long distances, so there were 22 substations to support the route.

The Gold Creek substation is now privately owned and is in use, probably for storage.  It looks good.  The windows are intact and there is no graffiti.

This is what happens when a substation is not protected.  There are trees growing up through the roof, the glass is gone and it's been spray painted.  It's sad to see.  The Milwaukee Line was such an epic construction project and to see it just ripped up and abandoned is sad.  The substation's name is Ravenna.

Next we went by the Primrose Substation, which is near Missoula.  There is a very interesting article here, that was written in 2014. If you're running an ad blocker, you'll have to turn it off for just that page.  The substation is owned by a married couple.  He's a linguistics expert in the National Guard, and she works with families of deployed personnel.  They bought the substation right after they got married.  The plan was to have a garden and grow small livestock (think rabbits and ducks) for a farm to table restaurant.  There were also plans to host weddings and community events.  It does not appear that their business plan has worked out.  The substation is missing glass and seems to be used for storage.  They did leave some of the electrical connections on the roof, which is cool.  In 2014 the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.  There are "no trespassing" signs everywhere, which I suspect is to keep the train people from wanting to walk around Primrose and ask questions.  The size of the fan groups of the Milwaukee Line on the internet is just astonishing.  Here is an excellent example of fandom.  The Lost Rail blog is also a good read.

After leaving Deer Lodge we drove by an abandoned lumber mill.  This is the kind of stuff you see when you get off the freeway, which I have to admit we don't do very often.  It's an enormous thing, occupying space on both sides of the road.  Further west was an abandoned aluminum smelter, also huge. 

We drove through Alberton, MT to check on an old depot.  You can see the old signal out in front.  The building is now an antique store.  Alberton is off the freeway and is very tiny, population was 420 in the 2010 census. 

They do have a tavern - Sporty's.  They have a sign on the door that says "no sniveling."  They also have an impressively large bookstore.  There are billboards along the freeway advertising it.  Hopefully that brings some money into the town.

The mountain was out.  That's Mt. Rainier in the far distance. I took this at a rest stop in Washington.

Construction continues on I90 westbound.  I have said it before and I'll say it again, I doubt that Jim and I will live long enough to see it completed.

The Cascades are still lovely, however.

This concludes my trip report.  It was a gruesome drive.  When we bought the pickup we went with a lower trim level to save money.  Our reasoning was that we would not be doing epic drives in it, so we could tolerate less comfort.  It was good logic until this past week!


  1. I did wonder what you were up to, but ugh...glad you made it there and back safely, but that's quite a haul for driver's license renewals. Could you have stopped at some nice campgrounds along the way, taking a bit longer to do the trip? We are lucky with Florida. We got our licenses here in 2013 when establishing domicile. They are good until 2021, at which point we can renew once by mail before having to actually appear in person. That will be 2029, so we have a ways to go before we have to think about that. Who knows where we will be then -- hopefully still around!

    1. There's the rub - "nice campgrounds". We just could not face making that many phone calls to book sites in July. As it turned out, it was good that we left the bus home, too many narrowed lanes due to construction. It would have been a tiring drive.