Montana Railroad Stations - History

Miles City as a Two-Railroad Town

Northern Pacific Railway depot, c. 1924, Miles City. It has been listed in the National Register but it needs a preservation hero.

Miles City has a distinct look and feel due to how historic transportation links have impacted the town. First, certainly, was the Yellowstone River and Tongue River: as discussed in previous posts the military positioned itself here in 1876 because it is where the Tongue River met the Yellowstone. By the end of that decade a rough wagon road connected this place to other early towns along the Yellowstone. Then in 1881-1882 came the tracks of the Northern Pacific Railroad. Soon Main Street boasted new two and three-story brick buildings to signify its arrival as a key transportation crossroads for the northern plains cattle industry.

Historic stockyards remain a prominent landmark on the west side of Miles City.

The early arrival and commercial dominance of the Northern Pacific left a lasting mark on Miles City. Main Street, which is listed as a National Register historic district, was the town’s primary commercial artery until the late 20th century. But so much of the historic built environment you find in Miles City today is due, in large part, to the impact of the arrival of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, and Pacific Railroad–better known as the Milwaukee Road–in 1907.

Milwaukee Road Depot, Miles City

The Milwaukee Road was the last transcontinental to stretch across Montana. It came into eastern Montana at Baker and angled sharply to the northwest, heading to the Yellowstone Valley, sharing the valley landscape with the dominant Northern Pacific, and typically building its tracks north of those of the Northern Pacific between Terry and Forsyth, where the Milwaukee left the Yellowstone and headed into central Montana.

Milwaukee Road corridor in Miles City

The Milwaukee made Miles City its primary division point for eastern Montana, locating offices, machine shops, and a roundhouse in an entirely new section of the town, northeast of Main Street. Several of the historic buildings associated with the Milwaukee remain, although there have been many lost buildings in the last 30 years. One remnant, quite unkempt in 2013 but still in use, was the Milwaukee Park,

Remnants of the Milwaukee Road works, Miles City, 2013

a parcel of land located between the railroad shops and adjacent working-class neighborhoods. The park is now a recreation area and playground and provides one of the best ways to look at these historic railroad buildings today.

The Milwaukee Road combined with the homesteading boom of the 1910s to spur new construction and investment as nothing else had, either before or since. Some of the new landmarks were unassuming, such as the Wool Warehouse, built just west of the depot, and now converted into a successful Arts and Antiques business.

Many others were much more purposeful statements of growth, and the promise of prosperity. The 1914 City Hall, which is listed in the National Register, gave Miles City not only modern civic space but made an architectural statement that the town was no longer just a cow-puncher’s place.

Downtown received new buildings, and an architectural upgrade, with such imposing edifices as the Professional Building (c. 1910) and the Masonic Temple.

The arrival of the Milwaukee Road, and the thousands of homesteaders in the following decade, charted a new course for Miles City, evident in the new facades of Main Street but perhaps best shown in the new neighborhoods, churches, and schools that redefined the city in the 1910s and into the 1920s. Those places will be our next post.

History of Montana Rail Link’s Gas Train – Historical Railroad Geography Series

The Yellowstone Pipeline runs 531 miles across three states between Billings, Montana and Moses Lake, Washington. The 10-inch pipeline was finished in 1954 and has anchored Billings as the petroleum leader in Montana since. The Yellowstone Pipeline transports finished petroleum products, from refineries in Billings, including aviation fuel, gasoline, and diesel.

In October 1995, there would be a large gap in the pipeline making the line useless. The Salish and Kootenai tribes did not renew the 20 year lease to cross tribal lands due to past ruptures and lack of urgency to cleanup spill sites. There have been over 70 spills since the pipeline was built in 1954, including three major spills on reservation land. The Yellowstone Pipeline Company tried hard to renew the easement and to keep fuel flowing to the Fairchild Air Force Base’s air tanker fleet. They offered as much as $29 million for another 20 year lease the previous lease was only $193,000 and still the Flathead Nation denied this offer. So this gap was bridged by truck and rail between Helena and Thompson Falls until 1998 when a new pipeline to rail facilities was built in Missoula. Most trucking has ceased since the terminal improvements, with Montana Rail Link transporting the finished product in specially built white tank cars.

“The fluid in the line moves at about two miles an hour, surging along the Yellowstone valley, up Livingston hill over Bozeman pass, across the Gallatin valley, along the Missouri river past Townsend and Toston and into Helena, [the] only pumping station on the line outside Billings. Here the pumps lift the fluid over 6,325-foot MacDonald pass west of Helena, highest point on the line. From here the production flows like water down a flume into Spokane.” “Big Yellowstone Pipeline Terminal Here in Operation”, The Independent Record, Helena, MT, 29 August 1954

The Montana Rail Link gas local snakes along the Flathead River just east of Perma, Montana led by MRL 346.

Rail to Pipeline Transfer Station in Thompson Falls, Montana.

The MRL has continued to transport the fuel twice daily in trains up to 30 cars long since then, called the gas local. The gas local is a tank train the hauls petroleum products for ConocoPhillips 129 miles between Missoula and Thompson Falls, but I found that the Yellowstone Pipeline is jointly owned by Conoco, Exxon, and Union Oil. The gas local normally uses the scenic 10th Subdivision out of Missoula that was previously closed in the 1980’s by the past owner, Burlington Northern. The MRL reopened the 10th Sub as a secondary route west and to serve the Polson Branch. With the Polson Branch being shuttered in 2011, the Gas Local may be the only thing keeping this line open since this route isn’t ideal for heavier trains up the steep 2.2% grade of Evaro Hill. You can read more about the history of this route and Evaro Hill here. This train continues to fill this missing link in the Yellowstone Pipeline that crosses through the Flathead Indian Reservation even though a new pipeline route through the National Forest service lands was approved in 1996. The approved pipeline route would be mostly built within existing highway right-of-ways. This hasn’t been acting on yet but might be in the future which will end the need for the Gas Local.

About the Photographer
Travis Dewitz is a professional photographer located out of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. He has been published in many books and magazines including many in the railroad industry. He does a lot of photography work and environmental portraitures for many companies and heavy industries in and around Wisconsin. He has grown up with trains and railroads are one of his passions that he pursues. Contacted him for commercial photography services here.

Whitefish, MT (WFH)

500 Depot Street
Whitefish, MT 59937

Annual Ticket Revenue (FY 2020): $4,583,344
Annual Station Ridership (FY 2020): 34,919

  • Facility Ownership: Stumptown Historical Society
  • Parking Lot Ownership: BNSF Railway, City of Whitefish
  • Platform Ownership: BNSF Railway
  • Track Ownership: BNSF Railway

Rob Eaton
Regional Contact
[email protected]
For information about Amtrak fares and schedules, please visit or call 1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245).

The Great Northern Railway (GN) built the present Whitefish depot in 1928. It was designed in an Alpine style reminiscent of the resort hotels built by the railroad in nearby Glacier National Park during that same era. The building’s first floor is clad in horizontal wood siding while the upper floors exhibit half-timbering. Heavy carved brackets support the roof’s wide overhang. Track side, the cedar-shingled roof features three prominent dormers–the two on the far ends are wide and have clipped gable roofs, while the central one displays delicate stickwork.

In the 1980s, after sixty years of continuous use, the Burlington Northern Railroad decided to vacate the deteriorating structure. The Stumptown Historical Society, established to preserve the history of the town and the Flathead Valley, approached the railroad for a transfer of ownership that was completed in 1990. The railroad also donated money it had allocated for a new building to help fund the depot’s full rehabilitation.

The historical society renovated the upper stories of the depot and then leased that space back to the BNSF Railway (successor to the Burlington Northern). Additional funding provided the means to renovate the remaining areas. The first floor is shared by Amtrak, local vendors and the Stumptown Historical Society the latter maintains a museum adjacent to the waiting room with exhibits tracing local history. The lower level has largely been kept to the GN’s original design with some of the original partitions rearranged. In recognition of its historic significance to Whitefish and the region’s railroading past, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2002.

Recent additions include a baggage facility located on the side of the station to better serve the large number of visitors during ski season. In 2011, Amtrak designed and constructed a new 1,200 foot long concrete platform, which includes an electric snow-melting system lighting was installed along the platform edge.

The GN is considered to have been America’s premier northern trans-continental railroad, running from St. Paul, Minn. to Seattle. It was formed in 1889 by James J. Hill, who orchestrated the merger of the St. Paul and Pacific Railroad with the St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Manitoba Railway. Hill holds a special place in railroad history and lore, and is known as the “Empire Builder.” Whereas most transcontinental lines were built with federal assistance in the form of federal land grants, the GN did not utilize this method.

Hill’s business acumen guided the planning and construction of the GN. Much of the upper Midwest and West was sparsely settled, so instead of racing across the continent, the GN developed the regions through which it traveled as it steadily moved toward the Pacific. This action helped settle the land and created a customer base. Hill the businessman actively sought to establish trade links with Asia, and the railroad is credited with putting sleepy Seattle on the map and transforming it into an important and powerful Pacific Ocean port after the railroad reached the West Coast in 1893.

Montana Railroad Stations - History

In the early 1800s, David Thompson, a Canadian explorer and employee of the
Northwest Company, traveled into the Kootenai River area and used the Kootenai as a navigational guide through the area following Native American Indian and game trails. He portaged around the falls, following piles of rocks, known as cairns, which
marked the trail, left by the Kootenai Indians. The f irst white men in the area were trappers and traders from British fur companies. They came as early as 1809 searching for beaver to supply the demand back east for beaver fur hats.
There were several forts, or posts, built by early traders along the Kootenai River which were small log huts or tents, which served the general trading purpose. These were temporary structures that were frequently moved, and none of these remain today. A warehouse fort was built above Kootenai Falls in the winter of 1808-1809 by Finan McDonald. This was noted by explorer David Thompson in May, 1809, and may have been near Rainy Creek. Two other forts were built near Rainy Creek in 1812 and 1824. Another fort was built by Hudson's Bay Company men in the winter of 1810-1811, on the north side of the Kootenai River one mile downstream of the old town site of Jennings, Montana. Other forts or posts were built by the Northwest Company and the Hudson's Bay Company in the area until 1860.

The Libby area was important for both its long-lived placer operations and several of its silver-lead mines. The only gold-quartz vein of any significance is found in the Prospect Creek area. Silver-lead-zinc veins are found primarily along the Snowshoe fault in the Cabinet Wilderness area, and are still mined today. The source of placer gold in the Libby Creek area has never been exactly determined, but is thought to come from veins eroded into both Libby and Howard Creeks.
Prospectors first tested the gravels of the Libby district in the early 1860s. John S. Fisher and several other men came through the area at that time looking for gold. They also named a number of the local creeks including Fisher River, Libby Creek (after Stephen Allen's daughter Elizabeth or Libby), and Sherry Creek (after Jack Sherry), later changed to Cherry Creek. Activity increased during the summer of 1867 when a group of prospectors started placering along Libby Creek. Their success attracted as many as 500-600 men to the camp by September. Fortunes varied, however, with some making as much as $1.25 per pan while others washed only two cents per pan. Most men left for the winter, and those who stayed helped dig a ditch to bring water to some claims. While the camp increased again the following summer, the boom was brief and it was virtually deserted by the 1870s.
Chinese workers played an important role in the early placer mining on Libby Creek. In one incident, several Chinese workers were caught robbing sluice boxes of gold dust, and were driven out of the country. They lingered awhile at the rapids of the Kootenai, above the falls, to try their luck at washing gold, which is how China Rapids got its name.

Snowshoe Mine - Lead/Silver/Gold
The Snowshoe lode was discovered in October, 1889, while two miners were prospecting up Leigh Creek near Libby. The rich ore deposit at the Snowshoe encouraged operators to develop the mine. In the late 1890s, the ore was milled at the mine and then shipped to a smelter at Great Falls. By the end of the decade, the mine was electrified, a telephone line linked it to Libby, and a compressor supplied power to the crews. Although a good wagon road connected the mine to the Great Northern Railroad at Libby by the early 1900s, the 20 mile trip was accomplished with horse teams and wagons up to the time the mine closed. Operators tried using trucks but found they did not have sufficient power on the hills. Despite the many problems, the Snowshoe was the most important lode producer in the Libby area, reporting production every year from 1905-1912. The total is estimated at 145,000 tons, with smelter returns of $1,211,000 in lead, silver, and gold. Underground workings included two shafts (475 and 550 feet deep) and 11,000 feet of tunnels, drifts, and connecting raises. A full-scale display of the entrance to the Snowshoe Mine can be seen at the Heritage Museum in Libby.

The Vermiculite Mine
Vermiculite deposits were first located by prospectors in the early 1900s on Rainy Creek northeast of Libby. Ed Alley, a local rancher, was also a prospector and explored the old gold mining tunnels and digs in the area. While exploring the old tunnels in the large mountain north of Libby he stuck his miner's candle into the wall to chip away some ore samples. When he got his candle, he noticed that the material around the candle had swollen and turned golden in color. He had discovered a unique mineral that expanded when heated. In 1919, E.N. Alley bought the Rainy Creek claims and started the Zonolite Company. While others thought the material was useless, he experimented with it and discovered it had good insulating qualities. Through his marketing skills, it became a product used in insulation, plaster, and to lighten garden soil. Many people used vermiculite products for insulation in their houses in Libby and in their gardens.
The W. R. Grace Company bought the mine and operated it from 1963 until its closure in 1990. They then sold the property to Kootenai Development Co. While in operation, the vermiculite mine in Libby may have produced 80% of the world's supply of vermiculite and was a significant employer of many Libby townspeople.
In late 1999, the mine was blamed for dozens of asbestos-related deaths and illnesses among Libby residents and former employees due to exposure to asbestos-tainted vermiculite. The Environmental Protection Agency has been working legally to intervene and remove asbestos-contaminated soil from the screening plant, and to dispose of that soil and continue cleanup operations at the former mine site just down the road. The EPA has conducted numerous air, soil, dust and insulation samples to determine levels of asbestos that may still be in the community and any health hazards to people who currently live here and have little to no connection to the old vermiculite mine. Preliminary test results in Libby, conducted by the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, showed lung abnormalities in higher percentages than expected for people who didn't work at the mine and had no known exposure to the vermiculite dust. The health concern is for asbestosis, a restrictive lung disease which can be fatal, and is caused by exposure to asbestos. The disease can cause lung cancer and a cancer of the lung lining called mesothelioma. The EPA is most concerned about people being exposed to airborne asbestos and breathing the tiny asbestos fibers. This is a serious health issue that the town still faces today and has impacted recent tourism and the town's economy.

The earliest ranches in the area were located near the mouth of Libby Creek in the late 1880s in the hopes of taking advantage of the rumored coming of the Great Northern railroad to the coast. The early settlers worked at the nearby Libby Placers and built homesteads and mills along Libby and Flower Creeks. The stream, "Libby Creek" was named by prospectors in the 1860s after one of their daughters, and it is believed that the town of Libby was named after this creek.
The first wagon roads in the area were built in the 1880s-1890s, and were nothing better than ungraded trails that accessed homesteads or mines. The first real wagon roads, called "tote roads" were roughly cut openings for construction camp supplies to be brought through.
In the early days, crossing the Kootenai River was a hazardous endeavor, and usually done using horses. Later, ferries were built across the river, with the first toll ferry built in 1892. In 1912, the citizens of newly-formed Lincoln County voted in bonds for the construction of roads and bridges, resulting in three steel and concrete bridges being built across the river, one at Libby, one at Troy, and one at Rexford. The first automobile came to Libby via road from Kalispell in 1913.
The Northern Pacific Railroad was the determining factor of the location of the townsite for present-day Libby. In 1890, the railroad made the preliminary surveys for its path and negotiations for rights-of-way were made, determining the location of the town. The early speculators surveyed and plotted 40 acres into city lots and hired men to clear the timber so that streets and buildings could be built. All of the inhabitants of Libby "Old Town" moved over to the more convenient location. The first train, hauling passengers and freight, arrived in Libby on May 3, 1892. The railroad was a significant factor in changing the course for Libby and settling of the west, allowing the easy, economical access that was needed for many more people to come to the area to live and work.
Libby is spread out into two areas because the original speculators did not realize that the land they had begun to sell and build on near the confluence of Libby Creek and the Kootenai River had actually been a section originally conveyed to the railroad as part of a land grant giving them uneven numbered sections some years earlier. A homesteader who owned land approximately one mile south of Libby plotted forty acres of his homestead into fifty foot lots and called it South Libby. Settlers who could not get clear title to their land on the northern townsite, eagerly bought building places there. The two towns were separated by heavy timber about one-half mile wide for many years. The railroad later sold the title to the land to the Townsite Company, which was then able to issue deeds to the lots.
The town grew quickly in the early 1900s, with many new businesses opening. The first cement sidewalks were built, streets were graded, and electric lights and water systems installed. In 1906, a disastrous fire swept through downtown Libby, destroying many of the original business buildings.
The first school house was built in 1892, a small board building, in the same block as Libby Hotel. The first church was the old log Methodist Church in 1897. The first homes were built in the early 1890s with dirt floors and dirt roofs. The first newspaper was the Libby Miner in 1892. Telephone service came to Libby and Troy around 1913.

Not much is left today of the town of Jennings, located near the confluence of the Kootenai River and Fisher River upstream from Libby. It looks like just a grassy meadow flat dotted with cottonwood trees along the Kootenai River next to the railroad tracks. But at the turn of the century it became a bustling railroad town, with a railroad station, two general stores, a section house and roundhouse, restaurants, saloons, a boarding house, customs office, schoolhouse with a cemetery, homes and boat docks.
The Great Northern railroad reached the townsite of Jennings in 1891 opening options for both railroad transportation and river traffic, allowing trade with settlers of Tobacco Plains and Fort Steele, British Columbia. Enterprising businessmen took advantage of the Jennings river site to construct a steamboat venture business, with the first steamboat, the "Steamer Annerly", launched in 1892 to carry freight and passengers the 150 miles upriver to Fort Steele. Over the next 10 years, several steamers and paddlewheel boats were built at or near Libby and used to transport freight and mining ore to other towns and smelters. These ships had names including "Fool Hen", the "Steamer Libby", the "Steamer Ruth", the "Rustler", and the "North Star". The last steamer built for navigation of the Kootenai was completed in 1898.
The town of Jennings thrived on the river and railroad traffic at the turn of the century and it was estimated in some accounts that as many as 5,000 men a day passed through the town of Jennings on their way up the Kootenai River to the railroad camps. The town suffered from two fires ten years apart, in 1904 and 1914, which destroyed the hotel, store, train depot and all the buildings on the east side of the town. By the early 1930s, the town had almost died and the only building left was the school house. It was torn down in the early 1970s when the reregulating dam was proposed for the main Libby Dam just upstream. Foundations for a few of the buildings from the town of Jennings can still be seen today, and a couple of apple trees, enjoyed now only by the nearby wildlife, still grow there.

The first saw mill was built by the first townsite company in the winter of 1891-1892 near the present day bridge across the Kootenai River and was used to supply lumber to build the growing town. Other sawmills were built in the late 1800s and early 1900s, with most lumber used locally.
In 1906 the Dawson Lumber Company built a modern sawmill plant bringing workers and their families to the town in greater number. Many built homes and decided to make Libby their permanent home. In 1911, J. Neils and Associates bought the Dawson Lumber Mill and it was later named the Libby Lumber Company. Familiar with the timber industry, the owners believed that reforestation was a necessary part of the industry, and they implemented an active tree-planting program through the company. The J. Neils Lumber Company grew and the town prospered as well, with as many as 1,000 people employed in Libby in the early 1900s. Lumber company railroad tracks were built and brought the logs to the mill. The original tracks ran from the lumber mill south along Libby Creek and eventually up Swamp Creek. Railroad logging along some 14 miles of main track was conducted from 1906 to 1925 along the south side of the Kootenai River into the Libby Creek drainage. By the mid 1930s, railroad logging was phased out and replaced by trucks.

The Fire of 1910
The summer of 1910 was unusually dry with fires beginning as early as June that year. Steady heat through July and August caused the forest to become extremely tinder dry. At that time, the Forest Service was still in its infancy, and did not have the manpower to staff the Forests. Available crews were already battling many small blazes in Idaho and western Montana during the summer. Firefighters had to use pack trains to bring in crews and equipment. No major roads were yet in place, and the terrain was forested and steep. In August, strong southwest winds flamed the many small fires and turned them into raging infernos, merging small blazes into larger ones that swept through the country with unbelievable speed. Calls for help were relayed by telegraph and thousands of firefighters, homesteaders and miners fled the area for their lives to the safety of Missoula or Spokane, Washington. The fire burned a path 30-50 miles wide, with over 100 square miles of timber burned in Montana. The town of Sylvanite was burned to the ground. The fire came as close as three miles to the town of Troy and over 200 people manned firelines to keep the fire from consuming Libby. Within 48 hours, most of the damage was done from the blaze. Blackened tree stumps can still be seen in areas of the Kootenai Forest today as reminders of the 1910 fire. As a result of the devastation of that summer's fires, Congress authorized the first national fire protection system for the nation's forests in 1911.

For More Information:
Local Area History Books:
Published by the Libby Pioneer Society and the Libby Woman's Club:
Nuggets to Timber, Pioneer Days at Libby, Montana 1970
Published by the Libby Montana Institute of the Arts Writers Group, Inc, Libby, Montana:
Times We Remember
In the Shadows of the Cabinets
The Shining Tree
Echoes Along the Kootenai
Pages From The Past, 1989
Tapestries Of Yesterday 1993
The above books are available from the Heritage Museum and local bookstores.

Paradise, Montana – Historical Railroad Geography Series

No. 3096 – Montana Rail Link – Paradise, Mont.

A place where it all comes together, Paradise, Montana. It is March, 2015, a strong wind whips the falling snow throughout western Montana including in Paradise. Two Montana Rail Link geeps sit in the yard next to the old depot. These locomotives are used for the Paradise local that serves the area.

The tracks were first laid here in 1883 by the Northern Pacific Railway. That same year, Paradise was born. Many argue that the name originally was “Pair o’ Dice” but not by the railroads accounts. This was NP’s division point and also where crews would set their watches forward or back to compensate for the time zone change (Mountain-Pacific) on their mainline to the west coast.

The Northern Pacific Railway also operated a tie treating plant here where timber ties were creosoted. The plant was destroyed by fire.

Paradise is wedged between the Coeur d’Alene Range to the south and Cabinet Range to the north along with the Clark Fork. The second highest peak of the Coeur d’Alene Range towers over Paradise, Patricks Knob(6,837 feet). Just to the east is where the Flathead River meets the Clark Fork. At this junction, the Reservation Divide comes to a point with the other two ranges creating tri-point. These three ranges protect the 2,500 foot lower valley of the Clark Fork River, which has mild winter weather comparable to the Pacific maritime. Plains, MT just west of Paradise was once called Wild Horse Plains. Native American use to winter there horses there.

It followed along what was once an Indian Trail and later a wagon trail up Evaro Hill to the Clark Fork.

Paradise is also where the MRL’s 10th Subdivisions meets the 4th Subdivision. The 10th Sub was Northern Pacific’s original route west from Missoula. It followed along what was once an Indian Trail and later a wagon trail up Evaro Hill to the Clark Fork. The grade up Evaro hill is 2.2% in both directions which made for a tough climb. In 1909, NP finished the low line that ran along the Clark Fork. The low line or river line is 20 miles longer and is the route mainly used west from Missoula. The line up Evaro became known as NP Passenger Line and today is used by MRL’s gas local and some empties.

So as you can see, Paradise is where two rivers, three mountain ranges, and two rail lines all come together. With the great mountain scenery, this place really is Paradise.

About the Photographer
Travis Dewitz is a professional photographer located out of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. He has been published in many books and magazines including many in the railroad industry. He does a lot of photography work and environmental portraitures for many companies and heavy industries in and around Wisconsin. He has grown up with trains and railroads are one of his passions that he pursues. His railroad photography can be seen on his website The Railroad Collection.

This Fascinating Abandoned Railroad In Montana Is A True Piece Of History

Montana’s railroad history has helped shape the state in many ways, creating cities and railways that still exist to this day. Of course, not every rail line survived, and you’ll find abandoned tracks and old depots in practically every county. The Milwaukee Road (also known as the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul railroad) was especially memorable, and some longtime Montanans still recall the route that trains like the Hiawatha took through Western Montana from 1909 – 1980.

Of course, the Milwaukee Road is no more, but you can still see its remnants by walking the beautiful Milwaukee Railroad Trail near Butte.

Address: MT-2, Butte, MT, 59701

To reach the Milwaukee Railroad trail, take State Route 2 south of Butte for about nine miles and follow the signs. And if you tend to prefer your hikes with a side of history, check out this list of trails.

Montana Railroad Stations - History

three pieces on a remarkable line | photos : steve spring & ben ostenson

hometown hero
text: steve spring

The Montana Sub is my Hometown hero, but then again, it was the only hero in town, until the Eastern Idaho Railroad took over the Yellowstone lines. [See the authors' previous article on the EIRR here -- ABC]. That said the Montana sub, in some ways, was and is like the Delaware and Hudson, in that it is a bridge line.

For me it's like the "ghosts of futures past". I played literally in it's shadow as a child. There is a culvert in the middle of the fill that starts at the end of my street. Crow creek that runs under the culvert is piped till one block before it. I played, dammed, and bridged that creek all the while trains ran by. The culvert is over 100 years old now.

From it's beginnings it was a cash cow for UP. It was a narrow gauge line, standard gauge line, bridge line, drag line, and the Yellowstone line. Local power then was old GP-9's and GP-9B's. When I was very small, there was a SW switcher that worked the old Eagle Rock line. Main power was SD 40-2's and any other power that got stuck on. Many times 8 to 12 locos would pull a train that was about 5 miles long. I spent many nights at 3 o'clock in the morning, watching cars from all over North America go by. You could see cars from big lines to short lines. Well into the 80's I could still see pre BN line cars in their old paint. It was a time machine that also took me all over the country. Remember at that time traffic was on it's way down, much like a hollow shell of it's former self.

Flash to today, traffic is way up. Where one railroad was, now there is two. Big power comes to town in the form of AC's, and locomotives from distant railroads hide out from the paint shop or the scrap heap. This is what Uncle Pete calls John Wayne country, literally on it's signs. Where in the USA can you watch three AC's pull a long string of covered hoppers, plummet through a cloud of steam from a potato processing plant, obscuring the track, going 45 miles a hour. then scream through a curve in a shower of sparks, and then vanish like a ghost?

a short history.
text: steve spring, layne hansen,
and ben ostenson

Ah, the wild west, the stuff of legends. Utah, Idaho, and Montana have plenty of these legends of people, places, and railroads. Now, you ask yourself, what does this have to do with Union Pacific's Montana Subdivision?

It began when the transcontinental railroad linked up at Promontory Point, on May 10, 1869. In Utah, there was a strong disdain for anybody who was not a member of the Mormon faith. Now the leader of the church was Brigham Young, and up in the northern part of Utah there was a place called Correne. Correne could be nicely described as a rough town to LDS church it was the gates of hell. If it had only one redeeming quality, it was that it was the closest railhead to Montana. Largely a collection of warehouses for teamsters, Correne was getting rich on it's freight route to Montana's mining towns.

All this prompted Young to organize a narrow gauge railroad to Montana's mining towns, to be called the Utah Northern. But, as we all know, railroads need capital, and the most northern the UN got before going bust was the Mormon enclave of Franklin, which is just barely inside of Idaho. Enter Jay Gould, one of the famous rail barons who controlled Union Pacific. UP promptly took control of the UN reorganizing it under a new name Utah & Northern. With Gould's wallet the U&N promptly spread its tentacles towards Montana. In October 1881 they reached Silver Bow, Montana, then Butte, Montana.

In the late 1800's, Butte went from a precious metals camp to the copper mining center of the world. It was the largest city between San Francisco and Denver, the realm of copper titans James Clark (later to be a US Senator,) and Marcus Daily. The Utah & Northern became one of the most far-flung narrow gauge empires in the west. In 1884, the Oregon Short Line was completed, connecting the UP main line, at Granger, Wyoming, to the Pacific Northwest via the Oregon-Washington Railroad and Navigation Company, giving UP an outlet to the Pacific not reliant on the Central Pacific. The OSL also connected with the narrow gauge U&N at Pocatello.

With the rise of electricity, which copper is an important component of, traffic to and from Butte rose to the breaking point on the narrow gauge railroad. On July 24, 1887, the U&N was standard gauged, all in one day. For years, the traffic remained a bonanza for the Union Pacific. Consolidation within the Union Pacific Railroad Corporation renamed part of the old U&N into the Montana Subdivision.

railfanning the mt sub
text: steve spring, layne hansen, and ben ostenson

The Montana Sub starts at Pocatello Junction in Pocatello, and ends at Silver Bow, Montana, just outside of Butte. UP had for years trackage rights into Butte on the Montana Western. At Silver Bow, UP interchanged with the Montana Western, the Northern Pacific, the Milwaukee Road, and the Butte, Anaconda and Pacific. Now, only Rarus Railway remains to interchange with, who then hands off the traffic to the Montana Rail Link.

Along with all the local traffic along the way to and from Butte, this line was also a bridge route. In the late 50's and 60's, Butte began to decline, although this line still had a decent amount of local and bridge line traffic.

The Montana Subdivision is in the "Portland Area" and is comprised of these lines:

Other Subdivisions that connect with the Montana sub include the Pocatello, Gay, Aberdeen, and Scoville Subdivisions. UP sold the Yellowstone lines to Eastern Idaho Railroad.

Pocatello is the major division point, where most trains are made up for the trip north. Idaho Falls, Blackfoot, and Dillon are the service points from which the local crews work. Blackfoot is where the Aberdeen and Scoville subs connect. The Blackfoot's, and its connecting Aberdeen sub's, major traffic is potatoes. The Aberdeen Branch will also see one or two locals a day, depending on the traffic. These trains run later in the day, and bring their cars to Blackfoot to be interchanged with the 47. The Dillon local starts its journey from Dillon on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and back to Dillon Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. This train leaves Dillon at about one in the afternoon, and about the same time from Idaho Falls. Normally it runs earlier on Saturdays.

Bridge traffic is a important part of the Montana sub, with a lot of MRL and BNSF cars going north. Occasionally, unit grain trains are run from the grain elevators in Blackfoot and Idaho Falls, but you would have to find the right time to catch them. Another train worth mentioning is the American Orient Express. There are two different trains which bring tourists to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Recently they were stopping at St. Anthony, on the Eastern Idaho Railroad, but the travel plan for this year will find them at Idaho Falls, where they will be cleaned and readied for when the passengers arrive back from the parks.

The Idaho Falls yard is the interchange with Eastern Idaho Railroad. UP is partnered with EIRR for potatoes, including UP's Express Lane perishables service. Reefer cars are of UP or SP origin, but UPs new "chilled express" cars are showing up more often. Agricultural related commodities include potatoes, grain, barley, hay, fertilizer, chemicals, and herbicides. Non agriculture related traffic includes scrap metal, talc, lumber, wood chips, propane, aggregates, tar & asphalt.

Big power comes to town in the form of C44AC's and SD70MAC's, and locomotives from former SP and Rio Grande heritages are occasional visitors. Regular power from EMD's stable are GP38, GP38-2, GP40, GP40-2, SD40-2, SD40T-2, SD60, and SD70. GE power comes in the form of C30-7, C36-7, C40-8 and C44AC. The MAC's and C44AC usually go no further then Idaho Falls. UP sometimes uses these locos to drop off and pick up from the old station yard, (which replaced the first station in the 60's,) when the Idaho Falls yard is full. At first GP38's or 39's were the conventional power for trains such as the locals, with an occasional SD40-2, SD60, or C40-8 for through freights. With the older locomotives being retired, locomotives like the SD40-2's have taken much of the same duties as the SD70M's and C44CCTE's. The SD40-2's have really made their appearance, as they too run their last miles on the Montana Sub. With heavier trains becoming more commonplace, it comes as no surprise that such large locomotives are showing up.

Photographing trains on the Montana Sub has its rewards. The most notable stretch to photograph would be North of Idaho Falls, where along this stretch you can go through quite the transformation in less than 100 miles. With trains more numerous between Pocatello and Idaho Falls and less between Idaho Falls and Silver Bow. Traffic ranges from locally grown crops to auto racks going to Silver Bow Montana for distribution to Montana dealerships

The primary trains that travels the entire route are the symboled trains "PCSB" and the "SBPC". The "PCSB" is the Pocatello-Silver Bow train, and the "SBCB" is the Silver Bowl-Pocatello train. This train leaves Pocatello at about five and Silver Bow at about the same time, sometimes earlier. The morning after leaving Pocatello, the train stops in Dillon that night, and wont leave for Silver Bow until the next morning with a fresh crew. The Southbound train also changes crews in Dillon.

The next train is the "47", which stands out amongst the other trains, because it will run during the daytime, whereas the others run primarily during the late evening or night. Leaving at about 11:00am, the 47 takes cars from the locals and the EIRR in Idaho Falls, and the locals in Blackfoot, and moves them to Pocatello, where they are sorted out for further routing.

The "48" and the "49" are next on the list. Occasionally the 49 leaves first from Idaho Falls at about ten at night, and runs to Firth and back. This is a true local, as it switches out of the local potato houses and the Anheuser-Busch malting plant south of Idaho Falls. After the "49" gets back to Idaho Falls, the same power is put on the "48" with a fresh crew. The 48 takes loaded reefers from Idaho Falls to Pocatello and comes back with empties early morning. The 47, 48, and the 49 runs one after the other, when one comes back the other is about to leave.

The 62, also known as the Dillon Local, has more distance to cover than the other locals. The 62 runs on a tri-weekly basis through lush farmland, sporadic farming, then desert, mountains, and finally ranching country. The most preferred spots to photograph along it is between Dubois and Dillon. Just North of Spencer is the Beaver Canyon, which you may have to hike into, if you want some pictures in the canyon. The authors would suggest getting off the interstate at the next exit after Spencer, and onto the old Butte Highway, where you can cross a large trestle and look down at the tracks across the Canyon, and get some very nice shots.

Other locations are up to the photographer. You will need to consult a topographic map to find a road in some of the more impassable regions, but the roads typically stick to the tracks. Don't take them though, they won't give you as much exposure to the tracks as you would want. The preferred road is the old Butte Highway, which stays with the tracks most of the way. It wouldn't hurt to take some time in Beaver Canyon as there is much to see, but at the same time be aware of trains.

Legacy of the Milwaukee Road railway

The Mountains to Sound Greenway encompasses part of the historic route of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad (the Milwaukee Road) over Snoqualmie Pass. It is important to know about the history of the Milwaukee Road to fully appreciate the Greenway.

The Milwaukee Road began in 1847, as a local carrier operating between Milwaukee and Wisconsin. By 1874, it had lines running through Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, South Dakota, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

The “Pacific Extension” of the Milwaukee Road was financed by Rockefeller money. In 1900, William Rockefeller, brother of John D. Rockefeller, obtained control of the Anaconda Copper Company, with its copper mine and smelter near Butte, Montana. Rockefeller wanted to build a third railroad from the Midwest to Puget Sound to gain access to the growing Asia trade and to the riches in between. The Milwaukee Road was the third railroad connecting the Midwest with the Northwest, following the Northern Pacific (completed in 1884, going over Stampede Pass to Tacoma) and the Great Northern (completed in 1893, going over Stevens Pass into Seattle). Union Pacific completed its Oregon Short Line from its main line in Wyoming, through Idaho to Portland in 1884, with a route connecting to Seattle.

In 1901, a survey estimated the Milwaukee Road’s Pacific Extension would cost $45 million, later increased to $60 million. The route was expensive because of high right-of-way and construction costs. Unlike the Union Pacific and Northern Pacific, the Milwaukee Road was not given government land grants or other subsidies, and had to purchase land from private landowners, and take over small, new, or floundering railroads across the region. The 2,300 mile route was 18 miles shorter than its competitors, but it bypassed major population centers, passed through areas with limited local traffic potential, its tracks paralleled the Northern Pacific tracks, and went through some of the nations’ most varied and difficult topography. It crossed five mountain ranges: the Belts, Rockies, Bitterroots, Saddles, and Cascades, which required major civil engineering works and the use of additional locomotive power.

Rockefeller obtained a right-of-way for his line before the national forests in Montana and Idaho were designated by President Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot. The new line, which took thousands of workers to complete, had “to bore straight into the wild heart of the Roosevelt reserves,” including the rugged Bitterroot Mountains in northern Idaho. No railroad ever spent as much, $75,000 per mile to lay track through the Rockies. The toughest section was the 22 miles through the Bitterroots which required the construction of 21 bridges, 16 tunnels, and seven high trestles to span major chasms. “But flush with Rockefeller money, the Milwaukee Road had the cash, and so the once empty reaches of the Bitterroots clogged with people rushing to make money off the latest boom in the West.” The route through the Bitterroots accessed millions of board feet of old growth timber, providing future revenue for the railroad.

Surveying in Washington began in October 1905, with crews laying out three possible routes. The crews surveyed 1,655 miles, even though it was only 300 miles from the Idaho border to Maple Valley, where the Milwaukee Road would connect with the Columbia & Puget Sound Railway to reach downtown Seattle. Crews surveyed 5.5 miles of right-of-way for every mile chosen for the main line. Robert Strahorn, a railroad promoter and developer, convinced the Milwaukee Road to build its line though Spokane rather than south of the city, to take advantage of the Union Station he built to service all railroads running through town. H. C. Henry won the $20 million contract to construct the line through the Cascades over Snoqualmie Pass.

Construction in Washington began in May 1906. The last rail was laid on March 29, 1909, just in time to carry passengers to the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle. Passenger service began on June 10, 1909, and the first freight train from Chicago to Seattle ran on June 25, 1909. Several years of work remained to finish the line, including construction of the Snoqualmie Pass Tunnel.

The Milwaukee Road’s tracks went through the Bitterroot Mountains, which was devastated by the huge forest fire of 1910, that burned vast areas of Idaho and the West, described by Timothy Egan in his book, Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America. At least a dozen Milwaukee Road bridges in the Bitterroots burned, including one that was 725 feet long.

Between 1912 and 1914, the Milwaukee Road constructed a 2.3 mile tunnel under Snoqualmie Pass. The surface right of way over the Pass was abandoned after the tunnel was put into use. In 1915, a two-lane road over Snoqualmie Pass was built near the old Milwaukee road’s surface route, called the Sunset Highway, creating a permanent transportation corridor connecting eastern and western Washington. In 1917, the Milwaukee Road was electrified through the Bitterroots, giving the company the longest electrified mainline in the world.

Transcontinental train lines made possible a huge population growth in the Northwest in the first decades of the twentieth century. “Suddenly, as if an immigration starting gun had gone off, people poured into Montana, Idaho, and Washington – a growth spurt like no other in the history of the Northwest…[N]o states grew faster during this spurt than Idaho and Washington. Their populations doubled in less than a decade. Idaho went from 162,000 to 325,000, and… Seattle tripled – from 80,000 to 240,000.

Milwaukee Road train snow plow, clearing tracks toward the Milwaukee Ski Bowl. Photo Walter Page.

The Milwaukee Road played an important role in developing skiing in the Northwest. Seeing the success of Union Pacific’s Sun Valley, Idaho ski resort that opened in 1936, the railroad opened the Milwaukee Ski Bowl in 1938, at its Hyak stop on the east portal of its tunnel under Snoqualmie Pass. The Ski Bowl offered access by train from downtown Seattle in two hours, a modern lodge, the first J bar ski lift in the Northwest, and lighted slopes for night skiing, and dramatically changed local skiing. The Seattle Times offered free ski lessons at the Ski Bowl to high school students. The author’s mother, Margaret Odell, was advisor to the Queen Anne Ski Club from 1938 – 1941, and took her students by train to the Ski Bowl every weekend. A giant ski-jump was built at the Ski Bowl for the National Four-Way Championships held in March 1940. Downhill and slalom races were held on Mount Baker, the cross-country race on Snoqualmie Pass, and the jumping competition at the Ski Bowl. Torger Tokle, a Norwegian living in New York, had longer jumps than Alf Engen, but Engen won the jumping event on form points, as well as the overall Four-Way title. In 1941, Tokle set a North American jumping record at the National Jumping Championships at the Ski Bowl in front of 5,500 fans.

World War II changed everything. Skiing stopped as men went off to war, and women had to deal with war-time living conditions which included rationing of items such as gasoline and tires. The U.S. Army’s Ski Troops trained at Mount Rainier from1940 to 1942, before moving to Camp Hale, Colorado in 1943. In December 1942, the Milwaukee Railroad shut down the Ski Bowl and committed its resources to the war effort.

Skiing resumed after World War II, and ski areas reopened and expanded. The Ski Bowl resumed operations in the winter of 1947, with the Talley-Ho Ski Boggan, the first high-capacity ski lift on Snoqualmie Pass. It was a massive sled that carried 32 skiers at once, and could carry 1,440 skiers per hour. Free Seattle Times ski lessons were again offered for students, including jumping and racing instruction.

In 1947, the Ski Bowl hosted tryouts for the jumping events of the 1948 Olympic Games at St. Moritz, Switzerland, and six jumpers were selected for the U.S. Olympic team. More than 50,000 skied at the Ski Bowl in 1947. For 1948, the Ski Bowl underwent “an extensive summer clearing and grading program,” and the National Jumping Championships were held there in March.

Ski lodge at Milwaukee Bowl

On December 2, 1949, the Milwaukee Ski Bowl Lodge burned to the ground in a $180,000 fire. The railroad spent $25 – 30,000 the prior summer to make the area the “best all around ski center in the state.” The Ski Bowl operated during the winter of 1950, using train cars on a siding for shelter. However, the Milwaukee Road closed the area permanently in the spring, saying it could not justify the $125,000 it would take to rebuild. The Times cancelled its ski school, which had operated from 1938 – 1942, and from 1947 – 1949, teaching the fundamentals of “controlled skiing” to over 20,000 students The area remained unused until 1959, when the Hyak Ski Area was opened.

The Milwaukee Road proved to be an unprofitable business venture, and has been called “a railroad that probably should not have been built.” It was never able to compete with the Great Northern and Northern Pacific. For years, the Milwaukee Road unsuccessfully sought mergers with other lines. In 1970, a merger of the “Hill Lines” was approved, integrating the Northern Pacific, Great Northern, the Burlington, and the Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railroads into the Burlington Northern line, which surrounded the Milwaukee Road.

The Milwaukee Road filed for bankruptcy in 1977, ended service the same year, and its Pacific Extension was abandoned in 1980. Its right-of-way in Washington was acquired by the state and converted into the John Wayne Pioneer Trail in Iron Horse State Park, which is part of the National Heritage Trail system.

Trains in Western Montana + Glacier National Park

Amtrak's Empire Builder train service carries passengers through the northern section of Montana's Glacier Country and is a relaxing way to see the stunning terrain. Amtrak operates daily from Seattle and Portland, as well as Minneapolis and Chicago, making stops in Browning, Cut Bank, East Glacier, Essex, West Glacier, Whitefish and Libby.

Hop aboard, sit back and enjoy the view as you rumble past Glacier National Park, through the Rocky Mountains and across golden prairies.

A Scenic Biking Adventure: Route of the Hiawatha

The Crown Jewel of America's Rails to Trails, enjoy 15 downhill miles through 10 tunnels and over 7 high trestles. Shuttle and rental bikes available.

Highlights Along Amtrak's Journey Through Glacier Country

Just 25 minutes west of Cut Bank you'll find a monument honoring early explorer Meriwether Lewis, memorializing his search for a pass through the Rocky Mountains. This area is often noted for the coldest mid-winter temperatures in the country. From the trail, you'll be able to see views of the Rockies, Sweetgrass Hills and even the Canadian border. Community highlights include Glacier County Historical Museum and the Cut Bank International Airport.

Headquarters for the Blackfeet Nation, Browning is located on the rolling foothills just east of Glacier National Park. Each summer the community hosts North American Indian Days, one of the largest gatherings of United States and Canadian tribes celebrating the Native way of life. Additional community highlights include the Museum of the Plains Indian, Lodgepole Gallery & Tipi Village and The Blackfeet Heritage Center.

Built in 1913, this stop in East Glacier is located across from Glacier Park Lodge. The lodge was built by the Great Northern Railway to promote rail travel and to attract tourists to this beautiful corner of Montana.

The empire builder follows the "mystery pass" through the Rocky Mountains sought by Lewis and Clark and established by John Stevens in 1889. It's here that you cross the Continental Divide at 5,216 feet. Look for a monument to President Theodore Roosevelt.

Home to the Izaak Walton Inn, Essex is a flag stop for Amtrak. Originally housing snow-removal crews for the Great Northern Railroad, today the inn is a popular year-round stop for visitors, especially railroad buffs and cross-country skiers.

This stop, the Belton, is located in West Glacier at the western entrance of Glacier National Park. Located across from the railroad depot is the historic Belton Chalet.

Located in downtown Whitefish, this alpine-style station welcomes visitors to its vibrant community and its nearby Whitefish Mountain Resort. This western resort town is an ideal four-season destination, providing stellar skiing, snowboarding, water sports, hiking, biking, theater and award-winning restaurants.

Amtrak services this northwest Montana community—an incredible gateway to the quiet corner of Montana, and an area rich with outdoor recreation. Community highlights include Turner Mountain Ski Area, Libby Dam, the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness and the Kootenai River.

Watch the video: Израиль. Иерусалим. Вслед за светом (December 2021).