Monday morning we found ourselves trainless in Livingston and with with a line up which didn’t show any activity until late afternoon. We decided it was best if we cut our time in Montana short one day and travel while the trains were elsewhere. In the end that was a good decision because we happened to run across some interesting items as we worked our way west.
First we stopped by the Story Mill north of Bozeman. At one time this mill was severed by the NP on one side and the Milwaukee Road on the other. Today the former NP line is a walking trail which is partially under construction including a refreshed underpass below I-90. Apparently just before the economy went in the tank a developer had grand plans for a housing and retail center based at the existing mill buildings. That would have been a terrific use for the mill buildings and surrounding land. Sadly this didn’t happen and so the condition of the buildings continue to deteriorate. Fortunately local residents have taken it upon themselves to keep the area clean until interest in the mill picks up.
West from Bozeman we decided to take the back road from Three Forks through Sappington and the Jefferson river canyon. My travelling companions were thrilled. They’d never seen the canyon as it is away from I-90 and off the beaten path. Along the way we found NP boiler tube milepost signs south of Three Forks, jointed rail maintained for 40mph, a Milwaukee cross buck across the river (not used since 1980), and of course the spectacular scenery of the canyon itself. The group agreed next time this would be a destination spot!
Just as we exited the canyon we heard a BNSF ballast train get a work between track warrant between Whitehall and the end of track at the Pipestone pit. Cool, the chase was on! Well, it wasn’t much of a chase but we did capture a few images of the DP configured Herzog ballast train west of Whitehall and just as the train arrived at the pit near Pipestone Hot Springs. Thanks to all the flooding activity in the upper mid-west this line was averaging a ballast train per day and our luck had us in the right spot to see one!
After Pipestone Hot Springs we continue west over Homestake Pass into Butte. Luck was again on our side as we came across the UP at Silver Bow, Mt. We pulled in and watched as the UP crew went about setting out the hot autoracks for the Port of Montana. In addition to the Port of Montana switcher, the BNSF local was in town. Where else in Montana, do you get 2 class 1 railroads in one spot? Nowhere! It was worth capturing the two together before the BNSF train headed east to Butte cab hop. Hmm, I never thought I’d say “cab hop” in 2011.
We thought it would be fun to photograph the UP train as it headed south out of Silver Bow but after chatting with the train crew I found it was going to be hours before they were ready to go so we decided to head for Washington.
Robert made a call to the Eastern Washington Gateway operations manager and found out that they were moving a 109 car loaded grain train east to Cheney. Our best estimates had us meeting up with the train somewhere between Creston and Davenport. Sure enough in the middle of the channeled scab lands we found the train poking along at 10mph. The first photo was at Telford.
At Davenport they had to fill the sanders on the lead locomotive so they stopped for an hour to complete that task. Once finished Steve pulled the train through town just as the sun set. As usual with a small operation like this Greg stood by to roll the train by…just in case.
Our last effort for the day would be to set up at the top of the hill out of Deep Creek and listen to the 3 SDs and 1 GP7 pull the 109 loads up the hill. It was a quiet night with only coyotes howling, dogs barking, and the sound of dynamic brakes whining, When we first arrived the train was descending into Deep Creek. Soon though dynamics switched to power. Run 3, run 5, run 8! The whistle for the grade crossing just down the way from us echoed all through the trees and canyons. In a roar of fans, 645s and a 567 the 109 loads of grain passed us summiting at just over 10 mph. Short line railroading at its best!