Montana by Train, September 21 - Oct. 3, 2007
(click on each image to see a larger version -- 1024X768)

The Train: Getting There is More Than "Half the Fun"!
September 21

For "logistical" reasons we decided to start our trip in Staunton, Virginia where we caught Amtrak's train number 51, the Westbound Cardinal. It takes a scenic route through the mountains of Virginia and West Virginia. Past White Sulphur Springs it follows the Greenbriar, New, and Kanawha Rivers on it's way to Charleston where darkness falls.

The train at left is actually the Eastbound Cardinal, #50.

This is Howard in the cafe car as we go through
Clifton Forge, VA.
September 22

We awoke somewhere around Crawfordsville, Indiana and continued through open farmland on quite bumpy track until we reached the outskirts of Chicago. There we encountered quite of bit of other rail traffic, waiting frequently on freight trains to clear.

In Chicago we had a few hours before catching our next train, enough time to step outside for a tourist photo and check out the interior of this great old station.
Our next train was the Empire Builder. Its superliner cars have larger windows and are taller, affording a better view for the scenery ahead.
The lounge cars are much more commodious and we took advantage of that, spending most of the daylight hours there.
September 23

Our second morning greeted us around Rugby, North Dakota. During the night Howard had asked "do they ever run out of gas?" That was quickly answered in Minot where we had our first "service" stop.

We continued on through Western North Dakota and into Montana where the skies became heavily overcast. The country is truly vast with lots of wide-open spaces and little to hamper the view.
The skies remained leaden for the rest of the day but no precipitation fell. As we neared the mountains a bit of Autumn color began to show and as we approached Glacier Park we were pleasantly surprised by a light snow cover.
We disembarked in early evening at East Glacier Park, a town on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. It sits on the edge of the mountains and there is little there outside the train station, a gas station, and a few motels. We lugged our bags to one we'd reserved directly across the tracks for a much needed rest after almost three days on the train.

September 24: Exploring the Glacier Park Area
Glacier Park Lodge
We got a late start and decided to just "get our feet wet" the first day, exploring what we could of the local area from the car. The sun was bright, the snow was still on the mountains, and the aspens were bright yellow. Step out of the car, however, and you'd feel the full force of a ferocious wind was blowing off the mountains.
RR bridge and farm just East of town (East Glacier Park)
Sinopah Mtn across Two Medicine Lake
We went a little ways into the park to check out Two Medicine campground where we planned to stay. We had great views of the mountains surrounding Two Medicine Lake, but again, the wind made anything more than a short foray quite miserable. Painte Teepee Peak
? Mtn across Lower Two Medicine Lake High winds on the peaks
Highway 49 to St. Mary was closed so to access Going-to-the-Sun Road we detoured via Browning. Along the way we caught this Westbound stack train approaching the Grizzly signal, which sits on the East end of the bridge just outside East Glacier Park. We returned several times to this spot in hope of catching a shot of a train with the mountains in the background. It never quite worked out.
Going-to-the-Sun Road was already closed for the season between Siyeh Bend and Avalanche. Entering on the East side at St. Mary we drove as far as we could, stopping for photographs at quite a few spots. Two Dog Flats by St Mary Lake
St Mary Lake St Mary Lake
oiward & St Mary Lake at Rising Sun
St Mary Lake from Sun Point The wind on the lake is evident in this photo from Sun Point and it caused us to almost not get out of the car. When we did I nearly lost my hat twice. Good thing I caught it, with the steep cliffs I would NOT have given chase!
Highway 89 South of St. Mary passed through several areas that had burned earlier this year. At the grocery store in town Howard talked to a logger employed to "clean it up" as he said.
A lot of Montana is open range and you can expect to slow for cattle on the road and occasionally horses.
Grizzly Signal and mtns BUT NO TRAIN!
Heading back to our camp at Two Medicine we passed by the knoll where we hoped to catch that train shot. No trains, but I just had to shoot the Sun on the clouds.

September 25: Looking for Better Weather
We broke camp in a light drizzle while trying to keep the critters out of the car. No problem really -- they have to eat too!
Eastbound by the East Glacier Park station
One of Glacier's Red Buses
We went to the train station in East Glacier Park to kill time while waiting for the weather to make up its mind. A parade of Eastbound fast container trains usually precede Amtrak's Eastbound Empire Builder which today brought us a unique local sight -- one of Glacier Park's red buses.
Back at "the knoll" the trains obliged, but the weather did not. The dark sky caused a wide aperture and slow shutter speed making a steady hand imperative. However the wind was blowing so fiercely that almost impossible even with my mono-pod. Next trip I'm definitely packing the tripod! Eastbound Empire Builder
Eastbound by Grizzly
As we got into the car at the knoll it rocked with the force of the wind. A few rain drops caused me to make a quick decision to abandon Glacier Park for the time being and head East into the plains.
Past Browning the skies cleared but the wind continued. This monument provided a good view to the North and West for watching Westbound trains. It was placed by the Great Northern Railroad in 1925 to mark the farthest North point achieved by the Lewis and Clark expedition.
The sun was wrong (we were just there at the wrong time of the day) but I liked the shots of trains approaching a miles way and then rounding the curve below us with the mountains in the distance.
We paced the same train to the East then got ahead before Cut Bank. As we arrived in town we saw the high bridge over Cut Bank Creek and decided to investigate it. We found our way over to it but the train beat us there -- Howard snapped this shot from the car window! Unfortunately, the bridge is barely visible. We'll just have to return later!
At Shelby we ate lunch and decided to catch the interstate South, eventually for Livingston and a visit Yellowstone for tomorrow.

From the car, Howard shot this parked CP train with a prodigious load of pipe. I didn't get the details but I later overheard other railfans referring to the "unit pipe train" from Canada. I guess this was it.

Missouri River Valley Between Great Falls and Helena, the interstate parallels the Missouri River as it flows through an absolutely gorgeous canyon for miles. A BNSF branch follows through this lovely country -- I'll have to return to try to photograph that too!
Out of the river valley and back into the plains...
The next couple of nights we decided to camp out "Holiday Inn" style. Howard obviously likes that.

September 26: Yellowstone, click here for the full story.
Howard at Old Faithful
geyser Elk

September 27: Heading Back North
Today we decided to follow the route of the Montana Rail Link from Livingston to Missoula before heading North back toward Glacier Park.

I'm not sure if the MRL has less traffic than I expected, or it was a slow day, but there was not much running as we explored Livingston. We heard the yardmaster talk of a crew change for a Westbound grain train so we waited at the park by the station and soon he appeared and swapped crews right there.

We raced ahead to the West side of town where we caught him gathering speed for the grades ahead.
The majority of this train was hoppers that looked brand, spanking new. I photographed the builder info as they sped by and later looked closely: "BLT 08-07" -- One month old!

On the rear were three very clean MRL SD70ACe's as pushers.

Bozeman Tunnel West Portal
The train picked up considerable speed in the mountains but we were able to get ahead and find the top of the West portal of Bozeman Tunnel.

Ahead an Eastbound waited at the signal with a long and colorful lash up; unfortunately our angle didn't provide a good photo.

Mack at Muir ;)
The CP at the East end of Bozeman Tunnel has a familiar name. I just had to pose with it!
Following MRL's mainline West we didn't see much until a couple trains passing at Garrison. Again the sun was wrong, but I went for this shot a bit East with the Autumn leaves along the Little Blackfoot River. East of Garrison
At Missoula time was against us but we heard this train heading up the branch to the North and decided to give chase.

Lead by a SD45 & SD70ACe, we caught him first struggling loudly up a steep grade over this well-protected high bridge near Evaro.

Then over a more modest bridge of the Jocko River near Arlee, and finally with the Sun almost gone, at Ravalli.

Away from the railroad, near Saint Ignatius I had to stop so Howard could get his obligatory Sunset shots.

Railfanning East Across the Marias Pass
September 28

We spent the night in Kalispell then headed to the train station in Whitefish. This place, obviously built to resemble Swiss Chalet, houses Amtrak on the first floor, and BNSF offices above.

It was a slow morning on the railroad -- I would've loved to somehow frame a train and the mountain goat sculpture!
Heading West toward Marias Pass we heard of an Eastbound train approaching. Not yet knowing the area, we stopped at the first overlook we found and waited. The distance was far for a shot, but interesting nonetheless.
We the same train at the pedestrian walkway behind the Isaac Walton Inn in Essex. This is a pretty decent spot for Westbounds lit by the morning Sun, and to watch pusher action. I just wish BNSF would've buried that !*#@*!# power line!
The next Westbound to appear had some familiar power on the lead. He was also scheduled to get one of the pusher sets and it followed shortly, coupling up just out of sight around the bend to the East.
The rest of the day was spent exploring the area and getting a camp set up (we stayed in the big one next to Lake McDonald). We did manage to catch this train in good light speeding East toward Essex.
September 29

The next morning we headed directly to Goat Lick (just East of Essex) hoping to catch the Eastbound Empire Builder on the high bridge there.

We caught a Westbound grain train and then Amtrak but it was a disappointment. Light rain and heavy clouds again dictated open apertures and slow shutters so our shots were a bit "soft" and grey.

Oh well, we'll just have to return...

Another dreary morning in the mountains so we decided to head back toward the East hoping the plains would provide better.

We stopped at the station in East Glacier Park just in time for this hi-rail -- grain train meet.

Needless to say, Howard loves fire trucks! This is the East Glacier Park VFD's pumper and tanker.
Evidence or the strength of winds in this region is this massive wind fence at Browning. This structure extends 1 1/4 miles along the right of way from our vantage point here at the Rt2 overpass West of town.
From the Rt89 overpass we caught this Eastbound empty grain train as it pulled to a stop at the East Browning signal.
The empty train went in the siding for two westbound grain trains. Despite the grey sky I really like the shot on the left with the entire train including pushers visible. This was the first of the two Westbounds and he was really struggling because of an ailing second unit.
Howard shot this Westbound stack train with a couple of CSX units at Piegan. This CP is a crossover in this section of double track that extends 25 miles West of Cut Bank to Blackfoot.

Notice that we're out of the mountains and the sky is starting to clear. Grrrrrrrrr!!!!!!!

This time at Cut Bank we were determined to get a shot of something crossing the bridge. We weren't disappointed. I caught this Eastbound snaking around the approaching curves with the maximum telephoto I could get out of my lens (250mm or the rough equivalent to 375mm for you people still shooting 35mm film). Then to about 18mm (~28mm) for him crossing the bridge.
Howard and I picked up a sandwich and returned to the Lewis & Clark monument near Blackfoot. The light was good for Westbounds but as luck would have it, we only saw Eastbounds. Well, I'll shoot it anyway and see what happens!
Returning to the mountains guess what greeted us? If you said clouds I'd have to point out that by now that one's pretty easy to call.
Westbound Empire Builder
With the remaining light we caught the Westbound Empire Builder at the Bison East signal.
A bit farther West is a nifty curve that I had to shoot even with no trains and the light almost gone. Afterwards, Howard held it a postcard he picked up in town and we realized it was the view in front of us! We'll just have to return!
September 30

This morning we bade Goodbye to our camp by Lake McDonald with this early morning visit to its shore then more set out for more railfanning along Rt2 through the mountains...

Back at Goat Lick we learned that the morning Sun (when it does shine there) was just too harsh. Panning a bit right I again used maximum telephoto on the Empire Builder exiting one of the snow sheds on this route.
Next stop: that post-card photo spot. This time we didn't have to wait long for a train (the Empire Builder was right on schedule) but a cloud picked just this moment to shade the valley!
Of course I turned around to look at that cloud and the sight caused me not to complain as Howard's photo here displays.
Amtrak's schedule allowed us to race ahead to that knoll we'd visited several times, and, well, that cloud just kept following me!
A bit West of Marias Pass we catch the nose of and Eastbound grain train exiting avalanche shed #8 adding his orange to the bright yellows of the aspens.
We paced that train on to the Summit approach signals, and saw some of the erosion control problem there.
I never found a great spot to photograph one of these sheds; most were well above us and obscured by vegetation. So, I guess you have to work with what you have and with the Autumn colors I think this shot of #7 is hard to beat. Well, I could do without the wires!
This impressive eagle sits above the entrance to an RV park near Coram and Howard badly wanted a shot of it. We passed it several times and the final time I stopped and gave the stipulation: "only if you get the mountain in the background." He didn't realized I meant the same shot!
That day we roamed quite a bit along Rt2 through the mountains and were rewarded with a lot of action. The final two trains of the day were Westbound stack trains exiting a tunnel close by the Middle Fork Flathead River, just outside of East Glacier.

October 1-3: The Journey Home
We packed early then headed across the street to the station to watch the usual pre-Amtrak parade like this Eastbound manifest freight.
The Eastbound Empire Builder arrived right on schedule but things didn't stay that way as I'll detail later.

We said goodbye to Glacier Park and boarded.

I'd tried so many times to photograph trains coming by the Grizzly signal, I decided to get a shot ON the train. Again, the Sun chose to rise on the wrong side of the Earth and shine from the wrong angle. The photo on the right is the knoll where we'd stopped about a half-dozen windy times.
The Empire Builder quickly dropped behind schedule thanks to guys like this. Before we reached the double-track at Blackfoot we passed three Westbound freights that were too long for the passing sidings. That required our train to go into the siding and wait for them to pass!
Yep, again I could say the Sun is wrong, but it helped get Howard's reflection as he shot the Lewis & Clark monument that we'd frequented.
By now I'm starting to enjoy seeing from the train places we'd visited during the past week. This is Cut Bank Creek and the bluff we shot from.
Again waiting in a passing siding, this time for track maintenance equipment to clear. By the time we reached Havre we were almost two hours behind schedule. This is becoming annoying!
This sibling trio was part of a wedding party that came onto our coach in Fargo, ND. Bound for Indianapolis, the girl on the right is the bride.

The rest of the trip was pretty mundane. The train managed to catch up most of the lost time overnight then in Minot, ND an incident negated that gain. A sick passenger refused medical aid, or to leave the train while we sat at the station in the middle of the night not knowing what was going on.

We arrived in Chicago an hour and forty minutes late and the agent just shook her head (about making our connection to the Cardinal) when I mentioned our checked baggage.

We got to the carousel just as our bags appeared, threw them on a cart and raced back to the platform. The Cardinal was a few minutes late and hadn't left yet -- we were the last to board but we made it!

The rest of the trip was uneventful (either that or I slept through it all) and we arrived safely back in Virginia.

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Proud to be an American!
Mack Muir