Missoula MT: 2011-2018

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Skyliner

New Member
For my second photo essay here, I'll take you to western Montana, in the valley of five mountain ranges. Missoula is the second-largest city in Big Sky country, about 200 miles east of Spokane, and 250 miles northwest of Yellowstone National Park. Located on the Clark Fork River, the town is home the University of Montana, and has a wonderful downtown with great restaurants, shops, and recreational activities nearby. At the time, my job took me out there several times each year, and fortunately I had some time to check out the rails within walking distance of my hotel.

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Looking down on the town from the north, you can see the river winding through town, and the tracks running through town from east (left) to west (right). Across the valley are the Bitterroot Mountains.

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The Northern Pacific Railway reached the area in 1883, and the town was charted that same year. Over the years, the line became BN, then was spun-off in 1987 to Montana Rail Link with some controversy. This view in 2009 shows plenty of blue in the service tracks, as well as a still-operating turntable. Interstate 90 runs along the north edge of town.

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Looking into the engine facility in 2008, we find a mix of power including a pair of GP35's, an SD45, and even a couple GP9's. Way in the back is #115, originally built as a GP7 for CGW in 1951.

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Just across the tracks is the former Northern Pacific Depot.

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Built in 1903, the station is fortunately preserved today and used as offices. The NP logos still adorn all sides.

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This is the third station NP built for Missoula and is a short walk from downtown. It is built of brick salvaged from NP's canceled Olympian Hotel in Tacoma, and was designed by the same firm that created Grand Central Terminal in NY. The last passenger train left here in 1979, when Amtrak ended the North Coast Hiawatha.

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Recognizing the importance of the railroads in the city's history, ten-wheeler #1356 sits on static display in front of the station. Built in 1902 by Baldwin, this locomotive served across the area, including taking a dip in 1943 after derailing into a river. She was pulled from the Tacoma dead line and donated to Missoula in 1955.

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Speaking of work equipment, here's an MRL crane sitting in the yard in 2016.

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And it's a chilly day in February 2019 as a crew works the yard with a remote-control locomotive. I believe the caboose houses the remote control electronics.

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Ok, so maybe passenger equipment still shows up on occasion. Here's a handful of private varnish behind #253, a rebuilt SD40. Taken in 2016.

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I unfortunately don't know what this train was doing in Missoula, whether it was an officers' special, fantrip, or something else. But on the rear is a Southern Railway drumhead.

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One more from the yard for now. Here's Sperry inspection car #145 beneath the big "L" on Mt. Jumbo. I believe it stands for one of the local schools.

Stay tuned for more, including the big operator in town.
 

Bill Anderson

Well-Known Member
Thanks for the tour. My aunt lived in Missoula in the 60's and 70's. I occasionally made it over there when I was in high school in Lewiston, ID and college at Washington State University (Go Cougs!). Shortly after the BN merger I took a few b&w photos of diesels in the roundhouse.

Is the old Milwaukee road depot still there? About ten years ago I rode my motorcycle through Missoula. The town has grown tremendously since the early 70's.
 

Skyliner

New Member
Is the old Milwaukee road depot still there? About ten years ago I rode my motorcycle through Missoula. The town has grown tremendously since the early 70's.

It is indeed. I was gonna save these for the last section, but hey we're flexible. In 1908 Missoula became a two-railroad town when the Milwaukee Road arrived. The new entrant came into eastern Montana roughly between the Great Northern to the north and the Northern Pacific to the south. Through Harlowtown and then at Helena, the Milwaukee roughly paralleled the NP through Hellsgate Canyon and into Missoula.

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Here's the canyon in 2009, just east of town. The train depicted is on the former NP mainline, which ran on the north side of the Clark Fork River. In the distance, abeam the ridge on the right, you can see where the tracks and the highway cross the river. This is where the Milwaukee Road split off and followed the south side of the river.

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In my exploring, I think this is where the MILW diverged. This picture is looking west, with Missoula just beyond the two ridge lines in the distance. The tire tracks going to the left is where I believe the Milwaukee's rails cut over to stay south of the river.

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There's not much else to mark the former right-of-way out here, although I did find some old rails left in the weeds. They're not too rusty, so I'm not sure if they were old enough to be MILW or not...and I didn't look closely enough to see the markings on them.

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But due to declining revenues, in 1980 the Milwaukee ended all traffic west of Miles City. Today much of the right-of-way has been preserved, including here. This is right next to the University of Montana campus, where the ROW is now a trail, with a pair of signals still standing over their former charge. Picture taken in 2011, this trail has since been designated the Milwaukee Road Path, and now has signage with the logo on it.

See here: https://www.railpictures.net/photo/624440/

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About 5-10 minute walk from the last picture, we come across Milwaukee Road's depot, built in 1910 and still standing today.

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The station is located on the south bank of the river, on the opposite side of downtown from the NP depot. You can see the former roadbed, and another preserved signal in front of the old platform area. Down these rails, at one time, were St. Regis, Othello, Spokane, and about 475 miles away, Tacoma.
 

Bill Anderson

Well-Known Member
Thanks for the photos. I'm glad the old Milwaukee depot has been preserved. My aunt once went there to buy train tickets back in the 70's when AMTRAK still ran a passenger train through town on the old Northern Pacific. Needless to say, the MLW personnel got a laugh and directed her to the correct depot. 😁

I was always looking for MLW trains on my trips to Missoula and Montana, but it should come as no surprise that they were few and far between. The signals on the trail look like they were acquired and placed when the trail was made as the MLW had the old rotary signals with three lights like you see on some eastern roads.
 
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Skyliner

New Member
I was always looking for MLW trains on my trips to Missoula and Montana, but it should come as no surprise that they were few and far between. The signals on the trail look like they were acquired and placed when the trail was made as the MLW had the old rotary signals with three lights like you see on some eastern roads.

I imagine you're correct. I've never researched what signals MILW used at the end, but based on the appearance, with the colorized red/yellow/green panels, I kinda figured they were added by preservationists. Still nice to help the passers-by recognize what used to be there, however.
 

Skyliner

New Member
Alright, so even though the tracks through Missoula are MRL, by far the most frequent trains on the line are orange.

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A westbound double stack is moments from entering the yard in July 2016. That's Mt. Sentinel on the right, looming over the university campus. There are many great hiking trails all over the area, including over that peak.

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BNSF 5260, a C44-9W, fills up at the fuel rack.

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There's a dusting of snow on the peaks here in April 2017, as a eastbound weaves through the yard, passing an inbound grain drag. There's plenty of history still evident around town, such as the "Wholesale Grocers" on the building at left.

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I'm not sure about today, but a few years ago some of the specialized airplane-hauling trains would pass through town. Here's a set of empties heading into the canyon eastbound in 2016. I believe the signal towers have since been replaced.

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Here's a view of a similar train heading out of town in 2009.

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During the warmer months, there sure seemed to be a lot of hopper trains passing through. This one was loaded with corn, as I could see plenty of yellow spilled on the car roofs as it passed by. I also found lots of corn kernels at the grade crossing on the east end of the yard shortly after this. Taken July 2017.

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I'm sure the wildlife appreciated it, however. Look carefully and you'll see someone getting a free meal here. April 2017.

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Eastbound entering the canyon at dusk, October 2015.

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BNSF 6163 sports some replacement panels, July 2017. Online pictures of this unit slightly earlier show evidence of scorching or possibly a fire at one time.

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Eastbound set of coal empties idle in the yard, July 2016. As you can see in some earlier pictures, there's a pedestrian bridge that crosses the yard, providing a great viewing site. Unfortunately, most of it is covered with chain-link fencing, with no camera cutouts. You either need a narrow camera lens, or have to stand off to the side and shoot off the side towers.

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Geography lesson: Look carefully at the hillside and you will see parallel lines etched into the terrain. Those are former shorelines, of what used to be Glacial Lake Missoula during the last ice age. When the lake was full, present-day Missoula would have been under 950 feet of water. Many times in history, the ice dam holding this lake would burst, sending a torrent of water down the valley and into the Columbia River. Those floods scored the terrain, creating features such as the scablands of eastern Washington and the Columbia River gorge. The waters also carried much sediment into the valleys, which is why the Willamette and Columbia River valleys have good soil for agriculture. Hey, there's a Warbonnet down there!

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Unfortunately I haven't been to Missoula recently, as my job has changed a bit so I don't see as many cities around the country as I used to. If any of you are in the area and have the opportunity, check it out. Just to the right of the picture, on Railroad Street, is a neat antiques store that always has a few interesting railroad items in stock (usually NP or MILW, but sometimes others too). Further down on Spruce Street is the Black Coffee Roasting Company, a great local place where in the warmer months, they'll open the roll-up doors and you can drink coffee while watching trains go by. And for breakfast, check out the Catalyst Cafe in downtown. Their cheesy hash brown casserole goes with any breakfast dish.

BNSF 1107 is pushing on the tail-end of an autorack train, heading east out of town in July 2016. Hope you all enjoyed this quick look at the River City of western Montana.
 

Bill Anderson

Well-Known Member
Casual railfanning in Missoula was always frustrating back in the 60's and 70's when I was visiting my aunt or just passing through town on I-90. Neither the MLW nor NP/BN had a lot of traffic through there at the time. There was also the possibility that those trains which were passing through were doing so at night.

Is the giant white M still on the side of Mt. Sentinel above the U of M campus?

I have heard stories of brakemen having to be careful of wildlife feeding on grain that had spilled out of the hoppers, especially after a derailment. One story had it that a bear got drunk feeding on grain that had fermented.
 
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Skyliner

New Member
(post trimmed)...There was also the possibility that those trains which were passing through were doing so at night.

Is the giant white M still on the side of Mt. Sentinel above the U of M campus?

I have heard stories of brakemen having to be careful of wildlife feeding on grain that had spilled out of the hoppers, especially after a derailment. One story had it that a bear got drunk feeding on grain that had fermented.

Making me dig through my pictures... :)

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Unfortunately couldn't quickly find one that also included a train. During one of my visits, I was determined to hike the M when I got there, as I only had about a day in town. I started on a chilly afternoon, with light rain falling as I began hiking. By the time I got to the M, it was hailing up there! Then back at the bottom, it was raining again. Just enough of a temperature difference between ice and rain at that elevation.

There are plenty of trains that pass through at night, for sure. The downside for me was that the hotel my company put me up in Missoula was close enough that the train horns would wake me up at night as they blew for the two grade crossings entering town. That's even with earplugs, as I'm a light sleeper.

I imagine there are numerous stories of various goods being "affected" by accidents or spillage on the railroads over the years. I remember reading about a tank car filled with wine that overturned some years ago, and it being well taken care of by the time it was re-railed. I...think it might have been in Bill Fisher's book about railroading over Donner Pass.
 




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