From the Mountains to the Prairies -- Part 3
Part 2 can be found here.
Photos for this section can be found here.
Day 4: September 8, 2008 -- They Call the Hill "Marias"
The whole point of staying in Cut Bank was to be in position to work our way east along the former Great Northern "Hi-Line." But with the Rocky Mountains clearly visible to the west and perhaps some unfinished business to tend to, we head back into the hills for another day on Marias Pass.
Our first stop is at Meriweather (named for Meriweather Lewis of the Lewis & Clark expedition -- this was the territory they passed through) to get the lonely grain elevator against the sunrise sky. Not long after, we encounter our first train of the day, an eastbound BNSF train at Blackfoot.
The eastbound Empire Builder should be along soon, and we wind our way back into the mountains, staking out the footbridge at the Izaak Walton Inn at Essex. We get the train there, then briefly stop to shoot the BNSF helper power at the nearby engine facility. Then the chase is on! We get ahead of Amtrak in the snowsheds, Shed 7 to be precise, near Java. From there we go to the summit of Marias Pass and shoot the train passing the Continental Divide sign. Using the station stop at West Glacier to get around the train, we set up one more time as the Builder meets a westbound freight at Grizzly.
The power on the westbound is a bit eclectic, with a BNSF "swoosh" locomotive on the point, followed by a Burlington Northern green unit and a Soo Line unit in candy apple red. We chase this train west, pausing at a small pond near Bison. However, with the sun still strongly favoring eastbounds, we head back towards Essex and intercept our next quarry at Sheep Creek Trestle just east of Essex. This train has BNSF power sandwiching a Norfolk Southern unit, with a Union Pacific unit running fourth.
We go back up into the snowsheds and shoot the eastbound at Shed 7. Next we get him with a nice mountain backdrop at Bison and an even better backdrop at Grizzly. Next we follow him to Spotted Robe, and once he clears a westbound gran train appears over the hump with a pair of DPU's on the rear. The sun is now around enough to make westbounds worthwhile, so we stay with the train and get him at Bison and again at the S-curves at Marias.
Now we hear there's a geometry train checking the tracks and moving west, so we head back up to Shed 7 again. Sure enough, a two-car passenger train (of sorts) pops out of the snowshed behind a GP30 in BNSF's Heritage I paint scheme. Cool.
Motoring along, we wind up at a location we had missed the previous day, the overlook of Tunnel 4 near West Glacier. We hear that there's trackwork going on at Red Eagle, but soon it clears up and our grain train (that we shot way back at Spotted Robe) pops out of the tunnel for a stunning view. We know the grand scene would overwhelm our little track geometry train, so we proceed to the other side of the East Glacier station at Belton and get him there.
In the name of greed, we head back to Tunnel 4 in search of another westbound. We get rewarded by an eastbound with six units on the point (four of which wear the Cascade green of Burlington Northern), followed by an eastbound grain train with a matched trio of BNSF power. Finally another westbound arrives, this one a mixed merchadise train with a Santa Fe warbonnet trailing in the two-unit consist. Right on his heels is a stack train with another warbonnet, this time as the trailer in a three-unit consist.
It's time for the westbound Empire Builder, so we head all the way back across Glacier Park and set up for the shot we got cloud-dinked on the day before at Bison. This time we're successful. With the day winding down, we head for our motel at Cut Bank (again), but pause at Durham to get a train in silhouette against the Montana Big Sky.
Day 5: September 9, 2008 -- Hi-Line Across Montana
Directly outside our motel window is a spectacular view -- the BNSF bridge over Cut Bank Creek in the town of the same name. The bridge is a prime target for today. With the light favoring an eastbound (well, actually we're under clouds), we venture west in search of a train. We finally encounter an eastbound near Blackfoot. At Meriweather we find a westbound grain train, and this captures our attention enough that we get it on both sides of the town of Browning (including a nice S-curve on the west side of town). He meets a bare-table train (empty piggyback flats) going east and we shoot this train at the Lewis & Clark monument overlook near Meriweather.
We pause briefly to shoot a westbound manifest train at Fort Piegan, then head back into Cut Bank to get the baretable train on the bridge under improving skies. We hold our position at the bridge and get the eastbound Empire Builder under rapidly improving skies. Next is a westbound stack train that we shoot broadside on the bridge.
With no trains imminent, we head into Cut Bank and do some exploring. We find the Amtrak station, and nearby is a string of wooden grain elevators (alas, with one of them being demolished). From there we head east onto the plains, pausing to shoot the grain elevator at Ethridge. Eventually we wind up in downtown Shelby where a local is switching in front of the station.
Ultimately a westbound stack train draws our attention, so we attempt a broadside shot at the elevator at Ethridge with very mixed results (although two horses add to the charm). We do far better with the train crossing the bridge at Cut Bank. Heading back east, we encounter a grain train just west of Ethridge. From here our eastward trek continues back through Shelby until we encounter a manifest train at Dunkirk, where we get him passing the elevator. A mis-timed chase has us missing the head end off the overhead bridge in Shelby, but we do get some military vehicles mid-train.
Back to the east we head, exploring the small elevator towns along the way. Devon has three nice wooden elevators (but no town), while Galata features two elevators and stock pens on the edge of its small town. Lothair, another town with no town, has two elevators, including one without its side sheathing, revealing the rustic wood beneath. Tiber has three good-looking elevators.
Finally we hit our first big town since Shelby at Chester. The "welcome to Chester" sign features wheat stalks and a wooden grain elevator, and peering past the sign you can see the BNSF main line and two elevators downtown. Wouldn't it be nice to get a train here? We really need a westbound. No sooner have we gotten east of town than a westbound shows up, and we scramble back to our spot with the sign and the elevators. We continue our westbound chase, getting the train passing the elevators at Tiber, Lothair, Galata (not enough time to get into town, so we settle for a broadside) and Devon. Heading back east, we encounter a stack train and once again don't have enough time to get into downtown Galata, so once again we settle for a broadside.
Okay, enough of this. We need the shot in downtown Galata with the elevators and stock pens, so we set up in town anticipating the westbound Empire Builder. And we wait. And we wait. Finally a call to Amtrak confirms our fear -- somehow the Builder snuck past us. BNSF to the rescue, however, and we get a westbound freight pounding past the corrals.
Sunset is coming, so we head back towards Chester and pause to shoot the town sign on the east end of town (featuring an F-unit and a grain elevator) as the sky turns color. We stop east of Joplin to get the town's elevator-enhanced skyline against an orange sunset. Finally we stop at Rudyard to get MMA Grain's ex-Rarus Railroad switcher. In the gathering twilight, we get a westbound BNSF freight, then after sunset we break out the flash and do several night shots. Satisfied, we head into Havre for the night.