Monday, September 22, 2008

My Big Sky Adventure

I want to share the first part of our trip to Western Montana. Mrs. L4T and myself, having not taken a serious vacation for going on 20 years, decided late last summer that such a trip was in order. At the time I was lobbying for an Amtrak trip from Staples to Chicago, with one of the projected highlights being a visit to the Museum of Science and Industry's "Great Train Story" exhibit. As it turned out, a job change led to a fair amount of upheaval in the L4T household about that time, effectively putting the trip on hold. We decided to reschedule for this year.

After extensive discussions, we settled on an Amtrak trip to the Glacier National Park area as our vacation. It offered easy Amtrak access, a manageable length train ride (as far as we knew, not being veteran Amtrak riders), great scenery potential, and for me, a chance to spend some time railfanning Marias Pass.

With the location decided, we settled on a date and made reservations with Amtrak, the Whitefish Holiday Inn Express, and Hertz. Time seemed to pass quickly until departure day. We were scheduled to leave Staples at 0142 Tuesday morning and arrive in Whitefish at 0856 Tuesday evening. We didn't go to bed Monday night, choosing instead to sit up anticipating the trip with the hope we would be able to sleep in the train. This proved to be a questionable decision as sleeping in coach is a challenge, especially for the light sleeping Mrs. L4T. The nightime riding is...boring is probably the best word for it. I did manage to sneak in a few catnaps between stops, and acutally slept through Fargo and Grand Forks. However, as the sun rises, so do one's spirits. After spending an hour or so sightseeing we headed for the diner to have breakfast. We were seated with a couple of older ladies from Wisconsin who were headed to Williston with 4 of their friends for an outing. We had a pleasant conversation and after eating headed back to our seats to settle in for the ride.

I tried taking pictures through the windows as we passed some of the more scenic areas in western North Dakota but the scratches on the windows combined with the speed make photography from the moving train a lesson in frustration. We stopped long enough to get out and walk around in Minot, of course, and Williston as well. The train was on or ahead of schedule at almost every stop on the westbound journey. Here is a shot from the platform in Williston:

A stop in Havre gave me the chance to get a less than great shot of the power on our train.

We also made a stop in Shelby where we were allowed to detrain as the Builder was ahead of schedule. I clocked mileposts in a few locations along the route and came up with speeds of 74 to 76 mph on a consistent basis. The mileage of the trip on the timetable showed as about 1070 miles and we made it in around 20 hours, for an average speed of nearly 55 mph including stops-not too bad!

Wednesday was our first day in the area and we intended to travel the Going to the Sun Highway from East to West. Upon arrival in East Glacier we learned the highway was closed part way through and we wouldn't be able to make the entire trip. While disappointing, this did provide the opportunity to parallel the tracks back to Whitefish after a trip into the park, so it wasn't all bad.

I caought my first train on the drive east through the pass. Contrary to what I wrote in my last post (last night) the eastbound grain train shown there was taken that afternoon. This eastbound vehicle train led by a cascade green SD40-2 (yay!), drifting down the eastern slope of the pass past a waiting westbound stacker was my actual first train. That's what posting with no sleep for 36 hours will do.

Knowing that the Two Medicine Trestle was just east of East Glacier, I decided to set up there and take a traditional Montana shot-this has been referred to as "the most photographed barn in Montana" on a couple of websites I have found.

I know I've lived a sheltered life, but this was just awesome scenery to me. We proceeded to head into the park, but before we even got to the park entrance I shot this mountain.

I've aleady posted one shot of the westbound grain load I got later that day, but here is another one as he approached East Glacier.

One more train made it into my lens as we made the drive back to Whitefish for the evening. This one was waiting at Summit, as the grain train I just photographed had stalled on the grade and was waiting for a train behind him to give a push. We didn't have time to wait for things to work themselves out, as the light goes away quickly in the mountains. So this shot turned out to be the last of the day.

Trains aren't quite as numerous as on the Staples Sub but you sure can chase them as speeds are much slower than I was used to. Next post will include some Amtrak shots including one at the traditional Goat Lick overlook of the Sheep Creek trestle.

Jim, out.

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