We as railfans tend to get caught up with railroad equipment, history, rivets, and other non-human aspects of railroading. The honest truth is trains move because of the people behind them. The excursion I rode on the Central Montana is no different. Without Carla, Kristi, AJ, Alan, and many others we wouldn’t have turned a wheel.
General Manager, lobbyist, and engineer are just a few of the titles CMR’s Carla Allen holds. On our spring excursion she did a little of each.
Running around in a couple of 1950′s era GP9′s means problems can happen. Sure enough when we stopped at Danvers to get the power around to the other end of the train both locomotives wouldn’t load. With a single ended siding we needed both units move the train around. Initially Carla and Kristi worked on the issue but soon AJ and Alan were involved. After 30 minutes of trying different things AJ and Alan popped open a cabinet and started hunting around for the issue. Soon they discovered a balky relay which stuck in the wrong position and prevented loading. A quick tap of a flag stick put it back in the right spot and we were in business again. Without the right people it would have been a long walk back to Denton!
Our troubleshooters AJ (left) and Alan (right) work to determine which balky relay they need to give a nudge.
With only an engineer and conductor the switching moves at Danvers would have been a challenge. Thankfully we had a couple of additional railroaders on the excursion and they pitched in to facilitate the work. After a quick job briefing Alan and AJ teamed up with Kristi and Carla to move the power to the other end of the train. Without their willingness to volunteer the run around move sure would have taken longer.
AJ Shewan make a joint between our caboose and a flat car.
As you can see people make it happen, even when it is a simple excursion train…
As railfans know there are a few iconic locations where rail lines, scenery, and structures converge into unprecedented scenes. For the Central Montana this iconic location falls beween the Hoosac tunnel and the Danvers elevators. It is a bit of a remote spot where nothing more than a few rattlesnakes and cattle live. Its name is Sage Creek. The highlights of this location are of course the 1700′ long Sage Creek trestle and the nearly two mile long sweeping S curve on either side. Add in Montana’s “Big Sky” and this spot unbeatable.
The eastbound excursion train descends the 1% grade from Hoosac tunnel towards Sage Creek.
On the south side of Sage Creek mother nature built a viewing platform to end all platforms. The hills which define the canyon are covered only in grass and are easy to negotiate for an ideal photographic position. No matter what your taste I think you can find a spot on that hill which will make you smile. For our excursion Jay and Carla worked together to put the train in various spots so everyone could have that perfect photo.
Our excursion train parks in the middle of one of the beautiful railroad scenes in Montana.
On the return to Denton we stopped on the north side of the trestle for another photo shoot. This time we set up much closer to the trestle which gives you the idea just how big it really is.
Our excursion train is dwarfed by the massive Sage Creek trestle.
With a scene as giant as the S curve and trestle at Sage Creek I think a 110 car grain train would be much more appropriate for an excursion.
East of Denton we first stopped at a hill that provides a great view of a curve with Square Butte in the background. This ended up being one spot where a much longer train would be just ideal. Don’t get me wrong, having any train at this spot in 2013 makes it special so I cherished seeing our little excursion train round the bend and come into view.
East of Denton, MT our little excursion train rounds a curve with the famous Square Butte looking over the scene.
Our next stop was a rural grade crossing near the community of Hoosac. Here Jay and Carla arranged for a local gentleman to bring his 40′s era Ford pick up in for a photo shoot with the train. The first set up was staged for Camron’s video. The pickup drove slowly down the road while the train approached the crossing just ahead of it. After that we parked the pickup around the crossing for us still photographers to get a few photos. The old Ford looked great and worked well with our ’50s era Chevys.
A Ford and a Couple of Chevy’s near Hoosac, MT.
Most railfans have heard of the Hoosac tunnel and most probably think it is in Massachusetts. Central Montana railfans recognize Hoosac tunnel is actually located in Montana. After our photo shoot with the Ford we continued east and passed through the Montana version of the tunnel. On the east end we stopped for another photo shoot of with the train exiting the tunnel.
From the cupola of the CMR caboose the Sage Creek valley comes into view framed by the Hoosac tunnel.
Thanks to the recent rains all the hills around the Hoosac tunnel are very green.
Next up, the unparalleled vistas of Sage Creek.
Welcome to the CMR. On the morning of our excursion the door to CMR headquarters is wide open.
After the night photo shoot my 5:30am alarm came mighty early. Since I was going for a train ride an early call was ok in my book. I made a quick trip from Stanford back over to Denton for the morning safety meeting and briefing on the trip. Jay reviewed the plan of the day and we covered some basic safety item with train, our crew, and our caboose. Sure we are all railfans and think we know better, but reviewing safety tips for the day was an important step.
At 7:45am our CMR adventure headed west from Denton to the station of Arrow Creek where Carla and Kristi ran the power around the train and set us up for a couple of photos. At Arrow Creek the Highwood mountains formed a wonderful back drop for a very CMR scene. In the coming months the railroad plans to repair the washout a few miles to the west and restore train service through the Arrow Creek canyon to Square Butte and Geraldine.
Stopped at Arrow Creek, MT our little train poses for a photo under the Big Skys of Montana.
Since the Central Montana is mostly former Milwaukee Road and was operated by BN for just a few years its MILW heritage shows through everywhere. West of Denton we passed several signs from the MILW era including a flanger board for a crossing and a Station One Mile sign. The Station One Mile sign ended up being our second photo stop of the day. At our stops I found dozens of date nails from the 30′s marking the ties as I walked to and from the train. It truly was a step back in time.
One mile east of Arrow Creek we stopped for a portrait of the train with the Station One Mile sign.
After one more photo stop between Arrow Creek and Denton we headed east into town for a quick stop at the restroom and the beginning of the eastern portion of our tour.
It is mud season in central Montana now. With snow down to the valley floor in early May followed by warm temperatures streams are running high and low spots are collecting water and turning to mud. It’s a good thing there’s lots of mud to go around because Central Montana Rail and BNSF seem to enjoy rolling in it. Read this article by James Woodburn, a Geraldine-area producer who serves on the Central Montana Rail board of directors, and see what I mean.
Let’s hope mud season is short and everyone can get back to business soon.