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STEAM IN MONTANA

We arrived in Garrison at around 9:30 am on a crisp, clear Monday morning. A phone call from Jim, who was traveling on the train,  alerted us to the fact that they had just entered Bearmouth, so we didn't have too long to wait. Electing to take Highway 12 towards Avon, we headed east and scouted suitable locations. The turnoff for the road over Becks Hill looked promising so we stopped and parked the truck just beyond the bridge over the Little Blackfoot River. Looking back towards the west gave a good view of the railroad across the river. We decided that this would be a good place to stay.

It wasn't long before we heard the faint whistle of SP4449 away in the distance, and then a whisper of steam puffed towards the heavens over the trees. After a short delay, the bright orange steam engine hove into view around the bend, spewing a big blanket of white steam high into the sky. I quickly snapped off a few photos before heading back towards the bridge for a closer view. By this time we had been joined by several more steam enthusiasts, who had leap-frogged ahead of the train on their chase. The Southern Pacific cleared the trees and thundered towards us, it's orange and red livery complimenting the fall colors. Like a bullet it quickly passed by, pulling a train consisting of several dome cars, full of passengers enjoying the beautiful views from above the track. As the other railfans quickly re-joined the chase, we followed behind and caught up with 4449 as it approached Avon. A long line of traffic precluded overtaking the train, so we decided to call it a day and head off for a bite to eat at the excellent Avon Cafe.

The following Saturday was to be the day of the return trip, but the weather wasn't very favorable. Light rain accompanied us on the journey, this time we took the route north of Garrison. After searching for a suitable location at Phosphate, Gold Creek and Jens,  we finally chose a crossing just off the I-90 south of Drummond. This time we had no advance notice of the trains approach, and so sat it out for several hours before a small plume of smoke alerted us than she was heading our way. The SP4449 was really moving this time, and only a few seconds passed before it thundered by, blaring it's horn through the gloomy air.
It had been wonderful to see steam in Montana, my first experience since I moved here from the UK in 2001. The countryside is ideal terrain for rail journeys, a great shame that regular passenger trains no longer ply the extensive lines south of the Hi-Line. The spectacular scenery, bridges and canyons of the Big Sky make for an unforgettable journey  for those fortunate enough to travel on these all too infrequent excursions. Long may they continue.

2004 David Williams

 www.montanabysteam.com 

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