Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Poking Around a Railroad Yard

Essex, Montana

The guys in their bright orange vests didn't seem to mind this 'ole gal pokin' around the snowbound trains, camera in hand.  They smiled.  They waved.  They made sure they didn't hit me with their big pick up trucks and SUV's.  I was, you see, slipping and sliding all over the icy roads.  But how could I resist?  Photo ops abounded!  A rusty old water tower.  Colorful trains encased in six feet of snow.
Not to mention the cabins and houses on the verge of collapse--where these hearty fellows live.  Man, you gotta be tough to live and work on the railroad up here in Montana.
The railroad yard next to the Izaak Walton Inn in Essex, Montana, belongs to the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway.  The BNSF serves the western two-thirds of the United States, as well as portions of Canada.  Their tracks cover a whopping 32,500 miles, which makes it one of the largest freight networks in America, second only to Union Pacific.  The yard was full of equipment, sheds and trains with plows on the front.

My travel buddy and I met one young man on the ski trails who was taking a much needed break after helping clear snow from an avalanche that covered the tracks only a week before we arrived.  We saw several other BNSF employees eating at the inn's restaurant or having a beer in the lounge at the end of the day.

And that's about the extent of Essex, Montana:  Population 40.  The hotel and the railroad yard.

It's an isolated place, that's for sure.
But the people who work here seem to love it.

"Where do you buy your groceries?" I asked one of the staff at the hotel.

"In Kalispell.  It's about 45 minutes away.  My husband and I make weekly trips."

"Do you ever get cabin fever?"

She laughed.  "I get asked that all the time, but no, I don't.  I'm too busy here at the hotel or skiing on my days off.  It's so beautiful, I can't imagine living anywhere else."
Of course, the Amtrak brings people in from all over the country so there's always people around.  And many of them were as nutty as I was, waiting for that morning train to roll by so we could wave and take a picture.

I love trains.  Duh--that's pretty obvious.  But the Santa Fe Railroad holds a special place in my heart.  When I was a little girl, many different railroads carried passengers across the country.  The Santa Fe had a depot in my home town of Coffeyville, Kansas, and my mother and I took the train up to Kansas City several times in order to shop and to see a play at the Starlight Theater.  But by the time I was a teenager, the train had stopped passenger service and the depot was abandoned and left to rot.  This happened all over the country.

Gradually over the 160 years of railroad history in this country, all the railroads merged into the two giants.  If it weren't for Amtrak, which began service in 1971, train travel would be a thing of the past.

Like I always do on these escapades, thoughts turn to future travels.  Could I go around the world by train?  Cross Canada by rail.  Catch a freighter across the Atlantic.  Take a train across Europe.  The Trans-Siberian Express.  Another freighter back to the states.  Yes,  Yes.  And yes.

Stop getting all maudlin and nostalgic.


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