Railfan with Ben 2
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CLICK HERE for the Spokane 2004 GNRHS Convention report.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Post-GNRHS Convention trip with Webmaster
Ben Ringnalda of

We are up early to pack up and check out.
I meet Ben at Frank's Diner at 0630 for breakfast.
Again, like dinner from the previous night, it
is VERY good! Hmmm, I think I've found a new
eatin' place next time I'm in town for work...

We leave Ben's car at the diner parking lot
and drive together in my truck downtown. I
sit in the truck at the "loading zone"
so Ben could walk over and get early morning
shots of the GN depot tower in the nearby park. 
We return to the diner and pick up Ben's car. Since
I have the Spokane city map, I lead us over to Hillyard.

My first picture of the day is the "old" depot 
at Hillyard which is one block north of the
VFW Hall on N Haven St. The VFW hall is 
incorrectly listed in Ref Sheet 199
as the old depot. The actual old depot is 
a brown building (with bay window) now used 
as a private residence.

Next for a picture of the "ice House", a large brick 
building a little further north on Market Street
used by "The Fenceman". This is the only 
structure remaining trackside at Hillyard from the
GN's presence.

We drive north on US 2. We photograph the depot at 
Milan, WA which has been moved back from the tracks 
and is used as a private residence. The owner was 
home, so we asked permission to shoot. The owner was
interested in learning more about the history of her
house, so I gave her my GNGOAT business card with 
the website on it.

A little further north we came to the Elk, WA depot
which is now being used as a VFW hall. The bay window
side has been expanded with another "wing".

North through Newport and into Idaho at Priest River
where we turned north to Priest Lake for two GN cabooses.
First one was painted in black as GN X3006 (Cascade Division,
Retired 10-72) with large white 1967 goat logo on the side.
Talked to the owner who gave us a tour inside and talked
about how they moved it here on a lowboy truck.

Further north was a caboose painted red with huge GN
logo but was identified as CB&Q by Ben. Had
a nice talk with the owner as well. He had a GN switch
stand and an older GN crossing signal with reflective
cross buck. 

Drove back south to US 2 and looked for depots between
Priest River and Sandpoint, but didn't see any. Just
north of Sandpoint at Boyer, ID, we found ex-GN snow
dozer BNSF 972813 with "Built 12-66 St. Cloud Shops GN RY"
proudly stenciled on its mineral red sides. Didn't
find any MRL Montana Daylight equipment which was rumored
to be stored here (possibly in service?). Also spotted
"Great Northern Road" sign.

After lunch in Sandpoint, drove north to Naples. Just south
of there at Elmira, saw TWO eastbounds just moving north.
Parked on old highway bridge for down-on shot.

I said "we'll stay here on the bridge unless the Sheriff comes
along or something". Sure enough, 30 seconds later, 
there he is! So we moved down alongside the tracks and 
photographed the 1st train through (an empty table
train, very boring). Meantime, Mr. Sheriff drove across
crossing and I thought he would come over to talk to us,
but after seeing our cameras did a U turn and drove away.
He was continually circling from Naples store out to 
bridge and back. Note: On this stretch of track, ALL
train crews waved and blew the horn in greeting. THEY
knew what railfans look like.

Once two northbounds went by, the local train in siding came
by and we got picture of GN wood chip car 174497 and
BN caboose 12562 which Ben suspects is an ex-GN rebuild.

On to Troy, MT where we get a very nice picture of the
GN X-88 in fresh red paint and GN logo. 

At Libby, check into Super 8 motel, then go down to 
ex-GN depot. While driving down the main street,
my truck thermometer read 100 degrees F. It was
HOT today. We get afternoon shots that are mostly
on one end because they parked a whole string of 
flammable-placarded tank cars right next to depot!

While we still have light, we drive the 70 miles north
to Eureka which still has its depot (supposedly in danger
of being torn down by BNSF and trying to be saved by
a local group). Also in town is a museum with the
Rexford depot moved here and the BN 10927 caboose still
in GN paint and lettering.

Lots of weird and loud people in this town. Not just
in one place. We notice it all over town as we drive
through. Lots of yelling back and forth amongst 
themselves. Did not notice such behavior in any other 
part of Montana.

Ben wanted to drive back "the other way" i.e. Forest Service
Road #36, so we did. At north portal of Flathead Tunnel
saw the door open so from the road, got our cameras ready
and out popped the "table train" we saw at Naples!

As it was getting on into evening (after 7pm), we started
seeing lots of animals, particularly deer and cattle
as we made our way south. One wag had spray-painted
a black "ST" on a Range Cattle sign (Strange Cattle).

With the last vestiges of daylight, I noticed a 
green signal in my rear view mirror. We pulled
over and stood in the back of my pickup. Soon we
could hear a roar from the south which materialized
into a Z train led by a very faded ATSF 913.

On towards dark, we came upon a large truck pulling 
an RV trailer up the road. He waved as I passed by
and I waved back. He waved more frantically at Ben
and stopped him and asked "if this was
the way to Lake Koocanusa and/or where could
he turn around?" He was a good 25 miles from the
lake and since it was a narrow logging road, all
Ben could do was wish him luck. It beats me how
he got so far off course.

Back to Libby about 2130 for dinner at Mickey D's
and to the hotel. A long day today, but tomorrow 
promises to be much less driving.

Friday, July 16, 2004

Up at 0630 and check out of Super 8. We
both fill up at the Conoco then have breakfast
at "the place with all the local's trucks parked 
outside" (otherwise known as Merve's, 

according to Ben). It was good...and inexpensive!
No sales tax on meals so full breakfast for me
was only $6.75.

Drive down to Libby depot for morning shots. Then
swing by lumber mill east of downtown, most of which
appears to be abandoned. We did see 3 GN-style
switch stands still in use in the yard, however.

On east on US 2 where we were delayed 30 minutes for
a pilot car on one of the numerous road projects we'd
encounter today. Finally got past this and resumed
75 mph track speed.

At Marion, we turned off US 2 and took forest service
roads up to Haskell Pass. The last 1/2 mile we covered
in my truck in 4 wheel drive. We came across some
campers who steered us in the direction of the tunnel
portal (on the west side) and warned us to make noise
to alert any bears. Didn't see any of the critters,

A good portion of the west portal has caved in, but 
you can still get inside and the timber lining is
very impressive to look at. Neat spot! Ben referred
to it as a "holy grail". Definitely worth the visit.

On into Kalispell for photos of the two story depot
which is about a block back from the track. For giggles,
I took a picture of the big KALISPELL sign as well.

Now south on US 93 through another big construction
zone to Rollins, MT to photograph the GN caboose
once used as an ice cream parlor. At the south end
of the lake at Polson, we had lunch at Subway, then
north on Montana Hwy 35 to what looks like a X-200
series caboose in red with big GN logo and moose
antlers on one end!

North on Hwy 35 we went along the east shore of Flathead
lake. Much less traffic here and a fresh cherries
roadside stand about every half mile.

With Ben's guidance, at Columbia Falls we turn back 
south on US 2 and found the "Bruck" (Bus/Truck) being 
restored at an RV/Truck repair shop.

When we got there, the Bruck was mostly painted in
orange/green and gold stripe with the lower band of
green, skirting, bumpers and lettering still to be
added. The interior had been painted a light gray
with all the seats removed. A very nifty item!
As Ben pointed out, even some of the tires have
GN serial numbers stamped on them.

As we passed through Columbia Falls on our way to
Essex, Ben spotted what certainly looked like a GN
depot right along US 2 in the center of town. It has 

a bay window and everything. It is called "Linc's 
Automotive - General Repair".  Ben later checked out 
Ref Sheet #199 which suggests this is the "old" Columbia 
Falls depot.  

The next stop was at West Glacier (Belton) for pictures
of the Belton Chalets. While taking our pictures, an
eastbound came through town overtaking a ballast train
in the siding. We overtook this train (and noticed
many railfans chasing it) and saw it again at Essex.
Later, that ballast train made its way to Essex to a
siding where it tied up for the night.

We checked in at that most hallowed of GN lodgings, the
Izaak Walton Inn. THEN, the next item of business
was to enjoy a couple cold beers in the cool basement
(it was 96 degrees on the porch). We ran into a 
number of GN fans as well including Jim Chinquist and
his wife Caroline who arrived by train. We also saw
Martin Evoy and company out on the porch enjoying the
warm weather.

The light was good, so we took some pictures of the
Inn and then we made a pilgrimage to the wonderful
gift store they have. After warming up my credit
card on many GN artifacts (and a few baubles for
my lovely wife back home), we headed outside again
for more train pictures. 

BNSF obliged by sending us a westbound loaded grain
drag which loudly and painfully screeched to a stop
in front of the inn. Two helpers uncoupled from the
rear and lined themselves into Essex yard.

At 1900, we had a wonderful dinner at the I.W.I. 
restaurant. I have to say the food was much better
than the last visit Baolu and I made in 2001. I
had iced tea, a mini "pita pizza" for appetizer,
salad with "huckleberry vinaigrette" dressing, 
stuffed trout and huckleberry ice cream for dessert.
It was superb.

After dinner, it was time to unload the vehicles
and watch the Empire Builder roll through pretty
much on time at 2100. As it was getting dark,
we headed down to the bar for one more beer
and took them outside and chatted on the front

Finally, it was time to say good night and good
bye. I had a 600 mile drive back to Redmond tomorrow
and Ben was headed towards Bozeman. I had a great time
on this trip with Ben and saw a lot of things I would not
normally have under his direction. So thanks, Ben, and
let's do this again sometime!