Essex and the
Isaac Walton Inn Dec 3-6, 2008

      On Wednesday 12-3-08 my sister Laurie and I took the Empire Builder from Seattle to Essex, MT to stay at the Isaac Walton Inn. Early in the afternoon I drove to Seattle to see what our train and power was going to be. Luckily I arrived just as the train was being backed into the coach yard for servicing after being turned on the wye.

     Amtrak GE's 170/190 were going to lead our 7 car train out of Seattle later that afternoon.



      I then headed for home and later my sister and I drove to King St Station for our train. We each had our own roomette in sleeping car 32048. Train #8 left Seattle right on time at 4:45 PM and we were on our way. We had dinner in the diner as the train entered the Cascade Tunnel. As the meal was free for Sleeping car passengers we both went with the steak which was very good! After turning in for the night I soon realized with the swaying and rather bumpy ride I was not going to get any sleep tonight. True enough I was awake all night long but it was amazing how many locations I recognized looking out my window in the dark between Spokane and Sandpoint riding on the former NP tracks. Still without being able to sleep I felt like I was on a red eye flight! Some of that probably had to do with me being really excited after looking at the Isaac Walton Webcam before we left and seeing plenty of snow on the ground. I was so pumped up for chasing some trains after we arrive I really didn't feel that tired. I had arranged to rent a car thru the Inn and I would be anxious to start taking pictures right after we arrive around 0900 Thursday morning.

      The eastbound Empire Builder was 25 minutes early into Whitefish, MT 12-4-08. It was still dark but the sky was starting to brighten up and I could tell it would be a clear morning. It was light enough when we left Whitefish I could make notes of some of the locations I might want to check out after we arrive at Essex and I get the rental car. I was planning to work my way west today and go east of Essex tomorrow.

      At Coram I noticed an old woodchip burner overlooking the tracks I found interesting. Then there was the depot at West Glacier with the name Belton on it. There were also a number of tunnels too with highway 2 nearby for overhead shots. After arriving at Essex the shuttle van was already there waiting for us. My sister and I were the only guests for the Isaac Walton though three young fellows from Brazil also got off the train as new employees at the Isaac Walton Inn. As my sister and I checked in, she had room 3 and I had room 16, I saw an eastbound BNSF freight pulling out for Marias with BNSF GE's up front and SD40-2's 6817/6821 shoving on the rear. It was nice to see SD40-2's still held down manned helper assignments over Marias. As I filled out the paperwork for the rental car I noticed a westbound BNSF grain train going by. And after stowing my bags up in the room a westbound autorack train. This was looking to be a very busy day I thought! Actually the autoracks was the last moving train I would see until later in the day.

      I drove all the way west to Whitefish with no eastbounds spotted. I could hear an eastbound PASNTW arriving with instructions to tie up in the yard as I was coming into Whitefish. After I arrived I noticed there were three westbound grain trains all tied up.

      So I took some photos of the Whitefish depot and the restored "Bruck" (combination bus-truck) on display nearby.



      Then I moved down to restored GN NW3 181 on display at the west end of the depot. It was very impressive looking. I photographed it and the attached plaque.



      With not much else going on and as it was nearing noon I headed over to a nearby Wendys for lunch and headed back towards Essex. My first stop was at Coram where I checked the signals which were dark. I then took some photos of the old beehive style woodchip burner I had seen from the train. It did not look like it had been used for quite sometime.



      Continuing east I spotted an old Great Northern caboose at a rafting business just west of West Glacier. I just had to pull off for some photos. I am guessing there probably isn't a whole lot of winter rafting going on this time of year! It was pretty cold out, about 16 degrees.

      After getting back home I did some research and discovered the caboose is ex-GN X220 built 5/1942. I noticed the trucks were marked BN 966570. I am pretty sure that this isn't the cabooses BN number however.

      Just a bit further east at West Glacier was the Belton Depot. Still an Amtrak destination (we stopped there though no one got on or off) the depot looks very nice. I am guessing this depot was built by the GN.



      I couldn't help but notice I was getting a lot of photos, yet none were of moving trains! Continuing east Highway 2 started climbing higher into the mountains. Coming around a sharp curve west of Paola I saw a really scenic view that I knew I had to photograph. I turned the car around and drove back to where I could park and walked up to the curve taking a number of different angles.

      All those burned trees on the one hill just looked really eerie. But looking into the valley below was just so beautiful.



      Here are a couple more views from the same location. Well, if I can't find any trains at least I was able to find some scenic locations like this! The BNSF line would be just below me.



      Then I headed back to the car and continued on towards Paola, MT. Finally after arriving at Paola I saw a green signal for a westbound. At last something was coming. I moved a little west to a small hillside and waited. I had my scanner with me and soon could hear some detectors east of me announcing an approaching westbound. The train was a westbound Z with plenty of power. Following the Z-train by about half an hour was a westbound grain train.

1) BNSF 1033/161/100/7461/4747/4732 was by my location at 2:43 PM.
   This was at about MP 1177.
2) Here is a back shot of the same train at the same location.
3) BNSF 4351 West grain loads west of Paola, MT 30 minutes later.
4) BNSF DPU's 4995/802 on westbound grain train.



      That was it for the days train action as the next train I would see would be well after dark. I went back to the Isaac Walton Inn for the night hoping the next day would see more trains to photograph than today.


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