Wednesday, August 06, 2014

A break in the action

Today we drove through the great wide expanses of northern Montana. After the events of yesterday, today was quiet, though not always relaxing -- we were on a two-lane road with a 70 mile-per-hour speed limit, with the opposing lane full of trucks headed for the North Dakota oil fields.  It's beautiful, though.  They aren't kidding when they call Montana "Big Sky Country."  We watched a fierce little rainstorm approach us for at least fifty miles before we got wet.

We drove at first across dry rolling cattle lands with bluffs carved by the Missouri River to the south -- much of that in the Fort Peck Indian Reservation -- then through increasingly flat grazing lands with the only trees in deep gullies running south toward the rivers, and finally across high, perfectly flat, immense, apparently infinite golden prairies, rolling uninterrupted south as far as we could see and farther, and to the north into Alberta, Canada  (only 30 or 40 miles away -- now and then we saw Border Patrol vehicles or signs about customs and ports).   For hours and hours, we drove across those prairies, just rolling forever, interrupted occasionally by little towns, grain bins, and of course, trains.   If you grew up here, you'd have different ideas about space and time,  and you'd know a lot more about the sky.

The big sky, amber waves of grain, yet another oil train in the far background, and an occasional bicyclist:

Jamie would like it here in Shelby, where we spent Tuesday night. The town sign:

Shelby is all about trains.   The hotel is hung with train pictures.  That's a train siding across the road from the hotel (you can see it in the background of the sign picture).  We counted four long trains made mostly of oil cars at the siding, and as we watched, a fifth came rolling in from the west, made mostly of oil cars that must have been empty and on the way to North Dakota to load up.

We paralleled the train tracks all the way across Montana, through the area known as the "Hi-Line," and I mostly took pictures of trains.  Most of them were freight trains, and most of those were oil trains.  But there are Amtrak passenger stations all along Route 2, and here's the Amtrak "Empire Builder," rolling east:

Here, just for fun, are some non-train scenes from when we were stuck in road construction traffic for an unreasonably long time in a small town somewhere along the Hi-Line.  You'll have to enlarge the mailbox picture, at the entrance to a trailer park, to see why I took it.  We wonder what it means. I took the motel-sign picture just because I liked it.  Dad and I puzzled out the code: MW is microwave, Inet is internet, single is ??? we don't know because it says two beds. 

and finally, I'm adding this, because Dad loves it and insisted:

It's 6:15 in the morning here in Shelby (we're waking up early because we've crossed two time zones and our bodies think it's two hours later than the clock says it is.)  We're off to Glacier National Park today -- two hours west -- and then we'll see.  More tonight!


Claire Newbold said...

Great post and video is priceless.

Luke Murphy said...

Shelby is all about trains because in 1891, James Jerome Hill chose it as the perfect spot to build offshoots north (to Alberta) and south (to Great Falls, MT) from his Great Northern Railroad.

That Amtrak train you saw is named after J. J. Hill ("Empire Builder" was his nickname). Actually, it looks like Route 2 basically runs parallel to the former Great Northern Railroad throughout much of Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, and Washington. So most of those train tracks you're seeing were built by J. J. Hill. My understanding is that Hill basically built most of the towns along the way, too - building his transcontinental railroad slowly but surely, making sure each portion was profitable before building further, and doing things like offering seed and livestock to startup farmers along the way so that the railroad would have stuff to carry when it was finished.

Hill is my favorite 19th century industrialist. He built the sixth transcontinental railroad in this country, but it was the first one to be built without using any federal loans or land grants, and the others mostly went bankrupt. Seattle is what it is today because the Great Northern made trade with China and Japan possible.

Laura said...


Mom said...

Thanks, Luke, that's fascinating. The daring of not just building a railroad, but founding towns ahead of its path to ensure its success -- so audacious! How do people get the nerve and the courage to do things like that?

Caleb said...