Montana By Steam 2002 - Part 8

Oct 19, 2002 Day Five of Montana By Steam excursion, Bozeman, MT to Missoula

Day Five is in the Montana Rail Link 2nd Subdivision from MP 122.4 at Bozeman to 220.3 at Helena, then in the 3rd Subdivision, from Helena MP 0.0 to Missoula MP 119.3, totalling 217.2 miles for the day.

Engineer: Jim Abney
Fireman: Terry Thompson
Assistant Fireman: Dale Birkholz
MRL: Bob Bateman, engineer pilot, Missoula and Pete Storseth, road foreman/trainmaster, Helena.
MRL support vehicle: Paul Elsenpeter, mechanical foreman, Helena.

Logan MP 164.6

Joel caught us about 25 miles out of Bozeman on another crisp Montana fall morning. Photo by Joel King.

Clarkston MP 178.8

At the start of a photo run-by at Clarkston, the SP&S 700 is releasing steam from the cylinder cocks, which gives the appearance of spraying insecticide at the newfangled insect hovering nearby. Photo by Greg Kamholz.

Engineer Greg Kamholz, "railfanning" on his day off, caught this great shot of the photo line watching the approach of the SP&S 700 in this run-by at Clarkston. Photo by Greg Kamholz.

Clarkston run-by. Photo by Greg Kamholz.

The only mechanical ailment of the entire trip was a broken bracket that held the lubricator for the rear air pump, which we discovered after the run-by. Jim Vanderbeck is securing the lubricator so that it will be safe until tonight's stop in Missoula, where we can give it more attention. Photo by Al Krug.

It is not often that one has the opportunity to fulfill a lifetime dream for someone, especially one that would knock the socks off even the most jaded old hoghead. Quite by chance, engineer Jim Abney had made the acquaintance of Sheridan, Wyoming-based BNSF engineer Al Krug when Al visited the cab of the 700 in Billings during his layover on a freight pool trip to Laurel. As Al explains in a story he wrote of his trip at, he and Jim had not met previously but had read some of each other's postings on a rail-oriented website. Jim decided to do his own version of the Make-A-Wish Foundation(r) and invited Al to join him in the 700's cab on the trip westward out of Bozeman. Al thought it was just for a cab ride but Jim had other ideas and invited Al to take the throttle upon leaving the photo run-by at Clarkston. We invite you to click the link above to read Al's engaging, lengthy tale of - as he described it - "a most awesome day". Here Al is checking the steam gauge as he's blowing the whistle. Photo by Jim Abney.

Very shortly after departing the photo run-by stop at Clarkston guest engineer Al Krug took this photo out the engineer's front window. Because the view is a somewhat telephoto format the boiler appears to be shorter than it actually is. Photo by Al Krug.

Helena MP 0 to Blossburg MP 20.5 (Continental Divide)

Other than a slight dip in the first two miles out of Helena, it's uphill all the way to the Continental Divide at the top of the Rockies, with the last 11 miles on a steady 2.2% grade. Knowing that we were pulling a train half again as big as the normal NORTH COAST LIMITED which was pulled by the coal burning Northern Pacifics class A3 4-8-4s assisted by a helper engine on the pass (the SP&S 700 is a duplicate of the NP A3 class except for burning oil), MRL Road Foreman Pete Storseth was concerned how our power would handle the train as he certainly didn't want our train to stall on the grade in the Mullan Tunnel. As engineer Jim Abney tells it: "We normally ran the train with the 700 only; the trailing MRL 392 diesel, which was controlled from the cab of the 700, would be called on only for extra power on the steepest grades or to maintain momentum if the 700 slipped because of a flange greaser. Shortly out of Helena as we began to hit the grade Pete asked me to show him everything we had for power. With both the 700 and the 392 at full throttle I could maintain a speed of 22 to 23 MPH on the 2.2% grade, only slightly less than the 25 MPH track speed limit. Having proved our capability, around Austin I asked Pete (considering other traffic on the line and time constraints) for permission to back off on the diesel and let the 700 do most of the work. Knowing that Montana Rockies Rail Tours passengers had paid big bucks to see this engine really work, I wanted to give them some value for their money. After a short deliberation Pete agreed to my request and I reduced the 392s throttle (and, thankfully, its competing noise) to the point that would keep the speed just in double digits, most often 11-12 MPH depending on the curvature, with the MRL 392 generally running at between one-third and one-half power. Except for backing off to about 8 MPH over the Austin Gulch viaduct for the many lineside photographers I kept the speed in double digits. With my fireman Terry Thompson keeping her hot we climbed the pass in a manner of the freight trains in the days of old which usually were fighting just to keep moving and the stack talk was spectacular. Martin Burwash's description of the 700 climbing the grade ( certainly made the speed decision well worth it."

The folks at Mountain West Rail website have hosted Martin's story and photos, titled "Rambling Through Layers of Understanding", which was first aired on an NP-interest discussion board. Just as with Al Krug's narrative (linked to above), some might consider it a lengthy read in this age where much of TV and the Web cater to those with short attention spans, but if you just look at the pictures and skim or skip the text, you will be missing something. His graphic description of the stack talk decibel level as experienced on the ground that day is particularly interesting.

Snaking around the curves in the Austin Loops. Photo by Arnie Holden.

Fireman Terry Thompson, somewhere around Austin. Photo by Dale Birkholz.

Abandoned farm buildings near Austin, taken from the tool car. These buildings of an old farmstead are the same ones shown in a photo contained in the account written by Martin Burwash (referenced above). Photo by Arnie Holden.

Engineer Jim Abney, opening the throttle a little more. Photo by Dale Birkholz.

With the throttle all the way open, Jim is pushing the reverser all the way forward. At this point, the SP&S 700 is giving her all on this 2.2% grade, making that spectacular stacktalk referred to earlier. Photo by Dale Birkholz.

Heading through a cut that bypasses the old Iron Ridge tunnel. Photo by Arnie Holden.

Engineer Greg Kamholz and fireman Jim Vanderbeck on their day off were waiting at this vantage point to see the 700 cross the Austin Gulch Trestle. Photo by Greg Kamholz.

Looking back from the cab over the Austin Gulch Trestle (also referred to as the Skyline Trestle). It's a 10 degree curve at a 2.2% grade about a half mile downgrade from the tunnel entrance. Photo by Dale Birkholz.

An excellent source of information on the Mullan Tunnel is the book "Northern Pacific's Mullan Pass on the 'Montana Short Line'" by Bill & Jan Taylor. Built in 1883, the 3896 foot straight bore tunnel had steam-powered ventilating fans added in 1914, conversion to electric fans in 1948, and addition of radio-controlled fan actuation in 2000.

Engineer Jim Abney wearing the MRL-supplied breathing hood. In just another moment, Jim will pick up the helper unit diesel with the MU and reduce the steamer throttle prior to entering the Mullan Tunnel. Photo by Dale Birkholz.

Inside the Mullan Tunnel, fireman Terry Thompson is backing off the feedwater pump. The tunnel being a straight bore, you can "see the light at the end of the tunnel". Photo by Dale Birkholz.

Out of the Mullan tunnel, the very next thing westbound is Blossburg, where we stop momentarily to pass the breathing hoods and tanks over to a diesel freight waiting in the siding. Photo by Arnie Holden.

Blossburg MP 20.7 to Missoula MP 119.3

Dale Birkholz fires from Blossburg to Missoula. Photo by Terry Thompson (with Dale's camera).

With the moon rising over the hills east of Missoula, machinist Tom Weisner welds a temporary bracket for the lubricator for the rear air pump. Photo by Dale Birkholz.

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