Needing to escape before I potentially had a new job, I decided in the 11th hour that I was going to take my camera, my new (to me) Jetta and both my US/CAN passports, to access the Treasure State.
My goal was to witness some of the Milwaukee Road structures still in place built during the 1909 Pacific Extension, and photograph their existence. I have long wanted to witness some of the treasures that you can find in Montana of the former CMStP&P main line.
Knowing that I only had 4 days, I decided to focus on a region, rather than try to see the line in a linear fashion of Harlowton-Saint Paul Pass. Instead, I decided to focus on Missoula-West to the Idaho line, and then use some of my allotted vacation time to stay in the Flathead for some GN heritage, now under the flag of the BNSF.
After choosing my starting point to be Missoula, I planned my routing to enter the state North of Cut Bank, and travel along the Front Range to Augusta, then cross the mountains on Highway 200 and end up in Missoula.
As I was heading along the corridor served by Highway 89, I wanted to try and locate any existing GN and MILW heritage along this route.
Day 1: Monday- Alberta/Montana Border-Missoula
I left Edmonton on a Sunday, and overnighted in Lethbridge, opting to cross into MT at the Del Bonita border crossing. The crossing was uneventful, and I stopped for my first photo at the end of the Valier branch, the former Montana Western Railway shortline built from Conrad to its terminus at Valier.
I shot the end of track and the elevators, and also noted that the town of Valier had a “Ponoka Avenue”, a nod to Indian heritage. Ponoka is the Blackfoot word for elk.
I went west to US89, where I followed it south-easterly along the eastern front of the Rockies, more or less obliterated by forest fire smoke.
A few miles from the hamlet of Pendroy, I encountered the former grade. To my knowledge this was GN’s line, as more or less a few miles to the East was Agawam, served by the Milwaukee Road. This was the furthest NW Milwaukee Road Northern Montana Division went, deep into GN served territory, the line ending at Agawam.
I was able snap a few shots of the grade and followed it through Bynum, Koyl and into Choteau.
At Choteau I was keen to find any remnants of the GN and the MILW’s history. The trains still come into Choteau by way of Power and Eastham Jct, now served by the BNSF.
The Great Northern Railway has family history for my mom’s side; my great uncle Justus Jern was the agent in Choteau at one time. I was hoping to see if the depot was still standing, but sadly it was razed some time ago. Downtown there is two visible lines, and the former MILW/GN joint main seems to be repositioned as an elevator loading track.
I got some photos of Choteau’s pretty downtown with the courthouse at the southern end of Mainstreet acting as the hub of the HWY 89/287 Traffic circle.
I needed to make my way to Missoula, so following Highway 287 led me toward Augusta.
Augusta, like Choteau is in scenic “prairie-meets-mountains” setting, and was at the Western end of a GN branch from Simms, parts of which were also used by the MILW in history. I recall there was a depot the last time I was through the region in 2002, but I didn’t see it if it was there. My research shows that the GN came into the nearby hamlet of Gilman, just a mile or so before Augusta’s townsite.
After Augusta I drove along the ever-undulating terrain, the hills and mountain vistas getting grander the closer I got to Highway 200 junction.
Through Rogers Pass:
Highway 200 is a lonely road. It’s also the longest state highway in the nation, running from the ND state line at Fairview 706 miles west to the Idaho border at Lake Pend Oreille. In places it runs across the least populated regions of Montana, and the segment from near Augusta to Missoula is a beautiful drive.
The mountains really begin to rise as you climb up to Rogers Pass. Yes, another Rogers Pass; named after the same A.B. Rogers, who’s name also graces the better-known pass in the Canadian Rockies. This pass has never had rail traffic, yet is the only pass South of Marias Pass that you can cross the divide, so it is an important corridor.
Rogers Pass to Missoula:
On the Western side of the divide the terrain changes into lush forests, and remote towns like Lincoln (the one-time home of the Unabomber), Ovando and Greenough. You travel along the edge of the Bob Marshall Wilderness area, and traffic is light on this scenic drive.
After Greenough, I was able to see some remains of the one-time line from Bonner (E. of Missoula) into the region.
Built as the Missoula & Bitter Root Valley Railroad, the line followed the Blackfoot River into the interior, and the grade was clearly visible in many spots. Especially just before arriving at Milltown, where the MRL was using a short portion to service the industry there. Bonner is a company town, and a found a great row of 1920’s Craftsman Houses. Many have been kept up.
Missoula was my first of two nights on the road, so I checked into my hotel and rested up for my second day- chasing the ghosts of the Milwaukee Road’s Electrified Pacific Extension to Puget Sound.
Day 2: Tuesday- Missoula-Saint Paul Pass/Lookout Pass
I had been in contact with Jon Severson, who has explored a lot of the MILW main line and even managed to access the remote, and very difficult to enter (due to private property) of Sixteen Mile Canyon, between Harlowton and Lombard. Since my car wasn’t a four-wheel drive, I had made the choice to explore the easier to follow grades that roughly parallel I-90. His advice was to explore the former MILW grade, most of it easily accessible from the frontage roads and former sections of Highway 10.
Lozeau and The Yellowstone Trail:
After a coffee, I hit I-90 West, and did a straight shot (easy to when the limit is 80 MPH) until Lozeau, just a little west of Alberton.
After exiting, I took a shot of the MRL (former NP) grade crossing at Lozeau and then crossed the unique single lane, wooden deck platformed truss bridge over the Clark Fork River and immediately met up with the former MILW grade and Old Highway 10.
Following old Highway 10, the “Yellowstone Trail” with roots to the Mullan Road (the original Wagon Road) is a scenic drive in itself. For the most part the road follows the MILW grade, and also parallel to the MRL’s former NP Mainline. I was on the “Mainstreet of the Northwest”!
It wasn’t long before I was rewarded one of MILW’s concrete bridges. Keystone Road’s underpass has since lost the center span.
I took shots of scenic Superior, MT, and then hopped back onto I-90 and highballed straight to Saltese.
Saltese, Lookout Pass, Saint Paul Pass:
Saltese has the scenic high bridge of the MILW grade. At this point climbing up towards the summit and tunnel through Saint Paul Pass.
The bridge at Saltese is now open for trail traffic, and is unofficially part of the “Route of The Hiawatha Trail”. A few miles upgrade the official trail head begins for the 15-mile ride through the 1.7-mile-long tunnel at East Portal through to Pearson, Idaho.
It’s worthy to note that the MILW wasn’t the only railroad in this narrow valley region. The NP had a branch line running from Sant Regis over Lookout Pass and into Wallace, Idaho. Much of the old NP route is somewhat accessible, and I can say I drove on a portion of it into Idaho at Lookout Pass.
Also, part of the scene is the old Highway 10 grade, and the newer I-90. I drove a few miles of the former Highway 10 on the Montana side of Lookout Pass. I ran into huckleberry pickers along the road. Most were expressing their distaste for the lack of huckleberries, the weather was hotter than normal, and the crop wasn’t excellent.
Saint Regis & Cyr:
I began to work my way home towards Missoula. I stopped at Saint Regis to photograph the bridges over the Clark Fork River. The Former MILW used to cross over the NP, just above the NP’s depot. The NP depot is gone, but the lanes of I-90 cross overhead.
Near Cyr Montana I captured the old Highway 10’s Spring Gulch bridge, right next to the old highway grade is the MILW grade. The bridge is now gone.
As I was driving into Alberton, my scanner went off, and on the opposite side of the valley was a BNSF coal train on the MRL. I retreated the 9 miles back to Cyr and found a crossing where I could get a pic of the power. A Santa Fe Warbonnet, with a FXE unit trailing. It was worth the chase. Otherwise, the MRL was pretty quiet on this day.
Alberton was the division point for the MILW. The previous one was Deer Lodge, and the next one would be Avery, Idaho.
Alberton was by every sense a true Milwaukee Road Town. The depot has been saved and acts as a library and other functions. The yard is gone, but you can see where it was, and a preserved Milwaukee Road built ribbed Bay window Caboose (these were built with passenger car trucks) and a former wooden baggage car are saved and on display nearby.
From Alberton I drove the old Highway 10 and at the former site of Soudan the incredible concrete structures carried the MILW over the road. The section over the highway has been removed, but the other segments still stand, resplendent as ruins by the Romans.
Just before Huson, the old Highway 10 peters out and you are back on I-90 through Frenchtown. Here, I jumped off the Interstate and found myself on the old Mullan Road (here numbered as Highway 263) and closely paralleled the MILW into Missoula.
Just 9 miles from Missoula is the former station of Primrose.
Primrose has one of the surviving electric substations that powered the Milwaukee Road’s 438 miles of electric lines between Harlowton, MT to Avery, ID.
There were 14 substations along the right of way to keep the 3000 DC current flowing into the catenary that powered Box cab Electrics, Bi-Polars and Little Joe locomotives that pulled freight and passengers alike- notably the Olympian Hiawatha’s service from Chicago to Puget Sound. There are a few substations still standing in Montana, and others still in Washington between Othello and the Coast.
It was great to see a substation, and I knew I had to see two more structures before the end of the day, so into Missoula I went.
Milwaukee Road in Missoula:
Missoula is home to the University of Montana, headquarters of Montana Rail Link, a city bathed in history and also one of the most scenic small cities in the Pacific Northwest.
Missoula’s railroad heritage goes to the Northern Pacific, establishing a yard and division point and firmly in place by the time The Milwaukee Road entered the scene. The Milwaukee Road’s route from the East ran through Hellgate Canyon, past the University, and their depot was constructed just off Higgins Avenue, along the Clark Fork River. The Milwaukee Road’s larger depots were nothing like you would see in the West. The depot in Missoula was constructed in 1910, and was used by the railroad as a passenger terminal through 1960, after the cancellation of the Olympian Hiawatha and all other passenger trains on this extension. The railroad retained the building to house freight operations until the railroad went bankrupt in 1980.
After a few unsuccessful attempts to use the depot as a restaurant it was restored to house the Boone & Crockett Club as their headquarters, after being in the East for 105 previous years.
My final salute to the Milwaukee Road was to walk a short portion of the “Milwaukee Road Trail”, a paved trail that passes the depot and runs along the scenic Clark Fork River. I followed the trail to the U of M campus where two block signals still stand today, adjacent to the U of M’s Washington/Grizzlies Stadium.
I tried to imagine Little Joes and later EMD power running past the stadium during Griz’ games.
The trail is popular with Missoulians and I was happy to see that the rail – trail celebrated the era of being a transcontinental railroad.
It was my last night in Missoula, so I found a nice dinner at the Thomas Meager Pub in downtown Missoula and prepared for my trip up to the Flathead. More in Part 2!
600-year-old gold coin discovered in Newfoundland could be oldest found in Canada
ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — A history enthusiast in Newfoundland has discovered what may be the oldest known English coin ever found in Canada.
Provincial archeologist Jamie Brake said Wednesday that he knew he was looking at something very special when Edward Hynes sent him photos of a gold coin he’d found this past summer. The coin has since been determined to be about 600 years old, which predates the first documented European contact with North America since the Vikings.
“It’s surprisingly old,” Brake said in an interview. “It’s a pretty big deal.”
How, when and why the coin wound up on the island of Newfoundland is still a mystery.
Hynes found the artifact at an undisclosed archeological site somewhere along Newfoundland’s south coast. The exact location is being kept quiet, Brake said, so as not to attract treasure seekers.
Hynes was not available for an interview Wednesday, but Brake described him as a “super intelligent” man with a keen interest in Newfoundland’s history. He said Hynes contacted his local heritage society right away when he first spied the coin.
“He really did exactly what we would hope someone would do under circumstances like this,” Brake said.
Through consultation with a former curator at the Bank of Canada’s currency museum, it was determined that the gold coin is a Henry VI quarter noble. With a face value of one shilling and eight pence, the coin was minted in London between 1422 and 1427.
That’s about 70 years before John Cabot landed on Newfoundland’s shores in 1497 after setting sail from the English port of Bristol.
But the coin’s age doesn’t mean someone from Europe was on the island before Cabot, Brake said. For example, it could have been part of a later settler’s collection. It’s unlikely that it was in circulation when it was lost, he said, adding that it was worth quite a lot of money in the 1400s.
“It’s not the sort of thing you’d expect migratory fishers to be walking around with,” he said.
Last November, officials announced the discovery of a coin in Cupids, N.L., that was minted in Canterbury, England, some time between 1493 and 1499. That coin — a “half groat,” which was worth about two pennies at the time — was said to be the oldest English coin found in the country.
This latest discovery trumps that find. Brake described it as a thin circle of solid gold, slightly smaller than a quarter and weighing a little more than a dime. To figure out how it wound up on Newfoundland’s south coast, Brake and his team will now flag the spot at which it was found as a site of interest and put together a plan to explore it.
“We’re definitely interested in learning more,” he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 9, 2022.
The Canadian Press
Local artist records original song for Remembrance Day with video showcasing Red Deer’s military history
Editor’s note: This article was published in 2020. It was extremely popular in the Central Alberta region so we wanted to circulate it again this year, now even more poignant with the war in Ukraine. The video uses many images that are familiar to Central Albertans and pays tribute to Central Alberta soldiers who have deployed internationally over the years.
This spring, a singer and songwriter friend of mine from Red Deer, Shelly Dion, came to me with a song idea that had, in her words, been “knocking around in my head for the past 30 years”. She said that she really wanted to pay her respects to the people who sacrificed their lives and livelihoods to go to war.
The song is called “Lay Me Down”, and it’s a very fitting song for this time of year. We decided to get together and record a simple version of the song. Then I sent her off to see musical wizard, Red Deer’s Heath West of Medodius Design. Heath came up with some excellent improvements and we recorded it in his studio this fall.
As Honorary Colonel of 41 Signal Regiment in Alberta, I’m always looking for opportunities to promote the military, our Regiment’s members, and of course at this time of year, to acknowledge the sacrifice made by the men and women who serve in the Canadian Armed Forces. “Lay Me Down” hit all the right notes.
With some help from Counsellor Michael Dawe, long-time archivist for the City of Red Deer, I gained access to some wonderful historic photos that helped me to tell some of the stories of Red Deer’s military history. At the same time, I wanted to help the members of our Regiment honour the many local members who have volunteered to put their lives and careers on hold to deploy internationally to places like Afghanistan, Golan Heights, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, and more recently Ukraine and Latvia. This project allowed me to both profiles some local history and recognize our more modern history. Thanks to WO Drew Adkins of 41 Signal Regiment for his help in coordinating photos from our wall of fame inside Cormack Armoury.
The above video is the result. Take some time to learn about our local military history. Do you know who Cormack Armoury is named after? You’ll also learn about local members of 41 Signal Regiment (2 Sqn), many of whom actively serve in the Armed Forces today. You may even know some of them as neighbours, friends, and co-workers. Please take a moment to acknowledge their service, and on November 11th, attend a service, and at the very least, take a moment at 11 AM to be silent and consider how lucky we are to be at peace in our country.
“Lay Me Down” is written and performed by Shelly Dion and produced and engineered by Heath West. Musicians: Bagpipes Glenn MacLeod, acoustic guitar Heath West, electric guitars Lloyd Lewis, drums Phil Liska, Bass Doug Gagnon.
Click to read more on Todayville.
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