Land of Magic



On the last night of our trip, Dave and I enjoyed a few beers near the hotel, and on the walk back we had a look at the NP station in Missoula.  The next morning we were on our flights home, tired and fulfilled. On the last night of our trip, Dave and I enjoyed a few beers near the hotel, and on the walk back we had a look at the NP station in Missoula. The next morning we were on our flights home, tired and fulfilled.
Night Gas at ParadiseNight Gas at Paradise
The MRL Night Gas (MRL 821) with MRL 4408-4406 crossing the Flathead River west of Perma, Mont.The MRL Night Gas (MRL 821) with MRL 4408-4406 crossing the Flathead River west of Perma, Mont.
The MRL Night Gas (MRL 821) with MRL 4408-4406 following the Flathead River at Perma, Mont.The MRL Night Gas (MRL 821) with MRL 4408-4406 following the Flathead River at Perma, Mont.
The MRL Night Gas (MRL 821) with MRL 4408-4406 passing Sanyok Mountain just west of Dixon, Mont.  While we were challenged by clouds for much of this chase, this location was a wonderful scene with just the right light.The MRL Night Gas (MRL 821) with MRL 4408-4406 passing Sanyok Mountain just west of Dixon, Mont. While we were challenged by clouds for much of this chase, this location was a wonderful scene with just the right light.
The MRL Night Gas (MRL 821) is really on the move behind two new SD70ACes (MRL 4408-4406) as it follows MT Route 200. Thankfully the sun popped out!The MRL Night Gas (MRL 821) is really on the move behind two new SD70ACes (MRL 4408-4406) as it follows MT Route 200. Thankfully the sun popped out!
The MRL Night Gas (MRL 821) crests the grade at Evaro behind two new SD70ACes (MRL 4408-4406)The MRL Night Gas (MRL 821) crests the grade at Evaro behind two new SD70ACes (MRL 4408-4406)
Close-up of MRL 4406 on the Night Gas at Evaro Hill.Close-up of MRL 4406 on the Night Gas at Evaro Hill.
Into the sun, but with no rainbow. Still a great time!Into the sun, but with no rainbow. Still a great time!
MRL Night Gas finally getting some momentum.MRL Night Gas finally getting some momentum.
MRL Night Gas finally getting some momentum.MRL Night Gas finally getting some momentum.
Rainbow! Will we get a Rainbow! Will we get a "trainbow" shot?
MRL Night Gas (MRL 821) working its way through the curves of Evaro Hill in rain, bringing the train to a near-stall.  The train is heavy with logs in addition to the gas traffic.  MRL 4408 & MRL 4406 do the honors - two of the newest SD70ACe locomotives on the roster.MRL Night Gas (MRL 821) working its way through the curves of Evaro Hill in rain, bringing the train to a near-stall. The train is heavy with logs in addition to the gas traffic. MRL 4408 & MRL 4406 do the honors - two of the newest SD70ACe locomotives on the roster.
MRL Night Gas (MRL 821) working its way through the curves of Evaro Hill in rain, bringing the train to a near-stall.  The train is heavy with logs in addition to the gas traffic.  MRL 4408 & MRL 4406 do the honors - two of the newest SD70ACe locomotives on the roster.MRL Night Gas (MRL 821) working its way through the curves of Evaro Hill in rain, bringing the train to a near-stall. The train is heavy with logs in addition to the gas traffic. MRL 4408 & MRL 4406 do the honors - two of the newest SD70ACe locomotives on the roster.
Night Gas nearly at a stallNight Gas nearly at a stall
MRL 844 Local sets off a BNSF ballast hopper at Willow Creek.MRL 844 Local sets off a BNSF ballast hopper at Willow Creek.
MRL 844 Local with a pair of GP35s, MRL 406-MRL 403, screeches into Willow Creek to set off a ballast hopper.MRL 844 Local with a pair of GP35s, MRL 406-MRL 403, screeches into Willow Creek to set off a ballast hopper.
MRL 844 Local with a pair of GP35s, MRL 406-MRL 403, finishing up at the ethanol facility west of Logan.MRL 844 Local with a pair of GP35s, MRL 406-MRL 403, finishing up at the ethanol facility west of Logan.
MRL 844 Local with a pair of GP35s, MRL 406-MRL 403, MRL 844 Local with a pair of GP35s, MRL 406-MRL 403, "blasts out of Dodge" - make that Logan - onto the Fifth Subdivision.
BNSF 9160 West coal
C-SCMRBE2-09A passes the MRL 844 local with MRL 406-403.BNSF 9160 West coal C-SCMRBE2-09A passes the MRL 844 local with MRL 406-403.
MRL 840 departs Logan for Helena behind MRL 262-MRL 263 (a pair of SD40-2s) after exchanging cars with the MRL 844 at Logan.MRL 840 departs Logan for Helena behind MRL 262-MRL 263 (a pair of SD40-2s) after exchanging cars with the MRL 844 at Logan.
MRL 840 works Logan with a pair of SD40-2's MRL 262-MRL 263.MRL 840 works Logan with a pair of SD40-2's MRL 262-MRL 263.
The MRL 844 local, with GP35's 403-406, pull the cars left by the MRL 840.  The 840's two SD40-2's (262-263) are in the clear to the left.The MRL 844 local, with GP35's 403-406, pull the cars left by the MRL 840. The 840's two SD40-2's (262-263) are in the clear to the left.
MRL 840 arrived from Helena behind MRL 263-MRL 262 (a pair of SD40-2s) and begins its daily dance, exchanging cars with the MRL 844's two GP35s seen smoking it up at Logan.MRL 840 arrived from Helena behind MRL 263-MRL 262 (a pair of SD40-2s) and begins its daily dance, exchanging cars with the MRL 844's two GP35s seen smoking it up at Logan.
MRL 840 arrives from Helena behind MRL 263-MRL 262 (a pair of SD40-2s) to exchange cars with the MRL 844 at Logan.MRL 840 arrives from Helena behind MRL 263-MRL 262 (a pair of SD40-2s) to exchange cars with the MRL 844 at Logan.
Eastbound M-SPOLAU1-28A picks up speed departing Livingston, behind three MRL SD45s and a BNSF SD70MAC.Eastbound M-SPOLAU1-28A picks up speed departing Livingston, behind three MRL SD45s and a BNSF SD70MAC.
MRL 328 SD45 passing the old NP Station at Livingston. Eastbound M-SPOLAU1-28AMRL 328 SD45 passing the old NP Station at Livingston. Eastbound M-SPOLAU1-28A
M-SPOLAU1-28A approaches the summit at West End behind three MRL SD45s and a BNSF SD70.M-SPOLAU1-28A approaches the summit at West End behind three MRL SD45s and a BNSF SD70.
Fall Trip 2011Fall Trip 2011
The Guys at the Land of MagicThe Guys at the Land of Magic
A pair of elderly GP35's, built in the mid-1960's, soldier on in local freight service on the Logan Local in Logan (Manhattan), MontanaA pair of elderly GP35's, built in the mid-1960's, soldier on in local freight service on the Logan Local in Logan (Manhattan), Montana
  • 

On the last night of our trip, Dave and I enjoyed a few beers near the hotel, and on the walk back we had a look at the NP station in Missoula.  The next morning we were on our flights home, tired and fulfilled.
  • Night Gas at Paradise
  • The MRL Night Gas (MRL 821) with MRL 4408-4406 crossing the Flathead River west of Perma, Mont.
  • The MRL Night Gas (MRL 821) with MRL 4408-4406 following the Flathead River at Perma, Mont.
  • The MRL Night Gas (MRL 821) with MRL 4408-4406 passing Sanyok Mountain just west of Dixon, Mont.  While we were challenged by clouds for much of this chase, this location was a wonderful scene with just the right light.
  • The MRL Night Gas (MRL 821) is really on the move behind two new SD70ACes (MRL 4408-4406) as it follows MT Route 200. Thankfully the sun popped out!
  • The MRL Night Gas (MRL 821) crests the grade at Evaro behind two new SD70ACes (MRL 4408-4406)
  • Close-up of MRL 4406 on the Night Gas at Evaro Hill.
  • Into the sun, but with no rainbow. Still a great time!
  • MRL Night Gas finally getting some momentum.
  • MRL Night Gas finally getting some momentum.
  • Rainbow! Will we get a
  • MRL Night Gas (MRL 821) working its way through the curves of Evaro Hill in rain, bringing the train to a near-stall.  The train is heavy with logs in addition to the gas traffic.  MRL 4408 & MRL 4406 do the honors - two of the newest SD70ACe locomotives on the roster.
  • MRL Night Gas (MRL 821) working its way through the curves of Evaro Hill in rain, bringing the train to a near-stall.  The train is heavy with logs in addition to the gas traffic.  MRL 4408 & MRL 4406 do the honors - two of the newest SD70ACe locomotives on the roster.
  • Night Gas nearly at a stall
  • MRL 844 Local sets off a BNSF ballast hopper at Willow Creek.
  • MRL 844 Local with a pair of GP35s, MRL 406-MRL 403, screeches into Willow Creek to set off a ballast hopper.
  • MRL 844 Local with a pair of GP35s, MRL 406-MRL 403, finishing up at the ethanol facility west of Logan.
  • MRL 844 Local with a pair of GP35s, MRL 406-MRL 403,
  • BNSF 9160 West coal
C-SCMRBE2-09A passes the MRL 844 local with MRL 406-403.
  • MRL 840 departs Logan for Helena behind MRL 262-MRL 263 (a pair of SD40-2s) after exchanging cars with the MRL 844 at Logan.
  • MRL 840 works Logan with a pair of SD40-2's MRL 262-MRL 263.
  • The MRL 844 local, with GP35's 403-406, pull the cars left by the MRL 840.  The 840's two SD40-2's (262-263) are in the clear to the left.
  • MRL 840 arrived from Helena behind MRL 263-MRL 262 (a pair of SD40-2s) and begins its daily dance, exchanging cars with the MRL 844's two GP35s seen smoking it up at Logan.
  • MRL 840 arrives from Helena behind MRL 263-MRL 262 (a pair of SD40-2s) to exchange cars with the MRL 844 at Logan.
  • Eastbound M-SPOLAU1-28A picks up speed departing Livingston, behind three MRL SD45s and a BNSF SD70MAC.
  • MRL 328 SD45 passing the old NP Station at Livingston. Eastbound M-SPOLAU1-28A
  • M-SPOLAU1-28A approaches the summit at West End behind three MRL SD45s and a BNSF SD70.
  • Fall Trip 2011
  • The Guys at the Land of Magic
  • A pair of elderly GP35's, built in the mid-1960's, soldier on in local freight service on the Logan Local in Logan (Manhattan), Montana

The other guys had gotten a speeding ticket, unbeknownst to us. Although they had suggested our destination – a supposed steakhouse – they were nowhere to be found and just outside of cell-phone range. So we got off I-90, made a right at the ‘T’, and headed into Logan, Montana where we were really hoping to find this steakhouse.

We crawl by the lone streetlight in town, and quickly realize that all the roads are made of gravel.  It’s dark as dark can be. We barely identify the Montana Rail Link line and determine that we’re in the right town.  We follow the GPS’s directions and travel down another gravel road.  “The destination is on your right.” echoes the GPS, to wit we say “bullshit!”.  A burned out building stands to the right.  Perplexed, we creep further down the street only to find an oasis in Logan:  The Land of Magic Steakhouse.  The parking lot is nearly empty, and we arrived just a bit before their scheduled closing time of 9:00pm.

So in we go, and a nice lady assures us we’re not too late. “Even though the other guys are 15 minutes behind?”  “It’s no problem. I own the place!” That became clear to us quickly.  A round of beers was quickly dispensed.  Then we each got fresh hot loaves of bread, each with a big steak-knife with which to slice it.  As our friends arrived, the “relish trays” came out.  Rather strange, but rather tasty, the relish tray is a Land of Magic tradition. Some cauliflower, carrots, baby pickles, etc.  Another round of beers.  Then we got the split pea and ham soup, because we were told we had to, because it was good and we would like it.  This lady (Beth, as it turned out) was going to ensure that we enjoyed ourselves whether we liked it or not.  So it goes: escargot stuffed mushrooms.  Then we each get a huge bowl of tiny prawns with cocktail sauce.  Then some killer steaks. Lou got the ribs, and made quite a dent in them.  I think most of us got New York Strip, with a twice-baked potato.  After that? Your choice of ice cream: Turtle, caramel, chocolate, or raspberry. But you should get the turtle. (The raspberry was pretty good, too.)

The Guys at the Land of Magic

Longtime friend Peter McGilligan established the tradition of the annual Fall Trip, with my first back in October 1991.  Over the years, our social group expanded and merged and folded with others.  Most years we had some sort of a Fall Trip, usually to the mountains where the leaves would be pretty – and there would be trains.  The number of us on these trips grew and grew, culminating with the largest group in 2012 when three carloads of railfans came together for an epic trip on the Delaware-Lackawanna, Delaware & Hudson, and NYSW.

Fall Trip 2011

And this wasn’t even everybody! – Fall Trip 2011

Peter fell ill and missed our trip in 2012, and sadly passed away shortly thereafter.  That 2012 trip was at our old home base, The Station Inn in Cresson, Penn.  2013 was a crazy year and we didn’t really get together as a group.  So, for 2014, we decided to make it a good one – and chose Montana as our destination.  A bonus for this trip was that Montana Rail Link leased 9 venerable SD45s to the BNSF and was utilizing them in captive service between Spokane and Laurel.

But all of that is getting off-topic.  Back to Logan.  One hallmark of Peter’s fall trips was the intersection of rugged mountain railroading, a “proper breakfast”, and excellent dinners.   Fall Trip 2014 certainly befit the tradition, especially at the Land of Magic.  After dinner, we had a look at the MRL local, laid over for the evening.  With full bellies and a bit of a beverage-induced “warmth” we headed back to the hotel for some rest.

A pair of elderly GP35's, built in the mid-1960's, soldier on in local freight service on the Logan Local in Logan (Manhattan), Montana

A pair of elderly GP35’s, built in the mid-1960’s, soldier on in local freight service on the Logan Local in Logan (Manhattan), Montana

The next day, we started out in Bozeman and spent the day on Bozeman Pass, then over to Lombard Canyon, and ended in Toston.  Which is to say that we had planned our day to end reasonably near Logan so that we could do it all again for dinner!  (And here is where I confess that the above photo was actually taken on the 2nd night.)  And again we had a great round of food, drinks, and a great time.  And with some eagerness we set off again for the hotel, in anticipation of another big day on the MRL.

We barely enjoyed our Hampton Inn breakfast for a second when Jon caught wind of the MRL 328 pulling out of Bozeman on his radio.  Crap! SD45s! Gotta run!  We made like a bread truck and got outta there as fast as we could, catching up with the MSPOLAU just out of town.  We got a few shots along I-90 and then headed into West End to watch (and listen) to the MSPOLAU grind up to the top of the Bozeman Summit.

Take a listen!  The fans were out in droves to catch the SPOLAU’s ascent:

M-SPOLAU1-28A approaches the summit at West End behind three MRL SD45s and a BNSF SD70.

M-SPOLAU1-28A approaches the summit at West End behind three MRL SD45s and a BNSF SD70.

and we continued the case down into Livingston and further.  The weather was dismal but the sound of 60 cylinders of 645s did more than overcome that.  Down we went into Livingston, Mike and I opting to shoot at the former Northern Pacific station.

MRL 328 SD45 passing the old NP Station at Livingston. Eastbound M-SPOLAU1-28A

MRL 328 SD45 passing the old NP Station at Livingston. Eastbound M-SPOLAU1-28A

We decided to press on to East Livingston, where I did some video and stills. (The East Livingston bit is the 2nd half of the video…)

We watched the MSPOLAU continue its journey east, while opting ourselves to head west again.

Eastbound M-SPOLAU1-28A picks up speed departing Livingston, behind three MRL SD45s and a BNSF SD70MAC.

Eastbound M-SPOLAU1-28A picks up speed departing Livingston, behind three MRL SD45s and a BNSF SD70MAC.

But with that, Mike and I headed back to Bozeman while the others made their way back to Logan.  The group rejoined at Logan where we eagerly awaited the next act.  Perched atop a small mound at the west end of town, we got to see the beginning of the “daily dance” at Logan.  Each day, the MRL 840 local comes to Logan from Helena, where a well-orchestrated swap of cars takes place with the 844 local there.  The two crews make this juggle with precise professionalism, and before an hour passes, the 840 is on its way west and the 844 begins a 25+ mile trek down the Fifth Sub to Sappington. Listen to some radio chatter as the two locals coordinate their daily swap:

It’s fun to recount the day’s events photographically, while listening to the recording:

Finally, the MRL 844 local heads out of Logan to make its way down the Fifth Sub to Sappington.

Eagerly awaiting the chase, we hurried out of Logan too, only to realize that the 844 was going to switch the first customer outside of town, an ethanol plant up along the highway.

MRL 844 Local with a pair of GP35s, MRL 406-MRL 403, finishing up at the ethanol facility west of Logan.

MRL 844 Local with a pair of GP35s, MRL 406-MRL 403, finishing up at the ethanol facility west of Logan.

We left Logan behind as we chased the 844 down the Fifth, photographing several times including the Imerys talc plant in Three Forks, and then again at Willow Creek where a BNSF ballast hopper was set out.

MRL 844 Local with a pair of GP35s, MRL 406-MRL 403, screeches into Willow Creek to set off a ballast hopper.

MRL 844 Local with a pair of GP35s, MRL 406-MRL 403, screeches into Willow Creek to set off a ballast hopper.

MRL 844 Local sets off a BNSF ballast hopper at Willow Creek.

MRL 844 Local sets off a BNSF ballast hopper at Willow Creek.

We continued along to Sappington, but my shot there isn’t worth your time.   After this, we all headed back to Missoula for the next act: the westbound Night Gas Local.  We perched ourselves at the Evaro Loops near Desmet, and watched the sun and the rain fight an epic battle.  Before long we heard a pair of brand-new EMD SD70ACes doing the same thing – fighting the grade and the rain, dragging a big train full of logs and gas bound for Thompson Falls.  Here again, I’m glad I remembered to use the audio recorder, as it makes the photos a lot more fun!

 

 

Watching this 8600-horsepower train struggle up the hill, in dramatic light? Epic.  And so was the ensuing chase along MRL’s 10th Subdivision.  Fast driving and quicker thinking were required to stay ahead of the train and get into some good locations.  Mike’s previous trips and Jon’s studious research combined into a stellar “payoff” of rail photography.  Lou, Dave, and I were really just along for the ride!

 

 

 

The MRL Night Gas (MRL 821) with MRL 4408-4406 passing Sanyok Mountain just west of Dixon, Mont.  While we were challenged by clouds for much of this chase, this location was a wonderful scene with just the right light.

The MRL Night Gas (MRL 821) with MRL 4408-4406 passing Sanyok Mountain just west of Dixon, Mont. While we were challenged by clouds for much of this chase, this location was a wonderful scene with just the right light.

 

 

Night Gas at Paradise

Night Gas at Paradise

 

And like that – after over 800 miles of driving, we had started out in the Land of Magic and ended up in Paradise.   Our group gathered up at Quinn’s Hot Springs Resort for an incredible meal, great beers, and a very relaxing night.  Just as Peter himself would have intended, we enjoyed excellent food and drink, culminating in a couple rounds of bourbon while relaxing in the hot springs themselves, listening to the distant rumbling of grain trains on the nearby 10th sub.   We recounted our adventures from the last three epic days, three excellent nights, with great friends and great mountain railroading, on a great railroad.  And with all of that, we still had another full day of railroading ahead of us.  Land of Magic, indeed!

 

 On the last night of our trip, Dave and I enjoyed a few beers near the hotel, and on the walk back we had a look at the NP station in Missoula.  The next morning we were on our flights home, tired and fulfilled.


On the last night of our trip, Dave and I enjoyed a few beers near the hotel, and on the walk back we had a look at the NP station in Missoula. The next morning we were on our flights home, tired and fulfilled.

Galleries: Western US.

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