Friday, March 31, 2023

Amtrak To Havre - 2023/03/23 - 27

 AUTHOR'S NOTE:  This one got long but I went ahead and made it 1 anyway.  No videos, only photos.  I'm working on a video, some of that content will be repeated to tell the story such as it is.  I'll create a new Post and link to 'Tube when it's ready.

It was back in December when I began considering an Amtrak ride and then the fun part came, considering where.  My self-imposed constraints on the trip involved scheduling and duration, my goal to limit both my time away and total length of trip to my existing 4-day weekends.

Going East would be fine with me but I was concerned about changing trains, layovers, etc.  Sitting (and riding) on the train was the goal, not sitting and waiting in a terminal for trains that don't run twice every hour.  So at first blush, a trip that direction just wasn't very compelling.  Maybe next time if I take an extra day or two.

Once West was decided upon, it was a question of how far, lodging and access to a car if the combination of all 3 would fit into my hoped for Friday-Monday time frame.  Things were narrowing down to central Montana....proper length of rail ride, lodging, car rental and "real" West.  Havre was perfect, checking all my boxes.  Between Steve and Greg's recent epic motorcycle exploring adventure exploring the headwaters of the Missouri River and my fascination with the Lewis & Clark Corps of Discovery trip, my travel plans were coming together perfectly.  I had read Ambrose's Undaunted Courage quite some time ago but it was time for another read....or listen.  After my own discovery that an audiobook was not available, I visited our local library, coordinating check-out so that I could take the book along on the trip.  In the meantime, my own personal copy as arrived from the online source, mine now with mark-ups.

The west-bound Empire Builder leaves our Red Wing Depot around (that can be a big 'around') 10 pm each night, kind of perfect to fit a potentially normal 3 day work week.

One of many US Railroad signs in the depot..

Boarded and in Roomette #9, last Sleeping car on the train.  The attendant already had the two opposing seats folded down and my bed made.

My car was a Sleeping Car, a combination of Roomettes (for 1-2 people), Bedrooms, a Family Bedroom and an Accessible Bedroom.

If my math is correct, our train Consist was 2 locomotives, a Sleeping Car, a Dining Car, 2 Coach Cars, a Sightseer Lounge, 2 more Coach Cars and finally at the very back, a Sleeping Car.

We spent almost 20 minutes stopped south of Newport...

Sometimes we moved along Smartly...

Cushions in the schedule, waiting for traffic, the ability to adjust speeds....all felt like adjustments to maintain the schedule.  There were times we were ahead and times behind.  It was all good to me.  My one and only schedule all weekend was the car pick-up in Havre.  I purposely allowed extra time from train arrival to rental car access but I got the feeling that Terra at the Chevrolet dealer had this all figured out...she made car access and return incredibly easy and convenient.  Call her if in need.

ABS system....

All that's left of Friday's Monte Cristo lunch in the dining car.  I took the luscious brownie back to Room #9.

While we're on the food subject, meals were included in the price of both Roomettes and the Bedrooms.  I had the Quesadilla for both breakfasts, the Monte Cristo for both lunches and for my Sunday night dinner, the Greens salad, the Chicken Breast and the Cheesecake.  One alcohol drink included at dinner, the IPA sounded really good but I defaulted to coffee.  A majorally huge slice of Mousse for one lunch dessert...I thought that all of the food was very good but the company of my mealmates was what made all meals special.

A story here, interesting at least to me.  Apparently this is the only pile I captured though more than a few attempts were made.  That dark rise in the snowbank just beyond the railroad right-of-way fence is a stacked pile of 5-8 old style "long horizontal" telephone pole.  There were literally thousands of these piles, just outside the fence, all on the north side of the tracks.  On piles less snow covered, it was obvious that the locals had cut the preservative-treated bottoms off for fence posts/corner posts.  I remember, maybe there still is demand, but I saw billions and billions of glass insulators on the "long horizontal" sections that were still attached to the poles and for the most part looked intact.   My Roomette was on the north side in both directions though I spent a fair amount of time in the Sightseer Lounge looking south and never once saw a pile.

Now I'm not the only one that knows.

We pulled over to allow the East Bound passage...

Havre, Montana....

Nothing all that special about Havre's Quality Inn...I'm always comfortable.  A "train" town, something I always enjoy but I'm just a visitor, I don't live there.  Meals at the sports bar were good, the place was very busy.  Something I had fun sharing with friends, all of the trucks and most of the cars were the same color...brown.  There was some exploring in my Chevrolet Friday evening but I was most anxious to head south and west Saturday morning towards Great Falls.
My auto mileage was 318 miles according to my motorcycle Zumo ....
Almost downtown Virgelle....


The Virgelle Ferry....waiting for real Spring


Virgelle, Montana...established 1912...a railroad/river town.



Up and above the river valley...

You would be well served at the Roadhouse in Great Falls....there may be a wait.

Only a couple of blocks away....

Lots of information about how Russell's are transformed and evolved over his 30 years of painting.  Many of his scenes were of events and times he'd heard of but didn't live through.

Believe it or not, I once wrote real letters, earliest in longhand, later with my graduation typewriter.  Never ever did I include artwork.

Rainbow Falls....

 Ryan Dam and the Great Falls....

Carter Ferry...

Historic Fort Benton...something I learned that still intrigues..."The world's most innermost port.."  It was a shipping port, on the Missouri River for southern Canada, the West...goods from and for the East.


Decision Point, the convergence of the Missouri and Marias River.  From Ambrose's book Undaunted Courage, on June 1st, 1805 the Corps of Discovery came to the Great Bend, a section of the river that changed from a NW direction to SW direction.  This change of direction was just downstream of the present day Virgelle or the town of Big Sandy just to the west on Hwy 87.  Once again, Lewis walked beside the river observing, needing the exercise and for a better perspective of their surroundings.  Based on seeing distant mountains with snow and from what he'd learned from the Hidatsas, they would soon be coming to the Great Falls.  

To make the portage, they would need buffalo skins for 'Experiment', the boat made of iron straps that they had brought all of the way from the East.  A hunting party of 6 went out and brought back two buffalo, six elk, two mule deer and a bear.  The bear, a Grizzly almost caught one of the party but one of the others finally and just in time, shot the bear in the head.  Initially the group expected the tales of the 'White Bears' to be exaggerated with their fierceness and persistence.  They quickly learned that what they'd heard was very true.  By the time they reached central Montana, their respect, fear and concern about Grizzly encounters was well established.  Brain shots were the only thing that stopped the bears, there were more than once instance where multiple shots through the lungs seemed to only momentarily slow the charging animals down.

At dusk that day they put in on the southern bank of the river where across, they saw a significant flow coming in from the north.  Up to that point, the Hidatsas information and descriptions of what they crew would find as they worked their way up river had been more or less accurate.  There was no mention of another river before the falls....they were understood to be next after the Great Bend.  The Great Bend the next location after "The River Which Scolds At All Others" (present day Milk River).  It was dusk, they would explore the merging waters the following day.

On June 3rd they set up camp across and between the two rivers.  I'm guessing that the Indians must have thought the choice obvious and based on what I saw from my drone's point of view, it seems fairly obvious to me.  Lewis was not at all convinced though.  A point made in Ambrose's book was that there was much interest in southern Canada..."north"...the fact that they had knowledge of the Columbia River with British occupation and furs in that direction.  Seeing that one of the river forks now veered to the south brought confusion.  They had been told by the Hidatsas that from the headwaters of the Missouri a half day's walk would bring them to the origin of the Columbia.  No mention of a southerly flowing river.

Jefferson was exact..."explore the Missouri".  The Hidatsas were convincing that Great Falls would follow.  The (now) Marias comes in almost from straight west.  Both river mouths were measured, the Marias wider than the Missouri, looking more substantial.  Ambrose includes a footnote stating that the Indians were on horseback, their method of travel was not the river.  So they avoided the bend in the river, cutting back across at or before the Great Falls.  Even if they knew, their focus was not on another river coming in from the west.

This is the part that I find so interesting.  The party, based on their experience and hunches, all felt the northern river to be the actual Missouri.  Both Lewis and Clark attempted to consider everything they of the river bottoms....color of the water....their feeling was that the southern fork was the true Missouri.  Lewis wrote, "Thus have our cogitating faculties have been busy all day".  To settle things, each captain would lead a group for a day and a half up each fork.  That evening, grog and a dram for each of the men.

There was a lot more to this story, I find it all fascinating.  You've already had more than enough but if not, you know how and where to learn more.  Bottom line, after a lot of disagreement, leadership prevailed, the real Missouri River was followed.

The Marias River upstream...

The Missouri downstream....

A couple of things in my mind....220 years ago these channels may have been different in this 'delta'.  Also, in June ice melt would have been happening from the mountains.

Get a better look at "For Steve"

I wanted to get a better look at the meandering, long distance Milk River so I went west out of Havre Sunday morning and stopped at the Fresno Reservoir.  More flowing water from the Rockies, this river as well as the Marias start within a stone's throw of Glacier National Park.  The Milk actually takes a turn through Alberta before returning to the US.

Back in Havre, waiting for my Sunday morning departure on the East bound Empire Builder.

Ready for Terra to come and pick up...

The Norm....

Headed east and a lot more of this....

And this...another audio book.....and lots of watching.  Suiting me just fine.

The business end of Union Depot in St. Paul, once a great deal busier than it is today.  Completed in 1926 and Gramp was there for the dance, I heard that story numerous magical times.

Crossing the Mississippi River on the lift bridge in Hastings, MN.  Almost home Monday morning.

What a trip, I can't say enough good things about it.  I'm thinking about though not yet planning my next one.  It will likely be again in the Off Season.


  1. Enjoyed the blog..... makes me want to ride a choo choo.... except for that derailment thingy. Luv the ABS system... :)

  2. Thanks for the pics, it really helps flesh out the trip for me. I found the canoe with the sale quite interesting by the way though I wonder about its functionality over long distances. When you mention the "white bears" I thought you were referring to polar bears! :)

    1. L&C called the Big bears White Bears. I think the sails were worth trying, anything, anything that would help with an 18 mile portage.