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Montana Museum of Railroad History

A recent visit to the Montana Museum of Railroad History in Great Falls filled me with a new appreciation for the significance of rail traffic to Central Montana.

Over 125 years ago (October 15, 1887 to be specific) the track of the Manitoba Road reached Great Falls, Montana Territory.

The entrepreneur responsible for laying the steel trail westward was James Hill who had made a fortune with several Minnesota ventures.

Part of Hill’s plan was driven by a competetive spirit. Hill saw the Northern Pacific Railway anchor the southern route across Montana Territory and he felt he could build a northern route to Seattle.

From Hill’s Minnesota base, he built track through North Dakota, then as far as Havre, Montana, all with private capital – no federal land grant funding. From Havre the track veered southwest to Great Falls. From Great Falls, Hill then laid track to Helena and Butte, Montana.

Work continued on the westward route from Havre to Seattle and that was completed in 1893 and dubbed the Great Northern Railway.

Freight service and passenger service thrived although, fast forward to our present era, and we saw the demise of passenger service in to Great Falls May 2, 1971.

I learned all of these fascinating details at the Montana Museum of Railroad History which is located on the grounds of Montana Expo Park in Great Falls. They have one entire building with a few work-in-progress displays and a huge model train track set up in the back room of the building.

Local “railroaders”, many retired, have donated displays like the model trains in this display case.

My tour guide was chock full of history and interesting facts about rail traffic in the area. I jotted notes quickly on both sides of my small note pad, hoping to get the details correct.

I was just about ready to leave and my tour guide told me I should step outside and check out the caboose. Although I was on my way to another scheduled tour, I decided to take a quick look.

I’m glad I did! The caboose was very interesting – certainly spartan in design but fun to see what it actually looked like. It is set up so you can walk right inside the car.

The Montana Museum of Railroad History is open primarily from Memorial Day to Labor Day. With the significance of the “125th” anniversary of rail tracks coming to Great Falls, they stayed open later this year.

This would be a fascinating stop for anyone wanting to learn more about railroads or families on a Montana vacation. Kids (of all ages) simply delight in seeing model trains run.

I did too!

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