Of fishing and photographing the Montana Rail Link

Posted by Matt Quandt
on Friday, June 3, 2011

Special post from Tom Danneman, Trains magazine art director


Last week, I returned from vacation in Montana where I was able to partake in two of my favorite pastimes: fishing and railfanning. I flew out to Spokane, Wash., where I met my brother and some friends. We didn't have too much on the agenda except for catching fish and catching trains. Most of the time, the trains took precedence. Since we were only there for a few days, we concentrated on Montana Rail Link's 4th Subdivision between Missoula and Sandpoint, Idaho. Where did we go fishing? Well, along the railroad, of course! The 4th Sub (as well as many other parts of the MRL) parallel some great bodies of water for excellent fishing.

Before the trip began, a friend told me that BNSF was detouring trains from the Hi Line (the northern route over Marias Pass) over to the Montana Rail Link. Due to flooding and soft roadbed on BNSF's KO Subdivision, which connects Minot and Fargo, N.D., we would see an extra six to eight trains a day. Catching trains was looking up! How well we'd do catching fish was to be determined.

Shortly after waking up in Sandpoint on our first day, we heard an eastbound train as it rolled onto the MRL for the first time. We scurried to get our things together at the motel to get chasing. Our first train was a BNSF Pasco, Wash.-Galesburg, Ill., train detouring on the MRL. Luckily for us, contractors were working on the piers of MRL's bridge over the Pack River west of Hope, Idaho, requiring a 10 mph slow-order. We had time to catch up. This detour was a good sign; we would have plenty of traffic to work with for the next few days. After photographing the train on the Pack River fill (picture above), we planned our next location. We got ahead of the train and set up on the bridge over the Clark Fork River at aptly named Clark Fork, Idaho. Little did we know that a westbound stack train (another detour) would be meeting our train just east of Clark Fork at Colby. The eastbound passed, and we decided to stay put at the bridge, since it was the best place to shoot the westbound in morning light. We waited just a few minutes, and the stack train appeared. Two SD75s and a DASH 9, all in fairly clean Warbonnet paint powered the train (see below). Now that's a good way to start the trip!


During the rest of the our time in Big Sky Country, we saw many more trains, including more detours and MRL's Gas Local (pictured below; see "Haulin' Gas," Trains November 2007).

For the most part, we were lucky with the weather, especially considering all of the rain and flooding parts of eastern Montana were experiencing. Just before leaving for home, we noticed that the rail traffic had been slowing. Good timing, since I was heading for the airport. We learned that flooding and mudslides east of the MRL were causing the slow down. At times, all three of MRL's eastern outlets were closed. Even MRL's main was washed out near Greycliff, Mont. 

On this trip, we saw stack trains, vehicle trains, manifest trains, and coal trains. We even saw MRL's prized Gas Local. The power included anything from an SD45 to an ES44C4. We saw locomotive paint schemes from MRL's dark blue to BNSF's Warbonnet red-and-silver. How was the fishing you ask? Quite nice, actually. We caught rainbow and cutthroat trout, whitefish, perch, bass, and pumpkinseeds. Whether it's fishing or foaming, it doesn't hurt to have that kind of variety. Oh, and don't worry, we never missed a train while we were fishing. I'll be back in Montana in September, so this was just part one of my Montana adventures.

See more photos from Tom's trip in his Flickr album "Montana/Idaho May 2011."

To leave a comment you must be a member of our community.
Login to your account now, or register for an account to start participating.
No one has commented yet.