Tiny donations make the difference

Posted by Justin Franz
on Monday, November 26, 2018

The old GN depot in Conrad, Montana — seen on a cold November day in 2017 — is now a museum. Photo by Justin Franz
Last August, I found myself in the small town of Conrad, Montana. I was spending the weekend visiting my in-laws in nearby Great Falls and had escaped for a morning of railfanning along BNSF Railway’s Great Falls Subdivision.

When I pulled into Conrad, I beelined it for the old Great Northern Railway depot in the middle of town in hopes of using it as a prop in a photo of the northbound freight I was chasing. Like many former GN structures in Montana, the Conrad depot was built to look like a Swiss chalet, all part of the railroad’s efforts to market Glacier National Park as the “American Alps” (Never mind that Glacier Park is still 80 miles to the west or about 100 miles by rail). I had been to Conrad a number of times before and had shot the depot prior to this visit. But this time, the door to the depot was wide open. With a few minutes to spare before that northbound approached, I poked my head inside.

Inside the old depot was a small museum that had opened just a few weeks before. I paid my $2 admission, signed the guest book and then looked around at some of the exhibits. Display cases were packed with mementos from the past — some relevant to the area, others not — and the walls were lined with photos. The photos were particularly interesting, showing changes to the station over the years and even a shot of the Montana Western, a GN-owned short line that ran from Conrad to Vailer.

After a few minutes, I heard a horn to the south and knew that it was time to wrap up my visit and head outside.

“Come back later after you take your pictures, that $2 admission is good all day!” the old man who was keeping an on everything said.

There are dozens of little museums like the one in Conrad all across America and each one preserves something special, something worth saving. But none of it would be possible without those $2 donations needed to keep the lights on. So next time you wander into a small town museum, consider dropping a few extra bills into the bucket because that crumpled up cash in your pocket can make a world of difference for them. Or, on this Giving Tuesday, consider writing a check and dropping it in the mail.

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