|Eastbound Grainer Approaching Lombard Canyon From North, With Missouri River in Left of Image and Irrigation Canal on Right|
|Eastbound Local MRL 840 Approaching Lombard Canyon at Dawn|
Everyone has favorite locations. One of mine is Lombard Canyon. A major railroad portal, the canyon's history is unique, its geology spectacular. If you have ever heard a geologist talk about "uplift," Lombard Canyon is the place to see it displayed. Also, much of the land around the canyon is public, thanks to the Bureau of Reclamation, so one can hike for hours without being arrested or shot at. The irrigation project in the middle of the canyon is typical of early and mid-20th century America, but the federal government has been out of the dam construction business for a long time. So climb aboard and follow me on a modest tour of one of North America's most interesting landmarks.
Above is the U.S. Geological Survey map of the canyon. You can see the Montana Rail Link line running on the east side of the Missouri River in the top of the map. The line follows the river closely through the canyon. In the first bend in the river, notice the label " Broadwater-Missouri Westside Canal." Immediately below the word "Broadwater," you see a line across the river. This is the Broadwater-Missouri low water dam. A small lake is created behind the dam. Water from the lake runs by gravity through the "westside" canal, though at this point the canal is north of the river. Then the river and canal both turn north and run to a point where the canal splits, part still running west of the river, the other part actually crossing the river in a large pipe, then running in an open canal on the east side of the river to fields where water is pumped for irrigation.
|Westbound Loaded Coal Drag Passing Broadwater-Missouri Low Water Dam with Westside Canal on Right of River|
|Eastbound Stacks Passing Irrigation Pipeline Across Missouri River|
|Westbound DPU on Loaded Coal Train Running Along Missouri River and Westside Canal as all Three Turn Due North|
|Westbound Grainer Turning North, Showing the Split in Westside Canal, as Part of Canal Continues North on West Side of River, While Part Crosses the River in a Large Pipe and then Spills Into Another Canal on the Other Side of River|
|Eastbound Empty Coal Train Headed Compass South Toward Lombard Canyon Past Fields Irrigated with Water from Westside Canal -- Missouri River in Foreground|
Even more amazing is what happens west of the low water dam, where water is pumped through a tunnel up the canyon wall and deposited in irrigation canals at the top. On the map above, look immediately to the left of the low water dam to the smaller notation for "Devil's Bottom," and left of that notation you will see in handwriting "Pumping Station." Above the station is shown the tunnel, horseshoe-shaped to minimize the gradient, and at the top is shown where the tunnel delivers water to the canal.
|Westbound Grainer Passing Broadwater-Missouri Dam, With Scar of Irrigation Tunnel Visible in Left Background|
This irrigation project to pump water up the canyon cliff, called the Pick-Sloan Missouri Basin Program, was requested by Broadwater County, Montana, to irrigate land equal in size to that inundated by Canyon Ferry Lake to the north. Construction was authorized by the Federal Flood Control Act of 1946, began in 1952 in tandem with Canyon Ferry Lake and was completed in 1954.
|Westbound BNSF Run-Through on MRL, Headed to Pasco, Washington, Passing Low Water Dam|
The Bureau of Reclamation built both Canyon Lake and the Lombard Canyon irrigation project. In writing this post, I learned quite a bit about this federal agency, which was created in 1902 as the U.S. Reclamation Service to study potential water development projects on federal lands in the western U.S.
|Westbound M-LAUMIS on MRL, Running Along Missouri River and Westside Canal|
|BNSF Run-Through on MRL|
In the 1960's, opposition developed to major water projects such as the proposed Bridge Canyon Dam which would have been built at the uppermost limit of Lake Mead (created by Boulder Dam). The resulting reservoir would have stretched over 90 miles, including 13 miles contiguous with Grand Canyon National Park. The Bureau eventually dropped the plan after fierce opposition.
|Loaded Coal Drag Passing Low Water Dam, With Marker Buoys That Were Added in Late Summer of 2014|
East CanyonThe irrigation project is located and the images above were taken in the east end of the canyon, which can be approached on a public road running south out of Toston. Near town, the road is hard surfaced, then turns to gravel. As it enters the canyon, the road turns to dirt and native rock, then climbs the canyon wall in a series of switch backs. It is shown on the map above by dotted lines - indicating "minimum maintenance." A high clearance vehicle -- pick-up or Jeep -- is advisable to avoid the many large rocks in the road, but if you make it to the top, the view is spectacular.
|Pusher on Westbound Grainer, With Public Road from Toston Shown Climbing the Canyon Wall in Middle-Right of Image|
|Pusher on Eastbound Grainer in East Canyon|
|Loaded Westbound Grainer Approaching Low Water Dam in East Canyon|
|Empty Eastbound Coal Drag Approaching River Bend in West Canyon|
West CanyonBeyond the low water dam and pump station lies the west end of the canyon, where the river makes a horseshoe curve back to the east before turning south at the ghost town of Lombard. The town was named for the Chief Engineer of the Montana Railroad -- A.G. Lombard -- and was situated at the mouth of Sixteen Mile Creek as it emptied into the Missouri River.
The next four images show the progression of the eastbound M-MISLAU (Missoula-Laurel) around the horseshoe curve in the west canyon. MRL had attached a work train to the front of the consist, accounting for the extra motive power and the caboose!
|Westbound BNSF Manifest Headed to Spokane, Washington, Leaving Lombard Siding|
In the early days, one could reach Lombard only by train. The first road did not arrive until 1930. At one time the town had a general store, post office, school and hotel. Both the Northern Pacific and Milwaukee Road abandoned their freight agencies and interchange yard in the 1950's. Milwaukee Road abandoned its line through Montana in 1979. Nothing is left today in Lombard except the Milwaukee's bridge across the Missouri River.
Below is the progression of BNSF H-KCKSPO (Kansas City, Kansas - Spokane) as it heads west through the horseshoe, tracing the reverse path of the M-MISLAU above.
In summertime, the sun sets farther north, and shots of the west canyon must be taken much closer to the bend in the horseshoe, a location where Lombard Siding is not visible. Arriving from more a more southerly latitude, I was startled, the first time I visited Montana in summer, at the length of the days. Since I had traveled before to Europe in summer, I should have been prepared for usable sunlight after 9:00 p.m. Nonetheless, it was enjoyable to eat a leisurely supper underneath clouds, then head back out to the tracks afterwards as the sky cleared.
Following are images taken with my friend Art Jacobsen in June 2014. Art was kind enough to show me the way into the west canyon on public roads, and I returned the favor by driving him to the continental divide at Mullan in the fall of that same year, where my rented truck had a flat tire and we spent several hours trying to find the jack and spare and then replacing the tire! I think I got the better end of the deal.
|Same Train Moving Through Canyon as Clouds Descend|
|DPU on Same Train|
The Northern Pacific was created by Congress in 1863 while still raged the War Between the States, but construction did not commence until 1870, in part due to the War. The line roughly followed the route of Lewis and Clark and included some of the most rugged territory ever crossed by a railroad.
|Eastbound Empty BNSF Coal Drag Approaching Low Water Dam|
In 1883, 13-plus years after commencement of construction, the line from Minnesota to Portland was completed -- over 1,800 miles. Given the primitive construction methods of the time, as well as the lack of towns and factories along the way, I continue to be amazed that the line, and others like it, was completed. A comparable construction project in the early 21st century would be, it seems to me, something along the lines of building a bridge from New York to London. If you don't like this analogy, create your own. Just make it really big and really difficult.
|Westbound Coal Load Turning North and Exiting Canyon|
|Coal Drag in Canyon|
Employees of MRL, however, are unionized, so the motives of BN may have been slightly more nuanced, to the extent that any large corporation understands what "nuance" means, but cost-cutting was clearly a prime motivation. BN retained the old Great Northern "High Line" across northern Montana and probably saw the Northern Pacific as a redundant and unnecessary expense. I'm in no position, either morally or from historical study, to pass judgment on the events that created MRL, but I do know that in 2005 the railroad took delivery of 16 new EMD SD70ACe locomotives, the first new motive power ever purchased by MRL. So BN successor BNSF may now rue the day it cut loose the old Northern Pacific through Montana.
|M-LAUMIS in Lombard Canyon, With EMD SD70ACe's|
|Local MRL 840|
|Local MRL 840|
|Local MRL 840|
In the summer of 2014, my wife Alexis and I took a trip to Montana, staying a week in a rented cabin near Essex, then another week in a rented house on the Missouri River near the northern mouth of Lombard Canyon. The cabin at Essex had once belonged to the Great Northern and had been occupied by railroad employees. It smelled like insecticide, and the mainline literally ran through the backyard. My wife was not particularly fond of the place. The house along the Missouri River, on the other hand, was beautiful -- arranged and maintained by a woman whose occupation was the hotel business and therefore really knew her stuff. My wife loved it. Below is a sunset shot taken from the back porch of the little house -- called "The Hideaway."
On our trip we did much hiking and sight-seeing, including mountain trails in Glacier National Park and an excursion to Yellowstone. In the mornings, while Alexis drank coffee, I would head to the tracks for an hour or two of photography. I could reach Lombard Canyon in about ten minutes from The Hideaway, when the sun was rising and before clouds began to build.
|M-LAUMIS as Sun Rises Above Canyon|
|Same Train on Different Day|
"Whilst I viewed those mountains I got a secret pleasure in finding myself so near the head of the heretofore conceived boundless Missouri; but when I reflected on the difficulties which this snowey [sic] barrier would most probably throw in my way to the Pacific Ocean, and the sufferings and hardships of my self and party in them, it in some measure counterbalanced the joy I had felt in the first moments in which I gazed on them."
|Empty Coal Drag BNSF E-RBESXM Near Trident, Montana, Slightly Downriver From Missouri Headwaters State Park|
Art and I called up Google Maps and began looking at the old roadbed, which is still plainly visible from the satellite images. Soon we found Loweth, with Art pointing out various facets of the local geography. In my mind, I was exploring the country for the first time, like the original surveyors plotting the route of the Montana Railroad.
Then we looked at Sixteen Mile Creek, and then we looked for St. Paul Pass.
|BNSF in Lombard Canyon|
Unbeknownst to me, my wife, who is a CPA and Ph.D. professor of Management at Oklahoma University, and who found our conversation hilarious, was texting bits and pieces of the dialogue back to our son in Oklahoma. Following is a taste of what she wrote.
"Dad's friend ate dinner and is still here. They are chatting in detail re the ... pass and the ... grade and the ... zoom in ... there is the loop ... Come up the draw ... See that was removed in 1999 ... Substation 6 at Mason Creek ... And on and on and on and on ..."
My son replied, "Ha! Ha!"
My wife continued: "Tunnel 2 ... Right there loops down below ... Whoa! OK! West portal ... There it is down in shadows. Yup, in there. Dad and his friend are just going on and on and on!!!"
To this day, I fail to see the humor.
|Westbound Loaded Coal Train Past Low Water Dam|
|DPU on Same Train|
Geographers tell us that the Missouri, at 2341 miles, is the longest river in North America. I, however, believe that the river is longer. Supposedly, the Missouri flows into the Mississippi River north of St. Louis. But I believe it is the other way around. I believe the Mississippi flows into the Missouri. If one takes that point of view, the Missouri River becomes over 3000 miles long -- still shorter than the Amazon and Nile, but formidable nonetheless.
|BNSF Coal in Lombard Canyon|
|DPU on Same Train Passing Fishermen|
|Eastbound Coal Approaching Lombard Canyon|
|BNSF H-SPOKCK Approaching Lombard Canyon|
Mostly importantly, I have learned not to discuss that Certain Former Railroad around my wife.