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My first Empire Builder ride past
Essex, Montana, and Matthew's first Empire Builder ride at all left
Seattle on time at 4:40 pm, July 7, 2016. This would be the
second leg of my son, Matthew Morrison, and my "America By Amtrak" Tour.
Seattle King Street Station
Recently renovated interior of the King Street Station, Seattle.
Both professional football and baseball stadiums are within
walking distance of the King Street Amtrak and Sounder Station in this
photo from the Pedestrian Walkway.
Centurylink Field from the King Street Station pedestrian walkway.
(Click the map
above to see the full route; Click BACK in your browser to return to
On this 2,205 mile leg on the
Empire Builder, we left on Thursday, July 7 at 4:40 pm and arrived in
Chicago Saturday, July 9 at 3:55 pm. We had a Superliner Roomette.
I recognized the Ballard Locks that we had visited on our Seattle
Shutter Tour earlier in the day. We were crossing the draw bridge
shown in the Seattle portion of this report.
The Empire Builder follows the Puget Sound north for several miles and
A driftwood beach on Puget Sound.
With all the rain, the Puget Sound's beach vegetation is always many
shades of green.
I am always impressed with the Washington State Ferry System.
Docked in Mukilteo, Washington.
Mukilteo, Washington Lighthouse and keepers houses.
Matthew enjoying the Puget Sound view in our roomette on the Empire
Builder headed for Chicago from Seattle.
Working barge in Puget Sound.
Cranes for loading ocean-going containers.
"Pause, Rest, Worship" roadside chapel reminds me of other countries
that provide wayside chapels for weary travelers.
I love photographing barns, some
even claim I was born in one. That is nearly correct since I was
born in a farm house near Hayden, Indiana with a barn with the same
roof line as this one a few steps from the house. I helped the
family milk cows in our barn until I went to college in 1960.
This red barn was a dairy barn with
hay storage in the loft. The white framed door under the eve is
where loose hay is hoisted up then back on a track into the mow and
dropped. The solid red door below would be where hay could be
taken out of the mow to be sold or used in an outside feeder in good
weather, or when baled hay came into being, an elevator could be put in
this large red door to put bales into the mow. This barn may not
be in sight from the train much longer judging from that blackberry
bush growing on its side.
Typical market you'll find in every state, newspapers, lottery
tickets, handicapped parking, firewood and an electric horse kiddie
Since the Empire Builder parallels
Hwy. 2 for many miles, I could photograph many old barns from the
train. This barn looks like it has had one or two additions with
metal roof. Does not appear to be long for this world. As
friend Bob Williams told me, once the roof goes bad enough to allow
water and snow inside, it soon collapses because of the high cost of
reroofing an unused building.
This area's agricultural product seems to have been pears.
This Amtrak Route also had a National Parks "Trails and Rails" onboard
commentary by Bill and Bill.
Bill told passengers in
Car to look for herons, Canada geese, and bald eagles along the
waterways. He explained that an estuary is a mixture of salt and fresh
water. He said Highway 2 parallels our route all the way to
Michigan. It is the northernmost transcontinental highway.
We went through the 7.8 mile long tunnel in the Cascades.
Empire Builder menu
As it turned out, this was the
Amtrak Menu, the only thing that changed on our six long-distance train
journey was the cover! Soon Matt and I didn't need to look at the
menu, we ordered the "Special" at breakfast - one piece of French
toast, 2 eggs, 2 bacon or sausage with OJ and decaf. For dinner
we had steak with baked potato - the most expensive thing on the menu,
but is included in the price of the sleeping accommodations.
Lunch was usually Angus Steak burger. Occasionally, I had the
delicious pork shank for dinner, with the barbecue sauce making it very
tasty. I always had the no-sugar-added vanilla pudding for
dessert...I thought pudding was sugar so I didn't understand the title,
but did enjoy the pudding.
After a meal is a good time to walk back through the coaches to the
last one and the "railfan window" that looks out directly onto the
trailing track to show the local terrain.
We enjoyed waiter Chris who replied to the question, "Where are we?"
with "Near Cascade Tunnel." (They do not have time to look out
the window with their waiter duties so they do not know the landmarks
along the way.)
At Leavenworth, WA, I walked back
how many cars were on our half of the Empire Builder with the other
half coming from Portland. I found the front of the train, after
the single locomotives, is the baggage car, Transition Sleeper (1/2
passenger roomettes and 1/2 crew roomettes), 2 sleeping cars, the
by 2 coach cars. The Observation car with be with the train set
from Portland. I went to the back to look out the "Railfan Window" as
writer Henry Kisor calls the last window in the last car looking out on
the trailing track to the horizon. While in the last coach car,
the car attendant looked at me and said, "I have a photo of you
and me together." Wow, I was recognized for the photos I've
posted at trainweb.org/carl as part of the over 100 rail travelogues
I've posted there! All that has changed for me is that I'm older,
fatter, and balder.
Zachary, car attendant on this trip who I had met long ago and who
had taken a photo of us at that time.
Casey, our 0831 Car Attendant made an announcement that 9:30 p.m. would
be "Last Call for help setting up your bed." That is earlier than
any Car Attendant has made the last chance to have your bed made
up. I asked why so early and he replied, "That is when they stop
paying me." I thought they got paid all hours of the run, I'll
have to ask a conductor about that. When he made up the bed, he
just threw the blanket, still in the plastic wrapper on top of the
sheet-covered mattress. I asked, "Don't you put the blankets on
the beds?" He said, "The Coast Starlight is the only one that
does that, this is how I was trained." Then he proceeded down the
hall asking the passengers, many first-time train riders, "Do you need
help with your bed?" Is he just making his own rules?
I communicated this to the manager
of the Coast Starlight who said that putting the blankets on the beds
within the plastic bag shows the passenger that the blanket is newly
cleaned...a question passengers had in the past.
The following morning, we paralleled the Flathead River toward
Essex, Montana which is between West and East Glacier Entrances.
Plenty of glacier green water in the Flathead River on July 8.
Keeping an eye out on this slow, twisting rail ride along the
Flathead River, I spotted one of the many tunnels west of Essex,
In a flatter section of the river, one could see where high water
had cut grooves in a sand bar.
As we crossed a bridge, I caught water in the foreground with
mountains in Glacier Park in the background
Thoughtful property owners placed signs identifying mountains and
their height along the right-of-way
Approaching Essex, Montana, a flag stop between West and East
Glacier, I recognized the helpers and rail yard adjacent to the hotel
which is a former RR builder's lodging.
This former railroad
workers accommodation when this route was being built was planned to be
a lodge for a 3rd entrance into Glacier Park. However, the war
canceled that funding, so it is now a fantastic place to stay for the
railfan. In fact, I have several rail travelogues about staying
here at the Izaak Walton Inn at:
That Great Northern No. 441 locomotive has been converted to luxury
accommodations. Inside shots in the 2012 report above.
The Lodge van drives up this curve 1/8 mile to the platform to pick up
or deliver guests to the train.
There is a new platform
so the van can quickly load or unload hotel guests in inclement
weather. Upon our departure one year, there was a bear crossing
the tracks just east of this platform, but we stayed safely inside the
van until the train arrived, scaring the bear further into the woods.
The train continued climbing east
of Essex, Montana to Marias Pass (el. 5213 ft.), the reason for helpers
located here in Essex. The Marias Pass is also the
Continental Divide and the highest point in Montana on the railroad and
adjacent Hwy. 2.
Teddy Roosevelt Memorial Obelisk at the Continental Divide on Hwy. 2 at
about Slippery Bill Morrison (no relation to the author)
ROOSEVELT MEMORIAL OBELISK
The Roosevelt Memorial Obelisk was built at Marias Pass on the
Continental Divide in 1931. Congress appropriated $25,000, for the
monument; Representative Scott Leavitt introduced the bill.
William H. "Slippery Bill" Morrison, claimed "squatter's rights" to the
land at Marias Pass. Through diplomatic negotiations by the Columbia
Falls Chamber of Commerce and others (including Supervisor Hornby of
the Flathead National Forest), Morrison agreed to donate his rights to
this land for building a monument to Theodore Roosevelt. Morrison
stipulated that no concessions, "hamburger stands" as he referred to
them, would be built on any of this property during his lifetime.
He also agreed to relinquish his right to the rest of his land at the
time of his death. He died in March 1932 and is buried in the Conrad
Memorial Cemetery. This land now belongs to the Federal Government.
The obelisk is 60 feet high and extends 19 feet into the ground. It has
a tapering cement core covered on all sides with 7-inch slabs of
Montana granite quarried near Helena.
The cement core has a 5/8-inch copper cable, running from the seven
short platinum points at the apex through its center to the bottom of
the structure for lightning protection.
Scenery between Marias Pass and East Glacier Amtrak Station.
Glacier Park's East Entrance Amtrak Stop with lodge and mountain
Glacier Park Lodge from the Empire Builder at the Glacier Park Station "while
Dancing Lady mountain looms in the backdrop."
can relax in the lobby and cozy up by the fire, surrounded by towering
Douglas Fir trees or walk the beautiful gardens that line the front
lawn of the property while Dancing Lady mountain looms in the backdrop.
For your convenience, complimentary WiFi is available throughout the
hotel. The Lodge is also home to a 9-hole golf course and 9-hole pitch
n’ putt course. Glacier Park Lodge is the perfect place to unplug, and
immerse yourself in a Glacier Park vacation.
2016 Operating Dates: June 7 - September 21
Note the late opening and early closing dates. I've been here
before they opened, but enjoyed the park and the Izaak Walton Inn as
Great Northern Railway built Glacier Park Lodge over a century ago.
Situated on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, the hotel site was
purchased from the Piegan, a tribe of the Blackfeet Nation. This site
was in a settlement then known as Midvale. When the present railway
depot was built in 1912, the area was renamed Glacier Park Station and
then became known as East Glacier Park in 1950. Often referred to as “Big Tree
Lodge,” the immense timbers that support the Lodge were approximately
500 to 800 years old when they were cut and all of them retain their
bark. There are a total of 60 timbers, 36 to 42 inches in diameter and
40 feet long. The timbers which support the lobby and verandas are
Douglas fir and cedars from Washington State. Today, 162 rustic, yet
comfortable guest rooms can accommodate over 500 people
View of the bridge from my 2008 visit at:
As we head east we exit mountain views and high plains farmland.
Even though the scenery gets flat in eastern Montana, passengers
migrate to the Sightseer/Lounge Car for various activities including
listening to Bill and Bill's Rails and Trails trip narration.
Cut Bank, Montana, often listed as the coldest place in the lower 48 US
Bill related that there
are 8 western states that have similar characteristics: Few
Trees, Few Rivers, and Fertile Land. Montana gets only 3 to 8" of
rain a year. The Homestead Act gave 160 acres for 5 years with
"UPS drivers lead a lonely life in Montana."
This Montana Wind Farm is owned by a Spanish firm that feeds Southwest
Energy with electricity. Research shows that 35 mph is the
optimum speed for a wind turbine.
A little after 11 a.m. we were at Shelby, Montana.
A good place to stretch
you legs. When walking to the front of the train, be sure you
have time to get a photo like this realizing that to reboard the train
you must walk past 2 locomotives, the baggage car, the transition car
and half way into the first sleeper to find an open door.
Any Amtrak stop when you are given some time off the train is a
good time to get a photo of your car attendant since they must stay
near the door to help passengers with the step down to the platform.
Sometimes a photo of nearby businesses give some clues to the town
such as "Oil City" and the light pole sign.
Not me, I prefer a 35mm DSLR.
East of Shelby, Montana it took me a while to realize these were
all horses! First thought it would be a cattle feeder lot.
Some ghost buildings with a nice church among the abandoned
buildings. Looks like the wind has taken many roof shingles and
siding pieces off through the years.
Very large hay field. You would put quite a few miles on
your vehicle just to collect the bales.
Railroads are still the most economical way to move bulk goods
except for river barges.
Local music on the Empire Builder in Montana as part of the Rails
With the Cafe Attendant having a stereotypical Russian Accent and
other employees on the PA, we began to think we were in the middle of a
Saturday Night Live skit.
Bulk grain plant, with a pile of grain that will not fit into the bins,
ready for shipment by covered hopper cars while a ballast gondola train
waits on a nearby siding. Treeless Montana extends to the horizon.
Appropriately named Badlands, but nice crops being grown nearby.
Mary "Super" Hooper, Car 30
Attendant. It was a pleasure walking through her car to the
diner. She took extra care to have a spic 'n span car including
fresh flowers in the center of the car. However, car attendants
agree with passengers that the Empire Builder should recycle!
Marlon was our breakfast and lunch waiter in the Diner. Overall
pleasant crew which just happened to walk into the hotel where we
stayed in Chicago as their crew hotel.
ILSX 1362 along the route.
Zack W on Flickr says, "ILSX EMD GP5#1362 Former Great
Northern GP9 rebuilt as a GP5 At Willison, ND. Owned by the Independent
Great Northern No. 3059 on display at Williston, North Dakota.
BNSF locomotives reflect in a pool with used rails as our eastbound
Empire Builder awaits.
Typical train storage silos and covered hoppers for transportation.
No one seemed to know, not even local conductors, what this yellow
field's crop was.
One question on the Internet
produced this information:
is a crop with plants from three to five feet tall that produce pods
from which seeds are harvested and crushed to create canola oil and
meal. These plants also produce small, yellow flowers, which beautify
Canola seeds contain about 44 percent
oil. This large percentage of oil comes in a small package; canola
seeds are similar in size to poppy seeds, though brownish-black in
Although they look similar, canola
and rapeseed plants and oils are very different. Canadian scientists
used traditional plant breeding in the 1960s to eliminate the
undesirable components of rapeseed* and created "canola," a contraction
of "Canadian" and "ola." Canola oil is prized for its heart-healthy
properties with the least saturated fat of all culinary oils.
Canola belongs to the same family as
mustard, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower. Besides the U.S.,
it is grown in Canada and Australia, but canola oil is consumed all
over the world. In the U.S., the ratio of supply versus demand of
canola oil is about 1:3, which presents a huge opportunity for U.S.
producers to grow more canola.
About 1.5 million acres are currently
grown in the U.S., predominantly in North Dakota, but also in Oklahoma,
Minnesota, Montana, Idaho, Oregon and several other states.
Traveling in July gives plenty of late light to enjoy the landscape as
shown in this 9:36 pm photo at Minot, ND.
A good night's rest followed and we awoke for another Amtrak breakfast.
What's wrong with this picture? I'm on a train, on a bridge
crossing a river and the shadow shows the draw bridge is UP! (I
lived through it.)
Winona, Wisconsin about 10 a.m.
A train trip always allows for a
closeup look at modern railroad maintenance equipment. I have
seen this apparatus in action tamping ballast around and under new
ties. If you have the chance to see one of these working, just
look for the dust cloud that it sends up working with dirt and rock.
West of the Winona Station is an old freight house with electrical
insulators on crossbars built right into the building.
"Winona", sounded like a name that would work in a limerik:
There once was a Miss from Winona,
A brand new car she did ownah,
In a terrible rain
she ran into a train,
Because she had too much Corona.
(I do not thing I need to copyright that!)
Our crew on the Empire Builder was straight out of Saturday Night
Live. We had a Cafe Car attendant with a heavy Russian
Accent. She made all the required announcements, but each time
she spoke over the PA, I could see Gilda Radner talking in my
mind. A coach car attendant used the PA for announcements in her
own car. Evidently she is also responsible for cleaning the
observation car and raked people for not picking up their own trash in
a Kindergarten-level tone. She threatened to close the lounge and
chase everyone out to clean if they did not put their trash "and
garbage" in the trash recepticals. As a fellow passenger of ours
remarked, "She always sounded tired." Waiter Chris was about the
size of Penn of Penn & Teller, with an equally long pony
tail. He was always upbeat and
comedic. The Dining Car Steward, Orlando or something like that, gave
lengthy instructions each time he called a time for lunch or dinner
guest to come to the Diner.
Met a young rail traveler couple
on the Empire Builder, thanks to Car Attendant, Zack, who
knows me and
pointed them out to me. They also have a blog of a multi-train
trips they took by coach car:
"We actually read your blog
prepping for the trip. We got the 15 day rail pass, and we've been on
Lake shore Limited, Southwest Chief, Pacific Surfliner, Coast
and the Empire Builder. We are staying in Chicago tonight and
heading home on the Lake shore tomorrow. This was Julianna's first trip
west of Ohio, and my first US train trip more than a few hundred miles.
She has taken over 450 pictures and we are planning on blogging our
experience titled, "Traveling the country on a tight budget".
Zack said he was a friend of yours, and he's by far the best coach
attendant of our trip."
Ian and Juliana
Ian, Zack, and Juliana
We crossed many Wisconsin rivers as we headed east then south to
Churches are always recognizable,
but their architecture is varied across the US depending on the era in
which they were built. I found this chimney interesting in its
height to reach above the peak of the roof to benefit the draft in the
South of Columbus, Wisconsin more
time at the "Railfan Window" as we paralleled an Interstate and passed
new cross ties ready to be used. I remember puffy clouds in the
blue skies when I lived in the Midwest.
One and one-half hour north of Chicago.
Two Chicago Metropolitan Lounge Hostesses welcomed us to the new Lounge
which had only been open a few weeks.
A relaxing environment with the Chicago hustle going by on the street
Several levels within the Chicago Metropolitan Lounge with nice
View from the Metropolitan Lounge of the historic waiting area.
I made good use of the coffee machine.
Our accommodations while in
Chicago, about 4 blocks from the station, was the Holiday Inn &
Suites Downtown Chicago, 506 West Harrison Street, Chicago,
Illinois. As it turned out, this was the hotel of Amtrak crews as
My long-time friend, Bob Williams came in from Huntley, Illinois
on Metra Rail each day to help us take luggage to the hotel or take us
touring around downtown Chicago.
We used Uber in all 5 cities.
Here's a free Uber ride (worth up to $20) on the Uber app
To accept, use code 'carlm3106ue' to sign up. Enjoy!
Details: (The code will already be entered) https://www.uber.com/invite/carlm3106ue