Steam locomotive

As you walk or ride a bicycle on the Rails to Trails going west from Kalispell, you should keep in mind the history connected to it.

About fifteen years before my time, this was the main line of the Great Northern Railway. All of the east and westbound passengers and freight were hauled over this trail.

In the year 1919, I attended the Elrod School and I remember watching the section men getting their hand car or pump car, as it was called, out of a shed and putting it on the rails and heading out west to maintain the tracks.

The engine called the Kalispell Dinky, with all of its shiny brass pulled the baggage car and passenger car which were both bigger than it was. It would go over this route and take passengers to Kila and Marion, and then return with passengers it picked up along the line. You could flag this train down from about any crossing and they would stop and pick you up. If you were going any distance, you could ride it through Kalispell to Columbia Galls and make connections with a passenger train on the main line.

It would also make trips to Somers with passengers and back to Kalispell.

There was also the local freight train that came out of Whitefish to handle the local freight for all the stores along the line. They would bring in empty cars to be loaded at the lumber mills, pole yards, stockyards, wood yards, and grain elevators. Later on, it would haul in passenger cars for the local sales.

This train would go the same route and drop off cars to be loaded at the mills and put off the freight for the stores at Kila and Marion. It would pick up the loaded cars of lumber and railroad ties and other things.

Sometimes it would come into Kalispell with several carloads of bawling cattle and pick up a few cars here and take them to Whitefish. They would be put in with a train that hauled nothing but cattle and shipped back east to Chicago or St. Louis.

In later years, about 1930, the Galloping Goose replaced the Little Dinky. It made daily trips over the trail to Kila and Marion. This engine was like putting a motor in a baggage car and coupling it to the front wheels to give it power to pull it on the rails.

At one time, they had a logging train that went way beyond Marion and would take them to the Somers Lumber Company. They would back the cars out on the dock by the mill and dump the logs in Flathead Lake until they were ready for them in the mill. This train would also pick up carloads of railroad ties that were loaded at Kila and Marion and at a few sidings in-between to haul them to the tie treating plant at Somers.

I am sure there are other people living that could add more to this story.

So if you're walking this trail, and you sit down at a rest area, think about all the history connected to it. If I weren't too old to walk the trail, I would do the same.

by Don Green (born 1911)

Rails to Trails History
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