Montana Museum of Railroad History

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Montana Museum of Railroad History
Winter, 2012 - 2013
Spring 2013
2014, 2015, 2016

Celebrating First Rails to Great Falls – MMRH brought to public attention the 125th anniversary of the first rails to reach the City of Great Falls, October 15, 1887. Media coverage, historic research and a week of events at the Museum brought awareness to the community of the arrival of St. Paul, Minneapolis & Manitoba Railway Company, predecessor of the Great Northern Railway.

Museum members pitched in with refreshments, tours of the Museum and caboose, and model railroad operations, while taking full advantage to tell the many visitors about the MMRH project. Activities started on Sunday, October 14, and ran each day through Saturday, October 20. Visitors were provided with a handout telling the story of the arrival of the Manitoba Road and its impact on central Montana and throughout the Territory. MMRH member, John Chase brought in his restored BN track motor car (speeder) for display. The Great Falls Tribune, on Sunday, October 14, 2012, published a feature piece by staff reporter, Rich Ecke, who had researched the paper’s archives of 1887 for its coverage of the occasion. MMRH collaborated on the article with Rich. An historic overview follows:

GNRHS Grant Received – MMRH was awarded a $1,500 grant by the Great Northern Railway Historical Society Heritage Fund, during its July national convention. The funds are designated to go towards the purchase of two sets of steel, exterior doors, which will replace old wooden doors on the north and west entrances of the building housing MMRH. They will provide added security and insulation, and complement the steel doors installed several years ago in our east entrance. Purchase and installation of the new doors will be combined with interior improvements, being added into CTEP award funding work described below. MMRH is extremely grateful for the continuing support received from the GNRHS.

Building Interior Improvements to Proceed -- By end of fall, MMRH members had completed the insulation of the exterior building foundation. This was a major accomplishment, entailing labor-intensive removal of shrubs, mostly hand dug trenching (with some front loader work), leveling, insulation assembly, gluing and placement, as well as backfilling and tamping. This was done around the entire perimeter of the building – about 250 linear feet – all to engineering specifications. The work was required to have the shallow footings less likely subject to frost heave, once the interior is fully heated. With the work certified by TDH Engineering, Cascade County Planning Department is currently preparing a contract for services for LPW Architecture to proceed with preparing Construction Documents, Bidding/Negotiations and Construction Administration. This will allow building interior improvements construction to get under way utilizing our CTEP funding award. While total interior costs are estimated to exceed present CTEP funding, we will take the improvements forward in phases, going as far as current funding will allow. Initially, wall and window insulation, new steel doors, drywall and preliminary electrical are to be completed. Additional grant funding is being sought for completion of electrical, mechanical and HVAC.
We are hopeful that the current construction progress will aid us in gaining additional grant funds, as we will be able to show specific cost estimates and timetables for this exciting part of the MMRH project. Special thanks to Steel, Etc. for help with shrub debris removal and to all who labored on the foundation.

Historic Gifts Continue to Come to MMRH – From historic photos to baggage wagons to model railroad equipment; from official publications to railroad tools, historic maps and enameled heralds; MMRH has become a recognized repository for many railroad items lurking in closets, basements and garages. Most are gifted by railroad families or those with an interest in preservation. In every case MMRH is pleased to be considered as an appropriate institution to receive these items, many of which help finish our displays. Duplicates are considered to be traded or sold, helping Museum programs and acquisitions. We are grateful to all for the growth seen in our collections that can be exhibited for public enjoyment. Special thanks go to member Dean Urton, who upon retirement has dedicated countless hours to organizing many of our historic artifacts and publications, as well as with wife Linda restored the interior of our caboose.

Last fall, the activities director of The Lodge, a retirement home in Great Falls, contacted MMRH asking for help for residents wanting to set up a model railroad. MMRH was able to donate an N-scale model railroad that had earlier been given to the Museum. It is a compact layout, complete with track, power pack, scenery and rolling stock. Unable to be incorporated into either of our two large HO-scale layouts it was the perfect solution for the senior living facility. After learning that there were a number of elder residents who enjoyed model railroading, the layout was delivered with a promise that someone from MMRH would regularly check the track and see all is operating OK. It’s been well received and is unique in area retirement facilities. Once again, MMRH was able to extend its outreach into the community. Kudos to member Dean Zook and others who helped make this a win-win for The Lodge and MMRH.

MMRH Museum Activities – The Museum continues to be a growing destination for group and special interest tours. Examples include a senior citizen group coming from Shelby specifically to visit MMRH. Volunteer “docents” claim they learn as much or more from these life-experienced visitors, than they teach about the Museum project. Almost all have stories to tell about the “good old days” and their experiences back when railroad passenger trains were the way to travel. Many recalled taking the “local” from their small town depot to and from the nearest “big city” for a shopping outing or special event. N.P., G.N. and the Milwaukee Road all ran local “accommodations” as they were known; some until as late as 1965.

With education of the history and importance of railroad technology a priority for MMRH, a visit at the end of January 2013 by a Head Start group from Longfellow Elementary School was scheduled. Somewhat weather dependent, the walk through the still unheated portion of the building will be brief, but the youngsters will be treated to the large, scale model railroad layout and displays in the heated portion.

Other visitations include the throngs who toured MMRH during the 10 days of Montana State Fair in July. The annual “Run Your New Train” day was a success on the Saturday following Christmas, when “kids” of all ages get to run their new HO trains on the Great Falls Model Railroad Club layout at MMRH. We’ll also again participate in the upcoming Great Falls Museum Consortium “Sunday Museum Sampler,” the highly successful event held annually to encourage public visitation to all 10 area museums.

MMRH will once again have its outreach booth display at the Helena Railroad Fair on Sunday, April 28, 2013; 9:30 a.m. – 4 p.m. We hope to see you there for a fun day of railroad enthusiasm.

Museum Hours – Winter hours remain in affect until the “spring thaw.” Thursday evenings, 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. the Museum is open to all during their weekly work and operating sessions of the Great Falls Model Railroad Club. Visitations by appointment for individuals and groups are welcomed. Extended hours will be announced as we head into spring.

Spring 2013

MMRH members had been planning and preparing for two summer seasons to get the Dinky, former Anaconda Mining Company No. 124, a 1926 Davenport Locomotive Works, 0-4-0 T 30-inch narrow gauge, coal burning steam locomotive moved into the Museum from the Walter Mehmke farm, near Belt, MT. A gift to MMRH by the estate of the late Jack Hoover, the little (15 tons) saddle tank steamer was ready to go by May, 2013. Thanks to a grant from the Great Northern Railway Historical Society Heritage Fund, museum members had earlier purchased materials and built a display track complete with 1887 rail once used by the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railway -- first railroad to reach Great Falls in 1887.

Special thanks go to Tom Harant and his H&H Crane Service; lifting, transportation and installation were totally donated. Wow! Tom's services had earlier helped us with the move of our BN Caboose #12377. We simply cannot thank them enough.
So, all was set, except that it poured and dumped rain the night before, raising concerns about positioning the cranes on soft ground. But the sun shone on moving day, and by noon the thirsty ground had quickly dried and we were off to the "roundhouse", so to speak. The H&H crew in no time assembled front and rear cradles and the Dinky was soon up in the air, the flatbed semi backed under, and the locomotive tied down for the ride to town.
In short order, the Dinky arrived at our front door. A few tree branches were slightly altered to clear the crane booms and the steamer was soon on the ground for the move inside. H&H used their system of rollers to move the locomotive inside, position it, then got it shoved up onto our new display track. DONE! Well almost. Due to the width of our doorway, the running boards and both pilot beams with coupler pockets and foot boards had been removed in preparation. And the cab, removed outside the Museum to clear the doorway, followed its locomotive inside.
The Davenport is now proudly displayed with the most frequent question asked being, ; How did you get that huge steamer through that little front door???. Very carefully and with a lot of wonderful volunteer help doing a ton (no pun intended) of hard, heavy work. Now, members can put her back together with new wood replacing the old rotted original pilot beams, re-attach the running boards and bolt the cab back into position, possibly with a new floor. Meantime, visitors can see the back end of a steam locomotive without its cab on. Just think of it as a full sized "model" train kit.
Our goal is to cosmetically restore No. 124 to its "as delivered in 1926 appearance. Fortunately, to guide us, we have a copy of the original builder photo taken at the Davenport plant in 1926. We found and purchased an historically correct Star kerosene headlight, plus we have the original bell, front number plate and builder plate -- everything needed to do a great restoration.
A brief history: Anaconda purchased several (we are not sure how many) of these small steam locomotives for their Great Falls and Anaconda, Montana operations. No. 124 was use at the Black Eagle (Great Falls) copper refinery from 1926 well into the 1950's when it was replaced by a narrow gauge diesel locomotive. Copper ore from Butte, was smelted at the Anaconda, MT works, and shipped via Great Northern and Milwaukee Road trains to Great Falls for refining into 99+% pure copper using an electrolytic process. The Dinky moved small rack cars of rough copper anodes from the standard gauge loading dock up into the refining plant, and brought finished copper billets and wire back from the refinery and wire mill to the loading area for shipment by rail to points throughout the nation. The locomotives and rolling stock were maintained on site by Anaconda machinists. At the end of their useful lives, they were set aside for scrapping, however, several were saved with some operating on a Nevada City tourist line. Jack Hoover purchased N. 124 in 1964, saving it from the scrapper's torch and now MMRH can carry on the preservation of this important gem of Montana's fascinating railroad history.
Your donations and continuing support allow the Montana Museum of Railroad History to expand and grow its wonderful exhibits for the education and enjoyment of all.

Several years ago, MMRH was gifted a former Burlington Northern Railway, Fairmont track speeder. Member Fred Aten was moving out of state and wanted it to stay in the Museum, eventually to be restored. Fortunately, member Doug Laubach agreed to take it to a well equipped shop out on his farm. It follows that it needed a great deal of work to bring it back to its like new appearance.
First though, a bit of history: Fairmont Railway Motors was formed in 1909 in Fairmont, Minnesota. Formerly the Fairmont Machine Co., it became Fairmont Gas Engine & Railway Motor Car Company in 1915, manufacturing hundreds of motorized track speeders, as they were known, replacing the old pump-type "armstrong" hand cars and 3-wheeled velocipedes used for track inspection in the old days. The motorized speeder, pulling one or several tool carts, could quickly bring a section gang to a track repair location. They were gradually improved with larger motors, heaters, headlights, weather protecting side curtains, plus reverse and brakes. Eventually, with the development of Hi-Rail pickup trucks, welded rail and concrete ties, and highly mechanized track maintenance equipment, the old track speeder became another item of railroad history. By 1979, Fairmont, no longer building track speeders, merged into today's Harsco Rail Corporation.
Though unsure as to when our Fairmont was built, it appears to have been made in the middle to late 1950s. Further research is being done for the serial number and any other data we might find. We do know it was lettered for BN, but that merger occurred in 1970.
Upon starting the project, the body work, aside from a few dents was in reasonable shape. Wheels appeared good, frame sound, axles straight, and brakes operational. The Onan engine seemed OK, too.However, quite a few items were missing: The control panel, console cover, most of the glass, wipers, gas tank, battery bracket, seats and frames, as well as some other smaller items. Transmission, map container and side panel were badly damaged.

Restoration involved a piece-by-piece dismantling, with each part restored or replaced as it came off. Eventually all that remained was the outer body (cab) shell which was riveted together, and a few critical bolts left in place to insure the strength integrity of the body. Much like a hot-rod rebuild, this was a full "frame-off" restoration, and it ended up taking about three years to complete.
Most items were covered in a coating of tar, oil, gunk, and goo that required alternate washings of oven cleaner, TSP, and hot water; plus, it seemed like about one thousand pounds of sand for the sandblaster. This was the only way to clean things up for repainting.Upon closer inspection of the frame, it had been in some kind of wreck that had bashed in the front frame-work about 3-inches. As any experienced farmer or rancher knows, this calls for the tractor with front loader bucket, some stout chain and some mighty delicate pulling to bend both body and frame into original alignment. Doug Laubach still has second thoughts about needing so much pressure on the pull that the front of the tractor lifted off the ground!Finish assembly involved replacing most bolts, along with plenty of Bondo, hammering and sanding. Missing parts were manufactured or purchased. New glass was locally cut and installed. Thanks to all of this hard work by Doug, and with help by Dean Urton and Bob Klessig, our Fairmont has never looked better. Soon the speeder will be back in the Museum for display.
What about operating it? That's a whole other story involving completion of the operator seats, plus meeting NARCO regulations and getting permission and proper dispatching from a nearby railroad to try her out. Meanwhile out at the farm, the workshop is cleaned up, tools put away and ready for another project. Right, Doug? Thanks to you, and to all who made this possible
Goals and Priorities More than a dozen MMRH members met in late October, 2013 for a day long session to discuss, review and set goals and priorities for the Museum. With much accomplished over the past 9 years, and much to be done going forward, a lengthy list of ideas and items were brainstormed with a few priorties highlighted here: Upon completion of the CTEP funded building insulation project, slated for as soon as possible this year (state and county agencies presently completing final approvals), a top priority is to build insulated window panels for interior installation. These will add much needed exhibit wall space, while further insulating the building interior. No alteration will be made to the steel case windows, which are part of the designated historic building and will remain fully visible from outside the building
Library access policies were discussed. The library will be designed and operated as a research and resource library. It was agreed that MMRH' extensive collections of books, periodicals and photos deserve curating, while being accessible to the public, but we will not be a lending library. These items are in need of catalog and archive work. Exterior signage is needed with design discussed. A local sign company may help with this item.
Museum Happenings
MMRH welcomed thousands of visitors during Montana State Fair. Exhibits and the scale model railroads continue to generate positive comments and support. A notable visitor was Mr. Alan Vezzani, President and General Manager of Kadee Quality Products Company. Kadee is a major manufacturer of model railroad equipment and supplies. Upon returning to his home in Oregon, Mr. Vezzani, pleasantly surprised MMRH by sending a generous assortment of Kadee products for use by the Great Falls Model Railroad Club. Thank you Mr. Vezzani. The Museum' model railroad club capped off year-end with its annual "Fun Run" where young train enthusiasts are invited to bring their new Christmas trains and run them on our extensive track work. Young and old enjoyed the day, which received great coverage by the Great Falls Tribune, KRTV and KFBB-TV. MMRH continues to serve our school system. Head Start youngsters will visit in early February, followed by a field trip of Great Falls Public School District 4th graders scheduled late in the month. April will see MMRH once again participating in the Great Falls Museum Consortium annual Museum Sunday Sampler. The event invites the community to freely visit all 10 Consortium member museums. July 12, 2014, MMRH will host one of the Great Northern Railway Historical Society annual convention tours.
Meeting in Helena, MT, July 11 - 16, this year's gathering will focus on the Montana Central Railway, built by James J. Hill as part of his Manitoba Road (Great Northern) from Great Falls to Butte, MT. Buses will tour attendees along the former Montana Central from Helena to Great Falls and return. A highlight of the tour will be lunch and a visit to MMRH, whose members designed and arranged the day for GNRHS.

NEWSLETTER 2014 (Thanks Jack D)

The insulation of the building housing MMRH has been completed! This is a major accomplishment for the Museum project, allowing us to work towards the next phases of improving the building interior envelope.
Specifically, the walls were drilled at mid-height though which the insulating material was blown in. Similar holes were also drilled into the top and bottom of the walls, allowing air to escape and the insulating material filled the wall cavities. This was had to be done between each set of vertical framing studs. Once filled, each set of holes was plugged.

The ceiling area received a false ceiling (suspended netting) installed so that portions of the large industrial wood trusses remain visible, preserving the historic appeal of the building interior. More insulation material was then installed and rests upon the false ceiling. In preparation for this extensive project, MMRH exhibits, artifacts and the large model railroad displays required a great deal of work. Museum members removed all model railroad equipment, structures and details for safekeeping. The model layouts were covered with protective sheeting. Displays attached to walls were stored, library volumes and shelves moved, along with baggage wagons and carts repositioned away from the walls.

At this time, MMRH members are studying the possibility of applying sheet rock to cover the worn, painted, tongue-groove interior material. This will provide a cleaner interior for displays and exhibits, as well as add another layer of insulation. Goals remaining include getting restroom facilities functional for wintertime use (currently drained each winter for freeze protection), and upgrading heating and airconditioning. Once acheived, MMRH will then be able to extend public access hours and programs, reaching a primary objective.
Plus, a quality environment will allow all the hard working volunteers to greatly enjoy making improvements on the model railroads, full installation of the resource library and photo collections, and expanding our railroad history exhibits.

This is an exciting time for MMRH, as we enter our 10th year since the formal founding of the the Museum. We've come a long ways, with plenty more to be done.


The Montana Museum of Railroad History was a major stop for 234 members of the Great Northern Railway Historical Society during their Saturday, July 12, 2014 tour of the historic Montana Central Railway line between Helena and Great Falls. With an early morning start from Helena, site of the convention, three busloads headed north enjoying stops in the scenic canyon taking in views of the many bridges and tunnels and old station locations along the route. MMRH officers, Dean Zook and Jack Dykstra, as well as railroad authors Bill and Jan Taylor were on board, each answering questions and telling aboout historic points and areas of interest at stops along the way.

A tour of the Great Falls, BNSF locomotive facilities, arranged by MMRH, gave the group an opportunity to look at the steam-era turntable (still in use) and the interior of the engine house. BNSF officials had kindly spotted a locomotive on the turntable and were present to guide the visitors. Then it was on to a mid-day catered lunch at the MMRH museam building at Montana Expo Park.

Members were kept busy hosting GNRHS members throughout the museum, pointing out special exhibit items, talking about the history of area railroads, and the many museum projects. Appropriately, the model railroad was humming with a fleet of all-Great Northern Railway passenger and freight trains running to the delight of all. The press interviewed the GNRHS convention chair and officers, resulting in a feature story with photos in the Sunday Great Falls Tribune.

Prior to departing, the Society presented MMRH with a check as their token of appreciation for all the preparation work done to make the GNRHS visit a success. It had been a very special opportunity to show a large group, directly interested in the MMRH, more about our project. Over the years MMRH has greatly benefited as a reipient of several grants from the GNRHS. The tour further included a drive by of the Great Falls two restored depots, a visit to the Lews & Clark National Interpretive Center and the large former Great Northern Railwy bridge at Rainbow Falls on the Missouri River. Concluding a full day, the buses headed back to Helena with the following day planned for touring the other portion of the Montana Central line from Helena to Butte.

2016: Greatly condenced
The insulation is making a big difference in the climate inside. Sheetrock almost done, mud, sanding, paint, posters going up. A big big thanks to the Zellers for the front doors. The Carter RR station is going well, library started, several sections of rr track and scenery under construction. It has been a busy spring.

FINISHING TOUCHES Bob atop his new gadget, a device that allows the user to reach far over the layout for those hard to reach sections. This area, the westernmost section appears to be almost finished. In fact, the entire interior of the museum is starting to have that "almost done" look. The recent insulation project has vastly improved the working conditions inside. The winter bone freezing cold and the summer broiling heat have been replaced with a year round pleasant environment……well….Bob is still wearing his winter coat inside.

GN LOCOMOTIVES New addition this year, a model of each of Great Northern's steam engines and electrics, perhaps the only collection like it anywhere.

THE LIBRARY no longer stuffed box by box under the layout or where ever room could be found, is now neatly nestled next to the locomotive in the west part of the building, accompanied by various oil cans, lanterns, and other railroad equipment of the past, and topped off with brand new led lights overhead. Dean (the elder) and Garth (the taller) have been busy practicing their new vocation as librarians, and doing a great job of it.
A recent addition to the layout, an animated model of a wooden hillside combine pulled by mules. You can also see this display and the thrasher below by going to our web page and looking on the menu items on the left side of the page, go to videos.

EXT STOP….MONARCH In the town of Monarch, they have a train depot and a caboose to go with it. Needed are items of the depot era. The MMRH had a duplicate baggage cart (see left) and some other items typical of the day of steam engines. Here, the crew is loading up part of the equipment which will be on extended loan to the Monarch Train Depot.

Developments after the newsletter: Membership drew in about $575 in addition to the Zeller foundation has offered to sponsor ceiling fans which will total approx $3200. The smelter area of the layout now has a smokestack complete with smoke and a few typical buildings of the era modeled in N scale

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