Sunday, January 3, 2010

The forgotten future ...

Yesterday's mention of the Nixon photo collection made me think of another image that Nixon took, one of the most incongruous of the collection ... so I thought I'd post it here before moving on.

Back in 1971, America's passenger rail network was dying. Amtrak had just been created, an event that saw the discontinuance of most of Montana's passenger trains, and many thought that the rest of the trains would soon disappear, as well. The country had just a handful of modern trains back then, operating in the east, and in an effort to generate enthusiasm Amtrak sent one of those on a cross-country tour. This is the "turbotrain" -- it passed through southern Montana in late August 1971, and apparently garnered all sorts of attention. This is a photo Nixon took of the train passing over Evaro Hill.

Of course, passenger trains in America didn't end up (quite) dying ... but the turbotrain didn't up being the future of American travel, either. Nowadays, there are people lobbying for restoration of passenger trains across southern Montana. I doubt that it will happen for a while, and if it does I doubt that our train will look this cool ... but we could do a lot worse.


  1. It looks like Superman should be running alongside it. Talk about classy!
    I really wish the passenger trains would make a comeback, to southern Montana. I'd take the kids on it, to Billings, to visit friends and see the doctors. It would be such a relief to tell everyone that, no, we can't possibly go to COSTCO....

  2. Yeah, it was quite the thing ... built by an aircraft manufacturer, even!

    'd love to see the trains come back, too ... though the way Montana is it would be hard to use them for local trips. Most of the state is always going to be a long ways from a set of railroad tracks -- most of the Costco's included!

  3. Mom and I rode the trains numerous times when I was very young (I was one of those few kids who pulled the infamous Emergency Cord, when I got disoriented and lost my Mommy! I was maybe 5 at the time...don't remember where, or our destination at the time.)

    I vaguely remember a class trip to visit the Freedom Train when it came through Great Falls in 1948. Many of my mates had never been on a train...not many parents even owned a car at the time. Mom didn't get her first car until 1949, when she was 35. It was a '37 Pontiac coupe, Grampie bought for her...we left Montana for the coast, to begin a nomadic Gypsy life. I never rode another train, until I went to Ireland.

  4. I took my first train ride as a kid back in 1968 ... my grandparents were certain that the era of the passenger train was over, and wanted to make sure I got to ride one before it was too late. And of course, after that ride I was hooked. :)

    I've ridden a good chunk of the Amtrak network since then, and trains in a number of other countries, as well. The experiences have usually been great, and nearly always memorable ... even my Irish train ride, which was late enough to make me miss a flight.

    Here in Montana, I've ridden the Empire builder a couple of times, but I didn't get to the state until after the passenger train route across southern Montana was discontinued. I did get to ride those rails once, but I think I'd better check on the statute of limitations before telling that story! :)