Thursday, April 14, 2011

Stack talk ...

Here's an evocative reminiscence of life at an old railroad "beanery" in northwestern Montana. It was written by a man named Robert W. Downing, who later rose through the ranks to become president of the Burlington Northern Railroad. Rexford is on the old Great Northern line between Whitefish and Libby via Eureka ... part of which is now under the waters of lake Koocanusa.
After I became district roadmaster, my assignment was west from Whitefish to Troy… I regularly stayed at Rexford, Montana, which was about the midpoint of the district. There was a railroad “beanery” right on the station platform next to the depot. The lunch room was on the ground floor, and upstairs, there were six or seven rooms for the enginemen on the helper crews that worked up Rexford Hill to Stryker. Also until the Fernie branch into Canada was taken up in 1938, the branch crews sometimes stayed at the “hotel.” In any event, the sleeping rooms on the ground floor were just across a narrow station platform – about 12 feet from the main line, and just about at the level of the stack of a locomotive. When an eastbound freight train stopped there, the through locomotive would be taking water while the helper coupled on behind the caboose. When ready to go there would be a loud exchange of whistle signals, the lead engine would slowly get underway with much it's stack noise. The grade was not too heavy for a short distance east of the depot, so the train would get going very quickly – so that by the time the helper came by your room it would be working wide open and making 20 or 25 mph. The very earth would tremble, and the old beanery would shake so much that the bed would seem to jump up and down. Anybody who could sleep through it was not of this world. Those were the days of real action.

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