In October 2005 when I made my first trip to Montana, railroading here was in a storm of change between past, present and future. While the main purpose of the trip was to visit family and look at the University of Montana, an underlying goal was to shoot Montana Rail Link’s SD45s on Mullan Pass. Unfortunately the invaders had already arrived in the form of SD70ACe’s and on our one day there, they were the motive power of choice for helpers. I soon accepted the fact that classic images of 45s in helper service would be a subject absent from my slide collection.
Fast forward to President’s Day Weekend, 2008. With friend and fellow UM freshman Cameron Chapman offering a seat to Helena with him and his father Ed to shoot MRL, I really couldn’t refuse. So with a few rolls of film and an empty memory card I headed east on Friday, February 15, under mostly cloudy skies. While the weather wasn’t great, trains were moving and hopes of a successful weekend were high. But upon arriving at Elliston, where helpers on westbound trains usually cut off, just after sunset, everything changed. Sitting on the mainline, having just pushed a westbound freight, was three SD45-2s and an SD40. All the sudden six rolls of film didn’t look like enough.
Below are a few digital images of my weekend on Mullan Pass, one spent waiting and hoping for the combination of sun and SD45s. When you’ve waited three years, what’s another three days?
Close, but no cigar: On Saturday afternoon the 45s finally took to the hill, but under mostly cloudy skies. Those "Classic Images" would have to come another day.
On Sunday morning it looked as if it would finally happen, so we thought. Standing at Tobin we found blue skies to the west on Mullan Pass, and SD45s leading a train to the east! Between them however was this soal crushing scene, a derailed tank car.
By early afternoon the tank car was rerailed and dispatchers in Missoula opened the line up to let eastbounds that had been sitting on the hill to enter Helena. A eastbound BNSF grain train is just east of town, at Tobin.
Strike Two: With the line cleared MRL sent that long awaited westbound to the hill; with an SD70ACe on the point. It was sunny, but it wasn't what we were hoping for.
A westbound grain train storms by the station sign at Blossburg. The next day dawned clear, but again the first two trains of the day on the hill would find the SD70ACe's on the job. It appeared that I would again fail in my quest for 45s on Mullan Pass, until......Victory: After three years, and three days, I finally shot a set of MRL SD45s in helper service, under screaming blue skies on President's Day. An hour or so before sunset the four classic EMDs grind their way up hill in this digi grab shot, just before droping the Canon XTi to burn the classic image on Kodachrome.
Special Thanks to Ed and Cameron Chapman, Eric Vernado and Montana Rail Link.