Home > About this website > GN Finding Trips > 2003 - Part 1
2003 GN Finding Trip
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This year's GNRHS Convention was held in Havre, MT, giving me a nice 'excuse' to wrap another GN finding trip around it. This time I visited Lines East, an area I had not visited much before, and which is somewhat under-represented on my website. This turned out to be another trip with many finds, most of them expected but with some nice surprises, but also some disappointments when things had vanished. Keep reading for a day to day account of my trip, which took me across Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Iowa and Wisconsin, racking up a total of 8000 miles in 21 days. This lengthy trip also means a lengthy report, so sit back and take your time to read it.
Day 1, Thursday July 17: Minneapolis to Grand Forks
I flew into Minneapolis-St. Paul the night before, using the evening to pick up my rental car and supplies for the trip including a new Rand McNally Road Atlas and a DeLorme Minnesota Gazetteer for the more detailed maps that will help me find the back roads I need to reach some of the sites I plan to visit.
8AM rolls around and I hit the road hoping to make good progress today but straightaway I get stuck in a traffic jam caused by road construction. I later learn that Minnesota has two seasons; winter and road construction! I see what they mean. Eventually I get going again towards Montrose, my first destination today. Anyway, the first planned one. On the way I pass Wayzata, where I can't resist stopping at the depot to get some additional shots to the ones I already took two years ago. After some driving around to get back on the freeway (I love exits where you can get off, but not back on the freeway again!), I arrive at Montrose where I hit more road construction right at where I thought the depot had moved to. I can't find it there, so I decide to drive around and eventually find it at the north side of town, in use as part of a VFW. So much for trusting an address taken from the internet (mixed-up north and south)! I get my shots and shortly I'm on my way to the next stop at Waverly to look for the depot there. According to the information I have, it was moved to a park on Waverly Lake. Well, I soon find the park, but not the depot. I find a building that could have been the depot, but probably is a replacement for it (who knows what happened to it?). Quickly I'm on my way again for the next stop at Dassel for the Cokato depot, which has been moved there and turned into a railroad museum. I decide to visit it this time (last time I only took pictures) and to my surprise end up visiting the largest collection of railroadiana I've ever seen, including a working wig wag crossing signal! After a short tour it's off to Darwin and Litchfield to get pictures of the depots there. In Litchfield I discover that the three water towers I saw two years ago, have disappeared. I later hear that they were taken down and scrapped earlier this year. What a shame! I get my pictures of the depot and continue to Atwater to find the rather large depot moved and in use as City Hall. Great, one put to good use. I hit Willmar around 1:30 PM, and visit the same sites as two years ago. All still there, good. The new paintjob of GN P-2 2523 has now been completed and the lettering and logo have all been nicely redone. Too bad about the shade of gre... well, no need to get into that discussion again. I drive around the Willmar yard hoping to find Rocky, but no luck. I do find a BN painted ex GN boxcar though. Then it's back on the road again for a 50 mile drive to the next depot; Hancock, in use as the city garage. Boy, the different uses they find for these depots! I look around for a reported GN caboose, but can't find it. Not enough time to turn the town up side down, so I continue west following the old GN mainline to Morris where I easily locate the depot, on site and still in use by BNSF, the first brick depot on my trip. From Morris I take a small detour to Chokio on the Brown's Valley branch, where I find the depot relocated but largely unaltered. Back to the mainline at Donnelly and Herman where the depots are now in use at fairgrounds. Further down the road I get to Norcross. Driving through town I notice the town's water tower, nicely painted with the towns name on it... Hey, but wait; doesn't it look suspiciously close to a GN design steel water tower and so near to the tracks? I'd better take a picture and check it out later (who can confirm?). Just north of town, I find the Norcross depot in use as feed or grain storage. On to Breckenridge, for the first caboose on this trip X-111, painted red instead of the original as-delivered Big Sky Blue, because a caboose, especially one on display, should be red, right? I get my pictures and move on to the depot to get pictures of it and the GN logo still visible above the bay window. The depot is now in use by the Red River Valley & Western RR. Across the tracks I get pictures of the roundhouse in use by a chemical company. I discover it actually consists of two parts, one set back from the other, which I try to document in the pictures I take. I also get pictures of the bridge into Wahpeton and then continue on my way to find more depots. After some driving around town, I find the Wolverton depot, moved and converted into a very nice residence. The owner did a nice job leaving it mostly intact, except for changing the roof over the bay window and putting a large picture window in the freight door opening, hanging the freight door off the side as a somewhat oversized shutter. After admiring this nicely converted depot I find a large contrast in Sabin where the depot is in use as storage and really looks beaten up. I bypass Moorhead and Fargo, which I plan to visit another day, and continue to Georgetown where the depot is in use as a private garage. A quick shot and on my way to Grandin, my first stop in North Dakota, where I discover the depot gone. I'm starting to run out of daylight so I decide to take advantage of the higher speed limit on the ND Interstates and scoot over to Hillsboro to get my shots of the depot, another brick job and also still in use by the BNSF (do I feel a pattern developing here?) I use my trusty digital camera to get decent pictures in the twilight. These cameras really perform under these conditions, wow! Well, I'm out of daylight now and decide to wait for a train, who's headlight I see approaching in the distance. After the BNSF Heritage I painted SD40-2 (did I just see a GN engine pass by?) and Santa Fe Red and Silver Warbonnet GP60M (cool!) passed by with their train of covered hoppers, I get back on the Interstate and continue to my hotel in Grand Forks to turn in for the night, a fruitful first day behind me.
Day 2, Friday July 18: Grand Forks to Williston
Since I'm on a fairly tight schedule to make it on time to Havre for the GNRHS convention and the fact that I have a lot planned on today's trip, I decide to get up early, so by 7AM I'm on my way to downtown Grand Forks. I take advantage of the quiet morning hour and visit the old freight house, which is now an apartment building, and the depot which has been converted into an office. At the depot I catch an eastbound coal drag which is just coming out of the yard over the only track that's left of the once sprawling station complex. After getting my shots of a freshly painted Heritage II BNSF SD75M and two BN Grinstein Green SD70MACs, I head over to the bridge over the Red River of the North leading into East Grand Forks. I get there before the train has passed and get my pictures of the bridge with and eventually without the endless string of coal hoppers. I head back into Grand Forks to visit the yard where the turntable and part of the roundhouse still stand. I drive around to find some good photo angles and eventually find some fairly decent ones from across the street. It's getting time to leave town and start heading west on US 2. My first stop will be at Emerado for the depot. I also take a picture of the local doing some switching and a small bridge before leaving town. (It's virtually impossible to take pictures of all the bridges I see so I decided to only get the ones that catch my eye). On my way again, now to Larimore. I can't find the depot there so I quickly scoot over to Michigan to try my luck there. Supposedly moved to US 2 by the Michigan Historical Society, I can't find it either. Somewhat disappointed I leave town and follow US 2 westbound. Looking around my eye catches a farm with all buildings painted red. Flying by at 65 mph I suddenly notice a bay window on one of the buildings; hey, that looks like a depot! I find the next possible turn-around and go back to check it out. Yes, it is a depot and big enough to have been the Michigan depot. Maybe it is. The next stop is at Lakota. The depot is listed as being on site, and indeed there is a depot at the tracks. It looks a bit modern though, so I drive past it wondering if it might be a BN replacement. Then I notice on the next corner a house with a distinct depot feel to it. Might that be it then. I go over and luckily find the owners doing some garden work. I strike up a conversation and find out it's not the Lakota depot but the old Warwick depot moved there years ago. They also tell me the depot at the tracks is indeed the GN Lakota depot. Cool, two depots at once, and one unexpected. I leave town for a detour to Brocket where the depot is supposed to still be on site. Well, almost. I find it, moved across the tracks. Driving around trying to get my photo angles I notice a car coming my way; it turns out to be the owner asking me if he can help me. He was eating lunch in town when a friend alerted him of my presence at his property. So he came out to check things out (good neighborhood-watch in these small towns!). I explain what I'm doing and he tells me he's using it as a shop now. I apologize for interrupting his lunch and continue on my way to Devils Lake. After testing the tracking ability of my rental car on gravel roads, I drive into town and head straight for 'The Hutch'; GN caboose X-181, which is spending its retirement as part of a bar, after serving a long GN career on the Hutchinson branch in Minnesota. From there it's a small hop to the Devils Lake Depot and the huge (one city block!) Great Northern Hotel. The depot is still in use by BNSF and Amtrak and the hotel now serves as an apartment building. Next I follow ND highway 19 West out of town looking for the Leeds depot that is supposed to have been moved there, but fail to locate it. Oh well, can't get them all. Churchs Ferry is next and turns up nothing either. Then it's off to Rugby, destined to have some GN items for sure. Not only the depot is still there and in use by Amtrak and BNSF, but also the Penn depot and GN caboose X415 at the Prairie Village. The platform at the Rugby depot still has the original brick and reveals a small surprise; the brick came from the Minnesota Ceramic Co. I guess they must not have had a local manufacturer back then. A quick glance at the extensive collection of buildings, machinery and other items at the Prairie Village, before I decide to escape the burning sun, and be on my way to Berwick where I find the depot as listed. A visit to Towner next, for the depot, does not return the desired results, but a visit to Granville does. Close to Minot I visit Surrey where the cut-off carrying the towns name ties into the old mainline. Also home to Gavin yard, I decide to look for the depot first, which I find at the location where I thought it might be (Oh, the power of internet and aerial photography!). I can't help wondering why the bay window is offset to the corner. Gavin Yard is next. The hump is gone, as is most of the yard, but the tower is still there. I get some pictures of it as well as two ex GN SD9's in the yard. I bypass Minot, leaving it for the return trip, and head over to one of the highlights of today; Gassman Coulee bridge. She's sitting pretty, bathing in sunlight against a backdrop of big sky blue, begging me to take pictures of her. I'm happy to oblige. BNSF also helps out by sending a local across it, cool! On to the next highlight; the wood water tower at Des Lacs. Well, if it is still there. It is, although deteriorating; the tank is starting to lean. I also get my pictures of the depot in town, moved and in use as a residential garage, and the steel trestle west of town. I follow the mainline west, back to US2. In Tagus I take a picture of a building that might have been the depot, and near Palermo I find the small Appam depot, now located on a farm. On to the next town; Stanley which turns out to be the GN depot capitol of North Dakota; I count a total of four! The Stanley depot (Amtrak, BNSF), the Coulee depot, a deteriorated unknown Depot (could be Coulee; suggestions welcome) at a farm across the tracks and the Ross depot in great shape at the Flickertail Village Museum. Although it's long after opening hours the friendly people still present, busy tending to the grounds, welcome me in and even open up the depot and museum for me. Very nice of them! It's getting late and in a race against the clock, I get my picture of the Tioga depot in the setting sun. A quick search for the White Earth depot, which should be located 2 miles NE of Tioga, turns out unfruitful, so I head for Ray to look for the depot there. Not knowing that a picture of it would land in my mailbox a week later, I decide not to spend too much time searching for it and head for the Epping depot, for the last shot possible in the fading daylight. After watching an eastbound BNSF intermodal train come flying through town, I pack up and drive to Williston to stay the night. I sure saw a lot today!
Day 3, Saturday July 19: Williston to Great Falls
Today I will cover the longest distance on my trip, nearly 600 miles! I have seen most on this route before, and I can take advantage of the extra hour going into the Mountain Time Zone, so it should be possible. Why? I really, really want to find that caboose in Black Eagle, having missed it three times before! Keep on reading to see if I find it. First I back up a little to visit GN caboose X394, the only wood 25' caboose ever known to be painted Big Sky Blue, and the Alamo depot located at the Frontier Museum just north of Williston. Of course, no visit to Williston is complete without checking out the depot, freight house and O-1 2-8-2 3059. I also check out the bridge just east of town. It's time to head out of town, to find an item I missed on last year's trip; the Watford City depot. After this 60 mile detour I continue to Charbonneau to try to find the depot there. It is supposed to have been moved to a nearby farm, and although I think I found the farm, 'No-Trespassing' signs deter me from going in and looking for it; I do find a bridge girder though that was left behind when they ripped out the tracks. A short drive takes me to the Cartwright tunnel and into Montana to the Fairview liftbridge, recently opened as a trail. Since I already walked the trail last year, I continue on towards the Snowden liftbridge to get better pictures of it. On my way there I take a picture of a wood trestle in nice light just north of Dore. After pausing to admire the rhythmic work of two crop dusters, I arrive at the Snowden liftbridge and get treated to a spectacular sight of this gigantic bridge in beautiful light. Since the old road, that shared the bridge with the tracks, has long been closed, I'm forced to retrace my tire-marks and eventually make it to the Snowden depot site on the other side. Alas the depot is gone. At little further down the road I decide to stop and take a picture of the typical concrete low bridge design the GN used and that is so widely used on the system. At that moment a train nears and I get to witness a consist of two GP38-2s with one (yes, one!) covered hopper. Important load? After leaving a large dust trail on the gravel road to Bainville, I verify that the depot there is really gone. On to Culbertson to get better pictures of the depot and GN caboose X708, which I get to inspect on the inside also; it's walls covered in quotations from the Bible from a guy that used to live in it. I also get pictures of the old GN signal maintainers speeder, which is located at the City Museum together with X708. Back to town. When I planned my trip, I had read on the internet a trip report, from a guy riding his bicycle across Montana, about his visit to an old dining car inside a diner in town. I find the mentioned Wild West Diner but nothing on the outside gives away that this was once a railroad car. Feeling hungry I opt for an early lunch and decide to go inside, and there it is! The only thing still clearly visible is the clerestory roof, and the wall gives away somewhat of the window arrangement. After I finish a tasty lunch, I ask the waitress and cook about the car and they tell me that it is a GN diner which was put in place in 1956. I'm being told the car has a wooden body with a steel underframe, but that's all they can tell me about it. Happy with my discovery I leave and continue to Wolf Point, hoping to get better pictures of the depot. When I get there, a string of covered hoppers stands in the way of a nice picture from the side the sun is on, so I try my luck on the other side. I also get some pictures of the overpass just east of the depot, and find an ex GN covered hopper painted BN (GN 171500-171699 series) at the elevators. Back to US 2, and on to Nashua to find the Frazer depot, which I find just off US2, extensively remodeled. I scoot over to the Nashua depot to see if I can get pictures in better light than last year, but not so. I spot a string of gondolas and decide to check them out; yes one is GN and still in GN paint; GN 78410. Great, my first still active original GN car this trip! A short trip to Glasgow for GN caboose X426. The museum is now open and I get a nicely lit shot of the other side. There I also run into Randy, another conventioneer taking pictures of the same caboose. We talk a bit about our trips and the upcoming convention and then continue on our separate ways. I try to find the Wagner depot, but don't, and the Harlem depot is also gone. I'm luckier in Zurich where I locate the depot moved and converted into a house. I move quickly through Havre, only to stop at the depot which has been given a new canopy with a BNSF logo, but Burlington Northern Railroad lettering underneath. I guess it takes a while to get used to the Santa Fe part. I take a picture and continue along the old Havre-Great Falls mainline to Loma for the Chappell depot I missed on my earlier trips through it (Chappell and Loma are one and the same town by the way). Now in use as an antique shop (The Trash & Treasure Shop), the depot still looks mostly original. Finally it's on to Black Eagle for that GN caboose. I follow the directions given to me by Fr. Dale Paterka and indeed find a wood GN caboose. Well, anyway, a GN painted wood caboose, of CB&Q origin it seems. Bummer! To make up for it though, the junkyard where it's located has several other old car bodies sitting around. Among them a Vermillion Red combination door boxcar (GN 12113), a Big Sky Blue boxcar (GN 36904), a Glacier Green 210000 series boxcar and a Western Fruit Express reefer (RBWX 64317). Not a bad catch. By the way; look closely at the Big Sky Blue car photo. Where the top meets the Montana sky...the GN certainly got the shade of Big Sky Blue right, didn't they?! Before moving on, I check around at the other junkyards for a possible other GN or Montana Western caboose but come up empty handed. It's getting late, but I decide to press on to see the Neihart branch, and I'm happy I did. Although the sun is setting I find the depots at Monarch and Neihart still in time to get pictures. The Neihart depot is kind of special. It was at one time converted to a church! It's now used for storage though. On the way down to Neihart, I'm amazed at the beauty of the canyon that this branchline once ran through, and can't help thinking how nice it would be to have a tourist train running through there. It must have been great being a passenger on this line enjoying the scenery through this gorgeous winding canyon. Well, it's getting dark now, so it's time to turn around and head back to Great Falls, to my hotel, and call it a night.
Continue to Part 2 of my 2003 GN Finding Trip