Great Northern 441 Luxury Locomotive Lodge

Westbound to Montana

How do you move a 120 ton lodge 1,746 miles from Iowa to Montana? It helps if it’s already on steel wheels. The preparations for this cross country haul began at East St. Louis, before GN 441 was restored.

APNC picks up GN 441 at RELCO

As Utah 9013 was stripped of usable parts, it was fitted with good wheels with plenty of miles left. The air brakes, couplers and draft gear were inspected and brought into compliance with federal standards.

RELCO Locomotives released GN 441 on the morning of Thursday, August 20, 2009. The Appanoose County Community Railroad picked up the 441 at RELCO’s facility (above) and brought it north about two miles to the BNSF interchange in Albia, Iowa. (Photo copyright RELCO Locomotives.)

Nyack, Montana Flathead River, Montana Arriving at Essex, Montana Rolling past Essex, Montana West Bison, Montana Grizzly, Montana Ethridge, Montana Shelby, Montana Lothair, Montana Chester, Montana Burnham, Montana Havre, Montana Eastern Montana Gassman Coulee Trestle, North Dakota Minot, North Dakota Dilworth, Minnesota Little Falls, Minnesota Minneapolis, Minnesota Mississippi River Galesburg, Illinois Burlington, Iowa Albia, Iowa

GN 441’s journey from Albia, Iowa, to Essex, Montana, took it through six states. It rode on former Chicago, Burlington and Quincy lines from Albia to St. Paul, Minnesota; on the Northern Pacific to Surrey Junction (Casselton), North Dakota; and on the Great Northern the rest of the way.

Click anywhere on the route to see a photo from that area.

GN 441 gets switched at Burlington, Iowa

A BNSF grain train and two local freights passed GN 441 like a baton on the 143-mile trip over the Ottumwa Subdivision to Galesburg, Illinois. On Friday, August 21, the 441 was basking in the yard at Burlington, Iowa, behind the power of the train that brought it in, local L-NEB6641-20I. This mid-sized Mississippi River town is the “B” in BNSF. (Photo copyright R.R. Conway.)

GN 441 at Galesburg, Illinois

On the afternoon of Saturday, August 22, GN 441 stands out dramatically at BNSF’s diesel facility in Galesburg, surrounded by orange locomotives whose colors were inspired by the Great Northern paint scheme that Big Sky Blue replaced.

Other locomotives at right still wear Santa Fe’s blue and yellow, the colors GN 441 wore during most of its service career.

GN 441 leaves Galesburg, Illinois

Later that evening, GN 441 departed Galesburg on manifest freight train H-GALNTW1-22, bound for Northtown Yard in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Right after sunset, the train has a good roll on it on the Barstow Sub north of Galesburg. (Photo copyright R.R. Conway.)

At Plum River, Illinois, the Northtown train rolled onto the Aurora Sub, the mainline from Chicago to the Twin Cities. Just two miles away, the railroad converges with the Mississippi River at Savanna, Illinois, following it all the way to the Twin Cities – “Where Nature Smiles for 300 Miles,” as the Burlington Route’s Zephyrs advertised years ago. In the finest CB&Q tradition, the Northtown train ran like the wind through some of the Midwest’s prettiest scenery - but it was in darkness.

GN 441 at Northtown Yard, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

At Minneapolis, GN 441 was passed to manifest freight H-NTWPAS9-23, bound for Pasco, Washington, leaving Northtown Yard on the afternoon of Sunday, August 23.

GN 441 crosses Mississippi River

Just before sunset, GN 441 crossed the Mississippi River for the last time at Little Falls, Minnesota.

GN 441 at Dilworth, MN

Nighttime in the switching yard, at Dilworth, Minnesota, just east of Fargo, North Dakota.

After a spirited run over the Staples Sub, the Pasco train paused for a crew change but left town shortly without picking up or setting out cars.

Early the next morning, Monday, August 24, GN 441 rolled onto the former Great Northern mainline for the first time at Casselton, North Dakota, and headed west on the Surrey Cutoff through high plains and coulee country.

GN 441 at Minot, North Dakota

At Surrey, North Dakota, the Pasco train rolled onto the old GN mainline from Grand Forks, the route of Amtrak's Empire Builder. Seven miles west is Minot, North Dakota, an Amtrak station stop where all trains change crews. Here GN 441’s train entered the Glasgow Sub of the Montana Division; only 145 more miles to Big Sky Country.

Gassman Coulee Trestle

Just west of Minot, the train rolled over the 1792-foot-long, 117-foot-tall Gassman Coulee Trestle, one of many high steel bridges on the GN.

GN 441 enters Montana

Sunshine broke out as the train rolled through Big Sky Country west of Blair, Montana, following the Missouri and then the Milk River across Montana. Thanks to a track maintenance window on Marias Pass that held the eastbound trains, the Pasco train ran with minimal opposition, arriving at Havre at midnight.

GN 441 leaves Havre, Montana

Around noon on Tuesday, August 25, GN 441 left Havre, Montana, on train V-CHCTAC1-23A, a vehicle train of new automobiles bound for the West Coast at Tacoma, Washington. This was a high-priority train from Chicago that carried double-stack containers behind the auto racks.

BNSF’s Hi Line Sub across northern Montana is a great showcase of modern railroading.

The mainline from Chicago to Seattle, it carries an impressive amount of traffic for a single track line.

GN 441 meets Amtrak's Empire Builder

A good Centralized Traffic Control (CTC) system and on-the-ball dispatchers keep everything moving. GN 441 paused only briefly at Burnham, Montana, to meet Amtrak no. 8, the eastbound Empire Builder.

GN 441 at Lothair, Montana

The vehicle train blasted through small towns like Lothair, thundering past their clusters of prairie skyscrapers. In this part of Montana, there’s usually a grain elevator somewhere on the horizon.

GN 441 east of Chester, Montana

Heading west across high plains, a palette of yellows from the winter wheat harvest, GN 441 passes the Sweetgrass Hills east of Chester, Montana.

GN 441 rolls through Shelby, Montana

Shelby, Montana, is a station stop and crew change point for Amtrak’s Empire Builder – but not for freight trains. The vehicle train kept on rolling.

Ethridge Montana

Big Sky Blue in Big Sky Country! With the Sweetgrass Hills in the distance, GN 441 rolls west of Ethridge, Montana.

Between Spotted Robe and Grizzly

The high plains give way to hills, then mountains, as the vehicle train approaches Glacier National Park. We’re between Spotted Robe and Grizzly, Montana; have to love those railroad names.

GN 441 in Glacier Park

The railroad is the southern border of Glacier National Park, on the left side of the tracks. At a place the railroad calls Bison West, the two General Electric C44-9Ws are fighting their way to the 5,213 foot summit of Marias Pass.

GN 441 in Glacier Park

As the sun sank in the west, the Rockies rose to meet it. Still ahead, six miles away, is the Continental Divide.

GN 441 passes the Izaak Walton Inn

Right around sunset GN 441 passed the Izaak Walton Inn at Essex, Montana, meeting an eastbound train headed for the summit. The vehicle train was not much more than an hour ahead of Amtrak’s westbound Empire Builder, and stopping a freight train on a mountain is a good thing to avoid, so they took GN 441 another 47 miles west to Whitefish, Montana. Note the protective covers on the 441’s skylights.

Flathead River

The vehicle train set out GN 441 at Whitefish, Montana, changed crews, and headed west behind the Empire Builder. The next afternoon, Wednesday, August 26, a set of two helper locomotives hauled GN 441 back up the mountain; at Conkelley, Montana, they’re following the Flathead River up to Essex.

GN 441 at Nyack, MT

The helper locomotives, designated train
K-ESXESX1-26A, are used to help move heavy trains over Marias Pass - both in power uphill and dynamic braking downhill, when the locomotive's traction motors are turned into generators to slow the train and keep it under control.

After being fueled and serviced at Whitefish, they’re returning to their home base at Essex, where the eastbound grade gets steep.

The train is moving away from us east of Nyack, Montana; GN 441 is being pulled backwards by the helpers.

Note the “Fred” (Flashing Rear End Device) in the 441’s coupler.

Besides flashing red warning LEDs at night, Fred informs the engineer of the brake line air pressure at the rear of the train. This is important information because freight trains are often over a mile long.

We saw the first trip of this locomotive, 41 years earlier. This is its last trip.

GN 441 arrives at Essex, Montana

Dozens of guests watched as the helpers pushed the 441 past the Izaak Walton Inn, blurred by a half-second exposure in the twilight. After a safe, damage-free trip on BNSF halfway across America, Great Northern 441 has come home to a place it probably has never been before.

Track installation

In the following weeks, GN 441’s track was built at the Izaak Walton Inn by Steel Etc. of Great Falls, Montana. The foreman who supervised the track construction is a former BNSF roadmaster whose territory once included Essex. Above, on September 8, another contractor dug a trench for the utilities. (Photo copyright Jamie Lambrecht.)

Moving GN 441 the final few hundred feet from the North American railroad system to this track will cost more, in money and especially in nerves, than the trip from Iowa to Montana.


The Big Lift

All photos copyright Tom Lambrecht or Bill Christopher unless credited otherwise

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