s Montana Daylight Train
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Rockin' & Rollin' Through Big Sky Country

(800 words)

By Robert W. Bone

LEWISTON, Idaho -- She's no cannonball express, to be sure. You might call her the Livingston-Sandpoint Limited. Very limited, in fact. But if you're a railroad buff or simply enjoy some lovely scenery while traveling at something less than breakneck speeds, you might develop an enthusiastic head of steam for a new train called the Montana Daylight.

This eclectic choo-choo has chugged out of the past with a line of mismatched but very comfortable passenger cars. Some of the coaches, typically made of stainless steel outside and with an interior of different kinds of fine woods, were first put into service on other lines a half century ago or more. Now they traverse a 450-mile scenic stretch of track which hasn't seen anything more glamorous than a string of boxcars for decades.

The train uses a major portion of the route traveled by the once-proud Northern Pacific, and today you can still make out its distinctive black-and-red, yin-yang symbol affixed to the Platform at Paradise, Montana, and to various tumbledown brick stations along the route.

The Montana Daylight is not in regular passenger service like Amtrak or the tightly scheduled trains of America's past. Instead, it is a tour train, one of only two or three in the U.S.

It may seem ironic that today one has to take a plane and a bus to catch a train. But that's the way it is, at least for most passengers. Rail trips run one-way (east or west) between the charming town of Livingston, Montana and Sandpoint, Idaho. Most arrangements include flights to or from Bozeman near one end of the line, and to or from Spokane, Washington, on the other, then a chartered bus to the depot. You can also get to Bozeman or Spokane on Amtrak.

The Montana Daylight really offers two valuable rewards on its leisurely run -- scenery and comfort.

* For scenery, it provides panoramas of Big Sky country from the mountains to the prairies. Some of the features that our own little group noticed on the east-to-west tour were several inviting rivers (including the Yellowstone and the headwaters of the Missouri), lots of lovely lakes, and certainly many majestic purple mountains. Signs point out special places like the site of Montana's first gold strike, the marker for the Last Spike, where the first northern transcontinental railway was completed in 1883, and, just after emerging from a Rocky Mountain tunnel, the Continental Divide.

* And how about comfort? First of all, there are no seat belts, beverage carts, or cramped lavatories. You can relax in wide, fully adjustable chairs or take a walk any time you want -- perhaps back to the open-air vestibule between the cars. There you might enjoy a wide-open window. Or you can climb up to the dome for a big-sky view of Big Sky country. At around noon, it's dinner in the diner. Well, lunch anyway, and what could be finer? On the two-day trip our meals on wheels were delicious and efficiently served by a staff of smiling young people.

There are no evening repasts on this particular three-day trip, however. The. The train parks overnight at Missoula, which turned out to be an attractive, university town on the Clark Fork River.

A good hotel room at Missoula was included, as well as in Bozeman or Spokane just before the beginning of the trip. But donít plan any tight connections on the day the journey ends. Depending on circumstances, this laid-back former flier can be hours late.

We did find some kinks in the operation -- literally. An effect called a sun kink occasionally expands and slightly warps a section of track during the heat of a summer day. Whenever the engineer spies one of these, he simply stops the train for as long as it takes for a track crew to hop out and smooth things out again.

It helps to be stuck in a scenic environment, at least. On our second sun kink on the last day, we just retired to the glass dome, gazed at the nearby river, and poured ourselves a few drinks. Then we enjoyed the sunset, twilight, and moonlight on the Montana Daylight. 

(SIDEBAR BELOW)

 IF YOU GO: Currently there are two levels of service on the train, ranging from around $500 up for the basic three-day tour, including two hotel nights. Other arrangements and expanded tours are also available, including one with a dip farther south to Yellowstone National Park. Exact itineraries and prices may change, however. So it would be a good idea to check out Montana Rockies Rail Tours' attractive and detailed web site beginning at http://www.montanarailtours.com. You can also reach the company by e-mail at salesmanager@setw.com, or phone toll free to (800) 519-7245.

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Text and five photos © by Robert W. Bone          

Click on the small picture to bring up a larger, high-resolution version.
The Montana Daylight traverses some scenic countryside.

Editors: Click directly on top of any of these low-resolution pictures to bring up a large,  high-res image to capture for newspaper publication. In some programs, it's normal for the picture to look larger than your screen. (If you would like more detailed instructions,  please click here. )


A couple, their dog, and their little red roadster were seen
from an open platform of the Montana Daylight train.


A young conductor rings the dinner bells in the dome car.  


What could be finer than dinner in the diner? 
Actually, this is lunch on the Montana Daylight
.


An old and nearly deserted station at Paradise, Montana. 

 

 
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