Sawed in Two

A Brief History of the
Coutts – Sweetgrass International Train Station

Looking north from the United States toward the newly built train station with the NWMP barracks in the background, in the fall of 1890. Note that the water tower spout is also visible. Glenbow Museum and Archives NA-1167-15.

This is the story of a unique building (the only one we know of) – an international train station that was run by one family operating two railways in the Northwest Territories (pre-Alberta) and Montana and how it was almost lost in the redevelopment of the new border crossing at Coutts Alberta (AB) – Sweetgrass Montana (MT).


Background

In 1883, Sir Alexander Galt and his son Elliott co-founded the Town of Lethbridge, AB when he established a mine on the banks of the Oldman River in the southwest portion of the district of Alberta, Northwest Territories. Galt is a well-known figure in the Lethbridge area where a public park (Galt Gardens) and a museum (Galt Museum and Archives) are named after him. Canada’s then Governor General, the Marquis of Lansdowne, demonstrated the Government’s support of the Galt enterprises by opening the Galt’s railway in September 1885.

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Finding the Lost in Johnstown

Conemaugh & Black Lick yard Cambria City (Johnstown) on a bright fall morning with churches in the background.  – October 12, 2016

When you start out watching trains as a kid, most of what occupies your attention is the locomotive—big and noisy and powerful. After that, the rest is just legions of freight cars and (when I was young) a caboose bringing up the rear end. I’ll admit that I gave little thought as to what the trains hauled or where they were from or where they were headed—all I wanted to see were locomotives, especially those of the minority builders. Time and age changed that; I began to step back away from the tracks and look at all that was happening around the railroad. Read more

Construction of Southern Pacific’s
 Colton-Palmdale Cutoff

1966-1967

The line in use at Sullivan’s Curve. Santa Fe’s Super C is overtaking helpers on an SP freight as both head toward the summit of Cajon Pass. Super C is eastbound by timetable direction, while the SP freight is westbound (heading toward San Francisco).

In 1966 and 1967, Southern Pacific provided a rare spectacle for me – construction of a brand-new main line.

In 1876, the railroad completed its San Joaquin Line from Central California over the Tehachapi Mountains to Los Angeles, then it proceeded to build the Sunset Route east toward El Paso and New Orleans. However, by the middle of the Twentieth Century, the Los Angeles area had become a bottleneck for traffic to the southeast, so SP planned a bypass. Read more

Contemporary Views 
Along the First Transcontinental Railroad

Judah Monument, Old Sacramento, California – This monument was built in the honor of a promising young engineer, Theodore Judah. In addition to being a tireless promoter for the Pacific Railroad in the halls of Congress, he envisioned and then plotted a twisting line that would get the Central Pacific through the Sierra Nevada. Unfortunately, he did not live long enough to see but a few miles of the route with rails spiked to ties.

While construction of the Pacific Railroad ostensibly began during the Civil War, it was not until that great conflict was over that it really got rolling. In a race for government subsidies and land grants, the Central Pacific built eastward from Sacramento, California, while the Union Pacific built westward from Omaha, Nebraska. The two railroads met at Promontory Summit, just north of Great Salt Lake, Utah Territory, on May 10th 1869. It was a watershed moment.

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Returned to Reality

Rebirth of the Wiscasset, Waterville, and Farmington Railway

On June 15, 1933 the southbound train of the Wiscasset, Waterville, and Farmington Railway (WW&F) jumped the track in Whitefield, Maine. The locomotive nosed down an embankment towards the Sheepscot River, coming to rest just feet from the water’s edge. Although the WW&F had been resurrected from near-closure on at least two other occasions, this time it was not to be. The WW&F was closed for good. Following closure, the railway’s mainline was scrapped to satisfy the creditors, and equipment was either scrapped or sold. While the railway faded from the daily lives of residents in the Sheepscot Valley, it would live on in their memory. Well remembered especially by children, like Harry Percival, who grew up along the right-of-way. For them, the railway was a playground where their imagination could run wild. Percival’s memory proved to be the ember that, when fanned, gave rise to today’s WW&F Railway. Read more