Railway workers and railroad enthusiasts are a tough bunch – I should know that since I’m one of them. In the years leading up to the construction of the Kalispell Parkline, now set to open this spring, city leaders decided they wanted to display a locomotive along the trail as a nod to the city’s railroad past. town. After all, if not for the arrival of the Great Northern Railway on January 1, 1892, Kalispell might not even exist today – or at least it wouldn’t exist in its current form.
In the 127 years that trains rumbled through Kalispell town centre, four railways operated the line: first the Great Northern, then Burlington Northern (created in 1970 from the merger of GN Railways, Northern Pacific and Burlington), then BNSF Railway (another merger, this time with the Santa Fe in 1996), and finally the Mission Mountain Railroad. In early 2020, shortly after the last freight train passed through Kalispell, BNSF decided to take over the line from this last operator, Mission Mountain. They didn’t really have a choice since they were just renting it. However, as a parting gift to Kalispell, the Mission Mountain team decided to donate an old locomotive to the community for display along the new trail. In early 2020, locomotive 1214 was parked just above Woodland Park. A chain-link fence has been placed around it to keep vandals away until the trail is complete.
The old locomotive 1214 is historic in its own right. It was built in July 1955 for the Northern Pacific Railroad and most likely ran through the southern part of the state, through Missoula, Helena, Bozeman and Billings.
But remember what I said about train enthusiasts being a tough bunch? The fact that Kalispell would display an old Northern Pacific locomotive alongside an old railroad in the Far North just didn’t sit well with some, including Derrick Klarr, a railroader, enthusiast and conservative in Utah who runs Klarr Locomotive Industries. .
“Being involved in railroad preservation, I really like to see historical objects preserved in their original or classic paint schemes, preferably in a place with historical significance,” he said.
Klarr had previously heard of an old Great Northern locomotive in a repair shop near Spokane. The locomotive, Great Northern 657, had a bad engine and didn’t have much of a future besides being used as a source of parts for others. So Klarr called the owner to see if he could orchestrate a trade. He would buy the locomotive in Spokane and exchange it for Kalispell’s old Northern Pacific engine. Klarr contacted Kalispell officials who were supportive of the idea. He then offered to paint it Great Northern blue, white and gray. This sealed the deal and by the end of 2020 the locomotive made its way from Spokane to the Flathead Valley. Then, after sitting at Glacier Rail Park in Evergreen for a few weeks, it was moved to its current location in Woodland Park. City officials hope to eventually repaint it in the more iconic and well-known Great Northern orange and green paint. But for now, Kalispell has a historically accurate locomotive for its new trail.