An Unusual Place to Lay One’s Head

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Issac Walton Inn, Essex, MT, from the railroad tracks.

I’ve been most remiss about posting recently. Work has been sucking up most of my time, as well as various family commitments. However, I’ve been meaning to complete this post as the last in my “Northern Montana” series.

When we went to Glacier National Park last September, we stayed at a very pleasant lodge style hotel just outside the park. The Issac Walton Inn is situated in Essex, Montana, which basically is a few houses in the middle of nowhere. And I mean the middle of nowhere. There is no shop for 30 miles in each direction, just a few houses, a railyard and wildlife. The hotel was originally built by the railway as a grand southern entrance to Glacier Park. Unfortunately, the 1st world war intervened and the expected south entrance to the park was never built or opened, so the expected passenger trade never materialized. Instead, the hotel became used by railroad employees due to the close proximity of the large railyard located there. Indeed, to this day, the hotel overlooks the railyard and tracks and a popular evening activity is to sit on the porch watching the trains go by.

Diane wanted to stay here as the hotel has some old railroad cabooses (Guards Vans) and other vehicles that have been converted into hotel rooms and she wanted to stay in them. We stayed in two, the Montana Rail link caboose (the blue caboose) and the GN 441.

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The Blue Caboose – Our Home for two nights

The Blue Caboose was located in the woods on the other side of the railway tracks from the hotel, and that meant either a long circuitous drive down a small track from the hotel, or a walk across a footbridge above the railway tracks. One thing to note in this area is the presence of bears! Generally they will leave you alone unless surprised or cornered, but when walking in the woods (especially in the dark), one always carries bear spray (a form of highly concentrated and potent pepper spray) as protection and makes a lot of noise so they know you’re there. We had no bear problems and it was pleasant to sleep in the quiet of the woods.

Inside the caboose, they had done a great job of turning it into a small holiday home. Two double beds were present, including one in the cupola (the look out bit on the roof of the caboose where in days of old, the conductor would look out to keep watch on the train). A small shower, kitchen and dining area made for a very comfortable accommodation. So here is the tour…..

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“Downstairs” bedroom – looking to the rear of the caboose

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“Downstairs” Bedroom – looking in the other direction with the bathroom on the left, ladder to the cupola on the right and kitchen / dining area by the door at the other end.

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Kitchen and Dining area – Diane descending from the cupola

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Reading area on one side of the Cupola from the bed.

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Phil conked out on the cupola bed upstairs. The guard rail is necessary as it is about an 8 ft drop if you roll out of bed!

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View forward from the cupola – another caboose ahead.

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View of Hotel across the railway tracks from the caboose

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View of railyard from the bridge. Hotel to the right.

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Hotel from the bridge and Preserved F45 locomotive

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Train descending Marias Pass and passing under the foot bridge from the inn to the caboose.

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Train climbing up hill towards the footbridge and passing the railyards and hotel

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Still climbing with helpers shoving away on the back

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Train heading uphill towards Marias Pass

We had two very enjoyable and comfortable nights in the caboose. It was cosy and out of the way and we had some quiet time to ourselves in the evenings after coming back from our travels.

We were at the Issac Walton Inn for 4 nights and the other place we stayed at was the GN441.

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GN 441 – yes, this really IS a hotel room!

This has to be the most unusual hotel room or holiday home ever and was one of the reasons that we stayed there. GN441 is an ex-Santa Fe F45 Diesel electric locomotive that has been stripped out and turned into a lodge. And they have done a great job of it. I actually read about this in ~2009 when it was first installed and Diane mentioned that it looked interesting. But we never thought we’d see it first hand. Anyhow, this was our home for 2 nights. For information on how it came about, please follow this link.

The entire engine bay, cooler group and electrical cabinet have been removed and the interior has been fitted out as a lodge that can sleep four. However, the cab has been refurbished and is a great place to sit and read or have dinner.

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Phil at the controls in the engineers seat

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Bedroom looking forward – shower behind wall accessible from the corridor

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Bedroom looking towards the closet at the rear of the loco.

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Every closet needs a handbrake!

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Living room looking towards the rear of the loco and corridor to bedroom. Windows on left overlook the tracks and are built into the original access doors

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Living room with dining area and kitchen. Access to cab is on right. The skylights are the former fans for the dynamic brakes and the cooling radiator

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Cooling Fan Skylight gives plenty of internal natural lighting during the day.

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The cab was used as a breakfast area and very comfortable it was too. Those leather seats are sooooo comfortable.

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Phil having breakfast in the engineers seat. Control stand has been externally restored.

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Oh, a childhood dream fulfilled!

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Looking back from the cab to the hotel and across the railyard. Switching going on in the yards.

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Close up of switching activity. The locos laid over for the night in the yard and we went to sleep with the gentle ringing of an EMD engine on tickover to lull us to sleep. I think the locos were an SD40-2 and an SD60M

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Train passing on the mainline. You can just see the red and blue cabooses in the woods on the hill above the train

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Brief history of GN441

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The trains went past all day and all night. This is the main route from Chicago to Seattle and the Northwest

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Deck by the main entrance.

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Various pictures of the loco.

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The sun goes down over the small town of Essex, MT – from the cab

So there we have it. This was one of the most unusual places I think I’ve ever stayed in and it was well worth it. Even Diane enjoyed it and she has absolutely NO interest in railways. Actually, she suggested it.We were very lucky to get there as the week before, there had been a big forest fire that had come within 1/2 mile of the hotel complex and rail yards and the whole town had been evacuated. We had almost expected to have to cancel the trip, but fortunately the rain came and doused everything. Forest fires in the part of the country and something that people take seriously.

We will have to go back to this part of Montana again.

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