John Speller's Web Pages Bitter Root Valley Railway (NPR)

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Bitter Root Valley Railway (NPR)
The Bitter Root Valley Railway is a branch line extending for 65.7 miles up the Bitter Root Valley in Montana from Missoula (1,280 miles from St. Paul) to Tin Cup, Darby, Montana. The first section was opened in 1887 to Grantsdale, and the line was completed to Tin Cup in 1905. The contractors were the Hon. S. T. Hauser & Associates. This company was run by Samuel Thomas Hauser (1833-1914), who had worked as Assistant Engineer on the Missouri Pacific Railroad and Northern Pacific Railway, and was lately Governor of the Montana Territory. The valley contains some of the best agricultural land in the State and also serves the logging interests, and mines, including the once-important silver mines at Victor. The principal town on the line, Hamilton, was founded by "Copper King" Marcus Daly in 1890 as a railhead for shipping timber needed in the operation of his copper mines. It was originally intended to extend the line to link Missoula and the mining communities of Anaconda with Butte, but this was never accomplished.

The 1887 Shareholders' Report explained the rather unusual manner of financing the line thus: "Messrs. Hauser and associates provide right of way, grade, bridge, and tie the roads, and are paid one-half their outlay in the bonds of the Branch Companies at par and the other half in freights over the branch roads and the Northern Pacific. The rails are provided from the proceeds of bonds of the Branch Companies. Traffic contracts are made between the Branch Companies and the Northern Pacific in which the Northern Pacific Company guarantees to pay the interest on the Branch bonds as it becomes due and sinking fund, as in the case of the other Branch Roads. By this arrangement many of the prominent business men of Montana have become enlisted in the promotion of the interests of the Northern Pacific Company in that Territory." This curious mode of proceeding was necessary because the charter of the Northern Pacific Railroad prohibited it from building its own branches. Passenger traffic on the branch ceased in 1942.

The Bitter Root branch was taken over as the Ninth Subdivision of the Montana Rail Link in the late 1980s. A forest fire in 2000 burned thousands of acres of pine trees in the Bitter Root Valley and it was foolishly decided to harvest burnt hulks of the trees for timber. Thousands of flatcar loads of timber were shipped out. This led to a denuding of the mountainsides and following a storm in the Spring of 2003 a wall of water cascaded down, taking out, among other things, the railroad tracks between Hamilton and Darby. It is unclear when, if ever, this breach in the line will be repaired. Intermediate stations between Missoula and Darby are Lolo, Florence, Stevensville (originally Tyler), Victor, Corvallis and Hamilton. The original terminus of Grantsdale was about a mile south of Hamilton.
Map of the Bitter Root Valley Railway
Northern Pacific local train circa 1910
The Hon. Samuel Thomas Hauser (1833-1914), Engineer and Contractor of the Bitter Root Valley Railway. Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
“Riverside,” the summer mansion built by Marcus Daly (1841-1900) at Hamilton, Montana. Daly gave the right-of-way for the Bitter Root Valley Railway and intended building his timber mills at its original terminus of Glendale, then the county seat. Local opposition, however, caused Daly to locate to Hamilton instead, a decision which proved disastrous for Glendale. Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons
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