John Speller's Web Pages Big Blackfoot Railway (Milwaukee Road)

John Speller's Web Pages - US Railroads
Big Blackfoot Railway (Milwaukee Road)
The lumber mill of the Big Blackfoot Milling Company was taken over in 1900 by the Anaconda Company who planned to use the lumber in connection with their copper mines. They proceeded to build the Big Blackfoot Railway as a logging line. The original Board of Directors of the railway were: John Gillie, L. O. Evans and C. F. Kelley, of Butte, and John R. Toole and Kenneth Ross, of Missoula. The line originally ran from Bonners Landing, Montana, on the Blackfoot River, about 40 miles to a point 10 miles east of Ovando, Montana on the Clearwater River. Logs floated down the Clearwater River would be milled and transferred to the Blackfoot River and hence shipped out to the copper mines at Anaconda. The contractors for the somewhat tortuous line were Clifton Applegate & Co. of Bonner, Montana, and the work included 400,000 cubic yards of earth excavation, 300,000 cubic yards of rock excavation, one 250-ft. Howe truss bridge with pile approaches; one 300-ft. steel girder bridge and 8 or 10 pile bridges crossing small streams. The first 14 miles, from Bonner's Landing through Potomac to Greenough were completed by 1904. Shay geared locomotives built by the Lima Locomotive Works were used to haul the heavy loads on the line, and one of these is now preserved at Fort Missoula. An extension of the line of railway of the Big Blackfoot Ry. Co. from McNamara Junction to Clearwater, Mont., a distance of approximately 20 miles, was authorized during 1916. The line was purchased by the Milwaukee Road on 31 December 1915, after which Burt Stimson (1863-1919) was brought in as Resident Engineer to connect the Big Blackfoot Railway to to Milwaukee main line in 1917, after which the logs were shipped out by rail instead of bring floated down the river. The line became part of the Missoula Division of the Milwaukee Road. In later years some conventional Milwaukee steam locomotives tended were used as well as the original Shays. The lumber mill closed in 1949, but the railway was not abandoned until 1977 and about a mile of it at the Bonner end is still operated by the Montana Rail Link. The line features in the movie TimberJack (1955), starring Hoagy Carmichael, extracts of which may be found here and here. At one time there seems to have been a broad gauge logging railway at Camas Prairie, Montana, which also operated in conjunction with the Big Blackfoot Railway, but I can find no further details of this.
The Anaconda Company's Shay Locomotive No. 7, preserved at Fort Missoula on 2 September 2010. Photograph by John Speller
Closeup of the above
Map of the Big Blackfoot Railway showing the mountainous nature of the terrain through which it ran
Aerial view of the junction of the Big Blackfoot Railway and the Milwaukee Road main line in 1930. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress
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