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48 Degrees North

A Locomotive for Kalispell

For now, Kalispell has a historically accurate locomotive for its new trail

By Justin Franz
Photo by Justin Franz

Railroaders and railroad enthusiasts are a picky bunch — I should know since I’m among the latter. In the years leading up to the construction of the Kalispell Parkline, now on track to open this spring, civic leaders decided that they wanted to display a locomotive along the trail as a nod to the city’s railroad past. After all, if it weren’t 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 downtown Kalispell, four railroads operated the line: First the Great Northern, then Burlington Northern (created in 1970 through the merger of the GN, Northern Pacific and Burlington railroads), next BNSF Railway (another merger, this time with the Santa Fe in 1996), and finally the Mission Mountain Railroad. In early 2020, not long after the last freight train rolled through Kalispell, BNSF decided to take the line back from that last operator, Mission Mountain. The latter didn’t have much choice in the matter since they were merely leasing it. However, as a parting gift to Kalispell, the Mission Mountain crew 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 was put around it to keep vandals away until the trail was completed.

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, in Missoula, Helena, Bozeman and Billings.

But remember what I said about train enthusiasts being a picky bunch? The fact that Kalispell would be displaying an old Northern Pacific locomotive along an old Great Northern rail line just didn’t sit well with some, including Derrick Klarr, a railroader, enthusiast and preservationist down in Utah who runs Klarr Locomotive Industries.

“Being involved in railroad preservation, I really like to see historic items preserved back in their original, or classic, paint schemes, preferably in a location with historical significance to it,” he said.

Klarr had previously heard about an old Great Northern locomotive at a repair shop near Spokane. The locomotive, Great Northern 657, had a bad motor and didn’t have much of a future besides being used as a part source for others. So Klarr called up the owner to see if he could orchestrate a trade. He would acquire the locomotive in Spokane and trade it for Kalispell’s old Northern Pacific engine. Klarr reached out to officials in Kalispell who were warm to the idea. He then offered to paint it into Great Northern blue, white and gray. That sealed the deal and in late 2020, the locomotive made its way from Spokane to the Flathead Valley. Then, after sitting at the Glacier Rail Park in Evergreen for a few weeks, it was moved to its current spot at Woodland Park. City officials hope to eventually repaint it into Great Northern’s more iconic and well-known orange and green paint. But for now, Kalispell has a historically accurate locomotive for its new trail.

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