Among some of the most enduring architecture of the last century are structures that were built for and by the railroads. Everything from roundhouses and turntables to trestles and cooling towers still survive today, a testament to their strength and design. Railroading in the New West made mammoth bridges a necessity. The Northern Pacific Railway passed through Clark’s Fork, where not even a wagon road existed before, nothing but a perilous bridle path traveled by Indians, gold seekers, and fur traders.
In the almost 100 miles of track in Marias Pass, the rails snake through narrow canyons, cross the swift Middle Fork of the Flathead River, and twist through numerous snowsheds and tunnels on their way to the summit at 5,213 feet above sea level. Marias Pass is one of the lowest crossings in actual elevation of any of the major railroad passes in North America.
Anaconda Mining and Railroad Museum Roundhouse
Among the many structures unique to railroading, the roundhouse can be readily recognized by the non-rail person. There are still many such buildings in existence throughout North America, although most have been reduced in size and serve a different purpose than they were originally intended.
The Anaconda Mining and Railroad Museum commemorates the Butte, Anaconda & Pacific which operate a total of 63 route miles, including 26 miles of main line track between Anaconda and Butte. Freight commodities handled include copper tailings, impacted soils, copper concentrates, beer, and slag. Built in 1893, the roundhouse is a brick, half-circle shaped building curving around a plank-like turntable. The turntable rotates on a pivot and aligns locomotives with tracks leading to the roundhouses’ maintenance bays. Roundhouses were built for high-maintenance steam engines and most were destroyed after diesel locomotives came along.
Great Northern Railway Tunnel
In 1913, a 1,458 foot long tunnel was opened as part of a rail line linking Fairview, Montana to Watford City, North Dakota. (It was the only railway tunnel constructed in the state of North Dakota.) The 37-mile rail line, originally used by Great Northern Railway, remained in use by Burlington Northern Railroad until it was abandoned in 1986. Since that time, it has been opened to pedestrian traffic as part of a recreational trail.