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Author from Montana describes historic Railroad in Carbon County



Montana – Even though trains haven’t been through Belfry in a very long time, there are still some traces of the past if you look attentively.

Among the treasures is the ancient Belfry train station. The National Register of Historic Places has the station listed.

“The Yellowstone Park Railroad came through here in 1906 and this station was built in about June of that year,” says Bob Schalla.

Author Schalla is a retired geologist who lives in Red Lodge and Billings. He recently published a book titled “Black Diamonds from the Treasure State.” The Amazing Tale of the Montana, Wyoming & Southern, and Yellowstone Park Railroads explores the endeavors to establish rail transportation in Carbon County’s erstwhile New World Mining District.

“As long as I can remember, railroads have been fascination for me,” Schalla says.

He claimed that while visiting the Bearcreek pig races, he saw an old photo in the Bearcreek Saloon of rail carriages outside the Smith Mine, which gave him the inspiration for a novel.

“It’s just my interest in railroads and Montana history and my background as a geologist that made me sort of interested in the coal mining operations here. It all just sort of fit together. Once I started digging into the story, I came across so many interesting personalities that were involved,” he said.

One of those figures who receives a lot of attention in the book is Frank Hall, a young businessman from Illinois who moved to Montana to construct a railroad.

“Frank Hall’s goal was to get the line built to Yellowstone. He had big plans for Belfry. He was hoping to haul ore from Cooke City down here. He was envisioning a huge smelting operation. This was going to be another Anaconda if Frank Hall had had his way,” says Schalla.

The Northern Pacific thwarted Hall’s plans to take the line to Yellowstone, but he was able to get a spur line completed to Bearcreek, which flourished because to the huge demand for coal.

“There was a lot of coal moved out of the Bearcreek area. At one point there were seven major mining operations up in the Beartooth Valley,” Schalla says.

The railroad would eventually close in 1953 when the mines closed and the demand for coal declined, ending its almost fifty-year existence. Two years later, the tracks were removed, but the bed where they ran is still visible across Carbon County.

This is only one of the tales Schalla has examined for her book, which examines this significant but largely forgotten period in Montana railroad history.

The work by Schalla was released by Indiana University Press this month. Click this link for additional details. You can order it from any bookshop as well.


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