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The Oddest Railway in the World
by H. A. Coleman
Leslie's Weekly—June 4, 1903

MANY UNIQUE and interesting things can be found in the high mountains that surround the Yellowstone National Park, but it is doubtful if anything more odd or interesting can be found than the little railroad that connects the towns of Horr and Aldrich, Montana. While this road was built by the Montana Coal and Iron Company as an adjunct to its business it has exceeded the original intentions of its projectors, and is now a regular passenger and freight road, and has been facetiously named the Rocky Mountain Limited. The road is narrow-gauge, and the motive power is both cable and electricity. The cable that operates the first section of the road is 4,000 feet in length, and in some places it pulls the funny little car up a forty-three per-cent. grade, across trestles that it shakes one's nerves to look at, and into a little power-house, the Dew Drop Inn, that looks like a red speck on the top of the mountain. From the inn to Aldrich, the end of the line, the road changes into an electric trolley, and the workmen and tourists who patronize it enjoy riding upon the funniest little trolley-car ever built.

Horr is not a large town. In fact, it is nothing more than a mining camp and the headquarters of the coal company that built the road, but the fame of the mountain-climber is spreading, and many of the tourists who visit the park stop over a train to indulge in a ride on the Rocky Mountain Limited. The, road begins at the foot of the camp, and for the first few hundred feet it runs on level ground. Then the ascent begins, and for the next fifteen minutes the passengers divide their time between holding on to the ropes on the bottom of the car and wondering why they ever risked their lives in such a mad adventure. The single car that composes the first section of this train has none of the appliances to make traveling safe and easy that are possessed by the cars that climb Lookout Mountain. There are no raised sections in the platform on which to brace your feet, or benches on which you can sit and hold on tight when the journey into the clouds begins. This "coach" is simply a flat car fifteen feet long, with no seats. It, however, has several ropes running along the platform the length of the car, and those passengers who do not care to slide off into space are supposed to cling to these. No one cares to contemplate what would happen should one of these ropes break while the car is making its forty-three per cent. climb.

The cable which draws the car is operated by electricity, and the man in charge keeps in constant communication with the man in the power-house by means of an electric button, the power being transmitted through the cable. The "limited" has no published schedule, but runs at the sweet will of those who wish to ride upon it. Should the car happen to be at the top of the hill when a passenger appears at the foot the engineer in the power-house that generates the electricity blows his whistle three times and the car comes down. This whistle has the most mournful screech, and its doleful sound seems to be a foretaste of the sensations that are to come. And these sensations begin at once. A short distance from the starting point the road runs under the flume through which the waste coal is sent from the washer down to the coke ovens. This flume is but a few feet above the ground, and when the car passes under it there is not much space to spare. Should the car happen to be loaded, as it frequently is, and the passengers compelled to sit on top of the freight, the prospect as the car approaches the flume is not a happy one. Looking at it from a short space away it does not seem possible to go under it, and it takes a cool head to retain one's seat. The records for the past summer show that more than one lady's hat has been wrecked as the car went under the flume, but it remained for a member of President Roosevelt's party to loose his nerve and jump off. While Mr. Roosevelt was exploring the Yellowstone Park the members of his party, who lived on the train at Cinnabar, three miles from the entrance to the park, spent their time in exploring the surrounding country, and one of the places visited was Horr. A trip to the top of the mountain was suggested, and the party piled aboard the car. It so happened that on that particular day a large consignment of beer in kegs was being shipped to Aldrich, or "Happy Flats," as it is more familiarly called. So perforce the passengers had to ride on top of the kegs. As the car approached the flume the "member who lost his nerve" cried to the conductor to halt. No attention was paid to him, and just as the car reached the flume some one cried "Low bridge!" This was too much for the agitated passenger, and with a yell that echoed through the mountains for some time after, he leaped. Fortunately he was not hurt, but his life has been made miserable since by the constant guying of his associates.

As the car approaches the top of the mountain the scene is one never to be forgotten. Back in the distance is Sheep Mountain, rising to a height of 1,800 feet, with the Yellowstone River dashing along at its base. The snowcapped mountain and the grass green valley form a beautiful contrast, and the dangers of the ride are forgotten. One of the photographs accompanying this article was taken at the top of the mountain, and is the first picture ever made of the scene. The dog, Prince, whose picture is shown in two of the cuts, is as well known to the people who patronize the road as the car itself. He frequently accompanies the car on its journey, and while he is compelled to fall behind when the steep grades are reached, he never fails to show up at the top of the mountain. The exciting part of the ride is over when the car reaches the power-house at the top. Here the passengers are transferred to the trolley for a short ride along the ridge of the mountain and into "Happy Flats." As stated before, this trolley-car is in a class by itself. Most any other name would fit it as well, except that it really has a trolley-pole and gets its motive power from a trolley. This car, like the cable-car, is simply a flat platform on wheels. It has no sides nor top, and the machinery necessary to operate it is placed in full view of the passengers, and also is exposed to the varying elements of the weather. But this latter fact apparently has not damaged it any.

"Trolley George," who operates the car, also runs the cable that pulls the other car up the mountain. As may be imagined he has a great deal of time on his hands, and has devised many methods of amusing himself. Perhaps the most peculiar is what he calls making a book with himself. He owns a powerful pair of binoculars, and with these watches the car as it ascends or descends the mountain. As the car approaches the flume he bets with himself whether the passengers will duck or not. Up to date the "duck" book is way ahead. George also claims that he can see the expression on the faces of the passengers as they go under the flume, but the narrator of this narrative refuses to vouch for this. The feat of which George is the proudest is the drawing of a five-thousand-pound boiler to the top of the mountain on his car. He claims that a car capable of carrying this load should not be considered dangerous for passengers.

One of the great events in Aldrich is the arrival of the mail. When the queer little trolley-car comes rolling in with the mail-pouch, the whole population of the camp is there to meet it. No matter how far away from civilization people maybe, the arrival of the mail is an event in their lives. There is one interesting incident in the trolley ride from Dew Drop Inn to Aldrich. Near the end of the line the road passes through a short tunnel hewn out of solid rock. The roof is composed of logs and earth, and cold water constantly seeps through and on to the passengers. No matter how smartly attired these passengers may be, they have to take this icy bath.

This unique little road has been in operation now for a year. It was built by the employees of the Montana Coal and Iron Company, under the direction of Superintendent Merry, and although part of it traverses a dangerous section of the mountain, no accident has yet occurred to blot its record, and it undoubtedly stands to-day as one of the most interesting bits of railroading in this country.


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