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 Great Northern - Northern Pacific

It's hard to imagine either a more romantic or practical setting for passenger railroading than the great expanse of woodland, lakes, prairies and mountains between Minneapolis-St. Paul and the the northwest cities of Seattle and Portland. Bucolic scenery, isolated towns, unpredictable and harsh weather, glorious tourist seasons, and ancient railroad rivalries. By the time I arrived on the scene in the late 1960s to photograph the remaining trains on the major east-west transcontinental lines and the one between Seattle and Portland, the Great Northern and the Northern Pacific (and the Spokane, Portland and Seattle, which provided connecting services between Portland and Spokane) the end of private varnish was just around the corner. This all said, one could have a magnificent ride on the four named transcontinental trains remaining on their routes, the Great Northern up near Glacier Park, and the Northern Pacific, which provided service to Yellowstone. These two great railroads were soon gobbled up by the Burlington and Amtrak would struggle to maintain service -- two trains for awhile in the 1970s -- until today's Empire Builder Superliner carved out a niche as one of Amtrak's most successful long-distance trains. I had the good fortune to ride the North Coast Limited, NP's premier train, between Missoula, Montana, and Seattle, and to this day remember the famous steak dinner with giant baked potato, as well as a gleaming buffet dome lounge and superb service in my sleeping car. The Seattle-Portland route has more fortunately retained a high level of service thanks to the explosive population growth in the area and far-sighted Amtrak and state planners.

Here, with as few words as possible, are some of my favorite photos.

The first three shots below are Great Northern's International, a Seattle - Vancouver, BC, with parlour lounge and coach service, photographed at King Street Station, Seattle in 1968 (with NP #408 in the background), with a business car on the rear. Amtrak has kept this service alive, albeit at one, rather than two, trains per day. The fourth is NP 407, between Seattle and Portland in 1967 and 1968. This train carried coaches, sleeping cars which connected with the Southern Pacific for service to Oakland, California, a parlor bar lounge car and a diner. One could travel this corridor in style!




Here is the combined Portland sections of the Empire Builder and North Coast Limited pulling into Vancouver, Washington, on their way to Spokane and Chicago.

On the left is NP 408 in Puyallup, Washington, in 1967, and GN #459 in Vancouver, Washington, on its way to Seattle, in 1968, with coaches, dining car and sleepers from Oakland.


On the left below is #459 in Vancouver, and on the right, Spokane, Portland and Seattle #4 the GN's Western Star, before its 9:45 departure to Spokane and Chicago, in Portland.

Below are photos of the Empire Builder at unknown locations in 1969.

On the left, the Empire Builder in Spokane, 1968, on the right NP #408 at King Street Station, that same year.

Seattle schedule board, 1968. Note that Union Pacific ran a train between Portland and Seattle. And that everything is on time!

Here's NP's Mainstreeter in or near Missoula, Montana, in 1967.

Here, again, the Mainstreeter in Missoula, 1967 and 1969.


In all it's magnificent glory, the Empire Builder in Glacier Park, 1966.


Below, the Western Star at Glacier Park in 1966.


Here's the Empire Builder in Havre, bedecked in 'Big Sky Blue" in 1967.


Much further east, we catch the North Coast Limited cruising through the eastern Montana prairie in 1967.

Finally, a glimpse of Amtrak's North Coast Hiawatha, in Montana, 1973. Look closely and you'll see cars from the UP, Burlington, Amtrak, Great Northern and NP.