By Justin Franz, 11-25-12
||Caption: Great Northern Railway caboose X215 will be availble rent in early December. Photo courtesy of the Izaak Walton Inn.
Years ago, it was common for Great Northern Railway caboose X215 to rumble through Essex and past the Izaak Walton Inn on the end of another train climbing Marias Pass or headed for the Flathead Valley.
Now, old X215 and another historic railroad caboose have returned to Essex, restored by the Izaak Walton Inn and are now high-end hotel accommodations. According to manager David Gatton, the cabooses will be ready for visitors in early December.
“It probably stopped here and stayed in the yard at one point during its life and now it’s here to stay,” Gatton said.
Both cabooses were built in the early part of the 20th century and used on the Great Northern and Northern Pacific railways across Montana. The cars could often be found on the end of freight trains, serving as a rolling office for the conductor.
Gatton first became aware of the historic cars in 2005 when he got married. The wedding reception was at the preserved railroad depot in Billings, where a handful of cabooses had been saved after their days on the railroad were over. Jennifer Mercer, executive director of the nonprofit Billings Depot preservation group, said the cabooses arrived at the station about a decade ago. Although the relics were a great fit for the area, she said the cars fell victim to vandalism and the nonprofit didn’t have enough money to restore them. Looking to donate the cars to someone who could care for them, she called the Izaak Walton Inn in 2011.
At the time, the Izaak Walton was looking for some more rail cars to use as hotel accommodations and Gatton said the cabooses were the perfect fit. The Great Northern Railway built the Izaak Walton Inn in 1939 to house railroad workers. Since then it’s become a destination on the outskirts of Glacier National Park and is especially popular with tourists, cross-country skiers and railroad enthusiasts.
In hopes of catering to the latter, the Izaak Walton has restored eight cabooses and a locomotive that are used as hotel rooms in recent years. The inn’s owner, Brian Kelly, said they are a unique attraction.
“The cars are part of our history and there are a lot of rail enthusiasts who love the railroad and want to sleep in a caboose,” he said. “It’s an experience you really can’t get anywhere else.”
In the spring of 2012, the two historic cabooses were trucked from Billings to Essex. In order to safely move the historic cars, the wheels had to be taken off and put on one truck and then the cabooses were loaded onto lowboy trucks. Kelly said the cars were then reassembled and put on newly built track near the Inn, a couple hundred feet from the very tracks old Great Northern X215 ran on in the 1940s and 1950s.
One of two recently restored rail cars at the Izaak Walton Inn. | Photo courtesy of the Izaak Walton Inn
This fall work began on restoring the two cabooses, both inside and out. While the interiors have been completely redone, the exteriors remain much the same as they were on the railroad. Gatton said he spent time researching the type of paint and logos that were used on the cars to ensure it was perfect.
“We wanted to keep the cars as historically accurate as possibly, but we also want it to be a comfortable experience,” Gatton said.
Gatton said the inn is working hard to have the new cabooses available in early December. He said the accommodations are perfect for a family and rates, depending on season, start at $249 a night. For more information visit www.izaakwaltoninn.com
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