Burlington Railroad –
[Burlington & Missouri River Railroad]
Revised Monday, May 28, 2012
In late 1892 the Burlington Railroad procured the franchise of Big Horn
Southern Railway, and had the purchase validated by Congress and the
Montana State Legislature. Mr. Castor, right-of-way specialist for the
railroad, enlisted the exclusive services of Paul McCormick to get permission
to cross the Crow Reservation. Paul was given sole rights to conduct negotiations
as needed to gain permission. Paul had about 200 separate negotiations to
perform in achieving the right-of-way. Both sides were well satisfied with the
negotiations. In April 1893 the railroad authorized the construction of the
line from Sheridan to Billings, but work was not to start until Paul had
completed all negotiations. It was said “that where Mr. McCormick fails
in dealing with the Indians, there is no use of anybody else trying.”
It was planned that the construction would be expedited, and completed soon
as practical. Steel rail orders were placed and the sections are being cut for
delivery. When completed Billings will have the only competing railroad lines
in the state, and the town is expected to double in size.
In early June, 1893, Price & Company of Oregon, subcontract to
Kilpatrick, unloaded 160 head of horses and mules, along with corresponding
wagons, scrapers and other equipment, at the Custer Station. The Burlington
extension of the main line leading through to Billings was being rushed, and
should be completed next month.
After gaining permission to cross the reservation, the company completed the
Wyoming grade to the Pryor Mountain pass through the Sage Creek area bordering
the Crow Reservation before years end. On 28 April, 1894 Mr. Holdridge, General
Manager of the railroad, arrived in Sheridan and announced that construction
through the reservation was to begin at once. Kilpatrick Brothers & Collins
were given the contract. They sublet additional portions to: Dunley & McShane,
McDonald Brothers, Mike Elmore, JL Bean, and others. Twenty-five miles of the
road through Pryor Gap was scheduled to start by May 15th. Railroad
ties were already stockpiled at the mouth of Five Mile Creek on the Tongue
River, and the steel is enroute to the site. The contractors to complete an
effort for connection to the Northern Pacific Railway have placed the Directors
of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad under pressure. Previously,
there were no plans for connection to NPR. It was well believed that by
connecting with NPR the economic conditions of the area would be greatly
improved. Additionally large investments would be required to accomplish this
act, and the contractors agreed to share the cost by accepting less money for
Contractors offered $1.25 per day for common
labor, $140.00 per day for wheel scraper holders, and $16.00 per month and
board for teamsters. Free transportation to the reservation site was provided.
Between 2,000 and 3,000 men would be needed. All work was to be completed by 15
NPR and B&M agreed to traffic arrangements,
and after the 15th, all cross country traffic will come to Billings,
the redistribution point. This enabled the Burlington to provide service west
to the NPR points on the Pacific, as well as Great Falls and other locations.
The B&M line distance from Omaha to Billings was 875 miles, the NPR 892
miles. Burlington was to use the NPR tracks from Huntley into Billings (13
miles), and out westward until they reached Fromberg, 37 miles distant.
NPR would control all Burlington traffic
movement into, through and out of Billings to designated points where they
again tied into their own rail system. To support the additional activity
inside of Billings itself, an additional rail system had to be constructed that
would allow adequate movement of their freight trains.
trains would use the existing NPR station facilities on Montana Avenue.
trains would require additional track and support facilities including
warehousing and docks.
agents would use the NPR facilities on Montana Avenue.
The additional track needed was laid by Big
Horn Southern Railway (and probably NPR for the switches connecting with
their track) to divert the freight trains across 21st Street and
onto the 5th Street line. The 5th Street line ran from
mid-33rd Street northeast to about one mile past the city limits. At
the time of the construction there appears to have been only two residents
owning land in the vicinity of the track, Adam Rupert and John Schock. Henry
Rowley, as director of the Minnesota & Montana and Land Investment Company
who had title to the Billings town site, provided access to the other parcels
of land within the city and Foster’s Addition. Yellowstone County
provided the balance of land that was located northeast of Billings.
According to early photographs, taken by photographer Hayes in 1894, the track
route was established before the land transfer actions were filed. There were virtually
no streets or alleys in the vicinity, excepting for access to North
Park’s fairground facility.
The Big Horn Southern Railway also constructed maintenance support
facilities, essentially identical to those of NPR, near the northeast end of
their line, including their own roundhouse. These facilities were placed in the
triangular piece of land where the 21st Street crossover links and the 5th
Avenue freight line intersected [between 3rd and 5th Avenues.] In 1894 the extension [which preceded the I-90
route] from Alger, Wyoming, to Billings, Montana, was completed and opened for
traffic on October 28, 1894 [only 13 days longer than planned.] Distance
between the two points was 122 miles.
[Note: Alger is about seven miles west of Sheridan, Wyoming.]
In 1899 another line, connecting Toluca with Cody, Wyoming was started. This
was a very difficult route to build and maintain. On April 11, 1911 the Toluca
line was abandoned without notice, and by the 13th, all steel was
removed. Buildings, water tanks and even the stationmasters were left abandoned
The 128-mile route was over a very steep grade, and only could average about 20
miles per hour. It was often referred to as “Squaw Train”, or the
“Toluca-Cody” run. In the Pryor Gap, a tunnel was 300 yards long,
was cut through the hillside. The roadbed rose 66 feet a mile, and had several
sharp curves. It took over 7-1/2 hours to travel across the route.
Traffic into and out of Billings became so congested within a few years that
it took days to switch engines and load or unload freight. Land costs in the
Billings area were too great, so NPR quietly took title to 100 acres in Laurel,
and built their switching facility there. In 1914 they were running daily 20
passenger trains, two freight trains and a new line from the Billings &
Central Railroad constructed in 1913 that operated an additional two trains
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