Road Trip to Glacier Day 3: Inland NW Rail Museum

Visit Date: July 10, 2021

[EDIT: August 21, 2021. This was actually Day 3 of our trip, not Day 4 as I originally posted]

When you read the future posts on our August trip to Santa Cruz, you’ll be able to compare and contrast vacations I plan and those Carla plans. My goal on this trip was to follow the old Great Northern railroad route from Leavenworth, Washington to East Glacier, Montana. On our fourth day we had a short drive from Leavenworth to Couer d’Alene, Idaho.

Overview of the Day 4 drive

The fast way would have been to take I90, but that route doesn’t parallel the train route so we took the more scenic route along US Highway 2. We stopped for lunch in Coulee City which is on the southern end of Banks Lake formed by Grand Coulee Dam. We tried to follow signs to a cafe we had read about but ended up at another cafe in this all-but-boarded-up town. We weren’t totally impressed when we walked in, but sometimes these little spots can be great. I ordered a BLT – which is pretty safe in an unknown place – while Carla had a cheese burger. My BLT was serviceable, but OMG! Carla’s burger was so greasy; the bun had a slippery, shiny, sheen on top and when she picked it up, an unbelievable amount of grease dripped from the inside. I mean, greasy burgers have their place, but you have to be reasonable. And I think they forgot to turn on the fryer when they cooked the fries: they were greasy and limp.

After lunch we continued across the eastern Washington desert and stopped at our main tourist stop for the day: the Inland NW Rail Museum. I think I heard Carla give a little gasp as we turned in.

View from the NW Inland Rail Museum

That picture is not fair; there are railroad cars there.

NW Inland Rail Museum collection

We were in luck; we were just in time to take a ride on their two-foot gauge railroad. They built the locomotive themselves; it hauled about 3 small cars that had no, 0, suspension. It was a teeth chattering ride.

Our engineer with the homemade locomotive.

At the end of the ride he backed up carefully to align the steps with the cars.

Our engineer backing the locomotive into place.

After the ride we wondered around the various rail cars. I caught a few pictures of some nice old-school equipment.

Here is an old Western Pacific caboose; it is the same style caboose that was on the back of the Southern Pacific trains that rolled through my home town when I was a boy. I remember waving at the conductors on these offices-on-wheels as they passed by.

Western Pacific Caboose

A classic old box car; you don’t see many of these on the mainline railroads anymore because freight has mostly moved to containers.

Old school box car from the Spokane Portland, and Seattle (SP&S) Railway

In 2014 we took the Amtrak Empire Builder from Portland to Chicago. At the museum we saw one of the original cars from the SP&S edition of the train.

Empire Builder – View 1
Empire Builder – View 2

Before leaving we took a tour through the Empire Builder car and the caboose. This is a representative exhibit.

Ball of string (twine?) collected by Great Northern Railroad conductor Scotty Campbell

I’d be lying if I told you this was the first ball of string exhibit we’ve encountered on our travels. Back in 2014 we spent the night in Rock Springs, Wyoming and saw a large ball of twine or string there. Unfortunately I didn’t keep a picture of that for posterity. My friend, and fabric artist Terry has also been on an off and on again quest for the largest ball of string. But she’s not interested in twine; it’s string that gets her wheels spinning; she found a large spool of string in Austin. To be honest I don’t know if the picture above is of string or twine; until I started doing my 3½ minutes of research on the subject today I didn’t know there was a difference! But check out Terry’s blog; she is a terrific artist and writes about it and much more on her blog And Sew It Goes.

All teasing aside, the NW Inland Rail Museum was a nice way stop on a drive across the desert. But we pulled ourselves away and headed east to Couer d’Alene for the night. The farther east we got the more smoke and haze we encountered. More on that in my next few posts.

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