Essex, Montana [December 1999]

Morning dawns cold and overcast at Essex, signalling
the arrival of a cold front, bringing much needed snow
for skiing. A pair of BNSF C44-9Ws backs down on
the work engine storage track; the Geeps are going to
Havre for a lookover.
Once coupled to the heavy stack train, the Conductor
gives the highball, and all four engines dig in to lift the
train up over Essex Hill. Judging by the exhaust, the
Geeps aren't accustomed to this much work.
Shortly after the departure of the stack train, a rare
single unit "baretable" train of empty intermodal flat
cars rumbles up the hill.
The following morning, the Empire Builder glides
through, pausing briefly at what the town folks refer to
"Essex Union Platform".
Out of nowhere, a Priority Piggyback Intermodal
..and blows through Essex, leaving only a blizzard cloud
of snow behind.
A short walk to the east of Essex brings us to Shed 12,
the westernmost such structure on Snowshed Mountain.
As temperatures dropped to single digits, I walked in a
circle to keep warm, as did John Stevens a century ago the
night he discovered Marias Pass. The weather system,
which has been threating all morning, finally lets loose
with a torrent of snowflakes.

An eastbound manifest grinds past, up the 1.8% grade.

As westbound trains descend Essex Hill under full
dynamic braking, they make a distinctive noise, like a
hive of angry bees buzzing.

The lead locomotive on this westbound stack train is
BN 6396, an SDP40 originally purchased by GN as
new power for the Western Star.

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