Memories of Glacier by Train
Since my wife’s from Georgia, I don’t dare remind her that I didn’t read “Gone with the Wind” until I was in college. Actually, it was the first fat book I saw on the shelf before heading from Florida to Montana while in college for summer work as a bellman. I read the book on the train, a rather lengthy journey via Chicago, St. Paul and Fargo to Glacier Park. The ambiance probably wasn’t as spectacular in 1963 and it was in the 1940s when this add ran in the National Geographic Magazine.
In the 1940s, the Great Northern Railway was still promoting the hotels it built in Glacier National Park to lure people onto its trains. As we know, private automobiles soon destroyed most of the country’s passenger train service. People fell in love with their cars. The hotels are still running strong in the park though the railroad sold them long ago. You can still travel to Glacier from Seattle or St. Paul via train. I don’t know what the ridership and on-time statistics are, but when we were in Glacier last year, we flew there, but we noticed the on the chalkboard at the front desk of Glacier Park Lodge that the train was usually late.
I also traveled to Glacier by train in 1964. The strange thing about the book I chose to read was that it was, in a sense, set right outside the window. In “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” the protagonist travels from the Midwest to Montana on a bike. He liked the bike because he said that for folks traveling in cars, everything outside their windows was like watching TV. You were separate from the scenery in your climate-controlled car with the radio on–and now, with laptops and cellphones.
Outside the windows of the train did look rather like TV. But, it was a great channel. Wouldn’t mind doing it again.
Three of my novels, “The Seeker,” “The Sun Singer” and “Sarabande” are partially set in Glacier National Park, and it all began when I got on a train going west. The Great Northern Railway lives on today as part of the huge Burlington Northern Sante Fe Railroad.