Riding the rails in the Bitterroot


FLORENCE, Mont. - Montana Rail Link escorted travelers riding their own rail cars through the Bitterroot Tuesday.

The privately-owned cars clipped along tracks from Stevensville to Missoula, their owners taking in Montana's June scenery. It's part of the Montana Three Rivers Tour -- one stretch of a trip that highlights rail lines from Eureka to Whitehall.

The unique mode of tourist travel may be catching on.

The retired inspection cars are gas powered2 and 4-seaters. The railroad used them to maintain their lines from the 1950s to the '80s. Now, ordinary people are buying them and putting them back on the tracks for fun.

"It's a little like riding a motorcycle," said run coordinator Bill Taylor, "in that you have this sense of freedom and the air is blowing through your hair."

It is a breezy, steady ride, about 25 miles an hour on a beautiful June day in the Bitterroot.

MRL escorted about 30 cars along tracks that aren't used anymore. Car owners are part of the North American Rail Car Owners Association. Members pay MRL for service.

"We're dispatched through just like a train," said Taylor.

The cars got double takes all along the route.

"That's the most amazing thing I've seen in years," said Florence pedestrian April Thorson.

Members of the group came from all over the country for the Montana excursion.

"I think it's wonderful," said Oregon resident Bill Marble. "We have a good time," said his wife, Mary.

"It's a good time to get in touch with each other," said John Puliz of California. He's traveling with his sister Jane Yeung.

"We're inseparable on this trip," she said.

The little cars moved across the railroad bridge at Buckhouse into Missoula about noon Tuesday, then headed back to Stevensville.