By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
The tracks have been laid for a large group of railroad buffs to roll into Havre this weekend.
The Great Northern Railway Historical Society selected Havre to be the site of its annual national convention. About 200 members are expected to attend the convention to share their love of trains and the Great Northern Railway.
Former railroad employee and Havre Railroad Museum director Frank DeRosa said the society chose Havre over Helena as the site for this year's convention. Havre's historical ties to the railroad make it an ideal place for the group to meet, he added.
"They've been working on this for a couple years," he said. "I think they'll enjoy it."
DeRosa added that historical society president Jim Larson "had a lot to do with bringing the convention" to Havre.
Past conventions have attracted railroad buffs from as far away as California and Florida, DeRosa said. Havre will be attractive to some railway purists because they can get here by train, he said.
"The old-timers can ride the train to the convention," he said. "There's not too many places they can do that."
Past convention host cities have included Great Falls, Seattle, and St. Paul, Minn.
The Great Northern Railway was founded in September 1889 by James J. Hill. The railway consisted of several smaller railroads in Minnesota and eventually included tracks from Minneapolis/St. Paul west through North Dakota, Montana and northern Idaho to Seattle. Headquarters for the line were located in St. Paul.
The line was dubbed the Empire Builder in tribute to Hill's entrepreneurial spirit. The Great Northern was one of four railroads merged into the Burlington Northern on March 2, 1970.
The society was founded by Charles F. Martin in 1973. At that time, the society was called the Fraternal Order of Empire Builders. In 1982 the order changed its name to the Great Northern Railway Historical Society.About 40 percent of the society's members are former railway employees, DeRosa said.
According to the society's Web site, the group is "dedicated to the preservation of everything related to the Great Northern Railway".
The society publishes journals containing facts, photographs, drawings and general information about the Great Northern Railway and its predecessor companies.
The Web site said the conventions include "discussions, clinics, movies and slide presentations, tours of former GN facilities, on occasion a train excursion, a well-attended swap-meet-mixer, the usual old-fashioned visiting with friends and GN experts, and a convention closing banquet with speaker and door prizes."
The four-day convention gets under way Sunday at 6 p.m. with a "rail fair" at the Montana State University-Northern Student Union Building. The events are open only to members of the society.
The fair provides railway enthusiasts an opportunity to display or sell their Great Northern Railway memorabilia and products. The rail fair will continue Monday morning from 8:30 to 11 a.m. Shuttle buses will run from local hotels to MSU-N during the day.
The group's business meeting will be at 7 p.m.
Activities on Tuesday will begin at 11 a.m. at MSU-N with a fondue barbecue. Again, shuttles will be available. Following the early lunch, members will be taken by bus to tour Fort Assinniboine and then to the railway museum in Big Sandy. At 7 p.m. the society will host a discussion forum for former railway employees.
Wednesday's schedule includes a tour of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway diesel shop in Havre at 11 a.m. After the tour the society will host a barbecue, then a tour of Havre Beneath the Streets and the Havre Railroad Museum. The society's banquet will be held Wednesday night at 7 p.m. at the Duck Inn.