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Celebrating History: Railroads and agriculture

By Emily Mayer

When this area of Montana was first settled by Americans coming from some other place in the country or immigrants coming from far away places, there were a few ranches followed by the creation of Fort Assinniboine. The Homestead Act had been signed into law in 1864, but farms really didn’t get a big boost until the arrival of the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railway, one of the precursors to the Great Northern Railway, arrived in this area in 1887. With the revision of the Homestead Act in 1910 and heavy advertising from the railroads, including the Great Northern, homesteaders came in droves to get that “free farm from Uncle Sam.” Havre has been an agricultural and railroad town ever since and while the latter is no longer Havre’s biggest employer — it hasn’t been for many years — the influence of both is still felt throughout the town.

In this week’s issues of The Havre Daily Promoter, there was prominent news of both industries. In the May 23, 1924, edition, this article was found on the front page.


The oldest and the newest passenger trains in the service of the Great Northern railroad passed through Havre this morning on an exhibition trip.

The two trains arrived on the schedule of train No. 3 at 1:55 this morning and left soon after engines had been changed. No long stop was made here as the two trains will be in Havre enroute east June 3. They were in Minot yesterday and will be placed on exhibit at Spokane tomorrow, Portland May 25 and 26, and Seattle May 27 and 28.

The contrast between the two trains, the engine of the smaller one hardly larger than the booster on the oil burner, No 2505, which took the equipment of the new Oriental Limited out, was commented upon by the railroad men who gathered at the station to see the two trains.

Nothing in railroad passenger equipment excels in the new train, which will leave the Pacific coast June 1 eastward bound on the first run of the new Oriental limited from the coast to Chicago. It is one of the ten new passenger trains which will be used on that run and is the last word of the master car builders are all steel from engine to observation car.

Along the side of this giant of the rails the pioneer train certainly was a contrast. It consisted of the William Crooks, the first engine owned by the Great Northern, hitched up to an antiqued coach and the original Pullman sleeper No. 3, which first saw service in 1859 and was used by President Abraham Lincoln.

This exhibition trip of these two trains, conducted for publicity purposes, began at the Union station in Chicago and will end on the Pacific coast.

Pullmans are a sight to see! The Holiday Inn at West Yellowstone built a special addition to the building to house a restored Pullman car, once part of the Oregon Short Line. If railroads still offered this kind of option for travel, I know I certainly would let someone else do the driving and travel the country!

In other railroad news, the same edition had this short story:


J. D. Ford, general road foreman of engines on the Burlington between Chicago and Salesburg, Ill., is in Havre to sduty the “Booster engine used by the Great Northern.

He spent four days on the Mountain division where the new power has the “boosters” and he is now riding between Havre and Wolf Point studying the “booster” on the 1700 class engines.

In 1970, the Great Northern Railway and Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad Company, along with Northern Pacific and Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railroads combined to form Burlington Northern Railroad. In 1996, BN acquired the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe line and is now, of course, BNSF.

Growing season was upon us, and the editor of the Promoter had this article on the same day:


Reports from the Havre district which have been received by the Promoter show that the acreage plated this year is larger than in 1923 and that the prospects for a crop are the best in years.

The grains that are beginning to show are looking fine and, while there have been some reports of grasshoppers, the state experts say that they are not extremely bad and with proper attention, unless they show in much greater quantities than at present, they can be controlled.

The people on the farms of the Havre district are taking hold this year with more confidence than ever before and from every angle the agricultural situation this spring is very satisfactory.

Regarding grasshoppers, the front page of the same paper had this article.


County Agent E. B. Duncan accompanied by State Entomologist R. D. Shotwell motored along the Hi-line yesterday looking for grasshoppers and noting where they are most prevalent.

They found most of the hoppers in the thistle and stubble fields. These can be quite easily killed by burning the thistles and stubble and plowing the fields, County Agent Duncan said.

The hoppers are not so numerous as last year and their growth is much retarded by the cold, rainy weather.

An active warfare will be started the latter part of this week by the county when the poison arrives and it is believed that by a careful and systemic campaign the county will be rid of the insects before they are big enough to do much damage.

I remember my mother’s mother complaining about grasshoppers when she was growing up on her parents’ homestead at Simpson, Montana, near the Canadian border. She really hated them and said they got all over the place and ate anything they possibly could, even chewing holes in her clothing. I don’t think I know anyone who hated grasshoppers more than Grandma O’Donnell did, she didn’t hesitate to step on them if they got in her way.

Switching from crops to livestock, the same issue of the Promoter carried this news:


Gildford is leading all the other towns in the county in the organization of the boys’ and girls’ club work.

County Agent E. B. Duncan said yesterday that Gildford was the only community so far that is prepared to start the club work under his supervision.

There are seven members in the corn club, six in the pig club and seven girls are taking the county canning course.

And this great news was published in the May 24, 1924 Promoter:


Demonstrating what may be accomplished in the way of feeding baby beef in Montana, the Pioneer Market has a window filled with baby beef, fattened by Chis Jorgensen of Box Elder.

The beef, two year old steers, dressed about 560 pounds and in quality and preparation will rival the very finest of the eastern corn fed stuff.

Ultimately it is expected that the feeding of livestock for market will be one of the important industries of northern Montana, working in with diversification in farming and the display of choice beef in the Pioneer is an indication of the success that is assured for the cattle feeding industry in the Havre district.


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