Visiting the Shay in Columbia Falls

Adventure on the edge of the wilderness can take on many forms…


We crossed the railroad tracks and were heading into town when I made the decision to stop at Depot Park. My family and I had passed the park going to and from town since moving to Columbia Falls; the park is small with no more than a locomotive and a picnic table, hardly what I would call a park at all. It held no real interest for me other than it was on my to-do list of things to investigate in my new neighborhood.



I needed a 365 picture and on this particular day decided Depot Park was as good a place as any to take a photograph. Mallory and I got out of the truck and I scanned the landscape for my best shot. The train seemed like the obvious focal point and I began snapping away making sure to capture the mountain scenery in the background.



I’m going off track here, no pun intended, but for some reason the angle in the next picture reminds me of the cartoon character, “Thomas the Tank”. Perhaps it’s the BIG number 1 that makes it look cartoon-ish. I don’t know what the number 1 means, but I’ll guess it has something to do with the  Shay being special and “1” of a kind.



As I took pictures, Mallory walked over to read the historical sign. The sign consisted of a newspaper clipping and the following words printed on a piece of paper:


In 1964 with the help of many local volunteers, the 1904 Shay Locomotive was restored for the Centennial Celebration of Montana as a territory. This locomotive which pulled its short train of flatcars loaded with logs from the woods to a sawmill at an average speed of 12 mph was used for logging in the Swan Valley and north of Half Moon. Today it is the pride of residents and the attraction of tourists here in Depot Park.



As I looked around, I thought of my cousin-in-law who is a train buff and how he and other train enthusiasts would marvel at this old locomotive and its engineering design.



Also I thought of my husband who has designed and built machinery. I knew if he were there with Mallory and me, he would be describing the parts of the engine and explaining how they work.



What I always discover when I stop at these seemingly insignificant roadside stops is that they are  there for a good reason. You must be open minded about their significance and also visualize, not simply read, what the historical plaques are describing. They have a purpose and you have a choice. You either become present, appreciate the moment, and value the fact that others thought this spot important enough to set aside, or you have a bad attitude, become bored, leave, and miss the point completely.



Stopping at Depot Park was a good thing. Good because now I can check it off of my to-do list and also because I learned something new.

Here is what I learned.

The Shay was built by a man named Ephraim Shay who was a schoolteacher, a clerk in a Civil War hospital, a logger, a civil servant, railway owner, and also inventor, not necessarily in that order. He lived in Michigan and in the 1860’s he wanted a better way to move logs in winter, than to move them on winter sleds. He was a logger at the time and thought this would give him an edge over the competition. The Shay was born. Obviously it has great value and much importance in our nation’s history as many of the old Shay’s sit in museums for all to admire.


I am sure there are things that have changed about Columbia Falls since the early 1900’s, but the winters are still harsh and it remains a little logging town nestled in the scenic foothills of Glacier National Park with trains that rumble the tracks day and night delivering stuff from China and shipping lumber across the nation.


Everywhere you look, life’s an adventure.




2 thoughts on “Visiting the Shay in Columbia Falls

    • Don’t know how familiar you are with the place, but the Shay is very easy to miss. It is not on the main highway to Glacier but located back by the tracks in C-Falls on the road that heads up the Northfork. From the looks of it, I don’t think most people would stop. Like I said, you have to get into the moment and think about it to really appreciate it. Thanks for visiting, Cowgirl!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.