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Helena group modeling railroads of Western Montana

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Posted at 12:25 PM, Jan 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-18 14:26:02-05

HELENA — In the basement of a building off Last Chance Gulch in Helena, history is taking shape.

The Western Montana Railroad Historical Association (WMRHA) is working to create a detailed model of the western part of the state - a project that could take a decade to complete.

“We're covering the area from Great Falls to Missoula, Harlowton and Livingston, you know, to Butte basically; that block,” says Mark Luther, president of the WMRHA.

Wood, screen, and plaster are being shaped to tell the story of Montana's railroads.

Luther and his fellow enthusiasts have been methodically recreating the roads and rails of Western Montana. They already have put three years into the build, but say it could take as many as eight more to complete.

They are using what's known as the H.O. scale for the project. That means every inch on the modelrepresents 87 inches on a real train.

Each model town has significant landmarks linked to the railway industry that may or may not be standing today.

For example, the group plans to reconstruct The Great Northern Train Depot, where today The Federal Reserve Building now stands in Helena.

Luther says the streets people in Helena drive today owe a lot to the tracks laid down decades ago.

“Like all the weird orientations on streets in Helena, a lot of that is because of the different railroads that were, came in. Because the trains would come in at a certain angle and then they'd build streets to parallel the tracks while you have trains coming in at different angles,” says Luther.

Like the locomotives that continue to crisscross Montana's landscape, this group continues to chug along on this miniature version of the Treasure State.

“We'll say that it's mostly done but with modeling like this you're never ever completely done you can always add stuff and modify things,” says Luther.

The group hopes to have a path set up for public casual viewing by the time the Helena farmers market opens up.

If you have any interest in helping out the railroad association and lending a hand you can stop by their headquarters at 619 North Last Chance Gulch on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3:00 p.m..