Shay EngineA Shay Engine used to haul logs out of the Blackfoot. By 1900 the Big Blackfoot Milling Company had largely depleted its nearby timber supplies and moved further up the Blackfoot. The mill, now owned by the Anaconda Company, got most of its timber from logs cut and dumped into the river and floated down to Bonner. Three logging camps were established at Potomac, where over 300 horses were used to haul logs out of the woods in winter.

The mill decided to build semi-permanent camps further up the river and bought two Shay engines from Lima Locomotives in Lima, Ohio. They hauled all the materials, including the disassembled engines, in wagons and sleighs 11 miles up the Blackfoot to McNamara’s Landing. They constructed the Big Blackfoot Railroad from the landing through Potomac to Greenough, some 14 miles. It was completed by 1904, but horses still brought the logs to the railroad in the winter. This track had temporary branch lines, which could be moved when an area was cleared of timber. When logs reached McNamara’s Landing, they were dumped in the river and floated to Bonner.

In 1913, Anaconda sold the Big Blackfoot Railway to the Milwaukee Railroad who completed the line to McNamara’s Landing and eventually on into Bonner from Potomac. To get to Milwaukee’s main line, it crossed the Clark Fork over the so-called Duck Bridge just east of the Milltown Dam. Lumber from th e mill would go into Missoula and then be attached to trains going east or west.

One of the Shay engines remains today resting at the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula.

 

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