As railroads became a means of transporting goods and people in the late 1800s, my current home in Columbus, MT, was on the Northern Pacific Railroad line. The typical small town train depot in Columbus housed a freight warehouse, a passenger terminal and the station master’s office. As late as 1967 there were two eastbound and two westbound trains making stops in Columbus. Early in the century there were eight trains daily, three passenger and one freight each direction. That was the impetus for the Whistlestop Café, located directly across from the train station. It has been a fixture in this little town for decades, beginning in 1927. Pictures of the early years line the walls, telling the story of a little restaurant that has evolved but in its essence has changed little.
When I moved here, the hours were 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, which I found rather strange for a burger and ice cream place. Recently, the Whistlestop has come under new management. They are open later in the evenings and have Saturday hours to include breakfast beginning at 6 a.m. In another month, they will be offering breakfast on Sunday mornings as well. The burgers are old fashioned and delicious; the ice cream is ridiculously good and the baked goods on Saturday mornings are outstanding. But the real attraction is the opportunity for a gathering place….families having a meal together, neighbors chatting as they wait for their orders, children getting ice cream cones. As a town of less than 2,000, eating establishments are few and places for building a sense of community are limited.
I have never attempted to open a restaurant but I understand such a business is demanding. With food prices skyrocketing, the risk the new owners are taking is astonishing. So I salute these folks, a couple not yet even thirty years old, for taking that gamble in this small community. I appreciate the spirit of camaraderie they are creating and the extraordinary effort they are putting into creating it.
May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter. Shalom, Kate
Hope’s Café Bonus: Freight facilities in Columbus in earlier years included an automobile loading and unloading platform, 4 stock pens, water for stock and a wool warehouse. Many Montana Northern Pacific towns had wool warehouses, as the Northern Pacific was the major carrier of wool out of Montana. The wool warehouses were eventually all closed with centralization of wool collection in Billings.