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The Carlton Depot: A tribute to Laurel's blue collar legacy

Posted at 12:05 PM, Jan 05, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-05 14:05:14-05

LAUREL — For some, like Gary Waddell, who spent a lifetime with Montana Rail Link (MRL), trains are symbols of small town history and family legacy.

"My father's ancestors settled (in Laurel) in 1882, when it was still known as The Station of Carlton," said Shawna Hopper, who owns and runs The Carlton Depot, named after Laurel's former namesake.

Waddell, who ended his career as superintendent of operations at MRL, said the recent change in rail occupation to BNSF Railway is not entirely a surprise, but it did come sooner than everyone expected. On Jan. 1, Montana Rail Link ceased operations and returned its lease of a main line extending from Huntley to Sandpoint, Idaho, ending a roughly 40-year run in the region.

"It came sooner than I was hoping to see it come," said Waddell.

Alongside the overarching blue-collar traditions of Laurel, his life on the tracks and MRL's contributions to Laurel are now honored by The Carlton Depot at 331 S. Washington Ave.

“(Laurel is) now more considered an outskirts of Billings, but we still wanted to pay respect to the history and the people," said Hopper, who has spent the majority of her life in and out of the restaurant industry.

Beyond its homage to the city's industrial heritage, The Carlton Depot is also intended to serve as a cornerstone for community connection, according to Hopper.

“I don’t know if it's food, as much as it is the relationships that I’ve built. Connecting with people came over food and beverage," said Hopper.

After more than 140 years of his family being a part of Laurel's development, Waddell said the eatery is a nice way for his daughter to honor her grandparents and great-grandparents while continuing their family's influence in Yellowstone County.