Saturday, April 30, 2011

Gallatin Gateway ...

One more post today about the Milwaukee Road, and its Montana passenger service.

 All of Montana's transcontinental railroad routes heavily advertised the state as a summer vacation destination in the early twentieth century, evoking Old West images of cowboys and Indians, along with the more contemporary lure of Montana's great National Parks. The Milwaukee was at a definite disadvantage in the latter category, since its mainline route was over 100 miles away from Yellowstone, while its competitors both served one of the parks directly. But that didn't stop them from trying.

Attempting to compete in the Yellowstone travel market, the Milwaukee in 1927 constructed a handsome railroad hotel in a little branch line town named Salesville, in the Gallatin Valley southwest of Bozeman. The hotel was named the "Gallatin Gateway Inn," and the town supported the venture by renaming itself Gallatin Gateway, too. Passengers could travel to the Inn on Milwaukee trains, and then board buses for the long, scenic drive up the Gallatin Canyon to West Yellowstone.

As a finishing touch to this massive promotional effort, the Milwaukee also constructed an actual Gateway, south of their hotel near the mouth of Gallatin Canyon. The imposing, pergola-like structure was a local landmark, and gave the Milwaukee's passengers a sense of arrival on their vacation.

Unfortunately, the Milwaukee's Gallatin Gateway venture was less than successful overall, and the log "gateway" itself apparently survived only a few years. I know that nowadays the Montana DOT would never approve of such a thing, but wouldn't it be cool if a big log gateway still spanned US 191 at the mouth of Gallatin Canyon?

Friday, April 29, 2011

Hiawatha ...

Yesterday's post noted that 2011 was the centennial year of the Olympian, a great Montana passenger train. The Olympian traveled the state for 36 years, but in 1947 the Milwaukee Road replaced it with a beautiful new streamliner called the Olympian Hiawatha. The orange-and-maroon train was noted for its modern equipment, created by the famed industrial designer Brooks Stevens. The Hiawatha's sleek "Skytop" observation car was unique among America's long-distance trains.

This is one of several advertising posters created by the Milwaukee in the early 1950s to promote the train. The location of the view is unspecified, but the cowboy hats suggest that the railroad was working to evoke the image of Montana. Sixteen Mile Canyon was one of the scenic highlights of the Milwaukee route, and was frequently a setting for promotional photographs and artwork.

Unfortunately, the Olympian Hiawatha's sojourn in Montana was brief. The western segment of the train was discontinued in May 1961, a bit less than fifty years after the first Olympian traveled across the state.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Olympian ...

For much of the twentieth century, three of America's great transcontinental railroads traversed Montana east to west, and all three companies served the state with luxurious long-haul passenger trains.  The Empire Builder still operates today, the longest-lived and best-known of Montana's trains, but the state's most exotic and memorable passenger trains were operated by the Milwaukee Road.

The year 2011 marked the hundredth anniversary of the first of those trains, the Olympian.  This old postcard view show's the train's inaugural run, pausing at the depot in Deer Lodge.  Even one of the town dogs has come down to see what all the excitement was about!

The Olympian was a fairly conventional-looking train in 1911, but within a few years the Milwaukee electrified its main line across western Montana.  The electric locomotives combined with the railroad's bright-orange paint scheme to give the Olympian a sleek, futuristic style that no other Montana railroad could match.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A great splendor ...

In one of my early posts here, I mentioned that I was very fond of the work of the late CBS Television journalist Charles Kuralt ... and that Charles Kuralt was pretty fond of Montana. In part, that was certainly because Montana is where he would rendezvous with his long-time mistress, but Kuralt loved the state for other reasons, too. One of the reasons was fishing -- like so many people, Kuralt was passionate about the great trout streams of southwestern Montana. Here's a quote from his 1995 volume, Charles Kuralt's America:
I fell in love with Montana at first sight. I was young and all the world was beautiful to me, but Montana was a great splendor. The steep, snow-clad reaches caught my eye first, and they were wonderful to see, but over time, my affection came to be for the welcoming valleys. And not for the valleys, exactly, but for the rivers that ran through the valleys. And not for the fastest or deepest rivers, but for the smaller ones that would support a floating fly.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Picture-postcard view ...

There's no doubt that as a state, Montana is overrun with postcard-worthy views. I've always thought, though, that the very best of those scenes were of Lake McDonald, up in Glacier Park. Most postcard photos of Lake McDonald are shot from the Apgar area, looking down the full length of the lake at the impossibly-beautiful mountains that frame the opposite shore. But I like this closer view even better, taken from the boat dock at what is now Lake McDonald Lodge.

This photo is probably from the first decade of the twentieth century, when visits to the lake were becoming more popular but before Glacier Park itself was formally established ... the caption makes no mention of a national park, but simply says "Lake McDonald, Northern Montana."

Monday, April 25, 2011

Missoula's just alright ...

I spent a winter in Missoula back in my college days, and while I was there I got to participate in an urban-design charette sponsored by the American Institute of Architects. We put together a 100-page report over the course of a single weekend, quite a challenge in the days before personal computers and digital cameras. It was all kinds of fun.

The report definitely looks a little ragged by today's standards, thanks to our lack of technology. I remember, though, that we were all particularly happy with the photo we chose for the report cover ... we decided that it captured the essence of Missoula as well as anything.

I don't know which member of the charette team took the photo, but here it is. It might be the underside of Missoula's old Orange Street Bridge, which was demolished a few years back.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Prairie Sunrise ...

The famed artist Maynard Dixon is best known for his paintings of the American Southwest, but his work was also influenced by a 1917 visit to northwestern Montana. Sponsored by the Great Northern Railway, Dixon's Montana trip included time in Glacier Park, as well as the Blackfeet Indian reservation nearby. In the years that followed Dixon translated his Montana memories into a number of paintings and several poems, including an evocative but slightly over-the-top verse called "Prairie Sunrise":
Ascendent over the world grows the saffron dawn.
Still and dim is the prairie, -- dark is the sod,
And dewy the cool curling blades of the buffalo grass,
And low and faint in the glow the smoke-spirits rise,
Revealing the camp; and here by a mute-solid boulder
An empty buffalo skull, deep-staring and old;
Little birds twitter and flit in the rusty-stemmed willows,
As over the rim comes tremendous ascending day --
The day! The marvelous day, exalting and vast! --
And there as the sun flares up, life-lit in its glory
The red-naked Indian rides, free-chanting his trail song.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Places known and come to before ...

In 1938, during what would prove to be the last summer of his life, the novelist Thomas Wolfe undertook a great adventure -- a marathon automobile roadtrip across the West, aiming to visit as many National Parks as possible. Crammed into a Ford sedan with two companions, Wolfe managed to put on 4,500 miles in a little under two weeks, and glimpse eleven of the parks.

Wolfe died two and a half months after the vacation ended, and the diary that he kept during the trip was later found in his papers ... and a portion of it was published in The Virginia Quarterly Review the following year. Here's an excerpt from the VQR article, describing one of the three days Wolfe spent in Montana. (The piece misattributes the railroad that runs over Bozeman Pass, but since Wolfe never had the chance to proofread his journal, I guess he can be forgiven for that.)
The town of Gardiner, small and somewhat bleak with a string of Pullman cars that came up in the morning and two Pullman porters coming down the street. Now away along the Valley of the Yellowstone, and at first the bleak denuded hills, the rushing river, the clear fast fish. Then the naked hills enlarging into rolling cliffs and forested (the timber deeper here than Utah—the maternal granite now, no longer limestone—and the valley greening with the widening and clean-watered River of Yellowstone). An enchanted valley now with upslope to the east and right and timbered Rockies going into snow and granite and the cliffs, nude spaciousness. The valley is not so green as Mormon land mayhaps—but thick with grasses yellowed somewhat from the teeth of steers. The nude ranges towards the timbered cliffs, and to the west the miracle of evening light and the celebrated river called the Yellowstone and trees most green and marvelous. It is a scene at once familiar and unknown, with elements like those before in Mormon land but here by some miracle transformed into this Itselfness. There are barns now painted red upon the upland rise of ranges to the east and fading light—and so to Livingston, like places known and come to before.

Supper at the U. P. station and the waitress with the tired face, and yet with charm, reticence, and intelligence. Outside, the walls of rain (the moaning of full rivers lapping at the rear) and the bald hills all about. So out and to the westward, the ripe greenery left behind now and the bald ridges closing in. The rise across the Bozeman Pass, and then the steep descent, the U. P. descending steeply with us, and ascending too, the double-header and then the lights of Bozeman—the broad main street ablaze with power of brightness and abundant light. The hotel, the cafe for hamburgers and milk, and so, bed.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Wigwam Cafe ...

Here's a great old postcard from Browning: the "Wigwam Cafe and Service Station." I won't pass judgement on the political correctness of the design, but architecturally this is about as cool as it gets.

The old cafe has of course been closed for decades, but the old teepee-shaped building is still a landmark on the east end of Browning's little main street. Last time I was in town, someone had opened up an espresso stand in the place.

There's a similar building down in Busby, too ... that one looking much the worse for wear.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Evans Hotel ...

Here's a great old photo, probably taken in about 1910 or so. We're in the little northeast Montana town of Culbertson, looking north up Broadway Avenue. The Evans Hotel looks like it was quite the place.

The Evans apparently didn't last too long, though. A 1930 map of Culbertson shows a completely different building on the site, called the "New Evans Hotel" ... so probably, there had been a fire. As for the New Evans, the building is still there today, though its no longer a hotel and most of the first floor has long since been boarded up. It would be a great restoration project for someone who wanted to return a bit of style to poor old Culbertson.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Bars are the thing in Montana ...

Going through some old papers at home recently, I came across a page torn from a magazine long ago. The page contained an essay called "Moving Through America," written by a travel author named Caskie Stinnett. The piece described a cross-country trip on Amtrak, including a day spent trundling through northern Montana on the Empire Builder. I'm guessing that the page came from a 1980 issue of The Atlantic, though I don't know for sure.
Beyond Wolf Point there was only sky and sagebrush, and I began to realize the tremendous size of this country. As a game, I decided to time the distance between human beings; fourteen minutes elapsed between a boy standing beside a lonely ranchhouse and a man working on an oil derrick in what I assumed was the Williston Basin oilfield. Bars are the thing in Montana towns. On the main street of Glasgow I saw the Stockmen's Bar, the Mountain Bar, Starr's Bar, the Mint Bar, and Johnny's Cafe and Bar. Aside from a dry goods store, there was nothing else on the street. At Havre, Montana, where we stopped for twenty minutes, I dashed out for a bloody mary. The bar was like a stock setting from a western movie, the only incongruous note being a woman bartender. Cowboys, all wearing western hats, sat at the bar, and two young men were playing pool. "I don't know what I've done with the celery salt," the lady bartender said. "Leave it out," I said. "I haven't much time." She looked at me severely. "Don't come in here asking me to cut corners," she told me. When she finished making the drink I asked her to pour it into a paper cup, and I sped back to the train. "You've got one minute to spare," the conductor warned, glancing at his watch. "We're moving right on schedule, and I'd hate to have left you."

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Silver Dollar Bar ...

I freely admit that I have an unusual fondness for kitschy destinations ... and Montana certainly has its share of those. I haven't visited nearly as many of them as I'd like, though.

One destination in that category is "Lincoln's 50000 Silver Dollar Bar," in the little town of Haugan, out on I-90 almost to the Idaho line. The place started its long run back in 1952, when a single silver dollar was embedded in the top of the bar. Soon, the bar's patrons began a tradition of adding dollars to the display, and before long there were thousands of them, each labeled with the donor's name. The place was called the "10000 Silver Dollar Bar" for a long time, and I've heard that there are now over 70,000 silver dollars embedded in the building today, making even the revised name seriously obsolete. Of course, a whole series of other tourist-related businesses are now attached to the bar, including what purports to be the largest gift shop in Montana.

This is an early postcard view of the bar ... probably from about 50 years ago, when there were only a mere 6,000 silver dollars in the whole place.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Fur-bearing fish ...

I'm kind of surprised I didn't upload one of these postcards sooner ... after all, this is a true Montana legend.

People have been telling stories about fur-bearing fish in this part of the world for at least 80 years, and taxidermists have been encouraging the legend for just as long, by creating examples of the species. They're almost always trout, and the local version of the myth has them coming from Iceberg Lake up in Glacier Park. Other states have their own fur-bearing trout stories, too.

All in all, not quite as iconic as the Wyoming Jackalope, but still not bad. :)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Montana Pastoral ...

Today's poem is "Montana Pastoral," by a fairly well-known twentieth-century author named J. V. Cunningham. He lived in Montana only for a few years as a child, in Billings during the 1910s and 1920s, but those years influenced a lifetime of writing. "Montana Pastoral" was written in 1941, and published in an anthology called The Helmsman the following year.
I am no shepherd of a child’s surmises.
I have seen fear where the coiled serpent rises,

Thirst where the grasses burn in early May
And thistle, mustard, and the wild oat stay.

There is dust in this air. I saw in the heat
Grasshoppers busy in the threshing wheat.

So to this hour. Through the warm dusk I drove
To blizzards sifting on the hissing stove,

And found no images of pastoral will,
But fear, thirst, hunger, and this huddled chill.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Small-town sports ...

Here's a photo I took last fall, showing a slice of small-town Montana life. The scene was a football game between the Grass Range/Winnett Rangers and the Highwood Mountaineers. Though the Rangers played very hard, there were only eight of them, half of whom were freshmen ... and so Highwood won in a blowout.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Main Street Polson ...

Today's photo is an old postcard view of downtown Polson, taken maybe fifty or so years ago. Back then, they probably made postcards like that for pretty much every fair-sized town in the state ... the same head-on view of Main Street, the same script lettering, everything. It's an interesting image, but it's also too bad in way ... there are lots of things that make Polson engaging and unique, but this mass-produced postcard doesn't really show any of them.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Stack talk ...

Here's an evocative reminiscence of life at an old railroad "beanery" in northwestern Montana. It was written by a man named Robert W. Downing, who later rose through the ranks to become president of the Burlington Northern Railroad. Rexford is on the old Great Northern line between Whitefish and Libby via Eureka ... part of which is now under the waters of lake Koocanusa.
After I became district roadmaster, my assignment was west from Whitefish to Troy… I regularly stayed at Rexford, Montana, which was about the midpoint of the district. There was a railroad “beanery” right on the station platform next to the depot. The lunch room was on the ground floor, and upstairs, there were six or seven rooms for the enginemen on the helper crews that worked up Rexford Hill to Stryker. Also until the Fernie branch into Canada was taken up in 1938, the branch crews sometimes stayed at the “hotel.” In any event, the sleeping rooms on the ground floor were just across a narrow station platform – about 12 feet from the main line, and just about at the level of the stack of a locomotive. When an eastbound freight train stopped there, the through locomotive would be taking water while the helper coupled on behind the caboose. When ready to go there would be a loud exchange of whistle signals, the lead engine would slowly get underway with much it's stack noise. The grade was not too heavy for a short distance east of the depot, so the train would get going very quickly – so that by the time the helper came by your room it would be working wide open and making 20 or 25 mph. The very earth would tremble, and the old beanery would shake so much that the bed would seem to jump up and down. Anybody who could sleep through it was not of this world. Those were the days of real action.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Sun-faded prairie ...

Speaking of prairie ghost towns, here's a photo of one of my favorites -- the little hamlet of Ingomar, on the long-abandoned Milwaukee Road mainline across the state. This evocative photo was taken back in the early 1990s by a man named Dave Matthews, who lived in Bozeman back then. It's been many years since I heard from Dave ... he moved back east ages ago, to photograph things that could only be less worthwhile.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Lonesome ghosts ...

There are certainly lots of ghost towns here in Montana ... old mining camps up in the mountains, and homestead villages out in the prairies. I'm a particular fan of the prairie ghosts, partly because they don't get as much attention, and partly because their settings can be exceptionally evocative. And for me, the old towns don't even need buildings in order to be interesting.

Here's a photo I took when I visited the site of Coburg, Montana a couple of years ago. All that's really left is a few feet of concrete sidewalk, marking the long-vanished site of a building that once housed the general store and post office. And up on the hill, a little ways away, there's an old building foundation ... maybe it was where the schoolhouse used to stand. And that's it.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Springtime rain ...

There's no doubt about it: Montana's weather definitely feels like it's been getting weirder lately. This spring, the story has been all about moisture ... lots of snow, and lots of rain. It's a year for flooding.

The situation is unsettling enough that it's got people thinking about similar times in Montana's past -- particularly the great flood of June 1964, which hit north-central Montana and the Glacier Park country with amazing force. Here's a classic photo from the 1964 flood: the Middle Fork bridge leading to the west entrance of Glacier Park, its trusses broken by the raging water.

This photo is one of many flood images captured my Mel Ruder, the legendary owner/editor of the Hungry Horse News. Ruder's reportage of the 1964 floods earned him the first Pulitzer Prize ever awarded to a Montana journalist.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Monarchs of the Past ...

Here's another great old postcard photo: "Monarchs of the Past," by T. J. Hileman. The image probably dates from the 1920s, when Hileman was an official photographer for the Great Northern Railway, capturing views of the Glacier Park country for use in the GN's promotional efforts. The shot is highly reflective of the GN's traditional use of Blackfeet imagery in its advertising materials ... and in a broader sense, it typifies the period's popular romantic nostalgia for the rapidly-vanishing traditions of Native American life.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Largest lumber mill ...

This is an old postcard view from about 1960 or so, with the caption, "the largest pine lumber mill in the world." The photo shows a part of the old J. Neils Lumber Company complex just outside of Libby, by then owned by St. Regis Paper. Neils Lumber was the economic lifeblood of Libby for decades, harvesting timber with a sustainable-use philosophy that both kept the company strong and sustained local forests. After the company was sold, though, absentee owners increased production to the point where the forests could no longer keep up ... and before long the whole thing collapsed. The mill closed in 2002, devastating the local economy, and a spectacular fire last year destroyed much of what was left of the place.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Topography ...

As far as those maps go, I haven't been to either Gallup City or Lonesome Prairie (yet) ... but I have made a couple of visits to Boulder Pass. This is a photo from a backpacking trip in 2003, looking across Hole in the Wall Basin. Boulder Pass is in the center of the photo, with Boulder Peak off to the left.

Talk about topography!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Boulder Pass ...

This is the last old topo map that I'll post here for a long while ... a clipping to contrast with yesterday's relatively flat landscape.

Based on late 1930s cartography, the the image below shows the Boulder Pass and Hole in the Wall areas, in the far north edge of Glacier National Park. It's one of the most spectacular spots in a spectacular state, and creates a map that fulfills most peoples' image of what a topo should look like.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Lonesome Prairie ...

Here's a clipping from another old topographic map, with a place name and a look that's the quintessence of big chunks of eastern Montana. The location is a little northwest of Big Sandy, and the map is from 1906 ... and I bet the country is even more lonesome today.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Gallup City ...

As someone with an incurable case of wanderlust, I've long maintained that a good map is the greatest recreational reading there is. Topo maps are especially fascinating for someone enamored of a place as vast as Montana, in part because they reveal so many obscure place names that few of us have ever heard of.

I was looking through a list of old Montana topos recently, for example, and came across one titled "Gallup City" ... a name I didn't recognize at all, though it sounded it at least had the potential to be a fairly big deal. So I downloaded the map and took a look, and there it was, far off the beaten track between Conrad and Choteau. The map was from 1938, and just showed a small maze of random dirt roads and a few buildings ... pretty obviously an old oilfield camp.

And from the looks of things there's absolutely nothing left of Gallup City today ... but now I still want to drive up there and check the place out sometime.

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Crystal ...

One more neon photo for today ... this is the Crystal, a dark, blue-collar bar that's been on Bozeman's Main Street for decades.

This is a great sign, though it's actually a fairly recent creation ... the Crystal's original neon sign is now hanging inside the barroom. I confess that I know this because part of my misspent youth was mis-spent at the Crystal. Anticipatory historical research, I suppose ...

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Bozeman neon ...

I love taking photos of old signs, and I've been doing that in Bozeman for years, now. The neon ones are the best, of course, and Bozeman has a few really great ones ... like this one, up on North 7th. Who wouldn't want to stay at a motel that has a sign lit up like that?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Campbell Lodge ...

I'm sure that if one's starting a business in a town named Glasgow, there can be an almost-irrestible temptation to market the enterprise using a Scottish theme. Hence the Campbell Lodge in Glasgow, Montana ... complete with a huge signboard featuring an improbable kilt.

The building itself is a standard piece of 1960s architecture -- something that Glasgow has in abundance, thanks to the short-lived boom caused by the brief life of Glasgow Air Force Base. And that's another story worthy of exploration someday ...

Friday, April 1, 2011

Sam Peckinpah ...

Mentioning Richard Brautigan here a few days ago brought to mind a few of the other celebrities who have called Livingston home since the 1970s. The list of literary and Hollywood figures with Livingston connections is impressive and long: Tom McGuane, Jimmy Buffet, Margot Kidder, Michael Keaton, Peter Fonda, Dennis Quaid, and on and on.

One of the most intriguing members of that group was Sam Peckinpah, the Hollywood director responsible for films such as The Wild Bunch and Straw Dogs. Peckinpah leased a residential suite at the Murray Hotel in Livingston for years, and was a regular at the local bars, shooting pool and playing poker and drinking. He was quite a character, his activities providing the source material for stories that are still told in Livingston today. Here's one of the best-known, as recounted in a 2001 article written for the Missoulian by Vince Devlin. This version of the story came from an interview with Patty Miller, a former owner of the Murray:
Peckinpah loved to play poker, but, says Miller, "he was a terrible poker player - the worst." . . . A plaque in "Peck's Place" in the Murray Hotel tells of Peckinpah taking $1,000 into a high-stakes poker game in Livingston, and quickly losing $700 of it.

"Well boys," Peckinpah said, standing and picking up his last three hundred-dollar bills. "You ain't gonna get these."

And then he ate them.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Malmborg School ...

I'm definitely intrigued by old Montana schoolhouses, and here's a photo of what might be the coolest one of all. This is the old Malmborg School, constructed 106 years ago in the Jackson Creek area east of Bozeman.

It's a great little schoolhouse, and a great old photo ... but the best part is that the building is still around today. And not only that, it still serves as an operating one-room school! How cool is that?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Highway 212 ...

Most people driving east from Montana out to South Dakota will just get on Interstate 90 and stay there ... but a few knowledgeable folks will venture off the freeway and strike out on US 212 instead, which is actually the shorter route. I really like the US 212 drive -- it's a lovely mix of mountains and plains, forest and prairie. And there are some interesting old towns along the way, too.

One of those little towns is called Hammond, down in the southwest corner of Carter County. There was never an awful lot at Hammond, and today the place is just a post office, a one-room school, and a handful of abandoned buildings. Here's a photo I took last year of one of them ... a long-closed gas station. It's definitely the coolest thing in Hammond, and I think it's the coolest gas station in Montana.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sonnette Hall ...

Here's a photo I took last summer of the old community hall in a place called Sonnette, down in Powder River County. It's one of the prettiest settings for a building you're ever going to find.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Ralph's Cabins ...

Let's head out to southeastern Montana for a couple days of photos. Here's a postcard photo of an old Forsyth hostelry called Ralph's Cabins ... a shot from maybe 60 years ago. Looks like a welcoming and homey place, that at least in some ways would beat the heck out of a Super 8.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Montana Inventory ...

I had a conversation with a friend recently, in which she confessed to me that she'd never heard of Richard Brautigan. I was thoroughly appalled by the revelation ... but of course Brautigan was a product of the 60s and 70s, and my friend is of a different generation. Brautigan just isn't going to be a timeless author, I'm afraid.

But his work is still a lot of fun, and since he lived in the Paradise Valley for a time he's worth another mention here. Unlike most Montana authors, though, there are surprisingly few mentions of the state in Brautigan's work. Here's one that I was able to find, an odd little poem called "Montana Inventory." It's from his 1976 collection, Loading Mercury with a Pitchfork.
At 85 miles an hour an insect splattered
like saffron on the windshield
and a white cloud in blue sky above the
      speed-curried bug

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Glacier quarter ...

I was a big fan of the "State Quarters" series that the U.S. Mint finished up a year or so ago ... though I was a little disappointed in the bison-skull design that ended up representing Montana in the series. But now the National Parks quarters are coming out, giving Montana another chance to show off to the numismatists of the world -- and this time I think we got it right.

The choice of parks was a no-brainer, of course -- it had to be Glacier. And though I would have loved to have seen Lake McDonald on the coin, this composite image of Mt. Reynolds and a mountain goat captures Glacier's iconography very well. And it looks good on a coin, to boot.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Oregon or bust ...

Here's another wonderfully evocative photo from the 1930s efforts of the Resettlement Administration and its successor, the Farm Security Administration. Taken by the noted photographer Arthur Rothstein, the shot is of a man named Vernon Evans, who was driven from his South Dakota farm by the Dust Bowl and grasshoppers. He and his family were headed to Oregon to start a new life when Rothstein photographed him near Missoula on July 10, 1936.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Riverboat diary ...

For now, here's one last quote from the diary of James Knox Polk Miller, this one dated June 4, 1867. It was written as Miller rode a Missouri River steamboat downstream from Fort Benton ... a journey with some darker moments, and some nineteenth-century sensibilities.
This morning a negro, one of the boat hands, fell overboard. No effort was made to save him and he sank to rise no more, the crew standing about watching for him to rise. Having discovered the excellence of the view, from the same I spent most of the day in though wheel house. Passed a herd of buffalo & saw hundreds of wild geese with their young. They did not attempt to fly away as our boat approached, but sinking their bodies into the water floated in foolish security, leaving only their heads visible. Passed Fort Hawley, a post erected last year for the purpose of trading with the Indians. Past the point and saw the remains of a trading post directed by steel and burned by the Indians. Passed the “Yorktown” and “Mountaineer” on the last of which I saw Billy Childs and his newly elected wife. The boats, both upward and downward bound, are this year filled with families, some going home to educate their children or flying to the comforts not to be found in the Rocky Mountains. Others are coming up river to meet their husbands who have gone ahead and prepared homes for them. One Jew and his wife came up on the “Waverley” and, after looking about Fort Benton for a week, concluded that Montana was not the place for him. Accordingly he hired himself to the same boat and is at present engaged in packing wood from the flats or peeling potatoes, as the case may be.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Herd dogs ...

Here's one more still from the film Sweetgrass. Though the movie's most dramatic scenes focus on vast herds of sheep heading for the Beartooths, as much as anything the film is really about the herders and their dogs ... and that struck a chord with me, because I'm an unabashed fan of herd dogs. They're remarkable and wonderful beings.

And the people are interesting, too ... though in a very different way. Many people remember Sweetgrass because it contains one of the most remarkable soliloquies ever captured on film: a solid, three-minute string of sheepherder cuss words hurled from a mountaintop with amazing force. It's worth seeing the film just for that!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Sweetgrass ...

Back in 2009 I did a series of posts about Montana-themed movies, and mentioned that I was really looking forward to seeing the film Sweetgrass. Well, I finally got to watch it while back, and it immediately became one of my favorite Montana films ever ... so consider this post to be an unabashed Sweetgrass plug.

The film is a documentary, chronicling the last years of a large sheep ranch near Big Timber, and rugged summers spent trailing sheep in the high country of the Beartooths. It's a quiet, slow-paced movie, unsentimental but still tremendously wistful and evocative ... a wonderful portrait of a fading era of ranch life.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Heading for the gold rush ...

Here's another excerpt from the diary of James Knox Polk Miller. The entry, dated June 6, 1865, recounts his arrival in the booming mining camps of Nevada City and Virginia City:
Up at sunrise & started for “the City.” Made about 22 miles & camped. Breakfasted on corned beef which one of our party got from the horsemen. A small piece left for dinner. Arrived in “the City” at about 5 o'clock, having had some difficulty in getting through the Toll Gate, as the toll was $10 and we had “nary a red [cent].” Very faint, weak, weary, and homesick. Had only $2 in my pocket. Reached the top of the divide and instead of seeing a city I saw nothing but a collection of log cabins constituting the city of Nevada. Descending the hill with our horses on the run we crossed the gulch and entered Nevada, driving through the only business street the place affords. Our spirits were not improved by noticing that almost every other store we passed was “To Rent.” After driving about 2 miles along the gulch we suddenly came upon Virginia City situated on both sides of the gulch. The stores are of a much superior order to those in Nevada City and half a doz. of them are very fine looking buildings. “Everybody and his cousin” here seems to live in a log cabin and mud roof. Our boys are all broke and I, having only $2 to stand me a month, we were a hungry looking set. One of them borrowed some money from a friend, however, and we went to an eating saloon and filled ourselves, a process of half to three quarters of an hour duration. I felt decidedly famished, not having had a square meal in four days. Sent my horse out to a ranch owned by Cook & Co. at a cost of $3.00 a month. Slept in the dirt in the Saddle & Harness room of Cook's & Co.'s stable. Went to bed early as I felt sick. This is a very dull, desolate looking place. Did not find Johnny Van Ness here as I expected, which added considerable color to the Blues which I had.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Crow Creek ranch ...

Here's one more photo I shot out by Radersburg ... one of my favorites. This abandoned ranch house is a few miles east of town, north of Crow Creek on the road to Toston.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Radersburg ...

For me, nearly all of Montana's communities are fun to explore ... but my favorites are the small, old towns, the ones that had a memorable past but today are almost ghosts, barely hanging on. They're the most evocative places you'll ever see.

Without a doubt, the little village of Radersburg fits that description perfectly. It was a boomtown back in the 1860s, but has slumbered in obscurity for well over a century, home to a few dozen people who prefer life far off the beaten track. (But the town also has a surprising claim to fame: the actress Myrna Loy was born there!)

Here's a photo I took about five years ago, of an old cabin on Radersburg's main street:

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Fort Benton stage ...

Haunting a used bookstore a couple of months ago, I came across a volume called The Road to Virginia City: The Diary of James Knox Polk Miller. It's an 1860s travelogue from Missouri to Salt Lake City, up to Montana, and back, and it's been a fun read.

Here's the first of what will likely be several excerpts from the volume, part of an account of a stagecoach ride from Helena to Fort Benton on May 28, 1867:
At 2 1/2 o'clock I was awakened by “Knocking at my chamber door.” Proceeding to the stage office of Huntly's Line and waiting “diligently” for half an hour we were duly arranged, myself and five others -- I upon seat with the driver, bidding adieu to Ware. The crack of the drivers whip started four splendid American horses and away we sped. I had the enjoyment of a good cigar on a trip of 20 hours, as the advertisement says. My credentials, consisting of a bottle of whiskey and a bunch of cigars, being duly presented to the driver, he enlivened the very early hours of the morning by describing to me his various exploits in the "Jehu" line of business. A very pleasant man he seemed to us at starting. But, alas for appearances, our smiles were turned to frowns, are good humor to wrath, our good opinion to positive dislike -– long before we reached Fort Benton. With most diabolical persistency he continually sang out upon reaching any mud hole: “Now gentlemen if you will be so kind as to give me a lift for only 20 steps,” this is meaning that we were to walk through the mud and water from one to two miles, and in one case, four. The first station bore the euphonious name Silver Heels, a station consisting of fifteen houses and four tents. Here we change horses, taking, in place of our splendid American stock, a six course team of wild “cayuses.” Our driver, in throwing upon the seat some stones, accidentally struck our whiskey bottle and, “alas poor Yorick,” our troubles had commenced.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Casey's ...

Without a doubt, there are a lot of bars in Montana. Most of them seem to be called "Mint," or "Stockman," but there are lots of other names, too ... including more than a few good Irish ones. That's important for St. Patrick's day, at least.

Here's my nomination for the Montana bar with the best Irish-neon sign: Casey's, up in Whitefish.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Mercantile Building ...

In the interest of equal time, here's an early photo of the Mercantile Building at the Montana State Fairgrounds up in Great Falls. A very cool old building -- still there today -- and a fine example of the Art Deco style. It's one of several landmark buildings in the Electric City built during the Depression years by federal public works programs.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Fairgrounds ...

There are state fairs in most American states, I suppose ... but the situation in Montana is a little more complicated: we have two annual events vying for statewide attention. Great Falls has the Montana State Fair, and Billings has something called MontanaFair, which claims to be larger. My vote definitely goes to the event up in Great Falls, partly because I like the city more, and partly because Great Falls has a handsome and classic fairgrounds. The venue in Billings is a nondescript trade-show space, with a thoroughly-ugly arena named for a car dealership.

It wasn't always that way, though ... here's a postcard photo of the Billings fairgrounds back in the 1930s. If only the place still looked like this!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Milligan Canyon sunset ...

It's been a while since I've posted a Montana sunset photo, too. This is one I took back in 2007, west of Milligan Canyon in Jefferson County.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Bad jokes ...

It's been ages since I've posted a bad joke ... so here you go. This is another excerpt from The North Dakota Joke Book, by Mike Dalton.
About eighty-five years ago a Montanan and a North Dakotan got caught stealing horses. Because there were no trees around to hang the horse thieves from, the Sheriff tried to hang them from a bridge.

The Montanan's rope broke, and he swam to shore and escaped.

As they were placing the rope around the North Dakotan's neck, he said to the Sheriff, "I hope this is a strong rope. I can't swim."

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Vintage motel ...

I know that several of you are fans of old signs ... and so even though I've posted an inordinate number of motel photos lately, here's one more. This old auto court is in Butte, an enduring legacy of the days before travel was shaped by chain hotels and Interstate highways.

Friday, March 11, 2011

International Harvester ...

My family has long had a knack for buying cars made by companies that were about to go out of business. The first car I ever owned was a Rambler that had belonged to my grandfather, and my Dad has owned Packards, Studebakers, Plymouths, and Oldsmobiles. My favorite, though, was my father's 1965 International Travelall, bright red. He bought it new, and I learned how to drive stick in it when I was a kid, awkwardly struggling along Wyoming desert backroads.

The Travelall's long gone, of course, but I thought of it when I photographed this old sign, guarding a little concrete storefront in Amsterdam.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Driving Montana, Alone ...

Here's a poem that received some national radio airplay recently, "Driving Montana, Alone" by Katie Phillips. The author is another one of those expatriate Montanans, now trapped way out in Illinois. Anyone who's driven along the Pintlars will likely relate to the images the poem conjures.
I smile at the stack of Bob Dylan CDs
you are not holding in the passenger seat.
Storm clouds have gathered. My "Wow" rises
over the harmonica for your benefit,
but you cannot see that one sunlit peak

in the midst of threatening sky. The road turns
wet at the "Welcome to Anaconda" sign,
and I pat my raincoat, loosely folded
where your lap should be. "Anaconda was almost
the state capital," I say, but that's all I know,

and you don't ask for more. You wouldn't mind
my singing and swerving onto the shoulder
for more snapshots over the car door.
And it's only when I get just south of Philipsburg
that your not being here feels like absence.

I want you to see these dark rotting barns,
roadkill of Highway One. It seems only you
could know why my eyes fill the road
with tears again when a flock of swallows
swoops through an open barn door
and rushes out the gaping roof.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The sheepherder ...

Yesterday's image reminded me of another great Montana photo, one that I really love. This is one of a series of images taken in 1942 by a man named Russell Lee, working for the Farm Security Administration. The sheepherder and his dog were stationed up in the Gravelly Range, south of Ennis.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Scout in Winter ...

In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, a number of talented photographers decided to their attention on the American Indian, wanting to record for posterity what was perceived to be a "vanishing race." The photos that ensued were often tremendously evocative ... none more so than the images captured by a man named Edward S. Curtis. I've admired his work for ages, and a print of one of his Montana photos has hung in my living room throughout my adult life.

Here's one of my favorite Curtis photos ... though not the one in my living room. This is a 1908 image called "The Scout in Winter," probably taken down in the Pryor Mountains of south-central Montana.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Siesta Motel ...

For whatever reason, many Americans have long tended to associate modernity with the state of California. The appeal of the Golden State translated itself into American culture in a variety of ways, and one of those was architecture. Beginning in the 1920s or so, building designs that evoked southern California themes became popular across the country, especially for businesses that reflected contemporary trends. Movie theaters and motels, for example, often tried to feature a Southwestern "look" ... even in faraway places like Montana.

Here's a great example from Bozeman -- the Siesta Motel, as it looked in a postcard view from the 1940s or so. Back then, the Siesta was at the edge of town, at a major intersection on the main road heading towards Yellowstone Park. Today, of course, the motel is long gone, and its location is near the center of a fast-growing city. There's still a motel at the site, though ... and happily, the current motel is as quirky as the old Siesta was.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Taking the dog out ...

Today's entry is a poem I thoroughly related to ... "Taking the Dog Out at 2 AM," by Keetje Kuipers. As with so many Montana-based poets, she's spent time living in Missoula; for the purposes of this blog we'll have to overlook the unfortunate fact that she's hanging out in California more often these days.
I’ve just slipped past those guards of sleep
who tonight are more like Swedish policemen—
well-meaning but complacent—just as happy
to let me go on my way as detain me here
in this land of the conscious, when you begin
your rhapsodic mantra of barking at the door.

For this I would like to punish you or at least
give a gentle reminder that unlike you, I
haven’t been napping most of the day.

Instead, we are released into air so cold
it works like quicksand on my lungs,
sucking the oxygen from itself as I watch
you canter to the nearest snow drift in your
coat of shimmering black velvet.

With ice cuffs around your ankles,
you look dressed for a midnight ball.

We’re three days away from the longest
night of the year and if I wish for anything
as I count the trunks of the pines you’ve
disappeared into, it’s that heaven, too—
if there is a place we go after this—
will have such a similarly deep and inescapable
darkness for you to root among and for me
to marvel at while I wait for your return.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Peace sign ...

The only place in Montana where the familiar 1960s "peace" symbol ever gained much traction was in Missoula, of course. There, years of peace-sign graffiti on an old mountaintop communications dish became an urban symbol that people still wistfully recall today. In the rest of the state, though, peace signs were probably always regarded with suspicion at best.

And today, messages like that are pretty much forgotten by most people ... which is why it pleased me to drive through the little town of Coram a few days ago, and see this house all lit up in the pre-dawn hours.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Closed for the winter ...

This is how the Going-to-the-Sun Road looked in February ... no cars at all, just me and the snow and a single, inquisitive deer.

I love driving that road as much as anyone, but still ... this is so much better than the endless parade of SUVs that will fill that view a few months from now.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Winter on Lake McDonald ...

The train in yesterday's photo deposited me back in Whitefish at 2:30 AM, and it felt very good to be back in my own car again. A few hours later I was starting my day on the shore of Lake McDonald ... my favorite place on earth, even on a frigid, cloudy February morning.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Waiting train ...

There are few sights in this world more wonderful than that of a long-distance passenger train, waiting for you to board ... and this is especially true after spending the day onboard a bus!

Here's a shot of the westbound Empire Builder, waiting for me in Havre after my long bus ride a few days ago.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

North plains bus ...

Especially in the winter, you need to approach northern travel with a little bit of flexibility ... something that was proven to me when I tried to make it home from Minnesota last week. I was planning to fly, but a blizzard closed the Minneapolis airport on my travel day, so I rebooked myself on Amtrak ... and then my train trip was interrupted when a freight derailed and blocked the tracks ahead. Which explains why I spent part of a day riding across northeastern Montana in a rattletrap charter bus from Rugby, North Dakota.

Buses just aren't the greatest way to see the world, especially on frosty winter days. Here's how the ride looked ... this is downtown Poplar, Montana, as seen through the windshield. Poplar is the agency town for the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, and a pretty nondescript place, indeed.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Prairie moon ...

One more quick photo from my recent eastbound Amtrak journey across northern Montana ... an almost-full moon over a lonesome farm in the Milk River valley, somewhere between Havre and Malta.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The 2584 ...

I freely admit that there are towns in Montana that I like more than Havre ... lots and lots of them, actually. But there are definitely still some things worth seeing up that way. This is a photo I took recently of one of my favorites ... an old Great Northern steam locomotive on display just west of the depot. The 2584 was built back in 1930 for service on the GN's crack long-distance passenger trains, and it's been guarding the Havre depot since 1964.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

State champs ...

At least from the standpoint of a photographer, it's usually far more interesting to hang out in alleyways rather than city streets ... and that's true even in a little town like Shelby. I photographed this backdoor tribute to the town's high school athletes from the windows of the Empire Builder a few days ago.

I wonder if Warner Brothers knows about this?