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.