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Around Montana in a Hymer

March 14, 2021
Between Norris and Willow Creek, Montana, we saw backlit snowy peaks. The view was better before I managed to get out my phone, park the truck, snap a photo. That’s how it is, like that.

March 13, 2021

Started Thursday noon in Billings, I-90 to Bozeman. Our goal: meet our friend Pat in Willow Creek, Montana, to help her tear down a shed. I envisioned one of those sheds you can buy at a hardware store, the kind that looks like a barn. I was to be surprised.

Thence Main street of Bozeman through town clear out to four corners.  We stopped at the Food Co-op jonesing for cream puffs. We got no such thing. Upstairs was closed for Covid. No lurking allowed, but you could use the bathrooms. We bought pastries to go and asparagus.

Through to Norris.  We stopped for gas at a place that let us spend the night in the parking lot. In the morning when I thanked the woman behind the counter, she told us how to find the ringing rocks near Butte. Buy local, I’m thinking.

Turned Norris to Harrison, Montana, from there to a road to Willow Creek. 

Willow Creek is a certifiably weird town,  it is as if Three Forks, a small town nine miles away, had a little brother.  In Willow Creek, if you need to go to the city, you drive to Three Forks.

Willow Creek looks a lot like Three Forks, if you glance quickly.  It has a few sidewalks, a sort of downtown area with a bar/cafe. Only Willow Creek has no mayor. 

Both towns have bars open in the evening with regulars, red-faced and most of them overweight, good at slurring words.  The saloon in Willow Creek is famous in a book, “Blind Your Ponies,” by Stanley Gordon West. There’s an antique Sears tandem bicycle out front, not chained to anything, with flat tires. One might need to lock one’s doors at night in Willow Creek, but I wouldn’t worry about that. Pat said she was more worried about locking the hitch on her trailer.

We arrived at her house before Pat, who had gotten her Covid vaccination. Several high school kids smashed and swung at the splintery wood on an ancient tin-roofed shed, slumped like a sinking ship. Lots of dust.

Our dear friend Pat Zuelke is renovating a small house with a small workshed for her to sew.  Quilts, probably.  We spent a couple days with her tearing down a small garage that was probably built 100 years ago in the 1920s.  The dust in a place that old is astonishing and deadly to a person with breathing problems.  We found a newspaper:  Great Falls Tribune, a Saturday edition, from August, 1960.  You could buy a new car for $2,000.  I enjoyed the funnies page.  

I read a strip called, “Nancy”:  A little girl runs up to Nancy, saying “Minnie, Minnie, I heard the good news!  Your parents bought an ice cream store!  Oh, wait a minute.  I thought you were my friend Minnie,  but you’re not.  Sorry.”  

The little girl turns and leaves.  

The next frame has Nancy crying to her mother: “BAW!  I wasn’t Minnie!”

I looked through the many articles on each yellowed page of the paper.  Obviously this paper was printed with “hot type.” In other words, on an old fashioned rotary newspaper press that used lead alloy typeset headlines and linotype line matter.

I was surprised to see an article on the front page that mentioned the racial segregation and exploitation in South Africa in its discussion of the Krugerrand and the international stock market.  I didn’t know the situation there was on anyone’s radar in Montana in 1960. Interrupted, I didn’t get to look more at the newspaper.  The impression I got from scanning the headlines was local news had a lot to do with the Great Falls Fair and a long article about a local woman who committed suicide by running a hose from her car’s exhaust to a back window.  The paper seemed to have more news about distant places, places in Africa, especially.  Our esteemed professor of Journalism, Nathaniel Blumberg, called such newspaper verbiage “Afghanistanism.”  In other words, ignore the problems locally, report the distant problems.  Of course these days the problems are not distant.  The US has been embroiled in war with Afghanistan and other countries in the area for 20 years, now.   Ever since the War Powers Act following 9/11 attacks.

We camped he first night in Willow Creek parked on the street in front of Pat’s house.  Our RV is winterized, so we fixed coffee in Pat’s empty and still mostly gutted house.  Her bathroom is in finished condition.  I used those words  because the wooden ceiling over the tub is warped because no bathroom fan had been installed to dissipate he moisture from showering.

The second night I pulled the Hymer into the area  behind the house.  I moved it  back to the front in the morning  because we could get cell phone service there.  We like to listen to public radio news streamed through the phone.

We drove from Willow Creek to the landfill outside of Three Forks several times with debris from the small garage we’d razed.  Some of the neighbors said they wished for a big bonfire, but Pat didn’t think that was a good idea.  Pat has a trailer she can tow behind her Subaru Forester and she knows how to use it.

We stopped in Lennep, Montana, to visit a Lutheran Church where our friend Char Schmedeskamp preached.
This building has a first-class wooden outhouse around back. TP in a coffee can.

Returning from Willow Creek:  Three Forks, Bozeman, Highway 86 to Wilsall, then 89 toward Martinsdale, then to Harlowton, Ryegate, Lavina, Broadview, Acton and Billings.  We saw deer, eagles, hawks, redwing  blackbirds, geese.

Hymer systems worked well, except the toilet flap doesn’t fully open.  The problem isn’t in the cassette, because I can operate the flap with the orange device on the cassette top.  The lever at the base of the toilet won’t budge after about an inch of action, which is enough to open the flap about a quarter inch.

The electrical systems worked well, as did the mechanical.  Exception:  Plastic handle for window shade broke off.  Shade works, though.

I will probably de-winterize the Hymer prior to a trip to San Diego next month. I plan to fix the toilet, but not the window shade.

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One Comment
  1. Blaine Ackley permalink

    I liked your descriptions of these out of the way little towns. I finally figured out that the Hymer is your RV. That was quite a drive for you guys too.
    What I can’t figure out is why your friend Pat Zuelke would want to live so far away from everything at her age?
    I will send you a nice article from today’s Oregonian about fishing in Montana and Wyoming because the author visits several Montana towns that are probably just as small as Willow Creek.

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