ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

The Backstory: A Montana Memoir

Updated on September 30, 2014
Our destination, Gibson Reservoir, MT.  We never made it.
Our destination, Gibson Reservoir, MT. We never made it. | Source

Anyone who grew up in Montana knows that the real state motto is “We get it done,” not “Oro y Plata” (“Gold and Silver”). Sparsely populated with more cows than people, residents have no choice but to become resourceful and self-reliant. Perhaps it is less true now, but as a kid every adult I knew, whether male or female, was a competent mechanic, plumber, electrician, and carpenter—not to mention a decent cook and gardener. We used materials we had at hand, and we got it—whatever “it” was—done. Not beautifully, perhaps, but always good enough.

My father, for example, dug and cemented our family basement by hand. “By hand,” I mean literally. Using nothing but a shovel and a pick, he enlarged a dirt crawl space under our house into a 24 by 24 by 9 foot basement complete with poured concrete walls and floor. At first he hauled dirt out with a bucket. Later, when he had more arm movement, he purchased a tiny conveyor belt that dumped dirt into a pile just outside the house. My job was to shovel this loosened dirt into his pick-up truck. When the pick-up was full, he’d haul the dirt away and we’d start the process all over again. It took about three to four years of nightly digging, but when he was done we had a beautiful basement—and not coincidentally—a place to put a furnace for central heat.

After the basement was done, my father took on insulating the rest of the house. My date and I were not allowed to leave for the junior prom until we helped my father drywall one of the bedrooms (we call drywall “sheet rock” in Montana). Nothing says “elegance” like a fine chalk layer over one’s tux, and this was perhaps my father’s way of sizing up my suitors. Ron, I’m sorry to say, did not pass the “sheet rock test.” I never saw him again. My girlfriends were also often pressed into taping duty (“mudding”) before we could go to the movies, which probably explains why they preferred meeting me there, instead of picking me up.

1962 Ford Falcon tank straps.  Given the important job they do, you'd think they would be wider!
1962 Ford Falcon tank straps. Given the important job they do, you'd think they would be wider! | Source
A Ford Falcon 1962 gas tank
A Ford Falcon 1962 gas tank | Source

Long before he entered his basement-digging craze, however, my father used to take the family on long, scenic drives. By long, think 80-90 miles, minimum. One particular weekend, we headed up to Gibson Reservoir in Lewis and Clark National Forest. It would have been about 70 miles sticking to main roads, but where’s the fun in that? So instead, my father took a nice, long detour past Nilan Reservoir and followed back roads north. “Roads” being a euphemism for cow trails, mind you. We were driving that era’s answer to the SUV, a 1962 Ford Falcon station wagon. Perfect for hauling a large family, you could also stow a little fishing gear in the capacious back end. Except, unlike today’s SUVs, it rode lower to the ground, and it certainly was not designed for driving over undeveloped, rugged roads. Furthermore, the Falcon’s gas tank was secured with two almost unbelievably thin metal straps, and its entire underside was prone to rust.

So it was that when we finally turned onto Mortimer Gulch Road and crossed over the bridge’s first cattle guard, those dainty, rusty little gas tank straps rattled free, dropped the tank, and punched a hole right into its bottom. 3 miles from the Reservoir and 70 miles from the nearest town, we sputtered to a dead and final stop.

A
Gibson Reservoir, MT:
Gibson Reservoir, Lewis & Clark National Forest, Montana 59422, USA

get directions

Our destination

B
Mortimer Gulch Road, MT:
Mortimer Gulch Road, Lewis & Clark National Forest, Augusta, MT 59410, USA

get directions

Just a few miles from the Reservoir, we broke down

C
Nilan Reservoir, MT:
Nilan Reservoir, Montana 59410, USA

get directions

We turned off the secondary roads and started taking cow trails north

D
Augusta MT:
Augusta, MT 59410, USA

get directions

The closest town to our breakdown

E
Simms, MT:
Simms, MT, USA

get directions

F
Great Falls MT:
Great Falls, MT, USA

get directions

Home!

Oh yes, we were in a pickle. Any campers in the area would have cleared out hours earlier hoping to get a good start on their work week. We were on Federal lands, so there were no nearby ranch homes (“nearby” being a relative term), and the last gas station was 70 miles back in Augusta. Cell phones hadn’t been invented. Nor the Ham Radio (jk, but it didn’t matter: we didn’t own one). We had no food or water that I can remember, and, being three at the time, I was all about being patient and staying calm. My father had just decided to try hitch hiking back to the gas station (possibly to escape my tantrums) when miracle of miracles, two campers rounded the bend.

They were lovely people, and like all Montanans, they knew something about cars. The driver had a 5 gallon can with a little gas in it and some spare plastic hose. Together he and my father duct taped the can to our Ford top; then they threaded the hose down the windshield, under the hood, and into the carburetor. Since the gas tank was still half-attached to the car, my mother had the idea of threading a 3-inch sapling under the car's chassis to prop it up. We used a couple of coat hangers to attach the tree to the car.

To keep the gas can from flying off the roof and the tree from dislodging underneath, we could only drive a few miles an hour. Thus, we limped into Augusta about 4 hours later, refilled the gas can, and traveled on to Simms, where my grandparents lived. My grandfather was a long-haul trucker with his own machinist's shop and--so cool when I was a kid--his own personal gas station. While Grandma heated up soup and biscuits for dinner, Grandpa and my father replaced the tank straps. They couldn't do anything about the gas tank, except to refill the can, however. Finally, in the wee hours of the next day we pulled up to our own home. It wasn't pretty, but, hey, we got it done.

Yet another Sunday drive.   Notice we are now driving a Chevy!
Yet another Sunday drive. Notice we are now driving a Chevy!

Tips for Driving in Montana

Montana experiences the widest range of temperatures of any of the lower 48 United States. It holds the record for both the highest temperature rise over 24 hours ever recorded in the lower 48 (-54 degrees Fahrenheit to 49 degrees Fahrenheit--that's 103 degrees total--in Loma, MT, January 15, 1972) and the greatest temperature drop in 24 hours (44 degrees Fahrenheit to -56 degrees Fahrenheit--100 degrees total--in Browning, MT, January 23rd and 24th, 1916). It isn't at all uncommon to go to bed in 100 degree heat one night and wake up to frost the next morning. Fortunately, we had nice balmy weather the day we broke down, but you may not be so lucky. When driving in Montana, be sure to prepare an emergency travel kit, as suggested in the link below. Thanks for reading!

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • TheNymphery profile imageAUTHOR

      Maureen Nelson 

      3 years ago

      The Camper/Good Samaritan was a Smelterman like Dad, hermana susana. He had some car-related hobby--possibly stockcar racing--that Dad couldn't quite remember. What? You don't have a gas can and extra plastic hose in your rig? What's wrong with you girlfriend?

    • profile image

      hermana susana 

      3 years ago

      so I heard Dad talking to you about this on the phone ;-)--and wasn't there some nifty bit o' physics involved in the whole siphoning of the gas? and something about needing to use gravity to get the gas to the engine, i.e. the need to strap the gas can to the roof? and also, what was a bit about why the fortuitous saviors happened to have all that gear in their vehicle--they were stock car drivers? or mechanics? there was some totally random reason--besides being Montanans ;-)--that they had exactly what was needed to rig up this hail-Mary save. other than a tree branch, of course.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)