The first of September (2009) marks the fulfillment of 30 years in the wheelwright trade when early September, 1979, I joined Rick Bischoff in his vision of a buggy shop here in Joliet, Montana. Much has come and gone since then; Old Timers have moved on and new aspiring teamsters have picked up the lines.
Many times I have heard, and felt, the notion, “I was born a hundred years too late.” The “good old days” are enamored by those who look back admiringly from the comforts of our current lives, and looked upon with mixed feelings by those who remember the hard times.
All this to say that I am going to be out of the shop for the month of September (2009), and even possibly a week or two of October, to experience a taste of days gone by. I am going on about a 600 mile horseback ride/pack trip to taste a bit of what our forefathers lived. I plan to leave the 30th of August and should return sometime in early October.
The drawback to being a family owned operation is that when I leave, things pretty much stop. Diane will be here to answer the phone as much as possible and even help you with your orders, but things will be operated on the lean side. I know this will be an inconvenience for some, but understood by most. Our personal number will be available through that time and she will monitor the email boxes as best as she can. You can reach her at 406-591-3573.
Once I get back in the shop we will begin our 31st year and I look forward to what we have in store. Times have changed since our forefathers opened up this country and times are changing all around us today, so follow your dreams, overcome your fears and appreciate your friends.
See ya when I get back!
I made it!! 650 miles and 36 days later I rode back into Joliet. I had plans of making it an even 40 days, but rumors of snow storms made me re-route my trip and head ‘er for home. Things went pretty much as hoped for, and planned. I left Joliet Aug 30th and rode back into town October 4th. I started out riding Hannah, a 7 yr. qtr-horse, a Hancock blood-line mare, who is cutting horse fast on her feet when she wants to be. I packed a 10 yr old mule, Betsy, who would love you to death if you showed that you loved her; which I did. 2 ½ weeks into the trip I switched places and rode Betsy and packed Hannah.
I was amazed at the bond that was generated between the three of us. Day after day of routines soon became habits of conduct. Saddles and packs were put on and lead ropes just dangled as the girls patiently waited their loads. Long, hot, dry days were pleasantly interrupted by patches of bright green brome grass and stock tanks; stock tanks and reservoirs became welcome sights. Probably half the nights were enjoyed out under the stars enjoying the beauties of the heavens while frost, rain and snow chilled my fingers and toes on others.
I was amazed at the noisiness of mankind each time we entered a new town. I never realized how noisy mufflers were and how loud tires were on pavement until spending numbers of days where all we saw or heard were coyotes and hawks. We traveled the grasslands, farmlands, mountain meadows and pine forests. We were forced to ride maybe 60 or 70 miles of paved roads which were hair-raising with 70 mph traffic and no ditch banks or right-of-ways at times. Gravel roads weren’t as bad, but hard on horseshoes, so we sought out cow-paths, ditches and soft shoulders wherever possible. Often times, through big ranch country, we could travel draw to draw, gate to gate, cattle-guard to cattle-guard and high-mountain trails, and reminisce that this is how it would have been for the early settlers and mountain men as we rode with no roads in sight. 100 year old wagon trails were a special treat, and I was amazed several times at the work involved to traverse creeks, draws and muddy hills. What a hearty breed our forefathers were! What a contrast to the “take care of me” mentality prevalent today.
I can’t recall how often I heard, “I would love to do something like that!” It made me realize that the responsibilities of our high pressure lives keep some of us from living our dreams, (though I did meet several who were living their dreams). People all along the ride became monumental memories to me; people who didn’t know me from Adam, who cooked a meal for me, offered the girls and me a drink, gave us directions and stopped to hear what I was doing. A very special man named Bill, hampered with painful arthritis, rode 10 miles across mountain trails to show us the way, and then 10 miles back home by his self. That was the living example of the “extra mile” and it touched my heart.
I was told before I left that I would be amazed at the people I would meet and that when I got back I would be a different person. I didn’t understand then, but I do more-so now. Where this will lead from here I am not sure, but I know I have discovered something that I love.
Headed out of Joliet on Aug 30th, 2009
And leaving Carbon County
This is our first night’s camp at Fireman’s Point fishing access west of Columbus. After 23 miles the girls are tired.
This became a contrast of life styles;
an awakening of the difference
between necessity and luxury. My
first camp was just below this mansion.
Our second night was under unsettled skies and wide open rangelands.
But this made for a beautiful morning sunrise that turned into rain, so we packed up wet and rode in the rain for a couple of hours.
Once we headed north of Reed Point we were into grasslands, cow country and brilliant blue skies.
Stock tanks and reservoirs became sought after water holes. The first two weeks gave us day after day in the 90ºrange where any sort of breeze was more than welcome.
After we lost sight of the Beartooth Mountain Range, the next mountain range in view was the Crazies, to the west.
The fluffy, cotton clouds drifted through the bright blue big sky country.
Since we had no one around to take our pictures, I did some self portraits.
Some of the colorful skies were just breath taking. This was on the Ed Bredding place where I was given the typical Montana rancher style directions, “Keep heading west. You can’t miss it.”
What Ed was referring to was this 100 year plus old wagon trail that ran through his place. “Cross the reservoir, past the three corner gate, and head west. You can’t miss it.” And by golly, there is was!
I liked this photo ‘cuz this showed cowboy style cattle guards. I actually began to think I hated cattle guards, because every time I had to open a gate, but I began to realize it gave me a chance to get off and stretch. I wouldn’t know how many hundreds of gates I opened. One thing our forefathers didn’t have to do is deal with fences and gates. Often times I was within a few feet of water, but was fenced out.
I wouldn’t have thought I would see this in Montana, much less at a fairground setting, but that’s what I rode into in Harlowton.
Fine then, I’ll go where there are no motorized vehicles
allowed, which was just across the road.
From Harlowton I headed north to the next set of mountains, which were a spur of the Little Belts, just west of Judith Gap, and thankfully there were more stock tanks on the way. This ended up maybe being one of the longest days we rode, crowding 30 miles. Most days we traveled from 8:00 to 6:00, but this day we didn’t get to a camp-able sight til after 8:00.
We camped in the Little Belts over the Labor Day weekend and spent our first lay-over rest day here.
This was also my first, and only, hot, camp-cooked meal I made on the whole trip. I had the capabilities to cook, but ended up eating out of cans and wrappers. It just wasn’t worth the effort for clean-up when water wasn’t always plentiful. This was a can of chili with elbow macaroni and cheese added. I called it chili-goulash soup and it was great! At this camp we had to walk ¾ of a mile each way to get water. We walked it four times. This was on Roberts Creek, but it was dry.
This was on top of the Little Belts looking north. I wasn’t supposed to be here, but that’s what you get for taking the wrong trail. Just an extra three hours of riding. We actually rode to the peak, where there is a survey post, and the end of the trail. This is the west “sister” of two peaks known as “The twin sisters.” As we navigated rocky slides and disappearing trails, I realized that if anything happened here – nobody would know where to look. This is how people disappeared.
This was the right trail that got us off the mountain.
This is north of the Little Belts, looking back south, and if you look at the mountain sky-line, from right to left, you will notice a double-humped pair of peaks about an inch in from the edge. The first peak is the west peak of the twin sisters, where I was the day before, pictured above.
This is also some of the beautiful ranch country we were able to ride through, courtesy of Paul and Janet Wertheimer of Hobson, MT. We met as they were gathering and weighing calves.
Through the Wertheimer Ranch, I picked up another old wagon trail that took me clear into Utica, an old tromping ground of Charles M Russell. On the skyline you can see the Highwood Mountains to the left and two buttes known as Round Butte and Square Butte.
Headed west from Utica I ran into some real dense smoke from a fire clear over by Helena. Not having a radio I had no idea what I was riding in to or how far away the fire was at the time. The sun was just barely peeking through.
Some of our camps spots were less than ideal, but always sufficed. This was on the dry, rocky creek bottom of Dry Wolf Creek.
After about 280 miles of riding I arrived at Great Falls , on day 14, to my brother Dan’s place with wife Nora (left), son Robert, Dan, daughter Laura and my wife Diane (right). They had no clue I was coming until about two hours before I got there. So Dan and Robert quickly patched holes in the fences while Nora and Laura got a water tub ready and made us feel right at home. Leg one of the trip and another day of rest, MUCH appreciated by all. We all enjoyed a 50th birthday party potluck at the neighbor Bob’s, where I ate way too much and I paid for dearly the next day. My body violently rejected the sudden rich diet after two weeks of surviving.