The Montana Run in May (2017)

I’ve spent 35 of the last 73 years living in Montana, with many a Montana run (in May or otherwise) when some other state was called home, so it’s not like the May 2017 jaunt was my first rodeo. But it was a humdinger! Since this will be my last post until probably the second or third week in June at best, that’s a good thing. Grist for the writing mill, and all that.

According to the odometer on the 1996 GMC Sierra pickup truck, it’s 1,337 miles from the Border Fort in Cochise County, Arizona, to our new-to-us home in Deer Lodge, Montana. Heading north on May 12 (Friday) and arriving at the Travelodge in 27 hours flat–which allowed for a two hour nap in the truck along the way–my plan was to check in on Saturday and spend all day Sunday just loafing around, doing nothing of any significance other than resting up for the Deer Lodge home’s closing on Monday morning.

Hah! Like the Universe was going to let that slide!


See that photo at the top of the page? No, that’s not the house we bought. Those tumbledown logs are the remains of Slim Plummer’s cabin. Slim was the son of Sheriff Henry Plummer, who was hung by vigilantes in Virginia City, Montana, when the west was still a tad wild. According to Slim, his Dad was framed, which should not surprise anyone. History, as we know, is written by the winners. Anyway, Slim was a close friend of the family when I was a youngster. That was his cabin, up at the head of the Rattler Gulch country northwest of Drummond, Montana, in the Nelson Springs area. Slim was killed when a bronc went over backwards on him; I was somewhere around six years old at that time. Two years ago, I bought that acreage–which served as my Dad’s summer range for his cattle for 27 years.

Now that land is up for sale again; pulling cash out of the property is more advantageous to us than hanging onto it. Ed, our real estate agent, called me while I was pedaling north on Friday afternoon. “Michele (his real estate agent wife) and I went up to look at the property last Saturday,” he said, “but there was a locked gate.”

“I guess I know what I’m going to be doing on Sunday!” I replied.

Sure enough, Sunday morning was spent driving around the Nelson Springs acreage, mapping it out so Ed could find his way the next time. The “locked gate” was no problem; he’d simply taken the first left turn out of the head of Rattler Gulch when he needed to take the second left turn…mere dozens of yards farther along the route.

The closing on Monday, May 15 (at 10:00 a.m.) went beautifully. From there, it was off to get a Post Office box in Deer Lodge (we’re not crazy about to-the-house mail delivery), a call to the power company, a stop at City Hall to arrange for water and trash service, then out to the “new” 1972 double wide mobile home (with enclosed back porch plus an added three car garage with a high ceiling).


It quickly became clear that the house is a “good news, bad news” story. You’ve probably heard the classic version of that, about the fellow in an airplane. Goes something like this:

Bad news: The engines quit.

Good news: He was wearing a parachute.

Bad news: The parachute didn’t open.

Good news: There was a haystack down below.

Bad news: There was a pitchfork in the haystack.

Good news: He missed the pitchfork.

Bad news: He missed the haystack.

Yes, indeed. That described our new home perfectly. Love the area; we’re on a great block with solid neighbors on either side and across the street, all of whom appreciate us moving in because the last folks there were, by all accounts, the Renters from Hell. I do love to follow a bad act!

On the flip side, although it was truly marvelous to discover that not all the carpet needed to be replaced immediately and we could get by with re-carpeting the master bedroom only, there were so many things to consider for quick-like-a-bunny upgrades that I kind of stumbled around in a daze until around midnight. Oh, a few things had been accomplished, but were my feet fully on the ground yet? Not hardly. Still, time to get some sleep…I thought.

I’d turned off the cold water under the kitchen sink for a while. Turned it back on before going to bed and…uh-oh. The copper pipe sprang a pinhole leak a few inches below the shutoff valve. And I did not yet know where the main shutoff valve was, except it was safe to assume it would be under the trailer somewhere.

Thankfully, the access panel was in the porch, so I didn’t have to go outside and crawl around on wet rocks and/or grass. With flashlight in mouth, under I wriggled, and what did I see? A full sized man’s upper denture, staring at me!

Yeah, we’re thinking the previous owner may have been a bit into dementia before he left Deer Lodge. Honey, have you seen my upper plate? Can’t seem to find it anywhere!

Happily, the shutoff valve was right close by. I finally got to bed around two a.m., which would pretty much set the pattern for the rest of the week.

In the morning, believe it or not, two quick phone calls got a highly competent plumber (Pete) out to the place. He put in a new toilet that needed to be replaced, cut and re-valved the leaky copper pipe, and I turned the water back on–and that same pipe immediately sprang two more pinhole leaks! Fortunately, after Pete fixed the pipe one more time, it held…for now. But we’re not going to want to so much as bump that pipe with a stray feather!


As the days passed, often with multiple trips to R & C Home Improvement (which is zero point nine miles from the house), plus one hop over to Anaconda to update our banking address (Anaconda has the nearest branch) and one semi-grueling run to Walmart and Lowe’s in Missoula (seventy-one miles west of Deer Lodge), a real plan began to take shape: Do a few things to square away the bathroom in Pam’s bedroom (the master bedroom–I get the shoebox as usual), totally remodel that master bedroom, and kind of punt on everything else for now. Except for a few things like changing locks, converting the mish-mosh of light bulbs to all LEDs, hanging stuff over my bedroom’s window so I don’t flash the neighbors, etc.

Why a total remodel for Pam’s room? Well, for one thing, that is the worst designed bedroom I’ve ever seen in my life. Literally. It’s sizeable, not all that much smaller than the generous bedrooms here at the Border Fort. But the design! It’s a corner bedroom and both corner walls are mostly glass, so that the previous occupants had no option but to sleep with their heads smack dab in front of a drafty mobile home window. Add two long closets and a set of built-in drawers, and there was no room at all for a wide dresser with mirror.

So, as was the case with numerous changes that needed to be made, I did a “Pam consult”–got her opinion over the phone. We were on the same page. Here’s the list of what was done to the room:

1. Carpet ripped out and new carpet ordered. (Corey, contractor.) The new carpet should arrive on or before May 25, Corey has a key to the house (you can do that in Deer Lodge), and he–with his helper Cody–will install the new carpet on May 26. Close, since we’ll be unloading the U-Haul on May 30, but doable.

2. Two of the sizeable four windows (each 30 inches wide by 40 inches deep) now have 1″ hard foam insulation board (with foil sheathing reflecting both ways) in the window well, blocking the air infiltration from the single pane glass. In the room itself, the windows were covered with paintable, ribbed MDF paneling, giving Pam “wall space” for the head of her bed and some beside the bed.

3. The built-in drawers were relegated to the garage (one of them was already kindling anyway) and that huge hole was also covered with paneling, creating enough wall for placement of Pam’s long dresser (with mirror). Yes, we gave up about four square feet of floor space (under the former drawers) to do that, but it was more than worth it.

4. Ceiling fan light bulbs switched to LEDs and fan blades dusted.

5. Icky cheap old slider closet doors were yanked out and discarded. Once the carpet is in and we’ve got the U-Haul unloaded, those closets will be covered not with doors but with push rods and dove gray fabric shower curtains–until Pam can pick out another color to order online, that is.

6. New bug screens, framed in new wood (manufactured by R & C), were nailed in place.

7. Entire room was painted a very pale, soothing yellow color. This color goes beautifully with the out-facing shower wall in the bathroom, which is a deep, vibrant turquoise.

8. New, clean outlet covers replaced the old covers–one of which was missing totally, anyway.

Pam’s going to love that room.


Two feet behind the home, the meter pole is…wow, is that thing rotten. How it’s still standing is a mystery, unless the power line is actually holding it up. But it turns out that’s my pole, not the power company’s. Key project for sometime this summer.


There are two porch windows that open…sort of. They’re very heavy, and when you let go, they drop right back down. Why? Turns out that former denture-spitting owner may have been more than a touch senile by the time he installed those; they’re actually sliders, turned 90 degrees from the proper installation!


We got some snow while I was there, which is a good thing. When it melted, there were rivulets of water leaking right down the far-end (next to the back yard) window frames, into the porch. Which does have a floor drain, so that’s good. I suspect the gutter is part of the problem and plan to eventually throw the gutter away, adding a layer of felt and a layer of steel panel roofing like we have here at the Border Fort. There will still be some seepage at floor level because the porch floor was built nearly a foot lower than the surrounding yard surface, but that won’t be a big deal.


Those old single pane mobile home windows are not exactly energy efficient–nor are they comfortable in winter Montana weather, either. So, whenever we can fit the time and money into the budget, I’ll be replacing those with modern “regular” house type windows.

There’s more, but that’s a snapshot. There are two big, beautiful spruce trees out front, and it looks like a pair of magpies are nesting in one of them. The magpies are pretty casual about humans, too; these striking black-and-white birds can be seen cruising the back yards for food every day, especially right after a yard has been mowed.

This house isn’t fully packed yet. I pick up the U-Haul on Friday. Zach and I load it on Saturday, and then we all head out for Montana for the final time. Zach will be driving “Pam’s truck” and chauffeuring his Mom while I’ll be running solo except for the two cats who’ll have the run of my truck as it’s towed on a U-Haul auto hauler trailer. By “run of the truck,” it’s meant that they’ll be able to hang out in the cab or, if they choose, roam back through the slider windows into the camper shell. I’ll be saying goodbye to the Border Fort late in the day, running up through Arizona at night when the heat is off, so that Gato and Kitten Precious will have “cool running” by the time the sun comes up.

Now, let’s see, basically two working days left to pack the kitchen and Pam’s bedroom….