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U.S. 12, Cities of Heat

Rosebud, MT July 6, 2017 by Mary R. Ducker

Photo by Mary R. Ducker

July 6 - After two days of triple-digit temps a little relief was hoped for as the drive continued west. Not so. Before leaving Miles City MT (104F the day we arrived), we visited the Water Works Art Museum that is set up in the old municipal water works. The art is displayed in the old water holding tanks that are very thick poured concrete so it is was a break from the heat too before heading out of town. An especially enjoyable exhibit was art made by Native American students from around the state ranging from grades 3-8. The program was organized by the Yellowstone Art Association and was a treat.

Since US 12 officially piggybacks I-94 for a few miles we took a back road before rejoining U.S 12 about 45 miles west of Miles City. This drive followed a gravel road through fertile ranch land, crossing the Yellowstone River and offered a quick view of the village of Rosebud, MT…a very small community that began as a railroad stop and continues today with a school and post office. After a quick look it was back to reconnect with US 12

On the way to our stop for the night in Roundup, MT, a place called Ingomar appears near a Historical Marker about the town’s history. Ingomar is almost a ghost town, with the only vibrant activity being the “The Historic Jersey Lilly Saloon & Eatery,” and it does serve up food and beverage. The bar was classic heavy wood and mirror and the proprietors were very friendly. Ingomar was founded in 1908, and according to the Marker “…the town had no source of water and relied on the railroad to provide 22,000 gallon tank cars each week for the town folk.” At one point Ingomar claimed to be the “Sheep Shearing Capitol of North America,” when they exported 20 million pounds of wool fleece a year. Unfortunately, no more.

Arriving in Roundup, MT for the night was just that…a place for the night. Roundup is one of those western towns that really makes me wonder how it goes on. Clearly the energy industries still have a presence, but the town just looks worn out. It got it’s name from being at the end of the big cattle drives coming from Texas in the 19th century and certainly retains a ranching connection today. The motel was basic, but clean and quiet, and that’s all I can about on a road trip.

July7 – Continuing on US 12 we take a tour of the small town of Harlowton, MT. After cruising Main Street and observing some interesting architecture, we notice a building labeled “Wojtowick Auto” whose sign included the Mobile red Pegasus. At first it appeared to be a collection of automobilia items and was not open. I spied a couple of interesting automobiles (a mid-1960s era Oldsmobile Cutlass and a Buick LaSabre) parked on the side street that were obviously in their final resting place. As I was crouched in the street taking a photo of the pair, I hear a voice saying “What’s a guy driving a Ford doing showing an interest in General Motors cars?” I turned to see a 60-something man dressed in coveralls approaching with a smile to see just who had stopped at his place. Tim Wojtowick is a mechanic who runs the business and happens to collect car stuff…especially anything that relates to automobile service. Some of the images of his collection will be posted in the Gallery of this site and soon we’ll have a short slide show from Tim’s garage. He got into the car service business by way of his father who was one of the biggest car dealers in central Montana at one point. Spending an hour talking with Tim is why we take the two lane highways for road trips.

Our stop for this night is Helena, the capitol of Montana. Helena is a delightful city with a great mix of eclectic shops and restaurants. It’s many hills, especially around the downtown give a “mountain town” look to the city. A very pleasant city.

July 8 - We left Helena and decided to take a side trip to Deer Lodge, MT to visit the Montana Automobile Museum that is labeled as the Old Montana Prison & Auto Museum. The automobile museum is actually a part of several museums and displays primarily housed in the old Montana State Prison. In addition to an eclectic selection of automobiles there was a lot of automobilia from days gone by. A favorite of mine was a fully restored 1928 Reo Speedwagon...proudly made in Lansing, Michigan!

After an unavoidable 75-mile ride on I-90 we arrived in Missoula, MT to the early afternoon temperature hitting the century mark. Don’t care how “dry” the heat is, when it’s triple digits it’s damn hot. The city was very vibrant on this hot summer day. Several fairs and farmer’s markets going on created an exceptional number of pedestrians. Probably having at least six local breweries’ pubs and distilleries in downtown doesn’t hurt either. After a short walk over the river to watch the locals surfing in the rapids in the river, a bar was found. The Missoula Marathon was this weekend…ahhhhhh! Can’t imagine running in this heat. The next day (Sunday, July 9) we did a nice early morning hike in the forest above the city known as the Pattee Canyon in the Lolo National Forest soaking in some green quiet time. Of course when we were back in town just past noon the heat was back in the high 90s on the way to another 100! I can hardly wait to get back on the 2-lane US 12 and on the way to the deep forests and cool rivers of western Idaho fast enough…that will happen tomorrow.

Postcript: You never know who you’ll run into on a road trip. In Helena I met a woman, born & raised in Ypsilanti but has lived in Helena for 25 years when I walked into her store wearing my “YSPI Real” t-shirt; the server at dinner was a young woman who had just moved there from Battle Creek; in Missoula, the bartender Peter at the James Bar is from Pontiac; and finally, during our hike Sunday morning outside Missoula we met a man picking huckleberries with his young son, and after some conversation learned that he was from Port Huron and attended UM before eventually ending up living in Missoula. Crazy.

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