The “Roaming Ranchette” or “Monroetorhome” picked up its third vagabond minutes after noon yesterday, the 13th. Within minutes on I-90, I was aware that I was dealing with two experts in motorhome travel. Earl and Barbara are at ease behind the wheel, perhaps given the 2250 miles they’ve logged since their July 4th departure (surprise, surprise, Earl is keeping score). I started reading “Undaunted Courage” on my Michigan trip, and was delighted to find that the first landmark I’d see is the Yellowstone River (I’m still in the “westward journey” portion of the book, but I admit that last night I did sneak ahead to read Clark’s description of the river on his return trip.) On our way to Bozeman we were treated to views of the Beartooth, Crazy, Bridger, Absaroka, and Gallatin ranges, all in the 100 or so miles from Billings to Belgrade (town just west of Bozeman that hosts the airport where Earl worked for seven years). The Gallatin Valley is shrouded in haze all the way around. Humidity, we wondered? Can’t be pollution, we thought. According to a helpful driver from the Avis car rental company, the haze is attributed to the wildfires raging in northern California. He says it comes and goes from day to day, subject to the changing winds.
We rented something considerably more maneuverable than a 34’ Fleetwood Bounder, and did a day tour of Bozeman. The Avis driver who picked us up (not the same as the aforementioned) lived on 11th street in downtown Bozeman, about 1 ½ blocks from where Barbara grew up. They even had a common friend, a boy named Tommy Martin. Mom reports that he was a wild child, who took her to construction sites to root around in materials and dirt mounds. Earl’s reply: “So you learned about architecture from an early age and from the inside out.”
The Sabo family is near and dear to E & B’s hearts. It’s evident in every account that Earl offers. We visited their house on the corner of 3rd and Harrison. Lo and behold, it’s on the National Registry of Historic Places. “Dr. F.I. Sabo” is mentioned on the placard outside the house, and E & B recall that it’s very much the same way it was in the 1950’s.
The most commonly used phrase was “It looks so different.” Case in point: It was difficult to find Montana Hall, the principal building of MSU, due to the campus sprawl. However, thanks to some minor traffic violations (service roads and sidewalks be damned!), we managed to sneak a peak at the building. Earl got out of the car gazed for a minute or two, took a picture, and returned to the car before “campus fuzz” caught on. He remembers walking from graduate housing up a long grassy slope (by my judgement, perhaps 100-200 yards) to the lone Montana Hall. Now, a sidewalk takes you past dorms, academic, and administrative buildings, among which Montana Hall is virtually lost. On it’s own, and respectfully ornate four-story building. Barbara recalls that Earl brought volumes of books from the 3rd floor library of Montana Hall down the hill to Pauline, who gobbled up every one. According to Barbara, it was Pauline’s mission in her nine years in Bozeman to exhaust the library’s holdings. As far as she knows, she came pretty close.
Several other points of interest, the pharmacy, the arcade, the train station, are no longer. Both Barbara and Earl remarked that this news comes with a touch of sadness; however, Barbara is delighted that the old city that they knew is largely intact, although much has grown up around it. Parks are still in place, schools still standing, and bungalow homes have not fallen prey to the “McMansion” craze that’s happening in so many cities. From a freshman perspective, the town is a comfortable combination of vitality and nostalgia. And who could ask for a better amphitheater than the Bridger Range to the north, the Gallatin to the southeast, the Madison to the south, and the Tobacco Root to the west.
Tomorrow we’re off to Three Forks, where the Jefferson, Madison, and Gallatin Rivers confluence to form the Missouri River. Then to Helena.
Fun Fact: Thus far, Earl has spent $1401.26 on gasoline. After calculating, Earl barks, “Ask them, ‘How much did you pay for airfare?’”