Monday, October 12, 2009

The Two Thousand Mile Sunday Drive--Day Five

The Scobey United Methodist Church
Scobey, Montana


Away out here they have a name for rain and wind and fire.
The rain is Tess, the fire's Joe and they call the wind Mariah.

Mariah blows the stars around and sets the clouds a-flyin'.
Mariah makes the mountains sound like folks was out there dyin'.

--Lyrics by Alan Jaye Lerner, Music by Frederick Loewe

To see and hear Harve Presnell sing They Call The Wind Mariah, click here.

This is the day I filled in my county map for Montana--that is, there are fifty-six counties in Montana, and by the time we parked the truck for the night, I could say that I've now visited all fifty-six. Admittedly, the last time I was in Prairie County I was seven or eight years old, but I've been in all the rest as an adult.

After a mediocre breakfast in the Beach North Dakota truck stop where we'd parked for the night, we headed west on I-94 into Montana and Wibaux County. For those of you who don't speak French, Wibaux is pronounced Wee-bow. When I was a child, and I don't remember the exact year but sometime between being six and ten, my father served as interim pastor of the Wibaux Methodist Church. I don't remember how many times we made the 500 mile round trip, but we'd leave Billings, drive 250 miles or so to Wibaux, dad would preach, then we'd drive back to Billings. And in those days, we didn't have I-94 connecting the two communities. It was US 10 back in those days, and you drove through every tiny town along the way. This trip, when we stopped in Wibaux for me to shoot the Court House, I had to find the church as well. Fortunately, it was just on the corner, less than a block away from the modern (1950s) building serving as the county's administrative center. The church is a much older building, and looks exactly like I'd expect a rural Methodist church to look. Wibaux County, by the way, is number 52 on Montana license plates.

Wibaux United Methodist Church
Taken 10/7/09 in Wibaux, Montana

Leaving Wibaux, we drove west on I-94 to Glendive, seat of Dawson County (number 16 on Montana license plates). Glendive is also the home of Dawson Community College, one of three non-tribal community colleges in the state. We quickly found the Court House, which I shot, then were back on the road. I tried to get Kevin to continue west to Terry, seat of Prairie County, then north to Circle (McCone County--numbers 45 and 41, respectively), but he insisted that would take us way too far out of the way to get anywhere closer to home by nightfall. Instead he headed the beast north on Montana Highway 16, parallelling the Yellowstone River, until we crossed into Richland County (number 27).

Kevin is a fourth generation Montanan, and while his mother's family is from the Bitterroot Valley south of Missoula, his father was born in Savage--a small town on the Yellowstone, near the North Dakota state line and the first town you come to in Richland County. I believe Kevin still has family in Savage, but we didn't stop to look for relatives. Instead, we continued north on 16 to Sidney, Richland's County Seat.

Looking East toward the Yellowstone River and North Dakota
Who says Eastern Montana is flat?
Taken from Montana Highway 16 in Richland County

Sidney is a prosperous looking town, quite in keeping with the county's name, and indeed the 80s and 90s were good to the area. Petroleum prospecting put a lot of money in the pockets of citizens and government alike, but when the prospecting ended, so did the money flow. We drove by a huge new construction site--the future home of the Richland County Judicial Center--read "county jail," but when we stopped for gas, the station owner told us that last year's gas prices pretty much put him out of business. The remote location and small business volume meant that regular was over $5.00 a gallon, which in turn meant that the good folk of Richland County parked their pickup trucks and stayed home. Gas had now come down in price, below $3.00, but still the highest we'd seen on the road, and since we were getting only seven miles per gallon, we were seeing a lot of gas pumps.

North of Sidney we crossed into Roosevelt County, a long, slim county on the north bank of the Missouri River and home of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation (home to various bands of the Assiniboine and Sioux nations). We were bound north, however, and soon crossed into Sheridan County (number 34), Montana's northeastern corner.

Passing the towns of Culbertson, Froid (both in Roosevelt County), Medicine Lake and Antelope, we arrived in Plentywood, the County Seat in time to get some good shots of the extremely official looking Sheridan County Court House, and then let the kids out for a walk and potty break. Plentywood was also a good spot to stop for lunch, and we ended up at a mom and pop burger place where our waitress was overjoyed to tell us all about her trip to hear some country singer. I know I should remember just which one gave the concert she loved, but frankly, they all look (and sound) alike to me. Maybe Kevin can tell you if you're interested.

The next county west of Sheridan is Daniels County, a place that has some personal importance to me. When my father was recruited to come west back in 1946, the first church he was offered was the Methodist Church in Scobey, Montana. My parents had never been west of Columbus, Ohio, and so they asked about Scobey. When told it was out on the northern plains, near both the Canadian and North Dakota borders, they asked if there was anywhere else available. As it turned out, Stevensville in the Bitterroot Valley was also open, and my parents jumped at Stevensville. I'll always wonder what my life would have been like had only Scobey been open.

Daniels County (number 37) seems much more rural and much poorer than its eastern neighbor--although neither county could be considered rich or urban. Scobey just presents an air of genteel poverty that we didn't see in Plentywood. The Court House is the kind of white-clapboard construction I would have expected to find almost everywhere in Montana, had I not started out on my 56 Court House project.

As the sign says, it's the "Daniels County Court House."
Taken in Scobey, Montana

OK, this really looks like the Old West to me. I was surprised not to see cowboys riding horses down Main Street. Oh and by the way, the Methodist Church is just around the corner. I love the Bitterroot Valley and my land west of Stevensville. It's always felt like my hometown. My parents were good at making most places they lived feel like home, but I just cannot imagine either of them happy in Scobey. But then, I spent at most an hour in the town--and I have to admit I was prejudiced against it from the start. It's the place I was not born, not conceived. The place my parents said "No" to back before I was born.

Leaving Scobey, we drove almost due south until we crossed into the Fort Peck Reservation then back into Roosevelt County (number 17). When we reached US Highway 2, we turned west and drove into Wolf Point, the Seat of Roosevelt County. I was beginning to catch on to Kevin's trick for finding court houses -- look for the radio antennae -- and we had no trouble finding this government building. I was shocked at the amount of fire damage we saw around town--and judging by the yellow tape we saw, I'd guess that we were looking at arson scenes. Then again, it could just be a symptom of poverty, alcohol abuse, and bad luck. Who's to say. The Court House was well-kept, however, and the grounds were green and well tended.

Roosevelt County Court House
Note the Antenna on the right side of the building
Taken in Wolf Point, Montana

Back on Highway 2, we continued west into Valley County (number 20) where I shot the Court House in the County Seat of Glasgow (Go Scotties!) then further west into Phillips County (number 11) where we parked the beast in an RV park in the County Seat of Malta. The park had wireless internet service, and I was able to get some work done there, but I was playing catch up and didn't succeed in getting everything done. That's why, two months later, you're just reading about our day fighting the wind in the northeastern corner of Montana.

On Day 6, we completed our circle and got home safely--just in time for record cold temperatures and snow. But I'll write about that some other time.

At the top of the page, for the record, is what the Scobey United Methodist Church looks like today. Back in 1946, it was a parish to itself. These days it's yoked to two other churches, the United Methodist Churches in Plentywood and Redstone--a small town halfway between Scobey and Plentywood. Yoked means that the three churches are served by one minister who splits his (or in this case, her) time between the three.

One last note--the wind never stopped blowing. You can get a taste of the weather we experienced by looking at the sky in each of the five photos.