(birds chirping) - [Announcer] Coming up on "Backroads of Montana," (fans cheering) we'll see how modern sport blends with historic tradition.
- [Melanie] We love to do this because it's part of our culture.
- [Announcer] Visit model railroaders who mix their love of trains with Montana history.
Meet a man who's kept the Bitterroot Valley running for 50 years.
- [Curt] It's good to have a good mechanic.
I've never had to look for one.
- [Announcer] And we'll get some timely advice from the Great Falls Bridge Lady.
- [Arlyne] We have so much in Montana, and I hope we can hang onto it.
- [Announcer] It's a close call, but good stories are just around the bend.
- [Promoter] "Backroads of Montana" is made possible with production support from the Greater Montana Foundation, encouraging communication on issues, trends and values of importance to Montanans, the Big Sky Film Grant and the University of Montana.
(soulful country music) ♪ Home is where Montana is ♪ Montana is my home ♪ From mountain peaks to prairie lands ♪ ♪ The places I have known ♪ And I'm bound to ramble ♪ Yes, I'm bound to roam ♪ And when I'm in off the road now, boys ♪ ♪ Montana is my home - Welcome to "Backroads of Montana" where we love to share stories of amazing people and places across our state.
I'm John Twiggs.
In this episode, we're exploring another interesting small Montana town.
Located about 40 miles north of Billings, Lavina was established in 1883 as a stage stop and a crossing for the nearby Mussel Shell River.
Today, travelers rolling through this town of fewer than 200 people might not realize it's home to three separate buildings on the national register of historic places.
During the show, we'll explore what remains of these once prominent businesses, meet some of the people who helped preserve them and discover the generosity that keeps the town going.
Our first story is all about the spirit of giving.
In many Native cultures, the practice of the giveaway ceremony to honor someone goes back centuries.
In northeastern Montana on the Fort Peck Reservation, he tradition continues with a modern connection to sports.
(lively band music) - Our people look forward to it.
They know senior nights coming up.
It's pretty nice.
- [Coach] Hey, seniors, number 50, Wanbdi Growing Thunder!
(fans cheering) - [John] Before the game, there's a tradition unique to the Fort Peck Reservation.
These families are waiting to take the court for a celebration centuries in the making.
(playful music) - I just love those colors.
So this is number one.
- [John] Ramey Growing Thunder is one quick quilter, no matter how remote the location.
- Where we live out here in northeastern Montana is the boonies.
(laughs) - [John] She's piecing together history.
- And it's going to go right here.
- [John] That blends two worlds.
- (speaking in Dakota language) and that means star quilt.
- [John] This mother of three is sowing a star quilt for her middle son, but he's not going to keep it.
(traditional drum music) (singer vocalizing) - It's called Dakota Singing Class.
It seemed to me that more people were starting to get interested in singing.
(traditional drum music) (singers vocalizing) - [John] Wanbdi is the next generation.
He's learning why it's important to continue traditions.
He's a talented ledger artist.
He does bead work, and he loves the ceremonies.
- Just growing up, that's how I was raised, the star quilt ceremony.
I was like born into it.
(bell rings) - [John] After class, it's off to basketball practice and a sports connection to this tradition.
It's Wanbdi's senior year, and at the last home game, it's a chance for student athletes to honor someone by giving them a star quilt.
It could be a friend, an inspiring teacher or one of the coaches.
- Okay, let's go.
- He's got in his mind, who he's gonna give the quilt to, and we'll just see it the night of senior night.
- [John] Back at work, Ramey is the director of the Language and Culture Department for the Fort Peck Tribes.
- [Ramey] I'm known as (speaking in Dakota language) which is our shield woman in my Dakota language.
- [John] She also learned from her parents the importance of carrying on traditional ways.
Her mother is Navajo and her father Dakota.
Growing up, Ramey absorbed it all, learning three languages.
- [Ramey] That explains me in a nutshell.
So that is my foundation that has instilled a deep appreciation for language and culture.
- [John] One of the Dakota traditions is the giveaway, a ceremony to honor someone.
It started by giving buffalo robes painted with circular designs.
By the late 1800s, the buffalo neared extinction.
Many Native students were forced into boarding schools, and those students were taught sewing and quilting.
They were shown an eight point star pattern that became known as a star quilt.
- Well, those star quilts reminded them of that buffalo robe.
So it's been adapted into our culture now.
Our people used to draw on buffalo robes, and they used to draw and make winter counts, and it was a big star on the robe.
It's replace the buffalo robe now.
So we give it as the highest form of receiving an honor that's bestowed on somebody.
- [John] According to tribal elders, the giveaway's connection to sports started with basketball.
In 1947 in the tiny town of Brockton on the eastern edge of the reservation, Dean Blunt was a child.
He and his family witnessed his grandmother perform the first sports giveaway for his brother.
- The star quilt ceremony that his grandmother, that he had witnessed, I think that it goes way back in his history of all the giving and caring people that influenced his life.
We enjoy, we truly enjoy gifting to people that we feel, you know, that have touched our lives in some way or another.
(gentle music) - [John] The acts of giving slowly became more frequent at sports events, and the art of quilting grew on the reservation thanks to one woman in particular.
- Yeah, that looks really good.
- [John] In the basement at Fort Peck Community College, Rose Atkinson has been teaching people to quilt for almost 30 years.
- That was really nice.
So it makes me feel really good, really proud of all the people that make 'em, that started out at the college.
- [John] Ramey learned from Rose, and now the historic tradition gets a modern assist.
Ramey and her mother invested in this long-arm quilting machine.
What used to take weeks.
- It's a large fan.
- [John] Now only takes days.
- And this will happen for two hours.
My hands and my arms are happy (laughs) right now.
Otherwise, I'd be stitching.
- [John] The quilt is almost done, but the most important part of the ceremony is still to come.
(traditional drum music) (singers vocalizing) - [MC] Senior night, tonight we will recognize participants of basketball, cheerleading and band.
- [John] After the entry and display of the quilts, it's time for the honorings.
- [MC] Wanbdi Growing Thunder and his family would like to honor Gib Medicine Cloud.
(audience applauds) - This one kind of caught me by surprise.
It's beyond the dictionary.
I will always carry this night with me for the rest of my life.
- [Wanbdi] He's just helpful all the time.
And then on the court, he's like, man, he's a good coach.
He's cool to talk with, laugh around with.
- [MC] She says, "Thank you for sticking it out."
- [Ramey] We wanna give this to you because it comes from the heart.
- [Rose] It's just as much an honor to give a quilt as it is to get one.
- [Ramey] Then the announcer will ask 'em to come to the middle, form a circle, and then the drum group will sing a honor song.
(traditional drum music) (singers vocalizing) The star has energy so that spiritual energy is within that quilt.
We believe when a person receives the quilt, they get that honor.
(traditional drum music) (singers vocalizing) - The star quilt ceremony isn't just for sports.
It can honor a variety of special occasions and good deeds.
But if you want to see an even bigger colorful display, check out a district or divisional tournament where multiple Native teams participate like this one in Malta.
As we continue our tour of Lavina, the town's centerpiece for many years was the historic Adams Hotel.
Built in 1908, the hotel reflected the boom and bust of the area.
The colonial revival style building offered luxurious amenities for travelers, opulent sitting rooms, a lavish dining room and bar and plush guest rooms.
But when hard times hit, few guests could afford to stay in the extravagant rooms.
And by the mid 1920s, the Adams closed.
It changed ownership several times.
Raymond Berry lived in it for 14 years and started the restoration until he passed away in 2015.
The building now belongs to the granddaughter of the original owner.
She's had the foundation fixed, the exterior painted and has high hopes for the future.
- But I would like to see someone else come along someday and who loves the hotel and has a vision of their own for it and can implement that vision with funds, and let them take it over.
Meanwhile though, I'm gonna keep working on it and trying to get grants and donations.
- [John] In its prime, the Adams was considered the finest hotel between Minneapolis and Seattle for travelers on the old Milwaukee Road railroad line.
The railroad influenced our next story.
Trains played a big part in Montana's growth and development and that inspired model railroaders.
We went to Helena to see an incredible layout that takes us from city to city and combines the railroad and history.
(country twang music) - There is a love affair of trains.
Trains are big, they're powerful, they're noisy, they are important.
A lot of people are sentimental about the railroad that they saw when they were a kid or whatever, that isn't there anymore.
Yeah, leaving the depot in Helena.
(training chugging) We came about it from the idea of wanting to show railroad history in Western Montana.
So we're trying to show the railroads that were here pre-merger.
Basically we're trying to model the 1950s and '60s.
(training chugging) Moving past, when you're in the tunnel, you're going over the continental divide.
(country twang music continues) You can either go to Butte on the Northern Pacific or you can go to Missoula.
So we flipped the switch there so that he could go to Missoula.
We didn't have the whole space at once.
In fact, this big room here was actually four rooms when we started.
And we laid our first track in here on March of 2019 and been working hard on it ever since.
The space that we're currently in is roughly 2,700 square feet.
2,000 feet of track, about 270 switches total.
He's taking off from Missoula and going back to Livingston Yard via Butte.
So Butte was the city that everybody wanted to go to.
Every railroad wanted to get to Butte 'cause that was the richest hill in the world.
That's where all the money was.
So everybody went to Butte.
It's always gonna be a work in progress 'cause we're only basically halfway done with building it.
We have several more years.
(country twang music) And immediately leaving Butte, you're going upgrade, a pretty steep grade, up over Homestake Pass.
And then drops down, in our case, down a helix.
Due to space limitations, we basically jumped from Homestake Pass to Livingston.
It's a lot of fun building this.
It's a lot of fun showing it off to the public.
It's a great hobby.
It's hard to beat.
- The Western Montana Railroad Historical Association is always looking for new members of all ages.
If you'd like to check out their setup, they're open to the public every Saturday in Helena from 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM.
(bright folk music) In 1907, the Milwaukee Road railroad came through and brought new customers to Lavina businesses.
As the town thrived, Daniel Webster Slayton opened a mercantile.
After a fire destroyed the first building, this hardy two-story brick structure was built in 1910.
Slayton's offered a little bit of everything, from groceries and horse tack to farm implements.
The store closed in 2004, and a few years later, Alan Dedmond bought it and worked to maintain the character of the building.
It has many of the original features like the beautiful display cases, a potbelly stove, tin ceiling and these rolling ladders to help stock the shelves.
Certain businesses are essential to small Montana towns, but what happens when one of the owners has to retire?
We head west to the Bitterroot Valley to see what retirement looks like for one mechanic whose garage has been open for more than 50 years.
- [Curt] Well, the day is gonna start.
- [John] Carol and Curt Peterson have earned a quiet retirement.
- Quiet this morning.
- [John] But they don't seem to want one.
- [Curt] You gotta do something.
I'm not very good at just sitting around.
- You know, we have friends that have no reason to get out of bed in the morning, but we know there's people out there that like Curt's help.
- [John] So after putting on his coveralls and cap.
- [Curt] A little more coffee and off we go.
- [John] Curt starts his commute.
- [Curt] My drive to work, is that what they call this?
- [John] But he bypasses the car.
- [Curt] Traffic's not bad.
- [John] And instead takes an indoor walking route to the Corvallis garage where he's worked since 1975.
- People laugh at me when I say I'm retired.
They come and say, "How's retirement treating you?"
You know, said, "Yeah, ain't too bad yet."
- The shop is such a big part of his life.
It's where he feels comfortable.
It's where he gets his reward.
It's what drives him.
And I think the retirement isn't a finish line so much is just changing his priorities.
- [John] With three other full-time mechanics going all in on repairs, Curt's road to retirement includes frequent service trips helping his neighbors in need.
- [Kevin] He's a go-getter for his age, that's for sure.
- [John] Like the nursery that needs a motor change in its soil fluffer.
- He's the guy that's gonna show up in the field when it's 100 degrees, and your bailer's not working.
- I wonder if that ain't some of the rattle.
I couldn't work in a place where all I did was put tires on all day or put brakes on or change water pumps or whatever.
I need a little bit of change, a little challenge.
- Curt and their staff here can work on just about anything.
Tractors, cars, boats, RVs.
- I think we've fixed somebody's blender before (laughs).
- [Curt] It's heavier than you think.
- [John] Today, in comes a CanDensor.
- This is for, you know, crushing aluminum cans down, and we can bring anything to him, and he can fix 'em all.
- [Curt] That's off the valve though.
- [Phil] And it's fun to be around, and he'll teach and enjoy and show you what you might have missed.
- [Curt] Yeah, it is.
It's really dry.
- [Phil] And it's because he loves it.
He really loves being a mechanic.
- It's good to have a good mechanic.
I've never had to look for one.
- [John] When Carol met Curt in college in Haver, he already had grease on his hands.
- My mother told me that if she knew I was gonna live in my coveralls, she would've never bought 'em for me.
- [John] After a degree in diesel, Curt worked as a US Navy ground support mechanic during Vietnam.
And once he and Carol married, they bought a property big enough to accommodate Curt's dream of having his own garage.
- His folks lived across the street and said that the cheese factory across the street was up for sale.
- [John] In the Bitterroot Valley's dairy golden days, the facility was one of the Kraft cheese company's biggest producers in the nation.
The large building could house a business and a home for Curt and Carroll.
And while the cheese-making equipment was useless to the garage, the Petersons did salvage one part of the business, it's name.
- Cheese Factory Garage, this is Brenda.
- [John] The Peterson's daughter, Brenda, works as the service technician.
Nephew Kevin is the foreman.
Son Alan is here in his free time.
- [Carol] We work as a team.
You see something needs done, you'd do it.
- [John] And Carol is one part Curt couldn't do without.
- Yeah, you need the other half or the other more than half.
She's the better half.
- [John] She does the books, and she cooks.
- [Carol] Apple pie without cheese is like a kiss without a squeeze.
- [John] So when the shop closes for lunch, the Petersons make efficient use of their hour break.
- They're usually cook meals, so we can take a nap.
(laughs) - We gotta have a 10 minute nap.
My dad used to call it 22 and a half.
I always laughed at him for it, but I'm taking them now.
I run outta gas if I don't now.
- [John] Maybe the joy of retirement is knowing you don't have to work, but you choose to put on the coveralls anyway.
- I could still get up and come out here.
Best I can say.
Or maybe I don't want to come out here.
I can do that too.
But usually I do, I come out.
- Even though the garage is no longer a cheese factory, you can still catch dairy delivery trucks pulling in.
Curt's team services a fleet of vehicles for a creamery located in nearby Victor.
(gentle music) In the early 1900s, as Lavina started to grow, it became clear the town needed a bank.
This two-story wooden frame built in 1908 was perfect for a new financial hub.
The Bank of Lavina helped homesteaders and ranchers through difficult times, but like hundreds of Montana banks in that era, it couldn't survive the continued drought, and it closed in 1923.
The building later served as the post office.
In the early 2000s, the local masons led by Raymond Berry worked hard to preserve the structure and earned status on the national register of historic places.
It now serves as their Masonic lodge and an important community gathering place.
Our final story is about an important community member.
In fact, she's considered a Great Falls icon.
We're off to Central Montana to see how she achieved that distinction by her efforts in saving another Great Falls icon.
Great Falls Councilman Rick Tryon is on record as saying, "Look up the definition of citizen in the dictionary, and there's a picture of Arlyne Reichert.
- You're a citizen, it means you're invested in your community.
You step up, you contribute, you bring your talents to the table in any way you can to make the places that you live in better.
And Arlyne certainly does that.
- [John] Arlyne's first good look at Great Falls was from Milwaukee Road 117 steaming south into town.
It was 1945.
She was traveling from Buffalo, New York, accompanied by her mother Anne Cohn.
Back in Buffalo, Arlyne had already graduated from high school, taken the bulk of her nurses training at the local college and met her future husband, Rick Reichert, a farm boy from Laurel.
Rick had just returned from Europe where he served as crew chief on a B24.
Only a pilot could personalize the nose of his aircraft.
So Rick did the next best thing.
Arlyne made many successful runs over Germany.
The big Pratt & Whitney engine would not be the last thing named for Arlyne Reichert.
After the war, Rick returned to Montana to marry his sweetheart and fish the Missouri.
He was waiting at the depot when Arlyne stepped down from the train.
While Rick finished up his military service, Arlyne decided to finish her nurse's degree.
But in 1945, married women were not accepted for training at either Great Falls hospital.
So the couple started a family.
The struggling newlyweds couldn't afford a car.
And when she went into labor, Rick and Arlyne walked to the nearest hospital.
- I had a few labor pains along the way.
I was leaning against the lamppost.
I remember Rick says, "My gosh, people are gonna think you're drunk."
(laughs) But she was worth it.
- [John] Cheryl was followed by three boys and another girl.
Rick built them a modest home by hand and became captain of the Great Falls fire department.
Arlyne got a job at the McLaughlin Research Institute to help make ends meet.
Those were the happiest years for the family of seven, but it was short-lived.
Daughter Claire was only nine years old the last time Rick threw a line in the Missouri.
- The happiest times for me were with our family when my father would take us camping.
And I lost my dad at a very young age, and my younger siblings were never able to experience that kind of joy.
- [John] Those were the hardest years.
Thankfully, Arlyne's duties at the research institute increased along with her salary, that helped.
And her growing interest in local politics, spurred on by her mother's sage advice, buoyed Arlyne's spirits.
- She said, "You may not be interested in politics, but politics is interested in you."
- [John] In 1970, Arlyne ran for the state legislature but lost.
Once again, fate intervened when a year later she was elected as a delegate to the 1972 Constitutional Convention.
Constitution delegates were not allowed to already hold public office.
- Frankly, that was the highlight of my political life.
So losing meant winning for me.
- [John] Arlyne was 1 of 100 delegates.
Their goal, replace the state's outdated constitution.
Its very first words promised opportunity, equality and liberty for all Montanans.
- It's always been mother wanting to do the right thing for the right reason.
It hasn't been about her or her ambition or her seeking recognition.
It's been doing the right thing.
- [John] To keep her family close during the 54 days of deliberation, each day, Arlyne wore a brightly colored suit knitted by her mother Anne.
- Of all 100 delegates, Arlyne was one of the most conscientious, respected, loved and best dressed.
- The suit I'm wearing right now was created by my mother during the convention 50 years ago.
- [John] After signing the new constitution, Arlyne returned to Great Falls and got on with her life.
She now had room in that life for Dr. Jack Stifling.
Work, family and a myriad of civic duties consumed her.
And then one day, (building thundering) Arlyne looked around town and wondered, "How much more local history was slated for the wrecking ball?"
The 10th Street Bridge had been a vital part of Great Falls since 1920, but by 1995, it was crumbling and redundant.
It had already been erased from city maps and $400,000 was earmarked for demolition.
- You don't know what you've got till it's gone.
Unfortunately, the people of this area realized we don't want it to be gone.
- [John] Just six days before demolition, Arlyne and her group Preservation Cascade halted the action.
The bridge was added to the national list of historic places, and that $400,000 earmarked for removal shifted towards restoration.
Arlyne now found herself knee-deep in paperwork and a little controversy.
- In one letter to the editor actually said, "The bridge should be destroyed and blown up with Arlyne Reichert on it."
- [John] Today, the bridge stands firm linking both sides of the popular river's edge trail.
It's become the symbol of Great Falls showcased everywhere and all without a single cent of taxpayer money.
In fact, the only thing coined is its new name, the ARCH Bridge, the Arlyne Reichert Community Heritage Bridge.
(crowd cheering) Now it's time to help save the Montana constitution, a cause close to each of the 10 remaining delegates.
- And let's just protect our constitution.
So it's here for future generations, many future generations down the road.
- [John] Still, when it comes to her most valued contribution, Arlyne's refrigerator door says it all.
Here is a family that appreciates and knows what it's got.
Mother, great-grandmother, friend, citizen, and as revered journalist Chuck Johnson noted, a Montana treasure.
- We're here in Great Falls, and I look back and I think about Jeanette Rankin, Mike Mansfield, Alma Smith Jacobs, the first Black librarian in the state of Montana.
And you've gotta add that name, Arlyne Reichert, to that list.
She has brought the energy, her intelligence, her passion to our community, to our state.
I'll say this, if Alma Smith Jacobs and Jeanette Rankin were alive today, they'd want to hang out with Arlyne Reichert.
- Arlyne still lives in the handcrafted house that Rick built 75 years ago.
She shares it with her oldest son, Greg, who keeps a watchful eye on his mother's health and happiness.
Well, that's all the time we have for this episode.
We'd like to thank Alan Dedmond and Katherine Thayer for giving us a behind the scenes tour.
While the town of Lavina welcomes visitors, the historic buildings currently are not open to the public.
We also like to thank you.
We appreciate the great story ideas you share with us.
In fact, all of this show's stories were submitted by viewers like Rich Peterson, Pat Doyle and Phil Madison.
If you'd like to join that list, follow us on Facebook and drop us a note.
Or you can write to us at Backroads of Montana, University of Montana, Missoula, Montana, 59812.
We've got more great stories to share and two lanes to travel.
I'm John Twiggs, and we hope to see you out on the back roads of Montana.
(soulful country music) ♪ Montana is my home ♪ From mountain peaks to prairie lands ♪ ♪ The places I have known ♪ And I'm bound to ramble ♪ Yes, I'm bound to roam ♪ And when I'm in off the road now, boys ♪ ♪ Montana is my home ♪ Coming in off the road now, boys ♪ ♪ You know I'm heading home (bright music)