Treasure State Golden Anniversary
May 20, 2020
My how time flies. In a couple of weeks, it will be 50 years since I first arrived in Montana.
Shortly after high school graduation, I headed west from my home in southern Indiana after deciding to forego college, and instead, get a job on the Alaska pipeline.
I didn’t have enough money to get all the way to Alaska and figured I’d find work along the way. Passing through Billings, four days into the trip, I picked up a newspaper and saw an ad for jobs in Yellowstone Park.
Heading south from Billings in my 1958 Ford pickup, I drove over the Beartooth Highway to Cooke City and on into Yellowstone. I’d never seen such country.
I applied for work in the park and was hired on the spot. Driving through Mammoth Hot Springs on my way to Canyon Village where a position as pantry boy awaited me, I turned left, back toward Cooke, instead of right, toward Canyon. I hadn’t left home to be a pantry boy.
In Cooke City, I got a job as camp cook and wrangler for Gene Wade, an outfitter there. I told him I hadn’t ridden much and he replied that he had a horse for me that hadn’t been ridden much either. I’d always been comfortable around animals, however, and soon learned to both ride and pack. It was a dream job for an 18-year-old kid, riding horseback through the mountains, and living in a tent.
It spoiled me and made life anywhere else seem a little too ordinary.
I tried college, took a job at a marina in Kentucky for a year, and even worked construction in Florida one winter. Montana, however, was always on my mind. Nowhere else stacked up, and if I wasn’t here I was trying to get back.
Alone when I arrived in 1970, I have lots of family here now. Both of my daughters live in Montana as do 12 of my 13 grandchildren.
My second oldest granddaughter, Hayden, graduates from high school in Livingston this spring into a far different and uncertain world than I did. I hope she gets out and explores it. Hayden may find some place she likes better than Montana, but I doubt it. Trust Grandpa on this one. I figured it out half a century ago.
Parker Heinlein is at [email protected]